Fraysters draw presidential analogies.

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Jan. 14 2005 3:15 PM

Bush:Reagan ...

Fraysters draw presidential analogies.

Fourteen Pointed? "[T]here is a long-standing political observation that virtually all Presidents—and most certainly those of the modern era—have a tendency to be 'sucked in' by foreign policy and end up spending far more time dealing with it, willingly or otherwise, during their Administrations than any of them imagined at the start," writes The_Bell in response to Chris Suellentrop's prognosis of G.W. Bush's second term.

Looking for "another historical rule for two-term Presidents"? According to The_Bell,

they tend to focus on promoting/defending their re-election chances in their first terms and then do the same for their legacies in their second terms.

The poster boy for these two trends working in combination had to be Wilson.

While maintaining that "Bush seems to defy pigeon-holing," The_Bell suggests that it's Wilson—not necessarily Reagan, as Suellentrop would have it—"that liberals hope George W. Bush emulates." How so? Read The_Bell here

RobertR reminds us that while Reagan had to heed a Democratic House (and Senate the final two years of his administration), Bush has the likes of Tom DeLay and Bill Frist running the point on the Hill. DemiMundane equates Suellentrop's wishful thinking to battered wife syndrome:

Chris Suellentrop writes: "Conservatives keep praising George W. Bush as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Let's hope they're right."

He says this as if it were something earnestly to be wished. The context is the luck Reagan had in his second term (or, more specifically, toward the very end of his second term and the beginning of Bush Sr.'s, when the Soviet Union's lease on viability just happened to run out). The subtext is more interesting. It appears to consist of Suellentrop's cringing, "don't-hit-me-again-please" defeatism. He's like the battered wife who believes her man will change if he has enough time and she finds a way not to piss him off too much. In other words, Suellentrop is looking at the same dynamic brought about by the same agent and expecting a different result. In some circles outside the Beltway that's one definition of psychosis.

Finally, conservative frayster, EarlyBird, scoffs at any parallel between Dutch and W. 

Barry Me Not: Don't screw with the booger-joke contingent in the Fray—at least that's the message to rob_said_that whose lambasting of Dave Barry (Bryan Curtis, "Dave Barry: Elegy for the humorist") has generated a howl of protest. Rob writes:

Call me curmudgeon, but I may be the only person in America who starts drumming the desk with impatience every time I start to read a Dave Barry column. His bag of tricks is so small, and so shopworn, it's almost as if he's writing the same column every week. His favorite trick is the Giant Hyperbole. Here's how it works. You start with a mundane premise—say, going to a barber—and then you cast the familiar, ordinary barber in some kind of monster by taking a "new, humorous look" at barbers. You say something outrageous like: "The barber then took out a pair of pruning shears and trimmed my ears down to the size of pussy-willow buds." And that kind of shit has America spitting Sunday morning coffee all over their newspapers? And he does that again and again and again. It's like playing peek-a-boo with a baby. No matter how many times you pop your head up over the couch, the baby still thinks it's funny. Well, as Mencken said, nobody ever went out of business underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

Larsonszoo cracks back:

Whoa, are we a bit swollen with our estimation of our own intelligence? I am an intelligent, well educated American, and Dave Barry still makes me laugh out loud. Because you prefer a certain type of humor does not make you more intelligent, or the rest of us less intelligent. I also love subtle humor, but I don't discount the genius behind Dave Barry's style either. Perhaps because of your prejudice against this type of humor, your ponderous intelligence is kept from perceiving the wit and freshness behind the style.

Read the bevy of replies to rob and you can chart the chasm between middlebrow and the Upper West Side, the resentment between those who worship at the altar of fake vomit and whoopee cushions and those who prefer Woody Allen's August Strindberg references … between red and blue? Nah … KA12:10 p.m.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Subject: Torture: the last superstition
From: TheVeiled
Date: Mon Jan 10 2005

Looking at all the hand wringing over alleged torture by our troops makes me want to pull my hair out. Nothing better can be expected of liberals, whose hatred of America trumps common sense, but I am surprised with the pussyfooting and appeasement being adopted by Republicans and conservatives on the issue. Why does no one have the courage to stand behind an obvious principle—we need torture to win the war on terror?

Qualitatively speaking, torture is no different from bombing. Both inflict pain, and in some cases death, on enemy combatants and civilians alike. The distinction is often made that in torturing captives, we are inflicting pain deliberately, while the collateral damage from our bombing campaigns are unintended side effects which we try to minimize. This argument turns out to be bogus if you so much as scratch its surface.

As far as enemy soldiers are concerned, our objectives are no different across the two methods. In fact, torture is usually more humane, because we control the process and stop short of maiming or killing in most cases. For civilians caught up in the mess, I don't see why narrow interpretations of intentionality should be considered more important than effect.

When our military launches massive strikes against densely populated cities like Baghdad or Falluja, it is a statistical certainty that thousands of civilians will be killed as a result, and many more horribly injured. It is utterly naïve, and in fact dangerous, to say that we make these decisions without fore-knowledge of such consequences. In any event, if we could separate the innocent from the rogue among detainees, we would target our torture with precision just as we would eliminate collateral damage from our bombs if we could. We are not God, so we do the best we can.

The only difference between bombing and torture, as far as I can see, is that we can put a face on the people we torture, while those who are affected by the fury of our missiles remain anonymous. However, ask yourself this—is it any consolation to our victims that we got to know them before breaking their limbs or burning their skin? Or that we made sure to draw lots before unleashing our awesome power on their bodies? I don't think so. If they don't care, why should we?

I know at this point even my conservative brethren will step in to say that our bombs are directed at armed combatants on the ground, who are still fighting, while torture victims being disarmed prisoners, are no longer a danger to us. This is precisely the kind of obtuseness which drives me up the wall.

Nobody, least of all President Bush or Secretary Rumsfeld, is advocating torture for retributive or sadistic purposes. Its potential usefulness is as an information gathering tool—valuable information that may help us win the war. Tactical decisions in warfare are not made based on situational cost-benefit calculations, but in terms of the broader objective. Of course the threat from captured enemy has already been diffused, but their comrades are still out there plotting more 9/11's against us, and torture is aimed at reducing that outstanding threat. If we are so often willing to accept grave injuries and loss of lives on both sides to secure a bridge, why is it wrong to impose pain on some of those scoundrels for the sake of securing our cities and troops?

There is the pragmatic counter-argument that torture simply isn't effective as a method, that the tortured will tell you whatever you want to hear. This is typical liberal tripe, dreamt up in Manhattan cocktail parties. First, a bunch of false leads bundled with some genuine ones is still better than no leads at all. More importantly, relative to military hardware, our torture techniques have suffered due to neglect and having to operate under a cloak of secrecy. If we honestly acknowledged its importance, I'm sure the Pentagon has the resources to come up with more effective ways of extracting information. The lack of potency argument is far from empirically established, and we'll never know until we really try.

There is also the view that stuff like the Geneva Convention confers reciprocal benefits, which we stand to lose if we unilaterally violate its provisions. If you believe that, I have a deal on the Statue of Liberty just for you. People who are willing to blow themselves up to bring down our buildings and kill women and children are not going to be deterred in their treatment of captive soldiers, no matter what we do. The argument may have applied to more conventional armies and governments in the Cold War era, but in this unipolar world, we have plenty of other means to make sure our POWs are not abused. Case in point – captured American soldiers were well treated in Gulf War I, but it's absurd to suggest that Saddam worried about the health of his Republican Guards who fell into our hands. No, he worried about Baghdad being sent back to the stone age, along with himself.

Finally, there is the New Age mumbo-jumbo that opening the door to torture will corrupt our souls and sully our greatness as a nation. To these folks, I say: put down the bong and find a job. Our souls survived deep frying Dresden or flattening the Vietnamese countryside, and it can survive some regulated electric shocks sent through a few genitals.

There is the (slightly) more sophisticated argument that revulsion to torture is a psychological state which provides useful restraint in our internal affairs. If we lose it, the cops will start routinely torturing suspects, men will start beating their wives, parents will resort to corporal punishments, and all hell will break loose, generally speaking. One should know better than to pay heed to the cataclysmic nightmare scenarios the left regularly dreams up. In the past, we have had to do some nasty things in the defense of freedom, and we have survived spiritually each time.

What troubles me when I read the typical defense of the administration on the Fray and elsewhere is the apologetic, conciliatory tone that has crept into the ranks. It's only accusations, it wasn't really torture, a few bad apples, the orders didn't come from the top, blah, blah, blah. Gimme a break. The picture you're painting of the world's greatest military is one of a chaotic organization run amuck, over which its top brass has scant control, and which is rife with unprofessional excess while fighting a war, such as sophomoric hazing rituals and near fraternization with the enemy. I refuse to believe that the brave men and women who put their lives on line for our sake have lapsed into such hedonistic decadence. I'd like to think our government has the right plan to make us safe, and it is being executed professionally. If it's only panties-over-heads, the problem isn't that it's disrespectful, but that it's ineffective.

Our enemy in the war on terror is a clandestine, underground network spanning many countries. As the difficulties in Iraq have shown, traditional firepower and "clean" war is of limited value in this conflict—we cannot invade Syria, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan one after the other and diffuse the problem through military occupation. We have to sniff out the network from one node to the next, and burn its tentacles as we move along. Torture and intelligence-gathering, much more than explosive force, will be our best aid in this task...

[Find this post here]

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Monday, January 10, 2005

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Lamb-Beau: Richard Weintraub has to be feeling giddy this morning after effectively calling his shot in Friday's Sports Nut, then watching the Minnesota Vikings pound Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers. SN Fray was particularly active before and after Sunday's debacle on the frozen tundra, with fraysters expounding various theories. FromtheEast chalks up the Favre-pimping to longevity, while ThePragmatist2 draws the love-of-the-game parallel with the less-than-lionized-in-his-time Terry Bradshaw, and harvey1933 provides the comprehensive Favre résumé.

Sure enough, there's a lot less approbation in fray posts marked Jan 9 5:00 p.m. and beyond. Writing "Favre is no Starr," kaycee looks to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Packer beat writer Bob McGinn to suggest that Favre's demigod days may be waning.

McAgo may have the best rebuttal when he points out that:

the fact that Peter King is in love with him is Peter King's fault, not Favre's.

On the matter of Favre's appeal, McAgo offers this:

And if Weintraub bothered to look a little bit closer, it's possible he would see some of the reasons Wisconsin fans look up to Favre the way they do. I grew up in WI, and you hear countless stories of people running into Favre around the state, in Green Bay etc. He doesn't charge people for autographs, he'll shake as many hands as he can—he's a friendly guy. While T.O. or Moss may have overcome these incredible hurdles to get where they are, they've given me no reason to like them. They don't care if I like them—they don't care if I respect them. So why should I offer them my respect?

…The difference is, when [Favre] steps on that field, you understand that he knows he's playing a game. He's there to win, but he's also there because he loves playing a game.

Weintraub doesn't seem to respect the fact that most fans consider Favre a "normal" guy. But then again, Weintraub's the kind of guy who makes fun of places like Wisconsin because they're a cheese state. Favre brought us some respect. He started out a third string quarterback and moved his way up to starter. He had a horrible first season—25 interceptions, but kept playing. And he got good. And when he got good, and won 3 MVPs and a Super Bowl, he didn't go shopping around for another team that would pay him more money. He even took salary cuts during some of the Packer's really bad seasons to try and entice more players there. He made the Packers into a national football team again—and he did it by playing as hard as he could every game. For two or three seasons there, he nearly got sacked every play because the Packers had no offensive line. But he got up, kept shooting, and eventually won a Super Bowl. I don't think that any household in WI, or in a lot of the U.S. even, would mind having Favre over for dinner- he'd be polite, good company.

Can Weintraub say the same about T.O.?

Fray Editor waits with anticipation for his hometown Falcons to take the field Saturday afternoon against Mike Martz, who's beginning to appear and act suspiciously like Dick Cheney ... with top hair.

Shrimp Forks & Lobster Bibs: Over in Jurisprudence Fray, BarberofSeville takes issue with "Dahlia [Lithwick's] indignation" that AG nominee Alberto Gonzales was unwilling to defend his legal positions. Here's the Barber:

The Orwellian missive Gonzales wrote for his boss wasn't a legal or moral argument for changing the law. It was a piece of legal whoring meant to explore how far the intent of the law can be bent through parsing and semantic jujitsu. It's like a tabulation of tax loopholes, and to call upon its author to make economic arguments for tax cuts is missing the point. Whatever Gonzales' failings, you can't accuse him of chickening out of defending his principle. After all, he hasn't displayed any!

Lysander takes a similar tack, arguing that

a Senate confirmation hearing is not an opportunity to defend a position or persuade your opposition. Its an opportunity to lose a job.

I suspect Mr. Gonzales and his advisers were fairly certain of his confirmation - provided he didn't say something that would generate a controversy in the media. If he wanted to be Attorney General, the only safe course for him was to go in and spew politically correct, neutral platitudes. Once he gets the job, he can be more aggressive in advocating positions, if he likes. Confirmed cabinet members, like tenured Yale law professors, can come before Congress and tell them how the cow ate the cabbage if they want. Aspiring cabinet members cannot, at least not if they hope to be confirmed.

Thrasymachus' theory is that Gonzales isn't more forthcoming because the "infamous Bybee Memo was solicited by Mr. Gonzales in his capacity as Counsel to the President." And Demosthenes2 manages to filter the Gonzales proceedings through the world of Monty Python.

Wrong Problem, Wrong Solution: Echoing Paul Krugman, modicum offers this "random thought":

If you believe, as I do, that privatization of Social Security does not bring more money into the system—i.e., does not solve insolvency - then there is no hurry to implement privatization. It could be done any time, or not at all. The only thing unique right now in this regard is Republican control in DC.

Health care, on the other hand, is a critical problem on multiple levels: social, economic, international relations, even national security. Voters care more about this than reforming SS. It requires deeper changes, greater leadership and clearer long-term vision than SS reform, whether one looks at it from the left, the right, or the center.

Perhaps we are working on the wrong problem at the wrong time, regardless of whether one supports privatization or not?

Help start the discussion here.

The New Season: The wait is over. The doctor is back in session. The Fray is proud to introduce newcomers and old-timers alike to the 2005 season of doodahman's "My Two Cents." … KA11:20 a.m.

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Friday, January 7, 2005

Fraysters contemplating Laura Kipnis' critique of Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession zero in on this declaration in her nut graf:

There's simply an irreconcilable contradiction between feminism and femininity, two largely incompatible strategies women have adopted over the years to try to level the playing field with men.

Dandelioness sounds the familiar rebuttal:

I take exception to the assertion that femininity and feminism are mutually exclusive …

Femininity has never been solely about women's helplessness and need for men. It is a sexist mindset that causes society to speak of traditionally "feminine" attributes pejoratively. What is inherently bad about nurturing, being more emotional, being peaceful and gentle, and other such traits except for their association with women?

… but her comment on the relational value of masculinity is more curious:  

Our society values "masculine" traits such as aggressiveness and strength not because these are inherently better, but because it still values men more.

BenK steps out of the box with this:

Feminine has been reduced to a strategem for selfishness. So, for that matter, has feminism.

What is the feminine ideal, then? According to Ben…

It need not be a strategy by which women differentiate themselves from men to obtain male approval and thus their rewards from society. It can be that sum of strengths that make women distinct from men, granting them different gifts and making them fundamentally attractive people. In so much as women are more similar to each other than they are to men, the traits that make them such are 'feminine' and the successful cultivation of these strengths makes them more attractive women. But their attractiveness is second to their being actually better people by cultivation of virtues.

Being feminine, then, means to become a better person in the way that women are generally most suited, as a part of being a better person in the whole - not a way of being a more successful greedy person. In fact, classic feminine virtues include a sense of community, eschewing the most destructive aspects of individualistic competition.

ShriekingViolet picks apart Ben's post:

This is pure bollocks. Feminists did not invent the notion of traditional femininity as destructive competition. They described the reality of the situation. Women of the Nineteenth Century did not squeeze themselves into whalebone corsets out of a desire to express their feminine virtues and sisterly solidarity. They did so because this was the only way to secure themselves a prosperous married life.

Furthermore, as you well know, one does not get ahead in a capitalist job market, or in the academy, by being dainty and accommodating to the rest of the community. Your patronizing desire to convince young women that they should steer away from the values of competition and individualism, regardless of whether your intentions are good, is profoundly sexist and opposed to equality between men and women. Because our economy and public life are structured on "masculine" terms. Traditional femininity, no matter how you slice it, amounts to a second-tier support role in society. It is the desire to smash this "feminine mystique" which stood in the way of professional achievement that motivated the feminist movement in the first place.

On Ben's premise that "having some ideal feminine virtues helps guide women, rather than simply constraining them," SV cracks back:

Patronizing backhanded compliments of feminine virtues simply uphold sexist mores. And I'll be damned if I'm going to pay respect to the dictates of these archaic, discriminatory "virtues."

On a parting note, paragraphs like this make me physically ill.

"I'm not at all opposed to certain women cultivating their athletic prowess... but if they have to try every single sport before they find the one they will train in, it will really hinder them."

This is true for EVERYONE. There are female triathletes and discus throwers. There are male dancers. People should develop according to their own strengths and personal tastes. This has absolutely fuck-all to do with whether one is "masculine" or "feminine," and women are quite capable of figuring these things out for themselves, thank you very much.

On a board chock full of stellar posts, check out—Isonomist—'s here. Getting back to Kipnis' primary point, Iso counters:

The author's definition of femininity doesn't work with the author's definition of feminism. The rest of us needn't fall into that neurotic trap. You can too wear lipstick and be taken seriously in what you do. Just like men can wear ties, their own nonsensical cultural symbol of oppression.

In fact the author herself attempts to demolish the entire existence of femininity by pointing out that people grow old. Well, yeah, they do. But that doesn't mean a woman (or a man, for that matter) can't still be feminine. The author conflates femininity with youth, beauty and artifice, when none are necessary components. Neither, I would argue, is weakness. Kipnis defines femininity in relationship to men. However there are millions of lesbians who would find that ridiculous. Heck, so would Van Morrison, who noted decades ago that all the girls go out/dressed up for each other.

Kipnis's definition of feminism is equally shrill and monochromatic. If power means you must reject the notion of working to attract the opposite sex, what are all those middle aged male execs doing in my gym? And is Kipnis saying that fat women aren't feminine? Or that you have to be fat to be a feminist? Ensler, and Kipnis obsess on the body weight, the externals, without truly understanding the meaning of attraction. It's the person, ladies, not the meat wrapping.

For fans or loathers of Eve Ensler or Neil LaBute, read the remainder of Iso's post in which she scathes the two playwrights (and Kipnis), finishing with this torpedo:

Analyzing feminism and femininity as if they were both dirty words describing incompatible sex acts, Kipnis displays her own prejudices but doesn't enlighten us any more than Ensler or LaBute on the topics. Luckily the world's not looking to any of them for its definitions of love and attraction.

Culturebox Fray is popping. Visit the board here.

Inner Swoon: Yeah, Fray Editor is a little biased—he composes Fraywatch on a table that sits atop a Noguchi base with chrome-plated steel spokes. But Utek1's tribute to Isamu Noguchi's brilliant, elegant restraint as a sculptor 888 particularly in regard to "Inner Stone," is worth a read for any and all:

Examine "The Inner Stone" more carefully, for instance, and you will find that a highly sophisticated artist's hand is behind it. Aside from the fact that Noguchi carefully chose the stone with attention to size, shape and color … he judiciously edited it, altering its profile by drilling through it, so as to contrast the highly lacquered smooth-bore finish with the roughness of the outer surface. Just as significantly, Noguchi didn't just design the rock, he also designed the pedestal on which it stands, making it an integral part of the composition. The red oxides of the stone are echoed in the mahogany red of the lintel, just as the rough log-like posts contrast with the lintel's lacquered surface, echoing the smooth/rough dialogue found in the stone. Finally, the combination of stone and stand can be seen together as a kind of glyph that resembles nothing so much as a Chinese character, reminding the viewer that Chinese characters began their existence as pictograms as well, and echoing yet again Noguchi's Asian heritage.

So the idea that Noguchi stood back and let his materials do the work obscures the fact that Noguchi was an extremely conscious artist who was able to impose his artistic sensibilities in a way that was practically invisible, so that the natural beauty of his materials didn't get lost. He is one of the greatest sculptors this country has ever produced.

Noguchi-lovers can follow the discussion that begins with TheQuietMan's appreciative response hereKA9:05 a.m.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2005