Readers debate fifth period worship.

Readers debate fifth period worship.

Readers debate fifth period worship.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
Feb. 17 2005 1:57 PM

Pray Well With Others

Readers debate fifth period worship.

Dahlia Lithwick's examination of Staunton, Virginia's Weekday Religious Education program generates some incisive conversation.

BenK's opening shot, titled "Again, the Secularist blind spot," is notable not just for its suggestion that secularism is as creedal as the next faith, but for the bevy of responses from Jurisfraysters.

[Fray Editor should probably disclaim that he attended a religious primary school, an experience that required him and his classmates to don yarmulkes on field trips to wander the notable Confederate attractions in the Atlanta area while the kids from the Brimstone Pentecostal Academy of Gwinnett County, mouths agape, inspected for little pointy tails emanating from our parachute pants.]

BenK writes:

Once again the ideal that seems to be hard to find but everybody ought to somehow be searching for is, according to Lithwick, some "secular source of moral instruction."

That's great to her, because... she is a secularist.

But just as Christianity appears all inclusive to those community members, secularism seems religiously neutral, obviously true, and all inclusive to Lithwick (and quite a few of the modern 'church or state' advocates). They are in fact advancing a religion under the guise of no religion.

This is naturally blatant persecution of other religions, to discount them as compared to secularism. What may not be possible is to eliminate the idea of a single dominant religion from our society. And that will leave us with a choice between the various options, including secularism.

However, if we need to make that choice, we shouldn't make it by default…

Is Lithwick's countryman, Neil Peart of Rush, correct in singing, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"?  Joe_JP, here,and Thrasymachus don't think so. T answers:

Newsflash: most Americans don't actually want to see religion clothed in the authority of the State. Labeling that principle "Secularism" and then discounting it as yet another "religion", no more deserving of "preference" than Christianity or Judaism (to name the only two tolerated examples) is both intellectually and theologically obtuse.

It's actually kind of amusing that, when moral relativism's chickens truly and finally came home to roost, it was the Christian Fundamentalists who ended up embracing it the most.

BenK cracks back:

[Secularism] it has dogmatic beliefs about things like human anthropology, the origin of rituals and behaviors ... it also comes with rituals and important professions and sources of authority. It is tied up with and preoccupied by science, although the sciences are not themselves tied to it.

In the same thread, JRudkis maintains:

The First Amendment was only applied to the Federal Government until the early 1900's (when the 14th amendment incorporated the first against the states). Massachusetts had an official religion until 1830ish, indicating to me that the original intent was to allow the states to apply religion as they saw fit.

ClaudeScales reads a very invidious subtext into the cry of "states rights." To BenK and others he responds:

I spent much of my childhood and youth in parts of Florida that were then, unlike Miami and environs, very much socially and politically part of the South. These years (1954-67) coincided with the most intense period of the civil rights struggle. During that time, "states rights" was the battle cry of those who wished to perpetuate the evil system of racial segregation then prevalent in that region. That's why I have a bit of a problem seeing "states' rights" as a bulwark of protection for minorities.

I've read enough of your posts to understand the ugly vision you advocate: let whatever group is dominant in a particular locality do what it will to make life uncomfortable for those it seeks to exclude, and let the hapless losers "vote with their feet." This is not the nation I want to call home.

Perhaps you will argue that human nature is just too crabbed and nasty to try to impose minimal standards of toleration on it. I know that hate can't be legislated away, but I do think there should be national standards imposing limits on hateful conduct and prohibiting wrongful discrimination.

All this a little too austere for you? Read diggydawg's prescription here.

One frayster, AllanM, is an actual graduate of Staunton's WRE program:

As kids, none of us knew that WRE wasn't a school activity. When the teacher told us it was time for "Bible school", we all got up and went. It was like going to lunch, or to recess, or to an assembly. Bible School was in a small building which I now realize was a trailer, and which I heard years later was technically not on school property, but these differences were too subtle for us as kids. Flying over the elementary school in a helicopter, you'd assume that the small outbuilding was part of the school compound. Inside, it had desks and a blackboard, just like our other classroom.

…This morning, when I called my father to mention the article, he told me that he had urged me not to attend, telling me about the First Amendment. I have no memory of this - I would have been in first or second grade. Apparently, I sat by myself in the classroom for the first class of Bible School, and came home insisting that my parents let me do it, Constitution or no.

The lessons of Bible School were fairly milquetoast - a tepid complement to what I got every weekend in Sunday School and Church. But even if they were "noncoercive" and "non-state" to the parents, the School Board, and the community, they were just a part of school to us as kids. If the kids think Bible is another subject, like Math and Social Studies, does it really matter how administrative duties are divided, or where the money comes from?

For a more nuanced discussion of constitutional issues, check out the back-and-forth thread between JF mavens HLS2003 and JohnLex7 that begins here. In essence, HLS posits that the WRE case is less a debate about the establishment of religion than a distinction between "textualism" and "living rights" … KA 10:40 a.m.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Workers' Playtime: A slave to the trappings of urban bachelorhood, Fray Editor prefers the indicting, unsentimental Billy Bragg interpretation on this farkakte holiday, but will gladly surrender Fraywatch to the whims of the Fray's more romantic sorts. In Poems Fray, martingreene got things kicked off with this thread, a compilation of Valentine's Day poems, both "original or not," including works by Iris-2 and RyckNelson, among many others. And Ted_Burke dedicates a trio of original poems to some of the  Fray's leading ladies.  

Over in BOTF, DawnCoyote offers up this confessional:

I've got a crush on you…in a non-specific, generalized sort of way.

It's a Fray-crush.

I come here often, looking for you. When I find you here, my pulse kicks, my breath comes shallow and quick, my pupils dilate. I reach out to stroke the shiny black keys of my keyboard, to connect, and, ohhh…

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Any guesses, BOTFers?

Thar She Blows: In case you missed the initial release, Universal has released a documentary, Inside Deep Throat, paying homage to the making of and the fallout from the 1972 porn classic. Answering Laura Kipnis' notion that the film was a "deeply absurdist" fantasy — albeit a "good-natured" one "in which male and female bodies and desires correspond with one another far better than they do back here on terra firma.  Splendid_IREny takes issue:

… Kipnis' attempt to assess the film as offering a perfect world solution to excuse the majority of men from learning the difference between the vagina and clitoris is intellectually vapid.

Healthy sexuality has nothing to do with the images in pornography. Even in terms of the male's orgasm, the "money" shot is nothing more than the ubiquitous explosion of action films. We know it's a joke and we've learned to expect the joke.

The joke of pornography, however, isn't the bad story, the bad acting or the bad attempts to make implausible seem plausible, i.e. Deep Throat. It's that pornography is not about sex. For all the myriad combinations of sexual entries, we may as well be watching circus freaks performing triple lutzes on an ice rink. Pornography is a means of satisfying boredom, of performing rote physical acts…

I hate to rain on the nostalgia parade, but women only getting orgasms from giving oral sex is nearly as absurd as men only gaining orgasms from giving cunnilingus all night.

The theatrics don't really botherCaptainRonVoyage:

Somebody feminist and intelligent finally recognizes the obvious: porn is *fiction*, as "real" as Kabuki. The whole point of porn is that it's *not* like life … And in most cases, it's not even like an idealized version of life - porn films almost always involve some kind of needless obstacle being removed. What makes porn porn is not sex; it's getting something too easily…

You can't "objectify" a fictional character any more than you can oppress Lady MacBeth. Any feminist (and I say this as one) who talks about porn films objectifying women needs to recognize this absurdity, otherwise they have little credibility. Thank God Laura Kipnis did.

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And fredf shares some anecdotes from early 70s Cincinnati here.

Assassin o' the Day: ShriekingViolet for her hatchet job on Peter Savodnik's critique of the European Union's efforts to guide emerging democracies in Eastern Europe:

The subject deserves a far better treatment. It would hardly be possible to construct a cheaper, fouler, more disinguenuous and outright specious jingoistic polemic without picking up the phone and requesting the services of Charles Krauthammer. Savodnik's screed reeks so pungently of eau de neoconne merde that I'm not sure I can properly analyze this without donning a hazmat suit. But I'll do my best to try.

How does SV do? Join the thread here. MutatisMutandis composes a nice hit piece on Savodnik, too. 

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Miller Obit: From The_Slasher-8, here, whose favorite Arthur Miller work is a bit more obscure. 

Heavyweight Bout: HLS2003 and JohnLex7 have emerged as Jurisprudence Fray's most intelligent point-counterpoint, routinely engaging one another in elaborate debates on legal matters. Today's no different, with HLS arguing that Lynne Stewart crossed the line in her defense of Omar Abdel Rahman, and JohnLex taking up the pro-lawyer's immunity case … KA5:35 p.m.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Andy Bowers' piece about a potential security loophole in the airline's check-in system had fraysters busily contemplating all of the possible permutations by which a fake/valid boarding pass and/or fake/valid ID and/or alert/braindead security screener could result in the foiling of the TSA's terrorist "no-fly" list.

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Concerned3, a self-proclaimed frequent flyer, is underwhelmed by Bowers' "realization" about this supposed loophole:

First of all, I don't see what the big realization is about printing two boarding passes. Why would anyone whose name is on the do not fly list have ANY ID which gives their real name? If high school kids can get fake IDs to buy beer, can't terrorists get them as well? Wouldn't they have to have fake passports and the like to have even gotten into this country in the first place?

Second, if someone really wanted to cause harm on our nation's airlines, couldn't they just take a cue from the world's drug smugglers and swallow explosives internally? If you're going to kill yourself anyway in the name of Jihad, would the extra discomfort really be that bad? A car-key remote (or something that looks like one) would be enough for a detonator. And how would you go about screening that one?

Why am I bringing this up? Because I honestly want to feel safer when I fly. I fly a lot for my job, and I have yet to see where the TSA is taking a more pro-active approach to airline security. The writer was correct in saying that the terrorists are smart, and I doubt they would try the same thing twice (which makes x-raying our shoes seem kind of pointless). I can only hope the same goes for attacking our nations air traffic.

TheRanger detects an ideological subtext to Bowers' rant:

If a terrorist was succesful in getting through to the gate with his real id, what makes him think that the name reference by the bar code would match the substituted name on the pass?

Any level of successful forgery of id requires a level of theft somewhere. The possibilities for that are long:
Fake passport
credit card under an assumed name
altered drivers license
drivers license stolen from a look alike (real or disguised)

I would guess the main purpose of the No Fly list is not boarding passes but immigration where passports must be shown. Again given time and money fake passports can be made too.

I think Bowers is trying to get even with conservatives who paid to see a different movie and then sneake into Fahrenheit 9/11 so Moore wouldn't get any money.

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Predictably, many heaped the blame not on the TSA for its faulty system but on Bowers for being the whistleblower, from lokibob here to space-2, who considers this article tantamount to giving terrorists a "handbook."

afaderman rises to Bowers' defense with this plea for transparency:

The idea of "security through obscurity" is that you don't have to make your systems really secure; all you have to do is keep their flaws under wraps, and trust that nobody malicious will have the brains to figure them out. Practitioners of this sort of "security" paradigm, like Slate's accusers now, get mad at people who write about flaws in the system.

The problem with security through obscurity is that it doesn't actually work. Malicious hackers, and terrorists, actually aren't that stupid. If they were, they wouldn't be a threat--we could just wait for them to shoot themselves in the foot, like the characters in those "stupid criminal" stories who write "Give me all the money in the till" on the back of an accurately filled-out deposit slip. Trying to protect systems from smart, evil people by hiding their flaws is, in the long term, doomed to failure.

A much better plan is security through scrutiny. Under security through scrutiny, people are public about the flaws in the system. If you find a loophole that lets someone crack a program, or find a flaw that lets terrorists sneak onto airplanes, rather than trying to keep it under wraps, you point it out so that it can be fixed properly. Ideally, you even point out how to fix it.

Speaking of which, forget optical eye scans and other fancy-schmancy technology that will be obsolete as soon as it is implemented in airports across the country. Kah3 suggests this additional safeguard:

the "no fly" list is invoked when you purchase the ticket, not simply checked at a checkpoint on the day you fly. As you can't purchase a ticket without ID any longer, the loophole is slightly smaller -- you have to get a third-party to purchase the ticket in their own, non-no-fly, name and then use that ticket to fly.

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(Pardon the intervention of a question by FrayEditor05: is part of the motivation in not denying the purchase of a ticket at this stage precisely to lure known/suspected terrorists to an airport where they could be identified and apprehended by law enforcement?)

Or, alternatively, what about this old-fashioned technique, askscravingpizza:

why not just have the ID-checking official stamp the boarding pass so that no switch can be made?

'course, this wouldn't affect the fact that a switch isn't necessary -- the fake boarding pass could still have a valid bar code.

GratuitousPython criticizes the naïve assumptions of the TSA in its profiling of terrorists in the first place. Echoing this vote of no-confidence, jerrycomeearly calls this government agency a "colossal failure."

On a different note, Jamesian cheerfully points out the contradiction  in Stephen Metcalf's devotion of an entire article  to Spender's relative unimportance and obscurity in comparison to his Oxford classmates such as Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden:

If Spender is as thoroughly forgettable a figure as so much of his posterity seems to think him (and I mean not philistines, nor geniuses, but even the literary folks in that in-between where he dwelled) -- if he is so forgettable, why has he not been forgotten? Why does he still star in thick biographies and think-pieces in Slate, etc.?

Here's an answer: Spender is a bit of comic relief in the great dramas of English letters in the 1930s. The hanger-on hangs on as comic relief, like the piano teacher, Edwin Flagg, in the movie "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane," who serves chiefly to react to the drama of the two warring sisters.

Anybody writing about Auden or Orwell ends up writing about Spender. He serves as part of their milieu. He has attained immortality as ... furniture in the drama of the "parlor Bolsheviks".

Not to be confused with champagne socialists or limousine liberals. AC ... 10:59pm

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Sunday, February 6, 2005

TaiPan's reaction to the Michael Jackson trial, inspired by Dahlia Lithwick's piece:

Has our justice system just become comic relief ? Are we as a nation so deprived or perhaps depraved with respect to entertainment, that the alleged wrongdoing by someone who is so obviously out of touch with himself and the reality of the world merits the airtime and ink it will inevitably get ?

I certainly hope not. We as a nation have far more important things to concern ourselves with than Michael Jackson's traveling salvation show. The absolute best thing that could happen for this trial is that it be moved to an island somewhere and everyone except the trial participants are banned from being there. Where lawyers wouldn't have cameras to pander to and the defendant would have to behave as a normal human being does.

What about the "peoples' right to know" you ask. Well let them know, after the trial is over. Maybe by that time, their collective common sense will have returned to a point where they can understand the difference between the real world and fantasyland.

Thats the problem today. Too many people live their lives vicarously through others, mostly celebrites. Maybe if these people were not aggrandized beyond thier human net worth, the rest of the few of us who remain sane in the midst of this nonsense would not be subjected to it.

gtompkins1 on the ethics of elective medicine and … erections, based on Saletan's Viagra/Medicare newsbrief:

A procedure is elective, as opposed to emergent or urgent, if the disease process to be corrected does not require immediate surgical intervention, but instead allows the surgery to take place at some selected, convenient, time in the future.

The author seems to be groping for the distinction between medical interventions which are required by an underlying disease process, and non-medical conditions that might be improved by some medical intervention. Looked at more clearly, I think that there is a clear distinction, no more blurred than before. A disease leaves the patient in an abnormal state of deficiency or decrement, that lies below the level of function associated with a disease-free state. The non-medical conditions for which some demand for medical interventions might arise, in contrast, have the "patient" starting at a normal level, and desiring some enhancement that supposedly improves on nature. In some cases there is a continuum, that leaves a grey area, but such cases only illustrate the soundness of the principle. Being 25 lbs overweight, for example, does not make one a legitimate candidate for stomach-stapling…


Should medical interventions for non-medical conditions be banned? If the risks, and other costs, of the interventions exceed the benefits, yes. This consideration clears the field of most such interventions, because an intervention would not be "medical", restricted to the direction of medical providers, unless it were risky…


Finally, the idea that you are going to improve on nature by tweaking some aspect of your physiology up beyond normal is generally a non-starter. Were you happier as a 19 year-old? In the unlikely event that you were happier, was it because of your erectile prowess? (Ladies, you'll just have to do a thought experiment, and transfer this question to consideration of the men you've known.) Really? Why do you think that having erectile performance more like a 19 year old than what is natural for the 49 year old that you are, will in any way make you happier?

The_Bell on the history of secularism in France, in response to Elisabeth Eaves's documentation of religious revivalism in the Parisian suburbs:

The possibility of an evangelical-style religious revival in France and its encroachment on that country's century-old strict segregation between Church and State made me reflect that it might provide a more detached observation of an controversial and polarizing issue in our own nation by removing it from its more familiar environs. Moreover, I thought it might be useful to frame the issue using the words of the great French thinkers within the long period cited by Ms. Eaves whose intellectual precepts helped lead to the rise of secularism in France and the 1905 law…

French insistence on the lack of religion in all things public became a crucial feature in the French ideal of citizenship. The French Republic has always recognized individuals rather than groups and holds that its citizens' first allegiance is to the State. This is not so different from most other democratic governments, including our own. But the French took it a step further, insisting that citizens have no officially sanctioned ethnic or religious identity and encouraging them to abandon both to the greatest extent possible.

Such a viewpoint is arguably non-discriminatory or, more precisely, equi-discriminatory. Yet societal stress on forced homogeneity, coupled with the exclusion of religious symbols and practices from all public places and discourse, led to feelings of oppression by people of faith within France and eventually rebellion on their part. Any study of history must admit the postulate that movements born out of feelings of repression and rebellion tend to be more extreme and militant in nature. Hence the more recent rise and prominence of non-mainstream (in the West) religions like fundamental Islam, Jehovah Witnesses, and the Evangelical Assembly of the Pentecost within France.

As Eaves article suggests, many of these religions were first brought to France by immigrants, primarily from Northern Africa. Lest some would counter-argue that these growing religions carry seeds of extremism and militancy within them that are (unhappily) transforming the secularism of France, it is interesting to note that most first generation immigrants embraced the more open society that French secularism provided and protected. It is their children and grand children who have adopted their religions' more conservative practices. Especially when living in disadvantaged areas, religious symbols and practices are a way of creating a group identity in rebellion against France's homogeneity...

Publius's criticism  of Shafer's comparison of W. to Kim Jong-Il:

I'm not about to explain or defend every one of the Bush Administration's approaches to dealing with the press, but it should suffice to say that (1) there is not "press" in North Korea; if a self-styled "reporter" were to write something about Kim alog te lines of this citique of Bush, he would have nowhere -- nowhere -- to publish it without sending it abroad and, if he did that, he'd wind up dead or, at least, in prison.

Some of what Shaffer describes is fairly routine stuff in the endless hide and seek played out by reporters and politicians (e.g., putting the LAT in te basement of GOP priorities); some is a function of legitimate sensitivity to national security needs, while some is an unfortunate but inevitable stretching of the national security blanket to cover more than it should, and bureaucrats and non-political professionals in government are more prone to do this than top poltical officials; and some is the result of the virtually open hostility to all things Bush all-too-frequently shown by a large segment of the media for four years (e.g., few press conferences).

It may well be that Bush would do better to follow the Baker-Reagan path of intensive cultivation, but if he doesn't and that's bad for him politically, it doesn;t mean he's chosen to undermine the republic.

Shaffer shares in full measure the "fourth estate" conceit that reporters somehow hold a special place and responsibilty under the Constitution, so that the unwillingness, say, to hold more news conferences or give Shaffer and the LAT interviews is on a par with proroguing Congress. Sorry, Shaffer, but the only special rights you have are the same as those I have -- to write and publish what I please.

The suggestion that there is any resemblance whatsoever between the US and North Korea in 2005 is an outrageous slander and marks Shaffer as a nut or a fool.

Followed by FritzGerlich's rebuttal here:

I suggest you refresh your memory about the avalanche of "solid intelligence" assurances given in early 2003 about the "immediate, imminent threat" Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" posed to "the safety of America." Remember the numerous invocations of "yellowcake purchases" and "mushroom clouds"?

Shafer has a serious point: what is happening is not politics as usual. Yes, all American politicians have used media to portray themselves and their ideas in the best light and their opponents otherwise. And previous administrations have had their covert actions, and lied about them. But that stuff has never before amounted to a whole program of orchestrated stonewalling, lying, bribery, media intimidation, and public scare tactics. This administration, commanding a phalanx of governmental and non-governmental operatives, is practicing these things to a degree, and with an effectiveness, I have not seen in my lifetime. I realize this comparison will evoke another screech from you, but the best parallels I can think of occurred in quasi-democratic countries falling partially or completely under fascist rule: Mussolini's Italy, the end of the Weimar Republic and Hitler's consolidation of power through plebiscites, Peron's Argentina, Pinochet's Chile.

Your predictable take on current events is that anybody who knows history and isn't naive would see that this is all just business as usual; anybody who is alarmed about the Bush administration is just chicken-littling. For a long time I tried to keep a similar perspective myself. I was very skeptical about Bush personally, but perfectly willing at first to see him as within the general post-World War II presidential tradition, even if on the side of that tradition I don't favor. Until the massive intellectual dishonesty he and his people displayed whilst engineering their invasion of Iraq. At that point, I realized that what I was witnessing was the politics of bad faith, the willingness to say or do anything, to rationalize a predetermined objective. Is that your idea of how America has been governed? Should be governed?

MarkEHaag quibbles  over the meaning of "bohemian" as defined by Inigo Thomas's week-long chronicles:

Mr. Inigo doesn't seemed to have experienced anything of our fair town that you couldn't have seen in a two-hour Gray Tours bus ride. And what any of this self-involved, sentimental dribbling on the theme of "Englishman in New York" has to do with bohemia truly escapes me. I realize that bo-ho is at least partly in the eye of the beholder, but I never pictured the groovy non-conformist as someone who prowls Manhattan with a Zagat's and a platinum card, checking off the hottest places to hang with fellow well-traveled Brits.

A bohemian, I sorta thought, is someone who accepts the idea of losing and failing, when measured in conventional terms; it's not a career, it's an anti-career, living without structure and succeeding only in the sense that one manages without security and, what's more, without even aspiring to security, without any aspirations at all in fact.

One thing bohemia is not is just another boutiqey sort of tourism, another pretext for running up your frequent flyer miles. A bohemian doesn't get off on showing off or comparing notes with other bohemians in a one-upsmanship kinda way. I've met a couple of real bohemians in New York and they didn't really seem like likable or even terribly "interesting" people, that sort of conflict with social convention usually springs from or results in a deep well of hostility.

But for those of us who live here day-to-day and are not capitalist in any way, you can't help but admire people who embody the notion that one should be able to survive in this place with dignity and self-respect even if you aren't a money man or have any access to the real estate market whatsoever.

A sentiment shared by FrayEditor05 here in pedestrian-starved Los Angeles. Indeed, it would seem that a flâneur in the Baudelarian mold could get more mileage, so to speak, out of a metropolis as dense as New York. Walter Benjamin got 1,000+ pages out of his stroll through Paris in the recently published Arcades Project. AC 10:20am

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Thursday, February 3, 2005

With the policy ideas of our second-term president now broadly familiar to those of us with even the most minimal consciousness of politics, fraysters seemed this time around as interested in discussing the broad outlines of Bush's domestic and foreign agenda as they did in fetishizing some of the more obscure details to be found in his SOTU address.

Bush's striking reference to the Iraqi woman's "blue fingertip" garnered a disproportionate amount of attention. The symbolism of this image enrapturedSheila, for one: "what's more powerful than a woman whose relative was murdered by Saddam and now sees an election in which she is allowed to vote?" powertrooper wonders "Is it just me or is he way overdoing these personal testamonials of Iraqi people. Oh, and she's in the audience. Is that completely necessary?" KeithJS sees it as a way to manipulate the political opposition: "Ever since Reagan pioneered the concept, Presidents have used it in the SOTU. It's a sure way to get Standing O's even from people in the audience who hate you." IOZ learned that his TV set needed some color adjustment: "The purple fingers came as a bit of a shock, perhaps because IOZ, who doesn't waste his money on cable, had to rig up a duct-taped rabbit-ear contraption for proper broadcast reception, and the weird color effects gave the purple a tint unfortunately reminiscent" of something rather vulgar everyone can read for himself…

Bush's unique speech patterns were another object of obsession. Kurl takes his own pre-emptive strike at the easy liberal targets in Bush's address, while cargirl does her best to capture the phonetic nuances of W.'s pronunciation here. rd_warrior remarks upon how "each word has to be slowly enunciated."

In response to Bush's call for bipartisanship, Zathras thinks the most meaningful (and immediate) gesture would be to "give up the right to respond to the State of the Union. The Democrats (like the Republicans during the Clinton years) get nothing out of their rebuttal even if it is cogently delivered by an attractive spokesman."

Accordingly, 1-2-Oscar assigns grades to the President and the leadership of his Democratic opposition for their performances. Reid receives A for his "firm and forthright" demeanor; Pelosi a D for her contrarian style. Bush gets an B for an "extremely well-crafted and credibly delivered" speech that succeeded by

… stringing together aphorisms which demanded agreement, even from those Democrats who had vowed to sit on their hands. It was kind of funny to see John Kerry and Hillary Clinton popping up and down like Jacks-in-the-Box, but as much as they may despise the man, they could hardly disagree with his stated objectives--a strong and free Iraq, support and honor for our brave military, increases in veteran's benefits, improvement of the nation's schools, expanding the economy, securing our borders, and protecting the retirement of millions of Americans. Surely these are objectives shared by people of good will in both parties. Of course, the Devil is in the details, and the speech was spare in discussing the manner in which all these objectives can be achieved. That was its weakest aspect, but the strongest point may have been the President's recognition that Democrats have also propossed changes or improvements in Social Security, and announcing that "all these ideas are on the table."

Of those devilish details, Social Security figured most prominently as the ideological flashpoint of the evening. In a scrutinizing post, The_Slasher-8 asks point blank: " Why Social Security?" Drawing extensively on the June 2002 report by the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security, run75441 presents a number of alternative models for reform.

TC3 dubs it " Bush's SS Plan for Dummies":

1. If we do nothing, and pesimistic actuarial projections pan out, benefits would have to be reduced if SS taxes, the retirement age, etc., remain the same. This is referred to as "bankruptcy."

2. If we follow Bush's plan, SS benefits will definitely be reduced. This SS benefit reduction is not referred to as "bankruptcy." To accomplish that, we will borrow some $2 trillion for "transition costs."

3. Republicans should nevertheless tout Bush's plan.

modicum noticed an overall modulation in the ideological tone of the discussion around Social Security: "Bush moved toward the middle quite a bit tonight… positioning himself [to] cut a deal in order to get some kind of reform passed, though it is likely to be a far cry from what his right wing has been asking for."

The_Bell points out this basic contradiction between Bush's stance on Social Security and the general mood of his address: "the President is highly optimistic about our own nation's immediate future but sees it threatened down the road" when the program's solvency is supposedly in jeopardy.

D2 mischievously rolls two of Bush's domestic proposals into one:

Fixing Social Security by Eliminating Sex Ed Programs

No more Sex Ed teaching in schools. Where is it written that we need people to do that? Have you checked the demographics on the aging of our population lately? We're wayyyy behind the curve, man! This fits perfectly with out faith based initiatives—no birth control, no knowledge of it, and the result is a population that is no longer top heavy with retirees." 

Finally, on a lighter note, TheAList cites the following line of Bush's SOTU address as "a classic example of his rhetorical trickery" and proceeds to demystify the metaphor for us:

"The road of Providence is uneven and unpredictable -- yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom."

Truth: The road of Providence is I-95, which depending on traffic conditions and maintenance, can be quite uneven and unpredictable.

http://www.dot.state.ri.us/WebTraf/index.html.

But mislead: I-95 does not lead to freedom, or at least not directly. Directly, it leads along the Providence River past Rhode Island Hospital and Providence Place. It does lead to Pawtucket to the North and Cranston to the South (which does have a Freedom Seafood), and technically, goes all the way up and down the Eastern Seaboard. But freedom is not found anywhere near I-95 in Providence itself.

There is a Freedom Square a few miles off I-95 in Reston, Virginia.

http://www.mortons.com/website/htmldocs/locations/restonP.html

There is also the Freedom Florence Recreational Center off I-95 in South Carolina
.

http://www.cityofflorence.com/freedom/vision.html.

And a Freedom Commerce Drive off I-95 in Jacksonville, Florida (go Eagles!)

http://www.motel6.com/reservations/motel_detail.asp?MotelId=1232&state=FL&full=Florida&city=Jacksonville

And the Freedom Salon and Spa about ¼ mile off I-95 in York Maine, whose website, in classic Republican fashion, tells us "Freedom will be on your right in the rotunda." I'm am not making this up.

http://www.freedomsalonandspa.com/contactus.htm

That Bush has to continuously resort to such verbal trickery is a disservice to our nation and to freedom itself. And no, I am not referring to the Freedom Federal Credit Union ATM in I-95's Maryland House rest stop.

http://www.freedomfcu.org/html/atms.html

Don't forget to order some freedom fries along the way. AC ... 1:07pm