The week's best in the Fray.

The week's best in the Fray.

The week's best in the Fray.

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May 6 2005 9:00 PM

Needles & Threads

The week's best in the Fray.

Air is not a special interest. Nor is strengthening the justice system. These are national concerns. One may not think they are important concerns, but they are not pork, which financially benefits specific industries. Pork is funding logging roads for Boise Cascade. Pork is increasing the already outrageous tax breaks for the wildly profitable oil exploration industry. Pork is $800 toilet seats and useless star wars missiles.

…Enacting stronger gay rights and gun rights provisions are relatively comparable although neither should be classified as special interest. Also, increasing funding for federal courts and giving prosecutors more tools to convict drug dealers are also comparable. These respective liberal and conservative issues are not "special interests" or pork. Those above efforts are simply not analogous with efforts by large corporations … to tear down the regulatory system and rule of law system that protects all Americans…

De-Soto, here, on what defines a special interest.

…It is okay for us to feel sorry for England. In many ways, she is a victim. She was victimized by superiors who placed her in a difficult situation for which she had little practical training. She was victimized by her immediate superiors who failed to adequately supervise first her errant peers and ultimately herself. She was victimized by an overcrowded, poorly run, and extremely hostile environment. She was victimized by peer pressure from her fellow guards. She was victimized by a romantic attachment to a person with an apparent streak of true cruelty. And she was victimized, in no small part, by her own incredibly poor judgement in dealing with all of this.

The one mistake we cannot afford to make in feeling sorry for her – or for ourselves – is to cast her – or ourselves – in the role of innocent. If Lyndie England makes us feel a little bad about ourselves and what is happening in Iraq today, then that is the last little piece of good to come out of this and the final way in which England has honorably served her country. Not because Iraq is an unjust war but because, in justly removing a tyrant, we sometimes engaged in unjust, and even monstrous, actions. So did the other side. That is what war is. We can justify it. However, we would do well to engage in extreme circumspection before forgiving ourselves and then forgetting about it…

The_Bell, here, on Lyndie England as victim.

The big problem with Wikipedia is that no matter how many times I tell my students (undergrads at a major midwestern university) what a reliable source for an academic article is and is not, they still insist on using Wikipedia. While it may be an interesting source of information, it's not rigorous enough to be a source for a scholarly essay. Presenting itself as any sort of an encyclopedia makes it tempting for students who are too lazy to go to the library and actually DO research. Also an interesting fact: I'd say 7 out of 10 times that I catch someone plagiarizing in my classes, their lifted information comes from Wikipedia…

MidwestEmily, here, maintaining that cyber-outlet, Wikipedia,  is not quite ready for prime time academia.


To praise Selig's handling of the steroid scandal is to praise a man who was asleep at the wheel while it happened, and who only acted when Congress decided that baseball's steroid problem was the most important issue facing the country outside of Terry Schiavo's feeding tube. Selig, exhibiting his usual mixture of flopsweat and incompetence, appeared not to have read baseball's own report on the subject. Now that he's calling for draconian punishments and hooking minnows in drug tests, he's suddenly a visionary. Please. Once a used-car salesman, always a used-car salesman.

Utek1, here, responding—like many fraysters—with a "wha?" to Nicholas Thompson's applause for baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

…is there anything, anything at all, in this world more inbred and ridiculous than the sight of two media critics media-criticizing each for media-irrelevance and media-inaccuracy within the format of their own media-based media-analysis columns? Anything?

No. -- No, I don't think there is (unless it's me criticizing the media critics on the media-bulletin-board).

Now, kids, stop fighting, or mommy's going to take away the media outlets.


Life designs itself, intelligently…

Life wants to live, to survive, multiply. Whatever it takes, life will do it - we call it natural selection, evolution. Incrementally, on the level of DNA (maybe even a more basic level than that), life meets challenges to its existence with design. Sometimes the design fails, and life fails; rather, that particular life strain fails - entire species come to a dead end as life fails to meet the challenges that species faces. Life conserves energy, seems to operate in terms of cost-effectiveness, abandons that problematic design, and continues with others…

Too many people are driven to presume to solve this mystery with religion … thus we have Genesis's first seven days, itself an allegory taken as absolute fact by far too many people. I think that drive is based in fear, fear of the unknown, of human frailty and powerlessness in the face of vast, impersonal, implacable life. Intelligent life, its own designer, seems to be the only thing that actually is - from neutrinos and baryons to galaxies, even in death and decay, nothing exists but life, life is moving to design itself, and it is so awesomely intelligent that over a vast span of time, by the smallest, most incremental adaptations, life has created us, who, with our own limited intelligence and self-awareness, are able to wonder at that sheer brilliance.

…Life, intelligent life, its own designer, has no use for religion, nor for a creator. Life is its own infinitely intelligent creator.

Montfort, here, getting ontological in Human Nature Fray.


Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Be My Guest: Poems Fray favorite Paul Guest returns to Slate and the Fray with "Water," this week's featured work—described here by White_Rabbit as "Beauty and the Geek." 

Artemesia is making a habit of her insightful Tuesday readings. Here, she delves into Guest's imagination:

What a sweet love poem this is. The narrator, in the beginning of this poem is likened to two kinds of fish; each depicted with its own form of defense or attack. The Sturgeons, with their armor-like hides in shallow tanks of water, are clothed with armored self defense, whereas the garfish have pen shaped snouts, the 'gar' of their name, Old English for 'spear.'

Was the poet thinking of himself when he wrote that the garfish had pen-shaped snouts?..And that they were sentry-like, as en garde, they moved in dull brown orbits in the tank, dull brown, the color of the military on the move?


For Artemesia's full, line-by-line read, in which she imagines "the narrator as an Archemides of love visiting an aquarium with his lady love," visit her top post here. Ted_Burke's reading is a nice companion to Artemesia's.

MarkEHaag's reading attends to form:

I especially liked the way certain longer lines broke out of the tightly compressed, short-line rhythm. The alternation between enjambed and neat lines was artfully turned, effecting surprise with every twist.

I wasn't thinking love poem when we started with the gar fish, but the two spheres bounced off each other, unravelling a metaphor with grace and wit. Interjecting the elevator made for a nice up/down play between the ecstatic/ethereal and the abyssal/sensual aspects of the romantic experience.

And here, rob_said_that applauds Guest for his instinct for the ineffable, while ShakespeareanFool catalogs the bevy of romantic images in "Water." Though she didn't top post, zinya's perspicacious take can be found buried in T_B's thread here:

There's a bit of a conundrum: The narrator reflects back to his first meeting (or very early meeting) with his love, when "early on" he found himself with a "stammer" in his throat, which his memory tells him she was able to untie with her gentle and blue-lit fingers. (I think in an intriguing contrast of how women sometimes find themselves with their hands at a man's throat tying a knot for him, in his tie... So it was a reversal here to think of the woman untying his knot, a much more problematic and enduring one for him.) But, indeed, it seems his 'knot' does not remain untied -- or did he just imagine and wish it, even that long-ago day in the elevator? For he laments that in all the days since, he has been plagued by inarticulateness, or worse happens, saying something that offended or misfired or otherwise was not "right" ... that "so little" of what he'd ever managed to say (presumably limited to things he'd attempted to say to her although that's an assumption) has been "right" ... in what sense? in being the words which would make her love him too? would make her linger? would make him feel understood?


As always, the gracious Mr. Guest enters the Fray to thank loyal PFrayers for their critiques.

War, Ugh, What Is It Good For?  Fraywatch won't mince words — War Stories Fray is in disarray, a collection of cranks and chummers. FrEd needs a miner's cap to find the rare gem in this muck. Fortunately, Duck916 took the time to offer a coherent examination of the Non-Proliferation Treaty addressed by Fred Kaplan:

I think the NPT misses the point in the post-Soviet world. Nukes and Mutual Assured Destruction did their job--war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was prevented. The two countries were able to engage in regional conflicts (Vietnam and Afghanistan) without those wars escalating into something more widespread. The rest of the world sees the value of nukes in reducing the chances of another devastating war such as WWII. India and Paskistan, while still likely to engage in border skirmishes, are unlikely to engage in a war as devastating as the Iraq-Iran war, precisely because of their nukes.

We should recognize that nuclear weapons in the hands of stable governments are not the real threat. Our main worry should be nukes in the hands of non-state actors, such as the bin Ladens of the world.

Fraywatch welcomes ambitious fraysters interested in reviving WSF to join the thread hereKA 12:15 p.m.


Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Strange Brew
: In Moneybox Fray, Utek1 turns his intellectual attention from architecture to cerevisiology. In response to Daniel Gross' contention that, "The real problem [for U.S. beer companies] is that Americans increasingly tipple with wine and hard liquor," U1 responds:

Americans are not turning to wine and hard liquor, they are returning to wine and hard liquor. In colonial days, Americans drank heavily, but beer was almost nowhere to be found. Rum, wine and hard cider were the alcoholic beverages of choice. It wasn't until the 19th century that beer drinking became popular, thanks to the enormous influx of German immigrants starting in the 1820's.

U1 delivers a brief history of hard liquor vs. suds in America:

Gin became the favorite tonic of the speakeasy crowd, because it was relatively easy to make at home (the so-called "bathtub gin"), along with other do-it-yourself beverages like whiskey and rye. Thus, one ironic outcome of Prohibition was the preference of Americans for hard liquor...

Pull up a stool with Utek1 here.

A number of fraysters—ben-sf here among them—cite microbrews as a factor in the diminishing market share of the "Big 3." Keifus disagrees somewhat, noting that

According to this 2004 article, sales breaks down about 85%/11%/4% domestic/imported/micro.

Keifus concludes that Gross "is correct in implying that any recent differences in sales are more likely due to newly competitive marketing strategies of other forms of swill than to Americans suddenly acquiring discriminating tastes or independent opinions."

Fozzy has a more positivist view of American drinking. He wonders if "part of the changing "culture" might include one that is less aimed at a drunken stupor and more at enjoying the taste of one's drink." Arkady squarely belongs in this category. His preference for Spaten Oktoberfest is spelled out here.

Meet the New Boss: Both EarlyBird here and whitetrashpopulist here aren't buying Stephen Metcalf's line on Bruce Springsteen, namely that The Boss is an "old bullshitter." (Love it or hate it, Metcalf's exegesis is more nuanced than that. Read it here.) EarlyBird writes:

Springsteen hasn't remained as authentically gritty as his younger days, because he's no longer gritty and young. He is a very wealthy, powerful, middle aged musician. What's wrong with that? His music should be allowed to evolve like the rest of his life.

Wtp maintains that:

Artists, particularly iconic ones, continually reinvent themselves and draw from a great many cultural resources in creating their always morphing artistic personas. And they all are implicated in the musical-industrial complex and the great PR machines that hype their newest expressions of weighty significance…

And wtp closes with this zinger:

how could anyone write a sentence suggesting that Hendrix robbed rock n' roll of its power. Somebody needs to eat some Voodoo chili.

Maxvintage, here, takes a page from Tim Noah's book:

…there's this odd confusion--Springsteen was good when he was his real self--which was an authentic bullshitter--and he's bad when he's his "fake self, which is... a fake bullshitter?? Surely the western claptrap is nothing more than that--as was the Tom Joad stuff and every other phase. Bullshit, a perfomance, a constructed persona. Why is the early Springsteen the real bullshitter, and his act the real bullshit, while the later Springsteen is the fake bullshit.

Ted_Burke couldn't let the Bob Segar-Springsteen parallel go unanswered:

For all his musical fanfare, for all his verbosity and blaring dynamics, Springsteen has always seemed like someone who was at the brink of saying something memorable , only to choke. Seger, in mid career, dropped any ambition he had to become the next Dylan and Beatles and developed a lyric style as natural and sweetly clear-eyed as anything Chuck Berry himself could have worked out. Seger continued to suffer from lapses of taste and inspiration , of course — remember that he never transcended his journeyman status — and produced some albums where he was witlessly trying to rewrite "Night Moves" over and over, proving nothing other than extended bouts of introspection didn't serve Seger well at all as a songwriter. Even so, it's not unfair to say that even with his aggravatingly erratic output, the best of Seger's work in a spotty career surpasses Springsteen's consistently middle-brow musings.

Splendid_IREny is "bemused by that comparison." Check out her rebuttal to TB hereKA2:05 p.m.


Friday, April 29, 2005

Mr. Noah, you claim that your assessment of Jack Abramoff when you were 17 was adolescent then, and it's still adolescent now. To pat yourself on the back because you had a knee-jerk reaction to someone in high school who, in your limited imagination, somehow fulfilled your childish bad impression is something one does in private, or with some equally intellectually dishonest friends over cocktails. "Hey, I knew this guy in high school...never liked him...boy, am I prescient..."…Don't give yourself too much credit or gloat too loudly over your brilliant 17-year-old mind. And for sure, don't pass it off as intellectually compelling journalism.

—jschechter, here, not amused with Timothy Noah's epithet for Jack Abramoff

It's a shame to see that a smart guy like Blodget has fallen for the Chinese government's propaganda, hook, line and sinker. I've lived in China for more than 4 years, speak Chinese, and have contacts in both business in government here and I can tell you, Blodget is wrong about most issues he touches on…

…The real reasons Chinese aren't out there protesting for democracy aren't complex but are visible to anyone who's actually looking. One is that a lot of Chinese have bought the same line that Blodget has, that they aren't interested in democracy. When you hear something over and over for years on end with no opposing viewpoint, it becomes the truth. That's why dictatorships take control of the media. Other people know better but are simply hoping it's true. And still others are just plain afraid of going to jail or getting a bullet in the back of the head…

—IronBuddha, here, lacing into Henry Blodget

…the Republicans have a base that's close to 50% of the electorate. You can see this because they routinely break the 50% mark in elections and even approach 60% on occasion (as Nixon, Bush Sr. and Reagan all did). Where the Dems have a base that must be closer to 40%, since they have a very hard time even breaking 50%-- Jimmy Carter was the last one to do it by even a hair, and Clinton never did (he was elected only because Perot split the rightwing vote twice to his benefit). Ignore party affiliation and divide each race leftwing/rightwing (so that you combine, say, Bush Sr. and Perot as both being rightist candidates) and you have a strong rightwing tilt over time (albeit with one anomaly in 2000 when Gore and Nader combined to top 50% for the left side).

What does this mean? Simply that Democrats always have to get a LOT more of the middle than Republicans ever do. The Republican base is probably not enough to win but it's damn close; only when they nominate a stiff and/or face a significant rightwing spoiler (and only Perot has fit that bill in decades) do they lose enough of the middle to lose the election. So while Perot is certainly a precedent for the idea that the middle could be lost to someone MORE rightwing than the Republican nominee, there's very little precedent for the idea that the Republicans will lose a lot to a McCain-Giuliani type centrist.

Meanwhile, there are lots of "Reagan Democrats" who would defect from almost any typically wussy-seeming Mondale-Kerry-type Democratic nominee if a tougher-sounding but non-evangelical Republican occupied the center. In fact, that's exactly what happened in 1980-- the Republican party spawned a center candidate (John Anderson) and he mainly took liberal votes away from people who were happy to vote for anyone but Carter. I should know, I was one of them....

—Emsworth, here, debunking the conventional 40-40-20 paradigm of the American electorate.

The dominant narrative in our time posits that the composer's intent is knowable, reproducible, and paramount … But it's highly doubtful that we can really know authorial intent, since intentions go beyond the printed score. It's even more dubious that we can understand a work's original frames of reference well enough to reproduce the composer's intent in a way that would have seemed authentic when the work was written. As for the idea that the interpreter's insights ought to be completely subordinate to the "architect," just try applying it to theater. Should actors and directors be primarily concerned with presenting a play "exactly as written," whatever that means? Would that be entertaining, edifying, inspiring, moving? No.

O'Rourke gives the lie to his own claim when he writes about Aida, "Muti feeds this drama by drawing out climactic passages, creating a riveting sense of anticipation." Where, exactly, does Verdi tell the conductor to do this? And the contradictions in O'Rourke's positions are even more obvious when he claims that Muti "— being a purist — tries to honor what he believes are the intentions of the composer" by presenting Nino Rota's film music in synthetic concert suites. If he were literally a purist Muti would play the scores exactly as composed for the films.

In retailing the platitudes of current discourse in the guise of talking about Riccardo Muti, O'Rourke says little that is useful about either.

—Radioguy, here, rebutting Liam O'Rourke's contention that the best conductor doesn't inject personal aesthetics into a composer's work.

If the matzo balls make you sick, would the appropriate cure be chicken soup?

—historyguy, here, to Emily Yoffe, who's going mano a mano (or boca a boca) on the competitive eating circuit.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dancing About Architecture: After nearly a century in a cozy, Renaissance-style gallery in suburban Merion, the Barnes Foundation and its diverse collection have one foot out the door. According to Witold Rybczynski, the Barnes wants to move to a glitzy new ballpark in downtown Philly. 

In his slideshow presentation, Rybczynski offers several images ranging from Daniel Libeskind to Renzo Piano and a bevy of factors that a new architect should be mindful of when cultivating a space for the Barnes' impressive display of work.

Not so fast, says Utek1, who objects that

The author asks the wrong question: What would the new Barnes museum look like? When the paramount question is: Should the Barnes collection be relocated to a new building at all? The answer to that question is a resounding NO.

For Utek, part of the Barnes' appeal is its "idiosyncratic" display that is "understood only by Dr. Barnes himself"…

a Renoir might hang next to a soup ladle over an old chest with a Baroque masterpiece on one side and a picture by some forgotten artist on the other. All because Dr. Barnes discerned some formal relationship connecting the pieces in the room.

But wouldn't the collected works better serve the public in a major city center?

It's like saying that Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece "Fallingwater" should be uprooted from Bear Run to Pittsburgh because it's too inconvenient for the public to get to. Part of the Barnes charm is its location in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia.

TheQuietMan respectfully disagrees and writes that it's all about the work:

the real value is in each individual work and not in their relative arrangements. That was the intention surely, for each work. Insight into Barnes, while interesting, in the big scheme of things is something of a big sidebar - big, but only in sidebar terms.

So which is it? Should a unique collection be more attentive democratic concerns and accessibility or its commitment to the unique mandate of its benefactor and the particularity of its experience? Get in on the discussion at Architecture Fray.

Have Gun, Will Travel: Over in Today's Blogs, Careener offers up this on England and gun laws:

England: Take Note of our Gun Laws?

They do. There has been plenty of analysis of the different rates of crime and various restrictions on gun ownership in these two societies. (Keep in mind though, that England is far more urban than we are, with a much higher population density.) The data is in plain view, even if the argument isn't clear:

The rate of crime in England is higher for every type of crime...EXCEPT RAPE AND MURDER, which are more common in the US.

Here, tsi1 counters with the "Guns of Brixton" shtick:

Jamaica's gun laws are the same as merry old England, so you can add that rape and murder are far higher there than America.

Fraywatch thinks wide-reaching gun control is probably a good idea in a civil society but feels that social liberals, whose insights find the right to virtually anything in the 14th Amendment, should have the intellectual integrity to call for a repeal of the 2nd Amendment if they want true gun control.

The BOTF Files: Some good energy from The_BellKA9:50 a.m.


Monday, April 25, 2005

Credit Where Credit Is Due: Did Daniel Gross get it wrong in his most recent Moneybox column, in which he claims that credit card behemoths like MBNA are suffering because consumers are paying off their debt? After spending some time at MBNA's site and reading the company's business presentation, that's exactly what run75441 concludes. In his well-organized rebuttal to Gross, run lays it out:

The first tip off is that Sales are up (page 7). This leaves you with the alternative that costs are also up which results in lower income. However I did not see this as a factor to destroy Earning per share. Losses are down from the 1st quarter of 2004. Money made in Europe is up due to the weakening dollar (page 12)…

It also looks like MBNA is playing the dollar game well in Europe and increasing sales there to the tune of $4 billion. This has nothing to do with consumers paying down loans and more to do with MBNA playing a business strategy. Sorry Daniel Gross. I think you missed this one.

Similarly, baltimore-aureole believes that

consumers ARENT paying down debt … they are simply shifting it . .. they are taking out 2nd mortgages, or refinancing their existing mortgage and taking out equity, to pay that card balance in full.

On the correlation (or lack thereof) between balances and sales, Game_Warden adds:

There might be some irony (but not necessarily error) in the notion that lower credit card balances contributed to the weak retail sales number in March. After all, volume data from the credit card companies pointed to blowout strength in retail sales during March. The miss from credit card throughput to recorded retail sales was large enough to imply that the latter may get revised higher eventually.

EducatorDan has gone to a cash diet:

I have gotten a car loan but do not have a single valid credit card. I only spend what I make and not a dime more. Do I sometimes have to wait and put off and do without? Yes but damn its nice to be paying down all my old education and credit debt from 1995 (freshmen year of college) to 2002 (charged my last purchase to a credit card.) It makes one feel more alive. I have a debit card but hey on mine you can only charge what you have in your checking account.

On the same note, gbpa suggests that we expend less energy on indignation and more "voting with your dollars" by weaning ourselves from credit cards. 

But How Does It Play in Peoria: Brendan Koerner's piece on Jeff Foxworthy's station atop the comic world generated this from andkathleen. Taking special note of the prominent placement of Foxworthy's material at Wal-Mart as a factor in his burgeoning sales, &k suggests:

It seems to me that the redneck humor is indicative of an ability to laugh at---not yourself, but people who are, as you see it, a step lower on the social ladder. Wal-Mart people laughing at K-Mart people, so to speak. The problem arises, though, when the non-redneck-humor fans pigeonhole the humor as being about the Wal-Mart people. Class warfare based on stupid humor. It's safe, white, and probably of the non-thinking Christian variety. Totally non-threatening.

Mountebank offers a smart defense of Foxworthy in response to &k, in which he suggests that "Foxworthy's world is not so different than middle class America. That is the beauty of comedians who do the racial/class schtick. Whether its Rock, Pryor, Paul Rodriguez, George Lopez, Margaret Cho or Foxworthy … they open their world up to us and show us it's not so different."

The BOTF Files: Sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry.  Thanks, -IsoKA8:10 a.m.