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Dec. 15 2005 12:21 PM

Needles and Threads

The week's best in the Fray.

This week, citizens of the fray examine the logic of torture, employ tortured logic, and plead with Mickey Kaus and the video game industry to stop practicing torture…

Respecting the secret National Security Agency warrant taps addressed in a recent NYT story … President Bush noted in a Jim Lehrer interview … that:

"I think the point that Americans really want to know is twofold. One, are we doing everything we can to protect the people? And two, are we protecting civil liberties as we do so?" And, in his view, the answer to both in this area is "yes."

…Bush's two part test -- though at times, it is hard for some people to understand -- is interconnected. Civil liberties, including safeguards (even if they are less intricate or involve some sort of secrecy) such as judicial review before authorization of warrants [not just executive weighing of necessity], protects "the people" too.

In fact, the Fourth Amendment itself has a useful flexibility. It secures against "unreasonable" searches and seizures. This suggests some flexibility in time of danger and war. Nonetheless, it also sets forth certain safeguards, including third party judicial review. And, the reference to "the people" might also suggest (via, let us say, the Patriot Act) that procedural safeguards can be tinkered with -- even if some privacy is lost -- by the legislature (the people's agents)…

But, if we just change the rules in secret by executive fiat, the calculus changes. "The people" have no way of knowing what is going on nor do they or their agents have a chance to decide if some reduction of privacy is reasonable given the times. No, only the executive decides, which is dangerous even if s/he is more benign than the current occupant.

--JoeJP, here, weighing ends and means

…I too have felt let down by Rich's column, which seems to consistently use a howitzer to blast the fish in the barrel, leaving us with little recollection of the fish, but a vivid memory of a stinking mess left behind.

I offer a small adjustment to the conclusion, however. I'm not so sure that he's popular because he's acting as tastemaker. After all, Dowd and company do that with much more skill and flamboyance. No, I suspect it's because he articulates in brash, un-repentant prose, the mutterings of connected, moneyed, artsy and interesting New York. He's gotta have some fabulous connections after all (I hear Twyla Tharp still takes his phone calls), and he remains a character in a city that loves characters.

I love my "New York character" theory because it undermines the idea that a national culture can be captured or created by a newspaper. New York and Chicago and Washington and Dallas like different kinds of people. The Times would rather not recognize that, though, in it's quest to become "All The News That Fits" to the country. Interesting to be undone by your own success.

--rundeep, here, offering his take on New York Times editorialist Frank Rich.

Would you torture and innocent child to save 1,000,000 lives? Why not, if 1,000,000 lives are sufficient to justify torturing a terrorist? If you let innocence--known innocence-- into the equation, it seems to me you are repudiating the consequentialism that purportedly justifies torturing the terrorist. And if you don't let innocence in, then it seems to me you've justified Stalinism.

--Fritz_Gerlich, here, taking Krauthammer at his word


…Am I the only person alarmed at the fact that principles now bow to exigency, dismayed by the lack of a cardinal point here that is unmoved as a navigational bearing for our behavior? Aren't the conservatives those who have traditionally decried the exception to ethical moral imperatives that are inviolate under any circumstance as essentially tailoring morality to one's own self-centered desires and whims? I find that more than passing strange.

Somewhere, Kant is spinning in his grave and etching the three formulations of the Categorical Imperative on the inside of his coffin.

Further, in all of these discussions there is no consideration at all given to the effect that this proposed malleability on the use of torture has on those who employ it, on us as a people and as individuals. Articulating the position that torture is not only permissible but also necessary changes us. You cannot engage in such practices without needing to accept them, to justify them and worst of all—to accept them. The need to justify such actions is the break in the dam of our collective conscience that holds evil at bay. Once that is broken, then any action—all actions—become a necessary means of obtaining our ends. Anything is justifiable and indeed, the very facts frequently need to be altered to fit our new understanding.

Never mind the arguments of would torture be applied this way, can we effectively harness it, or would we prosecute if the results indeed saved many—the point is in the acceptance of it at all, we are irretrievably lost because we will have become that which we denounced and abhor. This is the only true way for the terrorists to win—to make us become that which we are (were?) not and to resemble them instead…

--Demosthenes2, here, weighing in.


…clemency is not about justice, or at least not exclusively so. It's about mercy. It's the idea that the state itself can be merciful – which perhaps reflects the idea that mercy really is an inextricable part of justice. We give our governors the power of clemency not because we want to make sure the convicted death row inmate has a last opportunity to prove his innocence; we give our governors the power of clemency because we want to make sure the state has the opportunity to exercise mercy. It's not supposed to be rational: it's supposed to be human.

--ChrisH, here, on the meaning of clemency.


Mickey says it's tough not to find yourself tearing up after listening to John Burns on the Iraqi elections, and he's right. But I couldn't figure out who it was I wanted to have sex with.

That sounds flip, but it's what's behind his thesis on why heterosexual men won't want to see Brokeback Mountain: there's no one lead character they are attracted to in it. I'm not sure whether that theory only applies to romantic movies, but if so, why?

I'd always thought empathy for others was what storytelling is about -- whether in fiction or even in our current news-obsessed world. A great reporter like Burns brings you into the story enough that you really care about those people, whether you want to have sex with them or not. I'd always thought something similar applied to movies, until Kaus posted his thoughts on Brokeback Mountain. Is it really true, then, that heterosexual men just can't -- or won't -- try to empathize with the story of gay men in love, even if they can empathize with the stories of repressed folks in the Middle East who are struggling to be free?

--SacSays, here, challenging Mickey Kaus' wariness of Brokeback Mountain.


I don't think I saw King Kong until I was about sixteen or so, my parents had a dim view of movies in general and monster movies in particular.

When I did see it, I saw the film just after I saw the highly edited Japanese movie Godzilla. What Raymond Burr was doing in Tokyo was the real mystery in that movie, but I disgress. The first time I saw Godzilla, I thought "Wow, those nuclear bombs really put a fear in the Japanese psyche!" and the first time I saw King Kong, I thought "Wow, those White Folk were really scared of the Black migration into the North!"

I never really got that business about the chains on Kong and the slavery issue. I felt like the allegory was more about bringing the dangers of importing the Southern Rural Black to the Northern Urban Setting, a place that was inappropriate for purely social reasons - how could you expect someone so backward to behave themselves in such a complex environment?

The fact that this rural beast would immediately start eyeing the white woman confirmed the need for a Mann Act. How unspeakable was the thought of Kong and a white woman?

At any rate, I think the intent of the film was to instill fear in the heart of the White Man without having to spell everything out.

I'm sure the audience got it. In those days, they didn't miss a thing.

--Trebuchet_, here, reading into Kong.


It's human nature to latch onto superficial similarities like race when we're looking for points of comparison. For example, it's not hard to find plenty of comparisons between Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier, but you'll have to look a lot harder to find comparisons between Denzel Washington and Henry Fonda, even though one could argue as strongly for those. If you're looking for someone to compare Donavan McNabb to, probably the first swift-footed-QB-who-never-won-the-big-one you'll think of is someone like Randall Cunningham, not Fran Tarkenton. If some great young black poetess comes along, expect comparisons to Maya Angelou, even if her poetry sounds more like Sylvia Plath -- or T.S. Eliot, for that matter. The tendency with Bird is just more of the same.

For the record, Bird wasn't terribly slow. It's true that he couldn't jump well, but he moved fluidly and had a terrific first step.

…the columnist is right to shoot down the cherished myth that Bird was an under-talented guy who beat the best through hard work and grit. Bird was 6'9", rugged, and had long arms and gigantic hands. That, alone, was a set of physical blessings that gave him an edge on much of the NBA. He was taller than almost all the other forwards of his era, and faster than almost all the centers. That's not to dismiss the mental skills that he surely worked hard to develop, but it was that build that let him make fairly repeatable flat-footed shots over his opponents' heads, helping him to develop his legendary shooting touch -- try that at 6'4", and you're going to be eating the ball all day. He still deserve much credit, but I'd say he was as physically gifted, in his own way, as Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, for example…

--Arkady, here, joining Josh Levin in speculating why every white hoopster is invariably compared to Larry Legend.


As a former software developer of gaming engines and associated tools I become very dismayed with the direction of the video game industry around 2001. That's when we went from a very hungry and eager crowd of zany optimists to a bunch of yuppie copy cat publishers. In previous years we truly believed that anything was achievable with regards to story line interplay and programming technology. We never afraid of trying something new if we felt it would enhance the game and in turn the gameplay.

Now unfortunately, we a mired by the after effects of "Hollywoodism" where one good story deserves any good clone of it. The producers of yesteryear were of a different breed of entrepreneur, they were gamers as well as technologists; avid fanatics of video game entertainment and the joy of the experience. We were able to produce stories and games that worked because we did what these new studio execs do not very well. We listened to the audience and used their suggestions and ideas. Then we milled them into code and art. It sounds like a simple formula, however it is not as easy as cloning your competitions first person shooter gameplay or artwork.

The gaming industry needs to involve the community of gamers and volunteer testers (now you don't see them around anymore do you? in order to emerge from the current doldrums of copy cat technology. What you are seeing in video games today is exactly what happened to American auto industry and film making; they cloned each other until they nearly became extinct.

--veteran gaming developer EngineCreator, here, lamenting changes to the industry.

I was reading ██REDACTED██'s top post the other day (██REDACTED██[fray.slate.com]). It was rather transparently calculated to get a rise out of ██REDACTED██. Is it just me or is this getting out of hand? I mean, I could understand if ██REDACTED██ was really ██REDACTED██, but ██REDACTED██? Seriously, it's completely laughable!

I get what's going on. Long ago in the dimly remembered pre-history of the fray ██REDACTED██ posted about ██REDACTED██'s ██REDACTED██ and ever since then ██REDACTED██ and ██REDACTED██ have been waging a virtual cold war, posturing and vituperating, responding with ██REDACTED██ at every opportunity. As if that weren't bad enough, that's always a signal for ██REDACTED██ and ██REDACTED██ to ██REDACTED██, resulting in a massive pile-on.

Why does ██REDACTED██ to ██REDACTED██? Can't ██REDACTED████REDACTED████REDACTED██ for ██REDACTED██? ██REDACTED██! This ██REDACTED██ to ██REDACTED██ will ██REDACTED██ until we all ██REDACTED██, ██REDACTED██, and ██REDACTED██ with a loofa sponge! Well I say ██REDACTED██. Stick that in your ██REDACTED██ and ██REDACTED██.

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--skitch-, here, subverting…or doing something…to the dominant paradigm in the Fray

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

That's an Overstatement: Sean Wilentz is flattered by the review of his new book in Slate, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln— a work Fred Siegel calls "impressive" but the historian takes issue with Siegel's interpretation of an article Wilentz penned in the New York Times Magazine on the parallels between today's Republican Party and the Whig Party of old:

I was delighted to read the review of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln by Fred Siegel, a historian I greatly admire. Yet I'm afraid that he has misapprehended my book as a brief on behalf of the modern Democratic Party. He bases his misreading not on the book itself but on an article I wrote for the New York Times Magazine, which pointed out some of the similarities between the forgotten Whig Party and today's Republican Party. Siegel says that the article flatly equates the Whigs and the Bush Republicans, and that this somehow betrays an esoteric polemical agenda behind my book. Actually, the article stated that "there are significant differences between the Whigs and today's conservatives." I pointed out some important points of similarity between the past or the present, but did not, as Siegel surmises, construct "a tidy lineage" or "suggest there are historical plumb lines" that place all virtue on the side of one political party. Nor does my book claim, even cryptically, that only good things were contained in the Jacksonian Democratic Party, and only bad things were Whig.

Siegel raises an interesting historical point. The Whig Party, he argues, was "the center of opposition to both slavery and the Mexican War," while the Jacksonians were a party "of strong slaveholding interests." But this is simplified and misleading. Until the 1850s, the Whigs included most of the wealthiest southern slaveholders and some of the nation's most outspoken pro-slavery ideologues (many of whom also opposed the Mexican War, as did the fractious John C. Calhoun, for pro-slavery reasons). Pro-war but anti-slavery northern Democrats led the fight to keep slavery out of all territories acquired from Mexico. Thereafter, the bulk of the support for the antislavery Free Soil Party in 1848 came from alienated Democrats.

My book argues, in some detail, that the national mainstream of both parties were dedicated to keeping the slavery issue out of national politics. This proved impossible in the 1850s, leading to the Whigs' demise and, by 1860, to the Democrats' division into two sectional political parties. Easier versions of history, pitting Whig "good guys" against Jacksonian "bad guys" on slavery, caricature the historical evidence.

Fraygrants can celebrate or censure Wilentz's esoterica in the Fray hereKA9:15 a.m.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Fraywatch thanks all those readers who continue to brave the technical hazards that are making it so difficult to navigate and post to the Fray in recent weeks. In the meantime, fraygrants pull no punches in going toe-to-toe with Slate's political contributors … and the Black Eyed Peas.

A sample of the week's best:

…Such conservatives have never accepted the truly revolutionary idea of the American Revolution: that the government is merely the guarantor of rights. They persist in believing that the government is instead the giver of rights, which explains a great deal about the circles in which they twist themselves to accord the codpieced Commander-in-Chief the right to abrogate any individual right or liberty in pursuit of some ill-defined, collectivist Utopia. This isn't simply a matter of competing legalisms, either. It's a fundamental philosophical departure from the foundations of republican government (and this is part of the reason that contemporary conservatives are so hopped-up on talk of "democracy"). They do believe in majority tyranny. The conservative intellectual position is that electoral victories alone give governments the right to alter the entire framework of the social compact—hardly, finally, conservative.

Funny. The more I hear conservatarians harping on our past Cold War victory and future victory against some word or other, the more I think of the old truth: capta ferum victorem cepit.

IOZ, here, taking on the prevailing wave of majoritarianism

…tell me Jacob, are you press professionals going to tell us just which one of the nearly countless and blatant assaults against truth, integrity, and the fundamental principle that once made this nation great finally broke your collective credulity back?

…We have known this … for many years now and most people are also pretty much aware of this now in the real world. So why are you people still playing coy when it comes to the dropping the other shoe while finally daring to call propaganda and scummy unethical behavior what it has obviously been all along?

Never mind, it no longer matters. Back when it might have made a difference in such things as - say - elections, when a daring free press filled with professional ethics and the courage of their convictions might have made a significant difference to the future of this nation, it would have been nice to have heard something even as significant as a whisper from you people. But now we are stuck with three more years of this madness. Gee thanks guys…

—Hauteur, here, telling Jacob Weisberg that the train has left the station


Witold Rybczynski … rightly lauds Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial ("The Wall"), yet even in spite of his superlatives it feels like faint praise. There are all other memorials, and there is this one. No other memorial reveals such powerful epiphanies: none feels so much like a punch in the heart as this one.

It's worth remembering how much anger this memorial generated when it was dedicated. The Vietnam vets association protested that it was not ennobling, and so a supplementary "feel good" memorial had to be developed, showing a politically correct trio of Vietnam-era American soldiers (white officer with sidearm, black soldier with M-16, racially indeterminate soldier carrying an M-60) staring off into space in much the same way you see the Korean War memorial soldiers doing—and to as little effect (the Korean War memorial looks as if the designers were keen to travesty Henry Moore). This little fragment of a squad seems to have it in mind to try a flanking maneuver on The Wall itself. Yet the power of Maya Lin's inspiration won't allow that: the Wall remains impervious to bathos. Not since Simonides wrote his immortal epitaph for the 300 Spartans has there been such a multi-tiered memorial to soldiers who died in a war. Like the epitaph, the power of the wall is the power of a simple truth echoing on forever in the hearts and minds of the people who confront that truth. Next to The Wall, all other memorials, even the good ones, seem somehow stunted, lacking both gravity and imagination.

rob_said_that, here, on the weight of the Vietnam Memorial


…I interpret the "Badness" of the song as intentional. While Hsu never really defined what he thought was so awful about the song as to put it in a singular category, I assume that it was not the music, since the melody and complexity of rhythms really does not distinguish it from most of the rest of the music being pedaled today. Catch, yes. Derivative, maybe. Awful? Hardly.

But then the lyrics. Yes. Those humps. Those lumps. Those lovely little lumps. Lady lumps. B E Peas has reduced the feminine to the lowest common denominator - those things that stick out.

But are they serious? Is this a pean to protuberance? Maybe not. Maybe this is more of a sideway commentary than a direct on appeal to the bottom line, so to speak.

After all, who is the one being suckered in this song? Who's doing the spending?

…And what is he getting?

…This is certainly not the best song on the Monkey Business album and MB is arguably not their best album. I suspect that the popularity of the song comes mostly from the immature set taking the song at face value and being entranced by Fergie's over the top sexy vocals. Be that as it may, I would not judge "My Humps" as misogynistic and awful anymore that I would characterize "Puff the Magic Dragon" as a child's song about magical dragons.....

Trebuchet_, here, pleading irony on behalf of the Black Eyed Peas.


I remember the cancellation of the Apache at Sikorsky a year and a half ago, Joe stood outside the plant in Stratford Connecticut, and decried the cancellation, commiserated with the workers, sat shiva for the manufacturing subcontractors, and then whisked off to Washington DC...

Shays had his own press conference there, but it was sloppy seconds.

Rowland, one of his last acts, was to go to Washington to persuade the Pentagon, that this contract should continue..

Now Dodd, on the other hand, had a quiet conversation with the Canadian government, BF Goodrich about a helicopter contract for the Canadian military, and a joint venture contract for recon equipment for Poland, thru Goodrich, Chelmsford, Mass.

That's a senator; that's a statesman; Lieberman did his "woe is me" schtick and went back to Washington…

pace, here, on Joltin' Joe Lieberman


…How valuable is a Health Savings Account for someone not working? No income, so no money set aside. No job, so no healthcare insurance. The Flex Account is a nice dream for them. Less than 60% of all companies have company sponsored healthcare plans which is down from 67% since 2001. ~40 million people are without insurance either permanently or at some time or another (by the way there is a waiting period before insurance kicks in). ~2 million more of the population has joined the ranks of the non-working regardless of the 4.5 million jobs Bush has claimed to have created (remember Participation Rate plus Unemployment Ratio work in conjunction).

The president's Medicare Prescription Drug plan is a boondoogle of eminent proportions; however, it is one of the first plans to recognize what many people have failed to recognize . . . private industry, the medical industry, and drug companies ain't doing shit to help people. The funny part about this is we keep wandering down that yellow brick road into the "field of poppies" expecting private industry to supply a solution as we are drugged and lulled off to sleep. The solution is not coming from private industry as the cost is to steep for them and they are competing against countries that have no healthcare (or country supplied) besides lacking other benefits…

run75441, here, with a begrudging acknowledgment of flex accounts.


I cannot believe Bruce Reed just wrote "Just when you thought the nation's political debate couldn't get any shallower," about someone's political arguments other than his own.

Um, no, Bruce, arguing about the appropriate separation of church and state hasn't made the debate over the court any shallower. To do that, the rest of the world would have to get under the amazingly low bar you have set for us, with such gems as, John Roberts' father's supposed advice that 'real men study law' tell us about John Roberts, and what would it tell us if John Roberts had said it himself or What does a tongue in cheek letter to the editor that Robert wrote while in high school tell us about his committment to the right to privacy?

Good luck getting shallower than What does a contemporary fictional novel about a prep school that John Roberts did not go to tell us about Roberts' qualifications for the Supreme Court, pal.

J_Mann, here, continuing his assault on Slate political blogger Bruce Reed


…all of this is designed to destroy respect for the little Baby Jesus, the savior of the fuckin' world for Christ's sakes, and why is this? You Jews murdered the fucker the first time he was here, isn't that enough? Now you have to pretend he was never real, or persecute Christians for having the gall to demand that the Holiday be called what it fuckin' is, CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!


Boy, when Christ gets back, he is gonna be steamed. The Colonel can just see the looks on your liberal faces when the Prince of Peace plaintively asks, "Why hath ye denied my birth, when I Loved thou so much?" You assholes have broken Christ's heart, and he's gonna send you all straight to hell for such temerity. Then we'll see who has the BEST holiday …to quote a classic Christmas film, "I double dog dare you": Wish me "Happy Holidays" and see if you can gum your matzoh ball soup through a broken fuckin' jaw…

Col-BullKurtz, here, getting into the holiday spirit.


…Like any great piece of literature that stands the test of time there are many nuances and subtleties to it. For children these books are a world of giants, talking animals, and magic. For adults there are the moral issues that arise in it as well as the Christian allegories in it. This gives readers of all age's things to enjoy and think about. I do not believe that Lewis wrote these books to proselytize, see the Scewtape letters and others for that. As a man of faith his religious beliefs did affect his work as they would anybody regardless if that person is a Buddhist, Muslim, Agnostic, or Christian. This should not be a surprise to anyone as one's religious faith, or lack there of, should and does permeate all aspects of our lives.

My liberal friends should take a step back and not worry about the "proselytizing" aspects of the movie and books and just let the kids enjoy a magical world that has finally been brought to life. My conservative Christian friends should not try to use this as a way to convert others, let them enjoy the movie and draw their own conclusions…

Captain_Hair, here, offering an ecumenical take on what promises to be an insufferable cultural debate.


…I think it's reasonable to suppose that Lewis knew Turkish Delight was not the world's greatest candy. In fact, that is likely why he chose to use it. Edmund, at the stage when he requests Turkish Delight, is a very conventional and very mean-spirited little boy. Lewis often used poor taste in food as a stand-in for poor character. For example, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace Clarence Scrubb is another unpleasant child, who demands "Plumptree's Vitaminised Nerve Food" instead of delicious spiced wine. Eustace was a product of his parents, who Lewis disapprovingly reports were "vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotalers and wore a special kind of underclothes" -- in other words, lacking the taste to celebrate the gifts of good food and drink. In short, Lewis saw a love of good things, like food, as healthy, and a rejection of good things in favour of bad things (sometimes in the name of health or progress) as a twisting of the meaning of health and normalcy. Bad taste in food, for Lewis, is a symbol of being morally or imaginatively stunted. It shows a lack of discernment, which (without getting overly religious) can be symbolic of a lack of spiritual or moral discernment. Similar metaphors are used repeatedly in Biblical settings, the inability to sense (see, hear, smell, touch, or taste) standing in for the inability to understand the truth of God, prophecy, and redemption.

A positive part of being a child -- and certainly children fare much better than adults in Narnia -- was being uncorrupted by what you "ought" to like or what was "practical" and instead understanding naturally which things were good. When Edmund demands Turkish Delight as his candy, it highlights the fact that he does not at this time possess the rudimentary facility to know that Turkish Delight is lousy candy compared to something like chocolate. His poor choice of candy is a symbol of his mean and, in a bad sense, very "ordinary" nature (quite unsuited to Narnia), which leads to his worse choice of siding with evil…

HLS, here, on the magical symbolism of Turkish Delight in Narnia. Please read the post in its entirety to get the full flavor


so, david, it's not a gay love story because it does not conform to stereotypical perceptions of what is gay?

the premise here seems to be that homosexuality and "gay" are different. frankly, i'd like to be kept abreast of such shifts in semantics. like many, i was under the apparently mistaken impression that "gay" was a term describing either a state of happiness or a homosexual male. i did not realize it meant only uncloseted, effeminate homosexual males. preferably flaming ones.

what do we have then, a homosexual love story, but not a gay one? because gays cannot be masculine? or sleep with women? or be awkward with each other? is there not enough tight leather?

it seems that our author is almost disappointed in the lack of stereotypes. two men who find they prefer each other, sexually. they don't find it unnaturally, but still struggle with it. they have an emotional, as well as sexual connection. they are portrayed as masculine figures, while still making their sexual preference obvious. and for this, we are told, it is not a "gay" story.

now, i'll qualify this with mentioning i've not seen the film. but if this article's author is accurate in his description, then i am baffled by his conclusion. what would qualify as a "gay" love story? does it need to be set in san francisco and have the village people on the soundtrack? why bemoan a refusal to propagate stereotypes? isn't this akin to saying a film is not a black love story because it isn't set in the inner city and no gangs are in the film?

twiffertheGnu, here, calling out David Leavitt

On the matter of whether Brokeback Mountain is a gay film, Fraywatch wonders why David Leavitt gets to define the gay aesthetic orthodoxy. When did the faggotocracy put him in charge of the curriculum committee? Because he grew up as a gay man on "movies like Nighthawks and Taxi zum Klo, in which sexual profligacy is at once celebrated as a form of liberation and mourned as a pallid substitute for meaningful connection," whereas I grew up on The Smiths and Amy Heckerling?  

Leavitt, never a master of understatement, fails to recognize that just because a narrative doesn't "cry gay" doesn't mean that it isn't. Navigating the world without a fixed identity, being protean drifters—as Jack and Ennis are—are as central to gayness as bad European queer cinema or turning tricks in Juarez back alleys. 

Leavitt's Family Dancing was a formative collection in my life, and I'll forever be grateful to gay voices like Leavitt's; their generation did a lot of the heavy lifting and a whole lot of dying. Fraywatch grants them a lot—but not the authority to delineate what constitutes a gay narrative … KA11:50 a.m. PST

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Saturday, December 3, 2005

White dresses, fey hats, South African wedding gowns, Clark Kent's undergarments, the emperor's clothes—the Fray offered several sartorial critiques this week. Here's a sample of the best:

…I find it curious that an unmarried man who runs about in a white dress and a very fey hat would have the audacity to wag his finger at anybody for their tendencies. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

Gnostician, here, on Benedict's eggs


…Larson's musical, which the Times calls a rock opera for the same unfathomable reason that impels it to call Tom Friedman a writer and to call Satan Dick Cheney, is a wet fart of fetishized nostalgia for a hopeless, destitute, plague-ridden era in the life of its main character, which, for some unfathomable reason, is called New York, although there's little resemblance. "Artistic license," I think they call it. In both the stage and film version, a series of motiveless semi-persons who have no reason to like or spend time with each other like and spend time with each other. The film employs the bulk of the original Broadway cast (circa 1995) in roles which they originated in their twenties, just the sort of production logic that would send an ordinary producer reaching for his coke atomizer—anything to get through your brilliant proposal for a stage version of Pretty in Pink starring Molly Ringwald and all the rest of Hughes original cast.

Rent features the sort of dramatis personae that almost commits me to sympathetic readings of the "critical" "writing" of Michael Medved, a creature so miraculously stupid that, were he human, he would rival our aforementioned Tom Friedman for the title of Dumbest Man in the Whole Fucking World ®. The sensitive video artist afraid of selling out. The AIDS-infected stripper looking for love. Bon Jovi. The angelic drag queen named . . . wait for it . . . Angel. And so forth. Rent posits that if only we measured our years in major-chord, capital-L Love instead of time, then, by God, the homeless would still be homeless, the poor still poor, AIDS would still be AIDS, but nonetheless . . . paradise.

Midway through the musical, my mind started transposing the lyrics of "One Tin Soldier" onto Larson's melodies. I knew it was time to leave.

Today, listening to President Bush give that speech that he loves to give so much, I was struck by a very similar feeling. It's not only the utter mindlessness of the words, nor merely the ear-battering timbre of his voice. In the seventies, Gore Vidal gave a famous interview to the Paris Review, and in it the interviewer asked (I'm paraphrasing), "Why do prefer film to theater?" Vidal replied, "I'm embarrassed by live actors; they always seem to be having a much better time than I am." Even now, when he's more prone to limping than loping through his silly speech, Bush evokes that same familiar sensation—that the guy chewing the scenery is gonna rip into those lines whether you applaud at the end or not.

The audience, in other words, is extraneous. That's perhaps a counterintuitive point, given the dauphin's handlers' penchant for keeping all the autonomous human beings far, far away from his playpen. I suspect, however, that notre dictateur manqué would be just as pleased speaking to and in front of a blue screen. The slate clicks; the cameras roll; his back hunches; he heh-heh-hehs a few times to clear his throat; action!

IOZ, here, measuring his words on Rent and Bush in minor chord.


Will someone, anyone, please teach someone, anyone, on the Slate staff a new song? One that can be sung without hyperventilating? This one has too many verses and they're all the same: those horrible conservatives don't need to overturn Roe, they'll just sneak onto the bench by promising to respect precedent and chip away at the right to abortion until, until, until...

Until the only women who can get an abortion without telling someone are unmarried adults with pre-viable fetuses and anyone else whose life would be threatened? So, does that cover, what, 70%, 80%, 90% of all the people who actually get abortions?

…Children whose parents must be notified? More than half of them, their parents are going to WANT them to get abortions. And of the rest, those who are victims of rape, incest, or abuse are going to be able to get abortions by getting judicial consent. And only some states will impose these kinds of requirements. So you're left with laws that will impose some kind of burden on maybe 5%, maybe even less of the people who will ever seek abortions. And almost all of those people will be minors, whose parents in most cases should be informed, or women seeking to abort fetuses that may be viable.

In other words, those terrible conservatives will "chip away" at the right to abortion until the laws reflect pretty much what the broad middle of the population agrees with anyway. Pretty radical.

not_abel, here, calling out Slate's Roe-ving reporters for being outside the mainstream of public opinion on abortion


The last time I looked, the only ones reading Ulysses and quoting Nietzsche were teenagers. No adult has time for aesthetic "difficulty" or "self-consciousness."

Fuckin' punk.

If you're being dryly ironic, this piece is too clever by half. If it's sincere, then its simply wrong. The author does a great job of discussing why Watchmen is a seminal work, and its contributions to the medium. But his conclusion – that it hasn't dated well or is somehow beneath the dignity of adult concern – is unsubstantiated by his analysis. As a dystopian vision of the world with an ever-present yearning for a Messiah, I'd argue its a work with a timeless appeal – certainly timeless enough to satisfy an adult reader who came of age after the Cold War's definitive conclusion.

The allegation that Ulysses is somehow teen lit is absurd enough to compel conclusion that the author's joking. If he's not... well, that would speak far more poorly of Tom Shone than Joyce...

Geoff, here, piling on Tom Shone.


In "The Great Comic Book Heroes", Jules Feiffer writes in praise of junk, in this case, the comic books from "The Golden Age" of the 1940s, but really, he is writing about junk culture in general, and how necessary it is for kids. Junk is not good for you, it is not educational, it provides no morals, it is not approved of by adults. Being junk, it can get away with behaviors that its more reputable cousins cannot---slam bang violence, for instance. In a child's world, where one is constantly being disciplined by adults like parents and teachers into accepting society's rules and regulations, the escape into the fantasy world of junk is like a psychic safety valve.

Before Superman stood for truth, justice and the American way, he stood for the schnook who couldn't take it anymore, turned into a dynamo and beat the crap out of his oppressors, and even got to reject the girl who had been humiliating him. Early comics were simple tales of sadomasochism, bondage and homo-eroticism---no wonder they freaked out Frederick Wertham.

The Comics Code put an end to all that in the 1950s, and turned comic books into mush, eliminating all that was dangerous or transgressive about them. It was only when Stan Lee and company at Marvel switched the tone of comic books from juvenile escapism to adolescent angst in the 1960s that comic books became relevant again. This shift towards complex characters, longer narrative arcs and social commentary continued with fits and starts up through the British Invasion of the 1980's, when writers like Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore turned out self-consciously literary stories that just happened to feature superheroes. To many people, "Watchmen" was the apogee of this trend.

Much of this work was excellent, although some of it was artsy and unintelligible. But I agree with Tom Shone that something was lost on the road to respectability. Midlife crises and literary allusions do not make for satisfying juvenile fantasies. The junk factor that allowed children's darkest feelings to be expressed in mindless pop culture was gone. Whereas adolescent boys used to read hyperviolent comics like Batman, they now play hyperviolent videogames like Grand Theft auto.

So the comic book industry faces a dilemma. Kids no longer read comics. Their main audience is made up of adults who grew up with the form as children, and adults need a certain level of intelligence in their fiction to stay interested. But this same sophistication that speaks to adults prevents children from rediscovering the genre. So as the comic book demographic gets older, its sales continue to dwindle, until a graphic novel like "Watchmen" attains the ultimate in literary respectability: widely admired but rarely read.

Utek1, here, in praise of junk.


Jody Rosen's appraisal of Billy Joel is hands-down and hats-off the best summary/explanation of his career I've come across. It's actually one of the best celebrity/rock star profiles I've ever read! I too have had arguments over whether Billy Joel is as good as Bob Dylan (and I was in the lamentable position of having to defend Dylan against a devotee of Joel who shared her idol's resentment toward the rock canon...)--but this as an adult!! Billy Joel is ubiquitous, which is perhaps the primary reason why he's so annoying: you can neither forget him nor forget how bad he is. And yet Rosen is convincing on why one should have sympathy for this devil: in another age he would have been capable of writing songs as good as Burt Bachrach or Carole King, and as such he would have been covered or possibly even collaborated with Elvis Costello, instead of becoming the target of Elvis's easy but irresistible cheap shots. His misfortune, and ours as listeners, is to be born after his historical moment…

bellacohen, here, joining Jody Rosen's self-effacing rejection of Billy Joel


The Answer to Slate's Prayers: Sell editor's pick posts from the Fray through Amazon as shorts. Reduce the price to a quarter for a single post, but let someone access a particular poster's entire catalog for a larger single price. The collected works of Urquhart or Chango or Splendid Ireny? $10. If you could actually unearth the posts from inception, there'd be a ton spent just by current Fraygrants. And once they start rising through the Amazon list, others will start to notice. Who knows, it could become a cult market...

rundeep, here, using Brendan Koerner's report on Amazon to develop a profit model for the Fray (beyond that Radio Shack ad).


Like many persons in their situation, they wanted to get married. There was one impediment. They are both women.


The Constitutional Court of South Africa has held [balkin.blogspot.com] that that nation's constitution forbids the state from refusing to allow same sex marriage, but stayed the mandate for one year to allow the Parliament to reform its laws. [Comparable to the Vermont and Massachusetts' courts' approach when the issue arose.]

The SA Constitution, a recent document enacted in the 1990s, includes within it some specification on the classes of individuals that are in particular secured against discrimination. Among the criteria listed in "sexual orientation." Thus, like in some states with constitutions with a specific right to privacy and so forth, the Court had an easier time of it than the U.S. Supreme Court might…

The ruling is interesting on various grounds. Its discussion on the constitutional role of the court -- a role that it underlines is mandatory, constitutional protections are the "obligation" of the Court to uphold -- is notable. The matter is spelled out in a bit of detail because the Court was accused of overstepping its mandate. Likewise, independent judicial review as practiced by our federal courts is not quite as well entrenched there. American type constitutions with certain liberties backed by strong judicial review is one cultural export that grew in number in the post-WWII era.

The ruling also spells out basic principles of equality, dignity, furtherance of difference, personhood, and so forth that also has clear application in our system. Ditto the various equal protection concerns relevant and proper in same sex situations. Likewise, it underlines that requiring the state to supply equal marriage rights to same sex couples does not invade religious freedom -- it does not compel a minister or religious organization to approve or perform same sex marriages. Nonetheless, many organizations do perform them in that country.*

Finally, the opinion cites various authorities to make various points, including Brown v. Bd. of Education to note the "tangible" and "intangible" aspects of marriage. This citation of "foreign law" apparently did not in any way demean the court or corrupt the nation's law, which clearly in various ways is different from our own.

Dare I say, the opinion has something to teach us…

* Same sex marriage is not such a sensitive issue with only a tiny political party suggesting the need for some sort of extraordinary constitutional provision to stop it from occurring. The fact sexual orientation is specifically protected by the Constitution highlights the point.

Joe_JP, here, on what we can learn from South Africa's Constitutional Court. 


The nation is starting to realize that it's the medicine that's making it sick. Do we really have to amputate our arm to stop the spread of terrorism? Do we really have to ravage our body with toxins and poisons to keep the economy going? Is it honestly necessary that rather than tightening our belt, we instead beg, borrow and steal to pay for all of this treatment? The fact of the matter is, the cures—Bush's policies—are to the point that people are wondering if they are worse than the diseases that justified them.

Bottom line, not only are we not getting better, but the bulk of our ills are proving to be side effects of Bush's suspicious habit of cherry picking the worst diagnosis that fit the symptoms. Not to mention the laundry list misdiagnoses, fabricated symptoms and worst of all, the pointing to side effects as symptoms of yet more disease.

Bush's mistake is he has done too good a job of using the threat of recession and the reality of war to justify his good times and peacetime political agenda. They are no longer a political ideology. They are the extreme measures taken to confront extreme circumstances. He didn't take the nation to war. He instead subverted our national unity in the wake of 9/11 to implement conservative partisan policies under the guise of the war effort. Is it any wonder the war isn't won? We still haven't fought it. The nation isn't at war, our armed forces are…

Ender, here, offering political commentary while on Fray Survivor hiatus

Kevin Arnovitz is the author of Clipperblog and a contributor to NPR, Out, and the New Republic.

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