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Jan. 4 2006 7:47 PM

BOTFers Tie the Knot

And fraysters besiege your McMansion.

The Gift Economy: Why should a complicit pol in the Abramoff scandal get to siphon off the cash into a charitable contribution of his choice? That's the question O_Hellenbach poses here:

If Denny Hastert took $69K in money from a corrupt lobbyist, then those funds really ought to go to the people or agency who nailed his ass. I don't care whether Denny has plausible deniability or not. He's welcome to pull his Sergeant Schultz routine for the press and his gullible constituents, but as far as being able to use the dirty money itself to get re-elected or otherwise help prop up his reputation, well, forget it. Why should the politicians be the only ones to profit from their corruption?

Shadow Architecture: MT doesn't much care for Witold Rybczynski's architectural slideshow on McMansions, so she's devised her own visual survey of "eight houses which are roomy and livable with beautiful proportions." All of MT's choices are in the Chicago area, including the Fraywatch fave and Prairie style classic, Robie House in Hyde Park.

Common Sense: This HLS2003 response on the origins and meaning of a free press is buried beneath a flame pit over in BOTF. Don't miss it.

King James Version: For those looking for a primer on the LeBron Nike ads, samfrood provides it here in ARC Fray:

Ok - the old guy is LeBron. He keeps playing highlights from his long-ago NBA career on the vidscreen. The other dudes are his sons (or grandsons) who hang out with him. They resent the old geezer - and hate having to listen to his rambling cracker-barrel tales of his former prowess on the court - BUT - LeBron has the dough - so they put up with him.

The Kid Stays in the Picture: Former Cinemark projectionist, bionerd, agrees with Slate's Hollywood Economist, Edward James Epstein, that multiplexes are skimping on labor:

When I was on duty I was responsible for all eight projectors. I wasn't technically a projectionist, though, because, as another way for the company to save money, they called me an "Usher B." If I was actually a projectionist, they would've had to pay me much more than $6.00 per hour. I and the rest of the projectionists and managers at the theater that I worked at had very little technical training. Besides the routine threading and starting of projectors, we only knew how to do things like build prints, fix broken film, change trailers, adjust focus, adjust volume, and change diodes--the things that you have to know to get a watchable picture on the screen. We didn't know how to do the kinds of things that make for a perfect presentation, which was supposed to be our goal. We didn't know how adjust lamp brightness, how to focus the lamp, how to adjust the aperture to get crisp picture edges, or how to do any of the optical and auditory fine-tuning to make the presentation really great. The result was sub-par presentation, as I saw it. It was pretty frustrating for me, but to tell the truth, we didn't get many complaints as long as the picture was watchable.

A Coal Miner's Granddaughterlil_2 offers a perspective in DP Fray.

The Institution of Marriage: … being supported by the Fray. Congratulations to Montfort and zinya, who make their announcement hereKA4:40 p.m.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

As a compliment to Witold Rybczynski's architecture piece on the rebuilding of New Orleans, the Fray offers a report from one of its Katrina correspondents, Isonomist—:

It's beautiful here, if you're only looking at the sky. It's warm, and a few trees are left alive. Wait, some entire blocks look normal. New Orleans after Katrina is just as the author said, post-war Europe, rubble where history once stood, landmarks rising ghostly against a now peaceful sky, dusty people trying to reassemble their lives stone by stone. The closest equivalent now would be present day Baghdad. Some areas downright lawless, some almost normal. You can drive down St. Charles Street and still find lovely mansions, some with piles of sheet rock and ruined furniture in front. Who knows what's behind those shining doors?

Some parts of town you can drive for blocks and see nothing but debris and row after row of abandoned, blackened homes. But it's not fire, it's filthy water like a bathtub ring at eight, six, four, two feet. Cars piled against trees, boats tipped drunken in the medians of the boulevard. The corpses of trees stacked haphazardly between lanes.

On my cousin's block we're all starting to make our piles of lathe, plaster, sheetrock, insulation, banana leaves, branches, trunks. Beds for ogres. The cat down his block has taken over most of the piles. Monday I saw her stalking a chicken wing, absconding with a KFC skin dangling from her mouth. Lucky cat. You have to drive to another part of town to find an open KFC, much less a bottle of water. That's what the Red Cross is for. You'll hear them driving by, megaphones blasting so you can hear them from the back of your busted up house, proffering MREs and bottled water.

My aunt over in Metairie has shown me her supply of MREs. You'd be surprised what people will save, even when the stores have reopened. You never know.

My son and I donned our coveralls and respirators, which we fondly nicknamed our hazmat suits, and helped gut a house that has stood since long before the first New Orleans flood of the century, back in 1927. It'll survive this too. Losing electricity means nothing to a house that was built before indoor plumbing became the fashion.

As we pull out layers of wall and ceiling, we find the bones of this house, and realize it was built by someone far more skilled than whoever renovated it, however many times. I test a couple of floors toward the back, and warn my cousin that these will have to come out. Have to? He knows, that cat in the front lawn has found its way in through the holes in this floor, slept in his bedroom and left hair on everything still functional on the upper floor. But the rest of the house is solid. Everything original is still tight and smooth, even floors that had been underwater for almost a month. If you know floors, you know what I'm saying. Someone knew what he was doing.

We work in daylight, partly because we can't see without it, and partly because the neighborhood isn't safe after dark. There are no streetlights, no traffic lights, no neighbors. No store to run into if someone's following you. No one to hear you scream for help, even if all that's happened is you tripped and fell into a pile of nail-studded two by fours. Before dark, we are gone, peeling off our hazmat suits, wondering how far we'll have to drive to find dinner, hoping we don't end up with Katrina cough, tired and sweaty.

Yesterday, we took the day off. It was 75 degrees and sunny. I took my son to some of the higher areas, the Quarter, Gentilly Ridge, Metairie, after a brief tour of the low-lying area (near the Industrial Canal) where my uncle's house was. We swung by City Park, the northern ballfields now FEMA city, the southern oak walk twinkling with Christmas lights, a carnival of bright rides and laughing children. I hope he understands when this is over, some of what it means to me to be from New Orleans.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

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██.

—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.

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

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