The implementation of daylight savings time inevitably prompts the biannual question of why we bother to set our clocks back or forward. Slate's Tim Harford goes further and asks what would happen if the United States jettisoned its fragmented present-day arrangement and instead functioned with a universal time zone.
Xando happily envisions just such a future world, made possible by advances in automation and technology:
Communications, remote operation and timeshifting abilities have become so great that the only real reason most people work at centralized locations during specific hours is really tradition.
Most white collar jobs can be conducted almost exclusively over the Internet. If it can be measured by some objective metric, you don't need supervision. With increasingly powerful cellphones and WiFi, you don't even need to worry about whether your employees needed to step out - you can contact them at the supermarket just as easily as you can at home.
Automation and remote control can also be used to de-centralize people. A drive-through order-taker can work from an Indian call centre. Your local supermarket can easily become an automated warehouse that empties and loads trucks - even discards old food on a scheduled basis - all under the watchful eye of a single technician who keeps things running. You could even run an automobile factory like this - that control attached to the robotic arm could easily be operated from ten states away with a decent camera setup.
Obviously, some interactions will always be face-to-face. But as people de-centralize, the number of people you absolutely need to accommodate will shrink rapidly.
In theory, this sounds good. But with the link between clinical depression and exposure to sunlight proven by science, FreddiedeBoer worries about a sharp spike in seasonal affective disorder under a universal time zone. Rrhain also points to the negative human effects of waking up in the dark:
To attempt to have a social life when everybody else around you is three hours behind your sleep schedule is difficult. Now try it when it's five.
The reason why we have time zones is precisely because people want to be in sync with each other: And that means the people you live with every day. They tend to live in the same time zone you do.
A denizen of cloudy and overcast Michigan, Chad-B reminds the author of the article that sleeping at night is natural: "Shifting an hour is one thing, but morning remains morning and evening remains evening. Much more than that, and you wind up with lots of people on 'normal' schedules being required to sleep during daylight hours, which is neither pleasant nor easy."
Recounting his service in the Merchant Marine under a tyrannical captain who "kept our clocks on Greenwich Mean Time no matter where we happened to be in the world," RoyJaruk-18 concludes on this cautionary note:
Interfering with the rhythms of body clocks genetically attuned to keep sun time is not something to be undertaken lightly. Humans were ordering their lives by the sun for millenia before accurate timepieces were invented. It's far better that a few West Coast stockbrokers and employees of the industries that provide services to that group be inconvenienced than it is to foul up the rhythms of millions of people just because those brokers are pissed off their jobs require them to work on New York City time. The idea of one national time zone for the continental United States is idiotic on the face of it.
For those unfamiliar with the scientific concepts behind daylight savings time, run75441 has an excellent primer on the difference between a sidereal and solar day here. AC … 7:27pm PST
Friday, Oct. 27, 2006
Michael Agger's reflections on iPod's five-year anniversary and its supposedly "revolutionary" influence were the source of much debate.
For oppie, disburdened of carrying 10 cassettes or cds around thanks to Apple's invention, "it's really the extent to which the iPod can be used that makes it a revolution." In twin posts declaring I ♥ iPod, funkgenie praises the ease of making a mix, while Tigercrane credits the device for "chang[ing] everything about the way I listen to music" and expanding his music collection "dramatically in size and variety." In rundeep's formulation, the revolution lies in "the freedom to download just one song instead of an entire, mostly weak, album."
But in the hierarchy of revolutionary technology, the iPod ranks rather low, argues Arkady:
Fire-making, the wheel, animal husbandry, selective breeding of crops, bronze-making, concrete, the compass, the printing press, gunpowder, sanitation, the steam engine, the automobile, radio & television, and computers are revolutionary technologies, in that they each transformed society in enormous ways. They shifted the paradigm, rewriting the socioeconomic rules at a fundamental level, so that what came after bore surprisingly little resemblance to what came before.
Then there are second-tier inventions like the lightbulb, canning, steel-making, the loom, antibiotics, movies, the phonograph, the vaulted arch, airplanes, the Internet, etc., which didn't quite shift the social paradigm in a deep way, but did make an enormous and far-reaching difference in how people live.
The iPod is more like cable television, aspirin, cell phones, GUIs for PCs, helicopters, Polaroid instant cameras, flying buttresses, or stainless steel. It's a third-tier technology. The paradigm remains unchanged, and many segments of society aren't that much affected, but there's still a big enough associated social change to be interesting. You can reasonably write a serious book on how the iPod or Polaroid cameras or cable TV impacted the society.
The iPod is above fourth-tier technologies like the Walkman, the wireless mouse, digital wristwatches, velcro, cruise control, pancake makeup, etc., where the social impact is so minor as to be unworthy of any real attention. Trying to write a book on the Walkman's social impact would be a ludicrous exercise.
More than technological innovation, superior design and marketing were really the keys to the iPod's cultural traction in yggy's estimation:
My first mp3 player was a rickety 75MB number that connected via LPT port. It was very difficult to find and play the songs loaded onto it. I now have an iPod Shuffle I use exclusively for working out. The Shuffle has no interface, and yet it's actually easier to get through song lists than it was on my first player. Kudos to the Apple engineers!
But the real triumph of the iPod should be credited to Apple's marketing department. Apple is one of the best at the "lifestyle" products game. There was no technological revolution, but it sure felt like one. That's mission accomplished in the product development biz. And again the genius of the iPod's visual design was to make it easily distinguishable at first sight. Back in the winter of '01-'02, anyone could immediately spot the trend setters. It was all about those white headphones.
Of course, those white headphones signify something quite different to other fraysters. Describing his daily morning commute with zombie-like iPod listeners' "long white wires filtering down to the nearest pocket, staring off into some spot on the bus where there is no gaze coming back, looking nothing less than already defeated and depressed by the day ahead of them," Ted_Burke rails against the anti-social behavior induced by the device, declaring: "I neither own an Ipod, nor wish to get one."
Shuffle over to the Culturebox Fray for other testimonials to the iPod's influence and contribution to societal ills. AC … 12:24pm PDT
Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006
Star poster doodahman's brilliant, semiregular shadow column for readers of our Dear Prudence Fray has a become an institution of the Fray over the years. Using the questions submitted to the weekly Dear Prudence as a launching point, doodahman's parallel advice column has offered a hilariously acerbic dose of healthy guidance to Prudie's advisees.
Meanwhile, the Dear Prudence Fray also receives numerous requests for advice, which tend to be fielded by Prudie's helpful fan-base.
Needless to say, this pair has the same promise of flavorful combination as peanut butter and chocolate. So, without further ado, Fraywatch proudly presents the first fully original My Two Cents:
Recently, my grandmother has been ill. I am only sad as of late because she is suffering so. She was healthy as a horse a month ago, and then suddenly decided she didn't want to be of this world anymore. She said "I won't eat or drink or take my pills, and you can't make me. " and that was it. Should I feel guilty that I am happy for my grandma that she will see my grandpa again?
My family respects her wishes and no one has forced her to do anything. Now she is in the final stages of death and we are all practically holding our breath until it happens. I am happy for her though, that she can get out of this sad lonely existence and be with the one she loves again.
A lot of people say that I am sick and demented and that I should make her eat. They say there is no reason for her to die. I think those people are selfish, wanting me to keep her here so I can enjoy her company. I want people to be happy for and with themselves. Not to rely upon the presence of another for their happiness. I would never force anyone to do what they didn't want, even if it would kill me to lose them. What do you think?
Grandma's Little Helper
Dear Shoo Na-Na:
First off, she did leave a signed, witnessed and notarized statement confirming she's making this decision voluntarily, without duress and coercion, didn't she? See, whenever the county carries out the emaciated, medication-deprived remains of a dependent old relative, it raises a lot of, oh, legal questions. Frankly, letting her do all the work is what's selfish. If you really want to be supportive, hand her an AARP pamphlet on seppuku and a Ginsu. Then be ready to decapitate the dear old sweet should she become confused while disemboweling herself—you know how geezers can be. Too bad grandparents aren't like cats, huh? They won't just crawl under the front porch to die.
Although you're all bravely determined to unselfishly shuffle Mima into the Void, you might want to consider the possibility that's she's merely clinically depressed—a condition easily relieved with simple medications and some therapy. Sorry, but there's no call to put the old girl down just yet. Severe, even dangerous depression often descends on the elderly following the death of their beloved spouse (or in my grandmother's case, Perry Como). Things here seem to have gotten out of hand. Actually starving oneself to death seems a tad extreme. You happily watching her starve seems downright creepy. Letting it happen to a person with whom you have a caretaker relationship seems kinda criminal. So, laudable as your laissez faire, somewhat Nietzsche-inspired attitude might be in some quarters (oh, like the Third Reich), you'll just have to pass on this opportunity to euthanize her just because she's in the dumps.
Call her doctor immediately (assuming his name isn't Kevorkian) and if necessary, get her committed until her mental condition can be assessed by professionals. If she's really serious about doing herself in, she can jump out of her psych ward window; it not only takes place outside your hands, but has the added benefit of allowing you to collect on their insurance. Oh, and you might want to reflect, briefly, on the fact that your grandmother would rather starve and die than stay with you, her loving family.
I have a friend who poses the following ethical dilemma: On a recent company trip, he was the victim of a theft. Personal items stolen included a sleeping bag, a tent, a backpack and a sleeping pad.
The items will be replaced by his employer's insurer. My friend will make a claim for a tent and sleeping pad comparable to those that were stolen, but the backpack he had is no longer being manufactured. He's thinking of claiming for a better model of pack, as well as a more expensive sleeping bag.
What are the implications of this? What do you think he should do, and why?
Merely One Friendly Observer
Dear Scam Bag:
Some outlaw! If this claim was made by MTC's "friend" (wink wink), that backpack would have been holding jewelry, a laptop, stereo equipment, skis, snow tires …whatever kinda crap he could dig up receipts for. The bogus upgrade on the ol' backpack is so bush league, it's perfect. It would cost the insurance company more to dispute the claim than it would to pay it.
Well, the straight answer is fraud is fraud, even if the plan's foolproof. But let's examine the so-called logic behind this knee jerk goody two shoe-ism. First off, the alleged victim is a huge corporation that is itself re-insured for the loss. It's not a person—it's an impersonal behemoth that maximizes profit by any means it can get away with. You don't get down to an actual human being victimized until you hit the shareholders, who, being rich mo' fo's to start with, couldn't possibly give a flying monkey turd about the .0000004¢ this "sting" theoretically costs each of them as individuals. Would you?
Sure, the Dudley Do-rights will argue that, individuals aside, society has to pay for "your friend's" (heh heh) perfidy because the cost of fraud is built into the premium—in fact, fraud and stealing is built into the price of all goods and services. Exactly! That means that your "friends" (hah) employer, and all other purchasers of their policies, alreadypaid the insurance company to allow you to defraud them. The bottom line is, just about everyone is ethically justified in some minor fraud in these situations because the cost of all the fraud in every transaction is passed on to them whether they commit fraud or not in the price. How is that fair? Only if you do some cheating at least once in a while. Great system, ain't it?
I am in a long distance relationship with a graduate student. Do you get caught up in life to the point you start pushing loved ones away? Is graduate school really this taxing? I ask because I don't know, never being a graduate student myself.
I am being told that an exam is lasting two weeks. I suppose I have my doubts, obviously. There are 1000s of miles between us and we haven't talked for two weeks. This person is ill now and trying to finish this 14 day exam. I try to understand, but am having a hard time understanding why it is so taxing to just send a short note, or make a short call. Yeah I know, blow off is possible. Trust me I've thought of this. I'm trying to give this person more time to go through what they need to go through before I just throw in the towel, but I'm losing my patience because in my mind, like plants, relationships need water and I feel it doesn't take too much to pour some water on a plant.
What do you think I should do?
Subject of a Lesser Degree
Dear Dis' Irritation:
Ah, if only you could get a PhD in Love like Barry White— you've earned about twelve credits in lab work with Blowoff McSmartypants and you can pay off your tuition in tears. Cue violin.
Some say "absence makes the heart grow fonder." However, the oft forgotten second line goes, "for about a semester, then forget it." Academia is a relationship centrifuge in which separations are induced by the studious application of cheap sex and free flowing booze. Or was that free flowing sex and cheap booze? No matter…the long distance thang (i.e. any distance farther than seven exits) rarely lasts. The distractions and competition on campus are simply too great for almost any person to endure.
Sadly, it appears that your cross-country beau already Masters in mind games. Sure, he might have been scholastically "taxed" into blowing you off, but logic argues against it. Logic says that he'd make time for you if he really wanted to, even during a 14 day medical school dissect-a-thon. Here's the formula: A. He can find time to take a crap; B. cell phones work in the john, so, therefore, he's had time to call. He just didn't. Thus, ipso facto (that's a grad school word), you're getting dumped or at best, severely blown off.
Given that logical proof, there's no point in waiting to throw in the towel, washcloth, loofah or even that soap suds thingy. Give them all a hearty toss and start moving on. Oh, and don't pass this off as being hoodwinked by some evil genius. You should have anticipated this happening when he left you to go "1000s of miles away" for school. Dang, even somebody with a GED coulda seen this coming even at that distance.
Is there any way to keep my moms dogs from barking all night?!?!?!?
(That doesn't violate animal cruelty laws)
Please, Eliminate That Animal
Dear Ruff Nights:
MTC doesn't give animal training tips. doodahman can't keep even keep his cat from barking. Frankly, if MTC could silence anything, the dog would be far down the list, after most of his relatives and everyone to the political right of Neil Young. Try writing Siegfried and Roy (now known informally as Siegfried and Claude).
Since you apparently don't rank alpha in the pooch-ocracy, let ma deal with her barkers. If she doesn't seem to notice the racket that the dog is making, check her hearing aid. If the hearing aid is working, check her pulse. Otherwise, only one other solution comes to mind—try moving out and getting your own place. Maybe that's what your mom got the dog for in the first place.
We have a "kid" who is legally an adult, but is in his last year of high school. He's always had insomnia, which medications have helped somewhat in the past, but he no longer is willing to take much in the way of medications. I, too, have insomnia, so his being up tends to wake me.
He now will stay up till 2, 3, 5, in the morning. He has trouble, obviously, waking up for school and staying awake at school and at work. However, that isn't bothersome enough for him to go to bed, especially when he thinks he won't sleep, anyway.
I have taken away his computer password, so he can only get on when we log him in. This means he can actually have a life at home instead of staring at the monitor all evening, but there are also TVs, video games, and books in the house to keep him occupied, unless we want to stay up all night to baby sit him.
I can eliminate the videogames and TVs, but any ideas how to make going to bed a more attractive option to this kid? We live several miles from school via dangerous roads, and he doesn't drive, so letting him miss the bus isn't really an option.
We've reminded him we won't be able to tell him to get up in college. I'm NOT calling long distance to wake him, even if he'd hear the phone! I want him to be able to be responsible for himself, and can't be home and awake enough to coerce him to bed so his body gets used to a schedule.
Physically Exhausted Parent
Dear Unable to Raise Cain:
"…any ideas how to make going to bed a more attractive option to this kid?" Ahem. Let's take another approach as there might be children present. Unfortunately, it would be reckless to suggest the one thing that would probably work easiest—three bongs at bed time chased with warm brandy (bet he won't turn down that medication). You might have to subsidize his stash, and that's probably not covered by Blue Cross. If you find out different, make sure to write back, hear?
Lots of teenagers go through an "insomnia" stage, which usually stems from a common phenomenon of teenage brain chemistry: an unhinged craving to live without nagging, judgmental parents. Kinda like Children of the Corn, without the horrible acting and farm implements. At three a.m., he's got the run of the house. Weighed against such glorious solitude are no consequences of any significance, yet. As long as you treat this as a medical condition and not a self-discipline issue, it'll never change. Well, until something really bad happens. He hasn't been flunked out or fired for missing classes or sleeping at work. Hopefully it won't take him nodding into the fry vat to straighten the kid out.
Such a condition is usually cured by intense, in-house counseling which aggressively employs the screaming dad/screeching mom technique. Eventually, if he's driven by the sheer force of your bitching and screaming to get up and moving when he's supposed to, he'll have to start falling asleep early. Or die. It works for the Marine Corps. Yes, it's harsh, but raising teenagers isn't a job for weaklings. If he does manage to graduate and get into a college, forget managing his sleeping habits. You might as well try to stop him from cheating on exams and jerking off. He'll just have to major in "medieval woodcraft" or some other idiotic major so he only needs to sign up for afternoon or evening classes. Then, when he can only find work as a 7/11 night clerk, insomnia will be part of his skill set.
Do you have a question for the Dood? Submissions welcome in the Dear Prudence Fray. GA … 12:50pm PDT
Sunday, Oct. 22, 2006
One of the Fray's more successful blogging alums, longtime poster Betty_The_Crow, popped into Fraywatch this weekend to share an interesting opportunity with Fraysters. Readers may remember that back in 2005, one of our regular posters, TheBrewmaster, attended a White House press conference as a representative of BTC News, a blog launched by Fraysters. Flowing from that development, Betty_The_Crow writes:
Our contact guy at the White House turned into an official spokesman a while back and has agreed to answer a selection of questions from BTC News readers. If you want to submit a question, leave it in the comments on this post.
Do you have any questions for the administration you'd like to see answered? Have you despaired that they'll ever be asked? If so, feel welcome to contribute to Betty_The_Crow's query queue. GA … 9:30pm PDT
Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006
While often viewed as one of the more picturesque, aesthetically pleasing American cities, San Francisco receives poor marks on its architecture from critic Witold Rybczynski in this latest Slate review. If nothing else, his assessment validates former Fray Editor kevinarno's general feeling that San Francisco belongs in Woody Allen's Academy of the Overrated (alongside Kierkegaard, Lenny Bruce, and Vincent van Gogh).
Of course, not all Fraysters feel the same way. shortpinesBC would take "San Francisco's warm, quirky fun spaces" to the "steel and glass modernist" structures preferred by Rybczynski any day of the week. ahurvitz2 expresses befuddlement at the review:
I can't think of a city in the America with a more distinct and humane style of building than SF. The thousands of row houses, the elegant Art Deco apartment houses of Nob Hill, the Victorian houses, the Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, the Marina, Pacific Hts. Every section is unique and distinguished in its own particular way. I want to throw in the cable cars, Lombard Street, Haight-Asbury, Chinatown, the Transamerica Tower, Coit Tower, North Beach, the Embarcadero, Alcatraz....What do any of these lack?
Would you rather replace all of this with a rolled up and crushed piece of silver foil called Frank O. Gehry in your quest for architectural egoism?
For PoliticalEconomist, Rybczynski overlooks the importance of SF's fantastic Victorian houses:
Wonderful downtown skylines and daring museums are worthy public goals. But it is on residential streets that most of the citizens spend most of their time. Residential houses are the buildings amongst which we live, play, and take walks, leave in the mornings and return to in the evenings. Even mediocre skylines have a majesty about them that springs from sheer size alone; so long as there exists at least one or two signature buildings they need not all be fantastic. Museums are, for most, a pleasure for a rare Sunday afternoon once in a season. But a culture of beautiful houses spruces up our lives on a daily and intimate basis.
slyfox4 indicts Rybczynski for "daring to discuss the architecture of a city that was nearly destroyed 100 years ago and not even mention the distructive force that earthquakes have had on the city given the effect this must have had on whatever buildings did survive and the engineering of everything built since 1906."
design-junkie points to the absence of stellar design schools located in the city. DCPAlumni blames not the lack of architectural talent but overzealous community activists and fussy planning commissioners:
The fact is San Francisco is filled with activists of all stripes who believe they should put their stamp of approval on every building project in the City, whether it is the height or the architectural design. Therefore, controversial architectural designs are homogenized to make them more palatable to the throngs of activists and the results are often uninspiring designs…
… much of the City's architecture from the 1970's and the 1980's was uninspired because the City's zoning height and bulk limits created "refrigerator box" building envelopes which developers filled to the maximum extent possible. The Planning Commissioners of those decades failed to dictate quality architectural designs when they approved construction of the Downtown highrise office buildings and as a result the City's Downtown has some wonderful buildings designed and built in the first 50 years of the 20th Century and some really ugly, plain buildings built in the 1960's, 1970's and the 1980's.
Architect Cantor explains the difficulty of attracting "starchitects" to world-class cities:
Creating great architecture requires the developer to do more work, more research, spend more money on design fees, and take a risk. That's why you see great architecture coming to lesser know cities who need to compete in a less vibrant marketplace to stand out. Also, famous "starchitects" are [more] interested in changing a skyline of say St. Petersburg, Florida's downtown than in Tokyo or Sao Paolo where it would be more difficult due to the mass number of buildings.
A few readers go further in echoing Rybczynski's criticism. Leidesdorff33 bemoans San Francisco's inundation by "a whole group of totally unmemorable buildings which are going up in the South of Market area. It's as if SF is trying to outdo their building spree of 80's tepid postmodernism." OliviaD is particularly offended by the de Young Museum, which she derides as "a cross between a Wal-Mart loading dock and a cheese grater in the middle of our beautiful, gentle park." For SF native ChiTownEm, the gold standard of architecture is to be found elsewhere, on Chicago's Lakeshore Drive, an example of "how a collection of well designed scrapers coupled with great bungalows and walk ups create the perfect cityscape."
Talk about your favorite city in the Architecture Fray. AC … 3:55pm PDT
Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006
Yesterday, Slate published a second installment in Gregg Easterbook's ongoing efforts to link television with the onset of autism in children. The first "wholly speculative" article provoked a storm of outrage in the Fray that quickly overwhelmed our modest editorial staff. This latest piece, based upon the epidemiological work of researchers at the Cornell business school, has all the makings of another Category 5 hurricane.
SandyGrim questions the scientific credibility of Easterbook's source:
It seems very strange for an academic paper to be posted (buried?) on the Business School web site, rather than published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.
To be considered as serious science, the paper should have been published in a scientific or medical journal with high editorial standards and subjected to rigorous scrutiny by experts in autism, epidemiology, statistics, etc.
Easterbrook consistently refers to the increase in autism that begins "around 1980, about the same time cable television and VCRs became common". If Easterbrook had done his homework he would have found that 1980 was also the year the diagnosis of "Autism" actually became a diagnostic entry in its own right in the DSM-III. It was reclassified from being part of "psychotic" disorders (like schizophrenia) to having a specific heading in "developmental" disorders. Furthermore, in 1980's the 'autism spectrum' (autism, PDD-NOS, and the newly-minted Asperger's syndrome) definitions were changed or created to include persons with normal range IQ, and less severe symptoms. All of these changes to diagnosis would significantly impact the makeup of the population called "autism spectrum disorders" (ASD)-- sometimes just called "autism" by the media. (to the confusion of many readers). All of these changes coincided with the increase in television-watching, but (am i going out on a limb here?) weren't caused by television. […]
One of the worst perpetrations of bad science in the Cornell paper is using the California Dept. of Developmental Services rates of Autism between 1987 and 2003. The CDDS's report of those numbers clear states in its note to the readers: "The information presented is purely descriptive in nature and standing alone, should not be used to draw scientifically valid conclusions about the incidence or prevalence of ASD in California". [p. 4 of the pdf—ed.] Yet the Cornell paper tries to do just that. [p. 13, fn. 14 of the pdf—ed.]
But what of the convincing correlation between cable television in the 1980s and autism diagnoses? TJA has a head-slappingly obvious explanation:
Families that were early adopters of Cable were better off financially than families that did not get cable until years later. We know that middle and upper middle class parents are more likely to take their children to the doctor more often and to pursue possible health issues until they get an answer. In other words, having cable has NOTHING to do with CAUSING autism. It is simply something that financially secure families are more likely to have and those same families are more likely to get a diagnosis for their children.
Rachel126 questions the assumption that affluent households with cable expose their children to more television at all:
Of course, it makes sense that families with better access to health care also have more money and are more likely to have cable. But here's another thought--PBS is usually available to homes that don't have cable. And PBS has shown kids' shows during the day for years, Sesame Street, Teletubbies, Barney etc. So why is it assumed that kids without cable are not watching TV, or are watching less? They could be watching PBS all day. Nor should it be assumed that if the family has cable, the kid is automatically watching TV all day long. My nephew has autism. His family does not have cable, and his mother limited TV. Lots of parents of autistic children say they could tell something was "different" about their child from birth. How can TV be blamed for that?
Other strong posts includes Mangar's strident skepticism, mhogan's ecumenical endorsement of the proposition that kids shouldn't watch too much television, and Caromer's TV guide for toddlers. Most alarmingly, jeremygans has discovered a link between autism and reading.
If you're a fan of inclement weather, keep an eye on the Science Fray. This story has only just begun. GA … 2:45am PDT
Monday, Oct. 16, 2006
We're counting our blessings here at Fraywatch that smart people are unwelcome at DailyKos, the community Web site for activist lefties with Stalinist tendencies. It's an open secret in our user forums that Slate's Fray traffic rides the short bus. We editors have been twiddling our fingers in alarm since May, when longtime Fray contributor Ender posted his Mosaic call for an Exodus from Slate's reader community:
To be honest, a person, and I include myself, would have to be exceedingly naive of the internet around them to confine their words, their opinions, to that of posts in the fray. It's a sinkhole. Many, and I mean a majority of your best readers, have left as a consequence. Gone to greener pastures. And all because you refuse to recognize, to admit that your reader's voices matter. Well, I don't need to convince you otherwise. Why? Because your readers agree with me. And as you probably know all too well, when faced with the choice of being your reader, or having their voice heard, they've chosen and continue to choose the latter in droves. […]
Dear fellow fraysters: […] Create an account, and spend the next 1.7 weeks playing/fraying over at Daily Kos. Learn the ropes. Figure out what's what, and how things operate. At the end of the 1.7 weeks, report back here and answer the following question: […]:
Aside from the community that you know (me and you), can you think of any reason to continue reading Slate and posting in the fray given what else is available to you?
Sure enough, many of our best posters started two-timing, casting their pearls before the swine of a rival forum. We might not have much to brag about here at the Fray, but we do have one of the smartest communities of writing readers to be found online. Even our morons are lawyers.
As our hapless émigrés soon discovered, DailyKos has a dark side of its own—its very own people-powered Inquisition. By August, Fraysters were finding our strongest asset, embedded network-effects, to be our saving grace. By September, there was loose talk of declaring cyberwar.
The conflict between Kossacks and Fraysters reached a head with star-poster switters' sarcastic assessment of the last Democratic administration, "Bill Clinton Caused 9/11™" (simulcast in Pinko-vision):
In our month long celebration of all things 9/11™, it seems warily appropriate to get all the cards on the table. 5 years after this disaster, we still don't know whose fault it is. Until now.
With a presidential record that reveals that Clinton was more interested in the domestic health – economic, physical and social – of his fellow citizens than he was in "nation building" and "marching freedom spreading democracy" like a wheat thresher, it becomes abundantly clear just how asleep at the wheel our 42nd president (42? Have there been that many already? Really?) was, exactly.
Hell, he might as well have driven those planes into the Empire State Buildings himself. (And who's to say he didn't?)
But one thing we can all be sure of is that Bill Clinton caused 9/11™.
He failed to catch bin Laden during the movie Black Hawk Down
I mean, come on. Obi Wan Kenobi practically had him in his sights when he took out that one tank thingie with a grenade launcher in order to help save the dude from Pearl Harbor. Not him, the other one. No, you're thinking of the dude from Troy and Munich. I'm talking about Colonel William ("Wally") Sharp from Armageddon. Please try to keep up.
He was soft on terror
After the incident in Somalia, all of the awe and fear capital we'd built up over the years made the first Gulf War look like the Bay of Pigs, literally.
He was a moderate Democrat
I.e., "pussy". But what would you expect from someone who was…
A draft-dodging faggot who never saw one day of combat
Could someone please explain to me, preferably slowly, why we would elect someone who had never fought in a war? It verges on the comical!
His vice president was an insane lunatic
All that weenie Al Gore did for 8 long years was to yammer on and on and on about the environment, predicting that if we didn't ease back off on all the consuming we'd suffer massive fluctuations in the weather, causing unprecedented natural disasters. I'm still chortling at that one, retard. Newsflash! Tsunamis and hurricanes are not caused by the weather. They're caused by God. Everybody knows that. I guess the last laughs on you, pinhead!
He spoke thoughtfully and in complete sentences when not reading a teleprompter
Just who the fuck does he think we are? Marshall Scholars? Quit that "reasoning" and "oratory" and "presidential rhetoric" and give us the meat and potatoes. (Better: pork skins and Schlitz.)
He was sexually active
Face it, folks: the last thing we need in the Oval Office is a president engaging in various sex acts while he's "the most powerful man on our planet, earth". It sends the wrong message, i.e, "I am a human being." Is that really the image we want splattered all over the world for all its inhabitants to see?
He was so busy running the country that he forgot to run for office
You just don't do that, kids. You just don't. When the majority of politicians' time is spent vying for the opportunity to spend the majority of their time vying for the opportunity to spend the majority of their time doing just that, it creates a Zen-like flow of psychological open-endedness and participates, via its circularity, in the very circle of life that they talk about in The Lion King. And who wouldn't want that?
On the other hand, actually getting things done creates a vacuum and the illusion that you're no longer needed. That's bad (for) business.
He wasn't fanatically Zionist
You can't achieve peace in the Middle East unless you're prepared to suck some kosher dick. Israel is the only, and I mean the only sane nation in the greater Middle Eastern metropolitan area. If Middle Eastern Peace were a restaurant, then Israel would be the uppity maitre 'd, and he'll be happy to inform you, after saying, "And you are…", that reservations are required months in advance, even years for larger parties. "Perhaps you should try that new place, Iraqi's Quagmire, just down the street," he'll say. "That may be more in your price range. And if I'm not mistaken they do accept reason and logic."
You don't talk to those people with reason and logic. You talk to those people with cruise missiles and artillery shells, RPGs and landmines, IEDs and SUVs. The language of anti-personnel devices and collateral damage is the only language those desert apes can understand. And you know it.
So, to sum up: Bill Clinton caused 9/11™ because of Armageddon (not the movie this time), John F. Kennedy, moderation, AWOL (Absent WithOut Leaving), "global cooling", stupidity-as-empowerment, productivity, and anti-Semitism.
Truth hurts, doesn't it?
Apparently, humor is an unwelcome weapon in the Kossack arsenal. This post was rated "troll" and switters was banned from the Web site, along with several other Fraysters who defended his writing. The incident gave resident misanthrope BettyThelmaLouLiz a new perspective on the Fray:
After reading the reactions to this Daily Kos post by switters, I can't help thinking that the even the dumbest frayster is head and shoulders above the typical kossack. […] Puzzling to me is that Daily Kos, a "liberal" site, uses fascist tactics to stifle and silence dissent, and even takes some perverse pride in driving away the voices that could make it interesting and useful.
As it is, Daily Kos is an echo chamber which must, eventually, become as boring to its most fanatical adherents as it is to everyone else.
The drolly professorial Gregor_Samsa offered an arch defense of the dkos standard:
Feyerabend said it best in "Against Method". Every single proposition unto itself is an orphan. Without the supporting legs provided by an entire paradigm, it's a sitting duck, a dead parrot (…and I await a knock on the door from the metaphor cops). Ptolemians had a field day poking holes in Galileo (not the kind of holes imparted by the Catholic Church) in the days before Newtonian mechanics. Jesus was not the first messiah, nor the last, and where would we be without the apostles? The point is, no great advance in human thought has ever been achieved without utilizing the synergies between like minds. The trouble with the fray ("The tower of Babble on" – Ducadmo, circa 2006) is its narcissistic nihilism (note: nihilistic narcissism works as well). No sooner has one posted a "work in progress" (e.g. a 9/11 conspiracy theory) than a flock of vultures descend from all sides and tear it from limb to limb (a shredded cockatoo, a mutilated humming bird...). What I like about dailykos is that they care about letting their ideas breathe, about nurturing them to maturity. They embrace the burden of looking witless, reactionary and unfashionable today, but they aspire for a deeper understanding tomorrow. They are progressives, but not in the sense you think. You people, entombed in your snark and self-congratulation, will never understand this. If dailykos is an echo chamber, at least there is light at the end of that tunnel (and don't give me that cliché about an approaching train). Do you know why you prefer diversity? For the same reason the lion prefers a teeming rain forest (I'll have to check on that).
Maybe dkos will be washed away by the tides of cyber history. But if anyone has a chance of leaving a mark, it's them. The only contribution you are capable of is canned laughter for sitcoms.
As the Fray's editor, I'm not really sure what to make of this whole episode. The Fray is only as good as the contributions of our users. Once one learns how to navigate it, it is very good indeed. For those in search of a public voice, Fray posting has many of the advantages of blogging, without the taxing requirements of monomania and daily output. I'm tempted to agree with one Frayster's summary:
My knee jerk reaction is to conclude that, in general, when it comes to Slate versus www.dailykos.com:
1.) Y'all get humor, although quite twisted at times.
2.) Y'all get irony.
3.) Y'all (most) seem to see what it is that I'm trying to say.
4.) Y'all are more tolerant and more open-minded, which is deliciously ironic in epic proportions because kos prides itself on being so liberal and, therefore, so tolerant. And that's really saying something because you bleeding-hearted hand-wringers really can go over the top on occasion.
5.) Ergo, a lot of kossers are retarded pinheads.
But, upon further reflection, it's the context. We as posters are not single posts but a collection of posts, for better or worse. After I've read something by one of you that's particularly intriguing, when I don't recognize the nic, I immediately hit MBTU to see what the deal is. Most of the time I'm not disappointed.
"Most of the time, not disappointing." We should probably translate that motto into Latin before we print it on the letterhead. Still, I'd consider it a bragging point. If you spend some time on the Fray, I'm confident you'll reach the same conclusion. GA … 10:15pm PDT
Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006
Slate's weeklong symposium on the Novel 2.0, in which Walter Kirn and Gary Shteyngart speculate on the fate and evolution of the novel in the age of the Internet, is all the more fitting for being hosted on an online-only publication that itself embodies the promise and paperless appeal of delivering journalism and culture via an electronic medium.
Taking an almost Enlightenment view of the universal human subject, twifferTheGnu is of the conviction that the more things change, the more they stay the same:
fashion, technology, language, customs all fall in and out of common use. yet, the concerns of humans, the desires, needs, hopes remain remarkably consistent. so what has changed? not the world, but the means of interacting with it.
does this mean the end of the novel? of course not. if there is one constant of human nature, it is our love of discussing ourselves. even if we never really change. the novel will continue, and will, like other aspects of the human world, undergo superficial changes to reflect the superficial changes in society. but the core will remain untouched. because for all our changes, people never do change, do they?
DonJindra makes a helpful distinction: "Changing communication does change the world. It all started with the printing press. No, we don't change human nature, but that's not 'the world.' How we live in the world certainly has changed, and will continue to change dramatically." As proof, baltimore-aureole lists the top 10 ways the Internet has changed the world, everything from "record stores going out of business" to declining worker productivity.
Identifying as a 23 year-old who is "old enough to treasure analog and young enough to pass through most digital applications without blinking an eye," DeliciousSandwich presents this forecast:
while it's true that a story does not change whether composed on parchment or computer screen, audience capacity is changing. Technology has gauranteed this; we consume in fits and starts, bite-sized downloads, nuggets of culture never too large as to overwhelm our attention spans. If there is a future for the novel, it might come in serialized form (as Walter Kirn has already demonstrated here in Slate, not to mention Stephen King and a slew of lesser-knowns all over the web). And of course Dickens was serialized for much of his career. But I'm not convinced readers have the patience to dive into James Joyce in downloadable form. There will always be novels, I think, but soon we may view them as the exception instead of the rule - like a director putting aside his HD camera to play around with 16mm, just like the good old days.
Not so fast, chimes inTidewaterJoe: "The novel will not die, not in the time in which I have still to live, say 20 or 30 years … " In his view, the practicality of ink on paper for certain leisurely or scholarly purposes (such as reading on the beach and highlighting) will always trump the computer.
The nature of the electronic medium itself poses certain challenges to any sustained discourse or literary enterprise on the Internet, arguesaugust:
Being online truncates my attention span, and I just can't follow long forms without drifting off to some other link. This post is probably too long, to say nothing of a novel. So let's hold off on the proclamation of novel 2.0. The internet hasn't even really met its Cervantes, to say nothing of its Tolstoy, Proust, or Faulkner.
But in terms of content, the play of identity, the necessarily pithy modes of expression, the desire to plug in and to unplug: all that seems like fodder for this generation of novelists.
We will end with annelliott9, whose observations as a high-school English teacher give us reason for optimism:
I work with teens--a population that is very much hooked up to video games, television, ipods, cell phones, instant messaging, and email. And yet these same young people read with insight, discover themselves in books on an ongoing basis, and even read outside of the classroom for their own enjoyment. Are these super-stars of the teenage world? Not really. They're just average kids looking to make sense of their world. And reading--and, yes, that includes reading novels--helps them to do that.
If these are the adult readers of the future, I find no reason at all to despair over the fate of novel readers--I only hope that novel writers will provide them with something worthwhile to read.
Those wishing to add footnotes to this debate can find it in the Book Blitz Fray. AC … 6:16pm PDT
Monday, Oct. 9, 2006
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, hasn't yet gone ballistic, but his fuse is clearly lit. In response to Fred Kaplan's latest call to armistice between the United States and its antagonists, Fraysters weigh in with their own geopolitical analyses.
Lysander thinks we can only face the truth of Kim's latest provocation by burying our heads in the sand:
One has to wonder how verifiable a underground North Korean nuclear blast would actually be. A Hiroshima class nuclear explosion is the equivalent of about 15,000 tons of TNT. A similar explosion could be generated with large quantities of . . . TNT or other high grade explosive or even gasoline. One has to wonder whether satellite images can provide enough information to definitively distinguish a small underground nuclear explosion from a really large underground conventional explosion - particularly if it were detonated very far underground.
Pyongyang clearly wants the West to think it has nuclear capabilities and is certainly desperate to avoid another public failure. One has to assume that the North Koreans at least possess the technical expertise necessary to detonate conventional explosives. Thus, the possibility of a nuclear hoax seems at least initially plausible.
In sum, there seem to be at least three possibilities: (1) North Korea might successfully detonate a nuclear device; (2) North Korean could try to detonate a nuclear device and fail; or (3) North Korea could detonate something deep in the ground and claim that it was a nuclear device.
HLS2003 has trouble in consideration of both Kaplan and Kim:
I cannot take any commentator seriously on the North Korea debate unless they answer this question: Should North Korea be bribed not to follow through on its threat to test a bomb? And if so, what have we gained?
Nobody wants North Korea to have nukes, and although I tend to think Kaplan's incessant (but utterly vague and contentless) calls for "more dialogue" are strategically wrongheaded, I can at least respect them as an alternate position. The goal is no Korean nukes; whether one uses a carrot or stick to get there is a matter for debate.
However, it is imperative not to use the carrot simply to head off North Korea's recent test threat. Dialogue and bribery may very well be the best bet to end their nuclear program. Well and good, let the US engage directly, or via six-party talks, or what have you; as I said, it might not be my strategic choice, but at least there's a goal in mind that could be accomplished as part of a bargain. But if the US and the world offer concessions just to head off this test, that is utterly foolish and counter-productive. The reason, in legal terms, might be called "illusory consideration." ...
In classic contract law, ... if a party makes a promise that purports to offer a benefit, but does not in fact convey anything thereby, that promise is said to be "illusory" and there is no contract because of a failure of consideration. For example, if we enter an agreement that says "I promise to paint your house if I feel like it, and you promise to give me $100," that is not a valid contract. What, after all, have I really promised? I have not promised to paint your house. I have not promised anything that you didn't already have before paying $100 (I could have painted your house if I felt like it at any time, without you paying me).
In this instance, North Korea suddenly announced it would test a nuclear weapon. If the world rushes to offer incentives to stop this particular supposed nuclear test, and the test doesn't happen right away, then what has the world gained? Nothing. It is an illusory promise. North Korea could say in two weeks "We've decided again to test" and we would have the same rigamarole all over again. ...
Dialogue may be a good idea, but it needs to be substantive dialogue about North Korea's overall nuclear program, not about this threatened nuclear test. If negotiations are going to be undertaken, they should be undertaken completely without regard for North Korea's latest announcement. Anything else, and the world is paying for an illusory promise, and teaching North Korea it can spin mere words into gold.
If Kim wants nuclear bombs, so be it. It is none of America's business that Kim wants to develop nuclear bombs. The day that it becomes America's business is the day that North Korea nukes America. (If so, America will annihilate North Korea and that will be that.) Until that day, which will never occur because Kim is cleverly rational, it's none of America's business to meddle in North Korean internal affairs.
Conversely, has North Korea ever told America that it can't develop new weapons, such as new missiles, new nuclear weapons, new warplanes or new anti-missile defense systems? Of course not! It would be absurd because no foreign country meddles in American internal affairs. Yet, why does America have the right to meddle in other countries' internal affairs with regard to weapons development and military expenditure? Per person, America by an exponentially large margin spends more money on its military than any other country. The second biggest spender, China, spends far less than America, and it has approximately four times more people!
Lastly, it should be pointed out that America has been the biggest warmongering country in the last fifty years. By far, it has been engaged in more wars in the past fifty years than any other country. America is also the ONLY country which has actually used nuclear weapons. In this context, the countries of Iran and North Korea look downright peaceful. Accordingly, it is America, and not North Korea or Iran, that should give up its nuclear weapons and have UN weapon inspectors running all over its country.
Many provocative points of view ... I'm still waiting, however, for a compelling suggested response to North Korea's behavior. If you have any ideas on what should be done, please enlighten us in the War Stories Fray. GA … 9:25pm PDT
Friday, Oct. 6, 2006
Daniel Gross' review of the various ways in which the Bush administration could be manipulating gas prices prior to midterm elections was the talk of Moneybox Fray, with some seeing corporate conspiracy where others see the pure economics of supply and demand.
Noting that "oil has lubricated politics from its earliest days," revrick gives an excellent historical primer on the subject, ranging from John D. Rockefeller's "take over of the early oil industry [with] the willing complicity of the PA legislature and their pals in the Penna Railroad" to "Lyndon Baines Johnson's … ties with Brown and Root, now a subsidiary of Halliburton."
nutrprofe frames falling prices at the pump as a matter of economic interest, with no conspiracy needed for price manipulation:
If I were an oil company official setting gas prices, I would slash them during the election season. This would be a smart business decision. Why? It is in the oil industry's interests to have Republicans in office at all levels. Lower gas prices mean more votes for Republicans. Any temporary loss of profit, even if it runs to hundreds of millions of dollars, will be richly repaid if Republicans stay in control. Lowering gas prices is a better investment than donating money to Republican campaigns, and is exempt from campaign finance laws.
No involvement of the government is needed, just oil companies following their own economic best interest. A conspiracy between competing oil companies is also not necessary. Once one company decides to slash prices, even at the expense of profits, they are undercutting every other company and they must slash prices too. Raising prices in unison would be trickier than cutting them in unison --one company might decide to raise prices less and grab more market share. But no such cooperation is needed for across the board price cuts.
Similarly, brlaub sees no need for "any overt collusion; just a recognition of what best serves the collective interest." Moreover, the "highly concentrated and oligopolistic" structure of the industry would lend itself to this sort of internal strategizing, with "the 'hyphenates' Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, etc.) control[ling] every aspect from exploration, production, refining and distribution."
MaxBuff points to "one crucial price driver" unmentioned by Gross: "market traders who bid up the price of crude when its supply is threatened by natural or manmade events":
It would take a real dummy not to notice that prices go up when Bush addresses menacing remarks to Iran or Venezuala or when he stands idly by as war spreads in the Middle East as has happened during the recent Israel-Hezbollah conflict.
It seems that GW and Condi have been models of restraint recently. Bush seems to be supporting the European negotiations with the Iranians and has made no "all options are on the table" remarks. He has ignored the foolish provocation by Hugo Chavez at the UN. He's made no threats recently and, consequently, there've been no price spikes.
C0mmonsense urges us, however, not to jump on the paranoid bandwagon:
Before we put a lot of stock into 42% of americans believing oil prices have been manipulated let us remember that a signifigant number of americans are still convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was not President Kennedy's assassin or that there was some larger conspiracy involved in his assassination. Americans seem to feel a need to believe in conspiracies because they are more interesting then the mundane truth that is reality…
Even if the Bush administration did manipulate ALL of the oil companies in the US there is no way they could manipulat OPEC, they don't even like Bush, and if you have been keeping up with the news OPEC has been trying to cut production and get prices back up to where they were as they were enjoying the high profits.
While the link between gas prices and presidential approval ratings is well-documented, this graph provides a nice visual illustration of that correlation. AC … 5:11pm