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May 28 2008 3:45 PM

Looking for a Deviant With Imagination

Hot tips for modern living from our readers.

Slate readers are tireless and generous: They read our articles and give us their advice and predictions. It's been a busy time for these dedicated commentators, what with (among other items) the finale of American Idol, the return of Indiana Jones, a new Narnia film, a TV program on a Lohan, and a lot of "XXFactor" discussion on sex. So, here's a time-saving guide to the best of their recent comments. (The short, snarky ones anyway. More serious discussion at the end of the articles.)

1) What Spiker has learned about sex: "In the end the sole quality that is attractive in a woman--a person--is imagination…Keep the first deviant with imagination that you find."

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2) Advice to Lindsay Lohan's sister Ali, from redmenace: "Run away from home. Seriously."

3) The losing finalist on American Idol will not have any long-term success because he is, according to Texwiz, "the boy with the voice of an angel and the stage presence of lawn furniture."

4) Rinkrat, here, knows what's the best bit of Narnia: "riding around on a horse with a totally awesome crown."

5) Einhard has taken the right message, here, from an award-winning luggage ad featured in "Ad Report Card":  "I did notice though, that the only shot of a bag consisted of the weepy lady walloping her beau with hers. Maybe that's the tag: Louis Vuitton, better than Mace for getting rid of unwanted male attention."

6) Christopher Hitchens and John McCain wonder if the USA should have a British-style Question Time. Well, Screwjack2008 has a better idea: "I personally always thought we should select a mob of say, 1000 citizens from all walks of life to descend on Washington D.C. once a year, drag our elected officials out into the street and beat them within inches of their lives. Just to keep them in line."

7) That Indiana Jones movie? SartoriThroughAllegory  says: "The Jungle Book had more plausibility." (Something to do with better performances from the monkeys, we think.)

8) The next big issue: "Nobody cares or even notices the problem. This is what's wrong with America. How can we invent the Next Big Thing that will rescue our economy and assure our dominance for another generation, if we can't even solve …" What? What is it that ghjm considers so important? The answer is Stretch-O-Vision: He is unhappy about having to watch wide-screen HDTVs with inadequate signals in restaurants and sports bars, and blames John McCain. You read it first here. MR 8.30 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, May  20,  2008

If you are finding it hard to make sense of John Hodgen's "Just A Tranquil Darker," which the poet reads aloud for us here, we might venture into Poems Fray to see what our fellow readers are saying.

First, I advise you to buckle your seat belt. The level of brutality we associate in the Fray only with exchanges in Ballot Box (or more recently, in Medical Examiner over a certain pharmaceutical-funded radio program) can readily emanate from the literati crowd when it feels that a "graceless note" has been sounded in its department.

I am quoting Artemisia, who speaks up in defense of the poem's subject, an elderly woman having her sunglasses adjusted at the optometrist: "I wish these marketplace writers would leave old ladies alone and realize that it is they and not their subjects who need a new lens for glasses or a corneal transplant from a real poet."

In this must-read post, MaryAnn skillfully unpacks Hodgen's various literary allusions for us. Her overall assessment: "John Hodgen goes way overboard in his use of poetic techniques."

Bottomfish professes to be exhausted by the poem's overly dense layers of meaning, but nonetheless finds the energy to elucidate its central theme:

Joseph Conrad said "My task, above all, is to make you see." Since the optometrist provides what you need to see correctly (or see the way you want, as with Hodgen's old woman), he might be ironically said to have a Conrad-like role. But obviously this is a joke. "Seeing" is a common synecdoche for "understanding", but seeing is by no means all of understanding and in fact is often not even part of it. (Old joke: "I see" said the blind man.)

Hodgens' poem is about seeing in this double sense. I have a feeling that the last six lines, which are the core, were written first. Their tone is different from the elaborate irony (and I would say archness) of the rest. The old woman wants to see everything in a certain way and goes to the optometrist to obtain the visual mode she wants,and he, like a poet in the double sense just discussed, provides it. (Actually the poet ought to provide more than just confirmation of what people want to see anyway.)

Foobs even rewrites the poem in more simplistic language, presumably to bring its godly themes down to the level of mortals. Indeed, if anything encapsulates the stinging spirit of Hodgen's critics, we need not look any further than Foobs' final stanza—too harsh to be requoted here—in which "berated" is rhymed with "sated."

The reviews are still rolling in this morning, so continue to check back and see if the final consensus is just a tranquil nicer. AC10:42 a.m. PST

Monday, May  19, 2008

This is the poem
of a procrastinator.
I'm starting it now;
I'll finish it later.

There's really only the one joke on procrastination, and Alphabet Soup's verse made it pretty well. But we also liked Colonel McPhee, who had read about how exotic dancers procrastinate:

I actually had no idea strippers thought so poorly about me. I thought I was an passionate admirer of the dance arts. I'd love to share more, but I need to check my e-mail.

Emily Yoffe's article on how to fight procrastination, and Seth Stevenson's on how to embrace it, brought out subtly different Frays. Those whom we might call the embracers competed to find out who had the worst record in college here—and prepare to be shocked, very shocked. "A 10-year exercise of procrastination, doobage, and beer" indeed.

Bedubya, with unusual energy for this subject, was pushing for "National Procrastination Day to be moved to August 8: 08/08/08. If you say it out loud, it says Oh, wait, Oh wait, Oh wait…But it'll probably get postponed, anyway." Mikestand was firm in his views:

I'm a workaholic, and I like to pretend I think it's a character flaw too, just like Seth pretends procrastination is. But I don't really believe it is. Actually I brag about it, kind of like Seth makes procrastination sound creative and fun and whatever the opposite of 'uptight and anal retentive' is.

Nobody put off making comments on the article on getting help with the problem, though some of them were pretty grumpy about it. Malarkey, here, didn't want any advice from scientists studying the phenomenon:

I find myself extremely angry at the thought of a scientist devoting 20 years of his or her life examining what he or she perceives to be an illogical character "flaw," then calling me illogical. What's the root of this 20-year obsession? Why fixate on this instead of something worthwhile?

It seems almost too mundane to provide the answer offered by Lbutterfly (15-minute chunks, something called flylady, here) and too sad to mentionWilghal, who said, "I cried while reading this article." So we'll go with grout4cake (love that Frayname) who ventured this tasteless upside here—"Well there is one thing I can say being a procrastinator has in its favor. Probably a lot fewer of us commit suicide than plan to"—and also gave us the splendid comment:  "[P]rocrastination is our passive-aggressiveness against a world gone mad." Absolutely—and now the Fray team—fearless on the readers' behalf—needs to check out if that article on solitaire really gets it right about Freecell. MR 4 p.m.GMT

Wednesday, May  14, 2008

With Hillary Clinton's lopsided win in West Virginia on Tuesday, the Democratic primary process has moved from historical epic to literary tragedy. Clinton stars as Queen Lear, exiled to the hinterlands of Appalachia by a Regan coalition of blacks and college-educated liberals. While she delivers martial oratory over the fight to come, her victorious opponents call for her head. The questions animating commentators have shifted from "What will happen?" to "What does it mean?" Fraysters in the Politics Fray have a number of sharp answers.

Philidor weaves the facts of this long campaign season into a narrative of Hillary's betrayal and Obama's coming doom:

The story of the nomination has been Barack Obama beginning strongly, but then losing. Hillary Clinton made a comeback. Then, quietly, in caucuses and not especially prominent elections, his organization gathered enough votes to put him in the lead while the public waited for the contest to begin again.

And then, with the country paying attention, he lost badly, dramatically in almost every major contest. His reaction: somberly, I have the votes, she can't hurt me.

And there's Hillary Clinton, campaigning while the press gloats over Obama, shouting at the Democratic electorate the race is over, your vote doesn't matter unless you vote for Obama and end the primaries. Low on money, without a good image except for her determination in difficult circumstances, she wins again and again.

Are these votes for her? Yes, to a degree. But the people are shouting back at the race callers: "We don't want Obama. You won't force him on us while we can vote."

And so the super delegates will move to Obama against the highly visible trend in Hillary Clinton's favor, making the nomination look like a back room deal ignoring the most dramatic elections.

Barack Obama will stand before the general electorate with his wife and his pastor (visible or invisible) and his lapel bare of a flag pin and he will announce: I will unite the country. And those who wanted another candidate, those who wanted someone inspiring rather than a drab player of ordinary politics will wonder where he got that idea.

The press will applaud, the self-righteous elite will speak of the triumph of the country that a black candidate represents. But how many in the public will consider the election already a failure from the Democratic side?

Barack Obama's substantial defeats piled one atop the other are the image of the reaction to his character. And when some people have begun to wonder whether he even likes the US, he has a huge challenge becoming a viable candidate.

Though there are many laments from disappointed Clinton supporters at the injustice of it all, the general tenor of the Fray seems to lean in Obama's direction. kaizergrande offers up the little-heralded Nebraska primary as a rebuttal to this week's talking point:

Something nobody seemed to notice last night. Barack Obama won the Nebraska primary on the same night West Virginia voted. Like West Virginia, Nebraska is a mostly white, mostly rural, mostly working class state; and also like WV its primary was totally irrelevant to the outcome of the Democratic Party nomination.

Watching the talking heads overanalyze the Dem primary is like watching a constantly looping episode of the Twilight Zone. A freshman senator is beating the most famous woman in the world and wife of a former president in an intra party election and somehow it's the new guy that's falling short because he's not winning 100% of the vote?

The media's pornographic obsession with the so called white working class vote demonstrates the innate bigotry that exists in even the so called liberal media. Nobody's freaking out about Hillary winning only 8% of the black vote even though she can't win the general election without a huge majority of that vote. Personally I prefer the racism that comes from ignorance to that which masquerades as intellectual discourse.

Many posters seek to tamp down the hysteria that overanalysis of election results incites. Darsan54 takes the award for pithiest expression of this argument: "Barack Obama is not Hypno Toad." The Real RML notes that Clinton's support may have more to do with West Virginia's martial spirit than ethnic politics:

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in America and its population one of the least educated. It's no surprise they provide a substantial number of volunteers for the military (which of course they pride themselves on). So Hillary won in a state which is mostly white, mostly pro war in Iraq, and makes up little else in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, the Democrats will not win in West Virginia. Just as no Republican will win in Massachusetts. Sometimes you need to accept that you cannot win them all and move on. Obama was smart not to waste time in West Virginia and Hillary may have found an easy win here. But, come November, McCain is military and West Virginia loves their number one export.

If you're looking to join in tomorrow's debate today, Richmond started a nice thread on the coming vice-presidential nomination. His abstract nominee would be:

Old politics. White. Sort of rough-around-the-edges. Not McDreamy with the visions and common purpose. Someone his wife won't be comfortable with. Or his pastor. Someone who talks bread-and-butter. Who doesn't mind the flag pin. Someone with a weird regional accent. Who eats carbs. Maybe owns a gun. And uses it. Obamatons, prepare yourself for a Veep that will keep you awake at night.

To those of you hopelessly addicted to the unfolding drama of this political campaign season, we'd like to issue a challenge—what famous literary work best captures the dramatic elements of the Obama/Clinton race? Please share your political lit-crit with us in the Fraywatch FrayGA 8:15 p.m. PDT

Tuesday, May  13, 2008

The "Dear Prudence" Mother's Day special brought out a bumper collection of responses: a full set of alternate columns/answers from readers and mad, wild disagreements. One foolish reader said "If you don't like Prudence's advice, why read it?" and responses to that ranged from "Material. She's my straight man" from Isonomist to this elegant explanation from Mermaid33:

Prudie's column is like the wedding of someone you're not particularly close to. We all show up on Thursday, dressed in our best and participate in the ceremony of dissecting her rotational topics disguised as letters. "Hmmm let's see, this one will get them talking about whether or not moms should go out partying. ... This one will get them talking about how much obligation one has to one's mother in law. ... Ooooh, dog letters are always good. ... [W]e'll throw in another ungrateful brat letter and a video about cheating spouses and call it a day!"

Incogneato had a good point: "As to these letters, I'll bet almost everyone's answers are strongly related to their age and whether they are mothers and whether their mothers are alive. I look forward to the male perspective."

If there was one word that provoked controversy, it was "sluts" in the first letter, about the married daughter going out partying: As Danam said, "Replace the slut comment with one saying the daughter was being a first class bitch and there we go, debate over" while Bodkinvanhorn, after reading a post with a rather stern view of morals, told us, "I can't wait to tell my husband I'm a slut. He'll be so excited." Meanwhile, pbev's list of what she had done when drunk made jaw-dropping reading (keywords: jail, orgy, $1000, fight).

The third letter—on the costs of dog grooming vs. a wife's haircuts—got plenty of readers going, but only two replies are essential reading: Sirbiff's evenhandedly mean comment:

Its pretty obvious she has spent the last few years sacrificing things she has wanted and her thick husband hasn't gotten her anything nice but he spent $60 on the dog's (which she never wanted) haircut so now she's going to spend the rest of her life making his life miserable.

And rundeep's haikumaster moment:

When he's "in the mood"
put dog in bed. Say, "She's
more attractive now."

The Annoyed Youth—embarrassed by his/her mother—divided readers, too, and one had to suspect that the division was along the lines of readers' ages and thus whether they identified with the teenager or with Mom. There was a long discussion here, and another in which a quite inordinate amount of attention was paid to the difference between 1 percent and 2 percent milk when buying groceries for someone else (why? a shrug is the only answer, or "read the thread"), but the last word might go to Greensleeves: "Lighten up you guys—if goofy parents are the worst of your problems, you've had an easy life. That's another important life lesson."

******

For a less rambunctious view of Mother's Day, look at the "Best of the Fray", where Topazz started a charming thread about children and parents, and the "Poems" Fray, with a couple of Mother's Day threads. And, for no reason at all, try to guess what Fray regular Its Yggy is talking about here: "This is my favourite article on Slate in the past year. … This is big." He is excited—so excited he "might turn down a night out"—about the hand-held steamers discussed in this "Shopping" item but needs to know "if the same steamer can be used on kitchen counters and dress shirts." In the old days we'd have said, "Ask your Mom," but probably the answer now is "Look it up on the Internet." MR 3:30 p.m. GMT

Friday, May  09, 2008

Mere hours after Lichtenstein appeared in the Fray to defend his radio program, Slate writers Lenzer & Brownlee accuse him of attempting to "smear the reputation and credibility of the messenger" rather than

...contradict the key points we made in our article; namely that The Infinite Mind series was funded in part by drug company money; that each of the four experts on the show, "Prozac Nation: Revisited" has received drug company funding; that despite enormous controversy about the safety and efficacy of antidepressants, the experts all expressed a singular viewpoint; and finally, listeners were not told about the experts' financial conflicts of interest.

Read their riposte in its entirety here. AC 7:45 p.m. EST

*********

Bill Lichtenstein, senior executive producer of the radio program The Infinite Mind, has responded in detail to the "Medical Examiner" article "Stealth Marketers," which featured the program. He says:

It is important to state that we stand by the program and its editorial content. There is, as our guests observed, no credible evidence that the use of antidepressants contributes to the sort of violence that erupted at NIU. There is, on the other hand, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting that more young people may be dying in part because of the chilling effect of the FDA "black box" warning. While some will take issue with these studies, we believe they are important, that they deepen the public dialog, and that they've gotten lost in superficial media coverage of a complex issue.

He also gives full details of the program's policies on budget, funding, and conflicts of interest. Read his post in full here or at the end of the article. MR 8 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, May  06, 2008

"I honestly can't say that the next time I see Princeton on a job applicant's resume … I won't think of this," said Firstinlastout,shaking his head over perceived low standards after following the link (in this Christopher Hitchens "Fighting Words") to read Michelle Obama's undergraduate thesis. But readers were conflicted in a personal way: The thesis might be fair game or it might not—your view probably depends on whom you support—but who would really want their own student writings brought, blinking, into public view? It wasn't a comfortable thought. There was a long discussion on the thesis, and on everyone's grammar, here—special opportunities for anyone with an opinion on the phrases "brilliant genius" and "repellently failed dictators." Whatfur didn't like a speech Michelle Obama gave and was firmly told by IntegrityFirst "[you] were listening with a blue collar ear."

So how about that Jeremiah Wright? Wsbh says, "There isn't a Sunday that passes in this country where parishioners don't return home griping about the sermon—the preacher is often just an adjunct to the ceremony, the tradition, the whatever." Bigsky007 defended the pastor, while Kroert16 was clear: "Obama is either the worst judge of character since Christ and Judas, or he did what was politically expedient." Ladykrystyna had a theological doubt that Judas was the right example—we can only conclude that not many people saw this post, as it could have turned into one mighty long thread, being just the kind of discussion Fraypeople like to get their teeth into.

They loved getting their teeth into George Orwell, too, after reading Jeff Greenfield's "Politics" article on elitism and the British socialist, obviously because of the contrast with the complete lack of any class consciousness in U.S. society. This was clearly demonstrated in any random collection of phrases: "Hmm, I'm interested in what dumber people think" came from jwschmidt; "lex talionis in the land of NASCAR"—thank you Waliyuddin; "you never explained what arugula was"—Real Slim K,complaining to jwschmidt, above. "Why do working-class Americans hate socialism?" Ralph7 wanted to know. Moodyguppy asked if socialism had "a sales problem or a product problem" in a post with a splendid use of strike through—if you go and look, you'll find a fascinating diagnosis of the ills of the American left.

HBFreddie had some stern words:

Varying degrees of socialism have always appealed to smug elitists who see themselves as the apparatchiks of a strong central authority imposing its will on what they as an unsophisticated population.

There was parallel tough talking from jbunker

The downtrodden and the unwashed masses are, for the most part, ignorant, uninformed, and incapable of critical thinking. Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh have been very successful utilizing this unspeakable truth.

Thomaspain was evenhandedly mean to everyone, concluding "we really need to be reminded that it's time to grow up, to put our Bibles down with our guns, and face the uncertain future we, not God, have created." We're not sure how long he thinks it'll be before that happens.—MR … 8.30 p.m. GMT

Geoffrey Andersen, co-editor of the Fray, is a law student based in California.

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