Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Frame Story

Chapter 17:  Regression to the Meme, Ctd.

They teach you stuff in advanced writing classes at college.  Secret, weird, initiate-only stuff.  One of the things they teach you is what to look for when editing someone else's work.  Another thing they teach you is that there really aren't that many hard and fast Laws Of Good Writing. There are plenty of rules, but as Morpheus says in The Matrix, some of them can be bent. Others can be broken.

When editing the work of others it is important to know what effect they are trying to achieve.  If they flash a gun in the first act and we never see it again, they'd better have a damn good reason why.   If they write themselves into a "Lost"-ish corner of a thousand writhing loose ends and promises that All Will be Revealed, and then the little boy wakes up and it was all a dream, it is acceptable to fling poo at that writer in public forever.

And if they construct what is called a "frame story" --
A frame story (also frame tale, frame narrative, etc.) is a literary technique that sometimes serves as a companion piece to a story within a story, whereby an introductory or main narrative is presented, at least in part, for the purpose of setting the stage either for a more emphasized second narrative or for a set of shorter stories
When there is a single story, the frame story is used for other purposes – chiefly to position the reader's attitude toward the tale...
 -- it is perfectly within bounds to critique both the frame itself as well as what the frame contains.

The Book of Job is a frame story.  So is the Gospel of Mark
Frame begins:   Holy spirit descents from heaven (Mark 1:9-11)
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Then a buncha stuff happens.

Frame ends:   Holy spirit ascends to heaven (Mark 16:19)
After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 
One of the most famous frame stories in classical literature are the tales of pilgrims trying to outdo each other on their way the tomb of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.  Another terrific example -- "1001 Arabian Nights" -- is a series of individual fictive gem, all are fitted within the frame of Scheherazade trying to save her own life by spinning each of those tales out as a cliffhanger. Edgar Allan Poe used frame construction to serve a couple of important functions:
In Poe's writing, the outside frame of a frame story often has at least one of two purposes, that of manipulating the mood prior to the commencement of the main story, or that of posing the problem and resolution before giving way to what is known in detective fiction as the "reveal", during which the most intelligent character explains to the others how he solved the problem.
Having recently RSVPed in the affirmative to an invitation to an open, public debate over the merits of various aspects of NSA domestic surveillance and the apparent flaccidity of the FISA court, let us leap right into one of today's dialogue.

Here is how The Washington Post reports the issue at hand as follows:
As we’ve seen in other debates over the NSA’s surveillance, the roll call produced some interesting cross-cutting. Ninety-four Republicans sided in favor of the amendment, along with 111 Democrats. Missing, however, was transparency hawk (and darling of the Internet) Rep. Darrell Issa, who voted to uphold the NSA’s surveillance program.

Issa didn’t offer a public explanation for his vote, and efforts to reach his office received no responses Thursday morning.

Other committee leaders played a crucial role in rallying opposition to Amash. House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) spent much of Wednesday making calls to other members.

Amash faced stiff high-ranking opposition. The leadership of both parties, as well as the White House, vocally opposed weakening the NSA’s ability to conduct surveillance. But Amash still managed to mount a strong defense — which suggests that momentum is  building for critics of the NSA.

“The tide is turning,” read an update last night posted to, a Web site launched hours before the vote by Sina Khanifar, a digital activist. The site now has a list of the complete roll call, divided into two groups: those who voted for the amendment and those who voted against it. Beneath each lawmaker’s photo is a button urging constituents to tweet or call.

“They were very worried,” said Conyers of the Democratic leadership, which opposed the amendment along with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “And the fact that they won this narrowly means they still are worried because this thing isn’t over yet.”
Mr. Charles Pierce describes the issue at hand this way:
Every member of the House leadership from both sides of the aisle voted against the amendment. This must be the "bipartisanship" that I hear so much about on The Sunday Showz. It's certainly reminiscent of the "bipartisanship" that ruled Washington in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when everybody was hiding under the same bed, and the laws got passed that made the NSA program possible in the first place. It seems to be the considered -- and well-nigh unanimous -- opinion of our political elites that democracy stops at the doors of the NSA. I don't recall a "national conversation" that decided anything like that.
Pretty clear how most people see this unusual development: on the subject of NSA surveillance party leaders and party rank-and-file members are at odds with each other. Those are the facts and they are disputed by no oneThat is this story, and quite an important and consequential story it is.

But for some people, that is not enough.  Not nearly enough.

So keeping in mind your newly-minted English comp lesson, take a careful look at this frame that Mr. Greenwald drags into virtually every discussion and tries to bolt around virtually any set of  facts -- 
Frame begins:   First paragraph
One of the worst myths Democratic partisans love to tell themselves - and everyone else - is that the GOP refuses to support President Obama no matter what he does. Like its close cousin - the massively deceitful inside-DC grievance that the two parties refuse to cooperate on anything - it's hard to overstate how false this Democratic myth is. When it comes to foreign policy, war, assassinations, drones, surveillance, secrecy, and civil liberties, President Obama's most stalwart, enthusiastic defenders are often found among the most radical precincts of the Republican Party.
Then a buncha stuff happens.

Frame ends:   Last paragraph
The sooner the myth of "intractable partisan warfare" is dispelled, the better. The establishment leadership of the two parties collaborate on far more than they fight. That is a basic truth that needs to be understood. As John Boehner joined with Nancy Peolsi, as Eric Cantor whipped support for the Obama White House, as Michele Bachmann and Peter King stood with Steny Hoyer to attack NSA critics as Terrorist-Lovers, yesterday was a significant step toward accomplishing that.
-- and draw your own conclusions about what Mr. Greenwald wants this story to be.


Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who notices that someone who primarily resides in a city of another country on another continent is trying to lecture people of this country on how the two political parties of this country are operating?

And, that story is absolutely beautiful, DG. How did you find it?


Anonymous said...

Utterly imbecilic literary criticism there, Driftglass. Goddammit this pisses me off, because I have been resisting for quite some time the looming prospect that, well, maybe you're shallow. But here we have your shoe-horning of Greenwald's thesis into a half-baked notion of narrative theory that, finally, signifies nothing, rather, bullshit. So what if he resorts to a frame (which, as far as I can see, he doesn't)?

Oh, and iron out that dangling participle, for christ's fucking sake. If you're going to bitch about a writer's rhetorical tactic, at least deliver fourth grade grammar. "Having recently...let us..." Huh?

Batocchio said...

Relevant. Oh, and who can forget how many Republicans lined up to support universal health care (or even the Affordable Care Act), the Consumer Protection Agency, stronger environmental regulations, infrastructure spending, voting rights, gay marriage, reproductive freedom, women's rights in general, affordable student loans, more progressive taxation, etc.

Boy, that shtick is tired. It's just not that hard to critique the Beltway establishmentarian consensus on imperialism and not pissing off the aristocracy while also noticing significant differences between the political parties. It doesn't require that much nuance. It's not difficult to hold multiple ideas in one's head at one time. (Knowing some basic political history of the past 60 years would help, though.) Moreover, one can agree about the evils of imperialism and still disagree about how best to oppose it. Imperialism diverts funds from domestic programs, but it works the other way, too, and certain pundits don't seem to realize that. I'd argue that weakening or eliminating plutocracy domestically is a necessary but sadly insufficient step for dismantling imperialism abroad. Fighting against bigotry and for the social contract are important not only in their own right but for their positive spillover effect. (I'll stick to Jon Schwarz, Andrew Bacevich, TomDispatch, alternative media and a few other sources for my anti-imperialism fix…)

Batocchio said...

(Mike K., the story is an animated sequence from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)

Lumpy Lang said...

"someone who primarily resides in a city of another country on another continent is trying to lecture people of this country"...

This is no disqualifier. The government in question uniquely unleashes horrific violence and mass-murder in various far-flung corners of the globe (not to mention its own citizens).

The crimes of its rulers are a subject of international discussion, believe it or not.

Anonymous said...

Wtf are you saying drifty? Maybe I'm dense but I don't see or read anything in this that is inconsistent or "bad framing." But then again what do I know, I haven't staked my recent rantings on how badly GG frames Orwellian government overreach.

And who the fuck cares where GG lives? He's a US citizen and whether you like it or not these policy decisions and political fights affect the whole world. This is an empire afterall. By your logic only those who still live in the US can argue the virtues and/or faults of the US. This is stupid in the extreme

Btw, we get it, you hate GG for myriad reasons.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Wow, the Greenwaldoes are thin-skinned.

Their only apparent aim is to browbeat any critic into other avenues through sheer vituperation and reptitive insults, rather than actual engaging with an argument, or even a discussion.

Although I think Lumpifer gets dropped a grade or two for missing his cue to say "droneglass"

Anonymous said...

Zombie Rotten McDonald:
Not thin skinned as much as I can't stand Drifty trolling his readers with this weak sauce. Either he can't help himself or this is for clicks. Either way it's just gratuitous bullshit. And so again, wtf?

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

It's not bad framing (and jeez, if you want to anti-troll a blogger, couldja use a nym? Hard to take someone seriously when they can't even be bothered to pick some kind of defining handle); That's the point. It's perfectly GOOD framing.

Greenwald is framing the story in the way he wants, to push the story he wants. Which is not the story he SAYS he wants.

THAT, my nameless friend, is wtf.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I'm a 100% with you on this one, Driftglass. Oh, I think you've made a valid observation, but I just don't think it means exactly what you're saying it means.

If Glenn is employing the both-sides-do-it trope, he is doing it because within the range of his narrow interests both sides *are* guilty.

I too am wary of people who are inclined to be upgrade their righteous critique of the security state into a blanket dismissal of all of the US's issues, but it looks like Glenn qualified his statement quite carefully (eg. When it comes to foreign policy, war, assassinations, drones, surveillance, secrecy, and civil liberties,).

-- Nonny Mouse

Anonymous said...

You now what they say:

You can lead a libertarian troll to water, but you can't make him think.

Anonymous said...

He's a frustrating one, that GG. I'm quite grateful for his work on this subject while at the same time wanting to punch him in the neck for being such a pompous, self-centered douche.

The extent of the US government's security and surveillance apparatus is a very important topic, but it's not THE ONLY FUCKING TOPIC THAT MATTERS, EVER.

Yes, there is a disheartening amount of bipartisan support for this crap. No fucking shit, sherlock. It's been that way forever, too. And I'm disappointed that Obama's record has been so brutal. Both because I expected more from him, and because I despair that if he's this way, any president we're likely to actually elect (because Stand with Rand isn't gonna be president, thank god) will be similar or worse. I am heartened that the Amash vote was so close, though. Congress might actually, eventually, do something useful to rein the NSA's practices in. I hope. Maybe.

But to then say that the parties' cooperation on this ONE SUBJECT means that there really isn't GOP obstruction of damn near everything Obama tries to do? That it's all a myth propogated by Obot lemmings? Good fucking grief. It's just so tedious that everything has to be tied into his ongoing thesis that Democrats who support Obama are the stupidest, most gullible, worst people in the history of the world. We get it, Glenn. Move the fuck on already and keep the focus on the actual reporting you're doing. Which is extremely valuable when it doesn't dissolve into ego-stroking high-horse bullshit.

But, you know, I'm just a mindless drone who would shoot myself in the face if Obama, the corporate sell-out cold-blooded monster, told me to. So take what I say with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Anon 2:15.

-- Nonny Mouse

OBS said...

but it looks like Glenn qualified his statement quite carefully (eg. When it comes to foreign policy, war, assassinations, drones, surveillance, secrecy, and civil liberties,).

Well, he qualified it. Not sure how carefully, since by "civil liberties" GG means "civil liberties for straight white males." And since St. Glenn is only 2/3rds in that club I'm really not sure why he's so enamored with the "both sides" thing. You'd think he'd know better.

Lumpy Lang said...

" 'civil liberties' GG means 'civil liberties for straight white males.'"

Evidence (other than constant repetition by Droneglass]?

Anonymous said...


A common assumption about libertarians, but I can't recall Driftglass ever claiming that Glenn is a white tribalist.

It is not my read of Glenn either. I think he's more of a civil liberties absolutist--which is not a bad thing, but it doesn't make him any less annoying sometimes.

-- Nonny Mouse

Pinkamena Panic said...

Non @ 6:37 - Then you haven't been paying attention. Glibertarians of all kinds boil it down to "rights for me but not for thee". You can tell because they minimize the actual concerns of those who aren't Rich, White, and Male - look at many of the slobbering Greenrubes here. Either that or they simply don't mention them at all except in context of bringing the Big White Hate Machine to bear on some target who pays insufficient fealty to the Rich White Males.

"Their silence speaks volumes", as they say.

Anonymous said...


Not all libertarians. I would classify Radley Balko as a quite different animal, for example.

But whatever -- it seems to me that the "slobbering Greenrubes" have an unsavory tendency to attack people who dare to have a different point of view from theirs, make generalizations about their character, and misrepresent their arguments. You should reflect on that.

-- Nonny Mouse

marindenver said...

"But whatever -- it seems to me that the "slobbering Greenrubes" have an unsavory tendency to attack people who dare to have a different point of view from theirs, make generalizations about their character, and misrepresent their arguments."

By George I think you've got it! "If you and me disagree it's because you are a pharisee." I think that sums up the general attitude of the Greenrubes. There simply is no room in there for reasonable discussion of the issues and the differences of opinion that reasonable people may have.

Anonymous said...


Yeah, I dislike that kind of dogmatism. I see some similarities between that and Pink's libertarian caricature though. I guess I prefer my character critiques to be specific and nuanced.

-- Nonny Mouse

Unknown said...

The point driftglass makes -- and I would say that it was rather like witnessing a pitcher spend a half an hour windmilling his arm before finally delivering a strike -- is that Greenwald has FALSELY framed the issue so as to draw a FALSE conclusion. The points of concurrence between Obama and the GOP leadership Greenwald correctly ticks off amount to a single issue: the GOP supports anything the president does that happens to mesh with their pro-war viewpoint. He as created a myth of bipartisanship that is belied -- in just the case of Obamacare 40 times over -- in absolutely every other issue anyone could name. Greenwald is full of shit.

Anonymous said...

It's not necessarily a well-known fact, but the end of Mark, after the women flee the empty tomb, is almost universally regarded as a later insertion, and not part of the original authorial intent.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I dunno, Nonny. Admittedly, I don't read Greenwald much anymore, but it seems to me that his civil rights absolutism only kind of extends as far as white males. I don't recall him extending much of that concern to the rights of women and minorities in the area of rights that don't also affect the white guys.

You are right, of course, about Balko; but he is a rarity in the pond that he swims in.

Anonymous said...


It's alright. I'm not demanding that you or anyone else see things my way.

-- Nonny Mouse

Anonymous said...

It's alright. I'm not demanding that you or anyone else see things my way.
-- Nonny Mouse"

Oh, but Nonny Mouse! That's the game *all* the cool kids are playing! :-)


Lumpy Lang said...

yeah. Watch the liberals happily assent to the state apparatus excising the rights of the oppressed while crying crocodile tears for them. Thanks a million.

Where is Malcolm X when you need him.

gratuitous said...

Actually, the gospel of Mark, according to the oldest manuscripts, ends about 11 verses before the verse cited here, where the young man in the white robe tells the two Marys and Salome to go tell Jesus' disciples that Jesus has been raised and has gone ahead of them to Galilee, where they will see him again.

Mark isn't so much a frame as a moebius strip, pivoting almost exactly halfway through at the Transfiguration and folding back again on itself. Ched Myers has written a fascinating analysis of Mark called "Binding the Strong Man." I recommend it to your attention so that you don't commit such a blunder in the future.