Proliferating Pro-Lifers

And weapons of mass consumption.

Terry, this is stupid stuff: Responding to Michael Kinsley’s attempt to derive morality for politicians motivated by careerist goals, Thrasymachus conjures this scenario:

All this talk of “today’s Martin Luther Kings” and “seismic shifts” in morality puts me in mind of one person:Randall Terry.Is he the “Malcolm X” of the pro-life movement? In 50 years, when abortion is outlawed, will a grateful nation look back to his firebrand activism as a desperately needed corrective to set the country straight?Who cares? People don’t pick morality the way they pick stocks, as good or bad investments. Randall Terry’s loathsome, and the fact that people 50 years from now may all agree with him (or that people 50 years AGO all DID agree with him) doesn’t make him one iota more tolerable today
End-of-year blowout: Christopher Hitchens contends that any “modern government” has “weapons of indiscriminate destruction, or weapons of mass terror;” what matters is the character of the government that has them. JackD tells Joe_JP that the upshot of Christopher Hitchens’ position is this:
If you are trying to get “WMD”, but don’t have them, we’re coming after you; but if you have them already, we’ll leave you alone because you’re too dangerous. Thus, if you feel threatened, best get some as soon as possible.
Selling short: Tim Noah argues that Christmas sales went up this year, despite the doom and gloom of business writers. Dallas ( here) and Engram ( here) remind Noah to factor in population increase, which makes the numbers worse. As Engram puts it, that makes the Times
right on the money when they said: “Shoppers had told polling organizations earlier that they would spend less this year than last year, and they probably did.”  
Many happy returns: Why is business investment low, and what can be done to increase it? Robert Shapiro offers a number of factors and a snapshot of a solution: tackle “our new structural budget deficits.” Mitch isn’t buyingit:
Shapiro’s conjuring of the “structural deficit” (short-hand for repeal of the Bush tax cuts) as the reason for declining business investment is ridiculous. The reason why corporate lending rates haven’t declined as greatly as the fed short-term rates is compression; as the fed rate approaches zero, corporate rates can’t follow proportionately, in part because the risk of default creates a floor; lenders need some return for that risk, regardless of the relative low level of US Treasury rates.
(So what does Mitch think the problem is? Not interest rates but “lack of pricing power.”) Mfbenson has another solution in mind here:
The best tonic for business investment would be if Businesses were allowed to Capitalize all investments, instead of having to expense them.This message brought to you by the Worldcom School of Business. …  7:00 a.m.

Thursday, Dec. 26, 2002

Panning vino: Michael Steinberger’s disdain for Wine Spectator’s “Top 100“—and especially its “Wine of the Year” has drawn heavy fire from WS’s editor, Thomas Matthews. His problem? “This article is filled with errors, unsubstantiated allegations, unfair generalizations and slanderous innuendo.”Matthews lists them in detail. Naturally, Steinberger has a copious response. One of the “factual errors” is Steinberger’s original quip that “indeed, ‘Vintage of the Decade’ and ‘Vintage of the Century’ are common headlines,” Thomas Matthews notes: “A search through our online archives ( reveals exactly one match for these headlines.” The yield from Steinberger’s trip through the archive?:

[T]he magazine does vary its language a bit more than I allowed. Here are some that I found in its archives: “The Wine of the Century” (Dec 31 97), “Wines of the Century” (Jul 31 99), “Sale of the Century” (Nov 15 97), “California’s Vintage of the Century” (Nov 7 00), “Best Ever” (Oct 31 97), “Best Vintage Ever” (Nov 15 00), “Brunello’s Greatest Year” (Nov 30 96), “The Greatest Brunellos Ever” (Jul 03 02), “Benchmark Vintage” (Nov 30 01), “2000 Bordeaux—Looks Like the Best Vintage of the Decade” (Jan 02 01).

There is much more to both sides—does advertising corrupt WS? Did Steinberger say so? Is this year’s Wine of the Year a good choice? Was 1999’s?—which you can read below the article or in the Fray. …

We sought them, and we hired them, under rule 703: Tim Noah notes that at the same time George Bush was condemning Trent Lott, he was also making it easier for religious organizations to discriminate as they carry out their faith-based charitable missions. Slate contributor Avi Schick jumps into the Fray to quell Noah’s worries. Part of his longer post:

All Bush accomplished by amending the 1965 executive order was to bring it in line with the current state of the law. For while it was true that in 1965 few would have contemplated government funding for religious charities, the law of the land is now that such funding is permissible - if provided for a secular purpose based on neutral criteria that do not favor religion - and that such groups may favor co-religionists when making employment decisions.

(What did Schick contribute? This piece on school vouchers.)

What good are poets? For one thing, they can undo Mickey Kaus’s yoking of the late Joe Strummer to the not-yet-late Strom Thurmond. While many jumped to Strummer’s defense, Ted_Burke provides context for a different take on “Safe European Home”:

Strummer was a daring and blunt lyricist who could encapsulate skewed social relations in a set of terse lines, and he was able to assume another personality altogether in order to reveal something altogether empty and fearful. “Safe European Home” is hardly a paean to segregation, but belongs instead to a school of high-irony manifest in the doings of Randy Newman or Lou Reed. The desired world described by the song’s protagonist sounds more sterile and uninviting with each stanza, and the effect bares the problem of having dreams coupled with fear. This is an acute [critique] of middle class mores, which need an occasional beating.

(I’m guessing the missing word is critique; other nominations accepted.) (And JDSm points out [or claims] that “Safe European Home” is a Mick Jones song—I don’t know how to sort it out; Strummer and Jones both went on the Jamaican holiday.) … 10:00 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2002

God squad: Jim Holt contends that “If you wish to be an intellectually interesting atheist, you are obliged to give some evidence for your position.” The Fray takes this to mean that you have to prove God doesn’t exist (the headline leans that way), and many resist on logical grounds. A-Bierce is first:

To be an atheist it is not necessary to prove that God doesn’t exist. What do we call people who don’t believe in leprechauns, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, or Tinkerbell?

Holt probably does not actually mean that, though, and only chango addresses the question of interestingdogmatism here:

What was Holt’s point again? That atheists should at least be interesting by providing rational explanation for their lack of belief?What’s so interesting about intellectualism? BORING! Dogmatic irrationality is at least entertaining. The thing I find annoying about most atheists, is they are so dour. I mean, it takes a theist to hold a real spectacular Inquisition! What a hoot that was!

Beyond the logical objection, there is much testifying in the Egghead Fray—who believes what and why. Responding to Holt’s profession de foi,Godels_Yodel asks whether Holt really meant to profess a belief in a God “100 percent malevolent but only 80 percent effective.” TonyAdragna digs up an earlier reference “citing a physicist friend” here. The physicist, though, has God “100 percent malevolent but only 90 percent effective.” The question becomes: why has God’s effectiveness slipped so precipitously and is the Supreme Being in danger of being downsized?

Finally, there are also some good jokes (here and here) and PetArch’s nifty petrarchan sonnet here

Worse than leftover parfait?: While most of the Fray responses to John Lee Malvo’s dietary dilemma are obscenity-laced versions of “Let him eat pork,” FraidNot indicates that Malvo could do worse than veggie loaf here:

The loaf is probably better than “blendo” which is what was served to prisoners in “the hole” in our local jail until the early 90s. Blendo was, quite simply, all three regular meals for the day including milk or water, dumped together into a blender. Blendo was then served in a bucket once a day to prisoners.

Lost among the loaf-ers is reaction to the Nigella Lawson takedown. Ex-fed offers the “recipe for Nigella’s success” here:

Hold ingredients at chest level. Have camera zoom in. Repeat.

Dino and beer?: Rob Walker contends that making fun of corporate scandal, as Heineken does in its latest ad, is safe because “our attention has drifted.” mfbenson points out that while the zeitgeist has moved on, there’s still a risk here:

If even the slightest hint of a scandal at Henieken breaks out, the media will find the irony delicious … Henieken is asking to be held to a higher standard by running this ad, and that runs counter to their anti-trust history.

Ang_Cho, who has been on delicious irony watch, has more of the Heineken NV specifics.

It’s a wonderful Fray: Now that the end-of-year movie reviews are rolling out here at Slate, the Movies Fray is more vital than ever. And if you should manage to squeeze in a trip to, say, the IMAX Lion King, remember to hurry home and post …

Mock epic? Shlock epic?: Debate over David Edelstein’s review of The Two Towersbegins with his dismissal of fan-frenzy: “(If I have misspelled or mischaracterized any of the above, please send corrections to” Classlessor funny, the gauntlet is down; cmd picks it up here:

[It] gave me a bounceback message, so I guess I’ll have to post here …

mtk (whose other posts on this subject transcend “fan boy”-ness) smartly disagrees  with Edelstein’s characterization of Tolkien’s “mock-scholarship,” vouching for J.R.R.’s bona fides. Edelstein clarifies:

I maintain that the history and mythology of a world that never existed falls into the category of “mock-scholarship.” It was not remotely intended as a slur on either LOTR or Tolkien’s other work.

(Slate’sAssessor Chris Suellentrop objects that he never called Peter Jackson a “shlockmeister“—Edelstein apologizes and blames the headline writers.)

A good big-picture Two Towers discussion starts with The_Bell’s defense of its mythic middle-ness here; and among the very good responses, the most provocative came from Tiresias here:

Invoking the word “mythic” doesn’t save it … The Lord of the Rings is a modern literary work, as self-consciously anachronistic as Ossian was in its day. It has to be judged by the standard of art, not myth. As art, it ranks OK as a curiosity and an entertainment, but no higher.

Nemesistem: What do you do in the face of an indomitable franchise like Lord of the Rings, or Star Trek? You can ignore it, of course, but there are other options: resist from within, as Jesus666 does in this extensive trek-centric post, or draw on some other, competing power, as chango’s Star Trek Nemesissy does … 2:00 a.m.