Surprise Result: Fray Posters Love Slate

Looking for trouble: finding advice on goats

At the online edition of the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper, the readers have been making waves. Last week, 19-year-old, Max Gogarty began to blog about his planned travels in the year before attending college. The reaction to his first entry was instant: The readers hated it, posted 500 comments in one day—at a quick glance, 95 percent critical—the board was closed, and Max decided to blog no more. The Guardian made some defensive and vague statements (attracting many more cross comments from the readers), and the story simmers on in the British Web community. (You can read more about it in the Guardian here, and elsewhere here.) Inspired by this, your Fray editor decided to look at poster power at Slate. Are you pestering, are you aiming to shut anyone down?

What about the wine column on the “greatest wine ever made,” the Cheval ‘47 Blanc? No, you loved that: The nearest thing to a criticism was this from Savory Goodness: “Mike Steinberger should be reassigned to making wine pairings for truck-stop meals along the entire length of I-95,” but it turned out that was “so that we Frayers can feel a little better about our jobs.” His actual opinion included “Beautiful article… passion… obvious delight.” There was also a nice post called “I thought it was Zinfandel”—the title says it all, really.

Moving on to the “Undercover Economist” on paying too much for a house: Well, there was lots of helpful detail about how the ticket system at Duke University actually works, and many argued with the conclusions of the research mentioned in the article, but very politely. Zarniwoop pointed out that writer Tim Harford is “not buying a house in the London market, he’s buying a house from the collection of houses his wife wants in the current time frame,” and offered divorce as an alternative, but only, we feel, in a spirit of a fair laying out of the options. Meanwhile, Dismal offered this short but perfect comment: “Value in use > value in exchange.”

Of course, everyone loves Flann O’Brien, no use looking for arguments there, just nice, enthusiastic comments. Karl Rove, in his new career as a TV analyst, reviewed by Troy Patterson, attracted a lot of bile (our favorite: “How does he manage to hold a felt pen in those cloven hooves?”), but we don’t suppose Mr. Rove’ll be giving up his job as a result.

“Goats: the teenagers of the animal world,” saysdingoangst, while letmebefell compares them with his 11-month old baby. Criticism at last! But no, readers were mistily charmed by Jon Katz’ article about his “Rural Life,” and everyone sighed indulgently about those goats, although Topazz has a concern: “Sounds as though someone needs to get off the farm for a few days, maybe go into town, have a beer, take in a movie. Whatever, just don’t let those scheming goats lure you into anything you can’t handle. You’re fragile right now.” And Pennywhistler has some advice: “[I]t sounds like his goats are asking for more of Katz’s participation in their lives; more visits to the pen; (for all I know) a game of fetch or headbutt.” Helpful, that’s what Slate readers are.

Our last hope was Christopher Hitchens’ “Fighting Words” on the Danish cartoon row: Always room for trouble there, you would think, among the readers as well as about the content. There were strong feelings, and the arguments on both sides were fully explored—but introduced, for example, with the words, “I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you.” One particularly firm argument was over whether a poster should “tell my corpulent neighbor that he’s a fat slob.” Answer: Yes, you should, according to ryanlindly, “humiliation may be more appropriate than respect”—harsh words, harsh words.

Over at the Best of the Fray, Fielding Bandolier began a long thread in which posters tried to define the Fray. Fifty-nine tries and counting—no one seems to have mentioned fat-person etiquette tips yet, but there’s still time … MR 4:00 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008

The lesson to be learned from reaction to the various “Slate 60articles on philanthropy is clear: Whatever you do with your money, someone will criticize you. “How does one make a decision to give to an art museum when there are homeless in every community?” wondersjenb5336, while americafirst has this to say about Google’s plans:

To invest in third world countries is a lofty goal, but the reality is that little tin dictators will steal all the money or nationalize the business and then steal all the profits … If you really want to do good, find and help the truly deserving in your own country. You will never run out of work.

HowardRoark (now there’s a name—long ago, a Fray editor said, “We were wondering if there was any Fray topic that Ayn Rand couldn’t be dragged into. So now we know: This wasn’t it either”) was also doubtful:

What expertise do their [Google’s] engineers have in renewable energy or electric cars? What expectation is there that they will make progress that GM, Toyota and Tesla can’t? As an engineer, I’d love to land a contract to work on electric cars or alcohol from garbage, with no expectation of ever going into production. We all love a science project. It’s great fun, but it doesn’t feed the hungry or improve high school graduation rates.
BenK knows whom he has time for:

There is a group of motivated individuals who gather regularly at several, sometimes many, locations in every single town and city across America. They subject themselves to long lectures about ethics, morality, justice and philanthropy. They pledge themselves to private action, public action and political action. They collectively give something like ⅓ more money (income adjusted, per person) to philanthropic organizations—excluding donations they give to their own organization and gatherings. They welcome newcomers freely. They are evangelical Christians. Go figure.
And MerityRabbit nicely summarized a popular view:

I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth—well, yes, I guess I do … It’s extremely generous of these people to leave huge chunks of money to foundations and whatnot, but think about how much money these people still have. Even the poorest of the billionaires (kind of an oxymoron, right?) are still wallowing in dough and a life of luxury, but I’d say the real giving begins when it actually hurts the givers own pocketbook and makes a dent in their lives.
Elsewhere, readers solicited donations for their own troubles, quoted the Bible, wondered why none of this money seemed to help them, and wanted to know more about that elephant. Just a normal day in the Fray. MR … 3:00 p.m. GMT

Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

What do we like to see in the Fray? Today (it may well change by tomorrow) we have decided on good questions, mysterious phrases that might apply to anyone, and cheap jibes. So here are some sample lines: we have mixed Super Tuesday with a couple of other current topics—can you tell what each post refers to?

1) All I can say is, he’s very sexy for a drunken 50-year old.

2) The election … was often a buzzard’s banquet of … bribes, threats and promises to the electors.

3) At this point the only fresh air we can expect is currently in the void between Mitt’s ears.  

4) You can’t beat Somebody with Nobody.

3) And now [that you’ve posted in the Fray], They have your IP address. You’ll probably just have time to get your affairs in order before the helicopters arrive.

6) Who is “the one person in politics today who can reunite the Republican coalition?”

7) See what happens when voters choose so-called charisma over a real program.

8) If someone were named ‘Satan’ they would likely also not be [chosen].


1)     French President Nicolas Sarkozy. SandyHook’s post, here. La Duchesse (see No. 7), on the other hand, thinks his behavior “unspeakably vulgar.”

2)     Historical elections in Europe, according to jack cerfhere. What the U.S. system was set up to avoid.

3)     Self-explanatory. Cheap Jibe category, from Middleview here.

4)     The current Republican primaries, but not completely clear who is who: We just like the aphoristic sound of it. Written by The Slasher14, here.

5)     Reply by Thewolf05827 to post on McCain and Conservatism that might be described as slightly paranoid. Helpful addition from the true conservative: “I can hear the rotors spinning now!”

6)     Hillary Clinton, according to JLF.

7)     Nicolas Sarkozy, in the opinion of Duchesse de Guermantes here.

8)     To work in his father’s firm, Tundrayeti says. Nothing to do with elections.

If you got them all right, you need a detox from politics, or a job on the Fray. MR … 5:30 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008

“I immediately felt ill and almost depressed, like I should commit suicide.” Heath Ledger’s untimely death, or perhaps even the announced withdrawal of John Edwards from the Democratic presidential primaries, might seem like the most plausible occasion for such a dramatic statement to be uttered in Slate’s Spectator Fray.  On its face, the precipitating event was far more mundane: “the horrifying light” emitted from a compact fluorescent light bulb, or CFL, purchased by nerdnam on a recent trip to Home Depot. Ron Rosenbaum’s ode to the soon-to-be-extinct incandescent bulb elicited strong reactions from readers. Indeed, the sentimental attachment we have to the most common of objects can make their disappearance or alteration feel like a profound disruption to the order of things. Is it all irrational, a reflexive clinging to the familiar? Some of the arguments against CFLs appear to be quite practical. Fitzpatrick expresses frustration with the time needed to reach full illumination, knickname with their limited use in certain fixtures, zahniser7 with imprecise wattage equivalents. Chris_O dislikes their incompatibility with dimmer switches.

After a year “of straining my eyes to read a book, of holding letters over my head to get enough light to read by,” darwinite ends an ill-fated experiment with energy-efficient lighting and further vows to “stockpile incandescent bulbs before the ban.”

But there also seemed to be a deeper strain of conspiracy theory running through some of the Fray postings. The supposed environmental urgency behind the compulsory adoption of CFLs amounts to a campaign of “fluorescent fear-mongering … on a scale that would impress Rudy Giuliani,” quipsstrive. OIFVet might also count himself in the mildly paranoid camp, characterizing the push for these “science lab lights” as “a movement by folks who have invested in the new technology and prey on the conscience of the American people.”

viral considers the current CFL mania as a political case study in why reform always fails, as our misguided fixation on a small detail (light bulbs) obscures the aims of a much broader social goal (energy conservation).

The color-rendering index provides some scientific basis for qualifying the “hospitalesque hue” of fluorescents as inferior. timrichardson explains: “A CRI of 100 shows colors like natural light: incandescents are basically CRI 100…fluorescent lamps do not produce the spectrum of visible light in the even distribution of the sun, or a glowing filament.” 

Tann upbraids Rosenbaum for his misplaced sentimentality and resistance to change:

He confuses “incandescent” with “warm light” the same way the some people conflate “all-natural” with “healthy.” Incandescent light can produce harsh light too, and there are warm spectrum CFLs that produce light better than a soft white bulb.

waliyuddin is also a voice for progress and embrace of the new:

All aesthetic considerations aside, incandescence is, taken in the aggregate, a wildly wasteful means of lighting … and one that needs to be supplanted along with lots of other survivors from the technology of the past century and a quarter.

Beyond the environmental debate, OIFvet imagines what the demise of the incandescent bulb might mean for pop culture: “cartoonists will forever be in a quandary as to what icon to use to symbolize an idea being formed in the head of their character.” AC9:47 p.m. EST

Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008The wait is finally over! After long anticipation, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism has reached the market at last. Timothy Noah’s book review gives the overdue manuscript strong marks for scholastic effort, but docks it heavily for overall silliness.While the term “fascism” has no commonly accepted referent, as Sycamancy helpfully observes, it always seems to provoke interesting discussion. Since we’re all agreed that we’re opposed to it—even if we can’t agree precisely what it is—”fascism” seems to serve as the Rorschach test of American political values. Who we see smirking back at us when we peer into the blurry darkness of fascist ideology reveals something about who we are.From the conservative perspective, vepxistqaosani spies a perfectly clear resemblance between Hillary and Hitler:

The Clintons play right into Goldberg’s hands. Remember Hillary’s dictum, “It takes a village to raise a child?” That is too easily interpreted – especially given Hillary’s oleaginous self-righteousness – to mean that parents can, and should, be overruled when they contravene the village’s will. Or Bill’s short-lived surgeon general, Jocelyn Elders, who said, “every child [should be] a planned and wanted child.” What can that mean but that children who are unplanned, unwanted, or both should be aborted?The smiley-Hitler face on Goldberg’s book is, in fact, a bit of PR genius: If fascism ever does come to America, it will come “For Our Own Good,” and those who bring it will smile unceasingly.
Across the aisle, johnnyb stands up for the leftist principle of calling it as you see it:
The instances of fascism practiced by the Republicans when they controlled Congress are legion. Democrats hounded out of caucus rooms, denied the right to speak against legislation, funding for organizations viewed as unsympathetic to business slashed or cut off altogether. They didn’t even try to obscure it; after all, their spiritual leader was Tom “The Hammer” DeLay. Both in his campaigns, which in 2000 featured hundreds of strategist-led shock troops literally shaking the building in Miami where recounts were taking place, and of course, in his presidency, George W. Bush’s hallmark has been, and legacy will be, using government to crush dissent.
RightNow finds fascists to the left and right, poxing both major parties:
I’m sorry to disappoint Mr. Noah, but a lot of very calm and normal progressives consider the United States to have become a fascist society. The Republican pro-corporatist class is blatantly fascist, while the Democratic pro-corporatist class has instincts that lead it in two directions… but certainly since Bill Clinton genuine anti-fascist beliefs and actions have been on the decline. […] We live in a fascist society, and its power is evident in the unwillingness of powerful institutions, media and commentators like Noah to acknowledge this reality.
If fascists simply believe the trains should run on time, Richmond is only too happy to be counted as one. To Madai, fascism is less an ideology than a mental disease:
The trick is to stop thinking it’s a straight line between left and right. It’s a circle.At the top of the circle, is the political center—normal people. Left is left, right is right. But as you go further left or further right, you follow the circle DOWN. At the bottom is bat-shit insane, where the left and right intersect in a blur of violent and repressive ideas.
Bringing some scholarly heft of his own to the debate, mernlar tries to lay out an objective definition of the term:
Fascism is, in its most essential form, condensable to two concepts. Its core principle is nationalism. Nationalism and the struggle for national power replaced class struggle in Marxist thought. The State itself becomes a character, and the dictator, as the head of the State, its personified form. Second, fascism is the aestheticization of politics: the dawn of the political spectacle. Goose-stepping marchers in wartime parades; charismatic dictators who inspire fanatical devotion in followers; towering architecture that conveys culturally-laden messages of dominance–these, too, are the hallmarks of a fascist state.
If “fascism” is indeed an empty signifier, then Anse opposes it for its vacuity rather than its content:
It sounds to me like Goldberg would rather investigate the motives behind various political movements or philosophies than the movements themselves. This is the great bane of public discourse. We have stopped debating the tenets of political ideals; instead, we attack candidates and parties for more personal foibles and for supposed ulterior motives.
Is all this fancy talk of fascism merely sleight of hand? If so, dsf3g thinks its consequences are more than an illusion:
The sad thing is the end result of “proving” that liberals are the true [heirs] of Hitler and Mussolini’s political legacy. You reduce the essence of Fascism to such commonplace ideas as Keynesian market stimulus and the promotion of organic foods, while aspects such as the ideology’s racism and militarism are seen as trivial, secondary offspring.
Is discussion of fascism relevant in contemporary American politics? Would it be more enlightening to ask how our friends are more like fascists than our foes? Why are we still, after all these years, measuring our political beliefs against Hitler’s? We want to hear your thoughts in The Fray.GA 11:10 p.m. PST