Sacred Cow

Envisioning a world of lab-produced meat and guilt-free carnivores.

Earlier this week, Will Saletan covered PETA’s latest initiative: a $1 million dollar prize offered to anyone who develops a commercially viable “in vitro chicken-meat product.” For the entrepreneur lucky enough to win, phil_white99 already envisions the publicity campaign:

look at the free marketing that this future company already got (and will continue to get) from PETA! Imagine Pamela Anderson chowing down on lab-created chicken breasts on YouTube, while shaking her lab-created human breasts.
p_w99’s enthusiasm for the idea put him in the minority. Skeptics mostly ruled the roost, so to speak, in Science Fray, egged on by Daniel Engbar’s derision of the PETA prize as nothing more than a publicity stunt. Firstearth_wiccan, then quillsinister explain why lab-grown meat will never be comparable to the real thing. sepiaprincess gets queasy over “Frankenmeat,” while lotsy00 evokes “Chicken Little,” the lab meat product in 1953 sci-fi classic The Space Merchants.Even assuming the success of such an experiment, “what happens to all those 40 billion pigs, cows, fish and chickens?” asksMara5525? (The answer here from Trebuchet: they will be set into the wild, and “make good hunting in a few generations. Hopefully they won’t evolve into killer chickens!”)Wouldn’t “true vegetarians” be repulsed by the taste of meat anyway, “no matter what form it comes in,” wonderscmarinelli? Self-proclaimed “animal rights activist” Chicachew agrees, while veg-partisan infornographer says “the prospect of lab-grown meat has me incredibly excited.” Read why. LeRoy_Was_Here zooms out to the global picture:
Part of the reason for soaring food prices are the growing affluence of countries like China and India, and a growing taste for meat among the middle class in those rapidly-developing nations. But meat requires a large amount of grain, and water, and land. This issue actually goes far beyond the putative health benefits for humans of a vegan diet, and the ethical issues of killing animals for meat. It is deeply connected with the much broader issue of sustainability.
And if we believe ejherb’s assertion that “the beef, pork, and poultry industries contribute massively more to global warming than automobiles,” lab-based food production would mean a lighter carbon footprint. More to be found in Human Nature Fray. AC12:15pm ESTTuesday, April 22, 2008

There wasn’t even agreement on whether the article was pro-Hillary or anti. Linda Hirshman’s “ Yo Mamma” on Clinton and U.S. women’s mothers brought out close arguments, ranging from the (slightly predictable) [Hillary] “ reminds me of my ex-wife” to several readers who said she reminded them of Richard Nixon, to a Republican feminist’s claim that “If I continue to hear the patronizing attacks against her based on the pitch of her voice or her appearance or her husband, I may just have to vote for her. Girls need to stick together sometimes.”

There was some meta-discussion of why analyses like this appear. Jenniferwhatnot said,Where are all the articles about men afraid to openly support Obama out of fear of offending their feminist girlfriend? That’s right, there aren’t any.” And thank you KHpoliticalinnuendohere for this defense ofSlate:

The majority of Slate readers are educated and in touch with politics, especially those who post here on the Fray. These are the people who exhausted their attention to policy long ago. We know what the differences and similarities are, we’ve gone over both Obama and Clinton’s with fine-toothed combs, so to expect an op-ed type of publication like Slate to rehash them over and over again is to completely misunderstand their goal and function.

The most controversial line in the article was this: “Only women seem to need to separate and destroy in order to start all over again with each generation.” Many readers wanted to argue, Dickey Roscombe from literature:

Nothing says boomer narcissism like identifying a particular problem in one’s own sphere of understanding and deciding it must be entirely new and unique. … It would take far too long to detail how western history and literature (from Oedipus to Henry IV to HW Plainview) has faithfully told and re-told the story of men rejecting the worlds and lives of their fathers. Certainly, it is a failure of Western culture to have for so long ignored the parallel stories of mothers and daughters, but to attribute to that story a uniqueness that denies the experiences of fathers and sons is to remake the mistakes of the dead white men that the second-wave feminists worked so hard to debunk.

Ian Kamaku’s view was on a different plane, and possibly more provocative to half his readers—well not exactly half:

Just how does 52 to 54% of a population become a minority? Laziness? Stupidity? … If only you [women] could unite around a leader … ah, but therein lies the problem, but also the answer … women will not follow a powerful leader. They will drive the hag out of their kitchens. There is a chance, perhaps a small one, but a chance none the less that when given an order by his father, a 30 year old man might comply. If a woman of 30 is given a direct order by her mother, the chances of her obeying are the chances of the sun moving around the Earth.

Still trying to win friends among women, the same poster said this:

Have you ever noted that when a man wants to get a laugh, he will put on a dress; when a woman wishes to be taken seriously, she will put on a man’s uniform? My, my, what does that tell us?

Answer from Pigbodine: “That you watch too much Benny Hill and not enough of French & Saunders.” Pigbodine also said, “So, I am not voting for Hillary Clinton. Not because of her sex or that she reminds me of my mom. I am not voting for Hillary Clinton because she does not remind me of Hillary Clinton; she reminds me of John McCain (who kind of reminds me of my dad) and George Bush (who kind of reminds me Lennie from Of Mice and Men).”

Strive (a self-described fortysomething woman) bravely laid her own mother on the line:

My mother … believes whatever Right-leaning political or social screed hits her Inbox, and happily forwards it to 20 of her friends so that she will have good luck that day. She is college-educated and is good at her job, which requires specialized skills. She reads her local paper daily and watches the news every night. But my mother is a stupid woman—my definition being that she has access to information and chooses to either ignore or reject it out of hand because considering or accepting it may require her to think critically about real issues.

She was gently upbraided in the same thread by Munich:

You make some very good points here … but you really oughtn’t trash your Mom like that. One day, your mother is going to die … and you really won’t like thinking back to the time you repeatedly called her stupid on a public message board. Have a great weekend.

StevieN knew what was needed:

One day, there will be [a woman candidate] and, like Obama is to Jesse Jackson, she will be to Hillary: a candidate who appeals to EVERYONE—beyond the pull of identity politics. And that one will be the first woman president.

Djg1229 had a reasonable demand: “Please let me make [my voting] decision without calling me names or imputing bad intentions to me.” That decision had been reached after careful consideration: “I find her to be poorly-suited for the job.” Not the only one—there was severe criticism of Hillary’s “womanish leisure suits” in this thread, a phrase that caused great hilarity among posters.

Last word goes to Thevail, because this comment—”seriously, you have no idea how perfectly the combination of brave feminists and loving mothers fixed the world”—seems to be so perfectly balanced: We think it was meant as praise, but it could go either way.
—MR1:00 p.m. PST

Friday, April  18, 2008

Who is going to hell? It’s a place that gets plenty of  mentions in the Fray, and readers this week were ready to send disgraced cleric Bernard Law and Slate writer Christopher Hitchens there (in a post called “Different Paths, Same Destination”). But, perhaps surprisingly, the polygamous men of the FLDS compound, while heavily criticized, were not facing the ultimate in Fray condemnation. After reading the “Explainer” titled “Three Girls for Every Boy,” posters were somewhat uneasy—no one approved of underage sex or forced marriage, but as Arlington put it:

If consenting adults want to enter into multiple-this, multiple-that relationships, I’m all for it. I don’t think the state has any business determining whether or not those relationships are marriages or not. In fact, I don’t think the state has any business proclaiming any arrangement, including the common one man-one woman setup, a marriage. The state(s) need to get out of the marriage business and leave it to the churches, whether those churches be mainstream, fringe, cult or completely bogus … The FLDS situation is a little different because some of the girls are 12 or 13 years old at the time they’re forced to marry, and they’re held against their will in some cases. There’s also the problem of throwing out the minor boys who are not old enough to fend for themselves.

He was answering The True Conservative’s question:

Where are our favorite defenders of “alternative lifestyles” now? … Do these people not have the same rights as gays? For the record, I am against polygamy and gay marriage. But at least I am consistent.

Ever helpful Fray poster Kaiso was ready to do the math for a polygamous family:

The replacement rate per family with N wives is N+1+C, where C is the number of children who are eventually kicked out, leave, die, or are infertile. So take [Warren] Jeffs and his 40 wives: they need 41 children + some unknown number (probably higher than .1) to reach replacement. Most men in polygamous couples don’t have quite that many wives, but assuming at least one wife has 2 kids, and the others have at least one, that’s replacement.

Schroeder Baker’s take was straightforward: “Can you say ‘quarter million dollar ripoff’? I knew you could.” He diagnosed welfare fraud. Herzliebster thought it was “simple Darwinism in action … Maximize reproductive success of dominant males, eliminate unsuccessful males.”

Back with the Catholic Church, Nate415, answering Christopher Hitchens’ “Two Questions for the Pope,” had this to say about Cardinal Law:

What Law did was an affront to God, the Church and the families under his pastoral care. That he hasn’t had to go from door to door of the families he harmed and kneel and ask for forgiveness is scandalous, but certainly does not entirely discredit the Catholic Church.

And Nightswimmer knew which works of art we should be thanking the Church for: “Godfather, Sopranos, Da Vinci Code, [and] Thornbirds.”


Weddings were at issue over at “Dear Prudence“—just the one bride this time, but that was trouble enough. Readers were on the whole outraged by the letter writer’s wish to dictate to her future mother-in-law. A few of the other letters were discussed (What kind of biopsy did she get for $300? It sounded too cheap), but, on the whole, space had to be cleared for the long descriptions of posters’ weddings, clothes, general arrangements, and who had the most hideous wedding outfits—plenty of candidates, plus an argument on the merits of chocolate-brown tuxedos (with robin’s egg blue vest or without?).

Weddings, religion—neither is the answer to our final quiz question. What does Inquisitor consider to be “an American institution. More important than say Congress but perhaps less than the ‘A-Team’ “? The answer—provoked by the charmings slide show for  this “DVD Extras”—is “The Price is Right.” MR… 3:00 p.m. GMT

Thursday, April  10, 2008

If ordinary Americans are supposed to be grateful for the cheap Chinese imports that have supposedly boosted their standard of living for the last generation and a half, that gratitude is hardly evident in “Moneybox” Fray. The reaction to Alexandra Harney’s article on changing economic conditions in China highlights (at least among domestic readers of Slate) the profound ambivalence we harbor toward our largest global trading partner.

Granted, China’s link to tainted goods has not helped the country’s PR much in recent months. But the grievances go much deeper, as captured by WassabiCracker’s lengthy invective:

There is now a distinction in the eyes of American consumers between American products, fabricated here at home and under American quality standards, and the corner-cutting, low quality, in some cases dangerous, products produced by cheap foreign labor. Not to mention the human rights and environmental aspects of buying from the Chinese, or the fact that they steal our intellectual property by the billions building an entire segment of their national economy from knock-offs.

The economic implications of Harney’s analysis may have been slightly ominous, but for the layman, it offered a glimmer of hope. If the era of cheap Chinese goods is coming to an end, does it portend a reversal in the fortunes of American industry?

Wonderful news disguised is blueskies’ take on the story, as it heralds an “opportunity for domestic industry to compete.” “Now that the value of the dollar has fallen into the toilet, perhaps American business will bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States,” hopesCyrano.

This blue-collar nostalgia is echoed by many. toolguy1964 pines for “the good old 50’s when … the things we made were quality and products we actually needed and used.” Indeed, higher wages for Chinese workers are a good thing, argues ajm8127: “Hopefully, this will give our economy a little kick in the ass.”

“Don’t count on it,” warns incog-nito. “There are still plenty of third-world countries with oppressed masses to be exploited.” nolalady also holds a critical mirror up to America’s appetite for cheap Chinese goods, made by laborers in “horrible working conditions … with no voice and no power to change their circumstances”—a phenomenon at last being reigned in by higher prices. For islander07 here, the answer is similarly to “stop consuming an excess of stuff.”

Of course, lest this column give impressions to the contrary, the Fray is not populated exclusively by trade protectionists and economic patriots. TJA is the rare advocate of global competition as the best way to increase social welfare for all. A solution about as popular right now as the price of rice in India. AC… 3:45 p.m. ET

Tuesday, April  8, 2008

Jeet Heer’s “Culturebox” article on Fredric Wertham’s campaign against comic-books, “ The Caped Crusader,” provoked many thoughtful posts: an argument about the morals of the stories here, a discussion on scientists’ responsibility for their research results there, and we can always find a place for a readerwho found out from Wertham’s 1954 book that “there were sexy pictures within the comic frames, if you knew how to look for them.” But the hot-ticket post came from author Michael Chabon, whose book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is mentioned in the article.

Chabon came into the Fray to argue with the description of a “brief and unsympathetic cameo” of Wertham in his book and went on to say:

In fact my personal view of Wertham, reflected in the novel itself, had progressed beyond the simplistic condemnation (“Easy enough to mock…”) or demonization that Heer suggests well before I actually wrote the relevant scenes in the novel itself. No one who does even the most rudimentary research into Wertham’s career and accomplishments can fail to admire him for his compassion, his intelligence, his desire to help children, and his fairly snappy prose style. He was not wrong about the meretriciousness or offensiveness of many of the comics he condemned, though he was wrong about a lot of them; nor was he wrong when he argued that many of the stories featured inappropriate material for young children. It was Wertham’s boneheaded inferences about the direct causal connection between, say, “headlight” comics and “deviance” in children, not to mention the hysteria his inferences helped to foster (along with a counter-hysteria among comics fans) that have tarnished his admirable legacy.

As for the racist, misogynist, violent comics for which I am averred so nostalgically to pine, I defy anyone to find evidence for such a sentiment in anything I have ever written or said, in Kavalier & Clay or elsewhere. Talk about easy generalizations.

Read his post in full, or reply to it, hereMR5 p.m. GMT

Update: The article’s author, Jeet Heer, came into the Fray to answer Chabon. After making several specific points, he says:

My purpose wasn’t to cast aspersions on Chabon as a novelist or to upbraid him for his nostalgic celebration of early comics. He’s a great writer and like him I find the early comics to be imaginatively nurturing (I love Chabon for many reasons but especially for calling attention to the greatness of Jack Kirby). My only point was that there is a complexity to Wertham as a historical figure that doesn’t come through in many accounts of his career, including the brief and unsympathetic references to him in Kavalier & Clay.
And Bart Beaty of the University of Calgary, author of a book on Frederic Wertham mentioned in the article, also came into the Fray:
I disagree with Chabon’s reading of Wertham on the issue of causation, but I deal with that in great depth in my own book and won’t rehearse the argument here since we seem to agree on most other significant points in this matter. And, if by chance he is reading this, I would like to let Mr. Chabon know how much I enjoyed his portrait of the comic book industry at that historical moment, even as I think that some of the material in Wertham’s archives indicate that it may have been even darker than the sometimes grim portrait that he paints.
 Read both posts in full  here. MR12.00 p.m. GMT