Hell Is Other People’s Weddings

Religion, brides, and polygamy: Choose your weapons.

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.” MR3:00 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, arguesajm8127: “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

Tuesday, April  1, 2008

“People with bad attitudes and no friends shouldn’t go to Disney World. Mickey can’t fix everything.” Yes, the Magic Kingdom sure makes its fans into better people: They feel the joy, their eyes light up, then they come away and write cross, bitter Fray entries about Slate’s “ Well-Traveled” take on Disney. They say things like “Who wants whiners spoiling it anyway?” and “This is one of the saddest articles I have read” (really?) and “I found mini-France [at Disney World] a lot more enjoyable than actual France” and “Real life is over-rated.”

It would be easy to pick out more unfriendly posts from those who took offense at the very idea of criticizing Disney, the people whose great happiness apparently led to a need to make rude remarks about writer Seth Stevenson. (We did like the dear old lady who wanted to stand in for the Fairy Godmother but thought that if a guest didn’t enjoy the place, “it is pretty much their own darn fault.”) And yet … we expected at cynical Fray HQ we would be unmoved by the very idea of Disney, but the sheer uniformity of the defense was impressive—there were a huge number of responses but close to no arguments because almost everyone wanted to say a good word for Walt’s world. So we’ll enter into the spirit of things and draw your attention to some stories that charmed us. Dads in particular were keen to explain that children were the key:

Ziggy Toshsummed it up like this:

The place changes when you have kids. The fakery, the creepy corporatism … it all fades into the background and all of a sudden what seems most noteworthy about Disney is the sheer magnitude of the fact that here is a multinational corporation, with multinational resources, wholly dedicated (for profit, admittedly) to the imaginary lives of children. … You simply haven’t seen Disney until you’ve watched the firework display with your toddler perched on your shoulders.

Meanwhile, a doting aunt explained how she made her niece feel like a princess, and an astonishing number of posters had spent their honeymoons there. One reader says, “As a gay man, I knew, even as a young child, that in this world of Disney, I would not be able to find a fairy tale Prince Charming falling head over heels for flighty Peter Pan. …” His post was called “A Gay Child’s Perspective,” but his description of a childhood visit, with a mother who had saved and scraped for the trip, had a common appeal for many readers.

Laurie 1207 laid it on the line:

As a woman who has faced the same drudgery 40 hours a week at the same workplace, Disney World is like a much needed breath of fresh air … Does it hurt to be a child for a few days even when I am actually 55 years old? … For the 5-7 days I might stay at Disney World I can forget about the hustle and bustle of real life and act like a totally entranced child. Then I can return to the stresses of every day life and feel as though I have been to another world.

Some posters could see the problems but had good advice:

Those margaritas are there for a reason, they are there for tired parents— cindyrat.  … Going to Disney is like childbirth—you forget how painful it is and keep going back— samat. … Going to Disney without advanced planning compares to, I don’t know … attending a sporting event without knowing the rules? ordering an invasion of another country without being sure of the objective?— Gilamu. …Send Seth to Branson! … You know what? That sounds like a good idea. “A cynic’s guide to American tourist traps.” It has potential, you’ve got to admit.— Gj13us

A poster called African American Family had the most charming storyof her husband’s conversion:

I was with you at first, because I took my two children to Epcot and The Magic Kingdom in 1984. I was grouchy and tired. … The train ride was a nightmare, and the bus ride was horrible. … If I sound bad my husband was worst. He was just like you, only stingy. He made us go and see vacation property all the time we were there, so we could get in Disney for free. I brought $1500 dollars to spend and we still were broke. He grumbled and said it was a waste of money. But, from the moment I went through the front gates I was in heaven. The magical kingdom and then the Epcot center was a dream come true.

And she ended up with a message for Seth Stevenson:

Believe it or not to this day when my husband talks about the Disney experience he sounds like he was me, he tells everyone of the glorious time we had. … So, this is why I read the articles hoping you would see and feel it too, because if my husband could catch it then I thought so could you. So if you catch yourself ten or twenty years from now, telling a different tale about your Disney experience, just smile and remember, a little black woman told you it might just happen to you.

A final invitation from Jon’s World:

I think Mr Stevenson you should try it again! Not by yourself with a notepad in hand but with a mom and dad and a couple of kids. PS:I checked with the family—they are willing to take you Mr Stevenson but you have to promise to wear a set of ears at least for a few minutes and pretend to enjoy it. You never know, with the right people you might just have fun!

A very fair offer. The true Disney spirit emerges.


At Disney World, readers say, children bring you undiluted happiness. Elsewhere—maybe not so much. Emily Yoffe’s “The Best Policy” article on unwed mothers unsurprisingly brought out hundreds of posters, with very varying views, and some very long arguments. These could become very personal as posters revealed their circumstances, and set out their strongly held views— some were like sad short stories. Many single mothers came to say their piece and got very honest responses. One who explained her situation was met with this, from a rather ferocious reptile:

I can understand how you would feel that way given your obvious poor choice in men. If women would stop giving it to those type of men then those type of men would have to change to become successful with women. I’d bank on winning the lottery before that happens though. … The fact that you replied in the manner you did, and your situation is how it is, just proves the article’s point and mine that much further. Your case is a product of your bad decision making. You chose to date and have sex with a completely worthless guy and now you are forever tied to him through a child. I’d be mad too.

No conclusions reached; no minds changed. MR2:30 p.m. GMT

Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2008

“First time posters all over the board.” What, NickD, you say that as if it were a bad thing? Anne Applebaum’s “Foreigners” article on the Beijing Olympics brought a huge number of posters, many of them new, many of them not U.S.-based. At times, NickD seemed to be single-handedly arguing with all of them, rather like a chess grandmaster playing multiple games. The main arguments concerned what’s really happening in Tibet, whether boycotts or protests are the most effective ways to react to perceived problems, and whether all this is unfair on the athletes. A few people wanted to discuss the direct effect of the Olympics on the Chinese people; an unusually high number of messages got a response from other posters. Anse started a discussion on whether the many journalists in Beijing for the games would facilitate the flow of information and met with some cynicism: “Lots of incisive political commentary from those sports reporters” came from marcparis, while Jascob said, “Of course; just look at all those foreign journalists roaming freely around Tibet right now, giving us the full scoop.”

 Ygalbot looked at the nuances of protest:

There’s nothing wrong with the Olympics boycotting a team to show it how isolated it is from the rest of the community, “You’re so bad not even the Olympics will accept you.” But for a team to say the same thing to the Olympics is completely different. I know that seems like a weird distinction to make, but as to the effectiveness of boycotting, it’s absolutely true. It’s the difference between a child quitting his family and a family giving up a child. Which one of the two ever has any effect?

And Gialtouridis had another point of view:

You want to punish China, or at least send China a message, by boycotting the Olympics. And how will you do that? By alerting the entire world using your “Made in China” keyboard, which is connected to your “Made in China” computer… If you want to send China a message, shut off your Chinese computer right now. Start with that.

 While NickD wanted no half-measures

All decent people across the globe should refuse to watch the Olympics or purchase any Chinese products anywhere on the planet they are sold during these “Games”. All decent peoples on the Globe should refuse to purchase any goods from any advertiser who associates themselves with the brutal and murderous regime of Communist China.

There were some heated conversations, and people became very angry, but mostly a basic level of civility prevailed, and insults, when they came, were at least witty: Greekislandgirl, tired of one discussion, said,

I’m not quite sure where you are coming from, but I’m glad I’m not there. Please let me know where you plan to go so I can avoid that too.

It’s clear that politics and sport do mix, in the Fray. MR 2 p.m. GMT