Thesis My Words: Religion, Separatism, and Elitism

Listening with a blue-collar ear.

“I honestly can’t say that the next time I see Princeton on a job applicant’s resume … I won’t think of this,” said Firstinlastout,shaking his head over perceived low standards after following the link (in this Christopher Hitchens “Fighting Words“) to read Michelle Obama’s undergraduate thesis. But readers were conflicted in a personal way: The thesis might be fair game or it might not—your view probably depends on whom you support—but who would really want their own student writings brought, blinking, into public view? It wasn’t a comfortable thought. There was a long discussion on the thesis, and on everyone’s grammar, here—special opportunities for anyone with an opinion on the phrases “brilliant genius” and “repellently failed dictators.” Whatfur didn’t like a speech Michelle Obama gave and was firmly told by IntegrityFirst “[you] were listening with a blue collar ear.”

So how about that Jeremiah Wright? Wsbh says, “There isn’t a Sunday that passes in this country where parishioners don’t return home griping about the sermon—the preacher is often just an adjunct to the ceremony, the tradition, the whatever.” Bigsky007 defended the pastor, while Kroert16 was clear: “Obama is either the worst judge of character since Christ and Judas, or he did what was politically expedient.” Ladykrystyna had a theological doubt that Judas was the right example—we can only conclude that not many people saw this post, as it could have turned into one mighty long thread, being just the kind of discussion Fraypeople like to get their teeth into.

They loved getting their teeth into George Orwell, too, after reading Jeff Greenfield’s “Politics” article on elitism and the British socialist, obviously because of the contrast with the complete lack of any class consciousness in U.S. society. This was clearly demonstrated in any random collection of phrases: “Hmm, I’m interested in what dumber people think” came from jwschmidt; “lex talionis in the land of NASCAR”—thank you Waliyuddin; “you never explained what arugula was”— Real Slim K,complaining to jwschmidt, above. “Why do working-class Americans hate socialism?” Ralph7 wanted to know. Moodyguppy asked if socialism had “a sales problem or a product problem” in a post with a splendid use of strike through—if you go and look, you’ll find a fascinating diagnosis of the ills of the American left.

HBFreddie had some stern words:

Varying degrees of socialism have always appealed to smug elitists who see themselves as the apparatchiks of a strong central authority imposing its will on what they as an unsophisticated population.

There was parallel tough talking from jbunker

The downtrodden and the unwashed masses are, for the most part, ignorant, uninformed, and incapable of critical thinking. Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh have been very successful utilizing this unspeakable truth.

Thomaspain was evenhandedly mean to everyone, concluding “we really need to be reminded that it’s time to grow up, to put our Bibles down with our guns, and face the uncertain future we, not God, have created.” We’re not sure how long he thinks it’ll be before that happens.—MR … 8.30 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, April  29, 2008

We have to take issue with DuckworkerMike, with his rather rude words about English cooking after reading the “Food” item on Brit chef Gordon Ramsay: Of course sweeping generalizations of dubious worth are the very lifeblood of the Fray, but you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the English Fray Editor that way. And no, we’re not repeating his insults—go and look if you must. However, we might let Mike off because we like the sound of his asparagus recipe. There are quite a few recipes and tips in the thread here: Don’t read while hungry. Garlic mashed potatoes, pilaf, salad, butterflied stuffed lamb, grilled or roasted, scrambled egg and couscous (together? Yes), and here, shrimp ceviche (warning: tempting hints but no recipe). There was a discussion on the availability or otherwise of ingredients: One day the conclusion to these loooong threads might be that you can’t get those weird things in the big city, but come to my local 7-Eleven and you’ll be fine. That day has not yet come. The thread turns up with every Slate article on cooking, so we also saw it here last week with Sara Dickerman’s item on food writers and money. In fact, did anyone care much about Gordon Ramsay? Well Nutmiffin did, in a way: “Yeah, Americans will read the book while eating a Big Mac, over discussions like; ‘how much does this guy make a year?’” But a thread about Rachel Ray (“grating, hyperactive munchkin chef”—no, jbtowers, tell us what you really think, though we’re not repeating your mean hope for her and the knife) generated more heat about its subject, along with detailed discussions of her methods.

Ttimms56 had some good advice: “always look at the picture of the author of the cookbook that claims healthier food, if the author is plump I have to wonder about the book.” And Margaretnelsonwest—a true Fray character—made one of her mysterious comments: “I will never clean a bird that was brought to me even if he owns the estate and that is that.” We keep grasping for meaning, and we think it’s there—there’s certainly something rather British about it, a touch of Masterpiece Theater.

One other question did arouse strong feelings: kitchen scales, “impossibly frou-frou accessory” or vital kitchen equipment? And yes, we do all have them and use them all the time in the United Kingdom, and when you tell us what kind of a useful measurement a “cup of cold butter” is, we’ll stop.

Back to the Dickerman article, and food journalist Judith Weinraub came in to defend her colleagues against the charge that they did not deal with money issues carefully enough when writing about cooking:

Reporters writing in food sections are supposed to report, not opine…I do agree that people have to cook–not with haute cuisine culinary skills, but with basic skills that can take advantage of seasonal produce and less expensive proteins. And that can be a problem for people used to relying on the commercial food system. As for actual dollars and cents, that can be (and is) done in general terms. But stories that do that with hard numbers will always risk being wrong, depending on where readers shop, and how often prices change. These are all complicated issues, and of course the press should reflect readers’ concerns or just plain what readers want to read about. I share similar concerns about food costs and how to serve readers best, but it’s just too easy to damn the so-called food press.

Completing Food and Drink week in the Fray, there was the kosher wine article—we’ve read le-idiot’s post several times and still can’t tell if he’s serious. The first part is a quote from someone else’s wine review, so scroll down to the bit about “penetrated my tooth enamel, regrew my tonsils and finally pulled my small intestines onto the floor of my mouth; lifted my tongue to my palate so it could both escape the relentless flow and prevent projectile vomiting; and the long, long finish that complemented both the texture of the shag rug and cat hair on the sofa…let me tell you – it just doesn’t get any better!” We’re thinking that Passover went well in his house.  MR 17.00 p.m. GMT

Friday, April  25, 2008

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 Engber’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,” wonders cmarinelli? 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. AC … 12:15 p.m. ET

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There wasn’t even agreement on whether the article was pro-Hillary or anti. Linda Hirshman’s “ Yo Mammaon 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 defenseofSlate:

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 charming slide show for  this “DVD Extras”—is “The Price is Right.” MR… 3:00 p.m. GMT