Big Sister, Big Brother

Big Sister, Big Brother

Big Sister, Big Brother

Recent posts from our readers forum.
Oct. 21 1999 3:26 AM

Big Sister, Big Brother

Note: Robert Pinsky, U.S. poet laureate and Slate's poetry editor, will soon be answering your Fray posts! To join in the discussion, just go to "The Fray" poetry thread Friday, Oct. 29 at 3 p.m. ET. And in the meantime, click here to read excerpts from Pinsky's Fray appearance last year.

Advertisement

Subject: Beware the Politics of "Common Sense"

Date: Sat Oct 16

Advertisement

Interesting, clever piece but it seems wedded to the premise that liberalism = moral virtue. But mightn't a columnist offer sentiments wholly opposed to Anna Q's and seem to his/her readers the paragon of homespun good sense? Don't Pat Buchanan's fans think he's simply talking "horse sense"?

Others might object [that] Ms. Q's warm sentimentality is really smugness. I'm reminded here of a column she wrote on William Kennedy Smith, which (if I recall it correctly) made the argument--never established, save on the grounds of emotional identification with his accuser--that his acquittal was proof of the flaws in our legal system. At a time like this Big Sister sounds like kissing kin to Big Brother.

[Sam Tanenhaus is the author of Whittaker Chambers: A Biography.]

(To reply, click here.)

Advertisement

Subject: Anna Quindlen, Cultural Mandarin

Date: Sun Oct 17

Advertisement

Far from being a voice of common sense, Q is a sophist who tries to make confused thinking look like common sense.

In connection with Chris Ofili's painting [in her first Newsweek column ], she invokes Joyce and Lawrence but fails to mention that neither was publicly funded. She mentions banning and burning, but the painting is not being subjected to either. The funding issue isn't supposed to matter because citizens don't have control of every item in the budget anyway. Oh? Maybe they don't directly oversee every item, but they have every right to complain about items they don't like and demand that they be deleted.

Q seems to think that the issue of what is or is not offensive can be resolved by appealing to analogies in culture and history: "medieval Catholic art, for example, is chockablock with sexual and scatological imagery." Do the medieval artists use the imagery in the way Ofili did? Would she apply the same reasoning to her issue of hate speech and say for example that the n***** word shouldn't be offensive because it is widely found in 19th-century American literature and is sometimes used by blacks in referring to each other?

The Brooklyn Museum case isn't about free speech but rather subsidized (i.e., privileged) speech. Most speech and artistic expression are not subsidized by anyone. The museum is subsidizing the Ofili painting because it is supposedly of exceptional value. But do our cultural mandarins, in the name of "free speech" have the right to frivolous (and likely self-seeking) judgments as to what speech is valuable and what is not?

Advertisement

(To reply, click here.)



Subject: Bradley's Missed Moment in Iowa

From: Yellow Dog

Date: Tue Oct 12

Campaigns have defining moments. Remember the moment Ronald Reagan demanded that his microphone be turned on--after the media moderator ordered it turned off [in a 1980 debate]--so that he could speak in support of George Bush's whining disruptions to protest that he should be included in a Nashua, N.H., debate? ("I paid for this microphone, Mr. Breen!")

Bill Bradley missed such a moment the other night in Iowa, when Gore brayed at him from the stage Bradley had just relinquished. "How about it, Bill?" Gore taunted, looking straight at Bradley. "If the answer is yes, stand up and wave your hand."

What if Bradley had risen from his chair, walked over to Gore, and said, "Let me respond. As I just finished saying, let's abandon the old politics of personal confrontation and have the kind of reasonable discussion people want before deciding how to vote. Yes, Al, I agree to debate--not on your schedule, not on your terms, but at mutually acceptable times and places and in a format that lets people hear what we have to say. And in the meantime, why don't you knock off the 'How about it, Bill?' stuff. That's playground ball." Would Al have been ready to "Stay and Fight" under those circumstances? We'll never know ...

(To reply, click here.)

Subject: Journalism, Post-Metabolife

Date: Tue Oct 12

Chatterbox does a terrific job of pointing out the essential lunacy of trying to control information in this era, where anyone with a computer can read, watch, or hear something in the mass media, then get onto the Internet, find 400 versions of the truth, and make up his own mind.

Access to all this data makes us all a little crazier. On the other hand, it helps guarantee that the days of media moguls and politicians controlling our thoughts and opinions (Citizen Kane: "People will think what I tell them to think!") are fading fast. Unlike my parents, I won't buy a brand of cake flour or vote for a candidate just because that lovely Mary Margaret McBride tells me to on her radio show. Not when I can go to a cake flour chat room on the Web and get the real lowdown.

(To reply, click here.)

Subject: The True Cost of Driving in Manhattan

Date: Wed Oct 13

Moneybox is likely correct about taxi medallions and rent control. But I am not convinced about parking on two counts:

The value of land in Midtown Manhattan is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,500 per square foot. This high land cost, along with the high cost of constructing underground parking, means that more parking might not be economically feasible (i.e., land might be used more profitably for apartments, office space, and hotels).

Even if new garage space were feasible under current conditions, there is a good chance that it should not be built. While I tend not to worry about market failure unless it is large, in the case of automobiles, it is large. Edwin Mills of Northwestern University estimates that the social costs of automobiles could be internalized with a $2 per gallon gas tax in Chicago. In NYC, the tax would have to be higher than that. But there seems to be little political will to impose rational gas taxes, so second best solutions, such as regulating garage space, are likely better than allowing unregulated garage space combined with subsidized auto travel.

(To reply, click here.)

Subject: Your Diary, My Marriage

Date: Mon Oct 11

Today, I have been in a verbal communiqué with my husband, Captain Robert E. Fenton, USCG (Ret.) regarding his desire to travel to a mini-reunion of the USCGA Class of '63 in Orlando, Florida, next week. Having just returned from a week in San Diego at an FAA convention, I feel less than enthusiastic about these plans. After all, we still have two teenagers at home to care for! This morning, I telephoned him (at his office) asking, "Why do you want to go on this dumb trip?" After all, we have been married for nearly 33 years, and we have seen some of the classmates within the past year.

His reply was that it will be wonderful--we shared so much together and went through so much, I want to see them. He then forwarded this article written by the at-sea Coast Guard commander. Is this a coincidence? My husband served as a commanding officer of a CG cutter, 1980-82. He claimed it was the best time of his life. His personality does not allow him to express emotion or sensitivity. After reading this article, I know why he has always felt so close to the Guard (as I have), and why he wants to share a few days with his former classmates. Thanks for the great article. We will forward it to as many classmates as possible. No doubt I will be on that plane to Orlando next week. I will send you a follow up as to how it went.

(To reply, click here.)