The Fray finds its inner racist.

The Fray finds its inner racist.

The Fray finds its inner racist.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
Aug. 12 2004 12:08 PM

Salty Crackers

The Fray finds its inner racist.

The Anti-Kerryism: BPike writes that:

In "Revelation of the Nerds" William Saletan writes, "Why does Kerry call it a "ban on stem-cell research" instead of a ban on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell lines derived after Aug. 9, 2001? Because the shorter phrase, while scientifically inaccurate in four egregious ways, is more politically effective."

... Isn't this exactly the sort of phrase that [Saletan] would normally tear apart?

Does BPike have a point? Hasn't Saletan been taking Kerry to task for wordiness the candidate avoids here? Saletan jumps into the fray to respond to BPike:

There's a difference between a prescriptive caveat and a descriptive one.

If Kerry says stem cell research should be permitted but that federal funding of such research should be banned, that's a prescriptive caveat.

If Kerry says Bush's position is that stem cell research should be permitted and that embryonic stem cell research should be federally funded, but only for cell lines derived before 8/9/01, that's a bunch of accurate descriptive caveats.

If Kerry says Bush's position is that stem cell research should be banned—when in fact Bush's position is that stem cell research should be permitted and that embryonic stem cell research should be federally funded, but only for cell lines derived before 8/9/01—that's a misrepresentation by omission of several caveats.

You may include caveats in your position or omit them, because you get to decide what your position is. They aren't required, and sometimes they're evasive.

You may not omit caveats in your opponent's position. You don't get to decide what his position is. They're required, even if (on his part) they're evasive.

Agree with Saletan's descriptive/prescriptive delineation? Pipe in here.

Would You Care for Some Crackers with That? Not surprisingly, Debra Dickerson's piece "Racist Like Me: Why am I the only honest bigot?" generated a lot of traffic in High Concept Fray. GeoffsPneuma begins his post by praising Dickerson for:

Point[ing] out the futility of this great crusade. Much as we might like to, none of us can ever completely sever the link between our lived experiences and our daily preconceptions. We find our prejudices are layered like an onion, with finer and more nuanced discriminations always residing beneath our broadest and most superficial presumptions.

But Geoff ultimately veers from Dickerson's prescription:

The "solution" to the problems of social justice does not lie in the private purity of our hearts, but in the public conduct of our persons.

Ms. Dickerson is hobbled by a crippling preconception that she shares with the very persons she is striving to refute—that prejudice and injustice are inextricably linked. This relationship is far from necessary, and in fact isn't as obvious as our intuition would suggest ...

Racism is regrettable, and worthy of rebuttal or censure. But if the object of our reformist zeal is injustice, we won't find it in the private nooks and crannies of our innermost conscience. It's out there, in the streets, where we interact with one another. America didn't defeat the evils of slavery and segregation by purifying the hearts of men. It did so by asserting, with growing force and conviction, that there are certain forms of conduct which, whatever our own private flaws may be, rise to a level of manifest injustice that we could no longer sanction and would no longer tolerate.

So, with all due respect to Ms. Dickerson, I must disagree with her conclusion that "in the struggle to achieve a just society ... [w]e have to learn how to forgive each other, and more importantly ourselves, when we're stupid."

Rather, we must learn how to see injustice when it parades before our eyes, and we must find the courage and wisdom to confront it with passion and efficaciousness.

Must racism be materially challenged? Talk it over with Geoff here.

Both Razzen here and locdog here take issue with Dickerson for, what Razzen calls, "replacing one bigotry with another." Razzen:

So Dickerson wants to replace "unnatural, irrational" ethnic-based discrimination with "natural, rational" discrimination based on economic class, and she thinks this is going to be a ray of hope in our ugly, hate-filled world.

On a similar note, gthomson was genuinely disappointed by Dickerson:

Dickerson also reveals a condescending worldview in the following passage, "a world of perfect harmony would be lovely, but until the rapture comes I'd rather blue-collar types of all races faced off against us 'suits' than one race against the other." Note that the world has conveniently divided itself into two classes: blue and white collar. Interesting that many skilled blue-collar workers make more money than white-collar ones. Interesting that more and more people occupy both worlds without feeling the need to declare allegiance to either. This is almost too simplistic for words. Also, as an attorney would well know, in most conflicts between the suits and so-called "blue collars," the ones with the power, the money and the lawyers, usually win. But maybe losing isn't important, so long as one fights the good fight.

There is a good, honest article buried here under all the smug, the self-congratulation, the clueless condescension. The tone here is unfortunate, tinged with self-regard, not humility, though an acknowledgement of our own frailty and weakness ought to make us humble. What a waste.

More honest anecdotal confessionals? Here's EarlyBird's from the campus of UC-Berkeley. … KA9:05 a.m.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Nature of Science: William Saletan's "Revelation of the Nerds: The religion of stem cell research" sparked some of the best Fraywork in weeks. Saletan brings to the surface a compelling irony of the stem cell research debate—namely that "science has become political, ideological, and religious."

Elaborating on Saletan's point, BenK's post on the three classifications of science is a classic. The "three sciences":

One 'science' is that outgrowth of old school natural philosophy, the investigation of the natural world with the fullest belief that in it is reflected the face of a Creator. This science may seek for evidence of faith, but more often than not, it seeks for beauty, order, or some other type of craftsmanship and art.

The second science is what some would call 'engineering' or 'technology.' Figuring out how to build a bridge from here to there or design a vaccine against some dread disease. Practiced equally by liberals and conservatives, valued by all but the Amish and Luddites, it is a generally apolitical, non-ideological pursuit of practical aims. It resembles the first science in so much as it relies on logic and experimentation, observation and simplifications called laws.

The third science is an outgrowth of humanism, secularism, materialism, and existentialism. It is the dogged pursuit of evidence that anything and everything in the world can be explained by the human mind and natural laws, that the material universe is self-contained, that there is nothing mysterious outside the realms of logic and impervious to analysis and observation. It seeks boundless license to tell 'the truth' and seeks to silence 'superstition.' This science, like the first, is far from apolitical or free from religion. Instead, it hides the need for faith—trying to label as 'unscientific' all other religion, effectively a smear campaign. It co-opts the successes of the second science to demonstrate its benevolence.

According to Ben:

This is the split that we are seeing on stem cell research. The first 'science' is relatively rare today. The second is trying to cure diseases, using whatever methods are permitted and practical. The third is trying to hide behind the second, while promoting its own view of 'tolerance'—meaning its own freedom to do anything and say anything, and silence the opposition.

Theonemacduff takes issue with Ben's model:

The 3 types you describe would better be thought of as attitudes towards science. And it's interesting that you appear to feel more warmly towards the "natural philosophy" type of science, ie, the emerging science of the seventeenth century (although in fact its roots go much deeper, back to theological debates of the middle ages over the nature of God's power), a science that was just beginning to define itself and its mission. The second science, your term, isn't science at all but an application of science to pragmatic problems. Look at Tacola's book of engineering tips and tricks from the thirteenth century and you'll see that he had no need of (what we call) science to build a bridge, power a mill, or any other of a dozen technological feats. And nor is your third "science" really science, something which is given away by your lumping together a whole string of philosophical tendencies, stretching over centuries, as if they were all part of one thing.

Jones1 and RuggerJay see this debate as a dialectic in the day's larger political conflict. A cynical RJ:

The Bush administration has peddled its lies (WMD's, the Iraq Al Qaeda connection, the rebounding job market, moving forward on the 9/11 Commission's recommendations) to a populace who either can't or won't do their homework and has reaped the rewards. Kerry is right on target in his belief that Bush's whacked-out religious views are putting roadblocks in the way of science; if he's a little wrong on the specifics, who cares?

BenK and fozzy share an interesting debate over the postmodern implications of science as politics. The thread begins here with fozzy:

To paraphrase one prof, "There are two types of physicists: those against weapons research, and those who get government funding." Likewise, all the "real experts" in stem cell will tend to be people who do stem cell research for a living. Naturally they believe in continuation, progress, more funding, etc.

BenK rebuts:

Be wary of an argument that starts by suggesting that there is no absolute truth. It usually comes from a humanities student trying to regain the lost high ground that the study of literature had over the classification of birds.

So it is with the postmodernists trying to tar all science as a tool of greed.

I admit that scientists have agendas. To be sure. And they are willing to use their command of the material to advance those agendas … To presume that a scientist will be able to evenhandedly assess the potential of his own life's work would be foolish, even if he himself has the largest stock of relevant facts to work with.

... Politics is everywhere, sure, but we need not conflate the terms unnecessarily. That is mere rhetoric.

Finally, Demosthenes2 hosts a compelling thread that begins here with D2's strong objection to Saletan's characterization of "the Bush decision as not a ban." Like many on the ideo-humanist side of the debate, D2 finds that Bush's choice, draconian or not

is part of a larger conflict that we have allowed to permeate our society sacrificing good science to religious qualms—imposing religious injunctions on a secular democratic republic to our own detriment and peril.

BenK comes with another quality response here, and Robes offers some insight on the issue hereKA7:30 a.m.


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Vanishing Varnish: Poems Fray regulars have spent much of the summer grumbling over the Tuesday selections, but Chris Forhan's "Vanishing Act," garners some praise from PF Dean MaryAnn who comments:

I like this poem. To me it sums up a situation that probably occurs often when one parent leaves the family—the kids don't know the whole story, and it's only later that they might begin to understand…

What's "modern" about this poem is that it's about the father, rather than the mother. How often doe we hear of mothers leaving because they are taken for granted by the rest of the family? Here, it's the father that's leaving for the same reason.

In her post, MaryAnn takes the liberty of excerpting the Badfinger song the kid listens to on the transistor radio—the first such Fray posting of a Badfinger song fray_editor can recall.

In response, CivilizeMe here finds the "declarative language" of the verse to be "devoid of further meaning,"" and a "lost opportunity"; same goes for strangeQuark here.

Leave it to good ol' appolonious to conflate Slate's entire table of contents into this week's poem selection. He introduces his creation, "This poem, like nearly all of the 'important' poems reads like someone wandered through an article, across newspaper pages and culled random phrases and sentences. I think I'll try that out ... let's see,"

sauce for the hamster
one giant leap into
the red hot shop of
helicopter limo's
al qaeda could ride
this digital camera
a main thread page
into the bench presser
and the vanishing act
is overdue
but still dribbling on to the
for the hamster.

As we say in my country, oy.

Frat House Verse: It ain't Poems Fray, but clearly Utek1 is inspired by Dan Chiasson's tribute to the literature of Maxim. Here's his "Ode to a Lad Magazine":

Anna and Alba and Lohan and Duff,
all in bikinis with no trace of muff.
After Penthouse and Hustler, you never would think
that swimsuits were hotter than showing the pink.
What's happened to porn? I really can't take it
if girls in the skin mags refuse to pose naked.
I fear for the health of the next generation
if all that smut does is increase their frustration.

Fray humorists, Fraywatch is awaiting quality rebuttals to and commentary on William Saletan's "Sauce for the Hamster" over in Low Concept … KA10:55 a.m.


Sunday, August 8, 2004

Mars Attacks: A longtime stalwart of Moneybox Fray comes out. PhilfromCalifornia writes:

Speaking as a Martian, [i]f I were to arrive here from Mars, or any other planet, and heard of the Capital Gains Tax Rate, I would assume that what it meant was that a just society had concluded that people who received income without working should pay at a higher tax rate than those who had to work for their money. When I found that it was, in fact, lower than the rate charged on earned income, I would be extremely curious to learn why. I would be told that it is because these investors' funds were at risk. I would have to ask around to find out what risk meant. I would probably be told that working in an explosive or poisonous environment was a risk. I would probably be told that uprooting your family, selling you house, and moving across the country in pursuit of a job which did not have any sort of guarantee (even to the end of the day) was a risk. I would be told that being old and poor was a risk. Only a few people would tell me that investing my surplus funds in an essential company was a risk.

I find you Earthlings curious.

Scott_TOO responds:

Explaining the wisdom of the U.S. tax code would probably drive most of us to want to join them as they leave.

Speaking of taxes, Keifus wonders how John Kerry can avoid Walter Mondale's fate:

How do you sell the idea of raising taxes?

… The Democrats have a decent thing going with "rolling back the tax cut." For the "rich," natch, but I say roll 'em all back. …

Another veiled tax hike might be, "return to 1993-level revenues." Of course, it's hard to promise revenue. Also, it might be better to advertise an even more prosperous time, say 1999 or so, but those revenues would be even harder to match. (This might also be a euphamism for wishful supply-side economic policies.)

Then there's the humorless favorite, "balance the budget," but unfortunately that's become essentially meaningless in politico-speak.

What are your favorites? Points for humor.

Sell it to Keifus here. Though run75441 doesn't specifically address the tax issue, he writes some talking points for John Kerry on the most recent jobs report.

Question of the Day: Moloch-Agonistes offers it here:

Can a free market ever really exist or is it only an excuse used by dominant social groups to prevent the Great U.N. washed from horning in on their action?

M-A's riddle prompts Ferlinghetti to explore the nature of capitalism:

If "capitalism" is simply recognition of the usefulness and power of this highly fungible form of wealth, then there is nothing contradictory about the wealth being deployed according to personal caprice.

Usually, however, "capitalism" includes the related but quite distinct idea of impersonal and mechanistic ("rational") markets, in which individual actors always attempt to maximize their own wealth. Frankly, that's always sounded like a bit of a fairy tale to me (never more so than when listening to economic predictions premised upon it), but I suppose it has had, if not true predictive power, at least a certain mythic power which in turn channels countless individual decisions in predictable ways.

Get in on the conversation here. ... KA 11:25 a.m.


Thursday, August 5, 2004

A Fly on the Wall: In an effort to spin off Supreme Court Dispatches, Thrasymachus gives us an inside peek from Montgomery with Alabama Senate Dispatches. His first dispatch? 


But back to the operative question, so to speak, is banning sex toys unconstitutional?

JRudkis insists that "stupid laws are constitutional":

Time place and manner restrictions are allowed even for speech, and this law deals with commercial enterprise. Alabama citizens are allowed to own and use these devices, and they are able to purchase them out of state, or through catalogs and the internet. If Alabama wants to send all of its potential sex commerce out of state (and there is probably a lot since Alabama men wanted a law to keep themselves "needed"), we should rejoice and hope that the sexshops in our own states get to pick up the business.

JR is very enterprising:

I just registered just to get a piece of the action.

BenK's take is less utilitarian:

I still think that the privacy of relationships argument would protect things like duals ... two people who decide to enter into a fight to the death, without endangering other people or  involving them, without any commercial application (so unlike prostitution), simple, private violence.

It would also prevent the government from interfering in domestic violence unless the victim brought charges or was clearly being coerced into not bringing charges.

But our nation doesn't work this way. There are many private things, aspects of relationships, that are forbidden. And most of these laws are for the good of the public, either morally, or in terms of safety, or because the rare "healthy" instance is outweighed by the many "unhealthy" cases in which one party is not acting out of free will, but through subtle coercion.

To GratiutiousPython here, "the greatest device for the stimulation of human genital organs has got to be the human mind. Will they be outlawing that next?" And we get an ag report from baltimore-auerole:

Alabama cucumber farmers sue to overturn law which may result in their crops being declared illegal under state law.

Everyday Economists, where do you place the over-under for "the sales tax dollars [lost] by the purchase of sex toys" outside of Alabama (or on the internet) by Alabamians?  Click on MichaelAK's post here.

Air Tight: TheAList offers the best brief case for gay marriage I've seen anywhere.

Fray Almanac: Today's three busiest Frays (number of postings) according to technical reports? 1) Ballot Box Fray, 2) Today's Papers Fray, 3) Politics FrayKA4:10 p.m.