Concentrating the mind on what really matters.

Concentrating the mind on what really matters.

Concentrating the mind on what really matters.

What's happening in our readers' forum.
March 4 2008 11:16 AM

Money and Breakfast—the Good Things in Life

Concentrating the mind on what really matters.

Slate readers had money on their minds this week. Cindywags read the article about Oprah's Big Give and said:

I think this is a noble and worthwhile endeavor! If our world practiced more of this, we could make such a wonderful difference in so many people's lives. I do this on the scale I am able to, every day.

Advertisement

Her transition from this lovely selfless view to the line "Is this going to continue, and if so, how might I be able to audition for [Oprah's] help?" won our admiration and should be read in full here.

Two recent articles on foreclosures provoked considerable reader reaction: Both Frays feature long, passionate threads full of serious economic arguments and much more personal views. And when one poster explained why he couldn't afford a house in a good neighborhood, fsilber was there with some advice:

The solution is for people like you to buy houses in the worst neighborhoods, get together with your neighbors to take firearms training and get carry permits, and for you and your neighbors to kill all the robbers who aren't deterred by this. Of course, then the housing prices in your neighborhood might rise. But this is no different from when the pioneers settled the Wild West and tamed it.

There's business advice, too: Prytania looked at the adverts featured in "Ad Report Card" and after describing, vigorously, what he wanted in the morning (to be left alone) had this to say:

How could Holiday Inn Express have missed the real selling point? Implying both the tedium (middle managers) and the sweaty excitement (anonymous sex with middle managers) of the road just does not hold a candle to the possibility of the Big Bag 'o Bacon. Take those same four guys, give them grease-stained bags of pork to snarf from, and the whole world would soon be beating down H.I.E.'s doors.

Advertisement

Next thing gzuckier was reminiscing about the do-it-yourself waffles at another chain, while Jerry6532 kindly outlined his "truly sexy" ad idea for us—" Love can happen at the Breakfast Bar, so stay, eat."

More Fray posts have been picked out for two recent "Explainers"—always fertile ground. We love the kind of reader who starts a post, "Even if you were made of iron or Alnico and were permanently magnetized. …" or ends one, "Not on your dipthongs"—and the item on William F. Buckley Jr features a link to a long-ago article with some fascinating old Fray Notes at the end. There are also comments on the "Culturebox" on the fake Holocaust memoir; the "Chatterbox" on Ralph Nader; and "Moneybox" on disaster money. OIFVet's line there was, "I predict with a high degree of confidence that this year, the biggest natural disaster will happen on the first Tuesday in November"—what can he have meant? MR 4:00 p.m. GMT

Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

"Bravo Michael! Well done! Or at least the appearance of being well done." MRMslate entered into the spirit of Michael Kinsley's article on John McCain and New York Times. We think—our irony-testing equipment was inconclusive—that ecdysiast did, too: "You don't appear to entertain the possibility that your argument does not seem to hold water, which, for all appearances, is transparent."

Advertisement

WordsMatter had serious, interesting points to make, but most readers were more inclined to make jokes or gibes. Baltimore aureole had some ideas for "stories the Times should get busy on." Among them:

    • Mitt—sure, he has only 1 wife now ... but what about the future?
    • Giuliani—exactly how did he sneak his mistress in and out of Gracie mansion? can we have a tour?
    • Edwards—please release your tax returns so we can see how a poor country boy who barely graduated from law school amassed a fortune of $200 million. really.
    • Huckabee—why are your 2 sons so obese, and why do you force them to dress in sweaters that match yours for every photo op? Something's not right here.

Northwoods wants to know: "How can I get that babe to 'lobby' me? I am more than willing to buy a TV station if that will facilitate some hot, steamy 'lobbying.' " Luckily, PercyVer is there to put him right:

I know where you are coming from, but you have it backwards. (Of course, you're excited.) Owning a station means you pay the Babe. To get "lobbied," a most sublime pleasure of Democracy, you have to be the People's Choice! ... It is undisputed, a matter of public record, all the Senators, while "lobbied" a lot, have accomplished absolute zip for as long as anyone can remember! So if you're hot for that Babe, don't set your sights low! A future of ecstatic "lobbying" awaits you!

Advertisement

And bcoates calls his post "Sex!":

Now that we have your attention, here's a weak story about how a senator leaned on a bureaucrat who wasn't doing his job in an agency that doesn't really do anything. This story wouldn't even be worth publishing if there wasn't a racy angle to wink at. Is the average American even aware that one media company even needs the FCC's permission to buy another? Is anyone, anywhere unable to sleep at night for fear that someone at a federal agency is being robbed of their hard-earned bribe money?

Hard to argue with that. MR 4:00 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008

Advertisement

At the online edition of the United Kingdom's Guardian newspaper, the readers have been making waves. Last week, 19-year-old, Max Gogarty began to blog about his planned travels in the year before attending college. The reaction to his first entry was instant: The readers hated it, posted 500 comments in one day—at a quick glance, 95 percent critical—the board was closed, and Max decided to blog no more. The Guardian made some defensive and vague statements (attracting many more cross comments from the readers), and the story simmers on in the British Web community. (You can read more about it in the Guardian here, and elsewhere here.) Inspired by this, your Fray editor decided to look at poster power at Slate. Are you pestering, are you aiming to shut anyone down?

What about the wine column on the "greatest wine ever made," the Cheval '47 Blanc? No, you loved that: The nearest thing to a criticism was this from Savory Goodness: "Mike Steinberger should be reassigned to making wine pairings for truck-stop meals along the entire length of I-95," but it turned out that was "so that we Frayers can feel a little better about our jobs." His actual opinion included "Beautiful article … passion … obvious delight." There was also a nice post called "I thought it was Zinfandel"—the title says it all, really.

Moving on to the "Undercover Economist" on paying too much for a house: Well, there was lots of helpful detail about how the ticket system at Duke University actually works, and many argued with the conclusions of the research mentioned in the article, but very politely. Zarniwoop pointed out that writer Tim Harford is "not buying a house in the London market, he's buying a house from the collection of houses his wife wants in the current time frame," and offered divorce as an alternative, but only, we feel, in a spirit of a fair laying out of the options. Meanwhile, Dismal offered this short but perfect comment: "Value in use > value in exchange."

Of course, everyone loves Flann O'Brien, no use looking for arguments there, just nice, enthusiastic comments. Karl Rove, in his new career as a TV analyst, reviewed by Troy Patterson, attracted a lot of bile (our favorite: "How does he manage to hold a felt pen in those cloven hooves?"), but we don't suppose Mr. Rove'll be giving up his job as a result.

"Goats: the teenagers of the animal world," saysdingoangst, while letmebefell compares them with his 11-month old baby. Criticism at last! But no, readers were mistily charmed by Jon Katz' article about his "Rural Life," and everyone sighed indulgently about those goats, although Topazz has a concern: "Sounds as though someone needs to get off the farm for a few days, maybe go into town, have a beer, take in a movie. Whatever, just don't let those scheming goats lure you into anything you can't handle. You're fragile right now." And Pennywhistler has some advice: "[I]t sounds like his goats are asking for more of Katz's participation in their lives; more visits to the pen; (for all I know) a game of fetch or headbutt." Helpful, that's what Slate readers are.

Our last hope was Christopher Hitchens' "Fighting Words" on the Danish cartoon row: Always room for trouble there, you would think, among the readers as well as about the content. There were strong feelings, and the arguments on both sides were fully explored—but introduced, for example, with the words, "I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you." One particularly firm argument was over whether a poster should "tell my corpulent neighbor that he's a fat slob." Answer: Yes, you should, according to ryanlindly, "humiliation may be more appropriate than respect"—harsh words, harsh words.

Over at the Best of the Fray, Fielding Bandolier began a long thread in which posters tried to define the Fray. Fifty-nine tries and counting—no one seems to have mentioned fat-person etiquette tips yet, but there's still time.MR4:00 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008

The lesson to be learned from reaction to the various "Slate 60" articles on philanthropy is clear: Whatever you do with your money, someone will criticize you. "How does one make a decision to give to an art museum when there are homeless in every community?" wondersjenb5336, while americafirst has this to say about Google's plans:

To invest in third world countries is a lofty goal, but the reality is that little tin dictators will steal all the money or nationalize the business and then steal all the profits … If you really want to do good, find and help the truly deserving in your own country. You will never run out of work.

HowardRoark (now there's a name—long ago, a Fray editor said, "We were wondering if there was any Fray topic that Ayn Rand couldn't be dragged into. So now we know: This wasn't it either") was also doubtful:

What expertise do their [Google's] engineers have in renewable energy or electric cars? What expectation is there that they will make progress that GM, Toyota and Tesla can't? As an engineer, I'd love to land a contract to work on electric cars or alcohol from garbage, with no expectation of ever going into production. We all love a science project. It's great fun, but it doesn't feed the hungry or improve high school graduation rates.

BenK knows whom he has time for:

There is a group of motivated individuals who gather regularly at several, sometimes many, locations in every single town and city across America. They subject themselves to long lectures about ethics, morality, justice and philanthropy. They pledge themselves to private action, public action and political action. They collectively give something like ⅓ more money (income adjusted, per person) to philanthropic organizations—excluding donations they give to their own organization and gatherings. They welcome newcomers freely. They are evangelical Christians. Go figure.

And MerityRabbit nicely summarized a popular view:

I don't mean to look a gift horse in the mouth—well, yes, I guess I do … It's extremely generous of these people to leave huge chunks of money to foundations and whatnot, but think about how much money these people still have. Even the poorest of the billionaires (kind of an oxymoron, right?) are still wallowing in dough and a life of luxury, but I'd say the real giving begins when it actually hurts the givers own pocketbook and makes a dent in their lives.

Elsewhere, readers solicited donations for their own troubles, quoted the Bible, wondered why none of this money seemed to help them, and wanted to know more about that elephant. Just a normal day in the Fray. MR 3:00 p.m. GMT

Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

What do we like to see in the Fray? Today (it may well change by tomorrow) we have decided on good questions, mysterious phrases that might apply to anyone, and cheap jibes. So here are some sample lines: we have mixed Super Tuesday with a couple of other current topics—can you tell what each post refers to?

1) All I can say is, he's very sexy for a drunken 50-year old.

2) The election … was often a buzzard's banquet of … bribes, threats and promises to the electors.

3) At this point the only fresh air we can expect is currently in the void between Mitt's ears.  

4) You can't beat Somebody with Nobody.

3) And now [that you've posted in the Fray], They have your IP address. You'll probably just have time to get your affairs in order before the helicopters arrive.

6) Who is "the one person in politics today who can reunite the Republican coalition?"

7) See what happens when voters choose so-called charisma over a real program.

8) If someone were named 'Satan' they would likely also not be [chosen].

Answers:

1)     French President Nicolas Sarkozy. SandyHook's post, here. La Duchesse (see No. 7), on the other hand, thinks his behavior "unspeakably vulgar."

2)     Historical elections in Europe, according to jack cerfhere. What the U.S. system was set up to avoid.

3)     Self-explanatory. Cheap Jibe category, from Middleview here.

4)     The current Republican primaries, but not completely clear who is who: We just like the aphoristic sound of it. Written by The Slasher14, here.

5)     Reply by Thewolf05827 to post on McCain and Conservatism that might be described as slightly paranoid. Helpful addition from the true conservative: "I can hear the rotors spinning now!"

6)     Hillary Clinton, according to JLF.

7)     Nicolas Sarkozy, in the opinion of Duchesse de Guermantes here.

8)     To work in his father's firm, Tundrayeti says. Nothing to do with elections.

If you got them all right, you need a detox from politics, or a job on the Fray. MR 5:30 p.m. GMT

Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008

"I immediately felt ill and almost depressed, like I should commit suicide." Heath Ledger's untimely death, or perhaps even the announced withdrawal of John Edwards from the Democratic presidential primaries, might seem like the most plausible occasion for such a dramatic statement to be uttered in Slate's Spectator Fray. 

On its face, the precipitating event was far more mundane: "the horrifying light" emitted from a compact fluorescent light bulb, or CFL, purchased by nerdnam on a recent trip to Home Depot.

Ron Rosenbaum's ode to the soon-to-be-extinct incandescent bulb elicited strong reactions from readers. Indeed, the sentimental attachment we have to the most common of objects can make their disappearance or alteration feel like a profound disruption to the order of things.

Is it all irrational, a reflexive clinging to the familiar? Some of the arguments against CFLs appear to be quite practical. Fitzpatrick expresses frustration with the time needed to reach full illumination, knickname with their limited use in certain fixtures, zahniser7 with imprecise wattage equivalents. Chris_O dislikes their incompatibility with dimmer switches.

After a year "of straining my eyes to read a book, of holding letters over my head to get enough light to read by," darwinite ends an ill-fated experiment with energy-efficient lighting and further vows to "stockpile incandescent bulbs before the ban."

But there also seemed to be a deeper strain of conspiracy theory running through some of the Fray postings. The supposed environmental urgency behind the compulsory adoption of CFLs amounts to a campaign of "fluorescent fear-mongering … on a scale that would impress Rudy Giuliani," quipsstrive. OIFVet might also count himself in the mildly paranoid camp, characterizing the push for these "science lab lights" as "a movement by folks who have invested in the new technology and prey on the conscience of the American people."

viral considers the current CFL mania as a political case study in why reform always fails, as our misguided fixation on a small detail (light bulbs) obscures the aims of a much broader social goal (energy conservation).

The color-rendering index provides some scientific basis for qualifying the "hospitalesque hue" of fluorescents as inferior. timrichardson explains: "A CRI of 100 shows colors like natural light: incandescents are basically CRI 100…fluorescent lamps do not produce the spectrum of visible light in the even distribution of the sun, or a glowing filament." 

Tann upbraids Rosenbaum for his misplaced sentimentality and resistance to change:

He confuses "incandescent" with "warm light" the same way the some people conflate "all-natural" with "healthy." Incandescent light can produce harsh light too, and there are warm spectrum CFLs that produce light better than a soft white bulb.

waliyuddin is also a voice for progress and embrace of the new:

All aesthetic considerations aside, incandescence is, taken in the aggregate, a wildly wasteful means of lighting … and one that needs to be supplanted along with lots of other survivors from the technology of the past century and a quarter.

Beyond the environmental debate, OIFvet imagines what the demise of the incandescent bulb might mean for pop culture: "cartoonists will forever be in a quandary as to what icon to use to symbolize an idea being formed in the head of their character." AC9:47 p.m. EST