I think this may be the first and last time I place a link in this
column to anything in the Sunday magazine of the New York Times.
In general, this rag is worthwhile only insofar as it contains the
crossword (and an occasional Thomas Middleton acrostic, which one can't
get in Harper's any more, damn it). Last week, however, they
piece by Peter Singer that chilled me right through to my bones, and
all of you need to read it.
I do realize that everyone from the New Yorker to George
F. Will has been weighing in on the phenomenon of Princeton's newest
bioethics professor. Singer's radical position in favor of the moral
defensibility of infanticide up to the age of one month, in certain
situations, has attracted considerable conservative and pro-life
attention and given him media-magnet notoriety. People are even starting
to remember that it was his "Animal
Liberation" that sparked the animal-rights movement and the
founding of extremist groups such as the loathsome PETA.
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So what could it possibly be that scares me even more than this Ivy
League ethics expert's attitudes regarding the killing of babies and the
"human rights" of catfish? It's true Singer's pro-infanticide and
extreme vegan positions are pretty awful, but the great thing about them
is that it's so obvious how awful they are. They are so glaringly
problematic that they'll be sure to attract a healthy amount of
criticism from a variety of sources, many of which will be mainstream
enough to be heard and credited.
What is only now starting to emerge, and may be the most dangerous
position he has ever put forth in a public venue, is Singer's view of
the nature of charity as a moral obligation. It reads, and I don't say
this lightly, like something you would hear from an Ayn Rand villain;
it's got that same pure, picture-book, black-and-white, profoundly evil
quality -- and I'm afraid it's got that same glazed-eye, bleeding-heart,
kneejerk plausibility, too. In a nutshell, if your household makes
$50,000 per year, and you donate less than $20,000 of that to overseas
save-the-children charities, Singer accuses you in so many words of
being the moral equivalent of a child murderer.
Read Singer's piece, please, and think about it, because it is
crucial that you figure out for yourself exactly why he's wrong -- not
just about infanticide or "species-ism," which are easy targets, but
about this. Why "crucial"? Because, unlike the baby-killing nonsense,
there's a real possibility that enough people will be influenced by it
for serious damage ultimately to be done in the American body politic.
And I want us thinkers to be on the cultural and political spot, ready
for fire-fighting duty.
So, in honor of back-to-school season, consider this your homework.
You may consult Mr. Will for a kick-start if you're floundering --
although, writing as he is for the Newsweek crowd, Will isn't half
rigorous or vigorous enough on the subject to satisfy me. The part of
his essay you want starts with the last paragraph on the third
page of the Web version.
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Got a cell phone? Get a grip
I have a cell phone myself, and I love it, and I have very little
time for people who bash cell phone owners. But they do have some
reasonable points. It's just disgustingly rude to sit two feet away from
a total stranger on a train or at a restaurant and scream into your
phone at the top of your lungs. And, if you're driving a car, you had
better deal with the road than fool around with the cell phone.
Those who must drive and talk on the phone at the same time
can alleviate most of the increased danger to themselves and their
roadmates by acquiring a good hands-free
headset (scroll down the page a bit). You can wear one behind your
ear as well as in the hair-mussing over-the-head position, and, most
importantly, you get to have both hands on the wheel where they belong.
Yes, I do realize this costs money, but it's not that expensive, and if
you can afford the cell phone in the first place, you can certainly
afford the headset. Check out these safe driving
tips for cell phone users and just -- you know -- use the sense God
Flame on! Flame on!
Speaking of driving, get yer new hot rod accessories at Mooneyes, which sells Ed "Big Daddy"
Roth's custom car and home décor items -- flame decals, fishtail exhaust
pipes, tiki statuettes, hubcaps, dice, antenna balls. You don't have to
have a car to love and use many of these offerings, such as this
adorable little yellow roadster-esque baby stroller, which would
make someone a fabulous albeit pricey shower present. (Most items are
considerably more affordable.) I love sites like this because they make
me feel that the world is not as shrunken as the homogenizing forces of
globalization can make it seem sometimes. The people behind Mooneyes
obviously hail from a place in the universe that is so wondrously exotic
and so utterly alien to where I live that it causes me to recapture that
elusive sense of life's great, wide, unknown possibilities. Thank you,