What's Your Problem?


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I am the pastor of a small, historic Episcopal church in the Southeast. A bride-to-be wants to tie little pink bows to the pews for her wedding. Our wedding director says the church is too pretty to be ruined by little pink bows. The bride is deeply distressed. Meanwhile, the youth group wants to burn the church down and replace it with something more energy-efficient. I concede that the church, a Victorian pile with high ceilings and lots of stained glass, is costly to heat and maintain. Energy-efficient churches are often ugly, but pink bows would then cease to be an issue. Should I let the youth group burn down the church?
The Reverend D. L., N.C.

Your question reminds me, as I’m sure it does you, of an early Sopranos episode (The Sopranos was a sensation among southern Episcopal clergy). As you’ll recall, Tony decides to burn down a friend’s restaurant to stop it from becoming the scene of a mob hit, sparing his friend the controversy of a rubout, but leaving him without his livelihood. There’s no equivalence here—pink bows might be an aesthetic sin, but they don’t rise to Sixth Commandment evildoing—yet the principle applies. My point: don’t let the youth group torch your church. Have they heard of weatherizing? That would make for a fun and wholesome activity, and it would preserve what I imagine is a lovely place of worship.

Does gin actually make you crazy? Is it any worse for you than vodka, rum, or beer?
T. C., Chicago, Ill.

I turned this question over to Atlantic Health and Lifestyle Columnist Christopher Hitchens, who said that there is indeed something malevolent in gin. “My father, a Navy man, noticed that the people who drank whiskey lived a lot longer than those who drank gin. Gin can have an infuriating effect on people. If booze makes you quarrelsome, then gin can lead you to spitefulness.” Hitchens reports that he gave up gin when his daughter was born. He recommends port as a reflective and cheerful alternative, “though it is said to lead to gout.”

I am retired, and have never married. I have no children and no siblings. After I found out that I have health problems, two younger cousins of mine started inviting me over for dinner. They are good cooks and are quite nice to me now. Lately, they’ve been telling me I should have a will written, which I have not done. I worry that they see me as a corpse with bags of money. How do I handle this without losing the dinners, and without wondering if they have a hidden agenda?
M. R., Seattle, Wash.

See a lawyer, immediately. Not necessarily to write your will, but to tell him about this. I, too, worry about your cousins’ intentions. Here’s a test: tell them by phone that you appreciate their advice, but they misunderstand your financial situation; you have only marginal savings, and live mainly on Social Security, so a will is an unnecessary bother. Then see if they still invite you over. Better to learn that your cousins are mercenaries sooner rather than later.

My wife’s friend wants to have a baby, and my wife thinks I should be the sperm donor. I don’t have a problem with sperm donation, but I do have a problem with this woman. I just don’t like her. She’s mean and not very smart. I know the donor’s job is finished when he hands over the cup, but this would be my baby too, and I would never want to have a baby with this person.
B. T., Calif.

If a man can’t decide the fate of his sperm, what kind of a man is he? Answer: a very frightened husband of a man. You need to tell your wife that you’re not sharing your quintessence. Your feelings are justified, and if your wife is an understanding person, she will stop making this request and give her friend the name of a sperm bank. If she’s not an understanding person, I suggest you keep an image of her friend front and center in your mind as you engage in the precious-bodily-fluid-auto-extraction process. This will absolutely guarantee failure.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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