Andrew Sullivan's wild and crazy readers by mattsteinglass
January 29, 2010, 1:30 am
Filed under: Literature, Religion, Sexuality and Gender

Occasionally it’s nice to be reminded that out there in Christendom, there are still people capable of saying this kind of stuff:

The main sin is that masturbation (with minuscule exception) involves fantasy which is a distortion or absence of reality. In other words, it is a lie.

I expect that you know your fair share of the Bible, so it is a no-brainer about what Christianity from the beginning says about lies. They are unbecoming for the Christian because the Lord himself faced the truth of the ugliness and brokenness of life on this earth by hanging on the cross and we are called to be the same.

I, too, have read the occasional fantasy novel that felt like the author was just jerking off, and even some that felt like having nails driven through your palms. But I’d think even extremely literalist religious readers would hesitate to condemn an entire genre that includes, for example, C.S. Lewis.

I break the health reform impasse by mattsteinglass
January 28, 2010, 2:34 pm
Filed under: Health

Welp, just called my congressman, Jerry Nadler (D-NY), to urge him to vote for the Senate health reform bill. The lady who took my call had my name in her computer with my voting address and everything, and I spent at least 15 seconds on the phone telling her he should pass the damn bill.

So now that’s taken care of! Time to move on to cap-and-trade. If I give Kirsten Gillibrand a call I bet she’ll get right on it.

Eliot Spitzer on love and redemption by mattsteinglass
January 28, 2010, 11:54 am
Filed under: Politics, Sexuality and Gender

After watching this, I momentarily considered whether we should make going through a ridiculous public sex scandal a requirement for higher public office in the United States.

But then I thought about David Vitter and Mark Sanford and realized that wasn’t a particularly useful heuristic.

Why liberals are not in a good mood by mattsteinglass
January 28, 2010, 11:22 am
Filed under: Liberalism

This is going to be an impressionistic post, but here’s the sense I’m getting from reading a lot of young center-left bloggers’ extremely angry reaction to the reluctance of House Democrats to pass the Senate’s health reform bill.

Basically, if you’re under the age of 40 or so, pretty much your entire political life has seen Republicans in control of at least two out of three of the elected bodies of government. More important, there’s been a constant and powerful anima of conservatism either driving the direction of political life, or sort of roosting over it menacingly, threatening to return at the first stirring of progressive activism.

So if you’ve grown up liberal in this period, you’ve gotten used to the idea that you have to conceal or water down your ambitions in order to get anything through. You’ve gotten used to watering down your expectations by choosing a Southern centrist like Bill Clinton rather than a flaming California liberal like Jerry Brown who could never win; and then you’ve gotten used to Clinton himself triangulating his modest aspirations away in the face of Republican headwinds. And you’ve gotten used to backing your half-traduced liberal candidates to the hilt, acknowledging that they’re doing the best they can to get something worthwhile accomplished. You’ve gotten used to never saying things like “cut defense spending” because of fear of the conservative madness that could descend upon your centrist candidate, and that might force him to disown the liberal wing of the party. You’ve gotten used to endless Sister Souljah moments. (Or, more important, Lani Guinier/Van Jones moments, where your candidate is forced to sever ties to a smart, morally upstanding, politically solid progressive with excellent policy ideas because they once wrote something that stupid, provincial, ignorant people think is Communist, or that white people think favors black or Hispanic people. You’ve also gotten used to the idea that you can never, ever call people stupid, ignorant, or provincial, certainly not if they’re white.)

You’ve gotten used to the expectation that any good progressive policy initiative will be bastardized and bargained down until it’s only half as good as it might have been, and that this remainder will then be laced with a cocktail of industry giveaways and sweetmeats for particular “centrist” Democrats in order to have any hope of passing. You’ve gotten used to the idea that you will then need to express full-throated support for the resulting mess of a bill because, after all, it’s better than nothing, and this is the way things work in our democratic system. You’ve gotten used to the idea that the solutions that emerge from the process will be not first-best or even second-best but third-best solutions that are then made even worse in committee.

But you’ve learned to take all this like a grownup. Political reality is what it is. You’re in this to get things done, not to preen. You’re not a Nader voter, prizing your moral purity above your actual accomplishments. You don’t have the luxury of declaring “a pox on both your houses” to Democrats and Republicans alike. You want things to get better, you have one life, you live in the real world. And so you vote Democratic. You put your shoulder into it and try to push that rock a little further up the hill.

And then you get the 2008 election. A once-in-60-years majority in House and Senate, plus the presidency. This is as much as the Democrats can ever hope to have in your lifetime. This legislative moment will not come again. These chances don’t come around twice. There are pressing problems to be solved: a vicious recession, global warming, the combustiflating health-care system that will bankrupt the government in 25 years. This is the moment to take these challenges on.

Then you watch Senate Democrats f*** up the health reform bill to within an inch of its life, over the course of 9 months, because they’re too cowardly to get out there and pass something decent, too stupid to realize that their Republican opponents are trying to kill the bill and kill the Democratic majority, too selfish and puerile to give up the opportunity for rent-seeking behavior of fiddling with this and that little piece of crap provision so they can have some kind of goody for their own local voters. And yet still, you back the bill. It’s still got the most important, powerful reforms in it — guaranteed issue and community rating, the exchanges, the stuff that will help people. It’s still got some cost-control measures — $500 billion in Medicare savings and the employer insurance tax aren’t too bad. It’s reasonably fiscally responsible. You back it the way you’ve backed everything Democrats have tried to do for the past 30 years, acknowledging the crippling political realities that make it worse than it might be.

And then the Democrats lose their 60th vote in the Senate, and the Democrats in the House panic and won’t take the last available possible way forward and just sign the Senate bill.

At this point, a certain number of those reasonable, mature, grown-up younger people who’ve backed the Democrats this far are going to start reassessing their understanding of political reality. If you give up your purism in the interests of pragmatic accomplishment, and spend 10 or 20 years working towards that pragmatic accomplishment, and you get this close to that pragmatic accomplishment only to have the people who could make it a reality drop the thing and back away because they’re scared to do it…you start to think maybe those people aren’t actually going to get you any pragmatic accomplishments. Ever. You start re-evaluating your feelings about Naomi Klein. You start wondering whether you might perhaps accomplish more by pulling a black mask over your face, picking up a baseball bat, and charging into the AHIP building yelling “here’s your public option” and smashing shit up trying to nudge the Overton window a bit further left.

So that’s what I think is going on with those young liberals who are now saying they might consider staying home and not voting Democratic next fall. I don’t belong to that camp. I still think that fragmenting your party is almost always a mistake. I’ll be voting next fall. But I can see where they’re coming from.

This is a blog post about self-referential blog posts by mattsteinglass
January 28, 2010, 3:47 am
Filed under: Internet

The main thing I conclude from comparing this very funny self-referential blog post to this very funny story from 1990 is that the internet has made our attention spans much shorter.

Dutch: not as untranslatable as they say by mattsteinglass
January 14, 2010, 4:31 am
Filed under: Netherlands

The Felicia Lee NY Times review of what looks like a pretty great Flemish teen-theater production notes that “Once and for All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen” is “not its original, untranslatable Dutch title”. Checking the theater company’s website, the original Dutch title appears to be “Pubers bestaan niet”, which unless I’m missing a pun translates pretty easily as “Teenagers don’t exist”. (There’s a little slippage between “pubers” and “teenagers”, which could also be translated “tieners”, but not too much.)

The theater company’s name, “Ontroerend Goed”, is based on a hard-to-translate pun, so perhaps that’s what Lee meant to refer to. (The company itself makes a good stab at it with “Feel Estate”.) In general though I think claims that things are “untranslatable” should be taken with a grain of salt. There’s an incentive for both producers and reviewers to exaggerate these sorts of things as part of an exoticist cultural sales job.

What would happen if we cut defense spending by 80%? by mattsteinglass
January 12, 2010, 2:12 am
Filed under: War

I’ve never seen anyone do a coherent evidence-based analysis of this question. Here’s one thing that wouldn’t happen: the United States would not be invaded by a foreign power.

So what are we getting for $600 billion a year that we couldn’t get for $100 billion? Somebody give me some evidence.

Deep truths you can discover in Andy Samberg videos by mattsteinglass

I have officially lost my mind: I am starting to perceive deep thematic arguments on political and emotional themes in Andy Samberg “Saturday Night Live” videos. First it was the relevance of “I Threw It On the Ground” to the health-care debate and the Tea Party movement — people so infuriated by the attempts of others to give them something nice that they could really use that they hurl it to the ground, taking the offer as an insult to their status as responsible adults and proclaiming “I ain’t a part of your system, man!”

Then it was the sequence at the end of “Like A Boss” where Samberg straight-up denies that he said he sucked his own dick — something he just said, with graphic representation, ninety seconds earlier. It occurred to me that the appropriate ending for this skit would be for the interviewer to ask: “Are you seriously going to sit there and deny that you said something to me which I heard with my own ears just ninety seconds ago? Because if you are, then you’re hired!”

And now it occurs to me that the sequence in “I Threw It On the Ground” in which Samberg protests “This ain’t my dad! This is a cell phone!” is actually a pretty authentic representation of society-wide angst over relationships that are increasingly mediated by technological go-betweens.

Like I said: I’m out of my mind. Time to go to sleep.

Silliness over racial epithets by mattsteinglass
January 10, 2010, 8:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Guess what, world? Barack Obama is a negro. So are Kobe Bryant and Oprah Winfrey, and so was Martin Luther King. And Barack Obama has light skin. So do Mariah Carey and Will Smith. And Barack Obama speaks standard, business English, but sometimes employs African-American dialect for effect. So does Henry Louis Gates, Jr. And you know what else? Barack Obama’s light skin and standard unaccented English were assets in his quest for national office in 2008. If Obama had darker skin or heavily inflected African-American diction and accent, it would have been considerably harder for him to get elected president.

Not only was it not racist for Harry Reid to mention these things; it wouldn’t have been racist for George Will, Liz Cheney or anyone else to mention these things. Not a single conservative has ever been criticized in the press for saying anything equivalent to what Harry Reid said, nor should they be.

What Reid was saying was that Americans still retain unconscious racial prejudice towards dark-skinned blacks, and semi-conscious racial prejudice towards people who speak black English, in the political sphere. This is correct. Republicans who are accusing Reid of “racism” are saying one of two things. The first is that to observe that racial prejudice exists in America makes you a racist. This is something that many conservatives say all the time, and it’s idiotic. The second is that saying the word “negro” makes you a racist. These people have watched bits of the movie “American race relations in the 20th century,” but they didn’t get the point.

Why is a terrorist scarier than swine flu? by mattsteinglass
January 10, 2010, 12:08 pm
Filed under: Terrorism

Like Paul Campos, I didn’t think Kevin Drum’s response to, um, Paul Campos was very apt. Drum wrote:

The panic caused by the underwear bomber wasn’t so much over the prospect of a planeload of casualties, it was over the reminder that al-Qaeda is still out there and still eager to expand its reach and kill thousands if we ever decide to let our guard down a little bit.

So even if you agree with Campos, as I do, that overreaction to al-Qaeda’s efforts is dumb and counterproductive, it’s perfectly reasonable to be more afraid of a highly motivated group with malign ideology and murderous intent than of things like traffic accidents or hurricanes.

Why is that reasonable? Is it because if we let our guard down, Al-Qaeda will try to murder more and more of us? But if we let down our guard against all sorts of other threats, they, too, would result in more and more deaths. Non-intentional agents of destruction like avian and swine flu, in fact, will probably kill vastly more Americans than Al-Qaeda is capable of, if we let our guards down. But Barack Obama’s presidency isn’t going to be at risk if he’s perceived as not being utterly gung-ho in the war on swine flu, and indeed if he diverted major resources from Afghanistan to enhancing our flu-vaccine capabilities most people would probably (wrongly) think he was crazy.

For that matter it’s not even clear that Al-Qaeda would murder more Americans if we “let our guard down,” not for all values of the word “guard”. Increased scrutiny of people from Nigeria at airports may in fact inspire more Nigerians to try to kill Americans than it prevents from doing so. And to the extent that Al-Qaeda’s goals include getting Nigerians more pissed off at America, our increased scrutiny may lead Al-Qaeda to conclude that trying to kill Americans on planes remains its most promising strategy, leading to more attempts to bomb airplanes.

The reason we freak out more about Al-Qaeda than about traffic accidents is that Al-Qaeda is made up of humans, and enemy humans inspire hatred, while threatening natural phenomena merely inspire fear. Humans are biased towards responding to human-directed threats because human-directed threats are part of the contest for power within and among human polities. Ultimately, contests for power, particularly between males, result in greater evolutionary fitness. This is why when you see a guy coming at you with a baseball bat you have a fight-or-flight response, whereas when you see a boulder coming at you, you just have a flight response. But in the case of Al-Qaeda this response is misplaced. We’re not engaged in a dominance contest where we have to show how tough we are or risk having our women taken away. We’re dealing with people trying to stage provocations. The fact that Americans keep responding as if this is a dominance contest is exactly what AQ counts on to pursue its strategy, which was Campos’s point.


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