I too believe that basketball fans can cover opera, but… by mattsteinglass
April 1, 2010, 9:58 am
Filed under: Conservatism, Liberalism, Media, race, Religion, Uncategorized

I think Conor Friedersdorf’s objections to “newsroom diversity as ideology” are, overall, wide of the mark. It would certainly be a pernicious mistake for communities to be covered only by people who came from those communities, or for journalists to be pigeonholed into reporting only on the communities they come from. But that’s not what the piece by Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander to which Friedersdorf objects is talking about. Here’s the paragraph that Friedersdorf calls “nonsense”:

“You can’t cover your community unless you look like your community,” said Bobbi Bowman, a former Post reporter and editor who is a diversity consultant for ASNE. (Full disclosure: I [Andrew Alexander] sit on its board). “If you have a community of basketball players, it’s difficult for a newsroom of opera lovers to cover them.”

Friedersdorf writes:

Imagine diversity consultant Bobbi Bowman telling a black reporter, “I’m sorry, your work is good, and I’d like to grant your request to cover Georgetown for the Metro desk, but you can’t cover a community like Georgetown if you don’t look like the people there.”

But that’s not what Bowman said. She didn’t say you can’t cover basketball if you’re an opera lover. She said a newsroom full of opera lovers will find it difficult to cover a community of basketball players. Bowman is talking about the effect of diversity on communities, including the community of a newsroom. People in diverse communities soak up background knowledge from each other. They’re made aware of things they don’t know that they don’t know. They’ll walk in every morning and hear unfamiliar terms being bandied about, they’ll get an inkling of what’s going on out there and how much they have to learn.

In contrast, people in homogenous communities don’t know what they don’t know. They get trapped in echo chambers, and assume that the possibly ignorant opinions they and their demographically similar friends hold are accurate. The opera lovers at the Washington Post will likely do a solid job of covering a community of basketball players, but that’s in part because they’re surrounded by basketball fans. And the basketball players at the Washington Post will probably do a better job of covering opera if there are still a few opera fans left at the paper.

This is actually expressive of a pretty central tension in thinking about racial integration. Conservatism embraced the idea of an individualist anti-racism that permits no discrimination on any grounds by the late 1970s or so. But it did so in part by rejecting communitarian conservatism, which had been associated with support for segregation in the ’50s and ’60s. The orthodoxy on the conservative end of things became that expressed by John Roberts: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” (Or, as Stephen Colbert would put it, “I don’t see black skin.”) Liberals, meanwhile, have not had an easy time of articulating the difference between barring consideration of gender, religion or ethnicity to exclude people from institutions, but allowing or encouraging consideration of gender, religion or ethnicity to include people in institutions and promote in-house diversity. And it’s a genuine problem: any time you consider one person’s under-represented identity to include them, you may be considering someone else’s over-represented identity to exclude them.

Still, what Bowman is saying here is like what universities say when they explain why they value diversity in admissions: diversity is mission-related. In sectors like education and media, diverse institutions perform better. The reporter you put on a beat doesn’t need to come from that beat. But the newsroom that’s covering all those beats will do a much better job if it contains a mix of people who come from all those beats, too.


FBI arrests sect that worships Christ through use of assault rifles by mattsteinglass
March 29, 2010, 1:23 am
Filed under: Guns, Religion, Uncategorized

Apparently these guys had issued threats of violence against Muslims in Michigan. On watching the video, I had three questions:

1. Is that a Chrysler K-Car? Or a LeBaron?

2. Is that the Sisters of Mercy? It sort of sounds like The Church played at 25 rpm, but I’m obviously just revealing my ignorance of late-’80s Goth synth rock.

3. Are people required to post “Warning: Religious extremists playing with smoke grenades” warnings when they do this kind of stuff in public forest areas?

[youtubevid id=”Apmn9xMxiZ4″]

Ann Coulter is not Christian by mattsteinglass
February 22, 2010, 3:42 am
Filed under: Conservatism, Religion

“I think bombs are the answer.”

Ann Coulter, talking about Afghanistan at CPAC. (Hat tip Dave Weigel.)

I’m not sure what religion this lady subscribes to. She’s not Christian. Even Aquinas wouldn’t have said something as barbaric as “bombs are the answer”, let alone the Jesus of the Gospels. I think the above sentiment is actually supportable in certain traditions of Islam, though I’m no expert.

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.

'Those of us who have the privilege of marriage by mattsteinglass
December 3, 2009, 1:07 pm
Filed under: Religion, Sexuality and Gender

…and treat it so cavalierly.’ Andrew Sullivan posted this powerful speech by New York State Senator Diane Savino, from just before the New York marriage equality bill went down to defeat.

[youtubevid id=”dCFFxidhcy0&feature=player_embedded”]

She starts out nervous, but keep watching. In America we privilege accent as a signifier of authenticity, and the speech draws some of its force from hearing the case for gay marriage made in Savino’s Staten Island Catholic vowels. She’s like the anti-Giuliani.

The right side doesn’t always win in the short run, and it doesn’t always win in the long run either. In some cases it just keeps losing indefinitely. But it’s still right. Anyway, in this case, it’s pretty clear it’s going to win within the next decade or so.

Add: I almost wrote in the original post “Queens Catholic vowels,” but didn’t because I wasn’t really sure it was a Queens accent rather than Staten Island. But this New York Magazine interview reports she’s from, yes, Astoria, Queens. It’s incredible how specific New York borough accents still are, in an age when most Ohioans sound just like Californians — I hope they stay that way.

Appleyard, Sullivan, and evolution vs. religion by mattsteinglass
November 29, 2009, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Religion, Science

So far, I’ve read 3 pieces by this guy Brian Appleyard whom Andrew Sullivan likes because he (Appleyard) has gotten himself into a huge feud with P.Z. Myers over evolution and religion. In each of the pieces I’ve read, Appleyard makes it clear via some quick point that he aggressively misunderstands science. My impression is that Appleyard doesn’t understand either the scientific outlook or the scientific background on a lot of issues, that this lack of understanding enables him to make vague and floofy points about how science can’t explain various things, and that when he is attacked by exasperated scientists, he complains that “science has become an ideology”.

For example, here’s the latest Appleyard piece Sullivan pointed to:

I think Darwinism has become, in some hands, unhealthily imperious. It is presented as explaining everything. Evolutionary psychology, for example, is always said to be true because it must be. But, since we have no clear idea of how the mind supervenes on the brain, this, for the moment, is an assumption too far.

What does Appleyard mean when he says evolutionary psychology is “said to be true”? “Evolutionary psychology” refers to attempts to explain observed features of human psychology by reference to how genes coding for such behavior may have proven adaptive, or otherwise well suited to propagating themselves through the human species. It’s not an up-or-down thesis that can be “true” or “false”; it’s a class of propositions. Some of them may be true, some false; or one might be skeptical about the evolutionary psychology approach, believing it to be speculative, unscientific, not rigorous, and so forth. What would it mean to say “evolutionary psychology” “must be” “true”? Who makes such a claim?

I think what Appleyard wants to say is that evolutionary psychology is a speculative field that rarely generates solid results. If so, many evolutionary biologists and evolution-believing laypeople — the majority, I would guess — would agree with him. But not because, as Appleyard says, “we have no clear idea of how the mind supervenes on the brain.” In fact, neurobiology is making unbelievably rapid advances in connecting all sorts of experience and behavior to its physical substrates in the brain. Rather, there are two basic problems with the evolutionary biology approach. The first is that we know very little about how genes connect to higher brain function and behavior, so we don’t know how or to what extent behavior is heritable via DNA. The second is that we have almost no evidence of how humans behaved for the first 1.99 million years of our evolution, before the advent of writing. Evolutionary psychology hypotheses tend to be very speculative and verge on the non-falsifiable, since there is no way for us to recover the evidence: there’s no way for us to discover, for example, whether women are more likely to ask for directions than men because, when we were all stone-age hunter-gatherers on the plains of Africa, a male who approached a stranger to ask for help risked being attacked. It sounds plausible, but it’s impossible to test a proposition like that.

Anyway, my sense is that Appleyard very often gets confused in handling these subjects, and glosses scientific issues inaccurately. Then people like P.Z. Myers, who are heartily sick of having science mischaracterized by people who don’t understand it, lose their cool and write insulting things about him. And then he complains that Darwinism has become an ideology and its adherents are rigid and dogmatic. I understand why Appleyard feels attacked. But I think he’s being attacked because he’s writing poorly, and doing a bad job as a journalist of ensuring he understands the subjects he’s addressing.

Hippie Jesus: legend…or myth? by mattsteinglass
November 28, 2009, 4:22 am
Filed under: Religion

Andrew Sullivan refers to Jesus Christ as “a family-less hippie commie of the first century.” This is a version of the Jesus myth that I’ve always found congenial, but I was also under the impression that it was a bit of an artifact of 20th-century left-wing ideology, and particularly of the communalist return to innocence of the late ’60s and early ’70s. So it’s interesting to see Sullivan, a believer and by no means a leftist, embracing that version, even though he’s doing it a bit sardonically and chiefly as a way of contrasting his vision of Jesus with that of the American Baptist-evangelical right. But I’m curious: just how Communist can one legitimately take Jesus to have been? What is the current take on the width of the eye of a needle, relative to your average camel?