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    This is what’ll happen if you ain’t giving your girl what she needs

    Posted by Sean at 22:00, July 27th, 2010

    Gawd, what an annoying tool-ass bitch Barney Frank is. Can’t he even buy a ferry ticket without getting his dander up (via Instapundit)?

    Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank caused a scene when he demanded a $1 senior discount on his ferry fare to Fire Island’s popular gay haunt, The Pines, last Friday. Frank was turned down by ticket clerks at the dock in Sayville because he didn’t have the required Suffolk County Senior Citizens ID. A witness reports, “Frank made such a drama over the senior rate that I contemplated offering him the dollar to cool down the situation.”

    Nice as it would be to think that this incident might have occasioned a breakthrough in self-awareness on Frank’s part—I’m manifestly a shriveled-up old crone who’s over the age minimum for the senior discount, yet they’re requiring some dumb little official document I don’t have. That’s a waste of resources…hmmm…maybe picky bureaucratic requirements for anything and everything don’t always make a whole lot of sense?—I’m not holding my breath.

    What’s the point in livin’ if you don’t want to dance?

    Posted by Sean at 22:04, July 13th, 2010

    When I started college in 1991, I was a conservative Sabbatarian Christian—very conservative, very Sabbatarian, very Christian. Once during the first few get-to-know-you weeks of freshman year, I mentioned (at a point in the discussion at which it was a most natural thing to do) that I was a creationist. One of the people in the room literally made a face at me. I’m not talking about that slight raising of the eyebrows and tightening of the smile you get when you’re not quite sure he said what you think he did; I’m talking about the full-on, unapologetic Mr. Yuk. From then on, he acted as if I weren’t in the room.

    Later that same semester, I went to the head lecturer in the first-year Japanese program and explained that I needed to miss a week of classes for a religious festival. She chuckled at me—I did not imagine this—and said that while my section lecturer could decide to let me make up the quizzes I’d miss, she had no idea what made me think some holy festival in my idiosyncratic little sect was more important than a week of classes. (Yeah, I’m paraphrasing, but not by much. I remember this conversation very well.)

    In both cases, I was pretty offended. In the former, I wouldn’t have minded being argued with; in the latter, I wouldn’t have minded being crisply told that absences were to be kept to an absolute minimum, with strict criteria for which absences were acceptable. But this was college. For everyone who was dismissive of ideas he couldn’t sympathize with, there were ten people who wanted to argue over them until three in the morning. If you stuck with classes and people that promoted the unfettered life of the mind, you welcomed good-faith opposition, because it helped you sharpen your thinking, and you didn’t mind bad-faith opposition, because if you just shrugged it off, there was sure to be a real no-holds-barred debate waiting in the next class or at the next table.

    Bear in mind, I’m talking about 1991-95 here.

    In the comparative literature program.

    We thought PC had already reached lunatic and obsessive proportions then, mind you. Little did we know. Perhaps you’ve managed not to see the latest outrage, from the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign:

    The University of Illinois has fired an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism after a student accused the instructor of engaging in hate speech by saying he agrees with the church’s teaching that homosexual sex is immoral.

    The professor, Ken Howell of Champaign, said his firing violates his academic freedom. He also lost his job at an on-campus Catholic center.

    Howell, who taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining some Catholic beliefs to his students preparing for an exam.

    “Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY,” he wrote in the e-mail. “In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.”

    An unidentified student sent an e-mail to religion department head Robert McKim on May 13, calling Howell’s e-mail “hate speech.” The student claimed to be a friend of the offended student. The writer said in the e-mail that his friend wanted to remain anonymous.

    “Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing,” the student wrote. “Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another.”

    In an e-mail to other school staff, Ann Mester, an associate dean at the College of Liberal Arts
    and Sciences, said Howell’s e-mail justified his firing.

    “The e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would then entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us,” Mester wrote.

    Look, I entered college a devout Christian and left a flaming homosexual and atheist (or homosexual and flaming atheist, depending on when you catch me), so I have no problem with ensuring that religious principles are considered fair game for debate on campus. But that’s nothing at all like what we’re talking about here. I mean…sorry, bitch, but if your A game consists of (1) an anonymous, (2) second-hand accusation that (3) doesn’t even attempt to take on the clearly stated substance of Howell’s argument, you don’t deserve Lawrence v. Texas. Men and women risked their reputations and livelihoods forty years ago so you could live an openly gay life, and this is how you repay them?

    Of course, gay rights aren’t the major point here. To get back to that, here’s Erin O’Connor, who linked to that article and added her own comments:

    When I was teaching at Penn, I learned the hard way how very powerful students are. They hold professors’ careers in their hands–and can destroy them very, very easily, simply by accusing them of offensive classroom conduct. Most students don’t realize this–and if they did, would never dream of abusing their power. But some students see that power very clearly–and they work it.

    Where do students get the idea that they had the right not to be offended? University policy. It’s all there–on the books at DePaul and Brandeis and many other schools, in policies on hate speech and verbal harassment and so on. They encourage students to grossly misunderstand the purpose of higher education–which should involve being exposed to a wide range of views, learning how to choose among them, and learning to navigate the marketplace of ideas like an actual adult (as opposed to a spoiled child). When students avail themselves of these policies, administrators must take their complaints seriously, and follow through. Careers are ruined along the way, absolutely asinine judgments are made, and the educational enterprise is reduced to a joke by the very people whose job it is to uphold it. And it all happens over and over again, every year, on campus after campus, like sick clockwork, while nobody learns.

    Eric, not without warrant, is somewhat testier:

    Standards of inclusivity? What the hell does that mean? [I doubt we really want to know.—SRK] It’s not as if he threw gay students out of his class; what he did was merely to state his opinion, and explain why he thinks what he thinks, leaving students free to disagree without penalty of any kind. How does that exclude anyone? Are students considered so delicate that the slightest mention of something with which they feel uncomfortable is now to be considered a form of “exclusion”? Hmmm… Perhaps I can return to school and complain that I am being “excluded” every time a professor says something I disagree with.

    Right. We have a professor who put his ideas out there for students to disagree with without punishment, and we have a student who caviled about him in a fashion that got him ejected from campus, but it’s the professor who’s not being inclusive.

    Added on 14 July: Erin O’Connor has posted more—apparently, Illinois is reconsidering its decision. O’Connor ends this way:

    I think it’s interesting to see the elaboration of a moral system that is established and powerful and has enormous institutional weight behind it — precisely because it bears so little relation to my own baseline moral set points. It’s always empowering, enlightening, and stimulating to understand how people different from oneself think. There’s nothing intimidating or hateful about it.

    One might have expected college students to know that.

    A case of you

    Posted by Sean at 10:22, March 28th, 2010

    I try not to say nasty things unless I feel I’ve been given no choice, so I can’t claim to be a fan of Ann Coulter’s. Nevertheless, her enemies have a way of proving her points about freedom of speech time and again.

    If you haven’t encountered the story yet, Coulter just did a speaking tour of Canada. Mayhem naturally ensued. Rondi has a few posts up that give a good quick summary.

    Mark links to a post by Kathy Shaidle on the spooky approbation censorship gets in Canada from (though she doesn’t put it this way) the very people who have the most to lose when speech isn’t free:

    Sadly and inexplicably, Fox News chose radical lesbian activist [<--NB: person who has the most to lose when speech isn’t free—SRK] Susan G. Cole to represent Canada on one segment on the Coulter-In-Canada controversy. Here’s how Cole (who, as a playwright, has sucked on the taxpayer teat for most of her career) characterized my country:

    We don’t have that same political culture here in (Canada). . . . We don’t have a 1st Amendment, we don’t have a religion of free speech. . . . Students sign off on all kinds of agreements as to how they’ll behave on campus, in order to respect diversity, equity, all of the values that Canadians really care about. Those are the things that drive our political culture. Not freedoms, not rugged individualism, not free speech.

    It isn’t that Cole’s characterization is inaccurate. It really is word perfect, actually.

    The problem is, that fact should shame and disgust Canadians. Alas, most of my fellow citizens are either in complete, smug agreement with Cole, or just indifferent.

    Having reached a Certain Age, I shouldn’t be surprised when gay activists blithely support censorship in the name of “tolerance” or “diversity,” but it still dumbfounds me. Because gays and lesbians aren’t a visible minority unless we speak up for ourselves, freedom of expression is directly in our interest. The current way of rigging the game, of course, is to protect what we say and give a good caning to anyone who “disrespects” us and our delicate-flower sensibilities. But giving the government all kinds of power to intrude on people’s lives, under the assumption that your friends will always be wielding it on your enemies, is an exceedingly dangerous precedent to set. There’s a lot more acceptance of homosexuality than there used to be, and I’m obviously very happy about that; but our liberties are still very new historically, and minorities with few friends don’t always fare so well when there’s a social upheaval. We have no way of knowing when the next climate shift or terrorist attack or asteroid is going to hit.

    If we want people to believe that we’re part of society and invested in its future, we can’t be constantly fixated on momentary concerns: someone called someone a fag five minutes ago, someone said the Bible condemns homosexuality in an editorial on the opposite coast yesterday, someone made a joke about sweatpants to a lesbian colleague. I’m not saying none of these things deserve a response, but the proper response is more speech, not a ball gag. I can think of no better way to betray the gay kids who are going to be coming out in fifty or a hundred years from now than to leave them a heritage of petty, snippy, thin-skinned screeching for the censors at every little hint of opposition. Rough-and-tumble debate is the best way to test and sharpen your ideas. When you smugly try to shut it down, the unmistakable implication is that you don’t have nearly as much conviction as you want people to think you have.

    The issue with Coulter wasn’t just a gay thing, of course, but the dynamic is the same. Sensible people look at this crap, and her opponents look whiny and emotionally underdeveloped, while she looks fearless and unbowed under pressure. Great PR move.

    Added later: More great moments in merchandising: Eric reports on that brouhaha over a movie about transsexuals that some activists were trying to get removed from the Tribeca Film Festival:

    According to the festival description, the film has a deliberately campy empowerment theme about transgendered women turning the tables on their attackers (“the violated vixens turn deadly divas”). This, it seems, is intolerable to the prudish pacifist censors (who presumably want transgendered people to be victims):

    That summary alone was enough to prompt many angry comments at the tribecafilm.com Web site. One commenter who gave her name as Marie wrote, “This movie trivializes people dying for being who they are. You need to consider whether you want to be remembered for such transphobic trash.” Another commenter named Margaret B wrote, “I can’t imagine a more offensive film to denigrate and demean a minority group. Please remove this film from your line up.”

    The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has made the same demand of the Tribeca festival. In a statement, the alliance said, “The film, its title and its marketing misrepresent the lives of transgender women and use grotesque, exploitative depictions of violence against transgender women.” The alliance added that Mr. Luna and the festival “have refused to take responsibility for the problematic content and offensive marketing of this film,” and urged its membership to contact the festival and demand that the film be pulled from its schedule.

    In an important way, this isn’t an effort at censorship, since it doesn’t involve bringing in the state. But it’s still an attempt to keep challenging ideas out of circulation, rather than trusting the audience to be able to weigh them and make up its own mind. Happily, the committee isn’t caving, according to the NYT:

    The Tribeca Film Festival responded in a statement: “The filmmakers provided a copy of this film to GLAAD in February, and for weeks the organization had been supportive to the filmmakers. In fact, GLAAD representatives advised the film’s producer, director and cast on how to describe the film to its core constituency.” The festival added that it “looks forward to the film’s premiere” next month.

    I’m not sure what the problem is. Would the people who are flipping out prefer to see a movie about transsexuals who live in the suburbs, serve on the school board unmolested, and convince the good citizens of the community to fund a new crisis center? When someone tries to beat them up, should a cop show up in five seconds and disable the miscreant with his bare hands, just to show that you should wait for the government to defend you and that weapons are bad? Seriously, if you think a different movie should be made about transsexuals, then why don’t you just make it? Or support it with your ticket-buying power when someone else makes it?

    Health and welfare

    Posted by Sean at 23:01, March 21st, 2010

    Good news: Both my father and my little brother were born on 21 March, and I was able to go to my hometown for their celebration lunch today. Happy birthday again, guys.

    Bad news: That stupid, pork-packed, bureaucracy-inflating health-care bill is looking likely to pass. I was able to spend most of the day distracted by wine and birthday cake rather than checking CNN.com every five minutes…which is probably just as well, since there’ll be plenty of time to get worked into a froth of rage over the damned thing once its provisions start poisoning our lives.

    Good news: James Randi, the magician and rationalist debunker of all manner of delusions, has come out on the blog attached to his website. I hadn’t particularly thought about it one way or another, though I did enjoy some of the bitchier passages in his Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. Comments are almost all of the “We’re glad you told us, but don’t expect anyone to make a big deal of it” variety, which is great. The man is in his eighties, so he came of age when there was none of the infrastructure that those of us who came out in the last twenty years have had to draw on.

    Bad news: Barney Frank thinks a Tea Party protester called him a faggot; so does someone from Talking Points Memo. I agree with Frank that denigrating him for being gay is unfair; he’s repeatedly demonstrated that he’s a total ninny in ways that have nothing to do with sexuality. But I also agree with Eric: there’s plenty of reason to wonder whether people heard what they think they heard. Faggot is a short, sharp word that any number of noises at a lively protest might sound like. Hell, “Barney, you faggot!” might not sound all that dissimilar from “Barney [pause for breath] Frank!” if there were plenty of background noise. As Eric says:

    This is not to accuse Brian Beutler of lying, because he might be accurately repeating what he heard, but that does not shed any light on whether the old white guy was with the Tea Party movement or whether he was some sort of Fred Phelps style agent provocateur. The only way to know what was said and who he was would be to see some video, and considering the omnipresence of cameras these days, it would not surprise me if the footage of Barney Frank leaving his office turns up.

    And if we assume that this happened, how on earth is that an indictment of the thousands of decent, ordinary Americans who showed up to protest Obamacare? Is it fair to call them Ku Klux Klanners and bigoted homophobes on the basis of a report that someone said something? Does anyone realize how easy it would be for anyone to just show up and yell “FAGGOT”? On what basis can an assumption be automatically made that this person was a Tea Partier?

    Right. How much can we generalize from this, even if it turns out to be true? Given Frank’s history of capitalizing on any excuse to feel put upon, it seems wise to reserve judgment.

    We never calculate the currency we’ve spent

    Posted by Sean at 20:01, March 11th, 2010

    Dear Former Eric Massa Staffers:

    The Daily News seems to be willing to swallow your implied self-characterization as victimized innocents:

    “It’s like he had people trapped,” said a Hill source.

    At the house on E St. Southeast yesterday, which Massa had shared with five of his staffers, clothes were piled on the floor and half-a-dozen pairs of shoes mingled with dirty towels next to an open pink suitcase in the living room.

    In hindsight, Democratic insiders wondered about activities that before had just seemed odd. They said Massa hired a surprisingly large percentage of young gay men, and paid them so little that staffers were forced to live in the house with him.

    “It’s not the gay part that’s a problem, it’s the abuse, if it’s true,” said one Hill source.

    “The guy’s a freak,” a close friend of one embattled Massa aide told the Daily News.

    I say “implied” because it’s just possible that you all are genuinely thinking of the constituents in your district and working to facilitate a discreet transfer of the seat to a new congressperson. It’d be nice to think so.

    But I doubt it. Dignity doesn’t seem to be your strong suit, any of you. First look at the living room of the house you occupied:

    WTF? No potted orchid on the coffee table? Junk left at odd angles on the floor? No decorative screen in front of the space heater? A throw pillow left with a crease? (I just want to reach in there and fluff that poor fellow up! It’s agony.) No self-respecting fag would go near that place.

    Speaking of self-respect: look, I hope Massa gets whatever’s coming to him. It seems pretty clear that he’s been getting excessively familiar with subordinates and then relying on his position of authority to get them to keep quiet about it, for years—an unambiguous abuse of power. But here’s the thing: when he was in the navy, people were presumably assigned to him and thus had no choice but to live in close quarters with him. They really were trapped.

    I find it really difficult to see you in the same light, though. Yes, my small-government-libertarian side makes me instinctively distrust the sort of person who lusts after the sort of career that starts with being a congressperson’s go-fer—I own that up front. But this is about more than just instinct.

    There isn’t an openly gay man in his twenties in America who doesn’t know exactly what it means when some middle-aged straight guy fusses, gets touchy-feely, and compulsively flits around him. And somehow seems to surround himself with lots of other men in their twenties, several of whom are also openly gay. And has five of them living in his house. If your danger signals weren’t flashing from the get-go, you’re award-caliber morons. If your danger signals were flashing, and you overrode them to take advantage of a position with an up-and-coming politician who gave appearances of being susceptible to more about you than your legislative potential, don’t cry about it now.

    America has been laughing at that whole tickle-fight story, but I’m not at all certain it couldn’t have happened pretty much as Massa described it: after hours, the boss’s birthday, a good opportunity to toady, a little of the playful shoving and teasing he likes, then everyone either realizes it’s gotten out of hand and suddenly feels the need to pile on…or just piles on in order to be part of the rowdy fun. (Stand-offishness is no way to work your way up the ladder!) I’m sure the same scenario has played out with male politicians and bevies of young, fresh female staffers plenty of times, too. Tolerating over-the-line behavior in order to ingratiate yourself with a supervisor is one of the oldest stories—sorry, we call them “narratives” now, right?—in history.

    If most staff members were interviewed and hired before they had enough contact with Massa to figure out what his deal was, perhaps we really are talking about a case of aggrieved innocence. And perhaps some of them did draw the line, in no uncertain terms, like adults and had to take some time to decide what to do when they were ignored.

    But, as I say, color me skeptical. And if I’m right, it’s unfortunate. There will always be people who want to leverage their authority to take advantage of underlings, but when the underlings play along until a scandal ends the game, it just sends a signal to the next guy that he might be able to make it work if he’s just a little more discreet about it.

    Here’s a (pain de brioche) toast to dear old Penn

    Posted by Sean at 13:21, March 4th, 2010

    John Rosenberg at PJM cites a head-scratcher of a policy adopted at my alma mater:

    Inside Higher Ed has just reported (Feb. 26) that the University of Pennsylvania may be the first institution to launch what is described as an “outreach” program for gay students. That program, I think, suggests a number of interesting questions, but before we get to the assumptions underlying and implications flowing from gay outreach, let’s pause a moment at everyday, garden variety outreach. “At many colleges,” IHE’s article begins, “outreach” is

    a standard part of the recruiting process once applicants are admitted. Current students who share individual traits or academic interests help reach out to prospective students with similar backgrounds or interests. So the young woman who expresses an interest in engineering will hear from a female junior in engineering. A black admit might hear from a black student, and so forth. The idea is that these students may be uniquely well positioned to answer questions and to make the case that the college is a good place to be a female engineer, a black undergrad, or whatever.

    Reading that, I couldn’t help wondering, what if that “black student” were a female engineering major? Would she be tasked with reaching out only to black female prospective engineering majors? To all black females? To all blacks, whether prospective engineering majors or not? Given that heavy workload, shouldn’t Penn take “affirmative action” to make sure it has more than one black female engineering major? Moreover, since everyone knows (doesn’t everyone?) that Asians tend to be geeks who segregate themselves in math and science, shouldn’t Penn have an Asian literature major to reach out to prospective Asian English or philosophy majors (or two: one male and one female)? Doesn’t “diversity” require such an effort.

    I’m not sure how much outrage is called for here. Rosenberg is aware that the policy here is not said to apply to admissions decisions, because he writes:

    Does Penn do for not-yet-admitted gay applicants what it does “for many other groups of students”? That is, does it now engage in what might be termed “sex preference-conscious” admissions that parallels its race conscious admissions?

    If not, why not?

    Okay, but then why does the subhead (which Rosenberg may not have written or approved, note well) say, “Schools like the University of Pennsylvania twist themselves into pretzels trying to pretend they admit students ‘without regard’ to race or sexual preference”? The issue here isn’t admissions, from what I can gather.

    According to the Inside Higher Ed article, when we talk about “recruitment,” we seem to be talking about two things: “reaching out” to gay students to try to convince them to submit applications, and then “reaching out” to already “admitted gay applicants” to try to convince them to matriculate. I’m not sure that sits well with me, but I’m also not sure it counts as discrimination. Colleges like having low acceptance rates, which make them look more selective, so it’s not surprising that they’ll do what they can to convince every possible constituency that it’s worth applying. Once you’re actually admitted to a college, it presumably wants you (and your money), so it’s not surprising that it’ll do what it can to convince you that it’s the right place for you. Savvy advertising and deal-closing may not be things we like to associate with higher education, but in context they strike me as having more to do with all-American commerce than with special favors for gays.

    Now, if we were talking about actual admissions set-asides for gay students, that would be an ethical issue, and it’s possible that Penn and other institutions are skirting that line pretty perilously. I kind of doubt it, though, for the simple reason that there are plenty of gay students who are going to get in anyway without special treatment. I’m not sure that we’re greatly overrepresented in the populations at elite colleges and universities, but there was certainly no shortage of gay students at Penn when I was an undergrad nearly two decades ago, and I can’t imagine it’s gotten worse since then. It’s possible that some students win sympathy points for writing application essays about the trials and tribulations of coming out, but it’s also true that applicants have long used dead grandparents, childhood pets, and sports injuries before the Big Game to get admissions officers on their side. As long as character and eloquence are what help get them accepted, I don’t think being frank about being gay means they’re asking for special treatment.

    I remember the packet I got from Penn with my acceptance letter in 1991. It included several open letters from minority-student groups to potential members, encouraging them to matriculate. We then spent much of orientation week learning about “multiculturalism” and “diversity.” (My friends who’d gone to Ivy-feeder prep schools had already been force-fed those things for years and were sick of them from day one.) I would have much preferred messages that said, “Look, everyone, for the next four years, you will experience the unfettered life of the mind. Your full-time job, for the last time in your lives, will be to learn as much as you can and to argue ideas. Take advantage of it. Your thinking becomes stronger when it hits opposition and develops in response to it. Don’t look for ‘safe spaces'; look for different points of view. If you haven’t yet learned how to have a rough-and-tumble debate without hurling personal insults or taking what others say personally, you must do so immediately. Your sense of self and purpose will be refined and clarified through contact with all the other possibilities your classmates represent. The universe is way bigger than you are. Start getting to know it as best you can. Now.”

    But I think that blurring the distinction between collectivist thinking in campus life and collectivist thinking in admissions is still a bad idea. The issues are closely related, but they’re not the same. Trying to charm gay students into applying or matriculating is not the same as granting them acceptance over more deserving applicants. Rosenberg is probably right about the “assumptions underlying” gay outreach, but I wish he’d given firmer arguments for what he appears to think are the “implications flowing” from it.

    Better man

    Posted by Sean at 17:26, February 26th, 2010

    I agree with Matt Welch that the proper response to this from Bush II wordsmith Michael Gerson is incredulity:

    Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, is appalled and that Teddy Roosevelt has become “the conservatives’ new demon.” Excerpt:

    The problem with America, apparently, is not just the Great Society or even the New Deal; it is the Square Deal. Or maybe [Glenn] Beck is just being too timid. Real, hairy-chested libertarians pin the blame on Abraham Lincoln, who centralized federal power at the expense of the states to pursue an unnecessary war — a view that Ron Paul, the winner of the CPAC presidential straw poll, has endorsed.

    Cupla comments: 1) Libertarians have chest hair?

    Yeah, seriously. Except in the mirror, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a libertarian with chest hair. If I had, believe me, I’d have snagged him already. Of course, I’m mostly not relying on empirical data. Without making any effort to confirm one way or another, I’ve always had the vague impression that the Reason guys, for example, are all baby-smooth with those conical moobs. Don’t ask me exactly how that comes through from the way they write, but it does.

    Presumably, Gerson is talking, all metaphorical-like, about tough and uncompromising libertarians (GRRRRR! HOT!), but even then I’m not sure the point works. I’ve heard libertarians dourly obsessed with ideological purity say some pretty out-there things, and it’s not hard to imagine that some of them have, indeed, complained that keeping the Union together involved an illegitimate use of executive power. But not all that many of them. If Gerson is frequently exposed to libertarians with that viewpoint, you have to wonder what social circles he frequents. (Note that expressing reservations about some of the precedents those sorts of government actions set is tantamount to saying that they shouldn’t have been taken. Maybe Gerson does, but I think he’s wrong.)

    Added later: And hey! What about libertarian women? Dare I say Gerson could be accused of reverse sexism?

    Is this my most incoherent post ever? I think it might be.

    Posted by Sean at 20:25, December 13th, 2009

    Eric writes about who’s intimidating whom lately:

    President Barack Obama has told the Republicans to “stop trying to frighten the American people.”

    Surely he jests.

    There are a lot of things that might be said about the Republicans, but right now they are no position to frighten the American people. They couldn’t frighten their way out of a paper bag.

    No kidding. And I don’t think it’s just lately. I bought the Rolling Stone decade wrap-up issue, more out of habit than anything, to read on a train ride I had this past week. I perversely enjoy reading overwritten rock reviews. Occasionally, I’m even prompted to buy an album that has songs I’d always liked but that I was never moved to buy when it was released. And this round of nostalgizing was especially entertaining, since the re-flowering of U2’s and Bruce Springsteen’s careers gave the geezer bloc at RS a chance to heap them with the same accolades they used two or three decades ago. Naturally, I disagree with the rankings, but who cares?

    This is all related to what Eric wrote because, on the 2004 page in the year-by-year retrospective, there was a sidebar headlined “Rockers Speak Out Against Bush.” The subhead was “Hard-fought John Kerry campaign sows the seeds for 2008’s unprecedented rock activism.” Wow. What sort of hard fighting did our valorous rock stars participate in? Well, you probably remember most of it: the Vote for Change tour, Green Day’s American Idiot album, the Dixie Chicks’ shame at being from the same state as W, and Kanye West’s claim, after Hurricane Katrina, that Bush didn’t care about black people. RS called that last outburst “awesomely off-script,” but while that may be true in literal terms, it isn’t in any larger sense. All these were standard-issue flip-offs by multi-millionaires who faced no punishment for their political candor beyond the alienation of part of the market, which makes it somewhat strange to call what they do “speaking out.” For decades, but especially since the advent of the Internet—which predated the Bush administration, of course—famous musicians have eagerly told us what they think about child-rearing, plastic surgery, dieting, Our Environment, spirituality, exercise fads, making relationships work, and plenty else on which Kindness itself must conclude that their expertise is, to judge based on empirical data, shaky. That those who add politics to their roster of natter-about-in-front-of-a-microphone topics should be credited with boldly “speaking out” is not obvious, at least to me. Thrilling as it may have been to pretend to be all scared by Karl Rove, none of these people risked anything close to the midnight knock at the door.

    And as for “activism”—baloney. I’ll never agree with leftist policies, but I respect those who get down in the dirt and do the patient work of reasoning with the opposition one person at a time, which is how minds get changed. The day a rock star counts as an activist is the day Natalie Maines goes door to door through a town in north Texas to explain to citizens why they should vote for Big Government.

    Of course, all this would be easier to forgive if so much superstar output weren’t so lame. Mark has some thoughts on that—not new, but very succinctly put:

    There was a reason that music overtook the consciousness of so many people in the ’60s and it didn’t have anything to do with hippie ways or political movements. It had to do with who was running the record companies and their outlook toward their “product.” In fact, I would peg the start of the decline in the industry that we see the other end of today to the period in time when use of the term “product” to describe music became current and acceptable.

    I think those who approach music-making as professionals can produce really good stuff. Kylie, for example, has never deluded herself that she’s an artiste; she’s an entertainer, and in an odd way, that allows her to pour herself into everything she does in a way that makes it persuasive. She’s a girl who enjoys playing dress-up for concerts and acting in videos and being the diva in front of a microphone. She genuinely seems to love being a star, in a straightforward, un-ironic, princess-fantasy way. When her first album after her recovery from breast cancer didn’t consist entirely of songs about her new-found love of life and living each moment as it comes and finding inner strength, some people complained. I cheered. Good on her for not milking a private matter for sympathy downloads, I say. A woman who has just faced death and says, “What I really want to do now is get back on the dance floor and make my fans happy!” is an international treasure.

    In the main, though, I think Mark’s right. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best-selling act in the world, but when it’s obvious even in the music that your highest priority is raw numbers, the magic is lost.

    And it’s not just the music that seems manufactured. Just take a gander at this post about Kylie’s and Madonna’s elder sister in divadom, Olivia Newton-John. Olivia has great bones and a fair complexion, a combination that usually ages to a moving, lovely, crinkled-kidskin softness when nature takes its course. But Olivia is a rich woman, and it’s 2009, so nature is not taking its course.


    And let’s not even talk about Madge, who until five or six years ago was doing us all proud by keeping the procedures discreet and unnoticeable. At least, to this point, Kylie’s only excess in that area is with Botox. I’m sure the blatant face-yank is coming, though. She may end up looking even scarier than a Republican, though the American mass audience is unlikely to see enough of her to decide. At least, given precedent, we can probably count on her not boring us all by becoming an “activist.”


    Posted by Sean at 16:13, September 27th, 2009

    Hi, there, you four remaining people who are still checking back to see whether I’ve posted anything. Just to prove this is really Sean, I’ll make this about homosexuality and atheism and partisan politics and Japan.

    The Unreligious Right linked last week to this very good post about being an atheist out in the public debate. The one problem, as commenter lilacsigil points out, is with the comparison Christina uses to illustrate why it’s out of line to tell self-identified atheists that they’re not actually atheist:

    Let me make an analogy. If you’re not gay, would you say to a gay person, “You don’t understand what it means to be gay”? Would you say to them, “Being gay means that 100% of your sexuality is directed towards people of the same sex”? Would you say to them, “If you’ve ever had sex with someone of the opposite sex, or have even had a slight passing inclination to be sexually interested in someone of the opposite sex, then you’re not really gay”?

    Would you say to a gay person, “I understand what ‘gay’ means better than you do”?

    If you were a busybody, you most certainly would. And, non-hypothetically, if you are a busybody of that particular type, you most certainly do.

    Plenty of anti-gay commentators (both in the media and in informal conversation) are constantly telling us there’s no such thing as a “real” homosexual (we’re just confused, underdeveloped heteros with unexplored anger toward the opposite sex, you see) and that we’re practicing gays because we don’t want to do the hard work of facing up to the truths of nature and the moral strictures that flow from them. If you’re both gay and atheist, the condescension is even more dismissive–along the lines of “You just don’t want to believe in God because if you did you’d have to exercise sexual discipline.” (No, not everyone is like that, but I’m only talking about busybodies.) Anyway, Christina’s post is very good, and so are the comments, some of which are hers.

    [Added after loading the dishwasher and pouring a Scotch: Actually, if you really want to ensure you can never discuss anything but the weather with new acquaintances without stepping into a political minefield and being informed what you think, you can try being gay, atheist, and libertarian. Sententious busybodies on the right will be happy to tell you that you’re a libertine who wants to pretend society doesn’t need rules and order; sententious busybodies on the left will be happy to tell you that you don’t want to acknowledge the degree to which circumstances beyond people’s control affect their ability to make their way in life. And both sides will be happy to tell you you’re not a “real” libertarian if you happen to take a position that isn’t congruent with whatever they’ve decided the libertarian position should be based on some article they read in The Wall Street Journal or something a few years ago. Both sides like to use the same triumphant, “GOTCHA!” tone, too.]


    This diavlog between Michelle Goldberg and Megan McArdle (who’s a libertarian, not a conservative, but who’s naturally seen as being “on the right” in our current political climate) is almost a month old now, and it got a lot of attention when it was posted. Still, if you haven’t watched it, there’s a lot to munch on that’s illustrative of the way things are framed in the public debate lately. I particularly thought this was interesting:

    My sense is that Goldberg’s reflexive assumption about gun owners—that they’re running about eager for an opportunity to shoot someone—is shared by a lot of people, but I don’t think she’s right. McArdle doesn’t go into much detail, but the way she describes the gun enthusiasts she’s met fits those I know, too: they enjoy shooting at the range, and they like the feeling of autonomy that not depending on 911 in an emergency gives them, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy contemplating killing an actual human being. Instead, they rest easier knowing that they’re prepared if they meet some miscreant who threatens them or their property when the police are too far away to do anything about it. It really is a self-reliance thing, and I agree with McArdle that it’s likely that that’s the message those who wear their guns to so-called Town Hall meetings or protests were trying to send: don’t think you have to patronize me, Madam Senator, or protect me, Mr. Congressman—I can handle my own life and only need you to stop getting in my way.

    That having been said, I think McArdle’s right about the PR factor. Carrying a deadly weapon to a political protest is a great way of signaling that you (at least) think there may be occasion to use it, which does not help to bring the tenor of debate back down toward poised, reasonable argument.


    New Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama met with President Obama this week. (He also addressed the UN General Assembly and was presumably in one of the motorcades that made getting to work or home in Midtown East utter hell.) The Asahi editorial contained this priceless quotation:

    The chiefs of the Democratic parties that govern Japan and the United States met for the first time.

    This fresh start for the bilateral relationship came after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama took over government by promising “change” from more than half a century of virtually one-party rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, and U.S. President Barack Obama took power by promising “change” from eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush.

    After the meeting, Obama told reporters he is “very confident that not only will the prime minister succeed in his efforts and his campaign commitments, but that this will give us an opportunity to strengthen and renew” the alliance between the two countries.

    And Obama should know, because, after all, he’s all about keeping campaign commitments (to rein in spending, to close Guantanamo, to prohibit anything that could be construed as torture in the prosecution of the WOT) and strengthening and renewing alliances with existing partners.

    Hatoyama apparently wanted to convey his intention to guide his nation away from this traditional relationship [i.e., Japan’s playing second fiddle to the United States–SRK] toward new relations in which Japan is more assertive and ready to play a more active role.

    Some tricky issues were not discussed at the Hatoyama-Obama meeting but must eventually be addressed. Among them are Tokyo’s plans to terminate the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s mission to refuel coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean and review the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan, including the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

    The Japanese government must make decisions on these issues before Obama’s scheduled visit to Japan in November.

    Mishandling these delicate issues could strain Japan-U.S. relations and stir up criticism against the Hatoyama administration at home.

    A power transfer can lead to a major policy shift. What is happening in Japan now is a natural part of democracy. The diplomatic challenge facing Hatoyama is how to persuade Washington to accept this change in Japan without hurting the mutual trust.

    Well, it might be noted that the push for a permanent UNSC seat for Japan began under Koizumi and that the plans to restructure United States military deployments to have fewer personnel in Japan began under Bush; I’m not sure those things represent substantive change as much as evolution in a preset direction. The nuclear-disarmament part sounds nice, but surely everyone is aware, underneath the genial dialogue, that it’s not going to happen now that the toothpaste is out of the tube. And Japan has spent decades talking about internationalization and global outreach, but those processes are a two-way street, and the adapting it would need to do at the level of nuts-and-bolts approaches to politics and business is not one that it welcomes.

    “This yuai (fraternity) is a way of thinking that respects one’s own freedom and individual dignity while also respecting the freedom and individual dignity of others,” he said during his 20-minute speech in English.

    He said that based on the spirit of yuai, Japan can become a bridge for the world in five areas.

    I’d love to see Japan, as the most mature democracy in the region, take more of an active geo-political role, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen on what seem to be the current trajectories. Serving as a “bridge” between the rest of the world and Asia makes sense given Japan’s economic power and corresponding contributions to the UN. But fraternity (the Japanese word indicated actually means more like “friendship” or “amicability,” but let that slide) among East and Southeast Asian peoples is notoriously unstable, despite their many elements of shared heritage, and Japan’s history does not, shall we say, establish it unequivocally as the obvious choice for role of altruistic, disinterested referee.

    Ev’rything’s coming up Dusty (解説)

    Posted by Sean at 13:32, July 6th, 2009

    Andrew Sullivan: Obama is also, at his core, a community organiser. Community organisers do not jump into a situation and start bossing people around. They begin by listening, debating, cajoling, inspiring and delegating. Less deciders than ralliers, community organisers explain the options, inspire self-confidence and try to empower others, not themselves. If you think of Obama even on a global stage, this is his mojo. And those community organisers do not tell you to expect instant results. It takes time when you try to build real change from below. But the change is stronger, deeper and more real when it comes.

    I trust that the last post demonstrated that I could respond to the above paragraph with cool, arch detachment, yes? Good. Now permit me to give a somewhat more off-the-cuff reaction:




    Why is it that I have the distinct feeling that, had President Obama moved more quickly and decisively on gay issues, Andrew Sullivan would not be complaining that he hadn’t expended enough time and energy on “cajoling” or had betrayed his “instinctive conservatism”?

    Also, Sullivan may be right about what community organizers start by doing, but he kind of conveniently leaves out what they usually end by doing: sucking up loads of funding, launching splashy initiatives of dubitable subsequent efficacy, and then sailing on to the next project and leaving others holding the baby. (There are a lot of focused not-for-profit organizations out there that do real good at achieving clearly stated missions; the Annenberg Challenge does not appear to be one of them.)

    Added later: About that whole who’s-a-real-conservative thing, Eric has this to say today:

    Just to be clear, yes, I supported the war, and yes, I ridiculed the idea that Bush was a Nazi and that 9/11 was an inside job. That being the case, I became tagged with the “conservative” label no matter how many times I said I was a libertarian. This debate (in which my libertarianism was attacked as suspect) is typical, and I lost track of the number of times I was called a conservative (and worse) by lefties. But hey, I’m one of those annoying snots who rejects all labels and refuses to be bound by them, so I contemptuously ignored most of these references.

    Times have changed. It now seems that supporting the war, not believing 9/11 was an inside job, and opposing the belief that Bush is a Nazi are no longer conservative positions. Even foot dragging on Gitmo has become suspiciously liberal.

    Where does that leave the previously labeled conservatives?

    Why, they’re supposed to be dragged into a contest. Something involving “conservative principles.” What are they? Beats me, as it seems to depend on whom you ask. To some, it’s enough simply to be against big government, or statism. But to others, you also have to be against all things which are said to threaten “family values.”

    I don’t intrinsically mind labels as much as Eric does, but I do agree that they’re often used as…what’s a good word? Weapons? No, I think more like talismans. Slotting someone into a pre-defined category often seems to mean warding off the possibility that they’ll make you examine your own assumptions too hard. I can’t count the number of times I’ve explained to someone that I’m a libertarian (and for obvious reasons, I’m rarely the one to bring up politics in social situations), only to be answered with a pause, a few blinks, and “Oh. You’re a conservative.”

    “Believe me, honey—the conservatives don’t want me on their team. I’m a libertarian. ‘Classical liberal’ works, too.”

    “You’re a conservative.”

    “If you want to think of me as a conservative, fine. I admire a lot of conservative thinkers, even though I myself am a libertarian. I value existing institutions, but I think the freedom to experiment is way civilization has gotten to—”

    “No, but really—you’re a conservative.”

    There almost always seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance going on: I’m gay but I support gun rights, I’ve spent most of my adult life abroad but I supported the Iraq invasion, I majored in comparative literature but I support Israel, or whatever. There has to be an explanation, and the easiest one to to reach for is “conservative.” And it wouldn’t bother me were it not for the fact that I then become accountable for some nasty thing Glenn Beck (whom I don’t listen to) said the other day, or what have you.

    Added on 7 July: Thanks to Eric for the links back.