Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Disable the Label

Today I had a conversation with a woman about politics. This sort of thing happens quite a bit in D.C. Invariably the conversation led to abortion. She is staunchly pro-choice, and pro-choice in the sense that she sees abortion as an absolute right, unwilling to even discuss the prospect that the fetus' life has value. She told me she felt the fetus wasn't a person until it was born, and she was entirely unwilling to discuss the question of life beyond her base assertion. I didn't feel there was much room for compromise in her position, or throughout the conversation.

I, on the other hand, am staunchly pro-life, because I believe that life begins at conception. This is hardly news. However, at the same time, I sincerely believe that there is great room for compromise on the issue. Obviously it is a widely polarized debate, and only the shrillest voices on either side are heard, however, I honestly feel that there is a plenty of ground for the two sides to agree on. Chiefly I think consensus can be reached in addressing the causes and effects of unwanted pregnancy through methods other than abortion (for example, I think we should improve our sex education, liberalize adoption laws, and seriously consider providing free childcare for parents below a certain income level, all three of which would address different problems associated with unwanted pregnancies). Recognizing that unwanted pregnancies are a serious problem, we have two non-exclusive sets of options to draw from: we can reduce the pregnancies (better sex education, pregnancy prevention, and/or abortion), or we can reduce the unwantedness (free childcare, better adoption programs, health care for mothers and children, etc).

This is a position I've really taken to lately, and even proposed it as a research topic in a fellowship I recently applied to. I think it has a lot of promise.

What is frustrating to me - and what is I suppose constitutes the thesis of this post (4 paragraphs in... really quality writing, Matt) - is that in response to my very middle ground views (and let's face it, trying to work to compromise on abortion is very middle ground) many people still want to label me as a conservative or Republican. This is true both of the issue ("he's conservative on abortion") and more generally ("he takes the pro-life position because he's a Republican").

Of the two, the later is obviously the more pernicious scourge, though even the first is problematic. You see both types of labeling all the time, and I'm sure I'm guilty of it too. Labels provide an easy way to summarize and categorize someone's viewpoint, and in so doing marginalize what they're really saying. For example, by labeling me "conservative on abortion" the woman was able to essentially ignore the fact that I was putting forth some very new and constructive arguments in favor of a middle ground position. She didn't want to change (or, it seemed to me, even rethink) her position on the issue, and so instead she used a convenient label to overlook what I was actually saying.

I know I do the same sort of thing when discussing theology. If someone presents to me a literal interpretation view of the Bible, it's very easy for me to say to myself, "Ah ha! They're taking a fundamentalist approach to Scripture." Then, instead of actually engaging in the new conversation, I often re-live previous discussions of the issue, and bring out old arguments that I've used time and time again. To some extent these labels can be useful, particularly if nothing new is actually being said. But we need to be very careful in using them, because if they prevent us from listening to new ideas and arguments on an issue then they're doing more harm than good.

The second type of labeling, the more insidious type, is labeling someone as something general because of a single belief or limited set of beliefs. Today I was told I was a conservative and a Republican because of my pro-life beliefs (no regard was given to the middle ground position I actually advocate). Quite simply, I am neither a Republican, nor a conservative. Talk to me about health care or welfare reform or minimum wage laws or capital punishment or taxes and you'll certainly conclude I'm not a Republican. This woman knows how I feel about most of those issues, so why would she label me a conservative for my singular belief on abortion? I think the reason is because she actually wanted to dismiss what I was saying. In labeling me "conservative on abortion" she could ignore what I was saying. But in labeling me "a conservative" she was able to dismiss my ideas as "typically conservative". She has already drawn a conclusion for herself that conservative ideas are bad ideas, and therefore can dismiss them out of hand.

The logic here is of course flawed. Because she disagreed with my position, she identified me as a conservative. Then, because I was a conservative, I was presenting a conservative idea. Because it was a conservative idea, it was a bad idea. Nevermind the fact that my idea wasn't actually conservative (or bad for that matter). The label enabled her conclusion; it led her to dismiss my idea as bad without ever actually stopping to think about the idea.

It's a frustrating feeling, being labeled something you're not. It's even more frustrating when the result of that is people ignoring or dismissing your ideas. We all do it. I'm sure it's in our nature. But we ought to do our best to root it out. Labels can be helpful. But just like any tool, when used improperly they can be terribly destructive.

It looks a lot like engine oil
And tastes like being poor and small

Friday, October 19, 2007

WWJCA? (Who Would Jesus Cheer Against?)

If there has been a single prevailing theme to this blog over the years it is clearly that the Red Sox are evil.

I get the feeling that more and more people are coming around to my way of thinking. I'm glad folks are starting to see the light on this issue because the bottom line remains: The Red Sox are evil.

For starters, they buy their way into the playoffs almost every year. They've got the second largest budget in baseball, and along with the Yankees they spend way more than other teams. In so doing, they take away any chance other teams have to compete for free agents. Even worse, they over-pay to make sure they get the free agents they want. This jacks up prices around the league, and makes it even harder for small-market teams to retain the players that have grown up in their systems. The Red Sox (along with the Yankees) treat the rest of the league as their own personal farm system, and they're happy to do it. This decreases player loyalty and affects every other team out there.

Second, given their enormous payroll, they're able to make bad baseball decisions and not suffer the consequences. The Red Sox signed players like Gagne and Drew who are, by all accounts, enormous disappointments. These were bad baseball decisions. And yet, despite the bad contracts, the Red Sox are still in the playoffs. Why? Because when they make bad decisions they can just loosen the purse strings and buy their way out of trouble. They're the Paris Hiltons of the baseball world, living a life so far removed from reality that they have no consequences to their obviously terrible decisions.

Third, the Red Sox - more than any other team (including the Yankees) - are first a corporate conglomerate, and second a baseball team. I mean they cross-promote with NASCAR for crying out loud! If there's one thing that should drive a baseball fan into an apoplectic rage it's the thinking man's sport being sold to people who think left turns qualify as strategy.

The group that owns and runs the Sox care only about money, not about the experience of baseball. How else do you explain that the average ticket price for a Red Sox game is $18.70 higher than the average price for the next-highest team. That's not a typo. Almost $20 more per ticket to see the Red Sox. This isn't a team the whole family can enjoy. It's an exclusive club only the wealthy can afford to buy their way into. And yet, the Red Sox constantly market themselves as a team of "regular guys", a team that's built for the blue-collar every-man. An absolute lie. But that's what we'd expect from a team that cares more about it's marketing than it does about winning.

In fact, the Red Sox' recent popularity can be directly traced to their marketing. They sold themselves as the anti-Yankees. They branded the Yankees the "evil empire" and played themselves in the role of good-guy. Only it was all a great fiction. The Yankees are evil, yes, for some of the same reasons that the Red Sox are. But the Red Sox were doing all of the same evil things as the Yankees. Of course that didn't bother them. They were perfectly happy to be the pot calling the kettle black. And unfortunately, people bought it. They were duped by the Red Sox. And not by the product on the field, but by the product coming out of the PR office.

But now it seems people are noticing. They're not falling for the same old lines any more. They've come to realize that the Red Sox are the new Yankees. Just like the Yankees, the Red Sox now consider anything less than a pennant to be an unsuccessful season. As Dan Shanoff wrote on his blog, "The fact is, a loss [in the ALCS] and the Red Sox have underachieved based on the expectations for the season."

Even Bill Simmons, the consummate blindly-loyal Red Sox fan seems to realize that something is up. As he wrote in his game-4 post, "What happened to this team? Why aren't they loose anymore?"

The answer is of course obvious. Before they won the World Series, the Red Sox were expected to lose. There was no pressure, and they could afford to be loose. Now that they've won, they're just another team. When they were losers they were special because they were losers. They weren't lovable losers, but at least they were special. Now they don't even have that.

They just have the terrible burdens that come with being evil.

I said heaven ain't close in a place like this

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I know it might seem weird, but two of my favorite foods are Coolwhip and sour cream.

Jeremiah was a bullfrog

Monday, October 08, 2007


I predict that as we see an increase in the number of mobile phone headsets (you know, those Bluetooth things hanging from yuppies' ears) our society will also see a correlative rise in the number of attacks by crazy people.

It used to be that if someone was talking to themselves you had an immediate warning to keep your distance. The person was obviously crazy, and crazy people can do crazy things. For example, biting. The judicious course of action is to avoid the crazies, which helps keep them from doing said crazy things (you know, biting).

With the increase in Bluetooth usage, more and more people appear to be talking to themselves when they are in fact just on the phone. I've heard plenty of people complain that they mistake headsetters for crazies. And to be sure, this is annoying. You end up going out of your way to avoid a crazy when you really didn't have to; it was just a yuppie, camouflaged as a crazy.

As annoying as that can be, I think most people have overlooked the danger of the opposite result: mistaking crazies for headsetters. Contemplate for a moment a world in which Bluetooth is so pervasive that when you see someone talking to themselves your first inclination is to assume they're a headsetter. No more does it occur to us that the person may be a crazy. Just as now we avoid headsetters for fear that they're crazy, we will someday fail to avoid crazies as a result of our complacency with headsetters. The initial response to a person talking to himself won't be one of self-preservation (Stay away! Don't bite me!), instead it'll be one of apathy (Oh huh. Another yuppie.).

Without the impulse to avoid people talking to themselves, more and more people will inadvertently put themselves in harms way, by getting too close to an actual crazy person. And then my friends... that is when the biting will start.

Another interesting thought on Bluetooth (hat tip to my dad): Will our constant use of mobile headsets create an evolutionary advantage for people who are better able to utilize the device (that is, people with one large ear.)? After all, they'll be better able to communicate, therefore more likely to procreate, and therefore more likely to breed a race of humans with one gigantic ear. Creepy. Also, they'll probably have tiny fingers. Freaks.

Crazy for feeling so blue

Saturday, October 06, 2007


All right gents, here's the question:

You walk into a bathroom with a row of 4 urinals, all of the same height. There is a man already standing at one of the ends of the row. Which urinal do you take?

Pissing the night away

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tea Vea

I don't think I can be fairly characterized as a couch potato, though I've got a handful of T.V. shows that I watch pretty regularly. After the first two weeks of this new season, I'm thinking of adding two new shows to my list. That sounds like a lot, but since they're both on the same night, and they sandwich another show that I watch, it really isn't nearly as bad as it sounds.

The two shows are Chuck and Journeyman. Both are on NBC, on opposite sides of Heroes. Coming into this season I was actually thinking that I might not even watch Heroes, but I've found it to be fairly compelling again. Not nearly as strong a start as last season, but not as weak as it finished up either. Chuck and Journeyman both seem like nice compliments. They're kind of fun, with compelling characters and interesting storylines. I can see how Journeyman will wear thin pretty quick, and I'll probably give up on it before too long. But Chuck strikes me as what will probably be one of this year's biggest hits. If you haven't seen it yet, I would strongly recommend checking it out.

While I'm on the subject, are there any other new shows that people would recommend? Recommend avoiding?

Speaking of shows to avoid, tonight I decided I'd watch the pilot episode of Caveman. NOT because I thought the show had any appeal, but rather because it can be fun to watch a train wreck.

And what a wreck! It was just like the commercials, only stripped of the irritating, in-your-face, faux-edginess. Apparently they chose to replace it with bland, banal dialogue. They removed the cringe-factor from the commercials, which were wince-inducing bad. Outside of The Office, wincing isn't something you generally want your audience to do in response to your show, which probably made this a good decision. And yet, without the cringe-factor, there's absolutely nothing to go on. Basing a show on nothing was a bad decision. Truth be told, because they give you something to hate, the commercials are actually superior to the show.

The highlight of the show was that the Wii characters that the cavemen were playing with looked kind of like the cavemen. That was the only thing about the whole show that caused any reaction at all. It was the most boring, bland, mind-numbing half hour of television I've ever seen. And I once caught an episode of Two and a Half Men, so that's saying something.

Oh, and don't worry - if the Nielsen folks had called, I would have lied about watching it.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Commercials are some of the finest art being crafted in America.

Of course, they're also some of the crappiest pieces of skunk dung you can find (see: Cavemen, Geico).

Finally, I get a ton of my music from T.V. Commercials are frequently using excellent songs to hawk product. And it works, if the product they're pushing is the song.

I also very much appreciate when actual shows take the time to utilize great music. Scrubs is excellent for this. I'm hopeful that Chuck will be too. Last night they featured 3 songs prominently. "Don't Make Me a Target" from the new Spoon album (which I recently purchased and highly recommend), "Challengers" from the new New Pornographers album (which I recently purchased and highly recommend), and "Gone Daddy Gone" by either Gnarls Barkley or The Violent Femmes (I don't know which version they used). All excellent songs. Check 'em out if you don't already know them.

And Chuck too. A big fat recommendation for a fun show with excellent music.

And you live with someone
I live with somebody too