Reading George Fox


Expanding the trope?

I wonder if the people calling out Congresswoman Omar would be as upset if she said that Sheldon Adelson massive donations to Trump played a large part in his decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem?

Because I don’t remember an uproar about the New York Times leading an article about the move with:

Ten days before Donald J. Trump took office, Sheldon G. Adelson went to Trump Tower for a private meeting. Afterward, Mr. Adelson, the casino billionaire and Republican donor, called an old friend, Morton A. Klein, to report that Mr. Trump told him that moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a major priority.

While the article also acknowledges the influence of evangelicals, it doesn’t mention them until the fifth paragraph and it clearly stresses Adelson’s money (and AIPAC) as the leading motivation.


The anti-Jewish trope is about shadowy Jewish Financiers secretly controlling politics. There’s nothing secret about AIPAC sponsoring congressional trips to Israel or major politicians from both parties making a pilgrimage to speak at their annual conference.

Calling criticism of AIPAC anti-Jewish is expanding the trope to any Jewish use of money in politics.


“All About The Benjamins”

Here’s the chorus from Puffy’s 1997 hit, It’s All About The Benjamins:

It’s all about the Benjamins
baby
Now, what y’all wanna do?
It’s all about the Benjamins
baby
Wanna be ballers, shot-callers
It’s all about the Benjamins
baby
Brawlers — who be dippin in the Benz wit the spoilers
It’s all about the Benjamins
baby
On the low from the Jake in the Taurus

Anyone see any anti-Jewish tropes1 in there? ‘Cause I don’t.


  1. Yes, there is one reference to Jews: “You should do what we do, stack chips like *Hebrews*.” But there are way more references to Italian Mob films. The song is about enjoying the life of the wealthy, not using money for power. 

Of Filibusters & Magical Thinking

After listening to Dahlia Lithwick on 2038 today, I had to write her a note. It’s hard to believe someone so smart and incisive can be so blind to political reality.


Dahlia,

I was just listening to you on the new 2038 podcast. Your support of the Democrats reinstating the judicial filibuster is simply magical thinking ignoring the current reality of the Republican Party. The Democrats simply cannot shame them into re-establishing norms.

They already tried to do it once. The Republicans got rid of Blue Slips during the Bush years; Democrats brought them back during Obama’s term; and the Republicans immediately dropped them after Trump was elected. The only thing the Blue Slips did was help McConnell keep spots empty for Trump to appoint more judges.

I have no doubt if the filibuster is brought back, the Republicans will get rid of it again when they control the White House and the Senate. Their behavior over the past two decades has not given any reason to believe otherwise.

The Democrats are stuck in a prisoner’s dilemma and continually compromising doesn’t work when the Republicans refuse to reciprocate. It’s tantamount to conceding defeat. The correct strategy for the current situation is “Tit for Tat”:

It is also a highly effective strategy in game theory for the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. The strategy was first introduced by Anatol Rapoport in Robert Axelrod’s two tournaments,[1] held around 1980. Notably, it was (on both occasions) both the simplest strategy and the most successful in direct competition. -Wikipedia

The Republicans are not going to change course until they face consequences for their actions. McConnell has consistently been the one to escalate norm violations. The reason Reid got rid of the judicial filibuster in the first place was the Republicans were blocking practically any nominee. McConnell was clear about his goals from the moment Obama was sworn in: To make him a one-term president.

There are real dangers to the Democrats escalating as well; it could lead to a death spiral where the Federal Government can only do anything when one party controls Congress and the Presidency. But not escalating makes it certain that the Republican Party will only get more extreme. Don’t you remember how hard Obama and the Democrats worked to get a single Republican vote for the ACA? No compromise would have gotten Collins or any other Republican Senator to join them.

If Ginsberg or Souter don’t make it to 2020 and the Democrats don’t hold the Senate, the median vote will be Thomas. Forget about rolling about civil rights: the Court will be rolling back the New Deal and creating a Neo-Lochner era.

You clearly want to hold on to the idea of the Court as an impartial institution, but that ship has sailed. It died when Merrick Garland was denied even a hearing.

Democrats and the left have to wake up to reality.


I saw this lovely plan after writing the initial note. Republicans don’t care about norms at all anymore—they are ramming through judges with only 19% of the committee actually in Washington!


Moral Monsters & Non-Hollywood Endings 🎥

Spoilers Ahead


Moral Monsters

After sleeping on my thoughts about A Star Is Born, I’m still struggling with my reaction. I truly enjoyed the film, but it also sits really uneasy with me, terrifyingly so. And I think that clench in my stomach stems from Rez’s actions at the end. I have struggled with my own suicidality and the dark thoughts that all I do is hurt the people I love. Those thoughts are disconnected from reality—even as they spiral in my head I know that they are fundamentally irrational. But that knowledge does nothing to lessen their power or shake my belief in them.

If, in my worst moments, someone close to a loved one told me that I was hurting them, that my loved one would never tell me, but they would be better off without me…I’m not sure what I would do. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t self harm, but I’d probably need to go to an inpatient psych ward to be safe. Watching Rez do that to Jack—a man who had just begun to face his trauma—shredded me. At that moment, Rez became a moral monster: he is so ruthlessly selfish that he’s willing to emotionally eviscerate a mentally fragile man. And it’s horrifying that he will remain in Ally’s life—content in the knowledge that his vile actions will push her to greater fame. What might he do to her in the future? She is just an object, a tool for his own advancement. For Ally to keep such a ogre in her life is terrifying. And the film disappears him after the final scene with Jack—my mind wandered to worse and worse scenarios.

The film uses this horror as an emotional gut punch, to ratchet up the tension and sadness for both Ally and the audience. It feels cheap; using addiction and trauma as a tool and not seriously engaging Jack’s experience of treatment. The film offers us hope that he can heal then makes a character irredeemably evil to engender a tragic ending.


Non-Hollywood Endings

The film had the opportunity to tell a much more complicated story, one without a villain, one that eschewed Hollywood myths. And it had a really easy template to do so: Lady Gaga’s own musical evolution. Unlike Ally, Lady Gaga made deliberate choices about her artistic path: her pop music is her voice, her vision. As far as I can tell, her persona is not simply a method to become famous1, it is also a fulfilling aesthetic choice. There was no Rez Gavron telling her what to do; there’s the Haus of Gaga that she put together.

Think about a movie where Ally followed this path; where she discovered her voice in the world of pop, both in the music and the artifice. If Rez was not a domineering asshole, but rather an artistic collaborator who believed in her vision. Now Jack must confront a much more complicated world: can he accept that his love’s voice is so different from his own, that her vision of art and truth conflicts with his? Would he be jealous of Ally’s work with this Rez?2 In the actual film, the only person she collaborates with is Jack and we don’t see her create any of her pop songs or acts. How much more difficult would Ally’s choice be if it were between music and art that she loves as much as she loves her husband. That would tear her apart in the final act and could lead to a more tragic, more honest, and less violent end.

One of Hollywood’s most cherished myths is “Love Always Finds A Way”. Even after Jack kills himself, his love is transmitted through the final song he wrote for Ally. But the truth is that sometimes love is not enough—two people can love each other with all their hearts and their relationship can still fall apart. There’s a version of this film where Jack’s and Ally’s lives and art drift apart, where his addictions and trauma rupture their marriage beyond repair. Even in the film we have, there is a big reason to fear for them before Rez’s moral bankruptcy: when Ally visits Jack in rehab, he says he’s doing the work all for her. And that is simply not sustainable in the long run—he has to face his trauma and choose to live for himself. This disconnect, this tragedy could be enough for them to part. Given the history of their relationship and marriage, Jack may not be able to heal within it. If Ally and Jack lost each other for both their healths, for both their lives, the film would have taken a much harder but more honest truth. Ally’s heart would still break3; she could still sing the same song at the end. But that ending would feel inevitable, stemming from both their journeys and characters—not from the happenstance of a monstrous producer signing her.


  1. Though it is partially that. 
  2. Importantly, Ally’s and Rez’s must be non-romantic, non-sexual. It should be a connection over music—that would be a true threat to Jack because he fell in love with Ally as an artist and their relationship begins with musical collaboration. 
  3. It would actually break more, knowing that their love was not enough, that they had to let each other go for both of their sakes. That despite their true and strong connection, other aspects of themselves made them not healthy for each other. That their relationship was for a time, that it was worthwhile and good, but now that time is over. 

“A Star Is Born” is Too Easy 🎥

Spoilers Ahead.

I really enjoyed A Star Is Born; the music is fabulous, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga kill it, and the ending crushed me.

But the main dilemma, Ally’s choice between a famous pop career or a smaller1 indie career, is too easy. There’s really not much to recommend the more famous path: Ally’s producer is a mercenary and disregards anything she wants, she doesn’t seem happier performing on pop stages, and it keeps her away from Jack, whom she dearly loves. Her troubles with Jack stem from his alcoholism and drug abuse, not any desire on her part to pursue the kind of independent career she does. I could easier she her being happier if she signed with whomever produced Jack. After all, Jack was the one who helped her get comfortable in the recording studio. If she had taken a more indie path, I could easily see him continuing to support her in recording sessions and otherwise.

Moreover, by the end. Jack seems to have come to terms with Ally’s career. He kills himself after Rez convinces him that he’s holding her back. In doing so, Rez moves himself beyond any sort of sympathy: to him Ally’s fame is a source of profit.2 He’d rather make her miserable than let her pursue the life she wants. There’s no doubt that if Ally ever learns what Rez said she’d be beyond furious. Given she punched out a cop at the beginning of the film, I could easily see her physically attacking him.

The film would be all the more powerful if Ally actually had a hard decision. If at the end, rather than Rez pushing Jack over the edge, she had made a choice to prioritize her pop career. If perhaps she had left Jack on her own accord and he made the decision on his own to take his life. In the actual film, his sacrifice isn’t a tragic action to enable Ally to realize her talent; it’s a horror that breaks her heart and ruins her dream.


  1. Which, considering the concerts she plays with Jack at the beginning of the film, would not be that small. 
  2. I have no doubt Rez would drop Ally in an instant if it were in his interests. He’s a classic abuser, separating her from the people who do love and care for her. 

Lively Porn vs. Deadly Meditation

Or I’d Rather Be ‘Dick Drunk’ Than Be Masturbated Like Clockwork

Content Warning: Explicit description of sex.

I picked up Emily Witt’s Future Sex after a friend reviewed it. I haven’t finished yet, but I couldn’t help but notice the discomforting comparison of the chapter on Kink.com (obviously very, very NSFW) and the one on Orgasmic Meditation. Perhaps contrary to our cultural expectations the porn shoot is much more connected, alive, and joyous than the “well-lit room” of a female-led San Franciscan blend of orgasms and transcendentalism.


In the chapter on Orgasmic Mediatation, Witt visits OneTouch, a program1 founded by Nicole Daedone that teaches a very particular form of partnered masturbation:

“So if her clitoris were a clock” (the room found this hilarious) “it would be in the one o’clock position. And you’re just going to stroke there, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down.” (Kindle Location 733)2

This clitorial time keeping lasts for exactly 15 minutes—the stroker sets a alarm on their iPhone. To me, this sounds like the most deadly and boring sex imaginable.3 Daedone claims to want to free women from the male-centric concept of sex, but drains all the life out of the act in the process. Moreover, it ignores the wide range of female sexuality and physiology. Not every woman is going to find repetitive strokes pleasurable. Some woman like rough sex; some women like gentle touch all over their body; some women like to spin fantasies with their partners. And on and on. Yet Witt concludes:

The people at OneTaste were looking for a method to arrive at a more authentic and stable experience of sexual openness, one that came from immanent desire instead of an anxiety to please. (Loc. 914)

I can hardly find any human desire in such a rote practice. OneTaste has removed joy from sex. I shouldn’t kink shame, but Orgasmic Meditative sounds pretty distasteful to me.


In the chapter on Kink.com, Witt visits a Public Disgrace shoot. As one might expect, the lead performer, Penny Pax, is disgraced in a bar full of strangers.4 After a long day of intense shooting:

[Witt] asked if there were any moments if genuine pleasure. She [Pax] looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah. Like the whole thing! The whole thing.” She apologized for not being more articulate and explained she was in a state of delirium. “We call it ‘dick drunk,'” she said. “I’m a little dick drunk right now because it was just very nice.” (Loc. 1123)

Pax seems to have had a far more “authentic and stable experience of sexual openness” than anyone at OneTaste. She was in her body and connecting with both her fellow performers and an audience she had never met while being filmed. There was spontaneity and joy, not treating her clit like a mechanical clock on a timer.

I’m sure Daedone would be horrified by a woman tossed around, touched by strangers, treated like a piece of meat.5 But I bet Pax enjoyed her orgasms way more than anyone at OneTaste.


  1. Or grift? They offer a coaching program that costs $13,000. (Loc. 754) 
  2. I’m not a big fan of ebooks, but I’m trying not to accumulate a library in the Berkshires that I’ll eventually have to haul home to the city. 
  3. Daedone claims it’s not sex, which is a very heteronormative viewpoint. As Dan Savage says: sex does not equal penetration. Someone is touching another person’s genitals to provide sexual pleasure—that’s clearly sex. 
  4. They sign up through the studio and the director, Princess Donna, maintains a strict standard of behavior, albeit a standard that our mainstream culture would probably not approve of. 
  5. To be more accurate, they pretended to treat her like a piece of meat on camera. Princess Donna made sure she was cared for, comfortable, and consenting at all times. 

Life Affirming Politics

This is a continuation of a response to @marmanold on Micro.blog.

While being pro choice, Democratic priorities would do a lot to reduce the number of abortions:

  • Better and ideally free access to healthcare, especially prenatal and postnatal. Whatever our options are on the status of fetuses, we can all agree that taking care of mother’s during pregnancy and their children after birth is life affirming.

  • A more equal distribution of wealth, free daycare, etc. A significant number of women who get abortions already have children and cite financial reasons about not being able to afford to raise more.

  • Regulation of industries and pollution controls. Environmental factors have clearly been shown to affect the health of children both pre and post birth.

  • One of the most effective methods of reducing abortions is comprehensive sex end and free widely available contraception. Pro-life groups almost always oppose these as well. Abstinence education only delays sexual activity by about 6 months, but when the teens do have sex, they are much more likely to not use contraception.

Here’s a really great post from a woman who was strongly pro-life in her teens and was disillusioned with the movement when she learned more in college. She argues pro-life organizations (not individuals) are more anti-sex and anti-woman than they pro fetuses and babies.


Initial Thoughts About “religious myths recycled as ersatz social science”

@ayjay wrote a strong piece challenging tensions within contemporary liberalism. I need to spend more time digesting it and the piece by John Gray that he links to. Here are some initial reactions though:

  • Gray claims that liberal elites have run the West for the past 30 years. Yet, from the 80s onwards the US has been on a rightward march from the economic liberalism of the New Deal through the Great Society. Conservative thinkers and Republicans seem to have been setting the terms of the debate.

  • The austerity in response to Great Recession had much more to do with conservative Austrian Economics than liberal Keynesian solutions. How much have the resulting economic shocks fueled the extreme left and right? Also, the Chicago School’s 90s shock therapy for Russia may have quite a bit to do with their illiberal turn.

  • I guess the upshot of the above is a question about the relationship between economic beliefs and social beliefs. Has the move back towards conservative economics and greater income inequality affected the place of liberalism within society? Are conservative social beliefs connected to the conservative economic approach? And, if so, how does that relationship affect the liberal response to the former?

  • I need to re-read Coates’ article, but as I remember it, the essence was that because so much of America’s wealth was built off of the violent exploitation and oppression of African Americans, reparations are the only potential way to make amends. And that reparations will force America to acknowledge the continuing legacy of white surpremacy, just as German reparations has helped their acceptance of responsibility for the Shoah.

  • Arguments about the most effective way to address injustice have a history of being used to deflect change. I think it can be easy to advocate calm and restraint when one is not personally suffering from the problem. Aggressive action may be necessary to bring the existing tensions to the surface. Where there is systematic oppression, sometimes the best thing for the privileged to do is just listen and follow.


Such Disrespect!

I wrote this mostly as a parody of certain men raging at women making minor geek culture mistakes. There is a slight bit of actual annoyance at Ebony attributing a cinematographer’s contribution to a director.1 More importantly the episode is an incisive discussion of Blindspotting.

Oh, oh, Ebony messed up big time today on Feminist Fequency Radio #37. She talks about film directors who know how to light brown skin. Talk about disrespecting cinematographers! Yes, some directors are involved with lighting, but even they collaborate with their cinematographers: the latter are the ones specifically trained in lighting and capturing light on film!

As a theatrical lighting designer, I’m sorta sensitive to this, as I’m the one doing the equivalent in live performance. And, as a aside, POC are such a pleasure to light as there’s so much more color to bring out than in pasty white people.

For those of you who haven’t seen it recently, check out Purple Rain again. The lighting throughout the film is so good. There’s one scene in the basement with acid yellow lighting making Prince’s father so much more threatening. And it would have turned a white person into a lemon.


  1. There is a possibility that this annoyance is gendered, but I’m pretty sure I’d be equally annoyed by this misattribition made by anyone, regardless of their position on the gender spectrum. 

Kevin Drum Bets Hard On Genetics

A few days back, Kevin Drum wrote a post about the future influence of genetic engineering on social policy. I’m going to leave aside the moral argument that everyone deserves a decent standard of living and focus on two of his assumptions.

  • How much does parental upbringing affect any of this? I’m going to put my money on “not much,” but it’s hardly worth making guesses anymore. In a decade or two we’ll know.
  • How much effect does the entire environment outside the womb have starting with the day a baby is delivered? I’m going to put my money on “some,” but that’s as far as I’ll go.

I strongly question his assertation that genetics and epigentics will be found to be overwhelming determinative of talent and skill.1 How will that square with studies that show children of wealthier and/or highly educated parents do better academically? Or that teachers grade girls’ math tests more harshly than boys’ when names are included, but the opposite when names are redacted?2 For a specific example3, Ta-Nehisi Coates attributes much of his success as a writer to his family having a ton of books around and his father’s philosophy that he should learn about Black and African history as a child. So it’s not simply wealth.

Also, while genes may somewhat affect effort and focus, there is truth to the saying “invention is 90% perspiration.” The Williams sisters were talented children, but their monomaniacal father’s emphasis on practice enhanced that talent. Bill Russell’s genes were probably not “worse” than LeBron James’s, but sports medicine, travel conditions, equipment4, quality of the competition, social mores, etc has vastly changed. Trying to project how Russell would perform today is really difficult, yet the genetic component is swapped by environmental factors.

Also, “talent” is most likely not measurable on a single axis. Many, if not all fields, depend on collaboration. Scientists work in large groups and it probably is hard to determine which skills are more important than others: the forward thinker may get first credit on the paper, but the quiet organizer may have been just as essential. And that doesn’t count paradigm shifts needing people who think outside the box while within paradigms/normal science, there must be people focused on advancing the current model. The performing arts is also utterly dependent on people bringing diverse crafts together: one can be the most brilliant film director in the world, but if one doesn’t have good designers, actors, etc, the films will suffer. And “good” means both talented and attracted to one’s style (a great blockbuster cinematographer would probably not mesh with Tarkovsky).

Human society is likely too complex for there to be a “best” genetic makeup. Will it even be possible to “max out” mental agility and organization and perseverance, etc at the same time? Even if it is possible, the influence of one’s family, peers, mentors will shape one’s own attitude towards one’s talents. Imagine if Donald Trump and Bill Gates both paid for “enhancing” their grandchildren. I have no doubt those children would develop differently even if they received the exact same “cocktail”. The incentives in a family without a moral compass, without curiosity, without emotional closeness are vastly different than a family who has donated a tremendous amount of money to diseases in the global south, who (I’m guessing) values the pursuit of knowledge, and who are surely more emotionally balanced than the Trump clan.5

Humans are tremendously social animals; it would be quite strange if the social environment did not continue to have similarly strong influence.


  1. Kevin himself is an advocate of the lead theory of crime. Given that lead is an environmental factor, it’s a bit confusing he downplays those here. 
  2. I really should find these studies and cite them. Sorry for being lazy; I’ll try to add some in a future update. 
  3. Yes, the plural of anecdote is not data. 
  4. The difference in something as simple seeming as shoes has had a massive effect. 
  5. No matter how callous Bill and Melinda may be, I have trouble imaging them being more instrumental about family relationships than Donald. In fact, in the Trump family, I might worry about having the next generation be too intelligent. They’d either react with horror and flee or be much better at backstabbing politics and displace the current members. Can you imagine the damage Donald Jr. could do to his father if he were smart?