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How to decide who to vote for in primaries (including this one)

Here’s my formula for how to decide who to vote for in the primaries. It’s a two-step process:

  1. Choose which party you agree with more.
  2. Vote the person.

That’s it. Do not try to pick a candidate until you’ve picked a party. Don’t get caught up in Rand Paul’s isolationism, Donald Trump’s promise to build a yuge wall, Bernie Sanders’ desire to break up the big banks, or Hillary Clinton’s desire for more gun control. None of that will actually matter when they get into office.

Step one – picking a party – is usually the easy part (Although, apparently there are some people who evidently still insist there isn’t a real difference between the two parties. I have nothing to say to those people. This post isn’t for them. Moving on…).

Personally, I’m a Democrat. I belong to the party which believes in climate science and supports clean energy. The party for gun control. The party for civil rights. The party that doesn’t start stupid wars (at least not lately). The party where it’s ok to believe that human law should be above religious law. The party for a higher minimum wage. The party of fiscal responsibility (by which I mean not exploding the debt and then trying to force a default on that debt). The party which essentially says, we’re all in this together, rather than you’re on your own.

Anyway, that’s my party. Step 1 is done.

The next step is vote the person. This is by far the trickier step.

Is this what Democracy’s death rattle looks like?

As Amy Davidson writes in this week’s New Yorker:

It is hard to picture Sanders (much less Trump) in the Situation Room, but, if Democratic voters were to feel as liberated from the constraints of prudence as their Republican counterparts seem to, anything might happen. We could have a radical from Brooklyn and a real-estate guy from Queens facing off in debates that would sound like nothing so much as an argument on the B41 bus as it barrels down Flatbush Avenue to Kings Plaza.

It is, in my humble opinion, time for a little rebellion in this country. And as all of us who have read our Thomas Jefferson know, in Jefferson’s humble opinion a little rebellion every now and then is a good thing for our particular brand of democracy.

The year behind, the one ahead (A 2015 review and 2016 preview)

On the set of Moonshot.

On the set of Moonshot.

This year I found out where my limit is, because I passed it. You can tell because I now have, for the first time, white hair in my beard. We’re talking white, white – not gray. Look for me to be closer shaven in the coming year than I was last year in order to disguise said new white hair.

But seriously. For years and years I let time go by with a feeling of not having done enough with my life. Plans unrealized, goals not met, projects not started, or abandoned. In 2014 I began to seriously change that dynamic, and in 2015 I can say for the first time in my life that I maybe did too much.

To be fair, I am still, by my own standard, behind in life. I turned 34 this year; oh, the things I could have accomplished by now had I not been… so many things. But let us leave that extremely long list of past mistakes and regrets for another post, and continue on.

“She is the ideal religious symbol of a democratic people”

From the introduction to one of my grandmother’s several books, which seems particularly appropriate to reprint today:

There is Liberty.

She is there as troop ships pass in and out of the harbor. She is there for the boat captain, the sailor, the child born under her shadow. She is there for the refugee and the children of refugees. She is there for the school girl on her college vacation and the bride on her honeymoon. Liberty is there for the captive in eastern Europe, in southeast Asia and in prison in the United States. She is the ideal religious symbol of a democratic people- the unfailing woman who waits, who welcomes, the mother who loves impartially, who cannot be moved, whose very presence is Liberty – undefiled by the politics of time.

The full title is “Dear Miss Liberty – Letters to the Statue of Liberty,” and it can be purchased on Amazon if you’re so inclined. My grandmother, Lynne Bundesen, edited. Here are some of her other books.

A fellow St. John’s alumn describes why the ridiculous “Safe Spaces” thing would never fly there

Fellow St. John’s alumn William Kowalski writes a post I should’ve written about how the current craze against anyone who might say something offensive to someone else would never fly at St. John’s. Here’s the good stuff, but the whole thing is worth a read:

…after four years of intensive practice, most of us were able–wonder of wonders–to hold a coherent, focused, two-hour conversation on topics such as what makes a good person, what is a just state, and what Kant meant by a priori knowledge (to name just three of an infinite number of topics).

The purpose of this was to get us to form our own understanding of complex subjects–the most complex of which was ultimately our own selves. It was a lot of reading and a lot of talking. When you spoke, you were guaranteed a respectful audience. If you said something that was poorly thought out, you were going to be challenged on it immediately. Not by the administration, or by the faculty, but by your peers. Furthermore, you were expected to listen respectfully to other viewpoints, some of which you might have found odious at first, but which you might have found yourself agreeing with after a while, to your great surprise–which was, after all, the point of the whole undertaking: not to reinforce the things you already believed, but to find the holes in your system, and either make the necessary repairs or tear the whole rickety structure down and begin again.

My letter to my representative in response to the 355th mass shooting in the US so far this year

Please use this website to look up your representative, and then feel free to copy, edit, and paste this letter to your heart’s content:

Dear Mr. Van Hollen,

It’s tough to describe the anger I have with every new mass shooting. It strikes at the heart of what I think about this country and what this says about us to the world, to say nothing of my pain for the victims. I am a loyal Democrat and understand you are in a competitive primary and running for Senate, so I just wanted to take this time so you can hear from a constituent that “thoughts and prayers” are not enough on this issue.

It’s time to move the bar – asking for something small in response to tragedy, after tragedy, after tragedy, all of them preventable, is not enough. The response to mass murder on this scale cannot simply be, “well we need stronger background checks.” It must be a full-scale cultural war waged against what Warren Burger called one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the American people. That is, special interest groups’ redefinition of the 2nd amendment.

In my mind, it ought to be repealed outright, and I am willing to get behind whatever movement is organized to undertake 2nd amendment repeal. However, former justice John Paul Stevens suggested a 5-word fix to the amendment, which would add “when serving in the Militia” to the amendment, just to make it absolutely crystal clear.

The point is that only suggesting half-measures in response to perhaps our greatest national shame is not likely to get us any further than we’ve already got, which is to say nowhere. The scale of this tragedy, and the scale of this shame, deserves an appropriately proportional response: assault weapons ban, the most stringent background checks possible, limits on the size of magazine clips for all weapons, mandatory waiting periods, higher taxes, and more. Essentially, the kitchen sink.

Thank you for your time and attention to this.

– Russell Max Simon

Islamophobia and Michel Houellebecq’s Submission

IMG_20151125_124321Apparently there is an absolutely sickening “spiraling out of control” of Islamophobia in America, which means I should probably finish my Houellebecq Submission post.

Most Americans only know Michel Houellebecq (if they know him at all) because of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France earlier this year, which occurred the week Hebdo put Houellebecq on its cover and the day Houellebecq’s new book, Submission, came out.

The Muslim terrorists who stormed the Hebdo offices and killed 11 were reportedly motivated by the book’s “blasphemy,” which envisions a near future in which Muslims win the French elections and begin to institute aspects of sharia law. Houellebecq, for his part, was reportedly grief stricken over the killings, and stopped promoting the book as a result.

Finally, a modern art exhibit that I love

Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit at the Royal Academy is the thing to see right now if you’re gonna to visit an art museum in London. To me, it’s what modern art should be, but hardly ever is: a clearly articulated, original, possibly provocative but essentially subversive vision – all of which is accessible to the layperson.

Ai himself stressed this last point. In one of the commentaries which accompanied the exhibit, he said that “of course you can not force anybody to thinking or to feel the same way, but you have a responsibility to make sure your language is clear.”

I couldn’t agree more.

What tribes do I identify with?

One of the best pieces I’ve ever read about what’s responsible for the Internet-outrage cycle comes from this past January, from Scott Alexander in New Statesman. It’s worth reading in absolute full and contains far too many excellent passages for me to excerpt any particular one.

Without getting in to the argument (again, read it for yourself), the story got me thinking about tribalism generally, specifically the tribes I identify with personally. These are the groups I give the benefit of the doubt, or instinctually feel as if I should defend. The groups whose bad behavior I am more likely to excuse.