Friday, March 09, 2012

What Is It About Sex?

While it has been fun to watch the sinking ships called advertisers desert the rat's radio show, it has been sad to be bombarded by the demand that only a single narrative is operative through this whole mess. Since the narratives themselves share nothing in common, it becomes impossible to arbitrate which should have primacy. Is it about women's health and equality and freedom? Is it about sex and sexuality? Is it about the ethical demands of a faithful life? Is it about the freedom of religious institutions to practice their faith without coercion by the state?

I suppose it's about all of them.

If this were about access to insulin, I'm not sure the debate would be as heated. Diabetes just doesn't have that ring of titillation to it that contraception does.

The use of biochemical contraception was not only a pharmacological breakthrough; it sparked a social and cultural revolution the reverberations of which are still present. While contraception existed prior to the pill - the condom is probably the oldest pharmacological device invented; turtle-shell condoms pre-dating written language have been found in both Mesopotamia and China - the pill is so effective it opened up a world of possibilities for women that hadn't existed. Before the pill, if a couple had sex, despite the prevalence of the condom, it was the man's decision whether or not to proactively prevent insemination. The burden of sex was born disproportionately by women in the forms of pregnancy and social ostracism. Now, with the fear of pregnancy set to one side, women had the opportunity to explore their sexuality in ways that had previously been the sole provenance of men.

Entwined within this whole discussion, yet barely brushed against, are matters of personal and social piety regarding sex. In the west, which for a variety of reasons considered itself the arbiter of proper social and cultural mores for the entire planet, the Christian teaching regarding human sexuality (little different from the teachings of other religions) had placed the moral burden for sexual immorality on women. Even a cursory examination of the history of various Christian teachers referring to women as "ordure" and "vomit", to their sexual organs as "pits of despair", and to women's basic moral stance as little different from the view of the demonic forces constantly tempting men away from virtue should convince anyone that ours has been, and in large measure continues to be, a society deeply bound to a fear and hatred of women, and the power they have over men as sexual beings.

Freeing women from the burden of pregnancy and child-rearing was bound to tear open the fragile social super-ego that maintained the truce between the sexes. The male id, open now to the frightful proposition that, regardless of law and custom, women were now as free as men to explore and exploit their sexuality, has reacted violently. Recent events should disabuse any but the most casual observer that there still lies within the western heart a deep revulsion and fear of the power women have over men because of sexual desire.

In the meantime, some Christian denominations have been re-examining the "traditional" teachings of the faith regarding human sexuality and gender relations. Not to remove the sting of the strictures against fornication; rather to come to a deeper understanding of why it might be thought a good thing for human beings to treat the gift of sexuality with more care than, say, defecation. Of course, there have been other Christian denominations that have adamantly refused to revisit "traditional" teachings about human sexuality, seeing in the strict insistence on chastity and forbearance a solid rod for imposing what they see as both a personal and social good.

One can, I would think, affirm both the goodness of human sexuality as a gift from God without removing from any teaching about human sexuality the sting of restriction. Indeed, in coming to understand human sexuality as a good thing, a marvelous gift of a loving God, the demand for chastity makes as much if not more sense than in the "traditional" teaching that sees sex as an evil, with women as the snare drawing us to that evil against our (male) better judgments. One can, in other words, insist that living a disciplined sexual life is in keeping with a proper, faithful understanding of God's love for humanity, for creation, and for society without demeaning sexuality or human beings (women in particular) in the process.

One would also think it quite possible to affirm the social benefits that come with a proper use of the pill. The question, it seems, has become whether or not we Christians, through our organizations, either can or should or do subsidize certain practices that run counter to our teaching about how best to live a fully human, fully ethical life. That is, recognizing that women who are not married or otherwise in a monogamous relationship might wish to use the contraceptive pill to prevent unwanted pregnancy as they have sex, should church's and church-affiliated organizations be put in the position of providing what was once called occasions of sin?

It seems to me we are here up against what one writer has noted is a conflict between our commitment to Civil Theology and Christian Theology. This is not only, or at least shouldn't be, an issue of primacy. Again, as the linked author notes, for Christians, our first duty is to the Kingdom of God as professed and witnessed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet, this also places upon us the burden of being faithful within our reality as citizens of various nations, to whose maintenance and success we are called just as much as to the ongoing project of the furthering of God's kingdom. We can, I suppose see this as a simple enough conflict, in the glare of right and wrong, good and evil, relying not only upon our primary commitment to God and the Kingdom to which we are to bear witness in both word and deed. All the same, we should also recognize that the God incarnate in Jesus Christ was not a God of compulsion. On the contrary, as St. Paul noted so clearly, the most precious gift we received from the Father in the Son through the Spirit is freedom - for freedom's sake.

We should also recognize the fundamental pluralism and diversity of the world in which we live. We Christians can always choose the path of distinctiveness rather than that of accommodation to the larger society in which it finds itself; this has always been a temptation, one even at its height of social, legal, and cultural influence the Church has found difficulty resisting. At the heart of the conflict, of course, is how are we to remain faithful witnesses to the Christ who proclaimed release from the bonds that hold us while following what seems to many a sensible legal requirement for equal treatment for the health care of both men and women.

At the end of the day, it seems to me that the multiply entwined ethical, political, social, legal, theological, and cultural demands show why this particular matter has, despite a wide social consensus on the singular issue of contraception (even among Roman Catholics, who oppose the church's official teaching not only in word but also in deed by overwhelming majorities) brought to the surface the antagonisms we have seen over the past couple weeks. I don't have a final answer because I'm not sure there is one. Reasonable people of good faith can disagree on the matter (and even on my presentation here) without either of them being wrong. For myself - the only one for whom I can and do speak - I see no reason why any institution should deny access to contraceptive care as part of a comprehensive benefits package; I do not see how this compromises any ethical, theological, or social teaching the Church in question might profess. Others are free to disagree. All I've tried to do here is show why this matter has become the source of so much heat and light.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

What Sandra Said (UPDATE, UPDATE II)

I thought it might be a nice idea to offer folks the opportunity to read Sandra Fluke's testimony before Congress. The transcript is easy enough to find. Instead of talking about Limbaugh, let's hear what Ms. Fluke said. It isn't very long at all, and the key portion follows:
This is the message that not requiring coverage of contraception sends. A
woman’s reproductive healthcare isn’t a necessity, isn’t a priority. One student told us that she knew birth control wasn’t covered, and she assumed that’s how Georgetown’s insurance handled all of women’s sexual healthcare, so when she was raped, she didn’t go to the doctor even to be examined or tested for sexually transmitted infections because she thought insurance wasn’t going to cover something like that, something that was related to a woman’s reproductive health.
As one student put it, “this policy communicates to female students that our school doesn’t understand our needs.” These are not feelings that male fellow students experience. And they’re not burdens that male students must shoulder.

In the media lately, conservative Catholic organizations have been asking: what did we expect when we enrolled at a Catholic school? We can only answer that we expected women to be treated equally, to not have our school create untenable burdens that impede our academic success. We expected that our schools would live up to the Jesuit creed of cura personalis, to care for the whole person, by meeting all of our medical needs. We expected that when we told our universities of the problems this policy created for students, they would help us. We expected
that when 94% of students opposed the policy, the university would respect our choices regarding insurance students pay for completely unsubsidized by the university. We did not expect that women would be told in the national media that if we wanted comprehensive insurance that met our needs, not just those of men, we should have gone to school elsewhere, even if that meant a less prestigious university. We refuse to pick between a quality education and our health, and weresent that, in the 21st century, anyone thinks it’s acceptable to ask us to make this
choice simply because we are women.
It's impossible to find a transcript this morning from Limbaugh's program (I've tried every which way; even the link at Google take you to a blank page on his website), but luckily, someone did post a partial transcript.
A Georgetown co-ed told Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s hearing that the women in her law school program are having so much sex that they’re going broke, so you and I should pay for their birth control….Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke said that it’s too expensive to have sex in law school without mandated insurance coverage. Apparently,four out of every ten co-eds are having so much sex that it’s hard to make ends meet if they have to pay for their own contraception, Fluke’s research shows.”

Can you imagine if you’re her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope. “‘Forty percent of the female students at Georgetown Law reported to us that they struggled financially as a result of this policy (Georgetown student insurance not covering contraception), Fluke reported. It costs a female student $3,000 to have protected sex over the course of her three-year stint in law school, according to her calculations.

“‘Without insurance coverage, contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school,’ Fluke told the hearing. $3,000 for birth control in three years? That’s a thousand dollars a year of sex — and, she wants us to pay for it.”…You guys who are thinking you’re not gonna go to college? Let me just say one thing to you: Georgetown. They’re admitting before congressional committee that they’re having so much sex they can’t afford the birth control pills!

What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch....
Apart from having no relationship whatever to what Fluke actually said, Limbaugh's depraved mind sexualized this young woman to the point the real Sandra Fluke ceased to exist.

So, there you are. Ms. Fluke's testimony versus Limbaugh's . . . whatever it was.

UPDATE: At Salon, Iris Carmon takes on the growing pushback that claims liberal misogyny is just as bad as anything Rush said.
But the problem with Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, and other conservative commentators who gleefully approved of Rush, was not just their use of words “slut” and “prostitute” — the two words on which Powers (and Mitt Romney!) conveniently focused. As this helpful ThinkProgress mashup helps drive home, those words, or the sexualization of a woman simply because she’s out in public being female, are not the beginning and end of his offense. His offenses include defending the exclusion of contraception coverage on the grounds that he and his listeners shouldn’t have to pay for the greedy sexing of loose women (once again, that’s not how insurance works), and using leering, crude sexuality to demean a woman simply because she spoke up about reproductive health.
Yes, Ed Schultz called Laura Ingraham a "slut". He apologized the next day and exiled himself from the airwaves for a week immediately afterward. Yes, Maher called Sarah Palin a "slut". That he, along with long-time Hilary-haters Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann are still on the air is due far less to some liberal conspiracy against women than to corporate misogyny that supports them in their disgusting habits (I ignore Maher; Matthews and Olbermann are regularly taken to task for their hate-filled rants by many on the left, including me).

It would be ridiculous to ignore Limbaugh's two decades of misogyny when talking about this. Media Matters for America has, quite literally, pages and pages of transcripts from Limbaugh's show where he routinely treats women with disdain, crassly sexualizing any and every woman whose name crosses his desk.

The fight for women's equality doesn't know political parties or ideologies. This isn't about the fact that Limbaugh is "conservative". It is, rather, about the fact that his long history of pornographic musings about women as a way of dismissing their voices is finally catching up to him.

UPDATE II: Well, at least I'm not going totally insane.
The Atlantic Wire points out that his website has scrubbed a few offensive comments. While the “slut” comments still show up in other rants by Limbaugh, his site has removed his sex tapes comment from March 1. “The pages were clearly working a few days ago — several sites linked to them,” Elspeth Reeve reports. “The pages don’t show up on the February 29 and March 1 archives, either, though links to them still exist on other transcripts related to the controversy.”

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

"Why is reality-denial turning out so badly . . .?"

It was a couple years ago that John Quiggin and others were discussing "agnotology", a discussion I joined. Now, a couple years later, and Quiggin wonders why this once-successful strategy seems to be crumbling?
The news that Republican members of the Wyoming Legislature wanted the state to investigate buying an aircraft carrier[1] as insurance against a possible collapse of the US seems as good an occasion as any to signify the final descent of the party into irredeemable loopiness. Add to that the revival of birtherism, the inability to deal with Rush Limbaugh, and the absence of any coherent economic policy except tax cuts for the rich and you have a party that has seriously lost touch with reality.


On any standard political calculus, they ought to be cruising towards a clean sweep in November – the economy is still in poor shape, and enthusiasm for Obama has declined massively as a result of policies in areas like civil liberties[2]. Instead, Republican pundits are already giving up on the Presidential election, and even on the Senate, and are starting to focus on whether they can even retain control of the House.[3]
A couple things about Quiggin's post. In comments, several readers take him to task on points two and three, variously (although few quibble about both; there are partisans for each). I'd rather not dive too deeply in to the well of these two points so much as remark that they are peripheral to Quiggin's main point: the Republican Party, as an institution, has invested so much in such a wide variety of reality-denying, it has ceased to function as a viable institution for organizing real political interests and public grievances. In the run up to the mid-term elections in 2010, with the economy still not doing much despite Pres. Obama's assurances that it should be chugging right along; with the drawn-out fight over the Affordable Care Act still rumbling around, the frenzy feeding the starbursting career of Glenn Beck; some tactical application of agnotology seemed to work. With the Republican victory that fall, however, they paid attention to the wrong investments that brought them victory. It wasn't the successful application of craziness like birtherism or tax-cuts-for-the-rich; it was the many failings of the Obama Administration that brought the spoils of victory their way.

Time, as the saying goes, has marched onward. The Affordable Care Act, with its provisions providing expanded health care for people under their parents' insurance plans and those with pre-existing conditions, has already started to show its many benefits. The economy seems to be yawning and stretching, even though it hasn't quite awakened all the way yet. Most of all, the race for the Republican nomination has shown that a once great political party has devolved to a contest among an ego-maniacal mediocrity, a religious zealot obsessed with other people's sex lives, an aging Bircher, and the ephemeral front-runner who seems to stand for whatever he believes at any given moment might win him an applause line.

Reasonable people can disagree, sometimes with gusto, vehemence, and even a bit of vitriol, about things for which they feel much passion. Unreasonable people, however, paint all existence as a struggle between good and evil, usually with themselves as the White Knights (with the "White" having a double meaning in our racist society) standing athwart the varieties of evil and immorality and demanding an end. Thus, for example, Feodor and I can disagree on support for Pres. Obama and some of his policies, yet still remain on friendly terms. Why? Because we share a fundamental respect for certain things, among which first and foremost is reality. Others, it seems, insist that reality is a fungible concept, open to whatever definition fits best the current moment. Thus, for example, when I observed that real socialists were dismissive of Pres. Obama, opposing much of his agenda, I was told by one right-wing blogger that "socialist" has many definitions, and I was privileging my own; he was using his own, therefore the President is a socialist.

How do you deal with something like that?

You ignore it.

That isn't cowardice. Acting as if something that is not real in fact is real only enables the on-going insanity. I would no more choose to discuss matters with someone who insists reality is whatever he chooses to say it is than I would trust a medical doctor who didn't accept neo-Darwinian evolution.

There is the way things actually are. There is the way we human beings choose to talk about them. The two never - quite - meet up, and there is always a need for a bit of space, some humility if you will, to give reality the room it needs to intrude upon our most cherished beliefs. For the Republican Party as it currently exists, "ideology" - left and right, conservative and liberal - not longer serves to define them. Indeed, voters and many office-holders among the Republican Party, have left politics, the negotiation of power relationships within a society, to one side altogether.

The short answer to Quiggin should be clear enough, regardless of political preference, party identification, or any other identifier: Reality denying is turning out badly because reality always comes around and kicks our asses. We may not like that; we may not acknowledge what has happened as precisely that, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Here's A Reason

For those who may be wondering if I'm serious about the whole "not voting for Barack Obama in November" thing, trust me: I am deadly serious. As deadly, apparently, as any President wishing to kill an American citizen, at least according to Eric "I'm not John Ashcroft because I uncovered the boobies" Holder, our Attorney General:
On Monday, the Obama administration explained when it's allowed to kill you.

Speaking to students and faculty at Northwestern University law school, Attorney General Eric Holder laid out in greater detail than ever before the legal theory behind the administration's belief that it can kill American citizens suspected of terrorism without charge or trial. In the 5,000-word speech, the nation's top law enforcement official directly confronted critics who allege that the targeted killing of American citizens violates the Constitution.
Charlie Pierce is right. John Yoo's "torture memo" is small potatoes compared to this scary pile of crap. And forgive me if I laugh at you when you say, "But it's OK, because Obama would never abuse such authority." The authority itself is abusive. I no more trust Barack Obama with this alleged authority to kill folks because he says so that I trusted the Bush Administration to waterboard because, hey, it isn't torture if I say it isn't torture. Right?
There won't be any drone strikes in Denver anytime soon. But you might want to be careful when traveling abroad, because Holder made it clear that there are no geographical limits in the fight against Al Qaeda. "Neither Congress nor our federal courts has limited the geographic scope of our ability to use force to the current conflict in Afghanistan," Holder said. "We are at war with a stateless enemy, prone to shifting operations from country to country."
This is the same tired, horrible argument we've been hearing from war-porn-bloggers for years now. Just because it's coming from an allegedly Democratic Attorney General doesn't suddenly make me go, "Wow! The fact that terrorists aren't regular soldiers is something I never realized before. Here you go, Executive Branch, let me hand you this shred of the Constitution." The point, I thought, was to do this whole fight-against-al-Qaeda better than the losers in the last Administration. Like the man said, wrong again, honey.
If the standards for when the government can send a deadly flying robot to vaporize you sound a bit subjective, that's because they are. Holder made clear that decisions about which citizens the government can kill are the exclusive province of the executive branch, because only the executive branch possess the "expertise and immediate access to information" to make these life-and-death judgments.

Holder argues that "robust oversight" is provided by Congress, but that "oversight" actually amounts to members of the relevant congressional committees being briefed. Press reports suggest this can simply amount to a curt fax to intelligence committees notifying them after the fact that an American has been added to a "kill list." It also seems like it would be difficult for Congress to provide "robust oversight" of the targeted killing program when intelligence committee members like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are still demanding to see the actual legal memo justifying the policy.
I trust Congress's robust oversight powers. They certainly did a bang-up job with Enron, AIG,the investment banks, BP, the natural gas industry (actually, that's a lie; since 2005, fracking for natural gas has been exempt from testing and pretty much any environmental oversight), and that whole Iraq war thing. How many billions just vanished in to the pockets and bank accounts of war profiteers while we reduced Iraq to a steaming pile of rubble and our soldiers, Marines, and airmen were blown to bits or had their psyches shattered, only to be shoveled in to rat-infested VA hovels? I've got your Congressional oversight right here.
The question is no longer an abstract one. In September, radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in Yemen alongside fellow American Samir Khan. Awlaki and Khan produced the English-language extremist publication Inspire, but until the sentencing of underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab, the US government provided little evidence they were much more than propagandists. Awlaki's son, Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki, also an American citizen, was killed about a month later.

These deaths and those to come, Holder insisted Monday, do not represent a violation of America's founding principles. "This is an indicator of our times," Holder said, "not a departure from our laws and our values."
At the time, I stated:
there are people out there who are actively engaged in planning to do our country and our fellow Americans serious physical harm. We may not like that protecting the United States involves messy stuff like killing people, but this isn't about people's feelings. We may not like that some of those who are targets of our national defense are fellow Americans.
I now take that stupid, purblind defense of the indefensible back. The Obama Administration,in the person of AG Holder has now stated it is legal to kill Americans.



The naked, Cheneyesque heart of the Obama Administration was laid bare yesterday by AG Holder. I see no reason to grant them my vote anymore than the Bush Administration deserved it. Rather than show the world we could fight terrorists while adhering not to "our principles and values" but - hey! what a shock! - our Constitution, Obama and his Administration has gone Full Monty, letting it all hang out there for the world to see.

I do so hope the Nobel committee calls and asks for the statue and check back.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Sweet Meats

You thought New Coke was bad?
In a shocking decision delivered Feb 28th, President Obama's Security and Exchange Commission ruled that PepsiCo's use of aborted fetal remains in their research and development agreement with Senomyx to produce flavor enhancers falls under "ordinary business operations."
Sounds horrible doesn't it? Well, as this is Bizarro World, things aren't quite what they may first appear as reported among the fruits and nuts:
While fetal components are currently not in the final product, there is growing concern among consumers that it could happen in the near future. With the explosion of health foods on the market, there is nothing to stop companies from using fetal remains as protein ingredients.
In other words, obviously no one is experimenting with fetal tissue as a flavor additive. All the same, since there are no rules preventing it, it is quite possible that it could happen. After all, who wants to finish off a nice, fresh Pepsi on a hot summer day, only to discover they've just drunk they're neighbor's aborted fetus? Since there are no rules regarding the use of fetal tissue in foods, even though it isn't happening, it could.

Yes, indeed.

Something For Most Everyone

Because I feel like it, that's why.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Event Horizon Of Thoughtfulness

In down time, I have wondered over the years, "What would the comment section of this blog look like if it were more popular?"

The reality of an answer came crashing down on me today when, after reading an op-ed article on American parenting in today's WaPo, I decided to wade through the first few comments.

The article itself offers the hardly shocking thought that, perhaps, parents should loosen up a tad, set some limits, encourage some discipline, then make sure their kids have a chance to be kids, all the while making sure that, as parents, they are taking care of themselves. One could quibble about bits and pieces here and there, such as the tendentious, repeated reminder that America doesn't provide either paid parenting leave or quality, state-sponsored child care (the French creche on the corner becomes a mantra in the article). I say "quibble" because, while I would certainly support such policies, I can understand how they might just become a source for arguments. Taken as a whole, though, the article isn't really much more than a calming voice for parents: sit down, have a cup of coffee, and stop trying so damn hard. Good advice, by and large, rooted as it is in common sense.

Then along come the comments. Man, oh man, oh man. Let's just say I am SSSOOOOOOO glad no one likes this blog.

Some fun begins when one commenter, "Nymous", writes: "The misery of American parents is made of profits. Capitalism fails at child care and health care miserably." "Phiggits" responds "that doesn't even make sense. Capitalism is agnostic when it comes to how public money is spent. sounds like you just have an axe to grind. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail..." to which Nymous responds (carefully, without losing any cool even though the point was clear enough, for a blog comment): "Those two things it does really badly. They're related & get interwoven too. That's why I put them together. I don't think you have a very good understanding of capitalism if you think it's somehow agnostic towards literally any way of profiting."

Then the fun really begins with Sharpes50: "Those profits from the tax payers dumped into a never ending hole are sure helping 30 million parents of uneducated illegal aliens." That's the kind of thing that makes me wonder if it's possible to communicate with other people. A sentence like this is like overstuffed luggage. Popping it open to unpack it sends stuff flying all over the room, leaving you wondering how to get a handle on it, where to begin. Shouting something like this is so much easier than saying something.

Then there's Nparry: "First, you want taxpayers (that's including you parents) want the government to pay for birth control, then you want to pay you for having the baby, then pay for a creche, then lunch at school for 18 years, followed by funding for college. A couple of years work, then your baby is ready for unemployment benefits. If this is what is parenting is - relentless whining - decide beforehand, we'll pay for the birth control glady. It's that much cheaper!!"

There's little to no actual discussion of the article, save for a tossed-off sentence like this from peterroach: "This article describes parent neurosis." And Telin writes, in part: "Article starts out with a "no" we are not a nation devolving into "ad" parenting and then points out every reason that we are."

The article provides reports on social science surveys and statistical data, the latter with links for readers to check for themselves (the way too much academic research sits behind pay-walls, especially when it is used in journalism, is really annoying; if a study is used in the popular press, make it available for readers to see for themselves!). Little to none of the relevant data is discussed. Most of the comments revolve around "my opinion". The article is an opinion piece; it is one backed up with data that just sits there, not referenced or checked either for accuracy or relevance. Even the best opinion is meaningless if no one decides to check and see if the facts the person holding it pass muster.

Let's just say I'm glad I don't have slews of commenters. The whole intent of this humble little spot is for me to vent on occasion concerning matters I think are important. Not interested in starting a discussion, unless those who are commenting are actually discussing what I wrote, I see little value in argument or discussion for its own sake, as such usually ends up being little more than pissing contests. If someone likes or agrees with something I've written, that's wonderful. No writer would deny the thrill from getting some kind of reaction from readers. On the other hand, considering the depths of idiocy comment threads can descend, it's far better to stifle attempt to keep a discussion going if it only serves to make the commenter sound off.

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