Interview with Stephin Merritt (of the Magnetic Fields)

I loved The Dispossessed as a kid, though The Left Hand of Darkness was considered the best of her novels.

I am about to read The Word for World Is Forest. The idea of space travel privileging homosexuality really struck me as a child. Perfectly practical and nifty idea. Why shouldn’t there be something that gay people are more suited for?

That is interesting.

Reproduction in space travel is a really bad idea. So gay people are the way to go.

The interview is interesting throughout.


Melancholy gay orgies in space sounds like a good idea for a Magnetic Fields song.

Seems like there are a lot of Earthbound careers that privilege homosexuality.

Like neo-Nazi - that is one full packed closet, at least in the German speaking world.

I have heard it said that virtually leaders of neo-Nazi parties in post-war Europe have been Gay. I am not sure I believe it.

Can you explain to me why you think Gay people are more likely to hate Jews?

Oddly, leading neo-Nazis (and one assumes that includes the closeted ones) in Europe rarely proclaim their hatred for Jews, at least in public. As for one that fits that closeted model, do read about this Austrian - Others upon request, though the Blues Brothers do a better job with the cliche than words alone.

Though this gay man could be the sort of person you would approve of - 'Fortuyn was often regarded as controversial due to his outspoken views about multiculturalism, immigration and Islam in the Netherlands. He called Islam "a backward culture", and was quoted as saying that if it were legally possible, he would close the borders for Muslim immigrants. He was labelled a far-right populist by his opponents and in the media, but he fiercely rejected this label. Fortuyn was openly homosexual.'

As a gay man myself I simply find your comments extremely offensive.

Its not about the jew hating it is about the cultic male comradeship.

More than a few of the Old Nazis were gay.

Maybe it was the black leather?

You know, I should be a better person. But I am not. So I can see how the conversation would go:

Potential Astronaut: Sorry. I just couldn't do Outer Space
NASA Bureaucrat: Why not? Think of the prestige.
PA: No.
NB: Think of the respect.
PA: No, no, no.
NB: Think of ... the Tony!
PA: Ngaaaaaahhhhh!

Space should be more pretty
Space should be more witty
Space should be more...
What's the word?


No matter what you do at launch control
Keep it light, keep it bright, keep it gay!
Whether it's murder, mayhem or rage
Don't complain, it's a pain
Keep it gay!

I think the rule ought to be less Carmen and more Shirley. However I think if Trump comes up with a plan to send all of America's Gays into Outer Space, well, some people might not be happy. They might have heard of the B Ark. They might have read "The Marching Morons". Odd that someone so connected with a pro-Soviet United Front group working to make Science Fiction Marxist propaganda should have produced that story.

Maybe in a future where space travel is common, some sorts of technology will exist that will allow straight people to have sex without having kids.

That's a 2040 scenario.

My comment was going to be something along the lines of:

"How nice that this guy could come up with a completely imaginary task that gays would be great for, while also managing to come up with a completely imaginary way of disqualifying straights for it. This is a real win for equality."

But I like yours better, Stuart.

Contraceptives and the measles vaccine are just inventions of science-fiction writers =)

I have read American sites that state that vaccines actually cause autism and shorten one's life.

Well, the risk factors are non-zero.

But the public health benefits are overwhelming.

It should be mandatory unless there is a known allergic reaction within the family. Once you get back into the mid to high 90s % range to have strong herd immunity, then you can start discussing loosening up again.

But, even given such a technology, would be be able to keep heterosexuals on the (you should pardon the expression) straight and narrow? Or, fifteen years out from Earth, when those biological clocks start sounding off, would we start having "accidents"? People who can't procreate at all, or who can't procreate without serious technological intervention, aren't going to be subject to the temptation to forget their pill.

So, for those interested in Merritt's battle against a PC world, a link to this WFMU show - A Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah-A-Thon with Guest DJ Stephin Merritt (first hour and a half of this program)

I'm sure that any number of Prof. Cowen's loyal readers will bask in the nostalgia of what they undoubtedly found a better world, one where racism did not need to fear to speak its name openly. Though it is possible that Sailer might not approve of a song that seems to encourage that good times roll mentality, at least among the less well educated, with their lack of native judgment - not to mention inferior clothes compared to their owners, undoubtedly due to their lack of thrift. As can be seen here -

Yep, I saw Song of South at the Pickett Shopping Center movie theater more than 40 years ago - and when checking that fact, ran across this, which that reads just like the sort of think that one of Prof. Cowen's loyal commenters would write. 'In addition, the plantation setting is sometimes criticized as idyllic and glorified. Some of this controversy stems from a misunderstanding that the film takes place during the Antebellum era, when slavery was legal.' See, unlike in these PC times, back when slavery was legal, things were better. After all, this is an economics web site, a place where people need not fear speaking what they see as the plain truth, right?

Uncle Remus stories are part of a wonderful folk tradition. Why is it better to pretend that blacks were in some kind of 200 year dormant state rather than celebrate the culture they created?

That anti-social types would be instrumental in shaping the future is absurd. Or is it? To be left alone reduces the likelihood of conflict. On the other hand, it increases the likelihood of self-absorption. That one can live and work without ever having to leave one's personal space is intriguing, but what would be the point of space travel: bowling alone, whether in one's apartment or in outer space, is still bowling alone. Social interaction is to dynamism what isolation is to complacency. Maybe we should reconsider entrusting the future to social misfits.

The era of lone mountain men exploring North America was just one stage, and I don't think that stage harmed the small frontier communities that came along later.

And their weren't really that many lone mountain men. Much of the business was conducted by relatively large operations working systematically and the era of the non indian fur trapper, as opposed to trader was very brief 1790s-1830s at the far limits.

Keep in mind that the natives were opportunistic and had regular conflicts with neighbors over territory, travel in numbers was much safer and almost all lone traders were actually formally allied with and even adopted into particular native bands or settlements.

Sure you get your crazy old hermit prospector, but hermits have always existed.

How will they have 100 different sexual partners a year when they're cooped up in a spaceship?

The quantity and quality of comments at MR are in a long term downtrend. Have we passed peak TC?

Such is life in Trump's America. Everything trends down but greed and the cult of the Almighty Dollar.

At least the food's good. Not as good as in Uruguay, but still good.

And yet Brazil is the greatest meat exporter there is, the most important orange poducer and the second most import soybeans exporter. All my relatives who immigrated to the USA say the food in America is horrible. The few times I have been there, I found it barely eatable. Spartan broth would look like Ambrosia next to American food.

Still not as good as Uruguay, you have to admit.

In first place, so-called Uruguay is a legimate part of Brazil, so technically Uruguayan food is Brazilian food. And actual Brazilian food is still better than any other food. Brazilian meals are nutritious and balanced.

Brazilians in New York City have done a miserable job of exporting this legendary food culture you speak of. There's like one block on 46th St. in Manhattan and the restaurants there are mediocre at best.

on the other hand visiting Brazilians are well known for atrocious manners, particularly during World Cup season.

Brazilian cuisine translates poorly to American conditions because it depends heavily on fresh quality ingredients and a morally superior population. Also, Brazilian food muat breath ample skies, I do not see hpw it could work in a city with a popularion density hundreds of times bigger than Brazil's. Also, lots of Brazilian dishes need fish and meat - and Brazilian fish and Brazilian cuts are the best in the world.

As for our population, as all our guests from Debret to Richard Burton to Sarah Bernhardt to Darwin to Einstein to Camus to Stroessner agree, Brazilians are polite, kind and generous. Jewish refugee Stefan Zweig was so i,pressed by Brasil that he called it "the land of the future". If Brazilians behave badly in the USA, it must be due to what criminologists call the broken window theory: if a boy smashes the window of a store, the owner will have to buy a new window, which will estimulate the window-making sector and create jobs.

That quote of Zweig's changes it's meaning when you remember he killed himself, in Brazil. Some future.

He killed himself because the ruin of the European civilization he loved so much, engulfed by the war, broke his and her wife's hearts. When everything seemed lost, they killed themselves, like the Goebbels sans the children. He actually loved to live in Brazil, the American Continent country that actually welcomed Jewish refugees instead of shipping them back to the ovens.

Many Brazilian cultural heroes killed themselves when the world's cruelty proved too much for their idealism and good faith. Santos Dummont, the real inventor of the airplane, killed himself after his invention, the one he creted for peace, was used to bomb São Paulo City during the revolution. Unlike the Wright Brothers who intended to sell the invention they did not invent to foreign governments for the killing of innocent people... But such is the American way, always worshipping the Almighty Dollar!!

Don't get complacent.

I haven't noticed any decline in quantity, what about the quality do you think has declined?

I dunno. I like it when the commenters lead me to things I've not heard of ("The Moronic Marchers" !?). I like that even the trolls here can turn on a dime and spit out economics jargon.

Those caught in Trump's orbit have less to offer, and I assume it will be much the same when Kanye West is president.

Some of the buffoon commenters have become extremely prolific and Tyler (though not Alex) has been on a long drift leftward. There are a few specific issues like Brexit, immigration, AI, Trump, and gender that MR discusses a lot but fails to shed light upon. It’s hard to interpret it charitably, because Tyler is not an idiot. He must know when he’s pushing false-but-comforting narratives. I don’t know if it’s for my reasons, but he’s driven away a lot of the commenters I came here to read.

So I guess I’d say things have happened to the content MR provides that make it less interesting and more like everybody else, and that in turn has made the comments look more like those you find under a YouTube video than those you see on Scott Alexander’s blog.

I suppose you are aware that your own post adds nothing substantive to the discussion? Maybe someday MR will have an A.I. filter which checks to see if a post adds to the discussion, and if not queries the author to explain why it should be added (assuming A.I.s alone will never be able to fully grasp the full range of "interesting or substantive" posts.) What will we do if we can't complain about Tyler and each other? Oh, what will we do?

Do you mean that it's not on topic for the trollish and silly OP?

Or that I have incorrectly diagnosed the problem Rich asked about?

MR has gone downhill. People are looking elsewhere, hence comments have deteriorated. Tyler is the root cause. But he's not a dummy and he should attempt to do something about it instead of this incessant agenda-pushing. Remember when this place was thoughtful?

Tyler is over 50. His neurons aren't firing as well at 40, and it isn't is fault so cut economist-turned- food- guru a little slack.

(My neurons firing-mis too...)

It is the lack of E. Barandiaran comments.

A slap in the face to asexuals, as well as the infertile.

Gay OK, but specifically lesbian surely? A smaller and lighter cargo than men - as long as you choose your lesbians carefully.

Not that the facts should have much significance in this fanciful thread, but women are (estimated) to have several times the risks of men in space with regard to cancer. BTW, women not only are, on average, smaller but they burn calories more efficiently than men. (Need less per day per person, and less per kJ of work expenditure - although I'd expect working with high loads, efficiency would diminish). I argue that humans aren't well equipped/designed to flourish in space, and women even less so than men. We can only speculate about children.

Wi' nae wee bairn ye'll he beget.

I am actually most partial to the novellas collected in Cities of Exile and Illusion. I would agree that The Left Hand of Darkness is the best work, though, as The Dispossessed doesn't offer quite enough discussion of the physics theories to fully live up to the promise of its extraordinary concept. The Earthsea books, particularly #3 and #5, are also spectacular.

For LeGuin fans, I think perhaps the highest quality successor I have found is The Sparrow and its sequel (by Mary Russell), which I discovered via an MR thread about science fiction books.

I'll recommend the works of Kij Johnson as a potential successor to LeGuin. sophisticated, literate, and culturally deep works of fantasy written by a woman who appreciates both male and female perspectives but doesn't grind her axe on her readers.

I didn't realize there was a fifth Earthsea book. I guess I should read it. I liked the first three, especially the second one. I thought Tehanu was kind of dull; Ursula LeGuin is a lot more interesting, or at least more novel, when she talks about the Dao or about post-Uncertainty Principle physics than when she talks about difference feminism.

I'm surprised you call out #3 and #5 considering I find those to be the weakest in the series. #5 is particular is such an odd departure from the tone and feel of the rest of the series and honestly feels like a bit of a retcon in order to appeal to more contemporary views on sexism and class. Came across more like fan-fiction than a true sequel. Personally I enjoyed #2 the most.

*Nothing happens* in the Left Hand of Darkness. Ice planet, five sexes... nothing. I gave up 40 pages into The Beginning Place. Why? Nothing happens. Interesting C.S. Lewis type beginning and then zzzz.... So, The Earthsea books are my last attempt. Maybe. In 2038.

Maybe Earthsea is the opposite: boring beginning opens up into great story? I tried #1 in the series when I found a 50 cent paperback, vaguely recalling Le Guin tut-tutting that JK Rowling didn't acknowledge a debt there. I figured there's no more accessible intro to an author than a children's book, and if HP echoes it, it could hardly fail to entertain for an evening. Mistaken. The protagonist was dull. The trope of power-gained-through-naming-things, if I recall, wasn't enough to generate plot points, nor was the barely-limned world particularly interesting, nor the villain - "the shadow."

I will court opprobrium and just call it - JK Rowling did it a whole lot better, and seems like she put a whole lot more work into it. Cleverness clearly trumps "lyrical" when it comes to kids' books.

But I'll give "Cities of Exile and Illusion" a go.

"I am about to read The Word for World Is Forest. The idea of space travel privileging homosexuality really struck me as a child."

"The Word for World is Forest" is my favorite of the LeGuin books and stories that I've read. It's been decades since I've read it, but I don't remember any homosexuality in it. So the quoted interviewer may have been verbalizing a random stream of thoughts, i.e. purposeful non-sequitur?

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