About the author

Matt is the author, co-author, secondary-author, ghost-author, and non-author of articles, speeches, book chapters, and even entire books! The most recent is his blockbuster The Accidental Activist, which Amazon claims is by his wife Anne Green. So it goes. Currently, he is President of One Step for Animals; previously, he was shitcanned from so many nonprofits that we can’t list them all here. Before Matt’s unfortunate encounter with activism, he was an aerospace engineer who wanted to work for NASA (to impress Carl Sagan). His hobbies include photography, almost dying, and {REDACTED}. He lives in Tucson with Anne, along with no dogs, no cats, no guinea pigs, and only the occasional snake or scorpion.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Kat Woods has a message for Effective Altruists

A point I harp on in Losing My Religions (not because I'm so smart, but because I have effed up so much in my life):

To be an EA is to find out, again and again and again, that what you thought was the best thing to do was wrong. You think you know what’s highest impact and you’re almost certainly seriously mistaken.

Every single time I have been so damn certain that this was the time we’d finally found the thing that totally definitely helped in a large way.

The entire post is a great (and quick) read!

That's not a cat!


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Monday, August 8, 2022

Cut Chapter: Sportsball! Redux: Stillers!

In Losing My Religions, I have a chapter called Sportsball! about my athletic misadventures. I also had this chapter, which has now been cut:

(This Sportsball! chapter is, in most ways, even worse than the first. Sorry. If for some reason you don’t skip this, at least you’ll know the names of the teams, instead of reading about the Calvert Senecas [yes, I know – “Senecas” – ugh].)


In both
The Demon Haunted World (another book you should read instead of this one) and ​​Billions and Billions (chapter three, “Quantification”) Carl Sagan, a person you would think of as leading only a life of the mind, wrote about how he can get caught up in rooting for sports teams. They tap into our primal tribalism, even when we can rationally realize that they are (generally) just conglomerations of rich men who will go wherever they are paid the most.


In his case, living a life mostly of the mind but with some sports was irresistible to the ladies. Uncle Carl married like millions and millions of women, including to the brilliant biologist Lynn Margulis, who developed the theory of symbiosis to explain how simple cells became complex. If you’re not in the mood for yet another book recommendation, check out the 2017 movie Symbiotic Life.


Sagan’s last wife, Ann Druyan, wrote the epilogue to Billions and Billions, his last book. In it, she tells the story of their love affair. Although I knew the general story, reading her telling, after Carl died, brought tears to my eyes. I was close to sobbing. It is so incredibly beautiful and moving. It saddened me deeply to know that it lasted so short a time.


Back to Sportsball!

I have followed a number of teams with great interest over the years. The Detroit Tigers have been the most frustrating. I have probably listened to close to a thousand of their games on the radio, WJR. (One hundred and sixty five games a year, and I probably tuned in to most for a number of years growing up.) I listened to Ernie Harwell and Paul Casey narrate the games while I did all sorts of things, like mowing the lawn, holding a transistor radio (Google it) in one hand and pushing a lawnmower with another. In 2006, well after retirement, Ernie narrated an opening to Game Two of the World Series, talking about what the Tigers meant to Detroit, a city whose residents deserve something to root for. It was incredibly moving. They won that game against St. Louis, but it was their only victory the entire Series – another heartbreak from a string of heartbreaks around that time.

The only year my devotion paid off was 1984 [natch] and boy howdy did it. They started the year winning nine of their first ten games, and 35 of their first 40, still a record. They swept the first round of the playoffs, and won the World Series in five games. It was absolutely thrilling, and I think I read every book about that season. I can even tell you who had the game winning RBI in the last game of the world series: Rusty Kuntz – a little sacrifice fly that the second baseman caught running away from the infield. Rusty was not a star, not even anyone you would ever know from a baseball book, but he technically won the Series. (They would have won without his RBI.)


The first holiday season we ever spent in Arizona was in 2000, at a rental house outside of Phoenix. (Sunshine! Sweet, sweet sunshine!) On the television, dad came across a replay of game five of that 1984 Series. I was able to watch Rusty’s sac fly again. It was great.

(If you want to watch something amazing, Google “Kirk Gibson 1988 home run.” Watch the full at bat, not just the final pitch. Gibson was a star with the ‘84 Tigers and then went on to this, one of the most incredible at bats ever.)


I have also been a fan of the Georgetown Hoyas, LA Lakers, and the UConn Lady Huskies. The latter is because of a donor who has supported the work of my nonprofits for over a quarter century. I came into it when they won everything, so the past five seasons – when they’ve made the Final Four but not won it all – have been rough.

Also Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods is, of course, a disappointment as a human being, but quite an incredible story in terms of golf + race, and just pure mastery of a sport. Think about it: From 2004-2010, he won one-third of the tournaments he played. From 1997-2002, he won eight of twenty-four majors. Him against every single one of the best golfers from all around the world, he won thirty-three percent of the time. Holy chicken!


Other than Tiger, who has won over 80 times on the PGA tour, the fandom that has had the greatest payoff for me has been the Pittsburgh Steelers. Football was the sport specifically singled out by Uncle Carl as tapping into our deep tribal nature: “Football is a thinly disguised re-enactment of hunting; we played it before we were human.”

(The chapter gets even more tedious here. You’ve been warned.)


We lived in Toledo Ohio when the Steelers went to their first Super Bowl in ‘75. My dad, who tended to be contrarian, took the anti-Steelers side of things. (He was also not a fan of the Cincinnati Reds during the Big Red machine days. He didn't like Pete Rose, being able to tell that he was not a good human being. But the manager of the Reds those years, Sparky Anderson, would go on to lead our Tigers to only their second World Series victory of my lifetime, the first being the very year I was born.)


I was only seven years old when the Steelers won Super Bowl IX. Luckily, I was able to watch the game because it was played during the day, rather than late at night after forty hours of pre-game show. We called dad at work to tease him every time the Steelers scored. (He worked every other Sunday; starting in 1979, he worked thirteen hour days every other Sunday, driving a half hour each way.)

For the Steelers’ next Super Bowl, we had to have Ardyth call dad, because he would know it was us before we could make some joke about the Terrible Towel.


We lived in Pittsburgh for the 2005-06 season. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.


Pittsburgh lives for the Steelers. The hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, has had a great deal of success. They had some of the greatest teams in the ‘90s, with Lemieux and then Jagr. But relative to what Pittsburgh feels about the Steelers, the Penguins might not as well even exist. Anne’s brother in Michigan is the only Penguins’ fan I know. But everyone I knew in the ‘Burgh is a Steelers fan.


Each year, Pittsburgh follows the draft closely. The local news teams report from summer training camp. Every twist and turn, every injury, every locker room rumor – it is discussed with immense interest.

That 2005-06 season started out like every other: with high hopes of another Super Bowl victory. The still-new quarterback, Ben Roethlisberg, was coming off a great season. We still had Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, and some amazing receivers, including Heinz Ward and Heath Miller. The amazing Troy Polamalu was a human highlight reel at safety. The coach, Bill Cowher, seemed to have been building to this year. The offensive line wasn’t the best, yet everyone still expected victory.


The season didn’t go so well at first. The low point was a loss to Baltimore about halfway through the season. (<spoilers>I know this because after the season, in addition to the hat I still have, I had a Super Bowl Championship shirt with the scores of every game on the back.</spoilers>) Anne was at a conference with other German teachers from the area. The woman who had driven them to the conference drove back at eighty miles per hour to be able to watch the game. And it was an ugly loss. The town was awash with despair.


The Stillers, as “Steelers” is pronounced in Pittsburghese, did come back to make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. They were the lowest seed in the AFC and would have to play their wild card game on the road. If they won that, they would continue to play every game on the road. No lowest seed had ever won the Super Bowl, and no team had won three straight road games to even make the Super Bowl.


The Steelers won the first game at Cincinnati. Things were looking up!


The next game was at Indianapolis. Many people expected the Colts to win everything that year. They had beat the shit out of the Steelers during the regular season. I don't remember what the betting line was for the playoff game, but the Steelers were expected to get crushed again.


But the Steelers were winning the game by three late in the fourth quarter. With only just over a minute left in the game, the Colts’ quarterback was sacked on 4th down at the Colts' two-yard line. Everyone knew the Stillers wouldn't risk a pass with such a young quarterback. They would give the ball to Jerome Bettis, who would just tuck the ball in and bulldoze straight ahead. He wouldn't do anything fancy, he would just plow. (That's why they called him “The Bus.” Researching this chapter to augment my memory, I learned he went back to Notre Dame and finished his college degree, almost two decades later!)


But anyone who has read this deep knows the story of what happened next. Bettis took a hit right on the ball … and the ball popped out.


If you doubt that people in Pittsburgh lived for the Steelers, a fan literally (not figuratively) had a heart attack when Bettis fumbled the ball. (He lived. Both the fan and Bettis.)


A Colt picked up the ball and was running to the opposite end zone for what would have been the winning score. Somehow, in one of his two best plays ever, Roethlisberger was able to trip him up. 


That is generally considered the end of the game in retellings. (You should watch it on YouTube.) But it wasn’t the end. The Colts still had the ball at midfield. They just needed a field goal. They advanced to the Steelers’ twenty-eight – easily within field-goal range – and then, in front of a stadium of Indianapolis fans who had never won a championship – their surefooted kicker … missed. 


The Steelers win over the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship was almost anticlimactic.


The city was in a frenzy. There are fully two weeks between the divisional championships and the big game. And it was all anyone talked about in town. And I’m not saying just at bars or grocery shops. But even among the faculty of the modern languages department at Carnegie Mellon University. At Fairview Elementary, where EK was in fifth grade, I don’t know if the kids there learned anything except football those two weeks.

I was a regular at the local Post Office those years, mailing animal advocacy booklets around the country. One of the guys there drove from Pittsburgh to Detroit, where the Super Bowl was being played. He didn’t have tickets, he just wanted to be there. When I was next at the post office, he eagerly showed me all the pictures from his trip, with detailed stories.


The game itself, against the Seattle Seahawks, was not a beautiful affair. There was a record-setting run by Willie Parker, and a cool trick play that you will often see on highlight reels where receiver Antwaan Randle El threw a touchdown pass to Heinz Ward. The Steelers were never in danger of losing, so the town was not about to have another heart attack.


After the victory, all the news stations covered the parties all through the night and into the morning. (I know, ‘cuz I sat there watching, a stupid grin still plastered to my face.) A quarter million frenzied people mobbed the victory parade to celebrate “one for the thumb” (a fifth Super Bowl ring) completely shutting down downtown. (For comparison: When Indianapolis won the next year – their first ever major sports championship – only forty thousand people came to the parade.) Many kids skipped school; classrooms put the celebration on TV.


I have nothing particularly interesting or insightful or even entertaining to say about this, other than it was truly striking. Uncle Carl is right: sports can touch something deep, something fundamental.

But the Pittsburgh and the Stillers – that is another level. I was in Cincinnati when they won the World Series and also when they made the Super Bowl. There was happiness, but no feeling of delirium, and certainly not for as long. Months after the Steelers won one for the thumb, the three generations of Yinzers across the street came over for a party to celebrate. They were still delirious.

I’m under the impression there might be similar situations in Europe for certain soccer teams, but I’m not sure. It was crazy.


PS: We were living in Arizona when the Arizona Cardinals made their first Super Bowl in 2009. Against the Steelers. And there were clearly more Steelers flags and fans than Cardinals. (The Steelers won, on Roethlisberger’s other great play.)


Sunday, August 7, 2022

A Sunday Prayer

"The Catholic Church donated over $3 million trying to limit abortion access in Kansas. Funny how the church has millions for political campaigns but attempts to avoid paying victims of sex abuse. If a church is going to spend millions on politics, it’s time to tax the hell out of the Catholic Church."



Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Monday, August 1, 2022

The least-terrible alternative

I have a little section in my book Losing My Religions where I mention that I think that at least the first atomic bomb was a net "good" – i.e., better than the alternative.

Last night, I finished Malcolm Gladwell's The Bomber Mafia, which we got from our neighborhood Little Library. The book's climax is when General Curtis LeMay takes over command of bombers in the Pacific theater during World War II and commences the campaign of firebombing every Japanese city. Tokyo's destruction was the worst bombing ever, surpassing Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey concluded : "Probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a six-hour period than at any time in the history of man."

But what was the alternative? From the closing chapter of Gladwell's book:

The ground invasion of Japan – which both the Japanese and American military dreaded – never had to happen. In August of 1945, Japan surrendered. This was exactly the outcome LeMay had hoped for that night in March, after he sent his first armada of B-29s to Tokyo. He had sat in his car with St. Clair McKelway and said, "If this raid works the way I think it will, we can shorten this war." You wage war as ferociously and brutally as possible, and in return, you get a shorter war.

The historian Conrad Crane told me:

I actually gave a presentation in Tokyo about the incendiary bombing of Tokyo to a Japanese audience, and at the end of the presentation, one of the senior Japanese historians there stood up and said, "In the end, we must thank you, Americans, for the fire bombing and the atomic bombs." 

That kind of took me a back. And then he explained: "We would have surrendered eventually anyway, but the impact of the massive fire bombing campaign and the atomic bombs was we surrendered in August."

In other words, this Japanese historian believed: no fire bombs and no atomic bombs, and the Japanese don't surrender. And if they don't surrender, the Soviets invade, and in the American invade, and Japan gets carved up, just as Germany and the Korean peninsula eventually were.

Crane added,

The other thing that would have happened is that there would have been millions of Japanese who would have starved to death in the winter. Because what happens is that by surrendering in August, that gives MacArthur time to come in with his occupation forces and actually feed Japan... I mean, that's one of MacArthur's great successes: bringing in a mass amount of food to avoid starvation in the middle of the winter of 1945.

...

Curtis LeMay's approach brought everyone  American and Japanese  back to peace and prosperity as quickly as possible. In 1964, the Japanese government awarded LeMay the highest award their country could give a foreigner, the First-Class Order of Merit of the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun....



Sunday, July 31, 2022

(Cut Chapter) PS Re: The Patriarchy

Break the man.
–Tears for Fears

We’re watching the new Bosch show on Amazon. Whenever Harry calls another guy “brother,” it reminds me:

Stop doing that!

I have benefited from this, especially because I am willingly estranged from my biological brother. Anne is also estranged from her brothers, but no one calls her either “brother” or “sister.” 

And that is the point! Calling non-genetically-related dudes “brother” automatically excludes women. We’re not just talking about bro-ing down in a locker room. This exclusive “brother” camaraderie empowers only men in any particular power structure. There is no way to use language like this to include women. So we should stop!

I’m not saying this because the person who called me “brother” the most in my life ended up betraying me right after I nearly died. There are three guys who still call me “brother,” and it touches me. But it should stop.


PS: The one time it is OK to use family terms:

In the Day 30 chapter, you’ll find me having an extended stay at a horrible hospital in the DC area. Paul, who needed to be at a conference, agreed to return my rental car for me. He called the office near him and was told he could return it there no problem. 

After taking the Metro to Silver Springs to get the car, he drove it to the office, turned in the keys, and got the receipt. While walking away, he looked down and saw the charge was many times more than it should have been. He told us later that his first thought was, “What kind of fancy-ass car did Matt rent?”

Then he sees a $600 charge for an alternative return spot. He goes back and explains the situation. They tell him the only way to waive the fee is if a relative returns the car. (WTF kinda crazy rule is that?)

Quick on his feet, Paul (who is Jewish while I am not) immediately exclaims, “He’s my cousin!”

They waive the fee.

Thanks, cuz!

PPS: Speaking of Paul, he provided a good example of cognitive biases. He read a draft of this book when it was only about 20 pages long. Upon seeing the draft line “Some of my story will show in detail how many vegans (myself included) cause much more harm than good,” he commented:

Impossible to be true, given how many people have been influenced to do good by your writings. You could do nothing for the rest of your life and still easily come out on top. But you shouldn’t do nothing.

This is availability bias – Paul knows many if not most of the sane, thoughtful advocates I’ve influenced. But he isn’t weighing that against everything I did to promote the toxic word “vegan,” nor all the noxious vegans I raised up and empowered.

I bet he’ll change his mind when he reads the finished book.


Friday, July 29, 2022

Using Art for Revenge

Except for the stanza about "50 years before," the song that best describes my life is Ben Folds' "The Luckiest."  

But the song that cracks me up is his "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces." Lyrics below.

September '75, I was 47 inches high

My mom said by Christmas, I would have

A badass mother GI Joe 

for your little minds to blow

I still got beat up after class

Yeah, now I'm big and important

One angry dwarf and 

200 solemn faces are you

If you really want to see me, check the papers and the TV

Look who's tellin' who what to do

Kiss my ass 

goodbye

Don't give me that bullshit, you know who I am

I'm your nightmare little man

Vic, you stole my lunch money, made me cry

Jane, remember second grade?

Said you couldn't stand my face?

Rather than kiss me, you said you'd rather die?

I'm big and important

One angry dwarf and 200 solemn faces are you

If you really want to see me, check the papers and the TV

Look who's tellin' who what to do

No, kiss my ass goodbye

You'll be sorry one day, yes, you will, yes, you will

You shouldn't push me around, 'cause I will, yes, I will

You will be sorry when I'm big-ass, you will, yes, you will

You will be sorry

Now I'm big and important

One angry dwarf and 200 solemn faces are you

If you really want to see me, check the papers and the TV

No, look who's tellin' who what to do

Kiss my ass

Kiss my ass, kiss my ass goodbye now

Kiss my ass, kiss my ass goodbye now

Kiss my ass, kiss my ass goodbye now

Kiss my ass, kiss my ass goodbye now

September '75, I was 47 inches high

September '75, September '75

Thursday, July 28, 2022

(Cut Chapter) Interruption: Fuck the Patriarchy

You taught me ‘bout your past 
Thinkin’ your future was me
And you were tossing me the car keys
“Fuck the patriarchy” keychain on the ground 
We were always skipping town…
So casually cruel
In the name of being honest.

–Taylor Swift, “All Too Well” (10 minute version) (Taylor’s version)


I am writing this in Germany, where yesterday, I woke up to the leaked SCOTUS draft opinion overturning Roe v Wade. Anyone paying attention knew this was coming at least since Ruth Bader Ginsburg died; the theocrats’ fifty-year plan has paid off big-time. It was what Ardyth [my hyper-Catholic maternal grandmother] wanted more than anything. I wonder if she would have actually been happy, or just a bit less angry.

Fuck.

Also: Fuck the Green Party. 

Originally in 2000, Ralph Nader said he wouldn't run in competitive states. Then his ego got the better of him. That evil shit got way more votes in Florida than the “official” margin that allowed the Supreme Court to make Bush president. Bush then appointed Alito, who wrote today’s “This is how The Handmaid’s Tale starts” opinion. (Alito cites – again, to support a legal decision in 2022 – Matthew Hale, a 17th century “jurist” who had at least two women executed for witchcraft and who wrote a treatise supporting marital rape.) (Update below.)

Well done, Republican women. Especially you, Susan Collins, you POS.

Again in 2016, Green Party also got more votes than Cheeto Jesus’s margin over Hillary in PA, WI, and MI. And we know how that worked out: three “Roe is established law” liars in four years.

But while the well-off (like me) will rant, the end of a woman’s right to bodily autonomy will literally and profoundly hurt millions of people. And this unnecessary misery and adversity will continue until we realize elections aren’t just ways for us to make a personal statement. They matter in terms of real and profound suffering. The elections of 2000 and 2016 will continue to matter even after we wise up, given that we have given the Court to the theocrats for decades.

I can’t tell you how many people told me in 2000 and 2016 that they didn’t “like” Gore or Hillary. (The saddest but most accurate meme today is a picture of young Handmaidens, with the caption, “Yes I know. But I just didn’t like Hillary.”) They wanted Bernie or nothing. They wanted to “send a message.” They said there was “no difference” between the candidates. And now, because of their egomania, untold poor people will be forced to carry a pregnancy to term and give birth. And countless unwanted children will be born into poverty. 

It is 2022. We should be working to secure basic human rights for transgender people, and our concern for animals should be increasing. We should be expanding the circle of our moral concern. Instead, the Supreme Court has decreed that half our population no longer has the right to self-determination.

I knew this was coming as soon as Anthony Kennedy retired. But still, when I think about it, I am so goddamn angry. 

Fuck.

Update after Roe was officially overturned:

After puberty, I bought into the claim “the woman’s choice is whether to have sex.” (As someone with almost zero luck with the opposite sex, I readily and resentfully repeated this.) There is a right-wing joke that the best birth control pill is an aspirin held firmly between the knees. (Those people had clearly never had interesting sex.)

Alito’s opinion overturning Roe shows just what a lie this “woman’s choice” has always been.

In addition to killing women for “witchcraft,” Alito’s hero Matthew Hale also wrote a treatise saying a husband could never “rape” his wife. This is because the woman is, for all intents and purposes, his property. She has no agency. She has no choice. 

Alito did not need to cite Hale in the original draft. He did not need to keep the Hale citation in the final opinion. His argument, such as it is, didn’t hinge on some obscure guy from hundreds of years ago. Hale’s obscene opinions had no bearing on “giving the decision back to the states.” 

Yet knowing exactly what it meant, Alito and his fellow Christian Nationalists chose to cite Hale, holding him up as a legal mind who should determine our laws today.

And even though Hale’s witchcraft and rape assertions were clearly spelled out following the leak, Alito and his fellow Xtian Taliban all chose to keep Hale in the final decision.

They could have cited any of the great minds in U.S. history. They chose to site a rape defender to whom women were wenches or witches.

They make it very clear. Women have no agency. The majority of the Supreme Court of the United States believes women cannot choose to not have sex. They cannot choose if and when to be pregnant. They cannot choose to terminate a pregnancy. 

Their “legal” argument is simple: Women exist to serve the man and bear as many of his children as he chooses to have. 

They could not be clearer on this. The Handmaid’s Tale is not a “hysterical overreaction.” It is their playbook. It is their ideal.




Tuesday, July 26, 2022

(Cut Chapter) Day 8 Continued: Another Wingflap

(I hope you have many hours in Csikszentmihalyi‘s “flow state.” Writing this book so far has provided that for me.)

One of the reasons I met my soulmate was that I got the Department of Energy Fellowship, instead of Phil and his better grades. In part, I won because of my near-perfect GRE scores, and in part because of my greater extracurricular activities. (No, not those. Get your mind out of the gutter.) The test scores were, in turn, because I had studied for the test beforehand and he hadn’t. (Oddly, my English score was 99th percentile but Math only 98th, even though I had so much math.)

One of my GRE prep books guaranteed improvement. It had a test at the beginning, which you were supposed to take before reading the book, and then a test at the end of the book for when you had concluded the course. The difference in your scores would show your improvement.

Being as smart as you are, you’ve probably guessed what’s coming.

I took the first test and then immediately took the second test. I did much better on the test at the end, showing just what a scam that books’ “improvement” promise was.

I was doing these practice exams at Diane’s parents’ house. Her folks were out of town so we were staying over there. I vividly remember one conversation from that weekend. 

I don’t know how the topic came up, but I was saying that I thought it was crazy to go skydiving, to willingly jump out of a perfectly good plane. Diane said, “Hang on a second,” and then called me into the family room. (You probably also know where this is going, too.) The TV was on and she was holding the remote for the VCR. She pressed play and there she was, jumping out of a perfectly good plane.

Photo from this story.



Monday, July 25, 2022

Third Book Review

I finished your draft last night.  It was great!  I did a straight-through read because if I stopped to do something else, it felt like I was interrupting you!  There is something about conversationally-written pieces that are a breath of fresh air, and you did an excellent job.  I also love how you sometimes anticipate a reaction in a section and basically explain what the reader might be thinking at that point (ex. "this section went on too long...").  

While reading and weaving in and out of your timeline, I would stop and take some time to think about where I was/what I was doing at that point in time as well.  Especially around 97/98 when I stopped eating animals and became an advocate and eventually met you.  Interestingly, good and ugly personal memories resurfaced, like "Where the fuck did that come from?" as I never thought about it in 25 or 30 years!  Is your book some kind of voodoo/witchcraft?!

I love the advice that is interwoven in your story as well.  I was drawn to the savings/retirement plan advice as [we] have 4 different types of retirement savings, but I am researching I-bonds right now as I am looking for something that is long-term, but that I can possibly use without much penalty after 5 or 10 years.

A photo from Losing My Religions. Can you pick me out?