The Best Of The Dish Today

Apr 24 2014 @ 9:35pm

A reader sent me the above Youtube today. It made me miss Hitch a little more acutely than usual. To see why, go to 48:00 and stay for a few minutes. Watching Hitch stick up for gay love in front of an arch-Catholic audience while debating Bill Donohue all those years ago brought a lump to my throat. He is laughed at and jeered for saying what he says. And so he repeats it. This is the way to counter bigots – by fearless debate and relentless engagement. Hitch had no time at all for nasty bigots. But the last thing he’d ever want is to shut them up.

Leon Wieseltier, meanwhile, has written the same column again! But this time, it does include one pertinent aside:

[Obama] has been trying to escape the Middle East for years and “pivot” to Asia, as if the United States can ever not be almost everywhere, leading and influencing, supporting or opposing, in one fashion or another.

Really? The US must always be “almost everywhere“. Are there no places where the US can express disinterest or indifference or merely concentrate on safeguarding its vital interests? Apparently not. Somehow, the US has to actively stop Russia from meddling – as it has always done – with its near-abroad. How? Ay, that is the question. Wieseltier doesn’t say and never has to say. 1200 words is only ever enough for an indictment, after all.

But this is a live issue. If elected, Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush may well resuscitate the Washington elite’s addiction to saving the world in classic neocon/liberal internationalist fashion. It doesn’t matter that in the last decade, we’ve endured the chaotic consequences of the Libya intervention, the ongoing catastrophe of the Iraq invasion, the impossibility of the Afghan occupation, and the near nightmare of plunging the US into the Syrian vortex (which Wieseltier enthusiastically endorsed). It doesn’t matter that the US is buried in debt, that the public’s opposition to hegemonic meddling is deep and broad, that there is no global ideological struggle to wage, and no genuine external state threats to counter. We just have to be everywhere.

Letting go of empire is never easy. But the prudent, minor unwinding of global hegemony that Obama has managed deserves more respect than this.

Meanwhile, the most popular post of the day was on the humiliation of Sean Hannity in the Cliven Bundy affair. Hannity has since done a triple lutz in distancing himself from his heretofore hero. On his radio show he declared that Bundy’s remarks

are beyond repugnant to me. They are beyond despicable to me. They are beyond ignorant to me,

I just can’t wait to watch the Daily Show tonight, can you?

Runner-up was my post yesterday on Obama’s unsung progress on WMDs in Syria and Iran. Other popular posts were Chad Griffin’s attempt to make amends for the Becker book and Chait’s bon mots about the right and racism. And, er, pseudo-penises.

Our Book Club discussion kicked off – and you can join in by emailing us at bookclub@andrewsullivan.com. You can also leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish.

20 27 more Dishheads became subscribers today. You can join them here.

And see you in the morning.

Oberammergau Passionplay 2010 Final Dress Rehearsal

[Re-posted from earlier today]

That may seem a rather strange way to kick off discussion of a book about the beliefs of Christians in the decades and first few centuries after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. But it’s the question that lingers in my head after reading Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of A Jewish Preacher From Galilee.

What Ehrman does in this book – as he did most memorably in Misquoting Jesus – is explain how the texts that we have about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus came to be written. I am not qualified to judge the details of the scholarship – my knowledge of such matters is a tiny fraction of Ehrman’s. I know no Aramaic or Hebrew and very little Ancient Greek. Readers with more expertise may well, with any luck, deal with some of the specific controversies – such as the notion that Jesus probably wasn’t buried at all – as we go along.

But the book’s main claims about the origins and nature of the texts are not in any scholarly doubt. And bookclub-beagle-trthey challenge the traditional and reflexive mental universe that most Christians, and all fundamentalists, share. For many Christians in the modern world, there is an unchallenged notion of an inerrant text that contains what we have even come to call the “gospel truth.” It is entirely inspired by God. It has complete authority in Protestant circles and shared authority in Catholicism (along with church teaching and the sensus fidelium). It is the sole authorized account of the extraordinary story that changed the world.

And yet it isn’t the only account – we have many other extant Gospels that never made the cut. Those Gospels are not as compelling or as coherent or as influential – but they sure do exist. That very fact – established in the 20th Century – explodes any idea of “orthodoxy” among the first Christians. Like any human beings trying to grapple with grief and empowerment and fear and supernatural experiences, they did not understand them fully at first or ever. They disagreed among themselves about them. They had very different perspectives and interactions with Jesus. In the Gospels themselves, Jesus’ disciples are a mess half the time – misunderstanding him, betraying him, frustrating him, and abandoning him at critical moments throughout. Whatever else the Gospels teach us, they sure teach us not to trust Jesus’ followers for either truth or morality. Peter disowned him three times in his hour of greatest need. And most fled after his crucifixion.

And the Gospels offer radically different accounts of what Jesus did, said and meant. There is no single coherent account, for example, of Jesus’ last words in the cross, or of his first appearances after his death – critical moments that you might think would have been resolved as fact early on, but weren’t. If I were to come up with a phrase to describe what has been handed down to us in these texts, it would be a game of Chinese whispers.how-jesus-became-god

Does this rebut Christianity in a decisive way? For many orthodox Christians, wedded to the notion of a single, coherent and inerrant text, it must. But since the scholarship is pretty much indisputable, it seems to me that it is not Christianity that should be abandoned in the wake of these historical revelations, but a false understanding of what the Gospels and Letters actually are. In the end, the sole criterion of a religion is whether it is true. And if you’re misreading its core texts and failing to understand their origins and nuances, you’re not committed to the truth. You’re committed to a theology that has become more important than the truth.

And I’d argue that seeing them in this flawed and human way does not reduce their power. In fact, their very humanness, their messiness, their reflection of competing memories and rival understandings and evolving theologies make the Gospels a riveting tapestry of anecdotage and love and grief. I think that when you treat these texts that way, the figure of Jesus does not become more opaque. He becomes more alive in moving and marvelous detail through the distorted memories of those who loved him and through the stories that the generations that never saw or knew him in the flesh told each other about who he was. Is this human mess guided by the Holy Spirit? That’s obviously a question only Christians can answer.

My own view is that the sheer vibrancy, power, shock, detail and beauty of these stories – and their enduring resonance over the centuries – makes the presence of the Holy Spirit obvious. In fact, if we want to understand how God interacts with human beings, these Gospels show the way. Even through their obvious literal imperfections, a deeper perfection shines. Agnostic and atheist readers will of course disagree. But my point is simply that, for Christians, there is no need to be afraid of the truth about these texts. Because as Christians, there can never any need to fear the truth. In fact, fear of what such scholarship might reveal exposes a defensive crouch and a neurotic denialism that can only lead us away from Jesus rather than toward him.

The truths of this book that only the neurotic or defensive Christian will deny are the following:

Read On

Face Of The Day

Apr 24 2014 @ 8:39pm

Poor Turnout On Indian Elections In Kashmir

A Kashmiri Muslim woman show her indelible ink-marked finger after casting her vote during the sixth phase of Indian parliamentary elections on April 24, 2014 in Vejbeour 45 km (28 miles) south of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, India. Polling stations opened amid tight security, but very few people turned out to cast their votes in the South Kashmir constituency during the Sixth phase of parliamentary elections (Indian national elections).

Scores of people were left injured in four South Kashmir districts as youth clashed with government forces to enforce a poll boycott call given by the dissent politicians in the region. At least four pro Indian political workers were gunned down by suspected rebels in the region days ahead of the voting in the disputed Himalayan region. A polling officer was killed while five others were critically injured after unidentified gunmen attacked polling staff in South Kashmir’s Shopian district on Thursday evening. The polling staff was returning home when they were fired upon in Nagbal area of the town. The area has been cordoned off. The identity of the slain is being ascertained. By Yawar Nazir/Getty Images.

I echoed this point a few months ago. Garry Wills nails it:

I fear that the president declared a premature victory for the Affordable Care Act when he said that its initial goals were met, it was time to move on to other matters, and the idea of repealing it is no longer feasible. He made the mistake of thinking that facts matter when a cult is involved. Obamacare is now, for many, haloed with hate, to be fought against with all one’s life. Retaining certitude about its essential evil is a matter of self-respect, honor for one’s allies in the cause, and loathing for one’s opponents. It is a religious commitment.

Read On

Cowardice In Combat

Apr 24 2014 @ 7:52pm

The made-for-tv movie The Execution of Private Slovik – based on the true story of Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier executed for desertion during WWII – aired 40 years ago last month. Chris Walsh considers the film’s success in 1974 and ponders why today “cowardice in the military is a topic too obscure and tender for nonmilitary Americans to contemplate”:

We are willing to have other people’s children put themselves in harm’s way, but we feel both ignorant and guilty about it, and that is enough to keep us from presuming to criticize, much less punish, a deserter. Reflecting on the alleged cowardice of a soldier like Slovik leads to disturbing questions: What would we do in his place? Why haven’t we joined the fight, or more actively supported those who do — or, alternatively, joined in the debate about whether fighting is the right thing? Why did we leave Iraq in such a mess, and is it as big as the mess we left in Vietnam? Bigger? Why did we invade in the first place? Did we really go to Afghanistan to get Bin Laden (who of course was killed independently of the war)? Why are we leaving there now? Is what has been called the cult of national security itself a symptom of cowardice? The prospect of executing a deserter is even more disturbing. Would you have hit Slovik’s heart?

A Supreme Impediment

Apr 24 2014 @ 7:25pm

The chances of an Iranian deal are looking up, but Daniel Berman rightly worries about domestic politics over there:

Khamenei is 78 years old, and rumored to be ailing. His successor will be chosen by the Assembly of Experts, a group of clerics elected by the public (from an approved list of candidates) who are tasked with selecting the Supreme Leader and supervising his activities (at least in theory). Last elected in 2006, the Assembly serves for a term of eight years, though the term of the present Assembly has been extended to 2016. That means that the next Assembly will serve until 2025, and is almost certain to select Khamenei’s successor. …

Rouhani is therefore to focus much of his energy over the next two years on the goal of maneuvering for those 2016 contests, and as a consequence his objectives in talks with the United States are likely to be very different from Obama’s. Obama seems to want a genuine normalization of relations, whereas Rouhani is merely seeking a reduction in tensions. Obama is willing to sacrifice domestic political capital to improve relations with Iran; Rouhani by contrast, is attempting to use American concessions as a currency to purchase political capital at home. He is willing to sell symbolic concessions such as a less anti-American line in the state media, which now focuses largely on a Saudi-Israeli “axis,”  or photo-ops at the UN, in exchange for U.S. concessions on real issues like sanctions and the nuclear program. However, the key point is that Rouhani is looking to accumulate political capital rather than expend it, and it can only be accumulated by winning concessions from the United States, not by working with it.

The domestic politics in both Iran and the US is what can still make this deal unravel – and war therefore more likely.

When Home Is Where You Travel

Apr 24 2014 @ 7:02pm

Charleston-WV 1-00 pm

Having grown up a third culture kid, Ruth Behar considers the cultural impact of “the transient places that the French anthropologist Marc Augé has called ‘non-places’ – airports, shopping malls, hotels, highways, bus terminals, and subways”:

As ‘non-places’ expand from centers to peripheries all around the world, there is renewed pressure to work hard to prevent the home from becoming a long-term hotel room. Sentimental notions of the sanctity of the home are enlisted as a means of challenging the threat of ‘non-places.’ A preponderance of guides, including websites such as Apartment Therapy and Houzz, exist for the sole purpose of assisting us in making our homes uniquely charming and irreplaceable. …

But there is another choice we can make, and that is to give up home altogether and be homeless by choice – not as a result of poverty or broken family ties, but to let go of the weight of the things that prevent us from fully engaging with the world and becoming true cosmopolitans, people at home everywhere.

(Photo by a reader: Charleston, West Virginia, 1 pm)

A Pivotal Visit? Ctd

Apr 24 2014 @ 6:42pm

Jaime Fuller lays out the goals of Obama’s four-country Asia trip, which began yesterday in Japan:

For this trip, this renewed effort at pivoting will focus on two policies in particular — finishing up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country free-trade agreement that has been in the works for five years, and an agreement with the Philippines giving U.S. ships and planes more access to bases there than they’ve had since 1992. In 1991, the country asked the United States to leave Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay naval facility. The military isn’t planning to establish a permanent base again; it is just instituting rotating deployments and stocking up supplies in case of a disaster — a plan similar to one recently instituted with Australia.

Obama will also be talking to Japan about plans to revamp its military. International decisions made at the end of World War II have left Japan with a small military, but the country’s new conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has made revitalizing Japan’s defense and armed forces a priority. The United States likely sees Japan’s morphing role in the region — and growing tensions between Japan and China — as an important aspect of any changes to its role there. Obama’s trip to Tokyo in 2009 was the first presidential trip to Japan since 1996.

Fred Kaplan notes that the visit has been overshadowed by events in Ukraine:

This week’s trip was planned as a makeup session of sorts. Obama’s main goals were, first, to allay the allies’ concerns about America’s commitment to their security in the face of an expansive Chinese navy and, second, to complete a trade treaty, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been central to Obama’s vision of a rebalanced foreign policy.

But, once again, life has gotten in the way.

Read On

An eager reader writes:

I hope you’re going to publish some emails on this subject. I love movies. I love lists. And I love the contributions from Dish readers. If I may, I’d like to get the ball rolling:

1999 gave us Fight ClubSouth Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut; Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (in retrospect a terrible film, but at the time I was jonesing for some new Star Wars); The Matrix; The Sixth Sense; The Insider; Office Space; Election; and a personal favorite: The 13th Warrior.

A more cynical contributor:

This of course is the sort of post designed to unleash a tsunami of comments, so whenever you need some time to perfect the latest think piece, you can turn out a quick “Ctd” to keep the masses engaged until it’s done.

OK, I’ll bite.

Read On

How The Senate Is Shaping Up

Apr 24 2014 @ 5:43pm

Nate Cohn parses a poll showing Democrats leading in Southern Senate races:

[Arkansas Sen.] Mark Pryor has a 10-point lead, according to the poll, but 16 percent of Mr. Pryor’s supporters — or 8 nearly percent of all voters — oppose the Affordable Care Act and say they could not vote for a candidate who disagrees with their stance on the issue. Mr. Pryor, of course, voted for the Affordable Care Act. If those voters flip, his opponent, Representative Tom Cotton, will have the advantage.

Other Democrats face a similar challenge: In every contest, at least 10 percent of Democratic supporters oppose the Affordable Care Act and say they wouldn’t vote for a candidate who disagrees with their stance. All four Democratic Senate candidates in these states support the law.

Beutler thinks “the GOP’s Obamacare obsession is going to start looking more and more strained and untenable”:

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Paying For The Roof Over Your Head

Apr 24 2014 @ 5:16pm

One Bedroom Rent

Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham map how much it costs to rent a one-bedroom residence in every US county (interactive version here):

No single county in America has a one-bedroom housing wage below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 (several counties in Arkansas come in at $7.98).

Coastal and urban counties are among the most expensive. The entire Boston-New York-Washington corridor includes little respite from high housing wages. Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties in California rank as the least affordable in the country (scroll over each county in the interactive version for rankings; click to zoom). In each of those counties, a one-bedroom hourly housing wage is $29.83, or the equivalent of 3.7 full-time jobs at the actual minimum wage (or an annual salary of about $62,000). Move inland in California, and housing grows less expensive.

But renting is often a better deal than buying. Catherine Rampell is shocked that we still consider home buying a great investment:

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Yesterday, the DOJ announced changes to the clemency process. Philip Bump lists the new criteria inmates must meet:

• Be federal inmates who would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today,
• Be non-violent offenders without ties to criminal organizations or gangs,
• Have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence,
• Have no significant criminal history,
• Have demonstrated good conduct in prison, and
• Have no history of violence prior to prison.

Nicole Flatow further unpacks the news:

Read On

Mental Health Break

Apr 24 2014 @ 4:20pm

Quote For The Day II

Apr 24 2014 @ 4:11pm

“For a journalist to write a book that says, in essence, that the struggle for marital equality “had largely languished in obscurity” until 2008 and the battle over Proposition 8 in California is tantamount to saying that the black-civil-rights struggle didn’t get going until President Obama was elected president that same year,” – Frank Rich on the Becker book.

Rauch On Eich

Apr 24 2014 @ 3:57pm

The obvious weakness in my own and others’ case for not wanting to punish someone who donated to the pro-Prop 8 campaign six years ago is the racial analogy. After all, isn’t opposition to marriage equality morally identical to opposition to inter-racial marriage? If so, why not punish and ostracize and get someone fired for opposing marriage equality as you would in a miscegenation case? I grappled with this at the time but Jon Rauch has a helpful piece explaining our position a little better.

Basically: gendered marriage had long been a settled assumption about the nature of what marriage is when we came along with the argument for same-sex marriage. Inter-racial marriage had existed as gendered marriage for a long time in some parts of the country, alongside anti-miscegenation laws in others. We were therefore asking for a bigger change than in the past – and one that had far less traction and history behind it. When you’re asking for more, a little more patience is necessary – and a little more lee-way for opponents is appropriate. We’re talking prudence here.

Yes, the opposition to inter-racial marriage had religious roots and rationalizations.

Read On

Starry-Eyed Youth

Apr 24 2014 @ 3:40pm

age2_0

Amanda Petrusich theorizes about why young people are more attracted to astrology than their elders:

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Zack Beauchamp explains the Palestinian reconciliation agreement signed in Gaza yesterday:

According to the new deal, the two Palestinian factions would form a shared interim government within five weeks, and hold elections for Palestinian Authority President, PA legislative council, and Palestinian Liberation Organization council within six months. If implemented, the Palestinians would have a unified government for the first time since 2007. The Palestinian split had made peace negotiations extremely difficult, as Israel couldn’t make two separate deals with two separate Palestinian groups.

There’s some reason to believe the deal won’t hold. Hamas and Fatah came to similar agreements in both 2011 and 2012, but both of those fell apart. This deal doesn’t resolve underlying issues between the two groups, such as whether Palestinians should agree to a permanent peace deal with Israel or whether Palestine should be governed according to Islamic law. Those are pretty significant disputes.

Israel immediately cut off talks and announced reprisals:

The top-level inner cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “decided unanimously that it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that incorporates Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel,” a statement said after an emergency meeting that lasted throughout Thursday afternoon. Israel also said it plans to introduce economic sanctions against the PA — which will reportedly include withholding tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the PA.

Noting that past attempts at reconciliation have failed, Karl Vick thinks this announcement could be a tactical play:

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The same Pew survey that showed the French to be so accepting of extramarital affairs also offered a fascinating overview of global attitudes toward homosexuality. One reader’s take-away is that public support for gay people doesn’t always translate into gay rights:

Only 8 percent of respondents in Germany, my home country, find homosexuality “morally unacceptable,” while 37 percent of Americans hold that view. I would have guessed that there was a significant difference between Western European countries and the US, but I would not have expected the difference to be so stark.

So considering those numbers, you’d think we’d have marriage equality in Germany. We don’t. We have registered partnerships, a form of civil unions, and most rights coming with them had to be fought for in the courts in recent years. The political left is for marriage equality. Standing in the way of enacting it in parliament are Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Before last year’s elections, Merkel was put on the spot by a gay voter in a televised town hall forum asking for adoption rights for gay couples. Merkel had to explain her opposition and she was clearly uncomfortable having to do so . One wonders if her opposition is heartfelt or merely a nod to her party’s religiously conservative wing.

The fact that whether homosexuality is viewed as morally acceptable or not does not necessarily go hand in hand with marriage equality is quite evident when looking at other countries.

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We learn something new from readers every day:

I enjoyed that link on the gynosome, but I think that your coverage of sexual orientation and biology focusing on things like 29saw_drawing-blog480bug penises miss issues about sexual orientation that genuinely fascinate biologists. The concept of “natural law” doesn’t really carry much weight with actual biologists, and it’s not all that surprising that there is an insect in which the female has a penis.

There are hundreds of species with these sorts of reproductive role reversals, including males who incubate eggs internally or even in their mouths, and in which female parental investment is limited. At this point, it’s almost trivial to point out that same-sex behavior and even same-sex parenting is common in nature, or that every possible variation on genitalia occurs somewhere in nature. Even in mammals, there are females with “penises.” Female hyenas have pseudo-penises bigger than those owned by males, and they swing their dicks with more élan and pride than the males do!

This is all entertaining, but it misses the deeper and more interesting question evolutionary biologists ask about homosexuality:

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The View From Your Obamacare

Apr 24 2014 @ 2:19pm

Not all of the experiences from our readers are positive:

I was going to get a new car, but the increase in my premiums sapped up the income I’d set aside for the additional expense.  So I guess I’m stuck with my 12 year old truck.  Oh, should also mention that my deductibles nearly tripled and my coverage sucks in comparison.

Another reader:

While I recognize the large-scale benefits of the ACA, we found its implementation absolutely devastating to our small business.  Our company is a medical device developer/manufacturer with about 12 employees. Because we employ mostly high-pay, high-skill engineers and scientists, almost none of our employees qualified for any sort of subsidy. Most of our employees are married and have kids, so they needed the most expensive policy, the dreaded “Self + Family” option.

Because we are a small-business, we did not have the H.R. resources to shop for private insurance and had to contract a third party to do so for us. And because we are a small company, we had virtually zero bargaining leverage with insurers. Larger companies in our area ended up with much better group policy offers from the same insurer as us. In general, our policies went up about $300/month per employee, and our deductible increased from $2,500 to $3,850.

But what is the absolute worst is that insane 2.3% medical device tax enacted to “pay for” the ACA.

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