You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.
Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:
This week we’re featuring fragments or drafts of poems by Emily Dickinson, composed on envelopes or postal wrappers from the years 1864-1886. According to Jen Bervin and Marta Werner, the editors of the astonishingly beautiful book which gathers them together, The Gorgeous Nothings, they are culled “from 1,414 contemporaneous drafts and 887 letter drafts.” Bervin writes, “Sometimes Dickinson’s writing fills the space of the envelope like water in a vessel or funnels into the triangular shape of the flap,” as is the case with the example we’re featuring today.
For those who live in or near New York City, there is a riveting exhibit at The Drawing Center of similar material, “sometimes referred to as ‘scraps’ within Dickinson scholarship,” as Bervin notes. Gazing at Dickinson’s handwriting on the back of a Western Union telegram or a household memo or recipe is an experience not to be missed – truly breathtaking. The exhibit is up until January 10 at 35 Wooster Street.
The first selection:
In this short life
that only lasts an hour
How much- how
(From The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson © 2013 by Christine Burgin and New Directions. Transcription images copyright © 2013 by Jen Bervin and Marta Werner. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.)
Eva Holland recounts her journey to the site where Christopher Johnson McCandless, the idealistic hiker depicted in Into The Wild, died in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. Admirers of the young adventurer – some of whom Holland met in the above video – still retrace McCandless’s steps to see the abandoned bus where he spent his last days:
Fairbanks City Transit System Bus #142 has become a shrine, its rusting shell etched with motivational phrases left by visitors. But the pilgrimage is risky. One hiker died while crossing the Teklanika [River] in 2010, and dozens more – 12 in the summer of 2013 alone – have become lost, hurt or stranded by the rising river and have needed to be rescued by local authorities. …
The trail is nobody’s idea of a lovely hike – one of many things that mystify the Alaskans who watch the McCandless pilgrims set off each year. (“Of all the places you could hike in Alaska …” one local had said to me two nights earlier, shaking her head in disbelief.) The Stampede Trail is a boggy thoroughfare for motorized off-roaders. During the day that I spent on it, I counted seven bus-bound hikers, 22 four-wheeling moose hunters, two guided Jeep tours and one guided ATV [all-terrain vehicle] tour. Hiking there today is no way to capture the solitude and engagement with nature that McCandless was seeking. As I slogged back to my waiting car, I could not see the point of the pilgrimages. Nor could I fathom how the loss of more young lives honored his memory.
The pilgrims, of course, see the journey differently.
Vauhini Vara draws attention to the plight of the lower-middle class – families who make between $15,000 and $60,000 a year:
Compared with the poorest families, lower-middle-class families are more likely to be headed by married couples and to benefit from two incomes. They are also more likely to include a family head who has attended college. So far, so good: studies have shown that children who live with two parents are more likely to be more economically secure and to be healthy, as well as to graduate from high school; other studies show similarly positive effects for children of college-educated parents. And parents benefit, too.
And yet, many of these lower-middle-class families are still struggling to get by. About 60 percent of families below the poverty line receive food stamps (shown in the chart [above] as SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); so do more than 20 percent of lower-middle-class people. All told, more than 30 percent of lower-middle-class people receive food stamps, unemployment benefits, welfare, or other benefits.
This matters for a couple of reasons.
Reflecting on the demise of three alternative weekly papers in Connecticut – the New Haven Advocate, Hartford Advocate and Fairfield County Weekly - Brian LaRue laments “the loss of opportunity for journalists, particularly young journalists” it reflects:
Oh, sure — it’s 2013, and there’s no shortage of outlets for a young, loud, opinionated writer to be loud and opinionated in media. But oftentimes — and I’ve written about this before, talking about the shift in media from the all-hands-on-deck newsroom to these networks of isolated bloggers — you lose the wisdom of the tribe that comes from being part of an editorial staff at a decades-old publication. And beyond that, working at an alt-weekly teaches a journalist so many important lessons. For reasons I’ve already laid out, when you report for an alt-weekly, you have to go deep. You have to figure out the not-obvious story. You have to become an engaging storyteller, not just a sharp transcriber. The editorial staff is small. (When I worked at the New Haven Advocate, the most full-time editorial staffers we ever had was seven, and that didn’t last long.) Your beat is broad. You need to learn your history, fast, so you know what to ask about and who to talk to. In general, you need to get really good. Really. Goddamned. Good.
He goes on to argue that alt-weeklies aren’t just important, “they’re also fun“:
They kind of have to be. The salaries are typically atrocious, the hours are long and the benefits are slim. … In his excellent appreciation of Boston Phoenix upon that esteemed alt-weekly’s shuttering, former Phoenix editor S.I. Rosenbaum pointed out how “the job itself had to be the reward.” You work for an alt-weekly because, every week, it feels like some combination of a public service and a tremendous prank you can’t believe you’re getting away with. You spend countless days in which you work from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed again because you know you’re helping to create an ongoing community institution, something thousands of people rely on for an experience they can’t get anywhere else, and you have to bring your A-game for them.
Rachel Munroe investigates why they do it:
If the problem were that pyromaniacs were infiltrating our fire departments, that would be one thing. We would just need some way to identify them and weed them out – or, better yet, stop them from signing on in the first place, perhaps with some sort of complicated personality test – then the problem would be solved. But the truth is much more complicated than that. Most firefighter-arsonists have never even considered setting fires before they joined up. The idea comes later, after a few months or years of service. In other words, it’s not the evil arsonists who are ruining our fire departments; it’s our fire departments that are igniting something destructive in our firefighters.
For many years, most anyone who set fires for non-murderous or -financial reasons was, by definition, a pyromaniac. In 1951, Lewis and Yarnell published the first major, large-scale study on firesetters. Their overall conclusion, written in a tone of dripping, not-particularly-academic disdain, was that arsonists were fundamentally weak people who set fires to make themselves feel powerful:
James Hamblin digs into what’s really going on with Toxoplasmosis gondii, a parasite spread by cats, and its effect on the human mind:
Toxo has been all over the news in recent years, since it became known that the parasite manipulates people’s behavior. Maybe most interestingly and notoriously, it seems to make men more introverted, suspicious, unattractive to women, and oblivious to the way others see them. Infected women, inversely, have been shown to be more outgoing, trusting, sexually adventurous, attractive to men, and image-conscious. Infected men tend to break more rules than their uninfected peers, and infected women tend to pay them more heed. Infected men and women are 2.5 times more likely to have traffic accidents, more likely to develop schizophrenia, and more likely to engage in self-directed violence. …
John Sides provides historical context:
In 1982, whites were nearly unanimous in expressing some degree of pride as South Africans (98%), but barely half of blacks (57%) did so. This gap is a stark reminder of how deeply the effects of apartheid were felt. It was not just a question of opposing a white-led government. Among blacks, there was a profound alienation from the state itself.
But the release of Mandela from prison in February 1990 and the early signs of apartheid’s end — such as negotiations between the white-led government and the African National Congress that spring and summer — appeared to close this gap. In the 1990 survey, which was fielded in October and November, 93% of whites and 90% of blacks expressed pride.
Mandela’s legacy may be even more visible in how little white and black South Africans’ patriotism has changed since then. Although his leadership — indeed, any one person’s leadership — could never eliminate racism or racial tensions, whites and blacks continued to express high levels of pride. The transition to a black-led government under Mandela and later Thabo Mbeki did not make white South Africans any less proud to be South African. Blacks too remained similarly proud, despite the disappointments that they have experienced and the challenges they still face.
The green energy business is maturing as major players in the industry begin to see it as sustainable – financially:
[J]ust because the first round of modern environmental spending has been inefficient doesn’t mean the next round must be too. Today, institutions with unsentimental investors are ramping up strategies that could accelerate a shift toward an economy that uses natural resources more efficiently — a shift that will stick to the extent that it proves lucrative. Big electric utilities are buying into the renewable-energy business, often more aggressively than governmental clean-energy mandates require them to do. To be sure, they’re angling to look green, they’re still making most of their power profit from fossil fuel, and often they’re lobbying against tougher renewable-energy policies even as they make those investments. What’s changing, though, is that they’ve decided that renewable energy has grown too big to ignore. Utilities that set investment strategy for decades, not just for months or years, are concluding that the cost of renewable energy has declined to the point that, in some places, it’s competitive with conventional power.
Similarly, the World Bank has said it no longer will bankroll the construction of coal-fired power plants in the developing world except in “rare circumstances.” The bank’s primary mission is to facilitate economic development in poor countries, so it can’t justify purely bleeding-heart initiatives. The new stance is a bet that cleaner energy sources have gotten sufficiently economical to enter the mainstream.
Paul Waldman wonders about the moment when click-bait burnout sets in:
Once you’ve clicked on a few posts that promised to make you cry or change your view of the world forever but didn’t deliver, your default assumption will become that when you see something like that, it means somebody’s trying to get you to be a part of something artificial. It’s one thing to send something truly inspiring or outrageous to your friends or Twitter followers and brighten their day for a moment, but nobody wants to be a tool of someone else’s phony marketing campaign or mean-spirited hoax.
And I think that’s the danger for these ventures. The more conscious people become that by passing something along they’re not so much participants in a beautiful collective celebration of our shared humanity, but are instead part of an intentionally constructed attempt at content viralization, the less they’ll want to be a part of it. Because after all, one of the hallmarks of not just Millennials but the couple of older generations going back at least as far as Generation X is media savvy, or at least the desire for media savvy. We all want to think we’re immune to advertising’s manipulations and we don’t get suckered by even the cleverest marketing campaigns.
Rob Horning’s related musings:
Paul Pillar points out the costs to the US of applying sanctions to foreign countries, particularly countries like Iran:
The formidable, fear-inducing enforcement of U.S. sanctions against Iran entails substantial costs for U.S. companies. Not only are these companies excluded from some major opportunities for new business; they have to jump through additional hoops to make sure they do not run afoul of the enforcers in areas where they still are doing business. A Washington Post story concerns how this fear leads American companies to report to government regulators in excruciatingly minute detail anything they do that could conceivably brush up against the sanctions. Citibank, for example, felt it necessary to report that it made four dollars in profit from ATM transactions in Bahrain that involved a joint venture that included two Iranian-owned banks.
It is remarkable that some members of Congress who otherwise do not hesitate to preach that onerous government regulations and the administrative burdens they impose are bad for the American economy are also enthusiastic backers of the sanctions.
Earlier this week, Beinart railed against any new Iranian sanctions:
If today’s conservatives actually studied Reagan, instead of deifying him, they might find a useful model in the way he handled the Soviet Union.
Richard Cooper worries that “comic-book movies are all about superior beings dominating everybody else”:
The main problem is force: sheer physical force, which lies at the heart of the superhero myth, something Steven T.Seagle observed nicely in “It’s a Bird…”, his poignant autobiographical graphic novel about his reluctance to write for a Superman comic, in which he points out that Superman triumphs by being able to move faster and hit harder than everyone else: essentially a fascist concept. … Fascism also relies on people who must be crushed. The Batman films — and indeed the entire Batman mythos — are based on the idea that what criminals really need is a damn good thrashing, because it’s the only language these punks understand. The vicarious thrill in seeing Batman yell “Swear to me!” at some pitiful creep who swears to God he doesn’t know anything is for the nasty-minded child in all of us: an innocent pleasure until you start to think about the politics.
Chris Yogerst is unimpressed by this argument:
This week, two thieves in Mexico made off with a truck full of cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope with medical applications. But it seems they didn’t know what they were dealing with:
While Mexican officials initially feared that the material could have been stolen as part of a plot to build a dirty bomb, the material itself has since been recovered. What hasn’t been found are the two carjackers, but they won’t get far: authorities say the thieves will almost certainly [die] of exposure if they haven’t already … It wasn’t initially clear if the thieves knew what they were stealing. But when a small amount (a few dozen grams) of the cobalt-60 was found removed from its casing, authorities figured the duo had no idea what they had, as a thief deliberately targeting radioactive material probably wouldn’t have exposed himself to a deadly dose of radiation.
Julia Fisher details what that level of radiation exposure does to a human body:
It’s worth recalling the glee with which many hacks determined that the Obama presidency was over before the second term had really kicked in, well, only a month ago. The Healthcare.gov fiasco was Katrina; the Syrian pivot was a disastrous wobble; the Iran negotiations were abject surrender; the economy was going nowhere. And it’s not as if there weren’t good reasons for the punditocracy’s sudden lunge for the presidential jugular. The botched website launch remains a pretty unforgivable product of presidential negligence.
But it’s worth digesting how all these alleged disasters have settled down. Obama’s alleged surrender to Putin on Syria … has led to something no one really believed possible: a potential shut-down of Syria’s WMD potential. What Bush failed to do in Iraq (because Saddam’s WMDs were a fantasy), Obama has almost succeeded in doing in Syria – with Putin’s help. The Iran negotiations – far from being a surrender – have set the stage for a real rapprochement. Les Gelb notes:
The Obama team has won the first round on the six-month agreement with Iran by a knockout. The phony, misleading, and dishonest arguments against the pact just didn’t hold up to the reality of the text. As night follows day, the mob of opponents didn’t consider surrender, not for a second. Instead, they trained their media howitzers on the future, the next and more permanent agreement, you know, the one that has yet to be negotiated.
Even George Will has conceded as much. There is a chance that the Middle East, far from exploding in another spasm, is actually safer today than in recent times. Netanyahu’s worst instincts have been rather coolly checked. The reactionary forces in Iran are on the defensive. Kerry has in no way given up on a two-state solution on his watch. And today, we got a glimpse of a much stronger economy than most were expecting, and the disastrous website … has been patched up as promised (with, of course, some ways to go). Alec McGillis sums it up:
The bungled healthcare.gov Web site emerged vastly improved following an intensive fix-it push, allowing some 25,000 to sign up per day, as many as signed up in all of October.
Joe Lhota’s prognostications of doom (seen above) are looking ever more unfounded. NYC mayor-elect Bill de Blasio appointed William Bratton as his new police commissioner on Thursday. Bratton, who led the NYPD under Giuliani in the ’90s, was the architect of the very same stop-and-frisk program de Blasio ran against during campaign season. Mychal Denzel Smith is disappointed, but not surprised, at the choice:
While he criticized outgoing commissioner Ray Kelly for the “overuse-and-abuse of stop-and-frisk,” de Blasio has stopped short of calling for an end to the policy altogether. He has been in favor a “mend, don’t end” approach, supporting the reforms as handed down by US district court judge Shira Scheindlin as a result of the Floyd v. City of New York case. His choice of Bratton for police commissioner is consistent with his previously stated positions … The mayor-elect had an opportunity to signal a fundamentally new approach to the way policing would be done in NYC, but chose instead the safe and familiar, which has never benefited the communities that elected him to office. De Blasio has always been the most progressive candidate with a chance of winning, not the most progressive.
Heather Mac Donald declares Bratton’s appointment proof of “the limits that now constrain even the most left-leaning urban politicians”:
Though de Blasio demagogued against the NYPD during the election campaign, his selection of Bratton shows that he understands that his mayoralty will be judged first and foremost on whether he maintains New York’s status as the safest big city in America …
Earlier this week, Suzy Khimm outlined a possible budget deal:
Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan, Congress’s budget leaders, are currently aiming for a deal that would undo somewhere between $60 and $80 billion of sequestration cuts over the next two years, according to Congressional aides and others familiar with the talks. Overall, the deal would raise 2014’s discretionary spending levels from $968 billion to $1 trillion, and Republicans are insisting on additional deficit reduction.
The basic outlines of the deal are still in flux, and those figures could change in the coming days. “The actual numbers are very fluid. I wouldn’t take them as certain by any means,” said one Republican aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Barro discounts such reports:
I can buy the idea that Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), who is leading negotiations for House Republicans, will reach a spending deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) I remain skeptical that such a deal can pass the House of Representatives with a majority of Republican votes, and without making outside conservative groups go insane, before the government shutdown deadline of Jan. 15.
Josh Green throws more cold water:
What appears to have happened here is that Republican leaders who’d like very much to do something positive gave a sunnier take to outlets such as Politico than was warranted, perhaps in an effort to build momentum toward a deal.
Almost the weekend:
A reader writes:
Please take a moment to merge your miscarriage series with the religious corporations thread, because science: Plan B does not cause abortion because it does not prevent implantation. Plan B is progesterone. It does absolutely nothing if you have already ovulated and had the misfortune of having conceived the night before. In fact, as every woman who has had trouble staying pregnant knows, progesterone is what they prescribe, after a few miscarriages, to help a fertilized egg implant and “stick” in the uterus. So it actually HELPS pregnancies become more viable.
But if you already conceived, you are screwed; Plan B actually ups the chances that you will end up with a baby. Plan B only works if you had sex and have not yet ovulated, in which case the hormone surge will push your ovulation a couple weeks into the future, preventing you from releasing that egg down into the fallopian pool of waiting sperm. It in no way whatsoever interrupts an actual pregnancy after the moment of conception. It does not harm a single hair on a blastocyst’s one-celled head.
Indeed, an overwhelming number of studies in the past decade back up the reader’s point that Plan B does not prevent implantation. Last year the NYT did an extensive investigation that showed how all the ambiguity around the issue is traced to the FDA’s dubious labeling of Plan B back in 1999:
Labels inside every box of morning-after pills, drugs widely used to prevent pregnancy after sex, say they may work by blocking fertilized eggs from implanting in a woman’s uterus. Respected medical authorities, including the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic, have said the same thing on their Web sites. … But an examination by The New York Times has found that the federally approved labels and medical Web sites do not reflect what the science shows. Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, leading scientists say. Rather, the pills delay ovulation, the release of eggs from ovaries that occurs before eggs are fertilized, and some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming.
It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion, a divisive issue in this election year, is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work.
A reader comes out of the cannabis closet:
I wanted to echo the reader whose colitis went into remission after beginning to smoke. I spent my high school and college years attacked by reoccurring flares of colitis. There were days where I had to crawl to the bathroom because I was so weak. On a day I was bloated, in pain, and in bed, an episode of House MD came on where he recommended smoking to a patient with colitis. Unfortunately in my condition I had no access to cigarettes, but I had a friend who smoked weed endlessly. As an evangelical Christian who didn’t drink, smoke, or even go to R-rated movies, the idea of “smoking” was sacrilege – but that was nothing compared to my physical torment, so on the advice of a doctor on TV, I inhaled. It went into remission almost the next day, and I haven’t had a flare since.
Another makes an important distinction:
Your reader with ulcerative colitis tells only half of this mysterious story. Crohn’s disease, the other major type of inflammatory bowel disease – which has very similar symptoms and can be equally debilitating – is exacerbated by smoking. Nobody knows why nicotine affects UC positively and Crohn’s negatively, but it’s being intensively investigated. (For that matter, nobody knows for sure what causes either form of IBD to begin with.)
Note: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is not to be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a much less serious condition medically but with similar negative effects on quality-of-life. Smoking exacerbates IBS because anything that irritates the bowel can make IBS symptoms worse. Bowel irritation per se does not seem to be involved where IBD is concerned, or it would have a negative effect on both UC and Crohn’s.