by Michelle Dean

Sony has more or less given up on The Interview, it seems, in light of threats from the shadowy collective that’s claimed credit for hacking them. They’re telling theatres they don’t have to run the film. They have done so even though DHS seems not to find the threats particularly credible. A large number of theatres, apparently, have taken them up on the offer. Naturally, this is inspiring consternation.

Judd Apatow is fulminating about the cowardice of the theatres: “Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?” I doubt it. Because the problem here is really that the theatres are faced with an anonymous threat everyone knows about. Whatever substance of the threats might or might not have, no one wants to be the movie theatre chain that took the risk in full view of the American public. Post-Aurora, it is regrettably easy to imagine how things might happen, and it would only take one person to cause a serious problem. I bet those theatres feel their hands are tied.

Theirs aren’t the only ones, by the way. All over Twitter I’m suddenly seeing calls to see The Interview as a matter of defending freedom of speech. And you know, I’ve been skeptical of the way that Sony executives have been defending the privacy of their business records in the aftermath of the hack. But I take the point that it’s infuriating to be held hostage to this sort of thing. We don’t yet know whether we’re talking about fourteen-year-olds in someone’s basement or people who are actually dangerous.

I just think that the most infuriating thing of all might be that we’re going to feel the tug of civic obligation to see what looks like a very terrible movie. And all in the name of the First Amendment. That’s #democracy2014 for you.

by Dish Staff


This is what Manhattan would look like if everyone had to drive to work:

According to Vancouver highway engineer Matt Taylor, the island would need 48 new bridges that would each have to carry eight lanes of traffic … Taylor arrived at that number by noting that 2,060,000 people commute to Manhattan daily. Under ideal conditions, a single lane can convey about 2,000 vehicles per hour, so to let 2.06 million cars on to the island within a four-hour period, you’d need at least 380 additional bridge lanes — or roughly 48 new eight-lane bridges. Of course, you’d also need somewhere to put all those extra cars. Taylor calculates that they’d require about 24 square miles in total, which is exactly the land area of Manhattan. In other words, you’d need to build a layer of underground parking that takes up the entire borough to fit all the cars driven in by commuters.

by Dish Staff

Earlier today, Will pondered the roots of American support for torture. Keating suspects more gory details would change minds:

Whether you use the word or not, Americans are OK with torture because they believe it’s effective at gaining information that couldn’t be obtained by any other means. The fact that the Senate report knocked down that argument doesn’t seem to have gotten much traction.

If not torture, what do Americans oppose? Things start to change when you get really specific. A recent post on the Washington Post’s Post Everything site by three political scientists notes that when you ask specifically about techniques like “waterboarding,” “sexual humiliation,” and “exposure to extreme heat/cold,” most Americans do oppose them. They’re less bothered by “stress positions” or “sleep deprivation,” which I would imagine is a function of the fact that people don’t understand what they are.

Bouie isn’t so sure:

Read On

Mental Health Break

Dec 17 2014 @ 4:20pm
by Dish Staff

Just some Germans playing head-pong:

An Alternative To “No”?

Dec 17 2014 @ 3:57pm
by Dish Staff

In a recent meditation on the language of consent, which featured in one of the Dish’s roundups on the UVA rape debacle last week, Susan Dominus searched for a “linguistic rip cord” to help young women reject unwanted sex “without the mundane familiarity of ‘no’ or the intensity demanded in ‘Get off or I’ll scream'”:

One phrase that might work is “red zone” — as in, “Hey, we’re in a red zone,” or “This is starting to feel too red zone.” Descriptive and matter-of-fact, it would not implicitly assign aggressor and victim, but would flatly convey that danger — emotional, possibly legal — lay ahead. Such a phrase could serve as a linguistic proxy for confronting or demanding, both options that can seem impossible in the moment. “We’re in a red zone” — the person who utters that is not a supplicant (“Please stop”); or an accuser (“I told you to stop!”). Many young women are uncomfortable in either of those roles; I know I was.

In an ideal world, clear consent will always precede sex, and young women (and men) who do find themselves in a tricky situation will express their discomfort firmly. But in the imperfect world in which we live, new language — if not red zone, then some other phrase that could take off with the universality of slang — might fill a silence.

But McArdle pours cold water on the idea:

I understand what Dominus is trying to do, but I don’t think it will work.

Read On

Men (No Longer) At Work

Dec 17 2014 @ 3:44pm
by Dish Staff

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 5.33.21 PM

Binyamin Appelbaum looks into the causes of the decline in America’s male work force:

Working, in America, is in decline. The share of prime-age men — those 25 to 54 years old — who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s, to 16 percent. … Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment. …

The resulting absence of millions of potential workers has serious consequences not just for the men and their families but for the nation as a whole. A smaller work force is likely to lead to a slower-growing economy, and will leave a smaller share of the population to cover the cost of government, even as a larger share seeks help. “They’re not working, because it’s not paying them enough to work,” said Alan B. Krueger, a leading labor economist and a professor at Princeton. “And that means the economy is going to be smaller than it otherwise would be.”

At the same time, Amanda Cox points out, many older men are postponing retirement:

Read On

by Will Wilkinson

Elf on a Shelf

I didn’t know what Elf on a Shelf was until maybe last week, and when I found out, I didn’t like it one bit. The little guy’s a spy! A spy! A gentle playtime introduction to the idea of a pervasive but ultimately benevolent surveillance state. No good! Bad for the children!

It is a comfort to discover, from Peter Holley’s charming Washington Post piece, that I am not alone in this response:

For some, the Elf on the Shelf doll, with its doe-eyed gaze and cherubic face, has become a whimsical holiday tradition — one that helpfully reminds children to stay out of trouble in the lead-up to Christmas.

For others — like, say, digital technology professor Laura Pinto — the Elf on the Shelf is “a capillary form of power that normalizes the voluntary surrender of privacy, teaching young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance and” [deep breath] “reify hegemonic power.”

I mean, obvs, right?

The latter perspective is detailed in “Who’s the Boss,” a paper published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in which Pinto and co-author Selena Nemorin argue that the popular seasonal doll is preparing a generation of children to uncritically accept “increasingly intrusive (albeit whimsically packaged) modes of surveillance.”

Exactly. You might not cotton to Pinto’s academic argot, but she’s got the right idea. If you didn’t know, the way the Elf on the Shelf works, according to the massively popular accompanying story book, is that this creepy elf is Santa’s intelligence agent lurking in your house, keeping tabs on whether the kids are naughty or nice and reporting back to the jolly old goat. The kids aren’t supposed to touch the elf, a misdeed that might disqualify them from getting presents from Santa. And parents jerk the kids around by moving the elf from room to room so that the kids can’t ever be sure where it is.

Read On

by Dish Staff

ICE Detains And Deports Undocumented Immigrants From Arizona

Ruling in what otherwise would have been a fairly straightforward deportation hearing, District Judge Arthur J. Schwab issued an opinion (pdf) yesterday declaring President Obama’s executive action on immigration unconstitutional. Lyle Denniston explains Schwab’s ruling, which could send the matter to the Supreme Court sooner than expected:

“The President may only ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed'; he may not take any Executive action that creates laws.” The new policy, the judge went on, is not an exercise of presidential discretion on when to prosecute individuals for a violation of the nation’s laws, but was in fact a legislative action beyond the president’s constitutional authority.

Instead of being a form of case-by-case judgment about which individuals are to be deported, Judge Schwab found, the policy “provides a systematic and rigid process by which a broad group of individuals will be treated differently than others based upon arbitrary classifications.” Rejecting the government’s claim that the policy only delays deportation and does not create any new legal rights for those who benefit from it, the judge declared that the policy provides those who qualify with “substantive rights.” He ultimately concluded: “President Obama’s unilateral legislative action violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution as well as the Take Care Clause, and, therefore, is unconstitutional.”

As Sahil Kapur points out, Schwab is no stranger to controversy. Ian Millhiser picks apart the judge’s argument:

Read On

Ruble Trouble, Ctd

Dec 17 2014 @ 2:39pm

The beleaguered currency bounced back a bit today from its epic freefall, as the Russian government took further steps to try and stabilize it:

The Finance Ministry said it was selling foreign exchange currency from its leftover stocks, of which it has around $7 billion, according to Reuters. The ministry did add in a statement that it considered the ruble “extremely undervalued,” however. … The announcement of the intervention immediately sent the ruble higher against the dollar, and after a volatile trading day was up 10 percent versus the greenback. Head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank, Timothy Ash, called the move “totally weird.

Cassidy doubts that any of Moscow’s recent hail-Mary passes will do the trick:

Once the markets lose confidence in a currency, interest rates are no longer an effective policy tool, and foreign-exchange reserves can be depleted at an alarming rate. The reason is found in simple arithmetic. Even if the Russian Central Bank were to raise rates to a hundred per cent, which is obviously out of the question, the weekly return on ruble-denominated assets would be less than two per cent.

Read On

by Dish Staff

How the deal came together:

The initiative comes after more than a year of secret talks, with a major impetus provided by Pope Francis, who hosted the final discussions between Cuban and U.S. officials at the Vatican in the fall. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro spoke on the telephone yesterday for the better part of an hour, going down the checklist of measures that had been agreed in secret talks over the course of more than a year.

The agreement includes a “decision to reopen embassies, closed since 1961, and a dramatic expansion of the kinds of licenses that will allow Americans to travel legally to Cuba”:

Even if “tourism” is still barred by law, it is difficult to imagine that anyone wanting to visit the island will not be able to find some category that allows that to happen.

More on the accepted reasons for travel here. And yes, you can bring back cigars. Massie approves of Obama’s actions:

This is not – repeat not – going soft on Cuba. It’s getting tough with Cuba.

Read On