The Best Of The Dish This Weekend

Sep 14 2014 @ 9:15pm

I spent the last three days in Portland, Oregon, the kind of city I could easily live in: manageable, green, easy-going, mellow, polite. And I spent it with a few hundred entrepreneurs and activists, preparing and debating and sharing experiences about the burgeoning cannabis industry. It felt a lot like a gathering more than ten years’ ago of activists and ordinary gay folks, anticipating the possibility of civil marriage rights. It had the same energy, the same nervousness, and the same excitement. And, for me, the big reveal was the staggering level of innovation, imagination and technology that will transform the cannabis market as only American capitalism can.

And the people there defied every stereotype people want to apply to those of us who want to end the destructive, self-defeating Prohibition of a plant that is much less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. We’re long since past the age of Cheech and Chong; past the dumb giggles and condescending jokes, and mercifully beyond the boomer divide that still somehow sees this is as some kind of culture war issue, rather than a sane, pragmatic, gradual reform that will end persecution of so many, and improve the lives of countless more. So, yes, it did remind me of marriage equality – not least because the logic behind it is just as powerful and the opposition just as intellectually weak. If, like me, you’ve had the wind knocked out of you by Obama’s capitulation to neoconservatism, there are still some areas where the last six years can yield some durable domestic progress – and this is one of them. Unless, that is, Obama’s panicked blunder so emboldens the forces of reaction that it puts more of what we have achieved since the Bush-Cheney nightmare in jeopardy.

This weekend, we took our minds off the new Americanized war in the Middle East, and feasted on the poetry of Jericho Brown. I was gut-punched by this poem in particular. A secular meditation on prayer – from the Village Voice advice columnist! – is well worth re-visiting; I’ve rarely heard a homily that revealed and explained so much.

We aired the key to happiness; the cheeky face of a giant fruit-bat; the freedom from body dissatisfaction that veiled Muslim women enjoy; and a view of conservatism very close to my own – by Roger Scruton. Plus: the novel WWII soldiers couldn’t put down

The most popular post of the weekend was Why Obama Launched Another War; and The View From Your Window Contest – a toughie.

See you in the morning.

The Awe And The Almighty

Sep 14 2014 @ 8:47pm


Tania Lombroza explains what experiencing awe does – and doesn’t – have to do with religious belief:

What we do know is that inducing experiences of awe can influence reported belief in God, potentially as a result of the need for accommodation that such experiences produce. One set of studies induced feelings of awe with videos of the natural world, and found that people subsequently reported greater supernatural belief. This was in part because awe made people less tolerant of uncertainty, and uncertainty is known to increase people’s confidence in agency and order.

But the picture is more complex. Endorsing a powerful and benevolent God may be one way to cope with uncertainty, but it isn’t unique. We know from related lines of work that science itself, especially scientific theories that offer clear structure and predictability, can also deliver many of the psychological benefits associated with belief in God, including a compensatory response to uncertainty. This suggests that experiences of awe could boost people’s confidence in science. In particular, awe could boost confidence in natural laws and orderly scientific theories — a prediction that, to my knowledge, has yet to be tested.

Certainly, people differ in the extent to which they experience awe, though there’s no evidence that this tendency is greater among believers than among atheists. But people may similarly vary in the extent to which awe induces uncertainty, and in the extent to which that uncertainty is found aversive. For some, uncertainty could prompt inquiry rather than disquiet, a scientific rather than a spiritual journey.

(Photo by Michel Ziembicki)

Equal In The End

Sep 14 2014 @ 8:01pm

Alex Mar tours the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF) in San Marcos, Texas, America’s largest “body farm” for studying human remains:

The odor is strong as I walk among the cages, the air redolent with the heavy, sour-wet scent of these bodies letting go of their bile, staining the grasses all around them. I look at the sprawl, each individual in its strange shelter, shriveled and shocked-looking; each with more or less of its flesh and insides; each, in its post-person state, given a new name: a number. They died quietly, in an old-age home; they died painfully, of cancer; they died suddenly, in some violent accident; they died deliberately, a suicide. In spite of how little they had in common in life, they now lie exposed alongside one another, their very own enzymes propelling them toward the same final state. Here, in death, unintentionally, they have formed a community of equals.

The Soul Of John Updike

Sep 14 2014 @ 7:26pm


In a review of Adam Begley’s Updike, William Deresiewicz finds that writer’s short story, “Pigeon Feathers,” offers telling insight into his religious beliefs. In the story, the character David is asked by his mother to kill the pigeons roosting in their barn, which gives him “the sensation of a creator.” How Deresiewicz describes what happens next:

It is when he’s burying these creatures that he has his epiphany. He has never seen a bird up close before. “Across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers played idle designs of color, no two alike, designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him.” Now he knows “that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let 
David live forever.”

The story is a credo at once theological and artistic.

Read On

The Ideology Of ISIS

Sep 14 2014 @ 6:35pm

Kevin McDonald argues that its origins are not at all medieval, but rather modern, and indeed, even Western:

It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology with a very significant debt to western political history and culture. When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state. Maududi’s Islamic state is profoundly shaped by western ideas and concepts. He takes a belief shared between Islam and other religious traditions, namely that God alone is the ultimate judge of a person, and transforms this – reframing God’s possession of judgment into possession of, and ultimately monopoly of, “sovereignty”. Maududi also draws upon understandings of the natural world governed by laws that are expressions of the power of God – ideas at the heart of the 17th-century scientific revolution.

Ella Lipin focuses on its allusions to Islamic eschatology and how ISIS uses the promise of an apocalyptic battle as a recruiting tool:

In July, ISIS released the first two issues of Dabiq, its digital magazine, revealingly named after a Syrian town believed to be the site of the future climactic battle, to be fought between Muslims and Romans, that will lead to Judgment Day.

Read On

The Carpaccio Dog

Sep 14 2014 @ 5:43pm


In an essay exploring how Vittore Carpaccio portrayed animal life, Jan Morris turns her eye to “the Carpaccio dog”:

Vittore has been called pantheistic. I am quite sure he revered Nature, anyway, or he could not have painted the birds and beasts as he did. He seems to have loved them in the way Montaigne loved his cat—as equals, unpatronizingly, clear-eyed, never gushingly. Consider the little dog in his celebrated painting concerning Saints Jerome and Augustine, one of the most famous dogs in all art—the Carpaccio Dog, in fact. Nearly everyone wonders what kind of dog he is. Ruskin, in 1851, thought he was exactly like his white Spitz Wisie (which he described, during a nadir in that animal’s career, as being a “poor little speechless, luckless, wistfully gazing doggie”). Pompeo Molmenti (1907) considered him “a lively little spaniel.” Terisio Pignatti (1958) believed him to be a Maltese puppy, and called his coat “fluffy.” So did Kenneth Clark (1977) in his book Animals and Man. I myself though (2014) prefer to think of him as a dog of no particular breed, a tough urchin mongrel, cocky, feisty, and fun, rescued from the street perhaps by one saint or another, and cherished by multitudes down the centuries. To me he is simply the Carpaccio Dog. Doggie indeed! Fluffy my foot! …

In a preliminary sketch for his picture about Jerome and Augustine, the Carpaccio Dog was not a dog at all, but what seems to be a cat, a crouching, weasely thing with a collar around its neck. Having failed so abysmally in this exercise, Carpaccio gave up, turned the animal into a dog and, so far as I know, never tried to paint a small feline again.

(Image: The Vision of St. Augustine, 1502, by Carpaccio via Wikimedia Commons)

Quote For The Day

Sep 14 2014 @ 4:59pm


“When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o’ clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools,” – William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury.

(Photo of Faulkner’s Underwood Universal Portable typewriter by Gary Bridgman)

Mental Health Break

Sep 14 2014 @ 4:20pm

Playing with fire never looked so beautiful:

Seeing The Glass As Half-Empty

Sep 14 2014 @ 3:41pm

As a species, we’re prone to it:

Negative events affect us more than positive ones. We remember them more vividly and they play a larger role in shaping our lives. Farewells, accidents, bad parenting, financial losses and even a random snide comment take up most of our psychic space, leaving little room for compliments or pleasant experiences to help us along life’s challenging path. The staggering human ability to adapt ensures that joy over a salary hike will abate within months, leaving only a benchmark for future raises. We feel pain, but not the absence of it.

Read On

Face Of The Day

Sep 14 2014 @ 2:57pm


Sage Sohier captured the expressions of people being treated for facial paralysis:

Sage Sohier spent three years at a facial nerve clinic, photographing people in the beginning stages of treatment of facial paralysis for her series “About Face.” The portraits of men, women, and children of all ages and ethnicities with varied causes and visible extents of paralysis are striking. Looking directly into the camera, directly at the viewer, the patients smile.

Sohier adds:

Most people I photograph are acutely aware of their imperfections and try to minimize them. Some have confided in me that, in their attempt to look more normal, they strive for impassivity and repress their smiles. They worry that this effort is altering who they are emotionally and affecting how other people respond to them.

See more of her work here.