Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, examines why nearly all stories are problem stories:

[I]f you think about it, it’s not at all obvious that stories should be that way. You might really expect to find stories that really did function as portals into hedonistic paradise. Paradises where there were no problems and pleasure was infinite. But you never, ever find that.

Why are stories so trouble-focused? You have quite a bit of convergence among scholars and scientists who are looking at this from an evolutionary point of view, and what they’re saying is that stories may function as kind of virtual reality simulators, where you go and you simulate the big problems of human life, and you enjoy it, but you’re having a mental training session at the same time. There’s some kind of interesting evidence for this, that these simulations might help people perform better on certain tasks.

So in the same way that children’s make-believe helps them hone their social skills, it seems to be true of adult make-believe, too. If adult make believe is novels and films, it seems they’re entering into those fictional worlds and working through those fictional social dilemmas actually does, as hard as it may be to believe, enhance our social skills, our emotional intelligence, our empathy.

(Painting: The Death of Desdemona by Eugène Delacroix [1858], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fishing For Trouble

Jul 30 2014 @ 8:34am

Michelle Nijhuis notes that that declining fish populations are associated with a variety of social ills:

[Professor Justin] Brashares detailed examples: declining fish populations off the coast of southern Thailand are forcing Thai fishing fleets to work harder for the same catch, and the resulting desperation for labor has triggered an epidemic of indentured servitude and child slavery.

Read On

Trophy Children

Jul 30 2014 @ 8:00am

swimming trophies

Teacher Molly Knefel defends giving every kid a trophy:

The disgust that so many adults feel at the idea of everyone getting a trophy has to do with creating incentives. If everyone gets a trophy then no one will try hard; if everyone gets basic food and housing to survive, then no one will work. Of course, this isn’t true. A soccer team full of 10-year-olds who all get participation trophies won’t all sit down and stop playing soccer– the kids who are good at scoring points will still want to do so. But the kid who never scored a point will, for a moment, be recognized: You played soccer too.

Instead, that kid is supposed to get the message: If you didn’t score a lot of points, no one gives a shit about you. And if that makes you sad, or if you feel that it’s not fair, get used to it. The world is a sad and unfair place. Score more goals next time. This message has always felt at odds, to me, with the equally ubiquitous platitude that children are the future. If children are the future, then why are we so gung ho about preparing them to be treated unfairly?

(Photo by Flickr user terren in Virginia)


Jul 30 2014 @ 7:28am

Rebecca Traister revisits Susan Faludi’s 1991 Backlash and analyzes the impact of the Internet on the feminist movement:

Feminism online is now so populated with younger women, just out of school. And generations who are new to feminism don’t have a comparative context so they understandably feel furious about the variety of injustices and prejudices that we are facing right now, and furious at the way media deals with women and furious at the way it deals with race and sexuality. But every once in a while, as the older person who remembers this time really clearly, I just want to say, “No, no, no, you have no idea how much better it is right now than it was in the early ’90s, you don’t remember what it was like when there was no feminist internet.” I’m grateful for this book for so thoroughly cataloguing how bad that period of backlash was, how grim it felt then.

Sarah Miller shares Traister’s ambivalence about online feminism and goes further:

Read On

The Best Of The Dish Today

Jul 29 2014 @ 9:15pm

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 11.53.08 AM

Above is an info-graphic from the Washington Post that visualizes the 815 civilian dead in Gaza (it’s updated day by day). The small red figures are children. 232 children have now died under the Israeli assault on Gaza, which originated in the outrage at the murder of three Israeli teens. I cede my time to Roger Cohen:

No argument, no Palestinian outrage or subterfuge, can gloss over what Jewish failure the killing of children in such numbers represents.

And to Jon Chait:

It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians is so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes. It is not just that Netanyahu is able to identify Hamas’s strategy — to create “telegenically dead Palestinians” — yet still proceeds to give Hamas exactly what it is after. It is that Netanyahu and his coalition have no strategy of their own except endless counterinsurgency against the backdrop of a steadily deteriorating diplomatic position within the world and an inexorable demographic decline. The operation in Gaza is not Netanyahu’s strategy in excess; it is Netanyahu’s strategy in its entirety.

This does seem to be a tipping point, doesn’t it?

Today, we remembered Tony Judt’s prescience and the shifting American debate on Israel; noted a sea-change among the younger generation of Americans; and chronicled the latest bout of Israeli hating on Kerry and Obama. I tried to pre-empt George Tenet’s doomed attempt to prove he wasn’t a war criminal by authorizing torture; I parsed Montaigne’s conservative disposition – and Oakeshott’s “conservatism of joy“. And we noted the progress on the right marked by Paul Ryan’s latest plan on poverty.

The most popular post of the day was Why Am I Moving Left?, followed by The Shifting Israel Debate.

Some of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 24 27 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here. Dish t-shirts and polos are for sale here. One reader is about to snatch one up:

I’m much taken by the new Dish logo T-shirts and wanted to thank you for producing versions that have only the beagle logo and are thus recognizable only to the cognoscenti. An order will be forthcoming. But surely someone with your experience in pun-laden headlines should not have missed the opportunity to label this approach as “dog-whistle marketing?” Oh, the opportunity lost …

See you in the morning.

Toward A Conservatism Of Joy

Jul 29 2014 @ 8:38pm

Noting that Michael Oakeshott’s classic essay, “On Being Conservative” (pdf) was published nearly sixty years ago, Aaron Taylor notes a few of the distinctive features of what Oakeshott described as “not a creed or a doctrine, but a disposition”:

The real foes of conservatism are not socialism and liberalism, but the reactionary and innovating mentalities. Neither the reactionary nor the innovator share the joie de vivre of the conservative mindits natural inclination to rejoice in and savor what is. They are restless and tormented if things are not in a state of perpetual flux, if “progress” is not being made either backward toward an imagined age of innocence, or forward toward an imagined age of future liberation. If nothing is changing, then nothing is happening. Reactionaries and innovators eschew what Oakeshott calls the conservative mind’s “cool and critical” attitude toward change, advocating instead a radical overhaul of society and its refashioning in the image of a golden age which is either imagined to have existed in the past or lusted after as a possible future.

I think that’s what Dan Drezner is expressing in his formulation of the “Zen Masters'” approach to foreign policy:

These people think that the long arc of history is bending in their direction — that the fundamental strengths of the United States and its key allies are more robust than any potential rivals on the global stage. The worst thing to do, therefore, is to overreact in the short run to things that will balance out in the long run. They don’t believe in getting riled up too much, and that, in the end, the universe tends to unfold as it should. It’s not that they’re unaware of what Russia or China or the Islamic State is doing — it’s that they believe that these actions are short-sighted, counterproductive and very likely to fail. They believe that actors that try to forcibly revise the status quo will pay a serious price.

So, yes, Obama is a conservative. Taylor’s take on the future of this style of conservatism:

Read On

The Ruins Of Gaza

Jul 29 2014 @ 8:09pm

Gaza Damage

The Israeli army is employing what Jesse Rosenfeld calls scorched earth tactics in Gaza, practically leveling entire neighborhoods, as the UN satellite photo above illustrates:

The Israeli military, relentlessly and methodically, is driving people out of the three-kilometer (1.8 mile) buffer zone it says it needs to protect against Hamas rockets and tunnels. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the buffer zone eats up about 44 percent of Gaza’s territory. What that means on the ground is scenes of extraordinary devastation in places like the Al Shajaya district approaching Gaza’s eastern frontier, and Beit Hanoun in the north. These were crowded neighborhoods less than three weeks ago. Now they have been literally depopulated, the residents joining more than 160,000 internally displaced people in refuges and makeshift shelters. …

According to Hebrew University political scientist and longtime analyst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Yaron Ezrahi, with or without the phrase ["scorched earth"], the idea does have a certain logic.

Read On

The Lie Behind The War, Ctd

Jul 29 2014 @ 7:40pm

Netanyahu has claimed that “Hamas is responsible” for the recent murder and kidnapping of three Israeli teens. Reporting suggests otherwise. Batya Ungar-Sargon attempts to undermine those reports:

It’s entirely possible that there was some “lone cell” with no more than tenuous Hamas connections—but right now all we have is [BuzzFeed’s Sheera] Frenkel’s ambiguous anonymous source and [BBC’s Jon] Donnison’s source who believes he was misquoted as our only evidence for that proposition.

Sheera Frenkel’s new dispatch provides more info on her source:

[O]ne Israeli intelligence officer who works in the West Bank and is intimately involved in investigating the case spoke to BuzzFeed on condition of anonymity and said he felt the kidnapping had been used by politicians trying to promote their own agenda.

“That announcement was premature,” the intelligence officer said. “If there was an order, from any of the senior Hamas leadership in Gaza or abroad, this would be an easier case to investigate. We would have that intelligence data. But there is no data, so we have come to conclude that these men were acting on their own.”

Meanwhile, Max Fisher, no great friend of Netanyahu, argues that it’s not fair to claim that Netanyahu used these kidnappings as a pretext for war:

Read On

Medicare Gets Its Annual Check-Up

Jul 29 2014 @ 7:13pm


Jason Millman sums up the Medicare trustees’ report:

This year’s verdict: Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund will be solvent through 2030, which gives the program four more years of solvency than projected in the trustees’ 2013 report. It’s also 13 years later than the prediction issued by the trustees just before passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Margot Sanger-Katz wonders how long the good news will continue:

Medicare’s trustees acknowledged that the spending slowdown driving their improved forecasts was still mysterious, and that its durability couldn’t be counted on. They are not alone in that view: There’s a healthy debate among academics and health care policy experts about why health spending has slowed recently. “No one knows” what’s causing the slowdown, said Charles Blahous III, the lone Republican among the trustees, at a news conference announcing the findings. Robert Reischauer, another public trustee, agreed that scholars were “many years away” from understanding the slowdown’s precise causes, though he was more optimistic that the slowdown could stick.

Drum posts the above chart:

Read On

Face Of The Day

Jul 29 2014 @ 6:49pm


A special forces soldier precedes a group of members of different Amazonian ethnic groups participating in the traditional military parade commemorating the 193rd anniversary of Peru’s independence in Lima on July 29, 2o14. By Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images.