The West Is Burning Up

Apr 23 2014 @ 9:02am

fire-trends

John Upton flags a recent study showing that wildfires are affecting more and more of the Western US each year:

The numbers of big fires that strike annually are on the rise throughout most of the region, from the Rocky Mountains’ pine forests to the wind-whipped deserts that border Mexico. Worsening droughts are taking searing tolls, helping to nudge vast biomes into combustion. The only region spared seems to be coastal California—and, even there, in the relative respite of a Mediterranean climate, the amount of land affected by large fires continues to grow.

Researchers recently pored over satellite fire data and climate data before concluding that monster wildfires—the types of uncontrolled blazes that tear through at least 1,000 acres of forests, parched grasslands, and neighborhoods—increased at a rate of seven every year throughout the region from 1984 to 2011. That helped push the amount of area that burned in such blazes up by an average of nearly 90,000 acres every year.

Becky Oskin talks to the study’s lead author, University of Utah geographer Phil Dennison:

“There are a lot of different causes for fire and a lot of different things that contribute to a fire regime, and those vary tremendously across the West,” Dennison said. But because the bump in wildfires seen in the study is so widespread, Dennison thinks one main factor likely underlies the trend: climate change.

Read On

Thank Uncle Sam For Your iPad

Apr 23 2014 @ 8:34am

Jeff Madrick praises Mariana Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths for going “well beyond the oft-told story about how the Internet was originally developed at the US Department of Defense”:

For example, she shows in detail that, while Steve Jobs brilliantly imagined and designed attractive new commercial products, almost all the scientific research on which the iPod, iPhone, and iPad were based was done by government-backed scientists and engineers in Europe and America. The touch-screen technology, specifically, now so common to Apple products, was based on research done at government-funded labs in Europe and the US in the 1960s and 1970s. Similarly, [economist Robert] Gordon called the National Institutes of Health a useful government “backstop” to the apparently far more important work done by pharmaceutical companies. But Mazzucato cites research to show that the NIH was responsible for some 75 percent of the major original breakthroughs known as new molecular entities between 1993 and 2004.

An Ancient Political Curse

Apr 23 2014 @ 8:01am

Rose Eveleth suggests that the “curse” of the Unlucky Mummy – blamed in Britain for a variety of disasters in the late 19th and early 20th century, including the sinking of the Titanic – reflected  sublimated anxieties about colonialism:

As it happens, the Unlucky Mummy arrived in England during the perfect curse-making storm. … At Pearson's_Magazine_1909_with_Unlucky_Mummythe time, Britain was occupying Egypt. It had invaded the Middle Eastern country in 1882, bombarding Alexandria for 10 and a half hours from the sea in an attack that was largely one sided – the British didn’t lose a single boat. The fires that followed destroyed much of the city and two days later the British army entered Alexandria and took on Egyptian forces in a handful of skirmishes, the most notable being the battle at Tel-el-Kebir. Because the Egyptian land was flat and open, the British decided to attack at night. After an hour of fighting, the Egyptians fled. The British military stayed in Egypt in a variety of capacities until 1922.

While the occupation of Egypt was a military success, it was met with trepidation back home. Should a European power intervene in the goings on of a Middle Eastern country? The British said they were there to help depose a tyrannical rule, but the British people weren’t sure that was their government’s job in the first place. But while the occupation troubled many, some didn’t want to outwardly express their anxieties. So they turned to objects that represented the country in question: Egyptian artifacts. “You can’t talk about how difficult it is to occupy another country because that’s unpatriotic,” says Roger Luckhurst, a professor of literature at Birkbeck College, University of London, who details the Unlucky Mummy’s journey through myth and reality in his 2012 book, The Mummy’s Curse. “This is a narrative that lets you talk about it in another way.” The idea that objects from Egypt like the mummy board would exact revenge was a way to express anxiety without actually talking about war.

(Photo of a 1909 Pearson’s cover featuring the story of the Unlucky Mummy via Wikimedia Commons)

Ukraine’s Religious Battle Lines

Apr 23 2014 @ 7:31am

Anna Nemtsova discovers that the conflict has engendered a schism of sorts within the Orthodox church:

Throughout Ukraine, where 11,000 Orthodox churches serving over 10 million believers answer to the Moscow Patriarchate, priests prayed for peace without a “fascist” and “neo-Nazi” government, as they call the new authorities in Kiev, but also without war and victims. Yet the leaders of the church hierarchy are drawing their own battle lines in a country divided not only by language and ethnicity, but by the nationalist leanings of the religious patriarchs.

In Kiev, at the height of protests that brought down Yanukovych, Orthodox priests passed through the crowd blessing the demonstrators, and on Easter Sunday there, Patriarch Filaret made a blunt political speech. He described Russia as “evil” and prayed, “Lord, help us resurrect Ukraine.”

In Moscow, Patriarch Kirill addressed an audience that included Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kirill prayed “that peace be restored in the minds and hearts of our brothers and sisters in blood and faith and that the lost ties and cooperation which we all need so much also be restored”—which would sound benign if Putin’s political technicians were not working so hard to shatter peace in Ukraine so the Kremlin can restore “lost ties and cooperation” by invading and annexing the Russian-speaking parts of the country should Putin deem it necessary.

The Best Of The Dish Today

Apr 22 2014 @ 9:00pm

I spent the day monitoring the latest p.r. push by the Human Rights Campaign (i.e. the Becker book on the marriage equality movement), and absorbing the debates among the earliest Christians about how exactly they came to believe that Jesus was God. The fruits of Dishness, I guess.

On the Obama front, has anyone noticed that the latest surveys from Gallup and Rasmussen show his approval rating climbing back up quite sharply?

On the ex-sherpas front, I can’t help bit think of this classic Onion piece on the douchebags who want to climb Everest or sail around the world alone.

On the HRC front, another one of them pops up on HuffPo to defend their record on marriage. Steve Fisher insists that HRC was front and center under Elizabeth Birch in the 1990s. How?

To build a movement of Americans on the side of LGBT equality, she led the creation of a slick logo built on a carefully calibrated hrcfashion.jpgmessage about equality … With the logo as a calling card, HRC built a membership base of hundreds of thousands who have been called upon to lobby, take action and help move the bar in their home states, neighborhoods and workplaces … She and her team created the Corporate Equality Index, a mammoth project that annually graded (and thus coaxed) corporations on their LGBT employment policies.

Logos!

Look: I’m not denying that these were decent initiatives and helped us all in the long run. But logos aren’t arguments. And on marriage, in the early and critical years, HRC said close to nothing and refused repeatedly to do anything. When some of us begged them to spend money on Hawaii’s marriage breakthrough, we were told to go raise the money ourselves. Pity all the donors had been told by HRC not to bother. For that matter, try and find a speech given by Birch in those years making the case for marriage equality. Try and find a clip of an HRC official on television making that case. Good luck.

As for Fisher, take a look at this NYT story from December 2004, reporting that HRC had decided even at that late date to drop marriage equality as an issue. And who in that piece is quoted backing this surrender? Steve Fisher!

Some gay rights activists, including the leadership of the Human Rights Campaign, said they believed that aggressively pursuing same-sex marriage only played into the hand of Republicans and religious conservatives, who skillfully used the issue this fall to energize their voters. Steven Fisher, the campaign’s communications director, said the group’s emphasis in coming months would be on communicating the struggles of gays in their families, workplaces, churches and synagogues … He also said the group would adopt a selective and incremental approach to winning rights rather than reaching for the gold ring of marriage right away.

You can spin but you can’t hide.

Today, we covered American oligarchy and Iraqi “democracy.” We took a look at responses – here and here – to Thomas Piketty’s new book on inequality. And we wondered what Chris Christie has been smoking lately. The Window View contest was a real, if romantic, teaser.

There’s still time to join this month’s book club - just download the e-book version of How Jesus Became God here. This reader did:

I just want to point that even before the book discussion begins, you are already doing what Ehrman specifically warns us not to do; you are treating the book as if it addresses the question of whether or not Jesus was (or is) ACTUALLY God.

Over and over and over – until I was ready to throw up my hands and scream “YES, I get the point already” – Ehrman emphasizes that he is investigating what early Christians believed about Jesus. He repeats endlessly that historians cannot make judgments about theological truth, only about historical investigation.

And as others have pointed out, the ideas in the book are not controversial among biblical scholars – except among those like the authors of the “response” book, who begin their investigation with the conclusion already determined.

I know, I know. But stay tuned for a Christian response (mine) to the book  – and then our debate.

A post update you might have missed: a reader in tiny Latta, SC gives his perspective on the firing of the town’s lesbian police chief. You can leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish.

17 more of you became subscribers today. Join them here.

And see you in the morning.

Trying To Close Up Shop

Apr 22 2014 @ 8:35pm

A bipartisan effort by Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lois Capps is trying to limit photoshopping in ads like the one above. DL Cade is skeptical:

These measures are being taken because, as the bill points out in its introduction, “The dissemination of unrealistic body standards has been linked to eating disorders … [and] has a particularly destructive health effect on children and teenagers.” Noble intentions, and we still don’t know how they will set about regulating Photoshop use in ads, but all of this begs a couple of questions. First, does Congress realize how prevalent Photoshopping really is in advertisements? And second, is there anybody on Capitol Hill that is truly qualified to set rules that regulate such use?

Katy Waldman is more critical:

In a world of limited time and resources, Photoshop seems like a strange drum for the Eating Disorders Coalition to beat. Diseases like anorexia and bulimia are largely understood now to be biological in origin, although cultural conditioning can definitely trip certain wires. There’s a lot of research linking media exposure to dieting and body dissatisfaction, but only a handful of studies directly implicate ads in eating disorders (and even those caution that the offending images likely triggered pre-existing drives). Given that the specific genetic causes of eating disorders remain so mysterious, and the treatment so hit-or-miss, lobbying money might be better spent on research than on making sure the thin, beautiful women who appear in magazines are naturally thin and beautiful.

Becker On Fresh Air

Apr 22 2014 @ 7:58pm

To Terry Gross’ immense credit, she had Jo Becker back on her radio show to defend the ridiculous premise and framing of her book, namely that the revolution of marriage equality began in 2008 with an epiphany by Chad Griffin. Gross tries repeatedly to get Becker to withdraw her idea that the “revolution” “began” in 2008. But Becker won’t. Money quote:

GROSS: So getting back to that first paragraph in your book, if you had it to do over again, would you have written this is how a revolution starts?

BECKER: I would.

GROSS: Because?

BECKER: Because I believe that this was a revolutionary step that they took, and not to say that it hadn’t been considered, but they were the ones that took the step.

But the case that actually made the difference federally was the Windsor case, argued by Roberta Kaplan, and not the case Becker has to hype because of her sources. And challenging Prop 8 was not a revolutionary step. It was risky, sure. But taking the issue to the federal courts had been part of the strategy for the previous twenty-five years. The idea that this was first dreamed up by Chad Griffin – after all of us had been clueless and cowardly beforehand – is absurd as well as insulting. She has no clue what she’s talking about.

Becker also describes 2008 as “a really, you know, dark moment in the gay rights movement.” Seriously?

Read On

Face Of The Day

Apr 22 2014 @ 7:37pm

The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge Tour Australia And New Zealand - Day 16

An Aboriginal woman performs for Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, at the National Indigenous Training Academy in Ayers Rock, Australia on April 22, 2014. The royal couple are on a three-week tour of Australia and New Zealand, the first official trip overseas with their son, Prince George of Cambridge. By Scott Barbour/Getty Images.

In a review of Reiner Stach’s Kafka: The Decisive Years and Kafka: The Years of Insight, Cynthia Ozick rails against the term:

With its echo of “grotesque,” the ubiquitous term “Kafkaesque” has long been frozen into permanence, both in the dictionary and in the most commonplace vernacular. Comparative and allusive, it has by now escaped the body of work it is meant to evoke. To say that such-and-such a circumstance is “Kafkaesque” is to admit to the denigration of an imagination that has burned a hole in what we take to be modernism – even in what we take to be the ordinary fabric and intent of language. Nothing is like “The Hunger Artist.” Nothing is like “The Metamorphosis.”

Whoever utters “Kafkaesque” has neither fathomed nor intuited nor felt the impress of Kafka’s devisings. If there is one imperative that ought to accompany any biographical or critical approach, it is that Kafka is not to be mistaken for the Kafkaesque. The Kafkaesque is what Kafka presumably “stands for” – an unearned, even a usurping, explication. And from the very start, serious criticism has been overrun by the Kafkaesque, the lock that portends the key: homoeroticism for one maven, the father-son entanglement for another, the theological uncanny for yet another. Or else it is the slippery commotion of time; or of messianism; or of Thanatos as deliverance. The Kafkaesque, finally, is reductiveness posing as revelation.’

Sherpas On Strike

Apr 22 2014 @ 6:45pm

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After threatening a work stoppage over unfair pay and grueling work conditions, the Nepalese mountaineers who clear the way for recreational climbers on Mount Everest have voted to leave the mountain and cancel the 2014 climbing season entirely out of respect for the 16 sherpas who died in an avalanche last Friday – the worst climbing accident in Everest’s history. Svati Kirsten Narula looks into how much more dangerous the mountain is for sherpas than for the climbers they serve:

There has always been a divide between Sherpas and Western summit-seekers, but these tensions have increased in recent years as Everest has become more accessible to unskilled-but-well-heeled climbers. The world’s tallest mountain has become much safer for the average Joe than ever before. For the people who live in its shadow, though, and must return to it again and again to earn a living, the risks haven’t declined in the same way. …

Western expedition leaders are acutely aware of this sobering reality [that being a Sherpa is more dangerous than being an American soldier during the Iraqi insurgency], and many have established funds for the families of fallen Sherpas. It’s difficult, though, to assuage the guilt of leaving the mountain with fewer people than you brought there. Melissa Arnot, the Eddie Bauer-sponsored American mountaineer who has summitted Everest five times, had a Sherpa die on an expedition of hers in 2010. Reflecting on this in 2013, she told Schaffer: “My passion created an industry that fosters people dying. It supports humans as disposable, as usable, and that is the hardest thing to come to terms with.”

Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disasterelaborates on what makes the job so dangerous:

Read On

The View From Your Window

Apr 22 2014 @ 6:15pm

20140421_074547

Bamako, Mali, 7.30 am. “I hope the bird doesn’t violate the ‘no animals’ rule. He stayed there forever.”

Over The Hill At 24, Ctd

Apr 22 2014 @ 5:44pm

A reader doesn’t quite buy the notion that cognitive performance peaks in one’s mid-20s:

Yeah, bite me. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was 40 when he published his most popular and most seminal work, One Hundred Years of Solitude. You hear that? One hundred years. What, are the next 76 going to be in spent in obsolescence? His characters lived a hell of a lot longer than 24, and they were lively and smart to the very end. In the real world – Newton, Dickens, Springsteen. Sure, you can say “But they’re geniuses,” but billions of regular folk get sharper and better with age.

These kinds of studies just reinforce the concept of life as a rat race – a minute-by-minute, day-by-day competition to win at the game of life instead of lose. That’s not healthy. Life is amazing, as Carl Sagan said. It’s not a battle. There are no winners and losers. What makes true happiness? I would posit an answer of living a content life, free from anxiety and worry – including the worries about studies that say you’re over the hill when you’re still young enough to be carded at restaurants.

A 27-year-old reader:

I’ve got to question the reasoning behind seeing a lag in “seeing and doing” between a 24-year-old and a 39-year-old. Can we not chalk that up to a penchant for slightly more forethought and planning as we age? No doubt there is a bit of pruning that goes on following adolescence. (I know because the Dish told me so.) Brains shrink. Synapses slow. In the context of judgment calls, I would argue the ability to plot strategy – chess vs. checkers – increases over time.

Mostly though, I know I’m on the downhill slide. Don’t rub it in.

But maybe he isn’t; another reader points to a recent article in New Scientist in which computational linguists Michael Ramscar and Harald Baayen argue that “our brains work better with age”:

Read On

A Latta Discrimination

Apr 22 2014 @ 5:14pm


A reader writes:

I know you’re not the biggest fan of pushes for laws such as ENDA, but thought I would share this with you anyway. Crystal Moore has been with the police force of sleepy Latta, South Carolina for more than 20 years, capping her career serving as the town’s police chief. She’s an out lesbian. On April 15, she was fired by the mayor, her pristine service record being marred by the SEVEN disciplinary letters he handed to her that very afternoon. After refusing to sign without having an attorney check them out, he dismissed her. These letters were the result of the police chief investigating a recent hire of the mayor’s for whom the mayor did not do his due diligence, and who was supposedly driving a city vehicle with a suspended license. Now, all of a sudden he’s not answering questions regarding the firing but was recorded in conversation with a fellow council member saying the following (audio here):

I would much rather have.. and I will say this to anybody’s face… somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.

Read On

A Blow To Race-Based Admissions

Apr 22 2014 @ 4:44pm

This morning the Supreme Court issued a 6-2 ruling (pdf) upholding a Michigan referendum banning affirmative action in college admissions, reversing a 6th Circuit decision:

Justice Kennedy penned the plurality opinion for the court, joined by Justices Alito and Chief Justice Roberts, arguing that neither the Constitution nor previous court precedent gives the courts the authority to overturn a voter-approved prohibition on race-conscious admissions policies. Justices Breyer, Scalia, and Thomas filed concurring opinions, while Sotomayor wrote the dissenting opinion. Justice Ginsburg joined in the dissent, while Justice Kagan was recused from the case and did not vote.

“It is important to note what this case is not about,” Kennedy wrote in his opinion. “It is not about the constitutionality, or the merits, of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education.” The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action had challenged the state ban on constitutional grounds, arguing that the voter ban violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Nora Caplan-Bricker explains the likely repercussions of the ruling:

[I]ts most immediate impact will be in the six other states that, like Michigan, have passed ballot initiatives banning affirmative action: Arizona, Florida, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.

Read On

Mental Health Break

Apr 22 2014 @ 4:20pm

A downpour of delicious food:

The account Jo Becker gives of the Obama administration’s response to the issue of marriage equality is one of the few parts of the book that has not been demolished since it was published. Since her account did not square with my own memory, I asked David Plouffe to address some of the claims in the book and he was eager to do so. Plouffe ran Obama’s 2008 campaign and during the time in question was Senior Adviser To The President.

Below is a Q and A I had with Plouffe today on the events Becker purports to report. My questions are in italics. Plouffe’s answers follow:

AS:  Becker’s book argues that the president’s position seemed stalled on marriage equality in 2011 and 2012 and that he likely did not intend to evolve any further on marriage before his second term. Do you agree?

DP: Absolutely not. The President made a decision that he was ready to “fully evolve” and announce his support for marriage equality. As he put it, “If I get asked if I was still a state legislator in Illinois would I vote to recognize same sex marriages as New York State did, the answer will be yes.” So the only question was when and how to announce in 2012 he would be the first President to support marriage equality, not whether to.

AS: What were the major and minor influences that caused the president to embrace marriage equality when he did?

DP: His evolution was not contrived as some suggest, but real. He spoke powerfully to some of his reasons in the Robin Roberts interview, but also the decision not to defend DOMA was instrumental, as well as the increasing number of states that were recognizing marriage. However, his family and friends and the discussions they had were likely the single greatest influence. His ultimate support for marriage equality was arrived at in a way that while public, was not too dissimilar to the journey many of us in the country took. Also, the President believed his support for marriage equality could change the opinions of some in his electoral coalition – witness the striking change in support in the African-American community which was illustrated in the Maryland ballot initiative results in 2012.

Given the Democratic convention and the Debates, where this issue was sure to come up, and that he had personally decided to support marriage equality, the plan was to make sure the announcement was made by June.

AS: Did Biden force your hand on substance? Or just the timing? What was the president’s personal response to Biden’s public statement?

DP: Not even the timing really. We were planning to do so within a week or two. So it might have sped it up by a matter of days, if that. He was very calm about it. He understood that this would be a historic moment and years from now, if not months (which turned out to be the case for most) all that mattered would be the words he spoke, not the process to get there. I will confess to being exercised because this was a historic moment and I wanted that to be the focus, not why we were doing it or how the timing was forced. He was right, I was wrong.

AS: David Brooks argues today that judging from Becker’s book, this was a decision dominated by elite political strategists. Is that your recollection?

DP: Not all all.

Read On

So says Nikil Saval, author of the new book, Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace:

The original designs for the cubicle came out of a very 1960s moment; the intention was to free office office-space-cubicle-oworkers from uninspired, even domineering workplace settings. The designer, Robert Propst, was a kind of manically inventive figure – really brilliant in many ways – with no particular training in design, but an intense interest in how people work. His original concept was called the Action Office, and it was meant to be a flexible three-walled structure that could accommodate a variety of ways of working – his idea was that people were increasingly performing “knowledge work” (a new term in the 1960s), and that they needed autonomy and independence in order to perform it. In other words, the original cubicle was about liberation.

His concept proved enormously successful, and resulted in several copies – chiefly because businesses found it incredibly useful for cramming people into smaller spaces, while upper-level management still enjoyed windowed offices on the perimeter of the building. In that sense, the design was intended to increase the power of ordinary workers; in practice it came to do something quite different, or at least that’s how it felt to many people.

Juliet Lapidos calls the book an “impressive debut”:

Read On

Chris Christie explains:

For the people who are enamored with the idea with the income, the tax revenue from [legalized marijuana], go to Colorado and see if you want to live there. See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado where there’s head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high. To me, it’s just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey and there’s no tax revenue that’s worth that.

What you have here is not an argument, but a prejudice. Why is a head-shop somehow bad for a neighborhood? Why is tourism for casinos fine but for smoking a joint such a terrible thing? Why is legal pot worse for New Jersey’s reputation than the popularity of Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey?

And why, pray, is it a better quality of life to have less personal freedom rather than more?

Nathaniel Frank is the latest writer, journalist and activist to be appalled by the shoddy, shallow, dishonest journalism of Jo Becker. You will learn more about the history of the marriage equality movement in his single piece than you will in the entire 400-plus pages of Becker’s p.r. material for Chad Griffin. How Becker’s book came to be written, let alone published, remains “a major mystery that some intrepid reporter may one day unravel.”

Following the suicide of a 22-year-old activist who founded a movement “to uplift and empower” African-American women, Josie Pickens considers the unique challenges they face when confronting depression:

It is appropriate that [Karyn] Washington’s suicide is stimulating conversation around race and mental illness. … I honestly believe we’re so accustomed to delivering the strong Black woman speech to ourselves and everyone else that we lose our ability to connect to our humanness, and thus our frailty. We become afraid to admit that we are hurting and struggling, because we fear that we will be seen as weak. And we can’t be weak. We’ve spent our lives witnessing our mothers and their mothers be strong and sturdy, like rocks. We want to be rocks. Somehow realizing I wasn’t a rock (and that I had honestly never been one), I fought my way out of bed and onto my therapist’s couch. I became exhausted with carrying all of the masks and the capes. And I knew if I didn’t get help quickly, I wasn’t going to survive.

The long-running thread “Suicide Leaves Behind Nothing” is here.