An Actual Fight Over Democracy

Sep 2 2014 @ 2:41pm
by Jonah Shepp

The crises in the Middle East and Ukraine are frequently described in ideological terms, as battles between freedom and tyranny, liberal democracy and illiberal authoritarianism. The latest piece in this vein is from Lilia Shevtsova, who calls Russia “an advance combat unit of the new global authoritarianism, with China acting as its informal leader and waiting in the wings to seize its own opportunities”. I think this argument may give both Russia and China too much credit, especially as the informal leader of the new global authoritarianism is feeling threatened by a pro-democracy protest movement in Hong Kong. Evan Osnos looks in:

On Sunday, the Beijing government rejected demands for free, open elections for Hong Kong’s next chief executive, in 2017, enraging protesters who had called for broad rights to nominate candidates. China’s National People’s Congress announced a plan by which nominees must be vetted and approved by more than fifty per cent of a committee that is likely to be stacked with those who heed Beijing’s wishes. … Hong Kong’s growing activist network, known as Occupy Central (named after the city’s downtown) has increasingly alarmed leaders in Beijing, and they now describe the activism as a brush fire that could sweep over the mainland. In a piece published on Saturday, the People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, hinted about foreign agitators “attempting to turn Hong Kong into a bridgehead for subverting and infiltrating the Chinese mainland. This can absolutely not be permitted.”

Osnos analyzes the situation as a competition between nationalism and globalism; his analysis is instructive, but at a time when political thinkers are worrying themselves over the possibility that the Western model of liberalism is in decline or failing to gain traction in the developing world, this long-simmering conflict looks to me like the most clear-cut test case of liberalism vs. authoritarianism in the world today.

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by Alex Pareene

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Gives Annual State Of State Address

It’s not a perfect measure of partisan leaning, but according to the 2012 election results, New York is more Democratic than California and Minnesota, two states where Democrats control the entirety of the state governments, and where things have not yet completely collapsed in a morass of welfare handouts and tax hikes. So it’s a bit strange that the Republican Party controls the New York state Senate, the body where, traditionally, liberal legislative priorities have done to die. It’s stranger when you learn that New York voters did actually give Democrats the majority in the Senate in 2012, at which point a coalition of state Senate Democrats known as the Independent Democratic coalition broke off from the party and formally allied with the GOP. Thus, the longtime state Senate Republican majority – the majority that had successfully thwarted nearly every liberal policy push made by the previous two Democratic governors – was preserved.

Andrew Cuomo likes to paint himself as the governor who saved New York from the political dysfunction that typified state politics during the reigns of his predecessors, David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer. Cuomo is the man who forced the sclerotic state legislature to finally act on marriage equality, criminal justice reform, and gun control. You would think that such a governor would prefer to work with Democratic majorities in both state legislative bodies, because, you know, those are all Democratic party priorities that Republicans (mostly) oppose.

You would be wrong. Blake Zeff (full disclosure: he’s my former editor) has a story at Capital New York that confirms what most observers of New York politics already suspected: Cuomo was instrumental in forging the alliance between the IDC and the GOP, because he never actually wanted his own party to wield real power in Albany:

When the coalition was created, Cuomo spoke with IDC leader Jeff Klein to offer advice on how to publicly sell the arrangement and move it forward. According to multiple sources, the governor advised the leaders of the new alliance to emphasize “progress on key issues,” such as campaign finance reform, stop and frisk and increasing the minimum wage. (The conference would use just that language in its announcement, and later release a minimum wage report that February and campaign finance plan in April.)

To move the arrangement forward, the governor and Schwartz would talk directly to Republican leaders and Klein. To help make the coalition work, the governor regularly spoke (by phone and in person) with GOP deputy majority leader Tom Libous, who was effectively Cuomo’s go-to person in the Republican Senate conference. GOP majority leader Dean Skelos was also involved in the discussion, and the governor would talk often in particular with top Skelos aide Robert Mujica. Meanwhile, another top administration official, Joe Percoco, was dispatched to deal with the Senate Democratic conference to try to assuage their concerns even as the governor helped their rivals.

Why would Cuomo do this?

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by Dish Staff

Last week, a nine-year-old firing an uzi accidentally shot and killed her instructor. Matt Valentine identifies pro-gun advocates critical of “putting a submachine gun in the hands of a slight nine year old” but he has “yet to hear any prominent gun rights advocates call for a change to the law—even to prohibit behavior they consider foolish and dangerous”:

To suggest a new regulation, no matter how reasonable, would be wholesale defection from the party line. The NRA tells us that gun laws are worse than useless. Criminals won’t obey them, so new laws “only punish lawful gun owners,” according to Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

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Chart Of The Day

Sep 2 2014 @ 1:37pm
by Dish Staff

GOP Foreign Policy

The GOP is getting more hawkish:

Less than a year ago, just 18 percent of GOPers said that the United States does “too little” when it comes to helping solve the world’s problems, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Today, that number has more than doubled, to 46 percent. Over that same span – from November to today – the percentage of Republicans who say the United States does “too much” has dropped from 52 percent to 37 percent, and those who say the United States does about the right amount has declined from 26 percent to 14 percent.

Fight Ebola, Increase Hunger

Sep 2 2014 @ 1:21pm
by Dish Staff

A couple weeks ago, Laurie Garrett advocated for a stronger response to the outbreak. Yesterday, Adia Benton and Kim Yi Dionne called out Garrett for fear-mongering:

In her recommendations, Garrett often draws on her experience reporting on the Ebola epidemic in 1995 in Zaire (the work that won her a Pulitzer Prize). During this outbreak, Zaire’s ruler, the notorious Mobutu Sese Seko, isolated Kikwit, the affected region, with military force to keep people from leaving the city of 400,000 people. Honestly: Is Mobutu’s a model of health governance we want to repeat? Under his militarized quarantine, prices of food escalated, and people were deprived of common household goods. There is growing evidence that this is happening in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Indeed, it appears that steps intended “to prevent the disease’s spread have hampered both food production and caused prices to soar”:

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by Chas Danner & Chris Bodenner


A reader sees the Far East:

Aberdeen Fishing Village, Southern edge of Hong Kong Island, China.

A much more detailed entry:

My guess is that this a view of the Mediterranean coast of Peniscola, Spain. Several factors lead me to draw this conclusion. The piece of land appears to be a peninsula because part of it juts out farther than the rest, creating two inlets of water. The water is almost certainly the salt-water ocean, as indicated by the crashing waves and decreasing water level on the shoreline. The leaves of the trees in the center and top left corner of the image suggest there are palm trees, which do, in fact, grow in Peniscola.

Peniscola has a peninsula and the Serra D’Irta mountain range behind it. The intense blue of the water and golden color of the sand in the image very closely resemble the colors of the coast of where the Mediterranean Sea borders Spain. The architecture of the buildings along the coast – the salmon colored rooftops and white stone – are also extremely similar in appearance to images of buildings on the coast of Peniscola. In comparing an image of the Peniscola peninsula to this view, the architectural style of buildings, mountain range, and vegetation including palm trees in the two photographs appear to be very similar. One difference, however, is that the view from the window has more vegetation such as heavy tree growth and fewer houses. I believe the photographs were taken from different angles and in different points along the coast. The view from the window is more distant from the main hub of houses, possibly closer to the mountains and more isolated.​

Another finds a loophole:

You’ve ruined every one of my Saturdays for over a year now with your obscure locales, wild goose chases and Google Street View shenanigans. But finally, I can say with absolute certainty where this photo is located – my balcony:

View from your window

Yee-haw, gimme my book.

Another reader is thinking the south of France:

I took one look at that picture and the words from a song in the early-1960s British Musical Stop The World – I Want To Get Off popped from my lips:

Give me half a chance
In the South of France
To make my pitch
And I’ll be dirty, rotten, stinkin’ filthy rich.

Of course I’m probably whole continents off from where this actually is, but now I should get out the vinyl and listen to the original cast recording for the first time in decades since it’s going to be going through my head all afternoon anyway.

A whole continent off, sadly. An eagle-eyed player notes an essential clue for amateur hotel reviewers:

Wherever it is, they are automatically going to lose a star on Trip Advisor. Why can’t building staff take care of all those annoying dead bugs in webs on the outside of the windows?

Another finds the view within:

Green mountains, white beaches, palm trees … I’ve never been there but this is how I imagine the Caribbean Sea.

Wrong coast. Another try:

Catalina Island, California.

Wrong country, but the following reader nails the right one:

Read On


Sep 2 2014 @ 12:41pm
by Jonah Shepp


As a child and teenager, I attended one of those New York City magnet schools that you read about from time to time, such as when an alum tentatively proposes to shut them all down. Accordingly, I share an alma mater with some notable individuals. The year I graduated, our commencement ceremony attracted a moderate crowd of local paparazzi on account of our guest speaker: Cynthia Nixon, class of ’84. In terms of pure star power, we had outdone the class of 2002, whose distinguished alumnus had been Elena Kagan, at the time merely the first female dean of Harvard Law School. Yeah, that kind of high school.

But celebrity aside, Nixon’s address to our class was actually more insightful than I, at 17, had expected. After the customary platitudes about lifelong friendships and school pride, she got to the point, which she summed up in four words: “Get out of here.”

Now what she meant by this was that if we lived our entire lives in New York, we’d limit the expansion of our minds much more than we realized. Growing up in an international megacity, it’s easy for native New Yorkers to fool ourselves into thinking that we are citizens of the world simply because the world has moved in down the block. The thrust of Nixon’s address to us was that this was a fallacy, and that if we really wanted to get some perspective on how unusual our metropolitan upbringings had been, we ought to spend some time not just traveling but living outside the city, and if we had the chance, outside the country as well.

Four years later, after finishing college in the opening act of the Great Recession with no prospects or plans for the future, I took advantage of a random opportunity and got out of here. Specifically, I moved to Jordan, where I lived for the better part of the next several years. For those who say you can’t learn anything from Hollywood, let me tell you something: Cynthia Nixon was right.

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by Dish Staff

David Robson surveys the latest findings suggesting that “fatty, sugary diets are bad for the mind, as well as the body”:

[A]round 2010, three landmark papers caused more doctors to sit up and take notice. One took place in southern Europe, where doctors were charting the transition from the traditional Mediterranean diets, full of seafood, olive oil and nuts, to the fast food served in the rest of the West. Besides studying the risks of heart disease and diabetes, the scientists also looked at the 10,000 participants’ mental health. The differences were striking; those who lived almost exclusively on the traditional Mediterranean diet were about half as likely to develop depression over the period as those eating more unhealthy food – even when you control for things like education and economic status.

Around the same time, psychologists examining UK civil servants – in the famous ‘Whitehall’ studies – found exactly the same pattern; over the course of five years, people who regularly indulged in processed, high-fat and high-sugar foods were about 60% more likely to develop depression over the same period. Then Jacka confirmed the results with a further 1,000 Australian volunteers. Finally, the ball started rolling. “Over the following years we’ve seen an exponential growth in the number of studies,” says [Felice] Jacka. Perhaps the best evidence came this year from the lab of Frank Hu at Harvard University, who directly traced the contributions of certain diet patterns with levels of cytokines, and depression; sure enough, foods rich in olive oil, leafy vegetables and wine reduced inflammation, and slashed the risk of depression by about 40%, compared to the ‘pro-inflammatory diet’, which includes sugary drinks, processed grains and red meat.

The View From Your Window

Sep 2 2014 @ 12:09pm
by Dish Staff

Pokhara, Nepal 821am

Pokhara, Nepal, 8.21 am

Celebrities: They Sext Like Us

Sep 2 2014 @ 11:53am
by Dish Staff

The Internet is atwitter over a number of celebrities’ phones getting hacked for nude photos. Jessica Valenti urges the curious to look elsewhere for titillation:

There’s a reason why the public tends to revel in hacked or stolen nude pictures. It’s because they were taken without consent. Because the women in them (and it’s almost always women who are humiliated this way) did not want those shots to be shared. If Jennifer Lawrence was to pose naked on the cover of Playboy, for example, I’m sure it would be a best-selling issue. But it wouldn’t have the same scandalous, viral appeal as private images stolen from her phone. Because if she shared nude images consensually, then people wouldn’t get to revel in her humiliation. And that’s really the point, isn’t it? To take a female celebrity down a notch? (We have a term for when this is done to non-celebrity women: “revenge porn.”)

Jessica Roy pens a modern-day J’Accuse:

To be clear, it’s not just the hacker who’s guilty here.

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