Amanda Schaffer contemplates Eula Biss’s new book about vaccination:

Biss sympathizes with parents who fear vaccines, and she understands the cultural roots of their hesitation, which include an insistence on bodily independence; an obsession with physical purity, free from chemicals; and even a kind of pre-industrial nostalgia that casts vaccines as newfangled and SWITZERLAND-HEALTH-EBOLA-WAFRICAunnatural. She focusses on the historical antecedents to today’s shots, complicating the view that immunization is modern and therefore scary. In the eighteenth century, farmers observed that those who were exposed to cowpox tended not to develop smallpox later on. The physician Edward Jenner tested this connection by transferring fluid from a milkmaid’s pustule to the skin of a young boy, who then developed immunity to smallpox. Historical figures, including Cotton Mather, Mary Wortley Montagu, and Voltaire, championed the practice of variolation, in which individuals were infected with a mild form of smallpox to protect them from a more severe version of the disease.

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A History Of Neglected Teeth

Sep 30 2014 @ 9:00am

Olga Khazan considers why the ACA and most Medicaid plans don’t cover dental care:

The partition between dentistry and the rest of medicine dates back to the dental profession’s roots as an offshoot of hairdressing.

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Teju Cole also describes the work of artist Wangechi Mutu as “seductive in their patterning, grotesque in their themes”:

[Mutu] calls herself “an irresponsible anthropologist and irrational scientist.” Charged with historical misuses of science, her images Mutu_Hundred_Lavish_Months_of_Bushwhack_2004underscore the way female bodies can act as measuring devices of any society’s health. Her women respond to their environments with both intelligence and agony. Some are skinless, the rush of veins and colours alarmingly visible. Many are powerful, muscular, lithe, in heels, half-cyborg at times, often erotic, sometimes dangerous. Some are influenced by real women: Sarah Baartman (the so-called Hottentot Venus who was shown in European fairgrounds), Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Grace Jones and Tina Turner. It’s an all-star line-up of black women who had fiercely ambiguous relationships with the racial and gender tropes imposed on them.

Mutu’s work is sensual, delighting in the materiality of its media (paper, paint, mica, wool, Mylar). Seen in a gallery, the organic forms, hybrid anatomies, wild hair, machine-like forearms, delirious patterns and compound eyes coalesce in a way that no digital reproduction can quite match. And what is true of the pictures is doubly true of the sculptures and installations, which also make use of smell and sound: dripping bottles, fermenting wine, rotting milk.

Correction Of The Day

Sep 30 2014 @ 7:31am

“A comment article on 13 August about the European Court of Human Rights said that the supply of heroin and gay porn to prisoners was now a ‘right’. We are happy to clarify that this was not meant to be taken seriously and is not the case,” – the Daily Mail.

The Best Of The Dish Today

Sep 29 2014 @ 9:15pm

Ted Cruz, some supporters are arguing, is dead-set on a presidential campaign for 2016 and determined to make foreign policy his focus. It does not appear, it would seem, that this comes from a long mulling over the state of the world today, but instead as a response to the current very Republican-friendly re-animation of the post 9/11 hysteria about Jihadist terror that Josh has now noted. And his position is not neoconservative. He has no illusions about the ability of developing countries, especially in the Middle East, to find a way forward to democratic stability with American help. And so he would be as skeptical as I am that Obama’s new war in Iraq will somehow prod the sects there to overcome their differences and construct a functioning broad-based government. Instead he just wants to bomb the crap out of places from the air – or engage in massive military efforts to quell enemies – and then run away. Or, in his words:

“If and when military action is called for, it should be A) with a clearly defined military objective, B) executed with overwhelming force, and C) when we’re done we should get the heck out. I don’t think it’s the job of our military to engage in nation-building. It is the job of our military to protect America and to hunt down and kill those who would threaten to murder Americans. It is not the job of our military to occupy countries across the globe and try to turn them into democratic utopias.”

Well, I’m with him on that last p0int. But I’m not sure that the “rubble makes no trouble” paradigm really works in practice. If you’re dealing with Islamist terror, brutal bombing raids, which would inevitably involve civilian casualties, could very well provoke more resistance, more anti-Americanism and more terrorism. Even an occupation designed to quell an insurgency, as in Iraq from 2004 – 2010, failed to do that. And such a policy would be very hard to sell to allies – as even the current containment policy toward ISIS suggests. Then there’s his softer belligerence: much tougher sanctions against Russia and Iran. As if sanctions against the one government policy supported by the Iranian people – a peaceful nuclear program – would somehow resolve the problem. Or as if Obama hasn’t done both those things already.

But I expect Cruz to run, and I would not be surprised if he won. In the current mood – with the right returning to outright panic over Islamism, despite no terror attacks from any of the putative deadliest foes – the atavistic strain is tumescent. The GOP base wants revenge and bombs and bombast – preferably against Muslims. And the symbol of all this will be Greater Israel – the state that bombs its enemies with ruthless abandon, and with no apology. Just as Obama has adopted the Likudnik policy of “mowing the lawn” in the Middle East, Cruz will take that even further. The world will be our Gaza!

Today, I wondered whether the administration cared any more about whether a terror threat was imminent or non-existent before going to war against it; I tried to makes sense of the president’s apparent conviction that the Shi’a, Sunnis and Kurds will at some point decide they love Iraq more than they hate each other; I outed John Oliver as a journalist; and Jake Weisberg penned a tart review of Rick Perlstein’s history of the right. Man, I miss Jake’s writing.

The most popular post of the day remained this Chart Of The Day on how successive recoveries have benefited the rich more and more; followed by this reflection on how envy kills mid-life friendships.

Many 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 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. A new subscriber writes:

Just wanted to let you know, I’ve been wanting to subscribe to The Dish for what seems like ages now, but promised myself I wouldn’t until I found a job (internships notwithstanding). Well, I finally found one! So, after getting my first paycheck and a credit card, it seemed about time to ante up. There was only one last hurdle: being told I was “part of the smartest, most diverse and open-minded community on the web,” without throwing up. You might as well put up a sign, “You must be this pretentious to enter.”

But subscribing to The Dish is a big deal to me. I’ve wanted to do it for so long. Because of the deal I made myself, it’s come to signify that I’m actually going somewhere in my life, that I finally have some income I can dispose of. So I was thrilled for this to be the first purchase made on my new card.

We’re all as thrilled as our slightly nauseated reader.

See you in the morning.

Dunham, Reviewed

Sep 29 2014 @ 8:33pm

Reviews are in for Lena Dunham’s new essay collection. Helen Lewis focuses on Dunham herself, and her advantaged upbringing:

DunhamDunham’s first appearance in print came in 1998, when a Vogue story on New York tweens quoted her thoughts about big-name fashion designers“I really like Jil Sander, but it’s so expensive”and her attempts to re-create them on a $5-a-week allowance. She was 11.

Within five years, she was already on her second appearance in the New York Times, after a reporter was despatched to a vegan dinner party she gave for her private-school friends. “A crunchy menu for a youthful crowd”, records the headline. The 16-year-old Lena found that “meat was easy to give up, cheese, almost impossible.” But: “One year into a totally vegan diet, she has become a soy connoisseur.”

Not exactly the kind of up-bringing I had. I was munching on liver and bacon and mash and gravy at that point – and loving it. Lewis does eventually get to the book itself:

This book is emphatically not a feminist polemic. There is one chapter where she imagines the memoir she’ll write at 80, in which she will name the names of all the creepy male directors who have propositioned her, and one letter (in a collection of “emails I would send if I were one ounce crazier/angrier/braver”) that smacks of real, rather than posturing anger, at having her feminism derided. But everywhere else, perhaps from a desire to separate art from activism, the focus is relentlessly inward. (Her sister, Grace, is arranging for representatives of Planned Parenthood to campaign at events on Lena’s book tour; the book does not mention abortion.)

She writes in the book: “When I am playing a character, I am never allowed to explicitly state the takeaway message of the scenes I’m performingafter all, part of the dramatic conflict is that the person I’m portraying doesn’t really know it yet.” The same applies to most of the book: Her whole life is a performance art piece where she plays a noxious brat with great skill, and poses herself, either eerily like one of her mother’s dolls, or sexually, like her father’s nudes. And as the carapace of fame around her has expanded, she has shrunk within it, leaving only gnomic statements about granola and blowjobs. Reading this book, you realize that Lena Dunham has been playing “Lena Dunham” for a long time. She is not real.

Michiko Kakutani, for her part, refuses to conflate Dunham with her “Girls” protagonist:

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The Enduring Appeal Of Bullshit

Sep 29 2014 @ 8:05pm

Meet the

Brendan Nyhan considers why absurd claims spread so quickly on the Internet:

[T]ake the bizarre but instructive example of the woman who claimed to have had an implant to add a third breast – clearly an example of an implausible story that was too good to check. Initial reports circulated widely on social networks, totaling over 188,000 shares according to Emergent’s data. The story was quickly discredited after it was reported that a three-breast prosthesis had been previously found in the woman’s luggage, but the articles reporting that it was false never attracted even one-third as many shares as the initial false reports.

That hoax may seem silly, but it’s instructive about the problem with rumors – they’re often much more interesting than the truth. The challenge for fact-checkers, it seems, is to make the facts as fun to share as the myths they seek to replace.

(Screenshot from the New York Post)

Not Minding The Gap

Sep 29 2014 @ 7:40pm

Alice Robb discourages excessive gender-gap-awareness:

The “bike gap” is the latest in a small spate of “gender gaps” that don’t seem worth our concern. At New York’s “The Cut,” Ann Friedman says women don’t feel “at home in the world of weed.” It’s not entirely clear that Tracie Egan Morrissey, writing for Jezebel, is joking when she urges women to “close the gender gap on being potheads.” She cites research suggesting that nearly twice as many men smoke weed (or at least admit to it). The only possible explanation, according to Morrissey, is sexism. “When it comes to cultural representations, it’s generally accepted that the world of weed is a guy thing,” she writes. …

“No one bemoans the gender gap in female dominated activities,” points out journalist Jessica Grose in an email. “Where are the men in knitting or flower arranging?” Or, for that matter, where are the men in Soul Cycle? Marcotte admits that indoor cycling is dominated by women; she estimates that women make up “80 to 100 percent” of most spin classes. Yet she sees no problem.

Friedman dissents:

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Is Baseball A Religion?

Sep 29 2014 @ 7:13pm

As October nears, George Will answers the question this way:

Part of the beauty of baseball, and sport generally, is that it doesn’t mean a damn thing. It’s valued for itself. Now, it can be the pursuit of excellence. dish_baseballprayer It is competition tamed and made civil by rules. It is aggression channeled in a wholesome direction. These are all virtues. They tiptoe up to the point and stop well short of giving baseball meaning. It’s a game. It’s a very pretty, demanding, and dangerous game.

I do think that baseball satisfies a longing in people, particularly urban people. There is a vestigial tribal impulse in all of us. For instance, when you get on the L and the cars begin to fill up with people wearing their Cub blue and you’re all going to the same place for the same reason, for about three hours a little community exists. It disperses after three hours, but it will come back tomorrow.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan talked about what he called the “liberal expectancy.” He said that with the coming of modernity the two drivers of history, religion and ethnicity, would lose their saliency. Sport caters to this and entertains this desire for group identification. But there’s nothing transcendent about baseball.

Update from a reader:

George Freaking Will and baseball? Seriously? Any post about Will and baseball should be accompanied by this SNL skit.

(Photo from 2012 Giants-Padres game by Joel Henner)

Poor Choices

Sep 29 2014 @ 6:47pm

Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth, explains why the poor often make terrible decisions:

I smoke. It’s expensive. It’s also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It’s a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.

I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing?

Dreher, who was initially sympathetic to Tirado, had second thoughts after a reader dug up a 2013 hit piece on her. In an interview with Danielle Kurtzleben, Tirado defends herself against such attacks:

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