The Best Of The Dish Today

Dec 22 2014 @ 9:00pm

Winter Solstice Celebrated At Stonehenge

Today, a beleaguered Mayor De Blasio called for an end to the recent protests at the racial bias of the criminal justice system in America:

“It’s time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in due time,” Mr. de Blasio said in a speech. “That can be for another day.” The mayor’s call came a few hours after the police commissioner, William J. Bratton, said that the killing of the officers on Saturday was a “direct spinoff of this issue” of the protests that have roiled the nation in recent weeks.

There’s more Dish on the brutal murder of two cops here, and, from a cop’s point of view, here. A few simple things. It is appalling that some demonstrators used vile anti-police language as shown in this video. But it is also appalling that police officers would turn their backs on their own mayor and that their own union leader can place the blame for the murder of two cops on Mayor De Blasio. The reason? That De Blasio had to tell his own bi-racial son to be very careful when dealing with the police, and that he used the word “alleged” to describe a bunch of demonstrators attacking the police. Please. The NYPD needs an attitude adjustment. They’re not the CIA. They remain under democratic control.

A reader adds:

I haven’t to spoken about this to anyone of my family and friends because of a simple reason. I have several close family members who are (white) police officers, I also have several family members (my adopted daughter and others) who are black.

I understand that police officers are working in often very dangerous situations, and I totally abhor what those protesters said and that murderer did. And nothing excuses either, but this statement by your previous reader about racist cops doesn’t ring true to me: “Good cops despise those cops.”

I’ve heard the stories from black family members and friends of the profiling and harassment that is endemic. But I don’t need to take their word for it, I’ve watched my (very young) daughter being profiled by white officers and managers (white, Asian and others) all the time and the data supports those stories.

And yet I’ve heard very little from the police acknowledging that. Instead I have watched both my relatives and police spokesmen double down on the defense of racist cops and racism. They all immediately come to the defense of the very racist cops your reader says they despise. Rarely have I seen a police chief or spokesman say “We despise what this officer has done.” But worse still is watching my family members defend these obviously racist cops, and post racist stuff as some kind of defense on social media. I’ve had to block them from my feeds. I am not sure I am able to explain to my daughter that some of the people she loves are racist … and cops.

I respect and love what the police do for our society, but even I am starting to worry they are becoming militarized group feeling they are in a war.

What I worry about even more is the polarization that makes all this worse. You already know what Fox will be doing with this – as well as MSNBC, to much less effect. And when the police start to form a monolithic bloc within only one camp – and when that has a racial component, we’re in very troubled waters. They key here is de-escalation – from the extreme rhetoric of some protestors to the incendiary blame-assigning of Pat Lynch. And reform – to ensure that what passes for justice is not so racially skewed. What we have instead of either is tribal warfare, in which moments where we should all be in complete agreement – the cold-blooded execution of two NYPD cops – become moments for further polarization. Another reason this year was such an almighty bummer.

Today, I defended airing the Bell Curve debate. Because liberalism. I also lamented the end of some illusions I once held about America’s commitment to freedom as a core principle of its identity. We celebrated an ISIS defeat and watched some cows get into festive cheer.

My question: why are there no trigger warnings for Christmas?

The most popular post of the day was Excuse Me, Mr Coates; followed by We’ll Meet Again – on Stephen Colbert’s genius.

See you in the morning.

(Photo: A couple embraces as revellers take part in celebrations to mark the winter solstice at Stonehenge prehistoric monument on December 22, 2014 in Amesbury, England. About 1,500 revelers, druids and pagans gathered at the monument to celebrate the solstice, a tradition believed to date back thousands of years. By Rufus Cox/Getty Images.)

A Poem From The Year

Dec 22 2014 @ 8:28pm

MartinLutherKingMalcolmX

There isn’t another political or current affairs blog I know of that has poems suddenly poking up all over the place. It’s one of the things I’m proudest of here at the Dish – because it makes the implicit point that wisdom comes in many guises and that there are more ways to understand life than explainer-journalism. All of this is very fine and dandy in theory, but none of it would be possible in practice without our Poetry Editor, Alice Quinn. In the world of poetry, Alice is a legend. Her impeccable taste and depth of knowledge, her passion for the form, and her dedication to its survival and its necessity are the stuff of literary lore. And sometimes it seems not only that she knows a poet’s work, but that she actually knows him or her, and is or was a friend. So when I think of how we can sustain the kind of culture that the now-dying liberal arts magazines once did, I hope the integration of poetry into blogging is one small sally into the prevailing winds.

Alice was Knopf’s poetry editor from 1976 – 1986 and the New Yorker’s poetry editor for the next twenty years, and is now the executive director of the Poetry Society of America. And, every Christmas, we invite our poetry-loving readers to express their appreciation by joining the Society. This year, they are running a special year-end membership campaign from now until January 2nd. While supplies last, anyone who joins at the basic membership level gets a signed, limited-edition broadside of “Frogs” by Gerald Stern with an extra $10 donation. Any donation is tax-deductible – and for a short time, you also get a beautiful broadside in the bargain. Sign up for your membership here.

In the week ahead, we’ll also be looking back at a few of the poems offered this year, chosen by Alice and Matt Sitman, our literary editor – think of it as an idiosyncratic “greatest hits” of Dish poetry. Each of these poems will include a link to the Poetry Society of America’s membership drive. The first poem we’re revisiting is below.

“For Malcolm X” by Margaret Walker:

All you violated ones with gentle hearts;
You violent dreamers whose cries shout heartbreak;
Whose voices echo clamors of our cool capers,
And whose black faces have hollowed pits for eyes.
All you gambling sons and hooked children and bowery
bums
Hating white devils and black bourgeoisie,
Thumbing your noses at your burning red suns,
Gather round this coffin and mourn your dying swan.
Snow-white moslem head-dress around a dead black face!

Beautiful were your sand-papering words against our skins!
Our blood and water pour from your flowing wounds.
You have cut open our breasts and dug scalpels in our
brains.
When and Where will another come to take your holy place?
Old man mumbling in his dotage, or crying child, unborn?

(From This is My Century: New and Collected Poems by Margaret Walker © by Margaret Walker Alexander. Reprinted by kind permission of the University of Georgia Press. Photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, March 26, 1964, from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division via Wikimedia Commons)

Quote For The Day

Dec 22 2014 @ 7:55pm

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letters and Papers From Prison.”

Citizen Canine

Dec 22 2014 @ 7:27pm

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Zack Beauchamp interviews philosopher Will Kymlicka:

ZB: So what’s wrong with just saying we’ll take a number of steps to protect animal rights without going so far as to declare them citizens?

WK: As I’ve said, the core of our theory is the idea of membership. It’s a rich concept if you think about it seriously: it’s the idea that domestic animals belong here. It’s where we disagree with one strain of animal rights theory, which says we should extinguish domesticated animals because it was a mistake ever to bring them in.

We need to create a shared interspecies society which is responsive to the interests of both its human and animal members. That means that it’s not just a question of how you ensure that animals aren’t abused. If we view them as members of society — it’s as much their society as ours — then it changes the perspective 180 degrees. The question is no longer “how do we make sure they’re not so badly treated?” We instead need to ask “what kind of relationships do they want to have with us?”

That’s really a radical question. It’s one we’ve never really bothered to ask. I think there are some domesticated animals that enjoy activities with us — I think that’s clearest in the case of dogs, but it’s also true of other domesticated animals whose lives are enriched by being part of interspecies activities with us. But there are other animals who, if we took what they wanted seriously, would probably choose to have less and less to do with us. I think this would be true of horses.

(Photo by Flickr user alaindemour)

Face Of The Day

Dec 22 2014 @ 6:45pm

El Gordo Christmas Lottery

A man wears a costume as he attends the draw of Spain’s Christmas lottery, which is named ‘El Gordo’ (Fat One) at Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain on December 22, 2014. This year’s winning number is 13437. The top prize of 4 million euros will be shared between ten ticket holders. The total prize fund is worth 2.24bn euros. By Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images.

Losing Your Faith In Santa, Ctd

Dec 22 2014 @ 5:45pm

Readers continue the popular thread:

I remember the moment I knew for a fact that Santa wasn’t real. All my life, Santa used different wrapping paper than my mom. Gifts from my parents were in one style and Santa’s gifts looked completely different. One July, when I was 11 or 12, I was helping my mom clean out the garage and I came across Santa’s wrapping paper. I was old enough that I had a good idea that Santa wasn’t real, but I remember the look my mom and I exchanged. Mom said, “Well, that’s that. Don’t tell your little sister.” And I didn’t.

The next Christmas, when Santa used the special paper again, I felt like I was in on some big secret. I knew the truth! My sister figured it out logically a year later. She was 8. I am clearly the slow one of the family.

Another’s reason for disbelief was pretty simple:

Santa had the same handwriting as my parents.

Another reader:

I had been suspecting Santa was a myth for a few years, but when I was 10 I cornered my dad because he somehow couldn’t lie to me when asked a straight question. (As an 8 year old who had just i-want-to-believefinished D.A.R.E., I caught him burning incense and smoking, I thought, a cigarette. Being the smart ass I was, I asked, “are you smoking marijuana?” His answer was, “Yes, don’t tell your mother.” I didn’t.)

I asked him if Santa was real, and he told me no – it was him and my mom. To this day he says my face dropped, my heart broke, and that he’s always regretted telling me. I remember it differently. I remember being glad he told me the honest truth and didn’t keep lying to me like all the other adults. Of course I WANTED Santa to be real, I still do! That’d be awesome! But I had already found their stash of presents and he was just confirming what I already knew.

Another confesses:

I should probably keep this to myself, but what the Hell:

Read On

Beth Daley recently reported on prenatal screening errors:

Two recent industry-funded studies show that test results indicating a fetus is at high risk for a chromosomal condition can be a false alarm half of the time. And the rate of false alarms goes up the more rare the condition, such as Trisomy 13, which almost always causes death.

Companies selling the most popular of these screens do not make it clear enough to patients and doctors that the results of their tests are not reliable enough to make a diagnosis. … Now, evidence is building that some women are terminating pregnancies based on the screening tests alone. A recent study by another California-based testing company, Natera Inc., which offers a screen called Panorama, found that 6.2 percent of women who received test results showing their fetus at high risk for a chromosomal condition terminated pregnancies without getting a diagnostic test such as an amniocentesis.

Libby Copeland summarizes Daley’s findings:

Read On

Mental Health Break

Dec 22 2014 @ 4:20pm

Even cows get jazzed for Christmas:

And Everybody Hates The Gays

Dec 22 2014 @ 3:44pm

Earlier this month, 26 men were arrested at a Cairo bath house. Scott Long attended the first day of their trial:

The lawyers still hadn’t seen the prosecutors’ or police reports, so we don’t know definitely what the charges are. It seems likely, though, that 21 men were customers at the bathhouse; they will be charged with the “habitual practice of debauchery” (article 9c of Law 10/1061), or homosexual conduct, facing up to three years in prison. The owner and staff probably make up the other five prisoners. They’re likely to be tried for some combination of:

  • keeping a residence for purposes of debauchery (article 9a, three years),
  • or facilitating the practice of debauchery (article 9b, three years),
  • or profiting from the practice of debauchery (article 11, two years),
  • or “working or residing in premises used for debauchery” (article 13: one year).

That could add up nine years in prison. Contrary to [Egyptian journalist] Mona Iraqi’s lies, there was no mention of “sex trafficking.”

Shortly after the arrests, Brian Whitaker compared this latest incident with “a similar crackdown by the Mubarak regime around 2001″:

Read On

Excuse Me, Mr Coates

Dec 22 2014 @ 2:30pm

Some apologies for getting around to this so late. The torture report came out shortly after Ta-Nehisi’s excoriation of TNR as some kind of “neo-Dixiecrat” rag which had the equivalent of a “Whites Only” sign on it, and, well, first things first. Then I wasn’t blogging last week. So please don’t consider my recent silence some kind of tacit concession to TNC’s incendiary and hurtful critique. Au contraire.

A few brief points about his general argument. From the intensity of his rhetoric, you might infer that Ta-Nehisi was writing about National Review, an opponent of civil rights laws, or even about a neo-Confederate rag, as opposed to The New Republic, a longtime champion of the civil rights movement. But it appears he sees no difference. You’d think he were writing about a magazine filled with bigoted white Southerners, as opposed to an overwhelmingly Jewish set of writers and editors engaged in a long and internecine debate about what it means to be liberal. And the racial politics of TNR from the 1970s through the 1990s cannot be understood without grappling with the bitter and intense struggle between Jewish and African-American civil rights activists in the late 1960s and beyond. Surely Ta-Nehisi knows this. Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 1.29.49 PMHe grew up in this atmosphere. Maybe he believes TNR’s deviations from the Black Power party line were even worse because of its proclaimed liberalism. But he should at least diagnose it with a modicum of the sophistication he usually applies to American racial history.

As for the case that there was a “Whites Only” sign on the door: Has Ta-Nehisi really never read the extraordinary coverage of black history, literature, intellectual life, and poetry that TNR routinely published? Leon’s back-of-the-book was filled with such essays and reviews. Has it even occurred to him either that the campaign for welfare reform in the front of the book, for example, was conceived by liberals who believed the existing system was hurting black America? That it was a good faith effort precisely to care about an underclass “beyond the barrier”? You can debate its effectiveness and rationale. (President Obama, for the record, has said it was one subject on which he had changed his mind. Is he a neo-Dixiecrat as well?) But to assume that it was not done in good faith – or fueled by cheap racism – is not an argument. It’s just a smear.

Did we fail to find and nurture and promote African-American staffers? We did – along with almost every other magazine and newspaper at the time. I regret this. I tried – but obviously not hard enough. I’m no believer in affirmative action, but I’m a deep believer in the importance of differing life experiences to inform a magazine’s coverage of the world. And I tried mightily hard to find young black writers to contribute to the magazine. Did we fail because we were racists? I’ll leave that up to others to judge. But did we try to include black writers and intellectuals in the magazine’s discourse? Of course we did.

Which brings me to the issue we published on Race & IQ, of which I remain deeply proud and which has been distorted over time to appear as something I don’t recognize at all. Some of this may simply be bad memory or insufficient research (the issue is not online). Ta-Nehisi, for example, hasn’t actually read the issue he excoriates in the two decades since it was published. He is writing about his “feelings” about his memories, which he is perfectly entitled to do. But allow me to explain, with the full issue in my hands, why I think his account is flawed.

The current story-line would lead you to believe that TNR published “The Bell Curve.” But of course we didn’t. It was published by the Free Press, with a huge publicity and marketing budget. TNR wasn’t even the first magazine to weigh in on the controversy. The New York Times Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 1.47.24 PMMagazine had Charles Murray on its front cover before our issue came out – “The Most Dangerous Intellectual In America” – making the book even more of a hot topic. Every editor of every paper and magazine had to make a call about how to deal with the book. And as the editor of one of the country’s primary journals of opinion, which had already published Murray many times, I decided we should tackle it head on. We should air its most controversial argument and expose it to scrutiny and criticism. These were not, after all, marginal authors. One was a celebrated Harvard professor; the other was, at the time, the most influential social scientist in America. In my view, ducking this issue was not an option and even seemed cowardly. And I had read the entire book in great detail in manuscript to determine if there was a smidgen of eugenics in it, something that I, as a Catholic, find repellent in every way. This was my job as an editor. It passed my own test. Maybe I was wrong. But it was an honest call and one with which (unlike some others) I remain comfortable with today.

And look: I completely respect those who believed that the right approach was to ignore the book entirely and treat it as a pariah text; or to publish only definitive, devastating take-downs. But I hope that an issue-long, 28-page debate on the subject can also be seen as a legitimate alternative option, especially if you’re on the liberal part of the left. Several quick books were published on exactly that model – and no one is accusing those editors of favoring white supremacy. TNR, moreover, had a long history of this kind of diversity. It published, for example, Robert Bork’s early and famous critique of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, while simultaneously supporting its passage.

And Dish readers know how comfortable I found myself in that liberal tradition. Airing taboo stuff and examining and critiquing it has been a running feature of this blog from its beginnings. It is an axiom of mine that anything can be examined and debated – and that the role of journalism is not to police the culture but to engage in it forthrightly and honestly. Again: I respect those who believe the role of a magazine is to bless certain opinions and to stigmatize others, to indicate what is a socially acceptable opinion and what is not. It’s just not the way I have ever rolled on anything. So I responded to the race and IQ controversy exactly as I would any other: put it all on the table and let the facts and arguments take us where they may. In fact, I couldn’t understand why those who loathed the book didn’t leap at the chance to debunk it. If it were so transparently dreck, why not go in for the kill?

As it was, several leading black writers and intellectuals, with ties to the magazine, were eager to. Among them: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Glenn Loury, and Randy Kennedy. They were among the finest African-American minds of the era; and they did not hold back. Henry Louis Gates Jr analogized Murray to a slavery-defender:

By making the enslaved a character fit only for slavery, they excuse themselves for refusing to make the slave a free man.

Hugh Pearson wrote:

Murray and Herrnstein sound like two people who have found a way for racists to rationalize their racism without losing sleep over it. One could call what they are facilitating Racist Chic.

Glenn Loury wrote:

Read On