The Best Of The Dish Today

Jul 31 2014 @ 9:15pm

The articles Lisa Goldman refers to above are as follows: “Beautiful Dream of Israel Has Become A Nightmare” by Gabor Mate; Liberal Zionism After Gaza, by Jonathan Freedland; and Zionism And Its Discontents, by Roger Cohen. Here’s another decent human being and a friend, the legendary newsman, Jon Snow:

We can all heave a sigh of relief that a humanitarian cease-fire appears to be imminent.

On another matter related to the welfare of stranded children, I’m trying to get something straight. For the last couple of months, the right-wing noise machine has described the surge of refugee children at the border as a crisis of Biblical proportions. They have also excoriated all of president Obama’s executive actions on immigration. So now, after dismissing Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to deal with the refugee children, they cannot pass a bill to authorize even $659 million to take care of the crisis. And what do they urge president Obama to do instead? To take executive action to handle it! I swear I am not making this up. In Boehner’s words:

“There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.”

So, yes, the president is once again damned if he does use his executive powers and damned if he doesn’t. And the Republican Congress has shown that it can pass nothing – even in the midst of what it has described as an epic crisis – because it is so divided within itself. The idea that these shambolic excuses for legislators should actually be rewarded with more seats this fall tells you something is deeply awry with the political system. This is a party fit for cable news and not for government.

Today, I engaged my friend Sam Harris on Israel, Hamas and Jihadism; noted new shifts in the Israel debate – not in Israel’s favor; had a frank and frisky conversation with Rich Juzwiak about sex, gay men and the Truvada future; and marveled once again at the seriously unsafe sex life of the octopus.

The most popular post of the day was Why Sam Harris Won’t Criticize Israel; followed by Deep Dish’s Andrew Asks Anything: Rich Juzwiak.

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. 23 more readers became subscribers today to make our running total 29,843 – so close to 30,000 we can smell it. You can help us get there by subscribing instantly 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.

See you in the morning.

CIA Director John Brennan Speaks At The Council On Foreign Relations

I offer you a simple set of facts: under the Bush administration, the CIA set up a program that indisputably contained torture techniques; in due course, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the program in order to get some clarity as to its intent, its techniques, its authorization and its results; as the Committee was doing its work, the CIA hacked its computers in order to craft its own defense and suss out what the Committee had discovered. When Senator Feinstein publicly accused the CIA of this grotesque interference in its affairs, and assault on the constitutional separation of powers, the CIA chief, John Brennan said:

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s—that’s just beyond the—you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.

At the time I wrote: “Either Brennan or Feinstein isn’t telling the truth. ” We now know it was Brennan who wasn’t telling the truth, as the CIA itself has now acknowledged in its own internal report that it did exactly that – something “beyond the scope of reason”. Indeed it is beyond the scope of reason. It was also beyond the scope of reason that the CIA would import the torture and brain-washing techniques of Communist China in order to glean intelligence from captured enemy combatants. And yet they did that as well. But the attempt to obstruct justice by hacking into the Senate’s computers adds something else to the original crime. Let’s recall what DiFi said back in March:

Here’s her conclusion:

I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function. … The CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as Executive Order 120003, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

This is not a minor matter – it is a hugely important matter in terms of the constitution and the rule of law. We’re talking here about crimes and deception. How are we supposed to believe another word that comes out of Brennan’s mouth? And how desperate must the CIA have been to cover up its crimes that it took this extraordinary step of spying on the Senate that oversees it?

I submit that either Brennan knew nothing of what was going on and had no grip on his own agency; or he knew full well and was brazenly lying in public. In either case, under his watch, the CIA tried to subvert a critical Congressional report on its own criminal history.

I’m with David Corn:

Brennan owes the nation an explanation for his own actions. Why did he put out a false cover story? Was he bamboozled by his own squad? Was he trying to stonewall?

The CIA conducts much of its business in secrecy; and most of Congress’ vetting of the CIA likewise occurs out of public view. Effective oversight requires trust and cooperation between the two—and there must be that trust and cooperation for the public to have confidence that the oversight system works. But there also has to be public trust in those who lead the CIA. Brennan’s initial public statements about this scandal severely undermine his credibility. He owes the public a full accounting. If he remains in the job, President Barack Obama will owe the public an explanation for why he retained an intelligence chief who misled the public about CIA misconduct.

(Photo: Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan takes questions from the audience after addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in in Washington, DC on March 11, 2014. Brennan denied accusations by U.S. senators who claim the CIA conducted unauthorized searches of computers used by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff members in an effort to learn how the committee gained access to the agency’s own 2009 internal review of its detention and interrogation program, undermining Congress oversight of the spy agency. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)

Native Tongue Tied

Jul 31 2014 @ 8:09pm

Olga Khazan reflects on her struggle to recall her first language 25 years after emigrating:

I haven’t spoken Russian with any regularity since I was in my early teens, when, tired of middle-school ostracism, I decided to become as Americanized as possible. Many psychologists think that we forget languages, and other things, because of “disuse” – the memories that we don’t try to recall very frequently become more deeply buried over time. Which explains why, even though you once aced your French midterm, you can no longer remember how to declare that you would like to go parasailing with Jean-Claude this weekend.

Other studies have shown that forgetting a native language might be an adaptive strategy that helps us learn a second one. In a 2007 study, “native English speakers who had completed at least one year of college-level Spanish were asked to repeatedly name objects in Spanish. The more the students were asked to repeat the Spanish words, the more difficulty they had generating the corresponding English labels for the objects.” That is to say, the better I became at English, the more my brain suppressed the Russian inside me.

Homeless Outlaws

Jul 31 2014 @ 7:43pm

Sleeping In Cars

Sleeping in your car is no longer legal in many cities:

Over the last three years, American cities have responded to growing populations of homeless families by criminalizing their lives on the street, argues a recent report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, a Washington, D.C.-based legal advocacy group. Surveying 187 cities across the U.S., the group found an increase of citywide bans aimed at preventing homeless people from living in public view. …

The ban on sleeping in your car or truck is a downright trend with the number of laws criminalizing the action exploding by 119 percent since 2011 – a growth rate higher than any other anti-homeless law. Sleeping in your car is illegal even in progressive cities such as Minneapolis. In Palo Alto, where rent is two and half times the national average and there are only 15 shelter beds to accommodate a homeless population estimated at 150 people, the city has made sleeping in “one’s own private vehicle a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail,” the report’s authors wrote.

Recent Dish here on efforts of urban designers to prevent sleeping in public.

Face Of The Day

Jul 31 2014 @ 7:15pm

Wacken Heavy Metal Festival 2014

Fans attend the Buelent Ceylan performance at the 2014 Wacken Open Air heavy metal music festival in Wacken, Germany on July 31, 2014. Wacken is a village in northern Germany with a population of 1,800 that has hosted the annual four-day festival, which attracts 75,000 heavy metal fans from around the world, since 1990. By Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Jul 31 2014 @ 6:47pm

Discussing the controversy over the F-35 jet fighter boondoggle, Charles Kenny points out that the Pentagon overpays for practically everything it spends money on, not just military equipment:

Across the military, the average major Pentagon acquisition comes in at 40 percent over budget, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. In spite of the Pentagon’s well-documented history of profligacy, the Congress continues to enlarge its responsibilities. The DOD’s mandate now includes wide-ranging scientific and medical research and international infrastructure projects, diffusing the focus on its core mission—like buying planes that don’t set themselves afire on the runway. That’s a disservice to America’s military and a burden to the country’s taxpayers. … If the Pentagon is so bad at providing good weapons to soldiers at a reasonable price, you might not expect it to be any better at buying anything else—and the evidence suggests it isn’t.

Read On

[Re-posted from earlier today]

Our first big screen-printing is underway and more orders for t-shirts and polos keep pouring in. If you haven’t decided on your shirt yet, full details on designs and sizing are here. Or just go here to purchase now. A hesitant customer:

I am pretty much the last person to buy a “band t-shirt” at this point, but I may actually buy one of the polos (prolly navy) with the customary alligator replaced by the dog. It’s super subtle and pretty adorable. Most people will just think it’s a cool shirt, but those in the know will get it.

That reader soon followed up: “Caved, bought one.” Another reader:

So glad there are T-shirts and polos – thanks. It will be fun for me and other Pacific Northwest fans to recognize one another – kind of like a secret handshake. But when I go to BustedTees, they offer me 30% off my order for giving up personal information, and then I learn that I cannot apply the discount code to my Dish product because of a “stipulation of our agreement” with The Dish (a quote from the online chat in which I tried to figure this out). Grrrrr.

The Dish’s privacy policy is different than BustedTees’, and they offer a different kind of shirt than we do, so their coupon agreement isn’t compatible with our shirts. But after buying your Dish shirt, definitely look around the rest of the BustedTees’ site to check out their own shirts and offers. Some Dish faves:

Read On

Meanwhile, Back In Syria …

Jul 31 2014 @ 5:59pm

Hassan Hassan suspects that Assad is poised to recapture Aleppo, which would be a potentially fatal blow to the rebels:

The regime’s recent gains mean that it may be able to strangle the opposition’s strongholds in Aleppo, and threaten its support networks outside the city. Sheikh Najjar is a strategic gateway for the regime into Aleppo’s northern countryside, and if it can capture the still rebel-held Infantry School and Handarat camp, it can secure northeastern Aleppo and encircle the rebels. It can also disrupt the rebels’ supply lines to Turkey, which represent their main source for arms and supplies.

Thus, the rebels in Aleppo find themselves squeezed from all sides:

Read On

A Preying Mantle

Jul 31 2014 @ 5:43pm

Octo-blogger Katherine Harmon Courage flags new research into the tragic carnal habits of our favorite cephalopod:

[Scientist Christine] Huffard came across a pair of mating day octopuses (Octopus cyanea) near Fiabacet Island in Indonesia. The female, as is often the case in this species, was larger—with a body about seven-and-a-half inches long; the male was closer to six inches long. They were positioned on a reef, outside the female’s den, the male’s mating arm (hectocotylus) inserted into the female’s mantle from a (presumably) safe distance.

After about 15 minutes of mating, the female inched closer to the male. And, as if lunging for a quick embrace, the female encircled the male’s mantle with her two front arms, “dragging him nearer,” the researchers describe. The female’s two arms wrapped around the male’s funnel and mantle opening. The male turned white (a common escape attempt response) and seemed to fight to slink away. But the female continued her constriction for two full minutes before wrapping an additional arm around the male. Two minutes after that, the male stopped moving.

“The female enveloped his body with her web and carried him to what appeared to be her den,” Huffard and [scientist Mike] Bartick write. Apparently the male was both date and dinner.

A reader continues the discussion:

The next book club topic is to discuss whether Montaigne was Christian or Atheist? Puh-montaigneleeze. Does it matter? Does it matter to God Himself what you, me, Montaigne or anyone believes? Isn’t that a little prideful?

Do you think the first question God will ask all his Super Christian followers (or atheists) upon their death is what they believe in? Will their God want their opinions on evolution? Global warming? It’s like asking your dog’s opinion when casting your ballot.

It’s much more interesting to see how beliefs are played out. And for that, Montaigne/Sarah Bakewell is fabulous. We’re this Super Christian nation but that doesn’t always play out so well. Sure we don’t drown witches (anymore), but we torture and murder innocent people, turn refugee children away at our border. We justify these actions, as all extremists in crisis conditions do, by claiming exceptional times and unusual circumstances.

If, as Montaigne states, it’s just politics and therefore part of the cycle of decay and rejuvenation, then why react in such extremes? Why sue the President? Why intervene everywhere? Why listen to Hannity or McCain on bookclub-beagle-tranything? However bad things are, as Montaigne says, most of life goes on undisturbed. In the long view, fanatics wear themselves out. Preserving your dignity, your soul, and remaining true to yourself is forever.

Keep picking books like this one and the world will be a better place. No shit!

Send your thoughts on How To Live to bookclub@andrewsullivan.com.