Hollywood Lets The Terrorists Win

Dec 18 2014 @ 11:02am
by Dish StaffColumbia Pictures' Premiere Of "The Interview" - Arrivals

Cyber war expert Peter Singer calls Sony canceling the theatrical release of The Interview “a case study in how not to respond to terrorism threats”:

We have just communicated to any would-be attacker that we will do whatever they want.

It is mind-boggling to me, particularly when you compare it to real things that have actually happened. Someone killed 12 people and shot another 70 people at the opening night of Batman: The Dark Knight [Rises]. They kept that movie in the theaters. You issue an anonymous cyber threat that you do not have the capability to carry out? We pulled a movie from 18,000 theaters.

Eugene Volokh is also dismayed:

I sympathize with the theaters’ situation — they’re in the business of showing patrons a good time, and they’re rightly not interested in becoming free speech martyrs, even if there’s only a small chance that they’ll be attacked. Moreover, the very threats may well keep moviegoers away from theater complexes that are showing the movie, thus reducing revenue from all the screens at the complex.

But behavior that is rewarded is repeated.

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A Bottomless Heaping Of “Have”

Dec 18 2014 @ 10:22am
by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Reihan Salam dissects the concept of white privilege, making reference to a piece I wrote on the concept of privilege generally. He agrees with me that privilege-checking as sensitivity-signaling is silly, and I agree with him that unearned advantage is very much real. Here’s Reihan:

Even white Americans of modest means are more likely to have inherited something, in the form of housing wealth or useful professional connections, than the descendants of slaves. In his influential 2005 book When Affirmative Action Was White, Ira Katznelson recounts in fascinating detail the various ways in which the New Deal and Fair Deal social programs of the 1930s and 1940s expanded economic opportunities for whites while doing so unevenly at best for blacks, particularly in the segregated South. Many rural whites who had known nothing but the direst poverty saw their lives transformed as everything from rural electrification to generous educational benefits for veterans allowed them to build human capital, earn higher incomes, and accumulate savings. This legacy, in ways large and small, continues to enrich the children and grandchildren of the whites of that era. This is the stuff of white privilege. …

In Blurring the Color Line, CUNY Graduate Center sociologist Richard Alba argues that rapid aging of white America creates an opportunity for younger Latinos, blacks, and Asians. Even if whites want to hoard all of the most privileged jobs for themselves, they’ll have no choice but to open up competition to those with the necessary skills, regardless of race. But this process of opening things up, as WASPs did for southern and eastern European immigrants and their children in an earlier era, will go far more smoothly if we have a growing economy, which will give everyone an opportunity to climb the social ladder. If we instead have economic stagnation, we will see a fierce zero-sum contest for economic and political power, in which tribal identities—including white identity—will become more central.

I’d argue that this is exactly what we’re living through right now: If everyone’s wages were growing, and if everyone felt secure enough in their jobs to quit every now and again in search of better opportunities elsewhere, I doubt that we’d be talking quite so much about white privilege. We’d definitely talk about broken schools and mass incarceration and law enforcement policies that disproportionately damage the lives of nonwhites. Yet we might talk about these problems in a more forward-looking way, as formidable obstacles that need to be overcome by all Americans, not just guilty whites.

As I read him, what Reihan is saying is that the white-privilege conversation has emerged, paradoxically, because most white Americans – along with most non-white Americans – aren’t doing so great economically. A sense emerges that success (or just access to a living wage) is a zero-sum game. It emerges, that is, in all parts of society, except among the most entrenched of society’s haves.

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Bitcoin: The Next Internet?

Dec 18 2014 @ 9:42am
by Dish Staff

Tim Lee believes the crypto-currency can thrive as a global payment system, even if it fails as a currency. He compares it to another innovation that proved far more influential than anyone thought it would be:

dish_bitcoinHistory suggests that open platforms like Bitcoin often become fertile soil for innovation. Think about the internet. It didn’t seem like a very practical technology in the 1980s. But it was an open platform that anyone could build on, and in the long run it proved to be really useful. The internet succeeded because Silicon Valley have created applications that harness the internet’s power while shielding users from its complexity. You don’t have to be an expert on the internet’s TCP/IP protocols to check Facebook on your iPhone.

Bitcoin applications can work the same way. There are already some Bitcoin applications that allow customers to make transactions over the Bitcoin network without being exposed to fluctuations in the value of Bitcoin’s currency. That basic model should work for a wide variety of Bitcoin-based services, allowing the Bitcoin payment network to reach a mainstream audience.

Henry Farrell is skeptical, predicting that governments would act quickly to shut down such a system if it seemed to be taking off:

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by Dish Staff

Readers react to the big news:

Normalization of relations is a great and long overdue policy. I have a question about it that I haven’t seen addressed: will it create an opportunity to close Guantanamo?

Another:

Hopefully everyone’s noticed that the Republicans opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba:

A) Have no problem with us having diplomatic relations with China, another Communist country with an even worse human rights record.

B) Are currently defending the US’ own recent human rights abuses, i.e. torture.

We all know the real reason: political posturing. Castro stripped Cuban aristocrats of their wealth. They fled to Florida and have been propping up anti-Castro policy ever since. There are no principles here.

Another asks:

Lost in all the coverage is the one issue I think is the most important – will this change the absurd “Wet-foot/Dry-foot policy?

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A Colorful History

Dec 18 2014 @ 8:15am
by Dish Staff

Leann Davis Alspaugh revisits the mauve craze that swept Europe in the mid-19th century:

In the 1850s, the color mauve was discovered by a young chemist who was trying to synthesize Godey's Lady's Book May 1872 Fashion Plateartificial quinine. The residue from one his experiments became the world’s first aniline dye, guaranteed not to fade with time and washing. Queen Victoria wore a mauve gown to her daughter’s wedding, and Empress Eugénie of France cooed that the color matched her eyes—and an epidemic of “mauve measles” swept Europe. As cultural historian Simon Garfield noted in his 2001 book on the history of mauve, the color’s popularity led to burgeoning interest in the practical applications of chemistry and advances in the fields of medicine, weaponry, perfume, and photography. Mauve became indelibly associated with the elaborate, overstuffed décor of the Victorian period; when mauve returned in the 1980s, it was billed as “dusty rose,” a name much more congenial with that era’s other favorite color: hunter green.

(Image: Fig. 3 from a Godey’s Lady’s Book fashion plate, May 1872, via Flickr user clotho98)

What’s On Jeb’s Agenda?

Dec 18 2014 @ 7:32am
by Dish Staff

Ambinder sees an opening:

Bush’s biggest opportunity corresponds to the biggest hole in the GOP platform: its radio silence on practical economic solutions for the middle class, which, it turns out, corresponds to the biggest bread-and-butter concern that Americans repeatedly chastise Washington for not addressing.

If he can move beyond supply-side economics and invent or adopt policies that directly benefit middle class voters who aren’t big savers, if he can speak to their concerns, if he can draw for us a picture for how a governing conservative president might function, then everything I’ve ever said about him — namely, that he’s a Bush and he can’t win the presidency, much less the nomination — goes out the window. If he can square THIS hexagon, and if he can get people to forget that he’s a Bush, he might be able to win both.

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Obama Just Ruined Cuba!

Dec 17 2014 @ 8:32pm
by Will Wilkinson

Not really! Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba (which does not yet include lifting the embargo) is a giant step toward fixing Cuba. Nevertheless, people are already worried that Cuba will no longer remain a zoo of human inmates dwelling in picturesque shabbiness – already complaining about the prospect of Cubans no longer trapped on a prison island, no longer oppressed by a totalitarian regime, and therefore free to buy a Big Mac. Seriously. This is a real thing on Twitter:

Look, I totally understand the sentiment. There is something singular and vivid about a vibrant, tropical ruin frozen in the 1950s. Cuba is a showcase of dilapidated anti-commercial mid-century nostalgia, and I too sort of wish I had gone to see it, just as I wouldn’t mind having seen Soviet Leningrad. Come to think of it, it would be pretty interesting to see the slave ships coming into harbor in prebellum Savannah. What a scene those auctions must have been! But the human part of me, the moral part, as opposed to the aesthetic and amorally curious tourist part, can only regret that slaving Savannah and communist Russia lasted as long as they did, and today I can be nothing but hopeful that something like freedom is finally coming to the Cubans. If it does, and I make it to Havana, and see a McDonald’s, I will walk into that McDonalds, buy a large Diet Coke, and pour a little on the ground in half-sincere mourning for the pretty, impoverished theme park of tyranny I never had the chance to see.

America’s Pro-Torture Cult

Dec 17 2014 @ 7:58pm
by Dish Staff

Ambinder bets that “Cheney would still have us torturing innocents, even today”:

I can only think of Cheney now as the personification of the Cult of Terror, that September 11th, 2001 political construct that gave Americans license to act outside the stream of history instead of at its headwaters, and to suppress dissent in the name of state security. What makes this scarier, even, and why I feel justified in calling it a cult, is that it also suppresses, denigrates, and stigmatizes the moral and political foundations that it seeks to protect. It’s an American cult, because it plays to our own biases about what makes us special. It is not unique or exceptional.

Chait also examines the pro-torture mindset. He contends that “admiration for the methods used by totalitarian states is … embedded in the torture program created by the Bush administration”:

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Faces Of The Day

Dec 17 2014 @ 7:32pm
by Dish Staff

Cuba Releases Alan Gross, Held In Prison For 5 Years

Osvaldo Hernadez, Miguel Saavedra and Carlos Munoz Fontanillehas (L-R) react to the news, outside the Little Havana restaurant Versailles in Miami, that Alan Gross was released from a Cuban prison on December 17, 2014. Gross, an American contractor, had spent five years in Cuban jail and reports indicate he is on his way back to the United States. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The End of Serial, Part One

Dec 17 2014 @ 6:59pm
by Michelle Dean

Tomorrow morning will see the airing of the very last episode of Serial. At this point everyone’s spilled so much ink on the podcast you might be feeling some fatigue, but I’ll throw my own writing on the subject your way anyway. I’ve been following closely and also doing some reporting on the subreddit that became a sort of second character on the show as things moved along. It has been a strange, sad, and oddly moving to experience and observe this phenomenon. I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it all.

I’ll write more in the morning once I’ve heard the episode, but it seemed worth recording my last-Serial-eve feelings of trepidation with you. I am not expecting fireworks tomorrow. I am expecting a whimper.

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