The Censor As Literary Critic

Oct 2 2014 @ 10:23am

Drawing on his new book Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature, Robert Darnton declares that censorship is “essentially political; it is wielded by the state” – but also finds that its historical use has gone far beyond just banning certain texts:

Reading was an essential aspect of censoring, not only in the act of vetting texts, which often led to competing exegeses, but also as an aspect of the inner workings of the state, because contested readings could lead to power struggles, which sometimes led to public scandals. Not only did censors perceive nuances of hidden meaning, but they also understood the way published texts reverberated in the public.

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Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Testifies To House Committee On Recent Security Breaches At White House

After a series of security breaches, Secret Service director Julia Pierson resigned yesterday. Bryce Covert doesn’t fault Pierson:

This is the first year since 2010 that the agency isn’t operating with a budget below what it requested. And since that year, personnel levels have seen a severe decline. In her testimony before Congress, Pierson said that the agency’s current 550 employees is below “optimal level.”

The understaffing, for which Pierson was not responsible, could have played a significant role in the breach that led to her losing her position. Former secret service agents told the Washington Post that the incident may have been related to the severe staffing shortage in the division responsible for securing the White House. It’s gotten so bad that the agency has had to fly agents in from around the country, who are less familiar with the grounds and response plans.

Ron Fournier mostly blames the state of the Secret Service on the decision “fold it into the fledgling monstrosity that would come to be known as the Homeland Security Department”:

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How We Fund Injustice

Oct 2 2014 @ 8:57am

Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert take a close look at our huge prison population:

Many will seek to make our system of incarceration more “fair.” But as Naomi Murakawa argues in her new book The First Civil Right, it’s precisely this response that feeds an unjust system resources and lends it legitimacy. Many of the initial sentencing acts were meant to provide fair, predictable guidelines, but prosecutors took advantage of them instead to rapidly escalate incarcerations. Money that President Clinton earmarked for “community policing” ended up being used by police for zero-tolerance programs like “stop-and-frisk.” As a result, we incarcerate too many people, for too long, and for the wrong reasons. The necessary agenda—from stopping the “war on drugs” to rejecting carceral force as our first response to social problems—requires not investing more in the existing criminal-justice system, but simply doing less.

Marilynne Robinson’s much-anticipated Lila returns to the small town in Iowa where two previous novels, Gilead and Home, were set – but this time, she focuses on the woman who drifted into the life of the much older Rev. John Ames and gave him an unexpected son. Reviewing the book, Leslie Jamison marvels at the story Robinson tells, which grapples with “what makes grace necessary at all—shame and its afterlife, loss and its residue, the limits and betrayals of intimacy”:

The novel weaves together two narrative threads: the present arc of courtship, marriage, and pregnancy; and the entire past life that delivered Lila to Ames’s church in the first place. Ames, marked by early grief after his first wife and their baby died in Lilachildbirth decades earlier, is no stranger to loss himself. “I had learned not to set my heart on anything,” he tells Lila, and she is drawn to this. “He looked as if he’d had his share of loneliness, and that was all right. It was one thing she understood about him.” When you’re scalded, touch hurts: one of the scalded recognizes another, and touches carefully, always. They are both haunted—Lila by the ghost of Doll, the wild woman who cared for her, and Ames by the specter of the life he never got to live with his first family. Part of the beauty of their bond is a mutual willingness to honor the integrity of their former lives. He prays for the “damned” souls of her past, and she begins to tend the grave of his late wife, clearing weeds and pruning the roses.

Lila takes as its core concern what might have constituted, in another narrative, a happy ending: two lonely souls who never expected happiness somehow finding it. But Robinson’s quest is to illuminate how fraught this happiness is, shadowed by fears of its dissolution and the perverse urge to hasten that dissolution before it arrives unbidden.

Jamison adds these thoughts about the grace suffusing Robinson’s writing:

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A reader adds to the natural gas thread:

The relative merits of methane, coal, and other energy sources should not be considered in a vacuum. As on practically any other issue, real-world practices and legal-institutional incentives have a great influence. The North Dakota energy boom is taking place in a location without the infrastructure (insufficient gas pipeline or local refining capacity) to make a lot of the natural gas yield usable – and without regulations requiring emissions capture. So a lot of the gas is being “flared” – burned off in the oilfields. This flaring adds CO2 to the atmosphere equivalent to that emitted from a million cars a year.

These pictures of the Bakken field from space are pretty dramatic.

Speaking of the Bakken region, Maya Rao took a job at a North Dakota truck stop this summer to get an inside look at booming regional economy and the motley cast of characters fueling it:

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The Best Of The Dish Today

Oct 1 2014 @ 9:00pm
by Dish Staff

Andrew is still on his speech circuit in California, so he’s not able to wrap up the Dish tonight. But if you missed his longer posts, Andrew, above all, laid into the president and various members of his administration for covering up alleged torture at Gitmo. He also took aim at the NYT’s sponsored content guru, Meredith Kopit Levienat, for spreading more “re-purposed bovine waste”, and then blasted Roger Cohen for playing the Godwin card with ISIS. But Andrew himself caught shit from readers over his incessant whining about NYC. More importantly, another reader shared a long and heartbreaking story of child abuse – a post that’s already getting a lot of feedback from readers, so stay tuned for followups.

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. 21 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. One writes:

I finally subscribed. Despite some gripes, your coverage of Obama’s war on ISIS finally did it. Excellent debate.

(If I may put in a small gripe/request on the side: can we please do without horse-race speculation of the “Hillary vs X” type until we actually have declared candidates? Please? Honestly don’t give a hoot about hypotheticals. It’s just noise. Let’s focus on actual events.)

Much more Dish in the morning.

Marijuana Is Good Medicine

Oct 1 2014 @ 8:35pm

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 29:   A man purchases medical marijuana,

In a survey, 92 percent of medical marijuana patients said it “alleviated symptoms of their serious medical conditions, including chronic pain, arthritis, migraine, and cancer”:

“Our study contradicts commonly held beliefs that medical marijuana is being overused by healthy individuals,” the authors write. “The most common reasons for use include medical conditions for which mainstream treatments may not exist, such as for migraines, or may not be effective, including for chronic pain and cancer.”

In considering the efficacy of any kind of medical treatment, we should listen first and foremost to the patients. The debate over medical marijuana has largely been dominated by vested interests and advocacy groups on either side – patients’ voices have been either silent or ignored completely.

This study provides a helpful corrective, and in this case the patients are speaking loud and clear in near-unanimity: medical marijuana works.

(Photo: A man purchases medical marijuana, the first legal sale, at Capital City Care in Washington, DC on July 29, 2013. By Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Obama’s War Budget

Oct 1 2014 @ 7:53pm

Jessica Schulberg reads a new report that attempts to tally the cost of the ISIS war so far:

Due to the vaguely defined scope of the conflictPresident Barack Obama has vowed not to deploy U.S. combat troopsit has been hard to put a dollar amount on the operation. But a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) report released Monday estimates that the U.S. has already spent between $780-$930 million in Iraq and Syria. In just the past month, the cost was $250-$400 million, or $9-$14 million per day. …

Because Obama has yet outline any long-term plan for U.S. efforts in Iraq and Syria, CSBA’s long-term cost estimates are based on likely hypothetical levels of warfare. If the U.S. draws down airstrikes to approximately 100 targets a month (there have been 200 targets this month, but air campaigns usually peak early because targets learn to hide) and caps U.S. personnel at 2,000, the cost is estimated to be between $2.4 and $3.8 billion a year. But if the administration follows recommendations to deploy 25,000 ground forces and raises the number of air strikes to 200 a month, it will be closer to $13-$22 billion annually.

“To put this in perspective,” she adds, “the U.S. spent approximately $1.1 billion in total direct expenditures in the 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya.” But notes that these estimates are “far less than the roughly $150 billion the U.S. spent during the peak years of the Afghan (2011) and Iraq (2008) wars.” Business Insider looks at where the money to fight ISIS is coming from:

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The Father Of Three Faiths

Oct 1 2014 @ 7:15pm


Sajjad Rizvi suggests the “very notion of Abrahamic religions is arguably Islamic” – and explains how he sees the relationship between Judaism, Christian, and Islam:

The Quran presents Abraham as an adherent of Islam, but here “Islam” means the primordial faith that connects humanity to one God and leads in turn to Judaism, Christianity and then historical Islam as proclaimed by Muhammad. There are some who view Islam as a faith that supersedes the two earlier monotheistic religions. But I think it’s more useful to understand Islam as a religion that is self-conscious about its relationship to Judaism and Christianity and explicitly takes account of their scriptures and traditions. Almost all the prophets of the Quran will be familiar to those who know the Bible, and the Quran explicitly refers to parables, ideas and stories from the Bible.

The common roots — and inheritances — of the three faiths make it useful for us to think seriously in terms of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic civilization and heritage that we all share. The development of philosophy in Islam also shows a common tradition of rationality. Anyone with a basic understanding of the categories of Aristotle’s thought employed by Christian and Jewish thinkers would find many of the arguments of Islamic philosophers and theologians familiar. The great Islamic philosopher Avicenna (10th-11th century) developed a metaphysical notion of God that had a tremendous impact on the Latin west: the idea that God is the necessary being required to explain the existence of every contingent being.

(Image: Caravaggio’s The Sacrifice of Isaac, 1603, via Wikimedia Commons)

Face Of The Day

Oct 1 2014 @ 6:45pm


A Syrian Muslim pilgrim poses for a picture outside a hotel near Mecca’s Grand Mosque on October 1, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers started pouring into the holy city for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is mandatory once in a lifetime for all Muslims provided they are physically fit and financially capable. By Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images.