The Best Of The Dish Today

Apr 15 2014 @ 9:30pm

VFYWC#200 Collage

To mark today’s 200th window contest, we put together a new – and improved! – gallery archive to view all of the old contests. As an added bonus, when you click on any of the images in the gallery, you’ll be taken to a slideshow, which could be a fun way to play old contests, especially for our newer readers. Check them both out here.

The entire window view phenomenon on the Dish – and I know it’s the favorite feature for many of you – began a long time ago now, when I was thinking late one night about how to convey some of what I was absorbing from the in-tray. So many readers from so many parts of the globe – and yet they cannot really see each other!  The vfyw-bookhighdea was just to get a view from the window from readers across the country and the planet. Digital photos were easy to take and easy to email. Too easy, it turned out, as within a few days – I was doing the blog solo at that point and was awash in jpegs – I was begging for readers to stop. But you didn’t. Here’s how the feature played out over those first few weeks. We eventually made a coffee table book of the best views from all 50 states and 80 countries, which Chris Bodenner edited.

The first-ever contest is here. The idea was sparked – like most best things on the Dish – by a reader, who liked to “guess where the photo was taken from (at the country level at least) before scrolling down to see the caption.” See how the contest first evolved here. You can discover a few amazing contest-related coincidences here and here (even today’s view had a happy accident). In due course, VFYWC imitators started popping up all over the web, including the NYT and CNN. Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones built a zoomable VFYW game, which likely inspired the Google Maps version, GeoGuessr. Pete Warden created an interactive map and rotatable globe of window views. Data-cruncher Jay Pinho analyzed the feature in the depth. We marked our 100th contest by recognizing two grand champions, Mike Palmer and his teammate Yoko. But the undisputed all-time myplacewashdc206pmchamp is, of course, Doug Chini. His tips for winning the contest are here.

But the genius of the VFYWC lies with Bodenner. He created the contest, curates it, loves it, and has made it the mini-artform it is. Chris is also in charge of all the reader threads, so the contest came naturally to him. He makes it look easy, despite the hours of absorbing and editing down hundreds of emails each week. He doesn’t seem to sleep much, which is a mercy since the contests can take up to six hours to compose. Recently, Chas is shouldering more of the work.

Now the plug. This amazing little thing comes out of this blog and its community, and that blog has only one source of income, its readers. So if you’ve gotten something out of the Window Views or sleuthing through the contest each week, or just enjoy watching others figure it out, and haven’t yet subscribed, do Chris and Chas a favor and do it here. It’s our only way of paying for such work – and for the delight and intrigue and bafflement it produces – along with the scenes of surpassing normality that punctuate our coverage of a troubled world each day. So subscribe! Or buy a gift subscription for someone you want to play the contest with.

Elsewhere on the Dish today, our NSFW Saturday post, “Bottoms Up“, continued to draw the most traffic by far. (Yet only 11 of you publicly liked the post on Facebook. Own up to it, pervs!) Other popular posts included Fox actually taking the lead on calling torture torture, Rand Paul getting under the skin of neocons, and cannabis becoming more and more of a sacrament. Our big Truvada thread continued here. And you can read unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish.

See you in the morning.

(Top image: All 200 VFYW contests, composed by Special Teams. Bottom image: A beagle in Adams Morgan.)

Looking Back At The Boston Bombing

Apr 15 2014 @ 8:39pm

Boston Prepares To Commemorate Year Anniversary Of Marathon Bombing

Ian Crouch visited a memorial to the Boston marathon bombing, which occurred a year ago today:

Last week, to mark the anniversary of the attacks, the Boston Public Library opened an exhibition called “Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial” at its main branch, in Copley Square. The centerpiece is a collection of more than a hundred pairs of running shoes that had been left at the makeshift memorial. One pair has the word “Boston” on the left toe and “Strong” on the right. Another has a baseball set in each heel. Another features a tag with the number 26.2, the standard distance, in miles, of a marathon. The rest are just plain running shoes—an array of brands in a rainbow of colors, the kinds you see shuffling along the ground on a normal race day. Once shiny and gleaming, they are now dulled and frayed by use, and by the days they spent out in the weather last year.

Other items are a reminder of the simple, handcrafted objects that distinguished the memorial’s impromptu inspiration. The four white crosses are set in a row. Behind glass, scraps of paper communicate outrage and despair. There are signs with quotations from figures ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Jerry Garcia (“Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart”). Notes and cards and posters from far-flung places: Istanbul, Morocco, the Philippines. Certain phrases recur, in pencil or pen or marker: “No more hurting people.” “Peace.” “Hope.” “We will finish the race.”

Eric Larson profiles Rebekah Gregory, whose leg was severely injured in the blast. She has undergone 16 surgeries and is now considering amputating the leg:

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Regenerative Medicine Is On A Roll

Apr 15 2014 @ 7:59pm

First lab-grown vaginas, now lab-grown noses:

Read On

Face Of The Day

Apr 15 2014 @ 7:24pm

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Mark Murrmann appreciates the work of Chris Hondros, the renowned photojournalist who was killed alongside Tim Hetherington in Libya in 2011:

Though he published thousands of photos, one of Chris Hondros’ best known images remains seared in my mind: a young Iraqi girl crying, covered in the blood of her parents who were just killed by the US soldiers towering over her. I first saw it in the New York Times—a shocking story with a mesmerizing image. I was just finding my way in the world of photography at the time, thinking maybe I wanted to be a war photographer. Hondros’ photos stood out for his ability to capture moments of clarity in tense, difficult situations. …

Testament, a new offering from powerHouse Books, stands as a retrospective of Hondros’ work, and also reveals him as a skilled writer and speaker who often talked publicly about his profession and the impact of photography, especially war photography, on society. Excerpts of his writings, speeches, and interviews are interspersed with the photos, giving a better idea of the man, and where he was coming from as a photographer. It’s this extra stuff that makes Testament much better than just another collection of great photos from horrific situations. Proceeds from sales of the book, incidentally, go to the Chris Hondros Fund, established to support the work of conflict photographers and spread awareness of issues that arise from reporting in war zones.

Buy the book here. A photo essay of many of Testament‘s images here.

(Photo: Joseph Duo, a Liberian militia commander loyal to the government, exults after firing a rocket-propelled grenade at rebel forces at a key strategic bridge in Monrovia, Liberia on July 20, 2003. It’s the cover-photo for Testament - photographs by Chris Hondros/Getty Images, text by Chris Hondros, published by powerHouse Books.)

American Taxes

Jonathan Cohn celebrates tax day by calling for higher taxes:

[T]axes in the U.S. are among the lowest in the developed world. The average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an organization of rich countries, is higher. And in countries like Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands countries, the average is much higher. In those nations, taxes account for more than half of total national income.

That level may sound scary but, as many of us have written before, you could make a good case that the people of Scandinavia and Northern Europe know what they are doing. They are far more secure, thanks not only to national health insurance but also to generous provision of child care and unemployment benefits. And despite the high tax burden, their economies have historically been strong—in part, because the combination of investment and a secure safety net makes people more comfortable with a dynamic, ever-changing economy. The wonks used to call this economic model “flexicurity.”

Douthat pushes back:

Cohn concedes the very general point that we can’t simply impose Swedish structures on the United States and call it a day, but he doesn’t address the more specific problem suggested by that concession:

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Joshua Keating highlights it:

Even at an annual growth rate of 5 percent, which seems extremely optimistic, it would take Syria 30 years to get back to its pre-war GDP, according to a recent analysis by Jihad Yazigi, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who writes about the country’s economy on his website, the Syria Report.

Aryn Baker looks at the broader picture:

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How Greed Became Good

Apr 15 2014 @ 5:45pm

John Paul Rollert traces the pursuit of self-interest over three centuries. He focuses on Ayn Rand and her influence:

[C]apitalism is the only economic system in which [Rand wrote] “the exceptional men” are not “held down by the majority” and in which … the “only good” that humans can do to one another and “the only statement of their proper relationship” are both acknowledged: “Hands off!” A woman who titled a collection of essays The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand was given to brackish candor. Yet at a time when many people think that the common good is more often imperiled than empowered by unbridled greed, she provides an alternative defense of the acquisitive instinct by appealing to an ethics of gross achievement and a formulation of personal liberty that looks with suspicion and disdain on any talk of civic duty, moral obligation, or even prudential restraint. Her aim was simple: To relieve greed, once and for all, of any moral taint.

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Max Fisher points out that the Passover seder is a popular ritual among American Jews, even those who aren’t observant:

Passover, which commemorates the ancient Jews’ Biblical flight from Egypt to Israel, is celebrated by nearly three out of four US Jews, and 42 percent of secular Jews. If you live in a place with a significant Jewish population, there’s a pretty good chance you know someone who’s going to a seder — the ritual-heavy dinner that marks Passover — or are going yourself. Among religiously observant Jews, 78 percent attend a seder.

Compare those numbers to the share of US Jews who fast during Yom Kippur (fasting is a central component of observing the holiday, and many Jews who fast will do so partially). Only 53 percent of US Jews fast; its 62 percent among religious Jews and just 22 percent among secular Jews. In other words, a secular Jew is about twice as likely to attend a Passover seder as he or she is to fast during Yom Kippur, even though the latter is by far the more important holiday. About 22 percent of US Jews report themselves as secular, so the fact that they are so much more likely to observe Passover is a big deal for its cultural prominence.

Goyim are getting into the holiday as well:

[F]or many, the allure of Passover stretches beyond a curiosity ticket to a Jewish ritual. The seder itself and the themes it explores have a way of resonating outside the boundaries of the tribe. Rick Weintraub, a Jewish-born convert to Christianity, has been leading seders in churches for about 30 years. Around 500 Christian participants will join him this year at The Hills, a church in North Richland Hills, Texas.

The seder speaks to Christians on two levels, he explains.

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Quote For The Day II

Apr 15 2014 @ 5:15pm

“This note is to alert you folks that I know that I do not know whether my tax returns are accurate,” – Donald Rumsfeld in a letter he sends annually to the IRS.

He’s dead right about the complexity, although I know I don’t know what he knows he doesn’t know about it.

Senators Gather To Caucus Over Hagel Nomination

And so we begin to get into – finally! – a real debate about foreign policy within the GOP. With Ron Paul, the neocon stranglehold on Republican foreign policy was easily maintained. With Rand Paul? Not so much. And so we have three sallies against him this week from three classic sources: Bret Stephens, Rich Lowry and Jennifer Rubin. Bret Stephens is a very gifted writer, and his cri de coeur today is quite something.

So let me concede up-front: I fully agree with Stephens that Paul’s theory that Dick Cheney decided to invade Iraq in order to burnish the bottom line of Halliburton is foolish as well as stupid. Occam’s razor does all the work. We know that in the wake of 9/11, Cheney panicked. He was terrified of another attack and his fetid imagination ran wild. One way in which he could manage to recover was by seizing the initiative – and Iraq was sitting right there, as it had been for years. Along with instituting torture – another panic move – Cheney’s pursuit of war needed no underhand motive. And it is asinine and completely fruitless to make unprovable slurs.

But on containing Iran’s potential nuclear capacity? Paul is perfectly sane, and in line with US strategy against far more formidable nuclear adversaries during the Cold War. If he is completely out of the mainstream so was George Kennan and every president from Truman to Reagan. To describe the strategy that won the Cold War as somehow extremist is simply bizarre. Here’s Paul’s basic position:

“I’ve repeatedly voted for sanctions against Iran. And I think all options should be on the table to prevent them from having nuclear weapons,” Paul said on “This Week” Sunday. But he said those who oppose the idea of containment — or living with an Iran with nuclear weapons — ignore that such an outcome has been necessary in the past.

“They said containment will never ever, ever be our policy,” Paul said of those who oppose Iran getting nuclear weapons at any cost. “We woke up one day and Pakistan had nuclear weapons. If that would have been our policy toward Pakistan, we would be at war with Pakistan. We woke up one day and China had nuclear weapons. We woke up one day and Russia had them … The people who say ‘by golly, we will never stand for that,’ they are voting for war,” he added.

Well, they are, aren’t they? And you can tell by the failure to address this core point. Stephens doesn’t address it, preferring to mock Paul’s alleged electability and pick the low-hanging fruit of Halliburton. Lowry doesn’t go there, either. And Rubin of course simply flaps her arms up and down:

It has been the position of three presidents that a nuclear-armed Iran is intolerable. It is an existential threat to Israel. It is not simply that it is “not a good idea” for Iran to get the bomb. He is far, far outside the mainstream on this — and far to the left of President Obama.

But of course insisting that an Iranian nuke is intolerable is the only viable negotiating strategy to prevent it. Paul agrees with the “all options on the table” mantra. His cardinal sin is in asking what happens if the strategy fails, as it might – and as the neocons devoutly wish. What then? Rubin makes further points: Paul’s remark

reveals extreme naivete about how enemies read signals.

But he’s not the president. And containment of the nukes with even more crippling sanctions is obviously not something the Iranian regime would like. Why are they in these negotiations in the first place? In some ways, the threat of sanctioned containment is more troubling for Tehran than threats of another religious war in the Middle East. The former hurts Iran alone. The latter hurts both of us. Then this:

It reveals that he listens to no competent adviser.

Pardon my smacked gob, but an unreconstructed believer in the Iraq War is now claiming competence as a virtue?

Read On

Mental Health Break

Apr 15 2014 @ 4:20pm

You New Yorkers will probably love this:

Via Brian Heater:

Filmmaker Geoff Tompkinson tours through some of New York City’s most celebrated spots in “New York Noir,” a short that utilizes the hyper-lapse film technique, a combination of time-lapse and camera movements. The piece is primarily monochrome, though Tompkinson has added select color back like the yellow of taxis back in. You can see a number of videos featuring other metropolitan areas like Venice and Istanbul over on Tompkinson’s Vimeo page.

Brian Feldman narrates what went down in Nevada this weekend:

Government officials from the federal Bureau of Land Management attempted to seize cattle from a Nevada farmer over the weekend, arguing that the farmer, Cliven Bundy, owed money to the government for grazing his cattle on public land. On Saturday, the week-long dispute ended with a four-hour standoff between the bureau and nearly 1,000 of Bundy’s supporters, some armed.

The dispute began in 1993, when Bundy’s allotment of land for grazing cattle was altered to include some environmental protections. Bundy did not accept the change and continued to use the land anyway without paying grazing fees. In 1998, a judged order that Bundy remove the cattle and pay trespassing damages—Bundy did not comply. In 2013, a judge authorized the government to impound the approximately 900 cattle, located on the ranch about 80 miles from Las Vegas.

John Hinderaker defends Bundy even though he acknowledges he has no legal grounds for his claim:

To begin with, his family has been ranching on the acres at issue since the late 19th century. They and other settlers were induced to come to Nevada in part by the federal government’s promise that they would be able to graze their cattle on adjacent government-owned land. For many years they did so, with no limitations or fees. The Bundy family was ranching in southern Nevada long before the BLM came into existence. …

The bedrock issue here is that the federal government owns more than 80% of the state of Nevada.

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The Sight Of Sound

Apr 15 2014 @ 3:41pm

DL Cade flags the above video on Schlieren Flow Visualization, “a photographic trick that allows you to see density changes in air and, therefore, actually capture sound waves on camera”:

Starting off with a simple diagram and heat as an example, producer Adam Cole breaks down how this type of photography works, after which he shows you several examples of actual sound waves captured using a high-speed camera and Schlieren Flow Visualization.

Meanwhile, artist Adam Brown explores the question of what a digital photo “sounds” like in his project “Concentrism.” His process: “take a digital photo, turn it into audio waves, etch them onto a vinyl record, and ‘play’ it back using a USB turntable and a projector”:

For most of us, the point of taking a picture or recording sound is to hold on to something fleeting. And fleeting moments, Brown points out, aren’t relivable without a “carrier” — whether that’s a piece of silver gelatin paper, a vinyl record or a hard drive. There is no lasting message without the medium. So what happens to the message when the medium changes?

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Throwing The Pigskin In China

Apr 15 2014 @ 3:22pm

Christopher Beam spent time with a Chinese football team, the Dockers, and their American coach, Chris McLaurin:

[T]he greatest cultural gap between McLaurin and the team seemed to be the willingness to draw up every last bit of oneself and smash the person opposite. Size wasn’t a problem; the Dockers were a strapping bunch. They just weren’t willing to usetheir size. Part of it was fear of injury: In the Dockers’ first six months, seven players had been hurt, including Bobo, who had broken his leg at practice. But habit played a role, too. Life in China is plenty physical—just try riding the subway during rush hour—but you don’t often see kids rough-housing in the park. Figo had to get used to the idea of crushing another man. “The first time, I didn’t dare tackle,” he said. Fat Baby, too, was no natural destroyer. “You have to imagine the other guy is your enemy,” he told me. “It’s like in The Waterboy [the 1998 Adam Sandler movie], where you pretend they’re the person who bullied you.”

The Myth Of The Oversharing Parent

Apr 15 2014 @ 3:00pm

Researcher Meredith Ringel Morris found that new parents are too busy to post to Facebook:

After a child is born, Morris discovered, new mothers post less than half as often. When they do post, Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 3.12.19 PM
fewer than 30 percent of the updates mention the baby by name early on, plummeting to not quite 10 percent by the end of the first year. Photos grow as a chunk of all postings, sure – but since new moms are so much less active on Facebook, it hardly matters. … If new moms don’t actually deluge the Internet with baby talk, why does it seem to so many of us that they do? Morris thinks algorithms explain some of it. Her research also found that viewers disproportionately “like” postings that mention new babies. This, she says, could result in Facebook ranking those postings more prominently in the News Feed, making mothers look more baby-obsessed.

I have another theory: It’s a perceptual quirk called a frequency illusion. Once we notice something that annoys or surprises or pleases us – or something that’s just novel – we tend to suddenly notice it more. We overweight its frequency in everyday life. For instance, if you’ve decided that fedoras are a ridiculous hipster fashion choice, even if they’re comparatively rare in everyday life, you’re more likely to notice them. And pretty soon you’re wondering, why is everyone wearing fedoras now?

(Photo by Sage Ross)

Iranian Blogs

A group of researchers studied the decline of “Blogestan,” the Iranian blogosphere:

Filtering hit Blogestan hard, modifying the diversity of voices within the Persian blogosphere. As one writer explained: “They showed me a stack of papers, each one a blog post that I had written, and they had highlighted portions and sections. After I was released, my blog in effect became my case file.” Reformist blogs are 17 times more likely to be filtered or removed than conservative blogs. In our sample, nearly half of the reformist blogs were filtered or removed in comparison to only 2.8 percent of conservative blogs. In addition, nearly all blogs hosted on the two popular platforms operating outside Iran, WordPress and Blogspot, are blocked. These conditions drove many prominent bloggers to alter or cease blogging, which transformed the blogging landscape. The closure of popular services such as BlogRolling and Google Reader disrupted the connections between bloggers. The loss of Google Reader was particularly significant because it had been a vital tool for circumventing the censorship of filtered blogs.

But there is another side to the story: The emergence of social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook is among  the most important causes for the erosion of Blogestan. Just because blogs have declined does not mean that online public expression has withered alongside it.

There Were Red Flags

Apr 15 2014 @ 2:17pm

The alleged Kansas shooter made no effort to conceal his hatred of Jews:

In a 2010 radio interview, Frazier Glenn Miller, the man suspected of killing three people Sunday at a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement center in Kansas, said he was interested in the tea party, voiced support for then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and spoke approvingly of Ron Paul, the Texas Republican congressman and presidential candidate. In late April 2010, Miller, a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon, was a guest on The David Pakman Show, a nationally syndicated left-of-center radio and television program. At the time, Miller was running for US Senate as an independent in his home state of Missouri with the slogan “It’s the Jews, Stupid,” and Pakman pressed Miller on his extreme views.

During the interview, Miller was unabashed about his anti-Semitic positions. When asked whether he thought the United States would be better off if Hitler had succeeded, Miller responded, “Absolutely, the whole world would…Hitler would have created a paradise on Earth, particularly for white people. But he would have been fair to other people as well.” He added, “Germans are blamed collectively because of the alleged so-called Holocaust.”

His views on gays were equally charming:

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Seinfeld Now: A Comedy About Caste

Apr 15 2014 @ 1:56pm

I have to say that the brutal honesty of this review of Jerry Seinfeld’s new comedy schtick – talking to fellow celebrities over coffee – took my breath away. Money quote:

Vanished is the “Seinfeld” that applied everyman scrutiny to everyday subjects: Can gifts be “regifted”? Why do dentists talk to you while opening your mouth? Instead, we watch pairs of rich guys chatting about the gilded joys of their lives and careers and cars, about the sealed-off world they inhabit and we don’t. As with watching royal weddings, we are supposed to bask in the reflected glow, not covet what they have.

The Alec Baldwin episode has major hathos all over it:

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When asked about the risks of Truvada, Dave Cullen answered in three quick parts: healthcare costs (discussed by readers here), side effects, and people not taking the drug consistently:

A New Yorker piece backs up Cullen on the side effects:

Taking Truvada to prevent H.I.V. comes with very few risks. In the N.I.H. study, one in two hundred people had to temporarily go off the pill owing to kidney issues, but even those people were able to resume treatment after a couple of weeks. While bone-density loss occasionally occurs in Truvada takers who are already infected with the virus, no significant bone issues have emerged in the PrEP studies. And though about one in ten PrEP takers suffer from nausea at the onset of treatment, it usually dissipates after a couple of weeks. According to the U.N. panel’s Karim, Truvada’s side-effects profile is “terrific,” and Grant said that common daily medications like aspirin and birth control, as well as drugs to control blood pressure and cholesterol, are all arguably more toxic than Truvada.

A reader is still worried about the indirect risks of PrEP:

I’m sympathetic to your position; I will probably take Truvada when I’m at Bear Pride in Chicago. I truvadaplan on using condoms anyway, but … you know. Alcohol and all that. Sometimes you don’t pay attention.

But for the record, I do think the points that those concerned about Truvada raise regarding substituting it for a general sexual health strategy are reasonable in some ways. Case-in-point: gonorrhea. I can tell you right now, I am much, much more afraid of drug-resistant gonorrhea than I am of HIV.

Another asks:

One criticism I’ve read of Truvada is that if lots of gay men start taking it, but even a small subset of them do not take it as directed, i.e. once a day, that it could lead to different resistant strains and a strengthening of the virus? Is that at all true?

Not really, as Rich Juzwiak recently reported:

[Jim Pickett, the director of advocacy for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago] told me he believes drug resistance is “something to be watchful for,” but not a huge concern of his for a few reasons.

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Your Tuesday Cry

Apr 15 2014 @ 1:20pm

A far-too-poignant detail from the NYT this morning on the victims of an anti-Semitic hate-monger:

William L. Corporon was a longtime family doctor, but to his family, he was Popeye, a nickname bestowed by a grandson, Reat Underwood. On Sunday, it was Popeye who was drafted to take Reat to audition for KC SuperStar, a singing competition for high school students in the Kansas City area. A member of church and school choirs and an actor in summer theater productions in the park, Reat had wanted to try out for years. Now, as a 14-year-old high school freshman, he was finally old enough.

Dressed in a coat and tie, he had prepared a song called “You’re Going to Miss Me When I’m Gone,” which he sang for his mother on Sunday. She kissed him goodbye. Then he jumped into his grandfather’s truck.