McWilliam’s runner is no stranger to us, whether we be runners or no. Most modern Americans feel compelled to develop an expertise—be it a career, hobby, or sport. The “specialist” or “expert” always receives greatest respect, while those who “dabble” in various trades or interests are less likely to garner acclaim. Indeed, in education, fields that teach breadth over depth are seeing less students and less interest. Take the humanities, or philosophy: as philosopher professor Rebecca Newberger Goldstein told the Atlantic, interest in philosophy has declined as students “want to get good jobs and get rich fast.” Money and renown goes to the specialists, not to the holistic scholars.
This isn’t meant to denigrate experts, professional athletes, and the like—most careers require a good depth of knowledge in a given subject. But it is important to consider whether we are practicing virtue in our trade, and whether we ought to “branch out” in order to become more healthy and well-rounded human beings. Perhaps the politician should pick up art (like Winston Churchill), the “foodie” should study literature, the economist should take dancing lessons. It isn’t that specialization is bad, so much as that specialization can often lead to obsession—and obsession leads to personal and societal disorder.
St. Augustine called such obsession a “disordered love.” The concept springs from his beautiful Confessions: disordered love seeks ultimate happiness in temporal, earthly objects or pursuits, “an action which engenders all kinds of pathologies in human behavior,” writes David K. Naugle.
I chose my profession of my own volition. I refuse to be shamed and stigmatized. I am a proud sex worker. I am #notyourrescueproject
— Belle Knox (@belle_knox) February 16, 2014
A startling percentage of Americans say yes to that question:
According to data from the Public Religion Research Institute, only 29 percent of Americans think watching porn is morally acceptable. Somewhat predictably, men and women have very different opinions on the issue: Only 23 percent of women approve, while 35 percent of men think it’s okay. … White evangelicals and people over 68 are the least likely to approve of watching smut: 10 percent and 9 percent, respectively. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Millennials and people who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated approve of porn the most: 45 percent and 53 percent, respectively.
But some trends are more surprising. White Catholics are twice as likely as Hispanic Catholics to find watching porn morally acceptable—28 versus 14 percent. People with an advanced degree are somewhat less likely than college graduates to think it’s morally acceptable to watch (34 versus 40 percent). But both of those groups are significantly more likely than high-school grads to approve—only 23 percent of that group told PRRI it was okay.
For those who like your porn, a new site called SkweezMe wants to “make accessing the content that people want so easy, seamless and stress-free that pirating porn starts to look like too much work”:
— elluz (@elbialuz) March 5, 2014
And fitting for NSFW Saturday night:
As I was renewing my subscription just now, I realized my motivation for doing so was one of the only ones that hadn’t been mentioned, perhaps with reason: being a Dish subscriber gets me laid.
The mechanism is fairly simple: most people only discuss the topics that show up on their Facebook news feed, and they have self-sorted so that the viewpoints are ones they agree with. Being a Dishhead gives me access to a wide variety of different viewpoints and lesser-known facts about all things non-Kardashian, allowing me to contribute to a conversation with nearly anyone worth talking to.
Most recently, his team worked on artifacts found in various sites in Denmark and Sweden that once held ancient Nordic grog, a term loosely used to define beverages containing multiple fermentable sugar sources. With the help of this chem-lab technology they were able to detect the presence of tartaric acid, which hints at the presence of grapes, a group of plant compounds associated with lingonberry and cranberry, and traces of other compounds related to juniper berry, bog myrtle, and yarrow.
But rather than stop at a list of ingredients and a journal publication, Dr. McGovern has been taking his work one step further. Using these results and other evidence from Nordic dig sites, Dr. McGovern and Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione teamed up to bring this ancient grog, along with several other brews, back to life. Named Kvasir after a Nordic deity born from the spit of other gods, this orange-hued brew is made with wheat, cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, yarrow, honey and birch syrup. The result is a tart and complex beer that is packed with spice and floral notes. Instead of coming off as a gimmick, Kvasir feels and tastes more like a refined museum artifact that should studied and pondered. Instilling this millennia-old historical accuracy into a large-scale production beer is certainly no easy feat. It’s a tricky task that calls for innovation and compromise.
A prime example of this is Dr. McGovern and Dogfish Head’s most ancient of ales, the 9000-year-old Chinese elixir known as Chateau Jiahu. … Chateau Jiahu is a brew that must be experienced with an open mind. Beer certainly isn’t the first word that comes to mind when taking the initial sips. Sweet and complex, with subtle grape and white flower nuances, this ancient concoction drinks much more like a dessert wine. I’d suggest slowly enjoying this contemplative brew while relishing in the thought of consuming something that hasn’t been tasted for 9000 years.
Previous Dish on ancient alcohol here.
(Image of Chateau Jiahu by Flickr user edwin)
According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, “weed” didn’t take off as a slang term for marijuana until the early 1990s:
Ngram Viewer includes data only through 2008, but it appears the trend has continued and weed is now on top. In Google Books searches confined to 2013 publications, smoke marijuana pops up 69 times, smoke pot 94 times, and smoke weed 149 times. That is also the sense one gets from Urban Dictionary, whose users have been inspired to contribute 225 separate definitions for weed. The most popular one, with more than 39,000 “up” votes, was posted by “AYB” and is short and sweet: “God’s gift to the world. Brings peace when used wisely.” …
Why the recent weed dominance? It seems clear to me that it’s a generational thing. In the 1990s, a new generation of users wanted to distance themselves from their parents’ dope or pot (the latter dates from the 1930s and apparently originated in African-American slang). Weed was already in the lexicon, and provided a nice implicit variation on the hippie-ish grass.
An infrared-hot one-night stand:
Hermione Hoby, considering why Karl Ove Knausgaard’s sprawling six-volume autobiography has captivated so many Anglophone writers, concludes that the maximalist approach “gives a reader the irresistible sensation of reading a life as it’s lived – reality, in real time”:
Real life, of course, is mostly boring, and in book one, the longueurs are almost comic in their banality. A teenage mission to procure beer for a New Year’s Eve party, for example, occupies about 70 pages. Throughout, innumerable quotidian tasks are rendered as meticulously and exhaustively as autopsies. Here, for example, is the making of a cup of tea: “After a while I picked up the teapot and poured. Dark brown, almost like wood, the tea rose inside the white cup. A few leaves swirled and floated up, the others lay like a black mat at the bottom. I added milk, three teaspoons of sugar, stirred, waited until the leaves had settled on the bottom, and drank. Mmm.”
Yet, as the New Yorker‘s book critic James Wood put it, “even when I was bored, I was interested.” There is something so compelling and addictive about being immersed in a life like this that it is, as one novelist put it recently, “like reading a vampire novel.” Zadie Smith is among the many writers to declare their fandom, writing at the end of last year: “A life filled with practically nothing, if you are fully present in and mindful of it, can be a beautiful struggle.”
Hoby detects a touch of envy amid the accolades – not because Knausgaard is such a talented writer, “but because he has a knack for defying every piece of received wisdom about how to write well”:
Do authors betray their loved ones with fictionalized accounts of their lives – and does the answer matter for the reader? Tim Parks explores the morally murky territory between fiction and memoir:
The question is: Can a novel that will affect the author’s closest relationships be written without any concern for the consequences? Will the story perhaps be “edited” to avoid the worst? Or is awareness of the possible reaction part of the energy feeding the book?
Italo Svevo’s Coscienza di Zeno begins with a hilarious account of Zeno’s attempts to stop smoking, always stymied by his decision to treat himself to l’ultima sigaretta, the last cigarette, usually one of the highest quality. Friends were aware this was largely autobiographical.
You know him for his classic novels and searching essays, but Nikky Finney argues that poetry – which Baldwin wrote “throughout his life” – was at the heart of his self-understanding:
Baldwin wrote poetry because he felt close to this particular form and this particular way of saying. Poetry helped thread his ideas from the essays, to the novels, to the love letters, to the book reviews, stitching images and feeling into music, back to his imagination. From the beginning of his life to the very end, I believe Baldwin saw himself more poet than anything else: The way he cared about language. The way he believed language should work. The way he understood what his friend and mentor, the great American painter Beauford Delaney, had taught him — to look close, not just at the water but at the oil sitting there on top of the water. This reliable witnessing eye was the true value of seeing the world for what it really was and not for what someone reported, from afar, that it was.
When Baldwin took off for Switzerland in 1951, he carried recordings by Bessie Smith, and he would often fall asleep listening to them, taking her in like the sweet black poetry she sang. It must have been her Baby don’t worry, I got you voice and their shared blues that pushed him through to finish Go Tell It on the Mountain in three months, after struggling with the story for ten years. Whenever Baldwin abandoned the music of who he was and how that sound was made, he momentarily lost his way. When he lost his way, I believe it was poetry that often brought him back. I believe he wrote poetry throughout his life because poetry brought him back to the music, back to the rain. The looking close. The understanding and presence of the oil on top of the water. Compression. Precision. The metaphor. The riff and shout. The figurative. The high notes. The blues. The reds. The whites. This soaking up. That treble clef. Bass. Baldwin could access it all — and did — with poetry.
(Photo of Baldwin in 1971 via Wikimedia Commons)
Popova captions the above short film:
From my friends at PBS Digital Studios and filmmaker James W. Griffiths comes A Solitary World — a breathtaking homage to H.G. Wells, with text adapted from five of his most celebrated works: The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The First Men in the Moon (1901), In The Days of the Comet (1906), The World Set Free (1914). Read by Terry Burns and featuring an appropriately haunting score from the young British composer Lennert Busch, the film belongs to — pioneers, perhaps — an emerging creative genre: the cinematic poem.
Neil Gaiman’s 1200 word short story, “Down to a Sunless Sea,” makes for a perfect quick dive into fiction. It begins:
The Thames is a filthy beast: it winds through London like a snake, or a sea serpent. All the rivers flow into it, the Fleet and the Tyburn and the Neckinger, carrying all the filth and scum and waste, the bodies of cats and dogs and the bones of sheep and pigs down into the brown water of the Thames, which carries them east into the estuary and from there into the North Sea and oblivion.
It is raining in London. The rain washes the dirt into the gutters, and it swells streams into rivers, rivers into powerful things. The rain is a noisy thing, splashing and pattering and rattling the rooftops. If it is clean water as it falls from the skies it only needs to touch London to become dirt, to stir dust and make it mud.
You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to email@example.com. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.
Media coverage of the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese famously implicated dozens of the victim’s neighbors in Kew Gardens, Queens – none of whom, according to a front-page NYT story, phoned the police despite witnessing the brutal attacks over the course of half an hour. Nicholas Lemann investigates how the now-debunked “apathy narrative” took hold, tracing its influence to NYT editor A. M. Rosenthal:
Stories like that of the silent witnesses to Kitty Genovese’s murder represent the real danger zone in journalism, because they blend the power of instinct—which is about whether something feels true, not about whether it is true—with the respectable sheen of social science. In his book [on the murder, Thirty-eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case], Rosenthal groused, “I did not feel, nor do I now, that the sociologists and psychiatrists who commented contributed anything substantial to anybody’s understanding of what happened that night on Austin Street.” But, if he hadn’t assigned a second-day story consisting of quotes from such people, his version of the Genovese murder would not have taken the shape that it did. The experts transformed a crime into a crisis.
The manufacturing of the thirty-eight-witnesses myth had generally benign social effects. Yet there are many examples in which tendentious public renderings of violence have set off more, and worse, violence. (Many of the lynchings in the South during the Jim Crow era were undertaken to avenge a crime that the mob, confirmed in its rage by the local press, felt certain had taken place.) The real Kitty Genovese syndrome has to do with our susceptibility to narratives that echo our preconceptions and anxieties. So the lesson of the story isn’t that journalists should trust their gut, the way Abe Rosenthal did. Better to use your head.
Kaija Straumanis’s self-portraits capture the moment of impact:
Literary translator, editor, and grad student Kaija Straumanis has a keen eye for photography, as can be seen from her Flickr gallery. This series of self-portraits, which Straumanis humorously refers to as “stuff being thrown at my head” moments, stands out in particular. In each image, Straumanis is in the process of being hit in the face by some object, whether it is a dodgeball, a book, or even a jack-o’-lantern.
Maria Konnikova searches for a fix:
The ubiquity of modern music and the resulting proliferation of earworms raise [a] question…: How do you dislodge one? In a study that [researcher Lauren] Stewart and the psychologist Victoria Williamson just published in the journal PLoS ONE, they examined thousands of survey responses to see what, if anything, was an especially effective method.
Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:
On the evening of March 6th, the Poetry Society of America partnered with The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center to present e.e.cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay: Two Mid-20th Century Stars, featuring the authors of biographies of the poets, Nancy Milford, whose Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, garnered praise from (among many others) Lorrie Moore and Toni Morrison, and Susan Cheever, whose new book, e.e.cummings: A Life has just been published by Alfred A. Knopf. The actress Blair Brown read poems by Millay and Billy Collins read poems by e.e.cummings, and the audience was enthralled. This weekend, we’ll feature some of the poems by Cummings read at the event. The first, “maggie and milly and molly and may” has been brilliantly set to music by Nathalie Merchant in her marvelous two-CD set, Leave Your Sleep. We also recommend the rain is a handsome animal, a sequence of 17 songs from the poetry of Cummings set to music by the San Francisco band, Tin Hat.
“maggie and milly and molly and may” by e.e. cummings:
maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
(From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E.E.Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage © 1950,1952, 1956, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1991 by the Trustees for the E.E.Cummings Trust. © 1979 by George James Firmage. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Photo of Billy Collins and Blaire Brown in front of Cummings (left) and Millay, at the PSA event described above © Lawrence Schwartzwald. No reproduction without express permission of the photographer.)
Steven Soderbergh, emerging from nominal retirement, has created a mashup of the shower scenes from Hitchcock’s classic and Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake:
Jonathan Crow explains the experiment:
For much of the piece, Soderbergh alternates between a scene from the original and one from the remake – Anne Heche, who plays Marion Crane in Van Sant’s version leaves her apartment for work and in the next scene, Janet Leigh shows up at the office. At other moments, he cuts back and forth within the scene; at one point the Marion from the remake is at a traffic light and sees her boss from the original movie. And during a few key points in the film — like the famed shower scene… — Soderbergh does something different. That sequence opens with Heche disrobing and lathering up. But when the killer starts stabbing, Soderbergh jarringly overlays the original movie over top the remake, creating a disconcerting kaleidoscopic effect.
Rachel Arons also recommends the mashup:
The project cleverly doubles down on the great psychological theme of “Psycho,” making every character appear onscreen as a “split personality.” It’s also mesmerizing to watch, like listening to Girl Talk songs or watching Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”:
Behavioral scientist Nicholas Epley notes “a surprising problem for military leaders in times of war: soldiers in battle find it relatively easy to shoot at someone a great distance away, but have a much more difficult time shooting an enemy standing right in front of them”:
George Orwell described his own reluctance to shoot during the Spanish Civil War. “At this moment,” he wrote, “a man, presumably carrying a message to an officer, jumped out of the trench and ran along the top of the parapet in full view. He was half-dressed and was holding up his trousers with both hands as he ran. I refrained from shooting at him. It is true that I am a poor shot and unlikely to hit a running man at a hundred yards. … Still, I did not shoot partly because of that detail about the trousers. I had come here to shoot at ‘Fascists,’ but a man who is holding up his trousers isn’t a ‘Fascist,’ he is visibly a fellow-creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him.”
Orwell is far from alone.