A reader writes:

Your recent post about equipping police forces with video cameras struck a chord with me, as I recently sat on a jury where the lack of video played a central role. The case was not particularly exceptional, and the lesson obviously anecdotal, but it was a major eye-opener for me.

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by Matthew Sitman

It’s an interesting question, how we’ll handle death and grief as religion’s place in our lives declines. I don’t mean that the old answers about what “happens” when we die will need to be reworked, exactly, because it seems clear that, no longer believing in the afterlife, most will just acknowledge that nothingness awaits us. There only will be the “sure extinction that we travel to,” as Larkin put it. But that still leaves the issue of how to mourn the dead, in the very practical sense of what to do when a loved one dies. Emma Green looks at Candi Cann’s recent book, Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century, and on how this post-religious dilemma is being handled:

For most of human history, religious ceremony has helped people deal with death, providing explanations about souls and the afterlife along with rituals to help the living deal with their grief. Not all religions do death the same way. “There are certain denominations within Christianity and certain religions in general that do a better job of remembering the dead,” said Cann. “Like the Catholics: There’s a very set calendar for remembering, and it’s still tied down to the religious calendar.”

Tattooing yourself with a dead person’s remains is one new way of memorializing death in the absence of faith, she said. “As society becomes more secular, and people are more and more turning to that ‘spiritual but not religious category,’ they’re forming their own do-it-yourself ways of remembering the dead.”

Green goes on to describe other trendy options, from personalized caskets to “theme” funerals to arranging the deceased in scenes taken from their actual lives. I find all this fascinating, and, especially if a family isn’t religious, don’t begrudge them personalizing the funeral in whatever way they’d like. I do, however, wonder how this changes the grieving process, and would like to say a good word for the old-fashioned religious rituals.

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The Hawk Gap

Aug 20 2014 @ 8:05pm
by Dish Staff

Last week, after observing that the prospective 2016 candidates are taking much more hawkish positions on foreign policy issues than public opinion would suggest, Beinart suggested that this might be one more deleterious effect of money on our political system:

For a century, Americans have responded to disillusioning wars by demanding a less interventionist foreign policy. It happened after World War 1, after Korea, after Vietnam, and it’s happening again in the wake of Afghanistan and Iraq. The difference between this moment and past ones is the role of money in politics. As on so many issues, politicians’ need to raise vast sums from the super-rich makes them ultra-responsive to one, distinct sliver of the population and less responsive to everyone else. The way campaign finance warps the political debate over financial regulation is well known. What we’re witnessing this year is a case study in the way it warps the foreign-policy debate as well.

Daniel Drezner’s not so sure about that, pointing out that foreign policy talk is about as cheap as it gets:

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The Meaning Of #Ferguson

Aug 20 2014 @ 7:40pm
by Dish Staff

Over the weekend, David Carr marveled at how well Twitter has matured as a tool for journalism:

For people in the news business, Twitter was initially viewed as one more way to promote and distribute content. But as the world has become an ever more complicated place — a collision of Ebola, war in Iraq, crisis in Ukraine and more — Twitter has become an early warning service for news organizations, a way to see into stories even when they don’t have significant reporting assets on the ground. And in a situation hostile to traditional reporting, the crowdsourced, phone-enabled network of information that Twitter provides has proved invaluable. …

In and of itself, Twitter is not sufficient to see clearly into a big story; it’s a series of straws that offer narrow views of a much bigger picture. But as a kind of constantly changing kaleidoscope, it provides enough visibility to show that something significant is underway.

Along those lines, Amma Marfo focuses in on how important Twitter has become to the black community, particularly over the past week:

Twitter’s lack of algorithms to control the display of content means that posts are elevated in popularity only by the people who favorite, Retweet, and share screen captures of impactful or informative messages. Such a structure allows the insight of the observant but relatively unknown amateur, alongside high-profile and highly educated (another population that uses Twitter in high volume), to stand alongside one another. This egalitarian information sharing model is welcome for historically disenfranchised populations. This could be key for its popularity with other minority groups such as Hispanics. Its use among African-Americans continues to rise, as does the increasing use of Twitter as a credible means to gauge public opinion and the newsworthiness of given topics.

But it’s worth noting that the overall social media ecosystem is not always like this. Last week, Zeynep Tufekci pointed out the difference in following the Ferguson protests on Twitter, which shows you all the tweets from whoever you follow in real time, and Facebook, which uses an algorithm to determine both what you see and when you get to see it. To highlight the frenzy of Ferguson tweets last Wednesday night she flagged this graph:

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Face Of The Day

Aug 20 2014 @ 7:12pm

"ET: The Extra Terrestrial" - Somerset House Film4 Screening

A fan waiting for a screening of ET: The Extra Terrestrial last night at Somerset House in London, England. Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images.

by Dish Staff

Coates is beyond tired of the continual “transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people”:

Don Imus profanely insults a group of black women. But the real problem is gangsta rap. Trayvon Martin is killed. This becomes a conversation about how black men are bad fathers. Jonathan Martin is bullied mercilessly. This proves that black people have an unfortunate sense of irony.

The politics of respectability are, at their root, the politics of changing the subject—the last resort for those who can not bear the agony of looking their country in the eye. The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts—they evidence them.

Ioffe likewise addresses the “troubling self-flagellation in Ferguson’s black community”:

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by Matthew Sitman

After asking readers about the novels, poems, and short stories that have meant the most to them, the response has been so affirming – at a time when we all wonder about the future of reading, writing, and publishing, it’s good to be reminded of why those questions matter at all. Many more of you have been in touch with us since Monday, for which I’m grateful. One reader writes:

For me, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities has been that understanding, consoling companion you wrote of. I came across it fresh out of high school, and I remember feeling like these little prose poems were systematically presenting all my own faults and shitty tendencies to me – but so beautifully and carefully articulated that I couldn’t help feeling proud of identifying with them. It followed me through university, across a couple continents, and it’s rare now that I go more than a month without opening the copy beside my bed, seeking comfort in its perfectly precise bittersweetness. The book opens (sort of) by evoking, then puncturing, the same nostalgic feeling I now often try to get out of rereading it:Invisible Cities

The special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, when days are growing shorter and the multicolored lamps are lighted all at once at the doors of the food stalls and from a terrace a woman’s voice cries ooh!, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.

And it ends with what still probably amounts to the full extent of my theology:

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

Thanks for giving the good stuff space!

Another writes:

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by Dish Staff

Ferguson is exploring outfitting its officers with dash and body cameras. Sara Libby points out a problem San Diego has had with its body cams:

Here in San Diego, our scandal-plagued police department has begun outfitting some officers with body cameras, and the City Council has approved a plan to roll out hundreds more. Officers wearing the cameras were present during at least two shootings earlier this year. Yet we’re still not any closer to knowing what happened in those chaotic moments—whether the perpetrators can be easily identified, what kind of interactions the officers had with those present, nothing.

That’s because the department claims the footage, which is captured by devices financed by city taxpayers and worn by officers on the public payroll, aren’t public records. Our newsroom’s request for footage from the shootings under the California Public Records Act was denied. Once footage becomes part of an investigation, the department says it doesn’t have to release them. SDPD also said during the pilot phase of the camera program that it doesn’t even have to release footage from the cameras after an investigation wraps.

Kriston Capps sees limits to what police cameras can accomplish in Ferguson:

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by Dish Staff

Refugees Fleeing ISIS Offensive Pour Into Kurdistan

Saletan chronicles how the limited intervention in Iraq has already outgrown its original parameters:

In his weekly address on Aug. 9, Obama added a third mission to the military agenda: “We will protect our citizens. We will work with the international community to address this humanitarian crisis. We’ll help prevent these terrorists from having a permanent safe haven from which to attack America.” He repeated that point in a press conference: “We will continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces as they battle these terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe haven.” That’s a huge undertaking. Any land controlled by ISIS can be construed as a safe haven. Does Obama plan to drive ISIS out of places such as Fallujah, which it held for months while the United States looked on? Does he plan to push ISIS all the way back to Syria?

Obama hasn’t forgotten all the principles that limited his commitment. He continues to insist that the solution to Iraq’s crisis is political, that Iraqis must achieve that solution themselves, and that putting U.S. troops on the ground creates a dangerous rationale for additional deployments to protect them. But 12 days into the military campaign, he’s showing signs of slippage. He’d better watch himself.

Larison stresses that mission creep is the rule, not the exception, when it comes to such interventions:

Once a president has committed to using force in a foreign conflict, all of the effective political pressure is on the side of escalation.

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Grand Jury, Limited Justice?

Aug 20 2014 @ 4:43pm
by Dish Staff

Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, may be facing a grand jury. Jonathan Cohn explains:

Here’s how the process will work, according to criminal law experts based or practicing in Missouri. The grand jury, which consists of twelve people plucked from the local population, will sit around a table in a deliberation room somewhere in the county courthouse building. It’s the prosecutor’s show: He will present the case, starting with an overview and then bringing forward evidence. But it’s not like a trial. There will be no attorney for the other side, no judge, not even a bailiff. For most of the time, they will be alone except for the prosecutor and, on occasion, a witness who will be providing testimony.

The idea behind a grand jury is that it serves as the people’s voicein effect, a democratic check on the enormous power of prosecutors to bring charges and force people into trials. A grand jury can be a truly deliberative body if it wants. Members can ask for witnesses to appear and testifyand ask those witnesses questions directly. Grand juries can also control their proceedings, deciding how much evidence to hear and when, finally, to vote on charges. In Missouri, it takes at least nine jurors to deliver an indictment, which is known as a “true bill.” Any less and the jury reaches a verdict of “no true bill,” which means no indictments.

Amanda Taub interviews former federal prosecutor Alex Little on what a grand jury will mean for this case:

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