Roberto Ferdman deflates some of the hype surrounding Cuban cigars, which Americans will soon be able to buy more easily:
Each year, Cigar Aficionado, the leading industry magazine, publishes a list of the top 25 cigars in the world. Last year, the number one cigar was the Montecristo no. 2, which is made in Cuba. But only two of the remaining 24 also came from the country. By contrast, 11 were from the Dominican Republic, and 10 were made in Nicaragua. The magazine has yet to reveal its top pick for 2014, but among the remaining 24 the vast majority are once again from countries other than Cuba. And a similar pattern can be seen in virtually every year that the publication has issued its rankings. “The playing field has been leveled,” said David Savona, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado.
Alison Griswold suspects that the storied tobacco derives its reputation from scarcity as much as from anything else:
I can’t stop thinking about Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart’s essay identifying with macho or misogynistic male authors and protagonists:
I’d always understood I was a she, and I never wanted to be otherwise. And yet somehow I was convinced that the disparaging things my male heroes said about women didn’t apply to me, not because they were untrue about females generally, but because I must not be the sort of female they were talking about. Being a strange kid helped—I had the overdeveloped intellect and underdeveloped social skills that precocious children of all genders seem to share. Since I was comfortable with being different, the masculine aspects of my personality were one more oddity among many. These oddities allowed me to nod comfortably along with sections of a novel where the author paused a moment to explain that women were like such-and-so, and then got back to the important parts, which had men in them. …
It took high school and part of college before I began to grow out of this mentality, but eventually I appreciated that the basic difference between me and other women wasn’t that they were dumber and more frivolous than I was. Dating other women helped—unlike straight men, lesbians aren’t allowed to get away with the assumption that they’re superior beings compared with the objects of their affections. It also dawned on me, albeit slowly, that the rest of the world largely saw me as a woman like any other. I mourned this, wishing for the first time that I’d been born a boy so my combative conversational style and my impulse to dominate and destroy all comers could be met with approval, rather than dismay, from peers, teachers, and family members. But, I also recognized that the same disapproval and dismay was squelching the self-expression of women generally, not just butch lesbians.
While the headline reads, “A Lesbian Dilemma,” as Urquhart herself notes, there’s nothing specifically lesbian about the feelings she describes. Identifying with the man and not the woman in a story is, I suspect, a common female experience. That’s because – as comes up somewhere in the comments to the piece – male characters in fiction are just characters, whereas female ones are woman characters. Indeed, the sense that one is somehow different from all those silly females is its own meme: “other girls.” And one that’s readily obscured by contemporary discussions of gender identity. While there are certainly unique experiences of masculine identification among transmen, butch lesbians, and other gender-non-conforming biologically-female individuals, there’s also plenty feeling-the-guy among feminine-seeming straight women and girls. Remember Simone de Beauvoir’s famous line, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”? That’s what she was getting at.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of yesterday’s Cuba and Sony-centric news, one of America’s ghosts shimmered into view in the background. It was the spirit of a black fourteen-year-old named George Stinney. He was executed in 1944 for the murder of two young white girls in Alcolu, South Carolina. The only evidence of his guilt was a confession he said he’d been coerced into making. There was no physical evidence, but he became the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century anyway.
Judge Carmen T. Mullen of Circuit Court did not rule that the conviction of Mr. Stinney for the murder of two white girls in the town of Alcolu was wrong on the merits. She did find, however, that the prosecution had failed in numerous ways to safeguard the constitutional rights of Mr. Stinney, who was black, from the time he was taken into custody until his death by electrocution.
I have carried it with me each day: that morning I took
my uncle’s boat from the brown water cove
and headed for Mosher Island.
Small waves splashed against the hull
and the hollow creak of oarlock and oar
rose into the woods of black pine crusted with lichen.
I moved like a dark star, drifting over the drowned
other half of the world until, by a distant prompting,
I looked over the gunwale and saw beneath the surface
a luminous room, a light-filled grave, saw for the first time
the one clear place given to us when we are alone.
The Dish looked back at Strand’s life and work after his recent death here.
We missed a BOTDT last night because of a Dish holiday reunion with current and former staffers at Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor, near where we hold staff meetings. Before the drunken revelry, we snapped a rare photo of the whole staff together (except Alice, who joined us at the bar):
Update from a reader:
Love the staff photo. Can you please let us know who’s who? It’s nice to put a face to the name that we see all too rarely. Thanks for all your work and contributing so much to so many.
Left to right, that’s Phoebe (Dishtern), Jonah (international editor), Matt (literary editor), “some clapped out old bear“, me (editor, in charge of email), Patrick (editor, in charge of RSS), Jessie (editor, in charge of weekend), Chas (managing editor, aka Special Teams), and Tracy (associate editor, Jill of all trades). At the bar were former interns Brendan, Doug, Gwynn, Katie, and general manager Brian.
Andrew, now officially the most frequent guest on the Colbert Report, is attending the series finale tonight, so be sure to tune in. For a dose of nostalgia, check out Andrew’s first appearance on the show back in 2006. And for an even bigger dose, don’t miss this new supercut of Colbert over the years.
Michelle, meanwhile, confronted in two parts the caving of Sony Pictures to the terrorist threat over The Interview. She also discussed the discussion of rape, touched on the cycle of outrage stoked by Twitter, took before and after looks at the end of the Serial podcast, and penned an appreciation for Penelope Fitzgerald.
We’ve updated many recent posts with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @dishfeed. 17 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. Gift subscriptions are available here (you purchase one today and have it auto-delivered on Christmas Day). Dish t-shirts are for sale here and our new mugs here.
Marking the show’s 25th birthday yesterday, Todd VanDerWerff pens an appreciation:
Yes, the show repeats itself a fair amount, but it would be hard for it not to. And, yes, the show has sort of lost a point-of-view character, as its writers have aged past first the Simpson kids and then even the Simpson parents. Many stories in its later years tend to be along the lines of “Can you believe things are this way?!” and have the tone of a particularly perturbed anecdote in the “Life in These United States” feature in Reader’s Digest. All of these things mean it’s hard for the program to create classic episodes week in and week out now.
But what the [recent Simpsons] marathon underlined for me, more than anything, is that the series has attempted to stay true to its characters, and that it still takes chances, especially in its visuals. Both of these things are immensely important to its longevity, and the fact that it remains a pretty reliable form of entertainment from week to week. Seeing all of the episodes one after the other made the continuum that much more apparent: the show started great, became absolutely brilliant, then declined back to just great, before taking a few seasons to find a plateau of better than average.
In an interview about his new book, A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock’n’Roll, David Zahl notices that many of the artists he profiles – who range from ABBA to Morrissey to Axl Rose – “point to some sense of strength being found in weakness, of inspiration being bound up with suffering rather than apart from it.” Still, he’s wary of the didactic approach Christians too often bring to their cultural commentary:
That phrase “Christian approach” often implies that religious people should approach things with trepidation and/or suspicion, and measure them against the standard of our religion. There seems to be an agenda, sometimes an unspoken or unconscious one, that culture is valuable only insofar as we can harness it in some way. But I’m convinced that, to quote someone I admire, “any goodness, beauty, truthfulness, or enlivening candor we have the wit to discern is something for which we have God to thank.” That is, that it’s already been harnessed. So this isn’t a Christian “take” on secular music, at least as I see it. The artists I wrote about are the ones that have spoken and continue to speak to me rather than vice versa; I talk more about what I’ve learned from them than how their work filters through a religious framework. I gave myself plenty of room to explore, though, so who knows (“preacher brain” is not the easiest thing to shut off). Again from the introduction:
“It wasn’t that I set out to write about the intersection of Christianity and culture; it was simply that music was the most honest language available to me—the lingua franca of my inner life, my immediate vocabulary for understanding what was happening to me. In fact, so immersed in it was I, that to avoid pop culture would have been to embrace precisely the kind of phoniness that permeates so much religious ‘engagement’ with it these days.”
Aaron Blake flags one argument that won’t get much traction – that Cuba is a genuine national security threat:
Despite Cuba’s proximity to the United States (about 90 miles from Florida) and its alliance with other antagonistic countries like North Korea and Russia, Americans have grown progressively less and less concerned that the island country actually poses a threat to the United States. A CNN/Opinion Research poll earlier this year, in fact, showed that just 5 percent of people viewed Cuba as a “very serious threat” and 21 percent said it was a “moderately serious threat.” Another 72 percent said it wasn’t a threat at all or “just a slight threat.” Back in 1983, two-thirds of Americans viewed Cuba as at least a “moderately serious threat,” but that numbers has fallen steadily since then.
Zack Beauchamp notes that another favorite talking point of anti-Cuba hardliners – calling the country a state sponsor of terrorism – is a bit outdated:
The US government designated Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982, which imposed financial penalties on the Cuban government. At the time, the US accused Cuba of supporting the Spanish Basque terrorist group ETA and the FARC militants in Colombia. Though the US continues to label Cuba a terrorism sponsor, that’s just transparently untrue. According to the State Department‘s most recent annual review of terrorism worldwide, “there was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”