Rise Of The Anti-Bloomberg

by Chas Danner


A new poll shows Bill De Blasio, a former underdog in the New York mayoral race, now leading by a comfortable margin. Marc Tracy notes how de Blasio’s focus on inequality and his rejection of the Bloomberg era has resonated with the same white liberals who once supported Bloomberg en masse:

The [old] Bloomberg pitch—laissez-faire stewardship of the money-making tax base, technocratic management, and liberal social programs—made sense for its era … [but d]uring the recovery from the 2008-9 recession, the benefits have overwhelmingly accrued to the wealthiest both nationwide and, especially, in the city that is the country’s financial center. …

“It was clear from our research,” said [Anna] Greenberg, de Blasio’s pollster, “that high income voters are as uncomfortable as low income voters about the stark inequality that has emerged in New York City in the Bloomberg years.” She told me: “Even New Yorkers who are doing quite well, and approve of the mayor’s agenda on things like bike lanes and sustainability, want to see a new direction centered around economic fairness and equality.” In 2013, the pocketbook is something that unites, instead of divides, the creative class and the working class.

Tracy suggests that NYC may prove a bellwether for the nation in this regard:

“New York, by its very nature, sets the tone for a class that exists nationwide,” [Chapman University Professor of Urban Development Joel] Kotkin explained. Its economics and politics, like its culture, are a potent distillation of trends present throughout the country. Across the land, this recovery has been unequal. Earlier this year, for instance, Pew Research examined U.S. Census data to 2011 and found that the top seven percent saw their net worth rise 28 percent since the recession while the bottom 93 percent (including households worth over $800,000) saw theirs decline. Not only in New York are the rich getting richer while everyone else goes in the other direction.

Relatedly, Rich Yeselson points out how the New York Times’ rejection of de Blasio may have backfired:

The long awaited endorsement by the Gray Lady, which some analysts thought would be decisive, went to [former frontrunner Christine] Quinn. The Times editorial page haughtily smacked down de Blasio’s scruffy campaign, labeling it dependent upon “legislative long shots” and attached its High Church liberalism to Quinn. Quinn was already seen as the favorite candidate of the increasingly unpopular Bloomberg, and the quintessential establishment imprimatur of the Times trapped her in the billionaire’s embrace. Indeed, the first poll post endorsement showed de Blasio expanding his lead. Because de Blasio has branded himself as the anti-Bloomberg, he likely gained more from the Times’ selection of Quinn than she did.

Map Of The Day

by Chas Danner

Kyle Vanhemert passes along a remarkably detailed look at America’s racial makeup. Here’s the Eastern US:


Vanhemert explains what makes this map so special:

The map, created by Dustin Cable at University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, is stunningly comprehensive. Drawing on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, it shows one dot per person, color-coded by race. That’s 308,745,538 dots in all–around 7 GB of visual data. It isn’t the first map to show the country’s ethnic distribution, nor is it the first to show every single citizen, but it is the first to do both, making it the most comprehensive map of race in America ever created.

White people are shown with blue dots; African-Americans with green; Asians with red; and Latinos with orange, with all other race categories from the Census represented by brown. Since the dots are smaller than pixels at most zoom levels, Cable assigned shades of color based on the multiple dots therein. From a distance, for example, certain neighborhoods will look purple, but zooming-in reveals a finer-grained breakdown of red and blue–or, really, black and white.

This is Detroit:


Explore the full interactive map here. Recent Dish discussion of the South, race, and social mobility is here.

Performances We Love To Hate

by Chas Danner

The fallout from Miley Cyrus’ hathos-intensive VMA performance has reached the Schraders:

Rich Juzwiak tries to put Cyrus’s performance in perspective:

Cyrus’ showing was essentially incorrect—physically, visually, politically. Her entire aesthetic was awkward. But that kind of awkwardness is something our hate-watching, mess-celebrating culture values. Something that Lady Gaga tried to unsuccessfully touch on with her own mess of a performance of “Applause,” which began with canned boos. But Cyrus outperformed Gaga on that front. I can’t remember the last time I saw a pop star throw herself around a stage like that. Watching Cyrus with a simultaneous sense of delight and horror, I thought of the sage words of Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge in the 1998 electronic-music documentary Modulations: “When in doubt make no sense. No sense is good. And nonsense is good.

As far nonsensibility is concerned, no one even came close to touching Cyrus. Sexual coming out is a grand tradition in pop, and I’ve never, ever seen it done like this before. This is one of those awards-show performances that only the Video Music Awards seems to be able to spawn—like Britney’s “Gimme More,” or the Madonna-Britney kiss, or Prince in assless pants. We’ll still be talking about what the fuck was going on with Miley Cyrus last night for decades to come.

Kevin Fallon thinks America relishes the chance to overanalyze events like this:

[S]ometimes a VMA performance is just a VMA performance. We may be a nation clutching our pearls, collectively raising one eyebrow, and asking in hushed whispers over our cubicle walls, “Did you see Miley last night?” but all that means is that we got exactly what we wanted from the VMAs. We want unpredictability. We want provocation. We want Miley Cyrus to stick her face into a large woman’s butt crack because we want to be talking about it the next morning. That’s why we engage in heated debates over whether Miley Cyrus is racist based purely on a overly busy, tacky VMA performance. We look forward to overthinking it. We look forward to feigning outrage.

As California Burns

by Chas Danner

Rim Fire Continues To Burn Near Yosemite National Park

Lindsay Abrams offers an update on the Chicago-sized wildfire that is laying siege to Yosemite Park:

The so-called Rim Fire first began on August 17, but the extremely hot and dry conditions have caused it to become one of the largest wildfires in California’s history, and a new peak of what’s already been a destructive season for the Western United States.  While at least 12,000 acres of northwest Yosemite have been destroyed, a [spokeswoman] for the U.S. Fire Service told CNN, there’s been little impact on the more popular tourist areas. A more pressing concern, the Associated Press reports, may be the mountain communities north of the park, dried out from two years of drought and to which the fire is quickly approaching. So far, there have been no deaths or injuries and only minimal property damage; the focus right now is on protecting the state’s natural and energy resources[.]

The 234 square-mile fire is currently 15% contained, but is still threatening San Francisco’s water supply and power grid. Earlier this summer, James West foretold events like the Rim Fire, as well as many more in the years ahead:

We can expect “as much as a fourfold increase in parts of the Sierra Nevada and California” in fire activity across the rest of this century, says Matthew Hurteau, assistant professor of ecosystem science and management at Pennsylvania State University. It’s a trend likely to continue: A 2012 study in Ecosphere, the peer-reviewed journal of the Ecological Society of America, found a high level of agreement that climate change will fundamentally alter fire patterns across vast swaths of the globe by 2100. While some areas around the equator will see fewer fires, there will be striking increases in high altitude boreal fires in the Northern Hemisphere. Fire will even reach a thawing Arctic, which will be more capable of growing plants to burn.

Katie Valentine points out that as a consequence of the sequestration, the US Forest Service has already had to reallocate funds from other areas to combat this summer’s wildfires:

As of [last] Wednesday, the agency was down to $50 million after spending $967 million this year on fighting wildfires. So far in 2013, 33,000 wildfires have burned in the Western U.S., spanning 5,300 square miles and destroying 960 homes and 30 commercial buildings.

This year is the second consecutive year and the sixth year since 2002 that the Forest Service has had to divert funds for fighting fires. The Forest Service’s wildfire fighting budget was slashed by $115 million by automatic, across-the-board sequester cuts that went into effect earlier this year. In addition, a wildfire reserve fund created in 2009, known as the FLAME Act has dropped from $413 million in 2010 to $299 million this year after sequestration. These cuts come as costs to fight wildfires each year are soaring: during the 1990s, the federal government spent less than $1 billion a year fighting wildfires, but since 2002, it’s spent a yearly average of more than $3 billion.

In addition to climate change, Brad Plumer highlights another reason firefighting costs are rising:

The number of people living in fire-prone areas has grown dramatically. Some 250,000 new residents have settled in Colorado’s “red zone” over the past two decades, for instance. Not only can that increase the odds of a fire starting in the first place, but more crucially, it increases the cost of suppression, as firefighters focus on protecting nearby homes.

(Photo: A firefighter uses a hose to douse the flames of the Rim Fire on August 24, 2013 near Groveland, California. The Rim Fire continues to burn out of control and threatens 4,500 homes outside of Yosemite National Park. Over 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze. By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Golden Age Of TV Criticism

by Chas Danner

Matt Zoller Seitz heralds it:

I’ve been a film critic for over twenty years, and a film and TV critic simultaneously for fifteen. I have never seen anything as innovative and thrilling as what a lot of my TV critic colleagues have been doing since the mid-aughts. The flowering of modes and styles and the willingness to experiment is always engaging and sometimes amazing.  … If TV is, as I’ve argued, an adolescent medium — not in terms of artistry, but timeline development, meaning it’s only been given carte blanche to be daring for maybe fifteen years — TV criticism is an even younger phase of its development.

He goes on the highlight numerous examples of present-day critics he admires:

When you read The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman, Time’s James Poniewozik, Grantland’s Andy Greenwald, NPR’s Linda HolmesUSA Today‘s Robert BiancoEric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times (soon to be NPR’s first TV critic), and the AV Club’s Donna Bowman and Todd VanDerWerff, you always get the sense that the writers aren’t just doing consumer guide work. They grind axes, float theories, tilt at windmills. And they all do it in their own distinctively personal way.

But these are all variations of what we traditionally think of as Serious Criticism, whether or not the writers crack jokes. Look beyond this mode and you get a sense of TV criticism’s variety. The landscape is as dazzling and sometimes confounding as any young ecosystem’s. The dedicated TV-watcher surveys it as Darwin might. How did that strange creature come into existence? What’s the point of the plumage? Why five legs instead of four?

It’s customary to decry much TV writing, recaps especially, as plot summary plus snark; I’ve done it myself. But as television criticism has evolved, this catch-all insult has started to seem as lazy and out-of-touch as cinephiles writing off the whole of television as an idiot box.

I wholeheartedly agree. What I love about the current TV criticism scene is that it feels like I’m never just watching a show by myself, but in the midst of a large community of thoughtful, trusted people who I can consult at the end of every episode. When those credits roll, I instinctively want to know what my favorite critics thought or noticed that I maybe hadn’t, and that process of review and analysis enriches my experience as a viewer immensely. Also, in this era of Netflix binge-watching, sometimes it’s nice to be able to slow down the pace of consumption a bit, to stop and savor rather than become a plot-obsessed insomniac.

Syria In The Red, Ctd

by Chas Danner


Michael Hirsh connects this week’s chemical attack to how the US has handled Egypt:

[W]e may now be at a historic turning point in the Arab Spring—what is effectively the end of it, at least for now. Assad, says Syria expert Joshua Landis, is surely taking on board the lessons of the last few weeks: If the United States wasn’t going to intervene or even protest very loudly over the killing of mildly radical Muslim Brotherhood supporters, it’s certainly not going to take a firmer hand against Assad’s slaughter of even more radical anti-U.S. groups. …

What began, in the U.S. interpretation, as an inspiring drive for democracy and freedom from dictators and public corruption has now become, for Washington, a coldly realpolitik calculation. As the Obama administration sees it, the military in Egypt is doing the dirty work of confronting radical political Islam, if harshly. In Syria, the main antagonists are both declared enemies of the United States, with Bashar al-Assad and Iran-supported Hezbollah aligning against al-Qaida-linked Islamist militias. Why shouldn’t Washington’s policy be to allow them to engage each other, thinning the ranks of each?

Andrew Tabler predicts that if Assad is allowed to win, it will lead to a perpetual problem:

The most realistic scenario [for] a postwar Assad-led Syria is a state in which multiple sponsors of terror — Assad himself, the Iranian regime, Sunni offshoots of al Qaeda — are simultaneously pursuing their own ends alongside one another. It would likely be the source of instability, as well as the site of brutal crimes against humanity, for years to come. That’s why it is in the West’s interest to prevent Assad’s survival by ordering airstrikes on regime targets, pressuring Moscow and Tehran to stop supporting him, and aiding moderate members of the Syrian opposition. Otherwise, the only upside of Syria’s future will be that it will finally put the lie to the adage “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Earlier Dish on the US response to Syria here.

“Life Has Become Safer Without A Beard”

by Chas Danner

Haitham El-Tabei highlights how pogonophiliacs are being persecuted in Egypt as anti-Islamist fervor sweeps the nation:

One Western news photographer decided to shave his beard after being repeatedly accosted in the street and even threatened by Egyptians who mistook him for a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. A bearded taxi driver, meanwhile, admitted customers were increasingly reluctant to use his services.

“This is possibly the beginning of a campaign to boycott bearded taxi drivers,” he told AFP.

Mohammed Ibrahim, a pharmacist who also has a beard, has changed his route to work and the hours he keeps in order to avoid “tension with the popular committees.” As the crackdown continues, reports have suggested that some preachers have even offered religious dispensation to the faithful who want to shave their beards to avoid being targeted.

“The hostility of the people is even worse than police harassment,” said Mohamed Tolba, a Salafist Muslim.

The Anti-Hero’s Other Half, Ctd

by Chas Danner

Emily Bazelon notes Skyler White’s transformation in the latest Breaking Bad episode (spoilers):

For me, [the] central thrill of this episode [was that] Skyler chose. She chose Walt over Hank and Marie. She chose asking for a lawyer over confessing like a good girl. She chose sin over remorse. Can she still be the show’s moral fulcrum? I don’t think so.

Hank assumed Skyler would cooperate; he also must have thought she would go to pieces. The genius of this scene is how much he underestimates her. He opens a door to innocence—“you’re done being his victim”—and fully expects her to walk through it, even turning on his tape recorder right there in the restaurant with a little paper lantern overhead. And Skyler refuses to play the role he has scripted for her. In earlier seasons, she has struggled against Walt’s expectations. Now it’s her brother-in-law whom she has to outsmart and push away. And in fact, she is a step ahead of him. She can see how little evidence he has and how much he needs her to build his case. She decides not to give him what he wants.

Alan Sepinwall marvels:

[Skyler] is not a saint. If she was a saint, she wouldn’t belong on a show that recognizes the messy contradictions that come with being a human being on this planet. She’s a complicated person, sometimes a victim, sometimes a fool, sometimes a heroine. She is, in other words, a worthy, fascinating character in this story, and even if it’s Walt’s story, Skyler’s role matters, and needs to be considered once again before things are over and done with.

Alyssa’s take on the scene shown above being one of the show’s great “baroque horrors” is here. Previous Dish on the meaning of Skyler White here.

The Worst Chemical Weapon Attack In Decades? Ctd

by Chas Danner

Earlier this week, Noah Shachtman and Colum Lynch filed a report on the Assad regime’s previous use of chemical weapons. It may shed some light on last night’s attack, which, like earlier Syrian chemical weapons attacks, left victims with a variety of symptoms both consistent and inconsistent with exposure to an deadly agent like Sarin gas:

U.S. analysts speculate that some of these atypical effects may be the result of Assad’s military using an atypical mix of chemical arms, so-called “riot control agents,” and conventional munitions on the battlefield. In December, one former chemist for the Syrian regime told Al Jazeera that this blending of weapons was done, in part, to create a confusing blend of symptoms — and mask their source. …

Contributing to confusion is the long-standing suspicion that Assad’s forces are brewing up their unconventional weapons in unconventional ways. One of sarin’s two main precursors is isopropanol — rubbing alcohol, basically. But the material used for chemical attacks can’t be purchased in any drug store. While the commercial stuff typically is 70 percent water, the weapons-grade isopropanol is highly concentrated, with less than 1 percent water. That makes it extremely hard to obtain. Some outside observers believe the Syrians are using less isopropanol than usual in their sarin in order to preserve their precious stockpile of the precursor. (It would also produce milder-than-normal effects in a victim.) If the dilution theory is true, it could be an indication that Assad intends to hold on to his chemical arsenal for a long, long time — and unleash it only when his rule is once again under threat.

Shachtman also rounded up analysis of last night’s attack.

The Worst Chemical Weapon Attack In Decades?

by Chas Danner


Syrian rebel groups claim that hundreds have been killed in what may have been a chemical weapon attack by Assad on the suburbs east of Damascus. The attack may be the beginning of a larger offensive by regime forces. David Kenner gives his summary:

The information coming out of the Ghouta region, where the rebels enjoy significant support, is still unconfirmed by independent observers. But videos allegedly taken Wednesday in the area showed Syrians lying on the floor gasping for breath, medics struggling to save infants, and rows of bodies of those who had reportedly died in the attack (warning: the footage above is graphic). Syrian state media denied that chemical weapons had been used, attributing such stories to media channels that “are involved in the shedding of the Syrians’ blood and supporting terrorism.”

The opposition Local Coordination Committee, however, reported that at least 755 people had been killed in the attack. If that figure is true, what is happening on the outskirts of Damascus today is the worst chemical weapons attack since then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein unleashed poison gas on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, killing an estimated 5,000 people.

One report even says the death total could be over 1,300. Chemical weapon expert Ralph Trapp compares this attack to previous ones:

It is possible a gas was involved, but the images I’ve seen were not clear enough to see other symptoms beyond difficulty in breathing and suffocation. It certainly looks like some sort of poisoning. … [But] this is one of the first videos I’ve seen from Syria where the numbers start to make sense. If you have a gas attack you would expect large numbers of people, children and adults, to be affected, particularly if it’s in a built up area.

Jean Pascal Zanders’ analysis:

I am not sure whether the claims of nerve agent use accompanying the footage and images are correct. The people are not convulsing (except for one man shaking his legs while shouting out, but the remainder of his body does not suffer from involuntary contractions) and I have not seen anybody applying nerve agent antidotes. Nor do medical staff and other people appear to suffer from secondary exposure while carrying or treating victims.

It is clear that something terrible has happened. The scenes could not have been stage managed.

Jeffrey Goldberg weighs in:

Two questions are raised by reports of this attack. The first, of course, is whether or not it happened the way Syrian rebels said it happened. That is why immediately dispatching the UN team, already in-country, to the affected areas is so vital. If this process worked the way it should, they would be there already. If the Syrian regime denies the UN inspectors permission to visit these areas, well, that is kind of an answer in itself.

The second question is, why would the Assad regime launch its biggest chemical attack on rebels and civilians precisely at the moment when a UN inspection team was parked in Damascus? The answer to that question is easy: Because Assad believes that no one – not the UN, not President Obama, not other Western powers, not the Arab League – will do a damn thing to stop him.

There is a good chance he is correct.

Guardian live-blog here. A Reddit page is collecting information and videos here.