The Fight For Independent Journalism

A CBC camera crew led by the wonderful Michelle Gagnon visited the Dish “offices” recently:

The CBC’s Neil Macdonald takes on native advertizing sponsored content branded content ads disguised as journalism. Money quote:

Sullivan’s case against native advertisement is powerful and succinct. “It is advertising that is portraying itself as journalism, simple as that,” he told me recently. “It is an act of deception of the readers and consumers of media who believe they’re reading the work of an independent journalist.”

Advertisers, he says, want to buy the integrity built up over decades by journalists and which, in the past, was kept at arm’s length. Now they will happily pay to imitate it: “The whole goal is you not being able to tell the difference.” Sullivan’s argument is so doctrinaire, so principled, that it makes bourgeois practitioners of the craft, like me, squirm.

Well, we never compromised on this. Of that I am deeply proud.

A Final Bleg

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What was your favorite moment of Dishness over the years?

Email your reply under the subject heading “Moment of Dishness” to dish@andrewsullivan.com and we’ll post some for tomorrow morning. Please keep your response under 100 words (about twice the length of this post) so we can read as many as we can. Points for esoteric or embarrassing moments.

(Photo mashup of this post and this thing sent by a reader this morning, because Dishness.)

The Latest On Those Gitmo “Suicides”

It’s a story we have long covered, even as many MSM outlets pooh-poohed the idea of accidental-homicide-through-torture. So we’re glad to be able to the recent Newsweek piece as the definitive latest word on the affair. It contains the following key paragraph:

A highly placed source in the Department of Defense who deals with detainees’ affairs, and who asked to remain anonymous because he is not permitted to speak to the media without receiving prior clearance, camp-nowrote to me in an email: “After reviewing the information concerning the three deaths at Camp Delta on June 9, 2006, it is painfully apparent the personnel involved in fact created an illusion of an investigation. When you consider the missing documents, the lack of key interviews, and the questionable evidence found on the bodies, it is blatantly obvious there was something that occurred that night that is not documented.”

It may take time but if more people refuse to believe the official line on this, the truth may eventually win out.

(Photo: Google Earth picture of a facility, allegedly known as “Camp No”, outside the perimeter of the main detention camp, where Gitmo guards say they saw prisoners being taken to on a regular basis.)

The Long Game Of Barack Obama

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Perhaps the prevailing theme of this blog these past seven years has been the hope and promise of the Obama presidency. I’ve long insisted that his record will only be fully understood after eight years, that his role as the liberal Reagan of our time could not be glimpsed fully in real time – the only time a blog can function in – but needed some perspective. I’m sure in the future I will write an essay on all this, but I owe you my current state of mind before I bid farewell tomorrow.

First up: notice how his approval ratings have rallied since the Republicans trounced the Democrats in the mid-terms. He isn’t headed into Bush territory any time soon:

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Obama’s average approval in the last quarter was ten points higher than Bush’s at this point. Obama’s ratings are now a smidgen higher than Ronald Reagan’s at this point in their time in office. Reagan came crashing down to earth in his second term after Iran-Contra:

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The Republican Congress, as one might expect from a brain-dead party, has staggered or meandered out of the gate in 2015. It awaits a message and a platform from a presidential candidate. And look a little at what they’re saying. Romney wanted to run on tackling poverty. Jeb Bush is running on economic mobility. There is, in fact, a budding consensus that social and economic inequality is a real problem – and that the right should have some sort of answer. This is the moment for the reformocons to make their move, and I’m glad this blog has championed (and even employed) them over the years as well. But as growth has returned, the Democrats have the advantage: “middle-class economics” may well only work by raising some taxes on the extremely wealthy, in order to de-rig the system, and the Democrats may be the only party prepared to do this. The last six years, moreover, have vindicated the Democratic strategy of using a stimulus to get out of recession, rather than the Republican one of following Angela Merkel toward deflation.

The wars? They’ve become minimalist. The economy? It’s growing faster than anywhere else in the world. The deficit? Plummeting. Unemployment? Lower than before the recession. Gay rights? A revolution. Climate change? A decisive shift in government spending and regulations. Healthcare? A new guarantee of security for millions (including me) that will become very hard to take away – unless the Supreme Court decides to politicize itself more profoundly than it has since Roe vs Wade. Iran? Still very hard to tell if the negotiations can work – but we seem to have avoided premature Congressional meddling. Legal weed? He got well out of the way. Iraq? So far, the ISIS containment strategy seems to be holding. Israel? The final showdown with Netanyahu is imminent – but again, Bibi may have over-reached in the last few weeks. If he is not re-elected, it will be a huge triumph for the president. Torture? Ended with at least some formal, public accounting. There is much more work to be done. But we have made a start.

Knowing Obama – and history – some of these assumptions will shift in the next two years.

He’s always worked our nerves – and so can events unknown. But the case for this unlikely president as a pivotal figure in American history – ridiculed by so many for so long – is mounting. I have mixed feelings, of course. Obama challenged my own free market, small government principles in ways no previous politician had – and the evidence of history did the rest. But an Oakeshottian conservative knows better than to stick to dogma in the face of data, and I can see this presidency as a critical balancing out of the excesses of the Bush-Cheney years – and the Reagan legacy – in order to keep the ship of state on an even keel. What happens next I may find less congenial – a more liberal and expansive role for government. But the Clintons have to make that case on new foundations in a new world.

I’m known for changing my mind, when the facts change. But on this, I remain convinced that we were more than right to elect Obama twice. His even temperament, his endurance of so many slings and arrows, his integrity and his patriotism loom large at this moment, but will seem, in my view, even larger from the rear-view mirror. We will miss this man when he is gone; and I am deeply proud of having played some small part in framing the case for him, and in seeing it through.

Ah yes. One last time with feeling.

Meep meep, motherfuckers. Meep Meep.

The Blogger Uniform Exposed

This is a disgusting picture, but an actual one we took today of my blogger poitrine every morning. It’s so foul it’s going after the jump:

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The brown Jackson Pollock is created from little droplets of coffee that migrate from my beard and moustache to adorn my bathrobe and, yes, laptop, as I blog through the morning. Hey, we’re all about transparency here. But, yes, I really do need to put it in the laundry, before it is able to do so all by itself. But for the record …

Why Do We Read?

Joshua Rothman searches for an answer in Deidre Shauna Lynch’s Loving Literature: A Cultural History. How reading has changed:

For a long time, people didn’t love literature. They read with their heads, not their hearts (or at least they thought they did), and they were unnerved by the idea of readers becoming emotionally attached to books and writers. It was only over time, Lynch writes—over the century roughly between 1750 and 1850—that reading became a “private and passional” activity, as opposed to a “rational, civic-minded” one.

To grasp this “rational” approach to reading, Lynch asks you to transport yourself back to a time when, in place of today’s literary culture, what scholars call “rhetorical” culture reigned. In the mid-seventeen-hundreds, a typical anthology of poetry—for example, “The British Muse,” published in 1738—was more like Bartlett’s “Familiar Quotations” than the Norton Anthology. The poems were organized by topic (“Absence,” “Adversity,” “Adultery”); the point wasn’t to appreciate and cherish them but to harness their eloquence in order to impress people.

According to Lynch, the “invention that disrupted this rhetorical world was the canon”:

Some readers read because they want to know about the here and now. But, when a young person’s favorite book is “The Great Gatsby” or “Jane Eyre,” something else is going on. That sort of reader is, as Lynch puts it, “striving to bridge the distance between self and other and now and then.” And, from that sense of striving, a whole set of values flows. In rhetorical culture, the most important writing was au courant, and the “best” readers made use of it to enhance their own eloquence. But in an appreciative, literary age, the most important books are the ones that have outlasted their eras, and the “best” readers are people who are especially susceptible to emanations from other times and places. Being a reader becomes an identity unto itself.

The Promise Of Psilocybin

Michael Pollan’s New Yorker piece on the medical benefits of psychedelics is well worth a read:

3567431472_f8414a7ea1_oAs I chatted with Tony Bossis and Stephen Ross in the treatment room at N.Y.U., their excitement about the results was evident. According to Ross, cancer patients receiving just a single dose of psilocybin experienced immediate and dramatic reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements that were sustained for at least six months. The data are still being analyzed and have not yet been submitted to a journal for peer review, but the researchers expect to publish later this year.

“I thought the first ten or twenty people were plants—that they must be faking it,” Ross told me. “They were saying things like ‘I understand love is the most powerful force on the planet,’ or ‘I had an encounter with my cancer, this black cloud of smoke.’ People who had been palpably scared of death—they lost their fear. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.”

Kleiman calls Pollan’s article “as good an introduction to the field as one could ask for”:

The central idea is that the mystiform experiences that psilocybin and other drugs can trigger under the right circumstances can be beneficial, not only in treating specific problems – end-of-life anxiety, for example, or nicotine dependence – but by enriching lives: making some people “better than well.” So far the studies are small, but the results are impressive.

It’s encouraging to see the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health taking a scientific attitude: cautious but interested. It’s discouraging, though – alas! – not at all surprising to see the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse responding to exciting research results by worrying about what might happen if someone tells the children.

The Dish has covered this subject extensively over the years. Update from a reader who contributed much of that coverage, especially on ibogaine:

The New Yorker‘s recent piece on psilocybin has been on my mind a lot lately.  I had a lot of reactions to the piece, but the most lasting feeling was a deep sadness.  I felt sad because I hoped this article would convince my 70-year-old parents to take psychedelics before they start seriously declining.  The author, unfortunately, bends over backwards to make readers frightened of psychedelics.

It depresses me to accept that the cutting edge of psychedelic research is generations away from acknowledging an obvious truth: that psychedelics are an incredible gift to humanity that could help billions of people deal with the overwhelming intensity of life.  We don’t need more expensive, intricate, double-blind experiments to know this. If we just approach what we already know without fear, then this is the only possible conclusion.

I have no doubt that psychedelics will one day be a completely normal part of a person’s life journey.  It is just a shame that billions of people will suffer before we get there: and the people who suffer will be our family, our friends, and ourselves.

PS  I am really going to miss you guys.

(Photo of Psilocybe Cubensis by Flickr user afgooey74)

Letters From Gitmo

Christian Lorentzen reviews Guantánamo Diary, the recently unclassified (and heavily redacted) 2005 memoir by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a former detainee still in US custody:

Guantánamo Diary is no masterpiece: inevitably, it’s repetitive (Slahi likens his interrogations to Groundhog Day), and often banal when what it recounts isn’t revolting. But Slahi is an intelligent and sensitive writer whose sense of irony somehow survived along with his sanity. He’s not quite Holden Caulfield but his personality consistently comes through. His efforts at characterisation – of his interrogators, guards and fellow detainees – are thwarted by the military censors’ redactions, which turn a wide cast of villains, friends and villain-friends into so many undifferentiated black marks. But his collective observations of his jailers – especially the prison’s racial dynamics, with white guards dominating their black colleagues, and a Puerto Rican contingent showing the most sympathy to the jailed – are some of the book’s most striking details.

A Book Cover That Judges You

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Alison Flood explains:

Thijs Biersteker of digital entrepreneurs Moore has created a book jacket that will open only when a reader shows no judgment. An integrated camera and facial recognition system scans the reader’s face, only unlocking the book – in the prototype, filled with creative work for the Art Directors Club Netherlands annual – when their expression is neutral.

“My aim was to create a book cover that is human and approachable hi-tech. If you approach the book, if you’re overexcited or your face shows a sceptical expression, the book will stay locked,” explains Biersteker on his website. “But if your expression is neutral (no judgment) the system will send an audio pulse and the book will unlock itself. I often worry about my scepticism and judgement getting in the way of my amazement. Judgment should never hinder the relentless enthusiasm of seeing things for the first time.”

Below, watch a video of how the cover works: