Archives For: Keepers

The World From Off-Grid

Sep 8 2014 @ 12:37pm


When I first started blogging fourteen years ago, I always gave myself a month off in August. I’d never worked as hard as a journalist before, and the absorption of so much information together with the expenditure of so much energy and attention made me long for the empty days of late summer. And, of course, when I look now at the kind of blog I produced back then, it seems like a luxurious well of indolence. In a regular month, I’d write 70 posts; now the number is around a thousand – made possible by the team that now edits, creates and curates this blog. If the ratio of time off to blog-posts were calculated, even a month off now is really a week off back then. The exhaustion is more extreme; the recovery longer; the pace ever-faster.

It is fashionable to speak of the end of blogs these days, but in fact, almost everyone now has a blog, it seems to me. Everyone’s Facebook page is a blog of sorts; Twitter is a more efficient way of showering the world with little links and ideas (aka blogging like Glenn Reynolds, who was, in retrospect, a tweeter as a blogger); Instagram makes everyone a photo-blogger and aggregator. And so the month off becomes, in fact, much more necessary – and yet far more elusive. I get to take a month off because I own this thing – but it is not lost on me that, these days, that is almost a fathomless luxury. And to go not simply off-grid, but off-off-grid (in a place where no Internet signal can be found) suggests the desperation for rest and peace that we now all routinely experience.

So what do I see from off-off- the grid? I don’t see our virtual lives as chimerae, or imposters, or fakes. Like David Roberts, I see them as often rich aspects of our social lives, more accessible to the introvert (ahem), and opening up new avenues of communication and understanding. Roberts channels Montaigne here:

I don’t have any illusions about the inherent moral/spiritual superiority of meatspace friends and interactions. I don’t view my online life as some kind of inauthentic performance in contrast to a meatspace life lived as the Real Me. I can trace a great deal of the richness in my life back to digital roots.

The fact is, all our interactions are performances, even those interactions we experience as purely internal (that internal monologue). They are all shaped by larger cultural and economic forces. That’s because human beings are social creatures, not contingently but inherently. We are always ourselves in relation to someone or something; interacting with others is how children form their sense of being separate, autonomous agents. There is no homunculus, no true, authentic, indivisible self or soul underneath all the layers of social intercourse. It’s social all the way down.

I don’t think I’d go that far – there are things called genes, after all – but I do share his rejection of the notion that virtual life is inherently worth less than real life.

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Back From The Desert

Sep 7 2014 @ 9:38pm

It’s particularly impressive, it seems to me, that Grover Norquist went to Burning Man and wrote this about it to be published on the Tuesday after. I can barely type even now, and it’s been almost a week since I left. I guess we had somewhat different experiences.

Which is the point, no? I loved this post on the Burning Man blog defending Grover from all the haters (which kinda channeled Freddie’s great post):

While you may disagree with [Grover] about aspects of Burning Man, and while his experiences of 2014′s Burning Man may not be your experiences, there’s absolutely no doubt that he did, in fact, experience Burning Man: that he got out of it what the rest of us get out of it, and that he wants more the same way we all do.

Good for him. Good for us. Not only because if “radical self-expression” means anything at all it means having your own opinions about important issues, and if “radical inclusion” means anything at all it means not imposing a party line if we can possibly avoid it. More than that: why would we want to belong to a movement so precious that you already have to agree with a set of pre-fabricated conclusions just to get your foot in the door?

Screw that. If that’s what you want, there are already plenty of places you can go where people will sit around agreeing with each other in total smugness, thoroughly convinced that if there were to somehow be another opinion in the world it would be wrong because it would be different.

Screw that.

Yeah, screw that.

At this point, I suppose, I am expected to give my version of my week in the desert, in the bowels of a throbbing, mobile homosexual sheep (for that was my camp). But as I got more and more used to what was, to all intents and purposes, another world for a week, I realized I 10671349_756474594394418_1653192549247640600_ndidn’t want to share much of it with the outside. It was a wondrous experience, one hard to convey in words, in which a merry band of brothers made new friendships and deepened old ones. I need a special space for where words don’t matter and I would only befoul it with more words. So if you want to understand it – and I can’t say I fully do yet – go there. No one can experience it for you.

For me, part of its allure was that I was with an old dear friend, and part was its utter separation from my normal life. I had no phone service, let alone an Internet connection. I put my wallet away as soon as I got there. From then on, I had total freedom to explore a place which total freedom had created. My friend took almost poignant care of me – while occasionally (okay, often) bursting into laughter at something I had said or done. I guess it’s good to get laughed at in the desert once in a while. And we laughed a hell of a lot.

Two moments stick in my mind.

One night as we were traversing the darkest playa, the colored lights on our bikes serving as some kind of guide, we came across one of the countless art cars. This was a relatively simple one: it looked like an iron house perched on wheels, with a spiral staircase inside which you ascended to reach the second floor … which had nothing but a balcony. So we went out there and looked at the stars – you can actually see them there – and a tall dude in a white floor-length fur coat, covered with fairy lights, arrived with a ukelele. He proceeded, quite simply and quietly, to sing “Across The Universe” and we joined in.

And then, one morning, having stayed up all night (again), I was biking homeward in the gathering heat when I saw a man emerge from the dust ahead of me like an Old Testament prophet, holding a paper plate up high as if he were offering something to the gods. Then, in one of several Burning Man moments, I realized he was offering something to me. “Would you like some bacon?” he asked me, lowering the plate so I could see and deliriously smell the still-sizzling little things. “Yes, please,” I said, which was, at that point the extent of my conversational skills. I had nothing to offer him back, but by that time, I had gotten used to the random acts of kindness and generosity that peppered my time there. So I simply said thank you and went on my way.

A giant THANK YOU to the Dish team and the guest-bloggers who made my real vacation from everything possible: to the Dish staff who proved this blog can thrive independently of me, and who already edit and write most of the Dish with such flair, and passion and imagination – Chris and Patrick, Jessie and Chas, Matt, Jonah and Tracy, Alice and Phoebe; and to guest-bloggers Elizabeth Nolan-Brown, Bill McKibben, Sue Halpern, Freddie DeBoer and Alex Pareene. A thank you too to the reader who wrote her account of her own rape. It’s open tenderness like that that makes this such a vital, raw and real space.

And thanks to you for showing up in such large numbers – August was a huge traffic month without me – and sustaining the conversation about the world while I was in another one. So much happened while I was away that I am still grappling with all of it and will have much more to say tomorrow. But it was lovely for a while to be in something of a utopia, which like all utopias, cannot really exist, except as a mirage, and will always end in ashes and dust.

It stays with you, that sense of that place. And, with luck and grace, changes you.

See you in the morning.

(Photo of the BAAAHS sheep by Louisa Corbett.)

by Jonah Shepp

At one point or another in my short life so far, I think I have held every position on Israel that it is possible to hold, from militant support to equally militant opposition. But this summer, I briefly reverted to the right-wing Zionism of my teenage years, at least for the purposes of Facebook. Amid the Gaza war, my feed was suddenly inundated with denunciations of the racist, fascist, Zionazi terrorist state. There wasn’t much to love in the rants about the ZOG or conspiratorial nonsense about ISIS being an Israeli-American plot, but what really got my goat were comments like this one:

Settlers can go back to anti-semitic Europe where they came from! … Every last zionist shall be kicked out and notice the emphasis on the word zionist. Jews however are welcome to stay and woreship like they have among us for the past 1500 years. (sic)

This oft-expressed distinction between Zionists and Jews betrays a total misunderstanding of what Zionism is and what Israel means to most Jews. Palestinians who say that “the Zionists” must go but “the Jews” can stay need to come to grips with the fact that Zionism, at its core, is about creating a space where Jews do not need someone else’s permission to live. Diaspora Jews of my generation may be much less attached to Israel than our parents and grandparents, but when push comes to shove, we’d rather it exist than not, because we know that our permission to live freely and safely in any other country can be withdrawn at any moment. In our history as a people, we have seen it happen time and time again with devastating consequences. With a well-armed territorial state to our name, we no longer have to fear those consequences.

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by Alex Pareene


WARNING: This is a post, by a media professional, about the media. If you are a normal human being, you will not and definitely should not care, except inasmuch as it’s part of a debate about whether or not we, the media, are failing you, the normal human being. If you are looking for something a little more general-interest, may I recommend, I dunno, a 10,000-word Grantland post about a prestige cable show. Or make some fantasy football trades. Or read a book, I don’t know!

On Wednesday, I wrote about Takes. My piece was a blog post, written on the fly, based on ideas that have been rattling around in my head for a while. If I’d taken the time – say a week, or a month – to organize those thoughts better, and clarify my argument, I would’ve written a very different – and almost certainly better – piece. But I didn’t do that (I am only guesting here at The Dish for one short week, after all), so I now cheerfully admit that, as my (friendly) critics contend, I conflated a few different Internet tropes. Specifically, in the words of Jack Dickey, I conflated “aggregated picayune garbage with the Take.”

So let’s get into this a bit more. Here are the primary types of garbage content that lots of money – money that could be spent on making good things – is currently being spent on producing:

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The Taking Of The Media

Sep 3 2014 @ 1:37pm
by Alex Pareene

The Awl’s John Herrman brings us his take on Takes, the online media phenomenon wherein nearly every single outlet that produces “content” finds itself compelled to produce some sort of content related to some sort of news (or pseudo-news), despite having no original reporting or intelligent analysis to add. The problem is that generating actual news is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Writing incisive analysis requires time to process, reflect, and refine one’s arguments. But the Internet needs those Takes now, while the topic is trending:

Take creators might have caught themselves saying things like “that, my friends, is why you never take nude photos of yourself,” or “just a reminder that, actually, sex is natural.” There were Takes on privacy and gender and consent and free speech issued with and without conviction. Everyone with an outlet—or, really, everyone, since the great democratization of Take distribution tools coaxed previously private Takes out from bars and dining rooms and into the harsh sunlight—found themselves under the spell of that horrible force that newspaper columnists feel every week, the one that eventually ruins every last one: the dreadful pull of a guaranteed audience.

The “we need to have something on this” impulse leads to the worst (professional) writing on the web. We all learn this anew each time some poor 20-something content producer writes some exceptionally dumb take, and everyone spends a few hours piling on the outlet that published it. But the attention-grabbing Offensive Takes only obscure the fact that all the inoffensive takes – the ephemeral, aggregated, feather-light blog posts telling people who already know that something happened that something happened, produced solely in the hopes that the post will, through luck and a bit of dark magic, win the Facebook algorithm lottery – are the most depressing pieces of writing on the web, for the reader and the writer.

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by Alex Pareene

SLUG: ME-Ammo DATE: August 23, 2007 CREDIT: James M. Threshe

Let’s talk about “officer-involved shootings.” That is the formal term, used by seemingly all American local news broadcasts, for when a cop shoots someone. Instead of saying “‘Cops’ crew member killed by police officer,” the headline is, “‘Cops’ crew-member killed after officer-involved shooting.” (It just sort of happened, after that shooting.) There is also “police involved shooting,” a term I first noticed being used by the local New York evening news team last May.

These terms are terrible and journalists should not use them. They are cop-speak. Local news reporters love nothing more than adopting cop-speak, because local news is built on manufacturing fear of crime and venerating of police officers, but both of these terms fail the crucial test of actually being coherent explanations of what happened. Of course police would invent an obfuscatory euphemism for when they shoot people – they would be fools not to try to come up with a nice way of saying “we killed someone” – but the press’ job is supposed to be to translate those euphemisms into plain English.

“Officer-involved shooting” absolves the person who actually pulled the trigger of responsibility, turning the shooting into an apparently inevitable act. The officer was just involved! As Natasha Lennard at Vice News puts it:

The phrase “police-involved shooting” is a careful construction, which, like the criminal justice system more broadly, tends to point blame away from cops. It is code for “the cops shot someone.”

To a reporter, “officer-involved shooting” should sound as grating to the ear as “bear-involved large mammal attack.”

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by Alex Pareene

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Gives Annual State Of State Address

It’s not a perfect measure of partisan leaning, but according to the 2012 election results, New York is more Democratic than California and Minnesota, two states where Democrats control the entirety of the state governments, and where things have not yet completely collapsed in a morass of welfare handouts and tax hikes. So it’s a bit strange that the Republican Party controls the New York state Senate, the body where, traditionally, liberal legislative priorities have gone to die. It’s stranger when you learn that New York voters did actually give Democrats the majority in the Senate in 2012, at which point a coalition of state Senate Democrats known as the Independent Democratic coalition broke off from the party and formally allied with the GOP. Thus, the longtime state Senate Republican majority – the majority that had successfully thwarted nearly every liberal policy push made by the previous two Democratic governors – was preserved.

Andrew Cuomo likes to paint himself as the governor who saved New York from the political dysfunction that typified state politics during the reigns of his predecessors, David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer. Cuomo is the man who forced the sclerotic state legislature to finally act on marriage equality, criminal justice reform, and gun control. You would think that such a governor would prefer to work with Democratic majorities in both state legislative bodies, because, you know, those are all Democratic party priorities that Republicans (mostly) oppose.

You would be wrong. Blake Zeff (full disclosure: he’s my former editor) has a story at Capital New York that confirms what most observers of New York politics already suspected: Cuomo was instrumental in forging the alliance between the IDC and the GOP, because he never actually wanted his own party to wield real power in Albany:

When the coalition was created, Cuomo spoke with IDC leader Jeff Klein to offer advice on how to publicly sell the arrangement and move it forward. According to multiple sources, the governor advised the leaders of the new alliance to emphasize “progress on key issues,” such as campaign finance reform, stop and frisk and increasing the minimum wage. (The conference would use just that language in its announcement, and later release a minimum wage report that February and campaign finance plan in April.)

To move the arrangement forward, the governor and Schwartz would talk directly to Republican leaders and Klein. To help make the coalition work, the governor regularly spoke (by phone and in person) with GOP deputy majority leader Tom Libous, who was effectively Cuomo’s go-to person in the Republican Senate conference. GOP majority leader Dean Skelos was also involved in the discussion, and the governor would talk often in particular with top Skelos aide Robert Mujica. Meanwhile, another top administration official, Joe Percoco, was dispatched to deal with the Senate Democratic conference to try to assuage their concerns even as the governor helped their rivals.

Why would Cuomo do this?

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Sep 2 2014 @ 12:41pm
by Jonah Shepp


As a child and teenager, I attended one of those New York City magnet schools that you read about from time to time, such as when an alum tentatively proposes to shut them all down. Accordingly, I share an alma mater with some notable individuals. The year I graduated, our commencement ceremony attracted a moderate crowd of local paparazzi on account of our guest speaker: Cynthia Nixon, class of ’84. In terms of pure star power, we had outdone the class of 2002, whose distinguished alumnus had been Elena Kagan, at the time merely the first female dean of Harvard Law School. Yeah, that kind of high school.

But celebrity aside, Nixon’s address to our class was actually more insightful than I, at 17, had expected. After the customary platitudes about lifelong friendships and school pride, she got to the point, which she summed up in four words: “Get out of here.”

Now what she meant by this was that if we lived our entire lives in New York, we’d limit the expansion of our minds much more than we realized. Growing up in an international megacity, it’s easy for native New Yorkers to fool ourselves into thinking that we are citizens of the world simply because the world has moved in down the block. The thrust of Nixon’s address to us was that this was a fallacy, and that if we really wanted to get some perspective on how unusual our metropolitan upbringings had been, we ought to spend some time not just traveling but living outside the city, and if we had the chance, outside the country as well.

Four years later, after finishing college in the opening act of the Great Recession with no prospects or plans for the future, I took advantage of a random opportunity and got out of here. Specifically, I moved to Jordan, where I lived for the better part of the next several years. For those who say you can’t learn anything from Hollywood, let me tell you something: Cynthia Nixon was right.

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Burning Earth

Aug 29 2014 @ 1:52pm
by Bill McKibben

California Drought Dries Up Bay Area Reservoirs

At Burning Man in the desert, where the proprietor of this blog, and Grover Norquist, and a lot of other people are gathered this week, they had a rare heavy rainfall, which “intensified the misery of people waiting in the will call lines” at the box office. That A similar soaking in the Mojave Desert meant that the area of California under severe drought conditions fell last week from 97.5 to 95.4%, but the effect of the ongoing record aridity keeps magnifying. On the grossest scale, the region has now lost 63 trillion gallons of groundwater, which weighs about 240 billion tons, which has caused the state’s mountains to grow half an inch taller.

But the drought in California is probably not the worst such crisis underway on the planet at the moment, in part because California is rich. In Central America last week Guatemala became the latest country to declare a state of emergency, as the worst drought in decades wreaks havoc with bean and corn crops. According to the AP:

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Why Oil Companies Are Rogue Actors

Aug 29 2014 @ 12:18pm
by Bill McKibben

A Greenpeace activist holds a banner dur

A reader writes to complain that fossil fuel divestment is a pointless waste of time:

What divestment does do is make people feel good. That they’re “doing something”, without having to do the thing that they actually need to do: use much less fossil fuel. It’s like a room full of chain smokers advocating tobacco divestment.

This is a reasonable complaint, or at least it would be if having individual people decide to use less fossil fuel could actually cure global warming in the time that physics allows us. But it can’t, because the problem is structural: given that the fossil fuel industry is allowed to pour carbon into the atmosphere for free, they have a huge incentive to keep us on the current path. And since they’re the richest industry on earth, they have the means as well as the motive. (Chevron, for instance, offered the largest corporate campaign contribution post-Citizens United two weeks before the last federal election). If we’re going to do anything about carbon, we’re going to have to break the power of the fossil fuel industry first, which is why divestment from high-profile places is so important (just as it was in the South Africa fight). Nelson Mandela journeyed to the University of California shortly after his release to thank students and faculty there, and by extension at 155 other campuses, for pressing the case so effectively.

Here’s an example from the days news of why oil companies are rogues. You’ll recall that on Monday a leaked draft of a new report from the world’s climate scientists stated that

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