The War

Feb 6 2015 @ 8:00am

That’s what changed me – and this blog. That’s what changed America. And that’s why Obama is president.

When I look back on the stumbling, reversed, jagged path I found myself taking with you over the past decade, it is the war that looms largest. It showed me the callowness of neoconservative certainty – a certainty I drank as solace in the lost shadow of the two towers, the falling of which propelled this blog into a very public space. It showed me the wisdom of a deeper conservatism that should have recognized the utopianism of the Iraq folly from the get-go. It showed me the depth of human evil in the dark recesses of al Qaeda and Zarqawi and now ISIS. And it showed me that merely dramatically opposing this evil is not enough to stop it – and may even unwittingly embolden and strengthen it.

It robbed me of illusions – the first being that the United States never tortures prisoners.

It denied me any intellectual safe haven, as my delusions fell from my eyes in slow motion.

It revealed an ugly side to me, in the aftermath of 9/11, that I now see with revulsion and embarrassment.

It shook me out of moral complacency and shallow absolutes.

Maybe every generation has to learn some of these lessons anew – and I should hasten to add that the war has not left me a pacifist. I still believe in the necessity of military force in confronting evil in the world that threatens us. I am merely far, far more convinced than I used to be about war’s capacity to make things worse, its propensity to upend the precious legacy of security and gradual change from which all true progress is made. Tens of thousands of human beings died in Iraq because many of us forgot that. Many more still will be. You can treat that as an abstraction – but the new media made so much of it so much more immediate, and revealed such vistas of pain and grief and brutality that abstractions were overwhelmed with reality.

And yet we move on. Accounts of the war that obscure that complex reality are emerging again. And we will be tempted to walk briskly by what the war did to the meaning of America, in its relations with the world. Which is why, in this last week of Dishing, I was glad to see an early cut of Michael Ware’s new documentary about the war as he experienced it – on both sides, in real darkness, without any attempt at protecting us from what Michael did not protect himself from. It’s called “Only The Dead.” Look out for it.

It’s only by confronting this past fully, by not flinching from it, or air-brushing it that we will emerge again into what Churchill called broad sunlit uplands. The light is still crepuscular. I just want to believe it is the light of dawn and not of dusk, and that this global struggle can lead somehow to something better, truer and more humane.

(Photo: Seen through splintered bullet-proof glass, US soldiers from 2-12 Infantry Battalion examine their damaged Humvee after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated on the vehicle, following a patrol in the predominantly Sunni al-Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad 19 March 2007. On the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq US soldiers still faced daily attacks on the streets of the war-torn capital. By David Furst/AFP/Getty Images.)

The View From My Window

Feb 6 2015 @ 7:32am

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Washington, DC, 5.25 pm

Quote For The Day II

Feb 5 2015 @ 8:30pm

“The world cannot be a problem to anyone who sees that ultimately Christ, the world, his brother and his own inmost ground are made one and the same in grace and redemptive love. If all the current talk about the world helps people to discover this, then it is fine. But if it produces nothing but a whole new divisive gamut of obligatory positions and ‘contemporary answers’ we might as well forget it. The world itself is no problem, but we are a problem to ourselves because we are alienated from ourselves, and this alienation is due precisely to an inveterate habit of division by which we break reality into pieces and then wonder why, after we have manipulated the pieces until they fall apart, we find ourselves out of touch with life, with reality, with the world and most of all with ourselves,” – Thomas Merton, “Is the World a Problem?” (1966)

Check out last Sunday’s celebration of Merton’s 100th birthday here.

Know Scope

Feb 5 2015 @ 8:00pm

dish_nasapic

Marcelo Gleiser reminds us that, even though science has not yet detected gravitational waves from the Big Bang, “we should take note of what we do know about the early universe, which is nothing short of spectacular”:

We know that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old (a number that, updated from 13.7, has given us pause about the name of this very blog). We know its composition, or at least the relative contribution of the ingredients — if not the ingredients themselves (dark matter and dark energy remain a mystery). We have a firm grasp of the cosmic history from 400,000 years after the Big Bang to now — and we can even push it earlier, to a minute or so after the event, when the first atomic nuclei were synthesized. We also understand how galaxies form and how they are distributed across space, even if we still don’t know where the seeds that leapfrogged their emergence came from. …

We share with our ancestors the urge to understand our origins, to unveil the mystery of creation. The fact that science opens a window for us to peer into our deep past should be a cause for celebration, irrespective of what we find when we are finally able to look.

(Image from Hubble Space Telescope via NASA/ESA/UCSC/Leiden Univ.)

Face Of The Day

Feb 5 2015 @ 7:27pm

From a reader saying goodbye:

Beagles!

A Short Story For Thursday

Feb 5 2015 @ 6:15pm

This selection is one of Ernest Hemingway’s most brilliant and enduring, “Big Two-Hearted River.” The story deserves a patient, close reading; perhaps no better example of Hemingway’s distinctive prose style exists. Here’s how it begins:

The train went on up the track out of sight, around one of the hills of burnt timber. Nick sat down on the bundle of canvas and bedding the baggage man had pitched out of the door of the baggage car. There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country. The thirteen ernest_hemingway_fishingsaloons that had lined the one street of Seney had not left a trace. The foundations of the Mansion House hotel stuck up above the ground. The stone was chipped and split by the fire. It was all that was left of the town of Seney. Even the surface had been burned off the ground.

Nick looked at the burned-over stretch of hillside, where he had expected to find the scattered houses of the town and then walked down the railroad track to the bridge over the river. The river was there. It swirled against the log spires of the bridge. Nick looked down into the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins. As he watched them they changed their again by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water again. Nick watched them a long time.

Read the rest here. The story also can be found in The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. For helpful commentary on the story, check out this Dish-featured essay. Peruse revious SSFSs here.

(Photo of Hemingway fishing in Michigan in 1916, via Wikimedia Commons)

Exiting The Anxiety Closet

Feb 5 2015 @ 5:14pm

Maria Bamford, a Dish fave, exited through comedy:

Scott Stossel reflects on his decision to open up about his chronic anxiety:

I revealed my anxiety and … the world didn’t end. Did friends and colleagues talk about me behind my back? Maybe. Probably. (O.K., definitely.) But for the most part people didn’t seem to treat me any differently — and to the extent that they did, it was to express sympathy or empathy and even admiration for my “bravery” in revealing my vulnerability. (This always struck me as odd because I was being brave only in revealing my lack of bravery, which is a cheap sort of bravery indeed.)

Read On

Dudes On Diets, Ctd

Feb 5 2015 @ 4:52pm

A reader brings a personal touch to this topic:

This subject is near-and-dear to my heart. I was a college athlete who never had to even think about what I ate to maintain low bodyfat. Then my workouts dropped to, say, 20% of what I had been doing when I stopped playing college bball and started working a full-time job. Typical story, I guess. The pounds crept on slowly, 5-10 a year, until, at 29, I was 50 pounds overweight. The weight came slowly but the realization came suddenly. I remember the first time I went to the beach and felt hesitation about taking my shirt off. Within a month, I was cringing every time I looked at myself shirtless in the mirror. I wasn’t obese, but I was fat, and I just didn’t like it, at all.

So I started doing actual research into what makes people fat, and it turns out, it’s not actually lack of exercise.

Read On

Mental Health Break

Feb 5 2015 @ 4:20pm

Words to live by:

Will Vaccination Become Partisan?

Feb 5 2015 @ 3:44pm

According to a recently released survey from the Pew Research Center, the public opinion on vaccine requirements, for example, divides much more by age than by political affiliation. This may be a function of the fact that younger people are less likely to have seen the diseases the vaccines are designed to protect against. (In other words, vaccines are victims of their own success.) However, the poll was worrying in one political respect: In 2009, there was no partisan difference in attitudes toward these requirements. The latest study did find some small differences along party lines. According to Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth political science professor who has done research on effective communication around vaccines, injecting partisan politics into individual decisions about whether to vaccinate could have unintended consequences. He argued in the New York Times recently that making the decision to vaccinate one of partisan allegiance could potentially push some individuals who might otherwise have vaccinated their children to forgo the process.

Seth Masket warns that “if enough Republican leaders or conservative cultural figures publicly question the importance of immunizations, and if such messages go unchallenged or even embraced by commentators on Fox and other conservative media outlets, that message could soon be adopted by conservative parents with only modest attachments to politics”:

Read On