Living The Dishhead Dream

by Chas Danner

I’m a reader. That’s how this ride started for me. Seven years ago there was, and still is, no better place on the Internet for keeping abreast of news, arguments, ideas, and the penetrating thoughts and experiences of complete strangers – the Dish’s readers. Finding the Dish was a revelation. I was hooked.

In the spring of 2009, I knew the Iranian elections were ramping up because I read the Dish, and it was a story that captured my attention like nothing else previously or since. When their election day came and went wrong, I devoured all the news I could find, living the story in real-time from afar. I started chas-inbox-iranhammering the Dish inbox with scraps of news, videos, and tweets, reloading constantly to see if and when my contributions made it on the blog. I also began volunteering my efforts for HuffPo’s live-blog on the story, and started collecting those chilling videos of Iranians chanting Allah-o Akbar from their rooftops. When that project got a plug on the Dish, from “blogger Chas Danner”, I was floored. It was during those few summer months that I first caught the journalism bug, mostly because I found myself doing the job I had been watching the Dish do for years.

In 2012, when I applied for and somehow got a Dishternship, I suddenly found myself under the hood, revamping our Facebook feed, helping the Dish cover a presidential election, getting chastised by Patrick for not “feeding the beast” enough, and eating mini-cupcakes in the green room at Colbert.

When my internship ended, right as the Dish was about to go independent, I refused to stop working until they hired me back on. When they finally relented and I was asked what I wanted my new title to be, I suggested “Special Teams”, a football term for a collection of players with specific skills used for special situations. It was an apt title, as my job often required some self-taught skill the rest of the team lacked, and there ended up being virtually no part of producing the Dish, or keeping our company going, that I didn’t get to play some role in.

When we needed a new website, I designed it and managed its launch. I found our technology partners Tinypass, 10up, and WordPress VIP and managed those relationships. When we needed to shoot and edit VFYWC-224videos, or produce podcasts, or find meeting spaces we could rent, I figured it out. When some gear inside the Dish broke, I was the one who got the call. And I edited others’ drafts, became a headline specialist, wove together contest entries, and found most of the Dish’s Mental Health Breaks and Faces Of The Day these past few years. But, for me, nothing was more exhilarating or more challenging than parachuting into some breaking news event and connecting the dots, tweets, images, and posts, staying up late and waking up early to squeeze some extra ounce of understanding out of the confusion and chaos.

Now, at the end, I’m the Dish’s Managing Editor, and so proudly so. For while I’ve loved being a jack of all trades, what I’ve loved even more is helping maintain and improve the overall system of human and technological resources that make the Dish possible. The Dish is a super-organism. Each individual part – our staff, Andrew, the readers, and the blogosphere – making up the essential whole. It is a complex and magical machine, and I for these past few years I have felt like its faithful mechanic.

For me, the ultimate special project has been the entire thing itself, making sure Andrew’s spirited campaign against sponsored content left no outrage unturned, helping Patrick try to reimagine our dish-prep-assignment-buttonscompany’s future, or version after updated version of his brilliant RSS processing system, having passionate arguments with Chris about the nature and future of Dishness, working with Jessie to relaunch our Twitter feed so that the hundreds of other writers we depend on for our content would know we’ve featured their work, relaying tweets and posts to Jonah so he can be the best damn foreign-policy blogger on the planet, and the countless, marvelous conversations with Matt about what journalism is, should, and can be. These incredible people, these co-workers who have become my best friends, have inspired me in ways I could have never imagined. Anything I ever do, everything I ever accomplish, will be because of them.

And then there are all of you, our readers. For those of you who have written in with your votes of confidence in our staff continuing on, please know how much that has meant to us. We have read all of them. And if you saw some tall guy sobbing on the F train last Friday, that was me after reading how one Dishhead was willing to up his subscription to $5,000 to save the Dish. Please know how badly we wanted the Dish to live on somehow, and how hard we fought for that possibility. Working for all of you has been the greatest thing I have ever done in my life. I would have done it all for free, or paid to keep it alive myself, as so many of you have done. I know how important the Dish is to all of you, because I’m one of you too. And I don’t know what I’m going to read tomorrow when I wake up either.

This was real. Even more than the success of our business or editorial models, what the Dish proved is that you, our readers, exist. There are at least thirty, maybe fifty or a hundred thousand of you out there who get it. That’s enough. You have all proved that the future of media, of reading and thinking, doesn’t have to be constrained by the bullshit of clickbait, faux-inspiration, take-pieces, regurgitated Times articles, listicles, and advertising masquerading as journalism. You have proved that the homepage lives. You have proved that editors matter. The Dish existed because of you. Now we dream forward.

The Dish may be dead, but I will always be a Dishhead. I still believe, even now at the very end. And I always will.

How I Met Andrew Sullivan

by Matthew Sitman

One of the first questions I get when a person finds out I work at the Dish, and that Andrew is not just my boss but my friend, is about how we met.

Unlike most of my generation, and probably most readers of this blog, I first encountered Andrew’s writing in his books. I read Virtually Normal with the thrill of genuine intellectual discovery when, as a young doctoral student at Georgetown University, I pulled it off the shelf during an afternoon haphazardly exploring the stacks. I turned to Love Undetectable and The Conservative Soul in quick succession, with the former, in my estimation, being Andrew’s best and most beautiful book. But perhaps most importantly, in early 2008, Andrew’s dissertation on Michael Oakeshott finally was published. During my graduate studies, Oakeshott had become an intellectual hero of mine, a thinker whose writing genuinely changed my life. So I scraped together the money to buy Intimations Pursued, read it slowly and deeply, and then sent Andrew an email asking if we could get coffee to discuss it.

I was a nobody – a poor graduate student in a city in which proximity to power or money is what gets people’s attention. I had nothing to offer Andrew in that regard. What I now realize, however, is that that was a good thing.

I wasn’t asking for anything other than an earnest conversation about a somewhat obscure English philosopher. I wasn’t seeking an internship, I wasn’t trying to secure a “connection,” I didn’t want Andrew to introduce me to anyone. I certainly never believed I’d work at the Dish. Andrew was just a writer who fascinated me, not a celebrity blogger. I wanted to ask him questions. That was all. And that’s why, I now feel certain, he wrote back to me suggesting we skip the coffee and just get dinner at the Duplex Diner.

That evening we shared what would be the first of many long meals together, with me awkwardly asking questions about his dissertation and trying not to seem as nervous as I really was. (Confession: I downed a beer on my way to dinner to help me relax.) I met Aaron that first night, too, and we all ended up going to listen to jazz at Blues Alley. We promised to do it again soon, and in short order we became friends – a title that he and I both revere.

Working together these last two years necessarily impinged on our friendship, with discussions of “business” always threatening to intervene. So while I will miss Andrew’s blogging, and now find myself considering what comes next in my own career, I am relieved that Andrew and I simply can be friends again. Because, after all, true friendship is entirely non-instrumental, and fits uneasily amidst the demands for productivity and performance. As Oakeshott puts it in “On Being Conservative” (pdf):

Friends are not concerned with what might be made of one another, but only with the enjoyment of one another; and the condition of this enjoyment is a ready acceptance of what is and the absence of any desire to change or to improve. A friend is not somebody one trusts to behave in a certain manner, who supplies certain wants, who has certain useful abilities, who possesses certain merely agreeable qualities, or who holds certain acceptable opinions…The relationship of friend to friend is dramatic, not utilitarian; the tie is one of familiarity, not usefulness; the disposition engaged is conservative, not ‘progressive.’

Andrew, to borrow Oakeshott’s phrasing, certainly does not always have acceptable opinions, nor is he always agreeable. Far from it, as readers of this blog certainly know. But Andrew, more than anyone else, has taught me that any genuine form of love, especially friendship, does not seek to change or improve the other person. Friendship is marked most of all by simple delight, by finding the world a slightly less lonely place because of another person’s proximity. It exists for no purpose beyond itself; it is “useless” in the very best sense of what that might mean. And so, it turns out, entering into an abiding friendship actually is the beginning of a more general wisdom: that striving must give way to acceptance, that present laughter should be valued over future reward, that life is not a series of “problems” to be “solved” but a mystery to enjoyed. I’m not sure I’d really understand these things, to the extent I do or in the same way, if Andrew hadn’t decided to answer my email that day.

I can’t help but feel joy that my friend is leaving blogging behind. His deepest interests are not political, as my own story of meeting and getting to know Andrew should indicate. The daily jousting on the web, however brilliantly he executed it, does not reveal the core of the Andrew I know. Instead, if asked to describe the man, what comes to mind is the time we talked about God hour after hour one sunny Spring day, or the eagerness with which he showed me Provincetown my first visit there. I look forward to the day, soon arriving, when reciting our favorite Philip Larkin poems supplants discussion of web traffic, and when, after going to Mass together, we can converse about Jesus without worrying over Monday morning’s blogging.

The War

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.)

Quote For The Day II

“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.