The Weekly Wrap


(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Friday on the Dish, Andrew called for the US government to bear the same legal accountability for torture as the defense contractors at Abu Ghraib, and reaffirmed the precise definition of the word. He was stunned at hearing that Chuck Schumer isn’t finished with Hagel – and noticed that WaPo isn’t, either. Andrew spotlighted Richard Blanco, this year’s Inaugural poet, and told NYT that Matt Drudge is a business mentor for the Dish. He verified that pot doesn’t kill, decided the real solution to obesity has got to be more than tax on sugar, and urged everyone to get the flu shot, ASAP.

In political coverage, we kept up with anxieties over the Brennan nomination, Ezra Klein called the platinum coin a surrender to GOP intransigence, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher accused China of disguising spies as journalists. The Leveretts argued that Obama should engage Iran like Nixon engaged the People’s Republic, and we addressed reader criticism of our interviews with the couple here. Sam Harris painted a nasty picture of a gun-free globe, we evaluated the dearth of climate change coverage in the MSM, and set ourselves apart by taking some tips from the Dutch on flood-management.

In assorted coverage, Alyssa Rosenberg praised Netflix’s fresh approach to online TV, Alex Pasternack took a closer listen to the background music in Zero Dark Thirty’s torture scenes, while David Sessions emphasized that flexible minds produce better writers. Dhairya Dand invented a stylish way to avoid drinking past her limit, we rolled our eyes at mandatory tracking devices for school kids, and Megan Cohen explained the piggy bank. We flashed-forward a few years to see if self-driving cars will be on the market, James Temple floated a new way to cool the earth, while David Roberts linked economic growth to reliable air-conditioning.

Readers came down hard on the music of Les Miz, took up the Reddit question that Obama wouldn’t touch, and gave more advice about how to work the pay-meter when the Dish goes solo in February. We also discussed the value of the Dish’s reverse-reporting, and bemoaned the stinginess of legacy media. We had to look twice at today’s cool ad by Garnier Fructis. watched the sun rise at Big Sur during today’s VFYW, and flipped out during the MHB.

The rest of the week after the jump:

The Dish Model

Why on earth would anyone pay $19.99 to read the bitchy whines of @sullydish ? Hilariously deluded vanity flight into obscurity. Unlike Mr Morgan (prove him wrong by pre-subscribing here), Felix Salmon likes our new economic model. From his conclusion: Sullivan is burning no bridges here. If this works, great; if it doesn’t work, I’m sure that there will be a fair few publications out there willing to add their names to the list of places which have hosted the Dish. It’s what the financial types call a free option. And I’m very glad that Sullivan is taking the plunge, to see just how much money is out there for someone looking to make it on subscription revenues alone. I only have one request for him: please be very transparent about the numbers! We will. We were waiting for a solid 24 hours of data before letting you know (and that is now up). We’re gathering that data as we speak and will report back to you later today. We’ve struggled with the obvious questions of transparency: if the subscriptions come in as a disappointment, would publicizing that become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or would it help spur more support? If we do really well, would that encourage readers who haven’t subscribed to take a free ride? Would it generate complacency? But basically, we think we should be as accountable to our readers as we can, and leave a lot of the financial mystery, spin and secrecy of the old media behind. One other reason we’ve decided to ignore the risks of transparency is because our ambitions are effectively open-ended. Our initial budget is simply for what we currently provide readers. But if we can do better, we will plow the extra money into commissioning long-form journalism, and hire an editor or two to edit it. We would really love to use the Dish’s bloggy base to enrich long-form writing, just as we are trying to support poetry. My own dream is a monthly tablet magazine called Deep Dish, which would have the best of the month’s Dish (with some reader-threads all brought together, a window view gallery, a couple of photos) and two or three really deep dives into subjects that come up in our unending conversation. Getting the blogosphere to bring back long-form is a really subversive idea. But I think we could have a go at it, if you help us by pre-subscribing (do it here! Or the adorable hound gets it!). So even if we were to hit our target, we can still appeal to readers to help us become more ambitious. We will of course hit a limit at some point – and we won’t really have a good grip on what that number is until mid-February at the earliest, after the meter has actually been installed. But we’ve decided to give you the numbers up-front because we trust you get what we’re trying to do. We are resigned to many free riders with a freemium model as open as ours will be. But we figure the more honest we are with you, the more reasoned you can be in your support (or not). Alyssa Rosenberg wants a thousand business models to bloom:

The Dust Bowl Parallel

Matt Zoller Seitz reviews Ken Burns' latest documentary and how it relates to today's climate change crisis:

More than anything else, The Dust Bowl is about a certain self-destructive strain in the American character that prizes individual will over collective responsibility, stigmatizes real or perceived failure, and stubbornly refuses to learn from mistakes for fear of being thought weak. … There are appalling accounts of farmers continuing to use equipment that pulverized topsoil rather than return to more difficult but responsible methods — even after repeated expert warnings that they were destroying the land — because doing so would have been less "efficient," and because they didn’t like academic pointy-heads telling them their business.

"We always had hope that next year was gonna be better," says survivor Wayne Lewis. "We learned slowly, and what didn’t work, you tried it harder the next time. You didn’t try something different. You just tried harder, the same thing that didn’t work."

Alyssa Rosenberg interviewed Burns and his producer Dayton Duncan:

Duncan: So to me, what’s interesting about it is that this catastrophe that occurred and the manmadeness of it, there wasn’t a single – there is no conspiracy single bad person that you can say "It all goes on them." It’s us.

Good And Evil Don’t Wear Capes

Jim Emerson wishes superhero flicks would stop making such clear divisions between villains and heroes:

"Good vs. evil," stated as a kind of equation, makes for lame drama, because if the choice is so clear, nothing is at stake. The Big Lie about the Holocaust, to use the most extreme popular example of the 20th century, is that it was perpetrated by people whose only motivation was to "do evil." I see that as a form of Holocaust denial, an abdication of responsibility and a refusal to deal with the realities of human nature.

Alyssa Rosenberg builds off Emerson's thoughts:

The Closet And The Status Quo II

Frank Ocean, a member of the hip-hop collective Odd Future, came out yesterday. Alyssa Rosenberg reflects on the meaning of Ocean's admission that his first love was a man:

[V]isibility is the long-term death of bias. I don’t really think that Odd Future will be the wheel that turns the entire ship of hip-hop (or R&B, the genre which Frank is more rooted in) here. It was never going to be that a major talent in a musical genre came out and the next day we woke up to the bloom of a thousand gay and gay-positive mix tapes. That’s too much freight to place on any one person, and far too much to expect of an entrenched industry with well-established norms, even if those norms do that genre harm.

A reader celebrates the good news:

Up-and-coming R&B singer Frank Ocean's coming out of the closet is a huge topic in the black community right now, especially amongst young people. Being that my generation is already more open-minded about this than the previous generations and the huge Obama announcement from six weeks ago, I think this is just another step in exorcising the homophobia in the black community. Here’s a pretty thorough post on it along with his coming-out letter.

From that post by Necole Bitchie:

Tarantino’s Latest Revenge Flick

The trailer for Django Unchained is finally out:

TNC says the film isn't for him:

It is not merely wrong to focus on the militarism of the Civil War because those who do so generally don't want to talk about slavery. It is wrong because such a focus says that the only thing important about war are those who carry the guns. But any serious investigation into slavery, and its violent end, reveal that to be false. Frederick Douglass standing up to his master and stomping a mud-hole in Covey the slave-breaker is iconic. His wife, Anna Murray-Douglass, risking her own freedom and her own life to facilitate his escape, is not.

Earlier thoughts from TNC here. Alyssa Rosenberg has mixed feelings:

Treating Male Celebs Like Women

Amy Wallace marks D’Angelo's return to music-making after years of addiction. Besides drugs, he battled self-image issues, which were inflamed by fans shouting at him to strip after the release of the above video:

D’Angelo felt tortured, Questlove says, by the pressure to give the audience what it wanted. Worried that he didn’t look as cut as he did in the video, he’d delay shows to do stomach crunches. He’d often give in, peeling off his shirt, but he resented being reduced to that. Wasn’t he an artist? Couldn’t the audience hear the power of his music and value him for that? He would explode, Questlove recalls, and throw things. Sometimes he’d have to be coaxed not to cancel shows altogether. When I ask D about this, he downplays his suffering. Watching him pull hard on another Newport, I realize that he finds it far easier to confess his addictions than his insecurities about his corporeal self. Self-destructing with a coke spoon—while ill-advised—has a badass edge. Fretting over what Questlove has called “some Kate Moss shit” seems anything but manly …

Live by the six-pack; die by it. He needn't have made a video that shows him starkers. Alyssa Rosenberg is fascinated by the gender reversal. Dan Solomon has seen this happen before:

Getting Torture On TV Right

Amanda Marcotte blasts the prevalence of inaccurate portrayals:

On TV, torture almost always works. The victim usually knows the information, and gives it up immediately. In rarer cases, they know nothing but are able to stop to torture by stating this fact. Either way, they respond positively to torture, and somehow the tormentor magically knows when their victim is speaking the truth. What we know from real life examinations of torture is that the reality plays out very differently. 

Alyssa Rosenberg points to a plotline in this week's episode of "Game Of Thrones", including the above scene, as an example of a better model:

The Female Gaze

Alyssa Rosenberg is psyched for the role reversal, among other things, in Magic Mike:

[I]t’s almost unprecedented to have a story about a man who trades on his looks in precisely the same women do, from a position of supplication and as a consumption object rather than as a tool to be deployed. It’s also somewhat rare to have a male character with a career dream that a female character encourages him to pursue rather than the other way around—it’s women who are supposed to discount their own abilities. 

The film is based on actor Channing Tatum's experience as a stripper in Florida when he was 19. Not everyone can control their snark:

American Pie, Pathbreaker

by Zack Beauchamp

Alyssa Rosenberg is unexpectedly impressed by the treatment of sexuality in the series:

I re-watched American Pie in preparation for a piece about American Reunion last week, and found myself spending a surprising amount of time talking to people about the franchise this week. For all its crass, happy commercialism, the movies have struck a deep chord with people, particularly on the question of how they portray sexuality. Take Michelle, for example.