Ask Kate Bolick Anything: The Porn Effect

by Chas Danner

In today’s video, Kate shares her perspective on how the widespread availability and consumption of pornography has affected gender relations:

Kate is currently working on her first book, Among the Suitors: On Being a Woman, Alone, to be published next year by Crown/Random House. She is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and writes regularly for ElleThe New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Slate. Her 2011 Atlantic cover story, “All the Single Ladies”, addressed why more and more women are choosing, as she has, not to get married. The Dish debated the piece here and here. Kate’s previous videos are here and readers have been debating the fate of sick singles here and here. Our full AA archive is here.

Does Egypt Deserve So Much Attention?

by Chas Danner

Bobby Ghosh thinks the US and international community overestimate Egypt’s importance:

Cairo is no longer the region’s cultural heart: Egypt doesn’t produce great art, music or literature. Arab TV audiences are much more likely now to be watching Turkish soap operas, Lebanese music videos and Qatari satellite news channels. Egyptian universities are now laughably bad, and the Gulf states prefer Indian, Pakistani and Filipino labor to Egyptian. Egypt’s media scene is a regional joke.

After decades of mismanagement by corrupt generals and bureaucrats, Egypt is an economic basket case. It has few valuable resources to sell the world, and its mostly impoverished people don’t have the money to buy anything from the world, either. Even the Chinese, who aren’t deterred by political instability or violence, aren’t exactly queuing up to invest in Egypt.

Ghosh adds that Egypt poses no conceivable threat to Israel, and that its political weight within the Arab world has been eclipsed by other countries like Qatar and Turkey. He thinks Egypt’s symbolic value is waning as well:

The Arab Spring was an import from Tunisia, but it once again made Egypt a laboratory of a new, powerful political idea: post-totalitarian democracy. Egypt’s size meant its democratic experiment would be watched more closely than, say, Libya’s. Alas, as we’ve seen this summer, that experiment has failed. Rather than show the way forward, Egypt is in full retreat. It now falls to Tunisia and Libya to show that the Arab Spring wasn’t simply a replay of the Prague Spring.

As for Egypt, it seems now that its main relevance in regional and global affairs is as a potential source of trouble. Its combination of instability, corruption and ineptitude makes Egypt fertile soil for radicalism and Islamist militancy.

Ghosh makes some interesting, contrarian points, but Egypt’s political influence and cultural exports aside,  I don’t think the world is going to stop paying attention anytime soon either. What happened in Egypt in 2011 was undoubtedly the emotional high point of what may have only been the first phase of the Arab Spring, and for that reason I think many around the world will remain engaged and hopeful.

Has Egypt’s Revolution Been Reversed?

by Chas Danner

Many Feared Dead As Egyptian Security Forces Clear Cairo Protest Camps

Adam Shatz believes that the counter-revolution is in full swing:

To each setback they have undergone since the overthrow of Mubarak, Egypt’s revolutionary forces have responded with the reassuring mantra: ‘revolution is a process.’ But so is counter-revolution, which seems to have prevailed for the foreseeable future. It won not only because the army and the feloul (remnants of the old regime) had superior resources at their disposal, but because they had a unified sense of their aims, something the leaderless revolutionaries conspicuously lacked. The revolution has been a ‘process’ in the manner of a 1960s happening, a meeting of different, often bickering forces that shared the stage only to go their own way after Mubarak’s overthrow. While accusing one another of betraying the revolution, both liberals and Islamists, at various intervals, tried to cut deals with the army, as if it might be a neutral force, as if the people and the army really were ‘one hand’, as people had once chanted in Tahrir Square. Neither had the ruthlessness, or the taste for blood, of Khomeini, who began to decapitate the Shah’s army as soon as he seized power. While the old regime reassembled its forces, Egypt’s revolutionaries mistook their belief in the revolution for the existence of a revolution. By the time Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power on 3 July, the revolution existed mainly in their imagination.

(Photo: Feet from the bodies of supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi lie on the floor of the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Centre in the Nasr City district on August 14, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. By Ed Giles/Getty Images)

The Bodies Pile Up In Egypt

by Chas Danner

Friday night, Egyptian security forces laid siege to Cairo’s al-Fath mosque, where pro-Morsi protesters had been holding up after Wednesday’s massacre and Friday’s violence, which killed at least 173 people. Once the mosque complex was cleared, as many as 1,000 protesters were arrested. Yesterday, another 38 Morsi supporters were killed while in police custody, apparently suffocated by tear-gas inhalation under circumstances which remain unclear. Then today, 25 off-duty police officers were found executed on the side of a road in Sinai, as is purported to be seen in the tweet above. Sharif Abdel Kouddous is certain the chaos will continue:

As Egypt plunges headfirst into a deadly downward spiral with no end in sight, many of its citizens are baying for still more blood. Both sides leading the conflict, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, are playing a zero-sum game, based on a false binary demanding that Egyptians choose one or the other. Both are defined by hierarchy, patriarchy, secrecy, mendacity and a blinding sense of their own superiority. Both are juggernauts in the Egyptian body politic that have heedlessly clawed away at Egypt’s social fabric in their struggle for power, proving time and again that their own political and economic interests trump all. …

Today, many of the revolutionaries who fought the country’s successive authoritarian regimes—first Mubarak, then the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, then the Muslim Brotherhood—now find themselves sitting on the sidelines, pushed out of the discourse and forced to watch as the bloodletting continues. The transformative revolutionary moment that exploded on January 25, 2011, has become a faint glimmer, in danger of being extinguished completely. “Despair is betrayal” is the mantra that has echoed throughout Egypt during the many tough times over the past two and half years. Today, it is very hard not to feel like a traitor.

Adding to the craziness, there are even reports that Mubarak will soon be released, while Morsi will face yet more charges. Elsewhere, Kristen Chick reports on the anti-Christian violence:

The Coptic Orthodox church had just opened in April after 13 years of construction, in a country where the government strictly curtails building permits for churches. Now, its elaborate dome stands above a ruined, charred interior. The walls are blackened and rubble litters the floor. A picture of Jesus is half burned, the charred edges curling where they were licked by flames.

“The religion of God is Islam,” reads graffiti sprayed in yellow on a wall of the church. Three burned out cars, one of them upside down, rest in the courtyard. Next to the gate, sprayed in black, is another phrase: “Victory or martyrdom.”

The Saint Virgin Mary church in Al Nazla is one of 47 churches and monasteries that have been burned, robbed, or attacked since Aug. 14 in a wave of violence against Christians since the brutal police crackdown on the former president’s supporters, according to Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He adds that dozens of Christian schools, other religious buildings, homes and shops have also been attacked and burned, and seven Christians killed. Police have done little to stop the attacks.

And lest anyone forget Egypt’s economy, which is still a complete mess and getting worse due to the near total cessation of tourism as well as widespread cancellation of foreign investments. Nonetheless, H.A. Hellyer thinks the country can still right itself:

The future of politics in Egypt, along with the regional and international repercussions that accompany it, directly depends on how this crisis is resolved. The same path that was open before this terrible turn of events is still open. The basic outlines of a political accommodation are still there for everyone to grasp. An interim government is unsustainable, and means for little or no accountability of anyone — and the reinstatement of Morsi is also a bad move. Fresh presidential elections under the watch of international observers are needed as soon as possible, but that is only a starting point. Consensus is key to unlocking Egypt’s deadlock — and that demands an alternative vote system for the presidency. Whoever becomes Egypt’s next civilian president must have the largest possible mandate and be best positioned within a vote system in which the winner is the first or second choice out of many candidates.

That consensus cannot be established without the full participation of all political forces in the country — and that means the Muslim Brotherhood, popular or not, must be permitted to have political representation as a group.

One piece of good news: amazingly, the unarmed man who was gunned down by security forces in the brutal video we featured on Friday, survived.

The End Of The Muslim Brotherhood?

by Chas Danner

Bassem Sabry outlines the treacherous path that lies ahead for the organization:

On one hand, the Brotherhood is faced with the combined power of an antagonistic administration, the media, the judiciary and a substantial number of people who seem to be confronting the Brotherhood in the streets out of their own volition. The Brotherhood is even facing the leaderships of the country’s top two religious institutions, the Coptic church and Al-Azhar. Most remarkably, a senior Al-Azhar leader and scholar, Dr. Ahmed Kreima, had reportedly declared that Al-Azhar’s council of Sharia scholars has deemed the Brotherhood apostates.

On the other hand, as the Brotherhood seemingly continues to lose control over its base, and and as supporters resort to open violence, their cause and any sympathies garnered are damaged, and the position of the government strengthened. The prevailing narrative in Egyptian media of an “Egypt Fighting terrorism” becomes more palatable for some than it previously seemed.

Eric Trager adds that, while the Egyptian military has been very successful in targeting the Brotherhood’s leadership, the consequences of that success may prove dire:

[The generals have] demonstrated that they understand the Brotherhood’s vulnerabilities, since the Brotherhood cannot function effectively once its top leaders have been apprehended. After all, the Brotherhood is at its core a hierarchical vanguard, in which legions of fully indoctrinated cadres are organized under a nationwide, pyramidal chain-of-command. …

Still, the military’s decapitation of the Brotherhood is a double-edged sword.

By removing the top layers of the organization, the military has made it impossible for the Brotherhood to execute a change in strategy. The military thus has no way of compelling the Brotherhood to abandon its disruptive protests and instead re-enter the political process, as the military says is its goal, because all of the top and provincial leaders who could command their cadres to change course are being removed from the scene.

Even worse, by disorganizing Egypt’s most cohesive Islamist group, the generals have turned hundreds of thousands of deeply ideological Muslim Brothers into free radicals, who will no longer listen to their typically cautious leaders.

Lynch surveys the response of other prominent Islamists across the Arab world, noting that the crackdown in Egypt may result in greater polarization between Islamist organizations and Gulf nation governments, most of whom have loudly offered their political and financial support to Egypt’s military-backed government. And then there’s the Syria angle:

These Islamist networks and personalities have been instrumental in building support and raising money for the various factions of the Syrian opposition. Now, they are prominently equating Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Suwaidan, for instance, proclaims that “the right is clearly with the revolutionaries in Syria and with those who adhere to legitimacy and reject the coup in Egypt.” What will happen if the Islamist networks which have been working to support the Syrian opposition begin to turn their fundraising and mobilizational efforts to Egypt?

Ask Kate Bolick Anything: Our Discomfort With Being Unmarried

by Chas Danner

In today’s video from Kate, she responds to the idea that not getting married is some kind of personal failure:

Kate is currently working on her first book, Among the Suitors: On Being a Woman, Alone, to be published next year by Crown/Random House. She is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and writes regularly for ElleThe New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Slate. Her 2011 Atlantic cover story, “All the Single Ladies”, addressed why more and more women are choosing, as she has, not to get married. The Dish debated the piece here and here. A reader quotes another on Kate’s latest video:

In my experience, Bolick is completely wrong.  The idea that friends will fill in the gaps where a spouse or family used to be is nonsense. … I am also not married, but I’m terrified about what will happen to me later in life without children to look after me.

As a middle-aged man who is married, but child-free by choice, I will say that this is an oft-discussed topic amongst the child-free. One of the comments we get most when people learn we have chosen to be child-free is “Who will look after you in your old age?” However, just ask any home healthcare worker or nursing home employee about how much familial involvement they see for those they look after and you’ll find it’s exceedingly low. There is no guarantee that your children will have the time, proximity or even inclination to provide any assistance in your old age. Having a spouse and/or children primarily as a hedge against late-life health woes seems like a pretty poor reason for getting married or having kids in the here-and-now.

Kate’s first two videos are here and here. “Ask Anything” archive here.

The Senate’s Evolution On Marriage Equality, Ctd

by Chas Danner

It’s not slowing down yet: two conservative Democratic senators, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, just came out for marriage equality. Jon Chait and Dan Amira discuss the Democratic senators who have yet to voice their support for marriage equality:

Dan: Well, Jon, it’s been a crazy month, but today, after Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp dropped out of the tournament, we’re down to the Final Four: Mark Pryor, Joe Manchin, Tim Johnson, and Mary Landrieu. The moderate powerhouses are the only remaining Democratic senators who haven’t come out in support of gay marriage — but only one can be the last Democratic senator not to support gay marriage. Let’s take a look at the field. Landrieu is an interesting case, don’t you think? You could argue she should have been knocked out last week.

Jon: I’m going to get a lot of heat from Landrieu’s fan base, but I’ll just say it: She does not belong in this tournament. She said last Thursday, “The people of Louisiana have made clear that marriage in our state is restricted to one man and one woman. While my personal views have evolved, I will support the outcome of Louisiana’s recent vote.” She has already dropped the e-word. We’re seeding her a distant No. 4.

14 Bald Eagles Who Are Still Outraged Over Benghazi

by Chas Danner

The NRCC is going listicle for its new website:

The committee spent hours poring over BuzzFeed’s site map and layout, studying how readers arrived at its landing pages and bounced from one article to the next. Unsurprisingly, a ton of traffic came from social media — but a lot of it also seemed to come from the site’s sidebar, said Lansing. So the NRCC’s redesign includes a list of recent and popular posts. Other changes include shorter posts, fewer menu items and a heavy helping of what now passes for social currency on the Web: snark. The new site comes a few months into the beginning of a broader strategy to capture more of the social Web’s attention. To that end, the NRCC has begun dropping blog posts with headlines like “13 Animals That Are Really Bummed on Obamacare’s Third Birthday.”

Pareene pounces:

If an audience exists for a BuzzFeed of the right, BuzzFeed will happily be the BuzzFeed of the right, because capitalism. In fact, they are already producing cheap viral crap for conservatives to like on Facebook. Recent attempts include What It Feels Like Being a Conservative on the Internet, which went viral but was deemed “fail” by the BuzzFeed community, and “7 Things Democrats Would Have Freaked Out About if Bush Had Done Them,” which was voted both “win” and “fail.” The author of that latter piece, Benny Johnson, was hired (from Glenn Beck’s the Blaze) basically explicitly to create viral conservative content.

Waldman is underwhelmed:

So let’s head on over to the NRCC web site and prepare to be amazed. Up top of the site, we’ve got…an opportunity to co-sign the Ryan budget. Skapow! Are you feeling buzzed?!? Below that there is “8 of Our Favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes,” which does show that the brain trust at the RNC figured out the list thing. But it’s not exactly jumping out of your computer and grabbing you by the lapels.

The Dawn Of Pawn

by Chas Danner

An example of early-style Staunton Chess Set

Jimmy Stamp traces the design-origins of the modern chess set:

Prior to 1849, there was no such thing as a “normal chess set.” At least not like we think of it today. Over the centuries that chess had been played, innumerable varieties of sets of pieces were created, with regional differences in designation and appearance. As the game proliferated throughout southern Europe in the early 11th century, the rules began to evolve, the movement of the pieces were formalized, and the pieces themselves were drastically transformed from their origins in 6th century India. Originally conceived of as a field of battle, the symbolic meaning of the game changed as it gained popularity in Europe, and the pieces became stand-ins for a royal court instead of an army. Thus, the original chessmen, known as counselor, infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots, became the queen, pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively. By the 19th century, chess clubs and competitions began to appear all around the world, it became necessary to use a standardized set that would enable players from different cultures to compete without getting confused.

That set would come about because of Howard Staunton, a London chess player and promoter who introduced and popularized the design that is now ubiquitous throughout the world:

According to the most widely told origin story, the Staunton set was designed by architect Nathan Cook, who looked at a variety of popular chess sets and distilled their common traits while also, more importantly, looking at the city around him. Victorian London’s Neoclassical architecture had been influenced by a renewed interest in the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome, which captured the popular imagination after the rediscovery of Pompeii in the 18th century. The work of architects like Christopher Wren,William ChambersJohn Soane, and many others inspired the column-like, tripartite division of king, queen, and bishop. A row of Staunton pawns evokes Italianate balustrades enclosing of stairways and balconies.

(Photo: An example of early-style Staunton Chess Set. By Frank A. Camaratta, Jr./ The House of Staunton, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons)

Tin-Hats Among Us?

by Chas Danner

PPP recently took the conspiracy-temperature of 1,247 registered voters.  An unimpressed Joshua Keating sums up the poll’s more sensational results:

Among the survey’s big findings are that 51 percent of Americans believe JFK was killed by a conspiracy, 21 percent believe a UFO crashed at Roswell, 13 percent believe Barack Obama is the antichrist, 7 percent believe the moon landing was faked, and 4 percent believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power.

He admits that while there are certainly some true believers out there who buy into theories like a global-warming hoax or Saddam Hussein being involved in the 9/11 attacks – he thinks the results are most likely skewed by the suggestible:

The day after April Fool’s Day is a good time to reflect on the fact that many of us are more suggestible than we’d like to admit. We’ve all had friends who have unquestioningly shared fake news stories on Facebook (There’s a whole blog devoted to them) or relatives who’ve forwarded us dubious conspiracy e-mails. The questions asked on the survey are detail-heavy and quite specific. For instance: “Do you believe Paul McCartney actually died in a car crash in 1966 and was secretly replaced by a lookalike so The Beatles could continue, or not?” We might hope that most people would say, no, of course not. If they had even heard of the theory, they would probably know that it was a running joke propagated by the Beatles themselves. But a significant number of people probably just heard all those facts and dates and though, “Huh, well I guess so.”