Sheep Solves Drone Debate

by Alex Pareene

screen-shot-2014-09-02-at-10-37-54-am-e1409669204890Hello, Dish readers. Andrew is recovering from his time on The Playa (I’m told he and Grover Norquist are in adjacent hyperbaric chambers in an unmarked warehouse somewhere in Reston – hopefully one of them will find time to submit a “view from your chamber” photo before the week’s end). I’m Alex Pareene, formerly of Salon and Gawker, currently part of First Look Media, Pierre Omidyar’s well-funded effort to destabilize eastern European states and keep Glenn Greenwald occupied with something other than collecting dogs and arguing with eggs on Twitter.

It has been some time since I’ve blogged, in the traditional sense, so forgive me if I seem a bit rusty. (If I recall correctly, this is when I ask readers to “hit up my tip jar” and/or buy me things on Amazon, right?) Because it is that terrible first day back at work for most of us, I say we ease back into things. We’ll get to police militarization, the sudden media ubiquity of for-some-reason-not-disgraced Bush-era warmongers, and the unsurprising amorality of Andrew Cuomo later. For now, something easier to process: Drones.

Some members of the so-called liberal media say they love drones. Here’s a video (via Motherboard) they hope you don’t watch:

Where do you fall on the drone debate? Make sure to tune in to CNN’s THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER, where today Jake will host a lively debate between Martha Stewart and an angry ram that will settle the issue once and for all.

(Image: A drone critic)

Summer’s End

by Bill McKibben

Yikes, I’ve been looking forward to doing this ever since Andrew asked in mid-summer, but now I feel like Sue and I have been given the keys to a shiny car that we’re a little unsure how to drive. I note with some relief that the week before Labor Day is the temporal equivalent of the empty mall parking lot, and that the regular Dish staff, in addition to doing most of the posting, also oversees what we write, a bit like the driving instructor with the extra set of brakes on his side of the floorboard. But I’m thrilled to be here, because like Sue I’ve been following Andrew around the web for years, and find myself strangely moved be part of the inquiring and eloquent community of readers that has developed here.

I’m best known as an environmental writer and activist. My preoccupation is global warming, about which I wrote what is commonly regarded as onePCMiheartNYC02 of the first books for non-scientists. The End of Nature came out a quarter-century ago next month—and I will cap that 25 years of involvement by helping organize what will (we hope) be the largest climate demonstration in human history on Sept. 21st in New York. (You sign up here and yes I will mention it again). Thinking about climate has molded my outlook enormously. I’ve come to think that the culture, including the blogosphere, pays far too little attention to the ongoing collapse of our physical systems: yes, the planet is burning in Diyala province, in the streets of Aleppo, in the country around Donetsk, in the fearful alleys of Gaza City, and in a dozen other places. But the planet is also burning—last month the demographers told us that a majority of the planet’s population has never known a month where the globe was cooler than the 20th century average. Climate change is no longer a future threat—it’s the single most distinctive fact about our time on earth, so it tends to preoccupy me.

That said, I’m conscious we’re at summer’s end—I feel the need to wring the last easy joys out of the season before the world really begins again a week from tomorrow. So with any luck I’ll manage a post or two of the slightly less-dire variety. It’s useful to me to remember that when it gets hot out one should build a giant protest movement (in my case I’ve volunteered at since I helped found it six years ago) but one might also consider going for a swim.

And So We Begin

by Sue Halpern

Greetings, People of the Dish. My name is Sue Halpern and I have been one of you for at least a decade, having followed this blog from independence to Time to the Atlantic to the Daily Beast and back to independence. When The New York Review of Books, my spiritual and intellectual home, was in the beginning stages of designing its own blog, I suggested to my friends there that that they take a page or two out of Andrew’s playbook because The Dish, it seemed to me then, as it does to me now, manages to combine the serious and the playful, skips the mean part (no comments, thank you very much), all the while trading on serendipity and engagement. That’s what drew me in as a reader, even though my own unrepentant liberal politics stood at a sharp angle from Andrew’s studied conservatism. But over time there has been an unlikely convergence and the angle has largely collapsed. Not completely, but more often than not.

Pransky At Work
Pransky At Work

Over those same years, though, I’ve found that my “belief” in politics, has diminished. If, before, I thought that electoral politics mattered—and I did; I was the one going door-to-door in swing states—now I have a hard time holding on to that belief. If I thought that government, our government, because it is of and by and for the people—that is, because it is us—existed to make our lives together more tenable, well, let’s just say that with my tax dollars going to support Gitmo, the militarization of the police, subsidies to oil companies, and on and on, I’ve become much more cynical. Wouldn’t it be nice if, when we paid our taxes we could tell the government where we wanted our money to go—to the National Parks, say, and not to those oil companies—but of course that’s not the nature of democracy. If faith is the belief in things unseen, then I guess I will continue to have faith in “we the people,” but it is, and will be, a faith sorely tried by doubt.

Did I say that I have a doctorate in political theory from Oxford? Or that I’m married to a man who has been manically trying to bring together people from all over the world into a concerted movement to redirect the trajectory of climate change? Or that I live in Vermont, where neighborliness is a good part of our politics? Scale, it turns out, matters. Scale things up and no one knows anyone, and decisions are made using algorithms and rubrics. Am I suspicious of big government? I guess by now I am. Are most Americans with me? Not as much as you might imagine. A few weeks ago I wrote a piece for the New York Review of Books about Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and the NSA, in which I noted that when George W. Bush was in office, the majority of Democrats were opposed to indiscriminate government surveillance and the majority of Republicans were fine with it, while that under Obama, those responses flipped, and Democrats were cool with government spying. To my mind, we maintain a naïve understanding of the power of bureaucracy to direct government when we think it’s okay for one party to do something that we revile if the other party were to do the same.

I’ve been writing about privacy issues, and technology, for a long time, and not always in tandem. I appreciate technology—I am a sucker for the latest Indiegogo gadgetry and know more about the iPhone 6 than I care to admit—but I also appreciate the vigilance it should, but rarely does, inspire in us. Meanwhile privacy, which I have taken as a social good, and as a right, and as a part of my DNA and yours, no longer seems a given. Instinctively I think that’s bad, but I’m willing to consider the opposite.

So let’s talk about dogs. My most recent book, “A Dog Walks Into A Nursing Home,” is about the work my canine partner, Pransky, and I do, as a therapy team at our local public nursing home. (I did an “Ask Anything” about it when the book came out last year.) I am thrilled to be writing for a publication that has a baying beagle as its mascot, so be prepared, over the next seven days, to help me ponder the essential bond we have with our dogs.

I am thrilled, too, to be sharing this virtual space with the man with whom I share real, physical, tangible space. After decades of what the child psychologists call “parallel play,” career-wise, we have spent the past year collaborating on a series of pieces for Smithsonian that combine our passion for ethnic food with our interest in the immigration, and have found that we really like working together. So thank you Andrew and crew for this opportunity to double-team the Dish. And here we go.

Your Other Blogger For The Week

by Matthew Sitman

Hey Dish readers – I’m Matt, the Dish’s literary editor and, this week, guest-blogger. Most of my work usually appears on the weekends, especially Sundays, so I tend to be responsible for the posts about religion that readers seem to either love or hate, and my deepest interests lean much more toward theology, poetry, and literature than politics. That means writing more about politics over the next few days will be a bit of an adventure for me. Usually I find politics, and the way we argue about politics, terribly depressing, which provides a lovely excuse to retreat into old books. I hope this lack of immersion in punditry gives me a fresh perspective on the events of the day while guest-blogging, but I suspect Dish readers will let me know if it doesn’t.

Prior to joining the Dish team two years ago, I was a Ph.D. student at Georgetown University studying political theory, but I never finished my doctorate, making me something of an academic refugee. My research interests mainly concerned the relationship between political thought and theology, with a particular focus on the Reformation. I won’t bore you with too much more about that, but the questions that led me to that topic still are what I think about the most. Above all, I’m fascinated by religion’s place in the modern world, and I’m drawn to writers who examine that subject with verve and creativity. To that end, I have an essay, coming out very soon in Deep Dish, on the poet Christian Wiman that explores his approach to Christianity.

I grew up in a small town in rural central Pennsylvania, and neither of my parents and none of my grandparents went to college. This means that I always remind myself what a privilege it is to spend my days reading and writing and thinking about books. I hope my enthusiasm and gratitude for getting to do so is apparent during my week of guest-blogging.

Hello There

by Freddie deBoer


Hey guys, my name is Freddie deBoer, and I’m very happy to be filling in for Andrew this week.

For five years (exactly), I wrote a blog called L’Hote, which I named as a joke based on the fact that before I started blogging, I was a commenter on other people’s blogs. (L’hote, in French, means both the host and the guest.) For about a year or so now, I’ve been blogging under the title Interfaces of the Word at my professional website. I write about everything and anything, but I write a lot about education and education reform, professional writing and journalism as cultures, and artificial intelligence. I have also written for n+1, Jacobin, The New Inquiry, and a bunch of other places.

I’m an academic, from an academic family. My father was a professor and his father was a professor and his…. I’m currently a fourth year student and doctoral candidate at Purdue University, in the Rhetoric and Composition program. My academic work occupies the overlap between composition studies, applied linguistics, and education, with a focus on assessment and testing, second language learning, and program administration. If I’m pressed to name my field, I sometimes say educational linguistics, sometimes literacy education, and sometimes just composition. I’m not really caught up on labels. I care about writing, I care about language, and I care about teaching and researching both. That’s my field.

I consider myself a quantitative researcher, and a lot of my work involves corpus linguistics, computerized textual processing, and statistics. At the same time, I value qualitative, historical, and theoretical work as well. What I’ve gained from studying rhetoric and composition generally, and at Purdue’s program specifically, is freedom– immense freedom to define my own interests, my own methodologies, and my own path. I’m currently writing a dissertation on the Collegiate Learning Assessment+, a standardized test of college learning that is being adopted here at Purdue. My dissertation involves testing and assessment theory, empirical evaluation of piloting results, the history and rhetoric of the higher education assessment movement, and other issues, which suits my interdisciplinary interests very well. (I hope to write a post about the test for you guys this week.) I’m on track to graduate this coming May on a four year plan, and the academic job market is rushing up at me in the coming months.

I’m also a socialist, from a socialist family. In that, I mean that I believe in an economic system based on a societal obligation to secure basic material security for all of its people, and that this responsibility cannot be fulfilled by reforming capitalism. My personal preference is for the implementation of a system of market socialism through the vehicle of a universal basic income. What comes after that, I can’t say, but it should stem from the recognition that economic outcomes are the product of forces beyond the control of the individual, and that the market will never deliver moral outcomes unless it is forced to by society. I also reject the ideas of religion, intrinsic sexual identity, patriotism, and empire.

I have a cat, named Suavecito, and a dog, named Miles, who are both crazy in very different ways. You can see my neurotic dog and my sociopathic cat in the picture above.

I also have a reputation. Because I believe in being direct, and I like to fight, and more I believe it’s our democratic responsibility to fight. So when you think I’m wrong, write me an email, and let’s argue. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.


by Dish Staff

Please give a warm welcome to our first two guest-bloggers for the month while Andrew is away (read his departing message here if you missed it). Various Dish staffers will chime in occasionally but the lion’s share of original content will be provided by our featured writers, who will change weekly. Please continue to send all your comments and dissent to the main Dish inbox at Here’s a brief intro from Phoebe Maltz Bovy:

photo (1)

Hi, Dish readers! I’m Phoebe, Dish intern and, this week, guest-blogger. I blog at What Would Phoebe Do and have written some other places as well. I have a Ph.D. in French and French Studies from New York University, and will womansplain to all who’ll listen about pre-Portnoy Jewish intermarriage, the Dreyfus Affair, and anything else relating to nineteenth-century French Jews. My free time is spent walking a squirrel-obsessed miniature poodle, cooking elaborate Japanese meals (or trying), and watching 1990s British sitcoms.

And here is Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s intro:


Hi, Dish readers! I’m Elizabeth. I’ll be guest-blogging here this week alongside Phoebe (whose gratuitous poodle pic has inspired the kitten photo). We blogged together once before, way back in 2008, at a short-lived “conservative feminists” blog. It was the first time I’d ever been called a conservative, but they let me in by virtue of my libertarianism. (I don’t presume to label Phoebe ideologically, but we were both on the more socially-liberal side of things there.) Flash forward to 2014, and I still embrace the “libertarian” and “feminist” labels. I offer this by way of shorthand for what you can expect from me this week.

I’m now a staff editor at Reason, where I write about things like civil liberties, reproductive rights, sex work, criminal justice reform, millennial politics, and food and drug policy. I came there from, most recently, a stint on the women’s blog circuit and a brief-ish love affair with health writing. I’m psyched to be blogging here at The Dish this week (thanks, Andrew and gang, for having me!) and hope you won’t mind it too much either. And do follow me on Twitter @enbrown if you’re so inclined. Cheers!