Thatâ€™s what changed me â€“ and this blog. Thatâ€™s what changed America. And thatâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€“ and may even unwittingly embolden and strengthen it.
It robbed me of illusions â€“ 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 â€“ 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 warâ€™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 â€“ 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 Wareâ€™s new documentary about the war as he experienced it â€“ on both sides, in real darkness, without any attempt at protecting us from what Michael did not protect himself from. Itâ€™s called â€śOnly The Dead .â€ť Look out for it.
Itâ€™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.)
This selection is one of Ernest Hemingwayâ€™s most brilliant and enduring, â€śBig Two-Hearted River .â€ť The story deserves a patient, close reading; perhaps no better example of Hemingwayâ€™s distinctive prose style exists. Hereâ€™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 saloons 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 )
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 â€¦ the world didnâ€™t end. Did friends and colleagues talk about me behind my back? Maybe. Probably. (O.K. definitely.) But for the most part people didnâ€™t seem to treat me any differently â€” and to the extent that they did, it was to express sympathy or empathy and even admiration for my â€śbraveryâ€ť 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.)
Many people â€” friends, colleagues, strangers â€” came forward to share their own stories of anxiety, and to say that my publicly revealing my anxiety somehow made them feel more hopeful, or less alone, and sometimes less anxious. This made me feel good, though I found it ironic that my writing about my anxiety seemed to reduce other peopleâ€™s anxiety more than it did my own.
Iâ€™m still anxious. I still have bad episodes. I remain (lightly, for the most part) medicated. But Dr. W. was right: Coming out as anxious has helped. It has been a relief not always to have to do â€śimpression management,â€ť as Dr. W. calls it. I donâ€™t â€” or donâ€™t always, anyway â€” feel a desperate compulsion to hide the anxiety that sometimes overtakes me.
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 wasnâ€™t obese, but I was fat, and I just didnâ€™t like it, at all.
So I started doing actual research into what makes people fat, and it turns out, itâ€™s not actually lack of exercise.
A sedentary lifestyle makes you very unhealthy, but it doesnâ€™t really make you fat. The composition of your body is
10% exercise, and
10% genetics. Upon realizing this, I started getting my diet under control. As a part of that, I started counting calories, and which macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) I was getting those calories from.
Two years later, I am down 60 lbs,
11% body fat, and I will count calories every single day for the rest of my life. Far from a marker of female vanity, knowing what you are putting in your body should be one of the basic life skills that every single person possesses. The idea that people are shoving food into their mouths without even thinking about whatâ€™s in it or how much theyâ€™re eating is, when you think about it, insane.
Would people do that with their cars? Would they just start throwing into the tank different kinds of gas and oil and anything that looks like gas or someone told them was gas, without even keeping track of what they were putting in or how much? Of course not! That would be a crazy way to treat a valuable thing like a car. And itâ€™s even crazier to treat your body that way. Iâ€™m not judging people who do; I did for a long time. But, when you think about it, itâ€™s wild that people do that so blithely.
We have a food problem in this country. Itâ€™s destroying our health. Itâ€™s making people depressed. Itâ€™s going to cost us billions in health care over the coming decades. In order to solve this problem, weâ€™re going to have to confront some basic realities that are currently being ignored. Such as: 1) The fast food joints and related businesses that litter out neighborhoods are actually selling poison. It seems strange, because theyâ€™re everywhere and advertise on TV, but thatâ€™s literally true. Itâ€™s a slow-acting poison, but if you keep putting it in your body, it makes you fat, unhappy, sick, and eventually dead. 2) Regular soda is the worst offender of all. And 3) It is crazy to go through life without tracking the fuel that youâ€™re putting in your body.
Thanks as always for airing frank discussion.
Update from a reader:
Iâ€™d like to echo from a different perspective the former college athlete on the junk we put in our bodies. Eight years ago, when I was 54, I was told at my annual physical that I was diabetic. I didnâ€™t fit the typical criteria for Type 2; in fact, I had just mysteriously dropped about 12 pounds. I went home from that appointment thinking, â€śWhat the hell do I eat now?â€ť
Fewer carbs, of course, and just less. I put less on my plate to begin with, and found that Iâ€™d be fine without going back for seconds. No more â€śfinishing off the last bits so there are no leftoversâ€ť. No desserts. (This from someone who definitely had a sweet tooth.) It sounds grim, but it wasnâ€™t. Weâ€™re good cooks, and we make most things from scratch anyway. It gradually dawned on me that most carbs are just filler, and knowing that I was poisoning my body by eating them reduced their appeal significantly. (Potatoes and New Haven-style pizza excepted.)
It turned out I was Type 1, with my insulin production gradually declining. By the time I finally had to start taking insulin, four years later, I had lost another 25 pounds. Everyone thought I was too thin. I gained back about 15 pounds once I started on insulin, and itâ€™s been steady for the last three years.
I believe everyone should eat like a diabetic.