Friday Links

What Makes Life Good? An excerpt from Martha Nussbaum’s new book.

–Johann Hari makes the case against the British monarchy.

–How progressive are taxes in the U.S.?

–Ten teachings on Judaism and the environment.

–Marilyn of Left At the Altar reviews Laura Hobgood-Oster’s The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals.

–A very interesting New Yorker article on the love-hate relationship between fantasy author George R.R. Martin and some of his fans.

–The fantasy of survivalism.

–Intellectual disability and theological anthropology.

–Do we need “Passion/Palm Sunday?” Seems like this comes up every year, and I’m not sure there’s a good solution.

–Mark Bittman on the cost of “lifestyle” diseases.

ADDED LATER: On Dutch efforts to ban traditional Jewish and Islamic practices of animal slaughter.

ADDED EVEN LATER: The spiritual benefits of headbanging, riffing (pun intended) on this Atlantic piece: How Heavy Metal Is Keeping Us Sane. (Thanks, bls!)

ONE MORE: It sounds like the movie version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is every bit as bad as you’d expect.

Friday Links

I spent the day hanging out with my family, so these are coming a little late…

–Why Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is neither brave nor serious.

–Free-range meat isn’t necessarily “natural.”

–A case for universalism from the Scottish evangelical preacher and biblical scholar William Barclay.

–A review of a recent book called What’s the Least I can Believe and Still Be a Christian?

–The WaPo reviews a local prog-metal band called Iris Divine (here’s their MySpace page).

–Do Americans love war?

–Speaking of war, April 12 marks the 150th anniversary of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and the onset of the Civil War. I’m thinking of marking the anniversary by finally tackling James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom this spring.

–As I write this, it looks like the two parties are getting close to a budget agreement that will avert a government shutdown. But I still wanted to note that a shutdown would have a major impact on the District itself, shutting down a number of basic city services. This is something that hasn’t gotten much attention.

–The AV Club continues its feature “Loud”–a monthly review of the latest in punk, hardcore, metal, and noise.

Time article on the debate over “humane” meat-eating

This article from Time provides one of the best overviews I’ve seen in a mainstream publication about the issues surrounding factory farms and the use of animals for food. It notes that there’s debate among “humane” meat proponents, vegetarians, and vegans about whether it’s okay to use animals for food at all, but also highlights that most of these folks are united in opposing intensive industrial farming practices. It even gives a lot of space to Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Bauer’s case for veganism. The piece concludes on an ecumenical note, lauding the food movement for “encourag[ing] people to think about their relationship to the food on their plate, about the environmental, social, political, moral and, yes, even culinary factors affected by their choices.”

Friday Links

Somewhat abbreviated…

–Here’s the Red Cross disaster newsroom page for donations and updates on today’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

–How climate change can lead to increases in earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic activity.

–The Christian Century responds to B.R. Myers’ anti-foodie polemic, drawing some useful distinctions.

–A study finds that chickens are capable of empathy.

–Lent is for solidarity.

–What’s next for Wisconsin?

–An excerpt from the new edition of Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics on killng animals, with responses by several other philosophers.

Friday Links

–Why unions are essential for the future of liberalism.

–Maryland is very close to legalizing same-sex marriage.

–Indiana is very close to passing a draconian, Arizona-style immigration law.

–International aid groups appeal to Congress to restore funding for humanitarian aid.

–A slideshow and discussion on the question “Is meat green?”

–How much would a government shutdown cost?

–Why tech writers should stay away from politics.

–An interview with Tom De Haven, author of the novel It’s Superman! and, more recently, Our Hero: Superman on Earth.

–A review of two books on American Tories/loyalists at the time of the Revolution.

–Why the Obama administration changed its mind about the Defense of Marriage Act.

–Twenty questions for Over the Rhine.

Friday links

–The Australian broadcaster ABC’s Religion and Ethics site has a series of articles by Martha Nussbaum on democracy and education: parts 1, 2, and 3.

–Coal is not cheap.

–Vegan nutritionist Virginia Messina argues that healthy diets can include meat analogues. (A corrective of sorts to anti-processed-food extremism.)

–At the great metal blog Invisible Oranges: why lyrics matter.

–Camassia has the first part of a review of Miroslav Volf’s interesting-sounding new book Allah: A Christian Response.

–Radiohead has released their new album “King of Limbs” a day early. You can download it here. I haven’t heard it yet, but the early reviews seem to be mixed. On the other hand, Radiohead albums generally take several listens to digest, so I’m withholding judgment.

–Paul Krugman on the budget “debate.”

–What’s going on in Bahrain?

–The Madison protests are about union-busting, not budget cuts.

–The history of using the National Guard to break strikes.

–According the calendar observed by Lutheran and some other Protestant churches, today is Martin Luther’s feast day (he died on this date in 1546).

ADDED LATER: The Nation‘s “Breakdown” podcast, hosted by Chris Hayes, tackles “the confusing concepts that make politics, economics and government tick” via questions submitted by listeners. This week’s episode tries to answer a question I asked: Why exactly are government deficits bad? (If or when they are.) Chris’s guest is economist Robert Pollin. You can listen here.

This seems appropriate for today:

Meat industry starting to feel the heat

Via Mark Bittman, an article on the effect that efforts like the “Meatless Monday” campaign are having on beef and pork producers:

Efforts like Meatless Mondays are yet another headache for the beef and pork industries. They have been struggling to cope with the soaring cost of corn for feed and to hold on to consumers because of rising retail meat prices.

[Food service giant] Sodexo’s alliance with the Meatless Mondays campaign coincided with an endorsement by Oprah Winfrey, who devoted a week of programs this month to promoting meat-free dieting. Another blow to the meat industry came from the release of the government’s new dietary guidelines Jan. 31.

Those recommendations, which guide health care professionals’ advice to consumers and dictate menu choices for government nutrition programs, called for Americans to cut back on the artery-clogging type of fats found in meat and replace some meat with fish or other seafood.

When a reporter demanded to know why the government didn’t just say, “Eat less meat,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack responded that the seafood recommendation was “a way of saying what you’re saying.”

Those guidelines, coupled with rising prices for beef, pork and poultry because of soaring feed prices, are likely to combine to reduce meat consumption per capita, said Helen Jensen, an Iowa State University economist.

“Dietary guidelines are making suggestions and recommendations about meals that go along with substituting toward a lower-cost meal,” she said.

Here’s a response from the meat industry:

The meat industry says the efforts to reduce consumption are misguided and driven in part by animal rights activists. Consumers need the protein and nutrients that beef and pork provide, industry officials say.

There’s a bit of logical smoke-and-mirrors there, of course. While it’s true that people need protein and nutrients that are found in meat, it’s obviously not true that you can only get them by eating meat. And I certainly don’t think that any reputable nutritionist would say that it’s healthy to eat meat in the quantities that Americans tend to. And, even if you totally discount the concerns of those nefarious “animal rights activists,” American-style meat consumption on a global scale would in all likelihood be an environmental disaster, as well as driving up food prices for very poorest people in the world. There’s just no question that reducing our consumption of meat makes sense for health, environmental, global justice, and animal rights/welfare reasons.

Friday links

–Augustinian and Pelagian software.

–A John Polkinghorne lecture on science and religion.

–Batman as plutocrat.

–Korn and Limp Bizkit: the soundtrack to nihilism.

–Martha Nussbaum on John Stuart Mill: between Bentham and Aristotle.

–The disconnect between the science and economics of climate change.

–Peter Berger, who describes himself as a political conservative and a theological liberal, has some reflections on same-sex marriage.

–The trailer for the X-Men prequel: “X-Men: First Class.”

–Toward an agenda for the left.

–B. R. Meyers’ moral crusade against foodie-ism.

–Noam Chomsky on how global warming became a “liberal hoax” (and a bunch of other stuff).

ADDED LATER: Sunken ship commanded by real-life ‘Moby Dick’ captain discovered. And here’s a link to the “Power Moby-Dick” website referred to in the article.

Small is beautiful?

Matt Yglesias asks a fair question of Mark Bittman’s food manifesto, specifically his proposal that we shift subsidies away from big agribusiness and toward “small” farmers:

It seems to me that what we want from our farms is farms that are as efficient as possible in their use of resources like land, labor, water, etc. You don’t want to encourage a kind of narrow economic efficiency that simply reflects environmental destruction. And of course if a smaller farm can produce a better product, that’s excellent for them and they should find a market niche on that basis. But there’s no more reason for public policy to put its thumb on the scale of smallness than to put its thumb on the scale in favor of corn. Personally, I like going to the farmer’s market when the weather’s nice and so do a lot of other people. In the more prosperous America of tomorrow, I bet even more people will enjoy paying a small premium for the premium wares available at such markets. And if we ever managed to curtail subsidies to agribusiness corn and soy producers, I bet those farmers would be in even better shape. But what’s the case for smallness as such supposed to be?

I think that’s a legitimate point. It’s worth adding that it’s uncertain whether small farms can produce enough food to to feed the entire country. The bucolic image of small, local farming may not be a realistic model for a country the size of the U.S. Plus, it’s not clear that there’s anything inherently wrong with economies of scale.

What we should want, at a minimum, is a kind of level playing field. The problems with our current policy are (at least) two-fold: there are the direct subsidies that government hands out to agriculture (currently about $20 billion a year, largely to big producers of monocrops, including animal feed), and then there are the indirect subsidies in the form of not requiring agribusiness to pay all the costs of doing business, but rather imposing them on third parties. These include, but are not limited to, the environmental, animal-welfare, and health effects of its process and products. If direct subsidies were ended and strict anti-pollution, animal-welfare, and other regulations were enacted and enforced, we’d have something much closer to fair competition between large and small farms. In such a scenario it’s not clear to me that the government needs to be in the business of favoring small farms per se.

Some links for the weekend

– Peter Singer on balancing concern for the environment with efforts to lift people out of poverty.

– Kevin Drum on the difference between liberals and libertarians.

– Bob Herbert on Sargent Shriver: “one of America’s great good men.”

– Peter Berger’s blog at The American Interest. (Here’s a piece on recent developments in American Lutheranism.)

– A three-part article from Derek on communing the unbaptized:1|2|3.

– Bls says the church needs a program. (Or does it already have one?)

– How Moby-Dick navigates between fanaticism and nihilism. And a previous piece on a similar topic by the same author.

– A killer new song from the German tech-death band Obscura.