Friday Links

–Ludwig von Mises versus Christianity.

–20-plus years of Willie Nelson’s political endorsements.

–The media has stopped covering the unemployement crisis.

–The Stockholm Syndrome theory of long novels.

–An interview with Edward Glaeser, author of Triumph of the City.

–Why universal salvation is an evangelical option.

–A debate over Intelligent Design ensares an academic journal of philosophy.

–Goodbye birtherism, hello “otherism“?

–Chain restaurants try to adapt to the classic-cocktail renaissance.

–Everything you need to know about the apocalypse.

Depressing column of the week (month? year?)

Bob Herbert is leaving the NYT and goes out with a tour de force:

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

It’s more or less downhill from there. I hope the Times has the sense to replace Herbert with someone as passionate about these class and pocketbook issues–issues largely ignored by his colleagues. (With the partial exception of Paul Krguman.)

Friday Links

–Today is the Feast of the Annunciation; here are some thoughts on that. BLS also has one of her outstanding musical offerings for the day.

–John Piper, theological nihilist?

–Catholics are “more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than members of any other Christian tradition and Americans overall.”

–How to live without a mobile phone.

–A proposal for a vegan-omnivore alliance against factory farms. Related: Mark Bittman on prospects for laws protecting farm animals.

–A semi-defense of B.R. Myers’ anti-foodie polemic.

–On the anniversary of Bishop Oscar Romero’s assassination.

–Washington, D.C.’s black majority slips away. Related: the percentage of the nation’s black population living in the South has hit its highest point in fifty years.

–An interesting blog I recently discovered: Marginal Utility, hosted at PopMatters; it covers the culture of work and technology from a leftish perspective.

–Why is media coverage of Africa so unrelentingly negative?

–The Lutheran theology journal Dialog currently has its Spring 2011 issue available free online; it includes some reflections on Carl Braaten’s recently released memoir, which apparently (and not surprisingly) has some harsh words for the ELCA. Added later: Here’s another take on the Braaten autobiography from last year.

–Let the D.C. beer renaissance begin.

Added even later: Gateways to Geekery: Kurt Vonnegut.

Bittman’s agenda

Speaking of food politics, Mark Bittman has retired his long-running “Minimalist” cooking column in the New York Times dining section and is moving over to the opinion pages, as well as writing for the Times Magazine. In addition to teaching people how to cook for themselves, Bittman has criticized the standard American diet and even popularized the idea of being “vegan before dinnertime.”

If this piece–“A Food Manifesto for the Future“–is any indication, Bittman’s focus is going to be on what’s wrong with our existing food system and proposing more just, healthful, and sustainable alternatives. Looks like it’ll be a must-read.

UPDATE: Bittman will also have a blog at the NYT to supplement his more formal op-ed and magazine pieces.

Where’s the Left?

Apparently there’s been a dust-up recently about the supposed lack of genuinely left-wing bloggers in the professional blogosphere. (See here for the run-down.) The charge, in a nutshell, is that many of the most prominent bloggers are so-called neoliberals: people with liberal policy goals but who embrace the deregulation/free-trade/globalization model that has been in vogue since the 1970s or so. A genuinely radical Left is virtually nonexistent among the upper echelons of the liberal blogosphere.

If true (and it depends on how you measure importance in the blogosphere), this isn’t terribly surprising. To the extent that bloggers have been absorbed into more traditional media outlets, they are likely to reflect the traditional media ecosystem. It’s not really unexpected, for example, that the range of views you find among bloggers at the Atlantic is about the same as what you’d find on the op-ed pages of the New York Times or the Washington Post. If blogging was once considered an insurgent alternative to the mainstream media, the process of absorption and co-opting is, if not complete, well on its way. This state of affairs reflects American political discourse across pretty much all media. Not only are genuinely far-left views excluded from virtually all mainstream discourse, even old-fashioned liberals (paleoliberals?) are rare birds. Many people consider Paul Krugman to be an ultra-liberal, but he’s basically a mainstream Clinton-era Democrat (possibly he’s moved a bit further left since then). In Europe he’d probably be a conservative social democrat, maybe even a conservative.

What might be cause for surprise, though, is how little impetus the events of the last ten years (and especially the last three) have given to the revival of a genuine American Left. Speaking personally: I have no left-wing credibility or bona fides (I used to consider myself a libertarian), but the Bush era and its aftermath have pushed me steadily to the left. This was partly because of the war in Iraq and the gross abuse of civil liberties and the rule of law–which convinced me that organized conservatism was deeply corrupt and not to be trusted with governance. But I’ve also moved to the left economically. For instance, I used to be of the view that inequality per se didn’t matter so long as everyone, particularly the poor, was getting richer. But the disparities of the Bush era and the abuse of political power they enabled, among other things, have convinced me that a society with such gross levels of inequality could be neither just nor healthy. The fact that in addition to growing inequality, real wages have been stagnating or possibly even declining for working Americans obviously adds to the problem.

In addition to this widening chasm between the ultra-rich and the rest of us, the global economic collapse we’ve come to call the Great Recession (but which has also been called the “new normal”: an ongoing period of high unemployment and generally poor economic conditions for wide swaths of the working and middle classes) further undermined any remaining confidence I may have had in the ability of free markets to be self-regulating or self-sustaining. I recognize that the causes of the meltdown were complex, but it seems impossible to deny that one major cause was the lack of adequate regulation and oversight, which sprang from a faith in the virtual omnicompetence of markets. (Even former Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan has admitted as much.)

So, after all this, the fact that so many liberal bloggers are still singing from the neoliberal hymnal does come as something of a shock. It’s almost as if the last three years (or ten years) never happened. This phenomenon is only more pronounced on the actual political stage where, for example, a president routinely criticized by the Right for being a socialist (because, e.g., he supported the passage of a moderate, market-oriented, technocratic reform of the health care system) is in reality pursuing a program of tax cuts and deregulation. And the burning question among many politicos and talking heads is how to dismantle the already fragile social safety net so we don’t have to raise taxes on millionaires to pay for all our wars. In other words, the greatest crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression hasn’t provoked any fundamental rethinking by our political and economic elites about the balance we’ve struck between the needs of capital and the needs of society. (The ecological crisis adds a whole other dimension to this problem.) As for the grassroots Left–the activists, labor unions, civil rights groups, women’s groups, LGBT groups, immigrant-rights groups, liberal churches, etc.–it may either be too busy fending off the Right (with good reason) or too disjointed to actually push for such fundamental changes. In that sense at least, the bloggers seem to be in good company.


So, making it impossible to challenge secret government kidnappings (and possible torture) seems like it might be a way bigger deal than whether some nutjobs in Florida want to burn a Koran. Naturally, it’s gotten about 1/1000th the media coverage. Do check out this post at Lawyers, Guns & Money for some good analysis, though.

Attention must be paid

There have been a couple of articles recently on the “slow reading” movement, one in Newsweek and one in the Guardain. Actually, “movement” may be a bit strong; it seems to be more of an impulse, or a reaction against our 24-7 ultra-connected, multitasking, information-saturated lives. (Where “we” are a relatively small minority of affluent elites, just to be clear.)

Slow reading is just what is sounds like: taking your time, really engaging with a text, not skimming or snacking on bits and pieces of information. The concerns of the slow reading movement echo those of technology writer Nicholas Carr, who in an Atlantic Monthly article from 2008 worried that Google was making us stupid. That is, re-wiring our neural circuitry to make it harder for us to pay sustained attention to a piece of writing, or an argument, or narrative. (Carr followed up his article with a book called The Shallows that has gotten a lot of attention.)

I think most of us probably sense that there’s something to this. I know that when I’m reading something online the urge to follow a link or open a new tab is almost irresistible. Rarely do I read anything of substantial length online from start to finish they way I might when reading, say, a long magazine article or a novel. It does seem to require more effort to pay attention.

If this is right, it has implications beyond reading. The ability to pay attention–to attend to some person, or thing that exists apart from (but also in relation to) us–plays a large role in the moral and spiritual life. The philosopher-novelist Iris Murdoch argued that the moral life begins in the ability to appreciate something–a part of nature, a body of knowledge, a person–for its own sake, independent of any benefit it may have for us. In other words, to pay attention. Buddhism teaches that the path to liberation is learning to pay attention to reality without the distortions imposed upon it by the chattering of our minds. Christian prayer involves paying intentional attention to God–the ultimate context of Being. So, if our minds are rendered incapable of sustaining that kind of focus (and, to be fair, not everyone agrees this is happening), what happens to us as moral and spiritual agents?


Today’s WaPo offers a review of a spate of new political books under the headline “Flame-throwing political books from the Right and the Left.” In judicious Post fashion, it finds the Left and the Right about equally guilty of partisan extremism. “If you believe the liberals,” we’re told “we have Republicans going insane after their White House defeat.” Shrill!

Of course, the conservative books under review pretty much to a one are about how Barack Obama hates America and wants to destroy our constitutional system of government. And they didn’t even mention Andy McCarthy’s new book.

Why I don’t watch cable news

Well, not the only reason. But this article on the frequency with which “independent analysts” on cable news double as lobbyists or PR flacks is pretty damning.

Things I learned today while listening to NPR

Sonia Sotomayor is–get this–the first Hispanic person to be appointed to the Supreme Court! And only the third woman!

Also, Republicans, it seems, are worried that she will rule as a liberal “judicial activist.”

Democrats, on the other hand, insist that she will merely “apply the law” in the most mechanical fashion imaginable and never, ever, ever take into consideration the outcomes or effects it may have. That’s a relief!