Two Articles Worth Reading

Distractions have slowed my blogging pace, but here are a couple of articles I enjoyed. One came out today, while the other is an old one that I found myself revisiting after writing my last post on here. They are not all that related, though they do both express opinions that I would have frowned upon just a few years ago, but have come to appreciate since.

First, from the British newspaper The Guardian, an article telling us to stop reading news. (Ironic, no?)

I’m not sure I could ever cut myself off as the author of that piece did, but there’s a lot to think about there, and I can certainly relate to some of his sentiments. It’s easy to convince oneself that reading lots news is one’s duty if one wants to be an informed and intelligent person, when it is often merely a somewhat more enlightened form of procrastination. I’m all for a healthy dose of vicarious living and sounding intelligent at cocktail parties, but following the news can easily get out of hand. This isn’t without its problems, especially when things do directly affect us, and it’s also difficult to know what the author considers “news”–does that include, say, op-eds? A longer analysis piece in a news magazine? Personal essays? This blog? Still, I agree there is a certain freedom in not being chained to the news cycle.

The idea of slavish devotion to the news was already in my mind this week; when I first heard of the Boston Marathon bombings, my first instinct was to glue myself to a news feed and follow along. But then, as I often do in such moments, I flash back to 9/11. I was at school that day, and while they told us what had happened, they never turned on the TVs. When I got home, my dad–a college professor and generally very well-informed man–wasn’t glued to the news and worrying; he was gardening. Even as an 11-year-old, I was in awe of such composure during a crisis. My understanding of that day was not hurt by not seeing video footage of the falling towers until weeks afterward; in fact, it may have let me think through it better–as well as I could at that age. In a certain way, that was our own little victory over the terrorists: there was no terror in our house. Instead, there was some sadness, some reflection, and then we all got on with life.

Fr. James Schall, a Jesuit priest and recently retired Georgetown professor, always told his students to “never major in current events.”  Such narrow focus, he reasoned, led us to ignore the bigger things. Sometimes I wonder where I’d be if I’d heard his advice as a freshman or sophomore, instead of as a senior–but that’s all water under the bridge now, and there were different rewards to following the route I did take.

Fr. Schall also serves as a good transition into the next piece, which was written by another former Georgetown professor. I had the pleasure of taking a class from Prof. Patrick Deneen in what was the final semester in Washington for both of us; I’d suspect he generally shares Fr. Schall’s disinterest in current events, though I’m afraid he’s the main reason that several of those news links are on the right side of this page. In this essay, he explains his decision to abandon a tenured position at Georgetown to seek out a different opportunity:

Prof. Deneen and I come from fairly different places in life, but when it comes to leaving Washington, we have a lot in common. The essay captures much of my own jadedness with D.C., and though coming home since has not been without its frustrations, it was also rewarding on many levels. I may not be able to stay in Duluth long-term, but even if I don’t, localism is (funnily enough) something that can be useful anywhere. As with the news, I’m not sure completely cutting oneself off is the way to go, but there is certainly some wisdom there.


Loads of Links

I’ve set up a bunch of links on the side panel to the sites I visit most frequently. The hockey sites are fairly self-explanatory—they’re just the best sources of information out there, and I contribute to two of them—but I wanted to say a bit more about the news links, which will likely provide the basis for a lot of my posts on here.

There are a variety of sites there, some of them quite well-known, others less so. I want a diversity of views in my news, and I have little patience for partisan cheerleading, though I would not necessarily say my offerings are “balanced” or “moderate.” Two of the sites—the News-Tribune and Vox Populi—simply cover places I am attached to, and while neither is going to win a Pulitzer, they keep me up-to-date on places I care about.

When it comes traditional news, it’s true that the New York Times and National Public Radio have something of a liberal bias. A few exceptions in the Murdoch empire aside, this is mostly unavoidable in quality national journalism these days, and I may write a later post on why this is. For now, I’ll merely acknowledge it and move on; when it comes to depth and quality of reporting, these are some of the best. For international coverage, the NYT and the BBC seem to be the most thorough English-language sources, though if I really want coverage about an event in another country, I will look for a news source from that country, if there is a good one to be found.

Still, most of my media consumption doesn’t involve “objective” news, but political and cultural commentary from an array of pundits. I spend a lot of time reading the Times’s opinion page. Again, it has a liberal bent; I don’t put any of its liberals in a ‘must-read’ category, but they do put out some quality pieces from time to time. I do always read the semi-conservative David Brooks; yes, at times he is a mile wide and an inch deep, and pines for moderation in a very abstract way, but I appreciate his willingness to tackle big ideas, some of which cut against the grain. I also enjoy Ross Douthat, even when I disagree with him; as a social conservative, he is something of a voice in the wilderness at the Times, but he also comes across as the most subtle and complex of their columnists—which I suppose he has to be, to survive in an environment where his views are not the norm. (I’ll have more on Douthat later this week.)

For quality, longer-form journalism, it’s hard to beat the New Yorker, though its editorial bias is even more uniformly liberal than that of the Times. As a counterweight to the groupthink that sometimes appears in these two New York-based publications, I’ve become a regular reader of The American Conservative. If you think conservative media is limited to what you see on Fox, read in the Wall Street Journal, or hear from Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, you owe it to yourself to try out TAC. Their collection of writers is eclectic, and a surprising array of figures appear on their main page. Of their regular bloggers, social conservative Rod Dreher is the most prolific; he can be hit-or-miss, but the hits are well worth reading, and even the misses can be instructive. Daniel Larison is the voice of the anti-war right, while Noah Millman and Dan McCarthy are relative moderates and intellectual heavyweights.

Finally, the left-right axis is not the only one for major political and cultural debates, even if it’s the only one that gets much coverage. The dominant mindset in places like New York and Washington, even among conservatives, tends toward an international focus that accepts orthodox views on economics and politics. The Economist captures this worldview as well as anyone; it comes across as very balanced and reasonable, and their straightforward coverage of world affairs is an asset. But it also rests on a set of subtle assumptions that are rarely questioned. For an attack on basically all of those assumptions, I recommend Front Porch Republic. Like TAC, there’s a bit of everything there, and it can be hit-or-miss, but its writers—mostly college professors—share an emphasis on localism, a dislike of both big government and big business, and worry about the consequences of a world that rejects limits. Many of them are social conservatives, but there are some left-communitarians mixed in as well.

There are plenty of other quality news sources out there, if one knows where to look, and even the less compelling ones put out some gems from time to time. I regret that I’m not able to read all of them, but there are only so many hours I can devote to the consumption of news in a day, so this is where I tend to draw the line.

For the time being, this should be it for housekeeping posts; I’ll move on to content tomorrow. I’m aiming for a post a day, at least at the start, and then assess from there. Obviously, happenings in my life could affect the schedule, and some posts will be far more involved than others. We’ll see how it goes.