Interesting Reads Week of December 9, 2018

Our Health

I don’t usually give a great deal of credence to the “best place to live”, “greatest places to retire”, or “hottest vacation spots” kind of articles, but this analysis from the US News and World Report on “Healthiest Communities” got my attention because the American Public Health Association (APHA) recommended it.

Bob Gibson 1972–a hero

The data used is publicly available and brought together to create pictures of health.  What would you add? What is missing from the analysis of “health.”


More and more people (including Republican Senator Ben Sasse) are writing about social dislocation, and, without using the term “anomie.”  This article by public theologian James K.A. Smith from May (I just got to it this week so it counts) begins with an important thought experiment and ends with a simple thing we we can do to overcome the epidemic of loneliness.  He quotes Marina Keegan from her book The Opposite of Loneliness:

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table.

Some of the loneliest people on our midst are those without homes.  Homelessness is a profoundly dislocating reality and this summary by the APHA in their newspaper The Nation’s Health lays out the power of the “housing first” approach to dealing with it.  Good, evidence-based, approach that we should seek to better understand.

And, perhaps it is time to ask the question of whether we can really call our nation healthy if our brothers and sisters living in rural areas find themselves ever more abandoned and without hope.  This Times article has stark (but beautiful) pictures, some powerful graphs, and a painful analysis that ends thus:

The distress of 50 million Americans should concern everyone. Powerful economic forces are arrayed against rural America and, so far, efforts to turn it around have failed.


I was summoned to jury duty this week and after a day and a half waiting to be called to answer basic questions about my background and my fitness for duty, I was booted from consideration by the DA before I could even get out of my chair.  I knew I would be.  I have been vocal in my criticism of the local DA.  But my criticisms is not without recommendations for change.  What do I want?  How about our DA putting into practice the 21 Principles for the 21st ProsecutorNow that’s what I am talking about.  From the Brennan Center for Justice.  Here is a GREAT start:

  1. Make Diversion the Rule
  2. Charge with Restraint and Plea Bargain Fairly
  3. Move Toward Ending Cash Bail
  4. Encourage the Treatment (Not Criminalization) of Mental Illness
  5. Encourage the Treatment (Not Criminalization) of Drug Addiction
  6. Treat Kids Like Kids
  7. Minimize Misdemeanors
  8. Account for Consequences to Immigrants
  9. Promote Restorative Justice
  10. Shrink Probation and Parole

And one of my FAVORITE topics!  Ranked choice voting.  My small city attempted to put this into place a few years back and it failed but Maine is doing it and Vox  has a nice analysis of what it is and what all the fuss is about from those opposing it.


I just have ONE article here because it is a long one and it deserves to be read.  Krugman has been calling Ryan a charlatan for some time.  Klein lays out a prosecutor’s case.  I can’t decide if is a long con or just incompetence paired with a powerful PR staff.

But more important than the differences between Ryan and Trump are the similarities. Yes, Ryan is decorous and polite where Trump is confrontational and uncouth, but the say-anything brand of politics that so outrages Trump’s critics is no less present in Ryan’s recent history. How else can we read a politician who rose to power promising to reduce deficits only to increase them at every turn? Or a politician who raked in good press for promising anti-poverty policies that he subsequently refused to pass?

Let’s Call it “Liberalism”

I will, no doubt, be writing a fair bit more about Patrick Deneen and his book Why Liberalism Failed (and he is not talking about Democratic Party-style liberalism) in the weeks/months ahead.  But this piece about a recent Catholic confab on liberalism (always keep an eye on Catholics when it comes to political theory), is a stimulating read whether you share their theology or not.

And… it appears that Protestants are ALSO discussing Deneen.  Another nice conference summary, this one from Calvin College.  Pay attention to these debates please.  Even if you are not religious, they merit critical analysis and engagement.  If not liberalism, then what..?

And what has liberalism wrought?  How about Facebook for one.  The Guardian cuts right to the chase in “We all fell for Facebook’s utopianism, but the mask is at last being torn away.

The problem with Facebook isn’t malevolence, but something worse: utopianism. The company is defined by an unshakable belief in the power of “connectivity”, and characterised by the default instinct that problems are fixed with more tech.

I concur… (and from somewhere Ellul smiles and the Editors of The Economist frown).

And speaking of The Economist, how often do THEY write about morality?  But this perceptive piece (which is really about economic utility maximization choices and what rates to use to “discount” future value) challenges us to think about what informs our choices about responses to global climate change. I like this kind of article because it moves beyond the useless debates about GCC and forces us to come clean about our assumptions.

And, closer to home, my friend David Greenwald challenges our local privilege by asking who benefits from rejecting change in our community.  And lest you think he has erected a straw man, come to California and watch how all those oh-so-progressive types in the toniest most liberal (American-style politics liberals) erect barriers that would benefit genuinely needy folks.

Also on this kind of liberalism (what we used to call Cadillac liberalism), the story of T. M. Landry (a charter school in Louisiana) is extremely difficult to read.

T.M. Landry is an inevitable result of systemic injustice, of decades of school and housing policies designed to maintain white supremacy and punish the poor and working class. Part of what drives this system, and distracts from its horrors, is a myth in which we all participate: the American dream.

End Note

I close with a quote from Wendell Berry in the Essay “Going to Work” in Citizenship Papers (emphasis added):

To accept so wide a context, the disciplines would have to move away from strict or exclusive professionalism. This does not imply giving up professional competence or professional standards, which have their place, but professionalism as we now understand it has already shown itself to be inadequate to a wide context. To bring local landscapes within what Wes Jackson calls “the boundary of consideration,” professional people of all sorts will have to feel the emotions and take the risks of amateurism. They will have to get out of their fields, so to speak, and into the watershed, the ecosystem, and the community; and they will have to be actuated by affection.

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