Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘The New York Times’

During his sermon on Sunday, my pastor asked: Are we consumed with consuming? If our major corporations have their way, the answer would always be yes.

In a new book, recently excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, reporter Charles Duhigg catalogs the extraordinary lengths that retailers like Target (see video) work not only to build, but to control, our habits of consumption — and to make our consumption habitual. As one researcher from Target told Duhigg:  

Just wait. We’ll be sending you coupons for things you want before you even know you want them.

The scope of modern marketing, fueled by research in neurology and psychology, is far different from the advertising of the past. It allows us to hold on to the illusion that we can resist even as we are directed, and even manipulated, to buy and buy again.

So it is no small thing when my pastor asked us to consider changing our shopping and consumption habits. We are working not just against our own tendencies; we are working against a relentless culture of marketing that aims with precision at our tendencies and vulnerabilities. That’s why it can feel so difficult to change.

Yet, by God’s grace, we are not helpless. This is why we can think of frugality as more than just a virtuous trait. It is a spiritual discipline, an act — no, a habit — of resistance against one of the powers and principalities of our day.

Note: A version of this post also appeared at my church’s blog.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

It is no secret that Stephen Colbert is a devout Catholic, but in a just-posted profile at The New York Times writer Charles McGrath offers this glimpse:

In 1974, when Colbert was 10, his father, a doctor, and his brothers Peter and Paul, the two closest to him in age, died in a plane crash while flying to a prep school in New England.

“There’s a common explanation that profound sadness leads to someone’s becoming a comedian, but I’m not sure that’s a proven equation in my case,” he told me. “I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a child, and my mother was instrumental in keeping me from being so.”

He added, in a tone so humble and sincere that his character would never have used it: “She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.”

That’s as far as the discussion of faith goes in the article, leaving me curious to hear more.  For on-air expressions of Colbert’s faith, see here, here, and here.

Read Full Post »

I mean Rupert Murdoch, not Voldemort.

Over the past two weeks, the developments in News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal have come so fast it is hard to keep pace. No matter how many executives fall on their swords, no matter how many newspapers Murdoch shuts down (one so far), no matter how many tactical retreats on corporate ambitions (the BSkyB takeover) — public outrage and media attention have not been blunted (unless you watch only Fox News).

That’s because the rot truly starts at the top, and no one gets the sense that Murdoch  is experiencing some sort of ethical epiphany — though longtime Murdoch-watcher Jack Shafer believes that Murdoch will survive, if not prevail, as he always does. Still, it has been decades since the Dark Lord of the Press has experienced setbacks of this scale. As A.C. Grayling noted:

There is no redeeming feature in the scandal that has engulfed Mr. Murdoch’s British fief, News International, other than that it has now killed his biggest-selling newspaper, The News of the World. This tabloid made its money by regularly crossing the line of decency; the revelation that it also regularly crossed the line of legality surprises no one, for no one expected any better. What has horrified the British public is the nature of the illegalities.

Still, in this case the moral outrage, however justified, is quick to explode and hard to sustain over time — which is why it has only forced tactical retreats from an organization that long ago lost any sense of shame. Murdoch never embraced the idea of journalism as public service; for that reason Fox News’ “Fair and Balanced” mantra mocks and dismisses the pretensions of other news organizations. Fair and balanced was never the point — only power and profit. 

For that reason, there’s something far more significant at stake here than ethical questions and business models. It is power. The corrupt relationship between Murdoch’s papers and British government is the most obvious example, but we’ve seen it here in the rise of Fox News as an arm of the Republican Party (or is it the other way around?). It is the outsized degree of power accrued by this media organization that distorts the democratic process.

Only when this scandal shakes the distorted (and distorting) power of Murdoch’s empire will it begin to reshape the media landscape for the better. That’s one tall order. Resignations won’t be enough; prosecutions and convictions might not get us there either. But it is one place to start.

Read Full Post »

“Bin Laden Raid Revives Debate on Value of Torture” — that was a prominent headline  earlier this week in The New York Times. To which Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick replied:

Do we have to have another big national debate about torture? Really, do we have to? Headlines like this one, in the New York Times no less, inform us that the Osama Bin Laden raid has “revived” the arguments over the “value of torture.” That’s strange, because until now, the only people “reviving” the debate over the wonders of torture were the same people whose names are actually on the torture memos or who were in the room when torture methods were being approved. This does not constitute a “debate.” A better term would be self-serving propaganda.

Lithwick is right in her characterization of John Yoo and former Vice President Dick Cheney (see video), and in calling their arguments self-serving propaganda. But Lithwick and Deborah Pearlstein (who also laments the “disheartening” return of the torture debate) should not be surprised.

The debate never was settled in the first place.

And President Obama deserves as much credit (so to speak) as anyone. Obama’s choice not to investigate Bush-era abuses essentially put the debate into a deep freeze; there’s never been any proper accounting, much less accountability, that’s needed for a proper public resolution.

As a result, those responsible for perpetuating and defending torture, such as Cheney, Yoo and (so sad) former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, remain free to pounce on any opportunity to make their case.

But as Alice Ristroph notes over at Balkinization, these renewed arguments by the torture apologists undermine their previous rationale: the ticking time bomb:

The fantasy of the ticking bomb was designed to make people more comfortable with torture, in part by suggesting certain conditions on its use: most importantly, an imminent threat of catastrophic harm that could be averted by torture and torture alone. The renewed endorsements of torture after the death of Osama bin Laden illustrate that it’s not about the ticking after all.

On the revised account, the torture of suspected terrorists was justified if it yielded one piece of information that contributed to the eventual success, years after the torture took place, of a long-term manhunt (a hunt based, by all reports, on a vast array of intelligence from many different sources). Torture need not “work” quickly, it need not be the only means of gaining the information, and the information need not be essential to avert imminent catastrophe. Indeed, torture need not be concerned with future threats at all – it seems widely acknowledged that killing bin Laden was a matter of “bringing him to justice” for past deeds, or, as one honest fellow put it, exacting revenge.

Many, notably Andrew Sullivan and Lithwick,  also have offered strong rebuttals. But without the force of an independent investigation we are back to the same deadlocked back-and-forth stalemate on torture that existed during the Bush administration. And in this case, justice debated remains justice denied, to our shame.

Read Full Post »

Update at bottom

After hearing about Tim Hetherington’s death in Libya yesterday, I decided to push his documentary “Restrepo” to the top of my long to-do list, to experience the power of this Oscar-nominated documentary for myself.

And powerful it is. “Restrepo” chronicles the experience of a U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, a site of continual battle with the Taliban. Many articles have focused on the film’s intensely visceral perspective (see David Carr at The New York Times), and I have to agree. But it’s also more.

The film is a character study, in which Hetherington and Sebastian Junger (who wrote of his experience in the book “War”), are fully present with the soldiers yet allow viewers to draw their own conclusions.

While undeniably sympathetic to the troops, “Restrepo” also challenges us to reflect on the full range of the troops life in war. We see clowning around in down time. We see intense grief over the death of one of their own. We see the terrible consequences when U.S. fire injures civilians, including children. And we are left to wrestle with what this all means.

By the end of the film it’s difficult to offer a definitive answer, and even in post-deployment interviews the soldiers wrestle their experience and what they accomplished. However, it is tough to read in the closing credits that in April 2010 (just before the release of “Restrepo”) the United States withdrew all troops from the valley.

What’s important about Hetherington (and photographer Chris Hondros, who also died yesterday) was not just that he sought to bear witness, but how he pursued this task.  As Jon Lee Anderson noted in The New Yorker:

I think it’s safe for me to say that what Tim was trying to do by going to war was to look into the souls of men, whose truths are perhaps more exposed in that environment than in any other—and to show the rest of us what he saw. He gave us a legacy in the important work he left behind, and, for those of us who had the honor to know Tim as a friend, a cherished memory of a man whose own soul was very intact.

This is true regardless of the medium: with film, as was the case in “Restrepo,” or with still photography, as shown in his book “Infidel,” which Hetherington discusses in the clip at the top of this post — displaying a bit of his own soul along the way.

Amid the extreme inhumanity of war, Hetherington extended grace to his subjects by never losing sight of their humanity. Just as important, he also refused to apply the false gloss of manufactured glory. In doing so, he honored all his subjects.

The New York Times’ Lens blog has a very nice overview of Hetherington’s work. They offer the same with Hondros’ astounding photography, which you’ve likely seen even if you don’t recognize his name. And below, you can watch the trailer for “Restrepo.”

Update: Junger has posted a tribute at Vanity Fair. He concludes:

Before this last trip you told me that you wanted to make a film about the relationship between young men and violence. You had this idea that young men in combat act in ways that emulate images they’ve seen—movies, photographs—of other men in other wars, other battles. You had this idea of a feedback loop between the world of images and the world of men that continually reinforced and altered itself as one war inevitably replaced another in the long tragic grind of human affairs.

That was a fine idea, Tim—one of your very best. It was an idea that our world very much needs to understand. I don’t know if it was worth dying for—what is?—but it was certainly an idea worth devoting one’s life to. Which is what you did. What a vision you had, my friend. What a goddamned terrible, beautiful vision of things.

Read Full Post »

I’ve noted Dan Barry’s superb writing in the past, and he has another winner in today’s New York Times: What it’s like to be a janitor at the Wisconsin state Capitol, site of a two-week protest against the governor’s efforts to restrict state unions’ ability to engage in collective bargaining.

The best journalism does more than impart information; it shows us what is going on, painting a picture of a scene. That’s precisely what Barry does:

In the museumlike halls of the state Capitol, the granite gem of Wisconsin that for two weeks now has served as an elegant sleepover camp for a resilient band of protesters, the indoor street theater was continuing into another Monday morning. People danced, slept or meditated on marble floors, while drumbeats and chants rose into the inverted cup of this landmark’s dome.

Here was a man dressed as Uncle Sam, his mouth taped shut; he was holding a small skull. And here was a man pushing two wheeled garbage cans; he was just working. Emptying the trash baskets. Tossing black bags into a Dumpster outside. Just working, again, until early in the morning, for an hourly pay of 10 dollars and change.

Read the whole story to catch the full effect: Barry makes every word count, and every detail conveys something to readers. It is an approach to writing that combines insatiable curiosity with keen observation, a skill honed over time. However you may feel about the politics of this story, you are reminded that this is more than a battle over abstract ideas; it involves real people who are just trying to make a living.

Read Full Post »

The New York Times has a moving story about one pastor’s efforts to gather the stories of those who lived through lynching in the 20th century.

The Rev. Angela Sims visits people one at a time, and with care encourages and coaxes them to share their stories for the sake of history — and healing. She tells the Times:

I’m listening for what salvation and redemption might look like. I’m listening for how grace might play out and for notions of forgiveness.

I think about some of the individuals I’ve met and the way they’ve talked about having to get rid of racial hatred — to be in relationship with God, to not hate themselves. I’m looking for a way to articulate this ethic of resilience.

The story leaves one with the sense that Sims is still working out what she means by an ethic of resilience. At this point, the Times story better conveys what such an ethic looks like in the stories of survivors. At its core, Sims’ work wades into the mystery of evil’s presence in the world, juxtaposed against God’s goodness. As the Times story notes:

For Ms. Sims, such interviews went beyond racial issues to ontological ones. “The question of where God was in the midst of this evil,” she said, “is held in tension with the way God acted. They name the evil, but they recognize something beyond it.”

In trying to form a “theology of resilience,” Ms. Sims has combined the firsthand testimonies with Biblical teachings, particularly the Book of Micah with its cry for moral justice and the Gospel of Matthew with its mandate for disciples to travel the land. She has also been inspired by the essays of Alice Walker and a lecture by James H. Cone, the leading exponent of black liberation theology, about the lynching tree being the crucifix of African-American Christianity.

In helping others to bear witness, Sims is charging all our memories so that we might do more than leave the past behind. Instead, we must let the past shape how we all listen to others in the present and consider with humility how God might want us to live better in the future — for the sake of justice, for the sake of peace, and for the sake of reconciliation.

As for Sims, though it is taxing to hear such stories, she is undaunted:

There is no rest for a weary soul when you’re doing the work you were called to do.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »