The $50B Ghost Town

From The Interpreter:

Staunton, August 21 – Photographer Aleksandr Belensky has documented what many observers feared: despite spending more than 50 billion US dollars on the Sochi Olympics, Vladimir Putin has left Sochi not the vital place he promised but a ghost town where there are almost no tourists and where much of the infrastructure is already decaying.

On his Livejournal page, Belensky has posted more than 30 pictures to back up his description of Sochi six months after the games concluded, a place which he suggests was “simply condemned to become a ghost” now that Putin, Russia and the world have moved on to other things.

Belensky’s pictures tell his story, but he provides brief commentaries for each of them, and they too are instructive. He notes that it isn’t the case that there is no one about. One can sometimes see three or even as many as five people if one looks closely. “But the place is lifeless and isn’t working at even five percent of capacity.”

In Defense of “Work-Life Balance”

Matt Bruenig:

His point is that there isn’t a life bucket and a work bucket. Rather, there is just a life bucket, and part of it is work and part of it is leisure. You see, the “work” is part of your life as well.

But Gurri’s understanding of work here is deeply at odds with the traditions, norms, and conventions among Western societies, the Anglosphere in particular. Under the traditional master-servant common law, servants (think non-managerial employees) are essentially tools of masters (think bosses). The bosses assemble together machines, land, and servants and then orchestrate them to produce. When servants are on the clock (and even off the clock in some cases), it is not their life. They essentially belong to the master as an instrument of the master’s production.

Obviously statutes and some minor common law evolution has obviated this master-servant tradition a bit, but not that much. Think about why employers are responsible for the torts of their employees when the employees carry out the torts in the scope of their employment. This follows straightforwardly from the idea of the employee being merely an instrument of the employer while on the clock. Just as a boss would be liable for harm caused by their machines, they are liable for harms caused by their employees/servants.

The “Right” Kind of Evangelical

From CT:

I thought I was an acceptable kind of evangelical.

I’m not a fundamentalist. My friends and I enjoy art, alcohol, and cultural engagement.
We avoid spiritual clichés and buzzwords. We value authenticity, study, racial reconciliation, and social and environmental justice. (Ed Note: “Authenticity,” is the biggest buzzword there is today.)

Being a Christian made me somewhat weird in my urban, progressive context, but despite some clear differences, I held a lot in common with unbelieving friends. We could disagree about truth, spirituality, and morality, and remain on the best of terms. The failures of the church often made me more uncomfortable than those in the broader culture.

Then, two years ago, the student organization I worked for at Vanderbilt University got kicked off campus for being the wrong kind of Christians.

In May 2011, Vanderbilt’s director of religious life told me that the group I’d helped lead for two years, Graduate Christian Fellowship—a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—was on probation. We had to drop the requirement that student leaders affirm our doctrinal and purpose statement, or we would lose our status as a registered student organization.

I met with him to understand the change. During the previous school year, a Christian fraternity had expelled several students for violating their behavior policy. One student said he was ousted because he is gay. Vanderbilt responded by forbidding any belief standards for those wanting to join or lead any campus group.

When you’re done with this, go read about the Overton Window.

Phillips on Unreality TV

Brian Phillips:

News is inherently viral. It is information that is meant to be spread. The epoch of Upworthy can make it hard to remember this, but the virality of the news predates the Internet — Paul Revere was both America’s first newscaster and its first retweet request.1 What the Internet has done is simply decentralize control of the virus. Walter Cronkite and the midcenturyNew York Times — gray, grave, and removed — have given way to hashtag journalism, Instagram, and most-emailed lists.2 It has shown us things the old news might have kept hidden: Michael Brown’s body isarchived on YouTube. But as has often been noted, the share button has also accelerated our withdrawal from the objective,3 public truths the old news constructed for us. It has emboldened us to view current events from the private castles of our own assumptions. The news increasingly exists to prop up our increasingly consensual realities.

I thought about this over the past week while watching the horror in Ferguson unfold on Twitter and on TV. I had been asked to write a piece about “Weekend Update,” the recurring news-parody sketch from Saturday Night Live, which meant, uncomfortably, that I was spending my days watching the fake-comedy version of the news and my nights watching tear gas flow through the very unfunny reality. Three o’clock meant Tina Fey smirking into the camera, ten meant assault rifles and arrested journalists. My afternoons were satires of the terror of my evenings. The disorientation this caused was of no interest to anyone but me, but it was a singular feeling. It got so that the sight of Kevin Nealon filled me with a vague queasiness about the fall of the Constitution. 

FDB on the Future of the Writer’s Vocation

Freddie deBoer:

So it won’t surprise anybody to learn that I really, really don’t like Buzzfeed.

Sometimes, when I consider the Buzzfeed phenomenon, I think I’m living in some sort of fictional satirical world where Buzzfeed is a symbol of how far media can fall. It’s like living in a Douglas Copeland novel. Buzzfeed’s particular brand of lowest common denominator clickbait, their “14 Giraffes Who Totally Look Like Steve Buscemi,” their “25 Things Only People from [Insert Geographical Area Here] Understand,” their “Which of Fat Cat’s Minions from Chip’n’Dale’s Rescue Rangers Are You?” quizzes, their corpse******* glurge, sitting side-by-side with their “branded content” like “12 Most Crunchtastic TV Moments Brought to You by Frito Lay,” subsidizing imperial stenographer Rosie Gray’s smears of Max Blumenthal (an actual journalist), powered by an aggregation model that comes pretty close to plagiarism even when it doesn’t devolve into the serial copy-and-pasting of Benny Johnson (thanks BlippoBoppo and CrushingBort), in an environment where they can memory hole 4,000 posts and think they don’t have to say anything in particular about it publicly, all lorded over by dumb-faced Ben Smith’s dumb face…. It’s bleak, man. I mean, I can see somebody getting a job offer from Buzzfeed and trying to rationalize it, telling themselves, “well, they’re notso bad….” Yes, they are. They are exactly that bad.

The thing is, I don’t know if there’s some more ethical path writers these days can walk and still end up being able to support themselves. It’s looking pretty grim out there for our professional online writers.

I’m someone who writes a lot of what I guess you would call media criticism. And that means that I’m frequently in the position of saying some not-very-nice things about people who write professionally online. But I criticize because I think that job is important; I happen to have some old-fashioned, corny ideas about the role that journalism and political commentary have to play in a democracy such as ours. We need professional writers– not just dedicated amateurs– to observe and comment on our society and our government, in order to ensure that both are functioning the way that they should, and to give our people information they need to make rational political choices. The problem is that the basic economics of that work have become so threatened that I don’t know what independent writers are supposed to do. I hate when talented people join up with outfits like Buzzfeed, which I think are genuinely making our country a stupider place. But I don’t see any clear path that people can take to preserve both their integrity and their ability to eat.

The Shire’s Military Structure

We’re back at Notes after an unexpected three week hiatus due to technical difficulties. But our fearless leader (he’ll kill me for calling him that) fixed it over the weekend and we’re now back online. And what better way to come back then with a link to an article about the Shire’s military structure?

Ranks of skilled archers cleverly readying their bows. Organized groups of infantrymen waiting for the signal to attack. One word and any intruders will find themselves facing serious consequences.

It is hard to conjure up the imagery of an army within the Shire, based on the rather rustic and easy-going characteristics of the above quote.

Yet, these are the Hobbits of the Shire – as penned by master fantasy writer, J.R.R. Tolkien himself. The nature-loving, food-consuming folk, conceal a fierce sense of love and loyalty to their own people and the land: giving rise to a modest force of defence that joins the ranks of the more popular – and significantly larger – armies in Middle-earth.

Peaceful Halflings?

Reading The Lord of the Rings, we do not fall under the impression that Hobbits are born as warriors – albeit in exceptional circumstances, such as Sam’s defiance at Cirith Ungol or Merry and Pippin’s presence in the battles of the War of the Ring.

Though slow to quarrel [...] at need could still handle arms. They shot well with the bow, for they were keen-eyed and sure at the mark.

 The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue: ‘Concerning Hobbits’

It is not unreasonable to think that the Shire maintained a small armed force for its own protection and that of the people. Indeed, during Bilbo’s time “there was still some store of weapons in the Shire” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue: ‘Concerning Hobbits’).

A Hymn for the Weekend

I’m with a group of 10 college friends this weekend for our annual gathering. One huge part of our time together is singing. (We range from Josh Ritter and Magnetic Fields to Derek Webb and Indelible Grace.) And this hymn will be one of the highlights of the weekend. In my experience it’s not as well known, which is more the pity because it’s wonderful:

Ten thousand times ten thousand in sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints throng up the steeps of light;
’Tis finished, all is finished, their fight with death and sin;
Fling open wide the golden gates, and let the victors in.

What rush of alleluias fills all the earth and sky!
What ringing of a thousand harps bespeaks the triumph nigh!
O day, for which creation and all its tribes were made;
O joy, for all its former woes a thousandfold repaid!

O then what raptured greetings on Canaan’s happy shore;
What knitting severed friendships up, where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle, that brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer fatherless, nor widows desolate.

Bring near Thy great salvation, Thou Lamb for sinners slain;
Fill up the roll of Thine elect, then take Thy power, and reign;
Appear, Desire of nations, Thine exiles long for home;
Show in the heaven Thy promised sign; Thou Prince and Savior, come.

Farming as Second Career

Gracy Olmstead:

As people begin to develop a renewed interest in where their food comes from, many young people and urbanites are seeking out agricultural lifestyles, giving up desk jobs for tractors and field work. But it’s difficult to kickstart a profitable farm, especially as a primary career.

A new initiative in Virginia is striving to help these new farmers—even while encouraging them not to quit their day job. Created through a partnership between Virginia Tech, the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Loudoun Office, and the Loudoun Department of Economic Development, the new program targets Loudoun County residents who are launching second careers in agriculture. Program coordinator Jim Hilleary explained to the Washington Post:

‘Across the nation, there’s this recognition that there is a new type of farmer emerging, and that is generally a second-career farmer,’ he said. ‘Virginia Tech realized that, and they drafted a curriculum for beginning farmers. And what we’ve done here locally is to take part of that statewide curriculum, localize it and apply it to the residents here in Loudoun County.’

The Last Days of the London Eel

From R&K:

A dark, heavy sky full of summer rain hangs over the back yard of Cooke’s Pie and Eel shop in Hoxton market.

Surrounded and overlooked by grim, low-rise council estates, this is the buffer zone between the East End of Hackney and the unspeakable riches of the City of London.

Joe Cooke, a big man who swears like a docker, is fumbling for eels in a deep plastic tank that burbles and splashes in front of him. Expertly tipping the slithering prey into a bucket, he turns to sharpen a long, wicked knife on a rasping steel. In the bucket, a reflection of the sky. Six or seven eels turn over each other desperately thrashing: trying to bury themselves. A foaming sea of slime and muscular shiny flesh.

Pope Francis on John Calvin

This is depressing but not terribly surprising:

Bergoglio makes a distinction between Martin Luther the “heretic” and John Calvin the “heretic” and “schismatic”. The Lutheran heresy is “a good idea gone foolish”, but Calvin is even worse because he also tore apart man, society, and the church. As for man, Bergoglio’s Calvin split reason from the heart, thus producing the “Calvinist squalor”. In society, Calvin pitted the bourgeoisie against the other working classes, thus becoming “the father of liberalism”. The worst schism happened in the church, however. There Calvin “beheaded the people of God from being united with the Father”. He beheaded the people of God from its patron saints. He also beheaded it from the mass, i.e. the mediation of the “really present” Christ. In summary, Calvin was an executioner that destroyed man, poisoned society, and ruined the church!