The pain in Spain – Spanish unemployment numbers make for grim reading

From The Atlantic:

It’s hard to see anything resembling a case for optimism. Even though the Spanish government’s borrowing costs have fallen since the ECB introduced its backstop, Spanish business borrowing costs have not. Small and medium-sized enterprises can’t get capital except on prohibitively expensive terms. As Ryan Avent of The Economist points out, this broken monetary transmission mechanism means austerity is hurting Spain more than it otherwise would — which is clear enough in the data. Despite its cuts, Spain’s deficit actually worsened from 9.4 percent of GDP in 2011 to 10.6 percent of GDP in 2012, because its economy fell more than its borrowing costs. The only hint of good news here is Spain just announced it will take two more years to hit its deficit target. But less (self-defeating) austerity isn’t enough. Spain needs stimulus. And it might need bailouts (or, if Cyprus does turn out to be a “template”, bail-ins). Indeed, The Economist calculates Spanish housing prices are stillovervalued by 20 percent or so — which will be even more bad news for its banks.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said this is one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen. Spain needs shock therapy for its labor markets, but that’s an impossible political sell when more than a quarter of the population is unemployed. In an ideal world, Spain would pair major reforms with major stimulus; in the real world, it will drag its feet on reforms, try to cut its deficit, and fall deeper into depression.
Let me leave you with this depressing question: Assuming everything goes perfectly, how long will it be till Spanish unemployment gets below 20 percent?

Smart phones outnumber dumb phones globally

A few years ago I heard the following exchange that adequately sums up my feelings about smart phones:

Person a: You don’t have a smart phone? You have to get one. After you do, you won’t know how you lived without it!
Person B: Which is precisely why I do not want one.

Sadly for the happy owners of dumb phones, their time is short. A recent study found that for the first time ever, smart phones outnumber dumb phones:

While the PC market is slowing down, the smartphone market continues to grow. In fact, market research firm IDC is reporting that worldwide shipments of smartphones outstripped shipments of feature phones for the first time this quarter. There were 418.6 million phones shipped in total, of which 216.2 million were smartphones. Overall, the phone market is up 16.2 million units compared to the first quarter of 2012.

Samsung remains the undisputed leader in this market: it shipped 115 million phones (both smart- and feature-) in the first quarter of this year, compared to 93.6 million handsets last year. Other companies that showed growth include Apple (from 35.1 million units to 37.4 million) and LG (from 13.7 million units to 15.4 million), though IDC notes that “the last time the iPhone maker posted a single-digit year-over-year growth rate was 3Q09.”

The need for an anti-political politics

Wendell Berry

The Kentucky agrarian Wendell Berry’s Port William novels are one of the finest pictures of anti-political politics embodied in one of Burke’s “small platoons.”

One of the most basic points in beginning to do media criticism well is recognizing the truth of McLuhan’s old aphorism “the medium is the message.” In criticizing a television show, we cannot limit ourselves to simply criticizing the content of the show. There’s also value in considering the medium itself. The reality is that the medium itself will often–in the long run–have a greater formative effect on the viewer than the content of the program.

That’s the point McLuhan was making decades ago and Jamie Smith makes something like the same point in his Cultural Liturgies series. And this is a vital point for American conservatives to understand. What matters is not simply the content of our beliefs–how we define conservatism. It’s also phenomenally important that we articulate these conservative principles in a way that befits the content. Else every “victory” we achieve will be a pyrrhic one in which we take one step forward and two gigantic steps backwards (but enough about the Bush presidency).

If traditionalist conservatives are to see any cultural success, we have to grasp this key point. If we simply function as good modern individualists and functionally behave as if the only sort of way to impact a culture is through political action, then we’ll find ourselves with something very like the contemporary GOP–languishing in the incoherence wrought by traditionalists sensibilities wed to a libertarian politics in a statist society.

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Freedom is more than owning a gun

From The Atlantic:

Unsurprisingly, those who stake [that gun rights and freedom are correlated] often limit the nations they cite. The gun-toting United States (88.8 civilian guns per 100 residents, according to SAS) and Switzerland (45.7) are typically juxtaposed with the relatively gun-free China (4.9) and Cuba (4.8) as sufficient proof that a populace needs to amass arms in order to keep one’s government at bay.

But regardless of how often the maxim is repeated, such cherry-picking obfuscates the reality that the U.S., Switzerland, China, and Cuba are but a handful of the 175 nations for which we have comprehensive data. Just because these four countries fit within a pro-weaponized argument does not lend it legitimacy. After all, Ghana (0.4) and Indonesia (0.5), both within the bottom 10 of the world’s gun-owners, were each tabbed as “Free” by Freedom House, while the heavily-armed Yemen (54.8) and Saudi Arabia (35.0) remain among the most repressive countries in the world.

A quick scan through the list continues the point. Chile (10.7) comes in with the same arms rate as Venezuela, but the nations present starkly divergent civil freedoms. Russia (8.9) is slightly more armed than Ireland (8.6). The Netherlands (3.9) is on par, as far as weapons go, with oppressive Turkmenistan (3.8). Israel and Georgia see the same arms rate as Iran and Belarus and yet exist on opposite ends of Freedom House’s rank.

Some are developed democracies. Some are theocratic or secular autocracies. The number of Bushmasters and Berettas per populace plays a negligible role.

I think this “guns make free people,” line amongst many American conservatives suggests a larger problem with how we imagine political society and the role that individual rights play within that society. For the past 30+ years, conservatives in the USA have had a problem with reducing conservatism down to possessing some singular right that we elevate to the be-all-and-end-all of our political thought.


If we crudely equate being free with the right to own one of these, we’ve lost the plot.

If someone raises concerns about the damage that free market excess does to local communities, that person is shouted down for being a socialist. If someone raises concerns about the damage that easily accessed guns can do to a local community, that person is shouted down for not respecting the second amendment. Put another way, any appearance of criticizing a favorite conservative talking point becomes proof that the speaker isn’t really conservative, even when the criticism being made is actually grounded in a deeper understanding of conservatism. After all, freedom is more than owning a gun.

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Russell Arben Fox on the lack of an agrarian argument

Russell Arben Fox at FPR:

What Dreher is dancing around here is a humbler, more local, more contained, less frantic, less ambitious, simpler way of life. Can that be described ideologically? Not if you just tell stories about it, it can’t, not really. Those stories can work on people affectively and imaginatively, and by doing so might persuade them to see the value in such. But of course, not everyone will be moved by the stories, and thus won’t be able to see why Dreher speaks of “trade-offs.” Isn’t it, in the end, just another manifestation of individualistic, consumer choice? So first Dreher rejected his hometown, because he preferred something different than what his hometown offered; then later he went back to it to stay, because at that point in his life he preferred that which his hometown offered. (I owe this observation to David Watkins of the blog Lawyers, Guns & Money.) Dreher–and those of us who are in agreement with his communitarian sensibilities–will almost certainly what to challenge this formulation: after all, isn’t the entire point of embracing stability and putting down roots and learning to live within limits exactly to deny that we our entirely a product of our own preference maximization?

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“Even Candy Land Isn’t Safe from Sexy” in The Atlantic

Peggy Orenstein:

When our kids play with toys that we played with, we assume that they are the same as they were when we were younger. But they aren’t. Not at all. Our girls (and our boys) are now bombarded from the get-go with images of women whose bodies range from unattainable to implausible (Disney Princesses, anyone?).

Toymakers say they are reflecting the changing taste of their demographic. Maybe, but then it’s the change that’s so disturbing. Consider a recent study on body image among elementary school-aged girls. Psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 60 girls ages six to nine recruited largely from public schools. The girls were shown two dolls: One was dressed in tight, revealing “sexy” clothes and the other in a trendy but covered-up loose outfit. Both dolls, as you can see, were skinny and would be considered “pretty” by little girls.

Orenstein’s riff is inspired by her recent discovery of the much more sexualized design of some characters in the latest edition of Candy Land. (You can click the link above to see pictures that show the game’s evolution in the past 60 years.)

Dreher said that the post reminded him of this disturbing piece by Caitlin Flanagan:

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Brian Phillips: Out in the Great Alone

Brian Phillips’ latest for Grantland is now online:

In the summer of 1977, a fire swept across the wilderness of interior Alaska, west of Mount McKinley. Tundra burned to rock; 345,000 acres of forest — more than 530 square miles — disappeared in flames. When the smoke cleared, it left behind a weird scar on the map, a vast, charred crater littered with deadfall. In the winter, when temperatures in the interior dive to 40 below, the skeletons of burned trees snapped in the cold or were ripped out by powerful winds. The tussocks of tundra grass froze as hard as bowling balls.

Every year in early March, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race sets out from Anchorage, in the south-central part of the state, and runs northwest toward the finish line in Nome, on the coast of the Bering Sea. In its early stages, the trail runs upward, into the mountains of the Alaska Range, then plunges down, into the interior, where it enters the fire’s scorched country.

For the mushers of the Iditarod, the Farewell Burn, as the region became known, was a nightmare. The race had been founded only four years earlier, as a way to commemorate the importance of sled dogs to Alaska. Large expanses of the state had, for much of its history, been unreachable by other forms of transportation. Now dog teams were forced to navigate through blackened stumps and fallen limbs, along a trail that was often impossible to follow. Many years, the Burn accumulated little precipitation. Sleds intended for snow and ice had to be dragged across hardened mud and gravel. Runners broke; tree shards snagged tug lines; speeds dropped to 3 or 4 miles per hour.

In 1984, the Alaska Bureau of Land Management cut a swath for a better trail. But even then, a seasoned musher could need 12 hours or more to cross from Rohn to Nikolai, the checkpoints on either side of the Burn — a passage that would frequently be made in darkness, through heavy wind and extreme, subzero cold. The novelist Gary Paulsen, who ran the Iditarod twice in the 1980s, describes the Burn as a place where mushers literally go mad. “It was beyond all reason,” Paulsen writes in his Iditarod memoir Winterdance. “I entered a world of mixed reality and dreams, peopled with the most bizarre souls and creatures …” At one point he thinks he’s on a beach in California; at another he pulls out a real ax to fend off an attack from an imaginary moose. When he comes to, his dogs have vanished; he’s alone in the landscape. He stumbles across them 100 yards away. He has built a fire and bedded them down without knowing it.

The Iditarod Trail runs across the Burn for around 35 miles of its total length. The total length of the Iditarod Trail is more than 1,000 miles. The Burn is not the most difficult section.

You have to read this. And when you do, please read it at the URL given above. Grantland and ESPN’s web team did a phenomenal job building a layout that is absolutely gorgeous. Also, do yourself a favor and just read everything Phillips writes for Grantland, he’s one of the best writers going right now in my opinion and I’m so glad he’s found a home at Grantland.

How Christians eat their own

Pope Francis

The response of some Christians to Pope Francis has raised interesting questions about how we view our brothers and sisters in Christ and how we view the church.

Halee Gray Scott:

The former Argentinean archbishop is a humble, simple man, exactly the kind of man needed to tackle the financial and sex abuse scandals engulfing the Catholic Church. Here was a pope for the people, a pope that did not seem altogether different from his followers. Here was a pope who understood and embraced for himself a lifestyle of poverty. President Obamacalled him a “champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us.” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moonpraised Pope Francis as a “voice for the voiceless … he has a deep sense of humility.”

And yet, something about our praiseworthy reactions to this new pope concerned me. Why were we so surprised, so encouraged that a Christian leader lived out these Christian values? I realized, although Pope Francis is different from his papal predecessors, contrary to public perception, he’s not so different from believers in general.

Given today’s negative perceptions about Christians, our faith struggles with a substantial publicrelationsproblem. In their book, UnChristian, Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman unpack a few of these perceptions. According to their research, people think Christians are hypocritical, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political, judgmental, and too concerned with getting people “saved” rather than building relationships and meeting felt needs. It’s not just non-Christians that have this view; Christians do too, especially young Christians.

In some ways, we’re our own worst enemy. Christians loudly protest what’s wrong with other Christians and quickly point out what’s wrong with certain Christian leaders and bloggers and headline-makers, but we very rarely celebrate the mighty things God is doing in our midst. When we fail to recognize the faithful, charitable Christians among us, it becomes easy to see humble, faithful Pope Francis as the exception. I’m guilty too—as I followed the coverage of the new pope, I realized I wasn’t comparing him to the Christians I know personally, but to a cynical stereotype of Christians in general.

Reading this, I couldn’t help thinking of a story Michael Cheshire recounts in this Leadership Journal piece looking at how “Christians eat their own”:

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Hear the voice of the man who invented the telephone

Fascinating stuff from The Atlantic:

But there are sound recordings that survive from as far back as the 1860s, ’70s, and ’80s. It’s just that, until very recently, they were unplayable. We no longer had the right tools, and even if we had, playing them would ruin the wax cylinders or fragile records upon which the sounds were stored. But over the past few years, physicists have developed tools for creating 3D scans of the old records and converting those scans into playable audio files. Last year, they released the oldest playable American recording, a series of sounds from an 1878 demonstration of sound-recording technology in St. Louis. In it, you can hear laughter, a song, and some counting, all spoken into the world by people of another century.

But until today, the voice that spoke that age of far-traveling sound into being has remained unknown — no living person had ever heard it. What did he sound like? “Did Bell speak with a Scottish burr? What was the pitch and depth of the voice with which he loved to belt out ballads and music hall songs?” Bell biographer Charlotte Gray asks in Smithsonian. He had lived in England, Canada, the eastern United States. He summered in Nova Scotia where people spoke Gaelic. How did all these influences combine in his speech?

And now Gray has her answer. The Smithsonian has released audio recovered from a wax and cardboard disc dated April 15, 1885. In it, you can clearly hear the inventor speak the words: “Hear my voice — Alexander Graham Bell.”