My Favorite Writing - 2013

I don't think I've listened to enough music this year to put together a credible "Best of" list for 2013 as I've done in years past (my favorite record of the moment remains Five Iron Frenzy's comeback album The Engine of a Million Plots if you're looking for idiosyncratic recommendations). So, instead I'm naming my favorite pieces of writing I read this year. Because I do a LOT of reading.

Best Introduction To Cleveland Sports 

The plight of the Cleveland fan has been beaten into us so much that anyone who watches sports could probably list the numerous horrible things that have happened here over the years (the Browns against Elway, Jordan over Ehlo, the '90s Indians never winning a title, LeBron's failures, LeBron ditching the entire city on national TV ... ). Besides the supernatural levels of sports pain, what's crazy is that everyone in this city is still obsessed with all these teams.

Because You'd Never Believe I'd Pick Two Sports Stories

"Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking and Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax" - Timothy Burke & Jack Dickey, Deadspin.com

Upon receiving the news of the two deaths, Te'o went out and led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 upset of Michigan State, racking up 12 tackles. It was heartbreaking and inspirational. Te'o would appear on ESPN's College GameDay to talk about the letters Kekua had written him during her illness. He would send a heartfelt letter to the parents of a sick child, discussing his experience with disease and grief. The South Bend Tribune wrote an article describing the young couple's fairytale meeting—she, a Stanford student; he, a Notre Dame star—after a football game outside Palo Alto.
Did you enjoy the uplifiting story, the tale of a man who responded to adversity by becoming one of the top players of the game? If so, stop reading.

My Parents Would Be Disappointed To Learn I Read This On The Flight To Florida

"Original Sin: Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people" - Sam Tanenhaus, NewRepublic.com

"Who needs Manhattan when we can get the electoral votes of eleven Southern states?" Kevin Phillips, the prophet of "the emerging Republican majority," asked in 1968, when he was piecing together Richard Nixon's electoral map. The eleven states, he meant, of the Old Confederacy. "Put those together with the Farm Belt and the Rocky Mountains, and we don't need the big cities. We don't even want them. Sure, Hubert [Humphrey] will carry Riverside Drive in November. La-de-dah. What will he do in Oklahoma?"

How Prosecutorial Overreach Killed One Of The Brightest Minds Of My Generation

"The Idealist" - Justin Peters, Slate.com

At the beginning of every year, Aaron Swartz would post an annotated list of everything he’d read in the last 12 months. His list for 2011 included 70 books, 12 of which he identified as “so great my heart leaps at the chance to tell you about them even now.” One of these was Franz Kafka’s The Trial, about a man caught in the cogs of a vast bureaucracy, facing charges and a system that defy logical explanation. “I read it and found it was precisely accurate—every single detail perfectly mirrored my own experience,” Swartz wrote. “This isn’t fiction, but documentary.”
At the time of his death, the 26-year-old Swartz had been pursued by the Department of Justice for two years. He was charged in July 2011 with accessing MIT’s computer network without authorization and using it to download 4.8 million documents from the online database JSTOR. His actions, the government alleged, violated Title 18 of the U.S. Code, and carried a maximum penalty of up to 50 years in jail and $1 million in fines. 

Factory Farmers Are Tiring of Being Caught Breaking Laws

"Gagged By Big Ag" - Ted Genoways, MotherJones.com

"If you think this is an animal welfare issue, you have missed the mark," said Amanda Hitt, director of the Government Accountability Project's Food Integrity Campaign, who served as a representative for the whistleblowers who tipped off ABC in the Food Lion case. "This is a bigger, broader issue." She likened activist videos to airplane black-box recorders—evidence for investigators to deconstruct and find wrongdoing. Ag gag laws, she said, don't just interfere with workers blowing the whistle on animal abuse. "You are also stopping environmental whistleblowing; you are also stopping workers' rights whistleblowing." In short, "you have given power to the industry to completely self-regulate." That should "scare the pants off" consumers concerned about where their food comes from. "It's the consumer's right to know, but also the employee's right to tell. You gotta have both."

The Argument For Austerity In The Face Of Rising National Debt Is A Lie

"Researchers Finally Replicate Reinhart-Rogoff, and There Are Serious Problems" - Mike Konczal, NextNewDeal.net

This has been one of the most cited stats in the public debate during the Great Recession. Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity budget states their study "found conclusive empirical evidence that [debt] exceeding 90 percent of the economy has a significant negative effect on economic growth." The Washington Post editorial board takes it as an economic consensus view, stating that "debt-to-GDP could keep rising — and stick dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth." 
Is it conclusive? One response has been to argue that the causation is backwards, or that slower growth leads to higher debt-to-GDP ratios. Josh Bivens and John Irons made this case at the Economic Policy Institute. But this assumes that the data is correct. From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.

New York Times Op-Ed By A Hunger Striking, 11-Year Prisoner At Guantanamo Bay

"Gitmo Is Killing Me" - Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, NYTimes.com

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.
I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

Times Op-Ed By A Man Who Lost His Son And Grandson To Drone Strikes

"The Drone That Killed My Grandson" - Nasser al-Awlaki, NYTimes.com

Nearly two years later, I still have no answers. The United States government has refused to explain why Abdulrahman was killed. It was not until May of this year that the Obama administration, in a supposed effort to be more transparent, publicly acknowledged what the world already knew — that it was responsible for his death. 
The attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., said only that Abdulrahman was not “specifically targeted,” raising more questions than he answered. 

An Adapted Article From One of 2013's Most Important Books 

"Inside America's Dirty Wars" - Jeremy Scahill, TheNation.com

At the White House, President Obama was faced with a decision—not of morality or legality, but of timing. He had already sentenced Anwar al-Awlaki to death without trial. A secret legal authorization had been prepared and internal administration critics sidelined or brought on board. All that remained to be sorted out was the day Awlaki would die. Obama, one of his advisers recalled, had “no qualms” about this kill. When the president was briefed on Awlaki’s location in Jawf and also told that children were in the house, he was explicit that he did not want to rule any options out. Awlaki was not to escape again. “Bring it to me and let me decide in the reality of the moment rather than in the abstract,” Obama told his advisers, according to author Daniel Klaidman. Although scores of US drone strikes had killed civilians in various countries around the globe, it was official policy to avoid such deaths if at all possible. “In this one instance,” an Obama confidant told Klaidman, “the president considered relaxing some of his collateral requirements.”

The Tip Of The NSA Iceberg, The First Article Published Based On The Snowden Leak

"NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily" - Glenn Greenwald, TheGuardian.com

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

My Favorite Books of 2013

This is a short list because they had to a) be released this year and b) I had to read them this year.

Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill
Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. Corey
Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Panic 2012 by Michael Hastings

My Favorite Things I Wrote In 2013

My Conversion. Ten Years Later
Some Thoughts On Trayvon Martin
Drones For Dummies
My Review of Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace (written in my best attempt at Wallace's writing style)

Happy New Year! See you in 2014!


A Quick Plea To Those About To Buy Duck Calls

Hey Fellow Christians,
Let's chat real quick. It's early in this mess and I feel like we've still got some time.
HOW ABOUT- Instead of circling the wagons and rallying the troops. Instead of organizing mass purchases of duck calls. Instead of saying to the watching world that "YES!" we stand with a man now widely seen as a racist, homophobic bigot. Instead of showing our gay and brown friends that their worst inclinations about our motives are right on. Instead of reinforcing all the stereotypes. Instead of confirming in people's minds that they were right about us and our backwards ways all along.
Let's choose to walk away from this one.
Let's choose NOT to stand in solidarity with hatred.
Let's choose a better, nobler hill to die on than this one. Than defending hate speech.
Is Phil Robertson a Christian? Certainly. Should we forgive him for this? Absolutely.
But for once.
Let's show the unreached, unloved, disrespected, marginalized, oppressed, and hated that we can be better.
That we can try harder.
That our lives are lives that are supposed to resemble love more than anything else.
Let's try something different.
Let's try something Christlike.