Every so often, The NYTPicker likes to note things about the NYT that actually bode well for the future. Sure, it violates our well-honed sense of sarcasm and moral outrage, but hey -- even Dan Barry's column today wasn't half bad.
Anyway, we use this occasion to welcome a new columnist to the NYT's midst: Mark Oppenheimer, who has replaced the stuffy Peter Steinfels as the paper's every-other-week "Beliefs" columnist. He's biting, funny and smart. You should read him.
In his debut column yesterday, Oppenheimer issued an impassioned diatribe against Marc Theissen, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush who has used Catholic doctrine as a defense of waterboarding, the torture technique made fashionable by his former boss.
"This does not square, to put it mildly, with the common understanding of Catholic teaching," Oppenheimer declared in his column's third paragraph. He went on to gather considerable evidence that Theissen's views don't dovetail with the views of mainstream conservative Catholics -- and in the end, eviscerates him.
Hard to imagine Steinfels doing that -- or, for that matter, the NYT's other religion columnist, the reliably dull Samuel G. Freedman.
We emailed Oppenheimer a few questions about himself yesterday, but he never wrote back -- no surprise given that he makes clear on his website: "I don’t really like e-mail, but the world being what it is, I have to have it. For now, at least. I suppose that some people, like Joan Didion and Garry Wills, can choose not to have it. So I have it, but I’d rather you call so that we can talk."
We like the fact that Oppenheimer's resume ranges from a brief stint as an alt-weekly editor to his more recent job as a writing lecturer at Yale -- with a Ph.D in religious studies thrown into the mix. He even writes for Mother Jones.
But it's Oppenheimer's books that intrigue us the most, especially his latest, "Weisenheimer." It's a memoir about Oppenheimer's stressful childhood as a brainiac, and how his world-class debating skills helped him emerge from his shell. We can relate! Debaters and NYTPickers share a bond.
"Weisnheimer" comes out in April, and we'll buy a copy. In the meantime we'll be reading Oppenheimer's "Beliefs" column. Religiously.