“Vermont’s Superpower, Revealed: The Ability to Practice Local Democracy.” Susan Clark writes about the formative role that Vermont’s annual town meetings play in training citizens to practice democracy. (Recommended by John McClaughry.)
“Why the U.S. Needs the Romney Family Plan.” Ross Douthat likes Romney’s “Family Security Act.” He acknowledges that “public policy cannot deliver” babies on its own, but it can help. Stay tuned for an essay here at FPR in the coming weeks that looks at the dropping fertility rate from a different perspective.
“Unleash the Swarm.” Daniel Herriges considers what is lost when we outsource urban development to professional experts: “Incremental development is a crucial way to align a neighborhood’s growth with the interests of the people who actually live there, because incremental developers operate close to the ground. They know the people around, they know highly-specific local needs, and in many cases they live in the neighborhood themselves.” (Recommended by Jason Peters.)
“The Ugly Secrets Behind the Costco Chicken.” Nicholas Kristof describes the conditions in which chickens live who are destined for the rotisserie spit at Costco. It’s not pretty. We get grass-fed beef and pastured chicken from a local farmer. The price we pay for the beef is roughly comparable to the price we’d pay in the grocery store; the price we pay for a whole chicken, though, is three times what we’d pay for a Costco chicken. The reasons for this are complex, but in brief, chickens have proven much more adaptable to the demands of industrial farming, and we now have unreasonable expectations about how much one is worth.
“The Efficiency Curse.” Michael Pollan points out another major flaw in our food system—it’s fragility: “Efficiency is a wonderful thing. It can result in benefits such as lower prices and better uses of resources. But a hyperspecialized system is more vulnerable to disruption; it is not resilient. This is also the case with our food supply.”
“‘A Managerial Mephistopheles’: Inside the Mind of Jeff Bezos.” In a lengthy profile of Bezos and his ubiquitous company, Mark O’Connell tries to make sense of his own complicity in the world Amazon has created. Near the end, O’Connell sounds almost like St. Paul: “And so the problem, as such, is one of desire. It’s not that Amazon gives me what I want; it’s that it gives me what I don’t want to want. I want the convenience and speed and efficiency that Amazon offers, but I’d rather not want it if it entails all the bad things that go with it.”
“What the Humanities Battle Is For.” The University Bookman ran a good symposium on Eric Adler’s The Battle of the Classics: How a Nineteenth-Century Debate Can Save the Humanities Today (don’t miss Jon Schaff’s review that we published a few weeks ago). Jessica Hooten Wilson’s contribution draws on Adler’s narrative to consider what the humanities can—and can’t—do. Anika T. Prather’s reflections on what she calls “the human story books” are also quite insightful.
“Cancel the Classics?” In an essay that echoes many of the themes Anika Prather sounds, Damon Linker defends the good of rigorous engagement with classical authors: “If we want to understand ourselves, good and bad and everything in between, ancient Greece and Rome is where we need to start, at the beginning of the long, immensely complicated story that eventually wends its way down to us. To cut us off from that story, or to reduce the image to just one thread in the tapestry, is to condemn us to ignorance about ourselves.”
“The Surprising Gift of Knowing my Vocation.” Ellen Davis reflects on the circuitous path that led to her academic vocation: “I had to become the kind of person who wants to do the work to which I am called; my temperament had to change along with my mind. Vocation, I’ve learned, is a tapestry. It gathers up the disparate threads of a life, and when the weaving is true, a pattern emerges, one that is capable of incorporating new threads that may appear. The pattern itself provides the standard for discerning if certain threads are fitting or should be set aside for now—or indefinitely, perhaps forever.” Porchers may be particularly interested in her reflections on her agrarian research:
Unexpected friendships with Wes Jackson, Norman Wirzba, and Wendell Berry made it possible for me to write Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture (2009), which required thinking in ways that had not figured in my formal biblical and theological education. These three—a plant geneticist, a philosophical theologian, and a man of letters, respectively, all of them also farmers—enabled me to believe that an agrarian reading of the Bible is not just plausible but persuasive, congruent as it is with both ancient literary practices and contemporary scientific understandings. The most surprising thing about that book is that many of my colleagues in biblical studies are now persuaded by its argument.
“Is Rural America Shrinking?” Vincent David Johnson explains why the census will almost certainly indicate rural regions are less populated now than 10 years ago. But the actual story is more complicated.
“Humanity Is Flushing Away One of Life’s Essential Elements.” Julia Rosen narrates the fascinating cultural and agricultural history of phosphorus. You can’t grow food without it, but industrial agriculture depends on finite sources of it: “What if the phosphorus floodgates were to suddenly slam shut, relegating humanity once more to the confines of their parochial phosphorus loops? What if our liberation from the geologic phosphorus cycle is only temporary?” (Recommended by Tom Bilbro.)
“Did America Have a Founding?” Drawing on Russell Kirk and Orestes Brownson, Jeff Polet argues America wasn’t founded. It was constituted. Much follows from that distinction.
“Like Sheep: On Translating a Literary Plague in a Time of Pandemic.” A.E. Stallings revisits Virgil’s Georgics during coronatide and finds ancient, yet timely, wisdom: “In the poem’s tenderness toward the bereaved ox and the watersnake alike it shows a radical sympathy with the natural world of which we are a part.”
“GOP Congressman Pitches $34 Billion Plan to Breach Lower Snake River Dams in New Vision for Northwest.” Lynda V. Mapes details an ambitious plan to rejuvenate salmon runs in the Snake River while still meeting the energy and irrigation needs of surrounding communities. (Recommended by Russell Fox.)
“California Is Making Liberals Squirm.” Ezra Klein describes the gap between California’s symbolic progressivism and its de facto maintenance of inequalities: “There is a danger — not just in California, but everywhere — that politics becomes an aesthetic rather than a program. It’s a danger on the right, where Donald Trump modeled a presidency that cared more about retweets than bills. But it’s also a danger on the left, where the symbols of progressivism are often preferred to the sacrifices and risks those ideals demand.”