“John Deere Promised Farmers It Would Make Tractors Easy to Repair. It Lied.” Jason Koebler and Matthew Gault investigate to see whether John Deere followed through with its promise to provide farmers diagnostic tools necessary to repair their tractors. It seems they have not done so, and if farmers are going to have the right to repair their own machines, lawmakers may have to pass legislation forcing Deere and others to comply. (Last summer, Douglas Fox explored some of the underlying dynamics of this problem in an essay for FPR.)
“These Precious Days.” This long, moving essay by Ann Patchett in Harper’s is almost unclassifiable. Imagine what it might be like to have a house guest you barely know living with you so she can participate in a clinical trial for her recurrent pancreatic cancer. And then COVID hits.
“On Not Burying the Dead.” Jeff Reimer chronicles the months and years after his wife’s cancer diagnosis: “We spent two and a half years phasing in and out of crisis. In the constant, disorienting oscillation we lost the signal. We had no idea what was being asked of us. We suffered, to be sure; Jess more than I. But in the absence of death we had to figure out how to live again.”
“Breaking Bread.” Mike St. Thomas reviews Alan Jacobs’s recent book and commends its guidance for how we might dialogue with those voices we do not fully agree with: “Jacobs has ostensibly written a book about our relationship with the past, but it’s also about the importance of maintaining our relationships with those who, for whatever reason, fall outside the tight circle of our immediate interests and views.”
“On Sitting Out the New Culture Wars.” There are some events that deserve our attention and even—sometimes—our outrage. But Matthew Walther is right that many of the things we are told to be outraged about deserve instead to be ignored.
“Where As a Nation Do We Go from Here?” Chris Arnade and Michael Lind correspond about class and politics and wonder if the US is headed the way of Latin America. At one point, Arnade writes, “When you have a country so polarized and bifurcated, to the point where reality is up for grabs, then the politics of retribution and graft that follows is understandable. You are just doing what is right.”
“Congress’s Day.” Yuval Levin takes the occasion of President’s Day to argue that we need to figure out how to make congress work again: “Almost every other problem in our constitutional system now is a function of or a response to willful congressional weakness.”
“Teachers Unions Have Always Been Terrible.” I don’t know about always, but, as Jim Bovard argues, during the pandemic they seem to be remarkably uninterested in student learning and scientific assessments of risk. One result is that “America will see a new ‘achievement gap’ between privately educated students and those whose brains were offered up on the altar of teacher union power.” In “A Progressive Parent’s Rant about the Politics Surrounding School Reopening” Rebecca Bodenheimer offers a concurring perspective from the other side of the political aisle. Epidemiologist Benjamin P. Linas, writing in Vox, agrees: “if educators and their unions don’t embrace the established science, they risk continuing to widen gaps in educational attainment — and losing the support of their many long-time allies, like me.” (Recommended by Matt Stewart.)
“Pandemic Approaches: The Differences Between Florida, California.” NPR’s description aptly summarizes this story narrated by Greg Allen and Eric Westervelt: “California imposed tough restrictions to try to control the spread of COVID–19, but Florida did not. California struggled with huge case numbers and hospitalizations while Florida did better. Why?”
“What Are the Cultural Revolution’s Lessons for Our Current Moment?” Pankaj Mishra reviews recent histories of the Cultural Revolution and probes the contingencies and underlying dynamics of recent Chinese politics: “The great question of China’s Maoist experiment looms over the United States as Donald Trump vacates the White House: Why did a rich and powerful society suddenly start destroying itself?” (Recommended by Jason Peters.)
“Death to Me!” David Mikics dissects the genre of public confession: “The role that public confessions play in demonstrating and validating the power of ideologies that refuse any criticism is worth revisiting for the obvious reason that such confessions are now part of our culture, too. Now, as then, the most baffling and disturbing aspect of these confessions is the enthusiasm with which the accused embrace their supposed guilt.” (Recommended by Jeff Polet.)
”The Last Years of Progress.”A couple of weeks ago I recommended a Wired essay assessing a bet between Kirkpatrick Sale and “techno-optimist” Kevin Kelly regarding whether industrial society would collapse by 2020. John Michael Greer responds to that essay and concludes that we’re living through a long period of decline. In many respects, his argument parallels Ross Douthat’s claims regarding our society being decadent.
”In Defense of Our Obsessions.” Thomas J. Millay reviews Rita Felski’s Hooked: “the chief virtue of Hooked is that it encourages scholars [and, indeed, all readers] to be more honest. We all write about things principally because we are obsessed with them. Yet we are embarrassed to speak of our affinities in terms of obsession. If accepted, Felski’s proposals would lead to aesthetic engagements which speak openly about why the interaction is happening in the first place.”
“Sen. Ben Sasse: GOP Must Persuade Voters It Has A Vision Beyond Donald Trump.” Brakkton Booker summarizes a conversation that Steve Inskeep had with Senator Ben Sasse. Sasse concludes by emphasizing the importance of place:
”I do think that domestic radicalization is an issue we have to look at,” Sasse said.
”And I don’t think it’s primarily about an ideological spectrum. I think it’s primarily about the decline of place and about the evaporation of thick communities of people you actually break bread with,“ he said. ”So, I think there’s a lot more work we need to do.”
(Recommended by Nick Smith.)
“John C. Calhoun: Protector of Minorities?” Andrew Delbanco’s review of Robert Elder’s new biography of John C. Calhoun highlights the enduring legacy of Calhoun’s arguments in defense of minority rights. As Russell Kirk puts it, Calhoun dealt with “the forbidding problem of the rights of individuals and groups menaced by the will of overbearing majorities.”
“How Extreme Cold Turned Into a U.S. Energy Crisis.” Lynn Doan breaks down some of the reasons why much of Texas lost electricity during this week’s cold snap. According to Erin Douglas, however, it could have been much worse. There are some interesting parallels here to the power outages in California last summer. In an article on this subject in the Washington Post, Will Englund cites Edward Hirs on how failing to fund maintenance leads to these vulnerabilities: “Texas shares with California an unwillingness to compensate generation companies for maintenance, Hirs said, unlike most of the rest of the country.”
“Give Rest to the Weary.” In this excerpt from her new book, Tish Harrison Warren considers Ash Wednesday, human limitations, and the prayers appropriate for weary people.
“The Online Quest for Community.” Adam Gurri ponders whether online associations can qualify as communities. The question is deeply personal—it’s provoked by the grief he felt at the death of a friend he interacted with online—but it is also sociological and philosophical: what counts as community?
“Rush’s Place.” Michael Brendan Dougherty reflects on Rush Limbaugh’s fraught legacy and the powerful sense of community that he created among his listeners.