“Daughter of Forgottonia.” Liz Schleicher describes a family rooted in a plot of land near where the Illinois River joins the Mississippi. Guided by a matriarch, they have lived well there: “it is extraordinary that a simple farm wife, uneducated, poor, and without power, could bring such an abundance of grace into the world through the simple work of her hands. If Christ is the River of Life, Edna was a branch of that holy stream, bringing plain, sweet, healing water to all those who gathered around her in a world of fire.”
“The American Heritage of Freedom in the Liberal Arts.” Paul D. Moreno draws on John Winthrop to consider the nature of true freedom: “The purpose of a liberal education is to guide you along the path of recognizing what the good is—to illuminate how one ought to use the liberty you possess properly. Liberal education is about meditating on what it means to be a human being and also about how we ought to live in accordance with the understanding of what a human being is.”
“The Incredible Shrinking Future of College.” Kevin Carey outlines some of the possible consequences of fewer high school graduates and fewer students matriculating at colleges: “The financially motivated vocationalization of less selective colleges and universities will further divide students by income and class. First-generation students are not going to discover their calling in academia at the local university if all the quiet and quirky majors have been eliminated in the name of financial efficiency.”
“Transforming Coal Country in Shamokin, Pennsylvania.” The first episode in Tony Pipa’s new podcast, Reimagine Rural, is excellent. He visits Shamokin, PA and talks with residents finding creative ways to revitalize a town that’s fallen on hard times.
“Basically Everything on Amazon has Become an Ad.” Jason Del Rey traces the increased role that ads play on Amazon’s marketplace. While Amazon’s market share gives it many opportunities to profit from its sellers, its customers now pay more and have a harder time finding good products: “Amazon is positioning itself to become an even bigger player in the overall ad industry in the years to come. The profits the ad division generates are crucial to Amazon’s core shopping business, and the data and technology the tech giant provides to marketers are setting the company apart from most other ad firms.”
“Perennial Rice Could Raise Yields and Cut Costs.” Sarah Kuta reports on the promising developments and continued challenges of new perennial rice varieties.
“Can This Chicken Company Solve America’s Food Waste Problem?” Lisa Held profiles a company that aims to feed food scraps to chickens—at massive scale: “with its plan to capture a portion of the estimated 3 million tons of food waste retailers send to landfills to eventually feed hundreds of millions of chickens each year, Do Good appears poised to make a real dent. However, an industrial-scale solution to an industrial problem is likely to raise questions among those who believe a better food system requires a deeper transformation.”
“On Forgiveness.” Adam Smith ponders what forgiveness might mean for the various failures of our responses to the pandemic: “We should . . . be able to talk as the Church not only about the pandemic, which is the realm of errors and mistakes and common sins, but about ulterior motives and collateral damage, which is where the uncommon sins were committed, and where the reckoning is needed.”
“Cormac McCarthy’s Quest for Answers Amid the Chaos.” Max Bindernagel reviews one of Cormac McCarthy’s new novels, The Passenger, and finds it a rich and haunting story: “In our quest to make sense of things, McCarthy wants to first take seriously the lack of sense in the world. In that vein, McCarthy invites comparisons to another Southern writer, Walker Percy.” Stay tuned for FPR’s review of McCarthy’s two new books next week.
“Autocomplete.” Richard Hughes Gibson plays with some of the new AI writing tools that are available now. Along the way, he wrestles with how they might change the place of writing in education: “In 1987, Flusser worried that AI would outstrip human writers, assuming responsibility even for the recording of history. The current crop of AIs pose no such threat, since they are not autonomous understandings but dynamic reflections of human-built textual culture. Their danger lies instead in short-circuiting the development of human writers, at least if educators fail to adapt to our new media ecology in which the medium can compose humdrum messages on demand.” As a teacher, these are questions that I think about a lot. Such tools seem like one more piece in technological world we’re designing to avoid the work of thought. Neil Postman worried about the prospect of amusing ourselves to death, and things haven’t improved in recent decades. The question I keep returning to is this: How do we design a cognitive ecosystem that encourages and rewards deep conversation and imaginative thinking?
“Jacques Ellul and the Idols of Transhumanism.” Stefan Lindholm draws on Ellul to critique the transhumanist movement and its assumptions: “Ellul’s prophetic analysis of technique is helpful for a vigilant life in face of the particular temptations of idolatry today. Although Ellul at times can sound a bit romantic about premodern life, he never advocated a nostalgic return to a pristine age but urged us, by the grace of God, to live well in the here and now with a sober and supernaturally grounded view of the future.”
“Letter to KU Law.” Justice Caleb Stegall, a longtime Porcher, writes a thoughtful letter to the Dean of KU Law expressing his concerns over the intellectual culture at the law school and tendering his resignation: “the law is, at heart, a great and ongoing conversation. Indeed, one of the most noble and important conversations humankind has with itself. I teach my students that to be a lawyer is to join that great conversation—to take one’s spot in the long line of advocates who have bound themselves to certain professional norms and rules to further that conversation within the institution we sometimes call the ‘rule of law.’”