Snowflakes, Wallace Stegner, and Brokenism

Photo by George W. Ackerman

No Snowflakes are the Same. These Stunning Close-up Photos are Proof.” Amudalat Ajasa explains how Jason Persoff captures amazing images of snowflakes and showcases some of his photos. If you’re fascinated by snowflake photography, you may enjoy Snowflake Bentley, a beautiful Caldecott Medal-winning book about a pioneer in this difficult art.

Stegner in California.” Kate Lucky reviews Matt Stewart’s recent book on Wallace Stegner and wrestles with Stegner’s oft-thwarted efforts to put down roots in California: “[Stewart’s] descriptions of often complicated books are lucid, even lovely. And these works do illustrate Stegner’s nuanced feelings about localism and legacy: how tradition both liberates and entraps, how closed communities can become corrupted.”

What Euthanasia Has Done to Canada.” Ross Douthat asks some important questions about Canada’s euthanasia culture: “In the era of populism there is a lively debate about when a democracy ceases to be liberal. But the advance of euthanasia presents a different question: What if a society remains liberal but ceases to be civilized?”

Vermont’s Dairy Farms Recede, Giving Way to Shrimp, Saffron and New Ideas.” Laura Reiley and Zoeann Murphy survey Vermont’s shifting agricultural landscape.

Tofu Won’t Save the Planet.” John Lewis-Stempel takes a closer look at the ecological costs of making tofu: “Anybody who believes that tofu is a green alternative to meat has no idea how industrialised soybean farming works. Anybody who believes it has a light carbon footprint needs to look again. The soybean is the most environmentally dangerous agricultural crop in the world, and the production of tofu is a drain on our precious resources.” (Recommended by Martin Schell.”

Happy Cows, Good Food, More Profits for Farmers.” Jacalyn Carfagno explains how the Berry Center’s Our Home Place Meat program works and the benefits it’s having for local farmers: “Last year the program handled about 100 head and returned $245,000 to the Henry County economy through direct payments to farmers and to Trackside for processing the meat. This year Douglas figures that the combination of Rose Veal and Berry Beef will reach about 270 head.” (Recommended by Niaz Khadem.)

Ron DeSantis, Conservationist.” James B. Meigs points to DeSantis’s record as an example of how a politician can take on corporate interest groups and pursue environmental policies that make tangible differences in local communities: “In recent decades, most Republicans haven’t focused much on environmental policy. Many explicitly reject the Left’s preferred solutions to climate change but don’t offer their own alternatives. DeSantis is in no danger of being mistaken for a progressive climate warrior. But his administration has devoted considerable resources—and spent political capital—pursuing innovative environmental stewardship.”

Brokenism.” Alana Newhouse poses a helpful way of framing a fundamental divide in American public discourse: “The most vital debate in America today is between those who believe there is something fundamentally broken in America, and that it’s an emergency, and those who do not.” She considers this debate by drawing on the rich legacy of the Jewish experience: “To see the cracks in the building before it collapses—that is a Jewish experience. To argue about whether the building can be saved or has to be evacuated—that is a Jewish debate. To find a way to somehow invent an entirely new kind of building—that is a Jewish act.”

Matt Taibbi, Douglas Murray Dominate Trust-in-Media Debate.” Ari Blaff reports on a recent debate in Toronto over how trustworthy legacy media are: “Pre-debate polling showed the audience virtually split 48 to 52 percent on the question of whether to trust the mainstream media. However, over the course of nearly two hours, Taibbi and Murray compellingly persuaded over one-third of audience members (39 percent) to abandon their prior allegiance to the position championed by Gladwell and Goldberg.” (Recommended by Aaron Weinacht.)

Deep Down Things in a Time of Panic.” Ian Marcus Corbin invites us to respond to our spiritual abyss by returning to eternal questions: “If America wants to return to a state of relative social peace, if it wants its various peoples to be at home in its world, it had better dispatch its incumbent prophets from the noisy, contentious town square immediately. New, more capacious visions are needed—great awakenings and reformations and renaissances still to be seen. Thankfully, beautifully, reality is waiting, and reality is never spent.”

Exaggerated Ambitions.” Why do English departments in the US teach composition courses, while this is not the case in the UK? Why do professors of literature often indulge in cultural criticism? Why is there a whole genre of books and essays advancing exaggerated claims about the “political effects of teaching English literature?” Stefan Collini addresses these questions in his thoughtful review of Professing Criticism: Essays on the Organisation of Literary Study by John Guillory. (Recommended by Scott Newstok.)

Christmas Cookie Inflation Index, 2022 Update.” What does inflation feel like? Charles Marohn tackles this question by measuring the shifting cost of a basket of 10 cookie-making supplies: “Over the last year, my core baking ingredients have increased 12.0% in price, compared to an official rate of inflation of just 7.7%. Since I began tracking in 2019, the CCII has risen by 29.1% while the official inflation rate is 17.4% over the same period.”

A Monster.” Maclin Horton recounts an opportunity to free a bird trapped in netting: “This bird’s approach to me, and my ability to help, was for me a moment when something else shone through material cause and effect. It was a bit of evidence that although all of creation “groaneth and travaileth” there is something beyond, a justification for believing that the promise of redemption and healing is not a fantasy.” (Recommended by Rob Grano.)

Hertz to Pay $168 Million to Customers Accused of Auto Theft.” Each year, Hertz and its affiliated rental car companies file thousands of police reports claiming their cars have been stolen. Many of these were false, as Livia Albeck-Ripka reports, and resulted in innocent people being jailed: “According to a lawsuit filed in August in Superior Court in Delaware, the false reports of theft most often fell into two categories: ones in which Hertz claimed a car was overdue, and those in which the company misplaced a car. According to the lawsuit, the latter type of case happened when the company sometimes classified cars as stolen that had in fact been rented out to customers, or were sitting on its lots.” Since their insurance coverage is apparently picking up the bill, Hertz shows once again that companies can be too big to be held responsible.

The College Essay Is Dead.” “The case for the value of humanities in a technologically determined world has been made before,” Stephen Marche writes. With the rise of AI writing programs, it will have to be made again in more compelling terms: clear, imaginative thinking matters for the health of our souls, our communities, and the land, and the fact that we’re tempted to use an app for such work betrays the fact that many people have already given up on the endeavor.

AI and the Disintegrating Imagination.” Kit Wilson joins this chorus of voices trying to reckon with the longterm consequences of AI text generators: “Perhaps before long, the one job us humans will still have left will be to organise the mass of information and entertainment thrown at us by AI into some kind of hierarchy ourselves — to trawl it for permanent, transcendent truths about good and bad, beauty and meaning. Do we really trust that, having been absolved of any responsibility to learn and remember things on our own, our minds will really be up to that task? I wouldn’t bet on it.”

The Team Each and Every American Should Root For.” Matthew Walther makes a pretty good case for rooting for U of M to prevail in the college football championship: “For the Wolverine faithful, winning a national championship again is not simply about football. It is also about our state, and what we have lost, and what we hope to be again.”

Finally, I’ll be part of two virtual conversations in the next couple of weeks. First, Gracy Olmstead is hosting a conversation on Dec. 16th with Ashley Hales, Matt Miller, and myself about Thoreau’s Walden. Second, Josh Hochschild and I will be discussing Wendell Berry’s new book on Dec. 19th and weighing his relevance for “conservatives.”

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