The Commons, Alfalfa, and Oats

Photo by George W. Ackerman

Piety, Technology, and Tradition.” Jon Askonas responds to a critique from Alan Jacobs about the difficulty of conserving traditions in our current technological environment: “I can hand down my faith to my son, but I can’t hand down a world where pornography is not instantly available to him at every moment. I can hand down my love of reading and some of my favorite books, but I can’t hand down to him an American society of broad literacy. I can hand down a love of English choral music, but not a world in which his local Episcopal or Anglican church has a choir worthy of that tradition. I can hand down my traditions, but the environment in which he finds himself will greatly shape, maybe definitively shape, my son’s engagement with them. My handing down better account for it, and in my having to decide what to do amidst radical change, I will have gone beyond conservation alone. ‘Du mußt dein Leben ändern.’”

Saving the Commons.” In a wonderful essay on the writings and wisdom of William Cobbett, Jack Bell articulates the benefits of the commons and the local competence by which people found sustenance from these marginal lands: “The wildness of the land and the welfare of the rural poor were inseparably linked. Destroy the wild places, and you destroy the livelihood of the people living there. Let wild places thrive, and those people will thrive too.”

Rooted: An Interview with Mary Berry.” Grace Olmstead kicks off a new series of conversations hosted by the Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation by talking with Mary Berry about the work of the Berry Center.

The Spirituality of Fly Fishing.” Geoffrey Sigalet reviews Trout Tracks by Jim McLennan and muses on the myriad goods of fly-fishing, including whether one of these might be spiritual: “I don’t think escape, wonder, and friendship exhaust the reasons why we fish, and I don’t think they amount to spirituality. I do think that the kind of escape, wonder, and friendship offered by fly fishing can be spiritual and that spirituality depends on the spirit in question.”

The Crop That’s Sucking the Colorado River Dry.” Samuel Shaw details the water requirements for the acres of alfalfa grown in the Southwest and discusses the likely effects of the recent deal to dramatically pare back water use: “Last month, California, Arizona, and Nevada agreed to conserve 3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water—about a trillion gallons—through 2026 in order to protect their drinking supply. . . . For the next three years, the states agreed to pay cities, irrigation districts, and Native American tribes $1.2 billion to use less water, including paying many farmers not to farm. Agriculture accounts for almost 80 percent of the water consumed in the Colorado River Basin each year, and alfalfa is responsible for more than a third of that drain.”

Chesterton and the Rise of a Counter-Culture.” If you happen to be in Australia this fall and can’t make it out to Madison, WI for the FPR conference, you can join a gathering in Sydney that day that’s hosted by the Australian Chesterton Society.

Journeys of the Mind is an Enthralling Account of a Scholar at Work.” Michael Dirda reviews Peter Brown’s new intellectual memoir and finds it a remarkable account of a life devoted to understanding and interpreting the significance of late antiquity: “I’ve read lots of autobiographies … but none that quite so vividly depicts a life, a deeply enviable life, centered on humanistic research and the reading and writing of scholarly works.”

Don’t Wear the Goggles. Their Vision Is Bleak.” Ross Douthat thinks that maybe it’s a bad idea to live your life behind a pair of goggles: “there’s one genuinely powerful force seeking a more podlike, nutshell-bounded human future. It’s the technicians of Silicon Valley, backed by billions in digital-age ambition, who’ll seemingly stop at nothing until human beings live inside their goggles.”

A School of Strength and Character.” Tanner Greer reflects on what the story of the Civil War era Sanitary Commission tells us about American’s waning appetite to band together to address challenges: “What makes their story remarkable is that almost none had any special qualifications beyond the small-scale civic and religious responsibilities they had before the war. This undistinguished body believed that if its members worked in concert, they could do a better job than the federal government itself. They were right. But while their actions seem remarkable now, their instinct to respond to the problem of war with self-organization was the common one in the U.S. of the nineteenth century. The Sanitary Commission was exceptional only in its scale.”

Bringing Oats Back to American Farms.” Amy Mayer investigates whether the rising demand for oat milk improve the agricultural practices of the American Midwest: “oats break up pest and weed cycles and nurture the soil. Diversifying crop rotations also can lead to environmental benefits such as reducing pollution in waterways and decreasing a farm’s greenhouse gas emissions. But oats typically can’t compete with corn and soybeans when it comes to profit. The ubiquity of oat milk at coffee shops and in grocery stores suggests demand for oats in this country may be having a moment.”


  1. That piece from Jon Askonas is quite good.
    Alan Jacobs is like a real-life version of that dog from the “this is fine” meme–“what do you mean, everything is burning down, I’m missing here drinking my tea and everything is obviously just great!”
    He’s similarly like David French, showing endless dismissive contempt for those who are allegedly on the “same side” as he is, conservatives of basically any sort, and showing little to no good faith in how he describes them.
    Years ago he shut down comments on his blog, because he couldn’t tolerate the occasional rudeness/idiocy that comes along with it, and he periodically declares he’s walking away from the internet, but he always comes back, always has to have more to say, but he’s clearly not interested in dialogue, so I’m not sure what the point of engaging him really is.
    He is quite interesting to read for his historical and literary takes, but on anything having to do with contemporary issues, best to be avoided.

  2. The Askonas piece dovetails nicely with the earlier discussion under Adam Smith’s and Russell Arben Fox’s posts on Deneen’s new book. Askonas touches upon some of the very things we talked about in that discussion.

  3. Thanks for noting that connection, Rob G.; looking pack as Askonas’s essay in that light was helpful.

    Strong disagreement about your assessment of Alan, Brian, though my reaction there is probably unsurprising.

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