Doubt, Fungi, and Water

Photo by George W. Ackerman

What New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman Gets Wrong About Rural America.” Wendell Berry responds to Krugman’s column about a new book on “white rural rage”: “A person who has no idea of goodness can have no good ideas. If one cannot imagine dealing with rural rage except by fighting it, one is already too late.”

How Doubt Derailed a Train Town.” Emily Belz goes to East Palestine, OH to see how residents are faring in the wake of the toxic chemical spill and the whirling uncertainty about its effects: “Uncertainty was a theme over and over in my interviews with East Palestine residents in fall 2023. No one knew what exactly had happened to their town. Was the water safe? Were officials lying to them? Were neighbors faking symptoms to get payouts from the railroad company? If they wanted to leave, could they sell their homes? If they stayed, would they get cancer? Could their children play in the park? Was it all overblown? Disasters often bring a community together. But in East Palestine—a place where families go back generations—the opposite is happening.”

Few Smartphones, Some Beer: A Christian Village Grapples With Modernity.” Richard Schiffman describes the Bruderhof community for readers of the New York Times: “How does an enclave modeled after Christian communities of the first century engage with the modern world? And will young Bruderhof be able to adhere to the group’s values in the face of increasing exposure to the outside world via the internet, or will it lead them to reject what some regard as an oppressive way of life?”

Twelve Reasons to Support the American Solidarity Party.” Dwight Longenecker lists some of his reasons for his intentions to vote for a third-party candidate this fall: “As we approach the presidential election, I can proudly say I am not supporting either of the main candidates, but that I am a member of the American Solidarity Party. Like Don Quixote, I shall don my saucepan helmet, ride out on Rocinante, and tilt at some windmills.”

Think Capitalism is Terrible? This Economist Says it’s already Dead.” Leif Weatherby reviews Yanis Varoufakis’s Technofeudalism: What Killed Capitalism. He isn’t entirely convinced that capitalism is dead, but he finds the book valuable nonetheless: “The main virtue of Varoufakis’s book is that it poses the problem of global digitally mediated value. This by itself is illuminating, whether we adopt the term ‘technofeudalism’ or not.”

Judge Dismisses Wendell Berry’s Lawsuit against UK, but Says Controversial Mural Must Stay.” Monica Kast reports on the future of the Ann Rice O’Hanlon mural at UK: “Judge Thomas Wingate granted UK’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the Berrys ‘lack standing to prosecute this action.’ But since removal of the mural would ‘result in its destruction as it is a fresco — painted on the plaster itself — the Court holds that (UK) shall continue to maintain the status quo of the O’Hanlon Mural.’” For more on the history of this mural and the controversy, see Abby Wasserman’s FPR essay.

Fungi Are Helping Farmers Unlock the Secrets of Soil Carbon.” Grey Moran describes the importance of fungal networks in sustaining soil health: “Researchers have increasingly recognized how essential fungi are to sequestering carbon in the soil and some have come to appreciate the outsized role they play in supporting crop health, mitigating climate change, and even sheltering crops from disease. As fungi’s vast benefits come to light, more farmers are tapping into this vital network, learning how to work with beneficial fungi to encourage its growth in the soil, swapping tilling for microscopes.”

Colorado River States Remain Divided on Sharing Water, and Some Tribes Say their Needs are Still Being Ignored.” Rachel Estabrook and Joe Wertz assess the state of negotiations over the limited water supplies in the West: “There has been less water available over the past two decades because of prolonged drought, which is likely to continue across the region and could further reduce the amount of water available in the Colorado River by about a quarter. Up to now, much of the discussion about who suffers from the reduced amounts of water in the river has focused on Arizona, where some farmers have seen their water supplies dry up, and the state has limited housing development where water can’t be secured. In their newly released proposal, Colorado and the other states that comprise the Upper Basin want to establish that they, too, have had to make sacrifices to deal with water shortages.”

Snow Days, French Fries and the End of Small Respites and Little Luxuries.” Addison del Mastro probes the sense of precarity generated by dynamic pricing at fast-food chains or the loss of snow days or shifts in zoning that permit multi-family dwellings. All these are instances where markets might encroach on real goods: “it’s a bit like the argument for unionization, or for the Post Office’s universal delivery pledge. In a pure free market, these things might not exist; but some things are in the public interest regardless of their potential for profit or efficiency. In a less socialist-esque way: Efficiency is a value, not an objective, let alone an ultimate, good.”

How Big Tech Undermines Democracy.” Luigi Zingales and Tano Santos consider how we might bolster local communities, which Tocqueville called the “gymnasium of democracy,” in a time when social media have eviscerated them: “the threat posed to democracy by TikTok, as well as other media platforms such as X and Facebook, goes well beyond whether they are owned by a Chinese company. The problem is that social-media platforms’ business model undermines the social foundation of democratic participation. That is, social-media platforms purposely seek to undo local communities to maximize profits.” (Recommended by Adam Smith.)


  1. One of the things I most like about this website/magazine is how easily a reader can write back to the essay or the magazine. Making that easy makes communication COmmunication. Readers want to get in the CONversation. And writers want to hear from readers. Thank you, Jeff, for making this easy.


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