Port William, Local News, and Liberal Arts

Photo by George W. Ackerman

The Stackpole Legend.” Wendell Berry has a new short story out in Threepenny Review, and it’s a good one: “Once in time, as Art Rowanberry would put it, a boy, the only child of a couple advanced in years, entered the world in the neighborhood of Port William, to be distinguished after his second day by the name of Delinthus Stackpole. His name did him no harm until he started to school, when some of his fellow boys took too much pleasure in repeating it while pointing at him with their forefingers, but the harm of that he overlooked. For teasing to be effective, the teasee must recognize that he is being teased. The young Delinthus Stackpole recognized no such thing. He went his way, not noticing, smiling evidently at something farther on. He was not teased.”

Accelerating to Where?” Robert Bellafiore argues that James Pethokoukis’s new book, The Conservative Futurist: How to Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised, punts on the most important questions: “Despite the ‘conservative’ label, Pethokoukis’s vision is one in which politics no longer really matters, where old divisions are overcome by the shared goal of making the world anew. Much of this dream is compelling, and the book offers many genuinely good ideas about the future we should build. But a futurism that leaves behind politics is that of a science-fiction world, not of the one we can hope to live in.”

How Technology Works on Us.” Felicia Wu Song praises the grim but honest vision of A Web of Our Own Making: The Nature of Digital Formation by Antón Barba-Kay: “Writing with verve, Barba-Kay is relentless in his honesty about our primal tendencies as human beings. He takes us by the collar and thrusts us right up to the edge to stare unflinchingly into the troubled abyss of technology and human nature.”

The Farm Woman Speaks.” Gracy Olmstead considers how George Eliot, who grew up on a farm, portrays and celebrates the work of rural women in her fiction: “Seeing Mrs. Poyser as a celebration of Eliot’s own mother emphasizes her importance. Mrs. Poyser and her dairy are not fable or fiction; they capture a real place and a real presence that she wanted to commemorate. In and through Mrs. Poyser, Eliot offers a vital glimpse into England’s eighteenth-century rural household economy, explaining the division of labor on farms in preindustrial rural England. Mrs. Poyser emerges as the novel’s strong center: a picture of diligence and fidelity, elevating the work of farm women while at the same time capturing its struggles and injustices.”

In a Town with No Newspaper, No One Knows If We Will be Poisoned.” I wrote about a local landfill that will likely open soon and accept oilfield waste. This is a complicated issue, and there’s only so much that can be said in an 800-word newspaper op-ed, but I’ll have more to say on this later at FPR. For this piece, I focused on how our lack of local journalism leads many locals to be uninformed and apathetic about the issue: “Most of the people I talk with in town have only a vague idea of what’s going on with the landfill and the broader concerns surrounding fracking waste. It’s hard to fault them, given the challenges involved in figuring out what exactly is happening and what risks it poses.”

A Tale of Two Ewes.” Brian Miller recounts some life and death stories from spring lambing: “Both accounts concern our role as caretakers in the nurturing of life and the inevitable taking of it that is ever-present on a farm. The stories are twinned together in this work, born in the blood and hope of birth before one day vanishing into decay and dust.”

How to Love Your Place.” Gracy Olmstead interviews Brooks Lamb about his new book, Love for the Land: Lessons From Farmers Who Persist in Place, and the need to cultivate virtuous inhabitants: “Virtues can order how we live our lives—and encourage us to live them in a way that meaningfully benefits others while helping us flourish as individuals.”

A Rural Calling: Rev. Brad Davis.” Taylor Sisk profiles a pastor seeking to revive hope and community in the West Virginia hollers of McDowell County: “Davis, 52, was called into the ministry relatively late in life, on Easter Sunday of 2005. The catalyst was a sermon proclaiming ‘there is always a new life, a resurrected life available, through Christ,’ he recalled. ‘That resonated.’” (Recommended by Dominic Garzonio.)

The Iowa Trout Stream at the Center of a Feedlot Fight.” Nina Elkadi reports on opposition from locals, anglers, and farmers to feedlot with 11,000 cows in northeast Iowa: “Some farmers are also resisting the expansion of large agribusinesses like Supreme Beef. As Aaron Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmer’s Union, put it, ‘Food is being controlled by folks who have very little concern for our communities and our landscapes.’”

Have the Liberal Arts Gone Conservative?” In a lengthy essay for the New Yorker, Emma Green lays out the landscape of the contemporary classical education movement: “The architects of contemporary classical education believed that, by reaching into the past, they could build a better future for American education. Today, many of the people embracing classical education are more interested in running away from the aspects of progressive schooling they fear.”

The Cowardice of Guernica.” Phil Klay addresses a controversial article that Guernica published and then retracted and mulls the larger issues at stake in this debate: “the retraction of the article is more than an act of cowardice and a betrayal of a writer whose work the magazine shepherded to publication. It’s a betrayal of the task of literature, which cannot end wars but can help us see why people wage them, oppose them, or become complicit in them.”


  1. I just read the critical New Atlantis review of the Pethokoukis volume. I was struck by how “shiny object” the author’s techno-futurism apparently is. I’m a late Gen-X’er. Other than academic research databases, and perhaps cancer drugs, I can’t think of a single technological innovation in my lifetime, that I would argue has made my life “better” in any meaningful sense. In a way, I suppose, this supports the author’s thesis, but I’d draw the opposite conclusion that he apparently does.

    Flying cars? Who cares? I happen to like driving. What if I lived in a large city? Moot, since I’d probably self-immolate in a week of having to live in one. Nuclear fusion? What, so we kick the can of Limits even further down the road?

    And so on. Not only is the reviewer right: there’s nothing “conservative” about techno-futurism, but I also suspect that the book’s author and I have evolved into such different species that our offspring will be incapable of procreating with one another. Oh wait, there’s probably a techie “solution” to that, too.

    The author is probably older than me, but I really want to tell him to “get off my lawn.”


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