Alaska, Smartphones, and Realignment



“The Resurrection of the Bawdy.” J.C. Scharl ponders the strange, grotesque wisdom of Francois Rabelais: “there must be a reciprocal relationship between our high culture and our low. High culture does not come from nothing. Rather, it alchemizes over time from a vast swamp of low culture in which a community is working out, in some form or another, the problem of the body, of what it means to be a human, to exist as an eternal soul in a flatulent, flabby, fleshy shell, a shell that (somehow) God promises will be with us in Heaven.”

“Scientists Are Coming Around on Geoengineering.” Robinson Meyer reports from the American Geophysical Union on the growing willingness to engineer the planet: “The vibe of this year’s AGU was clear: Geoengineering is here to stay.”

“Why Are Alaska’s Rivers Turning Orange?” Alec Luhn travels to the Brooks Range in Alaska where thawing permafrost is turning streams orange and acidic: “When McPhee was here, he wrote that the river was so clear and full of fish that ‘looking over the side of the canoe is like staring down into a sky full of zeppelins.’ These days, however, looking over the side is like staring down into a sky full of thick haze. An hour downstream from where we embarked, a large tributary called Kanaktok Creek was pumping in murky water over orange rocks, turning the Salmon green. The next incoming stream was so full of iron that the main stem ran half orange and half green. For the rest of the trip the river had the color and opacity of pea soup.”

“Remembering John Gardner.” Bill Kauffman defends the value of remembering local artists: “If ‘home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,’ in Robert Frost’s phrase, home is also the place where writers who fall out of fashion must land and find posthumous succor. John Gardner isn’t even among my 100 favorite writers, but he is ours, and we owe him remembrance.”

“Poland’s “Collapsing Towns” that Got Left Behind.” Marek Szymaniak describes the struggling small towns in Poland where residents face high unemployment and disintegrating communities: “As the factories began to collapse one by one, residents of the towns found themselves without jobs and later even without some vital public services. I, like many others, left my hometown. And, like many others, I did not go back. Millions stayed, however. And, despite promises to level the playing field, the depopulation of these areas continues.” (Recommended by Joshua May).

“It Sure Looks Like Phones Are Making Students Dumber.” Derek Thompson reports on the growing evidence that smartphones dumb down their users: “Some have … suggested that smartphone use is so corrosive, it’s systematically reducing student achievement. I hadn’t quite believed that last argument—until now.”

“Our Godless Era is Dead.” Paul Kingsnorth reflects on the religious renewal that he sees taking place, one which includes both disturbing forms and hope-giving ones: “The Christmas feast is the last remnant, in the secular West, of [the] ritual year that made us. Since I unexpectedly became a Christian three years ago, I have thrown myself into it with the predictable gusto of a new convert, and it has helped me to understand something about the world I grew up in: we wanted the feasts without the fasts. This, in fact, is the basis of our economic model.”

“The Spiritual Unspooling of America: A Case for a Political Realignment.” Progressive senator Chris Murphy urges a political realignment that aims to tackle the roots of America’s malaise: “in both urban and rural landscapes, and across class, gender, and racial identities, we are all feeling a set of common anxieties. These include: a loss of control over economic and family life; an acute loneliness and disconnection from community; a frustration with the pace and nature of technological change; and an exhaustion with suffocating consumerism. The result is a dangerous lack of meaning or positive identity for tens of millions of Americans—a spiritual emptiness—that leaves us casting about for outlets for our anxiety and anger.”

“The Real Harvard Scandal.” Tyler Austin Harper considers the implications of Claudine Gay’s resignation. Intellectual integrity seems all too rare these days: “Rufo won this round of the academic culture war because he exposed so many progressive scholars and journalists to be hypocrites and political actors who were willing to throw their ideals overboard. I suspect that, not the tenure of a Harvard president, was the prize he sought all along. The tragedy is that we didn’t have to give it to him.”

“The Real Risk of AI is the Loss of Working Minds.” Ryan Hrobak warns about the risks that AI poses for education: “The risk of our increased reliance on AI is that we will sacrifice our actual intelligence for an artificial one. We risk losing the ability to delve deeply into the timeless questions and problems and instead rely on a chatbot to parrot back answers.”

“Could this Obscure Tax Idea Reshape American Housing?” Rachel M. Cohen outlines the case for a land-value tax—as popularized by Henry George—in Detroit: “If it passes, Detroit would become the largest American city to enact a land-value tax, a fact that could spur other communities in the US to follow suit. A land-value tax could help address the nation’s housing crisis by encouraging more housing development — like building new accessory dwelling units in backyards or brand-new multistory apartment buildings on vacant property. A land-value tax could also help other communities reverse their declining fortunes through more equitable growth. It’s a lot of ifs, but policymakers, researchers, and housing activists say the chance to test the theory has never been closer in reach.”

“Partings and Reminders.” Brian Miller ponders the deaths that mark our decisions: “It is an old theme for us: that all of our actions have consequences, that even the most benign of actions, from hoeing the garden to shopping at the grocery, result in death. It is just that our modern world offers an all-too-convenient buffer, a spectator’s distance, that provides a camouflage, justifiable deniability for consequences.”


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