The Aging American Farmer

From National Geographic:

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan—Art McManus slowly threads his 2001 white GMC pickup through a rolling grove of cherry trees, their limbs heavy with crimson fruit. Eyeing his 25-year-old grandson working with a crew of farmhands, he stops to watch them attach a mechanical shaker that grips a tree and violently rocks its cherries into a canvas catch frame and conveyor.

“Each one of those trees is like a child—when a limb breaks, it bothers me,” says McManus, who planted this orchard of maraschino cocktail cherries more than a decade ago. “It took all this time to get it to this point, and I’d like to keep it going.”

But the 73-year-old owner of the 150-acre Southview Orchards isn’t sure he can make that happen. None of McManus’s three grown children wants to take over the tart cherry farm. (Read “The Next Green Revolution” in National Geographic magazine.)

His son makes good money as a lineman for the local power company. A daughter works as a physical therapist. Another is a stay-at-home mom who isn’t interested in farming.

And so McManus remains a reluctant poster boy for the dramatic graying of the American farmer.

The Third Iraq War and the Tragedy of American History

Carl Raschke:

“Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong,” Hegel wrote. “They are conflicts between two rights.”

In the last few days I have been somehow compelled to meditate on how the rush of events in our world reflect this kind of tragic destiny which perhaps only Hegel, the last genuine philosopher of history, seemed to have comprehended.  This past Wednesday, on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks that plunged America into the present Middle East miasma, I subjected 18 freshmen at my university to watching a two-hour PBS documentary on the Vietnam era.

The choice of videos had nothing to do with currents affairs. It served simply dramatic background material for the course itself entitled “The Sixties: The Decade That Changed Everything,” a decade of which today’s eighteen-year-olds, born about the time Bill Clinton was re-elected to his second term as president, have only fragmented, half-romantic, and completely inchoate notions.

It is possible the documentary had more of an impression on me than it did on them. For as someone who came of age in the latter part of that turbulent decade and was either present at, or witnessed directly, at least five of the rebellious and riotous occurrences the film depicted, I was struck by how indeed the commentators, then as well as now, made the untoward train of events from John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 to Richard M. Nixon’s resignation in the face of impeachment charges in 1974 seem almost in a strange way inevitable.

New Urbanism of the Soul


We bought a house this past summer—a red-brick, cookie-cutter, ticky-tacky exurban Louisiana house of the sort that would make the combustible urbanist James Howard Kunstler’s hair catch on fire, if he still had hair.

It has been a good move. The neighbors are wonderful, the house is comfortable, and kids, they are everywhere. A Spielbergian Valhalla this is, and I’m glad we came. But as satisfying as our subdivision is, I can’t help thinking of how far my wife and I have come from the best neighborhood we ever lived in: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, a 19th-century brownstone townhouse quarter, where we rented an apartment in the late 1990s.

Almost everything we wanted was a 10-minute walk from our front door. There was the greengrocer, the baker, the meat market, coffee shops, mom-and-pop restaurants, newsstands, churches, wine shops, movie theaters, bookstores, pocket parks, and playgrounds. Going out to do errands was an opportunity to see our neighbors and find out what was going on in the community, which at every level was built to human scale. And nobody needed a car.

Back then, in thinking about why Cobble Hill worked so well as a built environment, I realized how intrinsically conservative neighborhoods like it are. Though my wife and I might well have been the only Republicans in the entire 22-block neighborhood, the underlying structure of Cobble Hill, both physical and social, is profoundly traditionalist—and not because it is old.

OTL on the Ray Rice Story

From ESPN:

The seven-month scandal that is threatening Roger Goodell’s future as NFL commissioner began with an unexpected phone call in the early morning hours on a Saturday in February.

Just hours after running back Ray Rice knocked out his then-fiancée with a left hook at the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Baltimore Ravens’ director of security, Darren Sanders, reached an Atlantic City police officer by phone. While watching surveillance video — shot from inside the elevator where Rice’s punch knocked his fiancée unconscious — the officer, who told Sanders he just happened to be a Ravens fan, described in detail to Sanders what he was seeing.

Sanders quickly relayed the damning video’s play-by-play to team executives in Baltimore, unknowingly starting a seven-month odyssey that has mushroomed into the biggest crisis confronting a commissioner in the NFL’s 94-year history.

“Outside the Lines” interviewed more than 20 sources over the past 11 days — team officials, current and former league officials, NFL Players Association representatives and associates, advisers and friends of Rice — and found a pattern of misinformation and misdirection employed by the Ravens and the NFL since that February night.

After the Feb. 15 incident in the casino elevator, Ravens executives — in particular owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome — began extensive public and private campaigns pushing for leniency for Rice on several fronts: from the judicial system in Atlantic County, where Rice faced assault charges, to commissioner Goodell, who ultimately would decide the number of games Rice would be suspended from this fall, to within their own building, where some were arguing immediately after the incident that Rice should be released.

The Black Victorians

From The Guardian:

The African Choir were a group of young South African singers that toured Britain between 1891 and 1893. They were formed to raise funds for a Christian school in their home country and performed for Queen Victoria at Osborne House, a royal residence on the Isle of Wight. At some point during their stay, they visited the studio of the London Stereoscopic Company to have group and individual portraits made on plate-glass negatives. That long-lost series of photographs, unseen for 120 years, is the dramatic centrepiece of an illuminating new exhibition called Black Chronicles II.

“The portraits were last shown in the London Illustrated News in 1891,” says Renée Mussai, who has co-curated the show at London’s Rivington Place alongside Mark Sealy MBE, director of Autograph ABP, a foundation that focuses on black cultural identity often through the use of overlooked archives. “The Hulton Archive, where they came from, did not even know they existed until we uncovered them while excavating their archive as part of our research project.”

The London Stereoscopic Company specialised in carte de visites – small photographs printed on cards that were often traded by collectors or used by performers for publicity purposes – and, as their name suggests, they were all in stereo which, when seen through a special viewer, gave the illusion of a three-dimensional photograph.

The Misunderstood Vikings

From the Daily Beast:

They say history is written by the victors, but what if the victims are the ones with the pens?

That is the bizarre circumstance surrounding the history of the Vikings, since the centuries-old myth that has come down to us about their brutal savagery originated with their victims—monks and priests—who had the monopoly on writing in that time.

As a result, the image we have today of the marauding Vikings is both wildly off the mark, and ignores the major contributions they made in shaping Europe during the Middle Ages. That demystification and deep dive into the world of one of history’s most iconic people is the subject of a new book, The Age of the Vikingsby Anders Winroth. Not only are the Vikings completely misunderstood, he argues, but they may have saved Europe.

The Vikings weren’t picky about their raiding targets, but the short-term gains in booty and ransom achieved by attacking monasteries resulted in the Vikings being relegated to the “vicious barbarian” category of history. The monks in those monasteries were the only historians around at that time.

Prayer, Post-Conversion

Leah Libresco:

Since my conversion, I’ve had a lot of awkward moments at the dinner table. It’s not that I’ve been having awkward conversations about my decision to leave atheism and be received into the Catholic Church. It’s that my friends keep pausing and looking inquisitively me at meals, and then saying, “Should I wait for you to say grace?” If I’m not reminded by others, I usually remember that Christians pray sometime before eating about halfway through my meal.

I know what to say and do at Mass; I’ve been attending since two years prior to my conversion, as a deal with my then-boyfriend. I went to Mass with him, and he went to ballroom dance class with me. But I’ve been less prepared for life after the Ite, missa est that closes the Mass.

When I started adapting my life to make room for God, I took to scheduling in religion the way that I’d schedule a dinner with a friend, or a movie night. I made sure to leave discrete blocks of time to do religion, whether it was going to Daily Mass at the church down the block or trying to pray the Morning and Evening Office on my subway commute to work.

But it’s been hard to remember to say grace at meals, because, when I’m eating, I’m not in a setting that I recognize as religious. The restaurant I’ve met my friend at may be dimly lit, but there are no smells and bells to signal an opportunity to be sanctified. It’s easy to try to infuse new habits with religion, but hard to hold on to the presence of God when I’m immersed in an old environment, where I have a long habit of just not thinking of Him. But all those new habits are in the service of inviting God in everywhere, even the times and places I’ve treated as secular.

The NYT’s Statistical Contraception Failure

Leah Libresco:

The New York Times published a deeply misleading infographic on contraceptive failure rates this weekend.

The NYT graphic plots contraceptive failure rates for 15 different methods of contraception over 10 years, apparently showing that, although a typical woman relying on condoms for contraception may only have an 18 percent chance of pregnancy over one year, an unplanned pregnancy becomes a virtual certainty by the time she’s been sexually active for 10 years, with the chance of pregnancy nearly quintupling to 86 percent.

Below those red-alert curves, the NYT also tracked (along the dashed grey lines) the risk of pregnancy for atypical women and their partners, those who manage “perfect use” of their preferred form of contraception.

The NYT generated these graphs by looking only at failure rates for contraception over one year, and then doing some arithmetic to model the chance of failure over the long term. It’s the same math used to figure out how often you might need to flip a fair coin to eventually wind up with “heads” but it doesn’t work so well with this kind of data.

The Death of Adulthood

From the NYT:

Sometime this spring, during the first half of the final season of “Mad Men,” the popular pastime of watching the show — recapping episodes, tripping over spoilers, trading notes on the flawless production design, quibbling about historical details and debating big themes — segued into a parlor game of reading signs of its hero’s almost universally anticipated demise. Maybe the 5 o’clock shadow of mortality was on Don Draper (fig. 1) from the start. Maybe the plummeting graphics of the opening titles implied a literal as well as a moral fall. Maybe the notable deaths in previous seasons (fictional characters like Miss Blankenship, Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper, as well as figures like Marilyn Monroe and Medgar Evers) were premonitions of Don’s own departure. In any case, fans and critics settled in for a vigil. It was not a matter of whether, but of how and when.

TV characters are among the allegorical figures of our age, giving individual human shape to our collective anxieties and aspirations. The meanings of “Mad Men” are not very mysterious: The title of the final half season, which airs next spring, will be “The End of an Era.” The most obvious thing about the series’s meticulous, revisionist, present-minded depiction of the past, and for many viewers the most pleasurable, is that it shows an old order collapsing under the weight of internal contradiction and external pressure. From the start, “Mad Men” has, in addition to cataloging bygone vices and fashion choices, traced the erosion, the gradual slide toward obsolescence, of a power structure built on and in service of the prerogatives of white men. The unthinking way Don, Pete, Roger and the rest of them enjoy their position, and the ease with which they abuse it, inspires what has become a familiar kind of ambivalence among cable viewers. Weren’t those guys awful, back then? But weren’t they also kind of cool? We are invited to have our outrage and eat our nostalgia too, to applaud the show’s right-thinking critique of what we love it for glamorizing.

The Federalist replies:

Film critic A.O. Scott has pronounced the death of adulthood in the pages of The New York Times. In a long, winding piece, he attempts to prove through a strange algebra that Don Draper, Walter White, and Tony Soprano are in fact the ghosts of our culture’s patriarchal archetypes. With equal parts snobbery and self-effacement, he argues that the past decade of television represents the final death knell of a long-eroding concept of men, their privileges, and their responsibilities in society. What is new here is not the question—“what has happened to men?” articles abound. Rather Scott’s contribution lies in his celebration of the emasculation he believes is central to the American narrative.

The first object of Scott’s imagination that needs to be tackled is his argument that “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Sopranos” are influencing and reflecting a turn away from male adulthood in our culture. Early on in the essay, one senses a cherry-picking of televisual content to suit his argument’s purposes. At one point, Scott rather strangely states “we’ve…witnessed the erosion of traditional adulthood in any form,” specially mentioning the “urban cop show.” But even a cursory glance at the 2013-2014 ratings reveals NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds are all among our most popular shows. As Richard Rushfield points out atRicochet, “Mad Men at its height was watched by 2.9 million viewers. In contrast…NCIS last week (April, 2014) was viewed by 19.7 million viewers” It is as if Scott has never seen an ad for “Blue Bloods” with Tom Selleck in a police uniform and mustache sitting at the head of the table talking about his family.

The Wet Stuff

From Grantland:

Seventeen stories above Kansas — above cement rivers and man-made surf waves and cups of Dippin’ Dots: The Ice Cream of the Future; above America’s Potemkin beach, the water park — the ride designer was talking to the governor. They were standing atop Verrückt, the tallest waterslide in the world.

“Feel the shaking tower?” Jeff Henry, the designer, asked.

Sam Brownback, the governor, said, “I thought it felt like it was a little …”

“It wobbles,” Henry said.

The designer had a slightly wild look in his eyes. Without the slide, you might have thought Brownback was introducing an aggrieved rancher fighting the feds over grazing rights.

Travel Channel cameras were shadowing Henry for a documentary. “I’m not really a designer anymore,” he told Brownback. “I’m an actor.”

Before Brownback could reply, Henry added, “I’m not as good as you, though, governor.”

“Huh?” Brownback said.

“I don’t think I’m as good as you.”

Brownback let the jab land and laughed. “It’s going to be a great attraction,” he said.

“Gotta love it,” Henry said.

“Cowabunga,” Brownback said.