Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Witches, Essays, Agriculture and More

I was thinking of writing a lengthy piece over lunch, when I wrote up my task list and realized that "lunch" needed to be no more than twenty minutes long. So instead, I present a number of pieces that struck me as interesting lately, but which I don't have a whole post worth of things to say about.

InsideCatholic just reprinted a lengthy piece by medievalist Sandra Miesel discussing the realities of witch burning in the Middle Ages through "Age of Reason". It's an article well worth the time to read, avoiding both the slanders of anti-Catholics and the overly rosy rebuttals used by some apologists.

Entrepreneur Paul Graham has an interesting essay on what an essay should be, why people ought to write them, and how high school English classes do a pretty poor job of teaching people this skill. I've always thought it would be really cool to develop a 1-2 year high school course on the essay when our kids get closer to that age, and I find Graham's thinking on the topic fairly sound. He has quite a few online essays himself, and several others are interesting in the extreme. I'm hoping I get the chance to write about some of them later.

One a somewhat related note, the book editor of the LA Times writes about how the tempo of modern life trains one out of the habits necessary to immerse oneself in a book.

Farmer Blake Hurst has a response to the "agri-intellectuals" such as Michael Pollan, Rod Dreher and Mathew Scully. I follow some of the agri-intellectuals as far as the "one should eat real food most of the time" point, but have often found their economic views rather frustrating. Hurst expresses frustration that many of their practical views on farming are not all that based in experience either -- and also takes some affront at city-living non-farmers telling farmers how to be more "in touch" with the land.

The White House is apparently in a tug-of-war with a concerned physicians group pushing for vegan and vegetarian options in the National School Lunch Program. The group has put posters up in Union Station featuring the eight-year-old daughter of one of the activist with the line, "President Obama's daughters get healthy school lunches. Why don't I?" The White House (probably understandably) doesn't think using the president's daughters to score political points is acceptable. Clearly, I'm a heartless conservative, because my first thought was: A vegetarian lunch could be as simple as a peanut butter sandwich, an apple or banana, and carrot or celery sticks. Indeed, that's exactly what I used to carry in my lunch bag every day when I was going to school as an eight year old. Plus all those items are covered by WIC if you're low income. So while I get the "healthy lunch" push, how about pushing for parents to take five minutes to pack their kids some food?


Sir Marks-a-Lot said...

Instathoughts provided without the benefit of actually reading linked-to articles.

Re: essays. I don't think I could tell you what an essay is or what it should be. I'm not sure what is distinctive about an "essay" compared to lengthy article in the New Yorker or First Things. And I went to a college with good core curriculum. Looking forward to reading the piece.

Re: "agri-intellectuals". Really looking forward to this one. I remember explaining this concept to my mother once. She replied simply by saying that her (now long deceased) grandparents who lived in rural Louisiana believed that, and I quote, "farming is a cursed life." I'm not even sure I believe that "one should eat real food most of the time" given that such a view usually connotates, 1) a rejection of the benefit of pesticides and genetic engineering; and 2) a rejection of the great good that industrialized farming has had on improving worldwide life span by making things like famine far less of a threat.

Re: vegan and vegetarian school lunches. This brought to mind something I have often thought to myself. Conservatives are at a real disadvantage politically on some issues b/c the real conservative response is that "we can't help you." But you can't say that. So when we look at failing schools we have to talk about "free market" solutions like charter schools and vouchers. I believe these do make a difference, at least in the margins. But what we really should say, indeed what our principles should lead us to conclude, is, "There isn't any structural change we can make - better curriculum, merit pay, competition - that can change the fact that these kids are coming to school each day from homes where the parent can't even be bothered to pack a peanut butter sandwich and some carrot sticks. And until that changes, little can be done to improve educational outcomes."

(regularly comment under my real name but can't this time around)

Darwin said...

I'm not even sure I believe that "one should eat real food most of the time" given that such a view usually connotates, 1) a rejection of the benefit of pesticides and genetic engineering; and 2) a rejection of the great good that industrialized farming has had on improving worldwide life span by making things like famine far less of a threat.

To clarify, I just meant "real food" as in degree of manufacture:

Potato chips made from real, sliced potatoes vs. Cheatos

Home-made mac'n'cheese vs. Kraft

Bread made from four, water, yeast, and salt vs. Wonderbread

Eating fresh fruit vs. eating fruit-rollups

That sort of thing. I don't necessarily put much store in "organic" food in particular.

(regularly comment under my real name but can't this time around)

Now I'm intrigued...

mrsdarwin said...

I think that "Sir Marks-a-Lot" is an awesome pseudonym. Can your real name compete?

Foxfier said...

*grin* The farmer guy sounds like my mom or dad when they get on a roll.

One of the few things that can get dad riled up is the sheer *waste* in other countries when they could be producing so much more by just applying modern theories-- not even needing lots of tractors and such, although that'd help a lot, just crop rotation and pest management and such....

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I'm a big fan of Paul Graham. Back when I taught composition I used his essay on the essay and several other pieces. Actually my class was sort of a course on the essay. I'd love to develop it further, that part of teaching was fun. I like the idea of a high school class. Might have to steal it.

TS said...

Some of my classmates back in the day had vegetarian lunches: Twinkies, Ho-Hos and french fries, not necessarily in that order.

Jim Janknegt said...

Thanks for the Paul Graham essay. Great, clear writing. I especially enjoyed what he said about surprises and how they make us laugh. True. I read another essay on his web site and enjoyed it as well. I think I'll go read some more.

Anonymous said...

The problem with your vegetarian lunch is that many schools no longer allow peanuts... makes life easier for those with potential anaphylactic shock issues, but more difficult for the rest of us--what can compete with pb&j?


Becky D. said...

This is a bit picky but WIC is for under 5 yr olds and except for peanut butter nothing you mentioned is in the program at least in my state(Ohio) at this time. Supposedly fruit and vegtables will be added next year. Food stamps would be more accurate although most low income would qualify for free lunches so to have to pack lunches would cost more money.

Foxfier said...

Washington State WIC including tuna, BP, carrots, cheese and juice.

Also covers if there are *any* children under 5; after that, it's the "Basic Food Program."

Darwin said...

I may just have used the wrong term -- not being clear on the difference between food stamps and WIC. I just know what food is covered in Texas because I see the "WIC approved" stickers in the supermarket, and seem to have an instinct for getting stuck in line behind people splitting their check-out into two orders -- one on assistance with all the healthy stuff and one in cash for all the soda and junk food.

Sarah Reinhard said...

Thanks for this. I think you've taken care of my reading material for the day! :)