This month, I’d like to highlight a few things I’ve enjoyed reading online over the last couple of months, starting of course, with a piece on the perils of reading and writing online:

Do you lie awake in bed more often these days, unable to sleep, scrolling through Facebook or Twitter on your phone, trying to ignore signs of stress? Perhaps a faint taste of acid in your mouth? Do you have a gnawing fear that dark alliances are forming among your countrymen and conspiring against you, and everyone you like and (for good measure) everyone like you? Does it make you want to spend more money, or write yourself more reminders to do “self-care?” Maybe you suspect that if anyone else cares about your self it is only to notice that deep down you’re just as much of a hateful loser as they are?

Michael Brendan Dougherty writes on the internet. The above quote is from his most recent column, his last for The Week before taking a job at the conservative magazine National Review. The piece is a damning lament on the sad reality of life online—how the endless scroll and refresh offers little more than FOMO and other destructive modes of inward thinking.

The Post Calvin might be a far cry from The Week and National Review, but who among us hasn’t tasted the lingering pangs of acid on the tongue the night before a post goes live? Who doesn’t know the self-loathing induced by an hour lost to Instagram? As one of conservatism’s unique voices, Dougherty publishes columns that are honest, agnostic to conventional wisdom, and consistently worth reading. Without him, readers’ time online would be all the more wasted.

The fail-safe structure now houses seed samples from nearly 900,000 varieties of crops (more than half the estimated 1.5 million on the planet), ensuring that the genetic material critical for sustaining us remains protected, regardless of war, natural disaster, rapidly evolving pathogens and pests, and climate change.

At Modern Farmer, Jocelyn C. Zuckerman delivers a write-up and photo gallery on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a Norwegian seed fortress designed to safeguard and replenish the world’s seed supply in case of crisis. Check it out for a brief but insightful glimpse into the little-known world of modern seed.

The refugees brought little with them: cellphones, of course; some clothes or toys; photos of Syria — of home. They spent weeks or months in a cramped dormitory that they considered a refugee camp on the edge of Weimar, then slowly fanned out to apartments across the city with relatives, other refugees they met along the way and, occasionally, Germans.

Over a million refugees have entered Germany in the past two years. Last month, a team of New York Times journalists put out a four chapter feature exploring the lives of refugees in the 65,000-person city of Weimar, Germany. The individual chapters follow refugees and native Germans alike as they interact in one of Germany’s most historic cities. The stories hit a range of notes, from hopelessness and frustration to glimpses of optimism, small victories and differences in opinion. Together, they paint a picture of a country grappling with a transformation of unknown size, scale, and consequence.

Babel was my hometown. I was raised in thirteenth-century L.A. in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood by Italian immigrants and assimilated mestizos who worshipped in Latin in a city whose official language was English. Latin was not a dead language; it was simply the one reserved for sacred things—like singing—in a place full of competing dialects. Even as a child, I watched my family’s parlance change, as English superseded the languages of the older generation. No, the Tantum Ergo didn’t feel foreign. Old words brought over from an old world were my daily reality.

This excerpt comes from a piece in First Things, titled “Singing Aquinas in L.A.” by poet Dana Gioia. It’s a patient reflection on liturgy, language and the power of art. I appreciate it not only for its skepticism (disdain?) of contemporary church music, but also for its endorsement of memorization, which seems to have all but evaporated from contemporary catechesis, to the extent that catechesis even happens any more. If Dougherty’s column, the first piece linked here, can be read as a “Why bother?” Then maybe Gioia’s last sentence provides as good an answer as any: “He who sings prays twice, sometimes unaware.”


Photo: Advent Valley, as soon from the seed fortress.

Credit: Modern Farmer

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