New England stone walls lie at the intersection of history, archaeology, ecology and geoscience, and deserve a science of their own (Robert M. Thorson, 12/04/23, The Conversation)

The abandoned fieldstone walls of New England are every bit as iconic to the region as lobster pots, town greens, sap buckets and fall foliage. They seem to be everywhere – a latticework of dry, lichen-crusted stone ridges separating a patchwork of otherwise moist soils.

Stone walls can be found here and there in other states, but only in New England are they nearly ubiquitous. That’s due to a regionally unique combination of hard crystalline bedrock, glacial soils and farms with patchworks of small land parcels.

Nearly all were built by European settlers and their draft animals, who scuttled glacial stones from agricultural fields and pastures outward to fencelines and boundaries, then tossed or stacked them as lines. Though the oldest walls date to 1607, most were built in the agrarian century between the American Revolution and the cultural shift toward cities and industry after the Civil War.

The mass of stone that farmers moved in that century staggers the mind – an estimated 240,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) of barricades, most stacked thigh-high and similarly wide. That’s long enough to wrap our planet 10 times at the equator, or to reach the Moon on its closest approach to Earth.

Natural scientists have been working to quantify this phenomenon, which is larger in volume than the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall in Britain and the Egyptian pyramids at Giza combined. This work began in 1870 and generated the U.S. government’s 1872 Census of Fences. Today, scientists are using a technique called LiDAR, or light detection and ranging, to measure and map stone walls across New England.

…but that they also cleared all the trees that surround them.


A Cursed Blessing: Søren Kierkegaard’s theory of despair. (CLARE CARLISLE, December 11/18, 2023, The Nation)

You’ve probably had the experience—perhaps while listening to music, seeing an old friend, or walking in nature—of feeling as though you’ve reconnected with some deep part of yourself. These moments might not be outwardly dramatic, but inwardly they feel significant, even profound. They remind you that, for some time, an important part of yourself had gone missing, and you’d forgotten that it even existed. “The greatest danger, that of losing one’s self, can occur so quietly that it is as if it were nothing at all,” wrote Søren Kierkegaard. “Every other loss—an arm, a leg, five rixdollars, a spouse, etc.—is noticed, however.”

Kierkegaard called this loss of the self “despair”: a spiritual sickness that, he believed, afflicts us all. The way he describes it, despair sounds like bad news, and in a way it is. Yet for Kierkegaard, despair reveals the spiritual reality of our being. It is a sign that we are more than just bodies, thoughts, and emotions—since all these things were still there after we’d lost touch with our deeper, truer self. […]

Kierkegaard’s analysis of despair rests on the distinction between a human being and a self. A human being, he explains, is a synthesis of opposites: “of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity.” But this he continues, “is not yet a self.” To be a self, a human being—who is already a composite of relations—must develop a relationship to itself. This involves both consciousness and desire. Relating to ourselves means being aware (or unaware) of ourselves and wanting (or not wanting) to be ourselves. It also means recognizing that we did not cause or create ourselves. We are brought into being and sustained in existence by something other than ourselves—and this “something other,” at least in Kierkegaard’s view, is God.

A metaphor might help here. Take a sheet of paper, write “infinite” on the left-hand side of the page and “finite” on the right-hand side, then fold it in half. Repeat this process with two more pieces of paper, the second reading “eternal” and “temporal” and the third “freedom” and “necessity.” Put the folded sheets in a neat pile: Here is the human being. Then fold that pile in half again, to make a thicker wedge: Here is the self, a relation of the relations. But that paper didn’t fold itself, did it? It was folded by God, who holds us in his hands. If God lets go, the pages fall apart and scatter on the ground.

So how does this relate to despair? For Kierkegaard, people who fall into despair are spiritually disconnected from themselves: There is nothing in their lives that holds together that entire composite of relations that makes them who they are. Though he was writing in a Protestant culture, there is nothing specifically Christian, or even biblical, about this notion of godly connection and disconnection. For Kierkegaard, being a self means needing and longing to find yourself, to become yourself—and this means reaching out, across the abyss, in search of God. That search, even in a secular sense, is potent. “God” may mean many different things, even if it only names a mystery, and in Kierkegaard’s work, this concept is seldom nailed down.


Curing cancerphobia: How the psychology of fear distorts our view of cancer (David Ropeik, 11/29/23, Big Think)

Fighting the entrenched misbelief that “everything causes cancer” is hard. The highly respected Cancer Research UK tried, calling the study factually incorrect and misleading, as well as directly addressing the psychological factors of control and less fear of what is natural than what is human-made, saying, “It can be tempting to worry about our cancer risk from external things like pollution and chemicals more than from things we can control, like our lifestyles. But decades of research have shown that lifestyle factors — such as not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, getting enough exercise, and avoiding sunburn — have an important effect on cancer risk. In contrast, the evidence that pollution and industrialization has a widespread role in UK cancer rates is weak.”

The belief that cancer is mostly caused by human-made substances explains why any mention of the word “chemicals” or “radiation” sets off alarms. (Magnetic resonance imaging was originally called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging. The “nuclear” was dropped to avoid the frightening allusion to weapons and radiation.) And it explains why scientists frustrated by “chemophobia” and “radiophobia,” corollaries of cancerphobia, try to reduce those fears by arguing, “All of nature is made out of chemicals,” and, “If we’re worried about nuclear power we should also worry about natural sources of radiation like the sun and bananas.”


Macbeth Revisited: The Decline & Fall of Friedrich Nietzsche (Joseph Pearce, November 29th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)

Like his tragic Shakespearean forerunner, Nietzsche begins by abandoning reason in pursuit of power. From the very outset, his denial of the existence of God had nothing to do with any rational process of thought: “Atheism, is not, for me, the consequence of something else … in my case it is something that goes without saying, a matter of instinct.” In similar vein, his rejection of Christianity had nothing to do with any rational process of thought and everything to do with pride and its prejudices: “[I]t is our preference that decides against Christianity – not arguments.”

If Nietzsche’s atheism and anti-Christianity is irrational, there is nonetheless a reason for it, a rationale for his irrationality. The man who refuses to subject himself to reason is freed from the rational constraints that reason imposes. He is the “freed man”, liberated by the will to power (der Wille zur Macht), who can do what he likes and “to whom nothing is now forbidden”. The rule of reason, “this last bondage”, must be cast off. “[W]e have abolished the world of truth,” Nietzsche proclaimed; “nothing is true”.

The consequences of such abandonment of reason to the appetite for self-empowerment was obvious enough, even to Nietzsche. The philosopher, he wrote, is “a terrible explosive from which nothing is safe”.

“This being so,” de Lubac comments, “it was not surprising that the drama that had taken shape in human minds quickly reached the point at which it burst forth in fire and slaughter.”


Frank Capra’s Timeless Vision of American Exceptionalism (Will Sellers, December 2, 2023, AIER)

The strain of populism so ingrained in the lives of Americans is perfectly reflected in Capra’s films. His focus was on the human actions of the silent majority of quiet, everyday people making decisions based on visions of simple moral clarity. He lifted the permanent things so often neglected compared to the temporary glitz and glamour of material gain. Each film contains a large dose of middle-American values magnified time and again against the traps and situations of a complicated impregnable bureaucratic world. And in each case, the little guy wins, and the big mules not only lose face but are publicly shamed into accepting, if not participating in their own defeat.

These films are in many ways a large mirror reflecting not only the tenor of the times but also the implicit impact of human nature struggling for freedom and self-determination. In short, people can see themselves in these films and identify with the characters. Everyone wants to see the characteristics of the white-hatted hero in themselves, but are reminded by conscience that they possess some of the traits of the villain too. Everyone hopes they will make wise and prudent choices when faced with decisions of moral consequence. Everyone in Capra’s films has a shot at redemption, but not every character accepts the offer; the developing conflicts that are resolved in favor of the common man are what make each film so entertaining.


Klarna freezes hiring, citing AI ‘productivity gains’ (Siôn Geschwindt, December 4, 2023, Next Web)

In a hiring freeze that CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski attributes to the rise of AI, Swedish fintech unicorn Klarna is no longer recruiting staff beyond its engineering department. […]

The chief exec of the buy now, pay later app said that the productivity gains from using tools like ChatGPT meant the company now needs “fewer people to do the same thing.”



Steel production is responsible for 3 billion metric tons (about 3.3 billion tons) of carbon dioxide — or around 8% of all planet-warming pollution per year — according to the World Steel Association, as cited by Chemical & Engineering News. But researchers may have just developed a new way to bring that number down by 3D printing the metal.

A team at the University of Cambridge developed the method, which uses the traditional 3D printing laser as a “microscopic hammer” to harden the metal during processing, instead of the traditional “heat and beat” method in which the metal is hardened with a hammer and softened with fire.


Nikki Haley wants to reform Social Security and Medicare. Donors are paying attention (Fredreka Schouten, 12/05/23, CNN)

Haley has called for several changes to the nation’s safety net programs, including increasing the age at which today’s younger workers would become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits and limiting the growth of benefits the wealthy receive. […]

A March CNN/SSRS poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, for instance, found that 59% said it was “essential” that the GOP nominee for president “pledges to maintain Social Security and Medicare as they are.”

And just 7% of Republicans surveyed in October in an AP/NORC poll said that the government was spending too much on Social Security.

It’s little wonder then that Trump has steadfastly advocated keeping the programs as they are – despite his past support for major changes, including raising the retirement age to 70 and privatizing Social Security.

DeSantis has distanced himself from his votes as a congressman for nonbinding resolutions that would have increased the threshold for seniors to collect Social Security benefits to age 70.


The Great Republican Crackup (Marc Novicoff, December 5, 2023, Washington Monthly)

In September, Georgia State Senator Colton Moore launched an audacious defense of Donald Trump. The plan: Call a special session of the state legislature and impeach or defund Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for indicting the former president on charges related to trying to overturn the 2020 election.

That gambit isn’t exactly shocking. Moore represents Georgia’s deep-red 53rd State Senate district in Northwest Georgia, the same part of the state that Marjorie Taylor Greene represents in Congress.

But you may not be expecting what happened next: The Republican caucus in the Georgia Senate tossed Moore out, indefinitely suspending him and publishing a lengthy statement detailing how annoyed they are with him. Moore had taken Trumpophilia too far in a state where the GOP is headed by Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who not only rebuffed Trump’s efforts to steal the Georgia election in 2020 but were handily reelected in 2022.


Argentina’s Rampant Inflation, Explained (in One Chart) (Jon Miltimore, December 5, 2023, AIER)

The New York Times, which recently interviewed Capobianco, reported on the inflation that “has convulsed Argentina” and led to the rise of Javier Milei, who last week became Argentina’s first libertarian president (and arguably the first libertarian president in the world in modern history).

Prior to Milei’s stunning victory, inflation in Argentina hit 143 percent. Triple-digit inflation has helped push 40 percent of Argentines into poverty and has led to a surge in demand for US dollars.

An estimated $200 billion in US currency has gravitated toward Argentina’s $487 billion economy, the Times estimates, nearly 10 percent of all US dollars in circulation (more than any other country in the world except for the USA).

The appeal of US dollars in Argentina should come as little surprise. The purchasing power of the peso is depreciating so fast that people continually swap them out for dollars, which are hoarded.

“You’re constantly gathering up money quickly in order to buy dollars,” a 30-year-old supermarket worker told the newspaper, “because the next day, it’s devalued again.”