The Amazon’s Tallest Tree, the Truth about Teacher Pay, and the Prescient Canticle for Leibowitz
The tallest tree in the Amazon has been discovered. It is 260 feet high.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a very good novel. The Testaments is not. Here’s my review.
Michael Lewis reviews the wartime journal of a German in Paris: “Nazi Germany produced two wartime diaries of equal literary and historical significance but written from the most different perspectives conceivable. Victor Klemperer wrote furtively, in daily dread of transport to an extermination camp, a fate he was spared by the firebombing of Dresden. Ernst Jünger, by contrast, had what was once called a ‘good war.’ As a bestselling German author, he drew cushy occupation duty in Paris, where he could hobnob with famous artists and writers, prowl antiquarian bookstores, and forage for the rare beetles he collected. Yet Klemperer and Jünger both found themselves anxiously sifting propaganda and hearsay to learn the truth about distant events on which their lives hung. One might ask why it has taken 70 years for Jünger’s diary to appear in English translation, for there is no more detailed account of the occupation from the German point of view. But Jünger was always controversial, up to his death in 1998 at the age of 102. In Germany, polite opinion has never forgiven him for Storm of Steel, his memoir of World War I that saw in the experience of combat an ultimate test of manhood. ‘The finest, most visceral account of battle since the Iliad,’ according to the New Statesman, his book made him a hero among German nationalists and ensured his privileged status in Nazi Germany. As it happens, Jünger was anything but a Nazi.”
The truth about teacher pay: “One of the most common beliefs about American education is that teaching is an ‘underpaid’ profession. Think tanks purport to calculate the ‘teacher pay gap.’ The media run stories about teachers taking second and third jobs to pay the bills. Politicians call for across-the-board raises. They all see raising teacher pay as a matter of simple fairness, as well as a way to attract better teachers and improve educational outcomes. They are all misguided. The highly publicized ‘pay gap’ that dominates news headlines is the product of a simplistic methodology that, when universally applied, suggests that nurses, firefighters, and other professionals are dramatically overpaid. Furthermore, predictions generated by the underpaid-teacher hypothesis — such as that teachers must have high quit rates, or that a large percentage of their income flows from second jobs — are not supported by the data. Teachers as a group are generally well compensated, and teacher pay and benefits have risen faster over time than compensation in private-sector jobs. Failure to recognize these facts can lead education reform down a blind alley.”
Harry Stein remembers the “greatest scandal in American sports history”: “When eight members of the Chicago White Sox—known forever after as the Black Sox—threw the 1919 World Series.”
The story of Syria’s “secret” library: “In a region that sways ‘on the palm of a genie,’ as the Arabic saying goes, where bullets and explosions are more familiar than bread, you would not expect people to read, let alone to risk their lives for the sake of books. Yet in 2013 a group of enthusiastic readers in Daraya, five miles southwest of Damascus, salvaged thousands of books from ruined homes, wrapping them in blankets just as they would victims of the war raging around them. They brought the books into the basement of a building whose upper floors had been wrecked by bombs and set up a library. As Mike Thomson recounts this unlikely story in Syria’s Secret Library, this underground book collection surrounded by sandbags functioned, as one user put it, as an ‘oasis of normality in this sea of destruction.’ There, the self-appointed chief librarian, a 14-year-old named Amjad, would write down in a large file the names of people who borrowed the books, and then return to his seat to continue reading.”
Essay of the Day:
In The American Interest, Daniel Kennelly revisits Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. The novel is as prescient as ever:
“‘Miraculous’ seems like the most fitting word to describe the publication, 60 years ago, of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1959 post-apocalyptic science fiction classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz. Stitched together from three novellas originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Canticle traces the history of a Catholic monastery located in the American desert Southwest over three time periods beginning 600 years after a mid-20th-century nuclear war. The book’s three sections describe a span of about 1,200 years, roughly mirroring our own Dark Ages, Renaissance, and present day.
“The novel’s miraculous nature comes to us despite what we might call its maculate conception. For starters, it sprang forth, if not quite ex nihilo, then from what literary highbrows thought of as the backwater of pulp science fiction magazines. From there it went on to garner praise not only from genre fans, winning the 1961 Hugo Award, but also, slowly but steadily, mainstream praise and popularity, remaining in print continuously and selling millions of copies over the years. Catholics, too, have sung its praises for its thoughtful meditation on Original Sin and the fallenness of man—this despite the fact that its author, a self-professed ‘on-again, off-again’ Catholic who in his later years drifted toward Eastern religion and philosophy, had probably left the Church behind for good by the time he wrote it.
“The most miraculous thing about this book, however, is that it offers a profound critique of the extremists at either end of our so-called crisis of liberalism and serves as a stark reminder that these debates are nowhere near as new as some think. But to see how this is so, it helps to understand a few things about the book and how Miller came to write it.”
Photo: Frensham Pond
Poem: Jessica Hornik, “At Scargo Lake”
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