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Friday roundup: Five things worth paying attention to this week

7.31. 2020 Posted By: Gordon Houser

Here are five things worth paying attention to this week. These are designed to expose you to a perspective you may not normally come across in your daily lives.

1. Climate change reporting: This from Despite the hellish intensity of the present news cycle, we continue to see outstanding climate journalism. Beat reporters—including at Earther, Grist and HEATED, Emily Atkin’s climate newsletter—are doing sterling work, as ever. Major news organizations have made room for enterprising climate reporting, too. This month, Time magazine published a special issue under the strapline, “ONE LAST CHANCE”; its cover illustration, by the artist and scientist Jill Pelto, incorporated climate-trend data—average global temperature, land ice and more—into an image of a mountain and the ocean. Justin Worland wrote in an accompanying story that 2020 is a “defining year” for the planet. “Will a newfound respect for science and a fear of future shocks lead us to finally wake up,” he asked, “or will the desire to return to normal overshadow the threats lurking just around the corner?”

2. First Cow, directed by Kelly Reichardt, is one of this year’s best films so far. Walking in the Pacific Northwest woods, a woman and her dog uncover two skeletons, lying side by side. The rest of this mesmerizing film takes us back almost 200 years to tell the story of the two men whose bones lie there. Reichardt’s films employ a minimalist style and include common, working-class people. They are not Hollywood blockbusters. In First Cow (and yes, a cow is important), she immerses viewers in the difficult life of people in the Oregon territory trying to find their fortunes trapping beaver or finding gold. The details feel authentic. The two men meet in a strange circumstance, but a friendship develops that is gentle and understated. There is also a subtle message about capitalism depending on theft. It’s a film that stays with you.

3. Athlete A, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, streaming on Netflix, is a powerful documentary. It reports the decades of sexual abuse of young girls and women by Larry Nassar and the coverup of that abuse by USA Gymnastics. The Indianapolis Star broke the story, aided by courageous gymnasts who came forward. It exposes the culture of a sport that encourages competing while injured and submitting to harsh training. I confess to cheering Kerri Strug in the 1996 Olympics when she performed the vault with an injured leg that gave the United States the gold medal. The film serves as a cautionary tale about the place of sports in our culture.

4. Speaking Peace in a Climate of Change by Marilyn McEntyre is yet another excellent resource from an author I’ve enjoyed reading for her careful attention to language. Here she offers advice about defining terms, unmasking euphemisms, promoting poetry, articulating outrage, minding metaphors and more. She writes that defining terms, for example, is “a social responsibility and a spiritual discipline.” Oh that we all treated our use of language with this much care.

5. Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mantel, while published in 2014, has a particular resonance today. It’s set in the Great Lakes region at a time when a pandemic of swine flu has wiped out 99% of the Earth’s population. I’d been meaning to read this well-received book (it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for 2015) for some time and finally got around to it. The Canadian author writes well, with complex characters, and develops poignant themes in her understated telling of a major catastrophe.

Gordon Houser is editor of The Mennonite.

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