Fathom Mag

Conduits of Conversation

The Fathom editors discuss their thoughts and findings this week.

Published on:
February 8, 2017
Read time:
14 min.
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How many US presidents owned slaves? Five. The answer is five: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson. Clint Smith, poet and doctoral student at Harvard, wrote a letter to all five of them. As part of black history month, watch him recite it and be reminded how important it is to embrace a more complicated view of history.

Kelsey Hency, editor-in-chief

Have you heard that turmeric is the new superfood? I am a Bon Appétit fangirl. And I’ve always loved the annual “healthy-ish” issue. It’s half-hearted resolutions meets foodie requirements. Now there’s an Instagram account to go with it. Follow along and you’ll be craving something high in antioxidants in no time.

Does the mystery of life matter? The pro-life stance, as it relates to abortion, is multifaceted. There are no fewer than six things I love about this article on why pro-lifers focus so much on abortion. My very favorite thing in Matthew Lee Anderson’s article is his explanation of one thing that’s always been felt by pro-lifers but rarely articulated: wonder. Here’s a preview: “The recognition of the ‘baby’ induces a hushed reverence. The universe once appeared out of nothing, a fact that reasonably seems to induce the strange vertigo of awe, but the formation of a new human being is not so different from this.”

“Letter to five presidents who owned slaves while they were in office”

Do you know that Joe S. Vásquez isn’t into the refugee ban? What? You’ve never heard of Bishop Vásquez? Me neither. Not until I went looking for the names of religious leaders less than thrilled about Trump’s executive order regarding refugees. Joe S. Vásquez is the chairman of the committee on migration for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. You’ll know his name and those of a few more Christian leaders worth keeping up with in this New York Times article.

Valentine’s day, love it or hate it? Valentine’s day is upon us. Some of you hate the holiday as a matter of principle. But me, I don’t care if Hallmark paid to commercialize it, I will be pro-champagne and chocolate covered strawberries every February 14 until the day I die. Here are some ideas for that Valentine’s day date you haven’t quite planned yet.


Trying to reach inbox zero? My two favorite things ever are hitting the unsubscribe button at the bottom of emails and deleting spam from my inbox. Now I am really starting to rethink both of those things as I watched two videos from James Veitch on replying to spam and the agony of trying to unsubscribe.

Jonathan Minnema, managing editor

Sucked into The Bachelor? I’m not going to lie, so I watched the first five minutes of the first episode of this season of The Bachelor. And I was absolutely hooked. Since then I haved watched every episode of this season. But the only strange thing is that I have such pity for the girls on the show. Most of them are so nice and really just looking for a lasting relationship that I feel worse and worse for them the longer they are on the show. I think the ones who get off early are lucky. Their attachment to Nick (who I’m not a huge fan of) will be lessened and their heartbreak will be assuaged quicker. And the show sets them up for failure too. It’s like a huge honeymoon. And when reality sets in after the bachelor it might be hard to deal with. But holy smokes is it fun to watch. It’s like The Hunger Games. And Alexis (Jersey pride) is so hilarious. Nick is stupid for sending her home.

Amazon Studios

Is the day-to-day monotony worth living for? I also watched the movie Paterson (Jersey pride again) and freaking loved it. It was actually boring halfway through as it tracks through Paterson’s (the main character who also works in the town of Paterson) day-to-day life as a bus driver, but the end made it so good. It showed how monotonous life can be and how miserable it can be, but doing things you love make it easier to cope with. I’d highly recommend it.

What should I read? My reading life has been slow as of late. I am looking for a really great book to start reading, so if anyone has any suggestions give me a shout or email me. I’m serious. I fully expect my inbox to have hundreds of suggested novels.

Also, listen to the La La Land soundtrack. It’s been on repeat in my office for like a month straight.


How costly is unclear language? I’ve been thinking a lot about how much damage we do by being unclear. A few weeks ago, I read a Harvard Business Review article on how unproductive bad writing can be. Have you ever had to send another email to someone because they misread your first one? You could almost put a dollar figure on the time lost because of vague writing. Language is sloppy, and sloppy language can really hurt people. This leads me to my next thought.

Brandon Giella, content editor

Is mediocrity sinful? When we’re being lazy because we’re not fully reading that email that just came in, or when we’re trying to be “just good enough” for something we’re working on, is that a sin? Is God pleased when we’re striving for less than perfection? “Be perfect, for your heavenly Father is perfect”—that’s a command from Jesus (Matthew 5:48). A phrase has been bouncing around my head for a week: “Better, not faster.” Is striving for perfection, and thus being a little more critical, such a bad thing after all? No one built anything by just being average. This leads me to my next thought.

How nice is too nice? Editors are trained to be critics, but is there such a thing as being too critical? There’s an argument in publishing, one that’s as relevant in editorial meetings as it is in life, on the death of the hatchet job. It used to be that the critic’s job was to be the gate by which only The Good passed, that they were the eyes of society to frame conversations and point others in the proper direction, but now it seems they’re just being too nice to each other. Could this be the same with your friend’s blog or your relationship with your roommates? Can we afford a little more bite in our judgment?

“Death of the hatchet job”
Illustration by Cameron Law, The New Statesman

Are you watering your imagination? A friend went to a photography conference and repeated something she heard there: Your creativity is like a garden. You have to take care of it and water it, nurturing and pruning, or it will die. It made me think about my own dryness these past few weeks, my lack of reading and writing. You have to nurture your imagination, especially if you’re a creative. Keep me accountable on that front.

Can we stop protesting? The protest culture in America is bordering on tedious. It’s exhausting. Just last night my friend read an email he got from his uncle, referencing some protest about Trump, that they’re valuing “people over hate.” It’s one of those boring and meaningless slogans political types paint on signs that’s just clever enough to be remembered, but little else. It makes me think, too, of a Slate article Christopher Hitchens wrote after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting describing the “national sob fest” and how everyone is on “permanent weepy-watch.” Granted, it’s a merciless article and there are a whole host of complexities in all these issues, but that’s just the thing: the tweets and signs aren’t able to give a voice to the unimaginable complexity surrounding these debates. And everyone seems to be a victim and co-feeler in every issue from all over the world’s newsfeeds, and I’m running out of empathy. Am I the only one? Let me know.


Drew Fitzgerald, media director

Need some new music? I am a big fan of Chris Thile, from his work with Nickel Creek through his album of J. S. Bach sonatas and partitas. His newest album, Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, is a compilation of mandolin and piano duets that is really beautiful. Start with “Independence Day.”

Who the heck is Sturgill Simpson? The Grammys created an uproar when they nominated Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth for Album of the Year. Most people had never heard his name, but it’s about time everyone learned. His SNL debut was one of the best live performances the show has seen in years.

What is a person? Desiring God and Humble Beast partnered to explore the question “What is a person?

What are you doing this weekend? I try every year to watch all of the Academy Awards’ Best Picture nominees. It’s a great snapshot of our culture and good excuse to watch what Hollywood deems their best.

Fruit soup? Try something new. Blueberry soup is a traditional Scandinavian winter snack eaten to warm up after cross country skiing. It’s healthy, easy to make, and—most importantly—delicious. Try pouring it over some yogurt and granola for breakfast.

What would a wizard say about the global trend of nationalism? “‘I never could stomach these nationalists,’ he exclaimed. ‘The destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.’” —Merlyn, The Once and Future King by T. H. White

Cover image by Clem Onojeghuo.