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In his first inaugural address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared, “So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

FDR was wrong. Far worse than nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror is nameless, unreasoning, unjustified optimism which leads to catastrophic blunders that would not have occurred if potential costs and risks had been properly weighed in advance. The greatest thing we have to fear is … optimism itself.

More… “Our Greatest Enemy: Optimism”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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This piece was originally published in our newly relaunched partner publication, Table Matters: a journal of food, drink, and manners.

Long before Garrison Keillor debuted A Prairie Home Companion in 1974, there were prairie home companions on the radio every day.

Prairies are vast flat lands populated by shrubs, grasses, and wild herbs, with few trees and modest rainfall; the dry land cracks and is often dusty. Not very hospitable. North and South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska are prairie states. California’s central valley and considerable portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and most of Minnesota are also thought of as prairieland. This part of America is also called, by some, The Heartland. Rarely, however, do the densely populated coasts of the country regard this vast mid-section of America as vital as that name might imply.

For many that migrated there in the 19th and early 20th century, it was their land of dreams. From 1836 to 1914, over 30 million Europeans immigrated to the United States. In the 19th century, people were encouraged to move out West. “Go West young man” was the clarion call put out by an Indiana newspaperman in 1851, and the slogan was picked up by Horace Greeley, New York Tribune editor and politician. Go West; many did. Among them were Germans, Slavs, Poles, Swedes, and Norwegians — immigrants who knew how to wrest life from hard soil. Like all immigrant groups, they carried their culture, their values, and their foodways with them.
More… “The Radio Homemaker”

Edward Bottone is an assistant teaching professor in the Culinary Arts program at Drexel University. He teaches classes in Culture and Gastronomy, French Cuisine and American Regional Cuisine, Food Styling & Photography, Food and Film and Continental, Regional and Ethnic Cuisine. Bottone is also the editor of Table Matters.

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Sometimes, when you really want to know what America is all about, you have to go to Belgium. Or so it would seem at the “American Documents” show at Antwerp’s FotoMuseum (FoMu). The star of the show is Walker Evans. You’re not going to get a whole lot of dissenters if you claim that American photography is dominated by the figure of Walker Evans.

“American Documents” Through September 5. FotoMuseum, Antwerp.

Evans got his start working for the government. The Great Depression was on and the WPA was in full swing. The Farm Security Administration was looking, in particular, for photographic documentation of what the Depression was doing to the American farmer. Fortune magazine was interested in the same thing and, famously, notoriously, sent the writer and critic James Agee along with Walker Evans to… More…

The populists are up in arms today about Wall Street moguls awarding themselves huge bonuses, but a little international economic collapse has never really stopped America’s super-rich from living it up. Take the Great Depression. Things were getting pretty rough for the masses: New York’s Central Park had become a shantytown known as “forgotten man’s gulch” — a haunted place to be, especially in the depths of winter. But the city’s super-rich, their wealth largely insulated from the crisis, valiantly rose above the tide of misery to celebrate ever-more incandescent and insensitive parties.

The keynote Manhattan event was the so-called “Fête Moderne,” a fancy dress ball hosted by the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects on January 26, 1931. As America’s unemployed froze on late-night food… More…