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On the lookout for agency and ambition.

By JOSEPH EPSTEIN [Wall Street Journal] — [Ronald] Syme was a master of the brief character sketch, not infrequently followed by a sharp observation. The mixture of good and evil in the same people fascinated him. After toting up Marcus Antonius’ many flaws, he writes that “a blameless life is not the whole of virtue, and inflexible rectitude may prove a menace to the Commonwealth.” Cicero, he says, “had lent his eloquence to all political causes in turn, was sincere in one thing only, loyalty to the established order. His past career showed that he could not be depended on for action or statesmanship.” (Continued)

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The new Lord of the Ring is, appropriately, French.

First we burn her alive, then we steal her jewelry. Wait until ‘Women’s Hour’ hears about this.

bandedarcBy MARTIN BAILEY [Art Newspaper] —The French buyer of the Joan of Arc ring is defying the UK authorities, saying that he did not need an export licence. “The ring has returned to France and here it will stay,” declared Philippe de Villiers, the founder of the Puy du Fou historical theme park, speaking at a ceremony to mark the return of the relic at Puy du Fou, near Nantes, on 20 March. (Continued)

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Clash of the intellectual titans.

By POPE FRANCIS [via Pantheos/CNS News] — Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.

More at Pantheos (Continued)

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The mastery of the suicide bomber.


As for our enemies, shouldn’t we restrict
Their freedom of expression, scandalised
When they advocate violence that costs them
Their lives since it flies in the teeth
Of the violence we mete out from some
Invulnerable height?

—From a poem by the author.

IT OCCURS TO ME that there is a paradigmatic relationship between drones and suicide bombers. In his chapter on “Lordship and Bondage” in The Phenomenology of Spirit, Georg Hegel wrote:

… it is only through staking one’s life that freedom is won; only thus is it proved that for self-consciousness, its essential consciousness is not (just) being, not the immediate form in which it appears, nor its emergence in the expanse of life, but rather that there is nothing present in it which could not be regarded as a vanishing moment, that is pure being-for-self. The individual who has not risked his life may well be recognised as a person, but he has not attained to the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness.

For Hegel, writing in the midst of the Napoleonic wars, the master is one who is prepared to die for his cause, while the one who is not prepared to take this risk, whose consciousness accepts bondage rather than loss of life, will inevitably become enslaved. (Continued)

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Who is to blame for the attacks in Paris?

By MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ [New York Times] — France will hold on. The French will hold on, without even needing a “sursaut national,” a national pushback reflex. They’ll hold on because there’s no other way, and because you get used to everything. No human force, not even fear, is stronger than habit. (Continued)

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Can Islam be Westernized?

By SAMUEL GREGG [Public Discourse] — In our time, three phenomena tend to come to mind when considering Europe’s contemporary problems. One is the economic difficulties troubling not only small European nations, such as Greece and Portugal, but also large countries, such as Italy and France. The second is the influx of migrants likely to continue sweeping across Europe’s borders over the next few years. As the Paris atrocities have demonstrated, no amount of political correctness can disguise the fact that the migration issue cannot be separated from the problem of Islamist terrorism. And that raises a third matter, which is on everyone’s mind but which few European leaders seem willing to address in any comprehensive way: is the Islamic religion, taken on its own terms, compatible with the values and institutions of Western culture? (Continued)

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With Republicans, it’s over when it starts.

By HARRY STEIN [City Journal] — Where liberals, smugly certain of their moral righteousness, assume history’s arc will bend their way, Mets fans like us know better. Never do we take winning as our due. Nor, needless to say, (damn those Wilpons!) do we throw money at problems. Yet still we stick, prizing loyalty above all other virtues. Indeed, even when we know the Mets Establishment is lying through its teeth—behind closed doors, sneering where are they gonna go, to the Yankees?—we accept the shameless duplicity with weary resignation, for it only confirms our worldview. As Peggy Noonan wrote of the reaction of “hard-core movement types” to the slights they regularly suffered at the hands of moderates in the Reagan White House: “More proof of human perfidy! More proof of the ugliness at the core of the human heart!” (Continued)

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Caution: books may trigger uncomfortable thoughts.

By GREG LUKIANOFF and JONATHAN HAIDT [The Atlantic] — Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. (Continued)

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Polls: Ferguson’s anger isn’t shared by most black Americans.

By FRANK NEWPORT [Gallup] — August 3: PRINCETON, N.J. — Despite the significant public attention on confrontations between black citizens and police in Missouri, Maryland and New York over the past year, blacks in 2015 express virtually the same opinions about being mistreated by police as they did in 2013. This year, 18% of adult blacks say there has been an occasion the last 30 days when they personally felt they were treated unfairly in dealings with police, which is virtually the same as the 17% recorded in 2013. This is down from as high as 25% in 2004… (Continued)

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Coherence in teaching: An idea so crazy it just might work.

But why would any student spend tens of thousands of dollars and, rather than see the world in all its aspects, instead spend his time being indoctrinated and immersed in the prejudices of the current culture and the opinions of his tendentious professors? The job of teachers is to liberate minds, not capture them. (Continued)

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Planned Parenthood’s modest proposal.

By KATHLEEN PARKER [Washington Post] — In his satirical solution to Ireland’s prolific poor, especially among Catholics whose fish diet was thought to enhance fertility, Jonathan Swift suggested a new menu item: Succulent 1-year-olds for dinner.

His essay “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country . . . ” was intended to shake up the English and remind them that the Irish were, in fact, human beings. This took quite a while to sink in. (Continued)

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The varieties of secular belief: Academic superiority.

By BRANDON BUSTEED [Gallup] — There are many ways that lifelong learning could be measured. One way is by asking activity-based questions such as how many books or articles someone reads, whether they do research on the Internet, visit a library, have a conversation with someone from a foreign country, engage in debates about important issues with their friends, or cast an informed vote in an election, etc. Decades of Gallup research about what it means to be engaged in your work and thriving in your overall well-being suggests there is a simple but powerful measure of lifelong learning — to ask the direct question: “Do you learn something new or interesting every day?” It’s highly likely that a person doing any of the activity-based measures of learning described above would most certainly agree with this statement. (Continued)

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The varieties of secular belief: ‘antiracism’.

By JOHN McWHORTER [Daily Beast] — To someone today making sense of the Nacirema [“American” backwards — ed.], the category of person who, roughly, reads the New York Times and the New Yorker and listens to NPR would be a deeply religious person indeed, but as an Antiracist. This is good in some ways—better than most are in a position to realize. This is also bad in other ways – worse than most are in a position to realize. (Continued)

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Spender’s last take.

 Stephen Spender, 20 years later


spenderBUENOS AIRES, 16 July 2015 – It was twenty years ago on one of those glorious Summer days when England has a knack for living, that the poet Sir Stephen Harold Spender died, aged 86. It was on Sunday, 16 July 1995, the day before Juan Manuel Fangio, Argentina’s five times world motor racing champion died, aged 84. In two days two gentle men had died. They were witnesses of a century who had lived at opposite extremes of speed.

Pardon the apparent oxymoron, but it was what immediately came to mind.   I was back in Argentina when Sir Stephen died and the first thing recalled was his answer to my question about what he knew of Buenos Aires. He had once made a brief visit, courtesy of the British Council. His had been a parting comment, probably during a meeting at Index on Censorship magazine, of which he was one of the founders in 1972. Spender replied that he had read Jorge Luis Borges and he admired Fangio, because they both seemed “very clever and very gentle men”. He was right, of course. (Continued)

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Why we called it ‘Charm City’.

TIM KREIDER [New York Times] — H. L. Mencken once wrote that Baltimore was known up and down the East Coast for the excellence of its food, the pulchritude of its women and the genteel charm of its domestic life — all of which, sadly, reads like a joke now. Like Sodom and Hiroshima, it is a city best known for its destruction. The Baltimore where I reeled around drunkenly for years, and got hassled by the cops exactly once — for impersonating a deity — was White Baltimore, which, if mapped, would look like a tenuous network of interconnected nodes laid over the terra incognita where the majority of the city’s inhabitants lived their lives. That other Baltimore, hungry and disenfranchised and heavily armed, written off by politicians, pushed around by the cops and called animals on the Internet, was always a block away. (Continued)

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