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The Ebola in your future.

By SCOTT GOTTLIED and TEVI TROY [from The Wall Street Journal] — The World Health Organization’s failed response to the Ebola crisis shows anew that the group is more a politically minded policy-making body than a relief agency. The WHO claims that it lacked the resources to respond to Ebola, but while the outbreak was spiraling out of control in West Africa, the organization had plenty of time and money to mount an international campaign to combat what it flagged last month as a “grave concern.” Not Ebola, but electronic cigarettes. Continue reading “The Ebola in your future.” »

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The secret life of figs.

By GERRY CORDON [ from That’s How the Light Gets In] — THE FIG VARIETIES grown in Britain (like our Brown Turkey)  develop fruit develop without flowers or  the need for pollination. That’s helpful, since we don’t have any fig wasps here to do the pollinating.  Because the remarkable thing about figs is that the flowers are inside the fruitlets that develop like little buds on the stems.  Elsewhere in the world, the flowers inside the fruitlets must be pollinated by a female fig wasp (a creature that lives for only two days) which must enter the fruitlet via a tiny opening at its apex.  The female wasp then proceeds to pollinate the stigmas of the fig before exiting the fig in search of other young receptive figs to complete the cycle. Once the fig wasp has left the fig, it ripens. Continue reading “The secret life of figs.” »

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Scottish independence — as seen from Orkney.


‘Man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens. I, for my part, from the nature of my life, advanced infallibly in one direction and in one direction only.’ —Hyde, of Edinburgh

‘bt w’re aa kenyans at da end o’t.’ —Derick fae Yell

Image: Scottish Republican Socialist web page.A PAIR OF elaborate monuments frames St Rognvald’s Chapel at the east end of St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. Magnus was canonised in 1133, and his cathedral was begun in 1137, at the initiative of Rognvald (‘Ronald’), Magnus’s nephew. It’s thought that English masters (architects) and masons who had worked at Durham Cathedral and Dunfermline Abbey were employed in construction of the first phases of St Magnus Cathedral.

St Magnus - choir. ‘The choir, which is the earliest part, is the finest Romanesque work north of Durham, which inspired it’.1 To the north side of the apsidal altar is a monument to William Balfour Baikie, and to the south, another commemorating John Rae. Between them, on the central altar, an open copy of Scripture, in Norwegian, the pages turned each day, and next it, a rather fine model ‘Viking’ long ship. There is a (male) poets and scholars’ corner here too, with one space vacant, top right. The fusion of diverse cultures and connections within this east end is formidable, moving yet bizarre, intensely masculinist; Mary is not present, perhaps purged during Reformation. Continue reading “Scottish independence — as seen from Orkney.” »

  1. Stewart Cruden, ‘The Founding and Building of the Twelfth-Century Cathedral of St Magnus’, 78–87, 79, in Barbara A. Crawford (ed.), St Magnus Cathedral and Orkney’s Twelfth-Century Renaissance (Aberdeen UP, 1988).
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How seven candlesticks beat four horsemen.

By MARY ELIZABETH PODLES [Touchstone] — What is it that makes Dürer’s image so compelling? Partly it is his mastery of the woodcut medium, even though it is at best an intractable one. In order to lock into the press and print with typeface, each line in the woodcut must be raised in relief. That is, all of the area that prints as white must be cut away by the artisan’s knife, leaving behind narrow raised ridges that hold the ink and print as black lines.

Durer: Seven Golden CandlesticksIn the early days of printing, most woodcuts were no more skillfully done than Koberger’s. But Dürer, who trained with his father as a goldsmith and only later turned to art, transformed the language of the medium and made a new range of effects possible. Dürer drew with a broad-nibbed pen directly on the pearwood block, and, at the beginning, he was probably the only one skilled enough to cut his own designs.

By the time Dürer composed and cut the Vision of the Seven Candlesticks, he had gained full mastery of the woodcut line and its possibilities. He was able to make exact renderings and multiple copies of his autograph drawings: we, in the age of the Xerox machine, fail to realize the revolutionary impact of the early print media. From Dürer onward, printing would never be the same. Continue reading “How seven candlesticks beat four horsemen.” »

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Women telling men what to do.

From The Daily Telegraph —Today the Church will vote again on whether women should be raised to the episcopate. It has a new leader, the Most Rev Justin Welby, and it seems right that the General Synod should look once more at the issue. Of course, the principled views of opponents have to be taken in account, both those on the Anglo-Catholic wing and the sizeable group of conservative evangelicals. It is encouraging that new, simpler arrangements have been put in place so that minorities can be accommodated, with bishops being trusted to look after their own dioceses. And those involved say that the mediation sessions that took place earlier in the year were friendly and trusting.

It is not for us to tell the Church what to do, but all who wish it well would surely like to see this long disagreement settled. It’s true that the Church looks to a higher authority than the whims of contemporary society when making decisions, and opponents of women bishops in the Synod will have come to their view after careful thought. But Anglicans are pragmatic people: many will feel that having agreed to permit women priests in 1992, allowing women bishops is the next logical step. On the whole, people who worship at their local church on Sundays are happy to have women as their vicars; something that once seemed unthinkable and extraordinary now seems normal. The rest of the population, who may not be regular worshippers but who retain a deep affection for the institution, will be of a similar mind.

Continue reading “Women telling men what to do.” »

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John XXIII and the Cold War.


roncalliON SUNDAY, 27 April, Pope Francis presided over the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. When Angelo Cardinal Roncalli, the Patriarch of Venice and a former Vatican diplomat, was elected pope on 28 October 1958 at age 76, both Time magazine and the New York Herald-Tribune dismissed the assumption that he would just be a “caretaker” pope. During his short papacy (1958-1963), John XXIII earned considerable acclaim, including from non-Catholics (and even a few anti-Catholics), for supporting peace and nuclear disarmament, improving relations with Jews and other religious groups, and convening the historic Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). As the second Cold War-era pope, John XXIII’s attitudes toward the Soviet Union and communism continue to be misunderstood. Continue reading “John XXIII and the Cold War.” »

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How to start a book: write the ending first.

By VYVYAN HOLLAND [Harper’s Bazaar via Anthony Howell Journal] — What is the urge that makes anyone want to write? Is it divine inspiration? Is it the desire for self-expression? I often feel it is merely a hankering after immortality. And yet a well-known author once confessed to me that the reason he wrote was because he admired his own handwriting so much that the mere tracing of the letters gave him a feeling of creation. It is a curious fact that authors have either extremely good or extremely bad handwriting. The worst hand-writing I ever came across was that of the late Professor George Saintsbury, who wrote so many good books on both English and French literature and, incident­ally, one of the best books on wine ever written, in his Notes from a Cellar Book. His hand-writing was so bad that no-one could read it, and he was eventually persuaded to buy an old typewriter and to learn how to use it. However, this did not really improve matters very much, because in the course of its vicissitudes the typewriter had lost its letter “E.” Nothing daunted, the Professor put an “x” wherever an “e” was needed, so that a word like “exceeding” started “xxcxx.” Continue reading “How to start a book: write the ending first.” »

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The cover-letter as manifesto.

By DANIEL BOSCH [3am Magazine] — Writers who are truly honest about art and pedagogy admit that most of the time both end in failure. At the Bauhaus this fact was bedrock, not pillow-talk: the curriculum was designed around honest play with materials.

I believe a Bauhaus-type approach might help lead to needed reform in the teaching of creative writing. So in a cover letter I submitted in application for the directorship of an MFA program, I proposed a play-based curriculum focused on fundamental “materials”, mandatory cross-genre study, eschewal of contemporary readings, avoidance of cults of personality, use of the full range of grades, unplugging of the phrase “terminal” degree, and more…

THE BAUHAUS CURRICULUM demanded three years of intense coursework under different artist-teachers in such areas as presentation and design; color, composition & space; and “nature study,” (in literary training, these might be courses in Book & E-Book; Space on Stage and in Story; Prologues; Lines; Low Comedy; Images; and Writing from Life) each segment of which was conceived as necessary preliminary training and thus the basis for later workshop courses in the distinct practices associated with materials such as Glass, Metal, Wood, Stone, etc. (In a literary curriculum on this model, the penultimate inner ring might consist of seminars or workshops in specific sub-genres such as Personal Essay, Three-Act Play, Realistic Prose Narrative, Verse Monologue.) Continue reading “The cover-letter as manifesto.” »

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America’s Middle-earth.

By MICHAEL DIRDA [Washington Post] — In the East Coast imagination, the Midwest is populated largely by hicks, and life there is about as exciting as a field of corn. Instead of having a vital, rewarding career as, say, chief assistant to the assistant chief in the personnel department of the Federal Bureau of This or That, Midwesterners plow fields, work in factories and mills, operate small businesses. They belong to the Grange or the Rotarians, go in for church suppers and community singing. Most of them, of course, physically resemble the stern, homespun couple in Grant Wood ’s “American Gothic.” Garrison Keillor is their laureate. Their idea of a good time is a Saturday night hoedown. Continue reading “America’s Middle-earth.” »

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John Tavener’s memory eternal.

From Guardian Music [The Guardian] – TAVENER’S TURN TO a world of spirituality, via the Russian Orthodox church, was the inspiration for much of his music of the late 1970s onwards, and it produced a whole series of works of celestial simplicity and often heavenly length: longest of all his seven-hour dusk-to-dawn vigil, The Veil of the Temple, composed in 2003. Continue reading “John Tavener’s memory eternal.” »

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Looking for a word for ‘European cultural identity’.

By UMBERTO ECO [L’Espresso via PressEurop] — “I learned that Robert de Saint-Loup was killed two days after his return to the front, covering the retreat of his men. Never had any man fed less on hatred of a whole people than he […]. The last words I had heard from his mouth, six days earlier, were those that began a song by Schumann, which he hummed to me on my stairs, in German; but because of the neighbours, I had to shut him up.” Continue reading “Looking for a word for ‘European cultural identity’.” »

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In the future, ‘the rise of bloodthirsty brotherhoods’ and ‘the total eclipse of all values’.

By TOM WOLFE – [Transcribed interview with Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge] — ‘You can see right now there are so many people who have essentially have become Atheists. Less in the US than in Europe, incidentally. And, you know, Nietzsche predicted all of this, he said, when he had his famous—probably the most famous statement ever in modern philosophy—’God is dead’. Which was not an Atheist manifesto, although he was Atheist, it was a warning. He said that educated, well-to-do people—he’s talking about Europe—no longer believe in God. And the result is not going to be what you think. The result is going to be a demoralisation in which Europeans will sort of stumble osteoparodically, through the twentieth century and then a century of—he’s writing in 1885, now-—a century of wars such have never been fought before. The rise of bloodthirsty brotherhoods. They don’t believe in God, they just believe in taking whatever they can. Continue reading “In the future, ‘the rise of bloodthirsty brotherhoods’ and ‘the total eclipse of all values’.” »

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The L-word, literally speaking.

By GLEN NEWEY [London Review of Books] – People are upset that new lexicons, shaped by web usage, have allowed that fine old English word ‘literally’ to be debased. These complaints have a venerable lineage. They worry that ‘literally’ no longer means only ‘literally’ but signals hyperbole, as in: ‘The restroom attendant was like, literally, the size of a whale.’ We infer the guy was fat, or big. Then the L-word lies to hand, for the smartass reply: ‘Really, literally? I mean, how did he get into the restroom?’ Continue reading “The L-word, literally speaking.” »

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Elmore Leonard: ‘Never say more than is necessary.’


JUST HEARD THAT Elmore Leonard died [20 August 2013]. He was one of my favorite writers and his dialogue influenced me when I went to work on Hill Street Blues. The terseness, the irony, the way he caught a character in one sentence or gesture — not to mention the humor.

I discovered him when I was a journalist in England doing a story on the making of Rollerball (the first good Rollerball). I had to interview Jimmy Caan, but he was busy so I had some time to kill. I went to the book store and found this novel which I think was Unknown Man Number 89. (Though now that I think back on it the English title may have been Ryan’s Rules) There were many crime novels to choose from but the name Elmore Leonard was so interesting I picked the book up and read the first page. Continue reading “Elmore Leonard: ‘Never say more than is necessary.’” »

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In politics, the ‘primary role’ of violence.

By BENJAMIN GINSBERG [Chronicle of Higher Education] — Some writers see violence as an instrument of politics. Thomas Hobbes regarded violence as a rational means to achieve such political goals as territory, safety, and glory. Carl von Clausewitz famously referred to war as the continuation of politics by other means. A second group of writers view violence as a result of political failure and miscalculation. The title of an influential paper on the origins of the American Civil War by the historian James Randall, “The Blundering Generation,” expresses that idea. A third group, most recently exemplified by the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, regards violence as a pathological behavior that is diminishing in frequency with the onward march of civilization. Some proponents of that perspective have even declared that violence is essentially a public-health problem. Whatever their differences, each of these perspectives assigns violence a subordinate role in political life. Continue reading “In politics, the ‘primary role’ of violence.” »

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