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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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A vocational test for atheist clergy.

DOUGLAS TODD [Vancouver Sun] — The trouble is [atheist-Unitarian “minister” Gretta] Vosper and supporters somehow think the “interventionist” God is the only God there is. If you reject their over-simplified understanding of this theology, they argue you have to be an atheist.

Nothing could be further from the way it is. There are many alternative understandings of God, and one umbrella term for them is panentheism. (Continued)

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Politics in Athens: Biker-chic and broke.

greek-bureaucratPETER COY [Bloomberg Businessweek] – The rest of Europe doesn’t want to hear what Greece has to say anymore. In vowing that he has the upper hand in negotiations, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sounds as detached from reality as the Iraqi information minister who promised Western reporters in 2003 that U.S. troops would be smashed by the forces of Saddam Hussein. Varoufakis is a bad-boy academic who likes showing up on a motorcycle and wagging his finger at the diplomats. Here’s Varoufakis again, this time from a Twitter message in April: “FDR, 1936: ‘They are unanimous in their hate for me; and I welcome their hatred.’ A quotation close to my heart (& reality) these days.” This needs to be about Greece, not Yanis. (Continued)

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Tweeting like Diogenes.

Passion with dignity: Being your best self on Facebook and Twitter.


diogenesh2oTEN YEARS AGO I began to blog. It was January 2005, and New York liberals like me were facing the gut-punch reality of the impending new Bush administration. Yes, George W. Bush—the president who sought to enshrine opposition to gay marriage in the United States Constitution during his first term. As marriage equality moves ever closer to reality today, it is worth remembering just how far we’ve traveled. (Continued)

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Art Basel: The fall of the Arab spring.

BEN LUKE [Art Newspaper] — “Arab Spring” (2014) [in the “Unlimited” section of Art Basel 2015] consists of 16 glass vitrines, empty but for stones that have shattered their glass; more boulders and bricks lie at the cabinets’ feet. The work was triggered by the plundering of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in 2011, and uses the same traditional display cabinets that were raided by the looters. (Continued)

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The Waterloo brand: Sideways hat, a big capital ‘N’, plus bees.

By CLAIRE WRATHALL [Christie’s Daily] — When Andrew Roberts’ masterly biography Napoleon the Great was published last autumn, Penguin’s art editor, Isabelle de Cat, intentionally eschewed portraits and images of battle scenes for its cover, opting instead for a large ‘N’ surrounded by an orderly swarm of golden bees. She was taking, she said at the time, ‘a symbolic approach, with the cover creating a sort of “brand” for Napoleon.’ (Continued)

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AWP: A ‘writers program’ that censors writers?

NATIONAL COALITION AGAINST CENSORSHIP [website release] — In a bizarre and counterproductive attempt to escape controversy, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) ousted poet Vanessa Place from a 2016 conference subcommittee because one of her creative projects was attacked as “racially insensitive.”

The project in question is a Twitter feed of the text of Gone With the Wind accompanied by a profile image of Hattie McDaniel, the actress famous for her portrayal of Mammy in the 1940 film. The goal, according to Place’s artistic statement, was to “show the inherent whiteness behind the blackface,” pushing the racism contained within the words to the forefront. (Continued)

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O the humanities!

By BROCK READ [The Chronicle of Higher Education] — There are plenty of reasons why disciplinary societies’ annual job reports can’t give us a bulletproof, thoroughgoing sense of the labor markets in their fields. For one thing, the reports draw from job boards—like the Modern Language Association’s Job Information List or the American Historical Association’s Career Center—that have competitors. (One job, no study logging it.) For another, jobs with an interdisciplinary bent might get cross-posted on multiple boards. (One job, several studies logging it.) (Continued)

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Christians thanking their Islamic murderers.

By KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ [National Review] —Beshir Kamel, brother of both Bishoy Astafanus Kamel, who was 25, and Somaily Astafanus Kamel, who was 23, thanked their murderers for not editing out the name of their Savior when disseminating the video of their beheadings.

Appearing on an Arabic Christian television station, Kamel said that the families of the men, laborers who were working in Libya in order to provide for their families — 13 of them from the same small, impoverished village — were congratulating one another. “We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs,” he explained. (Continued)

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Fun with unemployment numbers in America.

By JIM CLIFTON [Gallup] — Right now, we’re hearing much celebrating from the media, the White House and Wall Street about how unemployment is “down” to 5.6%. The cheerleading for this number is deafening. The media loves a comeback story, the White House wants to score political points and Wall Street would like you to stay in the market. (Continued)

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Aram Saroyan: ‘I should interview Rod McKuen…’

McKuen with Poe

…at Poe’s grave in Baltimore. Left to right: Pam Plymell, Rod McKuen, Paul Grillo, Charles Plymell, Liz Plymell seated. (Image: courtesy Pam Plymell/Cherry Valley Editions.)

By ARAM SAROYAN [The Nervous Breakdown] — In the winter of 1976, I committed the professional and personal faux pas of giving a poetry reading with Rod McKuen. It took place at the Veterans Auditorium in downtown San Francisco and was supposed to be a benefit for the San Francisco State University poetry program. Lewis MacAdams, my friend and fellow resident of Bolinas, the radical seacoast town at the western edge of Marin County, was just then employed as director of the program. I had wanted a reading in that year’s series, of course, but Lewis and I were poetry competitors as well as friends. (I should say that poets, generally perceived as ivory tower dreamers and underpaid to the point of extinction, are among the most vainglorious and unforgiving in the matter of readings, appointments, anthologies, and the like, none of it amounting to a hill of beans.) In the months prior to the McKuen/Saroyan slate being set, my suspicion was that Lewis wasn’t going to include me on his schedule of readers, and this despite all the stuff I’d published recently, including full-page poems in Rolling Stone, New Age, The Village Voice, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. (Continued)

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Awards for nodes: UK poetry prizes.

By DAVID-ANTOINE WILLIAMS [The Life of Words] — Below I have three network graphs representing the nominees and winners between 2010 and 2014 of the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Forward Prize (Best Collection category), and the Griffin Prize, where the judges and nominees are poets based in the UK or Ireland. There are 174 nominations in those five years, shared among 61 individuals. Because the TSE prize has the most nominations and all judges are usually poets, it accounts for 129 of the 174 nominations. (Continued)

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Killing cartoonists for Allah.

WHAT DRIVES CERTAIN people to kill cartoonists as an act of faith? Two views:

By SALMAN RUSHDIE [English PEN via WSJ] — Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today….

Continued at The Wall Street Journal |

By GEORGE PACKER [The New Yorker] —The murders today in Paris are not a result of France’s failure to assimilate two generations of Muslim immigrants from its former colonies. They’re not about French military action against the Islamic State in the Middle East, or the American invasion of Iraq before that. They’re not part of some general wave of nihilistic violence in the economically depressed, socially atomized, morally hollow West—the Paris version of Newtown or Oslo. Least of all should they be “understood” as reactions to disrespect for religion on the part of irresponsible cartoonists. (Continued)

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