Essays

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When the Past is Always Present - Al Majalla.

Essays 2011

Personal Stories. Nelson Mandela's Legacy. Ever since Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa after winning his country’s first democratic elections in April 1994, the national anthem has consisted of two songs spliced—not particularly mellifluously—together.

Nelson Mandela's Legacy

One is “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” or “God Bless Africa,” sung at black protest rallies during the forty-six years between the rise and fall of apartheid. The other is “Die Stem,” (“The Call”), the old white anthem, a celebration of the European settlers’ conquest of Africa’s southern tip. In Which We Consider The Macabre Unpleasantness Of Roald Dahl. Angry Man by ALEX CARNEVALE The stories are brilliant and the imagination is fabulous.

In Which We Consider The Macabre Unpleasantness Of Roald Dahl

Unfortunately, there is, in all of them, an underlying streak of cruelty and macabre unpleasantness, and a curiously adolescent emphasis on sex.- Noel Coward Everyone knows Roald Dahl's last novel Matilda, his seemingly pro-female examination of a talented young girl oppressed by the provincialism of her parents. I Love You Christopher Hitchens, You Irritating Bastard. Christopher Hitchens, along with Robert Hughes and Spy magazine's Michèle Bennett, first started me imagining that I would like someday to be a journalist and critic.

I Love You Christopher Hitchens, You Irritating Bastard

These jaundiced observers of the follies of the late 1980s and early 1990s had in common an elegant style of attack, and a positive relish in the peppering, roasting, carving and dishing up of sacred cows. Hughes, by far the most scholarly of the three, went on to produce magnificent books and documentaries (and to survive the terrible injuries he sustained in a super-hairy car crash in 1999); Bennett's true identity has never been revealed, but I hope he or she is thriving, and writing still. I like to imagine I've been enjoying the Bennett oeuvre all along, under some other august byline.

But Christopher Hitchens! Ach, Christopher Hitchens. Our Lives Are Not What We Think. Last week I asked the readers a simple question: Where are you right now in your life, at this exact moment?

Our Lives Are Not What We Think

I tried not to lead people to answer in any particular way, just to share the moment they’re in and how they felt about it. I was blown away by the response. So many colorful little corners of time and space. Philip Gould: 'If you accept death, fear disappears' Philip Gould is boiling the kettle, chatting casually about football, when he says something that chokes me.

Philip Gould: 'If you accept death, fear disappears'

"You know, this period of death is astonishing. " The once-imposing spin doctor looks terrible – cheeks hollowed, jeans unfilled, hair lank, a tube inserted into his stomach to feed him – but is talking with such tenderness, such love and hope. Murder Most Academic by Theodore Dalrymple. A British Ph.D. candidate puts “homicide studies” into practice.

Murder Most Academic by Theodore Dalrymple

The Sun/Sipa Press Serial killer Stephen Griffiths In some modern societies—and certainly Britain is one of them—satire is prophecy. This makes effective satire difficult because reality so soon catches up with it. Satire is also dangerous and perhaps even irresponsible, for no idea is too absurd, it seems, for our political masters and bureaucratic elite to take seriously and put into practice—at public expense, of course, never their own. A Hanging. This material remains under copyright and is reproduced by kind permission of the Orwell Estate and Penguin Books.

A Hanging

It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages. Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. Eyewitness to an Execution. Mother’s boys: conversations with the parents of Russia’s neo-Nazis. I often observe them in court.

Mother’s boys: conversations with the parents of Russia’s neo-Nazis

They sigh and observe how their son – accused of 15 murders – has lost weight. They wink at him furtively. They beg the guard to loosen his handcuffs, oblivious to the voice of the prosecutor: ‘…demonstrating their own superiority over people of non-Slavic origin, they attacked the victim K., whose external appearance indicated Asian ethnicity, and struck him with a knife no less than 26 times in the head and other parts of the body, causing wounds to the chest, which penetrated the right and left pleural and abdominal cavities with damage to the right and left lungs, the left part of the diaphragm, the spleen, the third and ninth ribs on the left, and the chest, as a result of which the victim died from severe loss of blood’.

I want to ask: did you know, did you guess, did you support this? What were you thinking when they were arrested? The Age of Mechanical Reproduction. When I tell people what we are doing, they want to hear about the room where you produce.

The Age of Mechanical Reproduction

I tell them that there is a lot of paperwork. That they take your picture and look at your license. Then they walk you back to the room. 'Free Sperm Donors' and the Women Who Want Them. My Fertility Crisis. Things I have learnt from and about IVF. Encouraged by Belle & Tedra’s recent posts, and just loving Jim Henley’s recent comment: “I’d just like to say that all the ladyblogging about ladyparts and ladyissues only of interest to ladies around here lately has been awesome.

Things I have learnt from and about IVF

I’m learning a lot from it”; The Virgin Father. America’s First Great Global Warming Debate. The Secret History of Guns - Magazine. The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The Founding Fathers? They required gun ownership—and regulated it. And no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement. In the battle over gun rights in America, both sides have distorted history and the law, and there’s no resolution in sight. Joseph Durning/Durning 3D. The Last of the Aryans. Nobody knows of their real origin or if they are indeed Aryans. But, regarded as long-lost members of a purebred ‘Master Race’ settled in the Himalayas, Brokpas attract curious visitors, some of who try to satisfy their fantasy of having pure Aryan babies In 2007, filmmaker Sanjeev Sivan released his documentary Achtung Baby: In Search of Purity on the phenomenon of German women travelling to Indian villages by the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir to get impregnated by men they believe to be racially pure Aryans.

These villages are inhabited by a tribe called Brokpas, who are rumoured to be the ‘last pure specimens’ of the Aryan race. Across the world, several people still regard Aryans as the ‘Master Race’—tall, blue-eyed blondes endowed with superior intelligence and values. Our Experiments with Fasting. A dharna, Wikipedia informs us, ‘is a fast undertaken at the door of an offender, especially a debtor, as a means of obtaining compliance with a demand for justice, such as payment of debt.’ Clearly then, at the very root of our most potent symbol of political protest, lies the fast.

But in its original form, the idea is not a modern or medieval invention, it is part of a much older Indo-European tradition. To turn to Wikipedia again, ‘Fasting was used as a method of protesting injustice in pre-Christian Ireland, where it was known as Troscadh or Cealachan. An excerpt from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. One day in the early 1900s, a prominent American businessman named Claude C. Hopkins was approached by an old friend with an amazing new creation: a minty, frothy toothpaste named “Pepsodent” that, he promised, was going to be huge.

Hopkins, at the time, was one of the nation's most famous advertising executives. He was the ad man who had convinced Americans to buy Schlitz beer by boasting that the company cleaned their bottles “with live steam” (while neglecting to mention that every other company used the same method). He had seduced millions of women into purchasing Palmolive soap by proclaiming that Cleopatra had washed with it, despite the sputtering protests of outraged historians.

But Hopkins' greatest contribution would be helping to create a national toothbrushing habit. Why Storytellers Lie - Maura Kelly - Entertainment. A new book explains why humans like to spin yarns—and why we're so likely to stretch the truth when we do. Twentieth Century Fox In a new book out next week, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, author Jonathan Gotschall discusses why we humans have such a strong interest in stories, and argues that we're all storytellers—and all liars too, even if most of us don't realize it, even if most of us are lying primarily to ourselves. As way of getting into the question of why we're so likely to bend the truth (and so clueless about doing it), let's first talk about why stories are so important to us. Better Off Dead. Brick Magazine. The Politics of FIFA and the Hijab - By Curtis R. Ryan.

The Ritz-Carlton of Failed States - By Michael Z. Wise. The Aid Bitchslap « Shotgun Shack. Words as Weapons. Touré: Inside the Racist Mind. Talking With Your Fingers. Under the Gaze of Theory. Night Moves. The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans Gives New Meaning to “Urban Growth” Elaine Pagels on the Book of Revelation. Jonah Lehrer on How to Be Creative. THE LAST DAYS OF THE POLYMATH. Intoxicating Trends. Future tense, IX: Out of the wilderness by Charles Murray. Deirdre N. McCloskey: Happyism. Adam Hochschild, Antiwar Critics Forgotten on Oscar Night. WHICH IS THE BEST LANGUAGE TO LEARN?

Will Success Spoil the Chicago School? Why Elites Fail. I want to be alone: the rise and rise of solo living. How Smart Phones Are Turning Our Public Places Into Private Ones - Technology. AS THE COACH AT A HIGH SCHOOL NEAR CHICAGO, MIKE POWELL - 02.13.12. Albena Azmanova: Critical Political Judgement. Smithsonian Magazine's Annual Photo Contest - In Focus. Among the asexuals. The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Genius. The Top Ten Strangest Self-Experiments Ever. Wasting Away: Can a Gates Foundation-Funded Toilet-Design Initiative End a Foul Practice in the Developing World?

Psyched Out - June 22, 2012. Porn’s taboo transsexual stars. One billion slum dwellers. Brothel, Washington DC. Paying To Play: Interview With A John. Charles Nicholl · ‘The Battle of Anghiari’ · LRB 26 April 2012. A Brief History of Anxiety. Uncomfortable in our skin: the body-image report. Harvard sociobiologist E.O. Wilson on the origins of the arts. Apocalyptic Daze by Pascal Bruckner, City Journal Spring 2012. The Hemingway Papers / Bullfighting is Not a Sport – It is a Tragedy. Why French Parents Are Superior by Pamela Druckerman.

A Point of View: In defence of obscure words. Kids on the Internet: danah boyd’s controversial idea that kids should be allowed to roam free. Killer at 70,000 Feet.