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edited by S.B. Kelly
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Karimi Hotel
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The New Vichy Syndrome:
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Jihad and Genocide
by Richard L. Rubenstein
Spanish Vignettes: An Offbeat Look Into Spain's Culture, Society & History
by Norman Berdichevsky
















Friday, 31 October 2014
Halloween is a Good Time to be Wiccan
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I remember celebrating Halloween in Toronto during the 1950s and 1960s. Back then, we knew that in some way it was also a serious Christian ritual with a slightly different name (All Hallows’ Eve), honored by the Catholic Church and some Protestant sects. However, it was its secular nature and pagan paraphernalia that turned it into a joyful and exciting national children’s holiday.

In those days, Canadian children read Bulfinch’s Mythology in schools and in public libraries, which presented us with a varied stream of tales of Greco-Roman and Celtic deities and the near magical exploits of King Arthur’s court, in a diverse mythological smorgasbord. We brought that mythic world to our costumes and our Halloween celebrations. But that is now changing.

A growing number of Canadians who call themselves Pagans, neopagans, Wiccans or some variation of all three, now celebrate Halloween as a serious pagan holiday. It is difficult to define and describe this phenomenon, for one of its key characteristics is its diversity of belief and practice — which historically makes it very similar to ancient Roman or Greek paganism.

Both modern and ancient paganism are characterized by a diversity of overlapping and nebulous Gods, spirits and rituals that reflect such themes as fertility, an exaltation of dreams and the female principle. A recent visit to the shelves of the Occult Book Shop at 1373 Bathurst Street here in Toronto exposed me to a plethora of books on such subjects, alongside various candles and oils; and what, from an outsider’s point of view, look like ingredients for “magic potions.” (For those who are interested in reading the full report of an anthropologist who spent a year among neopagans in Britain, I recommend, Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft by T.M. Luhrmann).

From an anthropological point of view, such superficial impressions are a tad unfair. So, in order to get a more informed and first hand perspective on one of the fastest growing religious movements in the West (Canada has about 70,000 practicing neopagans) I called up Catherine Starr, the Wiccan Chaplain from the University of Toronto (where I once studied anthropology), and asked for an interview.

Ms. Starr’s job is on equal footing with those of other chaplains, including representatives of Judaism, Christianity (Catholic and Protestant), Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. She has held this position for many years and told me that she gets along well with the other religious representatives. In fact, she is often the facilitator for many of their meetings. She is articulate, warm, friendly and speaks with pleasant enthusiasm. The only thing that I noticed that distinguished her Wiccan identity was a small silver Pentagram that she wore around her neck, supported by a thin silver chain.

She told me that what we call Halloween, Wiccans call Samhain, a festival that marks the end of the harvest season, corresponding to the time when farming societies would have been culling their herds. It is a time to honor ancestors and the beginning of the New Year. In the past, Celtic people started their day at sundown. Wiccans start the New Year at sundown, thus the correspondence with Halloween. Most Wiccans celebrate Samhain on October 31. But since it’s hard to have a ritual when kids are coming to the door for treats, each group finds its own solution — often with rituals done later in the evening.

You need an altar, where you place pictures and things that remind you of someone who passed away — like a pocket watch from a deceased grandfather. During Samhain, Catherine will put out pictures of deceased relatives and also mementos of people in the wider Wiccan community, such as the late Margo Adler. She was a correspondent for NPR and wrote a well-known Wiccan book Drawing Down the Moon, which came out in 1975. She was also the granddaughter of the Freudian rebel, Alfred Adler, which suggests that Wiccans may by inclination be non-conformists; men and women of strongly independent spiritual leanings, who are comfortable pushing the boundaries of conventional belief and practice.

This Samhain, Catherine probably will place Adler’s book on her altar. The altar can even be a mahogany buffet table, holding things like candles, pomegranates (a symbol of the Goddess Persephone) and pumpkins. She will set the main part of the table, but others will bring things to add. The Samhain ritual includes the stages of setting the sacred space and inviting the Gods and the ancestors collectively to join you. This can be accompanied by song or dance, but it is not obligatory. The ritual includes speaking about things you remember about the departed, because “what is remembered lives.” Food and drink are focused on harvest foods such as stews. As an adherent of the Gardnerian denomination of the neopagan Wiccan tradition, she will celebrate Samhain with people whom she has personally initiated, from among a larger group of people who she knows are practicing Wiccans at the U of T campus.

Catherine summarized the essence of the ritual by saying it is about opening a circle, creating sacred space, feasting and enjoying each other’s company. Sometimes there is an invocation to the Gods such as, “I summon and invoke thee mother of all, queen of all fruitfulness. Join us this night to feast and make merry.” Wiccans honour many spirits but, she explained, they often come in pairs, representing the male and female principles such as Pan and Diana or, in the Celtic tradition, Herne and Cerridwn (hunter and mother goddess).

Catherine explained that outsiders find Wicca hard to grasp because it has no central sacred text. In Wicca, no one mediates between the individual and the supernatural. Each person is responsible for their own actions and has a direct connection with the divine. When people mention notorious early-20th-century occultist Aleister Crowley in the same breath as Wicca, Catherine quickly points out that he was not a witch in the Gardnerian tradition. She tells me that Crowley was “a ceremonial magician.”

“We are not ceremonial magicians or occultists, nor do we worship Satan or the Devil,” she emphasized.

Some Wiccans are raised within the tradition, but most arrive there at the end of a personal spiritual quest. In Catherine’s case, she talks about growing up in southern California when, at the age of 27 or 28, “The world around me did not make sense … I was a late bloomer and jumped into [Wicca] with both feet. The first time I went to a public ritual I felt like I was at home. This is what it felt like to connect to people. It was visceral, and I went to one ritual and then kept going and meeting people. At a certain point, you can spot who is or who should be Wiccan. Then you read a lot. Every book I could find about Wicca I read such as The Spiral Dance by Starhawk, or Drawing Down the Moon. Among committed Wiccans trust is high, trust is important. Wiccans also socialize at ‘Moots,’ which are get togethers in a pub, or non-ritual setting, just to talk about things. Then there are festivals and campouts, with classes and rituals.” She mentioned that in California, the ranks of Wiccans include many people in high tech.

She believes that part of the reason for Wicca’s growing popularity is the strong feminine presence. In this faith, women have leadership roles and are dominant. She tells me that women are in the forefront of the movement, and the gender breakdown is about four women to one man in any average coven.

Not surprisingly, she tells me that religious fundamentalists of all sorts are the biggest critics of Wicca. Her Christian colleagues have told her that Wiccans are “ill informed about their own spirituality,” and that the movement is a theological mistake. (She reports that Catholic theologians tend to be the most tolerant, identifying the Wiccan mother goddess principle with Mother Mary or the Celtic St. Brigid.)

The only time she says she has had difficulty expounding her belief was at a conference of world religions in South Africa, where her defense of modern Wicca was conflated with what English speakers in sub Saharan Africa often translate into English as “witchcraft,” and which in that guise often involves a fair amount of ritual violence and killing. (It is actually called “Muti” in the local Bantu languages.)

Modern neopagan and Wiccan traditions have had some harsh critics, such as the contemporary British conservative writer Roger Scruton — or, earlier in the 20th century, G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc — who argued that the secularism of the 20th century was leading us to a new form of paganism, which they decried.

Theology aside, they were quite right on a sociological level. If the anthropology of religion has taught us anything, it is that people cannot live without ritual and belief, and that when you strip away the most recent belief systems in a particular society (Christianity, for instance), more ancient beliefs often will rise up and take their place.

Such are the dynamics of culture. According to the Wiccans, the God Pan is not dead. He is merely rising, once again. Bright Blessings to you for Samhain. And a Happy Halloween as well.

First published in the National Post.

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Posted on 10/31/2014 2:30 PM by Geoffrey Clarfield
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Into the Dust
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by Arnapurna Rath (November 2014)


The moss-laden walls of the ancient home

in a village lost in folklore,

wait to crumble into the dusts of history.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:47 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
The Survivor by András Mezei
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Translated from the Hungarian & edited by Thomas Ország-Land (November 2014)

I.

Hanged: A Sketch

 

He held a fiddle in his left,

a goose brought down, its long limp neck

hung black in death – and to this day

I sense its silenced vocal cords.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:42 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Background
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by Bibhu Padhi (November 2014)


The bass strain of your voice

reminds me of my past,

my dark inheritances,  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:37 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
The New Storm Troopers
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by Eric Rozenman (November 2014)


I’ve seen the face of the new storm trooper Georgetown coed, liberal arts honors, Beautiful as she proclaims Her detestation of terrorism Yes, the terrorism practiced by Zionists Against Palestine. Spitting words like bullets “And my Jewish friends here Agree with me Completely.”  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:34 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Kosti’s Karl Kraus
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by Richard Kostelanetz (November 2014)


In memory of the great American social critic Thomas Szasz (1920-2012), whose Kraus translations became my milestone.

Having used automatic translations for the first drafts of my translations of Guillaume Apollinaire, F. T. Marinetti, and Gustave Flaubert, writing initially in French and Italian, I decided to do likewise for a favorite German writer, the Viennese Karl Kraus (1874-1936), again rewriting his sentences as though they were my own, thus producing in English a Karl Kraus so different from other available translations that I call my texts Kosti’s Karl Kraus. Typically perhaps, I’ve added a few of my own sentences written in a Krausian spirit.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:31 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Fast Food Pickle
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by G. Murphy Donovan (November 2014)

 
“The best burger joint in the world is home.”  – Calvin Trillin

The season of cheer is upon us again. Halloween and Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays, are the first and surely the best. For a day, Halloween allows us to be what we are not. Then Thanksgiving follows with a day of guilt free excess.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:27 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Andy Rooney Meets Ernest Hemingway: A Cautionary Tale
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by Sam Bluefarb (November 2014)


He was not a bad man; he was a silly man.—Anon.

On Andy Rooney’s death, I went back to a letter I wrote to him, prompted by his honest admission that he was a Democrat and, presumably, a liberal. In the process of researching his background—small town origins (Albany, New York), prep school, Colgate University, etc.—I hit upon a rather revealing You Tube* which fleshed out a view of Ernest Hemingway within a myopic vision. Not that Hem’s reputation was universally acclaimed—witness the largely dim view of him by feminists because of his “Doll’s House” heroines.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:21 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Ted Williams: Throw the Heat; Hold the Tortillas!
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by J.A. Marzán (November 2014)

 

Of Ted Williams, the last .400 hitter, there is no debate over his status among baseball gods and genuine American heroes. Still, in life he invited detractors by carrying the arrogance of the greatness he knew he had since he was a kid. A Youtube video describes him as “overrated,” its author not forgiving the two times that Williams spat at fans. This attitude problem put off the press so that when he had planned to retire, on the advice of a fan, he reconsidered and kept playing to pump up his numbers to surpass the impressive 500 home-run mark and thereby pressure those journalists not disposed to voting him into the Hall of Fame in the first round.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:17 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Hollywood’s Failure to Immortalize Franciszek Gabryszewski
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by Norman Berdichevsky (November 2014)


We need American heroes today more than ever, yet the lack of any single name in Korea, Viet-Nam or Iraq to match those of Sergeant Alfred York and Audie Murphy is a telling indication of how those conflicts did not generate the need for the hero worship of the two world wars and portends the disinterest of the public on glorifying American combat heroism. Two classic American heroic films are “Sergeant York” and “To Hell and Back.”  more>>>
 

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:13 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
The Sincerely Held Religious Belief: Hobby Lobby and the Bible
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by Thomas Larson (November 2014)


1.

The Hobby Lobby decision, written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Alito and passed by a 5-4 ruling in June, continues to reverberate in American culture like a car alarm that won’t shut off. As most everyone knows, the Court had to decide whether “three closely held corporations [which] provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception . . . violate the sincerely held religious belief [italics added] of the companies’ owners.”  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:07 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Shakespeare and the Clash of Civilizations: ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ Reconsidered
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by Keith Hopkins (November 2014)   


Is there such a thing as the clash of civilizations? If there is, what is its likely outcome – civilizational collapse or renewal? Is conflict inevitable? Shakespeare’s great play, Antony and Cleopatra, confirms our suspicions. There is indeed such a clash, and played out for the highest stakes – nothing less than hegemony, visible or invisible, of the entire world.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 8:03 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Don’t Kiss the Messenger: Wooing by Proxy in Shakespeare
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by David P. Gontar (October 2014)


“I can live no longer by thinking.” - Orlando

It is a commonplace that love is a paradox. Drawing us together, it is yet a third element beyond its terms, that is, an intrusion. It is in virtue of this ambiguity that it is rarely the solution we would have so much as the challenge to which we must rise. (Bradley, 21) Imperceptibly, our amorous dealings become relationships, things to which we ourselves stand in subsidiary attitudes often at odds with one another.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:58 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Unexplored Nepal
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by Geoffrey Clarfield (November 2014)


The Remote West

Until the early 1950s Nepal was a closed Himalayan Hindu Kingdom ruled by a hereditary monarch, whose subjects believed he was a God. When the Chinese occupied Tibet in 1959 and once again sealed this former Buddhist kingdom off from the rest of the world, Nepal began to open its borders to visitors. Of a sudden the West saw Nepal as a buffer zone against the Chinese communist north and began to engage it at a number of levels.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:55 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Rejectionism: The Barrier to Real Peace in the Mideast
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by Matthew M. Hausman (November 2014)


The following is the text of remarks delivered at a program in Fairfield, Connecticut on September 22, 2014. The program focused on the doctrinal, cultural and historical bases for anti-Israel rejectionism and the resulting impediment to lasting peace.

Let’s start off with two questions to establish some context.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:51 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Hudnas
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by Isaac Yetiv (November 2014)


Shortly after Arafat signed the Oslo agreement (Sept.1993) he visited the Arab community in Capetown, South Africa. There, he was assailed by the ultras who accused him of selling out by recognizing the "Zionist entity" and abandoning the holy war against the Jews. But he calmly explained that he had acted like the prophet himself who signed the peace agreement of Hudaybieh with his enemies when he was weak militarily and then attacked them two years later and destroyed them and their Arabian tribes. "Am I, God forbid, better than the Prophet?" he concluded rhetorically, to the applause of his audience.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:48 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Fighting Social Media Jihad: An Interview with Joseph Shahda
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by Jerry Gordon (November 2014)

 

The chilling constellation of lone wolf attacks by self-actualized domestic Jihadis in Canada and the US present a dilemma for national counterterrorism and intelligence echelons in both countries. How best to deny access to provocative social media effectively used by foreign terrorist groups to inspire and arouse deadly acts by these isolated individuals?  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:44 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
The Version
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by Richard Butrick (November 2014)


It just doesn’t seem to be catching on.

It started for him in Indonesia where, as a “little Jakarta street kid” he found the Muslim call to prayer to be “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:41 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Lone Wolf Jihadis on Both Sides of Our Northern Border
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by Jerry Gordon (November 2014)


The final weeks of October 2014 were devastating for America. We had lone wolf jihadis in Ottawa and Montreal killing and wounding Canada Forces service personnel. In New York we had a Muslim convert and former US Navy serviceman shot dead in the midst of a deadly hatchet attack on two NYPD officers in Queens. All three appeared to be operating below the radar screen of surveillance inspired by Islamic State jihadist social media imploring Salafist brethren in the West to mount attacks on uniformed military and law enforcement officers.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:37 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
ISIS is Islam!
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by G. Murphy Donovan (November 2014)


Barack Hussein Obama is given to making extraordinary pronouncements. Many of the more dramatic assertions are seldom based on facts, reason, or reflection. Put aside, if you can, the domestic hyperbole which often accompanies wishful thinking about social problems; poverty, public education, and public health. The President’s public rhetoric on foreign policy, questions of national security, is unique, bordering on the delusional. To paraphrase Jack Kennedy; getting it wrong at home might be tragic, but getting it wrong abroad could be fatal.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:32 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Sex-Slavery and Sharia in the Islamic State
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by Joseph S. Spoerl (November 2014)

In September 2014, several Muslim men had the following discussion on Facebook:

                “Abou Jihad: “350 dollars for the Yazidi girl in Mosul if you want. LOL

                […]

                Abu Selefie: I heard there were slaves in Raqqa is it true?

                Abde-Rahman: I saw it was around 180 dollars per slave LOL.

                Abou Muhammad: You have revived a tradition.”  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:28 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Driven Mad
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by Theodore Dalrymple (November 2014)


The motor car, a friend of mine once said, is the most liberating of all machines ever invented. Suffice it to say that I have not found it so, at least not in Europe, which is small and overcrowded and full of traffic jams. Once, for example, when I was going to visit my aunt, it took me two hours to go a hundred yards along the North End Road in London. I did not find it a liberating experience, unless the bringing to the surface of the inner demon that caused me to bang my fists on the windows in sheer frustration be counted as a liberating experience (for the inner demon, that is, not for me). I didn’t know either that I had it in me to scream so loud.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:24 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
The Evening Papers Do Not Say . . .
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by David Wemyss (November 2014)


Here in the UK, the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recently gave us a series of pleasant but inconsequential television programmes exploring the Scandinavian way of life. As you would expect, cooking featured quite a lot, but so did lightweight cultural commentary about the familiar idea of ‘the Nordic welfare states.’  more>>>

 

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:20 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
God after the Death of God
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by Richard L. Rubenstein (November 2014)


(This essay is a revised version of chapter 16 of the second edition of Richard L. Rubenstein's, After Auschwitz: History, Theology and Contemporary Judaism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.)

When I reflect on the question of God after the death of God, I recall a crucial conversation with the late Swami Muktananda of Ganeshpuri that took place at a major turning point in my spiritual life. One of my academic colleagues, Dr. Gulshan Khaki, a disciple of the Guru, invited Dr. Betty Rubenstein and me to spend a weekend at his American Ashram when he was in attendance. more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:17 AM by NER
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Friday, 31 October 2014
Eternal Youth, Eternal Kitsch
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by Theodore Dalrymple (November 2014)


A kind friend of mine, knowing my interest in such matters, recently sent me a little book containing a collection of inscriptions found in second-hand books collected by a diligent anthologist, a man called H. B. Gooderham. The books were not, on the whole, precious old volumes but rather cheap and relatively recent paperback editions, many of them in rather scruffy condition. Nor were the inscribers famous persons, nor even identifiable. They were, rather, Everyman.  more>>>

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Posted on 10/31/2014 7:13 AM by NER
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