Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

December 2010

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Essays to read with fear and delight

By Sharon Zukin
I have yet to hold the full collection in my hands, but like many North Americans I have read with fear and delight the essays from Tony Judt’s Memory Chalet, published in the New York Review of Books and the New York Times over the past two years. These are the most significant pieces of writing I read in 2010 and perhaps the most significant writing I am likely to read for the rest of my life.

Memory Chalet is Judt’s memoir, composed, dictated and published between his diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2010, and his death soon after in 2010. It seems he did not write these essays for publication, but they speak to so many lives and concerns that this may be his most universal, most meaningful book. Certainly the essays are a memory chest for Judt’s children, but they are also a reckoning with his complicated heritage: privileged by intellect, promoted by

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The Much Maligned Twentieth Amendment

By Donald A. Ritchie

The 111th Congress began in January 2009 amid complaints about the long wait for the inauguration of the new president, and ended amid complaints about the long the lame duck session at its tail. Critics, who lament that transitions in the American government do not move as efficiently as in a parliamentary system, have declared the Twentieth Amendment a failure. While it is true that the U.S. Constitution set up a system that is anything but speedy, the Twentieth Amendment was actually a reform that reset the calendar and moved up the clock.

Hang on because this gets complicated: Back in 1788, after enough states had ratified the Constitution, the outgoing Congress under the Articles of Confederation set the first Wednesday in January as the date for the first presidential election.

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Monthly Gleanings: December 2010

By Anatoly Liberman

This is the last time I go gleaning in 2010. We are snowed in in the American Midwest (but so is everybody else), and, while looking for linguistic crumbs, I feel like the girl in the fairy tale who was sent by her evil stepmother to the forest in the middle of winter to return with a basket of wild strawberries. She met Father Frost (January). The old man, who had often seen the girl before, was touched by her sweet meekness and asked his brothers to help her. For one hour January gave way to his younger brothers, and “in May” the girl gathered the berries and returned home with a full basket and wearing a dress of incomparable beauty. Father Frost is around, the berries are on display in supermarkets, May will certainly come, and in the meantime I’ll go ahead and comment on the questions still unanswered in the previous twelve months.

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December 1960: A wild time for the Beatles

By Gordon Thompson

The Beatles reinvented themselves several times over their career, from comic mop-tops to psychedelic gurus to post-modern self-directed artistes; but perhaps one of their most remarkable transformations occurred before most of Britain or the world even knew they existed.

Fifty years ago, as the winter 1960 seeped into Britain, the Beatles returned from a little over three months on the stage boards of Hamburg’s Kaiserkeller where they had put in hundreds of hours of performance. Back in August, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stu Sutcliffe had recruited Pete Best (and his relatively new drum kit) at the last minute for their very first club residency in the St. Pauli District of West Germany’s busiest port.

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The kind of intellect we most urgently need

By David Sehat
Prior to this year, I was familiar with Tony Judt as the director of the Remarque Institute at New York University and as a controversial public intellectual: his stands against the politics of Israel and the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process made him an object of scorn or celebration, depending on one’s politics. Judt’s presence in the public sphere as both an engaged intellectual and a deeply serious historian was comforting if rare proof that some in the United States still take seriously the life of the mind. But earlier this year, with the announcement that he had Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), his work took profound new directions that extended and deepened his intellectual example.

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The Repeal of DADT

By Elvin Lim

“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has finally been repealed. It is time now to look back on the hypocrisy of those who maintained a “separate but equal” philosophy regarding gays and lesbians serving in the military.

Remember the “unit cohesion” argument? That was a popular and prevailing argument in the 1990s. It appears ridiculous to most people today, but it is worth reminding ourselves that we have had our fair share of ridiculous convictions in our past. Consider “separate but equal,” the jurisprudential doctrine that upheld Jim Crow laws in the South for over half a century. There is actually a common thread linking “separate but equal” of the 1890s with the “unit cohesion” argument of the 1990s. Those arguing for racial segregation a century ago believed that people of different races should not interact with each other, and the nation’s highest court codified this belief.

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Rocks alive? Yeah, right!

By Steve Paulson
Each year, I seem to have the good fortune to read one book that absolutely mesmerizes me. Last year, it was “The Age of Wonder” by Richard Holmes. It’s a riveting account of how science and art converged in early 18th century England, not only shaping the Romantic movement but also launching a second scientific revolution. This year, the book has been David Abram’s “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology.”

Abram is a cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher…with a twist. He’s an animist. I confess, I’ve always been intrigued by animism, but I never gave it serious thought until I read Abram’s book. Sure, we may think of our dog – or even our house – as having some kind of personality or living presence. But it’s all just metaphor, right? Not according to Abram. He wants us to feel the presence of grass, wood, the wind, even the buildings we live in.

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A Journey Through the Afterlife

By Andrew Robinson
Everyone knows that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death. The tombs in the Valley of the Kings are decorated with elaborate paintings and hieroglyphic writings about death and the afterlife. But what is not so familiar is that ancient Egypt was the first civilization to picture and put in writing an ethical connection between earthly behaviour and an individual’s existence after death—so crucial in the later development of Christianity.

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Linked Up: Pug, Magnets, Photos

Tweet I’m in a giving mood, so here are some links. And it’s not even Friday, you lucky reader, you. ;) Pug-in-boots-shaped present. [YouTube] Books-for-Christmas-shaped present. [Gawker TV] Awesome-magnetic-table-shaped present. [Wired] Fascinating-facts-from-Twitter-shaped present. [Twitter] Cats-playing-pattycake-shaped present. [Best Roof Talk Ever] Eclipse-shaped present. [Megan Lives] If anyone would like to get me one of these when […]

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Hand-me-down Gospels

By Charles E. Hill

Once there were many Gospels. Then there were just four. Who was it that first suggested Christians should have the four accounts of the life of Jesus attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and only these four, in their Bibles? Scholars often bestow the honor (if it may be called such) on Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul, who wrote in the 180s CE. There is certainly no mistaking Irenaeus’ stance on the subject. He claimed that just these four Gospels had been delivered to the church and he rejected all others, naming two of the imposters ­– the Gospel of Judas and ‘the so-called Gospel of Truth’ – by name. But in his selectivity, say many scholars today, Irenaeus was far ahead of his time. Irenaeus’ idea of a limitation on the number of Gospels did not really catch on in the church until much later, and ultimate agreement on the four would be stalled until the fourth century, when it could be backed by governmental force. This has become a familiar account of the rise of the Christian Gospels. But is it true?

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Clarifying the Climate Conundrum

By F. W. Taylor
There are few more important issues at the present time than that of climate change – whether it is real, what we can expect to happen, when and what if anything we can do to prevent or at least ameliorate it. Climate is a ‘crossover’ topic: the facts are mostly in the domain of the scientist, and need special training before they can be understood. However, everyone faces the consequences, perhaps especially people in poor, relatively illiterate counties who already survive on the ragged edge of sustainable agriculture. Finally, if the scientists are to be believed, the politicians must act, and not just by fiddling around the edges of the problem: the changes required are almost unbelievably extensive, expensive, and disruptive. George W. Bush came across as a climate skeptic not because he didn’t believe the science (he wasn’t sure, one way or the other) but mainly because he didn’t want to stifle his nation’s competitiveness by curbing its carbon emissions on the draconian scale the green activists were calling for.

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9780195387070

A Missionary Imposition (or a rambling sermon on miss/mess/mass and their kin)

By Anatoly Liberman
Probably everybody knows that Christmas, despite one s at the end, is a compound made up of Christ and mass. But few, unless they are word or church historians, have followed the intricate development of the word mass. In the 16th century, Martin Luther and the theologian Claudius de Sainctes derived mass from Hebrew missah “oblation; sacrifice”; this derivation still has supporters. Their opponents pointed out that such New Testament words as were coined in Hebrew (for instance, messiah and amen) came to Europe from Greek, but the Greek authors of the Christian epoch did not use missah. Closer to our time, opinions were divided over the original meaning of mass: did it designate “service” or (since mass mainly occurred in situations connected with the Eucharist) “feast”? Here mess “dish of food” gave trouble to etymologists. Is it a doublet of mass? And where does mass “a body of matter” (as in massive) come in?

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Bad Bananas Make Great Stocking Stuffers

By Mark Peters
At some point, I think we’ve all asked ourselves, “When is the best time to start training a kitten to hold a knife?”

That question—written by Tim Siedell, a.k.a Twitter’s badbanana – is one of the expertly crafted one-liners you can find in his new book Marching Bands Are Just Homeless Orchestras: Half-empty Thoughts Vol 1. It’s the funnest/funniest book I’ve picked up in donkey’s years, and it’s also pretty and shiny and full of cool illustrations by Brian Andreas. Unless you hate puppies and America, you should give yourself and your minions this tremendous book, which offers pertinent dietary observations such as: “That Indian dinner was so authentic I think I hate Pakistan.”

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Obama’s Silent Reset

By Elvin Lim

President Barack Obama, who had taken a backseat to allow the First Branch to set the health-care reform legislative agenda last year, has now moved into the driver’s seat of American government. An electoral shellacking was all it took to for a former constitutional law professor who once espoused the separateness and equality of branches to stop practicing what he once taught.

The irony is that it was united Democratic party control of all branches of government that allowed Obama the luxury of taking the back seat. When before, he could have relied on Pelosi and Reid, Obama has recently learnt that he can only rely on himself. The Oval Office is a lonely place, but he who realizes it quickly learns that as a result, it is also a powerful place.

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podcastlogov1

Cab Calloway – Episode 8 – The Oxford Comment

The jazz icon Cab Calloway would be turning 103 this Saturday, December 25th. In this episode Michelle explores Cab’s legend and the Jazz Age – alive and well in New York City (and a new hit HBO show).

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