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A surprisingly religious John Stuart Mill

Your most recent book, John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life, is in OUP’s ‘Spiritual Lives’ series and is essentially a religious biography of Mill. Mill decided that strictly in terms of proof the right answer to that question of God’s existence is that it is ‘a very probable hypothesis’.

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Hasidic drag in American modern dance

On 27 February 1932, the American modern dancer Pauline Koner presented a concert at New York City’s Town Hall. For the occasion, Koner, who was Jewish, premiered Chassidic Song and Dance, a solo in which she portrayed a young Hasidic Jew. Her characterization of an Eastern European Jew was not so different from the other exotics that constituted Koner’s repertory in the 1930s.

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Forty years of democratic Spain

Spaniards are celebrating with some fanfare the 40th anniversary of their democratic constitution that was approved overwhelmingly in a referendum on 6 December 1978, sealing the end of the 36-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the victor of the country’s civil war. Whichever way one looks at it, Spain has been transformed profoundly since then.

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Words always matter

The run-up to the recent mid-term elections saw commentators across the political spectrum claiming that “words matter.” Much of this was in response to violent acts – in particular the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre and the pipe bombs sent to Democrats – that some argued was a consequence of Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Words always matter of course. But due to the timing and the stakes – in this instance, an upcoming mid-term election of considerable consequence – it turned into a literal war of words. Language was weaponized to an extent not seen before.

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Etymology gleanings for November 2018

I used to post my “gleanings” on the last Wednesday of every month, but it is perhaps more practical to do it on the first Wednesday of the month following, for, given this schedule, I can also answer the most recent questions. Plants and the home of the Indo-Europeans I used gorse in the previous […]

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The Oxford Place of the Year 2018 is…

Our polls have officially closed, and while it was an exciting race, our Place of the Year for 2018 is Mexico. The country and its people proved their resilience this year by enduring natural disasters, navigating the heightened tensions over immigration and border control, engaging in civic action during an election year, and advancing in the economic sphere. The historic events in Mexico in 2018 have resonated with our followers.

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On the Town and the long march for civil rights in performance

As we celebrate the golden anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a significant aspect of the struggle for racial equality often gets ignored: racial activism in performance. Actors, singers, and dancers mobilized over the decades, pushing back against racial restrictions that shifted over time, and On the Town of 1944 marked an auspicious but little-recognized moment in that history.

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How video may influence juror decision-making for police defendants

In recent years, these videos [depicting police brutality] have become increasingly available to the public and widely disseminated, fueling the launch of the Black Lives Matter movement demanding justice for minority victims of police violence. Yet, little research has explored how video is impacting juries when police actually go to trial as defendants.

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Plato’s mistake

It started innocently enough at a lunch-time event with some friends at the Randolph Hotel in the centre of Oxford. ‘The trouble with Islam …’ began some self-opinioned pundit, and I knew where he was going. Simple. Islam lends itself to fanaticism, and that is why Muslims perpetrate so much violence in the name of religion. The pundit saw himself as Christian, and therefore a man of peace, so I had my cue. ‘Look out of the window. Over there in the fork of the road you see the Martyr’s Memorial. In 1555 the Wars of Religion were in full spate, Catholics were burning Protestants at the stake, Protestants were no less fanatical when their turn came, and things got even worse with the Civil War. So why are Muslims any worse?’

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A better way to prevent the spread of HIV

HIV prevention is now focused on finding at least 90% of the existing cases, putting at least 90% of those people in HIV treatment, and keeping the virus from multiplying in the body among 90% of those people retained in care (known as durable viral suppression). Despite these admirable goals, known as the United Nations’ “90-90-90” programme, HIV transmission rates have not declined since 2011.

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Place of the Year 2018 contenders [quiz]

Before we announce the 2018 Place of the Year, we are looking back at the diverse places that topped the shortlist. Myanmar, North Korea, Mexico, the International Space Station, and the Pacific Ocean all have unique histories and have topped international headlines this year. Take this quiz to see how well you know each of our contenders.

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Improving immunizations for older people

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends multiple immunizations for older adults, including flu, two pneumonia vaccines, vaccination against herpes zoster, and a one-time tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 63% of annual hospitalizations, and 90% of influenza-related mortality, occurs in people over 65. Fortunately influenza vaccinations can prevent hospitalizations related to respiratory illness and even more importantly, vaccination may prevent an increased risk for stroke and myocardial infarction that occurs following the flu.

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Travels with “gorse” in search of its kin

In the long history of this blog, I have rarely touched on the origin of plant names, but there have been posts on mistletoe (December 20, 2006) and ivy (January 11, 2017). Some time ago, a letter came with a question about the etymology of gorse, and I expect to devote some space to this plant name and its two synonyms.

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The politics of “political” – how the word has changed its meaning

Over the course of history, the word “political” has evolved from being synonymous with “public sphere” or “good government” to meaning “calculating” or “partisan.” How did we get here? This adapted excerpt from Keywords for Today: A 21st Century Vocabulary explains the evolution. The problems posed by political result from a combination of the term’s semantic shift over the last several centuries and the changing face of post-national politics that have become so important since mid-twentieth century.

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