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1981 / October | View All Issues |

October 1981

Photography

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Letters

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The easy chair

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Van Gogh’s ear·

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Further notes on the official culture

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Phylogeny II·

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Survival traits

Washington

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Washington·

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Washington

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Supreme irony·

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The court of last resort

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The shame of professional schools·

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How not to educate an elite

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Coolidge redux·

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Making the world safe for plutocracy

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What do women want? Feminism and its future·

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Ars politica

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Ars politica

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Fidel’s photo album·

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The niceness factor·

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Good guyism in America

Geography 105

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Geography 105

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Government income·

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The dialectic of science

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Man, Superman, and myth

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Plato in Vermont·

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The ideal tree, and how to count it

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Seeing the world with Thomas Cook

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The novel goes to school

American miscellany

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Reaping where thou hast not sown

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I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

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“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
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“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
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“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
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“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

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