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Hacks’s politics were hard to ignore. Bertolt Brecht advised him not to move to East Germany in the early nineteen-fifties…but Hacks moved anyway. And although his plays got him in trouble with the authorities on occasion, he remained an ardent defender of Soviet-style socialism. The Greeks and Romans who inhabited his plays sometimes called each other comrade; the plays were often allegories about the moral emptiness of the West. Hacks himself lived comfortably south of Berlin in a walled-off villa with a statue of Priapus in the garden…. Hacks became, if anything, more confrontational after East Germany collapsed. His 1998 poem “Venus and Stalin” was a lightly erotic homage to the Soviet dictator. He eulogized the Berlin wall as the “most beautiful world wonder”, proposed setting up a guillotine on Leninplatz for troublemakers, and dismissed the events of November 1989 as “counterrevolution”. –“In Berlin, A Peter Hacks Renaissance,” Nathan Thornburgh, The New Yorker
How not to use the word “passion”: “When passion for elk hunting burns deep in your heart, you’ll go to any lengths to take your first bull elk”; a day will come when a world-class sprinter will chop off his own leg to take the gold; until then, cobra venom, popular with horses, might be a less-drastic option; attempts by Christian fundamentalists to link the medicinal benefits of camel pee to the Koran are doomed to fail; but peeing on one’s hands to toughen them, as professional baseball player, Jorge Posada (“you don’t want to shake my hand during spring training”) does, might find popularity
One recalls the coeds being fetched home from their dormitories to Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids in those days when the end of the world seemed at hand. In their plaid kilt skirts with the large decorative fake gold safety pins; the chilled red kneecaps, raw in the northern light; the silent fathers packing the cheap imitation leather suitcases into the trunks of the Detroit iron cars. What was there to say. The incipient end of the world was that of which one could not speak, and anyway it was cold and getting late, the motor was running…. In my roominghouse in those days of the incipient end of the world there were discussions all night and on into the morning. If the world was about to end, that must mean there was evil in the universe, for we all of us regarded the end of the world as an evil prospect indeed. But if the world were to end there would be no winners, so exactly who would be pleased, who would benefit? Do the evils suffered on this globe, by some inconceivable means, contribute to the felicity of the inhabitants of some remote planet? we asked. Though these questions were never answered then, and in the long interim since that time nothing significant has happened that I am now able to remember, to distract me from them, they have continued to haunt me. –“The Problem of Evil,” Tom Clark, Exquisite Corpse
Lebron James clarifies his position on money: he likes it; journalists also like money; but no word yet of a mass exodus to Spain’s El Pais newspaper, where reporters earn an average of $141,000 per year; (see graph of the precipitous decline of the paper’s corporate owner); Google, having already “pushed into” the wireless market, is now determined to “thrust itself” into mobile display ads
On Holy Saturday we spent the evening at the Stardust Hotel with Wayne Newton—in the most expensive seats: a table for six that abutted the U-shaped stage on which Wayne frolicked. I’d pushed for this outing, though my sisters and mom toppled easily. We’d seen Cirque du Soleil the night before, and after ten minutes all that spandexed contortion looked the same—I wanted old Vegas. I wanted shtick. I got it. Oh my goodness, Wayne was old. His hair, black as pitch, gleamed as if it had just been buffed at the shoeshine stand in the lobby. His mustache gleamed, too. He wore a tux. The audience was full of people like us: that is, ladies. At the highest pitch of the show, Wayne, bowtie released and hanging round his neck, shirt unbuttoned to show a chest that appeared shaved, and cummerbund cinched like a heavyweight’s belt, sang his trademark “Danke Schoen.” He made his way around the stage as he did this, reaching down to those who sat at the tables alongside it, touching outstretched hands, kissing cheeks. Too late, we realized our mistake in sitting in these stage-side seats. Wayne, all snap and swagger, arrived at our table, expecting to be kissed. He leaned down. He gleamed with effort. His makeup was thick. He offered his cheek for our lips. He held out his hands to accept our adoration. And instead, my mom, my sisters, and I, as if we’d been choreographed, leaned away from him, recoiling. Wayne, a pro, didn’t miss a beat as he moved on to the next table of ladies, these eager to love him, while we looked into our drinks, sheepish at how instinctively rude we’d just been. –Kissing Wayne Newton,” Ellen Slezak, Agni
Among the ten worst predictions of the decade: Clinton beats Obama (Bill Kristol, 2006); irony is dead (Graydon Carter, 2001); Americans will be greeted as liberators in Iraq (Dick Cheney, 2003); the iPod will be “dead, finished, gone, kaput” (Alan Sugar, 2005); Mark Cuban reminds America that it is not “1999, nor is it 2004, nor is it 2006, nor is it 2008”; that Rupert Murdoch isn’t dumb; and that Twitter is great but has to do something about all that spam; Thai Spicy Fish McDippers, and other examples of fast-food you can’t get in the United States
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”