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I have seldom felt so alone. Confronted with crisis, most of the environmentalists I know have gone into denial. The emails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, they say, are a storm in a tea cup, no big deal, exaggerated out of all recognition. It is true that climate change deniers have made wild claims which the material can’t possibly support (the end of global warming, the death of climate science). But it is also true that the emails are very damaging. The response of the greens and most of the scientists I know is profoundly ironic, as we spend so much of our time confronting other people’s denial. Pretending that this isn’t a real crisis isn’t going to make it go away. Nor is an attempt to justify the emails with technicalities. We’ll be able to get past this only by grasping reality, apologising where appropriate and demonstrating that it cannot happen again. –“Pretending the Climate Email Leak Isn’t a Crisis Won’t Make it Go Away: Climate sceptics have lied, obscured and cheated for years. That’s why we climate rationalists must uphold the highest standards of science,” George Monbiot, The Guardian
Jay Robert Nash told us that gangsters learned how to speak by listening to the dialogue in Ben Hecht’s crime movies. Some of us borrowed our personas from Hecht and MacArthurs’ The Front Page. In a way, I did. I arrived at the Sun-Times from downstate Urbana, a green kid, intimidated by legendary reporters. On the first Friday night I was taken to Riccardo’s, I had a couple of beers and was delighted by the wise-guy patter that surrounded me. I tried to talk that way, even though I was a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Chicago before dropping out to go full-time with the Sun-Times. Many of us at O’Rourke’s became fake Irishmen, swayed by the Clancy Brothers and the big blown-up photographs of Behan, O’Casey, Shaw and Joyce. I was one-quarter Irish, but submerged the other three-quarters and assured people, “your blood’s worth bottling.” Fundraisers allegedly from the IRA would visit and we would naively give five bucks to the cause, probably not funding any terrorism because they were con artists preying on boozing Irish wannabes. –“A Bar on North Avenue,” Roger Ebert, Granta
The six African ostriches at a farm south of Tbilisi may not know it, but they are, in fact, a long-necked part of Georgia’s colorful political history. Once the pampered pets of regional strongman Aslan Abashidze, the birds had their fate rewritten in May 2004 when Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ousted Abashidze from power in the Black Sea region of Achara. With Abashidze’s stables– both political and animal– cleaned out, his 25 ostriches needed a new home. For the answer, Saakashvili’s government hit on a horse-breeding farm 30 kilometers south of the Georgian capital run by Tbilisi-based businessman Gia Seturidze. Seturidze, who runs several consulting and real estate companies, agreed to the proposal, hoping to farm the ostriches and make a profit selling their meat. But several of the birds did not survive the transfer from subtropical Achara to the arid stretches of Georgia’s southeast near the Azerbaijani border. Others were donated to the Tbilisi zoo. The remaining six live at Seturidze’s farm in the village of Kulari where they are both an unlikely and an unwelcome presence. “These birds are stupid and useless,” commented handler Viktor, sizing up a two-and-a-half-meter-tall male ostrich that, curious, stared back steadily through its heavily lashed, big, black eyes. –“Eurasia Insight: Ostriches revive memories of Georgia’s political past,” Giorgi Lomsadze and Temo Bardzimashvili, EurasiaNet
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.
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.
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 naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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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.”