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A good day begins with the NYTimes, NPR, Arts & Letters Daily, Sacred Space & good coffee; it ends with a Grand Marnier. A brilliant day would be spent in London, New York or San Francisco -- although Sydney would be right up there. Unwinding in Carmel or Antibbes. Daytime spent in library (the Morgan, LOC or Widener) or museum (the Frick, the Louvre, British) with a healthy walk (around Lake Annecey); evening -- theatre (West End), or music (Carnegie Hall). A nice last meal: Perhaps the French Laundry or Fredy Giardet or Quennelles de Brochet from Taillevent, Cassoulet from Cafe des Artistes, Peking Duck from le Tsé-Fung, Lobster Savannah from Locke-Ober, Sacher Torte from Demel and Café Brulot from Antoine. Sazerac as an apéritif, Le Môntrachet in the beginning, Stag's Leap Cabernet in the middle, Veuve Cliqûot to conclude. Desert Island: Imac, Ipod, (I know, generator and dish necessary) Johnnie Walker Blue Label, wife & Adler's Great Books.


Mr Turner: the gruntiest, snortiest, huffiest film of the year - and the most beautiful too » The Spectator

Mr Turner: the gruntiest, snortiest, huffiest film of the year - and the most beautiful too » The Spectator



A COUPLE of years ago I was walking up Sixth Avenue in New York with my friend, the literary agent Michael Carlisle. Michael was ebullient; he had just sold a book about Miguel Cervantes to Bloomsbury, an excellent small press best known for discovering “Harry Potter.’’
“It’s a book book, it’s not a ‘book,’ ” Michael explained as we descended into the subway. “I represent books. There are enough ‘books’ in the world already.”
Around the same time, cartoonist Garry Trudeau embraced the book vs. “book” distinction in his “Doonesbury” strip. Jeff Redfern, a.k.a. the anti-Taliban fighter “Red Rascal,” had just received a seven-figure advance to tell the Rascal story, and his friends accused him of selling out. “It’s a book, not a ‘book,’” Redfern pointedly told his detractors.
A challenging distinction, to be sure. Celebrities, sports heroes, YouTube sensations, and feckless politicians generally create “books,’’ or have them created for them. Chumps like me — and Jeff Redfern! — write books. “I understand the distinction,” my friend, the writer Roger Lowenstein observed. “ ‘Books’ are the books that keep your books off the bestseller lists?”
This column is a handy field guide to differentiating these two species in the wild.
“Book”: Amy Poehler’s widely touted memoir-confessional “Yes Please,’’ in which the author confesses “that I had no business agreeing to write this book.” Globe reviewer Kara Baskin agrees: “Lots of this book feels like filler,” Baskin writes, citing the “pervasive sense that [Poehler] felt pressured into this gig.”
Dear Amy, here is our title for the inevitable sequel: “No Thank You.”
Book: “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.” The acknowledgments are comical. It looks as though former Tufts professor Martin Sherwin lost control of his research and drafted author Kai Bird to put this book in order. The result is sublime, a portrait of a sensitive, polymath genius devoured by a ferocious new world, partly of his own making.
“Book”: Andrew Cuomo’s “All Things Possible,” a thinly disguised attempt to launch the Cuomo name into presidential orbit, yet again. Houston — I mean Albany — we have a problem. The New York Observer cited a “tidal wave of lousy Amazon reviews,” and The New York Times ungraciously reported that the book, for which HarperCollins paid $700,000, had sold 945 copies during its first week of sales. Shades of Deval Patrick’s notorious “book”-bomb, “A Reason to Believe.”
Book: “Isabella: The Warrior Queen” by Kirstin Downey. I’ve read only about half the book, and have marveled at the just-plain-folks nature of the Ferdinand and Isabella royal household. On their marriage day, “the couple were so poor they were compelled to borrow to meet the wedding expenses.”
Isabella hand-stitches all of Ferdinand’s shirts, which doesn’t prevent him from fathering numerous children with various mistresses. Downey credits the able and ambitious queen with creating the foundation for “the world’s first great truly global superpower.” And with Columbus, of course.
“Book”: Gabmeister Bill O’ Reilly and his tame historian Martin Dugard have outdone themselves with their latest mammoth bestseller, “Killing Patton.” In previous outings, e.g. “Killing Lincoln,” they’ve merely spun actual historians’ works through their typewriters to create by-the-numbers “history” for the Fox News crowd.
Now they’ve had to invent a story more or less out of whole cloth, because, inconveniently, General George Patton died in an auto accident. Or did he? O’Reilly and Dugard have tuned their historical antennae to a conspiracy freak-quency suggesting that the precursors of the CIA and the KGB collaborated on Patton’s murder in a German hospital after his staged auto mishap.
Don’t worry, it’s only a “book.”


Some Advice

Twenty years ago—on November 25, 1994—Isaiah Berlin accepted the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws at the University of Toronto. He prepared the following “short credo” (as he called it in a letter to a friend) for the ceremony, at which it was read on his behalf.
David Williams/Corbis
The grave of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery, London, March 2014
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” With these words Dickens began his famous novel A Tale of Two Cities. But this cannot, alas, be said about our own terrible century. Men have for millennia destroyed each other, but the deeds of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Napoleon (who introduced mass killings in war), even the Armenian massacres, pale into insignificance before the Russian Revolution and its aftermath: the oppression, torture, murder which can be laid at the doors of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and the systematic falsification of information which prevented knowledge of these horrors for years—these are unparalleled. They were not natural disasters, but preventable human crimes, and whatever those who believe in historical determinism may think, they could have been averted.
I speak with particular feeling, for I am a very old man, and I have lived through almost the entire century. My life has been peaceful and secure, and I feel almost ashamed of this in view of what has happened to so many other human beings. I am not a historian, and so I cannot speak with authority on the causes of these horrors. Yet perhaps I can try.
They were, in my view, not caused by the ordinary negative human sentiments, as Spinoza called them—fear, greed, tribal hatreds, jealousy, love of power—though of course these have played their wicked part. They have been caused, in our time, by ideas; or rather, by one particular idea. It is paradoxical that Karl Marx, who played down the importance of ideas in comparison with impersonal social and economic forces, should, by his writings, have caused the transformation of the twentieth century, both in the direction of what he wanted and, by reaction, against it. The German poet Heine, in one of his famous writings, told us not to underestimate the quiet philosopher sitting in his study; if Kant had not undone theology, he declared, Robespierre might not have cut off the head of the King of France.
He predicted that the armed disciples of the German philosophers—Fichte, Schelling, and the other fathers of German nationalism—would one day destroy the great monuments of Western Europe in a wave of fanatical destruction before which the French Revolution would seem child’s play. This may have been unfair to the German metaphysicians, yet Heine’s central idea seems to me valid: in a debased form, the Nazi ideology did have roots in German anti-Enlightenment thought. There are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached.
Let me explain. If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter. Lenin believed this after reading Das Kapital, and consistently taught that if a just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society could be created by the means he advocated, then the end justified any methods that needed to be used, literally any.
The root conviction which underlies this is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. It can and must be implemented, and those who have found it are the leaders whose word is law. The idea that to all genuine questions there can be only one true answer is a very old philosophical notion. The great Athenian philosophers, Jews and Christians, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Paris of Louis XIV, the French radical reformers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of the nineteenth—however much they differed about what the answer was or how to discover it (and bloody wars were fought over this)—were all convinced that they knew the answer, and that only human vice and stupidity could obstruct its realization.
This is the idea of which I spoke, and what I wish to tell you is that it is false. Not only because the solutions given by different schools of social thought differ, and none can be demonstrated by rational methods—but for an even deeper reason. The central values by which most men have lived, in a great many lands at a great many times—these values, almost if not entirely universal, are not always harmonious with each other. Some are, some are not. Men have always craved for liberty, security, equality, happiness, justice, knowledge, and so on. But complete liberty is not compatible with complete equality—if men were wholly free, the wolves would be free to eat the sheep. Perfect equality means that human liberties must be restrained so that the ablest and the most gifted are not permitted to advance beyond those who would inevitably lose if there were competition. Security, and indeed freedoms, cannot be preserved if freedom to subvert them is permitted. Indeed, not everyone seeks security or peace, otherwise some would not have sought glory in battle or in dangerous sports.
Justice has always been a human ideal, but it is not fully compatible with mercy. Creative imagination and spontaneity, splendid in themselves, cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, careful and responsible calculation. Knowledge, the pursuit of truth—the noblest of aims—cannot be fully reconciled with the happiness or the freedom that men desire, for even if I know that I have some incurable disease this will not make me happier or freer. I must always choose: between peace and excitement, or knowledge and blissful ignorance. And so on.
So what is to be done to restrain the champions, sometimes very fanatical, of one or other of these values, each of whom tends to trample upon the rest, as the great tyrants of the twentieth century have trampled on the life, liberty, and human rights of millions because their eyes were fixed upon some ultimate golden future?
I am afraid I have no dramatic answer to offer: only that if these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion. My point is that some values clash: the ends pursued by human beings are all generated by our common nature, but their pursuit has to be to some degree controlled—liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I repeat, may not be fully compatible with each other, nor are liberty, equality, and fraternity.
So we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals. I know only too well that this is not a flag under which idealistic and enthusiastic young men and women may wish to march—it seems too tame, too reasonable, too bourgeois, it does not engage the generous emotions. But you must believe me, one cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs.
I am glad to note that toward the end of my long life some realization of this is beginning to dawn. Rationality, tolerance, rare enough in human history, are not despised. Liberal democracy, despite everything, despite the greatest modern scourge of fanatical, fundamentalist nationalism, is spreading. Great tyrannies are in ruins, or will be—even in China the day is not too distant. I am glad that you to whom I speak will see the twenty-first century, which I feel sure can be only a better time for mankind than my terrible century has been. I congratulate you on your good fortune; I regret that I shall not see this brighter future, which I am convinced is coming. With all the gloom that I have been spreading, I am glad to end on an optimistic note. There really are good reasons to think that it is justified.


LA Johnson/NPR
Today, NPR Ed kicks off a yearlong series: 50 Great Teachers.
We're starting this celebration of teaching with Socrates, the superstar teacher of the ancient world. He was sentenced to death more than 2,400 years ago for "impiety" and "corrupting" the minds of the youth of Athens.
But Socrates' ideas helped form the foundation of Western philosophy and the scientific method of inquiry. And his question-and-dialogue-based teaching style lives on in many classrooms as the Socratic method.
I went to Oakland Technical High School in California to see it in action.
It's the first period of the morning, and student Annelise Eeckman is sparring with teacher Maryann Wolfe about Social Security. They get into the roller-coaster nature of the U.S. stock market and the question of what role the market should play, if any, in workers' retirement plans.
"It's not influencing me," Wolfe says.
"You're not retired currently," Eeckman counters.
"But I have stock," Wolfe says. "You know what happened Thursday and Friday, right? Friday it started going back up again; yesterday it went up a little bit more."
"And what if tomorrow it dips?" Eeckman says.
"Well, yeah, but you depend on one day?"
In this 12th-grade Advanced Placement American government class, students are not just encouraged, they're expected to question the teacher — and each other.
That's at the heart of the Socratic method that's come down to us from the streets of Athens: dialogue-based critical inquiry. The goal here is to focus on the text, ideas and facts — not just opinions — and to dig deeper through discussion.
Maryann Wolfe leads her AP American government class at Oakland Technical High School in a discussion about the history of third parties in American politics.
Maryann Wolfe leads her AP American government class at Oakland Technical High School in a discussion about the history of third parties in American politics.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR
On this particular morning, students are tackling the history of third parties in American politics. They're poring over the platforms of past candidates, including Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan.
"I'm just trying to figure out what the Republicans must be thinking, what Pat Buchanan must be thinking," says Wolfe as she leans on her lectern.
"Well, if we look at the group of people that the Republicans tend to focus their opinions on, they're usually of the more wealthy classes," one student says.
Senior Jonah Oderberg confidently pushes back on the idea of school vouchers, which Wolfe is defending.
"If you have that high-enough income to afford that private education," says Oderberg, "that should be coming out of your own pocket. There's already adequate public schools."
"So you want me to pay double?" asks Wolfe, smiling as she walks closer to Oderberg's desk in the back of the room.
"Um, no," Oderberg says. The class laughs.
"Sounds like it," Wolfe counters and turns back to the front of the class.
'The Complexity Of The Issues'
This is good classroom jousting.
OK, one student is falling asleep.
But everyone else is wide awake and into the discussion.
"I think the Socratic method means that you're going to have a whole bunch of ideas floating to the surface," says Wolfe, who helped build this school's Socratic seminar program, which is part of a national Paideia program that encourages the Socratic method.
"I want them to see the complexity of the issues. I believe the students really learn that way. Because they have to speak, they have to be engaged in what we're trying to learn."
For Wolfe, the Socratic method at its core means getting students to actually listen to each other and to differing opinions. It's been her main teaching tool during her nearly three decades in the classroom.
"Maybe we won't find exact truths in this class," she says. "But we will at least look at all possibilities, and they will have a truth right at that moment. And the moment comes when they have to stand up and debate it, when they have to write an essay about it. They have to take a side."
As part of the class, Wolfe requires students to get involved with a local political campaign, ballot measure or issue. Senior Sierra Robbins is volunteering for a local effort to boost the minimum wage, which she says has changed her views about the power of civic engagement and the role of government.
"It felt so distant and too big to be changed," Robbins says. "And I went out and talked to people, and it felt really different. It felt like you could really do something."
'Critical Dialogue'
Socrates didn't write anything down. And details of his life remain largely unknown. Many of his ideas, and much of his life as a teacher and philosopher, are known largely through the writings of his best student, Plato, in his Dialogues.
But we do know that Socrates — the man and myth — valued reasoned, logical oral arguments that sought truth through probing discourse.
Today you can call Wolfe's Oakland classes Socratic. But maybe this is just what good teaching looks like: an engaged, passionate teacher facilitating a critical dialogue and acting as a kind of intellectual coach. Not a teacher merely lecturing or teaching to a test.
I asked 17-year-old Maddie Ahlers what she's gotten out of the program.
"I think that the Socratic method has to be a part of good teaching, because it's one thing to write an essay or be able to take a test," Ahlers says. "But later in life, you're gonna have to be able to articulate your own views and say verbally what you think about an issue or anything you believe."
Black Pine Circle
At Oakland Tech, Socrates lives on mainly in its AP classes and seminars. At some other schools, he is literally everywhere.
At Black Pine Circle, a private school in Berkeley, Socrates' stenciled face peers out at students from many of the walls and hallways.
"Now remember, in the inner circle we don't need to raise hands," sixth- and seventh-grade teacher Tim Ogburn tells his students. "Let's just try to have a conversation. Outer circle for right now, I just want you guys listening."
Seventh-grade students respond to teacher Tim Ogburn's questions about a Japanese creation myth. Their school, Black Pine Circle, in Berkeley, Calif., follows the Socratic method.
Seventh-grade students respond to teacher Tim Ogburn's questions about a Japanese creation myth. Their school,Black Pine Circle, in Berkeley, Calif., follows the Socratic method.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR
Every class is imbued with Socratic style, and the pedagogy includes regular Socratic seminars. (OK, Socrates likely skips gym class.)
"When you hear people tell a story it kind of gives you an idea of who they are," says one seventh-grader in Ogburn's class. Students sit in semicircular rows discussing a Japanese creation myth. One circle is tasked with talking while another is supposed to just listen — and think.
Ogburn is trying to get students to look beyond the basics: that the myth was part of a pre-scientific society trying to explain the world.
"So, inner circle, tell me: How is this story about balance?"
When done right, Ogburn says, he is facilitating a real dialogue. It's a method he hopes his students can use to approach lifelong learning as well as life itself.
"The Socratic method forces us to take a step back from that and ask questions like: What's going on here? What does this possibly mean?" Ogburn says. "What's important? What's less important? What might be motivating this person to say this?"
Head of School John Carlstroem agrees. "What we're trying to teach kids is to ask the question, 'What makes you say that?' " he says.
"I think that the best scientists and mathematicians — that's the question they're asking in all of their work: 'What makes us say that? What gives us this idea?' "
In the eighth grade, students are expected to take charge. In English class, teacher Chris Chun sits to the side and largely stays quiet while eighth-grader Alexander Blau leads a small-group discussion on George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, Animal Farm.
Another group silently listens while a third group will offer critical feedback.
"Does anybody here know what 'beatifically' means, and could you guess it based on the context?" Blau asks the group. "Tommy, do you think you have an idea?"
After the discussion, teacher Chun asks the class how they did. The other students comment on the discussion. One student suggests Blau shouldn't have let another student, David, take over as the leader. Then the groups switch, and another student-led discussion begins.
"We really remind our teachers that what we're trying to get at is the process of learning for learning's sake," Carlstroem says. "Let's not make this all about learning to gain information but to learn how to learn. I think that's when the democratic process comes through in all this."
Start 'Em Young
At this K-8 school, it's never too early to start a Socratic seminar. Black Pine Circle's kindergartners start with a Question of the Day. On the day I visited, first-graders were doing basic addition — as a group — using dominoes.
First-graders at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley, Calif., learn basic addition using dominoes.
First-graders at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley, Calif., learn basic addition using dominoes.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR
"I think of it as the teacher doesn't have the one true answer; the class constructs knowledge together," says first-grade teacher Leila Sinclaire. "They need to learn how to listen to one another and learn from one another and celebrate mistakes. I don't explain things by saying, 'This is what we're doing and this is why.' I ask them: 'What are you interested in and how can we explore that together?' " Sinclaire says.
Carlstroem says young children respond well to this style of teaching.
"Five-, 6- and 7-year-olds are so naturally curious that in many ways they may be the most naturally Socratic," he says. "Those of us who have had 3-year-olds know that that's a part of what that is when they say, 'Why? Why? Why?' all the time."
Some scholars argue that Socrates was being ironic and playful when he said that all he knows is that he knows nothing. His call for intellectual humility was also meant to poke fun at the pretensions of Athenian society. So maybe it's fitting that the Bay Area has a school dedicated to the Socratic method. At times Silicon Valley's 'we're saving the world one app at a time' ethos could perhaps use a dose of Socratic humility.
Scholars today are still trying to parse what's truly Socratic from Plato's idealized accounts. Was the great teacher mainly a creation of his student?
Maybe it doesn't matter.
"Would we still do it if it was called Frodo's practice?" asks Head of School John Carlstroem. "My answer is yes, because the proof is in the pudding. When we look at what happens in a Socratic classroom and how it works — it's amazing. I think the reason we call it Socratic practice is because, like a lot of things, we're working at it."
They're practicing and refining the techniques of critical thinking all the time, he says. It's a process that's never really finished.


od Liddle: The top 10 most fatuous phrases in the English language

I’m battling my demons, and at my most vulnerable, but I’ve still managed to bring you a column
69 Comments 1 November 2014
Philip Seymour Hoffman Photo: Getty
Philip Seymour Hoffman Photo: Getty
An apology. A few weeks back, in my blog, I promised a regular series called ‘Fatuous Phrase of the Week’. Like so many publicly uttered promises, this one has failed to materialise.
There has been no update to the Fatuous Phrase of the Week. This is because for the past two weeks I have been battling my demons — and horrible, vindictive little bastards they are too. While I would have been happy to fulfil that promise, and had plenty of phrases at the ready, the demons crowded around. Nah, they said, take the dog for a walk instead. Jabbering in my ear, poking me with their little pitchforks. Forget the phrase thing, they insisted. Instead try to get to 400,000 points on Bejewelled (Lightning mode): you can do it, Rod. You got 375,000 only a couple of days back. Put in that extra effort. You know it’s worth it. So I battled my demons, briefly, and then succumbed. Demons 1 Readers 0. This article, therefore, is an attempt to put matters right.
Below are a bunch of the clichés, lies, evasions, obfuscations, PC euphemisms and disingenuous balls words and phrases which, in recent years, have annoyed me the most. There are countless others, but these are the ones which for one reason or other stick in my craw. And of course we begin with:
1. Battling my demons 
It was demons who held down that actress/pop singer/reality TV star and rammed four kilos of charlie up her left nostril leaving her with the IQ of an aspidistra and, alas, sans septum. It was demons who injected Philip Seymour Hoffman with skag. The same creatures regularly waylay the former footballer Paul Gascoigne and siphon several litres of vodka down his throat. And it was demons, a whole bunch of them, who grappled with Brooks Newmark’s penis and ensured it was transmitted digitally to the fictitious woman of his choice. This was my original Fatuous Phrase of the Week, an utterly ubiquitous cliché which serves only to absolve people from responsibility.
2 Vulnerable
It’s official — the most abused word in the English language these days. Today, as used by the whining liberal left, it means anyone who isn’t an able-bodied middle-aged white heterosexual male in full possession of his mental faculties. In other words, about 70 per cent of the population. It is frequently used as a euphemism for educationally retarded, or what we used to call ‘backward’; when you hear on the news that someone was ‘vulnerable’, you have to work out for yourself why. It’s not usually hard.
3. Diversity 
Inline sub2
Something brilliant, to be championed. We all love diversity, don’t we? As used by the left it means ‘lots of ethnic minorities’. Quite often it is deployed to mean precisely the opposite of its original meaning. As in ‘the area is very diverse’, referring to a place populated exclusively by Bangladeshis.
4. Denier
A horrible and recent confection of, again, the liberal left. You can be a ‘climate change denier’, which means you might doubt that global warming will cause quite the catastrophic circumstances — annihilation of all living creatures, earth burned to a crust, polar bears howling in agony — dreamed up by the maddest, gibbering eco-warriors. You can be a ‘sexual abuse denier’, which means you have one or two doubts about Operation Yewtree. The term was appropriated from the Holocaust, of course: the implication being that to deny that absolutely all 1970s celebrities were busy molesting kiddies is on a par with denying that Nazi Germany murdered six million Jewish people. Nice.
5. Classic 
I bought some lavatory paper the other day which was described as having a ‘classic design’. It wasn’t papyrus, just the same design the firm has been peddling for 20 years. Has a word ever been wiped on so many bottoms as ‘classic’? Debased is an understatement.
6. Wrong side of history
If someone says you’re on the wrong side of history, it is their smug and stupid way of telling you that you are wrong and they are right, no more. Conservatism is always on the wrong side of history because it is innately opposed to profound social change. Social change is always good, you see, even when it is utterly calamitous or pointless or unnecessary.
7. Bravely fighting cancer
An odious phrase, patronising and meaningless. All people with cancer are bravely fighting the vile disease. All people with cancer who have decided not to fight it, but instead to acquiesce, are also brave — perhaps even more brave. In truth, ‘bravery’ and ‘fighting’ have nothing to do with it.
8. Let me absolutely clear about this, Evan…
Any politician who tells you that he is about to be absolutely clear about anything is actually about to lie to you and probably steal your spoons. It also suggests to me that they are anything but clear in their own minds as to what the hell they are talking about, especially if they say it with great emphasis while banging their fists on the table. As used by Ed Miliband on a daily basis, probably to his family about what he’s having for breakfast, as well as to the rest of us about other stuff.
9. Vibrant
Used as a synonym for ‘noisy’ or ‘thieving’. Almost always used in conjunction with ‘diverse’ (qv) and also…
10. Community
Yes, Huw, it’s a vibrant and diverse community, but it’s also a very vulnerable community, which is why the police have been brought in to stop angry local people attacking them. I think we can say, Huw, that the angry local people are on the wrong side of history.
That’s enough vapid idiocies for now. One of these days I’ll gather up a bunch of other phrases which are deliberately misleading, obnoxious or disingenuous. If my demons let me. Right now they’re waving a bottle of Sancerre in my face and sniggering. Don’t they know how vulnerable I am?
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 


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[Originally published October 29, 2009.]
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A man, a woman, and a blackbird walk into a bar. “Table for one, please,” they say.
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Byron walks into a bar. He has sex with everyone in the bar.
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Milton, Homer and Borges walk into a bar. Milton says: “Who the fuck put this bar here?”
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Wordsworth and Coleridge are watching the Lakers game. They can’t get service at the crowded bar. Coleridge smiles and says to Wordsworth: “Lager, lager everywhere, and I can’t get a drink.” Wordsworth says to Coleridge: “I have pleurisy.”
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Rimbaud, Bukowski, and Dylan Thomas walk into a bar. They are promptly thrown out.
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A horse walks into a bar where Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound are drinking.
BARTENDER (to horse): Why the long face?
WHITMAN (to everyone): I, too, am a horse.
POUND (to Whitman): Shut the fuck up.


Separating meditation from faith is a dubious business, morally and sometimes in its effects
41 Comments 1 November 2014


Ruby Wax and Andy Puddicombe discuss mindfulness with Mary Wakefield
The chances are that by now either you or someone you know well has begun to practise ‘mindfulness’ — a form of Buddhism lite, that focuses on meditation and ‘being in the now’. In the past year or so it’s gone from being an eccentric but harmless hobby practised by contemporary hippies to a new and wildly popular pseudo–religion; a religion tailor-made for the secular West.
Think how hostile an awful lot of companies are to organised religion; to any talk of ‘faith’. Now consider that in both America and the UK, it’s probably easier to count on your fingers the number of institutions that aren’t engaging in ‘mindfulness’ than those that are; giving ‘mindfulness’ teachers special spaces to have classes and encouraging staff to take part.
The mindful include Google, Kensington and Chelsea council, the European Central Bank and the US Marines. The NHS is funding mindfulness sessions for depression as an alternative to pharmaceutical interventions. There’s anall-party mindfulness group in parliament, which Ruby Wax helped launch. Richard Layard, Britain’s ‘happiness guru’, is all for it. Madeleine Bunting has suggested in the Guardian that it should be mandatory in schools. Indeed, if you find yourself on a train with a fellow traveller gazing at you benevolently, it’s possible that they’re not insane but just radiating mindful compassion.
It’s been touted as a cure for pretty well everything, from depression, stress, anxiety and chronic pain to eczema. And for those who can’t manage the group sessions, there’s a handy app called HeadSpace which enables you to do mindfulness on the go from your smartphone and now offers a bespoke service. The app was invented by Andy Puddicombe, a fortysomething former Buddhist monk with a degree in circus arts. According to the New York Times,‘Puddicombe is doing for meditation what Jamie Oliver has done for food.’ Certainly mindfulness is doing for Puddicombe what food has done for Jamie Oliver, because he’s now worth about £25 million.
So what exactly is mindfulness? On the back of a week of sessions, I can assert with some confidence that it’s about being very much in the present moment. You’re encouraged to become aware of your breathing, your body and your surroundings. Plus you’re meant to view people and things in a compassionate, non-judgmental spirit. Think meditation, think Buddhism, and you’re there, so long as you don’t forget the breathing.
It’s ubiquitous, non-invasive and involves sitting quietly and not judging anyone. Guided, communal meditation, let’s say. Anyway, you may be thinking, what do you actually do when you’re being mindful? What actually happens? Well, normally you sit in a semi-circle in a group — anything from five or so to a couple of dozen of you, though some sessions led by the gurus of the movement can muster hundreds. It’ll be a nice quiet place, possibly with candles. Most sessions start off with an exploration of how stressed we all are. The teacher fills a chart with examples — your Tube journey? Your week at work? — and invites participants to stick up their hands if they’re stressed. Everyone does. Then there may be a bit of neurology with diagrams on the chart, showing how we’re all using the fight-or-flight bit of our brain inappropriately, as opposed to the new neurological pathways we can make by reprogramming our brains to chill out through meditation. Then there’s the conscious breathing. It may be preceded by contemplating a leaf or a glass of water before you start focusing on your breath coming in and going out. At which point, as Dorothy Parker would say, you find me and Morpheus in the corner, necking. But the routine varies. At one session, one girl, invited to imagine herself as a tree, plaintively cried: ‘Please can I not be a tree? I was dreading on the way here that I’d have to be a tree.’