Chronicles Magazine Letters

The Broken Promise of American Cities

There is a saying used in California when the going gets tough: “At least we have the weather.” No matter how expensive, dangerous, unclean, and generally inhospitable the state’s cities become, “at least we have the weather,” Californians say,...

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  • Correspondence

    Blowing for Elkhart

    Hobbled as I am by residual injury—I wear an ankle brace and limp a bit—and wheeling a large cornet/flugelhorn case, I was grateful when a man much younger than I held open a door for me as I entered the lobby for Elkhart’s Lerner Theatre.

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  • Correspondence

    The Patriot

    Italian journalists are forbidden these days from using the Italian word for foreign migrants who have stolen their way by subterfuge into Italy. By controlling which words people can use you can control their thought. It is a thoroughly fascist...

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  • Correspondence

    The Siege of Sweden

    In an era of political correctness, “safe spaces,” and “trigger warnings” for the constitutionally feeble, there are plenty of things we are not supposed to talk about. Increasingly in recent months, this seems to include crime and immigration...

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  • Correspondence

    Homesick in America

    “Darlin,’” she said, “I’ll get that. Go ahead and take it.” She was a weathered-looking woman with mousy light brown hair drawn back in a bun and the plain, honest look of one of those faces you see in Depression-era photos from the Dust Bowl,...

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  • VIEWS

    The Center Doesn’t Hold Here

    How do you make sense of New York? There’s lots of intelligence, talent, and ambition here. There’s also a lot of insanity. When Barack Obama won his first presidential election people in my neighborhood partied in the streets all night.

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  • Correspondence

    Recessional

    P.G. Wodehouse reached for Keats to describe his emotions when he read the first of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman saga. Fraser had already joined the glorious company of famously successful authors who were turned away from the doors of...

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  • Correspondence

    Worse at What It Is

    New York is always changing: It’s the city that never sleeps. When local writer Kay Hymowitz wrote a book about Brooklyn recently she talked about “creative destruction” on almost every other page. She had a point, and the city has seen both...

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  • Correspondence

    Unnumbered Years

    Ravens over North Berwick Law—could any phrase be more hyperborean? I turned the words over lazily as I watched them 50 feet above, circling and diving on one another, flicking expert wings, commenting incessantly on their sport as they...

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  • Correspondence

    Demolition Day

    The 150th Anniversary (or Sesquicentennial) of Canadian Confederation will be celebrated on July 1. That holiday was traditionally denominated “Dominion Day,” as Canada was officially called “the Dominion of Canada”—a term which has now fallen...

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  • Correspondence

    Race Against Reason

    We are living in a racially charged climate. Problems associated with the relations between the races seem endemic to all areas of our sad and beleaguered culture. Discussions of law enforcement are dominated by the alleged racism of police...

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  • Correspondence

    Never and Always

    I turn down the soothing voice of “Gentleman Jim” Reeves. He looks at me from the CD case, a face thought of as handsome in his day, though Jim seems too mature and, maybe, just a bit innocent, even naive, for our jaded time.

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  • Correspondence

    Paris Holds Her Breath

    In the days that followed the November terrorist attacks, many here in Paris were paralyzed. This is a level of violence and death to which those of us in the First World are simply unaccustomed, though modern jihad threatens to change that very...

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  • Correspondence

    No Piety, No Justice

    The annual pro-life rally has become a pilgrimage for many, and even if it has failed to stop abortion it has at least helped maintain social space for those who oppose it. Pro-lifers have ensured that abortion is still a live issue—no...

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  • Correspondence

    A Long Time Gone

    Two young people, one a 16-year-old schoolgirl, the other a 21-year-old carpenter, married in my mother’s home church in Houston’s West End on Valentine’s Day, 1953. The neighborhood was filled with wooden houses resting on cinder blocks, my...

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  • Correspondence

    Paterfamilias

    In America today, we seem to face two alternatives: accepting hordes of invaders with alien cultures and ideologies, who are unwilling to assimilate and whose presence endangers the vestiges of our civilization; or homogenizing America into a...

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  • Correspondence

    An American Tragedy

    The story of “America’s deadliest sniper,” Texas-born and -bred Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (credited with more than 160 “confirmed” kills), himself shot down in 2013 by a disturbed war veteran he was trying to help, has become a social litmus test,...

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  • Correspondence

    Charmless

    Early in Owen Wister’s 1905 novel Lady Baltimore, the narrator, recently arrived in Charleston from Philadelphia, remarks upon the stillness of the city, its “silent verandas” and cloistered gardens behind their wrought iron gates—“this...

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  • Correspondence

    Flyover Math

    In January, George Mason University published a survey of the financial solvency of our country’s 50 states. Illinois came in at 48th place, just in front of Connecticut and New Jersey. The Land of Lincoln caught a bit of a break, it seems.

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  • Correspondence

    Suicide State

    “We don’t divorce our men; we bury them,” instructs Stella Bernard, played by a loony Ruth Gordon, in Lord Love a Duck (1966). That’s certainly better social policy than America has pursued since 1970, with no-fault divorce shattering...

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  • Correspondence

    Eating Crow

    The United States is now one vast diocese under the authority of the archbishop of antiracism. Yes, the Church of Antiracism has its hierophants, its clergy, its numberless drone-armies of proselytizers, its dogmas, its catechism, its rites of...

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  • Correspondence

    My Big Brother

    Not long ago, while reading A.J.P. Taylor’s impressively turgid English History: 1914-1945, I found, suspended in the tepid depths of all the fussily annotated tables and statistics, a sentence that all but knocked me out of my chair.

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  • Correspondence

    Old Route 66

    For years I’ve wanted to take a motorcycle trip on Old Route 66. I finally got my chance last September, along with other members of the Southern California Norton Owners Club. The ride was open to anyone with a vintage British motorcycle.

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  • Correspondence

    Canticle for the Apocalypse

    Something strange is haunting our dreams these days. The teenage cashier at the grocery store is conversing with a customer in front of my sister. “That’s right,” she says. “The only thing that will work now is for civilization to collapse...

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  • Correspondence

    The Country Girl

    The fall the Orioles won their first World Series, I was rooming off-campus with three other Towson State College freshmen in a three-story house on Evesham Avenue. The Baltimore of the mid-1960’s was not as much ashamed of its heritage as...

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  • Correspondence

    China's Lord of Heaven

    I have been spending my spring sabbatical in China. As I am a sinologist, specializing in traditional Chinese poetry, there is nothing surprising in that, except that I have not been here since 1981, when I led a tour group for less than three...

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  • Correspondence

    Of Monkeys and Mermaids

    Everyone inquires about you, of course, & I invariably assure them that motherhood flatters you & that you and your amiable Yankee husband grow daily more prosperous. But, alas, I have little in the way of gossip to retail.

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  • VITAL SIGNS

    Thornton Wilder's Depression

    Thornton Wilder met Sigmund Freud in the fall of 1935. Freud had read Wilder’s new novel, Heaven’s My Destination. “‘No seeker after God,’” writes Wilder’s biographer (quoting Freud of himself), “he threw it across the room.”

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  • VITAL SIGNS

    Thomas Wolfe

    Sometimes a great book and the place in which it was read combine to cast a spell so potent and so enduring that both book and place become forever entwined in the memory of the reader.

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  • Correspondence

    Ron Sims

    What have I done? I have tried to find out more about Ron Sims, the deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development and previously the long-running chief executive of King County, Washington, where I live.

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  • Correspondence

    The Bookman

    I remember Granddad as an old man, sitting in his reading chair or working in his garden, but you could still see the younger man in him, the one who had ridden the rails during the Depression, seeking work in California and Oregon with his...

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  • Correspondence

    Johnny Johnson

    For Johnny Johnson, it was always Saturday night. He was the stuff of fictional heroes who prevail over their circumstances. A British army doctor who later joined the Royal Navy, Johnny came from a broken home, never married, and eventually...

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  • Correspondence

    Prosperity

    Declining prosperity is now a settled fact of American life. Prosperity is not measured by the day’s average of stock speculation, or the profits of bankers, or the munificence of government subsidies and salaries, or the consumption of luxury...

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  • Correspondence

    In Search of Flannery O'Connor

    In late June, a friend and I traveled into Central Georgia, looking for Flannery O’Connor. Mary Ann had never heard of Flannery O’Connor. She didn’t know Hazel Motes from a hole in the ground and assured me she had never encountered “A Good Man...

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  • Correspondence

    Remember Katyn

    I arrived in Poland just as the television announced the tragic death of President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, Maria, and many of Poland’s military and political leaders in an airplane crash at Smolensk in Russia. A week of mourning followed...

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  • Correspondence

    Imagine No More Meresy

    A seven-foot bronze statue of the late Beatle John Lennon greets travelers at the international airport in Liverpool that bears his name. It’s fitting that Lennon’s impish image—hands inserted in pants pockets—is displayed at the airport...

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  • Letters to the Bishop

    Broken Windows

    My schedule this past summer gave me the opportunity to attend daily Mass. Nearly every noon found me seated in the pews, garnering the gifts—fewer distractions, the bare-bones order of worship, the solace of quiet prayer—often missing on...

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  • Correspondence

    The Quest for Certitude

    I must thank you sincerely for your extremely thoughtful gift of Saturday by British novelist Ian McEwan. I have read the book with great interest and enjoyment. What is more, it has sent me back to “Dover Beach,” which it uses so...

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  • Correspondence

    Bear

    We were driving back to Michigan after a conference on Herbert Hoover that I had organized for the Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, in 1984. After you get past Hammond and Gary, Indiana is flat but quite nice. Our beautiful...

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  • REVIEWS

    Supernova

    In times of texting and sexting, Twittering and wittering, there is something positively antediluvian about epistolary collections—a whiff of fountain pens and headed notepaper, morocco-topped escritoires in long-windowed drawing rooms looking...

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  • REVIEWS

    Kultur Ohne Gott

    I began this novel, set in Germany between the two world wars, after watching Valkyrie. I found the film both shallow and grandiose, dominated by clicking heels and clashing chords; the choice of Tom Cruise to play Claus von Stauffenberg...

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  • Correspondence

    I Remember

    For some years I have lived in Québec as a friendly alien from the United States, traveling from time to time back to my native Minnesota and other states to practice law in my fields of interest. I am married to a French-Canadian wife who is a...

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  • Correspondence

    A Tsunami of Towers

    Here, you can see almost forever. It is a great green plain bounded by low wolds to the west and the North Sea to the east, by the River Humber to the north and the shining mudflats of the Wash to the south.

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  • Correspondence

    A Living Past

    It is a small town in Bavaria, and it is at least 32 degrees C. The camera weighs heavy in my hands, and I can feel speckles of sweat accumulating beneath my black rucksack, as it soaks up the sun like a square and sinister sponge.

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  • Correspondence

    Love it or Leave It?

    Never has America appeared more incomprehensible in other lands than she has in the last month. We who are routinely published in America, who read for preference American books and magazines, who live and sleep and breathe and indeed dream...

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  • Correspondence

    Spy Kids and Labour Snoops

    In Great Britain as in the United States, terrorism has provided the perfect pretext for assaulting liberties enjoyed for centuries. Torture, detention without charge, wiretapping, international databases of citizens’ private information—all...

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  • Correspondence

    What Civilization Remains

    We once had a book about Eastern Europe at home, in between the encyclopedias and Robinson Crusoe. I do not remember its title nor the author’s name, but it contained highly atmospheric black and white photographs of Rumanian scenes.

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  • Correspondence

    Christmas in Abbeville

    Last winter, I traveled to Abbeville, South Carolina, for its Fifth Annual Olde South Christmas. To the casual observer, this event might appear to be merely an instance of savvy small-town marketing—an attempt to capitalize on the trade in...

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  • Letters to the Bishop

    Black Like Me

    I know May is a monster on your calendar, a whirl of confirmations requiring your presence in the backwater outposts of the Faith. The physical demands alone—the hours in the car, the parish suppers, the compliments and complaints—must weigh...

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  • Correspondence

    Bible-Belt Baroque

    For some time, my friends Jeff and Rebecca Calcutt (a pair of Southern patriots sans pareil), had urged me to pay a visit to Bob Jones University in Greenville. I have no interest in driving to Greenville, I told them. I don’t like mountains,...

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  • Correspondence

    The Lady Vanishes

    In September 2000, I went to Burma to see the places where George Orwell had worked as a policeman in the 1920’s. As I planned my trip, I fantasized about meeting the brave and beautiful Suu Kyi, daughter of the national hero, Aung San, who was...

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  • Letters to the Bishop

    All Saints?

    November brings us All Saints’ Day, November 1, that feast when the Church celebrates Her saints, known and unknown, who are with God in His Heaven. Sainthood, Your Excellency, is why I am writing to you.

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  • Correspondence

    Imagination Deficit

    In spite of the Herculean labors of their spin doctors, politicians on the stump often say stupid things in the heat of the moment, and you are probably right to resent the unfairness of journalists who exaggerate the importance of such mundane...

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  • Correspondence

    The Slavic League

    For as long as young Villem could remember, hunkeys had occupied the lowest rung in Punxsutawney’s social pecking order. The Italians had their various business enterprises; the Irish had their legions of bishops, monsignors, and priests; and...

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  • Correspondence

    The Company Town

    The city of Arcadia, Wisconsin, population 2,400, recently became the town that roared in the immigration debate. Its new mayor, John Kimmel, barely four months on the job, made several proposals in a letter to the editor of the Arcadia...

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  • Correspondence

    Sinkin’ Down in Youngstown

    If you really want to know what’s going on in a city, consult the motel clerk working the graveyard shift—not the clerk at the chain motel, but his counterpart at the inn that advertises the cheapest rates at the interstate exit with the truck stop.

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  • Correspondence

    Heading for Extinction

    Last year, an arresting headline on page three of Tokyo’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper read “Japan Heading for Extinction.” The article bemoaned the contents of a government white paper addressing Japan’s declining birthrate.

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  • Correspondence

    The Right to Blaspheme?

    The vociferous and, at times, incendiary uproar that suddenly erupted in early February with the publication in Paris of 12 “satanic drawings,” supposedly caricaturing Muhammad, offered the world one more proof of the extent to which, thanks to...

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  • Correspondence

    Irreducible India

    When Vasco da Gama’s three battered little ships dropped anchor off Calicut on May 20, 1498, after a voyage of over ten months, they had finally found the sea route between Europe and India so long sought by Portugal’s kings and explorers.

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  • Correspondence

    Tangerine Dreams

    Behind the recent headlines here in Mexico of massive peasant protests, blocked highways and international crossings, and demands for NAFTA treaty renegotiation lay a few facts about incompetence, corruption, and inefficiency.

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  • Correspondence

    Made for Love

    Vanity plates, I once heard—vehicle registration numbers, in other words, that are believed to hold meanings or to pose riddles, in the pedestrian minds of idle onlookers and fellow motorists stuck in traffic—often cost many times more than the...

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  • Letters to the Bishop

    Eucharistic Seconds

    Recently, having finished my post-Communion prayers at Mass, I was sitting along with everyone else, listening to our priest make a few announcements and deliver his last joke of the day, when I noticed my young neighbor in the pew—she was 15 or...

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  • Correspondence

    The Unbeliever

    Suppose you are tired of hearing about roulette. Suppose the very thought of gambling, despite the metaphorist’s efforts to depict it as the great commonwealth of epochal disillusionment and hence universalize the experience, strikes you as...

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  • Correspondence

    Tainted Love

    Conservatives rightly honor George Washington, but why should any conservative so much as like Washington, D.C.? The answer seems as perplexing as the desire of a tourist to buy an “I Love D.C.” T-shirt from one of the Third World vendors on...

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  • Correspondence

    A Sentimental Return

    Returning to a city you once loved is always a perilous experience, for it is so easy to be disappointed—as happened to me several years ago when I returned to Venice, a seaborne city I had not seen for more than 40 years.

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  • Correspondence

    Children in the Hellmouth

    In the week before English schools closed for the summer, three educational news items grabbed the national headlines. This is not especially remarkable in itself: English education has been in a state of revolution for years, and unsettling...

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  • Correspondence

    Caveat Emptor

    Like the flea-market buyer of an atomic clock that is supposed to keep perfect time until the year 8021 but breaks the next day, the poet player straddles the gnostic frontier between infinite skepticism and absolute faith.

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  • Correspondence

    Attack of the Greenies

    I was born and grew up in Washington’s rural Ferry County, in the northeastern corner of the state. In 2000, Republican Sen. Slade Gorton was narrowly defeated by ex-Democratic Congressman Maria Cantwell, who spent huge sums of money and yet...

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  • Correspondence

    Flag Country

    I live in flag country. Here in east-central Illinois, amid the corn and soybean fields, the whistle-stop towns on their grid of well-maintained blacktops, the Stars and Stripes are as common as blue jeans.

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  • Correspondence

    The Poet Player

    Were the contemporary Paris audience of The Gambler to hear, as the curtain went down on Jean-François Regnard’s minor comic masterpiece of 1696, that the apparently chance sequences of dice values in a game of hazard like backgammon can...

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  • Correspondence

    Unseen Places

    In Huysmans’ Against the Grain (1884), the precious hero Des Esseintes has “the idea of turning dream into reality, of traveling [from France] to England in the flesh as well as in the spirit, of checking the accuracy of his...

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  • Correspondence

    How Long, O Lord?

    Since the Middle Ages, the Balkan region of Kosovo-Metohia has witnessed firsthand the confrontation between Christianity and Islam. Metohia is a Greek word meaning “the Church’s land,” and Orthodox Christians consider Kosovo an outpost of their...

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  • Correspondence

    Memorial Day

    We used to go there on every Memorial Day—a small national cemetery off the road a piece in the woods. It was usually warm; the woods, deep, green, and moist. We would walk down a dirt path to the stone wall encircling the graves, sometimes...

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  • Correspondence

    The Prosciutto War

    The mid-December 2001 E.U. summit in Laeken, Belgium, will probably be remembered most for its “prosciutto war,” which began when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused to approve the new food agency to be located in Helsinki, Finland,...

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  • Correspondence

    Blizzard

    Storms and other phenomena of nature have their own distinct sounds. Those who have survived a tornado often say that it sounded “like a train.” A volley of cannon fire accompanies every thunderstorm.

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  • Correspondence

    A Dying Dictatorship

    Avenida 21, number 3014, is a nondescript house in an Havana suburb. The paint is peeling; the walls are plain; the rooms are sparse. Inside lives Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, a Cuban dissident working to free the Cuban people.

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  • Correspondence

    Holding On to a Culture

    For a political party that celebrates diversity, it is certainly an odd choice. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party of Minnesota, like the Democrats nationwide, has celebrated its role in promoting multiculturalism and massive immigration.

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  • Correspondence

    Little Goodbyes

    The sun is breaking through, the dark green grass shimmering as it is swept back and forth by the wind like the mane of a wild mustang running along a plain. Down here, near Madisonville along I-45 South, the rains had come hard and heavy.

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  • Correspondence

    Putting the Children First

    Until the mid-1970’s, public education in Louisiana, like that in much of rural America, was solidly and successfully based on traditional methodology and philosophy, which emphasized academic excellence, an honest curriculum, discipline, and...

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  • Correspondence

    Stage Fright

    In sober truth, if I were the person my correspondent suspects me of being, I would be offended. I would now be thinking of him as a sworn enemy. I would not dream of helping him to air his grievances or of looking for a kernel of substance in...

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  • Correspondence

    Catholic Charity

    I heard the latest twist in the story at the end of our two hours of teaching English at the Catholic mission. We volunteers taught the Latin American students—six simultaneous classes at different levels—in one big, noisy room.

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  • Correspondence

    Dubious Allies

    “We love our children, but we need food,” says Masih Saddiq, a 50-year-old brickmaker, explaining why none of his 13 children were in school. They range in age from one-and-a-half to 25; all seem destined to spend their entire lives making...

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  • Correspondence

    North and South

    My friend Maglio explains that the Sicilian spoken by our hero is high Palermitan, which is far more different from the dialects of the countryside than, say, the sounds of Tuscany are from those of Umbria.

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  • Correspondence

    Mad Cow Madness

    One of the hallmarks of our crazy, crazed, and increasingly raucous age is the insidious war that is being waged in most regions of the Western world against silence, virtually blackballed as an undesirable, something to be avoided at almost any...

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  • Correspondence

    Night and Day

    When I first clambered onto the Italian carousel, at Piazza della Fontana di Trevi, my impressions were a kind of paean to the seriousness of Roman life. Now, some four years later and roughly 400 kilometers to the south, I find myself in...

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  • Correspondence

    Living in a Glass House

    In January of last year, Chilean actress Danielle Tobar made international news by moving into a glass house in downtown Santiago. During the short course of "Project Nautilus," the intimate details of her daily life were open to the (largely...

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  • Correspondence

    What Price for My Soul?

    What price would you place upon your soul? For the people of Mississippi, this question recently became more than a mere philosophical or theological inquiry. True enough, all of us face this question in small, unnoticed ways as we move through life.

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  • Correspondence

    The Women's Movement

    After an uninterrupted spell of a winter month or two here in Venice—all footsteps in the evening mist, and quiet conversation about the best way to cook pheasant, and a Neapolitan card game called "seven and a half—what one notices on arriving...

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  • Correspondence

    Gifts From Afar

    It was just before Christmas, and for some reason I thought the fishing would be good in the Dominican Republic during that time of the year. I had no information to that effect, but a friend, who does not fish, spoke favorably of DR.

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  • Correspondence

    Blair's War on Biology

    Faced with the prospect of having to drop the repeal legislation altogether in order to ensure the passage of the rest of the Local Government Act, Tony Blair had resorted to the time-dishonored tactic of stuffing the awkward legislative chamber...

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  • Correspondence

    When Will It Snow Again?

    It's late September in Russia, and Muscovites are already placing wagers on when the first snow will come. The weather has simply been too good to be true; the sun has been shining and the temperatures mild, which, to the Russian mind at least,...

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  • Correspondence

    Dashing Through Asia

    Not as horrible as Calcutta or as ugly as Seoul, Bangkok, spreading along the flat flanks of the Chao Phraya river, is the whorehouse of Asia. Berth girls and boys will do anything you like with a Coke bottle or Ping-Pong ball.

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  • Correspondence

    Whodunit?

    Taxi drivers in Belgrade, like their counterparts everywhere, know almost everything about almost everything. However, they do not know who murdered the controversial commander of the Serbian Volunteer Guard (SDG), Seljko Raznatovic Arkan and...

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  • Correspondence

    Oui Shall Overcome!

    Quebec shows its patriotism every year on June 24, one week before Canada Day—not because the French-speaking province gets a head start on the rest of the country, but because June 24 is the feast day of Jean Baptiste, the patron saint of Quebec.

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  • Correspondence

    Jamaicas of Remembrance

    Most visitors to Jamaica fly to Montego Bay on the north coast and head straight for the resort compound. Fating and drinking at an "all-in" price, confined to their bit of beach, pool, and garden, they are happily protected from reality.

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  • Correspondence

    Roll, Jordan, Roll

    So the anti-Confederate backlash comes to Dallas . . . but, then, maybe not. Maybe that isn't fundamentally what happened when the Dallas school board, in June, voted to rename mostly black and Hispanic Jefferson Davis Elementary School for...

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  • Correspondence

    The Talk of the Town

    Hillary Rodham Clinton is a "woman" to "women," she is in with the black community, she is in with the ethnics, she is the poster girl of the gay and lesbian community, she is a big deal with the Democrats, and she proved she was effective...

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