Faith under fire in Bethlehem: Mitri Raheb’s FAITH IN THE FACE OF EMPIRE

At last year’s launch of veteran travel writer Dervla Murphy’s remarkable book, A Month by the Sea - Encounters in Gaza, she made a simple but telling point. “The Palestinians’ predicament is that they are the victims’ victims”. Of course, in Faith in the Face of Empire, an equally remarkable book by a Palestinian Christian pastor, victimhood (despite its postmodern attractions) is a dangerous mantle.

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On Human Transience and Mortality: Clive James’ JAPANESE MAPLE

Have been playing catch up with a few New Yorker back issues in the last couple of days - like buses, you get none, and then suddenly several arrive in the post in a pile. So I was stopped in my tracks by Japanese Maple, a new poem by Clive James. He's a remarkable writer and commentator - his is a sizzling combination of high intelligence, unsnobbish cultural magpie-ism (if that's not a thing, it jolly well should be) and laugh-out-loud-wit. But he now has terminal cancer. As a result he knows he'll never make it back to his native Australia before he dies. (Here is an interview he gave back in 2013) He is confined to Cambridge and the UK. So here he writes of the tree planted by his daughter in their garden.

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U2’s Songs of Innocence (3): A Disquieting Lullaby (SLEEP LIKE A BABY)

U2 can be pretty shocking. If you've followed social media recently, you'll know they've caused global offence by giving away their Songs of Innocence album for free (oh, and a nice tidy cheque from Apple for $100 million). I do think that the sum is pretty obnoxious. There's no way that anyone needs that kind of cash, least of all the world's most successful band in history (more or less). I'd say it represents, at the very least, a rather grim error of judgment. I have enjoyed some of the memes that this has provoked, though (esp Who is U2 anyway?). But even though that all now seems rather an inadvertent PR disaster, the album contains some genuine shocks which are clearly more artfully deliberate.

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Beware the conspiracy theorist’s ‘fact’: THE UMBRELLA MAN

This is superb and completely speaks for itself. It subverts the natural, but risky, human desire to connect all the dots on the basis of a few curiosities and anomalies. Errol Morris' short film asks why it was that 'The Umbrella Man watched the JFK motorcade in November 1963 with his umbrella up. Whenever someone is articulating a conspiracy theory like this one, it is always worth keep an ear out for 'facts' like this one...

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U2’s Songs of Innocence (2): Enigmatic Personal Variations and Iris

So I've been pondering a lot on the fact that Bono has called Songs of Innocence a personal album. Here he is in Rolling Stone last week:

"We wanted to make a very personal album," Bono told Rolling Stone's Gus Wenner the day before the press conference in an exclusive interview. "Let's try to figure out why we wanted to be in a band, the relationships around the band, our friendships, our lovers, our family. The whole album is first journeys — first journeys geographically, spiritually, sexually. And that's hard. But we went there."

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U2’s Songs of Innocence: You’ve probably already got it…

I guess being a U2 devotee is a bit like supporting a top-flight football team. You can't wait for their next match, and yet there's always asense ofdread that it won't come to much. The rumours about a new album(s) have been circulating for years. And then suddenly, there it was. Already in iTunes playlists, without any warning. How bizarre is that?! Nothing if not bold, and perhaps mildly megalomaniacal. The Bono-haters will certainly think so.

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