‘Women’s rights were never sacrificed at Stonehenge’ – The Telegraph

The ancient Stonehenge site will be illuminated by a sparkling fire show from Compagnie Carabosse, during the London 2012 Festival

The ancient Stonehenge site will be illuminated by a sparkling fire show from Compagnie Carabosse, during the London 2012 Festival

Nobody really knows why Stonehenge was built, or what it meant to the Neolithic Britons who congregated beneath. But that matters far less than the stupendous findings in Aubrey Hole 7, one of many burial pits around the stone circle.

Thanks to painstaking bone analysis by British archaeologists, it has been confirmed that Stonehenge wasn’t a refuge for fed-up male druids so they could hang out together without being bothered by the ladies. Women were there too – and what’s more, they enjoyed the same status as men. All those children’s history books showing a bunch of hairy men doing man-things around a fire are going to have to redo their artwork.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the news that gender equality existed in Britain as late as the Third Millennium BC. It means that a thousand years after agriculture reached the islands, the sexes were still living and functioning together along egalitarian lines. It means that many of our modern notions about the primacy of men, about women being the second sex, and inequality being intrinsic to the human condition, are just dead wrong. We can move on to other battles. Thank the Lord.

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‘2016 English Ball Honorees’ – St George’s Society of New York

The English Ball

The English Ball

The 2016 English Ball will take place on Wednesday 27th April at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City. At this prestigious event, St. George’s Society will present awards to three distinguished people in the British community in New York: Sir Martin Sorrell, Chief Executive of WPP; Danny Lopez, Her Majesty’s Consul General in New York; and Dr. Amanda Foreman, award-winning historian and 2016 Man Booker Prize Chair.

The English Ball is the most prestigious and important event in St. George’s Society of New York’s calendar with proceeds directly supporting its charitable programs. Starting back in 1770 as a banquet to celebrate St. George, the patron saint of England, it has been held with rare exceptions every year since and is now established as the premier English social event in New York. Continue reading…

‘What Next for Feminism?’ Podcast – Intelligence Squared

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 1.09.13 PMAnne-Marie Slaughter is the Washington power player who upset the feminist applecart. At the peak of her career — as first female Director of Policy Planning at the US State Department — she turned her back on her dream job with Hillary Clinton in order to spend more time with her teenage sons. How, cried her contemporaries, could she have sacrificed her high-powered career for her family? Slaughter’s ensuing article for The Atlantic, ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’, went viral, sparking furious debate about how men and women juggle their working lives. Having it all, Slaughter argued, remained a mirage. Women who managed to be both mothers and top professionals were either ‘superhuman, rich or self-employed’.

On January 26, Anne-Marie Slaughter came to the Intelligence Squared stage, together with Amanda Foreman, award-winning historian and presenter of the recent BBC documentary series The Ascent of Woman, which charts the role of women in society over 10,000 years. They were joined by neuroscientist and broadcaster Daniel Glaser and Sky News social affairs editor Afua Hirsch, as they examined what real equality might look like for both men and women. Is gender equality a matter of women ‘leaning in’ harder in their careers? Or do we all need to fundamentally rethink the roles we assign ourselves, so that both sexes can break free from traditional gender stereotypes?

Listen to the podcast of the event here.

‘The Animals That Save Human Lives’ – The Wall Street Journal

Gen. John Pershing awards Sgt. Stubby with a gold medal in 1921. Stubby served in 17 battles and fought in four major allied offensives during WWI. PHOTO: SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION’S NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY

Gen. John Pershing awards Sgt. Stubby with a gold medal in 1921. Stubby served in 17 battles and fought in four major allied offensives during WWI. PHOTO: SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION’S NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY

One of the most popular monuments to animal bravery can be found in New York City’s Central Park. A little north of the Children’s Zoo, the statue of a Siberian husky named Balto stands at attention on a granite rock. In February 1925 Balto led the final team of sled dogs that battled through 674 miles of snow and ice to bring diphtheria serum to the stricken children of Nome, Alaska.

The statue is a reminder of the debt of gratitude that we owe not just to the brave dogs that helped to save a town’s children but to all of the animals that have served humankind or given their lives for us.

For most of history, humans blithely ignored that debt. There is, for example, the Homeric story of Odysseus coming home after 20 years to find that no one had bothered to care for his faithful dog, Argos. And in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” we find the lovesick Helena crying to Demetrius, “Use me but as your spaniel—spurn me, strike me, / Neglect me, lose me,” all of which rather aptly sums up the Elizabethan attitude to Man’s Best Friend. Continue reading…

‘Dreams That Created Literary Masterpieces’ – The Wall Street Journal

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the British writer best known for 'Frankenstein,’ and second wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. PHOTO: HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the British writer best known for ‘Frankenstein,’ and second wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. PHOTO: HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

Dreams have been the stuff of divine inspiration ever since Jacob, in the Book of Genesis, dreamed of a ladder that connected heaven and earth.

In the “Divine Comedy” (completed in 1320), Dante Alighieri wrote of the three dreams that beset him while traveling through Purgatory. In 1678, John Bunyan claimed that “The Pilgrim’s Progress” had come to him while sleeping: “I layed me down in the place to sleep: and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.”

The Romantics, because of their obsession with the sublime, were particularly sensitive to dreaming. The poet William Blake inhabited a twilight of visions and dreams. “O, what land,” he wrote, “is the land of Dreams?” It was a place so real and vivid to him that Blake claimed his method for relief etching—which he used to combine text and color images in “illuminated printing”—was the gift of his late younger brother, Robert, who explained it in a dream. Continue reading…

‘Amanda Foreman’s diary: My inspiration as a Man Booker prize judge’ – The Spectator

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Andrew Walker/Getty Images for CHANEL BeautŽ

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Andrew Walker/Getty Images for CHANEL BeautŽ

So far my responsibilities as the 2016 chair of the Man Booker prize have been rather light. We’ve had our first meeting, received our first batch of books, and I’ve bought a smart notebook for record-keeping. I shall take a step back from journalism this year, including my Sunday Times column, but that doesn’t mean I shall be less active in the fight for freedom of expression. Some things are non-negotiable.

I’ve just read Open Letter by the late Charlie Hebdo editor Charb. He finished it two days before his death in the massacre on 7 January 2015. The book is aimed at both religious extremists and their apologists. ‘No form of discrimination,’ proclaimed Charb, ‘is better or worse than any other.’ If only the 145 writers who publicly protested against the 2015 PEN America award to Charlie Hebdo could be made to read his book. Perhaps it would shame them out of their smug self-righteousness. There is something disgusting about writers who defend the assassin’s veto. It’s such a perversion of power and victimhood. PEN refused to be intimidated. But it remains to be seen whether other institutions, such as universities, will stay true to their enlightenment values when we have a new generation of politicised purity trolls banging at the gates.

I served on my first literary prize jury almost 20 years ago. Yes, a few of the horror stories about them really are true. Some people take part because they think it will make them look good. Others do it out of a vague sense of duty that doesn’t extend to reading all the books. Then there are the bullies who make each meeting feel like an interrogation session. And let’s not forget the spoilers. Continue reading…

‘Resolved to Lose Weight in ’16? Join a Venerable Club’ – The Wall Street Journal

English Romantic poet George Gordon Noel Byron (from around 1810). To keep his weight down, he subsisted on a diet of flattened potatoes drenched in vinegar. PHOTO: HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

English Romantic poet George Gordon Noel Byron (from around 1810). To keep his weight down, he subsisted on a diet of flattened potatoes drenched in vinegar. PHOTO: HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

Resolutions and Jan. 1 have a fatal attraction for one another—much like beer and pizza. The vow most often cited, “to go on a diet,” also happens to be the one most quickly abandoned. According to a 2013 British study, two out of five dieters don’t make it beyond the first week.

The problem isn’t that people are lazy or spoiled. It’s that the purpose of a diet has become divorced from its original intentions. The ancient Greeks were largely responsible for the concept. “Diatia” means “way of life” or “regimen.” How a person approached the business of eating was as important as what entered his stomach. Balance, self-control and proper order were thought to be three key aspects to living the good life. Only barbarians, such as the Persians, gorged on luxuries.

The two greatest doctors of the classical world, Hippocrates (around 460 to 375 B.C.) and Galen (A.D. 129 to about 216) had strong ideas about the kind of diatia everyone should follow. They argued that the mind and body were controlled by four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. The goal was to keep them in equilibrium. A surplus of phlegm, for example, could make a patient lethargic, requiring more citrus in the diet. Too much black bile, on the other hand, made a person melancholic—which, Galen thought, required bloodletting or purging to remove the noxious humors from the body.

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‘Comets Chill and Cheer Throughout History’ – The Wall Street Journal

Halley’s Comet in 1997. In 1304 the Florentine artist Giotto di Bondone created a controversy when he painted the star of Bethlehem as a comet flying over the stable PHOTO: F. CARTER SMITH/SYGMA/CORBIS

Halley’s Comet in 1997. In 1304 the Florentine artist Giotto di Bondone created a controversy when he painted the star of Bethlehem as a comet flying over the stable PHOTO: F. CARTER SMITH/SYGMA/CORBIS

“O star of wonder. Star of night. Star with royal beauty bright.” But what star, exactly, were the Magi, the three wise men, following as they traveled east in search of baby Jesus? The question has intrigued astronomers, theologians and philosophers for two millennia.

In 1304 the Florentine artist Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337) started a minirevolution when he painted the star of Bethlehem as a comet flying over the stable. It is thought that the appearance of Halley’s comet in 1301 inspired Giotto to make the connection. It seems to have been the first time that anyone—in art at least—had dared to associate the Nativity with a comet. Rather than being a cause for rejoicing, comets had long been considered an omen of death, disaster and disease. Continue reading…

‘2016 Judges announced’ – The Man Booker prize

The Man Booker Prize 2016 judges - (from left) Olivia Williams, David Harsent, Amanda Foreman, Abdulrazak Gurnah and Jon Day.

The Man Booker Prize 2016 judges – (from left) Olivia Williams, David Harsent, Amanda Foreman, Abdulrazak Gurnah and Jon Day.

 

The judges of the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction are announced today.

The panel of five is chaired by Amanda Foreman, biographer, historian and presenter of the highly acclaimed recent BBC series, The Ascent of Woman. Foreman judged the prize in 2012, under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Stothard. Her four fellow judges are a critic, a novelist, a poet and an actor.

The 2016 panel is: Amanda Foreman (Chair), award-winning historian and internationally bestselling author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Jon Day, Critic and Lecturer in English at King’s College London, specialising in modernist fiction; Abdulrazak Gurnah, Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist and Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent; David Harsent, poet andProfessor of Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton, winner of 2014 T.S. Eliot prize; Olivia Williams, actor, currently starring in a National Theatre’s production of Harley Granville-Barker’s Waste. Continue reading…