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Both Jews and Muslims consider the pink, snout-nosed animals we know as pigs to be unclean. The question of why this is so has not been conclusively resolved. Did the Koran follow a Jewish rule? Or does the ban stem from the fact that eating raw or undercooked pork meat can contain roundworm larvae, which cause trichinosis? People may have made a connection between pigs and disease, resulting in a fear-based taboo. For the anthropologist Marvin Harris, the main reasons for prohibiting the eating of pork were ecological and economical. Pigs require lots of water and shady woods with seeds, conditions that are scarce in the Middle East.

But the full story may be even more complicated. Whether pigs are considered “clean” or “unclean” has differed from culture to culture, and no clear dividing line based on climate conditions is evident. As a result, it’s difficult to determine what exactly people in the distant past thought about meat. Could it be that this taboo was chosen more or less randomly to create a sense of community among believers of the same religion? To the Egyptian pharaohs, pork was unclean, to the ancient Greeks it was not. The hoggish Romans had a great deal of sympathy for the genus sus, and one pig in ancient Rome even had its own tomb. The inscription reads “Porcella hic dormit” — here rests a piglet. This particular pig lived for three years, ten months and 13 days. Its modern descendants “enjoy” much shorter lives, as they are usually slaughtered when they are between six and ten months old. Christianity’s Saint Anthony, a monk who was born in Egypt, serves as the patron saint of farmers, swineherds, and butchers. Legend has it that at some point he worked as a swineherd, and Hieronymus Bosch painted him with a pet pig at his side. In the Middle Ages, pigs, like many other animals, were held culpable for criminal acts and could be taken to court and executed. All in all, the pigs do not exactly have the best reputation in the Christian tradition — but people still eat them. More… “Between Porcophilia and Porcophobia”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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Sushi is old hat in America. Since getting popular during the 1980s and ’90s, sushi has integrated itself into our everyday lives, appearing everywhere from mainstream grocery store cold cases to TV shows and corner restaurants. You see it in malls and on college campuses. Yet some people still find the idea of eating raw fish repellent. For those who hesitate, sitcom writer Phil Rosenthal offers some wisdom to help break the ice on his food show I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. “Here’s how you get into it. You ever have smoked salmon?” he says. “You ever have lox? Lox is the gateway sushi.” I have no motivational equivalent for canned fish. Most Americans are grossed out by the smell, let alone the idea, of canned fish. The fear is as irrational as arachnophobia. It resists logic, but I still can’t resist trying to make sense of it.

One reason I’m so fascinated by people’s aversion is my own devotion to the stuff. I eat canned fish almost weekly. For breakfast, I’ll heat Japanese glazed saury in a skillet to serve over warm white rice. For lunch, I’ll lay oil-cured Spanish anchovies on toasted white bread. On a solo trip to Tokyo, I ate a one-Yen can of sardines for breakfast outside my hotel window and sent a photo of the precarious set up to my other half Rebekah back in Oregon. Pretty much every white person I know thinks I’m disgusting. I think they’re missing out. More… “Ode to Canned Fish”

Aaron Gilbreath is the author of the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the ebook This Is: Essays on Jazz. An editor at Longreads, his essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Lucky Peach, Brick, and Saveur. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Tanoshii: Travels in Japan. @AaronGilbreath
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What is the purpose of education? It is usually assumed that the major purpose of education is instruction: the transmission of information and the imparting of particular skills like the classic three R’s: ‘readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic’.

But instruction is the least important part of education. Most information is accessible from books and the media. Basic literacy and numeracy are important, but many if not most skills used by adults in daily life are picked up on the job. The main objective of education in every enduring society is to transmit authoritative cultural, political, and ethical traditions from one generation to the next. We can speak of the major purposes of education as the Four I’s: Initiation, Indoctrination, Inculcation, and Instruction.

More… “What is Education for?”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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Did you ever wonder where the odd term “pundit” comes from? Today it refers to talking heads on TV and opinioneering newspaper columnists. But the word derives from the Hindi “pandit,” which means a learned or wise scholar whose judgments deserved to be treated with respect. You know, like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill Maher.

Given the current moral panic over “cultural appropriation” sweeping trendy U.S. college campuses, I’m surprised that Indian-American students have not demanded that the word “pundit” be banned or at least preceded by trigger warnings. More… “Pundits, Moguls, Sachems, and Czars”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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From social commentary to commodity, Janette Beckman’s career is in many ways a classic model of the popular memory of punk rock. As a young photographer who documented London’s youth cultures in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, she found success and opportunity earning commissions from magazines and record labels. Like Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer, Beckman sold her creative labor, just as thousands of artists and musicians have done for generations. Whether or not punk “sold out” is an oddly recurring but nonetheless pointless question: it was embedded from the beginning in contemporary commercial culture — in the ideas, languages, icons, objects, exchanges, and processes of consumption. It was always about selling, in one way or another. More… “Clash or Credit”

Josh White is a doctoral student at University College London and researches, among other things, the history of punk in the US and UK. He is also a writer and journalist for The Times.
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When Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America in 2014, she was the first Indian American in the pageant’s history to win. But she wasn’t America’s – or even India’s – favorite. Tweets such as “I swear I’m not racist, but this is America” and even “9/11 was four days ago and she gets Miss America?” followed her victory. In India, rather than celebrating a daughter’s success in the land of the gore lok, the white people, many were perplexed when they noted the color of her skin. They considered her complexion too dark to be beautiful. Had she entered the Miss India pageant, she would have been advised to “fix” her skin tone.

My family is from India, and I, along with many Indian-American women, can empathize with Nina. We face confusion from the Americans (“But where are you from?”) and scrutiny from the motherland, which we visit only once every few years but remain fiercely connected to regardless. India is my second home, Pune city in Maharashtra state is my favorite city in the world, and I am proud of my Indian heritage. Yet I have developed deep resentment specifically for India’s obsession with fair skin. In my earlier trips, relatives “recommended” that I stay out of the sun, and they emphasized that a “dark face” is not an attractive one. I, at 10 years old, told them about genetics, but the comments didn’t stop. While India has a range of skin tones, varying from olive to chocolate brown, the vast majority falls at the latter end of the spectrum and ironically envies the small percentage on the other side.
More… “Fair Game”

Kanan Gole has written for Table Matters (on, ironically, her inability to cook) and The Smart Set, and enjoys writing about her Indian heritage and her travels. She currently works and writes in Pune, India.
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In How to Do Things with Pornography, feminist philosopher Nancy Bauer refers to a specific idea of pornography: the inherently harmful boogey creature that anti-pornography feminists have railed against since the 70s. A significant portion of her book is spent discussing the flaws in the anti-porn rhetoric of both Catharine MacKinnon and Rae Langton. All of which is in the service of what seems to be the true focus of the book: arguing against philosophers’ interpretations of J.L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words.

Austin’s philosophical work centered on language, specifically focusing on illocutions, perlocutions, and speech acts — uses of language where saying something is also doing. In the 55 years since Austin’s death, a number of anti-pornography feminists have referenced Austin’s work in their attempts to undermine the protection that the First Amendment provides adult films and the people who make them by framing it as something other than speech. Speech has First Amendment protection, but if pornography is other, that issue becomes less clear. Bauer disagrees with some of these finer points.
More… “Doing it Wrong”

Stoya‘s is an adult film star and writer. She has been published in the New Statesman, the New Inquiry, Vice, and The Verge, among others. She tweets @stoya.
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“Thou has conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath; We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.”

Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote those lines in 1866 in “Hymn to Proserpine.” If he returned from the Elysian Fields today, he would see no reason to alter his conclusion. Flipping through the channels of cable television, Swinburne would find the TV series “A.D.” (about early Christianity), “Killing Jesus” (based on the Bill O’Reilly book) and dozens of cheaply-produced shows about the supposed historical or scientific basis of this or that tale in the Bible. The Weather Channel has run a program entitled “Top 10: Bible Weather,” described thus: “Weather stories from the Bible are compared to modern-day weather catastrophes.”
More… “Who the @#$% is Proserpine?”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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As David Brent put it in the original version of The Office, life is a series of peaks and troughs, but I think most of us, really, expect the Christmas season to grade out on the higher side of things, a spirit bumper even if the year that has just passed has not been a banner one. We tend to think that way if and until something occurs that we couldn’t foresee, that puts a sort of permanent crack in us that we’re forever trying to solder over, especially at the holidays.

Colin Fleming writes on art, literature, film, rock, jazz, classical music, and sports for Rolling Stone, JazzTimes, The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and a number of other publications. His fiction has recently appeared in AGNI, Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Commentary, and Post Road, and he’s… More…

I grew up in a world that some people might consider a paradise. Or was it more like hell? In any case, I was regularly surrounded by naked strangers. Sometimes I knew these encounters were coming my way, while other times they took me by surprise.

The scene was Europe in the early 1970s. I can remember long-haired students running naked through the streets of West Berlin, my home town. These “streakers” were so fast that those in the vicinity only glimpsed them for a moment. As far as I can recall, the streakers’ physical exploits were not tied to any political agenda. I think they simply enjoyed shocking or provoking people by intentionally pushing boundaries – but I was too young to have an opinion about it or even find it all particularly interesting.