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Magic in the Air: How Intellectuals Invented the Myth of a Mythless Society

…t: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences? On a clear afternoon in March 2011, I was at a Tantric Buddhist tattoo parlor in Kyoto when the radio broadcast we were listening to was interrupted with news of the devastation that was the Tōhoku earthquake. The extent of the damage was still unclear, but as reports continued to come in, the tattooing process was stopped so that everyone in the parlor could gather together before the sing…

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The Real (and More Interesting) World Behind Magic in the Moonlight

…t struck me, when reading Brook Wilensky-Lanford’s review of Magic in the Moonlight—in which she notes that Woody Allen’s film is “based on a story that’s almost too good to be true”—that attention to Allen’s true historical referents only complicates things for the better. For the magician referenced by Colin Firth’s “Stanley Crawford” is not Harry Houdini—or, not Houdini only—but (also) Chung Ling Soo, née Billy Robinson. And Robinson is far mor…

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Recognizing (the Long History of) Christian Witches May Be Key to Diversifying Witch Community

…you witchcraft is forbidden in scripture. They might point to the magical book-burning Paul orchestrates in Acts chapter 19, or quote the King James Version of the famous passage from Exodus 22, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Christian ministers and leaders in Europe and the United States have often condemned magic in the centuries since, with many of the more recent versions involving pop culture, like the banning of Harry Potter books…

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Magic In the Daylight

Woody Allen’s new movie, Magic in the Moonlight, is loosely based on a story that’s almost too good to be true: Harry Houdini, master magician, for many years used his celebrity to debunk spiritualists who claimed to communicate with the dead, who were, unsurprisingly, enjoying a resurgence after World War I. Exposing several as frauds, he ended their lucrative careers bilking grieving loved ones out of cash. It would seem like someone who makes…

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‘Enchanted New York’ Offers a Journey Through the City’s Magical History — With Some Mystifying Oversights

…those freshwater springs beneath the Manhattan asphalt. Kevin Dann’s new book, Enchanted New York: A Journey Along Broadway Though Manhattan’s Magical Past, looks to bring this idea to a wider audience. The book is a kind of travelogue of the city’s magical places and events, demonstrating that from the American Revolution to the Red Scare of the 1950s, “both witting and unwitting actors have engaged in magic, often with enormous historical conse…

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The Magic of the Higgs Boson Particle

…universe I have made. Language is generally utilitarian: construct a word too bulky or a concept too vague and, unless it has other redemptive linguistic goods to offer, it is unlikely to be adopted. And if a word or concept already adopted is deemed inconvenient or impractical by a large enough section of a linguistic community, it will likely fall into disuse. From the looks of the (impressionistic) evidence cited above, it seems that magic, wiz…

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Gun Ownership as Sin—A Strategic, Secular Proposal for Gun Reform

…a press conference on his plan for new gun control legislation   When you look at a gun, do you see danger or safety? It all depends on the angle you’re looking from, risk perception experts say. The gun control debate is ultimately a clash of competing worldviews, and it’s very fraught. Each side draws on symbolic narratives—I would call them myths—with deep roots in the American past. The big challenge for gun-control advocates will be to summon…

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Romania’s “Witch Tax”: Magic Meets Bureaucracy

…sion had cost Romania a qualifying match against Denmark for the European Football Championship. The hex was not fatal, but was intended to cost Meier his ability to whistle. About four in five Romanians are Orthodox Christians. Unlike self-described witches in the United States and Western Europe, Romanian witches do not see their practice as a religious tradition distinct from Christianity. Instead their rituals appear to be syncretic, combining…

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How the Logic of Law Enforcement Leads to Spying on Muslims

…o the Times first. Samuel Rascoff, a Professor at New York University’s School of Law (and former head of intelligence analysis for the NYPD), has an op-ed in today’s edition, “Uncle Sam is No Imam”: The strategic problem is easier to see: Is the government a credible authority on Islamic interpretation? Based on the results of comparable efforts in Britain, the answer is a resounding no. Simply put, young Muslim men in the thrall of radical teach…

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The Strategic Caution of the Muslim Brotherhood

…victory of the Islamic Revolution. In a swift response, the Muslim Brotherhood rejected the comparison: The MB regards the revolution as the Egyptian People’s Revolution not an Islamic Revolution… asserting that the Egyptian People’s Revolution includes Muslims, Christians, from all sects and political groups. The Brotherhood’s eagerness to distinguish Egypt from Iran comes as no surprise given the recent flurry of articles speculating on whether…

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