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new internationalist
issue 257 - July 1994

...that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this,
your section, and be answered by other readers. Please address
your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.

Does anybody know in exactly which context the poet WB Yeats described the
Anglo-American world and its culture as the ‘filthy modern tide’?

The context is the poem of 1938, The Statues. In it Yeats says that despite their apparent equanimity, rational-seeming classical works of art, selfless religious spirituality and self-sacrificial political acts are all inspired by the deepest human passion.

Yeats regrets that his contemporary countrypeople have fallen from such states of grace and advocates a return to a national life which properly expresses visceral creative rage.

We Irish, born into that ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,
Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace
The lineaments of a plummet-measured face.

The ‘filthy modern tide’ just possibly might be characterized as ‘Anglo-American world and its culture’ but its true source lay nearer to home. According to his biographer Richard Ellmann: ‘Yeats tried to ally himself with the aristocracy by blood and the peasantry by sympathy’. The real enemy of Ireland, according to Yeats, was the prim, priest-ridden and acquisitive urban middle-class.

I suppose it could be argued that the Irish middle class was really the decent old peasantry corrupted by the blandishments of the ‘Anglo-American world’?

Terry Eccles
London, UK

Has anyone published a list of products and services that can be bought
without doing harm to babies, animals, human rights and so on?

I think it’s impossible to give a straight answer to this question. It all hangs on the word ‘harm’. Ask a pro-Vegetarian group and they’ll give you a list of items containing no animal products. Ask a group enthusiastic about organic farming and they will give you a list of places where you can buy ‘cruelty-free’ meat. Get my drift?

I don’t think trying to be a good consumer should be a religious pursuit with a dogmatic list of commandments. You have to inform yourself from many sources and make up your own mind according to your definition of harm.

Mark Watson
Bristol, UK

Awaiting your answers...

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I’ve noticed that the war in the former Yugoslavia has been described as ‘ethnic conflict’ while what has been happening in Rwanda is described as ‘tribal war’. What is the difference between an ‘ethnic group’ and a ‘tribe’?

Janet Tomkins
Vancouver, Canada

Is there a symbolic meaning to the old Bee Gees song I started a joke?

Lindy Phillips
Delacombe, Australia

I’ve heard the hole in the ozone layer is getting smaller. Is this true?

Becky Arkwright
Vancouver, Canada

Is it true that during mating the male duck will sometimes drown – and kill – the female?

Rhona Mathews
Cardiff, Cymru, UK

Can anyone explain to me why we have managed to have women prime ministers in India and Pakistan and still have deplorable treatment of women?

Ashoni Arora
Queensland, Australia

Is there an index on charity organizations which rates them according to political bias, bureaucracy, mismanagement, wastage, quality of information and the like?

Andrew Young
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities,
New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK,
or to your local NI office (click here for addresses).

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New Internationalist issue 257 magazine cover This article is from the July 1994 issue of New Internationalist.
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