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February 27th, 2015

University Press Roundup



Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments.

For Black History month, the OUP blog unearthed four remarkable black lives forgotten or neglected by history. These are William Shorey, known as “Black Ahab” in the late 19th century, Gladys Bentley, a 1920s blues singer of the Harlem Renaissance, Marie Laveuz, Voodoo queen of New Orleans, and Charles Caldwell, a Mississippi Reconstruction politician. Read more brief bios about them here.

The mathematicians over at Princeton UP are using calculus to predict MORE snow for Boston. Will winter never end? Wellesley (!) professor Oscar Fernandez rephrases the question to: What’s the probability that Boston will get at least s more inches of snow this month? Here is his answer.

Over at Cambridge UP’s blog, Jordi Diez discusses the recent expansion of gay rights in Chile and the country’s relative laggardness compared to other Latin American countries. This January 28th, Chile’s Congress allowed civil unions between two individuals regardless of gender. The passage of this bill has been a long time coming—it was first introduced to Chile’s parliament eleven years ago. There is still legal progress to be made: Gay couples still cannot adopt children in Chile or be married. Diez concludes that Chile will continue to be ‘a laggard on gay rights.’

Masuda Hajimu explores the Korean conflict as a kind of ‘crucible’ for the Cold War at the Harvard UP blog. He is keen to have us reassess our Cold War lenses and realities, asking us, “Instead of formulating another imagined reality, we can keep raising questions about stereotypical narratives that tend to simplify complex stories and prevent us from thinking further. How real is our “reality”? How and for whom are the images of threats composed and circulated? What are the social needs—or self-sustaining dynamics—of such imagined realities? Who creates walls and for what purposes?”

Down south at Duke UP, Marcia Chatelain relays the history of black girls’ groups such as the Campfire Girls. She argues that ‘delving into the dynamics and definition of black girlhood is key to understanding various dimensions of the Great Migration.’ These groups proved formative in forging ‘an image of a black girl as an active citizen.’

At the Stanford UP blog, Andrew Hoffman discusses how climate change has become an issue of ideology rather in the US at the Stanford UP blog. No longer a scientific debate, one’s position on climate change is intrinsically tied to one’s cultural identity. As such, the topic has been tabled in the US from polite dinner conversation along with ‘sex, religion, and politics’.

Suzanna Danuta Walters at NYU Press argues that the recent decision of Mt. Holyoke, one of the original Seven-Sisters colleges, to ban the performance of The Vagina Monologues in order to be more ‘inclusive’ is misguided.

That’s all folks. Thanks for reading your Superior CUP blog! Please let us know what you think in the comments!

February 27th, 2015

The Legacies of Reaganism and Reagan — Doug Rossinow



The Age of Reagan, Doug Rossinow

“Reagan was not a stupid man, but he sometimes took refuge in stu­pid lies.”—Doug Rossinow

In the following excerpt, Doug Rossinow, author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s, examines the legacy of Reagan and his policies:

The relationship of post-1990 conservatives to Reaganism was an ambivalent one. Some elements of the Reaganite formula lived on in the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Fiercely unapologetic patriotism and a belief in U.S. military preponderance remained funda­mental tenets for most conservatives. So did faith in unrestrained busi­ness as a source of social good, and the cherished ideal of hardy individu­alism, free from entanglements with the state. But the conservatism of Bush and his supporters departed from Reagan’s in other respects. Fis­cally, it was more responsible; politically, it was coarser. The balance of sentiment on the American right, as of 1990, was tipping away from the embrace of hedonism that had marked the 1980s, and toward cultural traditionalism. In terms of foreign policy, Americans looked back to Rea­gan for little guidance as a new age of resource wars in the Persian Gulf vi­cinity dawned. Later in the 1990s, foreign policy neoconservatives would call for “a neo-Reaganite foreign policy of military supremacy and moral confidence.” These were undeniably Reaganite values. But Americans would find it hard to say, after the Cold War’s conclusion, exactly what foreign policies those values should dictate.

Just as aspects of Reaganism lived on, so did Reagan’s personal legend. At his presidency’s end, Reagan shucked off the worst e.ects of scandal and emerged an honored figure. His farewell address in 1989 was graceful, yet self-satisfied. At one and the same time, he downplayed his own role as an individual in creating change and boasted of a nation made “more prosperous, more secure, and happier” because of his leadership. “All in all, not bad,” he said, in grading his accomplishments in office; “not bad at all.” The Reagans moved back to their ranch in the hills near Santa Barbara, but the former president ventured out in the ensuing years to make highly paid appearances before business groups. Some found this unbecoming; previously, among ex-presidents, only Gerald Ford had cashed in on his status in this way. (Americans would become accus­tomed to this habit over time, as retired presidents of both parties would follow suit.) In November 1990, Reagan’s memoir, An American Life, was published. It exuded his characteristic combination of self-effacement and complacency. Even before Reagan drifted into senescence in the mid-1990s—a victim of Alzheimer’s disease—he became a symbol of the 1980s, a totem of the conservative narrative of recent American his­tory: the man who saved the country from self-doubt and liberal failure. Conservatives emphatically identified Reagan with their creed and their movement—the way liberals long had identified their own cause with Franklin Roosevelt—and for decades would proclaim themselves Rea­gan’s heirs, even as they swore they would never do things that Reagan had done, such as raise taxes or approve an amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Understanding Reaganism is more important than knowing Reagan. But there is no interpreting the 1980s without arriving at a judg­ment on Reagan, who, it seems likely, will always be closely tied to our memories of that era.

Read the rest of this entry »

February 26th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: Interview with Ishmael Reed



In conjunction with Black History Month, this Thursday’s Fiction Corner features an interview of author and activist Ishmael Reed from the Dalkey “Review of Contemporary Fiction” archives. Reed is not one to mince words. The homepage of his website features blurbs from three different writers, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Sam Tanenhaus, all praising him as, “Great,” “Great,” and “Great.”

Reed has published dozens of books, including the novels Juice!, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, The Terrible Threes, The Terrible Twos, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, The Last Days of Louisiana Red, and Reckless Eyeballing. He also wrote plays collected in Ishmael Reed: The Plays. See the available books here.

In this interview, Professor Reginald Martin speaks with Ishmael Reed, who excoriates a kind of “Eastern, Manhattan” intellectualism. In addition to his vociferous critique of the academic establishment, responsible, he argues, for the construction of “the black aesthetic,” their conversation veers into topics such as jazz, voodoo, and black feminism. Reed has faced backlash for his views. In a more recent interview with the Paris Review, Reed stated: “When Tupac mentioned me in a song, it compensated for all of the hostile responses to my nonfiction and fiction.” The song is ‘Still I Rise’.

The following interview was conducted July 1-7, 1983, in Emeryville, California, a suburb of Oakland and San Francisco.

REGINALD MARTIN: Camus wrote in “Neither Victims nor Executioners” that the only really committed artist is he who, without refusing to take part in the combat, at least refuses to join the regular armies and remains a freelance. In many respects, I see you that way, but many of your critics, Houston Baker, Jr., and Addison Gayle, Jr., for example, seem to throw out any possibility that issues they support may also be issues that you equally support.
ISHMAEL REED: I saw Houston Baker, Jr., recently in Los Angeles. I don’t bear any ill feelings toward him. In fact, he was very cordial toward me. I feel that the piece published in “Black American Literature Forum” that was edited by Joel Weixlmann was irresponsible, and my point is that they would never attack white writers the way they do black writers in that magazine, and I still maintain that. All these scurrilous charges that Baraka made against black writers—and I’ve discussed this with Baraka—those charges were outrageous—he called them traitors, capitulationists. Read the rest of this entry »

February 26th, 2015

The Pop Culture of the Reagan Era — Doug Rossinow



The Age of Reagan, Doug Rossinow

“There was nothing new about the search for exhilaration and satisfaction. But in the 1980s, that quest took forms shaped by Reaganism’s celebration of money, power, and fame. By the decade’s later years, the era’s quest for gratification had burned through its initial giddiness. Whether American society as a whole was ready to turn to other pursuits was not clear. But the thrill was gone.”—Doug Rossinow

In the following excerpt from The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s, Doug Rossinow describes the rise of three of the decade’s biggest stars—Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson—and how they reflected the politics and ethos of the 80s:

The themes of performance and pastiche led the 1980s culturally, but not without artistic originality. While Bruce Springsteen strove for au­thenticity with his anthems and dirges of American losers yearning for comfort, the other performers who equaled or exceeded his success in the decade were the avatars of performance—Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. All three were born in 1958. Each built a powerful retail brand. Madonna Ciccone and Prince Nelson simply went by their first names. They were the pure examples, masters of stage personae who toyed with gender roles in public and forthrightly rejected the racial divide that long had structured American music, like so much else in American life. In 1980 one music critic remarked, “Seldom in pop-music history has there been a larger gap between what black and white audiences are listening to than there is right now.” African Americans were becoming more in­terested in rap, while many young whites were absorbed in European technopop–influenced New Wave bands like Talking Heads and Devo. No informed observer could describe such a division in 1990. The music industry in the 1980s moved toward blockbuster albums that generated multiple hit singles, and the leading artists in this trend either were Afri­can American or drew white and black audiences together, or both.

Madonna, with a series of dance hits from her self-titled debut album of 1983 and her distinctive personal style, showcased in MTV (Music Television, a cable channel that started broadcasting in 1981) videos, in­stantly became a postfeminist icon. Her funky, layered look, “thrift store chic” (also popularized, with different inflections, by Cyndi Lauper and the Go-Go’s, other white female acts), spread like wildfire among teen­age girls. With her second album, Like a Virgin (1984), Madonna became controversial and revealed herself as a quick-change artist. For cultural conservatives, the title track’s flagrant sexuality was a sign of decadence; for feminists, the notion that a woman, presumably experienced in sex, would long to feel like a virgin was reactionary. Liberals and conservatives alike were also irritated by the other big hit from the album, “Material Girl,” in which the singer explains that she sees men as meal tickets. The video for the song was an homage to the Marilyn Monroe dance number “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” from the 1953 comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In 1989, the title song of a new album, Like a Prayer, and its accompanying video, showed an artist interested in continuing to tweak the conventions of many Americans—and with a social awareness previously hidden from view. In the video, Madonna prays to and loves a black man who appears alternately as a wooden saint and as a flesh-and-­blood innocent victimized by an implicitly racist criminal-justice system. The Detroit-area native sings and dances joyfully with an African Ameri­can gospel choir and stands dramatically in front of a range of burning crosses. Conservative Christians and those uncomfortable with interra­cial crossover—particularly between a white woman and a black man— were unhappy. At the video’s end, red stage curtains descend and the performers take a bow. It is just a show.

Read the rest of this entry »

February 26th, 2015

Proposed 1920s Orphanage Study Just One Example in History of Scientific Racism — Michael Yudell



Race Unmasked, Michael Yudell

“Racism has indeed left its stain on scientific thought.”—Michael Yudell

The following post is by Michael Yudell, Drexel University and author of Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the Twentieth Century. The essay was originally published in The Conversation:

In the late 1920s, scientists hatched an outrageous plan to settle a question at the heart of American racial thought: were differences between racial groups driven by environment or by heredity? In other words, was the racist social order of the time – white over black — an inevitable and genetically driven outcome? Or did the environment in which all Americans lived create the deep disparities and discord between races that defined the social, economic and political reality of the United States?

A committee on “Racial Problems,” jointly sponsored by the venerable National Research Council and the Social Science Research Council, discussed an experiment: create racial orphanages, separate institutions where children of different races would be received as close to birth as possible. The idea was to compare white and black children under similar conditions. Scientists could closely monitor the institutionalized children as they developed to figure out whether differences were due to innate characteristics or environmental influence. Nursery schools and foster homes were proposed as places of comparative study too, but most of committee’s discussions focused on the idea of racial orphanages.Science has made claims about race in America since the late 18th century, when Thomas Jefferson hypothesized that the differences between races are “fixed in nature.” In the 19th century, anthropologists such as Samuel Morton argued for a racial hierarchy of intelligence and believed human races evolved from separate origins. Eugenicists tried to quantify the hereditary nature of race difference in the early 20th century, using their science to develop social policy, including forced sterilization and anti-immigration laws. Racism has indeed left its stain on scientific thought.

Read the rest of this entry »

February 25th, 2015

Interview with Thomas Doherty, author of Hollywood and Hitler



Thomas Doherty, Hollywood and Hitler

“Up until 1938-1939, there were really no anti-Nazi films from the major Hollywood studios….For most of the 1930s, the major studios were missing in action.”—Thomas Doherty

The following interview with Thomas Doherty, author of Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939, which is now available in paperback:

Question: Hollywood celebrities today are associated with a variety of different social and political causes. How was the situation different then and how did it curtail film stars’ anti-Nazi activism?

Thomas Doherty: In the 1930s, motion picture stars were typically very timorous about expressing their political opinions in public, especially if the sentiments were in any way controversial or left of mainstream opinion. Why alienate a potential customer at the ticket window? For their part, the studio heads considered the stars their own personal property, not unlike the costumes and props in the studio warehouses. They didn’t want anything to deplete the value of their investments. At first, only the most stalwart and secure actors and actresses defied convention and broke ranks.

Q: What effect if any did their activism have on shaping American attitudes towards Hitler?

TD: It’s hard to say, but the anti-Nazi activism of popular stars like James Cagney, Melvyn Douglas, John Garfield, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford not only brought publicity to the cause but served to normalize the sentiments. The mere fact that movie stars—who more typically sold their faces for commercial endorsements—were now speaking out against Nazism, for free, made at least some people think about the reasons for the transition.

Read the rest of this entry »

February 25th, 2015

Reaganism and the Rise of the Carceral State — Doug Rossinow



The Age of Reagan, Doug Rossinow

The following is a post by Doug Rossinow, author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s

In the moment of Black Lives Matter, with public awareness of mass incarceration and lethal force by police reaching new heights, it’s important to look back on the racial dimension of what I call “the Reagan era” and how that politics led us to where we are now.

Today’s carceral state has its roots in the “war on crime” that took hold in America in the 1980s. That “war” was led by the political forces that I associate with Reaganism, a conservative political formation that generally favored a rollback of state power. A notable exception to this rule was policing and imprisonment. Both Reaganism and the “war on crime” had a racial politics embedded in them, so that these three phenomena—Reaganism as a movement, the “war on crime,” and the resulting carceral state, and the racial politics of the 1980s—strengthened and reinforced the others.

All of those who care about racial equality, of a certain age are likely to remember the 1980s as a bleak time for people of color and for African Americans specifically. The social reality of the era was complex. More African Americans were making it into the middle and upper classes than ever before, while others were stuck in impoverished urban neighborhoods. Because of middle-class flight, being a big-city mayor in the 1980s was very challenging; nonetheless, it is significant that, during this decade, African Americans were elected or reelected mayor in four of the country’s five biggest cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City).

While African American political power was growing in the city, at least by some measures, Ronald Reagan and the broader conservative movement he led were often openly hostile to urban America and African Americans. When Reagan ran for president in 1980, he peddled a fictionalized tale, one with an obvious racial subtext, of what he called a “welfare queen” living large on the public dole, and he visited Bob Jones University, a segregationist institution in South Carolina, which he called a “great institution.” Moreover, throughout his political career, Reagan was antagonistic toward civil rights law. That was his record, a long record—one that was interrupted only at moments when Reagan bent to irresistible political forces, as when he signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1982. Reagan was a realist, but there is no mistaking the broad pattern of his views about civil rights.

Read the rest of this entry »

February 24th, 2015

An Interview with Doug Rossinow, author of The Reagan Era



The Reagan Era, Doug Rossinow

“We still live in the world Reagan and Reaganites made.”—Doug Rossinow

The following is an interview with Doug Rossinow, author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s.

Question: Were the 1980s really “the Reagan era”? Is it possible to exaggerate the significance of one individual leader?

Doug Rossinow: The only other leaders in twentieth-century America who compare to Reagan, in terms of being personally identified with the eras when they served as president, are Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, and maybe Teddy Roosevelt. I’d say that Reagan is more closely tied to our memories of the 1980s than Dwight Eisenhower is to those of the 1950s—and rightly so. Reagan is most like FDR: he helped shape as well as propel a political agenda and social vision that defined an era. Reagan really led a kind of movement, Reaganism, which captured the spirit of the age as well as a policy agenda.

Q: What were the characteristics or spirit of Reaganism?

DR: The key to that spirit—and to the agenda—was to elevate the status of wealth in America, and in policy terms to let the wealthy keep more of their money. A new celebration of wealth, and of capitalism, was pervasive in America during the 1980s—and, with a few hiccups along the way, it continued through the 1990s, really up until the Great Recession. Reaganism was a revitalized, energized conservative force in a very broad sense. There were Reaganite preachers and lawyers and even union leaders, not just senators and congressmen. Of course Reagan had a foreign policy agenda too. But since that agenda was driven by a newly aggressive anticommunist stance, the moral basis for Reaganism in domestic and international contexts was the same: upholding freedom, which Reaganites defined fundamentally in terms of the capacity to earn and keep wealth. In some ways we still live in the world Reagan and Reaganites made.

Q: Some people say that Reagan would have trouble getting nominated for president by today’s Republican Party, that he would seem moderate for today’s GOP, for example on an issue like immigration. Is this true? Has the Republican Party moved to the right of where Reagan was in the 1980s?

DR: Specifically on the issue of immigration, yes, Reagan’s policies would be out of step today in the Republican Party. He signed a 1986 bill that created an “amnesty” for about two million undocumented immigrants—he and others actually called it “amnesty,” which they could never do today. Reagan had a lot of sympathy with immigrants, perhaps tending to view them as people who believed in the bootstrap promise of American life in a way that many native-born Americans no longer did. He also was very libertarian at his core, and might have preferred, in a perfect world, to see open borders. So differences over immigration policy can be as much a question of which kind of conservative you are as of how conservative you are.

But more broadly, I’m not sure it’s true, in any meaningful sense, that Reagan and his GOP were more moderate than those of today. There were a larger number of moderate Republicans in Congress then, but their influence in their party was questionable. Most of them enthusiastically supported Reagan as their nominee in 1980, and when Reagan became president, the moderates went along with the essential items in his conservative agenda. The conservative agenda of today—or of George W. Bush in the 2000s—is only possible because of the conservative victories of Reaganism in the 1980s. I also think Reagan was a sufficiently skilled politician, with a keen enough sense of his own party, that if he were around today he would know how to pitch himself to Republican voters and activists.

Read the rest of this entry »

February 24th, 2015

New Book Tuesday: Coins that Changed the World, The Highway of Despair, and More!



Symbols of PowerOur weekly listing of new titles:

Symbols of Power: Ten Coins That Changed the World
Edited by Thomas Hockenhull

The Invention of Private Life: Literature and Ideas
Sudipta Kaviraj

The Highway of Despair: Critical Theory After Hegel
Robyn Marasco

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (Now available in paper)
Thomas Doherty

Götz and Meyer
David Albahari. Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac

February 23rd, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Reagan Era, by Doug Rossinow



This week our featured book is The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s, by Doug Rossinow.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, February 27 at 1:00 pm.

“”This is one of the best books on the 1980s written to date. Doug Rossinow offers a deeply researched and compelling account of the decade in its many facets: political, economic, cultural, and international.” — Jeremi Suri, University of Texas at Austin, author of Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama

For more on the book, you can read the introduction:

February 20th, 2015

University Press Roundup



University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments. (And look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do this post every Friday.)

The recent murders of three young Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, have raised questions about the possible motivation for such crimes as well as about the way that we talk about them after the fact. At Beacon Broadside, Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski argue that, while we like to see violent acts as the acts of disturbed individuals, “this violence is not anathema to respectable society,” and ask whether the recent spate of violence to change the parts of our collective imagination that contributes to these crimes. Meanwhile, From the Square, the blog of NYU Press, ran two posts on the topic this week. Evelyn Alsultany claims that we need a “new paradigm to think about racialized violence,” and Nadine Naber makes the case that the murders were about much more than a parking dispute. Read the rest of this entry »

February 20th, 2015

Smoke, Mirrors, and Hot Air: The Denial of Global Warming — James L. Powell



James Lawrence Powell, Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences

“As bad as the effects of smoking have been and will be, they pale beside the death and destruction that global warming is set to visit upon us. Will Big Oil one day find itself in the courtroom?”—James Lawrence Powell

The following is by James Lawrence Powell, author of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth. Powell examines the persistence of the denial of global warming and the forces behind it:

Why, in spite of the undeniable scientific evidence, do so many mem­bers of the public and so many politicians fail to accept global warm­ing? Mainly for two reasons. First, for several decades, newspapers have bent over backward to present global warming as though it were the subject of a genuine debate—and not just the sensationalist press, but mainstream papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. When one of these papers runs an article on some new finding that supports global warming, the reporter feels compelled to add, “but some scientists disagree,” going on to quote one of the always available deniers. The reader is presented with “both sides” of an issue on which, as far as science is concerned, there is only one side. This has happened too many times to be put down to sloppy journalism. It must be the result of a policy decision made at the upper echelons of each newspaper’s decision makers.

As evidence, consider this example. In the first five months of 2010, the New York Times ran twelve prominent articles about global warm­ing. Judging from the headlines, ten were about the alleged contro­versy: “Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons” and “Skeptics Find Fault with UN Climate Panel,” for example. Only two articles were about the science of global warming, and one of them was writ­ten in such a way as to give the impression that scientists might have cooked the evidence. During 2010 the evidence for global warming was growing stronger, but from the paper whose masthead proclaims “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” readers got exactly the opposite im­pression. Television has done no better. The major network news re­ports spend less and less time on climate, leaving the field to Fox News, which has denied global warming at every opportunity.

The second reason that the public has been misled is that fossil fuel companies and conservative foundations have poured scores of mil­lions of dollars into propping up denial propaganda groups with such names as Competitive Enterprise Institute ($2,005,000), Frontiers of Freedom Institute ($1,002,000), and the Heartland Institute ($561,500). The figures are the amounts that ExxonMobil alone provided each or­ganization from 1996 through 2005. But these front groups and dozens more like them used the money to deceive the public and Congress about the true state of climate science. According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists,

like the tobacco industry, ExxonMobil has:
Manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence.

• Adopted a strategy of information laundering by using seemingly independent front organizations to publicly further its desired message and thereby confuse the public.

Promoted scientific spokespeople who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings or cherry-pick facts in their attempts to persuade the media and the public that there is still serious debate among scientists [about] global warming.

Read the rest of this entry »

February 19th, 2015

“How can scientists be wrong for decades, yet science winds up being right?”



Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences

The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth, by James Lawrence Powell.

During the twentieth century, scientists made four fundamental and surprising discoveries about the Earth: our planet is billions of years old, continents and ocean floors move, rocks as big as mountains fall from the sky, and humans are changing the climate.

When first pro­posed, each violated long-held beliefs and quickly came to be regarded as scientific, and sometimes religious, heresy. Then, after decades of re­jection, scientists reversed themselves and came to accept each theory.Today, scientists regard deep time, continental drift, meteorite impact, and anthropogenic global warming as established truths.

The aim of [Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences] is to describe how each idea originated, how it evolved into a full-fledged theory, why it was rejected for so long, and how it eventually came to be confirmed. How can scientists be wrong for decades, yet science winds up being right?

Read the rest of this entry »

February 19th, 2015

The Other Blacklist — An Interview with Mary Helen Washington



Mary Helen Washington, The Other Blacklist

“I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of ‘integration’ but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.”—Mary Helen Washington

As part of our series of posts for Black History Month, we’re re-posting our interview with Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s:

Question: Why did you choose to focus on the 1950s?

Mary Helen Washington: I came of age in the early 1950s in Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio, fed on a steady diet of anticommunism at school, and, at home, a steady diet of integration, but both of those prescribed lessons—anticommunism and integration—separated me from the story of radical civil rights activity. While the black left of the 1950s was protesting discrimination on every front, from residential segregation to unions and factories, we black kids were being taught that integration meant blacks becoming acceptable to the white mainstream. When the left-leaning National Negro Labor Congress (NNLC) came to Cleveland for their 1952 conference, they staged a protest downtown against the airlines for refusing to hire blacks. Since stories like these were blacklisted by the anticommunists as well as the integrationists, black kids grew up in the 1950s with no access to a critical discourse on race. Radicals used terms like white supremacy and racial justice, not integration, while black kids were learning that we should dress, act, and speak a certain way as a marker of acceptability, radicals were defining integration as claiming the rights of citizenship—as you can see from the NNLC poster featuring the Statue of Liberty as a black woman.

Q: Why did you call the book The Other Blacklist?

MHW: Most of what we know about the McCarthy era focuses on the white left. Communism is seen as a white left radicalism, though black civil rights activists were deeply involved in radical movements in the 1940s and 1950s. People who were investigated by J. Edgar Hoover for being communists were routinely asked if they were involved interracially because civil rights activity was considered radical. This is a very powerful and commendable radicalism that black people don’t get credit for. They weren’t the Hollywood Ten, but they were the New York/Chicago 100. There’s a fine documentary on screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo and his admirable resistance to HUAC, but there’s no documentary on black radicals like Alice Childress, Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett or Lorraine Hansberry [some of the figures in my book], who also paid a price for their radicalism. I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of “integration” but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.

Q: You have a chapter called “Spycraft and the Black Literary Left.” Can you talk about the connection between government agencies, politics, and art?

MHW: Keep in mind that the Left and the Communist Party supported black artists when no one in white mainstream culture (with the exception of J. Edgar Hoover) showed any interest in black culture. They came to the defense of black culture because they saw art as a means to effect social and political change. One critic Willliam Maxwell says that Hoover should be considered an important historian of black culture because he always took black literary production seriously. The FBI files are thus a mixed blessing—a gold mine for biographical material because the FBI kept close track of the activities of radicals, and also a record of governmental abuse of artists and intellectuals. There’s a current play on Broadway about the life of Lyndon Johnson called All the Way that shows how relevant these issues still are. The character playing J. Edgar Hoover asks LBJ to justify his relationship with Martin Luther King because, Hoover claims, King is being advised by communists. The government, particularly in the age of McCarthy and Hoover, created the tradition of demonizing the Left that is still with us and that has resulted in the dismissal of an entire generation of black intellectuals and artists.

Q: Why is radicalism of the 1950s still relevant?

MHW: We’re grappling with the same issues today but without that radical perspective. I’m thinking about Rachel Jeantel in the Trayvon Martin case and all the discussion that was generated about Jeantel’s appearance and speech—the way she looked rather than the case itself. Another example is Paul Ryan saying “inner city” people live in a culture that doesn’t value work or doesn’t have a work ethic. And here we see how “inner city” becomes a code for “black.” The jurors from the Jordan Davis case in Florida, one white and one black, said that the Davis case, in which a black man was shot and killed because a white man thought his black music was too loud, was not about race. This kind of political illiteracy shows how and why we need what I call a critical racial discourse. As Boston Governor Deval Patrick said—“words matter.” Even more than words, the radical left—and, yes, I include communists– gave us examples of a powerful resistance. The Rosa Ingram case and the Trenton Six—which were also about racial violence inflicted on blacks– were fought in the courts, in the streets, and in African American artistic production. When Rosa Ingram was sentenced to death along with her two sons for killing a man she claimed had violently assaulted her, the left and civil rights groups organized the protests that eventually freed them, and, as part of that protest, artist Charles White made the Ingram case the subject of his 1949 drawing.

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February 18th, 2015

Interview with James Powell, author of “Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences”



Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences

The following is an interview with James Powell, author of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth

Question: Your 2011 book, The Inquisition of Climate Change, discusses climate deniers and the attempt to debunk the theory of climate change. In what ways did this previous work inspire you to write Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences and what were you looking to further expose in the science community?

James Powell: My interest grew gradually, beginning with my book called Grand Canyon: Solving Earth’s Greatest Puzzle. That got me interested in the Colorado River and that in turn got me wondering what the effect of global warming would be on the future flow of the river. That in turn led to Dead Pool, where I showed that the Colorado could not possibly keep up with demand in the face of rising population and also declining supply due to global warming. That made me realize that no one (at that time) had written about the denial movement, so I decided to tackle that topic it The Inquisition of Climate Science. As I said in the preface to Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth, I knew that scientists had at first been wrong about the age of the earth, continental drift, and meteorite impact and that led to the book in which I explore how scientists can be wrong but don’t stay wrong

Q: Your book focuses on the great discoveries of the twentieth century. Why that century and not earlier ones? Was it difficult to decide which scientists and projects to focus on?

JP: Not really difficult, because my background as a geologist had made me aware that geologists had been wrong about the age of the earth, continental drift, and meteorite impact. The reason for focusing on this century was because it was in the 1960s that each of these theories were confirmed.

Q: You consider the Space Race when discussing the discovery of meteorite impacts on the surface of the Moon. To what extent, if at all, do you believe political pressure is necessary for scientific discovery?

JP: Absolutely critical if you include research and exploration for military purposes. The scientific revolutions over continental drift, meteorite impact, and global warming would have been much delayed had it not been for the advances during WWII.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you while researching for this book?

JP: I was surprised at how thoroughly climate scientists had rejected anthropogenic global warming between 1901 and say the early 1960s. Nearly universally.

Q: You write in the preface of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences that you were inspired to explore the ways in which science has, in fact, been wrong after arguing with a friend about global warming. How powerful do you think the effect of
misinformation is in regards to scientific progression, especially in today’s contemporary digital society?

JP: It’s huge. There is no scientific case whatsoever against anthropogenic global warming, yet roughly half the public and a majority of Republican politicians think it is wrong. To find one peer-reviewed paper that says anthropogenic global warming is wrong you have to read something like 5,000 papers!

Q: How might looking at evolutions of scientific theory to scientific discovery shed light on disputed science today?

JP: It makes you realize that when scientists have been collectively wrong, it has been because there was very little unequivocal evidence and they preferred to stick to the older theories that they had always worked under. But once the evidence gets strong enough, they had to change their minds. The evidence for anthropogenic global warming is mountain high and there is none against it

February 18th, 2015

Eric Walrond, Harlem Renaissance Forgotten Giant — James Davis



Eric Walrond

In celebration of Black History Month, we continue our focus on recent titles in African-American studies. Today, we look at Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean, by James Davis, which was recently featured in the Daily News.

In the article, Davis explains Walrond’s important role in the Harlem Renaissance, who was friends with such figures as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes. Walrond was best-known for Tropic of Death, his book of short stories, which offered one of the first portrayals of Caribbean characters in American literature. However, after achieving recognition for Tropic of Death, Walrond left New York City and faded into obscurity.

In praising the book, David Levering-Lewis says ““It’s a gorgeous book, and it’s detective work that is really exceptional.” Walrond was born in Guyana and his role in the Harlem Renaissance reflects the important place Caribbean-Americans have had in the history of Harlem.

For more on the book, we’re very excited about an event with James Davis to celebrate the book’s launch at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn, on Monday, February 23rd.

And here’s an excerpt from the book:

February 17th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences



This week our featured book is Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth, by James Lawrence Powell.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, February 20 at 1:00 pm.

“James Lawrence Powell breaks new ground. His scholarship is deep, and his stories are well-written and enriched with human detail. Anyone with an interest in how science progresses will profit from reading this book.” — Spencer Weart

February 17th, 2015

New Book Tuesday: Genealogy of American Finance, After the Manifesto, and More



Genealogy of American FinanceGenealogy of American Finance
Robert E. Wright and Richard Sylla; Foreword by Charles M. Royce

Telling It Again and Again: Repetition in Literature and Film
Bruce F. Kawin

Addendum to a Photo Album
Vladislav Otroshenko. Translated by Lisa Hayden

After the Manifesto
Edited by Craig Buckley

Heat, Dust, and Taxes: A Story of Tax Schemes in Australia’s Outback
Lex Fullarton

Seven Slovak Women: Portraits of Courage, Humanism, and Enlightenment
Josette Baer. Foreword by Jan Foltín

February 17th, 2015

Interview with Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons, editors of The Trouble with Post-Blackness



The Trouble with Post-Blackness

“To declare oneself “post-black” is essentially to demand of a radiant tradition that it stops talking, archiving, and producing knowledge and specific forms of art, sport, and knowledge spanning millennia.”—Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons

Throughout this week, we’ll be featuring books relating to Black History Month. In the following post, we interview Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons, the co-editors of The Trouble with Post-Blackness:

Question: Your book was prepared around the time of the Trayvon Martin shooting and it serves as a point of discourse several times throughout. Do you feel that the discussion would have been radically changed had it been prepared after the Michael Brown and Eric Garner murders?

Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons: I am not certain the temper of the brilliant essays and reflections collected in the book would have been radically changed. The galvanizing effects of the murder of Trayvon Martin were enough in themselves to set off a cacophony of anger and events not seen in United States and global activism for an extended stretch of time. It was as though the murder of Trayvon Martin was a horrific wake up call from the ambient, narcissistic sleep of “Post-Blackness” and excessive celebrations of the second Obama presidential election. If a trajectory of disillusionment with the euphoria of Barack Obama’s double presidency is drawn, surely its major break was the murder of Trayvon Martin. Every person’s death diminishes us all. This we know. The addition of recent murders of so many other African American men, women, and children in the United States—especially from within sanctioned institutional and authoritative structures such as the police—goes beyond diminishment to devastation. Post-Blackness’s self-regarding call to seize a putative American Dream “beyond blackness” seems delusional of course in light of the brutal deaths of so many.

Q: What do you believe the election of Obama means within the context of Black history? To what extent should we categorize it as a progressive milestone, versus a symbolic achievement during a lack of significant developments in the Black experience? For instance, how do we reconcile the post-election celebrations centered on racial progress, in light of recent events in which the notion of post-blackness seems to be suffering?

HB and KMS: This is a complex question because it articulates and juxtaposes a number of shorthand terms such as “progressive milestone” and “symbolic achievement.” Milestones are always only what we make of them in symbolic systems such as “Black history” and “development” discourse. The elections of Barack Obama to the United States presidency are permanent markers of a shifted American context of presidential politics. Obama’s successful bids for the presidency were full of centrist (as opposed to “progressive”), vague, and almost speechlessly exorbitant financing. “Blackness”—in the existential sense coded in a tradition of creative resistance, militant refusal of subjugation, and studied attention to black impoverishment—had nothing to do with the presidential victories of Barack Obama. However, in this long line of coded black resistance against insuperable odds, even a day off or a small lottery win from a vending machine in a supermarket can seem like miraculous good fortune. And if it has never happened before in one’s known history it seems like the Fourth of July! There were volumes of black critique, reservation, and resistance to even the notion that Barack Obama represented a “new black messiah” come to redeem the United States and rid it of racism and black despair. But such counter-celebratory critique was ineffective at producing in-depth perspectives on Obama the candidate or the resonant inefficacy for the black majority of his run up to the election.

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February 13th, 2015

Absorbed in Translation: The Art — and Fun — of Literary Translation, by Juliet Winters Carpenter



The Fall of Language in the Age of English

The following essay is by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts, and the co-translator of The Fall of Language in the Age of English. The essay was originally published on The Conversation.

I recently stumbled upon a post that describes the process of literary translation as “soul-crushing.” That’s news to me, and I’ve been engaged in literary translation for the better part of four decades now. How would I describe it? “Humbling,” yes. “All-consuming,” definitely. But above all, “the most fun imaginable.”

Some may figure that literary translators are a dying breed, like quill pen makers, and assume that computers will eventually take over the job. Don’t hold your breath. Machine translation has a role to play – and no doubt an increasing one – but it is doomed to be literal, to merely skim the surface. Enter “Don’t hold your breath” into Google Translate and you’ll get an injunction to not stop breathing. A human touch is needed to understand layers of meaning in context and to create something pleasurable to read.

Yet the process is humbling, primarily because as a translator, you are constantly made aware of your limitations: there are all the events or interactions described in the original text that you know nothing about, or have never experienced. Or you long to reproduce the wit, rhythm, and beauty of the original, but, for a host of reasons, have to settle for less.

I also find that humility is a practical necessity. When the original makes little sense, often the first impulse is to blame the author. Humility allows you to see the original text in a new light – to appreciate it for what it is, rather than what you may think it’s supposed to be. If you approach a confusing sentence with the assumption that you’re missing something, you’re usually right. So my first rule would be: assume you are wrong, not the author.

I’ve collaborated with Japanese author Minae Mizumura on translating two of her books, including the just-released The Fall of Language in the Age of English.

The Fall of Language was first translated by Mari Yoshihara, a professor at the University of Hawaii who also found the publisher. Mizumura then asked me to review the entire book with her – to incorporate changes she made to render the text more accessible and relevant to non-Japanese readers. The book explores the importance of national literature and warns against the unchecked proliferation of English, lamenting that not only nuances, but also “truths”—accessible only in other languages—are in danger of being lost. Translating such a book into English may seem perverse, but it underscores the point that in our age, ideas can spread only if they’re communicated in English.

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