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Archive for the 'Author Interviews' Category

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Philosophy as Narrative, Dialogue, Disruption: An Interview with Paul W. Kahn

Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation, Paul W. Kahn

Next up for our feature on Paul Kahn’s Finding Ourselves at the Movies, we highlight excerpts from the author’s recent interview with Critical Margins. Here, Kahn details some of the themes found in his book, as well as touches on some of the problems faced by philosophy today and how film can help to address them.

First of all, Paul, one of the first statements in your book is the following, “philosophy begins with narrative, not abstraction.” Could you give us some examples from both ancient times and our own day?

While there are fragments preserved from the pre-Socratics, Western philosophy begins its written tradition with Plato. Plato, however, wrote nothing that we would identify as a philosophical text. He wrote something that looked considerably more like drama. They were dialogues that addressed particular questions in a dramatic context.

The tradition of writing dialogues continued for some time in classical thought. Cicero and Seneca, for example, wrote dialogues. In modern philosophy, David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion may be the most famous. The narrative form of reflective inquiry is rooted for Westerners in Christ’s use of parables. Modern philosophers have sometimes used a narrative form – most famously in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In popular culture, I am reminded of the very successful work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

You say, “Increasingly, what we have in common is the movies.” Is that mainly because so many movies now are of the blockbuster type that millions flock to whereas other forms of media that we once shared (e.g., the evening newscast) have declined?

It is true that the movies that we most share are the blockbusters, which link us to audiences around the world. There is nothing else quite like that, except perhaps some television series that endlessly rerun, and maybe the Oscars. Movies with less popular appeal than blockbusters often link the members of smaller groups. We share the viewing habits of those with whom we are likely to find ourselves. I suspect that whatever we see, we want to talk about with our friends, partners, coworkers, and associates.

One of the aims of your book is to discuss the relationship between film and philosophy. On that note, could you please tell us what films you think reflect this statement from your book, “To imagine the possible is to construct a narrative?”

Every movie imagines the possible through the construction of a narrative. An account of natural development does not include the possible. We don’t say that an earthquake was one of several possible events. We say it happened and it had to happen because of shifts in the tectonic plates that preceded it. A narrative does not work that way. A narrative always sets the actual against the possible. We are interested in human stories because of the choices made, but choice requires a belief that other possibilities were present – the choice could have been different.

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Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Does Multiverse Theory Bring Theology Into Science? An interview with Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Worlds Without End

In a recent interview with Andrew Aghapour at Religion Dispatches, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, author of Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse discusses her inspiration for studying the history of the idea of the “multiverse,” the complex philosophical and religious underpinnings of the idea of many worlds, and how religious thought is present in modern scientific multiverse theories.

What initially inspired you to write Worlds Without End?

Five or six years ago, I was clamoring to find something to write for a conference on energy, a topic about which I knew nothing at all. One morning, I came across a feature in the New York Times Magazine on “dark energy”: the negative pressure that’s accelerating the expansion of the universe, causing galaxies to race away from one another faster and faster as time goes on.

I was struck not only by the metaphorics of this substance (it’s said to be “dark,” “mysterious,” “strange,” “creepy”) but by the psychological instability it seemed to be causing among the researchers who discovered it (“no one expected this,” “it’s like hell without the fire,” “we’ll never understand this thing but we can’t not study it”). This was my entry point: as someone who studies the history of philosophy and theology, I was fascinated by a group of scientists professing a freaked-out, studious devotion to an inscrutable darkness. (more…)

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The Post-Book

Permission

As close readers of our blog might have noticed in our recent New Book Tuesday posts, we are now distributing Dalkey Archive Press. Needless to say, we are very excited to be working with one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation. Today, we have a fascinating excerpt from a conversation in BOMB Magazine’s BOMBlog between S. D. Chrostowska, author of Permission, and Kate Zabreno. The two “discuss Permission, the vagaries of readership and publicity, rag-bags, and the transgressive novel as essay, commodity, and monster.” You can read the interview in its entirety here.

The Post-Book
S. D. Chrostowska

… By semi-public I did not mean small presses and poetic novels. I am not arguing for writerly oblivion, for self-mortification for the sake of Literature, unless as a ritual of asceticism. The existence of this literature is, as you point out, largely funded, dependent on grants and academic support. I am not romanticizing this. And I share what I take to be your concern over the increasingly public nature of writing as encouraging automatic over-sharing and self-indulgence. I think the book industry still keeps a tight rein on this, but not for long as literary publishing continues its transition to the digital. The blog and the book each have something to offer us. The blog is great for unlacing, for defining oneself by overstepping limits normally in place or, in the way you conceive it, as a counterattack against self-censorship, against the self-discipline that leads to partial self-erasure. The idea that no one reads us does, as you say, liberate, and publicness constrains. Anonymity is not the answer because we identify with Anon too. Nor is the answer to the problems that come with publicity to be found in the handwritten diary—not, anyway, for the self-aware writer who expects his/her private work to fall into the hands of others. As the standards relax thanks to the fluidity of written communication, professionalism and relative formalization catch up with us in the permissive online environment, which is neither a womb nor a solipsistic mind.

I am trying to highlight that there is no escape from publicity if you are a dedicated writer. Giving it up is not an option. One can resist some of it, discipline oneself spiritually for being overly invested in one’s public self, distracted from core concerns. And one can certainly fight against its pernicious systemic effects. This is what I find so refreshing and valuable in your work.

Isn’t it possible for the tide to turn? For certain writers to become semi-private without feeling they are sacrificing something—ambition, praise, recognition? For writers to go underground, where it is safe to say that with the aid of modern technology their work will be preserved for those who come later when the tide turns again? For writers to embrace ephemerality, not as preparatory for the real work of writing, not as a means of working up to the world of the book, but as valid in itself? For writers—some writers at least, or for some of the time—to self-semi-publish? (more…)

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Joseph Cirincione talks Iran with Fareed Zakaria

Nuclear Nightmares

This week our featured book is Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late by Joseph Cirincione. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have a video from Joseph Cirincione’s recent interview with Fareed Zakaria

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Nuclear Nightmares!

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Antonio Negri in conversation with Gabriele Fadini

Spinoza for Our Time

This week our featured book is Spinoza for Our Time: Politics and Postmodernity, by Antonio Negri, translated by William McCuaig and with a foreword by Rocco Gangle. We’ve excerpted brief parts of a longer conversation between Antonio Negri and Gabriele Fadini from the journal Rethinking Marxism, in which Negri discusses the role of political theology in relation to his own political philosophy.

Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Spinoza for Our Time!

Materialism and Philosophy

Gabriele Fadini: … [T]heology can be seen as a constituent element of revolutionary process even without knowing it as such. Thomas Muntzer and his political theology ofthe revolution gives us an example, and nowadays some of his ‘‘descendants’’ like Camilo Torres and the liberation theology movement continue the struggle for liberation in Latin America, leading us to reflect on these themes. What are your thoughts about this tradition?

Antonio Negri: At times there is a certain type of theology that intersects with revolutionary events. It is necessary, however, to clearly designate exactly what kind of theology we are speaking about. We must be clear here because it is equally certain that not all theologies cross revolutionary phenomena but, on the contrary, there are some theologies that cross the opposite of revolution: namely, pure ideological reproduction of Empire.

Theology becomes important for revolutionary thinking when charity and love (agape and amor) are assumed to be unrestrainable powers–where, in other words, the same logos, the same rationality is placed at love’s disposal. From this point of view, amor has first an epistemological, and then soteriological, importance. That is, it is love that individuates which are the forces and the powers that can develop the common and, through the common, realizes more and more charity. This epistemological power of love is joined to a power of liberation. Liberation here emerges as a thorough materialism, which moves from a focus on soteriology to all-out revolution. In this sense, it is necessary to try to understand what is the relation between charity and poverty, love and poverty–that is, the relation between theology and history, theology and politics.

There are two paths. The first is one in which poverty is equated with power, and so the relation between theology and politics is possible because poverty is the capacity to express different forms of love, the organization of passions, and ultimately the unfolding of desire. In the second, poverty is that flat and desperate situation that only the transcendental can redeem. It is clear that it is only the first conception of poverty that can make amor operational. That is, it is clear that only the nonmystical determination of poverty can give love a political role.

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Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Interview with Writer and Filmmaker Zhu Wen

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

In keeping with our featured book this week, Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, we cover today a 2011 interview of Zhu Wen, conducted by the Wang Ge of Timeout Beijing.

In the interview, Wang discusses the multitude of Wen’s creative personas, namely as a novelist, engineer, philosopher and film-maker and he interviews Zhu about his upcoming movie release, Thomas Mao.

Wang first heard of Zhu Wen in 2002 when the bad-boy writer-film director was a guest on a radio talk show where the interviewees had been asked to bring along a book, a film and an album to represent themselves. According to him, Zhu was automatically painted as some kind of anarchist:

Ge: In 2002, he [Zhu] was still better known as a novelist, having quit his factory job in 1994 to become a writer. He didn’t join the directorial ranks until 2001, with cultish debut Seafood. The film chronicles the story of a Beijing prostitute who travels to Beidaihe to kill herself, and it flew under the radars of most film lovers. It wasn’t until his second feature, South of the Clouds (2003), the tale of a doleful-eyed retiree’s journey of self-discovery to Yunnan, that Zhu announced himself to the world. Then he disappeared. Many thought the director had quit filmmaking for good, but now he’s back with Thomas Mao – and it’s every bit the head trip you’d expect.

The film [Thomas Mao] is divided into two parts. The first half shows the cultural clashes between an Inner Mongolian yurt owner (played by artist Mao Yan) and a foreign artist (played by Thomas Rohldewald), who shares his tent for a night. The twist comes in the second half, where fiction transforms into ‘documentary’, and Zhu turns his camera on the real-life Mao Yan and his working relationship with Rohldewald, a long-time artistic collaborator.

Zhu: Both of them are good friends of mine, but it all came together when I finally figured out how the two artists are connected in their own separate realities. There was this ancient Chinese philosopher called Zhuangzi, and he dreamt of becoming a butterfly. Then he woke up and was confused as to whether he had dreamt he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. The boundaries between reality and dreams can blur together so easily that I can only explain them through their different incarnations.

The plant I worked in was built to produce machine parts, but then the Soviet Union was gone, production was stranded. So I spent my days and nights gathering my colleagues together to play poker. The factory authorities found out about this and threatened to fire me for gambling, which is illegal. Then, all of a sudden, the plant recovered, production began and skilled engineers were needed. So they called me back when I’d already packed my bags. But one day, when I finished work for the day, I looked at all these assembly lines and thought: What am I doing here?

(more…)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

An Interview with Translator Julia Lovell

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

In keeping with our featured book this week, Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, we cover today an interview with the book’s translator Julia Lovell, conducted by the Los Angeles Review of Books.

In the interview, Lovell discusses the compelling points of translating The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, especially as the book compares to both Zhu Wen’s previous collection of short fiction, I Love Dollars, and other prominent contemporary Chinese writers.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan!

On Zhu Wen’s Stories and Other Works of Chinese Fiction: A Q & A with Julia Lovell

Jeffrey Wasserstrom: In an endorsement of the new collection, Jonathan Spence, who praised I Love Dollars in the London Review of Books, says that this “second volume of short stories” is “both darker and denser than the first.” Does that fit with your feeling about the new book or would you characterize the contrast differently?

Julia Lovell: I think that’s a perceptive comment by Jonathan Spence. There was plenty that was shocking and dark about the first collection – in particular, the kind of careless amorality that some of the stories diagnosed in 1990s China. But there was also, I think, a strand of humor, a strong appreciation of the farcical, running through some of the pieces. That’s less dominant in the new collection. Two of the stories that take a more conversational, absurdist take on life in the People’s Republic – “Da Ma’s Way of Talking” and “The Apprentice” – are also overtly tinged with sadness. The relaxed, humorous narration of the first story contrasts with its ending; in the second piece, the lightly sardonic tone blurs into the narrator’s sense of despairing melancholy as he feels increasingly trapped by his future in the socialist economy. At the same time though, I think that the new volume offers more thoughtful insights into human relationships, and into the impact of political pressures on day-to-day life.

But I’m still very drawn to work that showcases the more relaxed side of Chinese culture. At the moment, I’m working on a new abridgement of Journey to the West, a book from the imperial Chinese canon that fizzes with humorous irreverence. Stodgy Neo-Confucians, covetous Buddhists and libidinous Taoists – all are mocked in the novel; at one point, the book’s hero, the Monkey King, even urinates on the hand of the Buddha.
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Friday, August 30th, 2013

An Interview with Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen

The Ethical Economy

As we continue our week-long feature of The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis, by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen, we look to the authors’ interview with Zoe Romano at Digicult as they discuss the ideas of productive publics, economy reputation, and their joint role in the plausible shift toward an Ethical Economy.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Ethical Economy!

Ethical Economy. The New Distribution of Value

Zoe Romano: How do you see ethical phenomena like the signal of the emergence of a new way of production (what you call ‘Ethical Economy’) in addition to the emergence of a market niche, a term often used and abused to clean up the image of a company? Are we really facing a substantial change?

Adam Arvidsson & Nicolai Peitersen: The reason why these phenomena do not represent only a market niche is because they are companies’ and brands’ rational response to a deeper structural change. This deep transformation is made of two main elements: On one hand there is the rise of what we call “the productive publics,” and on the other hand the growing of the economy reputation.
In the book we show how the “productive publics” are becoming increasingly important for the organization of both the immaterial and the material. The “productive publics” identify collaborative networks of strangers who interact in a highly mediatic way (which often doesn’t need the use of informatic networks or social media) and who coordinate their interactions through sharing a common set of values. By coordinating production in such a way, the productive publics are different from markets and bureaucracies, not only because they allow one to consider as good reasons a wider range of issues, but also because they tend to be highly independent in conferring a value to the productive contribution of their members. In the book, we suggest that the productive publics are becoming increasingly influential in the information economy, not only in alternative circuits like Free Software, but also within the corporate economy itself, especially around the immaterial assets that in some sectors reach two thirds of the market value. As a result, there is recent growing emphasis on ethics and social responsibility in corporations which can be understood as an attempt to accommodate the orders of worth promoted by the productive publics.
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Friday, August 23rd, 2013

On Being a Sports Statistician: more interviews with Ben Alamar

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Today, the last day of our book giveaway, we have an excerpt from a couple of print interviews with Ben Alamar on his book, the use of statistics in organizations, and how one should prepare for a career as a sports statistician. The first of these two interviews can be found in its entirety on the Sports Analytics Blog, and the second at STATtr@k.

Sports Analytics Blog Interview

SA Blog: What made you decide to switch from “Corporate America” (where you worked for PwC) to the sports industry?

Ben: I switched careers as soon as I realized that I might be able to create a career in sports for myself. I grew up as a sports junky, but not a baseball fan, so it was not until after I had finished graduate school that I became aware of Bill James and the use of statistical analysis in baseball. Once I saw what was happening in baseball, and I had the good fortune of working with Aaron Schatz, Roland Beech and Jeff Ma at Protrade, I was sold. The possibility to apply these tools in football and basketball were too exciting to me to pass up.
(more…)

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Interviews with Ben Alamar

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Today, we have a couple of great interviews with Ben Alamar, one with Grantland’s Zach Lowe and one with BBall Breakdown’s Coach Nick.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Zach Lowe and Ben Alamar: “The Thunder Almost Drafted Brook Lopez Instead of Russell Westbrook”

Coach Nick and Ben Alamar: “NBA Chat With Ben Alamar – Analytics Consultant for the Cleveland Cavaliers”

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

A Q&A with Peter J. Steinberger

The Problem with God

This week our featured book is The Problem with God: Why Atheists, True Believers, and Even Agnostics Must All Be Wrong, by Peter J. Steinberger. Today, we have a Q&A with Professor Steinberger, in which he addresses objections to his argument, discusses the “reassurance” offered at the end of his book, and explains why his conclusion should be as troubling to atheists and agnostics as to theists.

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Problem with God!

Question: In The Problem with God, you seek to understand the psychology of god-belief, and, in doing so, you explore the beliefs of ordinary folk. But is that the best approach? If we want to ask questions about god’s existence, why should we rely on ordinary folk? The question of God’s existence may seem unanswerable to me, but, then, so do questions about theoretical physics. Just as questions of physics are best decided by experts, by physicists, why shouldn’t we look to relevant experts when addressing questions of ontology?

Peter Steinberger: For the most part, in questions of science, the problem is not simply or primarily, or not really, conceptual/logical. The problem is largely a lack of information. So we do experiments or field investigations or calculations in order to get more and more information about how things operate in the world. The problem with God is not like this at all. The problem is not that we lack information. The problem is that our thinking is confused, in the sense of being self-contradictory.
(more…)

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

August Turak Unplugged

Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks

This week our featured book is Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning, by August Turak. Turak is a successful entrepreneur, corporate executive, and award-winning writer. He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Selling Magazine, the New York Times, and Business Week. He is also a popular leadership contributor at Forbes.com. His website is www.augustturak.com. Today we have a collection of some recent interviews by Mr. Turak. First, we have a short video in which he speaks about some of the ideas contained in Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks.

Next, we have an interview with Mr. Turak from WNYC’s The Takeaway, in which he tells us “why we should pay closer attention to the motivation behind our work and the business skills you can learn from examining the principles of Trappist monks.”

And finally, you can click here to watch Mr. Turak speaking with Jordan Goodman at The Money Answers Show on why success in business does not necessitate sacrificing ethics or happiness for profit.

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Part 2 of a Q&A with Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White, authors of If A, then B

If A, Then BIn If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic, Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White track the emergence and expansion of logic as a field of study. Today we have the second half of a Q&A with Shenefelt and White, who both teach Great Books at NYU’s Liberal Studies Program (read the first half here). In today’s half, Shenefelt and White explain their claim that, throughout history, the development of logic has reflected larger social changes happening in the world. And be sure to check out the book’s website!

Q: All your discussion of the historical roots of logic makes it sound like logic is all a consequence of the ancient world’s history.

Michael Shenefelt: It’s also a consequence of the modern world’s history. Consider the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries. That’s what finally generated the logic that runs your computer—symbolic logic. The first fully symbolic systems came from George Boole and Augustus De Morgan in England in 1847, just as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Both thinkers said explicitly that they were seeking a way to make reasoning “mechanical.” Industrialization showed a whole generation of thinkers the immense power of mechanical operations, especially in the manufacture of cloth, and some wanted to achieve a similar effect in reasoning. A similar impulse also led to the development of abstract algebra, and this so-called mechanical effect in algebra was much stressed by John Stuart Mill. Later in the century, when Germany industrialized, you see the eminent figures of Gottlob Frege, George Cantor, and Richard Dedekind—great names in logic and mathematics. And when the Fiat automobile company was manufacturing cars in Turin, Italy, Giuseppe Peano started working at the University of Turin; Peano’s notation still underlies a lot of symbolic logic. Industrialization and symbolic logic were intimately connected. And then there’s the case of the United States. When the United States industrialized in the wake of the Civil War, Charles Sanders Peirce worked out a symbolic logic of his own and pointed out that logic problems might be solved using electrical switches.
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Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Part 1 of a Q&A with Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White, authors of If A, Then B

If A, Then BIn If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic, Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White track the emergence and expansion of logic as a field of study. Today we have the first half of a Q&A with Shenefelt and White, who both teach Great Books at NYU’s Liberal Studies Program, in which the two authors discuss the origins of logic, look at some of logic’s many uses, and give a convincing case for why studying logic is a valuable thing to do. And be sure to check out the book’s website!

Question: Why do you say logic comes out of politics?

Heidi White: Formal logic began as a reaction to political failure in ancient Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Many Athenians blamed the city’s defeat in the long war with Sparta on tricky and deceptive reasoning in the Athenian Assembly; they believed demagogues had misled the voters into endorsing a disastrous military campaign. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? The philosopher Plato complained about this tricky and deceptive reasoning all the time. He was relentless in insisting on the difference between persuasion that relied on dubious reasons or a lack of evidence and persuasion that was well reasoned and well supported. And in the end, he came to the view that good government had to rely on genuine knowledge, and knowledge had to be based on sound argument. His student Aristotle then zeroed in on formal deductive logic as a crucial part of sound reasoning.
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Friday, June 28th, 2013

An Interview with Gyorgy Scrinis

Nutritionism, Gyorgy Scrinis Today, the final day of our book giveaway for Gyorgy Scrinis’s Nutritionism:The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice, we have an interview with Dr. Scrinis in which he discusses the limitations of nutritionism, the “nutritional gaze,” and how to correct popular conceptions of nutrition.

How does margarine exemplify the limitations of nutritionism?

Margarine is one of the few highly processed foods that many nutrition experts have promoted—and in some cases continue to promote—as a healthy food, or at least as healthier than butter. It illustrates their willingness to believe in the truth of their nutritional hypotheses, to the point where this overrides other ways of evaluating food quality, but also overrides the sensual and cultural significance of butter. Margarine manufacturers worked this out decades ago, and have refined the art of nutritionally engineering their products so as seduce those nutrition experts in awe of polyunsaturated fats, reduced fat foods, omega-3 fats, and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols.

What are the political consequences of nutritionism?

One of the ideological functions of nutritionism is that it is so faithfully serves the interests of the food industry. Nutritionism provides the rationale for the production of nutritional commodities, such as nutrient-fortified food products. But it also helps to construct the types of subjects—nutriticentric subjects and consumers—that desire and demand these nutritional commodities.
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Thursday, June 20th, 2013

An interview with Michael M. Weinstein and Ralph M. Bradburd in The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving

On Sunday, The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an interview with Michael M. Weinstein and Ralph M. Bradburd, authors of The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving. In the interview, Weinstein and Bradburd explain how the Robin Hood Foundation makes grant-making decisions, and discuss why philanthropic foundations would be smart to learn how to better understand costs and benefits of projects they wish to pursue. Here are a few of the highlights:

Q: How does Robin Hood make its grant-making decisions?

Mr. Weinstein: We take each proposal and the first thing we do is identify all of the poverty-relevant benefits it might produce. What we count as poverty fighting are things that lift the living standards of low-income New Yorkers.

Once we’ve made that list, we assign a monetary value to each of those benefits, whether it’s gaining a high-school diploma, a health benefit, or a lower probability of criminality.

It’s a combination of a probability that the benefit will occur with the dollar value, if it does occur. We add them up and divide it by the cost.

Q: How does Robin Hood manage risk?

Mr. Weinstein: We have a board with a large number of hedge-fund traders and financial types who are used to risk and don’t mind it.

I joke that if the program staff reported to the board that every grant we had made the previous year succeeded, we’d all be fired. If nothing fails, you’re not taking any chances.

We look at the ideas that excite us the most and then we impose a hard constraint—one year from today, we will have the data that tell us whether we’re succeeding or not.

Mr. Bradburd: Philanthropy has adopted a standard of cost-effectiveness. There’s a difference between lean and mean, and starving and stupid.

Donors should be focusing on the overall benefit per dollar of expenditures, not on just what percentage of total revenues is being spent on administration. Donors should ask the people who are asking them for money how they’re measuring the benefits of what they’re spending.

To read the interview in its entirety, click here.

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Q&A with Goldie Kadushin on the new 5th edition of The Social Work Interview

The Social Work Interview

Today we have an interview with Professor Goldie Kadushin, co-author of The Social Work Interview, 5th edition. The Social Work Interview has been a crucial textbook in the social work field in various editions since 1972, and it is still the only textbook to outline the skills social workers need to conduct effective client interviews. In the Q&A today, Professor Kadushin talks about how the newest edition of The Social Work Interview reflects new trends in the social work field and how social work has changed since the first edition of The Social Work Interview came out.

Question: This is the fifth edition of The Social Work Interview. What is new in this edition?

Goldie Kadushin: Every chapter was updated with research published after 1997 (the publication date of the fourth edition) in the social, medical, and psychological sciences. The chapter on cross-cultural interviewing was completely rewritten to focus on culturally competent interviewing of sexual and racial/ethnic minorities and the elderly. Case examples were revised to reflect current practice.

Q: What are some of the most important research findings about the social work interview in the last 15 years?

GK: The importance of the client’s role in the interview is a new finding. Research indicates that clients interpret the interview in terms of their own goals, needs and agenda. Consistent with this finding, adaptation of the interview to client preferences may be helpful in achieving positive outcomes. Research has continued to accumulate indicating that techniques and the helping relationship are inseparable and complementary. Self-disclosure, an effective but controversial interviewing technique, received new attention. Researchers concluded that the question was no longer whether to self-disclose but how to self-disclose. New research on adapting the interview to the needs of lesbian and gay clients and the elderly has also been published in the last decade.

Goldie KadushinQ: What distinguishes the social work interview from the interviews of other helping professions?

GK: The content of the social work interview differs from the interviews of other helping professions in its focus on improving clients’ social functioning and their access to environmental resources. However, the social work interview overlaps with the interviews of other professions in sharing the same structure and techniques. So, while the book emphasizes social work interviewing, it can also be used by other professions such as psychology and counseling.

Q: Can a textbook teach social work interviewing?

GK: No. “Knowing about” is clearly different than “knowing how.” Ultimately, interviewing is learned through doing. However, even though “to know” is very different from “to do,” it is clearly better than not knowing. For every conversational turn, the interviewer must select a technique that is likely to be responsive to the client, while also conveying the interviewer’s intention. Knowledge about interviewing thus informs the clinician’s consideration of relevant choices that determine skill in the use of technique.

Q: The first edition of The Social Work Interview was published in 1972. How do you explain the continuing popularity of this particular textbook?

GK: If I had to guess, I would say there are probably two reasons. One, the book is explicitly concerned with the problems and issues of social work interview and, two, the book is scholarly, yet accessible. We have made an effort to review relevant research and to present the findings in a readable style for both beginning and advanced clinicians and students. These two qualities may explain the continued appeal of this textbook for social work and other audiences.

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Video: The Robin Hood Foundation Approach

The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving

This week our featured book is The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving, by Michael M. Weinstein and Ralph M. Bradburd, published by Columbia Business School Publishing, an imprint of Columbia University Press. Enter our Goodreads book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy!

Today, we have a couple of videos from the excellent Vimeo channel of the Robin Hood Foundation. In the first video, Michael Weinstein explains the Robin Hood Foundation approach, and in the second, he explains “benefit-cost ratios.”

Our Approach from Robin Hood on Vimeo.

Michael Weinstein Benefit-Cost Video from Robin Hood on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Part 2 of an Interview with Lawrence J. Friedman, author of The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet

The Lives of Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm was born on March 23, 1900, and died almost eighty years later, on March 18, 1980. In celebration of Fromm’s life, we have a two-part Q&A with Lawrence J. Friedman, author of The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet, looking back at Fromm’s many intellectual contributions and accomplishments.

In part two of the interview, Friedman discusses how Fromm’s ideas can be applied to modern political problems.

Question: Fromm led efforts to revitalize American democracy. What did he feel was wrong with our system?

Lawrence Friedman: Fromm was the principal funder and platform architect for Senator Eugene McCarthy’s bid to win the White House in 1968. McCarthy ran as a peace candidate determined to extract America from the Vietnam War. This fit with Fromm’s antimilitarism. On a deeper level, he felt that pointless wars like Vietnam might be avoided if American democracy were restored. Invoking the old New England town meeting as his point of departure, Fromm tried to promote a small, community-based government structure with all officials directly and personally responsible to the local citizenry. Fromm continued to promote this view of democracy throughout his life even as, in his opinion, a Big Brother–like national-security state thrived under less democratic presidencies such as Nixon’s.

Fromm would have seen the possibility of democracy restored in the 2008 Obama campaign, with Obama’s appeal to racial minorities, women, and students and his ability to spark excitement about the political process. But he would have been less enthusiastic for the Obama of 2012 because the president sent additional troops to Afghanistan and essentially ordered the assassination of Bin Laden. But he would have voted for Obama a second time because he was somewhat more democratic and less elitist than Romney. Fromm had strong ideals and democracy was one of them. But he was also a pragmatist, willing to take half a loaf as a first installment on any basic goal. He would have supported Obama with this perspective.

Q: While Fromm was a strong advocate for democracy around the globe, he was also critical of how bureaucratic state socialism (such as obtained in the Soviet Union) and corporate capitalism (such as in the United States) both alienated modern man. He envisioned a “Third Way”: a humanist society that valued the happiness of the individual in a democratic polity. Can this type of government ever truly exist and function?

LF: Fromm saw both the alienating capitalism and consumer culture of the West (especially the United States) and the bureaucratic socialist societies of the Eastern bloc as anathema to the human condition. Western societies for the most part offered only the façade of democracy while covering selfhood in a plethora of estranged consumerism. The Russians were more dictatorial, Fromm argued, and the Russian leadership promoted inhumane and inefficient bureaucracy.

Fromm cooperated with intellectuals and activists in “Third Way” countries like Czechoslovakia and Poland that were trying to break from the Soviet sphere of influence while distancing themselves from Western “democracies.” They were relatively small countries and the citizenry passionately sought small community-based democratic socialism free of both Soviet bureaucracy and Western alienation. In our contemporary world where there is no longer a Soviet Union and the United States can no longer impose its will abroad. Fromm would see continuing potential for a “Third Way,” especially in small countries like Finland, Denmark, and even Tunisia.

Q: Fromm challenged the dominant Freudian model of psychoanalysis and paid a professional price for doing so. His approach encourages “central relatedness,” where confidentiality breaches may sometimes occur and the clinician is personally involved with the patient rather than distanced by therapeutic neutrality. What is his legacy in the psychiatric world and has his approach been embraced or rejected by modern psychoanalysis?

LF: Orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis involved a seemingly neutral and distant analyst. The patient projected his repressed concerns on the analyst so these concerns could be studied. Fromm’s “central relatedness” was markedly different. The analyst was not neutral but opened himself to his deepest personal issues and encouraged the patient to similarly open his “center” to the analyst.

Traditional Freudian analysis is essentially gone. Given Fromm’s and other clinicians’ affairs and other professional breaches with their patients, rooted in the temptations of “central relatedness”, it, too, has a problematic legacy. But Fromm, like his friend Harry Stack Sullivan, emphasized the clinical relationship as an interpersonal one– the connectedness between people as the way to understand what troubled patients. Because the interpersonal is perhaps the dominant clinical approach today within psychoanalytically informed therapy, Fromm and Sullivan have reemerged as significant figures. From a therapeutic perspective, Fromm has finally come of age.

Q: You write that mental health and illness are heavily social constructs. If Fromm were living today, current clinicians might have labeled him as bipolar. Yet there were “stabilizers” in his life that pushed away bipolarity and let Fromm be very productive. What can we learn from Fromm’s approach to dealing with the effects of mental illness?

LF: Contemporary psychiatrists and other mental health experts are too quick to label their patients “bipolar” and “schizophrenic.” Both tend to be seen as genetically rooted organic maladies; psychotropic drugs are the remedies or alleviants of choice. Coming from the social misery of a deeply depressed mother and a manic father and trying somehow to keep the family together, Fromm adapted. By his own admission, he would have been called manic depressive or bipolar. However, considering the way he led his life, “manic depressive” is diagnostically far off the mark even if he was genetically or temperamentally disposed.

Fromm developed an array of daily habits that “stabilized“ or fine-tuned his existence. He wrote regularly, meditated, conversed with a small circle of convivial friends, cultivated a love for political activism, and corresponded regularly and caringly with those close to him. Succinctly, Fromm’s life and the social emphasis behind his therapeutic approach suggest that our daily social arrangements may keep us healthy and happy without recourse to drugs. At least these arrangements should precede drug trials that may be unnecessary. Fromm thought so and always emphasized social circumstances in caring for his patients even as he never dismissed the possibility of drugs as periodic supplements down the line.

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Part 1 of an Interview with Lawrence J. Friedman, author of The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet

The Lives of Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm was born on March 23, 1900, and died almost eighty years later, on March 18, 1980. In celebration of Fromm’s life, we have a two-part Q&A with Lawrence J. Friedman, author of The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet, looking back at Fromm’s many intellectual contributions and accomplishments.

In part one of the interview, Friedman discusses Fromm’s views on love and politics, and how his works still have political impact today.

Question: Fromm was a believer in love or, as you call him, “love’s prophet.” How did his relationships with women influence his philosophy about the role of love in the world?

Lawrence Friedman: The Art of Loving (1956) sold over 25,000,000 copies and still sells well globally. The theme is easy to fathom. At a very deep level, one must simultaneously love oneself, the cherished other, and all of humankind. Love starts as a specific relationship and then becomes a global transformation of humankind into a peaceful and caring society.

Succinctly, a self in love with another is transformative. This was a perspective on love that connected to Fromm’s view of humanism and spirituality. The theme of love had an overwhelming dose of authenticity. It was rooted in Fromm’s own life. Fromm’s unhappy first marriage led to a divorce; in the second, his wife committed suicide; the third, with Annis Freeman, was love from the start. Sometimes Fromm would write six or seven love letters to Freeman every day, and she would reciprocate. The expressions of love through letters bound their lives together and energized Fromm’s spiritual crusade to humanize the world.

Q: Fromm was a founder and major funder of Amnesty International. How has Amnesty transformed our understanding of social justice and human rights?

LF: Fromm was a founder of Amnesty International in the early 1960s and was its principal funder for the next twenty years. He did much to make Amnesty perhaps the most vibrant and effective global agency for human rights and against government brutalities. To free incarcerated victims of harsh regimes, Fromm could play the part of global diplomat, shuttling among Washington, New York, London, and Moscow with remarkable skill and effectiveness. His money and his strategies to free people from governmental barbarities did much to make Amnesty International the most important human rights organization in the world today.

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