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Archive for the 'Author op-eds' Category

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Why I Chose to Research What Slaveholders Think

What Slaveholders Think

“The public square is celebrated by scholars of democracy as a pillar of free and open society. But to slaveholders this space is a cauldron of ‘enmity, ego, and hatred’. Free workers spending their free time talking about life is what gives democracy its vitality – no wonder it’s perceived to be a threat to those who have benefitted from the caste hierarchy. To the erstwhile slaveholder, leisure activities – talking, idling, drinking – are vices, tangible manifestations of social decline.” — Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

This week, our featured book is What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do, by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick. In today’s post, an excerpt from an article published at The Huffington Post, Choi-Fitzpatrick explains why he took his unique approach to researching modern slavery.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of What Slaveholders Think!

Why I Chose to Research What Slaveholders Think
By Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

I often get asked why I wrote a book about contemporary slaveholders. Once people get over the fact that slavery still exists they want to know who on earth is out there, right now doing what it takes to exploit their fellow humans in the worst sort of way?

At the moment the contemporary anti-slavery movement has raised over a billion dollars, reduced the vulnerabilities of untold millions, and brought thousands out of exploitation. Yet we know little about the individuals committing these crimes. I’ve been doing this work for almost 20 years and can tell you this: we know as much about slaveholders today as we did about victims two decades ago; hardly anything.

I set out to change that. In conversations with hundreds and hundreds of people—perpetrators and their victims, local government officials and rights activists—a picture of the life and times of contemporary slaveholders began to emerge.

In case after case, slaveholders targeted by human rights groups told me that they missed the old days. They told me that they wished for a brighter future for their children but that they themselves had been overlooked. Rights groups, broad economic factors, powerful political players, and even their victims, now had all the power.

Some solutions to slavery and trafficking are easier to see once we factor in what slaveholders think. Recognizing that they themselves are only doing what they can to get by doesn’t justify criminality and abuse, but it does suggest that some more traditional development solutions—alternative livelihood projects and microcredit included—may hold potential for emancipation among both perpetrators and victims. Of course. for freedom to be sustainable minds must be changed—that’s why it’s as important as ever to focus community organizing and human rights empowerment efforts at grassroots struggles for freedom.

The goal is not to equivocate between bonded labor and impoverished slaveholders, but instead to emphasize that slavery is relational, emancipation is complex, and the goal of ending slavery in our lifetime will require strategies that address the reality of the situation rather than the way it may appear in our imagination.

Read the article in full at The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

What do slaveholders think?

What Slaveholders Think

“The public square is celebrated by scholars of democracy as a pillar of free and open society. But to slaveholders this space is a cauldron of ‘enmity, ego, and hatred’. Free workers spending their free time talking about life is what gives democracy its vitality – no wonder it’s perceived to be a threat to those who have benefitted from the caste hierarchy. To the erstwhile slaveholder, leisure activities – talking, idling, drinking – are vices, tangible manifestations of social decline.” — Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

This week, our featured book is What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do, by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick. Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from an article by Choi-Fitzpatrick published at Aeon.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of What Slaveholders Think!

What do slaveholders think?: It is everywhere illegal yet slavery persists in many corners of the global economy. How do its beneficiaries justify it?
By Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

Withholding pay and limiting opportunities to mobilise are important strategies for controlling workers. But all of this is done for the workers’ own good, Aanan insists. Though landlords complain about alcohol, such indulgences are also tactics for increasing debt. Rowdy festivals allow workers to blow off steam, effectively directing frustration away from their abusers. These events also allow workers to spend what little money they have, increasing the likelihood that they will remain dependent on the landlord’s line of credit.

When asked if he needs the workers or the workers need him, Aanan explains that: ‘The worker is my cash machine, my fate.’ In this one statement, he has captured a central contradiction inherent in most human-rights violations worldwide: exploitation takes place at the intersection of culture and capital, in the overlap between relationship and extraction, at the moment where care and exploitation intersect.

Long accustomed to power, slaveholders work hard to sustain their status and baulk at any hint of equality. One previously powerful employer confided to me that his community was in decline. ‘In the olden days … labourers used to work in their fields, they used to think of their work,’ he told me. Now, however, they freshen up after work and drink coffee and tea while talking about ‘unnecessary things’, an opportunity for democratic discourse that is ‘deviating their minds’.

The public square is celebrated by scholars of democracy as a pillar of free and open society. But to slaveholders this space is a cauldron of ‘enmity, ego, and hatred’. Free workers spending their free time talking about life is what gives democracy its vitality – no wonder it’s perceived to be a threat to those who have benefitted from the caste hierarchy. To the erstwhile slaveholder, leisure activities – talking, idling, drinking – are vices, tangible manifestations of social decline.

Read the article in full at Aeon.

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like?

Weird Dinosaurs

“When faced with new fossils today, palaeontologists have a much bigger body of knowledge to draw upon when creating reconstructions. In fact, our knowledge has increased to the degree that – somewhat miraculously – we can tell the colours of the dinosaur feathers of a range of species.” — John Pickrell

This week, our featured book is Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew, by John Pickrell, with a foreword by Philip Currie. Today, we are happy to provide a short excerpt from an article written by John Pickrell for Science Focus, the online home of BBC Focus Magazine, where you can read the article in full.

How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like?
By John Pickrell

We take reconstructions of dinosaurs for granted these days, but just how realistic are they, and how do we know what dinosaurs really looked like?

When ancient people were faced with strange bones, they did exactly what we do today, and used the best knowledge available to reconstruct the creatures that left them behind. Sometimes this resulted in poor conclusions. The first name assigned in print to any dinosaur remains was the ignominious title of Scrotum humanum – a label given by British physician Richard Brookes to the broken end of a femur in 1763, believing it to be the fossilised testicles of a Biblical giant.

We now know that the leg bone belonged to a Megalosaurus – correctly described as an extinct reptile by William Buckland in 1824. You can’t entirely blame Brookes for his conclusions, as dinosaurs would not be described as a group until 1842. That was when Richard Owen, head of what is now the Natural History Museum, revealed to the world a new class of strange, extinct creatures he called dinosaurs, meaning ‘fearfully great reptiles’. He imagined Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus to be reptiles with legs sprawled out to the sides, with scaly grey or green skin: something like modern lizards or crocodiles.

(more…)

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Whose Identity? Which Politics?

Desegregating the Past

“Even when museums like the NMAAHC explore into painful content like racial violence and terrorism, it is seen as delving for the purpose of presenting a resilient identity narrative. And they do. But so does the National Museum of American History in its presentation of Americana, from Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to the two hundred year-old flag from the American Revolution. The relegation of museums like the NMAAHC to the stuff of identity politics neutralizes those driven by white nostalgia.” — Robyn Autry

The following is an excerpt from an article by Robyn Autry, author of Desegregating the Past: The Public Life of Memory in the United States and South Africa, originally posted at the Huffington Post.

Whose Identity? Which Politics?
By Robyn Autry

In the weeks following the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in late September, a historic presidency ended, and then hundreds of thousands of people converged on the National Mall as another shocking one began. The NMAAHC hosted a widely popular alternative inauguration organized by Busboys and Poets, increasing its symbolic power as a place of resistance and celebration. How can we make sense of the throngs of people still flocking to the Mall to visit that nation’s first black history museum in a political climate openly hostile to so-called identity politics?

The NMAAH is not an identity museum per se. Neither is the National Museum of the American Indian, nor the Latino and Asian Pacific history museums also under consideration. Or, at least they are no more driven by the desire to celebrate identity than the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum or the National Museum of American History, or even the National Air & Space Museum. In fact, all historical products, whether they be national museums or history textbooks, contain facts and fictions about who we are, or dream of being in relation to lives already lived and lost and those still in the making. In effect, they all offer different interpretations of how great America was (or wasn’t) and how we can all do better.

While there is nothing wrong with projects aiming to interpret or represent collective identities, ‘identity-driven’ is a label used to distinguish them from those museums viewed as more objective or less biased. Museums dedicated to representing the lives and cultures of people of color are seen as self-affirming celebrations that some see as divisive and fixated on what makes us different. Critics also charge that these museums offer less historical context and material evidence or artifacts, relying instead on personal testimonies, multimedia displays, and sweeping summaries. In short, they are thought to be touchy-feely. Even when museums like the NMAAHC explore into painful content like racial violence and terrorism, it is seen as delving for the purpose of presenting a resilient identity narrative. And they do. But so does the National Museum of American History in its presentation of Americana, from Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to the two hundred year-old flag from the American Revolution. The relegation of museums like the NMAAHC to the stuff of identity politics neutralizes those driven by white nostalgia.

After decades of political maneuvering, fundraising, and development, the NMAAHC opened on September 24, 2016. Televised and streamed online, the extraordinary occasion was marked by heartfelt words from President Obama, Congressperson John Lewis, Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith, and musical performances of Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle and Angélique Kidjo. Even more noteworthy, were the 30,000 ordinary people who visited the first weekend, and the tens of thousands who have followed them. With lines circling the building, the museum has been so popular that timed-passes are still being used to manage crows and to allow more people to traverse the 350,000 square foot museum. The passes available online are booked through June 2017, with a limited number being offered for same-day visitors.

How can we account for such keen interest in the museum, from the millions of dollars raised to the thousands of people clamoring to get inside? It’s as much about an insistence that identity is indeed political, as it is about collective yearnings to see that which has been kept off limits, to venture into those spaces that unsettle official accounts and expose the social fissures we already fully know exist.

Read the article in full at the Huffington Post.

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Boom and bust returns as oil market loses its swing

Crude Volatility

“While it is possible the unmanaged interplay of supply and demand will yield more stable prices in coming years and decades, it is more likely future trends will resemble the past, featuring surprising shifts, sustained imbalances, and upheaval.” — Robert McNally

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. Today, we are happy to repost an article by Robert McNally that “>originally appeared in the Financial Times:

Boom and bust returns as oil market loses its swing: For the first time in years, the global oil market is lacking a swing producer
By Robert McNally

Even in these hyper-partisan times, loathing for Opec still unites most Americans. Yet paradoxically, over four decades from the early 1930s to early 1970s, the United States was Opec, and much better at oil supply manipulation and price fixing than today’s Opec ever was.

Up until 1972, independent US oilmen and oil states like Texas acquiesced to heavyhanded government regulations over oil, imposing monthly quotas on producers. This was all done to vanquish chronic booms and busts that vexed the oil industry, consumers, investors, and officials.

This paradox bears directly on the epic, structural shift currently under way in the global oil market, with far-reaching repercussions not only for oil and energy, but also economic growth, security, and the environment. Wildly gyrating oil prices over the past decade mark the demise of Opec as an effective supply manager and the return of free crude oil markets. The resulting unwelcome and likely protracted return of boom-bust oil prices constitutes a major and under-appreciated financial, economic, and geopolitical risk to consumers, businesses, the incoming administration and governments worldwide. (more…)

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Leadership Imperatives to Achieve the Holy Grail of Business: Long-Term Growth

If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!

“These harsh realities point to two burning questions of relevance to all senior executives: 1. Why is it so hard for companies to sustain above-market business performance? 2. What can companies do to beat the odds and crack the code to securing the holy grail of business: long-term profitable growth?” — Leonard Sherman

This week, our featured book is If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth, by Leonard Sherman. For the final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from a short manifesto by Sherman, posted at 800-CEO-READ’s ChangeThis magazine. You can read the post in full here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!.

In all human endeavors we tend to revere stars that perform at a superior level over a long and illustrious career. Sports Hall of Famers Aaron, Montana, Jordan, Pelé, and Nicklaus and arts honorees Ozawa, Tharp, and Simon have earned legendary acclaim for performing immeasurably beyond the reach of most mere mortals.

In business, as well, a few widely recognized companies have been able to deliver consistently superior growth over the long-term, including Amazon, who last year became the fastest company to reach $100 billion in sales, and J&J, 3M, and The Ball Corporation, each of whom has been out-innovating and outgrowing the overall market for more than a century. (more…)

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Three Ways to Present a Data-Rich Table

Better Presentations

“It can be tempting to present all of your data, estimates, and regression results in your presentation. But that’s what your paper is for. In a presentation, be kind to your audience and make it easier for them to absorb and understand your content.” — Jonathan Schwabish

The following is a guest post by Jonathan Schwabish, author of Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks. This post was originally published on PolicyViz, on December 8, 2016.

Three Principles of Effective Scholarly Presentations
By Jonathan Schwabish

Researchers and analysts have some unique challenges when it comes to presenting their data and analysis. We are often more focused on the data, statistics, and estimation results than soaring rhetoric or specific calls to action. That means we’re prone to showing overly dense, data-rich tables—even though the audience can’t both decipher all those numbers and listen simultaneously.

Overly dense slide

In my new book, Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers and Wonks, I explain how to create, design, and deliver effective presentations. If you’re in the habit of showing dense, data-rich tables, here are three things you can do to make it easier for your audience to follow your content.

1. Focus on the most important numbers. Yes, we know you’ve run the regression with 10 control variables and dummy variables for all 50 states, but you’re not going to talk about all of them, and we don’t really care to see all of them. It’s really those two or three estimates that are the most important, so edit the table from 150 numbers down to the most important ones. If need be, you can give your audience a handout with the full table or maybe just point them to the full paper where you’ve probably already included it.

Slide with important numbers #1
Slide with important numbers #2

2. Put them in a graph. The way our eyes and brains work together allows us to better grasp and retain information through pictures rather than just through words (this is known as the “Picture Superiority Effect”). So take your dense graph and convert it to a table (also, see point #1 about reducing the number of estimates you actually show).

Slide with graph #1
Slide with graph #2

3. Don’t show a table at all. If it’s really just one or two numbers you are going to focus on in your presentation (note that I differentiate here between what you focus on in your presentation versus what you might discuss in more detail in your paper), then maybe a table isn’t need at all. Just including the final number in large type with an image or statement will suffice. Presentations are a fundamentally different form of communication than your written report, so treat it as such.

Slide with no table

It can be tempting to present all of your data, estimates, and regression results in your presentation. But that’s what your paper is for. In a presentation, be kind to your audience and make it easier for them to absorb and understand your content—cut to the core of your ideas and highlight the most important findings and conclusions.

Read the original post at PolicyViz.

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Three Principles of Effective Scholarly Presentations

Better Presentations

“In research and academic circles, we tend to excuse bad presentations by pointing out that we’re not designers and that making a ‘pretty’ presentation takes time away from the important work of conducting the research and writing the paper. But presentations are a unique opportunity to share our findings, in which we have a captive audience ready to hear what we’re working on.” — Jonathan Schwabish

The following is a guest post by Jonathan Schwabish, author of Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks. This post was originally published on PolicyViz, on December 22, 2016.

Three Principles of Effective Scholarly Presentations
By Jonathan Schwabish

We’ve all sat through boring presentations where the presenter reads the slides, shows barely-legible tables and graphs, and goes over time—many of us have probably given bad, boring presentations. In research and academic circles, we tend to excuse bad presentations by pointing out that we’re not designers and that making a “pretty” presentation takes time away from the important work of conducting the research and writing the paper. But presentations are a unique opportunity to share our findings, in which we have a captive audience ready to hear what we’re working on. We should not squander this opportunity—and in reality, marginally more time spent thinking through a presentation can have an outsized payoff in terms of audience engagement and excitement about your work.

In my new book, Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers and Wonks, I explain how to create, design, and deliver an effective presentation. In it, I define three guiding principles that you can use to design and deliver better presentations. (more…)

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Why For-Profit Education Fails

Class Clowns

“Should anyone care that a bunch of very rich people have failed in these ventures? In fact, this should matter to anyone concerned about education. That failure, repeated so consistently, has given credible fodder to people who resist the active participation of for-profit enterprises in the educational sphere. But that sphere will always comprise public and private, nonprofit and for-profit institutions, and for-profit businesses play an essential role.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, we are happy to share an excerpt from “Why For-Profit Education Fails,” an article by Jonathan Knee that appeared in The Atlantic.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Class Clowns!

Why For-Profit Education Fails
By Jonathan A. Knee

[O]ver the past couple of decades, a veritable who’s who of investors and entrepreneurs has seen an opportunity to apply market discipline or new technology to a sector that often seems to shun both on principle. Yet as attractive and intuitive as these opportunities seemed, those who pursued them have, with surprising regularity, lost their shirts. JP Morgan backed Edison Schools’ ill-conceived effort to outsource public education in the late 1990s and saw the business lose 90 percent of its value during its four years as a public company; Goldman Sachs was one of many private-equity firms that came up empty after betting on the inevitable ascendance of for-profit universities; the billionaire Ronald Perelman shut down his futuristic K–12 educational-technology company, GlobalScholar, after spending $135 million and concluding that the software was faulty and a “mirage”; by the time the hedge-fund titan John Paulson was able to sell the last of his stake in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in 2015, he had likely lost hundreds of millions financing the company’s misguided mission to remake textbook publishing.

Not all financial investments in education end badly, but the number that have is notable, as are the magnitudes of the fiascos, in stark contrast to the successes of many of these same investors in other domains. The precise sources of failure in each instance are diverse, as are the educational subsectors targeted and the approaches pursued. But what many share is the sweeping nature of their ambition. (more…)

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

Five Ways Researchers Can Improve Their Presentations

Better Presentations

“It’s crucial, so I’ll say it once more: A presentation is a fundamentally different form of communication than what you write down and publish in a journal, report, or blog post.” — Jonathan Schwabish

This week, our featured book is Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks, by Jonathan Schwabish. To kick off our feature, we are happy to crosspost an article in which Schwabish lays out five steps that researchers can take to give better presentations. This post was originally published on the Urban Institute’s blog, Urban Wire, on November 17, 2016.

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

Five Ways Researchers Can Improve Their Presentations
By Jonathan Schwabish

Too many researchers prepare presentations by simply converting a report into slides. Text becomes bullet points; tables and figures get copied and pasted. But presenting is a fundamentally different form of communication than writing. When we treat our presentation and paper identically, we miss this important distinction and the opportunity to share our work as effectively as possible.

In my new book, Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks, I explain how to create, design, and deliver an effective presentation. Here are five tips from the book for giving better presentations. (more…)

Monday, November 21st, 2016

“Party Rape” and the Celebration of Lack of Consent

Hunting Girls

The following is a guest post and supplement to her recent article in The Stone, the philosophy blog of The New York Times, by Kelly Oliver, W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and author of many books, most recently Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape:

“Party Rape” and the Celebration of Lack of Consent
By Kelly Oliver

In the last week, three stories have appeared in The New York Times about campus rape: one about six women coming forward to report their experiences with a suspected serial rapist at the University of Wisconsin, another on Brigham Young University changing its blame-the-victim policy that made reporting rape while under the influence of alcohol an honor code violation for the victim, and the latest, an article on changing policies on campuses regarding alcohol in an attempt to stem growing problems connected with campus parties, including sexual assault. These are small steps forward in what has become an epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. As the details of these cases make clear, the problem of campus rape involves a toxic combination of lack of reporting on the part of victims, the prevalence of rape myths that continue to blame victims, and the party culture on campus that spawns sexual assault even if it doesn’t cause it.

While rape is not new, the celebration of lack of consent at the heart of party rape is new. Sure, some men and boys have always “taken advantage” of women and girls using drugs and alcohol. But never before have we seen the public and open valorization of sexual assault and rape that we are seeing now, especially on college campuses. For example, a few years ago, Yale fraternity brothers marched around the freshman dorms chanting “No means yes, yes means anal.” Just this Fall, there were similar chants and banners welcoming freshman at Ohio State University, Western Ontario University, and Old Dominion. And, last year a fraternity at Texas Tech was suspended for flying a banner that read “No Means Yes.” Another frat was suspended at Georgia Tech for distributing an email with the subject line “Luring your rapebait,” which ended, “I want to see everyone succeed at the next couple parties.” And, in 2014 at Williams and Mary, fraternity members sent around an email message, that included the phrase: “never mind the extremities that surround it, the 99% of horrendously illogical bullshit that makes up the modern woman, consider only the 1%, the snatch.” Then there was the chant used at St. Mary’s University in Halifax to welcome new students: “SMU boys, we like them young. Y is for your sister, O is for oh so tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for grab that ass.” (more…)

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Mother Teresa’s Miracles

The Miracle Myth

“How should one go about justifying belief in miracles? As the Vatican approaches this question, one must look for evidence that, first, some event has occurred for which there is no scientific explanation; and second, that the event occurred as a result of prayer to the deceased candidate for sainthood. Philosophers have a name for the inference involved in this kind of search. We call it an inference to the best explanation.” — Larry Shapiro

This week, our featured book is The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified, by Larry Shapiro.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Miracle Myth.

Mother Teresa’s Miracles
By Larry Shapiro

Nothing against Mother Teresa, whose elevation to sainthood seems as deserving as any, but I think a condition for sainthood – the performance of at least two miracles – is about as silly as they come. To understand why, let’s begin with a crucial distinction – a distinction between the existence of a miracle and the justification for believing in a miracle. Some event may have occurred and yet believing so could still be unjustified. Perhaps it rained on this date in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Still, we are not justified in believing that it did. Why not? We lack any evidence for the occurrence. No archaeologist has discovered a scrap of papyrus on which was scrawled “Today, September XX, 16 a.d. in Jerusalem it rained.” Nor is there a record of testimony to the event. There’s simply no reason to think that it did rain in Jerusalem on this day 2000 years ago.

With respect to miracles, this distinction between an event’s occurring and justification for believing that the event has occurred plays out like this. Perhaps Mother Teresa did perform two miraculous healings. However, we may still ask whether anyone is justified in believing so. More specifically, we should wonder whether the investigators whom the Vatican assigned to research the case for Mother Teresa’s canonization were justified in their eventual belief that she had performed the miracles attributed to her. Obviously, if they were not justified, then their conclusions should be disregarded. (more…)

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize for Literature

The Scandal of Reason

The following is a guest post from Albena Azmanova, author of The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment:

Awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize for literature was an excellent idea – to give him the opportunity to turn it down.

The commotion around Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize for literature has been centered on whether the literary merits of his art justified the Nobel committee’s choice. As Peter Godwin put it, ‘judged purely on their literary merit, other American contenders, Philip Roth and Don DeLillo for example, are, I think, more deserving candidates.” However, as he grudgingly admits, “Nobel committee members were within their rubric to consider Dylan’s oeuvre. And some of his lyrics, at their best, do enter the literary realm’. The psychedelic humanism of ‘Sad Eyes Lady of the Lowlands’ might not be to everybody’s taste. But those who only reluctantly endorse the surprising choice of the Nobel committee overlook an important point — the criteria for the prize go beyond literary merit, they require also a ‘strong idealistic dimension’, and ‘benefit to humanity’. Here, few measure up to Dylan’s oeuvre (“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’, ‘Blowin in the Wind’) and the place it held in the anti-war and civil-rights battles of the 60s and 70s.

The No camp extended its objections to the impact of the award on society, as an NYT editorial alleged that “When the Nobel committee gives the literature prize to a musician, it misses the opportunity to honor a writer”. Driven by a concern with the decline in reading in general, the author notes that failing to give the award to a ‘real’ writer results in a failure to boost much-needed sales of good literature. Moreover, it is also a missed opportunity to properly educate the young, the argument goes: the young listen and watch, they don’t read, the Nobel committee’s choice of a writer who delivers his/her work via music seems to encourage the process of destruction of the literary form.

These lamentations contain two dangerous implications that need to be openly refuted. First: the reproach that an award for literature is given to a musician is afflicted by a reverence to professionalization which has done much damage to creativity in the arts and sciences. Second, the regrets about the Nobel Committee’s missing the opportunity to educate the young contain the presupposition that a private body with a specialized mandate (as is the Nobel Foundation), should go beyond, and maybe against its mandate to take care of something that is not it’s business to determine – the public good. Thankfully, the Nobel Committee understands that it is neither its prerogative nor its duty to steer policy and fix social problems, but to reward achievement according to a limited, be it not very clear, set of standards. And so it has done its job competently and independently of the prejudices of public opinion when bestowing the Prize for literature on Bob Dylan.

Yet Dylan should refuse the magnanimous prize for two solid reasons. The first is consistency to the dislike he has expressed to veneration. “I was sick of the way my lyrics had been extrapolated, their meanings subverted into polemics and that I had been anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion, High Priest of Protest, the Czar of Dissent, the Duke of Disobedience, Leader of the Freeloaders, Kaiser of Apostasy, Archbishop of Anarchy, the Big Cheese,” he writes in his memoir (Chronicles: Volume One).

Second, and more importantly: the very idea of an arms manufacturer (as Alfred Nobel was), bestowing awards on people who confer the “greatest benefit on mankind” is sardonic, and acutely so in the case of Dylan – the prominent anti-war voice of a whole generation. The prize should be boycotted by those to whom it is offered, if they do believe their works to be of benefit to mankind. Otherwise they become complicit with the ‘merchant of death’, as Alfred Nobel was described in an obituary erroneously issued while he was alive. The argument that money does not smell might be logically sound but it is ethically rotten.

After a pregnant spell of silence, Bob Dylan has reportedly committed to attending the ceremony in December. There is still hope that he might refuse and publicly renounce the prize. Preferably with a song titled “Trinkets from the Merchant of Death – No Thanks.”

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Rolling the Dice

A Brief History of Entrepreneurship

“To paraphrase Virgil, both fortune and misfortune tend to favor the bold. In other words, the surest route to avoiding misfortune is certainly not by starting one’s own business. Those who are motivated primarily by a fear of discomfort, uncertainty, and the like will find a safer way to earn a living. Of course, in many instances, such people will fare better economically over the long run than the perennial risk-taker. Nonetheless, those looking for the safe route are not likely to become entrepreneurs, successful or otherwise.” — Joe Carlen

This week, our featured book is A Brief History of Entrepreneurship: The Pioneers, Profiteers, and Racketeers Who Shaped Our World, by Joe Carlen. For today’s post, Carlen discusses the traits that are most commonly shared by successful entrepreneurs throughout history.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of A Brief History of Entrepreneurship!

Rolling the Dice
By Joe Carlen

During a recent radio interview about A Brief History of Entrepreneurship, the host asked me about those traits that are most commonly found among successful entrepreneurs. Having recently written a book that traces entrepreneurship from the dawn of civilization to the nascent space tourism industry, three initial answers sprung to mind. In this piece, I will review each of them, and discuss my personal choice for the single most important trait shared by successful entrepreneurs.

Ingenuity? Certainly, some of history’s greatest entrepreneurs, especially those of recent centuries, were distinguished by their ingenuity. Yet, many more, equally successful, were not especially innovative, at least in the technological sense. Moreover, some of the most creative ones – like Samuel Crompton, the brilliant industrial innovator who failed to adequately protect his intellectual property – never attained significant financial success. Meanwhile, even some of today’s largest technology companies were not founded on particularly original ideas. Rather, some are enterprises that grew out of tweaking existing concepts and promoting them far more aggressively and effectively than the original innovators ever did. (more…)

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Investing in Hope: Innovative Finance for the World’s Refugees

Capital and the Common Good

“Yet we have seen how interventions that view refugees as potential assets, not liabilities, are not only cost-effective, but the seeds of prosperity and peace.” — Georgia Levenson Keohane, Andrew Billo, John Kluge and Christine Mahoney

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. Today, we are happy to share an excerpt from an article by Keohane, Andrew Billo, John Kluge and Christine Mahoney that was originally posted at New America.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Capital and the Common Good.

Investing in Hope: Innovative Finance for the World’s Refugees
By Georgia Levenson Keohane, Andrew Billo, John Kluge and Christine Mahoney

What if, for starters, we understood that this problem was not going to resolve itself in a matter of months and removed the basic barriers to work allowing people fleeing their homes— a dislocated but often skilled labor force—to contribute, productively, to their new communities? This is not a simple task; in places like Lebanon, already high unemployment means that absorbing millions of working age Syrians is economically, and politically, complex.

Yet we have seen how interventions that view refugees as potential assets, not liabilities, are not only cost-effective, but the seeds of prosperity and peace. Consider the recent aid-for-trade deal between the European Union and Jordan, home to 650,000 Syrian refugees. Jordan will issue work permits to Syrians—20,000 issued to date, another 78,000 forthcoming—in exchange for EU aid and relaxed import duties for Jordanian manufacturers who employ Syrians. (more…)

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Is “Democracy” Nothing More Than a Slogan Now?

Through Vegetal Being

“The time has come to define and demonstrate differently what it means to be a democrat by giving the word to the citizens instead of keeping them hostage to debates between politicians. It is urgent to offer them to vote for points of a program that they really understand and that concern them as human beings, not only as consumers.” — Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

This week, our featured book is Through Vegetal Being: Two Philosophical Perspectives, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder. For the final post of the week, we have excerpted an article, originally published in the NewStatesman, by Irigaray and Marder, in which discuss the uses and misuses of the idea of “democracy in today’s world.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Through Vegetal Being!

Is “Democracy” Nothing More Than a Slogan Now?
By Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

The current rise of ISIS to prominence in the Middle East occasions, above all, a meditation on democracy, rather than on fundamentalism. Western countries have for some time now compared themselves to the worst political regimes. Despite all the problems with social and economic injustices, they have claimed, the benefits they offer their citizens far outweigh the precarious conditions of living in a fundamentalist dictatorship. Today, ISIS fits in a vast array of such comparisons that allow Western leaders to draw, in the sharpest way possible, demarcation lines between the civilisation they purportedly represent and the barbarism of this new political formation.

What is telling, however, is not that the West can appear as a democratic model compared to the regimes it condemns but that it has to measure itself against such alternatives in the first place. The time of political ideals is long gone, as far as our rulers are concerned, and even the relatively defeatist “doing the best we can” motto sounds quite unbelievable, coming from our Prime Ministers and Presidents. Democracy has become a concept so empty of substance that it needs to be juxtaposed to religious fundamentalism to gain a modicum of meaning. (more…)

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Plant Lessons

Through Vegetal Being

“What is sorely needed is an environmental pedagogy—not one formulated by our fellow humans, but one imparted by parts of the world we inhabit.” — Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

This week, our featured book is Through Vegetal Being: Two Philosophical Perspectives, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder. Today, we are happy to present an article by Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray, in which they discuss the need for an “environmental pedagogy” and explain some of the lessons that plant life can teach us. The post can also be found on Michael Marder’s Los Angeles Review of Books Channel

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Through Vegetal Being!

Plant Lessons
By Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

One crucial measure of human maturity is the way we treat our environment. A careless and destructive approach toward the world, which is usually conceived as a kind of playground for the enactment of our phantasies, is irresponsible and childish. It shows no respect for other forms of life, a lack of concern with the future, and the inability to think and to grow beyond the demands of sheer physical survival.

Historically, there has been little change in the direction of a more adult behavior toward the environment. Among other living beings, plants have been particularly mistreated as a result of this attitude because they have been thought of as infinitely malleable matter, on which human form could be stamped or imposed, generally to the detriment of their own biological life. Indeed, Aristotle, who was the first to come up with the notion matter in the West, derived it from the common Greek word for “wood.” Like plants, matter was supposed to be a passive receptacle for the form that was, in many cases, alien to vegetal life. Although Aristotle was still attentive to living forms, after him, a tree converted into a table or a bed became the preferred example of formed matter, while the self-formation of the tree itself, amenable to patient cultivation and care, was dismissed.

When it comes to respect for the environment we are still children, or even infants. More than that, we are terrible, unruly children because, for the most part, we are not open to being educated on the subject. Only punishments, in the shape of natural disasters attributable to global warming, have had some effect on human behavior, awakening in us a consciousness of the negative consequences that accompany immature environmental conduct. Still, a genuine change of attitudes is unlikely as a result of threats and punishments alone. What is sorely needed is an environmental pedagogy—not one formulated by our fellow humans, but one imparted by parts of the world we inhabit. (more…)

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

Toward an Ecology of Sharing

Through Vegetal Being

“We must return to our natural surroundings and our natural identity, not to fall again into a wild state—as people who do not understand what is at stake here claim ironically—but to discover how we could share in a global and multicultural context without harming our own life or that of other (human or non-human) living beings.” — Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

This week, our featured book is Through Vegetal Being: Two Philosophical Perspectives, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder. Today, we are happy to present “Toward an Ecology of Sharing,” by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder, an article that originally appeared on The Philosophical Salon, a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Through Vegetal Being!

Toward an Ecology of Sharing
By Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

We live in a world which is perpetually on the verge of tightening, or altogether closing, its political and other human-made borders. Threats of terrorism, illegal migrations, and global epidemics are cited as some of the main concerns behind such a move. Indeed, key member states of the European Union have recently expressed the need of reviewing and reconsidering the Schengen Agreement which, with a few exceptions, had abolished passport controls on its territory. Fear of intrusions, fanned out of proportion by certain political factions, turns the world into clusters of sealed ghettoes and makes genuine sharing of it impossible. But a deeper source for these developments is the hegemony of a possessive attitude that regulates our relation to the places, in which we dwell, including our countries, cultures, and natural environments.

“Sharing the world”
There are several ways of understanding the expression “sharing the world.” The first (which, rather, ought to be written as “sharing out”) amounts to dividing up a whole into parts. In reality, our world is already divided up into many parts that form a whole – the lands, the seas, the sky… – and these are also composed of different parts – for instance, the mountains, the plains, the valleys, to speak only of the earth – which themselves contain or are inhabited by various beings, including the vegetal world, the animal kingdom, and humans. Humans have added to these natural distributions other divisions, be they territorial, political, cultural, or linguistic. Now, these divisions do not make up a whole so easily! The numerous conflicts that happen today in the world bear witness to such a problem: each part aims at becoming a whole, instead of partaking in a whole with others. Furthermore, the various partitions do not work together smoothly: a people can claim to be the owner of a country, but not, for all that, to be the owner of a culture, a religion, or a language. Defining and respecting the boundaries of each property has thus become a difficult undertaking because of the varied divisions that humanity has added to the natural partitions composing the world. (more…)

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

People on Food Stamps Aren’t Feasting on Filet Mignon

Exiled in America

“To be sure, there are individuals who may not use their resources wisely. But that is true across the socioeconomic spectrum. We should not waste our creative energy on coming up with new restrictions that dictate how the poor should behave. Instead, we should do just the opposite and direct our efforts toward policies that help people out of poverty.” — Christopher Dum

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. Today, we are happy to present an article originally published on The Conversation, in which Dum argues that regulations dictating how the poor can spend government aid are unnecessary and counterproductive. Read the original article.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Exiled in America.

People on Food Stamps Aren’t Feasting on Filet Mignon
By Christopher Dum, Kent State University

There is a popular myth that welfare recipients are using food stamps to purchase luxurious food items such as filet mignon and lobster.

Commonly referred to as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to provide low-income individuals and families with nutritious meals. And it is a popular target for political attack. In 2014 Congress passed legislation that cut US$8.7 billion from the food stamp program. That’s a lot of money, but less than the previously proposed cuts $20.5 billion and $39 billion.

At the state level, a recent bill introduced by Republican Missouri State Representative Rick Brattin sought to prohibit SNAP recipients from using their benefits to purchase items such as seafood and steak, as well as cookies, chips, energy drinks and soft drinks.

The problem with this sort of legislation, and the thinking that goes with it, is that it ignores the harsh reality of extreme poverty. For many individuals receiving SNAP benefits, purchasing expensive raw seafood or steak is illogical, because they are so poor that they lack the means to prepare them. This sort of behavior also quickly drains SNAP funds that residents need to stretch out over an entire month.

How do I know this? From June 2012 to June 2013, I rented a room at a “welfare” motel in upstate New York. As a sociologist, I wanted to explore how residents of that motel actually lived.

While not all motel residents received SNAP benefits, all of them were by definition homeless, and all of them had to eat. As I grew to know dozens of them, they allowed me to observe their daily lives and in doing so, allowed me to observe how and what they ate. And trust me – it’s not steak and lobster.

(more…)

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Rape on Campus: The Title IX Revolution

Hunting Girls

“Anti-rape activism is on the vanguard of transferring the blame and responsibility from individuals to social systems and institutions. If ours is a rape culture, then the solution must also address the culture of sexual violence that perpetuates sexual assault and gender-based violence.” — Kelly Oliver

This week, our featured book is Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, by Kelly Oliver. For the final post of the feature, we are happy to provide an excerpt from “Rape on Campus: The Title IX Revolution,” an article by Kelly Oliver that originally appeared in The Philosophical Salon.

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

Rape on Campus: The Title IX Revolution
By Kelly Oliver

Title IX legislation, associated primarily with equal opportunities for girls in high school and college athletics, has become a turning point in discussions of sexual assault. Until recently, the greatest impact of the 1972 Title IX legislation had been to ensure girls and women had access to sports. Although introduced to stop discrimination in higher education, Title IX became the hallmark of women’s athletics, to the point that today there is a women’s sporting clothing company named Title Nine, and last year President Obama spoke about the importance of Title IX for girls in terms of his own experience coaching his daughters’ basketball team and the confidence it gave them. Initially, Title IX was used to secure funding for girls and women’s sports, which had been lacking until required by this Federal statute.

On April 4, 2011, The United States Department of Education sent a “Dear Colleagues Letter” to institutions of higher learning, shifting the focus from college athletics to educational environment, specifically naming sexual violence as prohibited by Title IX. The letter defines sexual violence as “physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent due to the victim’s use of drugs or alcohol,” including “sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion,“ and makes colleges and universities responsible “to take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence.” (more…)