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Archive for the 'Author op-eds' Category

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Reactions to Laudato Si’: The Great Gift of “Laudato Si’”

Reactions to Laudato Si'

“Pope Francis offers a brilliant explication of the importance of a new form of research, one that I like to call the emergent field of sustainable development, to integrate the areas of specialized knowledge into a comprehensive and interconnected form of understanding.” — Jeffrey D. Sachs

This week, rather than focusing on one featured book, we will be posting reactions to Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, commonly referred to as Laudato Si’, from scholars in a variety of fields: scientists H. H. Shugart and James Lawrence Powell, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, and religion scholar Whitney Bauman. In today’s post, the final of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an article on the encyclical by Jeffrey D. Sachs that originally appeared in America Magazine.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of H. H. Shugart’s book!

The Great Gift of ‘Laudato Si’’
By Jeffrey D. Sachs

Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” is a great and timely gift to humanity. To avoid a catastrophic collision of the world economy and environment, humanity urgently needs to change the trajectory and functioning of the world economy. Yet the world economic system is a juggernaut nearly impervious to coordinated changes at the global scale. “Laudato Si’” opens the path to a veritable revolution of ideas to bring about the needed changes.

As Pope Francis eloquently and accurately describes, the economic juggernaut is destroying biodiversity, dangerously altering the climate and undermining the life-support systems of the planet for humanity and millions of other species. On all of this, Pope Francis offers a compelling summary of the scientific evidence, presented with clarity and precision. His concision and precision on these matters exemplifies the church’s profound commitment to the marriage of faith and reason, with its abiding commitment to science.

Yet, as Pope Francis describes, the economy keeps barreling along, seemingly oblivious to these hazards and to the deadly costs they are imposing on the world’s poor and vulnerable people. In the very powerful phrase of his earlier exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” the world suffers from a “globalization of indifference” that makes it nearly impossible for humanity to reorient toward sustainable development over the current destructive trajectory. (more…)

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

To Each Philosopher, Her or His Plant

The Philosopher's Plant

In his wonderful book The Philosopher’s Plant, Michael Marder creates a “herbarium of ideas, collecting theories of the most important Western thinkers, from Greek Antiquity to our days, as though they were botanical specimens preserved on the pages of [a] book. Here is an article he recently featured on his Los Angeles Review of Books Channel about the relationship between philosophy and plants:

To Each Philosopher, Her or His Plant
By Michael Marder

Although I am a philosopher, I have always been averse to abstract speculation. Throughout my work, I have relied on rather mundane figures that stimulate thinking: fire, dust, plants… Everything and everyone in the world can be thought-provoking, worthy of contemplation and wonder — not a boringly unremarkable and ultimately replaceable representative of a genus or an Idea, but a source of inexhaustible singularity.

My intention behind The Philosopher’s Plant was to create a herbarium of ideas, collecting theories of the most important Western thinkers, from Greek Antiquity to our days, as though they were botanical specimens preserved on the pages of my book. I also wished to weave a web of associations that would link certain common plants to particular ideas in the reader’s mind. Of course, it would have been absurd to put together a herbarium without the specimens themselves. To solve this problem, I did two things. First, I paired each philosopher whose life and thought I wanted discuss with a tree, flower, cereal, or grass that was mentioned in her or his work and that, in most cases, had something to do with her or his biography. And, second, I invited a fantastic French artist, Mathilde Roussel, to visualize these “philosoplants” and give an aesthetic dimension to the hybridized herbarium I had theorized about. (more…)

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

There’s No Such Thing as a Lone Wolf in Cyberspace

Terrorism in Cyberspace

“Most important, however, a careful balance must be established between security and liberty. For fighting terrorism online raises the issue of the price paid in terms of U.S. civil liberties.” — Gabriel Weimann

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Today, we are happy to present a post by Weimann that originally appeared on the Reuters’ The Great Debate blog: “There’s No Such Thing as a Lone Wolf in Cyberspace.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

There’s No Such Thing as a Lone Wolf in Cyberspace
By Gabriel Weimann

“Lone wolf” terrorism is often cited as the biggest terrorist threat today. The problem with this label is none of the assailants act alone. They all belong to virtual wolf packs.

Law enforcement authorities in Boston, for example, described Usaamah Abdullah Rahim’s scheme to behead random police officers as the plot of a lone wolf. Police also applied the term to other recent terrorist assaults, among them the brutal attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that left 12 dead and the Boston Marathon bombing. In all these incidents, the assailants used traditional terror tactics, such as targeting civilians, but appeared to be acting independently of any organization.

The “lone wolf” metaphor is based on the image of a wolf alone in the wild. But this is incorrect, as my studies on terrorists reveal. Wolves never hunt alone — in nature or in terrorism.

In fact, wolves are among the most social of carnivores; they live and hunt in packs. Though the whole group is not always seen, their attacks rely on a well-coordinated circling and cornering of the victim. Lone-wolf terrorists are very similar.

They have their pack — but it’s a virtual one. The solo terrorists are often recruited, radicalized, trained and directed by others online. The current wave of lone-wolf attacks has been propelled by websites and online platforms that provide limitless opportunities for individuals to explore and locate their virtual pack. (more…)

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

The Blackening of Havana

Electric Santería

“Why do Santería and other African diaspora religions continue to bear the burden of racism? The perception that African (and hence black) practices are lesser than or unequal to Christian or Western forms of religion, has a long history justifying racist practices since slavery.” — Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús

The following is a guest post by Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, author ofElectric Santería: Racial and Sexual Assemblages of Transnational Religion, that originally appeared on the Huffington Post’s BlackVoices blog:

The Blackening of Havana
By Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús

With all of the excitement around U.S. and Cuban relations finally opening up there is a host of questions around race and religion that are fundamental to the lives of Afro-Cuban religious practitioners left to be asked. On a recent trip to Cuba, a Cuban academic told me that whereas Havana used to be a “white city” (read, prosperous and cosmopolitan), due to the large influx of darker Cubans from the campo, rural outskirts of the island, Havana is now a “black city” (read, ghettoized and full of crime). This “unfortunate” darkening of Havana was blamed on the influx of marginalized black Cubans trying to gain access to foreigners and tourism since the late 1990s. I was told that Santería, an Afro-Cuban religion practiced throughout the world, was partially to blame for this occurrence.

Santería, the most popular of the Afro-Cuban religions practiced on the island, has been one of the ways in which black Cubans have had the ability to connect to larger international communities, and most importantly, gain access to foreign currency, goods, and travel. Given Cuba’s position, as the birthplace of these practices, which fuses Yoruba and other African religious traditions with Catholic saints, travelers come from all over to undergo costly rituals, initiation ceremonies, and divination-based consultations with Cuban priests. Most of these priests are Afro-descendants, which in a country like Cuba that has tried to eradicate racism (and the idea of race itself), often makes for complex engagements with racial politics. (more…)

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Experts on Aging, Dying as They Lived

Walking the Night Road

“To the small extent that we have any choice in this uncertain life, it is wise to face your own death. In a world where so many of our fellow human beings live with threats of terror and destruction, if you are lucky enough to imagine you might have any measure of control over how you die, that is a privilege that should not go to waste.” — Alexandra Butler

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. To start off the week’s feature today, we are happy to present an article by Alexandra Butler that originally appeared in The New York Times Opinionator blog, The End. In “Experts on Aging, Dying as They Lived,” Butler tells the story of Walking the Night Road in brief.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

Experts on Aging, Dying as They Lived
By Alexandra Butler

At 10 years old I knew my parents did not wish to be resuscitated nor plugged into machines in the event of serious illness. They told me they were not afraid of death but rather of being kept alive at any cost. I knew they would refuse medical interventions, if they felt there was no purpose except to separate the dying from their deaths. They were wary of doctors who my parents said were trained by a medical culture that had lost touch with what should be its major focus: ending suffering.

My father, Robert N. Butler, was a physician, a psychiatrist and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who pioneered the field of aging. My mother, Myrna Lewis, had a Ph.D. in social work; her specialty was older women. Together they co-wrote books on aging, mental health, sexuality and public policy. They would have been tickled by the coverage a few months ago of the Iowa state representative Ross Paustian, a Republican, nose-deep in their book “Sex After Sixty” in the middle of a House debate over the collective bargaining rights of teachers.

My parents applied what they learned out in the field to their personal lives. They worked hard to put as much money toward their retirement and old age as they could so that my half-sisters and I would never be financially responsible for them. They told us where we could find copies of their wills and health directives, explaining that these documents clarified their wishes and we would not have to bear the full weight of making end-of-life decisions for them.

As a teenager I hated these discussions. I probably told them to stop torturing me and to stop being so morbid. They were reassuring me about scenarios that I did not want to think about. I could not have known how grateful I would be now. (more…)

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Women’s Rights Around the World

The Hillary Doctrine

“Decades of research reveal that the subjugation of women is directly linked with state and non-state armed violence. When women are left out of peace building—as in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan—the likelihood of a country sliding back into armed violence increases dramatically.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. In this post, we have excerpted parts from two pieces that have recently appeared in the World Politics Review: first, an interview with Patricia Leidl about government responses to crime against women in Latin America; and second, an article by Leidl and Valerie M. Hudson on the status of women’s rights in Yemen.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

Latin America: “Latin America’s Uneven Response to Growing Violence Against Women”
An interview with Patricia Leidl

WPR: What has prompted the recent public outcry against violence against women in Latin America?

Patricia Leidl: The “recent” outcry over violence against Latin American women is in fact not recent at all. Since the early 1990s, human and women’s rights defenders have been raising the alarm over steadily climbing rates of gender-based violence in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with the sharpest increases beginning in 2006 and escalating by as much as 21 percent each year. In South America, human rights observatories have likewise reported steadily rising rates of violence against women—but most particularly in Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, of the 25 countries that are home to the highest femicide rates in the world, more than half are located in Latin America.

It is perhaps no coincidence that many of these Latin American countries were embroiled in the “dirty wars” of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. These wars were characterized by the proliferation of small arms and extreme and systematic violence against women, which many scholars now believe set the stage for today’s epidemic of femicide. Human rights activists also speculate that women’s greater economic independence—in the form of low-paying and unskilled factory jobs in the wake of free trade agreements with North America, Asia and Europe—could be contributing to a climate of violence against women in a region whose culture of “machismo” traditionally relegates women to the domestic sphere. (more…)

Monday, June 15th, 2015

James Joyce and His Publisher, Sylvia Beach — Keri Walsh

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

In a recent article in The Irish Times, Keri Walsh, editor of The Letters of Sylvia Beach, examines the difficult relationship between Beach and James Joyce. Beach, of course, was the publisher of Ulysses but became estranged from Joyce after he sold the rights to the novel to Random House. Beach’s difficulties were exacerbated as the Depression and World War II took its toll on her and her famous Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company.

However, in 1962, as Walsh explains, Walsh’s connection with Joyce was reaffirmed when she was the guest of honor for the opening of the Martello Tower, where Joyce lived. In describing the impact of the visit and Beach’s influence on modernism, Walsh writes:

The visit of the sprightly 85-year-old Beach allowed her to give her blessing to this new Joycean generation before returning to Paris for the final months of her life. She had devoted herself to a writer, a book and an ideal of artistic community. For a time, she was viewed merely as a handmaiden and secretary, but recent studies have shown her in a fuller light, as a key taste-maker and producer of modernism; as a lesbian; as a feminist; and as the hub of many different modernist circles.

Her own story as a publisher, encourager, connector and framer included many chapters. Along with Joyce, she supported and promoted a wide roster of writers including HD, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Walter Benjamin, Ezra Pound, Richard Wright, and many others. But Joyce was at the core of her commitment to literature, and her commitment to him was the chief enigma of her personality.

What drew them together and what broke them apart? Partly war, partly new friendships, partly Joyce’s health and pecuniary difficulties, partly time, but whatever had severed them in those days, Beach’s trip to Dublin in 1962 served partially to restore the bond, returning her one last time to the energy and promise of their 1922 partnership, and also to that oceanic setting-out of 1904 and the first pages of the book she loved best, Ulysses.

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Defining Terrorism – Is One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter?

Global Alert

“We face an essential need to reach a definition of terrorism that will enjoy wide international agreement, thus enabling international operations against terrorist organizations.” — Boaz Ganor

This week our featured book is Global Alert: The Rationality of Modern Islamist Terrorism and the Challenge to the Liberal Democratic World, by Boaz Ganor. Following yesterday’s video, in which Ganor argues that we must have a definition of terrorism if we are to successfully confront increasingly complex terrorist organizations, today we have an excerpt from “Defining Terrorism – Is One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter?,” an article by Ganor from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism website.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Global Alert!

Defining Terrorism – Is One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter?
By Boaz Ganor

Proposing a Definition of Terrorism

The question is whether it is at all possible to arrive at an exhaustive and objective definition of terrorism, which could constitute an accepted and agreed-upon foundation for academic research, as well as facilitating operations on an international scale against the perpetrators of terrorist activities.

The definition proposed here states that terrorism is the intentional use of, or threat to use, violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims. This definition is based on three important elements:

1. The essence of the activity—the use of, or threat to use, violence. According to this definition, an activity that does not involve violence or a threat of violence will not be defined as terrorism (including non-violent protest—strikes, peaceful demonstrations, tax revolts, etc.).

2. The aim of the activity is always political—namely, the goal is to attain political objectives; changing the regime, changing the people in power, changing social or economic policies, etc. In the absence of a political aim, the activity in question not be defined as terrorism. A violent activity against civilians that has no political aim is, at most, an act of criminal delinquency, a felony, or simply an act of insanity unrelated to terrorism. Some scholars tend to add ideological or religious aims to the list of political aims. The advantage of this definition, however, is that it is as short and exhaustive as possible. The concept of “political aim” is sufficiently broad to include these goals as well. The motivation—whether ideological, religious, or something else—behind the political objective is irrelevant for the purpose of defining terrorism. In this context, the following statement by Duvall and Stohl deserves mention:
Motives are entirely irrelevant to the concept of political terrorism. Most analysts fail to recognize this and, hence, tend to discuss certain motives as logical or necessary aspects of terrorism. But they are not. At best, they are empirical regularities associated with terrorism. More often they simply confuse analysis.[14] (more…)

Friday, April 10th, 2015

The Greening of Asia: Businesses’ Role in the World’s Biggest-Ever Environmental Clean-Up

The Greening of Asia

“The best way to move forward is in a three-way partnership, where government sets clear and forceful policies, business creates and invests in products and services to help clean up the environmental mess and civil society acts as an arbiter to see that governments and businesses do what they say.” — Mark L. Clifford

This week our featured book is The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency, by Mark L. Clifford. 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, in the final day of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from an article written by Mark Clifford in The World Financial Review in which he discusses how “[t]he challenge of improving Asia’s environment has been translated into business opportunities.”

The Greening of Asia: Businesses’ Role in the World’s Biggest-Ever Environmental Clean-Up
Mark L. Clifford

The East is Black. That, at least, is the conventional wisdom of anyone who has seen pictures of Beijing’s shrouded skies, India’s fetid rivers and the steel mills and cement kilns which blanket much of the countryside with a pall of smog.

Sadly, this dystopian image of Asia’s environmental misery is all too accurate. In China alone, 1.2 million people a year die prematurely from air pollution. Skies in some Indian cities are even dirtier. Large parts of the region are in danger of running out of clean water. Clusters of cancer villages testify to the human cost of fast economic development.

If this sounds like an environmental nightmare, it is. Asia is home to 4.3 billion people, six out of every ten people in the world, as well as to some of the fastest-growing economies. What’s been good for economic growth has come at a high cost for the environment.

Asia’s strategy seemed to be summed up as “get dirty, get rich, get clean.” (more…)

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Ten of Yong Chen’s Memorable Food Experiences in China

In Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, Yong Chen explores the rise of Chinese food in America and how it became ubiquitous in the American gastronomic landscape. In today’s post, he gives ten of his most memorable experiences dining in China, from specific restaurants to types of dishes.

Ten of Yong Chen’s Memorable Food Experiences in China

1. Ginkgo Sichuan Restaurant, 12 Linjiang Middle Rd Wuhou, Chengdu, Sichuan, China, 610041; 1+ 86 28 8555 5588
For people looking for great food and legendary restaurants in the United States, there are well-known destinations, such as the Napa Valley region and New Orleans. Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, is such as destination in China. It does not have globally renowned celebrity chefs like Thomas Keller and Emeril Lagasse, but it does boast a world famous cuisine and countless fabulous dining establishments. Ginkgo Sichuan Restaurant is one of the best of these establishments. The duck smoked with tea leaves is one its specialties. The skin is crispy, and the seasoning nicely brings out the delicate flavor. Its dan dan noodle soup and the Sichuan-style dumplings uphold the reputation of such signature traditional Sichuan dishes.

2. Donkey Pie
“There is dragon meat in heaven; and there is donkey meat on earth.” I had never heard of this saying or tasted donkey meat until my first visit to China’s Hebei Province in 2009. Donkey meat is a local favorite. A wide range of donkey meat dishes can be found in restaurants: hot pot donkey meat, clay pot donkey, strewed donkey meat, donkey intestines, and donkey penis. A particularly popular food is the donkey pie. It is similar to a sandwich, consisting ground or finely sliced donkey meat between two buns with green onions and other vegetable. But all of the donkey pie is baked with the stuffing. It tastes better than a typical American beef sandwich. Numerous local people proudly told me that donkey was healthier than beef. (Scientific research actually does show, for example, that the total mineral content is higher in donkey meat than in beef.)

3. Mushrooms in Yunnan
Another great destination for unforgettable food experiences, Yunnan is a southern Chinese province, bordering Tibet and Sichuan provinces and Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. Lateral-spatially, it has three climate zones: temperate zone, sub-tropical, and tropical, as well as mountains that are perennially covered by snow. The province’s extraordinary biodiversity has created a rich culinary tradition and a multitude of foodstuffs. One of my memorable experiences in Yunnan comes from savoring a multitude of mushrooms.

One of them is ji cong, or the termite mushroom. When put in a stir fry or soup, it adds a lingering savory taste to the dish. Song rong (matsutake) is a delicacy, used almost solely as a flavor enhancer in upscale Japanese restaurants in California. But in restaurants in Yunnan you can order stir fry dishes, soups, and hot pots that feature this mushroom as the main ingredient. Domestic production of song rong has driven down the price significantly. Another mushroom to taste is the morel mushroom, known locally as yang du jun or sheep belly mushroom because of its shape. Local people told me that it is one of the most expensive mushrooms in Yunnan because its production has not been domesticated. A local friend in the city of Lijiang generously invited me to a hot pot dinner highlighting this delicacy. However, for both economic and gastronomic reasons, it is better used in small quantities in soups or stir fry dishes. Lately, my wife and I have discovered that it is best when made as a morel mushroom risotto. (more…)

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

A Doctor, a Rabbi and a Chicken — Dennis Rosen

“Deeply held beliefs .. need not only to be recognized and respected, but also integrated into the therapeutic approach in order for treatment to succeed. It is a lesson that has served me well, and which has helped me to serve so many others over the years.”—Dennis Rosen, MD

Dennis Rosen, Vital ConversationsIn a recent New York Times op-ed entitled A Doctor, a Rabbi and a Chicken, Dennis Rosen, the author of Vital Conversations: Improving Communication Between Doctors and Patients, explores an odd yet pivotal moment in his medical career.

While working in a hospital in Israel, Rosen explained to the son of 75-year-old stroke victim what lay ahead for his father in terms of rehabilitation. The son then asked if a rabbi could enter his father’s hospital room. While such a request might not have been strange, what was different was that when the rabbi walked in the room he was carrying a live chicken and then proceeded to wave it above the patient’s head.

Rosen learned that it was a custom of the local Persian-Jewish community to help heal the sick. In describing the experience, Rosen writes:

I was very impressed by how deftly the son was able to maneuver between two very different belief systems explaining his father’s disease and paths towards possible recovery: biomedical and religious. As evidenced from our repeated discussions about tests and treatment plans for his father, he clearly understood — and valued — what modern medicine could offer. And yet, his belief in Divine mercy and intercession was unshakeable….


Monday, June 9th, 2014

Piketty and the Pope — A Post by Santiago Zabala

“Although Piketty will probably continue to teach economics in France instead of moving into the Vatican, the Pope now has an economist whom he can rely upon when he pontificates from Rome, regardless of all accusations of Marxism.”—Santiago Zabala

Santiago Zabala, Hermeneutic CommunismOver the past couple of years, Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and Pope Francis have become two of the most high-profile critics of the current capitalist economic system. As Santiago Zabala, co-author of Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx, points out, this has brought them condemnation from conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, who have accused Piketty and the Pope of Marxism.

In his essay Piketty and the Pope, and why Marx is back, Zabala argues that being labeled a Marxist is “simply a sign that Marx has returned from the remnants of communism to invite academics, activists, and even clerics to seek in his thought solutions to the ongoing global recession.” Zabala goes on to examine the ways in which Piketty’s economic analysis and his call for a progressive global tax on capital or wealth address some of the concerns Pope Francis has about the growing economic inequality and the current economic system. Zabala writes:

Piketty seems to have provided both historical and economic justification for the Pope’s concerns over an “economy of exclusion” and a “financial system which rules rather than serves.” If capitalism has become such an economic system it is not simply because of its natural drift toward high inequality, which the author demonstrates through detailed historical analysis, but also because capitalism permits the concentration of wealth to perpetuate from one generation to the next.


Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Akeel Bilgrami and Sumit Ganguly on the Indian Elections

Akeel Bilgram and Sumit Ganguly on Narendra Modi

What does the election of Narendra Modi mean for India? Recently, in separate articles, two Columbia University Press authors Akeel Bilgrami and Sumit Ganguly weighed in on the results and what it means for India’s future.

Writing for The Hindu, Akeel Bilgrami, co-editor of the forthcoming Who’s Afraid of Academic Freedom?, offers a very skeptical view of Modi as either representing any real change for India or hope for its future:

[Narendra Modi] … has the added glamour of the nation’s most exalted office which, suppressing his natural swagger, he has approached with an affectation of humility and express concern for the poor and working people of the country, the very people that the policies and politics he stands for will sink into ever-increasing poverty and insecurity.

These unstintingly negative remarks I have made are intended to recoil from the charitable and hopeful responses that even some of those made anxious by Mr. Modi’s election have resigned themselves to. A belief in democracy requires two things: an acceptance of the upshot of an election and a refusal to blame the electorate if the upshot fills one with dread. Beyond this no graciousness is required, least of all a slackening of the critical powers one brings to assessing the upshot. In particular, there is no reason to surrender to some hope that a deeply tainted victor is going to revise his convictions or his character, simply because of the reality of having to live with his victory. Such realism, like much realism, is better described as complacence. It pacifies the effort and struggle that is called for to oppose what he represents. This pacification was already being advised prior to his election by political commentators who chastised Mr. Modi’s critics as unintelligent for applying the term “fascist,” with its European connotations, to what Mr. Modi represents in the Indian context.

Sumit Ganguly, most recently the co-author of India, Pakistan, and the Bomb: Debating Nuclear Stability in South Asia weighed in with an article in Foreign Affairs. In the piece, “India’s Missing Right: What the BJP’s Victory Says about Indian Politics,” Ganguly examines the history of the Right in India and why the Congress Party has dominated Indian politics since Independence.


Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Blood Online


This week our featured book is Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar. In this final post of our feature, we’ve collected a few additional Blood-themed links that we’d like to share. Be sure to enter our book giveaway by 1 PM today for a chance to win a free copy of Blood!

By Gil Anidjar

Via freq.uenci.es

But blood is a metaphor, is it not? It cannot—more precisely, it should not—be read literally in most of the instances I have recalled. The domains of its operations are not to be over-interpreted, as if one could find bits of flesh and drops of blood in the law or in the economy. Besides, blood is a universal! I have begged to differ on a number of counts here, locating these very claims, along with other moments and practices, in a larger, American hematology. I will now content myself with the following remark: the possibility of reading blood spiritually, the insistence on its metaphoricity, rather than on a literality to be exposed and interrogated—in reading the Old Testament, for instance—is precisely what the formulation I offer here seeks to make explicit.


Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Noah Coburn and Anna Larson on the Afghan Elections

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan, Noah CoburnIn the lead up to the April 5th elections in Afghanistan, Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, authors of Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape have created Afghan Elections dedicated to observation and analysis of the 2014 vote.

The site includes posts about coverage of the election as well as on-the-ground reports about how Afghans are preparing for and thinking about the elections. A recent post on the site drew on interviews with Afghans about why they’re voting and what it means for the country. Other recent topics have included the threat of violence and the role of youth activism in the campaigns.

Meanwhile, in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, Noah Coburn and Ronald Neumann argue that the United States must be realistic in expectations about the Afghan elections and react accordingly. The Afghan elections, Coburn suggests, will not be perfect—there will be corruption and disputed results. However, the need for stability is crucial and the United States must allow for the Afghan people to have the space and time to address the growing pains of a fledgling democracy.

Coburn and Neumann explain:

At this point, the United States needs to understand that what is most important in these upcoming elections is Afghanistan’s long-term stability. This is best achieved through a peaceful transfer of power to a new president with authority recognized broadly by Afghans. Democracy is, of course, important, and beyond a point its neglect would undermine stability, but the priority should not be on holding perfect elections. Afghans are likely to tolerate many types of procedural irregularities and small-scale fraud. Widespread violence and a breakdown of the tenuous political balance are likely only if these manipulations are seen as overtly propelling into office a candidate with little national support. Instead, Afghans are primarily preparing for both a national and, through provincial elections, local long-term renegotiation of political power. This is the challenge that the international community needs to focus on.


Monday, March 10th, 2014

Will Putin Look to Annex More Territory? Why the Crimea Crisis Is Not about a Greater Russia Project

Stephen Sadieman and R. William Ayres

In a recent post for The Washington Post‘s blog The Monkey Cage, Stephen M. Saideman and R. William Ayres draw on arguments and themes in their book For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism, and War to examine the situation in Crimea and the Ukraine.

More specifically, Sadieman and Ayres return to their book’s focus on irredentism or “the effort to reunify a ‘lost’ territory inhabited by ethnic kin with either a mother country or with other territories also inhabited by ethnic kin (think of Kurds in multiple countries creating a Greater Kurdistan).” While the case of Crimea represents, to a certain extent, a case of Russian irredentism, the authors argue that Russia might not necessarily annex Crimea and is unlikely to engage in similar actions in other areas where ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers reside.

Sadieman and Ayres cite four reasons:

1.) The plight of ethnic Russians in Crimea is not that great.
2.) Russian identity is not clearly defined. As the authors write, “Not all those living in Russia agree that Russian nationalism includes Russophones as members of the Russian nation. Indeed, the existing survey evidence suggests that this crisis is not very popular back in Russia. Those in Russia, especially those who vote in the next elections, may not want yet another basket-case to drain the country’s coffers (Crimean supporters of annexation are unlikely to be future net contributors).”
3.) Putin’s actions do not necessarily seem to be motivated by domestic concerns. His power is secure and he does not have to prove his nationalist credentials.
4.) Even if Crimea is annexed it is a region different from others where ethic Russians live. Sadieman and Ayres explain, “Crimea [does] stand out, as it combined both national interests (the Black Sea fleet) with a group of kin that was more interested than others in the Greater Russia project.”

The authors conclude by writing:

So, this crisis is not about a Greater Russia project, even if Crimea ends up in either a semi-status a la Nagorno-Karabakh or annexed in reality, as the policies focused here are unlikely to play out in other places where ethnic Russians reside, such as the Baltic Republics or even other parts of eastern Ukraine. As other writers at the Monkey Cage have argued, this is really a second-best (if that) effort by Putin to have influence in Ukraine after his preferred non-irredentist one, keeping President Yanukovych in power, failed. While countries containing some of the 25 million lost Russians are concerned, they should not panic as Putin is not Hitler (almost the original irredentist), and he is not even Milosevic of Greater Serbia fame.

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Happiness and Its Discontents, Part III

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. 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 the third part of an excerpt from Mari Ruti’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Happiness and Its Discontents.”

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Happiness and Its Discontents
Mari Ruti

I recently attended a presentation given by the daughter of a prominent man who, during his life, wrote several books that have had a tremendous impact on how we understand human psychology. During her talk, the daughter faulted her father for not having been a stable “family man,” for having let his passion for his work overshadow the rest of his life, and for having never been completely at ease with everyday social interactions. She made it sound as if her father had been a failure as a person because he had not been able to appreciate the rewards of a well-adjusted life.

As I listened to her, I kept thinking that she was judging her father by a very conventional standard. As far as I’m concerned, there are situations in which the ability to show up at the dinner table is less important than the capacity to produce works of great genius that enrich the rest of society.

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Happiness and Its Discontents, Part II

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. 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 the second part of an excerpt from Mari Ruti’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Happiness and Its Discontents.”

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Happiness and Its Discontents
Mari Ruti

Needless to say, our fixation on the ideal of happiness diverts our attention from collective social ills, such as socioeconomic disparities. As Barbara Ehrenreich has shown, when we believe that our happiness is a matter of thinking the right kinds of (positive) thoughts, we become blind to the ways in which some of our unhappiness might be generated by collective forces, such as racism or sexism. Worst of all, we become callous to the lot of others, assuming that if they aren’t doing well, if they aren’t perfectly happy, it’s not because they’re poor, oppressed, or unemployed but because they’re not trying hard enough.

If all of that isn’t enough to make you suspicious of the cultural injunction to be happy, consider this basic psychoanalytic insight: Human beings may not be designed for happy, balanced lives. The irony of happiness is that it’s precisely when we manage to feel happy that we are also most keenly aware that the feeling might not last. Insofar as each passing moment of happiness brings us closer to its imminent collapse, happiness is merely a way of anticipating unhappiness; it’s a deviously roundabout means of producing anxiety.

Take the notion that happiness entails a healthy lifestyle. Our society is hugely enthusiastic about the idea that we can keep illness at bay through a meticulous management of our bodies. The avoidance of risk factors such as smoking, drinking, and sexual promiscuity, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, is supposed to guarantee our longevity. To a degree, that is obviously true. But the insistence on healthy habits is also a way to moralize illness, to cast judgment on those who fail to adhere to the right regimen. Ultimately, as the queer theorist Tim Dean has illustrated, we are dealing with a regulation of pleasure—a process of medicalization that tells us which kinds of pleasures are acceptable and which are not.

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Happiness and Its Discontents, Part I

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. 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 the first part of an excerpt from Mari Ruti’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Happiness and Its Discontents.”

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Happiness and Its Discontents
Mari Ruti

As a critical theorist working at the intersection of Continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, and feminist and queer theory, I make observations about human life that are speculative rather than empirical. That may explain why my definition of character pertains to what is least tangible, least intelligible about our being, including the inchoate frequencies of desire that sometimes cause us to behave in ways that work against our rational understanding of how our lives are supposed to turn out.

If identity captures something about the relatively polished social persona we present to the world, then character—in my view—captures something about the wholly idiosyncratic and potentially rebellious energies that, every so often, break the facade of that persona. From this perspective, our character leaps forth whenever we do something “crazy,” such as suddenly dissolving a committed relationship or leaving a promising career path. At such moments, what is fierce and unapologetic about us undermines our attempts to lead a “reasonable” life, causing us to follow an inner directive that may be as enigmatic as it is compelling. We may not know why we feel called to a new destiny, but we sense that not heeding that call will stifle what is most alive within us.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that finds such insurrections threatening, not least because they make us less predictable and therefore harder to control. This is one reason we’re constantly reminded of the importance of leading a happy, balanced life—the kind of life that “makes sense” from the viewpoint of the dominant social order. Many of us have, in fact, internalized the ideal of a happy, balanced life to such an extent that we find it hard to imagine alternatives. As Freud has already claimed, there is little doubt about what most people want out of life: “They want to become happy and to remain so.”

A quick survey of our culture—particularly our self-help culture—confirms Freud’s observation. One could even say that, in our era, the idea that we should lead happy, balanced lives carries the force of an obligation: We are supposed to push aside our anxieties in order to enjoy our lives, attain peace of mind, and maximize our productivity. The cult of “positive thinking” even assures us that we can bring good things into our lives just by thinking about them.

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Michael Mann on the Responsibility of Climate Scientists

Michael Mann, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Michael Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines (now available in paperback), argues that scientists can no longer stay on the sidelines when it comes to debates about climate change.

For his own part, Mann has been thrust into the fray over climate change after a study he co-wrote which led to being “hounded by elected officials [and] threatened with violence.” Mann continues, “Our ‘hockey stick’ graph became a vivid centerpiece of the climate wars, and to this day, it continues to win me the enmity of those who have conflated a problem of science and society with partisan politics.”

Initially, Mann did not want to be part of the debate, fearing, as many scientists do, that it would compromise his objectivity “to wade into policy matters or the societal implications of our work.” However, with the stakes so high, Mann now argues that position is no longer viable given the threats of global warming to the planet.

If scientists choose not to engage in the public debate, we leave a vacuum that will be filled by those whose agenda is one of short-term self-interest. There is a great cost to society if scientists fail to participate in the larger conversation — if we do not do all we can to ensure that the policy debate is informed by an honest assessment of the risks. In fact, it would be an abrogation of our responsibility to society if we remained quiet in the face of such a grave threat.