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Archive for the 'Author op-eds' Category

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…)

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Social Media and the Lack of Consent

Hunting Girls

“Given the continued use of social media to target, harass, and humiliate young women, it is telling that these technologies were born out of sexist attitudes. In their inception, some of the most popular social media sites were designed to denigrate women.” — Kelly Oliver

This week, our featured book is Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, by Kelly Oliver. Today, we are happy to provide an excerpt from “Social Media and the Lack of Consent,” an article by Kelly Oliver that originally appeared in The Philosophical Salon. In this article, Oliver traces the “continued use of social media to target, harass, and humiliate young women” back to the sexist origins of many forms of social media.

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

Social Media and the Lack of Consent
By Kelly Oliver

Social media such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Tinder were invented as part of a culture that objectifies and denigrates girls and women. It is well known that the Facebook founder and Harvard graduate, now one of the richest men in the country, invented the social media site Facebook to post pictures of girls for his college buddies to rate and berate. Reportedly, Evan Spiegel, Stanford graduate and inventor of Snapchat, sent messages during his days in a fraternity referring to women as “bitches,” “sororisluts” to be “peed on,” and discussed getting girls drunk to have sex with them. And the founders of the wildly popular hook-up site Tinder, were both involved in a sexual harassment suit involving their former Vice President of marketing, who claims she received harassing sexist messages calling her a “slut,” a “gold-digger,” and a “whore.”

Given the continued use of social media to target, harass, and humiliate young women, it is telling that these technologies were born out of sexist attitudes. In their inception, some of the most popular social media sites were designed to denigrate women. Of course lots of social media sites, like other forms of traditional media, bank on pictures of attractive girls and women looking sexy or cute, along with pornographic images. Creepshot sites in particular are a telling example of a new phenomenon, namely, the valorization and popularization of lack of consent. (more…)

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

What Mountain Gorillas Can Teach Us About Gendered Behaviors

Not So Different

“Beginning in the 1990s, something unexpected happened. Some younger males stopped leaving their groups and the basic harem social structure fundamentally shifted for about one-fourth of the park’s mountain gorilla population. Instead of groups with one, or occasionally two adult males, scientists began observing very large groups including several adult males and females living together in relative harmony.” — Nathan H. Lents

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we have crossposted an excerpt from an article that Lents and Stacy Rosenbaum originally posted on The Human Evolution Blog.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Not So Different!

What Mountain Gorillas Can Teach Us About Gendered Behaviors
By Nathan H. Lents and Stacy Rosenbaum

Huge swathes of central Africa’s rainforests remain unexplored by western science, but the forests of Virunga National Park have been the object of intense scientific scrutiny since George Schaller and Dian Fossey began their pioneering work there in the 1950s. Since 1967, the population of mountain gorillas in Virunga have been the subject of continuous scientific monitoring, numerous documentaries, and the Oscar-nominated biopic, Gorillas in the Mist.

Much of what we know about the ecology and social behavior of gorillas stems from the constant observation of the Virunga mountain gorillas. Many common primate behaviors were first discovered in this population, including male contest competition – when males fight for access to females over whom they maintain exclusive mating rights; sexually selected infanticide – when males kill other males’ infants in order to bring females into heat and redirect their maternal attention on future children; and scramble feeding competition – reliance on food sources that are not monopolizable, which minimizes the utility of female dominance hierarchies.

Gorillas display substantial sexual dimorphism. Specifically, the males are more than twice as large as the females and powerfully built. This underscores their evolutionary legacy of male contest competition and polygyny. Indeed, gorillas were long thought to exist almost exclusively in harems, small multi-female groups led by one powerful silverback. Eating mostly leafy greens and seasonal fruit, the herculean strength and sharp canine teeth of silverbacks are used only for fighting each other. Typically, young males leave their birth group upon reaching adulthood and go through a solitary period before attempting to take over a harem or start a group of their own. Most are not successful. (more…)

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Organizational Creativity and Radical Innovation

Appetite for Innovation

“The research for Appetite for Innovation was conducted when Adria’s organization was undergoing its most profound transformation, from a restaurant to a research center for innovation, “elBulli foundation”. The book, therefore, takes advantage of this unique moment in time to retrace the story of a restaurant that became a legend and to explore underlying factors that led to its reinvention in 2011 into a seemingly unparalleled organizational model.” — M. Pilar Opazo

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. Today, we are happy to crosspost a short article by Opazo, originally posted at orgtheory.net, that contextualizes her book within the field of sociology.

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

How is it possible for an organization to systematically enact changes in the larger system of which it is part? Using Ferran Adria’s iconic restaurant “elBulli” as an example of organizational creativity and radical innovation, Appetite for Innovation examines how Adria’s organization was able to systematically produce breakthroughs of knowledge within its field and, ultimately, to stabilize a new genre or paradigm in cuisine – the often called “experimental,” “molecular,” or “techno-emotional” culinary movement.

Recognized as the most influential restaurant in the world, elBulli has been at the forefront of the revolution that has inspired the gastronomic avant-garde worldwide. With a voracious appetite for innovation, year after year, Adrià and his team have broken through with new ingredients, combinations, culinary concepts and techniques that have transformed our way of understanding food and the development of creativity in haute cuisine.

Appetite for Innovation is an organizational study of the system of innovation behind Adrià’s successful organization. It reveals key mechanisms that explain the organization’s ability to continuously devise, implement and legitimate innovative ideas within its field and beyond. Based on exclusive access to meetings, observations, and interviews with renowned professionals of the contemporary gastronomic field, the book reveals how a culture for change was developed within the organization; how new communities were attracted to the organization’s work and helped to perpetuate its practice, and how the organization and its leader’s charisma and reputation were built and maintained over time. The book draws on examples from other fields, including art, science, music, theatre and literature to explore the research’s potential to inform practices of innovation and creativity in multiple kinds of organizations and industries.

The research for Appetite for Innovation was conducted when Adria’s organization was undergoing its most profound transformation, from a restaurant to a research center for innovation, “elBulli foundation”. The book, therefore, takes advantage of this unique moment in time to retrace the story of a restaurant that became a legend and to explore underlying factors that led to its reinvention in 2011 into a seemingly unparalleled organizational model.

Appetite for Innovation is primarily intended to reach and be used by academic and professionals from the fields of innovation and organizations studies. It is also directed towards a non-specialist readership interested in the topics of innovation and creativity in general. In order to engage a wider audience and show the fascinating world of chefs and the inner-workings of high-end restaurants, the book is filled with photographs of dishes, creative processes and team’s dynamics within haute cuisine kitchens and culinary labs. It also includes numerous diagrams and graphs that illustrate the practices enacted by the elBulli organization to sustain innovation, and the networks of relationships that it developed over time. Each chapter opens with an iconic recipe created by elBulli as a way of illustrating the book’s central arguments and key turning points that enable the organization to gain a strategic position within its field and become successful.

You can read the post in its entirety at orgtheory.net.

Friday, July 1st, 2016

A Media Roundup for “The Evolution of Money”

The Evolution of Money

“The reason I think we need a new theory of money is because traditional theories either emphasise one side of money only (such as bullionism vs chartalism) or more or less ignore its properties altogether (like mainstream economics). And they take the relationship with number for granted, which I think is a mistake. It is the most obvious feature of money, and in many ways the most important.” — David Orrell

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. For our final post of the week, we’ve collected a number of the best articles and interviews by and about David Orrell, Roman Chlupatý, and The Evolution of Money.

First, you can read an adapted excerpt from The Evolution of Money at Evonomics:

Environmental conflict is therefore hardwired into the design of our monetary system—built for funding wars with kings and empires and now, as Klein documents, with the planet (one that, if it continues, the planet will win—it’s bigger). Dazzling us with number, it distracts us from the costs. This, rather than ideology, is why the GDP produced in a city like Beijing is booming, but people are leaving because they can’t breathe the air (and why, a little late, the National Congress of the Communist Party wrote the goal of an “ecological civilization” into its constitution in 2012). Like a toxic algal bloom on a lake, the economy is doing fine, but it is asphyxiating everything around it.

99Bitcoins has a great interview with David Orrell on cryptocurrency:

“The reason I think we need a new theory of money is because traditional theories either emphasise one side of money only (such as bullionism vs chartalism) or more or less ignore its properties altogether (like mainstream economics). And they take the relationship with number for granted, which I think is a mistake. It is the most obvious feature of money, and in many ways the most important.” — David Orrell

Adbusters featured “The True Value of Money,” an article by David Orrell:

A peculiar feature of orthodox economics is that money is treated as an inert medium of exchange, with no special properties of its own. As a result, money is largely excluded from macroeconomic models, which is one reason the financial crisis of 2007/8 was not predicted (it involved money). In many respects, when viewed through the lens of quantum physics, money behaves a lot like matter – and acknowledging that behavior promises to do to economics what quanta did for physics.

(more…)

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Developers Don’t Get It: Climate Change Means We Need to Retreat from the Coast

Retreat from a Rising Sea

“It is time for a profound new outlook—where we construct smaller, less expensive and perhaps mobile structures and do not replace buildings destroyed and damaged in storms. It is time we prepare to retreat from the rising sea.”—Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C Pilkey

Earlier this year in an incisive and impassioned op-ed published in The Guardian, Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis and Keith C Pilkey, authors of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, pointed out the continued folly of developing in coastal areas. 13.1 million people along the U.S. east coast will be at risk of flooding at the end of the century. While such statistics suggest the need to retreat from coastal areas, development continues.

Particularly vulnerable is the Florida coast where multibillion-dollar construction projects are underway. The Pilkeys cite several cities heading down the wrong path, including Miami:

In Miami, a city perilously perched atop a very porous limestone, two multibillion-dollar construction projects are under way, despite the fact that parts of the city routinely flood during high tides and that widespread flooding by the rising sea in a few decades is a virtual certainty. No sea walls, levees or dikes can stop the rising waters from flowing through the underlying spongy limestone and into the city. Miami is ultimately doomed.

Ft. Myers is also adding new hotels and restaurants to its coast using seawalls in the hopes of protecting them from flooding. The authors provide some succinct and much-needed advice on why that’s a bad idea:

If you need to build a seawall to protect your construction project, you should not be building at that site. Remember – seawalls destroy beaches.

(more…)

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Orrin Pilkey on the Costs of Ignoring the Rising Sea

Retreat from a Rising Sea

“We can prepare now and respond to the sea-level rise in a planned fashion, or we can act later in response to natural catastrophes (storms). Responding to the rising sea now will be painful, but ignoring the rising sea will produce catastrophic pain.” — Orrin Pilkey

Now that summer is officially here, many of us will undoubtedly be heading to the beach. However, as Orrin Pilkey points out in a recent op-ed in the Fayetteville Observer, many of our coastal areas are in serious danger. Ignoring these problems and continuing to develop these areas, Pilkey warns, will have serious and long-lasting consequences.

Pilkey is most recently the coauthor with Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, which examines a variety of coastal areas in danger. In his article for the Fayetteville Observer, “Why N.C. can’t ignore the rising sea,” he focuses on North Carolina’s failure to take any action at all:

In spite of these alarming suggestions, North Carolina has taken virtually no action or done any planning for response to the future sea-level rise. It’s fair to say, viewing the action of the Coastal Resources Commission and other environmental agencies, that the state’s coastal management program has crashed.

The science panel of the CRC was ordered to produce a report on the sea-level rise expected only for the next 30 years. Frank Gorham, CRC chairman, has written that the science panel itself chose that 30-year number, but that is incorrect. The 30-year time limit was a political decision forced upon the science panel to avoid comment on the post 30-year time frame when sea-level rise is expected to accelerate.

The short 30-year time span is out of sync with all other government entities concerned with sea-level rise in the U.S. and globally. By comparison, the UN’s climate change panel (IPCC) looks out 100 years, Holland plans out 200 years and has designed its storm gates for a 10,000-year storm (a bit of a stretch), and Germany looks out 500 years.

In the United States, North Carolina stands alone in doing basically nothing of consequence in sea-level rise planning and even discourages state employees from mentioning global climate change. New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia are planning, as well as taking baby steps, in an effort to start responding to sea-level rise. These states recognize the huge implications of the rising sea on developed shorelines.

Instead, the response of North Carolina has been to hold the shoreline in place at great cost and even encourage further development. The recent projected sea-level rise virtually dooms much of North Carolina’s beachfront development by this century’s end, especially the Outer Banks.

In even more danger from the rising sea is the northeastern corner of the state behind the Outer Banks. Here, the slope of the land is so gentle that a one-foot sea-level rise could push the water inland four miles or more.

(more…)

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

What Is Intellectual Freedom Today?

Hermeneutic Communism

The following is a blog post by Santiago Zabala, coauthor of, among other works, Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx:

What Is Intellectual Freedom Today?
By Santiago Zabala

In order to respond to this important question, it is first necessary to emphasize that there isn’t much difference among philosophers, theologians, scientists, or artists when it comes to intellectual freedom. Whatever the training, traditions, or debates the intellectually free are those who know how their disciplines are framed. For example, when the scientist Laurent Ségalat, in his book La Science à bout de souffle?, criticized how the management of funds has become more important than search for truth in his field, he was both pointing out what frames his discipline and also exercising intellectual freedom. Only those who thrust us into the “absence of emergency” are intellectually free today.

When Martin Heidegger said in the 1940s that the “only emergency is the absence of emergency,” he was referring to a “frame” (“Ge-stell”), a technological power that had grown beyond our ability to control it. Today this framing power is globalization, where emergencies, as Heidegger specified, do not arise when something doesn’t function correctly but rather when “everything functions . . . and propels everything more and more toward further functioning.” This is why he was so concerned with the specialization and compartmentalization of knowledge that would inevitably limit and frame independent and critical thought. So to be intellectually free today means disclosing the emergency at the core of the absence of emergency, thrusting us into knowledge of those political, technological, and cultural impositions that frame our lives. (more…)

Monday, March 14th, 2016

Michael Marder on Trump Metaphysics

Michael Marder

“Trump trumps metaphysics.”—Michael Marder

Michael Marder, author of The Philosopher’s Plant among other books in plant studies, recently turned his attention to another kind of life form: Donald Trump. In Trump Metaphysics, a recent essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books Philosophical Salon, Marder looks at metaphysics as a way to understand Trump’s recent electoral success. More precisely, he examines how Trump’s refutation of traditional metaphysics has exposed the failings of conventional politics and broadened his own appeal. As Marder writes, “Trump trumps metaphysics.”

Marder begins the essay by asking three questions, which he relates back to some of the core debates in metaphysics but have recently been linked to the candidacy of Donald Trump: “How to distinguish the real from the fake? What level of ignorance is simply unacceptable in public affairs? How to view matters of principle, or something like ‘the inner essence,’ behind changing appearances?” In considering the controversy around Trump’s evasiveness on his positions as well as his dispute with Romney in which counter-charges of being a fake or phony were leveled, Marder comes back to metaphysics’ interest in the authentic self. Marder writes:

It is simply futile to chastise Trump from the standpoint of stale metaphysical values, because he embodies a system, which has a long time ago outgrown and abandoned these same values. What does it mean to decry a candidate for the office of president as a “fake” in a country where a Hollywood actor was president (more precisely, enacted the role of president), for two consecutive terms? Does it make sense to bemoan this candidate’s ignorance less than eight years after the end of George W. Bush’s terms in office? Where is the logic of accusing him of vulgarity when the official pick of the Republican establishment for the presidential race hints at differences in penis sizes as momentous for the outcome of the contest?

(more…)

Friday, February 12th, 2016

The Wheel: A Great Innovation?

The Wheel

“Wheeled transport is not an obviously good idea. People who insist that it was truly revolutionary ignore the fact that many societies that became aware of wheeled vehicles over the centuries chose not to use them. It took so many other innovations over a long period of time to make the wheel useful.” — Richard Bulliet

This week, our featured book is The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions, by Richard W. Bulliet. Today, for the final day of our feature, we are happy to present “The Wheel: A Great Innovation,” an article by Richard Bulliet that was originally published in the Innovation in Practice Blog.

People who believe that the wheel is the greatest invention ever assume two things: That it was wholly new when it was invented, and that is was so wonderful that people adopted it immediately. Historically, neither is true.

What is true is that three different types of wheels evolved over time, but none of them were as great as sliced bread.

The concept of a wheel emerged a long time ago. Archaeologists uncovered evidence that Olmec children in southern Mexico played with toy dogs on wheels 3000 years ago. But their parents never transferred the wheel idea to carts or wagons. How could anyone who understood the concept of the wheel not have used it for transportation?

Here’s why. Ancient Mexicans lacked domestic animals to hitch to a wheeled vehicle. There was no advantage over human porters. A more important question: Was the wheel such a good idea that building a toy dog on wheels should inevitably have transformed a transportation system?

Evolutionary biologists tell us that modern humans have not improved their basic store of physical or intellectual capacities for 100,000 years. So when we migrated out of Africa to people the globe, we did it without the benefit of wheels. And we kept on walking and carrying the “stuff” that George Carlin would later poke fun at on our backs for the next 90,000+ years. We could divide up our stuff into manageable loads that were light and compact enough to carry. Finally, some 10,000 years later, we started loading some of our stuff onto the backs of animals.

This solution satisfied the transportation needs of most of the world down to the invention of the internal combustion engine, even though by that time some peoples had been using wheeled vehicles for over 5000 years. But carts and wagons weren’t all that common. So long as roads were seas of mud in rainy weather people thought twice about whether to entrust their stuff to a wheeled vehicle.

Wheeled transport is not an obviously good idea. People who insist that it was truly revolutionary ignore the fact that many societies that became aware of wheeled vehicles over the centuries chose not to use them. It took so many other innovations over a long period of time to make the wheel useful.

You can read the blog post in it’s entirety at Innovation in Practice.

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Donald Trump and the Destruction of the American Century — Brian Edwards

Brian Edwards, After the American Century

In a recent article in Salon, They’ve destroyed us worldwide: Donald Trump, George W. Bush and the destruction of the American century, Brian Edwards, author of After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East, examines what has happened to the more hopeful version of America that the country once exported. While acknowledging that the idea of “The American Century,” always had the ulterior motive to strengthen the United States militarily, economically, and politically, there was also a sense that American culture was infused with a sense of hope and innovation that could be taken up by others. Edwards writes, “The American century was built on a positive aura, not hate. From the romantic comedies of classic Hollywood to Coke’s ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing,’ America exported the promise of love.”

Even during the “American Century,” anti-Americanism, of course existed, but the recent events surrounding Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims coupled with recent U.S. policies have presented a very different portrait of the United Stated, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. As Edwards suggests, “Trump’s bearing is all swagger, but he and his zealous supporters project a weak and defensive stance to the world. They have redefined the United States as hostile and fearful.”

Recent developments also represent a shift from the post-9/11 period Edwards explores in his book. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, many advocated for and implemented initiatives that resurrected the cultural cold war policies:

So, Hillary Clinton could be found championing the hip-hop initiatives that looked a lot like the jazz tours of a half-century earlier. In 2011, commenting on a state-sponsored trip of a hip-hop artist to Damascus, she said: ‘Hip-hop is America. . . . I think we have to use every tool at our disposal.’ As secretary of state, she was early to embrace what was called digital diplomacy, with young staffers leading the charge.

Over the past decade and a half, I have been charting the fate of American cultural products in the Middle East and North Africa, with extensive research in the region during a remarkable time. From Fez to Tehran, young Arabs and Iranians are intimately familiar with American popular culture. As I argue in my new book, After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East, a newer generation across the Middle East and North Africa made a distinction between America as a creator of cultural products and the United States as a geopolitical entity. That meant that through the 1990s and 2000s, they could continue to enjoy and consume our attractive culture without contradicting their increasing dismay regarding our policies in their region.

(more…)

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

It’s OK to be Ambivalent about Your Siblings During the Holidays

Adult Sibling Relationships

“It is during the holidays … that the specter of disharmony looms.”—Geoffrey L. Greif and Michael E. Woolley

For many of us, the holidays inevitably bring us together with family. This, of course, has its upsides and its downsides. This is particularly true for adults when they get together with their siblings. Affection and warmth are part of the equation but so can ambivalence and lingering difficulties from childhood.

In a recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, Geoffrey L. Greif and Michael E. Woolley, authors of Adult Sibling Relationships describe the two-sided nature of this dynamic:

Siblings are with us throughout life, longer than our parents, our partners or most friends. They can be our best friends, people with whom we share our greatest joys and our deepest sorrows. In adulthood, siblings can hold an extended family together after the incapacity or death of parents and help pass down a heritage of Hallmark closeness to future generations.

However, siblings can also cause hurt feelings and emotional estrangement, leaving us wondering how we could have possibly grown up in the same home. Why struggle to stay close with someone who may have hurt us when we were young and may continue to cause us pain by having few boundaries, acting unkindly, or being too withholding or too dependent?

(more…)

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Michael Mann on the Assault on Climate Science

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Michael Mann

“Let’s end the McCarthy-like assault on science led by the Lamar Smiths of the world. Our nation is better than that.”—Michael Mann, New York Times

Yesterday, we linked to Michael Mann’s important op-ed in the New York Times on social media but also wanted to feature it here on our blog. In his piece, The Assault on Climate Science, Mann describes the recent efforts of Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, to challenge and obfuscate the findings of scientists regarding climate change. Smith, a climate-change-denier, has “issued various subpoenas to Kathryn D. Sullivan, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, demanding all internal notes, emails and correspondence concerning a study its scientists published in the journal Science.” As Mann argues that while Smith is entitled to ask for all pertinent scientific data and findings — and should do so — asking for correspondence between scientists risks the confidentiality that is crucial for frank discourse.

As Mann points out, this kind of intimidation of scientists is not new — Mann himself was the victim of it in 2005. At the time, many politicians — both Republicans and Democrats — came to his defense. The picture in 2015 is far bleaker as Republicans have done nothing to rein in the actions of Lamar Smith.

Mann concludes by writing:

While there is no doubt climate change is real and caused by humans, there is absolutely a debate to be had about the details of climate policy, and there are prominent Republicans participating constructively in that discourse. Let’s hear more from these sensible voices. And let’s end the McCarthy-like assault on science led by the Lamar Smiths of the world. Our nation is better than that.

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

The Attacks in Paris Reveal the Strategic Limits of ISIS — Olivier Roy

Olivier Roy, author of Secularism Confronts Islam and Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, is a professor at the European Union Institute in Florence. We share his recent article from the New York Times Opinion Pages in the wake of the Paris attacks.

The Attacks in Paris Reveal the Strategic Limits of ISIS
By Olivier Roy

As President François Hollande of France has declared, the country is at war with the Islamic State. France considers the Islamist group, also known as ISIS, to be its greatest enemy today. It fights it on the front lines alongside the Americans in the Middle East, and as the sole Western nation in the Sahel. It has committed to this battle, first started in Mali in 2013, a share of its armed forces much greater than has the United States.

On Friday night, France paid the price for this. Messages expressing solidarity have since poured in from all over the Western world. Yet France stands oddly alone: Until now, no other state has treated ISIS as the greatest strategic threat to the world today.

The main actors in the Middle East deem other enemies to be more important. Bashar al-Assad’s main adversary is the Syrian opposition — now also the main target of Russia, which supports him. Mr. Assad would indeed benefit from there being nothing between him and ISIS: That would allow him to cast himself as the last bastion against Islamist terrorism, and to reclaim in the eyes of the West the legitimacy he lost by so violently repressing his own people.

The Turkish government is very clear: Its main enemy is Kurdish separatism. And a victory of Syrian Kurds over ISIS might allow the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., to gain a sanctuary, and resume its armed struggle against Turkey.

The Kurds, be they Syrian or Iraqi, seek not to crush ISIS so much as to defend their newfound borders. They hope the Arab world will become more divided than ever. They want to seize Sinjar because it is in a Kurdish area. But they won’t attack Mosul, because that would be playing into Baghdad’s hands.

For the Kurds of Iraq, the main danger is seeing a strong central government emerge in Baghdad, for it could challenge the de facto independence of Iraqi Kurdistan today. ISIS stands in the way of the creation of any such power.

The Shiites of Iraq, no matter what pressure they face from America, do not seem ready to die to reclaim Falluja. They will defend sectarian borders, and will never let Baghdad fall. But they are in no hurry to bring the Sunni minority back into Iraq’s political mainstream; if they did, they would have to share power with it. (more…)

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

́́́Étienne Balibar on the Paris attacks: “In War”

Étienne Balibar, author of Violence and Civility, is a visiting professor at Columbia University and emeritus professor of philosophy at Paris X Nanterre. We share his recent article for openDemocracy in the wake of the Paris attacks.

In War
By Étienne Balibar

Yes, we are at war. Or rather, henceforth, we are all in war. We deal blows, and we take blows in turn. We are in mourning, suffering the consequences of these terrible events, in the sad knowledge that others will occur. Each person killed is irreplaceable.

But which war are we talking about? It is not an easy war to define because it is formed of various types which have been pushed together over time and which today appear inextricable. Wars between states (even a pseudo state like ‘ISIS’). National and international civil wars. Wars of ‘civilisation’ (or something that sees itself as such). Wars of interest and of imperialist patronage. Wars of religions and sects (or justified as such). This is the great stasis or ‘split city’ of the twenty first century, which we will one day compare to its distant parallels (if indeed we escape intact): the Peloponnesian War; the Thirty Years War; or, more recently, the “European civil war” that raged from 1914 to 1945…

In part an outcome of the US offensive in the Middle East (both before and after 9/11), the war has intensified following the offensives in which Russia and France are now playing a major role, each with their own objectives. The war is also rooted in the ferocious rivalry between those states who all aspire to regional hegemony: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, even Egypt, and in some ways Israel – the only nuclear power of the group at the moment. In a violent collective abreaction, it speeds up all the unsettled affairs of colonisation and empire: oppressed minorities, the creation of arbitrary borders, expropriated mineral resources, disputed areas of influence, gigantic arms contracts. As we just saw, the war seeks, and occasionally finds, support among populations of the ‘other side’. (more…)

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Political Uncertainties in Post-miracle China

The China Boom

“With the economic boom times gone, the perpetuation of such socio-political peace, as well as what the Communist Party would do to contain any imminent unrest becomes uncertain. Political and legal reforms might help institutionalize conflict resolution, smoothen power transition, and hence promote stability. But the Party leaders are more likely to worry that any opening will fuel rising expectations, ultimately threatening one-party rule.” — Ho-fung Hung

This week, our featured book is The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World, by Ho-fung Hung. Today, we are happy to present a crosspost of “Political Uncertainties in Post-miracle China,” an article by Ho-fung Hung originally published on the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog, in which he explains the political implications for China’s recent economic growth slowdown.

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

Political Uncertainties in Post-miracle China
By Ho-fung Hung

The latest economic data from China shows that its GDP grew 7.4 percent in 2014. It was the slowest growth since 1990 (amidst global sanctions post- Tiananmen) and missed its growth target for the first time since 1998 (in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis). It is another indication that the era of double-digit hyper growth has ended. To be sure, a 7.4 percent growth rate is still enviable for many developing countries. Domestic consumption now constitutes 51.2 percent of GDP, suggesting that the Chinese economy is more balanced and less dependent on fixed-asset investment and exports.

Slower, more balanced growth is good for China in the long run. But such slowdowns will also bring immediate headaches for Chinese leaders. After the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008, the Chinese government unleashed a huge stimulus to aggressively flood local governments and enterprises with state bank loans, trying to shield the economy from the global headwinds with a wave of debt-driven construction. China’s total debt to GDP ratio jumped from 147 percent at the end of 2008 to over 250 percent in mid-2014 according to a Standard Charter report. It has reached 282 percent by February 2015 according to a McKinsey report. This figure is dangerously high compared to other emerging economies, and it is set to keep soaring when the economy continues to slow. (more…)

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

China Steps Back

The China Boom

“Creating the A.I.I.B. is not Beijing’s attempt at world domination; it is a self-imposed constraint, and a retreat from more than a decade of aggressive bilateral initiatives.” — Ho-fung Hung

This week, our featured book is The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World, by Ho-fung Hung. Today, we are happy to present a crosspost of “China Steps Back,” an article by Ho-fung Hung published in the New York Times, in which he discusses the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and China-America relations.

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

China Steps Back
By Ho-fung Hung

Beijing’s plans for a new multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have put Washington on edge. More than 40 countries, including major United States allies in Europe, have signed up to join it despite the Obama administration’s objections and warnings.

In fact, the United States government has nothing to fear from the A.I.I.B.; its opposition is misguided. The bank’s creation will not enhance China’s global power at the expense of the United States. If anything, Beijing’s attempt to go multilateral is a step backward: It’s a concession that China’s established practice of promoting bilateral initiatives in the developing world has backfired.

Once more, anxiety about China supplanting the United States as the world’s leading power is undermining cool-headed analysis. When China set up its own sovereign wealth fund in 2007, many feared it would take control of strategic resources, acquire sensitive technology and disrupt global financial markets. But the China Investment Corporation, which controlled $575 billion in 2014, has been struggling with losses, partly because of mismanagement, according to China’s National Audit Office. (more…)

Friday, October 30th, 2015

A Guru for Our Time: Eqbal Ahmad and the Life of Dissent from Empire

Eqbal Ahmad

“Eqbal was a quirky, seminal thinker and analyst of global foreign policy. He understood and described correctly the catastrophies that would follow if the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein. He had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the early 1980s and predicted early on that the man would become a major enemy of the US once the Soviets were defeated.” — Stuart Schaar

For the second half of this week, our featured book is Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age, by Stuart Schaar. In the final post of the feature, we are happy to present an article by Schaar telling a number of poignant stories about Schaar’s relationship with Eqbal Ahmad and about Ahmad’s life as an activist and seminal political thinker, originally published at Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog.

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

A Guru for Our Time: Eqbal Ahmad and the Life of Dissent from Empire
By Stuart Schaar

In the early 1960s I was living in Rabat while researching my doctoral dissertation for Princeton University. My friend, the Pakistani Eqbal Ahmad (d. 1999), who was living in Tunisia and also researching his dissertation, had just driven through Algeria as the Algerians celebrated their victory over France and gained their independence. Eqbal was euphoric after having shared celebrations with the Algerians whom he met along the way. We immediately set out for southern Morocco and the walled Saharan towns south of Marrakech.

Along the route we stopped at a town where everyone was blind. They were victims of trachoma, a fly-borne disease. I remember Eqbal biting his lower lip and bursting out in tears at the sight of people who greeted us with outstretched arms begging us to help them. We were activists and were used to organizing solutions for problems. This time, we felt absolutely helpless. Years later we learned that the World Health Organization began solving the problem of blindness in the Moroccan south, by distributing lime powder to peasants who lined the walls in the rooms under their houses, where they kept their animals, and in that way kept away infected flies.

I left this story, and several other poignant ones, out of my new book, Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age just published by Columbia University Press. Instead I concentrated on his ideas and the reasons why we should remember and read him still. Eqbal was a quirky, seminal thinker and analyst of global foreign policy. He understood and described correctly the catastrophies that would follow if the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein. He had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the early 1980s and predicted early on that the man would become a major enemy of the US once the Soviets were defeated. (more…)

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

What’s Wrong with Nostalgia — Gary Cross

Consumed Nostalgia, Gary Cross

“The problem with modern nostalgia isn’t that it longs for the past rather than the present or future; the trouble is that it fixates on stuff and thus short-circuits what memory can do for us.”—Gary Cross

Earlier this week, the History News Network published an essay by Gary Cross entitled It’s Ok to Love Your ’64 Mustang but Here’s What You’re Missing. The essay builds upon Cross’s recent book Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism, which examines the ways in which nostalgia separates and divides us across generational lines.

In the essay for the History News Network, Cross argues that people often become nostalgic as a result of anxiety about rapid change and they feel a need to reclaim a sense of of childhood wonder or teenage freedom. He argues that a kind of consumer modern nostalgia began in the United States in the 1930s and then accelerated in the 1970s with a renewed interest in the 1950s. While Cross argues that “objects of memory certainly meet a need by helping people recover the past; and collecting can bring together those who have little else in common but a shared memory.” He concludes his essay by expressing concern about what has become a commercialized nostalgia:

The problem with modern nostalgia isn’t that it longs for the past rather than the present or future; the trouble is that it fixates on stuff and thus short-circuits what memory can do for us. Some of this is probably inevitable. Few of us are mystics and, as in religion, most of us require “relics” to share and help us reach back to the past. But, in the end can commercialized nostalgia meet our needs? My obsession with the commodities of my childhood cannot be shared with my younger brother, much less with my children; they are just different. This longing separates me from communities and pasts beyond my personal experience.

But can’t the modern nostalgic impulse transcend all this? It can if we use things of memory to engage with the past, not merely regress into a romantic memory of childhood “innocence.” If we converse with that past, and bring a full and honest consciousness of our present lives into our encounter with the past, nostalgia can reveal something about ourselves as we are now and also show us how the world has actually changed. Such a conversation with the past might help us get over our obsessions with our childhoods. In fact, nostalgia need not be childish; it can bring us the pleasure of growing in our understanding of ourselves and of the larger world from the vantage point of grown-ups.