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Archive for the 'Author Postings' Category

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

The Catastrophes of Today and the Catastrophe of 1948 in Syria

Palestinians in Syria

Today, May 15, is the 68th anniversary of the Nakba. In recognition of the anniversary, Anaheed Al-Hardan, author of Palestinians in Syria: Nakba Memories of Shattered Communities, has written a blog post linking the events of 1948 and today in Syria.

The Catastrophes of Today and the Catastrophe of 1948 in Syria
By Anaheed Al-Hardan

Yarmouk Camp in Damascus is today unrecognizable even to those who knew the camp’s every alleyway and corner. The rubble, the ruins of bombed buildings, tired and hungry people, and haunted alleyways and streets are the painful remains of a shattered community. Yarmouk is not the only Palestinian locality in Syria, of course, but it was in many ways the Palestinians’ social, cultural, political, and even symbolic heart. It has therefore become emblematic of the catastrophe of the Palestinians in Syria whose communities may neither survive nor heal.

Whatever remained of the camp after the exodus of its people in December 2012 continues to be leveled in the wake of the April 2015 appearance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as yet another armed group in and within its vicinity. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is today only able to distribute aid to the camp’s environs. A relief worker with access to the environs of the camp privately noted that of the estimated 18,000 who remained in Yarmouk following the December 2012 exodus, only 2,000–4,000 now remain. The Qadsayya suburb of Damascus, where many Yarmouk families have been displaced to, has a market that reminds one of the previous bustling markets of Yarmouk’s Lubya Street, I was told by a former resident of Yarmouk in Beirut. Lubya Street, named after a village in the Tiberias subdistrict of historic Palestine, is today a devastated and sniped shadow of its former self, destroyed sixty-four years after the destruction of its namesake.

Qadsayya is no longer a safe haven from the war, like most areas meant to be safe havens in the Damascus and the Rural Damascus Governorates. Nothing new, a friend in Qadsayya told me. The “problems” have also arrived here, and the area is under lockdown. People cannot leave, as rents have skyrocketed and landowners are asking for a year’s rent in advance. A year later, she tells me that they no longer know how things are and do not keep up with word-of-mouth news; they simply try to get on with their lives. I would eventually ask her about the new Lubya Street in Qadsayya, and she sends photos of it that are worlds away from the Lubya Street of Yarmouk. She tells me that it is in fact a sight that makes her cry: zinc shacks erected by the people of Yarmouk in order to sell rationed vegetables and secondhand clothes.

It is from the inbetween of the imagined and the actual “Lubya Street” of Qadsayya and the Lubya Street of Yarmouk that I frequented daily all those years ago that I must now think through memories and histories of the 1948 Nakba in Syria. These memories also need to be thought from the inbetween of images of what remains of Lubya Street in Yarmouk and memories of Lubya in Palestine. What does it mean to think through Nakba memories of communities shattered in Palestine in 1948 three and a half years into the beginning of their shattering anew in Syria? And what implications does this have for Nakba memories and histories in Syria before and after 2011? The Palestinian refugee communities of the Syria that made their Nakba memories and histories possible no longer exist as they did prior to 2011 and continue to be devastated. While this has clear implications for the meanings of the catastrophe of 1948 in light of the new catastrophe, I can neither write a conclusion to the unfolding tragic events nor a conclusive summary of the new meanings of the Nakba in post-2011 Syria. In what follows, I think through the catastrophe of today and the catastrophe of 1948 by moving between the past and the present. This is the past that made memories of 1948 possible, and this is the present marked by a catastrophe that is being made legible through an insistence by the post-Palestine generations, displaced within Syria and beyond, that it far exceeds the Nakba of 1948.

*** (more…)

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

The Future of Spiritual Practice

A None's Story

“How quickly one’s isolation can flip into expansive belonging! To suddenly become aware of one’s being present in the room, alongside the presence of others, to contemplate the world anew and then to consider it through alternate perspectives. Worship can help us do this and more; an evening of improv was having a similar effect.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. Today we are happy to present a crosspost from Nicolaou’s fantastic blog, One None Gets Some, in which she looks back on the start of her book tour and what it’s taught her about religion and spirituality.

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

The Future of Spiritual Practice
By Corinna Nicolaou

The first six stops of my book tour under my belt, I’m starting to get a sense of some recurring questions audience members are eager to have answered after I speak about (and read from) the religious exploration I write about in A None’s Story. One common inquiry is something along the lines of, “What do you think the future is for religion in the United States?” (For book tour updates, “like” my author Facebook page.)

Many people, I believe, are expecting me to declare religion dead—or, at the very least, dying. I know some of the audience members are people of faith, a few have been current or retired leaders of religious congregations, and they fear what’s in store for their communities in the next decade or two. Others are concerned for the growing number of citizens who appear to be operating in a world increasingly devoid of spiritual grounding or guidance.

I understand the worry but, from where I stand, the view is not so bleak. I honestly believe that the core of religion is as relevant today as it has ever been because, despite all the changes we and our society undergoes, something fundamental remains the same. Each of us struggles to come to grips with being here on earth, and with the knowledge that we will leave—as if these realizations are a fresh new thing just added to the human experience. We are driven to makes sense of this knowledge, to come together with others who are also striving for greater understanding, and to work together to find ways to better care for ourselves and others. No, the basic impulse from which religion is born is intrinsically tied to our beings. The growth in the population of Nones does not spell the end of religion. But it does herald a change. (more…)

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Remembering Slavery: Passover, Caribbean Literature and Black-Jewish Relations

Calypso Jews

“Like the Caribbean literature I examine, the Passover seder encourages us to make connections between different histories of oppression.”—Sarah Phillips Casteel

The following post is by Sarah Phillips Casteel, author of Calypso Jews: Jewishness in the Caribbean Literary Imagination.

The annual Jewish ritual of the Passover seder transports its participants back to the time of Egyptian slavery. During the seder, ancient history is reanimated through storytelling and eating symbolic foods. The Haggadah (or “telling”) instructs Jews that it is incumbent upon them to narrate their suffering in Egypt and liberation from bondage: “In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he had gone personally forth from Egypt, as it is said, ‘And thou shalt relate to thy son on that day saying, this is on account of what the Eternal did for me, when I went forth from Egypt.’” At Passover, Jews transmit this story from one generation to the next through a process in which, in the words of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, “we not only remember that we were slaves but also re-experience ourselves as slaves.”

As a scholar of Caribbean literature, I am interested in how contemporary writers also use narrative to engage and reactivate the past. Just as the Passover seder compels its participants to actively recall the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom in order to shape the consciousness of the next generation, contemporary Caribbean writers transport us back into the slavery past in order to help us make sense of the present. Part of the power of this act of literary imagination is that it brings forgotten histories to light. As I explore in my new book, one of the lost histories recovered by Caribbean writers is that of the resettlement of Jewish refugees in the Caribbean from the seventeenth century onward.

Several years ago, while wandering through the Jewish cemetery in Bridgetown, Barbados, I was excited to come across a tombstone bearing the name Benjamin C. d’Azevedo. I immediately recognized this name, which is shared by the Jewish protagonist of I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, by the Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé. In Condé’s 1986 novel, which is set in Barbados and New England during the Salem Witch Trials, the Jewish merchant Benjamin Cohen d’Azevedo purchases the slavewoman Tituba and eventually frees her, securing her passage back to the Caribbean. Had Condé visited the Bridgetown cemetery and found her Jewish protagonist here, I wondered? Why was she so drawn to the Sephardic Caribbean story?


Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Lessons from Google and Columbia’s CMO Academy

The Digital Transformation Playbook

“As the media available to customers proliferates, effective targeting is absolutely critical. Your message matters; but increasingly, who you reach is the difference between success and failure. In the digital era, targeting is fundamentally different than the traditional world of media buying. Marketers must shift from the old thinking of audiences (based on demographic fictions, e.g. ‘fashion-savvy, 25-40 year old, urban mothers’) towards addressing specific customers based on their actual behaviors.” — David L. Rogers

This week, our featured book is The Digital Transformation Playbook: Rethink Your Business for the Digital Age, by David L. Rogers. In today’s post, crossposted from David Rogers’s blog, Rogers details seven important lessons learned from Google/Columbia Business School’s recent “CMO Academy.”

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

Lessons from Google and Columbia’s CMO Academy
David L. Rogers

What are the challenges that today’s Chief Marketing Officers face as they manage a changing role and rising expectations in a world shaped by digital technologies? I got to discuss this question with a hundred CMOs of North American companies recently, while teaching a joint Google/Columbia Business School program, our first-ever “CMO Academy.” The invited executives from the US, Canada, and Mexico represented a diverse range of industries from fashion to financial services, and hospitality to healthcare.

Below are seven lessons that emerged through two days of case studies, interactive presentations, and hands-on problem solving with this group. (more…)

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

The Psychology of Climate Change — Jeffrey T. Kiehl

Facing Climate Change, Jeffrey Kiehl

The following post is by Jeffrey T. Kiehl, author of Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future:

Our reliance on fossil fuels as the main source to address our energy needs is untenable. The burning of these fuels is causing carbon dioxide levels to rapidly increase and thus warm the planet via the greenhouse effect. The burning of coal is destroying local air quality and placing many thousands at direct health risk. We are experiencing human caused climate change now. If we continue on our current path, planetary warming will reach unprecedented levels within decades. We can no longer afford to deny, ignore or diminish the problem of climate change. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence for climate change we continue to burn these fuels and in the United States we continue to turn away from the warnings of what is happening to our world.

Denial is a classic way to avoid dealing with a disturbing issue. You can probably remember either consciously or unconsciously using this strategy to avoid or postpone action on a pressing problem. Disturbing information or situations evoke a sense of anxious dread within us. We feel overwhelmed by facing the situation and procrastinate. We all do this. Often when we actually do face the problem it turns out that addressing it was less painful than imagined. Our expectation of loss created a deep sense of fear that amplified the actual situation. Understanding the psychological processes that occur in situations of denial can actually help us penetrate the barriers preventing us from moving beyond the problem. This is why it is so important to explore the psychological dimensions of climate change. We can learn much from the experiences of clinical psychology, social psychology and neuroscience. These fields have delved into the many ways we make decisions and avoid making decisions. They shine a light of understanding on the darker shadow regions of denial, ignorance and diminishment. For example, the emotional reactions experienced around the issue of climate change mirror those of a physical or psychological trauma. Thus, the vast knowledge of trauma and its treatment can aid in dealing with the resistance to addressing the state of our climate system.

The physical, chemical and biological sciences have provided us with a comprehensive picture of climate change and our integral role in this problem. The manifold dimensions of psychology can provide ways to actually address the problem. By combining the studies of climate and psyche we not only see what is happening to our world and why, but also, how we can move beyond the problem to create a more flourishing world for future generations.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

A Winemaker’s Skill Leads To Great Wine

The Winemaker's Hand

Natalie Berkowitz will be discussing The Winemaker’s Hand tonight at 7 PM at Book Culture on 112th! Brush up on what it is that winemakers add to great wine in the article below:

A Winemaker’s Skill Leads To Great Wine
Natalie Berkowitz

What makes the difference between ordinary wine, sometimes jokingly called plonk, and truly great wines with complex characteristics? The current explanation dictates terroir is determined by terroir, those elements nature provides, such as soil, the amount of sun, rain, wind, and the influence of nearby rivers or oceans. The magic that comes to grapes starts when the vines derive various flavors from a soil’s characteristics. It seems counter-intuitive, but a great wine’s concentrated flavors are the consequence of grapes grown in mineral-rich soils that are often volcanic or strewn with pebbles and rocks, forcing the vine’s roots to dig deeper to find water extracting flavors from a soil’s various strata. In contrast, deep, loamy, soils produce grapes without character and flavor since the roots stay closer to the surface, reducing the opportunity to extract complex characteristics. Winemakers at large- scale wineries are less fussy about soils since they prefer optimum quantity over optimum quality while vintners with a goal of complex wines choose soils that give their vines a head-start. (more…)

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

The American View of War

Why America Misunderstands the World

Why America Misunderstands the World examines how this process applies to the United States—the sole superpower, with a history and circumstances especially unusual among nations—and to how Americans tend to view and interpret foreign policy problems of today.” — Paul Pillar

This week, our featured book is Why America Misunderstand the World: National Experience and Roots of Misperception, by Paul R. Pillar. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Pillar in which American experiences of World War II have shaped subsequent American foreign policy decisions.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Why America Misunderstands the World!

The American View of War
By Paul R. Pillar

A nation’s history can explain a lot about how citizens of that nation, including its leaders, view today’s problems. With nations just as with individuals, past experience colors the way current happenings are seen and interpreted. The coloring often involves distorting and obscuring. The influence of a nation’s particular history and circumstances causes misperception. The misperception in turn leads to errors and troubles that might otherwise have been avoided. Why America Misunderstands the World examines how this process applies to the United States—the sole superpower, with a history and circumstances especially unusual among nations—and to how Americans tend to view and interpret foreign policy problems of today.

Many distinctive circumstances and experiences have shaped the distinctive American worldview, including ones involving the expansion of the United States across a richly endowed continent and its rise to unparalleled global power. But to illustrate the connection between past experience and current ways of thinking, consider America’s past experience with foreign wars. Wars are especially salient chapters in any nation’s experience and especially likely to have an impact on later ways of thinking. To narrow the illustration down even further, consider the American experience with World War II. That war, the bloodiest and most widespread armed conflict in human history, also was America’s biggest and costliest foreign war. Winning it was the greatest achievement of what came to be called America’s greatest generation. The war became the archetype in American minds for how a war ought to be conceived and fought, creating a mold for thinking about later conflicts. But later conflicts have not always fit that mold. (more…)

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

David J. Helfand on Surviving the Misinformation Age

The Misinformation Age

“The virtually unlimited power of the Internet to propagate such faulty information has launched us into the Misinformation Age.”—David J. Helfand

The following post is by David J. Helfand, author of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind

Commenting on one of the recent string of articles in the New York Times discussing the collapse of world oil prices, a reader wrote:

“The cost of a barrel of oil drops by 75% and the cost of a gallon of gas drops by 25%. Somebody somewhere is making billions on the backs of American consumers.”

This, indeed, sounds like a major discrepancy, and I have no doubt many readers agreed with this commentator’s analysis. After all, it fits the current tropes of evil big oil companies, growing wealth inequality, and the fact the average consumer never gets a break.

Unfortunately, the logic is faulty and the conclusion is wrong. While this particular example is not of great import, it is symptomatic of the innumeracy and illogic that is rife in our society and that cripples our ability to make rational public policy decisions. For the record, here’s a correct analysis of the data in the article.

A barrel of oil contains 42 US gallons (I will refrain here from my usual diatribe about the continued use of irrational US units). The average price of West Texas Intermediate crude (the US benchmark) in 2013 was $97.98 per barrel, within a dollar or two of the highest annual average price ever recorded (that was in 2008). This means that the average gallon of oil in 2013 cost $2.33. If the price had actually fallen 75%, the cost of that same barrel today would have been $24.50 and the market has not yet hit that level; in recent weeks it has been hovering around $30.00 a barrel, meaning the average gallon of oil purchased this month cost about $0.71. That’s a drop of more than a factor of three—obviously much bigger than the decline of gas prices at the pump.

However, your local gas station pump does not deliver West Texas Intermediate crude. The oil (that’s the price on the ground at Cushing, Oklahoma, by the way) must be transported to a processing facility, be refined into gasoline and other products, have various additives mixed in, be transported to your local gas station, and be sold there, with federal and state taxes included. In fact, the average gasoline price in the US in 2013 was $3.49 a gallon. Subtracting the price of the oil, that leaves $3.49-$2.33 = $1.16 to cover all those costs plus the profits of any entities involved. During the last week of January this year, the average national gas price was $1.804 (down 48%, not 25%, by the way). Subtracting the current price of oil, the net cost is $1.09, a few cents lower than in 2013.

So much for profits at refineries, pipeline companies, trucking companies, and gas stations. There are still the producers at the wellhead who were getting a lot more money in 2013 for their product. Then, they may have been making “billions”. However, on average, it costs more than $30 a barrel to produce a barrel of oil in the US. That’s why Exxon-Mobil’s fourth quarter profits fell by a factor of two from a year earlier, why it lost more than half a billion dollars on oil production in three months, and why, by late January, Facebook had a larger market capitalization than Exxon-Mobil, which until a few years ago was the largest company in the world. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell’s profits were down 56% and BP lost $3.3 billion dollars in the quarter.

The point of this analysis is not to generate sympathy for big oil companies, especially ones that deliberately contribute disinformation to the debate on climate change. My points are a) that plausible sounding statements, especially those that fit our pre-conceived notions, can be very wrong, and b) that the virtually unlimited power of the Internet to propagate such faulty information has launched us into the Misinformation Age.


Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Tahneer Oksman Recommends Recent Graphic Memoirs

Turning Japanese

The following is a post by Tahneer Oksman, author of “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs

In “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” I examine the complex and exciting ways identity can be mapped out and pictured on the comics page. I chose to focus on autobiographical Jewish women cartoonists in particular because I found their ambivalence about Jewish identity—their desire to often simultaneously identify as insiders and outsiders—a captivating example of how comics can help visualize incongruity, paradox, and conflict alongside connection, acceptance, and recognition.

One of the (happy) frustrations I encountered in writing this book was that I kept stumbling across powerful works of graphic memoir that didn’t necessarily fit into the set of themes I was grappling with in the book. In other words, they weren’t particularly Jewish. Here I offer a brief glance at four works, three recently published and one forthcoming, that caught my attention and merit a closer look.

Jennifer’s Journal: The Life of a Suburban Girl, Volume 1
Jennifer Cruté
(Rosarium Publishing, 2015)
From its bubbly and enticing cover, which pictures a young girl playing with dolls in her room as a devil smoking a cigarette grins in the corner, to its sincere depictions of a serious artist focused on painting and creating, Jennifer Cruté’s Jennifer’s Journals is often startling in its unexpected juxtapositions. The book is partly the story of becoming an adult and artist and partly a family history, with amusingly jarring interludes featuring moments in the childhood of the author/artist’s friends. Cruté offers her readers a motley of such unusual narrative techniques, including punch lines, an adult translator who occasionally appears, and sometimes the simple but forceful confusion of a sequence of painful memories offered without explanation. Her characters are cartoonish, bubbly; but that doesn’t lessen the sting when, for example, in a sequence recalling distant family history (“Georgia, circa 1915″), her great-grandfather matter-of-factly tells her grandma Faye, “Aww, don’t worry, baby. Dead people can’t lynch us.” If anything, the book’s style catches its readers off-guard, offering an unpredictable, open-ended self portrait of a life still unfolding.

Turning Japanese: A Graphic Memoir
(2d Cloud, forthcoming in spring 2016)
I’ve long been a fan of MariNaomi’s autobiographical comics, from her early collection Kiss & Tell, which documents a range of romantic (mis)adventures, to Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories, an episodic compilation on family, work, and love. In Turning Japanese, MariNaomi brings her understated, often deadpan narrative voice to life with spare, fluid lines. On the surface, the book traces two seemingly unrelated threads: a new relationship weathering the ins-and-outs of everyday life; and the search for connection with a place and culture that the protagonist, who calls herself a “mutt,” has been distanced from. Born to a Japanese mother who fled home to marry and raise a family in America, MariNaomi reveals, over the course of the narrative, how the search for a future, with or without a partner, is inevitably, if sometimes vaguely, tied to one’s personal history, one’s past. Like the texts that I write about in How Come Boys?, this book reflects the complicated nature of identification and disidentification, of the ways we can paradoxically come to find who we are through our rejections and rebellions.


Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Living Bone on Bone

The Lioness in Winter

“Without the virtual equivalent of bubble wrap or cotton batting, we are on our own. Facing the elements of old age with only our memories, our personalities, our will to carry on. But–and here’s the strange thing–the loss of padding has good effects as well.” — Ann Burack-Weiss

The following is a guest-post by Ann Burack-Weiss, author of The Lioness in Winter: Writing an Old Woman’s Life.

Living Bone on Bone
By Ann Burack-Weiss

An old lady falls and can’t get up. An x-ray shows that the cartilage in her right hip has worn away. An orthopedic surgeon explains the situation in layman terms. “You are walking bone on bone.”

I am the old lady who–even in extremis–knows a good metaphor when she hears one. Living “bone on bone” is what entering the kingdom of the oldest old is all about.

The happy novelty of the senior citizen discount is long past; and, for many of us, the need for total care is still ahead. Are we well? Not really. There may be that bad hip or trick knee, the dimming sight, the sounds we can’t quite catch, the need to rest more often, a list of chronic conditions that accumulate over the years.

But we aren’t seriously ill either. Our doctors find nothing that is cause for immediate alarm. We may live on for years, perhaps a decade, more. Diminished selves–going, going, but not soon gone. (more…)

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

A Reflection, by Martin Meisel

Chaos Imagined

This week, our featured book is Chaos Imagined: Literature, Art, Science, by Martin Meisel. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Meisel in which he discusses the origins of the massive undertaking of researching and writing Chaos Imagined.

A Reflection
By Martin Meisel

Sometimes I am asked how I came to write this book, one that strays so far from the umbrella of my credentialed competence. It happened after publication of an earlier book called Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England. My editors, the formidable Miriam Brokaw and Jerry Sherwood, then with the Princeton University Press, asked me, “Well, what’s next?” I really didn’t know. But like most scholars I had a file of bright ideas that I might want to follow up one year or another, and I offered some of those: a book on Dickens, about whose imaginative superabundance and uses of plot as symbolic instrument I had a lot to say (“Yes, go on.”). One on Ben Jonson’s plays, whose comedic brilliance delighted me. Something on prediction in literary studies (“Interesting.”). A book on the theater of professions—journalism, medicine, law, politics, the clergy, theater, the military. A book on Sean O’Casey’s plays, which I had been teaching (and acting, from the podium) with great relish (“Uh huh. And?”). A book on the idea of “chaos” and its attempted representations—the obverse, so to speak, of the usual premise in the history of ideas, not to say the study of cultures and societies, where an investigator typically sought to elicit “cosmos,” that is, ideas of order, as in the Elizabethan (or Tobriand Islander) “World Picture.” It had struck me, moreover, that imagining and representing the extreme of disorder—chaos—had a history. The “shape” of chaos varied, not only from place to place, but, even in our own evolving culture, over time. “Do that!” said my editors in chorus. “All right,” I replied, being of indecisive character and grateful for firm guidance, though tenacious, indeed stubborn, once I had come to decision. A decision is too valuable an achievement to forego.

The trouble—which turned out to be the reward—was that this project demanded at least some competence in areas where I might have general knowledge, but neither depth nor expertise. So it embroiled me, not just in research, but in education—educating myself in myriad matters, like mathematical notation in ancient Greece, rival schools in ancient philosophy, subjects and approaches in art history, thermodynamic theory and its development, history of warfare, philosophy of science, literature in languages I couldn’t read. As a scholar, I have always had a fear—a sort of death’s-head presence in my preconscious—of turning into a version of the Reverend Mr. Casaubon, the dry-as-dust scholar in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, engaged in a work called “The Key to All Mythologies,” designed to prove that all mythologies were corruptions of the true nature and history of things to be found in the Holy Bible. The trouble in his case, apart from the hubristic ambition of his project, was that he was ignorant of the language and scholarship of contemporary philology and biblical criticism, not to say archaeology, much of it in German. And here was I, with a project of similar scope and ambition, and with any number of manifest deficiencies. And then in the end—even if I were to rise to the challenge—there was the threat of what one might call the imitative fallacy: writing a book about chaos that was itself chaotic. For with so uncontainable a subject, where so much that seemed relevant turned up around every corner, the end result could be hash, a potpourri with neither structure nor standpoint, rhyme nor reason. In that case, thought I—as time passed, and I detoured sporadically into other projects, but always came back to this one—I will have had the pleasure of nosing about in so many fascinating, exotic, and sometimes forbidding locales, the pleasure I hoped to bring to my students every day: of learning.

And so here is the result—Chaos Imagined—only made possible, I suspect, by what I have managed to leave out. I hope its readers will also find some pleasure in it, and some enrichment of the kind it gave so abundantly to me.

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

In Touch and Feeling with Dogs

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“Can we engage our feelings without appropriation? Can we think through human and non-human mutuality without abstracting animals into what can be packaged and consumed—either as objects of moral concern or as literary device? Can we really think with dogs?” — Colin Dayan

Happy New Year! This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. In today’s post, Dayan discusses the difficulty and the value of thinking and feeling with dogs.

In Touch and Feeling with Dogs
By Colin Dayan

     It is myself,
            Not the poor beast lying there

                    yelping with pain

     that brings me to myself with a start—

–William Carlos Williams, “To a Dog Injured in the Street”

Our greatest poets struggle with their response to and feeling with dogs. Elizabeth Bishop calls a stray, crippled, “depilated dog” to carnival as she laments a world that disallows and disposes of “anyone who begs, drugged, drunk, or sober, with or without legs,” in “Pink Dog.” John Berryman in the great ennui of “Dream Song 14” finds his tedium interrupted by a dog:

And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Out of the wear and tear of life comes the surprise. Something as ordinary as the wagging tail of a dog generates a miracle of transubstantiation. The dog and its tail take flight into “mountains or sea or sky,” while the poet remains. He inhabits and takes on what is left behind. The self turns into what a tail does. A nonhuman subjectivity is born in the conflation of the poetic I with the lilting, uplifting swish, sway, and shake of the canine hindquarters.

The vicissitudes, gaps, and blurring that these poets find in the sentience of dogs promise a renewal of self, as well as of language. To be “sensible” is to make meaning in its materiality: to think with the body. Yet it is a fine line between feeling for or with dogs and turning the non-human into source of inspiration or grist for academic argumentation—nothing less than yet another prompt to our poetic or moral thought or inquiry.

Can we engage our feelings without appropriation? Can we think through human and non-human mutuality without abstracting animals into what can be packaged and consumed—either as objects of moral concern or as literary device? Can we really think with dogs? This terrain of mutual adaptability puts us in the thick of what we are not. It asks that we step back and ask how we can know feeling that is not tied to our assumptions. Such a transforming regard also changes how we treat our fellow humans.

As our world becomes obscene in its greed and violence, I wonder if through the route of the dog we might find a practical and embodied way of being with others that doesn’t entail dominance and subordination. I do not advise that we lose sight of how brutality in the non-human world is part and parcel of the disregard and harm so pronounced in the human. But rather through a minded and felt—as well as “attentive” — empathy in all relations, I want to consider how we might dismantle individual preferment.

The route is not easy. Again, animality is what I want us to think about, not claims for humanity. The knowledge that matters has everything to do with perception, an attentiveness that might unleash another kind of intelligibility. Facing what is not our own or what we cannot know, in this bafflement we might relate most fully to what lies within, beside, and beyond ourselves.

Can we live in a world of contestation and entanglement? Such intimacy promises to lead us out of thought and into a feeling that renews another sense of the political. When William Carlos Williams died in 1963, Kenneth Burke wrote a moving reminiscence in The New York Review of Books.

Burke recalled that a few years after Williams, crippled with ailments, had stopped treating patients, they both walked “slowly on a beach in Florida.” Burke’s recollection affirms the meaning of empathy: a sentience that draws together two beings in a manner of experience that heals. It is tactile. It is a demanding reciprocity, a being together in a pain that can be healed if shared. In becoming acquainted with what lies outside the self, we enter into another kind of knowing.

For Burke, who felt sympathy for the dog—a feeling that did not help—this exchange captures what Williams called “contact.” The impetus for both his medical and poetic technique, this practice of discernment is not the precondition for uniqueness but rather an imperative to seek a more voracious if always provisional communion.

A neighbor’s dog decided to accompany us, but was limping. I leaned down, aimlessly hoping to help the dog (which became suddenly frightened, and nearly bit me). Then Williams took the paw in his left hand (the right was now less agile) and started probing for the source of the trouble. It was a gesture at once expert and imaginative, something in which to have perfect confidence, as both the cur and I saw in a flash. Feeling between the toes lightly, quickly, and above all surely, he spotted a burr, removed it without the slightest cringe on the dog’s part—and the three of us were again on our way along the beach.

Such contact demands a radical change in perspective. Not only does it complicate our understanding of the political, but it also escapes humanistic or morality-based assumptions.

Questioning the prescriptive force of morality—and its familiar companions, civility and reason, is crucial, it seems to me, in these times of exclusion and disposal. The radical inclusivity of such an appeal matters now more than ever. At the edge of a cherished humanism, what if we summoned instead a remote and uncertain reservoir on which all creatures might draw but from which most humans have learned to cut themselves off completely?

Early one morning last week I walked my dog Stella down the main street of the neighborhood. A white pick-up truck was waiting in a drive to enter the street. The dog ran up, as she sometimes does when white men in trucks, those I grew up knowing as “crackers” or “red necks,” look out at her. This is an inclination that I’m still trying to understand. She jumped, one paw on the seat of the man’s car, and another on his leg, and began to greet him powerfully with licks and nudges. He welcomed her and said in answer to my wonder: “She knows I’m sick, and that’s why she’s trying to help me. I’m dying.” Then he gently beat his chest, adding, “She can smell it. She wants to give me some relief.”

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Why Culture? — Brian Edwards, Author of “After the American Century”

After the American Century, Brian T. Edwards

“Analysts of foreign affairs tend to relegate understanding culture as irrelevant to the hard work of political science and international relations…. I am increasingly convinced that this is an error—and a costly one. Cultural products and debates over them help to explain the world we live in.”—Brian T. Edwards

The following is a post by Brian T. Edwards, author of After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East:

The devastating acts of murder and violence in France last month targeted a rock concert, a soccer match, and cafés in Paris’s dynamic 10th arrondissement. This past January, a satirical magazine most famous for its cartoons was attacked. The sites where these terrible crimes took place were not simply gathering places. They were locations where people go to consume or produce “culture.”

In the general hysteria of our times, we tend to reduce cultural products and their consumption to simple rather than complex things. Rushing to keep up with an ever more dire geopolitical landscape, an easy binarism prevails: us versus them, civilization versus barbarism. Paris becomes simply the romantic city of lights under attack, the debate over Charlie Hebdo a simple question of freedom of speech.

But this replaces a more nuanced sense of how culture is both contested and how cultural products can offer a window onto the complexities of life in various parts of the planet during a time of global transformation.

Many analysts of foreign affairs tend to relegate understanding culture as irrelevant to the hard work of political science and international relations. The humanities and humanistic social sciences (such as cultural anthropology) are all well and good, from this perspective, but secondary when it comes to understanding or negotiating international relations.

I am increasingly convinced that this is an error—and a costly one. Cultural products and debates over them help to explain the world we live in with a nuance that is missing from social science formulas or the distant perspective that media talking heads take.

When I read or listen to accounts of the great and ancient tensions between Sunni and Shia, or analysts who chart the national rivalries between states like a giant game of Risk, I feel that the discussion is too abstract and fails to reflect the realities as I have come to understand them based on more than two decades of discussions with people in the Middle East and North Africa.


Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

RMB Inclusion into SDR: Hyperbole and Reality

The China Boom

The following is a guest post by Ho-fung Hung, author of The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World:

RMB Inclusion into SDR: Hyperbole and Reality
By Ho-fung Hung

As widely expected, IMF decided on Monday to accept RMB, the Chinese currency, into the currency basket that made up its Special Drawing Rights (SDR), rendering the RMB the fifth currency in the basket after USD, euro, British pound, and Japanese yen. Predictably, many will hail the inclusion as a triumph of China’s global financial power, even though they might never hear of SDR until last month and still don’t know what SDR exactly is. If we put RMB’s inclusion in the SDR in its proper historical and global context, we would find that such inclusion does not actually mean much to the Chinese and world economy in the long run. It may even bring some immediate troubles to China’s slowing economy.

The Rise, Fall, and Brief Revival of SDR

IMF created the SDR in 1969 to solve the problem of the inadequacy of hard currencies, such as US dollar and gold, necessary to maintain the Bretton Woods monetary order. Such order was constructed in the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944 and was anchored on the gold convertibility of USD under 1 ounce of gold to 35 USD rate, as well as fixed exchange rates of major currencies with the USD. To warrant the stability of this order, central banks of major capitalist countries needed to accumulate sizeable foreign exchange reserves so that they could intervene to protect their currencies’ peg with the USD at times of currency crisis. The rapid expansion of the world economy in the 1960s fomented a shortfall of USD and gold that jeopardized the stability of the Bretton Woods order. The invention of the SDR is an IMF attempt to tackle such shortfall. (more…)

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Choosing the Right Wine for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving wine

The following advice on choosing the right wine to go with your turkey and stuffing is from Natalie Berkowitz, author of The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir:

The Pilgrims couldn’t have imagined how their fabled first Thanksgiving would morph into the glorious holiday all Americans treasure. New information redefines the myths surrounding that celebration, but whether fact or fiction, Thanksgiving is embedded, even sanctified, as America’s premier national holiday. Wherever we came from, we all have reason to celebrate the unifying holiday.

Variations of the iconic dinner are prepared in most kitchens across our country. While preparation of the meal may differ from culture to culture, from palate to palate, and from one culinary preference to another, a question often posed is which wine pairs the best with these elaborate meals.

Some good advice begins with the choice of wines with a lower alcohol level ranging from 10 to 12%. A light red wine is considered the best partner for the multicourse dinner, although my friend Michaela Rodeno, former CEO of St. Supéry Wines in Napa suggests champagne or sparkling wine as a perfect pairing. I agree wholeheartedly. There’s no question several other wines are a fine choice when our palates are challenged by an overabundance of holiday foods and we tend to recoil from wines with intense flavors.

Within the range of light wines, there are many to choose from. One of the best is Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine often referred to as “refreshment in a bottle.” Banners in wine shops announce the yearly arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau with fanfare in November, just in the nick of time for the holiday season. The wine is young and fresh, a step away from grape juice, hot off the wine press, bottled two months after fermentation and ready for immediate consumption. It’s meant to be drunk without intense examination. Think of them as adolescents in a glass, a middle ground between white and red wines. Best of all, these wines are accessible since their alcohol levels normally range between 10 and 10.5%, it is suitable for a range of guests from kiddies (diluted with water, of course!) right up to grandparents. It solves the problem of whether to pour red or white.

The Beaujolais region lies just to the south of its more famous neighbor, Burgundy, whose wines are ranked among the best in France. The region has been producing wine since the time of the Romans, and many of the vineyards were planted centuries ago, proof of its longevity and popularity. Unfortunately, these wines can sometimes be thin and lackluster, but finding a lovely version is a worthwhile venture. Reliable bottlers are Bouchard Aîné & Fils, George Du Boeuf, and Louis Jadot.

Wine lovers of a serious sort may turn their noses up at this wine, questioning whether a light wine is as enjoyable as its big, bolder siblings. Since these inexpensive wines are one step away from grape juice, their attractiveness lies in their reasonable prices, and qualities that make them as an easy quaff, light on the palate, yet flavorful enough to pair with this rich dinner. Beaujolais Villages, a step up in quality is produced in several areas in the eponymous region, are more sophisticated and relatively inexpensive. They range from $8.99 to about $15.


Monday, November 9th, 2015

Becoming Way Too Cool: How Neoliberalism Alters How We Feel

Way Too Cool

The following is a guest post by Shannon Winnubst, author of Way Too Cool: Selling Out Race and Ethics.

Becoming Way Too Cool
(How Neoliberalism Alters How We Feel)
Shannon Winnubst

I remember when my grandmother learned to use the word “cool.” It must have been about 1982 and, at 83 years old, she spryly pronounced my new shirt was “cool.” Stopped short, I caught the twinkle in her eye and proudly agreed. Little did we both know that we were in the grips of the rapidly ascendant neoliberal marketing machine.

“Cool” has been big business for a long time now. Pilfered from black culture by the men’s clothing advertising industry in the late 1970s, “cool” has packaged just about every commodity on the market at one time or another—and still continues to do so. Youth culture, especially, seems never to lose its connection with this heartbeat of energy. “Cool” has become a kind of naturalized constant in 21st century marketing cultures: we are so drawn to it that we cannot imagine otherwise. The quest to be “so cool” seems never to die.

But “cool” didn’t always refer to the latest, hippest thing. In the U.S., “cool” was born in post-World War II aesthetics of black culture, especially jazz. It captured and galvanized the kind of ironic detachment that enabled black folks to persevere in the face of systematic, persistent racism and its everyday violence. It energized black folks not only to survive, but to create and believe in something better. When Miles Davis stood up to racist cops and bigoted television show hosts, he was enacting the essence of cool: the kind of strong, determined detachment from racist mainstream culture that enabled intense creativity and the strength to flourish. This kind of “cool” is what bell hooks identifies in black leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as the strength to “alchemically change pain into gold.” The birth of “cool” was the birth of an ethical detachment from the hostility and violence of a racist world that carved the space for a better, more just world. (more…)

Friday, November 6th, 2015

Themes from The Con Men

The Con Men

“This book came about because both Terry and I are New Yorkers who came here from other places. There are the known mechanics of this city, and then its underground economy. We came to The Con Men as a way of making sense of this untaxed and unauthorized world.” — Trevor B. Milton

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. In today’s post, Trevor B. Milton looks back at the genesis of the book, and explains some of the key threads that tie the book’s many stories together.

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

Themes from The Con Men
By Trevor B. Milton

This book came about because both Terry and I are New Yorkers who came here from other places. There are the known mechanics of this city, and then its underground economy. We came to The Con Men as a way of making sense of this untaxed and unauthorized world. There is something in this book for everyone who has ever resided in this city, something familiar to all who walk its streets. New York City is the unit of analysis; con artists and hustlers are the bi-product.

New York City is rugged, aggressive, and competitive, yet it is also one of the most desirable cities in the world, with broad boulevards, tree-lined avenues, yellow and lime-green cabs darting hither and yon, and frantic crowds moving along busy streets. And though New Yorkers constantly complain about trash, traffic, trains, and any number of other hassles, most of them readily acknowledge that they live in one of the greatest cities in the world. Among its many finer points, New York offers access to the best museums and cultural institutions and an intelligentsia unmatched anywhere. New York, New York: a city so nice they named it twice… (more…)

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

The Con Game

The Con Men

“To be honest, I wanted to get some of the cash the man flashed. I had greed in my heart, and that’s what got me into trouble.” — Terry Williams

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. In today’s post, Terry Williams describes his first encounter with a con game in New York, how he was duped, and how this experience led him to study con games in his scholarly work.

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

The Con Game
By Terry Williams

I first got involved in a con game by chance: I happened to be strolling down the wrong street at the wrong time. However, stumbling into a con made it possible for me to better understand how the con game might be studied in an urban setting.

I was a young student at the time, with only five dollars in my pocket, trying to find my way around the city. On this particular day I became a modern version of Voltaire’s Candide, only instead of finding my fortune I found myself standing on an isolated city street explaining to two strangers why I could be trusted.

Let me go back to the beginning

I saw a man standing near 125th Street. He stopped me to say that he was not from New York (he had an accent), was lost, and needed my help. He showed me a piece of paper, which upon a brief inspection listed an address close to where we were standing, but as I tried to look more closely at the paper, he took it from me and handed it to another passerby with the same question. This time, however, he took out a wad of money and made a generous offer for help finding the address on the paper. He said he had been given $10,000 of insurance money after his brother lost his leg in an accident. He just wanted to “get some pussy before I leave the city.” I didn’t see exactly how much money he had, but it was a big bundle of bills and he said he would give some to both of us if we helped him. (more…)

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Nietzsche’s Birthday Gift to Us — What Is So Terribly Wrong about Love

Friedrich Nietzsche | Love and War

“This kind of love in which men are dominant and women are subordinate, Nietzsche says, results in antagonism between men and women. Unabated and unthwarted, that dynamic leads to an all-too-familiar pattern of tragedy in heterosexual love.”—Tom Digby

The following post, in honor of Friedrich Nietzsche’s birthday, is by Tom Digby, author of Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance:

When philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s name is mentioned, often the word “controversial” is attached. But today is his birthday, and we tend to say nice things about a person on their birthday, so I want to discuss one of Nietzsche’s most wonderfully useful insights. It is about love, and it plays a fundamentally important role in my new book, Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance.

Nietzsche wrote about love toward the end of the nineteenth century, at a time when the notion of women’s equality was getting a lot of attention—and a lot of men were getting scared! In other words, it was a time like today. But Nietzsche was braver than many men, and he dove headfirst into the topic of the relationship between gender equality and heterosexual love.

One of the biggest obstacles to gender equality, according to Nietzsche, is precisely the different but complementary ways that our culture programs women and men to understand love. Through literature, music, and religion (and today, movies) the idea gets promulgated that for women love means devotion, even complete surrender. Hence, says Nietzsche, for women love is supposed to be a kind of faIth.

It is different for men, says Nietzsche. In fact, men want that kind of love from women, but they are expected not to manifest it themselves. For a man to surrender to a woman, or to be completely devoted to her, is downright unmanly, according to our culture. “A man who loves like a woman becomes thereby a slave; a woman, however, who loves like a woman becomes thereby a more perfect woman.” Nietzsche leaves for us the task of articulating the tacit conclusion: The most perfect woman is a slave.

Is Nietzsche’s description of the cultural programming of heterosexual love quaint and out of touch in the twenty-first century? To assess that, we can start with cueing the Britney Spears song, “I’m a Slave 4 U.” Then we can consider how guys who seem devoted to, or even just minimally considerate of, a girlfriend are often described as “whipped.” That pejorative connotes enslavement, and in the full version, “pussy whipped,” it is clear that the enslavement is specifically to a woman. As Nietzsche points out, such a subordinate status is culturally understood to be entirely inconsistent with being a “real man.”


Friday, October 2nd, 2015

American Individualism Challenged

Beyond Individualism

“The individualism that Americans embrace is all-too-often seen as an attack on the core values of more traditional societies. In such contexts, individualism is all too easily characterized as uncontrolled materialism and hedonism aimed at undermining the long-established commitments and practices of communities opposed to outside intervention.” — George Rupp

This week, our second featured book is Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities, by George Rupp. Today, on the final day of the week’s features, we are happy to present an essay by Rupp, in which he argues that the individualism embraced by both liberals and conservatives in American politics has a deleterious effect on both American domestic and foreign policy.

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

American Individualism Challenged
By George Rupp

Especially in this campaign season, the cause of individualism is claimed across the conservative-liberal spectrum of contemporary U.S. politics. Conservatives affirm individual initiatives and embrace the liberty of individuals, often grounded in religious convictions. Liberals insist on the freedom of individual expression and action and view social order as the result of agreements among consenting individuals.

Yet this apparent agreement as to the merits of individualism has led, not to shared positive outcomes, but rather to a catastrophic under-investment in public goods.

Government funding for education at all levels has declined. The same is true for investments in the research that has undergirded global competitiveness. Similarly, the infrastructure for transportation requires massive attention. Less immediately evident but even more compelling for the long term is the imperative of care for environmental sustainability. In all such areas, the United States faces a tragedy of the commons even as private interests dominate in all sectors.

The under-investment in social goods is accentuated by the increasing spread between the income and wealth of the very top stratum of society and all other strata—not only the poor but also the middle class and even significant segments of what used to be the well-to-do. This increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth is in any case troubling. But it is especially challenging when it includes reduced upward mobility not only in comparison with past American patterns but also compared to other Western societies that have significantly better recent records of movement from lower to higher income levels.

The challenges in domestic patterns have international ramifications as well. The most basic ones result from what will be an increasingly evident lack of international competitiveness over the long term. Reduced upward mobility, declining educational attainments, and smaller investments in infrastructure and research will all over time have powerfully negative consequences.

There are also current effects on international relations. The fact that the United States devotes proportionately less of its resources to global development than virtually all other wealthy countries is one measure of under-investment. But an even more direct impact of American individualism is evident in conflict areas around the world.

The individualism that Americans embrace is all-too-often seen as an attack on the core values of more traditional societies. In such contexts, individualism is all too easily characterized as uncontrolled materialism and hedonism aimed at undermining the long-established commitments and practices of communities opposed to outside intervention. Instances of these antagonistic positions are inescapable in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq among many other conflicts.

In confronting the appeal of such characterizations, responses can and should highlight the myriad ways in which individualism is not antagonistic to the traditional values of community. There will unavoidably be areas of tension and disagreement—for example, in regard to the role of women or the prerogatives of elders. But what is crucial is to affirm the value of traditional communities and acknowledge that there are limits to the entitlement of individuals.

One point of conflict that is potentially an area of collaboration is religion. Religious allegiances can easily become a source of mutual antagonism. Indeed, inter-religious contention and distrust have at quite a few times—regrettably including the present—been drivers of hostility. Yet there is remarkable agreement across the entire range of religious traditions that individual attainment need not be opposed to affirming the value of community. Put positively, the faith, the insight, and the conviction of the individual presupposes a nourishing and supportive community.

While this mutual support is affirmed in Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and other initially Asian communities and also in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, it is not immediately evident in some of the more strident forms of modern secular individualism. This fact renders alleged American imperialism the more plausible as a target for attack. It is therefore incumbent on the U.S. for both principled and pragmatic reasons to embrace and commend the values of communities as fundamentally compatible with the core principles of individualism.

Both liberal and conservative traditions have contributions to offer. The individualism of conservatives includes explicit recognition of the role of the community in shaping the identities of its members. Religious communities figure prominently in this process, but voluntary associations of all kinds are also included. Similarly, the individualism of liberals includes the aspiration for community as well. In this case, the community is much more likely to be secular and at its most ambitious is universal in scope, seeking in principle to include all individuals everywhere, albeit often with little focus on particular local communities.

The challenge for both conservative and liberal advocates of individualism is to allow their shared albeit not identical commitment to community to gain enough traction to overcome the under-investment in public goods that is impoverishing our common life.