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Archive for the 'Book of the Week' Category

Friday, November 21st, 2014

George Packer on The New Censorship by Joel Simon

Joel Simon, The New Censorship

In Why the Press is Less Free Today, a recent article in The New Yorker, George Packer discussed some of the key issues and arguments raised in The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, by Joel Simon.

Packer’s article and Simon’s book come at a time when journalists are increasingly under threat. As Packer writes, between 2002 and 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (C.P.J.), five hundred and six journalists were killed worldwide, as opposed to three hundred and ninety in the previous decade. Packer comments on the seeming contradiction of more journalists being killed at a time when other freedoms seem to be proliferating:

It seems strange to speak of growing censorship in an era when elections are common around the world, private freedoms have expanded even in repressive countries like China, the Internet and social media swamp our brains with indiscriminate information every nanosecond, and anyone with a Twitter account or a Facebook page can be a journalist. But Simon makes a persuasive case that the global trend is toward less, not greater, freedom of the press. “Deluged with data, we are blind to the larger reality,” he writes. “Around the world new systems of control are taking hold. They are stifling the global conversation and impeding the development of policies and solutions based on an informed understanding of the local realities. Repression and violence against journalists is at record levels, and press freedom is in decline.”

(more…)

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Joel Simon Discusses The New Censorship on The Leonard Lopate Show

Yesterday, Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom appeared on The Leonard Lopate Show to talk about the book and the increasing threats to journalists. Simon warns that these threats are leading to a shortage of the news reports we need to make sense of our globalized world and to fight against human rights abuses, manage conflict, and promote accountability.

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

The Seven Things Obama Can Do to confront the New Censorship

Joel Simon, The New CensorshipThe following post is by Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom:

The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media covers events and trends from an international perspective. But some of the questions I’ve gotten from audience members at recent events have to do with the Obama administration and its policies. Below I will look at what Obama has done so far and what still needs to be done.

1. Advocate for the rights of individual journalists. One the simplest and most effective strategies that the Obama administration can implement is to raise the cases of persecuted journalists in bilateral meetings, public statements, and through diplomatic channels. In fact, the administration has a good record of doing this. Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciordone repeatedly spoke out about the imprisonment of Turkish journalists, much to the annoyance of the government in Ankara. U.S. officials have also raised the cases of imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai (who was recently released and is now in the United States), the so-called Zone 9 bloggers in Ethiopia, and the Al Jazeera journalists currently imprisoned in Egypt. How’s the administration doing so far in this area? Reasonably well. I would give it a B+.

2. Formulate policies that clearly articulate the balance between U.S. strategic interests and the promotion of human rights. The limitation of advocating on behalf of individual journalists is that the administration has not clearly articulated how far it will push the human rights agenda when it clashes with national security interests. For example, in Turkey, while the embassy and the state department spoke out, President Obama did not, and this was interpreted in Turkey as a signal that U.S. strategic interests would take precedence. The same is true in Ethiopia, which has been a key ally in confronting Islamic militantism in the Horn of Africa; and in Egypt, which despite its unbearable repression is seen as a bulwark against growing regional instability. These countries have effectively resisted U.S. pressure on protecting journalists because they view human rights and press freedom as something that can be negotiated. In other words, the more valuable you are as a strategic ally of the United States the more repression you can get away it. How has Obama done so drawing the line on press freedom violations? I would give him a C.

3. Limit surveillance. The staggering revelations made by Edward Snowden blew the lid on NSA program global surveillance, which we now know operates on scale that is difficult comprehend. Much has been made of the implications of surveillance in a domestic context, and the questions regarding the legality of U.S. spying need to be urgently addressed. But it is important to keep in mind that there are no legal restrictions on surveillance outside the United States, and as a former NSA official recently told me, a non-U.S. journalist speaking to a confidential source would make an ideal target for NSA spying. The scope of the NSA surveillance effort not only has a chilling effect on journalists around the world, it normalizes the efforts of country’s like China and Iran that routinely surveil both domestic critics and their perceived international adversaries (including journalists). When it comes to spying on journalists, the U.S. needs to put in place policies that carefully balance intelligence needs with the negative impact they might have on global freedom of expression. How’s the administration doing far? Poorly. I give it a D.

4. Defend the Internet. The Internet was developed by U.S. computer scientists and even though it is now a global system much of the core infrastructure that makes the Internet function is still based in the United States. For the most part, the U.S. has been a responsible global steward, and the administration has actively promoted the “right to connect” as a form of freedom of association. However, the political environment now requires that the U.S. modulate its role in Internet governance as a means of countering challenges from countries like China that seek to put the global Internet at service of state interests. China’s most compelling argument is that the U.S. is exploiting its privileged position to undermine rival powers by pumping in destabilizing information and carrying out massive surveillance. This is why the best way to ensure that the Internet remains a viable, shared global resource is for the U.S. to further internationalize governance. To its credit, the administration has been seeking to do this in the least few years. How is the administration doing on this critical front? Pretty well. I give the administration an A-.

(more…)

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

An Interview with Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship

“This is the most deadly and dangerous time for journalists in decades”—Joel Simon
Joel Simon, The New CensorshipThe following is an interview with Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom. On November 11 at Book Court in Brooklyn, there was a launch for a book and a discussion with Simon and George Packer of The New Yorker. Packer later wrote about a commentary based on the book on Why the Press is Less Free Today. For more on the book you can also read an excerpt from the chapter News of the Future (and the Future of News).

Question: Why did you write this book?

Joel Simon: As always there were a mix of personal and professional reasons. From a professional perspective, I hope to draw attention to the crisis that we are confronting around global free expression. This is the most deadly and dangerous time for journalists in decades, with record numbers being killed and imprisoned. Around the world, according to all available data, press freedom is in decline and the information we depend on makes sense of our globalized world is not flowing as freely as people believe. I hope the book draws attention to this urgent threat, helps readers understand its origins and consequences, and to points toward strategies that can help mitigate the impact.

From a personal perspective, I have always loved to tell stories. This is in large measure why I became a journalist and since my day job is a running an international nonprofit it is not something I generally able to do. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to take a step back, and consider the big picture, and sit, write, and contemplate.

Q: The book is called The New Censorship. How is this different from the old censorship?

JS: Traditional censorship is based on hierarchies of control. In its most rigid formulation, a country’s political leadership determines what people can know and state directives are executed by actual censors who occupy newsrooms and prevent the publication of prohibited material. In other words, people don’t know what they don’t know. This kind of censorship is anachronism in a globalized, networked world in which even autocratic regimes have to integrate into the international financial and information systems. So unless you want to ban the Internet—something only a handful of countries do these days—you need to find a way to manage information rather than relying on simple repression. In the book, I look at a variety of strategies focusing on new breed of elected autocrats who I dub the “democratators.” I look at the Chinese system for managing the Internet, and also explore the way that terror and criminal groups are using social media to disseminate message of fear and intimidation.

Q: You use this term, global citizen. What do you mean by that?

JS: One of the primary themes I explore in the book is the way that technology has transformed the global information system, including the global media. I use the term global citizen to represent all those who recognize that their interests transcend national boundaries. In order to make informed decisions about matters that affect their lives, global citizens require access to global information. It is true that technology makes it possible to access information from around the world in ways that would have not even been conceivable a few decades ago. But the glut of information blinds us to the huge gaps in our knowledge of global events, gaps produced by pressure from authoritarian governments, murderous violence perpetrated by criminal and terrorist groups, smothering surveillance of our online communication, and clear deficiencies in the media structures. By definition censorship itself transcends national boundaries, since it prevents people from outside the country where the censorship is taking place from accessing information that may be essential for their own lives. One of the primary arguments for press freedom in a national context is that it necessary for good governance and accountability. But there is no effective mechanism to ensure that news and information produces accountability at the global level.

(more…)

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Book Giveaway: The New Censorship, by Joel Simon

This week our featured book is The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom by Joel Simon.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The New Censorship to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, November 21 at 1:00 pm.

“No one understands better than Joel Simon the reasons that press freedom is now in decline nearly everywhere in the world. In The New Censorship, he brings us riveting and powerfully moving accounts from the front lines. For anyone who wants to understand the peril that independent media faces around the world today, this is a distressing, essential piece of work” — Jacob Weisberg, Chairman, The Slate Group

Read an excerpt from the chapter, “News of the Future (and the Future of News)”:

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Francisco Varela and Waking, Dreaming, Being

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. In today’s post on the final day of our feature, we are happy to post an excerpt from a fascinating interview of Thompson conducted by Joy Stocke at the Wild River Review. In the interview, Stocke and Thompson discuss the importance of his upbringing to his work, the influence of Francisco Varela, and the Dalai Lama, among many other topics, though we’ve chosen to focus on the discussion of Francisco Varela for this excerpt.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

WRR: Your book, ultimately, is a meditation on consciousness. Is consciousness wholly dependent on the brain or does it transcend the brain

Thompson: That’s the fundamental question of the book. I felt compelled to write about it because it kept coming up for me in different ways, some of which were personal and some intellectual. On a personal level I thought about the question a lot when I was working intensely with my friend and mentor, Chilean neuroscientist, Francisco Varela, just before he died. He was terminally ill and we knew that at some point soon he was going to die.

I write about the last real conversation I had with him, how it centered on consciousness and the question of its transcendence. It was fall of 2000 and Cisco and I were in my dad’s apartment in New York on the Upper West Side, writing a scientific article about consciousness and the brain. We weren’t raising that question at all in the article but we were talking about it a lot when we weren’t working. Cisco was a Buddhist, and knew that he was going to die soon, so transcendence was something he was contemplating. From a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, consciousness is the most fundamental luminous nature of awareness, underlying more ordinary cognitive forms of the mind, and it’s not considered to be brain dependent. Cisco took this perspective very seriously, but he was a neuroscientist, so he was also skeptical and doubtful.

The experience of talking to Cisco about this and watching him die and feel the loss intensified the question for me. It was a question that I had always thought about, having studied Asian and Western philosophy, but also having grown up in the New Age and yoga world where it was just taken for granted that people had multiple lives and that consciousness carried on after physical death. (more…)

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Waking, Dreaming, Being

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. Dreaming is one of the key parts of the human experience that Thompson examines in his book (it’s right there in the title, after all), and in today’s post, crossposted from the Huffington Post Blog, Thompson discusses the importance of dreaming to his work as a scholar, and to understanding what the concept of a “self” actually means.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

Waking, Dreaming, Being
Evan Thompson

Dreaming and waking up have puzzled and fascinated humanity since prehistoric times. Paleolithic cave paintings, according to some art historians, depict mental images from dreams and the borderland between sleep and wakefulness. The ancient Indian texts called the Upanishads describe three states of the self — waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. The early Chinese Daoist philosopher, Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu, 369-298 B.C.E.), wrote that only after one is “greatly awakened” does one realize that it was all a “great dream,” while the fool thinks that he is awake. The word “Buddha” means “Awakened One.”

Lucid dreaming — being aware of dreaming while you’re dreaming — is a vivid way to experience waking up and dreaming at the same time. You wake up within the dream without waking up from the dream. In the 1980s scientists showed that lucid dreaming is a real and unique state of consciousness in sleep. In the past four years, brain-imaging experiments have been done with lucid dreamers. Instead of cave art depicting the dream world, we now have images of the dreaming brain. (more…)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Evan Thompson talks to Tricycle Magazine

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. Recently, Thompson spoke to Tricycle Magazine about his book, his view of the mind, and mindfulness as an object of scientific scrutiny. We’ve excerpted parts of this interview below.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

Almost two and a half decades ago, in The Embodied Mind, you critiqued a notion of mind that was already prevalent then and that continues to frame much of the current neuroscience research on meditation. What is that view, and what is wrong with it?
We criticized the view that the mind is made up of representations inside the head. The cognitive science version says that the mind is a computer—the representations are the software, and the brain is the hardware. Although cognitive scientists today don’t think the brain works the way a digital computer does, many of them, especially if they’re neuroscientists, still think the mind is something in the head or the brain. And this idea shows up in the neuroscience of meditation. But this idea is confused. It’s like saying that flight is inside the wings of a bird. The mind is relational. It’s a way of being in relation to the world. You need a brain, just as the bird needs wings, but the mind exists at a different level—the level of embodied being in the world.

What’s your alternative view of the mind?
The alternative view we put forward is that cognition is a form of embodied action. “Embodied” means that the rest of the body, not just the brain, is crucial; “action” means that agency—the capacity to act in the world—is central. Cognition is an expression of our bodily agency. We inhabit a meaningful world because we bring forth or enact meaning. We called this view “enaction” or the “enactive approach.”

In the enactive approach, being human is a matter of inhabiting the human world of culture and shared bodily practices. Of course we need our brain to do this, but we also need that world to be in place in order for the human brain to develop properly. The brain is what philosophers call a necessary “enabling condition” for mind and meaning, while enculturation is a necessary enabling condition for the brain. What’s important is not just what is inside the brain but what the brain is inside of—the larger space of the body and culture. That is where we find mind and meaning. (more…)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

The Dalai Lama’s Conjecture

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. Thompson’s prologue was recently excerpted at the Mind & Life institute, and we are happy to present the final section of that excerpt here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

Staying with the Open Question
Evan Thompson

Shortly before his death, Francisco Varela talked about the Tibetan Buddhist notion of “subtle consciousness” in an interview with Swiss filmmaker Franz Reichle (see Reichle’s film, Montegrande: What Is Life?, and also the Mind & Life Institute). Subtle consciousness isn’t an individual consciousness; it’s not an ordinary “me” or “I” consciousness. It’s sheer luminous and knowing awareness beyond any sensory or mental content. It’s rarely seen by the ordinary mind, except occasionally in special dreams, intense meditation, and at the very moment of death, when one’s ordinary “I” or “me” consciousness falls apart. It’s the foundation for every other type of consciousness, and it’s believed to be independent of the brain. Neuroscience can’t conceive of this possibility, while for Tibetan Buddhists it’s unthinkable to dismiss their accumulated experience testifying to the reality of this primary consciousness.

Varela’s position is to suspend judgment. Don’t neglect the Buddhist observations and don’t dismiss what we know from science. Instead of trying to seek a resolution or an answer, contemplate the question and let it sit there. Have the patience and forbearance to stay with the open question. (more…)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Stephen Batchelor’s Foreword to Waking, Dreaming, Being

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor that we are proud to present below as the first post of the feature.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, November 14th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Ten of Yong Chen’s Memorable Food Experiences in China

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

Ten of Yong Chen’s Memorable Food Experiences in China

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Yong Chen’s Ten Favorite Chinese Restaurants in America

In Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, Yong Chen explores the rise of Chinese food in America and how it became ubiquitous in the American gastronomic landscape. In today’s post, he lists and describes his ten favorite Chinese restaurants in the U.S., and offers some advice on dining in a Chinese restaurant.

Yong Chen’s Ten Favorite Chinese Restaurants in America

This is a list of some of my personal favorites, rather than an attempt to rank the top ten among all the more than 30,000 Chinese restaurants in America. Taste is highly subjective, shaped by a wide range of socioeconomic and geographical factors as well as personal preferences and backgrounds. Those who have attempted to rank Chinese restaurants can seldom achieve a consensus. In 2012 CNN, for example, came up with a list of the best 50 Chinese restaurants in the United States. Many Chinese food lovers would find several of its selections quite questionable. Among them, Class 302, a decent Taiwanese style establishment that started first in Rowland Heights, California, is a great place for shredded/shaved ice but it would not make my list of top Chinese restaurants.

[Note: tips on dining in a Chinese restaurant.
1. If you are in a non-Chinese neighborhood and want “authentic” Chinese food namely, the kind of Chinese food that the Chinese like to eat, always ask for a pair of chopsticks.
2. Talk to the servers and ask if they have a menu in Chinese (it helps even if you do not read Chinese). Try to order at least one dish in Chinese.
3. Find a restaurant with Chinese customers inside. But do not be fooled by a token Chinese person sitting by the window (I was unconsciously made to play that role several times).
4. If you want plain rice, order it steamed, not fried.]

1. Blue Ginger, 583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482; (781) 283-5790.
I cannot claim that I know which Chinese restaurant is the best in metropolitan Boston. Before my 2004 trip there, I had heard a great deal about Blue Ginger. I went there with a friend from China, and we both were very satisfied with its service, décor, and food. The chef owner, Ming Tsai, graciously came out to greet us. My favorite was the tender butterfish marinated in sake and miso. My friend liked his grilled Long Island duck breast with Asian duck confit, but he asked: “Do you consider this a Chinese restaurant?” Indeed, if there is something Chinese about the restaurant, it is well hidden in the background. The restaurant represents the creative efforts of Chinese American chefs to blend Asian food with other cuisines.

2. Tommy Toy’s Cuisine Chinoise, 655 Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA 94111.
San Francisco is where Chinese restaurants first started in America. The Bay Area remains an area for great Chinese food. Tommy Toy’s was an interesting restaurant because it was one of the few Chinese establishments to serve traditional Chinese food in a fine dining environment and charge find dining price – the two things that few other Chinese restaurants have been able to do (see chapter seven of Chop Suey, USA, for more discussions). But in early 2013 the restaurant ended its twenty-seven-year run, revealing how difficult it still is for Chinese food to climb up the gastronomical hierarchy.

3. Cheng Du Tian Fu (Heavenly City of Chengdu), 41-28 Main Street, Flushing, New York.
For Chinese food lovers, metropolitan New York is another exciting place. Manhattan’s Chinatown and the other Chinese communities in the area offer a great diversity of food representing different regions in China. In New York proper, culinary connoisseurs can have unforgettable dining experiences in several upscale establishments like the dazzlingly decorated restaurant Buddakan. The multiple-course banquet that the documentary film maker Julia Marchesi invited me to in Mr. K’s, in the summer of 2011, rivaled the signature dinner at Tom Toy’s.

But I have found even more interesting Chinese food in small places. One of them is Cheng Du Tian Fu in Flushing’s Golden Mall. The food at the little basement stall is almost as spicy as that in the provincial capital of Sichuan. When I dined there early in 2011, I was surprised to see two European visitors. “Why are you guys here?” My curiosity made me almost rude. “We read an article in the New York Times.” The Times article they remembered, as I found out later, was a piece published by Julia Moskin back in 2008 (in her article, she described several dining stores in the basement food court of the Golden Mall but not Cheng Du Tian Fu, which was discussed by Joe DiSefano in “Off the Beaten Path” Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing”). Among the dishes I tried, the dan dan noodle ($4) and ox tongue & tripe ($6) were more than worth the money, reminiscent of the same dishes in Chengdu. The most famous dish was the “hot spicy soup” – a dish consisting of vegetables and other ingredients boiled in pork stock served with spicy sauce. Served by numerous restaurants in Flushing, it represented the increasingly popularity of simple local foods from China in a fast changing community.

(more…)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

How Well Do You Know Your Chop Suey and Other Questions about Chinese Food

You might have memorized the menu from your local Chinese restaurant but how well do you know the history of Chinese food? Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge based on material from Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, by Yong Chen:

ProProfs – Chop Suey, USA

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

A Recipe for Chop Suey from Chop Suey, USA

Chop Suey

In Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, Yong Chen explores the rise of Chinese food in America and how it became ubiquitous in the American gastronomic landscape. Epitomized by chop suey, American Chinese food was a forerunner of McDonald’s, democratizing the once-exclusive dining-out experience for such groups as marginalized Anglos, African Americans, and Jews.

Chen writes, “When Chinese restaurants started to venture outside Chinatowns, chop suey became the most famous line of dishes. It remained a synonym of America’s Chinese food for decades. However, its origin has been shrouded in mystery. Cooking it can help us better understand this simple and versatile traditional Chinese dish, which has be­come a quintessential American story.” With this in mind, here is a recipe for chop suey, one of several recipes included in the book:

Pork Chop Suey
Serves 1 or 2

2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsp light soy sauce
dash of black pepper
1 lb lean pork, sliced into thin strips
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped green onion
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp salt
3 cups sliced napa cabbage
4 cups (soy) bean sprouts
1 /3 cup diced celery
1 cup shredded carrot
4 button mushrooms, cut into wedges
1 /2 cup chicken broth

Mix the cornstarch, sugar, water, rice wine, sesame oil, soy sauce, and black pepper in a bowl. Add the pork and marinate for 1 hour. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a wok or nonstick frying pan, and add the green onion and garlic. Stir for about 10 seconds.

Add the marinated pork. Stir until cooked. Transfer it to a clean con­tainer and set aside. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil, and add the salt and then the cabbage, bean sprouts, celery, carrot, and mushrooms. Stir for 2 minutes or until almost cooked. Put the pork back in the wok and add the chicken stock. Stir thoroughly and bring to a boil.

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Book Giveaway! Chop Suey, USA

This week our featured book is Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America by Yong Chen.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Chop Suey, USA to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, November 7 at 1:00 pm.

American diners began to flock to Chinese restaurants more than a century ago, making Chinese food the first mass-consumed cuisine in the United States. By 1980, it had become the country’s most popular ethnic cuisine. Chop Suey, USA offers the first comprehensive interpretation of the rise of Chinese food, revealing the forces that made it ubiquitous in the American gastronomic landscape and turned the country into an empire of consumption.

Read the chapter “Chop Suey, the Big Mac of the Pre-McDonald’s Era”:

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Preface to Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia

Losing Tim, Paul Gionfriddo

“But I think [Tim] under­stood that if his story could help change the way we think and move us to action, it was worth telling. Plus, he loves me, and I love him.”—Paul Gionfriddo

We conclude our week-long feature on Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia, with an excerpt from the book’s preface in which Paul Gionfriddo discusses why he decided to write about his son. For more of the book you can also read the book’s first chapter, Tim Brings a Gun to School.

When my son Tim was a very young boy, he knew that I was an elected official, and he understood that elected officials made many of the “rules” by which people live. “My dad is important,” he used to volunteer to people when we were introduced to them. The prob­lem was that he pronounced the word as “impotent,” which typically elicited a giggle that puzzled Tim. Giggles aside, he had no idea how apt a description that would become when it came to my helping to make his own life more tolerable.

This book is in part a reflection on public policy and the way public policy decisions I made in good faith affected Tim’s life….

As i imagine is the case for most parents of children with serious chronic illnesses, in the course of over two decades I amassed hundreds of hard-copy and electronic documents relating to tim. they traveled with me from Connecticut to Texas and then to Florida. I saved all that I could, although there were plenty of times I wanted to burn the whole pile of paper or smash the computer in frustration. but after twenty years of storing them I decided it was time to make sense of them. So I began to do what I had been wanting to do for a long time— piece them into a narrative. I had no idea what the ending would be. I just wanted to understand better what had happened to Tim and me as we traveled his path of serious mental illness.

This book is the result. At first, it was all about Tim and not at all about me. But then i realized that I needed to describe better how iI felt about what was happening to Tim. When I started to do this, it dawned on me that I also needed to write more about the role I played as a policy maker in determining what happened to him….

Tim did something i found to be very courageous. He graciously gave his permission in writ­ing for his story to be told. when he did so, I don’t think that he ad­mired policy makers as he once had or had much respect for the rules they’ve created that affected him most directly. But I think he under­stood that if his story could help change the way we think and move us to action, it was worth telling. Plus, he loves me, and I love him.

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Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Paul Gionfriddo — “The Dangers of Stage 4 Thinking about Serious Mental Illnesses”

Losing Tim

“Until we take a different approach and move upstream in the disease process, we’re going to continue to put our resources in all the wrong places, and we’re going to continue to fight about all the wrong things. And people will still cycle between homelessness and hospitalization, outpatient treatment and incarceration, and crisis and stability.”—Paul Gionfriddo

The following is a post by Paul Gionfriddo, President/CEO of Mental Health America and the author of Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia, originally published on Mental Health America. In the post, Gionfriddo argues for the importance of early detection and treatment of mental illness:

During my first hundred days at Mental Health America, I have frequently made the case that mental health policymakers and practitioners are too often mired in “Stage 4” thinking when they think about serious mental illnesses.

Here’s what I mean—they use an “imminent danger to self or others” as a standard for determining who gets care. That near-death time typically only comes during the latest stages of a chronic disease process, or Stage 4.

There are several dangers in using such a standard. The first is that it furthers the myth that mental illness causes violence. The second is that it leads to the over-incarceration of people with mental illnesses. The third – and perhaps most dangerous – is that it deflects our attention away from intervening early in the disease process, when we can do the most good and get the best results.

We don’t treat any other chronic diseases this way. Imagine the outcry if we waited until Stage 4 to treat cancers, cardiovascular diseases, or diabetes!

I haven’t come across anyone who thinks there’s a clinical basis for using the “imminent danger to self or others standard” to determine eligibility for care. But this hasn’t stopped us from using it for decades.

Until we take a different approach and move upstream in the disease process, we’re going to continue to put our resources in all the wrong places, and we’re going to continue to fight about all the wrong things. And people will still cycle between homelessness and hospitalization, outpatient treatment and incarceration, and crisis and stability.

At Mental Health America, we believe that it is past time for investing heavily in early identification and intervention. That’s one of the reasons we launched a new mental health screening program this year, with screening tools available on our website or at www.mhascreening.org.

And we’re pretty sure that people agree with us. After all, in just four months, the first 100,000 screens will have been taken, typically by people who are experiencing early symptoms of what may become over time severe depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

They’re concerned about their mental health now, and so are we.

And they don’t want to wait ten years or more, and be forced to progress to Stage 4, for everyone else to take notice.

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Losing Tim, Losing Time — Paul Gionfriddo

Losing Tim, Paul Gionfriddo

“We created a system that neglected our children when we could have made a difference and inevitably led them to homelessness, hospitalization, and incarceration.”—Paul Gionfriddo

The following post is by Paul Gionfriddo, author of Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia. For more on the book, you can also read an interview with Paul Gionfriddo.

I’d like to travel back in time. Just twenty-five years would do. Because if I knew then what I know now, I don’t think I would ever have to have written Losing Tim.

Because public policy matters in the lives of people like Tim.

I’m sure this won’t come as a shock to anyone, but policymaking isn’t a perfect science. As I write in Losing Tim, a very wise Connecticut legislator—a college professor by trade—once remarked that when she arrived in the state legislature, she assumed that the best proposals coupled with the best-reasoned arguments would lead to good public policy. Then the legislative session began, and she learned that gut feelings and emotion often carried the day, and the policy that resulted was as much a reflection of these as it was of logic and reason.

Imagine what this did in the area of mental health. We were faced with a huge challenge in the 1980s. We were closing the doors of expensive and ineffective institutions, and were returning thousands of people to their families and communities.

But their families and communities weren’t ready to receive them. This was in part because they were afraid of the way they looked and acted, and in part because they didn’t really know what to do for them. Still, I write, we believed that anything that happened to people in the community would be preferable to what had happened to them behind the locked doors of those large psychiatric facilities.

Except that it wasn’t, because we just moved folks from behind one set of locked doors—state psychiatric hospitals—to another—county jails and state and federal prisons.

This was not our intention, but we didn’t know any better.

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Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

An Interview with Paul Gionfriddo, author of “Losing Tim”

Losing Tim, Paul GionfriddoThe following is an interview with Paul Gionfriddo, author of Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia:

Question: Losing Tim is a policy memoir, a reflection on your life as much as Tim’s. Can you talk about that?

Paul Gionfriddo: I was a state legislator in the 1980s, and helped build the failed community-based mental health system that we have today. Then I adopted an infant son who developed a serious mental illness when he was very young and had to live within the system I helped to build. And so over more than two decades, I experienced the effect of our policy decisions from the other side. And through writing the book, I’ve had the opportunity to make some sense of what we went through, and to say how we could do things differently to fix the problems we policymakers unintentionally created—and perhaps save some lives.

Q: But aren’t our options pretty limited when it comes to treating people with serious mental illnesses?

PG: Some people think so, but that’s usually because they only see serious mental illnesses in their later stages and think they are synonymous with violent tendencies. This is a myth that has led us to making jails our 21st century mental health institutions. The truth is that ten years typically pass from the time there are early symptoms of mental illnesses to the time we begin to treat them effectively. Those are ten years of lost opportunities to intervene early with the right diagnosis, the right drugs, the right therapies, and the right individual, family, and social supports—all of which can lead to recovery.

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