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Archive for the 'Current Events' Category

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy

Losing Tim

This is part of an ongoing series of posts in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Paul Gionfriddo, author of Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia, discusses how mental health policy will be affected by a Trump presidency:

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy
By Paul Gionfriddo

The election of Donald Trump as President will influence mental health services in America. We just don’t know how.

We have generated significant positive momentum for mental health system reform during the past two years. The federal government has begun to lay a new foundation for a modern, community-based system of mental health services.

This has been no small feat. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, federal policymakers initially could come to no consensus about how they should respond. Some argued for more deep-end services for individuals who were a danger to themselves or others. Others wanted stricter gun control laws to keep weapons out of the hands of most people with serious mental health conditions.

The earliest ideas did not consider the bigger picture – that mental illnesses are most frequently diseases of childhood, and seldom manifest in violent or dangerous acts.

Losing Tim helped change those perceptions. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA), the leading House proponent of mental health reform legislation, cited the narrative as one of the reasons he changed his approach in the legislation he authored. And Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted that his companion Senate proposal was “for the countless people like Tim” who, he argued, deserve a mental health system that works.

My own organization, Mental Health America, made prevention, early intervention, integrated services, and recovery the pillars of our work. We argued that by applying a “danger to self or others” standard as a trigger to treatment for mental illnesses, we made them the only chronic diseases that we wait until Stage 4 to treat – and then often inappropriately through incarceration.

We argued that we needed to act sooner to help children and young adults, and developed a multi-faceted educational campaign promoting early identification and intervention built around the hashtag “B4Stage4.”

The established mental health advocacy community organized itself around a common set of the principles we shared and around the more comprehensive legislative proposals that evolved. The House and Senate bills gained bipartisan traction and momentum. As election day came, we were poised to celebrate the Lame Duck session passage of the most significant federal mental health legislation since President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Centers Act back in 1963, and to build on this in 2017.

Now there is a sense of uncertainty about what will come next.

I do not believe that there will be a seismic shift in the mental health policy landscape in the coming years that will undermine the progress we have made.

For one thing, the President-elect experienced the death of his older brother Freddy at the age of 43 from a substance use disorder, and knows first-hand the toll behavioral illnesses take on families. For another, Vice President-elect Mike Pence worked to improve mental health services in his state during his time as Governor of Indiana.

Also, the newly elected Congress looks very much like the Congress that came before it, with many strong proponents of mental health reform remaining in positions of leadership and influence. Finally, the advocacy community was prepared to continue to work together no matter what the election outcome.

Still, there are many issues that surfaced during the campaign that may have a profound effect on people with mental illnesses.

One is the move to amend the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

ACA made mental health benefits “essential health benefits” that had to be covered by all insurers. It also enabled the expansion of Medicaid to support single adults with chronic diseases, including mental illnesses. In requiring insurers to offer coverage despite pre-existing conditions, it also made sure that when children with serious mental illnesses became adults, they did not become uninsured.

President-elect Trump has said that he favors retention of the pre-existing condition provision. But if the essential health benefits are changed or insurers can pay out less for those with pre-existing conditions, it could take the teeth out of that commitment.

President-elect Trump also proposed block-granting Medicaid. This would not be hard, because the federal Medicaid program is already fifty different state Medicaid programs operated under a common set of federal rules. If the payments were bundled and some of those rules were left in place, that could be a good thing.

States might use the flexibility they are granted to innovate to cover housing, employment supports, and peer support services that people with mental illnesses need.

However, if dollars are reduced when they are blocked together – as happened in the 1980s and led in part to the inadequate state systems of care that persist today – then people will get less access to services and supports, not more.

President-elect Trump has also said that he will be “tough on crime.” People in jail and prison are significantly more likely to have mental health and substance use disorders than people who are not incarcerated. If being tough on crime means putting more people with mental illnesses into the criminal justice system, then that would just accelerate the revolving door of hospitalization, frequent incarceration, and chronic homelessness that characterizes our system today.

Meanwhile, several more states also legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. Marijuana has often been called a gateway drug. For many people with serious mental illnesses, it is a gateway to jail.

As state policies become friendlier to people who self-medicate, they could mitigate tougher federal sanctions.

This is why we must be vigilant. It will take some time for everything to sort itself out.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

The Future of the Affordable Care Act

Health Care as a Right of Citizenship

“I also do not believe that in historical terms the ACA will be seen as anything more than a politically pragmatic and necessary step toward the evolution of a social right to health care for all Americans.” — Gunnar Almgren

This is the first of a series of posts in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Gunnar Almgren, author of Health Care as a Right of Citizenship: The Continuing Evolution of Reform, looks at the future of the Affordable Care Act, perhaps better known as ObamaCare, under a Trump presidency:

The Future of the Affordable Care Act
By Gunnar Almgren

President-Elect Donald Trump described the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a “total disaster,” yet many analysts would argue the opposite. In terms of its central aim of dramatically reducing the number of Americans without health insurance, the ACA has been a resounding policy success, and even surpassed the projections of the Congressional Budget Office (Congressional Budget Office, Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act, April 2014, www.cbo.gov/publication/45231).

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in absence of the ACA, the numbers of Americans without health insurance coverage would have risen by 2015 to 54 million, or nearly two times the number of uninsured we actually have today. Further, the CBO now predicts that the ACA’s net costs to the federal government over the next decade will be $104 billion less than originally projected.

Nonetheless, it remains clear that with the election of Trump, and GOP majority support in both houses of Congress the ACA, in name if not in its most fundamental provisions, is in deep jeopardy. With this in mind, let’s consider the ACA in historical terms and then also in terms of the political economy of health care.

From the historical perspective, there are two plausible narratives that might emerge. The first narrative will define the ACA as a poorly conceived and ultimately failed expansion of the welfare state, akin to mainstream history’s appraisal of the Lyndon Johnson administration’s Great Society and War on Poverty social experiments of the 1960s. The second narrative, and in my opinion the more likely one, is that the ACA’s historical significance will not lie in its largely successful expansion of health care entitlements and insurance subsidies to millions of Americans, but rather in its affirmation by act of Congress of the idea that comprehensive health care must be available to all as a social right of citizenship. While previous acts of Congress sought to incrementally expand public and private health care insurance to the aged, poor, and the disabled, the ACA is unique in its embracement of universal health insurance coverage to all citizens as an explicit policy aim.

Although the conservative Congresses that followed the 2010 passage of the ACA have since endeavored to repeal it (and the hard right results of the 2016 elections might seem to guarantee such a repeal) what matters is that the mainstream American public now views access to affordable health care as crucial function of just and effective governance, and any proposed alternative to the ACA must be reconciled with that expectation. However the ACA might be redefined, repackaged , or even diminished–neither the key health care industry stakeholders (in particular the pharmaceutical , health insurance and hospital industries) nor the American public will tolerate a return to the 2009 pre-ACA regime of a failing employment-based insurance system, 49.6 million uninsured Americans, and an epidemic of safety-net hospital closures. Political rhetoric is one thing; economic and political reality is another.

While there are several reasons to predict the ACA’s survival, the penultimate reason in my view is the absence of a coherent conservative alternative that will not propel the nation toward the next catastrophic health insurance coverage crisis – a crisis that could result in truly radical health care reform that is an anathema to conservatism, namely universal social insurance for health care. It is this thought that keeps health insurance industry executives and investors awake at night. It should also be noted that under the ACA, the private health insurance industry on the whole has thrived –as happens when private industry markets are expanded by public fund subsidies.

In sum, I don’t share the view that the political resurgence of the GOP is synonymous with the demise of the ACA’s core provisions. Within two days of his election, Trump was already walking back from his campaign promise to repeal the ACA and now speaks in qualified and modest language about preserving such core provisions as retaining expanded insurance coverage to young adults and eliminating pre-existing condition protections.

I also do not believe that in historical terms the ACA will be seen as anything more than a politically pragmatic and necessary step toward the evolution of a social right to health care for all Americans. In the end, the basic policy strategy and structure of that ACA are substantially inadequate to such a task, both because of its inability to achieve universal health insurance coverage and because its substantive health- care provisions fall short of the equity and equality of opportunity requisites of political democracy. Such a platform can only built upon both social insurance for comprehensive health care and the resurgence of a national agenda to meaningfully reduce child poverty. These are the commitments that make a nation great.

Monday, November 21st, 2016

“Party Rape” and the Celebration of Lack of Consent

Hunting Girls

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize for Literature

The Scandal of Reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 28th, 2016

Intelligence Agency Logic

Data Love

“Intelligence agencies want to secure and enhance their effectiveness just as much as any other functional social system; whatever is technologically possible will be used. For this reason, ever since 9/11 intelligence agencies had been dreaming of the “full take” of all data from all citizens. What had failed to materialize until then, because of financial and technological shortcomings, became a real option with the increasing digitization of society. The consensus was that those who did not use the new possibilities for data collection and evaluation were refusing to work properly, which in this realm of work might almost be regarded as treason.” — Roberto Simanowski

This week, our featured book is Data Love: The Seduction and Betrayal of Digital Technologies, by Roberto Simanowski, translated by Brigitte Pichon, Dorian Rudnytsky, and John Cayley. Today, for the final post of the feature, we have a short excerpt from the book’s first chapter, Intelligence Agency Logic, in which Simanowski uses the case of Edward Snowden to examine popular and political reactions to government surveillance.

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

Intelligence Agency Logic
By Roberto Simanowski

In the summer of 2013 the twenty-nine-year-old IT specialist Edward Snowden flew into a foreign country carrying with him secret documents produced by his employer, the National Security Agency of the United States (NSA). From the transit zone of the Moscow airport and with the help of the Guardian and the Washington Post, he informed the world about the extent of the surveillance of telephone and Internet communications undertaken by American intelligence agencies. In doing this, the whistleblower Snowden became much more successful than Thomas Drake, a former department head at the NSA who, with the same motives, had criticized the excessive surveillance practices of the NSA first through official channels and then in 2010 by divulging information to a journalist from the Baltimore Sun, for which he was later accused of espionage. Snowden’s disclosures triggered an international sensation lasting many months, creating what historians at the time characterized as the last great epiphany to be experienced by media society.

This is how a report on the events of the NSA scandal of 2013 might begin in some distant future. The report would evaluate the event from a respectful historical distance and without the excitement or disappointment of earlier historians. From the distant future, this moment of revelation would prove to have been the last outcry before the realization that there were no alternatives to certain unstoppable technological, political, and social developments. The report from the future would reconstruct the case with historical objectivity, beginning by explaining how world leaders reacted.

The United States declares Snowden’s passport invalid and issues a warrant of arrest for the breach of secrecy and theft. The Brazilian president protests at the United Nations over spying on Brazilian citizens (including herself ). She cancels her planned meeting with the president of the United States and by creating an investigative committee again proves her capacity to act after the traumatic experience of the “#vemprarua” upheavals in her own country. Ecuador— its embassy in London housing the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange—offers asylum to Snowden, thereby forgoing U.S. customs benefits. Germany denies Snowden’s request for asylum on the technicality that one cannot file an application from a foreign country. Russia grants asylum to Snowden for one year, provoking a further cooling of its relations with the United States and immediately causing the cancellation of a planned summit meeting between Obama and Putin. (more…)

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

The Seduction and Betrayal of Digital Technologies

Data Love

“[Data Love] does not reduce arguments over big data mining to the enemy-logic of ‘citizen vs. state’ but discusses data love as an expression of an undoubtedly fundamental but — bizarrely —insufficiently noted reorganization of society—a ‘quiet’ revolution initiated by software developers and implemented by way of algorithms; a revolution that, on the one hand, is subject to the drives of technological potential while, on the other, is reacting to the end of social utopias within a model of society dominated by consumerism.” — Roberto Simanowski

This week, our featured book is Data Love: The Seduction and Betrayal of Digital Technologies, by Roberto Simanowski, translated by Brigitte Pichon, Dorian Rudnytsky, and John Cayley. Today, we are happy to present a Q&A with Simanowski, in which he outlines his book project and the importance of questions about our love affair with data.

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

Why is data love the most troubling love affair of our time?

The love of big data has affected us all and is, without a doubt, the most entrancing and troubling love story of the twenty-first century. For better or worse and for many reasons, we happily choose to participate in the big data universe. We don’t worry much about data protection if we get something for less or even for free; we easily trade privacy for the narcissistic thrill of Facebook’s sharing culture. We can hardly wait for our fridge to talk to the supermarket and our calendar to converse with our car or house. That the conversation among “smart things”—that GPS, check-ins, or whatever sort of self-tracking device we use —are a data miner’s dream doesn’t deter us, we want it anyway and are convinced we can no longer live without it. (more…)

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

Introducing “Data Love”

Data Love

“[D]ata love must be discussed as something that is more than just fuel for the economy of the information age. It is a complex subject with farreaching moral, political, and philosophical consequences—without doubt the most delicate and troubling love story of the twenty-first century.” — Roberto Simanowski

This week, our featured book is Data Love: The Seduction and Betrayal of Digital Technologies, by Roberto Simanowski, translated by Brigitte Pichon, Dorian Rudnytsky, and John Cayley. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Data Love that includes the preface, the epilogue, and the postface.

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

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles on Why We Can’t Ignore Science — An Excerpt from “The Madhouse Effect”

We conclude our week-long feature on The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy, by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles, by excerpting the first chapter “Science: How It Works.” As Mann, through his words, and Toles, through his cartoons, articulate, we live in an era of misinformation in which the value of scientific evidence cannot be ignored. To do so risks environmental destruction. As the authors write:

“So we should have our fullest respect for the scientific framework behind the proposition that the burning of fossil fuels and other activities are changing Earth’s climate. The evidence is overwhelming, and is has only increased in strength and consistency over time—the hallmark of a compelling scientific framework … Well, we ignored the science, and we avoided the sensible choices that were before us. And now we are already paying the price. Time is no longer on our side. Let’s use time we have more wisely.”

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

Tom Toles’s Drawings from “The Madhouse Effect”

While climate change is hardly a laughing matter, the drawings from the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, Tom Toles, brilliantly uses satire and humor to shed a new light on the efforts of denialists to refute scientific evidence. The following are some of his work feature in the book he co-authored with Michael Mann, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy:

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tom Toles, Madhouse Effect

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Michael Mann and Tom Toles Name 9 Prominent Climate Change Deniers

The Madhouse Effect

“Yet we have a Republican presidential nominee who has repeatedly called climate change a ‘hoax.’ ‘Perhaps there’s a minor effect,’ Donald Trump told The Washington Post’s editorial board, ‘but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.’ So it goes in the madhouse of the climate debate. Even as the evidence has become unmistakable, and even though the alarm has been sounded several times, public policy has been paralyzed—sometimes from ignorance, sometimes from uncertainty, but often from a campaign of deliberate misinformation.”—Michael Mann and Tom Toles

Michael Mann and Tom Toles’s The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy examines and seeks to refute those who manipulate scientific data and the media to deny the truth about climate change.

In a recent piece for The Washington Post, Mann and Toles name 9 prominent deniers “clouding the climate change debate.” In addition to naming the figures, Toles and Mann also provide a quote from each that encapsulates their view on climate change:

1. Donald Trump, politician and businessman: “Perhaps there’s a minor effect but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.”

2. S. Fred Singer, founder of think tank, the Science and Environmental Policy Project: “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. On the contrary, it makes crops and forests grow faster.”

3. Steve Milloy, lawyer and commentator for Fox News: “We don’t agree . . . that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are having either detectable or predictable effects on climate.”

4. Marc Morano, former communications director for James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.): “[Climate scientists] deserve to be publicly flogged.”

5. Joe Barton, Republican congressman from Texas and a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee: “The science is not settled, and the science is actually going the other way. . . . We may in fact be going into a cooling period.”

6. Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska: ““Climate science is to this century what eugenics was to the last century.”

7. Rupert Murdoch, founder and head of News Corporation: ““Climate change has been going on as long as the planet is here. There will always be a little bit of it. We can’t stop it.”

8. David and Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, ““Climate does fluctuate. It goes from hot to cold. We have ice ages.” — David Koch

9. Bjorn Lomborg, author and adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School: “On average, global warming is not going to harm the developing world.”

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “The Madhouse Effect,” by Michael Mann and Tom Toles

This week we are very excited to be featuring The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles.

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 Madhouse Effect 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, October 21 at 1:00 pm.

The book has already won praise from everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Naomi Oreskes. Bill McKibben writes:

Michael Mann is one of the planet’s great climate scientists, and Tom Toles may be the great climate communicator–together they are a Category 5 storm of information and indignation, wreaking humorous havoc on those who would deny the greatest challenge humans have ever faced.

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

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

Capital and the Common Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

Fighting Deforestation and Climate Change

Capital and the Common Good

“REDD was originally premised on the idea that forest conservation could attract significant financial resources by allowing verified reductions in emissions to generate credits that could be used for compliance in cap-and-trade programs in other countries. With the delayed development of these compliance markets in places like the United States, the REDD framework has evolved as a kind of innovative finance development assistance, relying primarily on public sources of funds.” — Georgia Levenson Keohane

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. Today, we are happy to present part of an excerpt from Capital and the Common Good, originally posted at impactalpha, in which Keohane looks at the way that REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is attempting to combat deforestation in Brazil through innovative finance.

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

Fighting Deforestation and Climate Change: REDD Financing Lessons from Brazil and Indonesia
By Georgia Levenson Keohane

REDD — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation — is a pay-for-success program designed to create economic incentives to protect forests and the carbon they contain. First introduced into the UN climate talks in 2005, by scientists and environmental advocates from Brazil and the U.S. using the term “Compensated Reductions,” REDD has evolved to include a range of innovative financing approaches to reduce emissions related to deforestation.

The motivation behind REDD is as much long-term sustainable development as it is forests per se. Among the primary drivers of growth in countries like Brazil have been the development of commodities like palm oil, soy, and beef, often through deforestation—clearing trees to raise crops and cattle. REDD’s pay-for-success design is meant to motivate less carbon-intensive production. That means improving economic output while decreasing emissions. (more…)

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Innovative Finance and the Visible Hand

Capital and the Common Good

“In this book, we will examine how creative configurations of nonprofit, commercial, and public-sector entities come together to harness market forces in the face of market failure. When these partnerships develop new or improved ways to pay for investments in public goods and social and economic development, we call it innovative finance.” — Georgia Levenson Keohane

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present the book’s introduction, in which Keohane introduces the concept of innovative finance.

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

Monday, October 10th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Capital and the Common Good, by Georgia Levenson Keohane

Capital and the Common Good

Capital and the Common Good shows we are living in a time where financial tools can expand to solve some of the world’s most vexing problems. This book is packed with information and inspiration.” — Robert J. Shiller, Nobel Laureate in Economics

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. 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.

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

Dismantling Fantasies of Consent and Violence: Three Excerpts from Hunting Girls

Hunting Girls

“From fairytales to pornography, popular culture is filled with girls and women, unconscious or sleeping, “enjoying” nonconsensual sex. And until we change our fantasies, it is going to be difficult to change our realities.” — Kelly Oliver

This week, our featured book is Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape, by Kelly Oliver. Today, we have a few excerpts for you, all of which testify to Kelly Oliver’s gift for drawing connections between literature, film, popular culture, and rape culture. In the first excerpt, Oliver traces a distressing (and frighteningly current) male fantasy back to a fourteenth-century Catalan tale. In the second excerpt, Oliver considers the fraught relationship between the law and consent, exposing the dangers of focusing on one moment of affirmative consent in what is, in fact, an ongoing negotiation between sexual subjects. Finally, in the third excerpt, Oliver examines certain representations in recent literature and film of girls who “give as good as they get,” and shows how these representations send mixed messages–are our Katniss Everdeens and Tris Priors feminist revenge fantasies, or do their actions on screen normalize and valorize violence toward women?

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

Excerpt 1

Excerpt 2

Excerpt 3

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.

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Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

What Is Intellectual Freedom Today?

Hermeneutic Communism

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

What Is Intellectual Freedom Today?
By Santiago Zabala

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

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

Monday, March 14th, 2016

Michael Marder on Trump Metaphysics

Michael Marder

“Trump trumps metaphysics.”—Michael Marder

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

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

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

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Monday, January 11th, 2016

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

Brian Edwards, After the American Century

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

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

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

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

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

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