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Archive for the 'Current Events' Category

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

A Field Guide to Engaging with the World Through Bookstores: A #UPWeek 2017 Blog Tour Post


It’s the second day of University Press Week 2017, and, even though we here at Columbia University Press have the day off for Election Day, we’re excited to be participating in the annual #UPWeek blog tour! Today’s theme is “Selling the Facts,” an opportunity for booksellers and sales representatives to talk about selling books as a form of activism. We are fortunate to have a great post from the Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia UP Sales Consortium, Conor Broughan, on his experiences making sales calls during the election season of 2016 and what they taught him about the role of University Press books in the world. #ReadUP!

Make sure you check out the blogs of other presses posting on “Selling the Facts” today: the University of Minnesota Press, the University of Texas Press, the University of Hawai’i Press, JHU Press, Duke University Press, the University Press of Kentucky, and the University of Toronto Press!

A Field Guide to Engaging with the World Through Bookstores

By Conor Broughan, Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium

Two years ago, when I interviewed for the sales rep position at the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium, my boss explained the general outline of how a sales rep operates. The first half of the conversation concerned the face-to-face meetings with buyers at independent bookstores in the territory, selling the seasonal catalogues for our fourteen presses twice a year. He explained Edelweiss and the growing importance of online catalogues and how reps spend a good portion of their home-office time preparing for each season by creating detailed online markups for buyers. I couldn’t help but ask my future boss, “So if the online catalogues are so useful and necessary now, what’s the point of a sales rep? Why chew massive holes into the budget with travel expenses when an online catalogue says it all with the click of a button?”

Self-sabotaging as it sounds, the question was and still is a good one. Everything happens online these days, so why bother traveling across the country to see anyone face to face? There was a short delay on the other end. Where to begin to explaining how important it is to sit down with a real-life human being and have a conversation? A conversation about forthcoming books or books from past seasons that have over- or underperformed; a conversation about where to shelve a book, how best to display it, and how to handsell it; a conversation about the bookstore and how it’s doing and about bookstores in general; and, inevitably, a conversation about politics: how the politics of a particular book will work in a particular store or, more often, a venting of how we’ll get through another day as rational people in this new irrational version of America. My boss, though, had a much shorter answer. Traveling to a store to see a buyer, he said, is our chance to make real contact with the booksellers. It’s an opportunity to stay engaged. (more…)

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Thursday Fiction Corner: The Conflict between North and South Korea, on an Intimate Scale

Meeting with My Brother
Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Ani Kodzhabasheva, a PhD candidate at Columbia University, reflects on Yi Mun-yol’s novel Meeting with My Brother and current events.

Are you confused by the barrage of threats launched daily from North Korea towards the United States, and vice versa? Following the news on the issue has shown me that I’m not the only one. Even policy analysts and military strategists can seem at a loss.

One of this week’s attempts to explain the situation in Northeast Asia is a New York Times piece that takes us to Yanji and Dandong, two cities on North Korea’s border with China. The reporter, Chris Buckley, talks to locals and tourists in an attempt to gauge their mood. What do they think of North Korea? Of the United States? His brief conversations reveal some of the anxieties that those in the region deal with on a daily basis.

But, as is often the case, there is more to the story than one can glean from the news. In fact, the people of Yanji have been affected by North and South Korea’s political fluctuations for decades, and the precariousness of international relations in the region has more or less persisted since the onset of the Korean War. Yi Mun-yol’s novel Meeting with My Brother, set in Yanji in the early 1990s, shows that the city has long been subject to secret police spying, as well as a base for legal or not-so-legal cross-border exchange. In Yi Mun-yol’s novella, the South Korean narrator encounters his half-brother from the North for the first time, and the traumas of Korea’s division play out on an intimate scale.

The plot of Meeting with My Brother unfolds over just a few days in Yanji—in a hotel, a couple of restaurants, and on the bank of the Tumen River, which separates North Korea and China. Within this tightly delineated setting, Yi weaves together multiple narratives that create a microcosm of whole societies torn apart by military and ideological conflict. In addition to the two long-lost brothers, Yi populates his novella with a Chinese Korean woman from Yanji who is bitter about the prejudice she experienced in the South; the overly zealous “Mr. Reunification,” who often bores his companions with his utopian pronouncements; and a cynical businessman engaged in mysterious trade with the North.

Struggling to make the best of their predicaments, Yi’s flawed characters can sometimes make you laugh, although the overwhelming mood is one of reflection and mourning. Yi shows to what extent our lives are shaped by historical events much larger than us and how, at the same time, these events demand of us that we take a moral stand. During his stay in Yanji, the narrator, who first approaches his long-lost brother with a sense of pity, is forced to reckon with his own life choices.

The little book is written in a dispassionate, reportage-like tone (the narrator is a professor of history in Seoul), yet it carries a surprising emotional heft. Several characters who boast a certain ideology—be it capitalism or communism, nationalism or pro-American beliefs—are brought by the events in Yanji to a new sense of humility. Nobody leaves without any scars, or a bit of redemption. Fiery rhetoric gives way to self-doubt, as the encounters in Yanji make clear that the Korean War has left no absolute winners and losers. Hyeok, the North Korean brother, struggles with jealousy; the narrator, Professor Yi, begins to confront his suppressed guilt about the way he achieved his success. The struggle to communicate leads to many dramatic reversals, as certain words or memories elicit pain or misunderstanding.

The book provides no clear answers about politics, diplomacy, or the future of the Korean Peninsula. It is these very conflicts, which are once again crowding the news today, that are being dramatized in Meeting with My Brother. Philip Gourevitch wrote in The New Yorker that “There is no moral to Yi’s story.” That is essentially true. Yet, in the end, the moral is that political divisions have a human dimension and that, in order to understand history and how it shapes current events, we need to look beyond the political agendas of the day.

At this historical moment, Meeting with My Brother’s finely crafted story gives us an occasion to ask ourselves, What would it be like to empathize with people in North Korea? Yi Mun-yol’s narrator, through his self-exploration, serves as an example of how that radical question might be answered.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

A Media Roundup for Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

“In my experience with the alt-right, I encountered a surprisingly common narrative: Alt-right supporters did not, for the most part, come from overtly racist families. Alt-right media platforms have actually been pushing this meme aggressively in recent months. Far from defending the ideas and institutions they inherited, the alt-right—which is overwhelmingly a movement of white millennials—forcefully condemns their parents’ generation. They do so because they do not believe their parents are racist enough.” — George Hawley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. For the final post of the feature, we have pulled short excerpts from some of the many articles and interviews in which Hawley has appeared over the past few weeks, as newspapers, radio stations, and media outlets around the world have tried to make sense of the Alt-Right following the events in Charlottesville over the summer.

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

From an article by George Hawley himself in The American Conservative:

In my experience with the alt-right, I encountered a surprisingly common narrative: Alt-right supporters did not, for the most part, come from overtly racist families. Alt-right media platforms have actually been pushing this meme aggressively in recent months. Far from defending the ideas and institutions they inherited, the alt-right—which is overwhelmingly a movement of white millennials—forcefully condemns their parents’ generation. They do so because they do not believe their parents are racist enough.

In an inverse of the left-wing protest movements of the 1960s, the youthful alt-right bitterly lambast the “boomers” for their lack of explicit ethnocentrism, their rejection of patriarchy, and their failure to maintain America’s old demographic characteristics and racial hierarchy. In the alt-right’s vision, even older conservatives are useless “cucks” who focus on tax policies and forcefully deny that they are driven by racial animus.

From “Far-Right Groups Surge Into National View in Charlottesville,” in The New York Times:

George Hawley, a University of Alabama political science professor who studies white supremacists, said that many of the far-right members he had interviewed did not inherit their racism from their parents, but developed it online. Many of them had never heard of, say, David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Dr. Hawley said he believed the far-left activists, known as antifa, were welcomed by the white nationalists. “I think to an extent the alt-right loves the antifa because they see them as being the perfect foil,” he said.

NPR’s Audie Cornish talks with Hawley on All Things Considered:

CORNISH: You’ve interviewed many people who consider themselves part of the alt-right. Can you give us a profile? Who does this ideology appeal to?

HAWLEY: I would say it is definitely a young movement. I’d say that it is predominantly white millennial men. It is not sort of stereotypically conservative in its profile. I’d say that probably it is a more secular population than the country overall. That is, there are a lot of agnostics and atheists or people who are just generally indifferent to religion. And I think that it is a fairly well-educated movement on average, that as I think that probably the model alt-right member has at least some college education.

From “What’s the ‘alt-left’? Experts say it’s a ‘made-up term,’” via CNN Politics:

George Hawley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, said the “alt-left” term has been most aggressively pushed by Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, but it’s not a label anyone or group has adopted for themselves.

“There is no such movement as the alt-left. Obviously, there are left-wing extremists but there is no congruence between the far-left and the alt-right.”


Thursday, September 7th, 2017

The “Alt-Lite”

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

“A new term that appeared in mid-2016 is quite helpful: ‘Alt-Lite.’ I am aware of no one who uses the term as a self-description, and is it used as a derogatory term by the Alt-Right. Despite its origin, Alt-Lite is an appropriate description of people whose views on immigration and race relations partially overlap with those on the Alt-Right yet do not cross the line into open white nationalism.” — George Hawley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. In today’s post, Hawley takes a look at the “fellow travelers” of the Alt-Right movement, dubbed the “Alt-Lite,” and explains why making this distinction is crucial in coming to an accurate view of the Alt-Right.

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

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

The Long History of White Nationalism in America

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

“The issue of tone is important. Rage and hate were the primary emotions associated with the older white-nationalist movement. Even when it dabbled in popular culture, such as with the record label Resistance Records (which released punk and heavy-metal albums with white-nationalist lyrics), it was a movement transparently driven by resentment…. The Alt-Right offers something more attractive to potential supporters: edginess and fun.” — George Hawley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. To start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt, originally featured at LitHub, in which Hawley discusses the legacy of white nationalism in the United States, and the difficulty in tracing the lineage of the Alt-Right. You can read the article in full at LitHub.

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

The Long History of White Nationalism in America
By George Hawley

Detailing the history of white nationalism in America is trickier than it first appears. This is because, despite the egalitarian rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, the United States operated as a de facto white-supremacist nation for most of its history. This has been a subject of controversy for decades. No one disputes that slavery poses a problem for the narrative that America is, and always was, a beacon for freedom and equality. But debates continue as to what the most important Founding Fathers “really” thought about race and the future of equality.


Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Introducing Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

“Despite its innocuous name, the Alt-Right is also, at its core, a racist movement. I am generally hesitant (perhaps too hesitant) to label an individual, group, or political movement as racist. But in the case of the Alt-Right, there is no other appropriate word. I furthermore doubt that anyone seriously involved with the Alt-Right will challenge that characterization.” — George Hawley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. To start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Hawley’s introduction.

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

Monday, September 4th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Making Sense of the Alt-Right understands alt-right thinking from the inside. George Hawley’s erudition on the subject is evident. The work is supple in tracing out the lineage and development of the movement against the conservative establishment and in explaining its present incarnation in the form of the alt-right.” — Lawrence Rosenthal, University of California, Berkeley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. 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.

Monday, June 19th, 2017

The Curious Legacy of James Comey

The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism

The following is a guest post from Mark S. Hamm, coauthor of The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism:

The Curious Legacy of James Comey
By Mark S. Hamm

Say what you will about James Comey—to his supporters the fired FBI Director is a bona fide American hero while President Trump has derided him as a “showboat” and a “nut job”—but of this we can be sure: Comey’s revelations concerning Donald Trump’s possible attempt to obstruct justice in the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections has deflected public attention away from Comey’s performance as the nation’s top law enforcement official in the fight against domestic terrorism. He has much to answer for. The United States experienced more than two dozen terrorist attacks under Comey’s watch (September 2013-May 2017), including the ISIS-inspired mass shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando, along with shooting rampages by homegrown jihadists and anti-government extremists in Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Colorado, and Oregon. In all, more than two-hundred were killed or wounded in these attacks, including a number of police officers. The most lethal attacks were perpetrated by atomized “lone wolf” terrorists.

A major approach to preventing lone wolf terrorism in the United States is an aggressive FBI sting program designed to catch terrorists before they strike. Inaugurated under the presidency of George W. Bush, the FBI’s sting program became the nation’s leading preemptive counterterrorism strategy during Comey’s tenure at the FBI. In February 2015, at the peak of his influence, Comey announced that the bureau had investigations into “homegrown violent extremism” in all fifty states. Most were sting operations against suspects thought to be loyal to the Salafi Jihadism of ISIS.

Sting investigations begin when the FBI identifies a person who expresses interest in joining a terrorist group, be it jihadist, white supremacy, or other forms of extremism. Undercover FBI agents and confidential informants are then tasked with providing the necessary weapons, money, and transportation to carry out a terrorist attack. Almost always, these attacks involve the bombing of buildings, metros, or public gatherings. Once the sting “target” commits an overt criminal act in support of the bombing plot, he (they are mostly males) is arrested and prosecuted under federal terrorism enhancement provisions, which lead to draconian prison sentences. By producing compelling narratives of deadly attacks that they have foiled, FBI officials are able to show the White House and Congress that violent extremism is an imminent threat to national security and thus worthy of multibillion dollar budgets. The strategy is highly controversial.

Critics of the program maintain that those targeted in the stings lack the necessary criminal skill to carry out an attack on their own and that no example exists of a lone wolf becoming operational through meeting an actual terrorist in the United States. Critics further contend that the would-be terrorists are usually uneducated, economically desperate, and vulnerable young men with mental health or drug problems. (Even Comey has described lone wolf terrorists as “troubled souls who are seeking meaning in some misguided way.”) Because the FBI’s sting program concentrates its resources primarily in Muslim-American communities, critics charge that the FBI has eroded community trust in those areas, instigated fear, and silenced dissent necessary for participatory democracy. Moreover, say the critics, the United States is manufacturing terrorism by entrapping innocent Muslims.

To empirically investigate these claims, we compared a sample of fifteen would-be bombers targeted in FBI stings with sixty-seven “authentic” lone wolf terrorists —those who acted alone without government supervision—and made the following discoveries:
• Those targeted in the stings were younger. The average age for authentic lone wolves was thirty-one years old, compared to twenty-six for the sting cases. Three of the sting targets were teenagers.
• Unlike authentic lone wolves, those targeted in the stings were predominantly racial and ethnic minorities who came from Muslim-American communities.
• Sting targets were more likely than authentic lone wolves to hold a steady job.
• Sting targets were less likely to have a criminal record.
• About 40 percent of the sting targets suffered from mental illness, including six who were clinically diagnosed with schizophrenia. Yet the rate and severity of mental illness among authentic lone wolves was the same.

These, then, are the verifiable background differences between authentic lone wolf terrorists and those targeted by the FBI for sting operations: Authentic lone wolf terrorists are mainly unemployed white males with a criminal record, who on average are thirty-one years old; those arrested in stings are younger Muslim men from minority backgrounds with stable employment and no criminal past.

The FBI has created a standard procedure for reaching out to individuals who fit this profile, providing them with the ideological support, material backing, and sense of belonging necessary for committing acts of terrorism by killing innocent Americans with improvised bombs. Similar to the much maligned “broken windows” theory of urban law enforcement, FBI agents and informants find their bombers by trawling cyber neighborhoods of the Internet looking for what they call “Kramer Jihadists” (after the bumbling Seinfeld character) who espouse violence against the United States. Apart from its ethical implications, there are criminological questions raised by a policy expressly designed to turn ostensibly harmless people into mass murderers, and why that matters for national security.

The most catastrophic failure of Comey’s FBI was the bureau’s attempt to run a sting operation against Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman who killed forty-nine and wounded fifty-eight in the deadliest shooting in American history. Mateen came to the FBI’s attention in October 2013, when Mateen (then 26 years old) got into a heated argument with a deputy sheriff at a Florida courthouse where Mateen worked as a security guard. After claiming that he had family connections to the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhohkar Tsarnaev, Mateen said he had links to al-Qaeda and further hoped that the FBI would raid his apartment so that he could become a martyr. Then he threatened to kill the deputy sheriff and his family. Due to this portentous encounter, the FBI office in Orlando opened an investigation on Mateen and began a sting setup involving a confidential informant who engaged Mateen in discussions that were intended to encourage his participation in a plot to commit terrorism in the United States. Either because Mateen was too shrewd to accept the proposition, or because he may have become angry that he was being manipulated in this way, Mateen declined the informant’s offer. The FBI’s attempt to entrap Mateen into agreeing to carry out a terrorist attack raises the important question of whether James Comey’s counterterrorism policies played a role in enabling Mateen’s mass murder at the Pulse nightclub during the month of Ramadan 2016.

Unlike the “Kramer Jihadists” routinely targeted in FBI stings, not only was Mateen a true lone wolf who slipped under the radar, he was a “known wolf” who had undergone an extensive FBI investigation and still became a terrorist, who committed a historically lethal attack. At the end of the day, we are left with a simple reality: If the FBI sting program works only with marginal criminals, and not with the real threats like Mateen, then the policy only inflates the FBI’s prosecution numbers without making us safer.

Friday, January 6th, 2017

The Disaster of Half-Education

Death and Mastery

“[W]hen I help formulate the institutional statement that condemns x, or sign a petition to defend y, or go to a rally with a clever sign for z, what am I doing? Perhaps, in all or some of these activities, I am displaying agency – I, as an independent decision-maker, am doing something. But perhaps I am also mobilizing my half-education toward the maintenance of incomprehension and false projection.” — Benjamin Fong

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Benjamin Y. Fong, author of Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, looks at the tendencies of Horkheimer and Adorno’s “new anthropological type” and sees causes for concern in the wake of the 2016 election:

The Disaster of Half-Education
By Benjamin Y. Fong

My first book, Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, was published by Columbia University Press on election day 2016. It is above all an attempt to use psychoanalytic theory, like the original members of the Frankfurt School, to make sense of the tendencies of what Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno called “the new anthropological type.” At times, they described this new kind of capitalist subject as an actual psychological type very reminiscent of the Left’s stereotyped Trump supporter: this type rigidly adheres to conventional values; bears a submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the ingroup; has a tendency to be on the lookout for, and to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values; is opposed to the tender-minded; has a disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; etc. (See Peter E. Gordon, “The Authoritarian Personality Revisited: Reading Adorno in the Age of Trump”). It’s all quite spooky.

At other times, however, the new anthropological type was for them less an actual type of person and more an emergent set of tendencies in thinking brought on by the birth of what they called “the culture industry.” Loosely defined, the culture industry refers to the forms of media (film, television, radio) invented and propagated in the first part of the twentieth century. Many commentators on the work of the Frankfurt School believe that their views of the culture industry are dated, trapped in the Fordist-Keynesian era of mass production and consumption, but I have a difficult time understanding this line of thought. That we watch Emma Stone instead of Greta Garbo, that our kids know the new Disney characters instead of the old ones, that we’re all constantly looking at screens instead of reserving a few hours after work for them – none of this adds up to any qualitative break. No doubt the invention of the internet and the forms of social media that go along with it demand an updating of the culture industry thesis, but it’s hard to see how they don’t reinforce the ability of mass media institutions to categorize and cater to commodity consumers. (more…)

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Shirley Hazzard’s 2003 National Book Award Acceptance Speech

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think

We were terribly saddened to hear the news that Shirley Hazzard passed away Monday. We were fortunate to have the chance to publish a collection of her writing, We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays. In memory of her wonderful life and career, we have excerpted her National Book Award Acceptance speech from 2003 in which she concisely explains the power of the written (and read) word.

There’s a moment to say I am delighted, and I am delighted. I’m delighted to have been in the company of the other nominees tonight who of recent days I’ve heard read from their works and been so impressed by the variety of our feelings and our approaches. There was no uniformity at all in what we brought except the wish to do well by the English language, to find the word that mattered. I honor the people who were with me because I enjoyed so much hearing them read and hearing this large diversity.

I want to say in response to Stephen King that I do not—as I think he a little bit seems to do—regard literature (which he spoke of perhaps in a slightly pejorative way), that is, the novel, poetry, language as written, I don’t regard it as a competition. It is so vast. We have this marvelous language. We are so lucky that we have a huge audience for that language. If we were writing in high Norwegian, we would be writing in a great ancient language, but we would have mostly reindeer for our readers. I’m not sure that that is the ideal outcome. We have this huge language so diverse around the earth that I don’t think giving us a reading list of those who are most read at this moment is much of a satisfaction because we are reading in all the ages, which have been an immense inspiration and love to me and are such an excitement. (more…)

Friday, December 9th, 2016

John Pickrell on the Feathered Dinosaur Tail

Weird Dinosaurs

The following is an excerpt from an article that appears in full at the Australian Geographic website by John Pickrell, author of Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew on the recent stunning discovery of a perfect dinosaur tail perfectly preserved in amber.

The feathered dinosaur tail in amberDinosaur tail section running through the amber piece, surrounded by ants, a beetle and bits of plant.
IMAGE CREDIT: Royal Saskatchewan Museum/R.C. McKellar

Feathered Dinosaur Tail Found in Amber
John Pickrell

In Jurassic Park scientists found mosquitoes trapped in amber that had traces of dinosaur blood and DNA inside them. That was a fictional scenario, but researchers have now found what is, arguably, a much more exciting piece of prehistory trapped inside fossilised tree resin – the tail of a small carnivorous dinosaur covered in fluffy feathers.

Every week or so these days a new species of dinosaur is revealed to the world, but this specimen – dug up by amber miners in Myanmar (Burma) – has to be one of the most exciting discoveries of the past few years.

I first heard hints of this fossil when I interviewed its discoverer, Chinese palaeontologist Dr. Lida Xing, for my book Weird Dinosaurs early in 2016. Since then I have been waiting with great anticipation to the see these images.

A small coelurosaur dinosaur
A small coelurosaur dinosaur on the forest floor; the creature that left its tail in amber would have looked something like this.
IMAGE CREDIT: Cheung Chung-tat and Liu Yi

Today an international team of scientists – led by Lida, based at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, and amber fossil expert Dr Ryan McKellar at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada – reveal the details of the fossil in the journal Current Biology. What they have found is the tail of a small carnivorous dinosaur – it’s from a juvenile animal would have been about the size of a sparrow.

Read the full article at the Australian Geographic website!

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