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Archive for March, 2009

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Mr. Bezos Goes to Lexington — A Post from the Late Age of Print

The Late Age of PrintOn his blog The Late Age of Print, Ted Striphas, author of The Late Age of Print: Everyday Culture from Consumerism to Control, discusses Jeff Bezos’s recent decision to spend a week working at an Amazon warehouse in Lexington, Kentucky.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Local Amazon employees say Bezos is working in the warehouse with the company’s hourly employees to see what they do and hear their comments about their work.” And undoubtedly, Bezos’s decision to get his hands dirty is well-timed given the other news we’ve been hearing about regarding CEO’s.

However, Bezos’s stint as an Amazon warehouse employee also coincides with “with the quiet-ish shutdown of three of Amazon’s distribution facilities: in Munster, IN, Red Rock, NV, and Chambersburg, PA. More than 200 employees will be affected, though at least some will see transfers to neighboring facilities.”

In The Late Age of Print, Striphas describes the intense and sometimes difficult work environment at Amazon’s warehouses. In the post “Mr. Bezos Goes to Lexington,” Striphas writes:

In its rosier moods, the book industry likes to say that it favors culture over commerce. Perhaps that’s true, but claims like this can only be sustained by ignoring what, in The Late Age of Print, I call the book industry’s “back office.” This consists of places like Amazon.com’s colossal warehouses, which are nothing more and nothing less than labor intensive workplaces. I detail how so in the book; for more, check out this fascinating article from the Guardian (UK). Here’s an excerpt:

[T]he Sunday Times reported that staff at the . . . [Amazon warehouse at] Marston Gate near Milton Keynes . . . were required to work seven days a week and “punished” for being ill (where staff with a sick note received a “penalty” point; six points meant dismissal). The quotas for packing – 140 items an hour, which is only slightly below the 5 items per two minutes of 2001. Collecting items for packing can mean walking up to 14 miles during a shift.”

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Peter Maguire on the Cambodian Genocide Trials

Facing Death in CambodiaYesterday, The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) interviewed Peter Maguire, author of Facing Death in Cambodia, about the opening of the Cambodian genocide tribunal.

The long-delayed tribunal began with the testimony of the man known as Brother Duch. As Maguire states in the interview, the case against Duch is fairly solid since he has confessed to his crimes and there is strong evidence pointing to his role in the genocide. It is however an important test to see if the United Nations and the Cambodians can function as a court. Many questions remain regarding whether the Cambodian government has the will to see this process through and to bring more former leaders to trial.

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Evolutionary Explanations for March Madness

With March Madness coming to a conclusion in the next week and baseball season upon us, we wanted to highlight David P. Barash’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Roar of the Crowd: Sport Fans’ Primal Behavior.

David P. Barash, co-author of the forthcoming How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories: Evolutionary Enigmas, examines some of the evolutionary reasons behind our frequently feverish devotion to our favorite sports teams and athletes. As Barash puts it, “The real question we should be asking during the madness surrounding this month’s collegiate basketball championship is not who will win buy why anyone cares.”

Identification with sport’s figures and “seeing ourselves in the exploits of another” is a powerful draw for spectators. As Barash writes: “Maybe it is time to rework Andy Warhol’s observation that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes: Thanks to spectator sports, each of us can know fame for most of our lives, so long as we are satisfied with the ever-shifting, warmed-over shadow of someone else’s.”

However, Barash also points to many examples in the animal kingdom and in human evolution of the need to be a part of a group both for physical and emotional survival. It feels good, Barash argues, to feel that we are “part of something larger than ourselves, and thus nurtured, understood, accepted, enlarged, empowered, gratified, protected. This process is seen in the long tradition of military drills, and more perniciously in the persistence of nationalism, as well as in the less-violent (usually) call of rooting for the home team:

Dazzled by the prospect of being part of a group, fans eagerly wear the group’s insignia or team colors. They get to “know” the team members, “up close and personal,” as sports journalists like to boast, inducing many spectators to believe that they are personally important to “their” team’s success. In Japan, where baseball is the national passion as well as pastime, the illusion is carried even further: Thousands show up at every game fully dressed in their team’s uniform, as though just waiting to be called to the plate. In America there is always the occasional scramble to get a ball hit into the stands, although in reality the only real “participation” permitted major-league baseball fans is standing up for the national anthem and then the seventh-inning stretch. (Not that the latter should be disparaged; for many avid fans, after all, it is closest thing to exercise they are likely to get.)

Friday, March 27th, 2009

The Week in Review: University Press News

The last couple of weeks have seen some interesting developments both troubling and interesting. Troubling: The University Missouri of Press recently cut half its staff while the number of poetry readers continues to dwindle.

The interesting news includes the continuing migration of scholarly writing to digital formats. MIT joined Harvard and Stanford by adopting a university-wide open access policy for their faculty’s scholarly writing. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan Press will publish its monographs as digital editions but make them available via print-on-demand. Needless to say, their decision drew a variety of responses including those from Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed and from Mike Shatzkin’sIdea Logical Blog.

Of course, amidst all the news, University Presses continue to offer great new books. Here’s our semi-regular look at recent posts from university presses. (For those who want to keep up with university and independent presses, may we suggest the very helpful feedcluster that Jessica Bennet has created).

* The sad news about John Hope Franklin’s death was discussed on the blogs of LSU Press, the University of Chicago Press, the University of North Carolina Press, and Duke University Press.

* Griel Marcus’s Lipstick Traces gets a new look. (Harvard University Press)

* Scholarly journals are “like slow-food in a fast-food culture.” (Indiana University Press)

* “I’m a spectator of mathematics like others are spectators of soccer or pornography.”—Hollis Frampton (MIT Press)

* The author of Graffiti Lives talks about how vandalism can create community. (NYU Press)

* R. B. Bernstein responds to Rush Limbaugh’s use of his book Thomas Jefferson. (Oxford University Press)

* The authors of Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism hit the road to discuss their book. (Princeton University Press)

* Peter Jan Hoingsberg, author of Crossing Border Street: A Civil Rights Memoir, on the human consequences of the war on terror. (University of California Press)

* The University of Georgia Press, New York University Press, and Northern Illinois press receive a grant to support Early American Places, a new scholarly book series. (University of Georgia Press)

* The Madness of March. (University of Nebraska Press)

* Bloggers discuss History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. (University of Pennsylvania Press)

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

The Israeli Secret Services vs. Terrorism — A Post by Ami Pedahzur

Ami PedahzurIn an article written for Middle East Strategy at Harvard , Ami Pedahzur argues that the resources now being spent on counterterrorism operations should be allocated to other national security needs and that it is time for Israel and other nations to think more creatively about how to combat terrorism.

This takes up the argument that Pedahzur makes in his recent book The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism, in which he contends that defensive (improving security in public areas, improving domestic intelligence, etc.) rather than offensive, military measures are far more effective in reducing terrorism.

Moreover, policymakers fearing the political fallout from terrorist attacks tend toward aggressive, high-profile responses and that “this process is reinforced by the fact that the angry leaders naturally seek the advice of the security establishment. Most military and intelligence officers are trained to see any challenge from a narrow offensive perspective, and do not have a full grasp of the political and social causes and implications of terrorism and counterterrorism. Thus, they are likely to provide policymakers with a relatively limited set of aggressive options for response.”

Ultimately, this leads to a vicious cycle of violence that proves costly to governments. Citing the Israeli example, Pedahzur writes:

While the state enjoys superiority in technology and firepower, the insurgents usually fight within a well-known territory and easily assimilate among non-combatants. This leads the states to use air strikes and artillery attacks and thus to cause collateral damage amongst civilians. This vicious cycle eventually enhances popular support for the insurgents, as was reflected in Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon and 2009 war in Gaza. In most cases, after a long war of attrition, the state, which launched the attack and refused to negotiate with the terrorists, will cut a deal with them either through direct or indirect negotiations. In terms of winning or losing, such a scenario actually strengthens those who initiated the campaign of terror in the first place.

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Rent a Good Book Lately? — A Post from the Late Age of Print

The Late Age of PrintAt his blog The Late Age of Print, Ted Striphas author of The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control, revisits a chapter in publishing history to recount the practice of book rental. Striphas argues that given the current economic downturn and cuts in library budgets a rental service for books based on netflix might be worth investigating.

“Rental libraries,” as they were known, used to be a mainstay of U.S. book culture. Striphas writes:

The Waldenbooks chain (now owned by Borders) got its start that way, back in 1933. Founders Lawrence W. Hoyt and Melvin Kafka believed in books, but in the throes of the Great Depression, they decided against opening a retail bookstore. The pair saw books as something of a luxury, and reasoned that few people would be willing to part with what little money they had to purchase these non-essentials outright.

Like the founders of Netflix, Hoyt and Kafka bucked industry trends. They decided to set up shop in a department store in Bridgeport, CT, where they leased floor space in the hope of reducing fixed capital costs. And instead of selling books, they rented them out for three cents per day. By 1948, Hoyt and Kafka had opened as many as 250 rental libraries in department stores spanning from New York to Maine.


Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

William Milam on the Importance of Economic Assistance for Pakistan

William Milam, former ambassador to Pakistan and author of Bangladesh and Pakistan: Flirting with Failure in South Asia, recently testified about Pakistan before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Milam was joined by Steven Coll, author of Ghost Wars, and others. The USCIRF has made available a full transcript of the testimony.

While the situation in Pakistan is still fraught with potential danger, Milam thinks the Obama administration is moving in the right direction on both the economic and military fronts:

First of all, it’s clear to me that the Obama administration is seeing and sees Pakistan through a slightly different lens than the previous administrations. And I use that in plural. Pakistan remains an ally and a very important ally of the United States. But I think our focus is changing from the kind of sort of more open kind of relationship we had to a much more—to a relationship which is much more focused on changing the Pakistani mindset if that’s possible, in terms of resisting the threat that really threatens their state and being able to meet that threat.

This has led, I think, to a different kind of view of our cooperation with Pakistan, particularly the mix of assistance we would be giving Pakistan. The military side, I think, is much more going to be much more focused on counterinsurgency operations and the equipment, as well as the training, that is needed by the Pakistani army to do that. And our assistance will be much more economic in nature, I think. I believe that the administration is going to triple economic assistance. And that would go, I think, both to shoring up the economy, which is in terrible shape, as well as, I hope, over the longer term, to providing some aid for social developments and particularly education, which the public education system as you know, is in a state of collapse.

Milam also highlighted the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan which according to Milam became “A whole symbol of the desire for judicial independence. And attached to that was a lot of sort of unspoken desire for social and economic progress from, shall we say, the lower elements, the lower echelons of Pakistani society. It caught on. It had a lot of public support. It in fact was, in a sense, an idea—ideas really—whose time had come. But come again, because they’ve been here before. And it was also an example of how – when civil society in Pakistan actually coalesces around something, it can be quite effective. And that’s fairly rare, actually.”

Milam spoke to the BBC about Pakistan and his testimony:

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Ann Florini on Global Governance

Ann FloriniLast month Ethics and International Affairs, a publication of The Carnegie Council interviewed Ann Florini, editor of The Right to Know Transparency for an Open World, about issues relating to global governance. The Carnegie Council has now made available video and audio versions of the interview along with a transcript.

In the wide-ranging interview, Florini discusses the idea of global governance, the challenge of establishing global norms, and the successes and failures of civil society NGOs and institutions such as the U.N. and the World Bank. Despite the criticism that institutions like the U.N. receive, Florini argues that global institution and civil society groups have been essential in issues such as regulating climate change or treaties banning antipersonnel land mines.

Global governance and institutions, Florini argues, are crucial since they force attention and enable coordination on issues that national governments might not react to due to political concerns. While Florini is skeptical of organizations such as John McCain’s proposes “League of Democracies,” or Madeline Albright’s “Community of Democracies,” she sees an important, though qualified role, for the United States. Florini says:

There’s very much a leadership role for the United States. I’m hoping that the people in the Obama Administration are seeing that as well. They seem to be. They are saying that quite a bit.

The United States isn’t the overwhelmingly dominant power that it used to be, but it is still the preeminent country in the world. There tends to be a reluctance on the part of other governments to step forward and exercise leadership, partly because nobody else is in the habit of doing it.

They don’t have the mechanisms and the habits of thoughts of saying, “We are going to be the ones to set forth the way to deal with a given problem.” People tend to wait for the United States to act.

I was in some very interesting conversations in Asia in the last several months about how Asia ought to respond to the global economic crisis. In the private conversations, especially before the election and before the inauguration, it was, “We’ll wait to see what Obama does.” It was just the almost instinctive reaction.

So there is definitely a role for the United States to exercise leadership. But leadership doesn’t mean making the rules and expecting others to follow. Leadership means setting up the opportunities for negotiation, listening to what other people’s interests are, discovering where the bargains might be across issue areas, so that you get some kind of reciprocity.

You get others involved, because you are dealing with the things that they care about. That’s the kind of leadership the United States now needs to exercise.

If it’s prepared to do that, there are already all sorts of institutions, forums, organizations. The person who has just become the director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department (Anne-Marie Slaughter) is famous for her work on networks and I think is going to be looking for ways that the United States can help to develop networks, both governmental and nongovernmental.

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Tibet and China: The Past in the Present — Tsering Shakya in Open Democracy

In commemoration of the events of 1959, the Chinese government recently announced the creation of “Serf Liberation Day” to celebrates China’s “liberation” of Tibet from the evils of the oppressive Tibet’s former rulers.

In an article published yesterday in Open Democracy, Tsering Shakya, author of The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947, argues that the proposed festival underscores China’s failure to understand the attitudes and resiliency of the Tibetan people. The festival, which is bound to be dismissed or re-interpreted by Tibetans, also highlights the failure of the local Tibetan officials, supported by Beijing, to be viewed as legitimate rulers. The show that will be put on to “commemorate” the “liberation” of Tibet will be just that—a show:

For local Tibetan officials, the intended message of Serf Liberation Day will be the delivery of public mass compliance to the leadership in Beijing. A choreographed spectacle – in which former “serfs” will tearfully recount the evils of the past while locals in their hundreds march past the leaders’ podium, dressed in colourful costumes and dancing in unison – will both reinforce the party’s narrative of 1959 and convey the contentment of Tibetans today. This will allow the Tibetan officials to produce the performances required to retain their posts, and the local people to fulfill the needs of the local leaders so that they can be allowed to maintain their livelihoods.

Of course events like “Serf Liberation Day” also fail to obscure the outbreaks of popular protest against Chinese rule in Tibet. Tsering Shakya concludes the article by writing:

The Chinese government response to protest favoured by party hardliners is to combine nationalist fervour, colonial attitudes and brute force in shifting increasingly towards an agenda of control and rushed development. This approach, far from eliminating Tibetan opposition, will further alienate the Tibetan population.

The commemoration of “Serf Liberation Day” is a classic illustration of the nature of Chinese power over Tibetans. Until local voices are listened to and local memories understood, until issues of perception and language that surround the Tibetan situation are addressed, until a political settlement based on the devolution of power is considered, it is unlikely that any progress will be possible.

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Measuring the Legitimacy of States — Bruce Gilley’s The Right to Rule

Can the legitimacy of a state be measured? Is it possible to determine how much faith a citizenry has in its government? What’s Denmark doing right and what’s happening in France?

In his new book The Right to Rule: How States Win and Lose Legitimacy, Bruce Gilley measures the legitimacy of countries throughout the world. Gilley argues that by studying the attitudes of citizens, the actions of governments, and the political and institutional conditions in a country, it is possible to measure the legitimacy of a state.

Drawing on factors such as public opinion surveys and media commentary on corruption, the constitution, police, political institutions, etc. along with data on election turnout, popular protest, political violence, the size of the internal police, emigration, military recruitment, etc., Gilley determines a “legitimacy score” for each nation. (see chart below.)

The highest ranking nation is Denmark with a score of 7.62 out of 10. This compares with Russia which scores 2.27. The United States ranks 8th (6.82) and while the top 10 does not offer too many surprises, i. e. liberal Western democracies, it is interesting to see that Azerbaijan is ranked 9th and China ranks 13th while countries like Japan (27th) and France (33rd), which is constantly rocked by protests, violence, and broader social alienation seem to be losing the faith of their citizens.

For more on The Right to Rule, you can also read an interview with Bruce Gilley.

Gilley chart

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

Earlier this week at South by Southwest, there was a surprise screening of Todd Haynes’s legendary and brilliant film Superstar. The film has become notorious for its use of dolls to narrate the tragic life of the singer Karen Carpenter, and for its legal problems— the film was withdrawn from circulation following a legal battle with Karen’s brother Richard Carpenter.

However the film can be shown for academic purposes and has made it to youtube and google video (see below). Perfectly coinciding with the film’s showing at SXSW is Glyn Davis’s new study of the film, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which is part of the Cultographies series.

Davis details the film’s fascinating history: its production and initial reception, its journey through the courts, and its bootleg circulation among fans. It also explores Superstar’s rich, provocative, and moving content, paying close attention to the film’s aesthetics, generic form, and cultural position as a hybrid text.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Selling Gandhi — Joseph Kip Kosek on History News Network

Yesterday, the History News Network posted an article by Joseph Kip Kosek, author of Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy. In the article, “Selling Gandhi,” Kosek writes about the very un-Gandhian spectacle of Gandhi’s personal effects being auctioned off to the highest bidders. While many critics see the auction as a violation of sorts, Kosek suggests that while Gandhi often tried to resist the trappings of modernity and materialism, he would also use them when it served his purposes. Throughout his life, Gandhi balanced the modern and the anti-modern to define his mode of politics.

Kosek argues that Gandhi was “entangled in American ‘materialism and commercialism,’” and was a “canny participant” in the modern world. Gandhi was adept at using news media to get his message across and present an image of himself to the world. However, this more complicated and “less pure” image of Gandhi in many ways serves as a better reflection of the man himself and his message. Kosek writes:

Even the most distinctive emblems of Gandhian austerity, his clothes, could be commodified. Krishnalal Shridharani, a participant in the March to the Sea who later lived in the United States, noted back in 1939 that the Indian leader’s peculiar dress had its own presence in popular culture. “As an originator of fashions,” Shridharani wrote, “Gandhi can well be the envy of Hollywood stars.” Movies and the mahatma were, perhaps, more amenable than we think. Long before Gandhi’s sandals were auctioned, his photogenic persona was “sold” in American mass media as a symbol of moral integrity, a symbol that generated international sympathy for Indian independence.

To stress Gandhi’s engagement with the modern world might seem to impugn his motives or cast doubt on his sincerity, but that would be a misunderstanding. Instead, the point is that he is, in Salman Rushdie’s words, “infinitely more interesting” than his well-meaning protectors allow. His creative uses of media, technology, and popular culture showed that, as Rushdie puts it, “Gandhian intelligence” may be more powerful than “Gandhian piety.” Gandhi the distant saint is more comfortable, but Gandhi the endlessly resourceful innovator is far more relevant to our current crises of violence and injustice.

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Peter Gay reviews Breeding by Jenny Davidson in Bookforum

Breeding, by Jenny DavidsonPeter Gay has many good things to say about Jenny Davidson’s Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century in the most recent issue of Bookforum.

However, before getting to a discussion of the book itself, Gay focuses his attention on the title:

In the course of a long career, I have read many books and reviewed a sizable number of them, but I have never encountered a title quite so felicitous as that of Jenny Davidson’s Breeding. Its subtitle, A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century, is equally ambiguous: The word breeding embraces the work of nature as well as that of nurture in the making of humans; partial is synonymous, on the one hand, with partisan or one-sided and, on the other, with imperfect or incomplete. These are the two double meanings Davidson explores, only to conclude that during the eighteenth century, her special field, breeding meant both human qualities imposed by heredity and those added to original endowment by knowledge.

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Political Manhood by Kevin Murphy Named as a Finalist for the Lambda Awards

Political Manhood by Kevin MurphyThe Lambda Literary Foundation named Political Manhood: Red Bloods, Mollycoddles, and the Politics of Progressive Era Reform, by Kevin Murphy as a finalist in the category of LGBT Studies.

The winners will be announced on May 28th.

In a review of the book, Michael Moon, author of A Small Boy and Others: Imitation and Initiation in American Culture from Henry James to Andy Warhol writes:

“Murphy makes a major intervention in the historiography of gender and sexuality in the United States of the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-centuries. There have, for some time now, been a few fine historical studies of the emergence of male-male sexual communities in American metropolises. Murphy synthesizes their findings and much more recent historical work to produce what is to my mind the first entirely successful study of the complex relations between male sexual desire and sexual behavior and shifting models of ‘manhood’ or masculine gender identities in Americanist historiography.”

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Herve This Video for Building a Meal

In conjunction with the publication of Herv&eacute This’s new book Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism, we’ve produced a special video of This in the lab discussing the book and his ideas about cooking.

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Further Thoughts on the UCSD Breast Cancer Cluster: The Garland Report — A Posting by Geoffrey Kabat

Geoffrey Kabat, Hyping Health RisksThe following post is by Geoffrey Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Kabat has conducted studies of environmental factors, including EMF, in relation to breast cancer risk, and is the author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology.

In an earlier post from February 20th I commented on the alarm caused by the report of a “cluster” of eight breast cancer cases diagnosed between 2000 and 2008 in one building on the campus at the University of California at San Diego. I have now examined the report commissioned by the UCSD administration, which was drafted by a UCSD epidemiologist. While providing only limited information about the characteristics of the eight breast cancer cases, the report focuses attention on exposure to electromagnetic fields from the building’s elevator, concluding that such exposure could have made a “modest” contribution to the cluster.

I believe that this initial response to the UCSD cluster is unfortunate and provides an example of how the response to a health scare can have negative consequences, causing needless anxiety and confusion, when what is needed is a systematic and critical approach reflecting the best that epidemiology as a discipline has to offer.

The report by Professor Cedric Garland addresses potential exposures in the Literature Building, where the eight women diagnosed with breast cancer worked as faculty or staff. Professor Garland considers potential hazards from molds, chemical, and radiological exposures, finding no support for these as playing any role in the breast cancer cluster. The final issue, which receives the most attention, is the possibility that exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) from the elevator and electrical equipment may have contributed to the cluster.

Professor Garland concludes that “some possibility exists” that exposure to electromagnetic fields on the first floor of the building in very close proximity to the electrical and elevator equipment rooms could have “contributed modestly” to increased risk, although he states that “this exposure is unlikely to be a principal cause of breast cancer that has been diagnosed in people who have worked in this small area” (pp. 20-21).

The Garland report is clearly being taken seriously by the university administration, which has hired a UCLA epidemiologist specializing in EMF to conduct a two-month investigation of the cluster. In addition, the author’s identification of EMF as a possible hazard has caused anxiety and anger, and has prompted calls for the administration to take action to remediate the hazard (see story in Inside Higher Ed). For these reasons, it is important to take a critical look at the case Professor Garland makes for a role of EMF.


Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Robert Barnett on the 50th Anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s Flight from Tibet

Lhasa, Robert BarnettYesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s forced exile to India and to discuss the event, NPR interviewed Robert Barnett, director modern Tibetian studies at Columbia University and author of Lhasa: Streets with Memories.

Barnett, who was in touch with Tibetians until the government shut down text messaging for “maintenance,” argues that China has never managed to win the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people, and committed a rather egregious mistake by banning the worship of the Dalai Lama fifty years ago. Though Chinese government officials have in principle agreed to meet with the Dalai Lama, they don’t really know how to talk to him.

Barnett also discussed the effect of news on the radio from afar. Interestingly, Tibetans who live in the countryside have access to the Voice of America and are very well informed on world events but the Chinese jam the radio waves in the city and as a result urban dwellers are dismally informed.

There have been multiple tiny protests in various towns in Tibet recently consisting of one or two people standing up in the town square voicing discontent and slogans. The Chinese, Barnett argues, have to be very careful about how they deal with these since if they crack down too hard they will have a full-scale protest on their hands rather quickly.

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Is Obama Satan’s Warm-up Act? Mark Hulsether in Religion Dispatches


As Mark Hulsether, author of Religion, Culture and Politics in the Twentieth Century United States, notes in his recent piece in Religion Dispatches, “End Times believers consider Barack Obama as a serious contender for the Antichrist.”

The Obama-as-Antichrist rhetoric got a further hearing when Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, co-authors of the Left Behind series, discussed it on the Rachel Maddow show. While the authors backed away from suggesting that Obama himself was the Antichrist and even conceded that he “might be a closet Christian,” LaHaye and Jenkins view Obama’s “socialist” policies as prophetic of the End of Times:

LaHaye repeatedly returned to the dual claim that prophetic scenarios foretell a stage of socialism in which “government controls everything”—redistributing wealth from the haves to the have-nots—and that Obama is such a socialist working for such a world. His key argument was that Obama’s policies suggest that prophecies are falling into place. In other words, Obama is playing his part as a key leader of the bad guys even if he’s not the Antichrist himself.

Hulsether concludes the article by speculating on the Rush Limbaugh-like position LaHaye puts himself in by hoping for the worst:

Maddow did a nice job of pressing LaHaye about whether he looked forward to his scenario of doom (at least for unraptured people)—a vision somewhat akin to Rush Limbaugh’s desire for Obama to fail, but in this case intensified by religious emotion. LaHaye seemed unsure how to frame his response—how much to stress that he hoped for the sake of the country that his bleaker scenarios would not unfold, as opposed to hoping based on his theology that they would unfold.

Perhaps his uncertainty holds out a small thread of optimism for citizens who, like our president, “might be closet Christians” or unlikely candidates for rapture. If LaHaye continues to be slightly embarrassed spinning his theories in public, most likely because he fears how they will appear in the light of rational public inquiry, this cannot be entirely good news for the “Obama as Antichrist” discourse, even when it scores a prominent spot on prime-time television.

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Alternet on All the Art That’s Fit to Print

Henry Kissinger

Alternet posted a piece by Steve Brown on the various illustrations for the Op-Ed page that have been killed by the New York Times over the years. In fact, rejecting illustrations, such as David Levine’s depiction of Kissinger, has cost the Times more than $1 million in “kill fees.” The Kissinger image and others can be found in Jerelle Kraus’s All the News That’s Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn’t): Inside the New York Times Op-Ed Page.

Brown’s post at alternet highlights other images from the book, including many never before published, as well as a description of Kraus’s discussion about the book at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore on the Upper West Side. Brown writes:

It was no surprise to see a large contingent of Times editors, reporters, and other former colleagues in the audience, snickering gleefully at the follies of their masters — and wishing the author well — but wearing dark glasses and pulled-down hats just in case anyone might be watching.

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Video Part 2 of Alan Wallace talking about Mind in the Balance

A while ago we posted here part 1 of an interview with Alan Wallace, author of the recently published book, Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity. Today, we are posting part 2 of the video series. For the entire video discussion visit the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies Youtube channel.

We’ve also recently published a previous B. Alan Wallace book, Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge, in paperback.