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Archive for April, 2009

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Joseph Kip Kosek at the Library of Congress

Acts of ConscienceThe Library of Congress has recently posted a video of Joseph Kip Kosek discussing his recent book Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy.

Here is a description of the talk from the Library of Congress:

According to Kosek, in response to the massive bloodshed that defined the 20th century, American religious radicals developed an effective new form of nonviolent protest, one that combined Christian principles with new uses of mass media. Greatly influenced by the ideas of Mohandas K. Gandhi, these “acts of conscience” included sit-ins, boycotts, labor strikes and conscientious objection to war. Beginning with World War I and ending with the ascendance of Martin Luther King Jr., Kosek traces the impact of radical Christian pacifists on America.

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Farzana Shaikh: The Vacuum That Rules Pakistan

Making Sense of PakistanFarzana Shaikh, author of the forthcoming Making Sense of Pakistan, recently argued in a recent op-ed in The Independent that “there is now an almost fateful inevitability that a major terrorist attack in the UK will carry a Pakistani imprint.”

The threat of Pakistani terrorists acting abroad became more pronounced with the recent arrest of 11 Pakistani nationals suspected of a terrorist plot. However, despite the evidence of Pakistani nationals as terrorists, the government of Pakistan has been slow, particularly in the eyes of Western government, to contain the threat of terrorism.

In her op-ed, Shaikh lays out some of the political and historical complexities that shape Pakistan’s response or lack of response to terrorism, including its traditional enmity toward India and its mistrust of the West. However, Shaikh also suggests that Pakistan will not be able to “do more” about terrorism until it clarifies its relationship with Islam. She writes:

Ultimately, however, Pakistan’s capacity and willingness to “do more” to meet the terrorist challenge will depend neither on political arrangements at home nor on the material support of allies from abroad. Rather it will depend on the country’s confidence to project an identity grounded in a clearer vision of the state’s vexed relationship with Islam, which has left it prey to deep divisions, for it is this vacuum that has rendered it vulnerable to the forces of extremism. And it is these that now endanger both the state of Pakistan as well as the security of its neighbours and the wider international community.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

The Quarterly Conversation Reviews The Late Age of Print & The Late Age of Print on “Amazonfail”

The Late Age of PrintTwo worthwhile items relating to Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control:

A few weeks ago Scott Esposito, published an interview with Ted Striphas and has now followed that up with a review on Quarterly Conversation. As we’ve come to expect from The Quarterly Conversation, the review offers a thoughtful assessment of Striphas’s understanding of the history of the distribution and publication of books and what it means in today’s seemingly ever-changing publishing landscape.

Amid the praise Esposito also wonders if Striphas might have missed an opportunity to join his analysis of the publishing infrastructure (bookstores, digitial editions, copyright, ISBNs, etc.) with an examination of the values underlying the late age of print. However, he concludes the review, writing, “Those who hope to understand the industry at its crossroads should read The Late Age of Print, and hope that more books like it are written.”

Striphas himself continues to examine the publishing industry and the late age of print on his blog. Waiting for the dust to settle, Ted Striphas weighs in on the “Amazonfail” controversy in his posting Amazonfail and the Algorithmic Culture.

(more…)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Herve This and Pierre Gagnaire on Synthetic Foods

Herve This
A recent article in the Times of London discusses how Herve This, author of the recently published Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism, and legendary chef Pierre Gagnaire have created the first entirely synthetic gourmet dish.

Created from chemical compounds, the recipe entitled le note à note is a starter of jelly balls tasting of apples and lemon; creamy on the inside and crackling on the outside. The ingredients? Tartaric acid, glucose, and polyphenols.

In what is seemingly a movement that goes against the grain of our current obsession with everything natural and organic, This believes that chemistry and the use of pure compounds is the future of haute cuisine: From the article:

If you use pure compounds, you open up billions and billions of new possibilities,” Mr This said. “It’s like a painter using primary colours or a musician composing note by note.”

He says compound cooking will enthral our taste buds — or, rather, our trigeminal nerve — and help to end food shortages and rural poverty because farmers could increase profitability by “fractioning their vegetables”.

Critics will complain that none of the ingredients in le note à note is what they might call natural.

Mr This has little time for such thinking. “Sugar is not natural. Chips are not natural. They are both artificial. And if you tried to eat a wild carrot, you’d find it disgusting.”

Man has refined, modelled and selected these foodstuffs into edible commodities, he argues — so why not go a stage further and break them down into chemical compounds, which are “better allies for chefs than brute vegetable and animal products? It is a question of common sense in terms of culinary technique”.

Mr This is hailing culinary constructivism, as he describes the discipline, as the next stage in the appliance of science to the kitchen after molecular gastronomy. His earlier work involved the input of chemistry and physics into cuisine.

As the article mentions, not everyone is on board and there is an interesting response to This’s embrace of synthetic compounds on Chadzilla, an excellent food blog.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Mere Fondness for the Beautiful — A Post by Stephen Burt

Stephen BurtStephen Burt teaches in the English Department at Harvard University. He is most recently the author of Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry and The Forms of Youth: Twentieth-Century Poetry and Adolescence. He has also written three books of poems and has a poetry blog, appropriately named Close Calls with Nonsense.

I read this morning—via the National Endowment for the Arts and its new report, as noted on Harriet, the blog of the Poetry Foundation—that 17% of Americans read poetry (read at least one poem that year) in 1992, 12% read poetry in 2002, and 8% read it in 2007: the reading of poetry, any poetry at all, is in what statisticians call a long-term decline.

That’s alarming, but how alarming? It’s no news that poetry no longer occupies the place it had in American life in 1960, or 1860: when serious poets or poetry turn up in some slice of the mass media (say, Frank O’Hara in the TV show Mad Men) their appearance becomes, in the poetry world, big news. Poets (Frost, Longfellow, Whittier) once seemed central to American culture, religion and education, even more important, then, than our best-known novelists (Hemingway, Faulkner, Morrison, Roth) seem now: if you want to see how important, check out the American historian Joan Shelley Rubin’s book Songs of Ourselves. But if you do check it out, you may not see the poems, or the kinds of reading, that you expect if you read lots of poetry now: you’ll see a lot of “uses of poetry,” but not so much of the poetry that means the most now to the Americans (and the other English-speaking people) who read, and write, poetry all the time, who live our lives in constant proximity to this art form.

What does it mean to live with, to depend on, poetry when fewer and fewer people care for it each year? Maybe it means—exactly what it would mean if more and more people were caring about each year. Maybe our relationship to poetry isn’t, and can’t be, mediated, if we really care about it, by the desire to use it for something else, to make it Important, to make it (here comes a verb we expect in this connection) “matter”: not if “matter” comes with the footnote “in some demographically measurable way.”

(more…)

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

More from William Logan — An Excerpt from Our Savage Art

William LoganAs Poetry Month winds to a close and with Sunday’s NYT review still fresh in our minds, we thought it appropriate to return once again to William Logan’s Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue.

In the opening essay to the book, “The Bowl of Diogenes; or The End of Criticism,” William Logan looks at the task of the critic. You can read the entire essay here but here is how Logan concludes the essay:

The critic, if he is to be a critic, must risk being wrong, must say what seems right to him, though it makes him a laughingstock for generations afterward. A critic who does his job must be a good hater if he’s to be a good lover, because if he likes everything he reads he likes nothing well enough—and the critic lives for the moment when he discovers a book so rare his first instinct is to cast such a pearl before readers (some of whom will be swine who ignore it; others, the real readers, simply people with a taste for pearls). The daily job of the critic, what he does in the meanwhile, is to explore the difficulty of poetry, not for other readers, but for himself, because who is the critic critical for, if not himself? This may seem to make a minor craft more a moral virtue than a moral failing; but a critic needs no deeper philosophy or impulse than that criticism is what he does—it is, in Blackmur’s phrase, his “job of work.” When Diogenes threw away his bowl, in other words, he made a mistake.

Monday, April 27th, 2009

The New York Times Reviews William Logan’s Our Savage Art

Our Savage ArtGiven William Logan’s sharp criticisms of contemporary poets (see examples here and here), one could only wonder how he might fare under the scrutiny of another critic. So, how would the New York Times Book Review assess William Logan’s new book Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue?

Not surprisingly, reviewer Mark Ford highlights some of the more memorable shots that Logan has taken at contemporary poets:

“The only way Ammons could have improved ‘Ommateum’ would have been to burn it”; “Almost everything Graham writes offers the swagger of emotion, pretentiousness by the barrelful and a wish for originality that approaches vanity — she’s less a poet than a Little Engine that Could, even when it Can’t”; or, on Billy Collins: “He’s the Caspar Milquetoast of contemporary poetry, never a word used in earnest, never a memorable phrase. . . . If such poems look embarrassing now, what are they going to look like in 20 years?”….

Ford commends Logan for not being timid in his criticism (an understatement to be sure) and his refusal to follow the fashions of the day in poetry or criticism. Often lost amdist Logan’s biting critiques are his essays that praise and celebrate the works of the poets that Logan admires. Ford concludes by pointing to Logan’s essay celebrating and rescuing the work of the relatively unknown poet John Townsend Trowbridge.

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Antoine Bousquet’s The Scientific Way of Warfare Takes the Page 99 Test

Scientific Way of WarfareThe Page 99 Test is an intriguing Web site that takes up Ford Maddox Ford’s suggestion that if you “”Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”

Antoine Bousquet has done this with his book The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity. Here’s what he had to say:

P.99 of The Scientific Way of Warfare discusses the role of the scientist John von Neumann in the development of two technologies that would play a central role in the Cold War, namely nuclear weaponry and the computer. It is representative of the book as a whole in that the latter is concerned with the complex and intimate relationship of science and war since the dawn of the modern age. The Manhattan Project has been often portrayed as the moment of science’s loss of innocence but science had in fact long been intertwined with military activity from the early proximity between the study of ballistics and the formulation of the laws of motion in the seventeenth century.

(more…)

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Laura Mitchell on the South African Elections

Laura J. Mitchell, author of Belongings: Property, Family, and Identity in Colonial South Africa, An Exploration of Frontiers, 1725- c. 1830, recently contributed an article to Huffington Post about the upcoming elections in South Africa.

Despite its many problems South Africa has stood as a kind of beacon of democracy in contrast to the brutal one-man rule that often characterizes the governments of its African neighbors. However, as Mitchell argues the situation in South Africa is becoming increasingly precarious. Government corruption, poverty, and a spiraling AIDS/HIV crisis all threaten the stability of the country.

The likely winner of the election Jacob Zuma, head of the African National Congress (ANC) has populist appeal and speaks to the problems of the working-classes but is also dogged by charges of corruption and suspect political tactics, not to mention his refusal to seriously confront the issue of HIV/AIDS. Mitchell concludes her piece by speaking to some of these contradictions in Zuma’s positions:

Although Zuma’s critics point out his shortcomings, he offers an alternative within the ANC, reaching beyond the small black middle class that has benefited greatly from post-1994 changes while workers have not. As Ronald Reagan reminded US voters in 1980, we should not be surprised when a majority that feels underserved opts for change.

It is, however, disturbing when the fruits of that change seem decidedly undemocratic. Zuma’s disregard for the rule of law is evident. His admitted disregard for safer sex in a country where HIV/AIDS remains epidemic is more telling. Zuma has populist appeal, but believing himself to be immune from a virus indicates the degree to which he thinks himself different from ordinary folk.

(more…)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Can Evolution Explain the Female Orgasm?

How Women Got Their CurvesWe recently posted an excerpt on evolutionary explanations of the female orgasm from David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton’s How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories. The post received some, well let’s say hard-earned praise from Jessa Crispin at Bookslut:

I generally find articles that try to figure out the evolutionary purpose of the female orgasm offensive and weird. Like, “Gee, it seems to have no purpose at all! You ladies sure lucked out.” And then I stab the researcher to death. But this chapter on the female orgasm from David Barash and Judith Eve Lipton’s How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories: Evolutionary Enigmas … is less bad than the others. (They talk about Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s research, and I have yet to see Hrdy do anything wrong.)

The female orgasm is just one of the evolutionary enigmas that Barash and Lipton explore as they examine questions such as “Why do women have breasts, while other mammals only develop breast tissue while lactating, and why do women menstruate when virtually no other beings do so? and of course “How did women get their curves.”

As to the female orgasm, the authors examine a variety of possible evolutionary explanations including the idea that it facilitates fertilization and that it is the body’s way of telling a woman that she has found a suitable partner and potential father. In a sense, the orgasm might let women know whether their partner is a “cad” or a “dad.” (These are of course, evolutionary explanations and the authors recognize that the orgasm is not limited to heterosexual intercourse or the propagation of the species.) The authors write:

Male mammals are, in a sense, roving inseminators. Sperm are abundant and cheap, and males, as a result, are primed by evolution to be quick on the draw and not terribly selective as to targets. Their modus operandi is shoot first and ask questions later, if at all. But in certain species, human beings most especially, males have more to contribute: they can be providers, protectors, helpmates, and partners, not just lovers. In addition, a man’s behavior as a lover may yield some clues as to his inclination in these other crucial dimensions. According to a simple game theory model, males can be caricatured as either Cads or Dads. Cads are superficially attractive, but lack parental follow-through; they’re inclined to love ’em and leave ’em. Dads are, as their name implies, more likely to stay the course and to take the kids to soccer games, but less flashy and perhaps with less instantaneous sex appeal. Might it be that the elusive orgasm has been tuned to help transcend first appearances and encourage women to respond to men who aren’t simply out for a quick sexual encounter—that is, to respond in favor of those who are likely to be Dads? If so, how might this work?

If female orgasm were unlocked quickly and easily, then any Cad could do the trick, then be on his way. But, of course, it isn’t. Women are somewhat slower to rouse, often requiring extensive foreplay and direct, focused attention to the clitoris, which, after all, isn’t within the vagina and thus isn’t likely to be stimulated by a hurried and selfish sexual “technique.” This requirement, in turn, may have set the stage for a woman to assess whether her partner demonstrates an inclination to be lovingly generous, predisposed to meet her needs rather than selfishly focus only on his own pleasure. If so, then maybe he’ll also be inclined to pay for the kids’ orthodonture.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Earth Day Selection: Climate Change by Edmond Mathez

Climate ChangeLeave it to George Will to not let us forget why Earth Day is still necessary. As the conservative columnist continues to dig himself a deeper hole by attacking global warming science, we are reminded why it so important that the facts (yes, the facts) are available and circulated.

With that in mind, we’d like to recommend Edmond Mathez’s Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future. Mathez, who is also the curator of the excellent Climate Change exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, synthesizes and explains the science underlying both the natural progress of climate change and the effect of human activity on the deteriorating health of our planet.

For more on the book, we have posted the book’s introduction and chapter 6: Learning from Climates Past. And here is a brief excerpt from the introduction in which Mathez explains why knowing the science and the facts behind climate change is so important.

What we do know from the available records, both geological and observational, is that the climate is changing. Hardly a day goes by without some mention of it in the news. Earth’s climate is warming; CO2 and other greenhouse gases have been building up in the atmosphere mainly as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuel; and the scientific evidence is now overwhelming that this buildup is causing the warming. These statements are the facts of climate change.

Less certain are how much the climate will warm in response to growing emissions and to what extent the warming will change the world around us. Should the warming be substantial, it may have huge, negative impacts on biodiversity, ecosystems, agriculture, the global economy, and the health of human societies everywhere. These possible results are the fears of climate change.

It is important to separate the facts from the fears because although the facts give us insight, the fears reflect uncertainty. We will need knowledge and ingenuity to respond to global warming. To gain them we must start with the facts.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Michael Ruhlman on Herve This

Herve ThisWell-known food author and cooking expert Michael Ruhlman was recently in New York City and wrote about and quoted from Hervé This’sBuilding a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism.

The post begins with a recipe for Vanilla sauce in black and white and then includes the following update from Ruhlman:

UPDATE POST MIDNIGHT, 4/17: It is the irony of fate that i was to join a conversation at NYU this afternoon hosted by a group called Experimental Cuisine Collective, in itself a lucky situation, and so had requested an early copy of a new book by French chemist and gastronomer Hervé This, because I thought it might be interesting fodder. The book is Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Conservatism. I found it on the bed of my hotel room in a padded yellow envelope. The next day, yesterday, I found myself, one hand on an overhead bar, rattling back and forth on the F train from 57th to W 4th, reading this, exactly while the below comments were being written. Coincidence? Yes. But still:

The curious thing is that in the realm of cooking the question of preservation should be posed by scientists and not by cooks themselves, who have blithely gone about changing it in various ways, following their own aesthetic tastes. No one today any longer makes custard, for example, the way people did a hundred years ago. The number of egg yolks per quart (as many as 16) seemed excessive, and it was reduced without anyone wondering whether there was a law against changing the proportion. Cooks fixed up this or that room of the ancestral home without trying to form an overall idea of it, without imagining the long-term consequences of what they were doing.
The time has come to ask what we can renovate and what we ought to preserve. …
–Hervé This

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Leonard Cassuto, English Professor, on John Madden, Football Announcer

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Leonard Cassuto, the author of Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories, argues that recently retired football announcer John Madden “made us smarter.”

Admittedly, Cassuto’s book has nothing to do with football but his WSJ article does offer an insightful assessment of Madden’s talent and impact. Cassuto commends Madden for giving the viewer credit for wanting to know more about the game and offering “intellectual explanations” about strategy. However, he was also always entertaining. Cassuto writes, “Football is both unusually technical and unusually violent. Mr. Madden entertained his viewers because he embraced both elements. His onscreen persona combined the hyperenthusiastic fan with the hyperanalytical coach.”

Cassuto also cites Madden’s influence on announcers in other sports who have emulated his more analytical approach and applied to baseball, basketball, etc:

Mr. Madden raised the intelligence level of sports announcing. A whole generation of TV viewers has grown up on the most rigorously analytical play-by-play announcing in the long history of sports. It’s not too much to believe that for once, television is making them smarter.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

“Obama Was Right to Release Torture Memos.” — Jameel Jaffer

Administration of TortureYesterday, we featured Jameel Jaffer’s interview with Glenn Greenwald on Salon and today we point your attention to Jaffer’s post on the Free Speech Blog.

Jameel Jaffer, who is the co-editor with Amrit Singh of Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, argues that with the release of the memos “the public can now better understand the nature of the CIA’s interrogation and detention programme, and the role that Justice Department lawyers played in developing and implementing it.”

Jaffer disputes the points made by Michael Mukaskey, former attorney general under George W. Bush, and former CIA director Michael Hayden in their Wall Street Journal op-ed. Mukasksy and Hayden argued that the release of the memos would make CIA interrogators timid and ultimately jeopardize the safety of the United States. However, Jaffer suggests:

It does not compromise national security to broadcast to the world that the US will eschew methods that are criminal under US and international law, that the State Department has described as torture, and that the United States has previously prosecuted as war crimes. Indeed, to propose that the nation’s security would be compromised by that message is to propose that the nation’s security would be compromised by the rule of law.

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Jameel Jaffer Interview with Glenn Greenwald and Salon

“Simply political documents that were meant to provide window dressing for war crimes.”—Jameel Jaffer on the recently released CIA memos.

Jameel Jaffer, co-editor with Amrit Singh of Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, was recently interviewed by Glenn Greenwald on Salon (scroll down to the bottom of Greenwald’s post to hear the interview.)

The ACLU has made the recently released CIA documents available on their Web site but for more, including memos from the FBI and the Defense Department, Administration of Torture offers a sobering portrait of how the United States government created the legal and procedural framework to allow torture to happen. You can view these documents here, these memos include Rumsfeld’s infamous query about why detainees could not be forced to stand for longer than four hours. Rumsfeld wrote, “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours.”

For more on Administration of Torture, you can download our podcast with Jaffer and Singh, hear the editors on Leonard Lopate, or watch a recent interview with Jameel Jafffer:

Friday, April 17th, 2009

More from William Logan

William LoganEarlier this month, we published excerpts from William Logan’s Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue. Readers of Logan’s criticism, which appears in the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement, can attest to the fact that he rarely minces words in either his praise or his criticism of poets. With that in mind, here are some more excerpts from Logan’s work:

On Billy Collins: “The world can stand one Billy Collins, but what happens when everyone writes poems that humiliate the art they practice? I feel like a grouch to ask, but what then?”

On Robert Lowell: “Lowell was the most the brilliant poet of the postwar period.”

On the re-publication of Robert Lowell’s Selected Poems: “There were no reasons other than perversity and laziness to bring this bedraggled Selected back into print, where it will confuse Lowell’s readers for years to come.”

On Robert Pinsky: “Robert Pinsky’s poems are so professional, you feel he dresses in a suit and tie before sitting at his desk.”

On Jorie Graham: “When Jorie Graham has a message, it’s a very big message; and it couldn’t be any BIGGER if it were plastered on a BILLBOARD. Things MATTER, they matter a LOT, no REALLY, they matter THIS VERY SECOND. Graham wasn’t always a poet reduced to pouting and pontificating; but the reader can keep track of her now only by how loudly she’s shouting.”

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Jeffrey Perry — A DIY Scholar

Jeffrey PerryThe Princeton Alumni Weekly recently ran a great article on Do-it-yourself scholars. Among the scholars portrayed in the article is Jeffrey Perry author of the acclaimed and recently published biography Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918. Perry’s new book, the first part of a two-part biography, restores Harrison’s important place in African American History and the history of the Harlem Renaissance. The book has earned praise from Cornel West, Arnold Rampersad, Manning Marable, and other prominent scholars.

Perry’s intense research and writing was completed while he worked at the post office and for the Local 300 of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. Here is a description of Perry’s work schedule from the article:

The meticulous digging that went into the book — the first volume has 116 pages of footnotes — was done on a hellish schedule. Perry would catch a predawn train into Manhattan from his home in northern New Jersey. He’d come home about 4 p.m., heat up whatever dish his wife, Becky Hom, had prepared for him and their daughter, Perri Hom, and shuttle Perri to soccer games and other after-school activities. In the early evening, his domestic duties done, Perry would sit down at his desk and work late into the night. He used his own money to pay for research trips: to Harrison’s native island of St. Croix; to Denmark, which once owned St. Croix; and to England, among other places.

Perry proudly identifies himself as an “independent scholar,” a rather nebulous term that can signify different things, even to the people who describe themselves as such. Usually, though, it refers to someone who holds an advanced degree and pursues scholarly work — but does it outside the academy. Books by these writers rarely are bestsellers (few scholarly books are), but some have drawn rave reviews in journals and general-interest magazines.

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Cultographies

Cultographies
Over the past few weeks we’ve highlighted some of the titles from the Cultographies series, including Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story and Bad Taste.

For more on the series and cult films in general, there is a great Cultographies Web site. One of the best features is the the series editors’ list of the Top 25 Cult Films as well as the more extensive Cultographies’ 111 Best Cult Films Ever.

We won’t list all 111 films but follow the jump to get a partial list of the movies (arranged alphabetically). (more…)

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Paul Offit Weighs in on Healing Autism with Horses

Paul OffitYesterday on the New York Times blog Well, several autism experts were asked to comment on the new book, The Horse Boy, which chronicles a father’s trip with his son to ride horses and visit shamans in an effort to heal his son’s autism.

Among the experts was Paul Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Offit is skeptical and writes:

Obviously these are anecdotal experiences without a control group. The natural history of mild to moderate autism is that it does get better over time. You’re worse between 2 and 5, and you tend to get better between 5 and 10. You mature, and you get better. If you take a child who is screaming uncontrollably and put them in a car, they calm down.

Maybe with horse riding, it’s not to say it doesn’t help in the long term. But the notion that it is, in any sense, getting to the fundamental cause or problem of autism, and will ever make that go away, is a false hope, and I think false hope is always bad. It’s misleading and expensive.

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

New Biography of Fred Friendly

We have just published the first-ever biography of legendary television executive Fred Friendly. In his book, Friendlyvision: Fred Friendly and the Rise and Fall of Television Journalism, Ralph Engleman examines Friendly’s immense impact on television news as well as his work at the Ford Foundation and the Columbia School of Journalism. Engleman’s portrait reveals a sometimes difficult individual who had frequent run-ins with his colleagues and came to be known as a “brilliant monster.” (He is also perhaps known through George Clooney’s portrayal in Good Night, and Good Luck.)

In the introduction to the book, Engleman writes:

Any assessment of the first four decades of television journalism—and its subsequent development to our own day—must reckon with the complex figure of Fred Friendly. Friendly remains the single most important person in the development of news and public affairs programming during the first four decades of American television, from the medium’s inception after World War II until well into the 1980s. His influence endures in countless ways. And the pitched battles he fought continue to resonate in the troubled world of contemporary broadcast journalism.

Upon his death in 1998, Charlie Rose hosted a special show remembering Fred Friendly with Ted Koppel and other journalists and network executives: