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Archive for May, 2009

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Gary Steiner on His Book Animals and the Moral Community

Gary Steiner, Animals and the Moral CommunityThe Web site Rorotoko has a cover interview/post with Gary Steiner in which he discusses his recent book Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship.

Steiner’s post describes his book’s exploration and critique of the Western philosophical tradition’s attitude toward animals.

Steiner writes:

More than fifty-three billion animals are killed worldwide for human consumption every year, and yet we give little thought to the inner subjective lives of animals and the remarkable extent to which their lives are in important respects very much like our own. If we were to acknowledge the fundamental similarities between human and non-human animal life—for humans, too, are animals—it would be impossible for us to ignore the moral implications of the ways in which we use animals to satisfy our desires.


Thursday, May 28th, 2009

A New Report Disputes any Link Between Eating Red Meat and Breast Cancer

Geoffrey Kabat, Hyping Health RisksGeoffrey Kabat, whose book Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology takes a closer look at recent health scares, was recently a co-author of a study investigating possible links between eating meat and breast cancer in older women.

Published in the International Journal of Cancer, the report, which was based on more than 120,000 post-menopausal women who participated in the study found that breast cancer risk was not associated with intake of total meat, red meat, white meat, processed meat, or meat cooked at high temperatures, or level of doneness of the meat. The researchers note that the study included detailed information on meat preparation methods, and they conclude that their findings “do not support the hypothesis that a high intake of meat, red meat, processed meat, meat cooked at high temperatures, or meat mutagens is associated with increased risk of breast cancer.”

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

The Valve Begins Its Book Event/Discussion on Jenny Davidson’s “Breeding”

Breeding, Jenny DavidsonThe Valve has begun its eagerly anticipated discussion of Jenny Davidson’s Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century. Davidson, it should be noted, is an academic, novelist, YA author, and blogger.

Given the many genres in which she works, perhaps it is not surprising that the first post by Scott Eric Kaufman focuses on Davidson’s use of form. In particular, Kaufman cites Davidson’s use of secondary sources in Breeding:

Rarely do you finish a secondary work feeling like you read the primary sources, but that’s precisely the impression created by Breeding. It took me a long while to realize why Jenny’s long citations were both familiar and compelling, but I finally did: Breeding is less like a scholarly monograph and more like John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World…. McPhee drove back and forth across the country alongside the brightest geological minds in order to tell the story of how America came to look like America, and he let the monologues of his companions dominate his book; similarly, Jenny and her interlocutors guide us through the 18th Century, and she allows voices of her companions to dominate her book. In short, both provide sharp analysis under the guise of judicious narration.

Davidson herself responded to Kaufman’s post and cited the influence of blogging on her work:

Well, I do not want to pre-empt third-person comment by premature authorial intervention&dmdash;but you did not say what I thought you were about to, which is that my style in the book clearly is related to blog format! I cannot tell you what the cause and effect might be—I am partly drawn to blogging because of the way it lets one excerpt and then just offer brief commentary—but I am sure that the voice and style of quotation and commentary I developed as I started posting at “Light Reading” fed into the way I worked on the book…

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Laelaps Reviews Donald Prothero’s Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs

Greenhouse of the DinosaursBrian Switek author of the always-excellent blog Laelaps recently posted a review of Donald Prothero’s forthcoming Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet.

In the review, Switek highlights Prothero’s emphasis on the importance of understanding climates of the past in understanding dramatic changes happening in our present climate. Switek writes, “By studying ancient climates and environments we can learn something about how the gases in the atmosphere, the constant shifting of the continents, and the paths of ocean currents influence the atmosphere. Fossils of extinct plants and animals also provide windows into these lost worlds, and while the triggers of ancient climate change might be debated these traces allow us to better understand how our planet has evolved.” Prothero’s focus counters those of figures such as Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher who, as Switek points out, suggested that “dinosaur farts” were the cause of Eocene hothouse and that perhaps present rises in temperature could be explained by something besides human activity.

In addition to pointing to Prothero’s belief in the importance of paleontology in contemporary debates, Switek also praises Prothero’s insider and personal look at what it is like and what it takes to be a paleontologist.

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Pyongbang!: Washington’s Korea Conundrum” — Victor Cha on North Korea

Nuclear North KoreaThough written after North Korea’s failed missile launch earlier this Spring, Victor Cha’s article on the Foreign Affairs Web site speaks to this weekend’s events.

Victor Cha, co-author of Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies , argues, “So while Obama should continue to extend the hand of negotiation to Pyongyang, his administration should also embark on two other tracks: in the short-term, calculated pressure to punish Pyongyang’s missile launch, and in the longer-term, preparing for a united peninsula, free and democratic.”

Cha then lays out steps the United States should take in response to North Korea:

First, the United States should enforce Resolution 1718 and reimpose economic sanctions, including financial sanctions to target entities that finance ballistic missile development. These types of sanctions, similar to ones used in 2005 and 2006, hit at the personal riches of the North Korean leadership that are stashed away in accounts in Europe and Asia and can be very effective. They were lifted in 2007 in light of North Korea’s agreement to allow international inspection and disablement of its nuclear facility at Yongbyon, but it is time for similar instruments to be put to use again.

Second, Obama should consider restoring North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, using the revelations of Pyongyang’s help to Damascus’s nuclear program as justification.


Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

A Book in 48 Hours? Ted Striphas on “Book: The Sequel”

On his blog, The Late Age of Print, Ted Striphas, author of The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control, considers Book: The Sequel, an experiment to take place during this year’s Book Expo America in which individuals can contribute by picking a book, imagine its sequel, write the first sentence, and give it a great title. (You can visit the Book: The Sequel site to see some examples.)

The various contributions will then be released by Perseus Book Group in digital, audio, electronic, and print formats, and all within the span of 48 hours. While this is clearly an experiment, Striphas sees “Book: The Sequel” as indicative of some trends in the publishing industry. Striphas writes, “I’m usually fairly circumspect of experiments like these. Rarely are they particularly well thought through, and often they put far too much faith in simple, technological solutions or outcomes. Not here. Perseus proposes a remarkably holistic picture of what book publishing could be in the not-so-distant future — or later this week, if you want to get all “the future is now” about it.”

More specifically, Striphas points to crowdsourced content, multiple versions of the same product, and post-publication interactivity, all central to the creation of “Book: The Sequel,” as features that are likely to become increasingly prominent in publishing.

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Authors of “Between Ocean and City” answer questions about Rockaway, Part II

Between Ocean and CityLast week we mentioned that Lawrence and Carol P. Kaplan, authors of Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway, New York were taking from readers of the New York Times City Room blog about the history of the once popular seaside resort in southern Queens.

The answers to the questions are now in and you can read them here, here, and here. The questions and answers offer a look at a fascinating chapter on urban development in post-war New York City, the politics of race, and how private interests and a lack of national leadership changed the nature and character of a community.

Not surprisingly many of the questions focused on how a thriving beach community and resort became an area dominated by low-income public housing, crime, and poverty. While some readers put the blame on Robert Moses or the administration of John V. Lindsay, the Kaplans argue that pinning the blame on these two men overlooks the various factors and interests, both public and private, that had a hand in the transformation of Rockaway. While Robert Moses’s ambitious plans for the city necessitated slum clearance and the subsequent shifting of low-income New Yorkers to places like Rockaway, it was the landlords, who turned summer bungalows into year-round (and inadequate residencies) for poorer New Yorkers that contributed to the downturn in Rockaway. Responding to an unsafe housing situation, Lindsay was forced to convert the beachfront property into public housing.

The Kaplans’ answers also remind us that Rockaway, despite its problems, has also been the first neighborhood for recent immigrants who have earned a middle-class existence in the United States and continue to live in the area.

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

“Professor, the Red Brigades have telephoned. They say they want to kill you.”

Gianni VattimoIn his recently published, Not Being God: A Collaborative Autobiography, Gianni Vattimo provides a series of vignettes looking back at his life as a philosopher, social activist, politician, and gay rights advocate.

Needless to say, one of the more dramatic chapters in Vattimo’s life was when he was threatened by the Italian terrorist group of the 1970s, The Red Brigades. Vattimo’s status as a left-wing faculty president paradoxically made him a target of the Red Brigades in the 1970s, causing him to flee Turin for his life.

The following is a description of those days:

Chapter 33: Death Threats

It was the period when the Brigate Rosse, the Red Brigades, were killing people at the rate of one per day. Someone would wake up in the morning and . . . bang. The mayor, Diego Novelli, and the president of the Piedmont region, Aldo Viglione, were doing nothing but attending funerals.

It was at Turin that the first trial of the BR was going to be “celebrated,” to use the curious Italian idiom: the historic nucleus of the BR, Curcio and Franceschini.

On November 16, 1977, they killed Carlo Casalegno.

On March 8, 1978, the trial started.

I was still president of the faculty of letters and philosophy.

On March 9, day two of the trial, I was presiding at a faculty council. At a certain point the secretary, Signora Gianonne, came in and said, “Professor, the Red Brigades have telephoned. They say they want to kill you.”


Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Interview with Michael Sledge, author of Soldier Dead

Michael Sledge, interview

In honor of Memorial Day, we are re-posting our interview with Michael Sledge.

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day, the annual holiday to remember United States soldiers who have died in combat. In his book, Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen, Michael Sledge explores what happens to members of the United States Armed Forces after they die. The popular image of a soldier removing the dog tags of his fallen comrade and vowing revenge before carrying the body back to safety couldn’t be further from the truth. In this book find out why recovering the remains of service people matters, how bodies are recovered, identified (remember those dog tags?), returned to families, buried, and remembered.

Below is an interview with Michael Sledge:

Q. How did you manage to write Soldier Dead without it becoming overly grim or morbid?

Michael Sledge: At one point someone did say to me that the book was “relentlessly morbid.” However, the reader will learn in the first few paragraphs that Soldier Dead is anything but grim and morbid. In fact, it is extremely heartening. It is about the courage and duty shown by a little known and seldom officially rewarded group of men and women.

Q. Do you think that people, in general, really need or want to know what happens when members of the U.S. military die, or that families need or want to know all the details of how the remains of their loved ones were handled?

Michael Sledge: Absolutely. The public has long since evolved from a passive role to a position of being very informed and involved. The attitude of Americans toward the government’s handling of war dead and missing began to change during the Korean War, when thousands of soldiers were missing. This change toward acquiring knowledge and becoming actively involved accelerated during the Vietnam War to the point where the U.S. government became motivated to revisit the subject of those missing and presumed killed from both the Korean War and World War II.


Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews on Philosophy and Animal Life

Philosophy and Animal LifeIn a recent review for the online journal Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Gerald Bruns considers how two recent philosophy books explore novelist J. M. Coetzee’s philosophical views on animals.

One of the books discussed by Bruns is Philosophy and Animal Life, which includes a stellar group of co-authors: Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, John McDowell, Ian Hacking, Cary Wolfe.

The review highlights how these thinkers essays relate to Coetzee’s work, particularly Elizabeth Costello, and their own philosophical approaches to the question of animals and animal rights.

Here is a brief excerpt from the review:

Meanwhile Cary Wolfe’s useful introduction to Philosophy and Animal Life is balanced by Ian Hacking’s concluding remarks—a series of random but intriguing notes on the proceedings, including an observation that in breeding turkeys for food (using artificial insemination and force-feeding) we have produced a species of faux-turkeys who, being so fat, can neither walk nor copulate with turkey hens. To which he adds: “There is something wrong, morally lacking (I feel) with someone who is not . . . appalled by the way we have bred turkeys out of their turkeyness” (p. 151). Part of the difficulty of Elizabeth Costello is evidently the way she can get under a philosopher’s skin.

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Antislavery Efforts Must Focus on Demand — A Post from Siddharth Kara

Siddarth KaraSiddharth Kara, author of Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, continues his posts for Take Part with a new essay, “Antislavery Efforts Must Focus on Demand.”

In the essay, Kara applies a business and economic analysis to understand the supply and demand aspects of sex trafficking. He argues that by understanding this aspect of the sex trade, we put ourselves in a better position to eradicate it. As he shows in both the post and in his book, sex trafficking provides enormous profits and has few risks for both traffickers and consumers. Kara writes, “The absence of real risk is largely due to poorly enforced laws, very low prosecution and conviction levels, systemic corruption, poor victim-witness protections, and insufficient economic penalties in the law.”

Thus, Kara argues that “the most effective efforts to eradicate sex trafficking are those that reduce aggregate demand by drastically increasing the costs and risks associated with the exploitation of trafficked sex slaves. In the post he lays out some tactics that can be undertaken by individual citizens to help end sex trafficking:

1. Initiate media and outreach campaigns to lawmakers demanding a more aggressive demand-side approach to contemporary slavery (details of what this means are in my book);

2. Initiate media and outreach campaigns to corporations whose products you purchase demanding they certify their supply chains are free of slave labor, under threat of migrating your consumption to competitors who do;

3. Liaise with local law enforcement through a system of community vigilance committees (CVC’s) to seek out signs of slave exploitation for the purpose of proactive, human-rights intervention in such establishments;

4. Support NGO’s with victim-witness shelters or empowerment programs through financial or volunteer contributions. For example: Free the Slaves, Polaris Project, International Justice Mission, and ASSET.

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Book Publishing’s Reality TV — Ted Striphas, from The Late Age of Print

“Think about it this way: sites like Scribd are the reality TV of book publishing.”—Ted Striphas, “Book Publishing’s Reality TV”

As has been widely reported and discussed new technologies are changing the face of of publishing— a fact that both inspires fear and hope among publishers themselves. The newest technology to make its presence felt is Scribd, which was the subject of a recent New York Times article, “Site Lets Writers Sell Digital Copies.” Scribd allows users to upload all sorts of document files to the web, whereupon anyone with internet access can read, download, embed, comment on, and share them.

Of course this technology allows writers to bypass publishers and get their out there on their own. However, as the New York Times article reports, some book publishers are investigating how Scribd and similar technologies can be best used for their benefit.

In his blog the Late Age of Print Ted Striphas, author of The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control, sees some similarities between Scribd and reality TV shows like American Idol, and that new technologies might provide new marketing technologies for publishers:

Think about it this way: sites like Scribd are the reality TV of book publishing.

Love it or loathe it, you cannot deny the brilliance of a show like American Idol. Essentially it amounts to a months-long focus group, where potential music buyers vote on who they’d most like to become a signed recording artist. The presumption is that many who’ve voted will then go on to buy singles and albums by the people they’ve seen featured on the show.

American Idol demonstrates how amateur cultural production and a more traditional, hierarchical approach can be made to harmonize. Why not use sites like Scribd toward similar ends?

Indeed, marketing has long been a major sore point for the book industry, filled with guesswork and erroneous conclusions about what will and won’t ultimately sell. So why not take some of the guesswork out of book marketing? Why not use Scribd or some other site to focus-group books (or parts thereof) up front before investing all the time and resources to publish them?


Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Interview and Author Event with Stephen Phillips, Author of Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth

Stephen Phillips15.8 million people in America now practice yoga according to a recent survey done by Yoga Journal. Most of us are familiar with the mats, the apparel, and basic asanas (such as Downward Facing Dog or the Corpse Pose) but yoga has a rich heritage beyond classes at the gym.

The newly published Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy by Stephen Phillips presents the philosophy of yoga for modern audiences. In the interview below Stephen Phillips shares the philosophy behind the practice and explains his knowledge of yoga.

For those in and around Austin, Texas there will be a special event held to celebrate the book this Friday, May 22nd at Breath & Body Yoga from 4-8 PM. The evening’s activities will include a mantra lesson with the author, an all levels vinyasa yoga lesson, as well as a book signing and reception.

Question: How does traditional yoga philosophy relate to current yoga practice?

Stephen Phillips: Traditional Yoga Shastra is not just a collection of “how-to” books about Downward Dog, Pranayama, meditation, and other practices but also provides a framework for understanding the practices and the experiences to which they lead. Yoga philosophy helps us have confidence in our own capabilities and defends the testimony of our expert teachers. Also, the teachers who have given us the practices—Patanjali, for example—have in many cases explained their importance in philosophic terms and provided psychological ideas to guide advanced practices in particular. All yoga teachers in fact comprehend important theses of Yoga philosophy and psychology, which help them understand the practices holistically and to talk about them in their classes.

Q: What do you have to say about the peculiar psychological concepts found in traditional yoga teachings? Do you think there are such things as “sheaths” or koshas and chakras?

SP: Yoga is a kind a training, of the body, life, and mind, and like being trained in gardening, you need first of all to find a good teacher (who herself had a good teacher and so on) and try to understand, usually by doing. So for example, when your teacher tells you to watch your energy flow in Corpse Pose, shavasana, you don’t sit up and ask for an explanation of “energy flow” but rather without thought, in your own self-monitoring consciousness, pay attention to a kind of disembodied current, traditionally called prana, flowing from your head to your toes. This only happens, we are told by yogic authorities, when you are thoroughly relaxed. So it won’t help to try too hard or even think about what is supposed to happen. It’s a matter of internal perception when certain conditions are met.

Lots of yogic phenomena involve becoming aware of things, indeed parts of ourselves, about which formerly we were unaware. The traditional psychological concepts that are used to talk about these things are terms of art. Gardening has its own, as do wine-tasting and music. In the course of training and practice, our attitude should be trust, so far as any beliefs are concerned. Of course, when we sit down to do philosophy, some very interesting questions arise about these terms, the experiences that motivate them, and the theories that interpret them. There is a rich inheritance of Yoga philosophy on this that the book explores. But I have some things of my own to say too, particularly concerning science and the somewhat different frameworks of different yoga lineages.


Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Patrick Manning on the Future of Black Identity

The African Diaspora, Patrick ManningIn the epilogue to The African Diaspora: A History Through Culture, Patrick Manning draws on the history described in his book to explore some key issues, past, present, and future, relating to slavery, racism, reparations, and the advancement of the black community.

In this excerpt from the epilogue, Manning considers the future of black identity, looking at it via recent trends in South America:

In contrast to the unity and linkage of black communities, there are grow­ing divisions within black communities. The recent rise of more black people to positions of influence and wealth means that black communities will necessarily become more heterogeneous. The ideal of maintaining black unity and social cohesion will require, therefore, the creation of new means for establishing common identity across an increasingly wide social and economic range. It may be that the experience and process of sustaining and recreating a common identity across the African diaspora will provide some pointers on how to strengthen a sense of community among humans generally. Or it may be that conflicts within black communities will become more severe.


Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Two little words: A post from Ted Striphas, author of The Late Age of Print

Ted Striphas, The Late Age of PrintIn a chapter from The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism, Ted Striphas considers the powerful impact that Oprah Winfrey’s book club has had not only in shaping what readers’ choices but also their relationship to books and reading.

As many of us remember the role of Oprah and her book club as a cultural arbiter was highlighted during the highly publicized incidents surround Jonathan Franzen’s reluctance to have The Corrections selected for the club and James Frey’s admission that his book A Million Little Pieces was filled with inaccuracies. Now of course, the Frey incident is back in the headlines after Oprah apologized for chastising him on the show.

On his blog, also called The Late Age of Print, Striphas reconsiders the meaning of the Winfrey-Frey brouhaha:

There’s something profoundly anthropological about the Frey controversy. It is as if Frey’s lies fundamentally breached the book club’s cosmic order. To repair the damage, high priestess Winfrey needed to sacrifice or cast out the offending party, which of course she did. Homeostasis only would be restored in the community years later, after Frey was redeemed through a kind of purification ritual. Okay, so it was in Vanity Fair, but you get the point. (Would that he appeared for a third time on The Oprah Winfrey Show!)

What all this suggests to me is that Oprah Winfrey hasn’t just produced a talk show, a book club, a magazine, or even a brand name. Around her there has arisen a unique system of valuation, a distinctive array of artifacts, and a discernible set of practices and social identifications. In other words, what she’s produced is a bona fide culture.

The term “cultural producer” often is used to describe pretty much anyone who makes stuff — which is to say, it’s an awfully overapplied term in the age of blogs, YouTube, and more. What the whole Frey fiasco shows us is that Wifrey is one of the few entities who genuinely deserves the name.

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Authors of “Between Ocean and City” answer questions about Rockaway

Between Ocean and CityThis week on the New York Times City Room blog, Lawrence and Carol P. Kaplan, the authors of Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway, New York, will be answering questions about the history of this once popular seaside resort in southern Queens.

Shortly after World War II, large parts of this narrow peninsula between the ocean and the bay became some of New York City’s worst slums. Kaplan, a historian who grew up in the community and his wife Carol, a social worker, together present an illuminating account of this transformation, exploring issues of race, class, and social policy and offering a significant revision of the larger story of New York City’s development. In particular, the authors qualify some of the negative assessments of Robert Moses, suggesting that the “Power Broker” attempted for many positive initiatives for Rockaway.

The answers should be coming later this week but here are some of the questions that have been asked:

* Was bringing the subway to Rockaway a good thing or a bad thing for the long term health of the community?

* Mainly, [I] am wondering how the city ‘developed’ Rockaway the way they did. Anywhere else that I can think of, except of course Coney Island, beautiful ocean front property is to be coveted. What did the City do to reverse this norm? How can we bring Rockaway back to a mixed use area?

* How did the construction of the large low income housing projects change the demographics of the Rockaways? Why was it considered a good idea at the time to place high density housing in a relatively isolated part of New York City without any jobs available for it’s residents. Did the housing projects case “white flight” from the Rockaways in the 1960’s and 70’s?

* With all the gentrification going on in NY with neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Dumbo getting a second chance is there any chance Rockaway will soon become the next Hamptons?

* In this forum and others on The Rockaways, people talk about “white flight”. My family and many other Caribbean, Latin and South American families, benefited from that exodus. My parents arrived in the US in 1970 and were able to buy a home in Far Rockaway in 1976. I’d like the authors to discuss how the area fostered a new generation of immigrants who had experiences and goals not unlike the generations before them. Also, the area is becoming over populated yet there are not additional resources and infrastructure to support this. What can be done to encourage responsible investment that creates jobs, especially for young people?

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame: We Catholics Would Rather Fight than Mourn

Marian RonanThe following post is by Marian Ronan, Research Professor of Catholic Studies at the Center for World Christianity at New York Theological Seminary (NYC) and the author of Tracing the Sign of the Cross: Sexuality, Mourning, and the Future of American Catholicism.

One response to the uproar over the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama as its commencement speaker this year is to argue that it isn’t a Catholic matter at all. For Hendrik Hertzberg, the real division is between social conservatives and the rest; for others, the outcry constitutes Republican mischief, since most of the complainers are former McCain supporters.

But there’s something about this brouhaha that sounds pretty Catholic. Remember Geraldine Ferraro? Remember threats to deny John Kerry communion? Remember American Catholics accusing their bishops of protecting pedophiles? If Americans in general are good at fighting over sex, we American Catholics are the champs.

But why? There are complex historical developments that underpin the Catholic culture wars. Basically, however, I would argue that for conservatives and liberals alike, fighting over sexuality and gender is a way to avoid mourning the enormous losses that the Catholic Church sustained in the modern period and that postimmigrant, white ethnic American Catholics have sustained since the 1960s.

For the conservatives, such losses include the triumph of liberal democracy, the loss of the Vatican territories, and the abdication of absolute Catholic truth that came with Vatican II. For liberals, these losses involve the brutal amputation of hopes for a democratic church by the brilliant tactical moves of Pope John Paul II.

I do not mean to suggest here that abortion is not a serious question or that the monarchical governance structure of the church is not deplorable. But there’s something about the enraged, repetitive nature of the blows and counter-blows in the Catholic culture wars that corresponds almost perfectly with the classic definition of the inability to mourn: a depressive stance from which little or no change is forthcoming. Indeed, the white Catholic Church in the United States is in as serious a decline as are the mainline Protestant denominations. Large numbers of Latino/a and other immigrant Catholics would seem to offset this. But as a Latina colleague observed recently, the next generation of immigrants will have their own decisions to make; the move to evangelicalism is already noteworthy. In the meantime, sixty-some bishops and more than 300,000 American Catholics are denouncing Notre Dame, and James Carroll, the archetypal liberal Catholic, retorts that they are all fundamentalists.

Surely we can do better.

Friday, May 15th, 2009

eats.com reviews Herve This’s Building a Meal

Building a Meal, Herve ThisThe Web site eats.com recently reviewed and praised Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism, by Herve This.

In addition to commenting on This’s wonderful writing and his ability to make science accessible, the review also highlights his attitude toward classic culinary techniques:

“This does not seek to raze the school of culinary classicism; rather, he believes in its betterment. ‘We must listen skeptically to the claims of…how good life was in the old days,’ he writes, ‘even if…we harbor a nostalgia for a past that never really existed.’ To hold fast to the tenets of classicism because they are classic does not hold water with This. He encourages respect for past technique but also promotes healthy criticism of what was once deemed the apex of culinary achievement. Indeed, extensive work is already being done throughout the world in answer to This’ call. His own excitement is palpable as his authorial style transcends the world of molecular science, touching upon each branch of the arts with wonderful simplicity and coherence.”

For more on the book, you can watch a video of This in his lab, read an excerpt on the scientific principles behind a simple consommé, or read Herve This’s blog.

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Interview with Marian Ronan, author of Tracing the Sign of the Cross: Sexuality, Mourning, and the Future of American Catholicism

Marian Ronan is the author of Tracing the Sign of the Cross: Sexuality, Mourning, and the Future of American Catholicism . This interview originally appeared in EqualwRites (EwR)

EwR: Can we begin by asking the significance of its title, Tracing the Sign of the Cross?

Marian Ronan: The title, Tracing the Sign of the Cross, refers to the centrality of the cross in the Christian faith, but also, in the white ethnic immigrant American Catholicism in which I and many other American Catholics have our roots. The word “tracing” calls to mind “making” the sign of the cross, but also suggests that in our time, that is, during the years since Vatican II, there has become something elusive about the cross, something demanding our attention now.

EwR: And the subtitle elaborates on that “something”?

MR: Yes. The subtitle: “Sexuality, Mourning, and the Future of American Catholicism” expands on this theme. “Mourning” is the word most obviously linked to the cross. But it also signifies the wider approach that I use in my book, a way of understanding human experience. According to this approach, engaging or working through loss is so painful that human beings (and groups) undertake all kinds of defenses to avoid it. They become enraged, they become depressed, they get stuck and repeat the same actions over and over. The cost of this “inability to mourn” is very high.

In line with this approach, I argue in Tracing the Sign of the Cross that at the beginning of the 1960s, white ethnic American Catholics were poised to achieve the idealized way of life our immigrant forebears had struggled to attain. Many of us were also convinced that with Vatican II the democratic vision of the church we had long favored was going to become dominant. Yet by the end of the decade, the “American dream” had exploded into social conflict and the Vatican was fighting our much anticipated liberalization of the church with increasing ferocity. Then came the economic downturn of the 1970s and the refusal of women’s ordination. Our losses were enormous.

Yet for reasons that I explore in Tracing, many American Catholics did not engage and work through those losses. Instead, we—conservatives and liberals alike—threw ourselves into the Catholic culture wars. Central to this development was the decision on the part of the episcopacy and the Vatican to shift the center of the Catholic faith from doctrine to sex and gender prohibition, a shift that contradicted what many of us had come to believe about the church. In truth, the Vatican had been focusing more and more on abortion and contraception since its massive losses in the liberal democratic revolutions of the nineteenth century. But after Vatican II, the gloves came off. Sexual prohibition replaced doctrine as the heart of the Catholic faith, and although the governance structure after Vatican II remained monarchical, so that we still have little or no impact on what the bishops and the Vatican do, many of us have spent much of our lives fighting against it. And let me be clear, I include myself in this “we.” We believed this was the right thing to do, but it also protected us from mourning our enormous losses.


Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Interview with Houston Baker

Betrayal, Houston BakerVoxunion.com has just posted an interview on WPFW with Houston Baker, author of Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era.

In the interview, Baker discusses the ways leading Black intellectuals such as Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, John McWhorter and others are “traitors” to the tradition exemplified in the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Baker argues that these talented thinkers have abdicated their responsibilities as public intellectual by failing to offer a strenuous critique of the U.S. government and media and their treatment and depiction of African Americans. Baker also challenges those who point to the “cultural failures” of African American and gloss over the economic and political factors that keep many African American communities mired in poverty.