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Archive for July, 2009

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Salon takes on the Huffington Post’s coverage of health and science

In a Salon article already generating a lot of discussion on the Internet, Dr. Rahul K. Parikh suggests that the Huffington Post’s coverage of health and wellness issues “seems defined mostly by bloggers who are friends of [Arianna] Huffington or those who mirror her own advocacy of alternative medicine.” Parikh is not the only one worried and other doctors have argued that this has led to a preponderance of posts on HuffPo that champion “dubious treatments and therapies.”

One of the more prominent stands that the Huffington Post bloggers, including the now-discredited David Kirby and actors Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, have taken is against childhood vaccines. These anti-vaccination posts are, Parikh argues, riddled with errors and offer “the usual anti-vaccine platitudes—blaming doctors for being in bed with drug companies [and] attacking people instead of data.”

To be fair, it should be said that the Huffington Post published an article by Dr. Paul Offit who is the author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure and has been a vocal opponent of the anti-vaccinationists. In the article entitled Don’t Risk Going Unvaccinated, Offit warns against the dangers of not vaccinating children and pointed to the overwhelming evidence that there is no connection between vaccination and autism.

Not surprisingly, given Offit’s position on vaccines, his article in the Huffington Post article touched off a firestorm of comments both in support and in opposition to his views (scroll to bottom of article for the comments).

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Health care for the Blue Dogs — Jacob Hacker

Jacob Hacker, Health at Risk

Earlier this week, Jacob Hacker, editor of Health at Risk: America’s Health System—And How to Heal It, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post on the “Blue Dog” Democrats’ apprehension about Obama’s health care plan.

Hacker argues that while the Blue Dogs “are right to hold Obama and Democratic leaders to their commitment to real cost control,” they should also recognize the plan’s potential to keep costs down. Moreover, health care reform is particularly vital for rural Americans, many of whom are voters in Blue Dog Democrat districts. Hacker writes,

Many Blue Dogs fret that a new public health insurance plan will become too large, despite the CBO’s projection that the overwhelming majority of working people will have employer coverage and that the public plan will enroll less than 5 percent of the population. Their concern should be that a public plan will be too weak. A public health plan will be particularly vital for Americans in the rural areas that many Blue Dogs represent. These areas feature both limited insurance competition and shockingly large numbers of residents without adequate coverage. By providing a backup plan that competes with private insurers, the public plan will broaden coverage and encourage private plans to reduce their premiums. Perhaps that’s why support for a public plan is virtually as high in generally conservative rural areas as it is nationwide, with 71 percent of voters expressing enthusiasm.


Thursday, July 30th, 2009

James Millward revisits the Urumchi unrest

Urumchi violence

In an essay for the Web site China Beat, James Millward, author of Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang, examines the recent violence earlier this month in the western Chinese city of Urumchi and the disputed claims about what caused it.

Millward explains what happened, why it happened, and the role that radical Islam may or may not have played. He argues that ultimately the violence that erupted between the minority Muslim Uyghur population and the Han majority and Chinese security forces was not caused by outside forces or governments as the Chinese government claims but was a result of increasing ethnic and racial tensions in the region.

Here’s an excerpt from the essay in which Millward addresses the challenges China faces as it grapples with minority ethnic populations in a rapidly developing economy:

What Urumchi experienced was what Americans, recalling our own troubled history, might call a race riot. The reasons underlying it were likewise familiar: mundane prejudice including easy use of racial slurs by both Han and Uyghur about the other; a widespread perception by the minority Uyghurs, with some justification, that the political, legal and economic system, especially job opportunities, are stacked in favor of the majority Hans; and a simple lack of understanding or empathy for the different cultures of fellow citizens….

The proximate cause of the Urumchi troubles was labor migration, both of Uyghurs from Xinjiang to Guangdong, and of Han from other parts of China to Xinjiang, all associated with China’s super-charged market economy and state program to develop western parts of the country. But the deeper problem is essentially the same as that in any large, modern state: how to incorporate ethno-cultural diversity into the national vision. Chinese official rhetoric and policies in the past—especially in the early 1950s and late 1980s—were directed at this goal, but more recent approaches have too often depicted Uyghurs and Tibetans as ungrateful “others,” and even as threats to security. Both Uyghurs and Han have absorbed this message from state media. It has fueled Uyghur frustration and violence, and instilled in Hans a sense of grievance against minorities, their fellow Chinese.

China faces problems of interethnic tension and civil rights all too familiar to other countries in the world. Chinese leaders could enjoy international sympathy and support should they address these issues directly. But claiming that all ethnic problems at home arise from the conspiracies of exiles or machinations of foreigners will only elicit more international sympathy for Chinese minorities and criticism of China’s human rights record.

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Acts of Conscience and the history of radical pacifism in the United States

Acts of ConscienceSpeaking of titles (see below), the excellent blog Religion in American History has been looking at two books with the same title: Acts of Conscience. More precisely, there has been essays about Columbia’s Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy, by Kip Kosek and Steven Taylor’s Acts of Conscience: World War II, Mental Institutions, and Religious Objectors, published by Syracuse University Press.

Both books examine the history of radical pacifism in the United States. In his review of Steven Taylor’s Acts of Conscience, Kip Kosek describes the book’s recounting of how conscientious objectors during World War II became advocates for the mentally ill and what it might say about religion and institutional settings such as hospitals, prisons, asylums, etc.

In his essay on Kip Kosek’s Acts of Conscience, Paul Harvey draws on the book to explore the history of Christian non-violence in twentieth-century America from the Richard Gregg and the Fellowship of Reconciliation to Martin Luther King. Harvey quotes a particularly powerful passage from Kosek’s book:

Christian nonviolence succeeded by developing sophisticated public spectacles in the service of ambitious moral demands. . . . The Journey of Reconciliation, the sociodramas, the King-Smiley bus ride–all were feats of existential courage, all were religious rituals, and all were shrewd attempts to gain political power by securing the sympathy of spectators. To focus solely on the act of personal religious faith is to succumb to a sentimental belief in individual saintliness. To focus solely on the spectacular act performed for media audiences is to turn a tin ear to the real power of religious belief in the modern world. Christian nonviolent acts were . . . simultaneously spiritual and strategic.

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Well Titled, Well Covered features There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night

The New Yorker‘s blog The Book Bench recently featured Cao Naiqian’s There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night in their “Well Titled, Well Covered” feature.

Here’s how they explain their criteria for their well titled, well covered selections: “The art of writing a good title is a subtle one: it has to be intriguing enough to make you want to pick up the book and find out exactly what it’s about, but not so bizarre that you don’t already have an intimation. It also helps if the book has an unusual or striking cover.”

Scroll through to the fifth slide to see the cover to There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night , which the Book Bench calls “haunting” or see it below:

There's Nothing I Can Do

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

The Los Angeles Times on Fitzgerald and Hemingway: Work and Days

Controversy seems to be following Ernest Hemingway these day, nearly fifty years after his death.

First there was the revelation that he was a failed KGB spy and then there is the dispute over the restored edition of A Moveable Feast. Far less controversial is Scott Donaldson’s recent book Fitzgerald and Hemingway: Work and Days, which was reviewed by the Los Angeles Times over the weekend.

As the LA Times review points out, Donaldson’s exploration of the lives and works of each author sheds new light on their bond. While in temperament and writing, there is much to distinguish the two writers, there are also many similarities. In the review, Matthew Shaer writes:

“Donaldson shows … how deeply both men [Fitzgerald and Hemingway] believed in the lost cause. In an essay on ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ he compares Hemingway’s experience in the Spanish Civil War to that of his doomed protagonist, Robert Jordan. For Jordan, war ‘gave you a part in something that you could believe in wholly and completely.’ He is not naive: He believes in the Republic while also believing it is doomed. And he knows that innocents have been slaughtered—at one point, he wonders how many of the men he’s killed were ‘real fascists.’

But in the end, it is the fight that matters. ‘Belief was very much at issue, for the Republicans needed a secular faith to replace the religion they [had] left behind,’ Donaldson writes of Jordan. So too of Hemingway, who cherished the spark of the fight, especially when the odds were long. In contrast, the accepted view of Fitzgerald is that he was too beautiful and self-concerned to be interested in any cause save his own. Yet Donaldson argues that Fitzgerald, too, was enamored by the poetry of defeat. As a young man, he wrote on the Old South and the Confederacy, and his masterpiece, ‘The Great Gatsby,’ was an elegy for the American Dream, the greatest lost cause of them all.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald, in fact, had much in common: Both were Midwesterners; both believed their fathers were failed men and sought to compensate for the slight; both were uncomfortable with celebrity; both adopted poses—the warrior and the bon vivant—that were shattered on the public stage.

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Adressing the ideological confusion at the heart of Pakistan

On the Web site Rorotoko, Farzana Shaikh, author of Making Sense of Pakistan, explains the main arguments of her book and the ways in which they challenge conventional interpretations Pakistani politics and history. (For more on Shaikh’s book, which has been receiving a lot of attention recently, you can also watch an interview with her or read a profile of her in the Times Higher Education supplement.)

While many have argued that religion was used by the Pakistani elite to justify its demands for separate statehood from India, Shaikh suggests that Islam has played a more ambiguous role in Pakistan, leaving the nation without a clear sense of identity. This lack of identity has had serious consequences not only for Pakistan but the region as a whole. Shaikh writes:

“One major consequence of this lack of clarity over Islam has been the construction of a negative identity predicated on opposition to India. In the absence of a consensus over what Pakistan stood for, the definition of Pakistan’s identity, coherence and unity came to rest on rivalry with India. This, in turn, had significant implications. The military emerged as the dominant state institution and, in the process, as a key arbiter of Pakistan’s national identity. Over time the country was also lured into embarking on dangerous foreign engagements. While aimed primarily at matching India, these have had disastrous consequences for Pakistan as well as for the wider global community.”

Shaikh concludes by offering a look at Pakistan’s current situation and its potential future:

“The country clearly stands at the crossroads. Although deeply troubled by the lack of a clear identity, it is by no means certain that Pakistan has exhausted all its resources in terms of seeking to develop a future grounded in rules of political negotiation rather than in the questionable assumptions of a ready made Islamic consensus. The time left to ensure its survival may be short but Pakistan has withstood many a bruising battle and survived.

The country is in the throes of change — changes that point to the determination of its people, if not of its governing elite, to be more receptive to new ways of imagining their country’s identity. By recasting its enduring quest for consensus in the light of a heritage rooted in the more syncretistic traditions of Indian Islam, Pakistan may yet succeed in projecting an identity that reconciles Islam’s universalist message with respect for the rich diversity of its peoples.”

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Q & A with Seth Kunin, author of Juggling Identities

Seth Kunin, Juggling IdentitiesThe following is an interview with Seth Kunin, author of Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity among the Crypto-Jews.

Seth Kunin will be discussing the book tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center in Albuquerque.

Q: What is crypto-Judaism?

Seth Kunin: Crypto-Jews are individuals who claim to be descended from Jews who were forcibly (and nonforcibly) converted to Catholicism in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Spain and Portugal. Descendants of these converts are said to have dispersed to many corners of the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. In the latter half of the twentieth century (though there were some earlier discussions) crypto-Jewish communities and individuals have been found or come forward. These communities have been characterized by narratives of Jewish identity or origin and by practices interpreted as having come from earlier Jewish traditions. Although much of the discussion has focused on New Mexico, individuals claiming this identity and history are found throughout the Spanish and Portuguese diasporas (and indeed, in Spain and Portugal as well). The historical and religious authenticity of these communities and individuals has led to significant debate in academic, popular, and religious circles.

Q: What is special about crypto-Jewish identity, and what does it tell us about wider issues of identity?

SK: Unlike many presentations of crypto-Judaism in the popular press that depict crypto-Jews as a lost community of Jews who possess a very simple Jewish identity and wish to return to the community, this book argues that crypto-Judaism is a highly complex set of identities. Crypto-Judaism is the product of a complex history in which individual families and individuals within those families preserved and interpreted an idiosyncratic set of elements from Jewish culture and identity. It also became more complex as crypto-Jews took on aspects of Catholic and other Christian identities and elements from Native Americans and other ethnic groups present in the American Southwest. Each crypto-Jew is thus an amalgam of many different identities, ethnicities, and histories—with crypto-Jewish identities emerging from this complex tapestry.

The study, however, has also revealed the complex nature of identity in a larger sense. We often assume that individuals and communities have an identity that is relatively fixed. This book suggests that identity is actually much more fluid. Identity is the product of dialogue and interaction—as individuals move into different social contexts, their identities and their expression of them change both consciously and unconsciously. This type of fluidity is sometimes seen as part of postmodern identity.


Monday, July 27th, 2009

Only local business can end global poverty — R. Glenn Hubbard

Glenn Hubbard, The Aid TrapIn Friday’s Financial Times R. Glenn Hubbard, co-author of the forthcoming The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty, argues that poor nations need a new Marshall plan that helps stimulate local businesses.

As Hubbard points out the original Marshall plan did not simply give “away food, medicine, and clothing, on one hand, and rebuilt government infrastructure such as ports, railroads and water systems, on the other.” Instead the plan “made loans to European companies, which repaid them to their governments, which then spent the funds on infrastructure. To qualify for the plan, countries had to enact certain pro-business policies to make sure that their local businesses could use the loans well.”

Thus what is needed today for sub-Saharan Africa and other regions in dire poverty is not the large, macro aid development programs supported by the UN and promoted by prominent public figures such as Bill Gates, Jeffrey Sachs, or Bono. Instead aid should focus on supporting local businesses.

Hubbard concludes by writing:

Let us draw a parallel with philanthropist Bill Gates’s own line of business and divide aid into two parts: hardware and software. The hardware is the ports, railroads, and water plants of the Marshall plan, or the medicines, fertilisers, and boreholes of the current aid system. The software is the loans and funding mechanism of the Marshall plan, or the government and NGO project mechanism of current aid. The clear difference is that the Marshall plan software works, but the current aid software does not.

The UN is right, of course, to target the dire poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. But it needs to take a different course. We need policies that make a difference to the software of prosperity – the rules, policies and institutions that govern how business operates in each country, and the mechanisms of aid funding that either help or hurt that local business sector.

The global financial crisis is clearly a software problem. That is what everyone is trying to fix for the prosperous countries of the world. Poverty is also a software problem, but the aid system has been trying to fix the hardware instead, and got the software wrong. The Marshall plan got it right for postwar Europe. It is not too late to correct the error and get it right for the poorest countries.

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Notice about CUP Web site

We are in the process of updating our shopping cart and are currently not accepting any Web site orders.

Our new shopping cart will be installed on August 1 at which point we will once again be accepting orders.

We apologize for the inconvenience. In the meantime, we suggest ordering from your local independent bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

Friday, July 24th, 2009

“At the moment there are few grounds for optimism.” — Farzana Shaikh on Pakistan

“Pakistan differs from other countries in that its ideological confusion has bred dangerous consequences that go well beyond the frontier of the state. Until the country clarifies its relationship with Islam, it cannot be expected to do more in the war on terrorism.”—Farzana Shaikh

Farzana ShaikhThe preceding quote comes from an article in the Times Higher Education profiling Farzana Shaikh, most recently the author of Making Sense of Pakistan. In the article Shaikh discusses her book and elaborates on her argument that Pakistan’s uncertainty about its identity and what it stands for has strengthened Islam’s hold on the public sphere. Meanwhile, as she suggests in the article, “the military, forced by an absence of cultural unity to appeal to ‘Islamic values’ to bolster its legitimacy, has formed dangerous links with jihadis.”

The article also looks at Shaikh’s standing in Pakistan and among Pakistanis in the UK, where she now lives. In a controversial article in The Independent, she wrote, “There is now an almost fateful inevitability that a major terrorist attack in the UK will carry a Pakistani imprint.”

Ultimately, Shaikh remains very ambivalent about Pakistan’s future. “I have to tried hard to be optimistic,” she says. “But the emphasis has to be on the word ‘hard.’ At the moment there are few grounds for optimism.”

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

More perspectives on the health care crisis


What do social scientists have to contribute to the continuing debate about the health care crisis? In Health at Risk: America’s Ailing Health System—And How to Heal It, edited by Jacob Hacker, sociologists, economists, political scientists, and legal scholars examine the current crisis and the dimensions of the privatization of risk in American health care.

Written by leading experts but for a general audience, the book brings ideas and methods from the social sciences to illuminate contours of the health care debate frequently left out of the more politically motivated conversation. Thus the essays examine the ideological shifts that have placed more and more risk in the hands of individuals; what segments of the population are most likely to be left uninsured and why; the rise of bankruptcy as a result of spiraling medical costs; and the actual quality of health care in the United States and how it compares to care in other countries.

The concluding essay by Jacob Hacker examines the political, ideological, and institutional barriers to real reform in American health care. In the introduction Hacker writes,

“It turns out that the main barrier to reform today is the failure of reform in the past, which has left the United States with a patchwork quilt of public and private coverage that divides the public and political elites and makes many Americans worried about the effect of change on their pieces of the quilt. In recent years, however, fundamental political and economic trends have collided to make large-scale reform a real possibility. The unanswered question is whether those favoring reform can learn from the ‘lessons of the past’ and build a political and policy strategy that surmounts the barriers to reform that still loom large, without giving up on the basic aim of universal health security.”

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Houston Baker on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates

Houston BakerThe following post is by Houston Baker, Distinguished University Professor at Vanderbilt University and the author of many books, most recently Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era.

The surreal arrest of Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr. in Cambridge, MA, this week highlights as well as any bizarre event might that we are not citizens of a “post-racial” America.

There is, to be sure, President Barack Obama and his family. But, there is only one Obama family, and the police live with them. The rest of us who are black (and especially black and male) are simply, in the vernacular of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, “running men” with eyes necessarily in the back of our heads and that heart throbbing and humorous plea: “feet don’t fail me now.”

Seeing the sweetly dressed Cambridge Police Department spokeswoman on television yesterday reminded me how much the police state has altered its image way beyond the flat-out brutalism of the L.A., Philadelphia, and Chicago models of old. I mean Frank Rizzo just said to those Black Panthers something on the order of “[N word] drop your pants and grab the wall!” The Cambridge spokeswoman said something on the order of: “It was not the department’s finest hour, nor was it Professor Gates’ finest hour.” Darn tooting it was not the Professor’s finest hour, being ousted from his own home after showing his Harvard University ID and enough outrage to suggest that it was, indeed, his home. And handcuffs and mug shots and hours in detention?

Ironically, no black public intellectual in the US has been more complicit in publicizing the myth of “post racialism” as an American reality than Professor Gates. The police spokeswoman from Cambridge said something like: “It is our position that the incident had nothing to do with race.” All I could hear were whisper tones of QVC: “And when you all buy into the Gates/Cambridge ‘race had nothing to do with it,’ we have some fine swamp land in Florida at a great discount. Or, maybe you’d like a bridge?” Remember Malcolm’s question: “Do you know what they call a Negro Ph.D.?” Malcolm’s answer: “The N Word!”

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Walter Cronkite and Fred Friendly — a post by Ralph Engelman

Walter Cronkite

The following is a post by Ralph Engelman, author of Friendlyvision: Fred Friendly and the Rise and Fall of Television Journalism.

Walter Cronkite’s recent death prompted thoughts about the complex relationship between the great anchor and Fred Friendly. The mixed feelings were very apparent when I interviewed Cronkite in 1999 for Friendlyvision, my biography of Friendly.

For one thing, their relationships with Edward R. Murrow differed. Friendly virtually deified Murrow, who was his hero, mentor and partner. Whereas Murrow never understood—or forgot—Cronkite’s refusal to accept the offer to leave United Press and join the CBS team of “Murrow Boys” in Europe during the Second World War. Hence, despite mutual respect, the Murrow-Cronkite relationship remained cool and distant.

FriendlyvisionWhen Friendly became president of CBS News in 1964, his relationship with Cronkite got off to an unfortunate start. The national political conventions took place that year, and Friendly was under pressure to reverse the preeminence of NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley team in political coverage. Cronkite felt constrained by Friendly’s attempts to micromanage coverage of the Republican National Convention. “Fred came in and totally tore the thing apart,” Cronkite told me. As a result, Cronkite’s performance was sub par.

Following the Republican Convention, CBS chairman Bill Paley put pressure on Friendly to remove Cronkite from coverage of the Democratic National Convention scheduled to be held in Atlantic City later in the summer. After much soul-searching and against his better judgment, Friendly removed Cronkite—claiming that the decision was his alone. It represented the low-point of Cronkite’s career. Friendly would subsequently say it was the worst decision he ever made. The episode would forever rankle Cronkite.


Monday, July 20th, 2009

Portraits from the Cambodian genocide — Peter Maguire

Cambodian Image #4

The current legal proceedings against Khmer Rouge leaders is once again bringing to light the regime’s horrible atrocities. One of the most powerful archives from the Cambodian genocide are the photographs from the Tuol Sleng Prison. In an essay on American Suburb X, Peter Maguire, author of Facing Death in Cambodia, discusses the portraits of inmates at S-21 torture, interrogation, and execution center.

Maguire writes, “Each of the almost 6,000 S-21 portraits that have been recovered tells a story shock, resignation, confusion, defiance and horror. Although the most gruesome images to come out of Cambodia were those of the mass graves, the most haunting were the portraits taken by the Khmer Rouge at S-21.”

In addition to discussing the history of S-21 and the photographs, Maguire also talked to Nhem En, who took many of the photographs at S-21. Maguire asked En about what was the most difficult part of taking pictures of people who would be killed. Here’s En’s response:

“It was difficult to take pictures of the newcomers who were blindfolded and tied up when they were leaving the truck. Sometimes they arrived in chains. Sometimes we got reprimanded; for example, if we took a picture of A and the photo was not good and A was already killed, then we were charged as the enemy. In here, if we did not carefully do our jobs we could not escape from being jailed or stopped from working.”

Here are some of the photos and you can see more here:

Cambodian Genocide #1

Cambodian Genocide #2

Cambodian Genocide #3

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Stephen Burt’s advice to authors

Stephen BurtOf course we’re very fortunate to have wonderful authors to work with at Columbia University Press but that might not be the case for all publishers.

Over at his always-interesting blog Close Calls with Nonsense, poet and critic Stephen Burt, author of The Forms of Youth:Twentieth-Century Poetry and Adolescence and Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry, offers some advice to authors interested in having a more harmonious relationship with their publisher.

The following are some examples of what authors should recited to themselves upon signing a contract with a publisher (you can read them all here):

I understand that those people may publish other books, from time to time, and may try to make some efforts to sell those books as well; I shall not regard myself as their only author. I shall not take up, unsolicited, more than half an hour per day of their time.

I will not try to design my own book cover, nor to lay out and decide on the graphic elements in my own promotional material. Should I forget myself and try to do so, I will not snap at actual designers should they attempt a redesign.

I understand that even though I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows Garrison Keillor, I should not expect Oprah Winfrey to share my book with Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.

I will never, ever, ever, check my Amazon ranking. By the way, what’s an “Amazon ranking”?

Friday, July 17th, 2009

The People’s Daily Online on How East Asians View Democracy

Needless to say, it’s not every day that one of our books gets mentioned in The People’s Daily, published by the government of China, so we thought their article Social stability spells well-being for commonality, was worth mentioning.

The article cites the book How East Asians View Democracy and its examination of how Asians view their governments and their roles as citizens. Not surprisingly, the article points to the book’s findings reflecting the relatively high level of support that the Chinese express for the government particularly when compared to that of the Japanese or the South Koreans.

The article ends with some subtle or perhaps not-so-subtle propaganda aimed at those who might criticize China’s rulers (the United States?). The concluding paragraphs are also interesting in light of recent ethnic unrest in Xinjiang:

“Indeed, the understanding of democracy may be different from people to people, and nation to nation. But the findings also ring an alarm to those who like to impose upon others their accepted values and ideas, or force others to believe what they believe is right or wrong.

Like any other people, the Chinese remain their uniqueness in culture and traditional values and also have their own understanding of freedom and democracy, ‘If you feel happy, you are happy,’ as a popular saying goes. The Chinese people of all ethnicities are savoring the most satisfactory moment in decades as a result of a booming economy and a stable political environment. They are bent on creating more wealth and happiness at the time and, therefore, will value more than ever a prosperous and harmonious society, with nary others’ meddling.”

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Summer reading recommendations from PRI’s The World

Courtesans and OpiumLooking for a good summer novel that goes beyond your conventional beach reading? Well, Bill Marx from PRI’s The World offers four recommendations of fiction in translation.

The list includes The Halfway House, by Guillermo Rosales, In the United States of Africa, by Abraham Waberi, The Essential Yusuf Idris: Masterpieces of the Egyptian Short Story, by Yusuf Idris, and our own Courtesans and Opium: Romantic Illusions of the Fool of Yangzhou, by Anonymous and translated by Patrick Hanan.

Here’s what Bill Marx had to say about Courtesans and Opium:

You want a racy, nineteenth-century epic about sex, sin, drugs, and prostitution set in China? Here it is, a bawdy journey by five brothers through the gaudy brothels of Yangzhou. The novel’s alleged purpose was to serve as a cautionary tale. The book’s sensual gusto overwhelms any taint of moralism.

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

On Russia with an open mind — Stephen Cohen

Stephen Cohen
In a wide-ranging essay on thew Web site Rorotoko, Stephen Cohen discusses his recently published work Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War.

While Cohen has been called upon in recent days to discuss Obama trip to Russia (see here and here), his book focuses Russian and Soviet history and its possible implications for the present. Cohen believes that the Soviet Union as much as any country defined the twentieth century yet its recent history is poorly understood by most in the United States.

“Most historians and journalists in the United States say that what happened in the Soviet Union was a straight line of inevitable development, from the moment the Communists took power in 1917 until the time the Soviet state broke apart in 1991.

Each chapter of my book disagrees with this orthodoxy. And it explains why one road was taken and not another. I look at the real alternatives that were at each turning point and at the fates of the leaders who represented those roads not taken.”

Thus some of the issues that Cohen explores includes the supposed inevitability of Stalinism, whether the Soviet Union still exist today had Khrushchev remained in power, and the success of Gorbachev’s policies. Cohen also poses the question “how is the historic end of the Soviet Union to be explained?” He argues that the triumphalist narrative that has taken hold (The United States “won” the Cold War) is not only inaccurate but has shaped American policy toward Russia in ways that have adversely affected relations between the two countries.


Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Kim Yong describes his time in a North Korean labor camp

Cover art Kim Yong's Long Road Home

Kim Yong, author of the just published, Long Road Home, was recently interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Company about his time spent as a prisoner at the infamous North Korean labor camp 14 and the atrocities he witnessed there.

Listen to the interview with Mark Willacy on PM.

You can also read an excerpt from the book where Kim Yong details the everyday humiliations and inhuman treatment he received at the hands of Camp 14′s prison guards.