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Archive for August, 2009

Monday, August 31st, 2009

R. Glenn Hubbard on Obama’s health care policy

R. Glenn HubbardBill Clinton’s failed attempt at health care reform is frequently cited as an example from which Obama can learn from as he tries to pass his own health care reform. In a New York Times op-ed, R. Glenn Hubbard, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush and author of the just-published The Aid Trap: Hard Truths about Ending Poverty, suggests that George W. Bush failed attempt to reform Social Security might also offer important lessons for Obama and what mistakes he should avoid.

Hubbard argues that Obama has already erred in similar ways to Bush by placing too much emphasis on fulfilling campaign promises rather than looking to compromise. Hubbard writes, “President Obama is now making the same kind of mistake [as Bush] with his relentless emphasis on the public option and universal coverage—two pet causes during his campaign.”

Hubbard concludes by arguing that as with Social Security, health care reform needs to be seen in two ways:

In the case of health care reform, we also need two debates. The first is over how to reform insurance arrangements to reduce cost growth and provide better value for the money spent. The second should be about access to health care. To achieve these goals, the president could embrace a compromise of tax and regulatory reform for cost containment, and progressive intervention to offer assistance to low-income individuals. But President Obama, like his predecessor, has been unwilling to let go of his campaign goals even as his words fuel intense partisan debate and obstruct his ultimate objective of improving health care value.

President Obama’s message on reform is even more inconsistent than Mr. Bush’s on Social Security, and his opponents know it. The president should stop talking about a “public option” and “universal coverage” and focus on real reform.

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Dr. Paul Offit on Dateline this Sunday

This Sunday at 7 pm Dateline will have a special program on the vaccine “controversy.” The program will include Matt Lauer’s talk with Dr. Paul Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure.

The program will also include Lauer’s discussion with Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who believes that there is a link between autism and vaccines. In recent months Wakefield’s beliefs have come under increasing challenges from doctors and scientists after it was discovered that he fixed data on autism.

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Christopher Davidson’s work censored (again!)

abu dhabiAn article in Forbes highlights new difficulties for Christopher Davidson, author of the recently published Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond. Like his previous book Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success, which was held up in “bureaucratic limbo,” Abu Dhabi‘s release in the United Arab Emirates has been delayed by local authorities.

As Davidson reports, distributors in the UAE contacted him to say that authorities were troubled by the book’s discussion of fratricides in the 1920s. However, Davidson suspects that it is the book’s examination of recent developments, including the UAE’s weak human rights record and their tightening media censorship that is giving censors pause. From the article:

Davidson says censorship in the U.A.E. is the most “sinister” in the region, and succeeds not by heavy-handed interference but by creating a subtle atmosphere of self-censorship. He cites a new media law passed earlier this year, which threatens fines of up to 1 million dirhams ($272,250) for critical reporting on U.A.E. authorities—including Abu Dhabi’s ruler Sheikh Khalifah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, or his billionaire half-brother Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahayan—and asks media organizations to set aside provisions as “collateral” for these fines.

“What the U.A.E. can’t allow to happen is direct criticism of members of the ruling family, or what they call “negative reporting” on the U.A.E. economy that could damage confidence,” says Davidson. “When you have an economy that relies so heavily on foreign direct investment, you can’t have the hedge funds selling short the U.A.E.”

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Columbia University Press editor on the politics of Black hair

AfuaWe were all very excited to see that “Black Hair, Still Tangled in Politics,” an article from yesterday’s New York Times featured a quote from our colleague Afua Adusei-Gontarz, an assistant editor Columbia University Press (pictured).

The article discussed the continuing debate among many African American women about whether or not to straighten their hair and the implications of that decision. The article sums up the the debate writing, “In the face of cultural pressure, the thinking goes, conformists relax their hair, and rebels have the courage not to. In some corners, relaxing one’s hair is even seen as wishing to be white.”

However, in interviews done for the article several women were wary of hairstyles taking on too much significance. Below is the passage that features Afua and her take on the debate:

Afua Adusei-Gontarz, 30, of Brooklyn, wore her hair natural for five years in a French braid, two-strand twists or a puffy ponytail. But she doesn’t think those looks made her more authentically black. “If you have natural hair, you’re considered more real, or in touch with your African-ness,” said Ms. Adusei-Gontarz, an assistant editor at Columbia University Press.

She rejects that thinking: In Ghana, her older relatives relax their hair — as she does now but for convenience — and “it’s more the newer generations who have natural hair.”

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Listening to Kristeva and This Incredible Need to Believe

This Incredible Need to BelieveWe recently came upon the excellent Web site Discourse Notebook Archive, which offers audio of lectures by contemporary philosophers such as Julia Kristeva, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, and Jean-Luc Nancy. It also includes some nice surprises such as lectures (both video and audio) by John Waters (“Filth 101. Film, Taste and Philosophy”) and DJ Spooky (“Mixing as Social Sculpture”).

One of the lectures is Julia Kristeva’s “The Unbelievable Need to Believe” recently delivered in New York City. In the talk, Kristeva examines some of the ideas from her forthcoming work This Incredible Need to Believe. The book is one of the few instances in which Kristeva considers faith and religion and their place in the postmodern world.

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Did the Columbia University Press design department start a trend?

The Late Age of PrintPerhaps we are indulging a bit in hyperbole with our headline but as noted in Galleycat, it seems like other publishers are catching on to the remarkable photographs of Cara Barer.

We used one of her photographs for Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control and Other Press has just published with Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life, by Michael Greenberg, which also uses one of Barer’s images for the cover.

Over at his blog, Ted Striphas admits that the cover has almost received as much attention as the book’s content. Striphas writes,

Some writers would be put off by this, believing that what really counts is the stuff that lies between the covers. Not I. I’m acutely aware that books are meant to be sold as much as they’re meant to be read. In fact, in my undergraduate “Cultures of Books and Reading Class,” I have an assignment in which I ask my students to “judge a book by its cover” — that is, to explain what they can learn about a book and its audience strictly by virtue of its design.


Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

The Tablet reviews Contemporary American Judaism

Contemporary American JudaismInterest in Dana Evan Kaplan’s Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal evidenced most recently by Adam Kirsch’s review in Tablet.

In the review Kirsch cites Kaplan’s discussion of the persistence and in some cases growth of Orthodox Judaism, seen in such examples as a local 7-Eleven offering kosher Slurpees, alongside the many creative ways in which Judaism has been reinvented in recent years. Integrating personal and new age spirituality, music, and traditions from other religions are just some of the ways in which Judaism has morphed to fill the spiritual needs of American Jews.

Kirsch concludes by focusing on what Kaplan sees as the potentially growing rift between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews and what it might mean for American Judaism:

At the same time, Kaplan does not gloss over what he calls, in one section heading, “the deteriorating relationship between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox.” The key issue here is the decision by the Reform movement, in 1983, to allow patrilineal descent—that is, to consider the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother to be Jewish. This quite clearly contradicts millennia of Jewish practice, and no Orthodox authority was willing to accept it. The result, Kaplan writes, is that “substantial and growing numbers of American Jews” are not considered Jewish at all by Orthodox criteria—including those of the rabbinate in Israel. The implications of this for the future of American Jewry, and for the America-Israel relationship, are potentially explosive. “The United Jewish Appeal,” Kaplan notes, “stopped using their slogan ‘We Are One’ because it no longer represented reality.” Yet this is not necessarily a reason for panic. Contemporary American Judaism itself points the way to a future where Judaism itself is no longer one, but many and diverse—and none the less Jewish for that.

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Interview with Arlene N. Weisz and Beverly M. Black on Reducing Teen Dating Violence

Teen ViolenceThe following is an interview with Arlene Weisz and Beverly Black, co-authors of Programs to Reduce Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault.

Question: Teen dating violence and sexual assault have been prominently featured in the news recently with the case of Rihanna and Chris Brown. Because of their fame, they have attracted a lot of attention. How prevalent is this phenomenon in the United States?

Beverly Black: Between 9 and 30 percent of high school students have been victims of teen dating violence and sexual assault. Rates vary depending on how dating violence and sexual assault are defined. A recent survey, commissioned by Liz Claiborne Inc. and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, found that 67 percent of teens whose families have experienced economic problems in the past year have experienced abuse in their own relationships.

Q: What is being done to reduce these problems?

BB: There are many programs across the United States and in other countries that try to reach teens to reduce these problems before violence begins. Many of these programs are being offered in middle schools and high schools. Rhode Island and Texas have state laws requiring curricula on dating violence in their schools. The programs are often offered in collaboration with agencies that address adult intimate partner violence or sexual assault, but sometimes the sole purpose of the organization is prevention.

Q: What kinds of programs have you found to be the most effective?

Arlene Weisz: Our interviews with experienced teen dating violence and sexual assault prevention practitioners from fifty-two programs in twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., helped us augment our own experience running programs for middle school youth and for a university community. We learned that programs can be successful whether they combine or separate sexual assault and dating violence, but in this era of scarce resources and limited opportunities to present to youth, there are many advantages to combining the content about both topics or even combining this content with general violence prevention or substance abuse prevention in extended programs. We also learned that, ideally, programs should include at least several sessions.


Monday, August 24th, 2009

Deporting American Citizens — Jacqueline Stevens

Jacqueline Stevens, States without NationsIn a piece published on the Huffington Post, Jacqueline Stevens, author of the forthcoming States without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals, recounts the remarkable case of Mark Lyttle, a U.S. citizen who was temporarily deported. (For more on the Mark Lyttle case you can also visit Stevens’s excellent blog, also called “States without Nations.”)

As Stevens shows, through a series of bureaucratic and administrative miscues and cover-ups, Mark Lyttle, who has a history of mental illness, found himself sent to Mexico despite the fact that his citizenship is easily verifiable. What is even more astounding is that Lyttle’s case is hardly unique:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been deporting over a million people each year. Most are Mexican citizens residing here without legal status. But thousands of those being detained and even deported are US citizens.

This sounds unbelievable, and it should…. Even more shocking are the several thousand of US citizens each year who are not only detained, but also deported. This occurs either because of ICE bullying, a fear of indefinite detention, or because the US government gave their US citizen parents, mostly of Mexican ancestry, incorrect information about their legal status and issued them green cards instead of telling them they were US citizens at birth.


Friday, August 21st, 2009

Paul Offit throws out the first ball

Needless to say, writing a blog for a university press one does not often get the chance to report on one of our authors throwing out the first ball at a major league baseball game. However that honor was bestowed upon Paul Offit on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park in a game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Offit, who is the author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure and the chief of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, threw out the first ball as part of “Immunization Coalitions of Southeastern, PA Night.”

Here are a few photos from the evening, including Offit’s meeting with the Phillie Phanatic.




Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Dana Kaplan discusses contemporary American Judaism with Religion in American History

Contemporary American JudaismIn a wide ranging interview with Paul Harvey on the blog Religion in American History Dana Eric Kaplan, author of Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal, considers a range of issues from the impact of intermarriage to the meaning of Jack Abramoff’s black hat (was he trying to elicit the support of Orthodox Jews?)

One of the issues confronting organized religion in the United States is the increasing penchant for individual to embark upon personal spiritual quests that do not necessarily conform to traditional beliefs. As Kaplan suggests, Judaism is particularly vulnerable to this trend:

Individualized spirituality threatens institutional religion because if people can find spiritual meaning on their own, then they don’t need organized religion. American Judaism is particularly vulnerable because Judaism is so interconnected with Jewish peoplehood and also because Judaism is such a small religious group in terms of numbers. If every American Jew went on their spiritual search without regard to ancestral tradition or community influence, that would mark the end of organized Jewish religion in the United States. But that has not happened….Some of those dissatisfied with what they believe to be the lack of spirituality in Judaism may switch religions entirely but many others may seek to find alternative sources of spiritual wisdom that they can bring back with them to the synagogue.


Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

The New Yorker reviews History of the Mafia

History of the MafiaThe New Yorker’s review of Salvatore Lupo’s History of the Mafia praises the book as “myth-busting” and for shedding new light on a frequently covered subject.

We’ve posted the review below but for more on the book you can also read an excerpt from the introduction. From The New Yorker:

For anyone who has grown weary of the fond treatment of the Mafia in American popular culture this book is a tonic. Lupo’s myth-busting history explores why the Mafia survived despite Fascist repression, the “maxi-trial” in Palermo in the nineteen-eighties, and frequent predictions that it would disappear as Italy modernized. While Lupo’s focus is on Sicily, he also sketches the development of the Mafia’s stateside branches, occasioning the fascinating reminder that the crime network’s first American port of call was not New York or New Jersey but New Orleans. Fun is not a priority here, and Lupo often gives only cursory mention of pivotal episodes that might be common knowledge to Italian readers, but his unfailingly fastidious handling of such a slippery subject has its own satisfactions.

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

The Daily Kos interviews Joe Cirincione

Joseph CirincioneIn addition to his recent piece in the Huffington Post, Joe Cirincione, author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, was also interview by Daily Kos.

Cirincione has been discussing the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) which is developed by the Pentagon and determines policies and weapons systems for the next five to ten years and is usually done once during a president’s administration. Ciricione’s main concern is that despite Obama’s ambitious plan to cut back on nuclear weapons, the White House’s lack of involvement in the NPR might mean that the interests of the pentagon and defense contracts will win out at the expense of weapons reduction. As Ciricione puts it:

So the nuclear bureaucracy—that is, the nuclear laboratories, the defense contractors, the ideologues, and the small section of the military still involved with nuclear weapons understand this, and they are waging a battle to basically tweak the current Cold War structure to make it—to pay lip service to Obama’s agenda without actually changing much of anything.

So we could very easily end up with… “Bush light”: the Bush nuclear policies and posture tweaked just a bit, and given an Obama gloss. If the Pentagon has its way, that’s what’s going to happen.

Monday, August 17th, 2009

R. Glenn Hubbard on A Marshall Plan for Africa

The Aid TrapIn an essay on the Foreign Policy Web site, R. Glenn Hubbard author of the just-published The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty, makes the case for a new policy toward helping Africa

More than half a century after the United States helped rebuild a war-torn Europe, it’s time Africa got the same chance.

The Marshall Plan was fundamentally different from the aid that Africa has received over the past four decades. The Marshall Plan made loans to European businesses, which repaid them to their local governments, which in turn used that revenue for commercial infrastructure—ports, roads, railways—to serve those same businesses. Aid to Africa has instead funded government and NGO development projects, without any involvement of the local business sector. The Marshall Plan worked. Aid to Africa has not. An African Marshall Plan is long, long overdue.

In the essay, Hubbard argues that the emphasis on local business is crucial for helping the African economy and takes on critics of this strategy. In particular, he critiques the following objections often made by aid groups and NGO’s: 1.) The market failed in Africa; 2.) Strong businesses in Africa will become the new colonists; 3.) Infrastructure must come before business; 4.) Democracy must come first; 5.) Microfinance is enough; and 6.) Anti-corruption measures will make aid programs work better.

Hubbard shows why all these objections are misguided and argues that building a strong local business sector in Africa increases the likelihood of a lasting, meaningful democracy taking hold or the growth of a functional business market.

The Foreign Policy site highlights Hubbard’s essay with the headline: “Colonialism Was Good for Africa: And Other Inconvenient Truths.” Hubbard does suggest that in some ways Africa benefitted from colonial rule:

A whole contingent of aid advocates admit the faults of African governments, but trace them back to colonialism. Under colonial rule, they say, foreign governments and businesses exploited Africa and left it poor. Pro-business policies, they worry, would lead to a new colonialism, with foreign companies exploiting Africa anew.

This argument flies in the race of reality. First, Africa was poor before colonialism, and for many countries, colonialism may well have made Africa richer. There were some exceptions, such as the Belgian Congo in the early 20th century, where forced labor for rubber extraction made the people poorer. But overall, Africans in 1960 were healthier, lived longer, and had higher incomes than Africans in 1900. Ghanaian economist George Ayittey calls the colonial era the “golden age of peasant prosperity” in Africa, when the vast mass of rural Africans joined the world economy for the first time. By 1960, this was even true in the Belgian Congo. The hospitals, ports, schools, railways, and roads of Africa date from the colonial era. Certainly Europeans benefited unfairly from colonialism, but for Africans the result was still an improvement over their former poverty.


Friday, August 14th, 2009

“Nick Carraway is a snob.”

Fitzgerald Hemingway

The Great Gatsby is a novel that has made a difference in the lives of many who have or will read it. One does not have to like Nick Carraway to discover something about oneself in the tale he tells.”—Scott Donaldson, Fitzgerald and Hemingway

The above quote comes at the conclusion of The Trouble with Reading Nick: Reading Gatsby Closely, a chapter from Scott Donaldson’s new book Fitzgerald and Hemingway:Works and Days.

In the chapter, Donaldson explains why Nick is not only not a particularly nice guy but also not a very reliable narrator. Yet at the same time, he is the “perfect” narrator for the novel:

Nick Carraway is a snob. He dislikes people in general and deni grates them in particular. He dodges emotional commitments. Neither his ethical code nor his behavior is exemplary: propriety rather than morality guides him. He is not entirely honest about himself and frequently misunderstands others. Do these shortcomings mean that Nick is an unreliable narrator? At times and in part, yes. But they also mean that he is the perfect narrator for The Great Gatsby and that Fitzgerald’s greatest technical achievement in the novel was to invent this narrative voice at once “within and without” the action.

As mentioned earlier on this blog, the Los Angeles Times recently reviewed Fitzgerald & Hemingway, calling it “splendid” and “erudite.” In the book Donaldson also explores the creative genius of Fitzgerald and Hemingway and the surprising overlaps among their works, traces the influence of celebrity culture on the legacies of both writers, and matches an analysis of Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War writings to a treatment of Fitzgerald’s left-leaning tendencies. Donaldson also devotes several essays to four novels, Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, The Sun Also Rises, and A Farewell to Arms, and others to lesser-known short stories.

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Yasukuni — the book, the documentary

yasukuniIn yesterday’s New York Times, A. O. Scott reviewed Li Ying’s controversial documentary, Yasukuni, which recently opened in New York City. The film “explores [Japan's] legacy of militaristic nationalism, illuminating both the noble customs and the brutality entwined at its heart.” Yasukuni is a shrine dedicated to the Japanese war dead and holds the remains of war criminals. In recent years visits to the shrine by Japanese politicians has sparked protest in Japan as well as in China, Korea, and Taiwan.

The controversy surrounding the shrine is also the subject of Yasukuni, the War Dead, and the Struggle for Japan’s Past, edited by John Breen. The book presents authoritative yet divergent views on the shrine and its place in postwar Japanese diplomacy, ideology, and history. Critical contributions are written by leading Yasukuni and anti-Yasukuni Japanese intellectuals, as well as Chinese and Western commentators.

For more you can browse and search the book’s content.

And here’s a trailer for the documentary:

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

A perspective on scholarly publishing — Cathy Davidson

“Who are the robber barons? Sometimes (yes, I mean you, English professors!), it is our own short-sighted book writing and book buying habits that are the problem. Some of the “crisis of scholarly publishing” is of our making. Sometimes the Ponzi schemes start with us.”—Cathy Davidson, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Ruth F. Devarney Professor of English at Duke University

Every so often we like to take a look at the state and future of scholarly and university press publishing. With that in mind we turn to Cathy Davidson’s recent blog posting The Futures of Scholarly Publishing—Urgently and Again, published on the HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Collaborative) Web site.

Cathy Davidson begins by mentioning the recent publication of The State of Scholarly Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities and then examines the particular challenges confronting the publications of literary studies titles and specifically monographs:

Ask any book editor at a university press. Englishers write a lot of long (too long) books, sometimes without much regard for the fact that someone out there will be reading them. Maybe that’s realistic, given that relatively few English profs buy other Englisher books—and they assign relatively fewer in their courses. But it shouldn’t be that way. If we believe in what we do (and I happen to be a believer), we should be writing for readers, first of all, and, second, we should be reading one another’s work and, third, we should be teaching it. Right now, a sale of 300 or 400 copies of a monograph is a lot. That’s appalling. The result, materially, is that we do not pay our own way and certainly not that of junior members of our profession. Intellectually, our students never learn the value the genre of the monograph because we teach excerpts in our courses, even our graduate courses. We do not teach the kind of extended, nuanced thinking that goes into the genre that our very graduate students will have to produce for tenure. We say the scholarly monograph represents the epitome of our profession and a hurdle to “lifetime employment” at a research university. So we do not practice what we preach, adding to the crisis in scholarly publishing and the crisis in the profession of English in particular.

Davidson’s call for professors and academics to read and assign their colleagues work should be applauded. If taken up her suggestions will not only help allow university presses continue their mission but also perhaps breathe new financial and intellectual life to the monograph and literary studies.

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Julia Child: A turning point in the making of American cuisine

Julia Child

Needless to say, with the release of the film Julie & Julia, Julia Child is once again very much in the news. Child and her wildly popular show The French Chef are also one of the “thirty turning points in the making of American cuisine,” as identified by Andrew F. Smith in his forthcoming book Eating History.

In the chapter, Julia Child, the French Chef, Smith recounts the story of Child’s introduction to French cooking, Knopf’s initial reluctance to publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking (too expensive to print and Child was an unknown at the time), and her eventual success. Smith discusses how Child’s “energy, pedagogical abilities, sense of timing, informal, chatty manner, and her humor all contributed to the program’s success.” He also argues that the show’s evening time slot, a break from the traditional daytime airing of cooking shows, helped to attract a more upscale viewer who would be more predisposed to be interested in French cookery.

As mentioned above Knopf was initially reluctant to publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking and as Smith reveals had it not been for a cookout the book might never have become a success:

For promoting the 726-page tome, Knopf allocated limited funds for a few advertisements in newspapers and magazines. The book’s chances for success were minimal, it was thought, so why waste precious marketing dollars on it? On the other hand, without promotion, such a cookbook was unlikely to find its audience. Then Judith Jones [Child's editor at Knopf] had an idea. A few months before the book was to be published, she called Craig Claiborne, the New York Times food columnist, asking him to review the book. Claiborne proposed a deal: if Jones and her husband would host a cookout for him on their Manhattan terrace, he would review the book once it was out. The Joneses upheld their end of the bargain, and, a few days after Mastering the Art of French Cooking was released, Claiborne’s review raved that it was “the most comprehensive, laudable and monumental work” on French cookery and that it would likely “remain as the definitive work for nonprofessionals.”

For more on Child, you can watch a video of a panel discussion held at the New School in 2008 and moderated by Andrew Smith. Panelists include the aforementioned Judith Jones, Alice Waters, Molly O’Neill. Below is a clip and you can watch the full discussion here.

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

New report on eduction / The Common Good Forecaster

Human Development report

Earlier this summer the American Human Development Project released a report exploring the impact of education. With the school year approaching it seemed an appropriate time to look at some of the report’s findings many of which reflect the data conclusions presented in The Measure of America: American Human Development Report, 2008-2009, edited by Sarah Burd-Sharps, Kristen Lewis, and Eduardo Borges Martins.

In connection with the report, the American Human Development Project has also launched a Common Good Forecaster, which allows users to see how higher levels of education would affect life expectancy, poverty and income levels, and voting, murder, and incarceration rates in their states and communities. For instance, I live in King’s County (Brooklyn) in New York in which 23% of the population has less than a high school degree, if that number went down to 10%, the murder rate would drop from 9.4 murder per 100,000 to 8.8 per 100,000; unemployment would go from 6.2% to 5.8% and the poverty rate from 18.3% to 16.7%. While these percentages might seem small, taken on a national level more people getting a high school diploma would have a profound effect on the common good.

Higher educational attainment not only means better jobs and better paychecks but is also linked to “better physical and mental health, longer lives, fewer crimes, less incarceration, more voting, greater tolerance and brighter prospects for the next generation.” The report breaks down the statistics behind the importance of education and also analyzes the data along racial lines. Here are some of the key findings from the report:

Murder: A one-year increase in the average level of schooling in a community is associated with a 30 percent decrease in the murder rate.
Obesity: Obesity has increased among all Americans, yet the more educated are less likely to be overweight or obese.
Income: The median annual earnings of Americans 25 and over who did not complete high school are less than $18,500, while those who completed high school typically earn early $26,000. College graduates earn $44,000 annually, and those with graduate or professional degrees typically earn $57,500
Poverty: Education is the single most important factor in the determination of a person’s poverty status: almost 24 percent of the adult population without a high school diploma is poor, compared to 11 percent of those who are high school graduates and only 3.6 percent of college graduates.
Unemployment: The less education a person has, the more likely he or she is to be unemployed. A high school dropout is four times more likely to be unemployed than a college graduate.
Incarceration: Nearly three-quarters of state inmates did not complete high school; fewer than three percent completed college or more.

Monday, August 10th, 2009

History of the Mafia by Salvatore Lupo


The Financial Times recently reviewed Salvatore Lupo’s History of the Mafia along with Into the Heart of the Mafia: A Journey through the Italian South, by David Lane. As the review points out, both books explore the Mafia’s resilience and continuing presence in Italy despite changes over the past 150 years and various efforts to stop the criminal organization: “A theme of both books is that, despite hopes to the contrary, economic development in Italy has provided the Mafia with new opportunities rather than undermining an organisation originally based on exploiting poverty-stricken populations.”

Lupo’s book takes a more historical approach exploring the development of the Mafia in Sicily beginning with Antonio Giammona, the first boss of Palermo and continuing through to the Cosa Nostra‘s growth in the United States and its continuing presence in Italian society. While the Mafia might have begun by capitalizing on poverty and corruption in Sicily, it has been able to change with the times:

“[Lupo] … build[s] a comprehensive picture of how the Mafia took advantage of weak and corrupt central governments, until they ‘flooded the system’ to become a dominant rather than just parasitic force.Many believed that the Mafia would vanish once locomotive whistles echoed through the villages of the Sicilian hinterland, Lupo writes, but instead they adapted, ‘old but not afraid of modernity’.”

For more on the book, you can also read an excerpt. Here is a passage from the introduction in which Lupo explores the Mafia as organization and how it changed once it established itself in the United States.

Of course, this does not mean that the U.S. Mafia was not clearly distinct from the Sicilian Mafia. First and foremost, the U.S. Mafia was profoundly modeled on American society, as is emphasized by a number of studies (prevalently democratic and Italian American in nature) that focus on the criminalizing elements of the American society into which these immigrants were introduced, in contrast with the traditional WASP thesis of a foreign conspiracy. This praiseworthy effort to overturn the racist idea that Italian Americans had a predisposition to engage in crime, however, ultimately points toward a model of the Mafia that was nothing more than a form of clientelism in its society of origin—“a system of godfathers and clients exchanging favors, services, and other benefits,” perpetuated by the immigrants when they arrived in the New World, and destined to die out once the Italian American community was fully integrated into the upper ranks of U.S. society.