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Archive for September, 2009

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Do cell phones cause cancer?

Kabat, Hyping Health RisksRecently on the British Web site Spiked, Geoffrey Kabat, author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology, takes a closer look at recent reports linking cell phone use and brain cancer.

Kabat argues that these reports fail to prove an association between cell phones and cancer. He writes,

What the reports have in common, and what is most striking to someone who is moderately conversant with the scientific evidence concerning the health effects of cell phone use, is the astoundingly selective and slanted presentation they give of the relevant evidence. In reading them one feels oneself in the world of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

In the article Kabat shows the ways in which some researchers and activists seize on a few results that appear to indicate a risk.

Kabat concludes,

These alarmist reports by activist groups represent a parallel narrative to the much less satisfying narrative of scientific inquiry. Activist ‘science’ focuses on results that appear to fit with one’s thesis and ignores information and comprehensive assessments of the evidence which do not. The authors can count on the appearances—references to the scientific literature, higher degrees and affiliations of the authors and ‘endorsers’, and conclusions that sound reasonable—to arouse concern in the public and to galvanize politicians eager to respond to the latest threat to the public’s health.

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

The Main Course interviews Andy Smith

Andy Smith, Eating HistoryIn an interview on Heritage Radio Network’s show The Main Course Andy Smith discusses some of the 30 turning points in American food from his book, Eating History.

In the interview he touches on topics as varied as the invention of canned food, the rise of snack foods, the beginning of national marketing and advertising campaigns to create demand for a product, the use of food as a weapon during the civil war, the rise of organic gardening, how and why hamburgers became so popular in America, and the advent of the TV dinner.

Here’s what Andy has to say on how advertising and food marketing took off in America:

The problem with canned food was you can’t see inside, the glass jar you can look inside and see if it’s good or not. When you have a tin can you really can’t do that, so they began advertising and putting the types of things that should appear inside the can so that when you bought the canned food you would think you were eating or drinking the food that was labeled. But the real advertising, it starts with Quaker Oats. Here’s a food that no real American would eat. It was animal food. Oats were grown here for animals and they had a problem. How do you promote oats, in this case, Quaker Oats, as a product to the public? At the time when they began their advertising, in the late nineteenth century, normally you had to sell to each local grocery store and there were 50,000 local grocery stores in America. So the goal was to hit the customer and have the customer demand Quaker Oats from the local grocery store.

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Annie Hauck-Lawson and Jonathan Deutsch on quintessential New York City dishes and more

GastropolisIn a recent interview with Serious Eats New York, Jonathan Deutsch and Annie Hauck Lawson, co-editors of Gastropolis: Food and New York City, talked about the history of New York City food and some of their favorite New York City foods and restaurants.

Not surprisingly they identified hot dogs, street pizza, bialys and bagels with cream cheese and lox or smoked salmon as the iconic foods of New York. However, they say that halal lamb over rice should also now be considered one of New York City’s quintessential dishes. In the interview Hauck-Lawson and Deutsch also recount Brooklyn’s former status as the beer brewing capitol of the United States.

Finally, for those who might be missing summer or already planning for Summer 2010, the editors describe their “dream New York meal”:

Go to the Rockaways on a warm summer early evening with family and best friends. Bring: bathing suits, towels, beach blanket, boogie or surfboards, Katz’s hot dogs, hot dog rolls, good bread and a warm cooked rice dish, big salad from lettuces and tomatoes that you grew at Floyd Bennett Community Garden at the end of Flatbush Avenue (dressed in olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt), ice cold beer, seltzer and a thermos of hot coffee.

… And a surf casting rod. Swim. Cast out in to the ocean. Cross your fingers. Catch a tuna (preferably) or a snapper. Gather drift wood. Make a fire. Clean and filet the fish, grill it, serve with all the other food and drink and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Mark Taylor on melancholy

Mark Taylor

Paul Auster calls Mark Taylor’s Field Notes from Elsewhere: Reflections and Living Dying “an intoxicating whirl of a book, an engine of thought and feeling that touches on everything that counts most to us: living and dying, families, faith, friendship, and the quest to ground oneself in the real.” Auster continues, “To the best of my knowledge, it is a work without precedent.”

In the book, Taylor recounts being diagnosed with cancer, his morning-to-evening experience with sickness and convalescence, mingling humor and hope with a deep exploration of human frailty and, conversely, resilience. Taylor combines theological and philosophical reflection as he examines the meaning of mortality, sacrifice, solitude, and abandonment, along with a host of other issues, in light of modern ways of dying.

Taylor talks about the book in this interview and below is an excerpt from Taylor on melancholy:

There is a melancholy of things complete that arrives unexpectedly. Fulfillment does not fulfill, and the end so eagerly anticipated proves disappointingly empty. The deal is closed, the book finished, the class graduated, the career complete, and it is finally time for celebration. When family and friends gather, there is, however, an uninvited guest. Melancholy disrupts the moment—the person in its grip can never be fully present. While others are immersed in the moment, the vision of the melancholic is split, his consciousness always double. The most profound melancholy is invisible to the eyes of others. The melancholic spirit travels incognito—while seeming to be absorbed in the moment, he floats above, watching from without, knowing the moment will pass and uncertain it will ever arrive again. In melancholy the present is never fully present but always already past—even before it arrives. This trace of this impending past is most haunting in precisely those moments that are supposed to be complete.


Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The business of Africa — Forbes on The Aid Trap

R. Glenn Hubbard

An article to be published in the October 5th issue of Forbes discusses R. Glenn Hubbard (pictured above) and William Duggan’s new book The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty and their proposal for a Marshall Plan for Africa. Traditional aid, as an increasing number of economists and experts argue, has not worked in Africa and in many ways the continent is worse off despite the money that has poured in from charity organizations, NGOs, and foreign governments.

In light of recent history, Hubbard and Duggan propose “that the U.S. government make direct loans to businesses and then direct the repayments of principal to host governments for use in building roads, electric grids, schools and the like. This was how the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe after the war.”

Hubbard and Duggan recognize that a Marshall Plan for Africa might take up to forty years and that twenty-first century Africa does not enjoy the same advantages as even war-ravaged Europe. However, they hope the policymakers will not only be motivated to develop a new way of helping Africa in order to improve the lives of Africans but also because a more prosperous continent has important national security implications: “Hubbard and Duggan hope that the national security argument will weigh in favor of aid reform. After all, where economic reconstruction has utterly failed, terrorists can find root, as Somalia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa demonstrate.”

The article, by Michael Maiello, concludes with the following endorsement of Hubbard and Duggan’s approach:

The new Marshall Plan’s chief virtue, however, is its pitch for honesty. After decades of failing to bring prosperity to Africa, it requires that we acknowledge the bankruptcy of a decades-old model which, while salving consciences in the West, failed abjectly in its mission.

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Interview with Joyce Mendelsohn, author of The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited

Joyce MendelsohnJoyce Mendelsohn is the author of  The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited: A History and Guide to a Legendary New York Neighborhood.

Question: What are some of the most dramatic changes to the Lower East Side in the last ten years?

Joyce Mendelsohn: Aggressive development has changed the character and streetscape of the Lower East Side since the first edition of this book was published eight years ago. In the new edition I examine the dynamics of the neighborhood reinventing itself. As a culture of youth and affluence emerges, it is becoming a place of stark contrasts between locals and newcomers. Designer boutiques, music clubs, trendy bars, and upscale restaurants take over spaces once occupied by bargain shops, bodegas, and local eateries. Luxury residential towers, condos and rentals, are replacing tenements. Expensive hotels are springing up as the area becomes a destination for tourists and business travelers. More than fifty current photographs have been added to accompany the expanded and revised text that includes a new section on the Bowery.

Q: Is it very hard to find affordable housing on the Lower East Side?

JM: With a booming economy driving a hot real estate market beginning in the early 2000s, recent construction and soaring housing costs have forced low- and middle-income residents to move away and discouraged others of modest means from moving in. Luxury towers are replacing tenements. Renovated walk-ups are pricing out tenants. Once limited-equity coops are now selling at market rate. Except for public housing, low- and middle-income people are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing.

Q: Are there any legendary restaurants, food stores, and mom-and-pop clothing shops to be found?

JM: Ratner’s, Bernstein on Essex, and Gertel’s Bakery have closed. The Garden Cafeteria was replaced by a Chinese restaurant. Schapiro’s Winery shut its local store but operates from other locations. However, Russ & Daughters, Katz’s Deli, Kossar’s Bialys, Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes, Streit’s Matzos, and Economy Candy remain and retain the flavor of the old neighborhood. Guss’ Pickles has announced that it is moving to Brooklyn. Several multigenerational clothing and fabric stores are still operating on Orchard Street and surrounding blocks.


Friday, September 18th, 2009

World Policy reviews Stephen Cohen’s Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives

Stephen F. CohenPerhaps Barack Obama’s decision to scrap the proposed antiballistic shield in Central and Eastern Europe will improve U.S.-Russian relations but as Stephen F. Cohen has argued, much still needs to be done to prevent another Cold War.

In his most recent book Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, Cohen examines U.S. policy failures in the post-Cold War era as well as key episodes in twentieth-century Russian history. In a recent review on the World Policy blog, David A. Andelman writes, “For, as this brilliant Princeton and New York University professor so meticulously chronicles, we have indeed gone off the rails in our dealing with the realities of today’s Russia, taking us once again to the brink.” A sense of U.S. triumphalism after the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO expansion, Bill Clinton’s embrace of “shock therapy” for the Russian economy and a failure to recognize Russia’s continuing strength have all led to a worsening of U.S.-Russian relations and set the stage for another Cold War.

David A. Andelman, likens Cohen to George Kennan in his profound understanding of Russia and its leaders and argues that Cohen’s views should be heeded more carefully by U.S. policymakers. He concludes the review, writing:

Cohen offers us a lesson, and a solution that is at once simple and of priceless value. The whole blame-Russia-first concept that is so prevalent in Washington must be replaced, along with the idea that there is any longer even a single superpower. Partnership must replace confrontation at all cost. In the end, Cohen suggests a single, fundamental prescriptive—hew to the Hippocratic injunction, “do no harm,” and re-set the entire U.S.-Russian relationship, before it is too late.

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Interview with Mark C. Taylor, author of Field Notes from Elsewhere

Mark C. TaylorThe following is an interview with Mark Taylor, author of Field Notes from Elsewhere: Reflections on Living and Dying and professor of religion and chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University.

Question:  The book begins with an incredibly traumatic series of events unfolding in your life. Tell us a little about what happened to you and how you came to write the book Field Notes from Elsewhere as a result.

Mark Taylor:  I had been thinking about writing a book that combined personal narratives with philosophical and theological reflection for many years. The issues about which I teach and write are often very abstract but are significant because of the ways in which they illuminate specific experiences we all undergo. I knew that this kind of writing would be different from anything I had done before and realized that the only possible research is life itself.
Three years ago, I went into septic shock as the result of a biopsy for cancer. I also suffer from diabetes, which complicates everything. Septic shock is caused by a severe infection in the blood and is fatal in 50-75% of the cases. My case was especially bad. I taught a class on Derrida’s The Gift of Death at noon and by 7:00 that evening was on the verge of death. I was in the intensive care unit for five days, stayed in the hospital for another five days, and then on intravenous antibiotics for five weeks. Six months later, I underwent surgery for cancer. It was quite a trip! One never really recovers from such experiences, but in the months following surgery, I felt I had done enough research and it was time to begin writing.
Q:  This book is structured differently than other memoirs. How does the structure of the book interact with the writing?

MT:  I did not want to write a traditional narrative. Life is not a story but is episodic—brief periods of continuity are punctuated by unexpected disruptions. I envision the book less as a memoir than as a diary or book of hours. It is also a photo album with more than 120 images. The interrelation of text and image is carefully calibrated. There are fifty-two chapters or sections, which are divided into AM and PM entries. The book begins with dawn and ends with sunset. Each section is a brief meditation on a single topic—Light, Nights, Pleasure, Money, Disease, Hope, Vocation, Ordinary . . . My hope is that people will read these meditations slowly and will ponder these issues in their own lives.


Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Stephen Prince discusses 9/11 films on NPR

Stephen Prince, author of Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism was recently on On the Media to discuss how filmmakers have taken on the challenge of capturing the truth of the 9/11 attacks.

In the interview, Prince discusses such films as Stephen Spielberg’s The Terminal, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanomo Bay, United 93, and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center. Prince also talks about how such genre films as The Dark Knight and Iron Man have incorporated the post-9/11 atmosphere of terror into their story lines. At the end of the interview Prince summarizes how Hollywood’s unwillingness to explore the darker concerns that still haunt America:

The movies have been working very hard to persuade us that we’re in good hands, that the security forces are a jump ahead of the terrorists and that they’re going to find out about the plots in the nick of time.

We know the story of 9/11 was very different. It was a story of chaos and breakdown in the chain of command. This is something our films have not shown us very honestly. Instead, they acknowledge the kind of world that we all know we now live in, and they make it habitable by reassuring us that in the end, everything is going to be okay.

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Are two parents better for kids?

In a recently released study Claire Kamp Dush co-author of Marriage and Family: Perspectives and Complexities, challenges the conventional wisdom that two-parent family are always best for children. The advantage that children get from living in two-parent families may actually be due to family stability more than the fact that their parents are married. These findings are included in Marriage and Family.

Kamp Dush does not suggest that there are no advantages for children living in two-parent homes. Particularly for black families, the study found ways in which children did better with two parents. However, the study suggests that white and Hispanic children can do well living in single-parent homes if they have a stable home environment. The study revealed that there were no significant differences in behavior problems for children of any race if they lived in stable single-parent homes or in stable married households.

Kamp Dush’s study included 4,910 mothers and 11,428 children. She analyzed data on four variables for the children: reading and math test scores; a measure of behavioral problems; and a measure of home environment, which looked at levels of cognitive stimulation and emotional support.

Here is a video of Kamp Dush discussing the study:

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Interview with Santiago Zabala, author of The Remains of Being

Santiago ZabalaDuring the summer and in advance of publication, we posted this interview with Santiago Zabala, author of The Remains of Being: Hermeneutic Ontology After Metaphysics, on our Web site. Other sites and blogs, including 3 Quarks Daily published it as well, eliciting a fair amount of debate.

Question: Your last book, The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy: A Study of Ernst Tugendhat, centered on the German philosopher in order to dismiss the division of philosophy into the analytic and continental schools, while in this new book you seem to engage in a strictly ontological issue: “What remains of Being after the deconstruction of metaphysics?” What is the difference between both books? What is the goal now?

Santiago Zabala: I don’t think there is a big difference since they both engage in what has become the most important problem for philosophy since Heidegger: how can metaphysics be overcome? While in the first book I gave an answer through the postmetaphysical thought of Tugendhat, in this new book I confront the problem at its root, that is, through the concept of Being. Although in this new book I include a whole section on Tugendhat (as well as sections on Jacques Derrida, Reiner Schürmann, Jean-Luc Nancy, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Gianni Vattimo), its purpose to expose the remnants of Being in Tugendhat’s philosophy, which shows the continuity between both investigations. In sum, the goal of this book is to expose the remains of Being after Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics in contemporary philosophy. The greatest achievements of this destruction are, first, the revelation that Being has always been described as a present object in its presentness and, second, the realization that it is not possible to definitively overcome this objective interpretation without falling back into another descriptive interpretation. In this condition, where metaphysics cannot be “überwinden,” (overcome, meaning a complete abandonment of the problem) but can only be “verwinden” (surpassed, alluding to the way one surpasses a major disappointment not by forgetting it but by coming to terms with it) it is necessary to start interpreting Being through its remains, which is a concept that maintains metaphysics in such a way to also overcome it.


Monday, September 14th, 2009

Is post-war Greece a model for today’s poorest nations?

The Aid TrapIn The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty, R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan argue that a new Marshall Plan is needed for many African nations and other countries mired in poverty. Aid, as it has been doled out and managed by NGOs and foreign governments, has not improved conditions and should be redirected to the local business sector.

In their chapter, “Chase the Devil: Details for a Marshall Model,” Hubbard and Duggan examine the case of postwar Greece, which was one of the poorest European countries after World War II. The Marshall Plan, as the authors show, benefited from money going directly to Greek businesses and farmers. While they acknowledge differences, Hubbard and Duggan point to war-torn Greece’s poverty and unstable government as sharing similarities with today’s poor nations.

In the book, the authors propose a new Economic Cooperation Assocation (ECA), similar to the one created for the Marshall Plan to help nations get out of poverty by strengthening local business. Hubbard and Duggan write:

Over the four years of the Marshall Plan, Greece spent less than half of its counterpart funds (45 percent), thus leaving a healthy balance for the future. Like most other war-torn Marshall Plan countries, what Greece did spend went first for physical reconstruction: housing, public buildings, roads, railroads, and ports (31 percent). Unlike other Marshall Plan countries, because of its ongoing civil war, Greece spent a good share of its counterpart funds on refugee relief (29 percent). As a poor country, it also spent a good share on agriculture (13 percent), especially land reclamation, the purchase of livestock, and a research and extension system. And it made further loans to private Greek businesses of all kinds (7 percent). Next came sanitation and public health (3 percent), including a malaria campaign.

This spending pattern of counterpart funds shows that most of the money helped business: agricultural and commercial infrastructure, including a direct re-lending program for businesses. Not only did the Marshall Plan turn aid into effective financing for the whole Greek business sector, but it made Greek public spending dependent on the volume of business. If Greek business thrived, it bought more inputs and paid more money into the government counterpart fund. That fund in turn spent most of the money to support more business. All these elements carry over intact to the new ECA.

The authors conclude:

From Washington to Greece these myriad details start to point the way for how the new ECA might work. Many details will differ: For example, there won’t be tractors and flour from America. But the structure and mechanisms of the old and new will be essentially the same—the same software, different hardware, for a different time and a different place. In that way the Marshall Plan remains timeless and universal, and the best hope to fight poverty in the poor countries of the world.

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Gastropolis at the Brooklyn Book Festival

The Brooklyn Book Festival, one of the best, most interesting and most fun literary events in New York City is happening on Sunday (September 13.) The event is from 10:00 am to 6 pm in Brooklyn Borough Hall and Plaza.

For those of you in New York City, please stop by an pay us a visit, we’ll be at table #92. In addition to the many publishers at the festival there are also a plethora of great panels and speakers. Some of the participants at this year’s festival include Thurston Moore, Paula Fox, Nicholson Baker, Paul Auster, Russell Banks, Steven Millhauser, Colson Whitehead, Pete Hamill, Gary Shteyngart, Melvin Van Peebles, Keith Gessen, Maud Newton, Lewis Lapham, Walter Kirn, Johathan Lethem, Oliver Sacks, Ben Marcus, Breyten Breytenbach and DJ Spooky.

There will also be a panel on New York City food, which will include Jonathan Deutsch, co-editor of Gastropolis: Food and New York City. The panel will be at 1:00 pm (just in time for lunch!) at the North Stage in Borough Hall Plaza.

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Two new looks at cinematic and literary representations of 9/11

Out of the BlueAs Stephen Prince author of Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism points out in a recent interview in Rorotoko, “shortly after the attacks, many people predicted that storytelling … would be changed forever.”

Prince’s book explores a range of narrative films and documentaries, including Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 to examine the extent to which filmmakers found new methods of storytelling; what kinds of movies were made in response to 9/11; and whether it is even possible to practice poetic license with such a devastating, broadly felt tragedy.

In his interview with “Rorotoko,” Prince says:

Firestorm shows how easily Hollywood film and television absorbed the events of this national tragedy into the existing story conventions, genres and formulas of popular culture. Shortly after the attacks, many people predicted that storytelling, especially in moving image media, would be changed forever. This did not occur, and Hollywood found numerous ways to make terrorism a profitable subject for entertainment, something that seemed unthinkable right after 9/11.

In Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel, Kristiaan Versluys focuses on a select group of novels including, Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and John Updike’s Terrorist.

Like Prince, Versluys is interested in how novelists sought to depict an event that many originally viewed as beyond representation. He argues that while many attempts failed, a few, including those mentioned above, “succeed in engaging the full range of the imagination, beyond patriotic cliches and beyond the pabulum of the talking heads.” He continues:

They affirm the humanity of the befuddled individual groping for an explanation, express the bewilderment of the citizen as opposed to the cocksureness of the killers, give voice to stuttering and stammering as a precarious act of defiance…. Through formal means they suggest the impact of shock—the immediate shock that causes panic or the slower realization that things have altered beyond repair. These works testify to the shattering of certainties and the laborious recovery of balance.

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Richard Nash on The Late Age of Print

The Late Age of PrintIn an interesting and appropriate pairing of reviewer and book, the excellent new Web site, The Critical Flame chose Richard Nash to review Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control.

Richard Nash (R_Nash) is the former publisher of Soft Skull, who left the press to among other things start Cursor, a niche online social publishing community. In other words, he is someone who is familiar with both the “old” print-based world of publishing and the new, in which readers and writers interact in new ways. Book publishing is still continuing to navigate these worlds, and Striphas’s book provides context for the current state by exploring specific chapters in the history of the book in the United States during the 20th century.

Nash begins his review by evoking Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, writing “And, while Striphas does not himself avail of Benjamin, I think he might approve. For neither is a sentimentalist and the brilliance of [The Late Age of Print] lies in the sober fashion in which Striphas reveals the recent history of American book culture to be decidedly at odds with the fantasy.”

Nash’s review of the book allows him to address some of the current opportunities but realized and missed by today’s book publishers, including their failure to understand social media as something more than just another marketing tool to push their books. He concludes with a somewhat unfair, I think, comment about university press books but one that speaks well about The Late Age of Print:

It is rare to say of a university press hardcover that it is a “must-read,” but for those interested in the confluence of culture and economics as it relates to books, that is what The Late Age of Print is: a key text advancing our knowledge. To quote the author himself,

The Late Age of Print indexes not a distinct historical moment but rather a point of conjuncture where at least two historical moments meet. Instead of the possibilities diminishing, it would be more accurate to say they’re being transformed—or maybe even multiplying.”

Striphas is not in fact reviewing his own book, though—he’s unpacking the title itself for the reader. He sees in it not a nostalgia for the Early or Middle Ages of print, but a set of practical opportunities that are born not out of a fantasy of a literary culture now feared to be slipping away, but out of the actual practical everyday social relations that books enable. In other words, that the future of reading, and of books, is where it ought to be: in front of us, should we choose to face it.

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

The Nature of the Hudson, by Frances Dunwell

The HudsonAmid the various celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s historic voyage, we thought we would re-publish Frances F. Dunwell’s essays. Dunwell is the author of The Hudson: America’s River.

Frances Dunwell will also be reading and discussing her book at numerous locations during September throughout New York state. For details on upcoming events with Dunwell.

In spring, I am often reminded of the feminine nature of the Hudson. It is now, when the shad, herring, striped bass and sturgeon ascend the river to spawn that we witness how potently creative she is. Maternal and nourishing, the estuary is her womb, where new life springs forth in predictable cycles of birth and rebirth. Yet the river’s womanly disposition is always on display for those to take the time to look. Throughout the changing seasons she labors, she nourishes, she vents her rage. She is cunning, temperamental, and wise.

Our relationship to her is complex. She is a queen, a dress-up doll, a benevolent grandmother, and an abused and neglected wife. She is Ursula the sea witch, Aphrodite the love deity, and Scylla the siren. She carries a magic wand, casting spells. Men are courting her at every turn, performing feats of daring, dreaming of conquest, or engaging her in tender conversation. Women venture off with her on high adventures or protect her in a caring embrace. She is part goddess, part tramp. Adorned with pearls, wearing bangles and bracelets—the hand-me-downs of past lovers we find her beguiling, resplendent, flirtatious, and mysterious.

The river’s personality, energy, and resplendent beauty exert a kind of magnetism. She invites intimacy, nourishes ambition, induces thoughtful reverie, and forces contentious debate. The river nurtures those who are attuned to her voice, inspiring visions, passion and extraordinary acts.

Creative people speak back to the river, casting the relationship in their own terms. National leaders from many fields have found their muse on the Hudson, and their imagining sets America’s future on a different course.

Inspiration takes many forms. People write about the river in a different way, paint the landscape in a new light, harness river resources to new economic advantage, or challenge these uses and revise national policies. The Hudson’s admirers may be presidents, folksingers, generals or janitors, but they share a sense of possibility and a belief in the power of their dreams. They see the river through a different lens in which their actions have larger meaning: a poem about the Hudson expresses a relationship to the Divine, a canal is a pathway to empire, a lawsuit is a means to social justice, a song gives voice to those who have not been heard. New movements are born, new precedents are set.

Our relationship to the river has changed the nation. The nurturing Hudson supported a rich culture for Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years and still do. The deep harbor enticed the Dutch to stake a claim in the new world, bringing their traditions of free trade and diversity to American shores. Visionary people understood how to use the river’s long navigable waterway to launch a transportation revolution and power the industrial revolution. A gateway for far flung people seeking freedom from tyranny, the mouth of the Hudson became the logical place for the French to place their Liberty statue, with its welcoming beacon of light.


Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

R. Glenn Hubbard on The Aid Trap

Here is our book trailer with R. Glenn Hubbard, co-author of The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty:

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Mother Nature Network reviews Climate Change, by Edmond Mathez

Climate ChangeTitled “A (much needed) climate change bible,” the Mother Nature Network’s review of Edmond Mathez’s Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future, extols the virtues of the book for both general readers and students.

The reviewer Devereaux Bell writes,

You can’t help being affected by a lot of what Mathez covers. A bit on extreme events, for example, is almost startling…. The book is full of concrete, historical examples like “Black Sunday” (the day that “spawned the name Dust Bowl”). All in all, it’s a refreshing departure from tiresome talk of rising seas levels.


Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

David Harvey’s newest reviewed in Bookforum

Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of FreedomThe Fall issue of Bookforum, now available online, includes Scott McLemee’s review of David Harvey’s Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom.

In an intriguing move, McLemee situates Harvey’s work between the cosmopolitanism of Kant’s and that of Thomas Friedman, the frequent cheerleader globalization. McLemee writes, “David Harvey’s Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom [is] strangely timely. Harvey digs beneath the cosmopolitan doxa to a layer of Kant’s thought—his concern with geography—that has returned with a vengeance, even for those who only crib from thirdhand cribs of Kant’s corpus. For despite Friedman’s hectic urgings to the contrary, the world is not, as it happens, flat.”

McLemee continues by defining what distinguishes Harvey’s work:

But Harvey’s book is not, happily, just another reminder that Enlightenment thought was not so enlightened after all. Nor is it a polemic in which cosmopolitanism itself is unmasked as neoliberalism with a human face. Harvey’s patient and systematic labor here involves unpacking the notions about space, place, and the relation of culture and environment that are embedded in arguments about globalization.

For more on Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom, you can read the book’s prologue and to view videos of David Harvey’s talks, visit davidharvey.org.

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Mark C. Taylor on college majors: are they a thing of the past?

Mark TaylorThis spring, Mark Taylor’s New York Times op-ed, “End the University as We Know It,” in which he referred to graduate education as the “Detroit of higher learning,” engendered a great deal of debate and a fair amount of anger in some quarters. In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Taylor was again asked to comment on contemporary higher education and specifically on the continuing relevance of the specialized major.

As the article states, “remarkably little about this system [college majors] has changed during the last 60 years.” Taylor, however, argues that technology and a changing world should necessitate changes in how students organize their studies. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Telling students how to put their educations together is a thing of the past,” says Mark C. Taylor, a professor of religion at Columbia University. Last April, Mr. Taylor published a much-debated New York Times essay in which he called for radically interdisciplinary education. (He suggested that a problem-based major in “Water,” for example, could synthesize knowledge from the humanities, sociology, and the natural sciences.)

“The model of the university that we have today was literally designed by Immanuel Kant,” Mr. Taylor says. “It’s a mass-production model. But technology is allowing us to move toward customized education, which is something completely different.”

The Chronicle also has an interview with Mark Taylor (subscription required).