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Archive for April, 2010

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Who was Edith Granger?

Granger's

With poetry month coming to a close, we thought we’d post about one of the crown jewels on the Columbia University Press poetry list, namely The Columbia Granger’s Index to Poetry in Anthologies:. First published in 1904 and now in its thirteenth edition and available online, Granger’s has become the standard reference volume for locating poems.

But who exactly is Granger? And how did she come up with the idea of indexing the title and first lines of poems and turn it into a must-have for poetry lovers and libraries? This question was recently answered by Mike Chasar on his excellent blog “Poetry and Popular Culture,” who found out more about Edith Granger, the woman behind the index.

In a piece entitled Finding Edith Granger, Chasar did some research and found that after attending Smith College, Edith Granger went to work at A. C. McClurg a Chicago publisher, came up with the idea of the book and lent her name to it. However, after that monumental contribution, Granger left the poetry world behind, moving to California where she ran a prune farm and was later postmistress of Fulton County.

In addition to his historical detective work, Chasar also interviewed Tessa Kale, the editor of Granger’s.

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Paul Offit on the Vaccine War

Paul Offit

On Tuesday night, Frontline broadcast The Vaccine War which examined the science of vaccine safety and the increasingly bitter debate between the public health establishment and a coalition of parents, celebrities, politicians and activists who are determined to resist pressure from the medical and public health establishments to vaccinate, despite established scientific consensus about vaccine safety.

Among those interviewed for the program was Paul Offit who is the author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure and chief of the division of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit is one of the leading experts on the importance of vaccination and draws on scientific and medical evidence to show the dangers posed to both individual children and the community at large when parents decide not to vaccinate their children.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

What do you say to parents who are vaccine skeptics?

I think it’s reasonable to be hesitant. It’s very hard, I think, for a parent to watch their child get 26 inoculations in the first few years of life, five shots at one time, for diseases they don’t see.

What I say to those people is that a choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice. It’s just a choice to take a different risk. And what is that other risk? For example, even though we hadn’t seen measles in this country for 10 years, we finally got to the point where enough children weren’t vaccinated that children started to get measles in 2008, as many as 140, and some of those children were hospitalized, and one of those children almost died. And you don’t want that to be you. And the only way that you can accept, I think, a vaccine for diseases that frankly are virtually gone from the United States, like measles or diphtheria or polio, is if those vaccines are incredibly safe, have a wonderful safety profile. And these vaccines do have that. Doing nothing is doing something. It is, in this case, taking a risk that’s unnecessary.

In some communities, vaccination rates have dropped a lot. What’s behind this?

I think we were starting to see over the past few years communities that are choosing not to vaccinate their children. It tends to be highly educated groups who are relatively well off, upper middle class, who don’t see these diseases and aren’t compelled by them, and just believe that they shouldn’t get the vaccines. And Vashon Island, [Wash.,] is one example; Ashland, Ore., is another example; Southern California, there are communities; and in New York, in suburban New York, there are communities. And so there’s a risk. And the risk is not theoretical anymore. What you’re seeing is, you’re seeing outbreaks of diseases that were one time much better controlled. …

There was one outbreak [of pertussis] in Delaware that was particularly worrisome. It occurred in 2006. It was written up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their journal called Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and it had one sentence in it which was particularly frightening, because what it said was, if you looked at that outbreak, it occurred primarily in 5- to 9-year-old children, which is really not something that we see in the vaccine era. And the statement was, this is the epidemiology of what one typically saw in the pre-vaccine era.

And now we’ve had a handful of children who have died of Haemophilus influenzae type b, died because their parents were more frightened of the vaccine than they were of the disease. They chose to leave those children vulnerable, and those children paid the ultimate price for that choice. It’s not OK anymore. It’s really unconscionable. We have gotten to a tipping point where enough people now are making this choice that they are affecting not only their own children but children who come in contact with their children.

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Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Kelly Oliver on ABC News to discuss Women as Weapons of War

Kelly OliverKelly Oliver author of Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media appeared yesterday on ABC News to talk about women in the military as well as to consider our fascination with female terrorists and suicide bombers.

Oliver discusses the use of women as interrogators at Abu Ghraib, where their sexuality was very much a weapon as well as the deployment of U.S. women soldiers in Afghanistan today in engagement units used to extract information from Afghans.

In suggesting that the “bombshell has become the bomb,” Oliver argues that the media’s fascination and our own with women suicide bombers reflects lingering stereotypes of women that still sees them both as innocent and sexual. The use of women insures greater media coverage and therefore achieves an aim of terrorist organizations.

Oliver also discussed how many women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan not only have to cope with the trauma of being deployed in combat zones but also the many incidents of rape and sexual assault in the military. Oliver suggests that the macho military culture has contributed to an environment that has led to male soldiers assaulting their fellow women soldiers.

To read an excerpt from Women as Weapons of War

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Five Years of YouTube

The YouTube ReaderLast week of course was the fifth anniversary of YouTube leading to inevitable commentaries both celebrating its democratic possibilities and bemoaning it as a massive waste of time. For those looking for more innovative and thoughtful views of the phenomenon, The YouTube Reader, edited by Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, includes reflections by leading media and film scholars on the site and its immense impact.

The YouTube Reader is the first full-length book to explore YouTube as an industry, archive, and cultural form. The contributors debate the problems and potential of “broadcasting yourself.” The YouTube Reader takes on claims of newness, immediacy, and popularity with systematic and theoretically informed arguments, offering a closer look at the available texts on YouTube and the policies and norms that govern their access and use.

The book’s accompanying site, now includes an online exhibition YouTube as a Mirror Maze created by Giovanni Fossati. Here is a description of the piece:

YouTube reflects you and you reflect (on) YouTube. On the other side of the mirror, YouTubers are watching. Reflections are endless and endlessly reflected into one another, like in a mirror maze.

Finding the way out is as difficult as not clicking the mouse for the next clip, the next mirror.

The exhibit reformulates famous and not-so famous YouTube clips, exploring the ways people have used YouTube to document their opinions (“Leave Brittany Alone!”), reflect on the banal, and build on and comment on other videos. The online exhibit also looks at how certain videos have spread globally and the innovative ways the medium has been used.

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Foreign Affairs reviews three Columbia/Hurst books on Afghanistan

My Life with the TalibanIn a lengthy review essay in Foreign Affairs, Seth Jones, who is a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation and the author of In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan, considers three books recently published by Columbia University Press/Hurst that explore the unique tribal and local nature of Afghan politics.

Empires of MudThe three books under discussion are My Life with the Taliban, by Abdul Salam Zaeef; Empires of Mud: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan 2002-2007, by Antonio Giustozzi; and Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field, edited by Antonio Giustozzi.

As Jones points out, the books all provide important insights into the Afghan environment, one in which both Zaeef, the former Taliban leader, and Michael Flynn, U.S.
Decoding the New Taliban
deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, admit that the U.S. and NATO know very little about despite their long involvement in the region. Jones writes,

All three books provide a nuanced micro-level view of the country. More important, they offer a chilling prognosis for those who believe that the solution to stabilizing Afghanistan will come only from the top down — by building strong central government institutions. Although creating a strong centralized state, assuming it ever happens, may help ensure long-term stability, it is not sufficient in Afghanistan. The current top-down state-building and counterinsurgency efforts must take place alongside bottom-up programs, such as reaching out to legitimate local leaders to enlist them in providing security and services at the village and district levels. Otherwise, the Afghan government will lose the war.

(more…)

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Kenneth Posner and Edward Hess on Goldman Sachs and Financial Reform

In separate articles, Kenneth Posner and Edward Hess, two authors recently published by Columbia Business School Publishing, applied the arguments of their books to some of the most pressing and controversial issues in finance and business.

First up is Kenneth Posner, author of Stalking the Black Swan: Research and Decision Making in a World of Extreme Volatility, who contributed an op-ed to the Washington Post Web site aptly titled Goldman meets its Black Swan. In addressing the recent SEC suit against Goldman Sachs, Posner argues that ultimately the focus will not be on whether or not the charges have merit but

whether Goldman’s business model is viable in the post-crisis political environment. After nearly failing during the crisis, Goldman now operates as a bank holding company, thanks to the Federal Reserve.

He goes on to argue that Goldman Sachs’s status as both an investment bank and a proprietary desk must not survive if the Volcker rule is adopted by Congress. Moreover, the political situation and recent PR gaffes by the firm have not helped matters:

In Goldman’s eyes, the firm is the world’s premier financial institution, employing the sharpest minds, generating the strongest returns, operating with the highest ethical standards – doing what CEO Blankfein sincerely describes as “God’s work.” The SEC lawsuit is inconsistent with that self-image. So is popular opinion. Management’s combative posture reveals its frustration.

One can imagine a wide range of possible outcomes for Goldman. The more positive scenarios involve continued growth and profitability. In some of the less favorable scenarios, the firm is forced to restructure, perhaps like Standard Oil and JP Morgan & Co. If it cannot devise a new strategy, the less favorable scenarios become more likely.

Meanwhile, over at Huffington Post, Edward Hess, author of Smart Growth: Building an Enduring Business by Managing the Risks of Growth, contends that what’s missing from the debate on financial regulation reform is, well, real reform.

(more…)

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Michael Dummett asks “What is a philosophical question”

Michael Dummett

Michael Dummett, considered by many to be one of the most important living philosophers, examines some of the most crucial and basic questions in his aptly titled new book, The Nature and Future of Philosophy.

In addition to exploring such issues as “religion and philosophy,” “thought and language,” “realism,” and “the future of philosophy,” Dummett examines the importance and meaning of how to frame a philosophical question. Here is an excerpt from the chapter and you can read it in its entirety here (it comes after Dummett’s discussion about philosophy as an academic subject):

What, then, is philosophy about? For Quine and some other contemporary American philosophers, philosophy is simply the most abstract part of science. It does not, indeed, make any observations or conduct any experiments of its own; but it may, and should, incorporate the discoveries of the sciences to build a naturalized theory of knowledge and of the mind. Properly speaking, therefore, it ought to be classified with the natural sciences. Wittgenstein held the very opposite opinion. For him, philosophy stands in complete contrast with science: its methods wholly diverge from those of science, and its objective differs to an equal extent. Probably most philosophers practicing today would agree with this, and would add that the results of philosophy differ fundamentally in character from those of the sciences. Wittgenstein was more radical. He did not think that philosophy has any results, in the form of statable propositions it has discovered to be true; philosophy merely casts light on what we already know from other sources, enabling us to see it with eyes unclouded by intellectual confusion.

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Critical Persepctives on Animals — Gary Francione and Gary Steiner

Over the past few years perhaps no field in the academy has been as vibrant or ambitious as animal studies. Scholars have examined the question of the animal and the relationship between animals and humans from a variety of fields from philosophy and law to literary studies and religion.

Columbia University Press has been publishing in animal studies for a few years now and is now working with Gary Francione and Gary Steiner, two leading scholars in the field on new series, Critical Perspectives on Animals.

Here is a description of the series from the editors:

With this series we seek to promote and give crucially needed direction to the emerging interdisciplinary field of animal studies. A generation ago the tendency in scholarship was to focus questions pertaining to animals within narrow disciplinary boundaries. This tendency has been replaced by an increasing recognition of the importance of crossing disciplinary boundaries and exploring the affinities as well as the differences between the approaches of fields such as philosophy, law, sociology, political theory, ethology, and literary studies to questions pertaining to animals. At stake in these explorations is an appreciation of the subjective experience and the moral status of animals as well as of the nature and place of human beings.

(more…)

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Sam Roberts on John V. Lindsay

At the New York Times City Room blog, Sam Roberts talks about the forthcoming book America’s Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York and the upcoming exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. Roberts’s post also includes an excellent slide show of images from the book. (See below for more images.)

The book and exhibit revisit a tumultuous time in New York City’s history and reassess controversial Lindsay’s tenure as mayor. Frequently criticized for letting crime get out of hand and for mismanaging the city’s finances, the book, which includes contributions from Hilary Ballon, Joshua Freeman, Jeff Greenfield, Pete Hamill, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Kenneth T. Jackson, Nicholas Pileggi, Richard Reeves, and others, present a different picture of Lindsay. The contributors highlight Lindsay’s strengths as a mayor and the lasting contributions he made to the city.

John V. Lindsay

John V. Lindsay, America's Mayor

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The Letters of Sylvia Beach — New York Times review

The Letters of Sylvia BeachYesterday’s New York Times had a glowing review of The Letters of Sylvia Beach, edited by Keri Walsh. Beach was of course the founder and owner of the legendary Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company and the original publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses.

Here is an excerpt from the review. (You can also read Beach’s letters, including those to James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Marianne Moore, H.D., and others here.)

Many of the early letters here deal with her tireless work on behalf of Joyce and “Ulysses.” Joyce was an early patron of her store, and already well known as the author of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (1916). But publishers were wary of “Ulysses”; after being published in a periodical, portions were declared obscene in 1921 in the United States….

Beach was scalding about the censorship of “Ulysses.” “What a dark age we are living in and what a privilege to behold the spectacle of ignorant men solemnly deciding whether the work of some great writer is suitable for the public to read or not!” she wrote a friend. She deeply admired Joyce’s work, but as a businesswomen she was not stupid. “ ‘Ulysses’ is going to make my place famous,” she wrote to her older sister in 1921.

“The Letters of Sylvia Beach” is a small, excellent primer on bookselling and its discontents. When world events get interesting, she complains, people buy newspapers, not books. She scrambles, during the early war years, to find fuel to keep the store habitable. And she dispels some of the profession’s romance. “A bookshop is mostly tiresome details all day long and you have to have a passion for it,” she writes, “to grub and grub in it. I have always loved books and their authors, and for the sake of them swallowed the rest of it, but you can’t expect everyone to do the same.”

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Courtesans and Opium reviewed in the Taipei Times

Courtesans and OpiumOur titles in Asian literature are frequently reviewed but is always particularly gratifying when they are praised by reviewers in Asia. Most recently, the Taipei Times gave a glowing review to Courtesans and Opium: Romantic Illusions of the Fool of Yangzhou.

The novel written by an anonymous author and translated here by Patrick Hanan, depicts the brothels of Yangzhou and the lives of its customers and the women who work there. From the review:

So, what does this literary trail-blazer have to offer? It’s about the loves and fortunes — often misfortunes too — of five married males who are all enthusiastic brothel-goers. Two things are clear about them, as Patrick Hanan, the book’s highly accomplished translator, explains. First, they are by no means unhappy in the experiences they encounter, so that the novel’s ostensible function as a warning to future customers is undermined from the very beginning. And second, the women they fall for are a long way from being only exploitative gold-diggers. They too have their feelings — their pride, their hopes and their affections.

The review also mentions two other East Asian novels focused on similar themes, Nagai Kafu’s Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale and The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai by Han Banqing. All three novels are published by Columbia University Press, leading the reviewer to praise us for our efforts in bringing Asian literature to English-language readers.

Also, you can save 50% on all three novels during our Spring Sale.

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Donald Keene interviewed by Japan Times

Donald Keene’s recently published So Lovely a Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers represents the latest in the scholar’s influential oeuvre in Japanese literature and culture.

In the book, Keene weaves archival materials together with personal reflections and the intimate accounts from writers’ diaries to produce an entirely original portrait of Japanese wartime attitudes. Writers included in the book include Nagai Kafu, Takami Jun, Ito Sei, Hirabayashi Taiko, Yamada Futaro, and the scholar Watanabe Kazuo.

Last Fall, the Japan Times taped an interview with Donald Keene on a variety of issues. Here are some excerpts, the first of which is his response to a question about his first impressions of Japan:

(more…)

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Sophie Richardson on the Chinese Earthquake

Sophie RichardsonIn her article How Not to Respond to an Earthquake, published on the Daily Beast, Sophie Richardson, author of China, Cambodia, and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, looks at how the Chinese government could best respond to the recent earthquake in Qinghai Province.

While Richardson notes that the latest earthquake will probably see a similar outpouring of civic activism that took place after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, other responses by the Chinese government are best avoided. Specifically, she laments the lack of rigorous investigations into allegations of shoddy construction of buildings, particularly schools, which led to the deaths of so many children. Likewise, many activists and journalists were forcibly silenced when they inquired too deeply into corruption.

Richardson concludes by suggesting a more appropriate response from the Chinese government

The right way to respond to the Qinghai quake is undoubtedly to focus on the rescue of survivors and recovery of those who died. But essential to those goals are free access to information, regardless of whether it portrays the government in a good or bad light, and regardless of whether that information is sought by a Chinese activist or a foreign correspondent. Rather than suppress demands for accountability, the government should embrace them, partly because doing so might mitigate or prevent suffering when the next natural disaster strikes. And, ultimately, what better way is there to honor the lives lost in Qinghai today and Sichuan in 2008 than by freeing those imprisoned for trying to uncover the truth—and to allow the truth, however painful it may be to the government, to emerge, unfettered—and now?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Sylvia Beach writes to William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore

With April being National Poetry Month and with the recent publication of The Letters of Sylvia Beach, we thought we would post some of Beach’s letters to some of the most important modernist poets. (To read more of Beach’s letters to other writers, including James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway):Marianne Moore

To Marianne Moore

July 12, 1926

Miss Marianne Moore
Editor, The Dial
152 West 13th Street,
New York.

Dear Miss Moore,

Mr Joyce is writing a new book, installments of which have appeared in some of the reviews. He has just finished another section of it and has left it with me to dispose of as I have charge of such matters for him. It consists of four consecutive parts and there are from 30000 to 34000 words in all, 115 pages of typescript, commercial size. A certain review has made Mr Joyce an offer for it but I do not think it is a suitable place for his work nor the price offered sufficient for a thing that has taken him so long to write and is the finest piece of writing he has done. I should be very glad to give it to you for The Dial if The Dial would care to have it. Your review occupies the highest place among reviewers and is the most appropriate one to bring out Mr Joyce’s work. What would you offer for the exclusive rights in America and Europe to publish this section?

I hope that your work on The Dial leaves you time for your poetry of which I am a great admirer. Are you bringing out another volume soon?

Yours faithfully,

Sylvia Beach

(more…)

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Ken Posner on Fannie and Freddie

Ken Posner, author of of Stalking the Black Swan: Research and Decision Making in a World of Extreme Volatility, recently appeared on Yahoo Finance’s Tech Ticker to discuss among other things about how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continue to be a major drain on the economy. From the interview:

I don’t think it’s time to celebrate [because] the losses inside Fannie and Freddie can’t be calculated. Not only do we have those [CBO estimated] losses but we still have $5 trillion in mortgage-backed securities that they guarantee and $2 to $3 trillion in debt. All of this is potentially on the U.S. government’s balance sheet until we figure out how to restructure these entities.

Instead of dismantling Fannie and Freddie and putting the housing recovery at risk, Posner recommends auctioning the mortgage guarantee role to a group of large banks. “Make [banks] pay taxpayers for the right to issue those securities [and] let them do it with their deposits and shareholder equity.” In a recent article in American Banker, Posner also offered some solutions for how a combination of big banks and government could run the Mortgage-based-securities business in a way that would be both effective and politically palatable.

Here’s Posner’s appearance on Tech Ticker:

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Avner Cohen and Joseph Cirincione on the Nuclear Summit

The historic two-day nuclear summit is getting underway in Washington but not without a few, if not many, questions hanging over the event.

One of the most controversial developments in the days leading up to the meeting was Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision not to participate in the meeting. According to Avner Cohen’s op-ed in Haaretz published yesterday entitled Israel missing a chance at nuclear global legitimacy, Netanyahu pulled out “after being told that a number of Arab leaders would vilify Israel’s nuclear policy and refusal to sign the treaty.” Cohen, who is the author of the forthcoming book The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb, laments the prime minister’s decision and argues that it reflects the weaknesses of its policy of nuclear opacity.

Cohen concludes his op-ed writing:

Opacity is widely perceived as concealment, an act of covering up a secret that cannot be revealed to the public. Today, however, the secret is known to all, so it’s unclear why it must remain wrapped in ambiguity. In a world demanding that Iran speak the truth over its nuclear activity, ambiguity is seen as a bizarre relic from the past.

If Israel’s prime minister feels he cannot uphold the country’s opacity policy at a relatively friendly international forum, it seems this policy is in real trouble. If he is worrying about stumbling into a nuclear ambush and cannot rely on understandings on nuclear issues reached with the U.S. government, it seems Israel’s diplomatic crisis with Washington is much deeper than we had imagined.

Cohen also talked about Netanyahu’s decision in an interview with RT America:

(more…)

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Guobin Yang on the China-Google Spat

Guobin YangIn an interesting article for Yale Global, Guobin Yang, author of The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online, downplays some of the hyperbole that has been used to characterize the dispute between Google and China.

Yang argues that what has been most affected has been China’s image and not so much Chinese access to the Internet. Yang writes:

Because many Google services are still available, Google’s move has not significantly affected mainland internet users. Survey findings published in the February 2010 issue of Nature show that Chinese academic communities rely heavily on such services as Google Scholar, and the site remains available under the Google.cn domain name (scholar.google.cn/schhp?hl=zh-CN). Although Google has not published data on access from mainland users to previously censored content such as the Tiananmen protests of 1989, do not expect to see major changes in Chinese netizens’ online search behavior. Like internet users elsewhere, the average Chinese user is more likely to seek entertainment rather than politics online. Those searching for political content know how to scale the fire walls.

He goes on to suggest that the Chinese government’s policy toward Google is more or less in line with those of ordinary Chinese in the sense that they both share a gradualist approach to change:

However passionate Chinese citizens are for free speech or broader political change, nowadays people are more likely to favor a gradualist approach. Chinese intellectuals wholeheartedly embraced Western-style democracy in the 1980s. They have since become less sure of themselves or a Western system transplanted to Chinese soil, not the least because they have seen troubles inside even the strongest Western democracies. Still critical of authoritarianism, they have no clear vision, or confidence, of a workable solution to the political challenges facing China today. The rise of a strong public discourse of civil society in China, rather than strident calls for democracy, reflects this intellectual dilemma. Building a civil society is at least a useful first step. Despite the political control of the internet, a vibrant current of online activism has surged for years.

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

The Mutual Fund Industry — an interview with the authors

The Mutual Fund Industry, Glenn HubbardThe Mutual Fund Industry: Competition and Investor Welfare, by R. Glenn Hubbard, Michael F. Koehn, Stanley Ornstein, Marc Van Audenrode, and Jimmy Royer, was recently published by Columbia Business School Publishing. The following is an interview with Stanley Ornstein and Mark Egland:

Q: Why is there so much focus today on the fees investors pay to mutual fund advisers?

Stanley Ornstein: Close to 100 million people in the U.S. have trillions of dollars invested in mutual funds through IRAs, pension plans, and individual investing, and they all pay fees to their funds’ advisors for professional money management and administrative services. Given the predominance of mutual funds as a long-term investment for retirement, the relationship of fees to fund returns affects the financial well-being of millions.

The SEC paid little attention to fees until 1958, when it commissioned the Wharton school to study price competition among mutual fund providers. Based on fee data from the 1950s and early 1960s, this study and a follow-up SEC study in 1966 concluded that fees were excessive. In response, Congress passed a law in 1970 giving fund investors the right to sue advisers for breaching their fiduciary duty by charging excessive fees.

More recently, some academics have concluded that excessive fees are rampant and have called for a more activist SEC and court system to protect investors. However, in our research we noted that average investor fees, when load charges are taken into account, have actually declined annually since approximately 1980.

Mark Egland: Excessive fee litigation has become commonplace as the amount of money invested in mutual funds has grown. For example, we recently worked with Glenn Hubbard, a co-author of the book, on one of the largest securities matters ever to go to trial, the American Mutual Funds Fee litigation. We studied competition in the industry, and Dr. Hubbard examined the reasonableness of the challenged fees. We showed that the defendants had shared substantial portions of any benefits from economies of scale. His analyses, along with those of other experts, played a major role in achieving a decisive victory for American Funds in the first securities case to go to trial in the mutual fund industry in more than 20 years.

Q: Why did you decide to revisit the issue of mutual fund fees in your book?

SO: The U.S. mutual fund industry is dramatically different today from that of the 1950s and ‘60s, with thousands of funds and close to 600 investment advisers. My co-authors and I thought it implausible that all 600 advisers were charging excessive fees, as the Wharton study claimed and present-day fee critics continue to claim.

We were not convinced that existing explanations for excessive fees made any economic sense, and found the empirical evidence from fee critics unconvincing. Given the importance of mutual funds to millions of households, we decided that price competition and investor sensitivity to fee levels deserved a new, more comprehensive examination using modern economic approaches and contemporary data.

ME: The issue is also very timely in terms of litigation. We are often asked to analyze mutual fund performance and fee differences across funds, as well as fees for individual investors relative to those for institutional investors. The research undertaken for the book is directly relevant to this issue: for example, fee critics often point to price disparities between retail and institutional fund investors apparently for the same product as evidence of excessive fees. On the contrary, such disparities are perfectly consistent with price competition in the retail sector along with differences between retail and institutional products and therefore provide no basis for concluding that retail investors pay excessive fees.

(more…)

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

The Late Age of Print Open Source Audio Project

The Late Age of PrintTed Striphas, author of The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control, has launched an inventive and exciting new project in connection with his book.

He is putting together a crowd-sourced production of a text-to-speech audiobook version of The Late Age of Print. Striphas has opened a wiki for the project, through which interested volunteers can help him clean up the text for audio conversion. Instructions and details are available here.

Here is Striphas on the project:

Listening to Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price on a long car trip got me thinking: why not make an audiobook out of The Late Age of Print? And why not, like Anderson, give the digital recording away for free? The thought had barely crossed my mind when reality started to sink in. “You’re no Chris Anderson,” I told myself. “You don’t have the time or the resources to make an audiobook out of Late Age. Just forget about it….”

And so I got down to work. I extracted all of the text from the free, Creative Commons-licensed PDF of Late Age and proceeded to text-to-speech-ify it a chapter at a time. I played back my first recording — the Introduction — but it was disaster! The raw text had all sorts of remnants from the original book layout. They seriously messed up the recording, and so I knew they needed to go. I began combing through the text, only to discover that the cleanup would take me, working alone, many more hours than I could spare, especially with a newborn baby in my life. Frustrated, I nearly abandoned the project for a second time.

Then it dawned on me: if I’m planning on giving away the audiobook for free, then why not get people who might be interested in hearing Late Age in on it, too? Thus was born this, The Late Age of Print open source audiobook project. The plan is for all of us to collectively create a Creative Commons-licensed text-to-speech version of the book, which will be available for free online.

There’s a good deal of work for us to do, but don’t be daunted! If you choose to donate a large chunk of your time to help out the cause, then that’s just super. But don’t forget that projects like this one also succeed when a large number of people invest tiny amounts of their time as well. Your five or ten minutes of editing, combined with the work of scores of other collaborators, will yield a top-notch product in the end.

I doubt that I have a large enough network of my own to pull off this project, so if your blog, Tweet, contribute to listservs, or otherwise maintain a presence online, please, please, please spread the word about it.

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Alexis Dudden: Japan, Korea, Abductions, and a Tangled History

Alexis DuddenAs Alexis Dudden points out in her fascinating article in Japan Focus, 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Japan’s takeover of Korea. Dudden, author of Troubled Apologies Among Japan, Korea, and the United States, reveals the ways in which this event and the history of the complicated relationship between Japan and Korea continues to play a part in East Asian relations.

Incidents such as Japan’s enslavement of women during World War II, its program to forcibly remove Koreans from Japan from 1959-1984, and continuing resentment toward Korea and Koreans evidenced by the nationalist Zaitokukai movement along with Japan’s school curriculum continue to color relations between the two nations. Japan also sees itself as victimized by the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea. Dudden writes:

This, of course, is the deep divide between Japan and its Asian neighbors that Japan’s political and business leaders have long chosen to ignore in charting the nation’s place in the region. In simplest terms, [Japan's] abduction story failed to impress Asians because of the still oozing human wounds of empire, war, and decades of official denial. Japan found itself isolated because of its deep and deeply-layered history with stolen bodies, giving it no choice but to take the abduction story to Washington…. Championing Japan’s stance on the abduction matter against North Korea continues of course to necessitate Washington’s ignoring the region’s disinterest in the story, which of course only makes sense to a United States complicit in sustaining Japan’s official silence on pre-1945 history as the deep structure of America’s post-1945 use of Japan, its soil, its people, its wealth.

More recently, Japan’s dispute with Korea over a group of islands (“Takeshima” to the Japanese and “Dokdo” to the Koreans) has led to another spurt of Japanese nationalism one that Dudden suggests the region needs to be wary of:

The extremists’ numbers are small, yet when helmeted police spend public money to protect democratically elected officials who agree with them over a common cause — “Takeshima is Japan’s!” — things are openly out of sorts in Japan today and, arguably, dangerously so.