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Archive for November, 2011

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Follow Granger’s World of Poetry!

The Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry , an extensive and easy-to-use database, which includes frequent updates and many interesting new features on poets and poetry, can now be followed on facebook and twitter!

Granger’s updated weekly with new full text poems, biographies, and commentaries, offers users access to 250,000 poems in full text with 450,000 poem citations. Granger’s also includes a wide range of critical and historical tools and features to enhance an understanding and enjoyment of poetry.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Alan Wallace on science, Buddhism, skepticism, and meditation

In this video Alan Wallace, most recently the author of Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice, discusses science, Buddhism, skepticism, and meditation.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Justin McDaniel: Amulets and the Commercialization of Thai Buddhism

Justin McDaniel, The Lovelorn GhostThe following is a guest post by Justin McDaniel, author of The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand.

In June 2001 a police sergeant in Pattaya (Central Thailand) was arrested and charged with attempted murder and grand theft. He was caught after he held up a 61-year-old wealthy man who was wearing a Buddhist amulet around his neck. The off-duty police officer drew a concealed pistol and pulled the trigger twice. The gun jammed and the wealthy man took off on foot. The police officer was later identified and arrested. The small clay amulet, worth approximately 8 million baht (240,000 U.S. dollars), was recovered.
This story is one of many that have made headlines in the past few years regarding amulet theft, assault, and even murder. In fact, there are hundreds of miracle stories in amulet collectors’ magazines and related between friends in the amulet markets or while relaxing at monasteries. Some tell of people who were protected from house fires because of amulets. Others tell of those who successfully passed entrance examinations and people who were cured of cancer.

Amulets are big business. Even though they are made mostly of clay, honey, lime, and flowers and five or six will fit in the palm of your hand, some can cost upward of two million U.S. dollars apiece. A regular section in the popular Thai language newspaper, Thai Rath, features new amulets on the market, stories of their production, and occasionally a miracle story about how an amulet saved a person from drowning or other adversity.

The popularity of amulets has generally been approached by scholars as a reflection of a growing crisis in Thai Buddhism and the rise of religious commercialism. Most of these critics have very little appreciation for the history of Buddhist material culture and so are surprised by its apparent growth now. They are shocked by the prices of amulets, the excessive trading, the prominent display, the miracle stories, and the crime caused by the economics of the trade. They seem surprised by materialism in Buddhism, as if it is a new phenomenon. Their surprise is often characterized by anger at Thai society in general for being duped by this duplicitous religious commercialism.


Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

New Book Tuesday: Food and Christianity

Food and Faith in Christian CultureFood and Faith in Christian Culture
Edited by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden

The Right to Justification: Elements of a Constructivist Theory of Justice
Rainer Forst

Hiroshima After Iraq: Three Studies in Art and War (Now available in paperback)
Rosalyn Deutsche

Burns and Other Poets
Edited by Fiona Stafford and David Sergeant

European Multiculturalisms: Cultural, Religious and Ethnic Challenges
Edited by Anna Triandafyllidou, Tariq Modood, and Nasar Meer

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Interview with Alan Wallace, author of Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic

Alan Wallace, Meditations of a Buddhist SkepticThe following is an interview with B. Alan Wallace, author of Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice.

Question: How does Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic differ from your previous books?

B. Alan Wallace: In this new book I synthesize many of the themes addressed in my earlier works, but I also focus more clearly on specific issues such as areas of confrontation and collaboration between Buddhism and science, the role of semantic information and meaning in the natural world, human nature, the question of free will, a Buddhist model of mental health, Buddhist methods of attentional training and contemplative inquiry, and the role of skepticism in Buddhism and how it may help break down ideological barriers that currently inhibit the scientific imagination. All too often, skepticism is applied only to others’ beliefs, but a central theme of Buddhism is that it is our own false beliefs and assumptions that lie at the root of our own unrest and discontent. So the primary focus of our skepticism should be inwardly directed, rather than aimed at other’s beliefs. My own encounter with Buddhism and science has helped me enormously in this regard, and I hope this book will likewise be of service to others in their open-minded pursuit of greater understanding.

Q: How did your background in science inform your experiences as a Buddhist monk?

BAW: My background in science traces back to my education when I was 13 years old and was deeply inspired by a science teacher to devote my life to the study of ecology and wildlife biology. This was my aim during my high school years and during the first two years of university education. Then at the age of 20, my interests turned more toward Buddhist philosophy and meditation, and a year later I left university and for the next 13 years devoted myself to the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism, first in India and later in Europe and America. But the spirit of open-minded inquiry, skepticism of commonly accepted beliefs and assumptions, and the emphasis on experiential investigation—which are the great strengths of science at its best—has powerfully influenced my engagement with Buddhism. Here for the first time I found a spiritual tradition that welcomed such pragmatism, constructive skepticism, and empiricism. So this allowed me to unite my scientific interests and spiritual aspirations.


Monday, November 28th, 2011

Steven Pinker Chooses Why Civil Resistance Works as a Best Book of 2011

Why Civil Resistance WorksThe Guardian recently posted its list of the Best Books of 2011 as selected by such notable figures as AS Byatt, Jonathan Franzen, Eric Hobsbawm, Hari Kunzru, Hanif Kureishi, David Lodge Colm Tóibín, David Hare, and Jeanette Winterson.

The Guardian also asked Steven Pinker, most recently the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, who recommended Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. In commenting on the book, Pinker wrote, “Gandhi was right, not just morally but empirically: nonviolent resistance is three times more effective than violence.”

Pinker also talked about the book in a recent interview with The Economist:

Q: Is there any statistical evidence to suggest that violence doesn’t work to provoke political change?

A study that was published too late to include in my book by two political scientists, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephen, looked at the success rate of violent and non-violent resistance movements. It found that the non-violent ones succeeded 75% of the time and the violent ones succeeded 25% of the time. So it’s not the case that violence never works, nor that non-violence always works, but that non-violence seems to have a better success rate.

Monday, November 28th, 2011

B. Alan Wallace: Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic

Alan Wallace, Meditations of a Buddhist SkepticThis week’s featured book is Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice, by Alan Wallace. The following is the conclusion to the book’s opening chapter, Toward a Revolution in the Mind Sciences:

Galileo, a devout Roman Catholic, granted his church authority regarding theological issues, such as the nature of the Trinity, heaven, hell, and the human soul, but he denied its authority regarding the objective physical world. Neither Christian theology nor Aristotelian philosophy had devised sophisticated means for the experimental observation of physical phenomena, and a growing number of their assertions were being proved wrong by the empirical discoveries of Galileo and his contemporaries. Likewise, today’s advocates of a new empiricism in the study of the mind may remain committed to science, granting biologists authority regarding the neurobiological and behavioral correlates of mental phenomena while denying biologists ultimate authority regarding the subjective world of the mind. Neither physicists nor biologists have devised sophisticated means for observing and experimenting with mental phenomena, and many of their materialistic assumptions regarding the mind—including its lack of existence—are either uncorroborated or simply wrong.


Monday, November 28th, 2011

Holiday Sale! Save 40% on Gift Ideas from Columbia University Press

Holiday Sale

From the science of flavor and building a meal to journalistic and cult classics, here are some holiday gift suggestions.

We are offering a 40% discount on these titles. IMPORTANT: Be sure to enter the special promotion code HOLIDAY in the space provided in the shopping cart order form. (Discounted amount will appear after you click “apply”).

All prices listed are after the discount.

Click here for a full list but below is some advice for those on your list:

For the Warren Oates Fan: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, by Ian Cooper ($9.00)

For the Food History Buff: Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine, by Andrew Smith ($11.97)

For the Skeptical Buddhist: Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice , by B. Alan Wallace ($16.77)

For the Investor: The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor, by Howard Marks ($17.97)

For the Foodie Who Loves Science or the Scientist Who Loves Food: Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters, by Gordon Shepherd ($14.97)


Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Andrew Smith Reveals the Truth About Thanksgiving


In the chapter “Giving Thanks” from his book Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine, Andrew Smith reveals that “the whole idea that the Pilgrims were the first to celebrate Thanksgiving in America was, in fact preposterous.”

The myth of Thanksgiving first took hold in 1841 when Alexander Young, a Unitarian minister in Boston published Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth, in which he added a footnote to a description of a feast by one of the settlers in Plymouth. Young claimed that this was the first instance of Thanksgiving but in fact as Smith describes, “it was an insignificant event and the Pilgrims took no notice of it in subsequent years.”


Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Fred Ikle (1924-2011)

Fred IkleWe were sad to learn that Fred Ikle, author of Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations and Every War Must End, passed away earlier this month.

Fred Ikle was undersecretary of Defense during Reagan’s second term and before that an important policymaker in the Defense Department. He is considered by many to have helped shape the deterrence policy that contributed to the end of the Cold War.

On the website for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Sam Nunn writes, “Fred Iklé will be remembered as a giant in foreign policy and national security. He helped steer the Department of Defense through the final critical years of the Cold War and always imagined a more hopeful future based on the principles of democracy.”


Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

New Book Tuesday: The Severed Head and Acts of God

The Severed Head, Julia KristevaThe Severed Head: Capital Visions
Julia Kristeva

The Evil Dead
Kate Egan

Blade Runner
Matt Hills

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Ian Cooper

Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance
Michael Powers

Species Matters: Humane Advocacy and Cultural Theory
Edited by Marianne DeKoven and Michael Lundblad

A Confiscated Memory: Wadi Salib and Haifa’s Lost Heritage
Yfaat Weiss

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Crime and Criminology Titles on Sale

Genetic JusticeSave 30% on selected titles in Criminology and Crime.

To receive the discount use the code CRIM in the “Enter Coupon Code” field at checkout and then click apply.

Sale ends February 15, 2012.

Titles on sale include:

Addressing Rape Reform in Law and Practice
Susan Caringella

The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation: Street Politics and the Transformation of a New York City Gang
David C. Brotherton and Luis Barrios

Gangs and Society: Alternative Perspectives
Edited by Louis Kontos, David C. Brotherton, and Luis Barrios

Genetic Justice: DNA Data Banks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties
Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli

Global Vigilantes
Edited by David Pratten and Atryee Sen

History of the Mafia
Salvatore Lupo

Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
Siddharth Kara

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Charles Egan Wins Translation Prize for Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown

Charles Egan, Clouds Thick, Whereabouts UnknownCongratulations to Charles Egan, who recently was awarded the 2011 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize from the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) for Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown: Poems by Zen Monks of China .

The jury for the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize praised Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown for “not only the high quality of its translations, which strive to keep a handsome formal ease even when observing in English the demands of syntactic parallelism, but also the considerable scholarship that Egan employs with admirable accessibility.”


Friday, November 18th, 2011

Brian Boyd on The Original of Laura

Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov

We conclude our feature on Stalking by Nabokov, by Brian Boyd with a video of Boyd discussing Nabokov’s unfinished final work The Original of Laura. As he discusses in his talk, Boyd initially thought the book should not be published but later changed his mind, recognizing the importance of the novel.

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Interview with Genny Beemyn and Susan R. Rankin, Authors of The Lives of Transgender People

The Lives of Transgender PeopleThe following is an interview with Genny Beemyn and Susan R. Rankin, authors of The Lives of Transgender People.

Sunday, November 20th is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to memorialize those who have been killed because of their gender identity.

Question: You asked close to 3,500 transgender people about their lives for the book. What were some of your major findings?

Genny Beemyn: In our work as college administrators and educators, Sue and I have long recognized that younger trans people name and express their identities in myriad ways beyond a gender binary. The book confirms the tremendous diversity of transgender communities. Asked to name their gender identities, the participants provided more than 100 different responses, including a number of individuals who said that there was no easy definition for themselves. When you consider that most forms ask people to choose between M and F, this finding demonstrates just how ridiculous and insulting it is to treat gender as binary.

Another interesting aspect of how people described themselves was the number of participants who had fully transitioned and no longer identified as transgender. But they still consider themselves to be part of the transgender movement because of their pasts and because they recognize the need to change attitudes toward transgender people. The extent of this phenomenon is new. In the past, most transsexual individuals who could disappear into society did so to avoid discrimination and simply to live as the gender they had long known themselves to be. The progress that the transgender movement has made in recent years is due in part to transsexual women and men being out and being proud of their gendered lives.


Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Brian Boyd’s Daily Reads

Brian Boyd, Stalking NabokovBrian Boyd, author of Stalking Nabokov, was recently featured on the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s popular feature My Daily Read. In the piece, Boyd discusses the newspapers, magazines, and books he has been reading lately.

In discussing what books he’s been reading for teaching, Boyd addresses recent changes in literary criticism:

I have also, for teaching Anna Karenina and Ulysses, read Gary Saul Morson’s Anna Karenina in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely (2007) and Declan Kiberd’s Ulysses and Us (2009). Both, like William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter (2011), suggest that these novels are guides for life. Now that’s a refreshing change from the recent dominance of Theory or Cultural Critique in academic literary studies. As its name suggests, Cultural Critique has tended to point out that “so-called ‘great’ authors” do little more than reflect the cultural limitations of their time. Morson, Kiberd, and Deresiewicz, by contrast, insist in these books on the present and enduring relevance of unique insights in the literature of the past. I may not agree with their every claim, but this attitude if it spreads would help restore the appeal of literary studies for new generations—that, and joining the arts not only to the humanities but to the social and natural sciences, to psychology and biology.

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Todd Gitlin on the Occupy Wall Street Movement

“Now what? What’s the relation between the turf and the movement? Both known and unknown unknowns abound, but it cannot be taken for granted that the expulsion is bad for the movement. To the contrary: Odds are that the expulsion — from a place very far from Eden — will function as a pick-me-up, driving greater numbers to the Nov. 17 actions”—Todd Gitlin

In a recent essay in Salon Todd Gitlin, author of The Intellectuals and the Flag, wonders “now what” for the Occupy Wall Street Movement after being evicted from Zuccotti Park.

Gitlin criticizes Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to kick the protestors out as he joins other mayors as “agents of dispersal,” whose pronounced affirmations of the first amendment now look somewhat suspect. Gitlin also questions those who criticize the movement for being aimless. Citing the urban planner Peter Marcuse, Todd Gitlin lists the seven main functions of the movement.

Gitlin concludes by speculating on where the movement can now go both figuratively and symbolically:

Now that the symbolism has been established in the public mind, some token encampment through the winter probably makes sense, but Liberty Square can be movable; Zuccotti has no patent on liberty. Anyway, it would be foolhardy to think that the tent-city way of life Zuccotti has promoted is a way of life that the 99 percent cottons to. It’s that 99 percent that needs, continually, to be assured that the movement speaks to and for them.

All the old questions remain. What of demands, programs, platforms? How will the movement relate to an election year? How can it contain violent outbursts? How can it maintain itself over time? How can the leaders who have emerged through the occupations cultivate their skills and withstand all the pressures that realities place on leaders? These are not problems that can be solved by turf. They are the givens, the questions that coil at the heart of any movement; and they are, and remain, ours.

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Take on Shakespeare

In Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, Kenneth Goldsmith argues that language expressed either semantically or as code is behind everything we read, see, and hear online. The ability of writers and artists to manipulate this “language” opens new creative or “uncreative” possibilities.

In this video, Goldsmith shows how the text or language behind a picture can be altered to create a new image.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Brian Boyd on His Book Stalking Nabokov

Brian Body, Stalking Nabokov

“I first read Nabokov at about 13 and first began stalking him at 16. Nabokov wanted nothing more than to turn his readers into stalkers, by planting little clues along the fictional trails he blazed, challenging them to catch up with him.”—Brian Boyd

On Rorotoko, Brian Boyd, author of Stalking Nabokov, discusses his nearly life-long study of Nabokov and why the author has fascinated him for so long. Boyd’s interest extends beyond Nabokov as a writer and he has also written about him as a thinker, scientist, poet, intuitive psychologist, and humorist. In describing his book, Boyd writes, “I try to tease out Nabokov’s consistency while also highlighting his variety. I sometimes show the hard lone toil of the artist and the scholar (in this case, me too), and how it relies on or resists the work of others. I show how obsessions, Nabokov’s and mine, need not preclude multiplicity and surprise.”


Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

James Powell: Science Denialism Is Not Free, Part III

James Powell, The Inquisition of Climate Science

This is the third and final installment of James Powell’s series of blog posts. (To read the first and second). James Powell is the author of The Inquisition of Climate Science.

“Science denial and pseudoscience are not free. We embrace them at someone’s peril.”—James Powell


Everyone knows of the campaign of denial by Big Tobacco, one of whose executives indicted his own industry by writing, “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public.” It is a rare American who has not lost a friend or family member to smoking.
A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists summarizes the campaign of deceit by the tobacco companies:

* They sought to manufacture uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence showing their products to be hazardous to human health. [Science deniers of every stripe typically demand absolute proof before action.]
* They pioneered a strategy of “information laundering” in which they used—and even covertly established—seemingly independent front organizations to make the industry’s own case and confuse the public.
* They promoted scientific spokespeople and invested in scientific research in an attempt to lend legitimacy to their public relations efforts.
* They attempted to recast the debate by charging that the wholly legitimate health concerns raised about smoking were not based upon “sound science.”
* Finally, they cultivated close ties with government officials and members of Congress. While many corporations and institutions seek access to government, Tobacco’s size and power gave it enormous leverage.

In 1994, at a hearing held by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the CEOs of the seven Big Tobacco companies each raised his hand and testified under oath that he did not believe that cigarettes were addictive.

Even though the science that links smoking to lung cancer and other diseases has been unequivocal for decades, people continue to smoke and Big Tobacco continues to make big profits around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that during the 20th century, smoking killed 100 million people. During the twenty-first, it will kill an estimated one billion.

AIDS Denial

When I began writing The Inquisition of Climate Science I did not know that there was a parallel movement which denies that HIV causes AIDS. The type example of the consequences of AIDS denial is South Africa. The 2007 AIDS report of the UN estimated that 5,700,000 South Africans, nearly 12% of the population, had HIV/AIDS. That year, some 350,000 died of the disease. As recently as 2004, only 4% of South Africans received anti-retroviral treatment. These facts did not come about by accident, but because of a deliberate policy of state-sponsored, indeed, state-required, science denial.