About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Roy Harris / Pulitzer's Gold

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

Archive for January, 2014

Friday, January 31st, 2014

University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best posts from the blogs of academic publishers! It’s been a few weeks since our last installment so we have quite a bit of catching up to do. Our list of links is quite a bit longer than usual! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments.

The University of Washington Press has a beautiful new blog, and one of their first posts is a fascinating Q&A with Peter Berkery, the Executive Director of the AAUP. Berkery discusses his “Listening Tour” of the AAUP member presses, saying that his “initial goal was to embrace more aggressively my own learning curve; I knew from prior association management experience that there’s no substitute for meeting with members in their own offices to quickly and fully grasp the challenges and opportunities they—and by extension their association—face.” His conclusion from the tour thus far? “I think the most important thing the LT has done is reinforce the need for AAUP to devote more resources to advocating within the academy on behalf of its members. This need was articulated before I arrived—indeed it was a critical conversation in the vetting process—but being on campus and seeing where administrators “get it” and where they don’t really drives home the challenge.”

Many university presses are now active on various social media platforms. In his column at the University of Nebraska Press Blog, UNP Marketing Manager Martyn Beeny argues that “the symbiosis between marketing and acquisitions seems most relevant to the overall social media presence of a university press.” He endorses a unified strategy that incorporates individual and press-wide accounts while allowing room for individuality in each account, and claims that “collaboration is key to the success of this aligned social media presence.”

It’s now been over two years since the beginning of the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Over the past two weeks, the Stanford University Press Blog has been posting an excellent series of articles and interviews looking back at the Egyptian uprising. All are well worth reading, starting with an excerpt from Samer Soliman’s The Autumn of Dictatorship, written after the protests began but before Mubarak was forced out of office, and ending with Joel Beinin’s examination of the current state of the Egyptian revolution.
(more…)

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Happiness and Its Discontents, Part III

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have the third part of an excerpt from Mari Ruti’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Happiness and Its Discontents.”

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Happiness and Its Discontents
Mari Ruti

I recently attended a presentation given by the daughter of a prominent man who, during his life, wrote several books that have had a tremendous impact on how we understand human psychology. During her talk, the daughter faulted her father for not having been a stable “family man,” for having let his passion for his work overshadow the rest of his life, and for having never been completely at ease with everyday social interactions. She made it sound as if her father had been a failure as a person because he had not been able to appreciate the rewards of a well-adjusted life.

As I listened to her, I kept thinking that she was judging her father by a very conventional standard. As far as I’m concerned, there are situations in which the ability to show up at the dinner table is less important than the capacity to produce works of great genius that enrich the rest of society.
(more…)

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Salman Rushdie on the Role of Religion in Literature and the Literary Imagination

Salman Rushdie

Below is an excerpt from an edited transcript from the public discussion Salman Rushdie had with Gauri Viswanathan. The full transcript was recently published in the new book Boundaries of Toleration, edited by Alfred Stepan and Charles Taylor as part of our series, Religion, Culture, and Public Life. You can read more of the conversation here.

Gauri Viswanthan: Let me begin by asking a simple question, not about religion and the imagination, the title of this session, but about religion as imagination. If, as could be argued, conceptualizing an unseen power inherently involves human imaginings of the divine, what does the literary imagination add? Or what work does it do that is different from the religious imagination? Do you see yourself trying to recover, through literature, the impulses of a religious imagination before it freezes into theology, before experi­ence turns into a theological, ethical construct?

Salman Rushdie: Well, the first thing to say is that all literature began as sacred literature. That is to say, the beginnings of writings are religious, that the oldest written material that we have is all the product of one or another religious experience. It’s a long time, if you look at the history of literature, before literature separates itself from that articulation of religion. So there is something profound in the origins that link them.

The other thing is that religious language has had such a powerful effect, I think, on all of us, whether we are religious or not, that there aren’t words to express some things except religious words. For instance, if you think about a word like the soul, what does that mean if you are not a religious person? I don’t believe in an afterlife or a heaven or a hell and so on, and yet I feel that when I use that word it has some meaning. What could that meaning possibly be? There isn’t a secular word for that feeling that we are not only flesh and blood, that there is, as Arthur Koestler, said “a ghost in the machine.” Whether you are religious or not, you feel obliged to use language that has been shaped by religion in order to express things that may not have a religious purpose. So that’s a constant battle. But I think you are right to say that I’m not interested in devotion, and in that sense I’m not interested in writing books that express anything other than interhuman devotion, which is temporary.

Viswanathan: At the same time, I’ve read several writings of yours where you talk about both the beauty and the terror of religion, the ability of religion to inspire profound feelings of great beauty and maj­esty as well as to incite great bloodshed.

Rushdie: Yes, I was being polite.

Viswanathan: But I remember that you wrote this very evocative pas­sage—I think this was when you were in King’s College. You had gone to give a talk and you spoke about the architecture . . .

Rushdie: Yes, that’s true. You know, I grew up as a student looking out of my window at King’s College chapel, and it’s hard not to believe in the capacity of religion to create beauty when King’s College chapel is out­side your window, this exquisite thing. Then I was asked to speak there, and one of the things that I thought would never happen to me in my life is that I would deliver the sermon in King’s College chapel. There are moments when your life surprises you.

And I have to tell you, apropos of nothing, I learned from doing that why priests speak the way they do. It’s because of the echo. They said to me, “You know, it’s ninety-two feet high, it’s stone, there is no carpet, and if you speak in an ordinary speaking voice then your echo comes back at you and no one can hear a word you are saying.” And—so you have to—speak—like this. You have to say—what you have to say—in this way. And suddenly you understand how preachers do it, and it’s because of the echo. There is a metaphor lurking in there somewhere.

Viswanathan: So do you see something about aesthetics that does have that religious sensibility?

Rushdie: Yes, what I’m saying is, I think there are different ways of getting there. It’s quite clear that religion has inspired people to cre­ate things of incredible beauty and also that people of no religion have created things of incredible beauty. So there is nothing intrinsic about religion that makes it the way of getting there, but it is a way of getting there. I think it’s true that you can listen to great religious music, for example, you can look at icon painting, you can read Milton or Blake, and you can easily see the power of religious belief to create or to help to create beauty. And for me the great, the most useful thing has been the power of religion to create very strong metaphors. I’ve gone back often to what I call dead religions, what’s more commonly called mythology. But remember that the great Greek myths were once the religion of Greece, and Roman mythology was once the religion of Rome. It had all the apparatus of priests and anathemas and so on to defend it. Now that it doesn’t have that, we can simply look at it as text and, of course, you find in these stories astonishing amounts of meaning compressed into very, very small amounts of words.

When I was writing The Ground Beneath Her Feet, for example, I was studying the Orpheus myth. Now, you can express the whole story of Orpheus and Eurydice in less then one hundred words. It doesn’t really require more than five or six, what, ten sentences maybe, and yet the amount of complexity pushed into that very small story is almost inexhaustible. You have this very complex examination of the relation­ship between love, art, and death, and you can turn it this way and that way. You can say that this story tells us—shows us—the power of art inspired by love to overcome death. Or, if you are feeling more pes­simistic, it can show us the power of death to destroy love, even when love is guided by art.

There isn’t a single reading; there are many readings. That’s some­thing that living religions also have in common. There is not a single way of reading the text; there are very rich and complex ways of reading these texts. If you’re in the text business, you’re very interested to see how much power can be concentrated in how little in these ancient works. So it’s been very important for me to examine that.

(more…)

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Happiness and Its Discontents, Part II

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have the second part of an excerpt from Mari Ruti’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Happiness and Its Discontents.”

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Happiness and Its Discontents
Mari Ruti

Needless to say, our fixation on the ideal of happiness diverts our attention from collective social ills, such as socioeconomic disparities. As Barbara Ehrenreich has shown, when we believe that our happiness is a matter of thinking the right kinds of (positive) thoughts, we become blind to the ways in which some of our unhappiness might be generated by collective forces, such as racism or sexism. Worst of all, we become callous to the lot of others, assuming that if they aren’t doing well, if they aren’t perfectly happy, it’s not because they’re poor, oppressed, or unemployed but because they’re not trying hard enough.

If all of that isn’t enough to make you suspicious of the cultural injunction to be happy, consider this basic psychoanalytic insight: Human beings may not be designed for happy, balanced lives. The irony of happiness is that it’s precisely when we manage to feel happy that we are also most keenly aware that the feeling might not last. Insofar as each passing moment of happiness brings us closer to its imminent collapse, happiness is merely a way of anticipating unhappiness; it’s a deviously roundabout means of producing anxiety.

Take the notion that happiness entails a healthy lifestyle. Our society is hugely enthusiastic about the idea that we can keep illness at bay through a meticulous management of our bodies. The avoidance of risk factors such as smoking, drinking, and sexual promiscuity, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, is supposed to guarantee our longevity. To a degree, that is obviously true. But the insistence on healthy habits is also a way to moralize illness, to cast judgment on those who fail to adhere to the right regimen. Ultimately, as the queer theorist Tim Dean has illustrated, we are dealing with a regulation of pleasure—a process of medicalization that tells us which kinds of pleasures are acceptable and which are not.
(more…)

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Pete Seeger and the Hudson River

Pete Seeger

The recent death of Pete Seeger has produced not only an outpouring of tributes for his contributions to American music but also to his work in helping to clean and preserve the Hudson River. In the following passage from The Hudson: America’s River, Frances Dunwell recounts the beginnings of Seeger’s environmental activism and the role these efforts played in the creation of the first Clean Water Act:

This was not the end of the problems on the Hudson, however. Though Rockefel­ler had secured passage of a bond act to clean up the state’s rivers, it took time for sewage treatment plants to be built. The Hudson’s waters were still a “torrent of filth.” A few summers after the 1965 Pure Waters Bond Act passed, state biologists found zero oxygen in the Hudson around Albany and no living fish.

Folksinger Pete Seeger, in Beacon, New York, was one of those who decided this should change….

In 1969, Seeger proposed to a friend that they get a few hundred families together to build a replica of a Hudson River sloop. At first, it was to be just a boat for sailing, a loving tribute to the sleek and beautiful ships that crowded the Hudson during the age of sail. As Seeger later recounted: “It really seemed a frivolous idea. The world was full of agony; the Vietnam War was heating up. Money was needed for all sorts of life and death matters, and here we were raising money to build a sailboat.” However, the idea soon crystallized around building the boat to save the river, to have it be owned by its members, to be “everybody’s boat.” It would be called the Clearwater.

To help raise money, the Saunders family of Cold Spring and the Osborn family of Garrison offered their lawns for a series of song festivals where Seeger, Arlo Guth­rie, and others performed. The first concert drew 150 people and raised $167. Four months later, 700 people showed up—and by the end of the year, $5,000 was in the bank. By 1969, $140,000 in donations and loans were paid to the Gamage shipyard in South Bristol, Maine, which constructed the boat, and on June 27, the sloop Clearwater set sail down the Damiriscotta River and out to the Atlantic coast for its home port on the Hudson, piloted by a skilled captain and crewed by 11 talented musi­cians, including several who knew little about sailing. The boat stopped in Boston, where the crew sang to 10,000 people. A few days later, it sailed into Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport. In early September, it arrived in New York harbor and tied up in Manhattan at South Street Seaport, where brass bands played, and Mayor Lindsay gave his official greetings as press helicopters zoomed overhead. Soon photos of the sloop appeared in newspapers around the country, and the boat became a sym­bol for an emerging movement to clean up the nation’s waterways. The Clearwater organization’s membership grew to 2,500, and the sloop sailed up and down the Hudson, promoting a message of hope. Crowds joined in with Seeger to sing the re­frain of his 1961 song:

Sailing up my dirty stream,
Still I love it, and I’ll keep the dream,
That some day, though maybe not this year,
My Hudson River will once again run clear.

(more…)

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Happiness and Its Discontents, Part I

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have the first part of an excerpt from Mari Ruti’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Happiness and Its Discontents.”

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Happiness and Its Discontents
Mari Ruti

As a critical theorist working at the intersection of Continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, and feminist and queer theory, I make observations about human life that are speculative rather than empirical. That may explain why my definition of character pertains to what is least tangible, least intelligible about our being, including the inchoate frequencies of desire that sometimes cause us to behave in ways that work against our rational understanding of how our lives are supposed to turn out.

If identity captures something about the relatively polished social persona we present to the world, then character—in my view—captures something about the wholly idiosyncratic and potentially rebellious energies that, every so often, break the facade of that persona. From this perspective, our character leaps forth whenever we do something “crazy,” such as suddenly dissolving a committed relationship or leaving a promising career path. At such moments, what is fierce and unapologetic about us undermines our attempts to lead a “reasonable” life, causing us to follow an inner directive that may be as enigmatic as it is compelling. We may not know why we feel called to a new destiny, but we sense that not heeding that call will stifle what is most alive within us.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that finds such insurrections threatening, not least because they make us less predictable and therefore harder to control. This is one reason we’re constantly reminded of the importance of leading a happy, balanced life—the kind of life that “makes sense” from the viewpoint of the dominant social order. Many of us have, in fact, internalized the ideal of a happy, balanced life to such an extent that we find it hard to imagine alternatives. As Freud has already claimed, there is little doubt about what most people want out of life: “They want to become happy and to remain so.”

A quick survey of our culture—particularly our self-help culture—confirms Freud’s observation. One could even say that, in our era, the idea that we should lead happy, balanced lives carries the force of an obligation: We are supposed to push aside our anxieties in order to enjoy our lives, attain peace of mind, and maximize our productivity. The cult of “positive thinking” even assures us that we can bring good things into our lives just by thinking about them.
(more…)

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Read the first chapter of The Call of Character, by Mari Ruti!

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

New Book Tuesday: The U.S. in the Middle East, Head Cases, 60 Years at Columbia, and More New Titles!

Our weekly list of new titles:

Shifting SandsShifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East
Joel S. Migdal

Head Cases: Julia Kristeva on Philosophy and Art in Depressed Times
Elaine P. Miller

An Improbable Life: My Sixty Years at Columbia and Other Adventures
Michael I. Sovern

Social-Ecological Resilience and Law
Edited by Ahjond S. Garmestani and Craig R. Allen

Frankenstein
Robert Horton

Chinese Opera: The Actor’s Craft
Siu Wang-Ngai with Peter Lovrick

On Telling Images of China: Essays in Narrative Painting and Visual Culture
Edited by Shane McCausland and Yin Hwang

Revolution, Modus Vivendi, or Sovereignty?: The Political Thought of the Slovak National Movement from 1861 to 1914
Josette Baer

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living, by Mari Ruti

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Call of Character. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, January 31th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Santiago Zabala on Communism’s Present and Future

“After all, politics is not supposed to be simply at the service of everyday administrative life, but also to provide a reliable guide for everyone to fully exercise existence. But when these and other obligations are not met, philosophers tend to become existentialist, that is, to question and propose alternatives.”—Santiago Zabala

Santiago Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism The Los Angeles Review of Books recently featured Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx, by Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala. In his review, Eduardo Mendieta wrote that the book, “teaches us that we not only have to interpret the inheritance of communism in ever more generative and creative ways, but also fashion a more ecumenical and humane ‘we,’ through the new stories we tell about how we got where we are today and where we should be going in the near future.”

The LARoB also published a wide-ranging interview with Santiago Zabala about the book and the resurgence of communism in political practice and theory. In the interview, Zabala also placed his and Vattimo’s views of communism and philosophy in the context of the works of a range of other thinkers, including Badiou, Heidegger, Derrida, Searle, and Fukuyama. For Zabala and Vattimo, the failure of the Soviet State or communist political parties has ultimately:

[D]isclosed its unrealized potentialities that must be endorsed in order to modify, as Slavoj Žižek puts it, the “coordinates of what appears as possible and give birth to something new.” Hence communism is not an eternal set of rules that are present in every epoch of history to be applied rapidly, but simply a movement that “has to be reinvented in each new historical situation.”

Zabala continues:

However, communism is not proposed any longer as a program for political parties to repeat previous historical regimes, but rather as an existential response to the current neoliberal global condition. The correlation between existence and philosophy is constitutive not only of most philosophical traditions but also of politics in its responsibility for the existential well-being of humans. After all, politics is not supposed to be simply at the service of everyday administrative life, but also to provide a reliable guide for everyone to fully exercise existence. But when these and other obligations are not met, philosophers tend to become existentialist, that is, to question and propose alternatives.

(more…)

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Dean Starkman Debates Whether the Business Press Failed the Public Trust

Recently, Columbia Journalism Review and Public Business, organized a panel Has the Business Press Failed the Public Trust?. Among the panelists were Dean Starkman, author of The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism

The discussion, which also included Larry Ingrassia, (New York Times); Felix Salmon (Reuters); Suzanne Kapner (Wall Street Journal) and Jeff Horwitz (American Banker) focused on the the distinction between reporting for investors and the general public, the the press’s ability to shape public debate, and the role of non-business reporters in covering business scoops. As evident in the video below of the event, the discussion often turned heated and revealed some of the challenges journalists face in covering business and financial news and underscored some of the arguments made in Dean Starkman’s book.

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Dean Starkman on How and Why the Business Press Failed

Dean Starkman, The Watchdog That Didn't Bark

In The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, Dean Starkman argues that the business press missed the biggest story of the new century. More specifically,the mainstream business press failed to cover and convey to the public the looming dangers that would profoundly shake up the financial system in 2007.

The following is an excerpt from the opening of the book. A fuller excerpt can be found on the Columbia Journalism Review site.

The US business press failed to investigate and hold accountable Wall Street banks and major mortgage lenders in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008. That’s why the crisis came as such a shock to the public and to the press itself.

And that’s the news about the news.

The watchdog didn’t bark. What happened? How could an entire journalism subculture, understood to be sophisticated and plugged in, miss the central story occurring on its beat? And why was it that some journalists, mostly outside the mainstream, were able to produce work that in fact did reflect the radical changes overtaking the financial system while the vast majority in the mainstream did not?

This book is about journalism watchdogs and what happens when they don’t bark. What happens is the public is left in the dark about, and powerless against, complex problems that overtake important national institutions. Few need reminders, even today, of the costs of the crisis: 10 million Americans uprooted by foreclosure with even more still threatened, 23 million unemployed or underemployed, whole communities set back a generation, shocking bailouts for the perpetrators, political polarization here and instability abroad. And so on and so forth.

Was the brewing crisis really such a secret? Was it all so complex as to be beyond the capacity of conventional journalism and, through it, the public, to understand? Was it all so hidden? In fact, the answer to all those questions is “no.” The problem—distorted incentives corrupting the financial industry—was plain, but not to Wall Street executives, traders, rating agencies, analysts, quants, or other financial insiders. It was plain to the outsiders: state regulators, plaintiffs’ lawyers, community groups, defrauded mortgage borrowers, and, mostly, to former employees of financial institutions, the whistleblowers, who were, in fact, blowing the whistle. A few reporters actually talked to them, understood the metastasizing problem, and wrote about it. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for the mainstream business press.

In the aftermath of the Lehman bankruptcy of September 2008, a great fight broke out over the causes of the crisis—a fight that’s more or less resolved at this point. While of course it’s complicated, Wall Street and the mortgage lenders stand front and center in the dock. Meanwhile, a smaller fight broke out over the business press’ role. After all, its central beat—the one over which it claims particular mastery—is the same one that suddenly melted down, to the shock of one and all. For business reporters, the crisis was more than a surprise. There was even something uncanny about it. A generation of professionals had, in effect, grown up with this set of Wall Street firms and had put them on the covers of Fortune and Forbes, the front page of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and the rest, scores of times. The firms were so familiar, the press had even given them anthropomorphized personalities over the years: Morgan Stanley, the white-shoe wasp firm; Merrill Lynch, the scrappy Irish-Catholic firm, often considered the dumb one; Goldman, the elite Jewish firm; Lehman, the scrappy Jewish firm; Bear Stearns, the naughty one, etc. Love them or hate them, there they were, blessed by accounting firms, rating agencies, and regulators, gleaming towers of power. Until one day, they weren’t.

(more…)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Interview with Dean Starkman, author of “The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark”

Dean Starkman, The Watchdog That Didn't Bark

“Journalism can be the antidote to corruption…. It gives the public a fighting chance to understand complex problems when powerful institutions betray their trust and act against the public interest. It can be a clarifying force, without which democracy in a complex age just can’t work.”—Dean Starkman

The following is an interview with Dean Starkman, author of The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism

Question: Why did you write this book?

Dean Starkman: The short answer is, the financial crisis. Among business reporters, there were basically two broad responses among to the crisis: one group felt that it was a terrible catastrophe and should not be allowed to happen again. The other felt that it was more than that: just unacceptable, beyond the pale. I fall into the latter camp. Really, everyone understands that this was an epic event. But too few of my colleagues, I fear, have really internalized the dimensions of the disaster, the breadth of the corruption, the completeness of the regulatory collapse. This was one of those once-a-century moments when the system cracks open and allowed us all a long look inside and it’s important that this moment not be lost. For me, it all adds up to a story that needs probing from all angles, now and for many years to come. The fact that this disaster was entirely man-made, and occurred on the most high-profile of business-press beats—finance—made scrutiny of the media’s role all the more urgent from my point of view.

Q: But why you?

DS: Besides my journalistic credentials, which can be found here, it was and is actually my job to review and write about business news. I started running the Columbia Journalism Review’s business desk, The Audit, in the spring of 2007—an innocent time in retrospect. As many recall, the debt markets began cracking open not long after that and soon it dawned on us that the U.S. financial system—the envy of the world, powerful beyond imagination, festooned with brand names, blessed by armies of lawyers, accountants, raters, regulators, the crème of our elite educational system—might be a mirage. The crisis had a big impact on my worldview. In essence, it confirmed it.

Q: How so?

DS: In two ways. I spent the first 15 years or so of my career as an investigative reporter at regional papers, then made the transition to being a business reporter at The Wall Street Journal. I always felt an investigative reporter was something of a mini-expert on subcultures—of the police department, the court system, the state house, etc.—whose job it was to learn its mores and idioms, to figure out whether the culture was healthy or not, and to report back to the wider world on how things were going there. When I arrived at the paper, I didn’t know exactly what to expect but it soon became apparent that I had joined a different journalism subculture from the one I had known at regional papers. The Journal was unique in many ways, but it was also certainly part of, if not, the leader of, this business-press subculture, which had its own particular view of what a “story” was—that is, what got into the paper, what we today call “content.”

Admittedly, I wasn’t hired as an investigative reporter. Even so, the boundaries—invisible and unspoken yet real enough—struck me as arbitrary and, to my tastes, narrow. Also, they were fungible. They moved over time. In my view, they narrowed. In any case, coming from outside the culture, I spent a lot of time trying to decode it—where did these ideas about business news come from, and how did we decide these were the right ones—and part of that decoding formed the basis for this book.

Q: And the second way?

DS: The second way involves the idea of corruption. I cringe in way to use that word because it has a shrill tenor and yet I saw enough of it in Rhode Island to understand that it actually does happen, at the highest levels, and that its effects are immensely damaging. Unlike the muckrakers, I’m not sure it’s about good or evil on the part of individuals, although there’s that. But normally all it involves is power imbalance or perverse incentives, or both, leading a state where normal regulation, oversight, and law enforcement are subsumed. A great reporter and friend, John Sullivan, had a theory that 10 percent of the people can always be counted on to do the right thing, and 10 percent will always do the wrong thing, but 80 percent will go with the flow. That’s how corruption happens, and how it can become systemic, as it did in the mortgage industry.

The sense that the deck is stacked, that contracts are rigged, or that tax authorities or police act at the behest of a corrupt mayor, undermines the public’s faith in the system itself. Corruption actually threatens democracy. And it was clear to me at the time, just as it was clear to some of the journalists profiled in Watchdog, that the financial system had crossed a line from competition to recklessness and into corruption.

The crisis confirmed that view and reinforced the dangers of corruption to markets and to democracy itself. Clearly, ours was badly shaken, and the subsequent effects in Europe drive the point home even further.

Q: What’s all that got to do with journalism?

DS: Journalism can be the antidote to corruption. It certainly has been in the past, as I demonstrate in Watchdog. But even if it isn’t, it gives the public a fighting chance to understand complex problems when powerful institutions betray their trust and act against the public interest. It can be a clarifying force, without which democracy in a complex age just can’t work. If that sounds like I’m waving a flag with big “J” on it, well, so be it. The great Walter Lippmann despaired of democracy working in a far-flung industrial power and believed elites should be left alone to solve complex problems. I think we’ve learned that doesn’t work. So this is what we’re left with.

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Michael Mann on the Responsibility of Climate Scientists

Michael Mann, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Michael Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines (now available in paperback), argues that scientists can no longer stay on the sidelines when it comes to debates about climate change.

For his own part, Mann has been thrust into the fray over climate change after a study he co-wrote which led to being “hounded by elected officials [and] threatened with violence.” Mann continues, “Our ‘hockey stick’ graph became a vivid centerpiece of the climate wars, and to this day, it continues to win me the enmity of those who have conflated a problem of science and society with partisan politics.”

Initially, Mann did not want to be part of the debate, fearing, as many scientists do, that it would compromise his objectivity “to wade into policy matters or the societal implications of our work.” However, with the stakes so high, Mann now argues that position is no longer viable given the threats of global warming to the planet.

If scientists choose not to engage in the public debate, we leave a vacuum that will be filled by those whose agenda is one of short-term self-interest. There is a great cost to society if scientists fail to participate in the larger conversation — if we do not do all we can to ensure that the policy debate is informed by an honest assessment of the risks. In fact, it would be an abrogation of our responsibility to society if we remained quiet in the face of such a grave threat.

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Boundaries of Toleration, An Investing Pioneer, and the Global Origins of Modernity in China

Breaking with the PastBoundaries of Toleration
Edited by Alfred Stepan and Charles Taylor

Passion for Reality: The Extraordinary Life of the Investing Pioneer Paul Cabot
Michael R. Yogg

Breaking with the Past: The Maritime Customs Service and the Global Origins of Modernity in China
Hans van de Ven

No Country: Working-Class Writing in the Age of Globalization
Sonali Perera

A Primer in Biological Data Analysis and Visualization Using R
Gregg Hartvigsen

The Cinema of Alexander Sokurov: Figures of Paradox
Jeremi Szaniawski

Sex and World Peace (Now Available in paper)
Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett

Prophecy, Alchemy, and the End of Time: John of Rupescissa in the Late Middle Ages (Now available in paper)
Leah DeVun

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism,” by Dean Starkman

“Journalism was complicit in the predation and corruption that brought down world financial markets and wrecked the lives of millions…. Dean Starkman is the author we have been waiting for to tell this story. He not only puts forward a keen, subtle, and fair account of the journalistic default, he names names.” — Todd Gitlin

The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, Dean Starkman

This week we will be featuring The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, by Dean Starkman, on twitter, facebook, and the Columbia University Press blog, .

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism to a lucky winner.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, January 24 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

You can also read an excerpt from The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism posted on the Columbia Journalism Review site.

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Rashid Khalidi on Ariel Sharon

Rashidi Khalidi, author of Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking During the 1982 War (now available in a revised edition with a new introduction), has recently been interviewed and asked to comment on Ariel Sharon’s legacy and his impact on the Middle East.

In a recent piece in Foreign Policy, Call Off the Sainthood of Ariel Sharon, Khalidi discusses the Israeli leader’s role in the 1982 Israeli war in Lebanon, a conflict that led to more than 50,000 casualties, including many Lebanese civilians.

Khalidi writes:

The Lebanon war that Sharon, then the defense minister, did more than anyone else to launch was an unmitigated catastrophe for the Palestinians, the Lebanese, and in the view of most Israelis at the time, Israel itself. Israel’s subsequent occupation of South Lebanon until 2000, the consequent intensification of the Lebanese civil war, the slaughter of untold numbers of innocents, and the deaths of hundreds of Israeli soldiers and thousands of other combatants should all be laid in large part at Sharon’s feet.

Sharon’s profound impact on the Middle East stretched far beyond Lebanon. If the creation of a truly sovereign, independent, contiguous, and viable Palestinian state is not possible today — as most sober observers believe — this is largely his achievement. From his appointment as agriculture minister in 1977 until his passing from the Israeli political scene after his stroke in 2006, he probably did more than any other Israeli leader to make Israel’s colonization of the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem an astonishing success.

Khalidi also recently discussed Sharon on Huffington Post Live as well as on Democracy Now, where he was joined by Noam Chomsky and Avi Shlaim

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

August Turak on the Myth of Personal Development

Columbia Business School Publishing

August Turak, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO's Quest for Meaning and AuthenticityIn a recent article for Forbes, August Turak, author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity (Columbia Business School Publishing), takes a closer look at what is meant by “personal development” and how it is frequently misunderstood.

In interviews about the book, Turak is frequently asked “What do you do for personal development?” However, how most people think about personal development in a business context is different from Turak’s view. While many tend to think of it as a means to success, Turak believes personal development is the end. Turak explains:

“Personal development” is compartmentalized; it becomes something we do off the clock and in our spare time in order to “get ahead” in the “real world.” Slowly and unwittingly we become like the real estate agent who religiously accompanies his family to church only because being perceived as a family oriented, God fearing man is “good for business.”

This entire world view tragically puts the proverbial cart before the horse. Whether you call it personal development, personal growth, self-actualization, self-transcendence, or spirituality does not matter. What matters is realizing that the reason you were born is to become the best human being you can possibly be. Personal development is not a tool for reaching a bigger goal. Becoming a complete human being is already the biggest and most noble goal you can aspire to.

(more…)

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, the Book

Part of the Cultographies series, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Dean J. Defino explores Russ Meyer’s iconic, cult classic. (See the film’s trailer below—how could we resist?). In the book, Defino begins by describing his admiration for the film as well as his conflicted feelings about the film. However, as he explains in the passage below, he frequently uses the film in his classes as an illustration of American independent cinema:

I frequently use [Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!] to introduce the concept of independent cinema in the many film courses I teach. Meyer remains one of the few truly independent American filmmakers—having personally financed, written, directed, shot, edited and distributed nearly all of his twenty-three theatrical features— and Pussycat is an ideal illustration of the iconoclastic spirit of indie films because it is so accessible, engaging and well-made. It is a remarkably easy film to teach. And though I justify its place on the syllabus by pointing to its influence on filmmakers like John Waters and the way it raises questions later complicated in the works of John Cassavetes, John Sayles and Alison Anders, really I just want to see it for the first time again through my students’ eyes. Their responses to the film mirror my own to an uncanny degree. Most intuitively key in on the dark ironic tone and the Meyer style, with its low ‘Dutch’ angles, arch compositions and rapid editing tempered by the loose, jazzy score. Many find it, as I did at their age, oddly familiar and compelling. Our discussion invariably shifts from what we find ‘cool’ about the film to more weighty issues of film form, sexual politics and its place in film history and the Meyer canon, but time and again I am left with the feeling that I have failed to account for the film’s strange effect upon me.

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Samurai Lust, Berlin, 21st-Century China, and More New Titles

Lust, Commerce, and CorruptionOur weekly list of new titles now available:

Lust, Commerce, and Corruption: An Account of What I Have Seen and Heard, by an Edo Samurai
Translated by Mark Teeuwen, Kate Wildman Nakai, Miyazaki Fumiko, Anne Walthall, and John Breen

The Berlin Reader: A Compendium on Urban Change and Activism
Edited by Matthias Bernt, Britta Grell, and Andrej Holm

Spaces of the Poor: Perspectives of Cultural Sciences on Urban Slum Areas and Their Inhabitants
Edited by Hans-Christian Petersen

Animal Minds & Animal Ethics: Connecting Two Separate Fields
Edited by Klaus Petrus and Markus Wild

Dancing Archives – Archive Dances: Exploring Dance Histories at the Radcliffe College Archives
Thom Hecht

Transitional Justice, Culture, and Society: Beyond Outreach
Edited by Clara Ramírez-Barat

China at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century
Edited by Łukasz Gacek and Ewa Trojnar

Media in China, China in the Media: Processes, Strategies, Images, Identities
Edited by Adina Zemanek

Wandering Spirit: Lyrical Landscapes by Li Xubai
Edited by Anita Wong Yin-fong and Michelle Lau Ka-yu

Ingenious Iceland: Twentieth-Century Icelandic Paintings from the Anthony J. Hardy Collection
Edited by Jóhann Ágúst Hansen and Florian Knothe

(more…)