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Archive for May, 2016

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

The New World of Male Friendship

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“All kinds of theories have been offered to explain Lincoln’s action, most mutually exclusive, from his supposed sexual love for Speed; to his infatuation with the beautiful Matilda Edwards who arrived in Springfield in November; to his sense of inadequacy with the lordly Todds; to Mary actually taking the decisive action. The evidence, most of it contradictory, supports none of these theories altogether, and the reason for the broken engagement has remained an enigma for most of the last century and a half.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Strozier, in which he gives an overview of the close male friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, and explains why that friendship has become such a touchstone for controversy.

The New World of Male Friendship
Charles B. Strozier

Men talk of bromance and a new kind of buddy system, of searching for soul mates, even love, but not in the context of sex. That is the point in this new world of male friendship. It is relatively new, and very old, at the same time. In fact, the most interesting example of close male friendship in American history may be Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed.

Lincoln struggled as a young man with issues of intimacy and depression. He was always moody, but in his late 20s and early 30s, and only then, he was twice suicidal: first after the death of his betrothed, Ann Rutledge, in 1835 in New Salem, and then six years later after he broke off his engagement with Mary Todd.

He was saved, in a very real sense, through his friendship with Joshua Speed. That friendship unfolded in its most important phase between 1837, when Lincoln arrived in Springfield, Illinois, at 28 years of age, and ended up living with Speed, then 22 years of age, above Speed’s dry goods store on the west side of the square and sleeping with him in the same large, double bed for nearly the next four years. All the (good) historical evidence suggests the relationship was loving but not sexualized. (more…)

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

New Books This Week: Exhaustion, The Evolution of Money, and More!

Exhaustion, Anna K. Schaffner

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

Exhaustion: A History
Anna K. Schaffner

The Evolution of Money
David Orrell, Roman Chlupatý

LoveKnowledge: The Life of Philosophy from Socrates to Derrida
Roy Brand

Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination (Now avaiable in paper)
Gaurav Desai

Blade Runner
Sean Redmond

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Jon Towlson

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“Lincoln was the hub of an important wheel of political and social life, and Strozier has repaired the missing spoke that is Joshua Speed. He has done so in part by re-connecting Speed to Lincoln’s other friends and acquaintances, to provide as full a picture of these young American men’s interior lives as we are likely to get. His use of often-ignored archival sources is brilliant.” — James M. Cornelius, Lincoln curator, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. 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 Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, June 3rd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, May 27th, 2016

Can Business Help Stop Global Warming and the Other Four Horsemen? — Daniel Callahan

The Five Horsmen, Daniel Callahan

“If my other four horsemen can learn anything from the success of the Paris agreement for global warming, it may be that success is possible with the following approach: work diplomatically to gain the cooperation of industry, regardless of how obstructionist it has been in the past; intensify efforts to find technological pathways that work while also lowering prices; develop citizens’ groups at the local level and broader grassroots social movements to break through the barrier that too often succeeds in raising interest and concern but fails to generate action and legislative attention; if there are real dangers and hazards, do not hesitate to evoke them (but do not exaggerate); and, most of all, don’t give up. The problems of the five horsemen are most likely chronic, to be lived with and combatted simultaneously. That can be done.”—Daniel Callahan, The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity

We conclude our week-long focus on Daniel Callahan’s book, The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity with a list of organizations and business-led initiatives that are working to solve the key problems affecting today’s world. As Callahan argues in the final chapter of his book after decades of causing many of these problems, businesses are now increasingly active in trying to combat them. Most of these companies and industry partnerships are focused on ending global warming but the organizations at the bottom are concerned the other issues Callahan discusses in his book. Here is Callahan’s list:

* GreenBiz Group: large-membership group with annual detailed re­ports on global industry and environment efforts
* Risky Business Project: a potent group of U.S. business leaders working to get business to prepare for global warming
* The New Climate Economy: an international group of economists aim­ing to achieve lasting economic growth while also attacking the risks of climate change
* UN Global Compact: UN-business partnerships with voluntary corpo­rate responsibility
* The International Business Leader’s Forum (UK): founded by the prince of Wales to focus on the role of business in society, embracing social responsibility as “core business”
* World Economic Forum: producing studies and reports and holding an annual meeting in Davos combining economic growth and risk of global warming
* The Climate Group and the CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Dis­closure Project): formed RE100 with the aim of getting 100 companies to pledge to switch to 100% renewables
* New York Declaration on Forests: thirty-four companies pledged to cut deforestation
* Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP): twenty-nine consumer businesses that have the goal of getting widespread U.S. bi­partisan energy and climate legislation; its 2013 Climate Declaration gained 800 companies and had 1,000 signatories by September 8, 2014, just before New York climate week and march
* World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD): a CEO-led organization of companies working to create a “sustainable” future for business
* United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP): business and envi­ronmental organizations to get national legislation to require signifi­cant emission reductions
* The B-Team: not-for-profit organized “to catalyze a better way of do­ing business for the well-being of people and the planet”
* The Divest-Invest Campaign: led by the Wallace Global Fund to pledge divestment from fossil fuel stocks and move money into clean energy investments; announced gaining 800 global investors with combined assets of $50 billion by 2014, and aiming for $150 billion by 2015
* We Mean Business: a coalition of organizations working with the world’s influential businesses and investors to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy

Here are a few examples pertinent to the other four horsemen. There are not as many organizations doing for four of the horsemen what busi­ness is doing for global warming:

* Anheuser-Busch: SmartBarley benchmarking to improve crop yield through better water efficiency
* Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles: Coca-Cola, requiring its supply-chain members to practice these principles to maintain farm­lands and communities
* Coca-Cola: with Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Founda­tion, collecting water fees from companies operating in the develop­ing world to restore natural ecosystems
* Better Cotton Initiative: founded by partnership between World Wild­life Fund and IKEA to address water-gobbling cotton production
* WATERisLIFE: the Drinkable Book holding twenty filter pages, each capable of filtering up to 100 liters of water at a cost of about 10 cents per page
* Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: partnering 1,000 groups with 45 national governments to built a sustainable market for clean cooking solutions
* Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation: a CEO-led partnership to reduce obesity, comprising more than 250 active corporations and nonprofits

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Fat: To Be Or Not To Be? — Daniel Callahan

The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, Daniel Callahan

“There is a public health change that needs to be made. If people by the hundreds of thousands are dying from obesity, that tips my judgment toward broadcasting it the way it is: obesity is dangerous, it can kill and cripple you. If saying that bluntly in order to deter those not yet obese offends the already obese, that is inadvertent and a price worth paying.”—Daniel Callahan

The following post is by Daniel Callahan, author of The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity:

Obesity is everywhere. Many of us have obese friends or coworkers. If you, yourself are obese, there is a good chance you have tried to lose weight. It is no less likely that you have found it difficult and aggravating to do so, and exceedingly frustrating when the pounds come back again. You are not alone. Obesity is a world-wide scourge, and one that has grown steadily worse over decades. Of all my five horsemen, it seems to be the most intractable.

An international study reported in April, 2015, in the British medical journal, The Lancet—encompassing 19.2 million participants—came to a stark conclusion: no progress of any significant kind can be found in stemming obesity’s increase, now well into its 40th year. Global obesity has more than doubled since 1980. Some 38 percent of Americans were obese in 2013 and 2014, up from 35 percent in 2011 and 2012—and still rising. At least 2.8 million people already die each year from overweight or obesity, and the US is the most afflicted. While global warming has gained much more attention than obesity, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects an average of 250,000 deaths from obesity per year between 2030 and 2050.

How is it possible to get nowhere with a problem well recognized, amply studied, and right before our eyes? The first policy step years ago seemed the most obvious: education. If people understand how dangerous obesity is—as was happening with smoking—and how possible it is to make some dietary and exercise changes, they can lose weight. Weight loss programs and education campaigns blossomed, for both adults and children, in schools, community centers, and the media. Weight Watchers, now operating in 30 countries, emerged in 1963 as the leader of a business rush to a massive ever-growing market. On the medical side, it was early on believed that there must be a genetic explanation of obesity. An oft-cited figure is that 60% is a likely proportion of the cause, but that insight has not led to treatments. A few weight-reducing drugs are on the market, expensive bariatric surgery is increasing, but is not the solution with the number of the obese in the millions. One of the most disturbing findings is that once a person is obese, even if they can lose weight for a time, only 5-10 percent can keep it off.


Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

An Interview with Daniel Callahan, author of “The Five Horsemen of the Modern World”

The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, Daniel Callahan

“At the heart of the progress problem is that we usually do not want to stop progress, and don’t know how to do so even when we need to try.”—Daniel Callahan

The following is an interview with Daniel Callahan, author of The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity

Question: Why did you write this book?

Daniel Callahan: Most people write books because they have something to say: a careful analysis, a heated conviction, or a message to spread. Most scholarly savants usually spend years thinking through a topic and then put it all in a book. I don’t seem to fall easily into any of those categories. I wrote The Five Horsemen out of sheer curiosity, knowing something about some of my five horsemen but almost nothing about others; and not knowing where it would lead me. My curiosity was stimulated by what seemed to me a troubling similarity: a rare group of global problems, each seemingly different, that were all getting worse not better. How has that happened, and could it be that they do share some traits

Q: Do you offer solutions to the global threats posed by the five horsemen?

DC: My flat, candid answer to that question is: no! Initially, I naively thought, I could, being the kind of smart guy who thinks he can solve all human problems if simply given the chance to do so. It soon became obvious that I could not do that, but was consoled to notice that no one else could either. I should have seen at once that problems festering for forty or more years, that had consumed billions of dollars in research and policy efforts, that evoke deep ideological and political differences, and that display a wide range of disparate convictions in public opinion, do not lend themselves to easy solutions. If you don’t believe that, read the book. That is not to say there is an absence of ideas. It is that most have not worked, and those that have are not sufficient.

Q: Why are they so hard to solve?

DC: At the root of each of the horsemen is the modern value of progress, but reaching back to the eighteenth century. At its core is the belief that through reason and science the human condition can be improved. There is no end of the possibilities. Global warming is the result of economic progress, bringing millions out of poverty and affluence to many more. It also pollutes our atmosphere. Food shortages are in great part due to population growth, a result of medical progress keeping people alive much longer. Waters shortages also result from population growth and great agricultural gains (70% of water consumption is for agriculture). Chronic illness is heavily due to aging populations, another fruit of medical progress. Obesity is a function of the availability of cheaper but less health foods. At the heart of the progress problem is that we usually do not want to stop progress, and don’t know how to do so even when we need to try.


Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

New Book Tuesday: 17 Thoughts about Language, Eric Rohmer, and More!

I Speak, Therefore I  Am, Andrea Moro

I Speak, Therefore I Am: Seventeen Thoughts About Language
Andrea Moro; Translated by Ian Roberts

Éric Rohmer: A Biography
Antoine de Baecque and Noël Herpe; Translated by Steven Rendall and Lisa Neal

The Manhattan Project: Big Science and the Atom Bomb (Now available in paper)
Jeff Hughes

The Arab City: Architecture and Representation
Edited by Amale Andraos and Nora Akawi
(Columbia Books on Architecture and the City)

Watts in the Desert: Pioneering Solar Farming in Australia’s Outback
Lex Fullarton
(ibidem Press)

Limits of a Post-Soviet State: How Informality Replaces, Renegotiates, and Reshapes Governance in Contemporary Ukraine
Abel Polese. Foreword by Colin Williams
(ibidem Press)

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, by Daniel Callahan

This week we are featuring The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity, by Daniel Callahan.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Five Horsemen of the Modern World to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, May 27 at 1:00 pm.

Barron H. Lerner, author of The Good Doctor: A Father, A Son and the Evolution of Medical Ethics, writes:

“It is hard enough to write a wise book on a single major social problem, but Daniel Callahan has written a wise book about five of them, ultimately proposing important suggestions for moving forward. The Five Horsemen should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in climate change, food distribution, the water supply, chronic illness or obesity…. This book challenges us to look at the global and local ramifications of everything we know and do.”

You can also read the chapter,”Our Overheating, Fraying Planet”:

Friday, May 20th, 2016

“National Income” in the Encyclopaedia Of the Social Sciences

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“According to Kuznets, the purpose of the economic system was to provide the citizens of a country with goods and services. What was decisive in the recording of national income was the moment at which individuals in the economic cycle achieved their income. Kuznets had a clear and realistic concept: national income had to be thought of in terms of the incomes individuals get, and not as the total value of production.” — Philipp Lepenies

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. For the final post of the feature, we are happy to present a short excerpt from The Power of a Single Number, in which Lepenies tells the story of how Simon Kuznets got his conception of national income into the 1933 edition of the Encyclopaedia Of The Social Sciences.

“National Income” in the Encyclopaedia Of the Social Sciences (1933)
Philipp Lepenies

It was thanks to his brother that Kuznets—not well known among researchers for his work on national income—was entrusted with the entry for the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. Salomon Kuznets was one of the editor’s closest members of staff, and awarded the contract to Simon, who seized the opportunity to present his view of the topic. His entry presented what was, until then, the most comprehensive methodological and theoretical statement on national income. As opposed to most of the other publications on national income, his was not aimed at an expert audience. It was written in a generally comprehensible way, and made do with few technical details. With this, Kuznets was able to get his views across to a wide audience.

For Kuznets, it was not only income (which could be calculated as consumption, its distribution, and the value of production) that made up the figure national income. He added a fourth category, “income enjoyed,” or the sum total of all subjective feelings, which each individual has in his dual function as producer and consumer. In so doing, Kuznets extended the range of interpretation of national income with a subjective component: the satisfaction resulting from one’s own economic activity. Such feelings, however, were not measurable, so in order to quantify national income, one had to concentrate on the cruder benchmarks of income received and consumed. (more…)

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

The Principle of Effective Demand

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“Consumption and savings depend first and foremost on the level of national income, but what decides the latter? This is the crucial question. Keynes answered: it is the level of investment demand. Investors, not consumers (alias savers), are the active element in the economic system.” — Heinz Kurz

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from Economic Thought, in which Heinz Kurz breaks down John Maynard Keynes’s “principle of effective demand.”

The Principle of Effective Demand
Heinz Kurz

Let us now have a closer look at Keynes’s view that the economic system is typically not fully utilizing its productive resources—it is not “supply-constrained,” as neoclassical economists contend, but “demand-constrained” (except during booms). More specifically, Keynes’s “principle of effective demand” means that there is no reason to assume that aggregate investment demand will always be large enough to employ all of an economy’s productive resources. To see this we must turn to how he determined the two components of private domestic aggregate effective demand—consumption and investment expenditures.

Before doing so, it should be noted that Keynes conceived savings (correctly) as the nondemand of goods and services. The saver keeps a part of his or her money income and does not spend it, that is, does not buy goods. Savings in themselves involve “leakages” in the stream of expenditures and pose the problem of sufficient effective demand. The praise Adam Smith had showered upon the “frugal man” was justified only to the extent to which the saver was at the same time an investor, who spent the saved sums not on consumption goods (food, beverages, clothing, etc.) but instead on investment goods (plant and equipment, raw materials, etc.). In this perspective investments involve “injections” into the stream of expenditures and may compensate for the leakages stemming from savings. (more…)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

What It’s All About: A Short Primer on GDP

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“The success of gross national product and GDP is based on the fact that, with them, politicians were from the outset able to pursue a whole array of goals beyond just documenting economic processes.’” — Philipp Lepenies

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we have excerpted “What It’s All About: A Short Primer on GDP,” in which Lepenies quickly summarizes what exactly GDP (and GNP) are, and previews the ways that this “statistical construct became a matter of politics.”

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

New Book Tuesday!: Dinosaurs, Freedom Schools, and More!

Dinosaurs: The Textbook

Dinosaurs: The Textbook
Spencer G. Lucas

The Freedom Schools: Student Activists in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement
Jon N. Hale

The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir (Now available in paper)
Natalie Berkowitz

Transgression in Anglo-American Cinema: Gender, Sex, and the Deviant Body
Edited by Joel Gwynne
(Wallflower Press)

Projecting Race: Postwar America, Civil Rights, and Documentary Film
Stephen Charbonneau
(Wallflower Press)

Studying Hammer Horror
Victoria Grace Walden

The Empress and the Heavenly Masters: A Study of the Ordination Scroll of Empress Zhang (1493)
Luk Yu-ping
(The Chinese University Press)

Post-Communist Sinology in Transformation: Views from the Czech Republic, Mongolia, Poland, and Russia
Edited by Chih-yu Shih
(The Chinese University Press)

Sinologists as Translators in the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries
Edited by Lawrence Wang-chi Wong and Bernhard Fuehrer
(The Chinese University Press)

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Introducing “Economic Thought”

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“Does this mean that economics preserves everything that is correct and valuable and disposes of everything that is wrong and misleading? Is the market for economic ideas a perfectly functioning selection mechanism? Unfortunately, the answer is no.’” — Heinz Kurz

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we are happy to present Heinz Kurz’s introduction to Economic Thought, in which he lays out his project (“A history of economic thought in some 200 pages? Impossible!”), and explains why understanding how our views of economics have changed over time is crucial in informing our current views of the economy and how it works.

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Economic Thought” and “The Power of a Single Number”

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

On Economic Thought: “An enjoyable and well-organized history of economic thought, which will attract many readers to this highly readable treatise on the ‘dismal science.’” — Amartya Sen, Harvard University

On The Power of a Single Number: “The Power of a Single Number is beautifully written and easily accessible to anyone who wants to know more about what lies behind the world’s most powerful number.” — Robert H. Wade

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about both books and their authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of both Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 20th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

The Catastrophes of Today and the Catastrophe of 1948 in Syria

Palestinians in Syria

Today, May 15, is the 68th anniversary of the Nakba. In recognition of the anniversary, Anaheed Al-Hardan, author of Palestinians in Syria: Nakba Memories of Shattered Communities, has written a blog post linking the events of 1948 and today in Syria.

The Catastrophes of Today and the Catastrophe of 1948 in Syria
By Anaheed Al-Hardan

Yarmouk Camp in Damascus is today unrecognizable even to those who knew the camp’s every alleyway and corner. The rubble, the ruins of bombed buildings, tired and hungry people, and haunted alleyways and streets are the painful remains of a shattered community. Yarmouk is not the only Palestinian locality in Syria, of course, but it was in many ways the Palestinians’ social, cultural, political, and even symbolic heart. It has therefore become emblematic of the catastrophe of the Palestinians in Syria whose communities may neither survive nor heal.

Whatever remained of the camp after the exodus of its people in December 2012 continues to be leveled in the wake of the April 2015 appearance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as yet another armed group in and within its vicinity. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is today only able to distribute aid to the camp’s environs. A relief worker with access to the environs of the camp privately noted that of the estimated 18,000 who remained in Yarmouk following the December 2012 exodus, only 2,000–4,000 now remain. The Qadsayya suburb of Damascus, where many Yarmouk families have been displaced to, has a market that reminds one of the previous bustling markets of Yarmouk’s Lubya Street, I was told by a former resident of Yarmouk in Beirut. Lubya Street, named after a village in the Tiberias subdistrict of historic Palestine, is today a devastated and sniped shadow of its former self, destroyed sixty-four years after the destruction of its namesake.

Qadsayya is no longer a safe haven from the war, like most areas meant to be safe havens in the Damascus and the Rural Damascus Governorates. Nothing new, a friend in Qadsayya told me. The “problems” have also arrived here, and the area is under lockdown. People cannot leave, as rents have skyrocketed and landowners are asking for a year’s rent in advance. A year later, she tells me that they no longer know how things are and do not keep up with word-of-mouth news; they simply try to get on with their lives. I would eventually ask her about the new Lubya Street in Qadsayya, and she sends photos of it that are worlds away from the Lubya Street of Yarmouk. She tells me that it is in fact a sight that makes her cry: zinc shacks erected by the people of Yarmouk in order to sell rationed vegetables and secondhand clothes.

It is from the inbetween of the imagined and the actual “Lubya Street” of Qadsayya and the Lubya Street of Yarmouk that I frequented daily all those years ago that I must now think through memories and histories of the 1948 Nakba in Syria. These memories also need to be thought from the inbetween of images of what remains of Lubya Street in Yarmouk and memories of Lubya in Palestine. What does it mean to think through Nakba memories of communities shattered in Palestine in 1948 three and a half years into the beginning of their shattering anew in Syria? And what implications does this have for Nakba memories and histories in Syria before and after 2011? The Palestinian refugee communities of the Syria that made their Nakba memories and histories possible no longer exist as they did prior to 2011 and continue to be devastated. While this has clear implications for the meanings of the catastrophe of 1948 in light of the new catastrophe, I can neither write a conclusion to the unfolding tragic events nor a conclusive summary of the new meanings of the Nakba in post-2011 Syria. In what follows, I think through the catastrophe of today and the catastrophe of 1948 by moving between the past and the present. This is the past that made memories of 1948 possible, and this is the present marked by a catastrophe that is being made legible through an insistence by the post-Palestine generations, displaced within Syria and beyond, that it far exceeds the Nakba of 1948.

*** (more…)

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Dharma and Drugs

Altered States

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In the final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to share Douglas Osto’s conversation with Erik Davis on the Expanding Mind podcast as they talk perennialism, experiential narratives, the limits of reason, and Altered States.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Announcing the Columbia University Press Fall 2016 Catalog

Columbia UP Fall 2016 Catalog

We are proud to announce our catalog of new books coming in Fall 2016! In her introductory letter, Press Director Jennifer Crewe lays out her hopes for the books in the catalog and lists a few highlights:

Dear Readers:

This catalogue represents a phenomenal effort on the part of our authors and Columbia University Press to publish books that intervene in today’s most urgent global issues. With books on immigration, equal representation, climate change, free speech, terror, human rights, and the future of the world economy, our press continues to lead in disseminating crucial ideas based in sound scholarship that are necessary as our world grows smaller and more tense.

Our titles this season rethink foundational partnerships—science and art, husband and wife, true and false, business and society, East and West, and the economy and the environment—to broaden our worldview and foster a more intimate knowledge of influence and inspiration. In Reductionism in Art and Brain Science (p. 1), the Nobel Prize–winning author Eric R. Kandel appreciates from a neuroscientific perspective the impulses that disrupt creative paradigms. In Marriage as a Fine Art (p. 5), Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers reflect on the challenge of adapting to and loving another person. In The Madhouse Effect (p. 9), the award-winning climate scientist Michael E. Mann and the Pulitzer prize–winning political cartoonist Tom Toles use incisive humor to balance scientific fact and partisan fiction. Capital and the Common Good (p. 12) is Georgia Levenson Keohane’s proposal to apply market savvy to social, economic, and environmental challenges, and Endangered Economies (p. 17) is Geoffrey Heal’s effort to broker a peace between economic growth and environmental preservation.

Our joint venture with the Russian Institute for Literary Translation (pp. 6–7), a powerful partnership between East and West, has yielded the first three books in our Russian Library series. These provocative novels and drama prove that cutting-edge satire and formal innovation are alive and well in the cradle of modern literature. We have also acquired distribution rights for four new, acclaimed presses: Tulika Books in India (p. 100), Agenda Publishing in the United Kingdom (p. 94), Barbara Budrich Publishers in Germany (p. 96), and the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C. (p. 92). These presses complement our existing strengths while adding to our offerings in economics and sociology.

As a business and an intellectual storehouse, Columbia University Press continues to grow in remarkable new ways, and the backing we receive from our readers, partners, and university faculty and staff is what makes this possible. Thank you for your continued support of our books and mission.

Jennifer Crewe
President and Director

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

A Neuropsychological Model of Altered States of Consciousness

Altered States

“Since the feeling of being transported to “somewhere else” in an altered state appears to be a cross-cultural, psychological universal, possibly related to the physiological hardwiring of the human brain, one could hypothesize the existence of certain naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, like DMT, that can act in similar ways as LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post,

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Douglas Osto on the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics in America

Altered States

“I wrote this book because I was interested in a question, and the question was, ‘what’s happened in the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics since the 60s?’” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s video, Osto details some of the questions that led him to write, the methods he used in his research, and the structure of the book itself.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Buddhism, Psychedelic Spirituality, and the Religious Landscape of America

Altered States

“These altered states by their very nature exceed the bounds of reason and challenge existing paradigms. We as human beings tend to fear the novel, strange, weird, and extraordinary. Thus it is not surprising that the status quo often is highly suspect of new religious movements, or “cults,” and generally attempts to suppress them, often with extreme prejudice. However, fear is not our only instinct, and hopefully not our strongest.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post, excerpted from the book’s preface, Osto explains that he hopes to tell “the story of how Buddhism and psychedelic spirituality coemerged, mutually influenced each other, and forever changed the religious landscape of America.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

“Man’s greatest dread is the expansion of consciousness.”
—Henry Miller, Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud

This book does not promote breaking the law of any land; nor does it demonize, denigrate, or dismiss anyone’s religious/spiritual beliefs or practices. As an American born and bred, I have a strong conviction in the individual’s right to freedom of religion. As far as my political views concerning the use of psychoactive substances, I describe myself as libertarian. I believe every adult individual’s body is her own sovereign domain; thus every rational person has a right to do whatever she wants to her body without the interference of a paternalistic government legislating what is in her best interests. Also, in regard to morality, my Catholic upbringing has convinced me of the supremacy of one’s individual conscience. And legality and morality are clearly different things. For example, many today (myself included) would regard the persecution of someone for his sexual orientation or possession of another human being as someone’s property to be immoral acts. However, in the United Kingdom, for example, homosexuality was punishable as a crime until 1967, and slavery was legal in parts of the Empire until 1843.

It should be clear from the above comments that I am not against the use of psychoactive substances for religious/spiritual purposes, regardless of whether such use is deemed “illegal” by some governments. Since I believe an individual’s freedom to religion, absolute sovereignty of her own body, and individual conscience each trump any current laws of the land, I find arguments against the religious use of psychoactives based on the legal status of these substances unconvincing. Moreover, claims that someone should not practice his religion because it could be “dangerous” to his health are equally unconvincing. First, the real health risks of the classic psychedelics appear minimal when compared to the risks of using legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Second, legislating against a person’s or group’s religion out of concern for their health is paternalistic in the extreme. Early Christianity was both illegal and hazardous to your health if you lived in the Roman Empire. And yet, as Tertullian wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In other words, without the outlawed and dangerous activities of the early Christians, Christianity would not be a world religion today. (more…)