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June 30th, 2015

Sheldon Krimsky on the Use of Dialogue in “Stem Cell Dialogues”



Stem Cell Dialogues, Sheldon Krimsky

The following post is by Sheldon Krimsky, author of Stem Cell Dialogues: A Philosophical and Scientific Inquiry Into Medical Frontiers

In 1998 cell biology and medical research had entered a new stage of development. James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin isolated and cultured the first human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) from donated early stage human embryos. These cells have the potentiality of becoming differentiated into any other cells in the human body. The implications of this discovery are profound. ESCs could be harvested to regenerate damaged tissue, which cannot repair itself. Strokes, heart attacks, spinal cord damage, brain injury, and Alzheimer’s are but a few medical conditions that could potentially be treated with ESCs.

I first became aware of the promise of stem cell research in a class I co-taught with a colleague from the Tufts medical school who had been using stem cells to produce healthy skin. The class focused on the possibilities of human enhancement—covering the science as well as the social and ethical implications. The more I read about the science, the more I realized that medical research and therapy had embarked on a new voyage with new signposts of moral cautions. I did not have to wait very long before stem cells became an issue for presidential politics, feminist politics, right to life politics and even gender politics.

By the first decade of the millennium there were already dozens of books on the market. I could of course have taken a standard approach to combining a scientific narrative with ethical questions and bringing the issues up to date, that is, to 2015. By that point my wife had been immersed in playwriting. I also had been attending some of the plays performed in Cambridge at the Central Square Theater—a collaboration between MIT and two theater companies—that addressed scientific themes. I began thinking of an alternative way to investigate ideas in science and ethics for general readers. The works of Plato and Galileo, which I had read as a student of philosophy of science, came to mind. Could I present the complex issues of stem cell research and therapeutic applications as a set of dialogues?

Read the rest of this entry »

June 30th, 2015

New Book Tuesday: Postmodernism and Film



Postmodernism and Film, Catherine Constable

Our weekly listing of new titles (just one this week!):

Postmodernism and Film: Rethinking Hollywood’s Aesthestics
Catherine Constable

June 29th, 2015

Columbia University Press to Publish New Translations of Russian Literature



Columbia University Press  Russian Flag

We were very excited to read today’s New York Times included an article on our ambitious and very exciting new series of Russian literature in translation. The series, tentatively titled the Russian Library (on Twitter at @RusLibrary) will publish dozens of works in modern Russian literature as selected by the Press and a committee of Russian and American scholars.

While the first books are unlikely to be published until after 2017, the books will include some modern classics in need of new translations with a majority of the titles being contemporary and post-Soviet works. In addition to bringing these works to the attention of English-language readers, the hope is that the series will also contribute to improving relations between the United States and Russia. Stephanie Sandler, a professor in the Slavic Department at Harvard University and one of several American professors to travel to Moscow for the conference, commented:

Think about the good work that can be done by making available a wide variety of perspectives on Russia both from the past and the present. For many of us, the reason to be involved in the project and have it happen precisely at what would seem this inauspicious, high-tension political moment, is that we can start to find bridges between the two cultures and ways to talk to each other.

The series will also help develop a canon for more recent Russian literature, a project that’s not without its challenges as Caryl Emerson, a professor of Slavic Literature at Princeton University, explains:

Part of the problem is the delicacy of trying to define a future canon. The past is established. The Russians take their identity from what they read. What happens when you have a traumatic regime shift? People want things out there that are not known in the West but at what point are they worthy of being known?

Read the rest of this entry »

June 29th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Stem Cell Dialogues, by Sheldon Krimsky



This week our featured book is Stem Cell Dialogues: A Philosophical and Scientific Inquiry Into Medical Frontiers by Sheldon Krimsky.

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 Stem Cell Dialogues 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, July 3 at 1:00 pm.

Here’s what Jonathan Garlick at Tufts University says about Stem Cell Dialogues: “This book presents a wonderful new approach to learning about stem cells and thinking about their broader impact at the interface of society, policy, religion, and ethics. Stem Cell Dialogues is highly novel, very engaging, and will open readers to new ways of thinking about the public stem cell debate.”

For more on the book you can read the chapter “Why Is This Cell Different From All Other Cells”:

June 26th, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage – Game Over?



Between a Man and a Woman?

“Romantic love is thus not only a widely shared cultural idea, from Disney to Honey Maid commercials. It is a political idea: the freedom to chose one’s life-partner echoes and reinforces the freedom to bond together as a nation of equals, despite the fissures of class, race, or ethnic background.” – Ludger Viefhues-Bailey

Following today’s Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution of the United States guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, Professor Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, author of Between a Man and a Woman?: Why Conservatives Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, offers his thoughts on the decision and discusses where he thinks public debates about marriage equality go from here.

Same-Sex Marriage – Game Over?
By Ludger Viefhues-Bailey

The Supreme Court has ruled and marriage equality is now the law of the land. Yet I doubt that we have the luxury of sitting back, toasting our entry into the marriage industry, and delegating conversations about religion, marriage, and the law to the uncomfortable privacy of the Thanksgiving table.

American Evangelicals and their rumblings on marriage equality will stay with us. This resilience is not simply because of the impact of their networks and numbers but because their resistance reflects a general uneasiness with the value of equality, one that is profoundly embedded in American political culture. Evangelical marriage theology only highlights and baptizes a wider American desire for a complicated mixture of both equality and inequality in shaping our body politic.

The history of marriage in the U.S. is indeed an excellent place to study this complicated union of equality and hierarchy.

In its history and in popular culture, marriage is in fact an institution allowing for the fulfillment of romantic equality while simultaneously promoting a stratified society. On the one hand we tell the story of romantic love by imagining that we could just marry anyone and that love is blind to status, class, or race. On the other hand, we police what counts as respectable marriages and who is allowed to have them. If anyone wishes to promote marriage as a particularly traditional American institution, they would need to focus on this tension between equality and inequality. Read the rest of this entry »

June 26th, 2015

Be Good and Enjoy



Happiness and Goodness

“Whether one decides, in essence, to be a beaver like Pat or a bear like Lee is a personal choice. After all, a life devoted to simple pursuits may yield as much satisfaction as one given to complex undertakings. That insight doesn’t imply that arduous tasks are to be avoided, only that those who engage in them may not live better than those who don’t.” — Steven Cahn and Christine Vitrano

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In this final post of the week’s feature, we have an excerpt from the concluding chapter of the book, “Concluding Questions.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

Be Good and Enjoy

Let us now return to the two fictional cases with which our discussion began: Pat and Lee. Pat, you may recall, is a successful philosopher who is happily married and enjoys playing bridge and the cello. Lee did not attend college, is single and financially independent, makes philanthropic gifts, and enjoys sunbathing, swimming, and surfing, along with freely spending money on a variety of luxurious items, including homes, cars, and golfing holidays. Both treat others with respect and are satisfied with their lives.

Here are the questions we asked about Pat and Lee: Are both living well? Are both pursuing equally successful lives? Is either life wasted? We can answer now that both are living well, both are finding equal success in living, and the life of neither is wasted. We might admire one more than the other, but such a judgment would reflect our own preferences or purposes and not serve as an appropriate basis for determining whose life is well-lived.

We recognize, however, that others may not agree with us. Hence we shall raise and respond to their most likely questions.

First, do we claim that Pat and Lee are contributing equally to the welfare of society? No. Pat’s teaching, research, and service are unmatched by any activity of Lee, although Lee’s contributing money for worthy causes should be applauded. Thus if the question to be answered is which of the two is a more valuable member of society, the probable answer is Pat. The question, however, is not whose life is more useful to others but whose life is going better, viewing happiness from the perspective of the person being assessed. Because both individuals are acting morally and finding satisfaction, both lives are going well. Read the rest of this entry »

June 25th, 2015

Religion and Morality



Happiness and Goodness

“The lesson here is that might does not make right, even if the might is the infinite might of God. To act morally is not to act out of fear of punishment, nor to act as one is commanded. Rather, it is to act as one ought to act, and how one ought to act is not dependent on anyone’s power, even if the power be divine.” — Steven Cahn and Christine Vitrano

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In today’s post, we have excerpted two chapters from Happiness and Goodness: “God and Morality” and “Heaven and Hell.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

June 24th, 2015

Robert Talisse’s Foreword to “Happiness and Goodness”



Happiness and Goodness

“[Cahn and Vitrano's] critical maneuvers often cut deeply, and their positive view is a formidable one. Their central thesis can be put succinctly: Morality is not necessary for happiness. The immoral person might be a completely happy person, and the moral saint might nonetheless be absolutely miserable.” — Robert Talisse

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In today’s post, we have excerpted Talisse’s foreword, in which he discusses the value of Cahn and Vitrano’s project, and engages with the literature of happiness and morality.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

June 23rd, 2015

Wasted Lives?



Happiness and Goodness

“[Most philosophers] maintain that certain activities are more worthy than others, so lives spent engaged in those more worthy activities are more worthy lives. But which activities have more worth and which less? And on what bases should we decide such matters?” — Steven Cahn and Christine Vitrano

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. In today’s post, we have an excerpt from the second chapter of the book, “Wasted Lives.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Happiness and Goodness!

Wasted Lives

In [Ronald] Dworkin’s posthumously published Religion Without God, he argues that an atheist can be religious. While this claim would come as no surprise to adherents of Jainism, Theravada Buddhism, or Mimamsa Hinduism, he has in mind not these Asian religious traditions but a viewpoint common to many Western thinkers who deny theism yet recognize “nature’s intrinsic beauty” and the “inescapable responsibility” of people to “live their lives well.” Dworkin considers such an outlook religious.

Leaving aside his curious line of thought that finds support for religious belief in such disparate phenomena as the Grand Canyon, prowling jaguars, and the discovery by physicists of the Higgs boson, let us concentrate on his view that we should all seek to live well so as to achieve “successful” lives and avoid “wasted” ones.

Does one model fit all? On this important point Dworkin wavers. He maintains that “there is, independently and objectively, a right way to live.” Yet he also recognizes “a responsibility of each person to decide for himself ethical questions about which kinds of lives are appropriate and which would be degrading for him.”

What sort of life did Dworkin himself find degrading? We are not told but suspect that for such a successful academic, a “degrading life” might have been one without intellectual striving, just as a famed athlete might find degrading life as a couch potato.

But of all possible lives, which are well-lived? To help answer this question, consider the following two fictional, though realistic, cases. Read the rest of this entry »

June 23rd, 2015

New Book Tuesday



Too Far For Comfort

New books now available:

Magical Realism in Postcolonial British Fiction: History, Nation, and Narration
Taner Can

Too Far for Comfort: A Study on Biographical Distance
Rana Tekcan

June 22nd, 2015

Book Giveaway! Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well



Happiness and Goodness

“I can’t remember the last time I read a book about ethics that was so fascinating.” — Ed Lake, Deputy Editor, Aeon

This week our featured book is Happiness and Goodness: Philosophical Reflections on Living Well, by Steven M. Cahn and Christine Vitrano, with a foreword by Robert B. Talisse. 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 Excellent Beauty. 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 26th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

June 19th, 2015

University Press Roundup



Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments. (And look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do this post every Friday.)

This week, University of Chicago Press blog features an In These Times interview with Micah Uetricht and Andrew Hartman, author of The War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars , about whether or not the great American culture wars are over. They argue that the Christian Right is largely a “lost cause” and have retrenched from the national stage in favor of smaller factions that debate out of the public purview.

Over at University of Minnesota Press, Ryan Thomas Skinner, an Assistant Professor of ethnomusicology at the Ohio State University, discusses the complex and ever shifting character of Malian music. Drawing from years of personal observation and scholarly research, Skinner argues that despite the cultural and political disruption of the March 2012 military mutiny, Malian music is far from “dead”. In fact, Skinner claims that Malian music is defined by the convergence of ethnic, religious, urban, economic, etc. positions under which it’s produced.

University of Illinois Press blog features a video of Corrupt Illinois authors, Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson discussing the abundance of governmental corruption in the state. Though the news is saturated with high-level Illinois corruption with the recent investigation of Representative Aaron Schock and the indictment of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Gradel and Simpson claim that they uncovered corruption at all levels of public government. From state, aldermanic, and city corruption, to county employee and suburban corruption, it appears Illinois’ long history of machine politics continues to haunt the Land of Lincoln.

What is the fewest number of guards per shift an art museum can employ without sacrificing the security of any of the pieces? This question is the focus of this week’s Princeton University Press blog post by Marc Chamberland, author of Single Digits: In Praise of Small Numbers. Chamberland explains how to calculate it in a snappy video embedded in the post.

At the University of North Carolina Press blog, Erin Smith, author of What Would Jesus Read? Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth Century America, explores religious books’ lack of critical success despite their commercial popularity. In the post, Smith discusses the varying motivations of authors, publishers, and readers when it comes to religious scholarship.

June 19th, 2015

American Radicalism, Progressivism, and the Legacy of Henry George



Henry George

We conclude our week-long focus on Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age, by Edward T. O’Donnell, with O’Donnell’s examination discussion of George’s legacy. In particular, O’Donnell focuses on the profound impact George had on progressive thought, labor activism, and American political culture.

June 18th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: Portrait of the Artist as a Thrusting Spiral



Brancusi's portrait of James Joyce

Extending the concept of Bloomsday to Bloomsweek, we take a look at James Joyce for our Thursday Fiction Corner. Specifically, we feature a short excerpt from Nico Israel’s Spirals: The Whirled Image in the Twentieth-Century Literature and Art, in which he examines the use of spirals in Joyce’s work and Brancusi’s spiralesque portrait of the writer (see above) :

In 1929, the editors of the newly formed, Paris-based English-language publishing house Black Sun Press commissioned a drawing of James Joyce from the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi for a limited edition of fragments of the ongoing Work in Progress that they planned to publish later that year. Brancusi
produced two drawings that certainly resembled Joyce but did not have the modern signature style sought by the editors, so the editors asked the artist to try again. This time, Brancusi created a far more abstract work, titled Symbole de Joyce, consisting of three vertical, straight lines of varying lengths spaced at intervals along the paper and, on the right half of the drawing, a large Archimedean spiral (figure 28). Brancusi later commented that this portrait captured le sens du pousser (the sense of pushing or thrusting) he thought to be his model’s principal characteristic. Joyce’s biographer Richard Ellmann claims that when Brancusi’s drawing was eventually shown to Joyce’s father, who had not seen his self-exiled son in many years, the elder Joyce wryly remarked, “The boy seems to
have changed a good deal.”

Read the rest of this entry »

June 18th, 2015

Henry George Runs for Mayor of New York City



Henry George, New York City Mayor

127 years before Bill de Blasio’s run for mayor of New York City as a progressive candidate, Henry George was the choice of the United Labor Party to fight for the working class and defeat the corruption in New York City (see cartoon above). George ended up losing but his winning of more than 30% of the vote beat out Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican candidate and shocked the city and its power brokers. George’s campaign focused on the effort to revitalize citizenship and re-empower the working class. In the following passage, from Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality
Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age
, Edward T. O’Donnell describes George’s agenda which called for radical political, economic, and social change.

June 17th, 2015

Was Henry George the 19th-Century Thomas Piketty?



Henry George   Thomas Piketty

The success of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First invited comparisons to Henry George and his own surprise, runaway bestseller Progress and Poverty, which was published in 1879 and sold more than 3 million copies. Aside from their shared status of becoming unlikely bestselling authors, Piketty and George’s work focuses, in part, on the relationship between capitalism and inequality. Moreover, both are advocates of the market but worry that a concentration of wealth corrupts it and is a threat to democracy. George’s life and writings are, of course, the subject of Edward T. O’Donnell’s new intellectual biography, Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age.

In an essay on the two Charles Lane, writing in The Washington Post, comments:

To Piketty, like George an admirer of market efficiency and opponent of protectionism, the resulting accumulation of wealth in relatively few hands threatens economic fairness, economic dynamism — and democracy. “Extreme inequality makes it impossible to have proper working of democratic institutions,” Piketty told a recent meeting at Washington’s Urban Institute.

And so, updating Henry George’s single tax, Piketty proposes a global wealth tax, making similar claims about its benefits for both equality and growth.

For Piketty and George, the bottom line, both moral and economic, is to socialize “rent” — rent, that is, not in the colloquial sense but in the economic sense of income disconnected from productivity.

It’s an attractive vision: an egalitarian, productive society, purged of parasitical rent-seeking through the expedient of well-aimed taxes.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 16th, 2015

Why Henry George Matters in This Second Gilded Age — Edward T. O’Donnell



Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality

The following post is by Edward T. O’Donnell, author of Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age:

What value does the story of Henry George, a self-taught economist from the late nineteenth century, hold for Americans living in the early 21st century? Quite a lot, if we stop to consider the ways in which contemporary American society has come to resemble America in the late-nineteenth century, a period popularly known as the Gilded Age. As in our times, that era was marked by a dramatic increase in income inequality. It also witnessed a sharp and disturbing rise in the numbers of Americans living in poverty, even as Wall Street boomed and overall productivity soared. The Gilded Age was also marked by a surge in the size and power—and political influence—of large corporations and banks. And the politics of late-nineteenth century American society were characterized by extreme partisanship and paralysis. Indeed, the parallels between then and now are so striking that many contemporary progressive reformers, activists, and commentators have taken to referring to the era in which we now live as the Second Gilded Age.

If we are indeed living in a Second Gilded Age, then we can gain important insights into potential solutions to our economic, social, and political problems by taking a close look at the first Gilded Age. In particular, it is instructive to examine the people who emerged in this period to demand reforms—many of which were enacted in the subsequent Progressive Era. Henry George was one of these figures and he gained an enormous following among a wide cross section of American society.

George was a little-known journalist living in California in the 1870s when, moved by the aforementioned troubling trends of the Gilded Age, he began to study economics and history with an eye toward writing a book. The result of this effort was a book published in 1879 titled Progress and Poverty. The book is still in print and available in many languages. As its title suggests, George focused on a vexing question: why amidst so much material and technological progress was poverty increasing? This was, George warned, “the riddle which the Sphinx of Fate puts to our civilization, and which not to answer is to be destroyed.”

The book became a best seller and launched George as one of the era’s best-known and most influential reformers. The solution George proposed—a “single-tax” on land values—appealed to some of his followers. But far more were drawn to and inspired by the broad claims he made regarding American’s republican heritage and values. And here we see where George speaks to the concerns of our age.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 16th, 2015

New Book Tuesday: Understanding Brain and Dementia and More New Titles



Understanding Brain Aging and Dementia

Our weekly listing of new titles:

Understanding Brain Aging and Dementia: A Life Course Approach
Lawrence J. Whalley

Goldratt and the Theory of Constraints: The Quantum Leap in Management
Uwe Techt

Interest Representation and Europeanization of Trade Unions from EU Member States of the Eastern Enlargement
Edited by Christin Landgraf and Heiko Pleines

Wandering Workers: Mores, Behavior, Way of Life, and Political Status of Domestic Russian Labor Migrants
Juri Plusnin, Yana Zausaeva, Natalia Zhidkevich, and Artemy Pozanenko

June 15th, 2015

James Joyce and His Publisher, Sylvia Beach — Keri Walsh



James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

In a recent article in The Irish Times, Keri Walsh, editor of The Letters of Sylvia Beach, examines the difficult relationship between Beach and James Joyce. Beach, of course, was the publisher of Ulysses but became estranged from Joyce after he sold the rights to the novel to Random House. Beach’s difficulties were exacerbated as the Depression and World War II took its toll on her and her famous Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company.

However, in 1962, as Walsh explains, Walsh’s connection with Joyce was reaffirmed when she was the guest of honor for the opening of the Martello Tower, where Joyce lived. In describing the impact of the visit and Beach’s influence on modernism, Walsh writes:

The visit of the sprightly 85-year-old Beach allowed her to give her blessing to this new Joycean generation before returning to Paris for the final months of her life. She had devoted herself to a writer, a book and an ideal of artistic community. For a time, she was viewed merely as a handmaiden and secretary, but recent studies have shown her in a fuller light, as a key taste-maker and producer of modernism; as a lesbian; as a feminist; and as the hub of many different modernist circles.

Her own story as a publisher, encourager, connector and framer included many chapters. Along with Joyce, she supported and promoted a wide roster of writers including HD, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Walter Benjamin, Ezra Pound, Richard Wright, and many others. But Joyce was at the core of her commitment to literature, and her commitment to him was the chief enigma of her personality.

What drew them together and what broke them apart? Partly war, partly new friendships, partly Joyce’s health and pecuniary difficulties, partly time, but whatever had severed them in those days, Beach’s trip to Dublin in 1962 served partially to restore the bond, returning her one last time to the energy and promise of their 1922 partnership, and also to that oceanic setting-out of 1904 and the first pages of the book she loved best, Ulysses.

June 15th, 2015

Book of the Week: Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality



This week our featured book is Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age by Edward T. O’Donnell.

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 Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality 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, June 19th at 1:00 pm.

For more on the book you can read the introduction: