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December 5th, 2014

Mathilde Roussel’s drawings for The Philosopher’s Plant, by Michael Marder



The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, for the feature’s final post, we would like to share a Pinterest board displaying Mathilde Roussel’s elegant drawings that accompany each chapter in The Philosopher’s Plant, along with a brief quote from the book explaining how each respective drawing refers to a philosopher that Marder discusses.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Follow Columbia University Press’s board Mathilde Roussel's drawings for The Philosopher's Plant, by Michael Marder on Pinterest.

December 5th, 2014

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds”



The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, the final day of the feature, we are happy to share video of a lecture in which Marder “approaches the spatial and temporal meaning of seeds as the vehicles for preserving and augmenting life.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds” from History of Emotions on Vimeo.

December 4th, 2014

Michael Marder talks to BOMB Magazine



The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from an interview BOMB Magazine conducted with Michael Marder and artist Heidi Norton. We were only able to excerpt sections from Marder’s responses here, but be sure to head over to the BOMB Magazine website to read the interview in its entirety!

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Monica Westin: I’d like to ask more about plants as a formal problem in each of your work. Michael, is there a way in which using an alternative hybrid form of writing about plants and philosophy is a deliberate choice to rethink plants as subjects, as living beings? Could there exist, whether or not you’re doing it here, a sort of “new writing” that can speak about plants better than those that we have? (I’m thinking about Irigaray’s famous work on women’s writing.) And Heidi, in describing that moment when you knew that plants were going to be central materials for you, you listed their formal properties: their adaptability, their strength, their simplicity. Can you say more about how they have posed formal issues to in your practice?

Michael Marder: Indeed, plant-thinking had to free itself from a purely theoretical approach to plants in order to explore the intersecting trajectories of living, growing beings, both human and vegetal. Some of these changes happened as I was working on The Philosopher’s Plant, where I re-narrate the history of Western philosophy through plants. In that book, each of the twelve thinkers I discuss, from Greek antiquity to the twenty-first century, is represented by a tree, flower, cereal, and so on, which was in one way or another featured in her or his thought. Each chapter begins with a biographical anecdote that puts plants on the center-stage and continues in a more theoretical key, explaining the key concepts and notions of that philosopher through vegetal processes, images, and metaphors. The idea is that plants play a much more important role in the formation of our thinking, “personality,” and life story than we realize. Read the rest of this entry »

December 3rd, 2014

Nietzsche’s Jungle



The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In The Philosopher’s Plant, Marder takes a close look at how different forms of plant life played important roles in the work of philosophers throughout history. Today, we are happy to present a blog post crossposted from Marder’s LARB Channel adapted from Marder’s chapter on Nietzsche in The Philosopher’s Plant.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Nietzsche’s Jungle
Michael Marder

Rumor has it that Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental breakdown, from which he never recovered, began on January 3, 1889, when in broad daylight he embraced a horse that was being whipped on a street in Turin, Italy. It is, of course, tempting to see in this “mad” gesture a kind of cross-species identification of a beleaguered philosopher with an abused animal. We will never know with any degree of certainty what Nietzsche felt or thought at that precise moment. But we might surmise from his writings the common foundation of life, shared by humans, animals, and even plants. The name of this foundation is the will to power.

For Nietzsche, an attempt to understand life in all its manifestations could not afford to exclude either animals or plants from the general formula that only philosophy, rather than biology, could get at. Human, animal, and vegetal vitalities had to be viewed as variations on the same theme, namely a striving for existence. That is why roughly one year prior to his collapse in Turin, Nietzsche jotted down a question in his notebook: “For what do the trees in a jungle fight each other? For ‘happiness’?” And immediately responded: “—For power!—”[1]. Plato and his followers deduced the fact of vegetal desire from the wilting of plants that were deprived of water and therefore experienced something like thirst. Nietzsche goes further than that. His implicit conclusion is that, beneath a physical craving in all kinds of living creatures, we find a metaphysical longing for power. Or, to put it differently, for being. Read the rest of this entry »

December 2nd, 2014

Plant Lessons, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder



The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an article by Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray, in which they discuss the need for an “environmental pedagogy” and explain some of the lessons that plant life can teach us. The post can also be found on Michael Marder’s Los Angeles Review of Books Channel

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Plant Lessons
Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

One crucial measure of human maturity is the way we treat our environment. A careless and destructive approach toward the world, which is usually conceived as a kind of playground for the enactment of our phantasies, is irresponsible and childish. It shows no respect for other forms of life, a lack of concern with the future, and the inability to think and to grow beyond the demands of sheer physical survival.

Historically, there has been little change in the direction of a more adult behavior toward the environment. Among other living beings, plants have been particularly mistreated as a result of this attitude because they have been thought of as infinitely malleable matter, on which human form could be stamped or imposed, generally to the detriment of their own biological life. Indeed, Aristotle, who was the first to come up with the notion matter in the West, derived it from the common Greek word for “wood.” Like plants, matter was supposed to be a passive receptacle for the form that was, in many cases, alien to vegetal life. Although Aristotle was still attentive to living forms, after him, a tree converted into a table or a bed became the preferred example of formed matter, while the self-formation of the tree itself, amenable to patient cultivation and care, was dismissed.

When it comes to respect for the environment we are still children, or even infants. More than that, we are terrible, unruly children because, for the most part, we are not open to being educated on the subject. Only punishments, in the shape of natural disasters attributable to global warming, have had some effect on human behavior, awakening in us a consciousness of the negative consequences that accompany immature environmental conduct. Still, a genuine change of attitudes is unlikely as a result of threats and punishments alone. What is sorely needed is an environmental pedagogy—not one formulated by our fellow humans, but one imparted by parts of the world we inhabit. Read the rest of this entry »

December 2nd, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Four Revolutions, Ground Zero, Gass, and More!



Four RevolutionsOur weekly listing of new titles:

Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth
James Lawrence Powell

Ground Zero, Nagasaki: Stories
Seirai Yuichi; Translated by Paul Warham

Dams and Development in China: The Moral Economy of Water and Power
Bryan Tilt

Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts
William Gass

December 1st, 2014

Herbarium Philosophicum, by Michael Marder



The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In his prologue, Marder explains his goals in writing The Philosopher’s Plant, and briefly looks at the important role plants have played in the history of philosophical thought.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

December 1st, 2014

New Columbia University Press Website!



We’re excited to announce that our website has been redesigned. Please be patient as we’re still in beta stage and there’s still some work to be done but we hope you like the new design and find the site easier to navigate.

We’ll keep you posted on developments to the site and if you see any problems or have any comments please contact us.

December 1st, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder



The Philosopher's Plant

“From the conversation of Socrates and Phaedrus in the shade of the plane tree to Irigaray’s meditation on the water lily, The Philosopher’s Plant takes us outside city walls, across gardens of letters and vegetables, grassy slopes and vineyards, to the dimly lit sources of philosophy’s vitality. With distinctive depth and clarity, Marder reminds us that, far from walled in, the human community communes with nature and is itself inhabited by nature.” — Claudia Baracchi, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. 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 Waking, Dreaming, Being. 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, November 14th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

November 26th, 2014

Doughnuts as Thanksgiving Food and the Early History of the Holiday in NYC



Gastropolis, Thanksgiving in New York City

As many of us begin to prepare our turkeys and other fixings, we turn to a surprising chapter in the history of Thanksgiving food when doughnuts made an appearance on the holiday plate:

In his chapter, “The Food and Drink of New York from 1624 to 1898,” from Gastropolis: Food and New York City, Andrew Smith describes the role both George Washington and doughnuts have played in how the holiday has been celebrated in New York City:

Although it had originated in New England, [Thanksgiving] was quickly adopted in communities throughout New York. Indeed, it was in New York City that President George Washington issued the first presiden­tial thanksgiving proclamation, which set aside Thursday, November 26, 1789, as a day of prayer and thanksgiving. New York was one of the first states outside New England to declare Thanksgiving an official holiday. In 1795, John Jay, the governor of New York, tried to establish a statewide thanksgiving day, and in 1817 it was finally recognized as a state holiday. Thanksgiving was celebrated with what is now considered the traditional meal of turkey, apple pie, mince pie, and cranberries; New Yorkers often added doughnuts and crullers to the menu. Thanksgiving holiday remained an important holiday throughout the nineteenth century. The Ladies Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church opened a mission in the gang-infested Five Points District, and on Thanksgiving Day, under the eyes of their bene­factors, the ladies paraded and fed hundreds of Sunday-school students.

November 25th, 2014

New Book Tuesday! Billy Wilder, Zizek, The Best American Magazine Writing & More!



Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

“It’s the Pictures That Got Small”: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age
Edited by Anthony Slide

The Best American Magazine Writing 2014
Edited by Sid Holt for the American Society of Magazine Editors

What Does Europe Want?: The Union and Its Discontents
Slavoj Žižek and Srećko Horvat

Film Worlds: A Philosophical Aesthetics of Cinema
Daniel Yacavone

After the Red Army Faction: Gender, Culture, and Militancy
Charity Scribner

Rawls and Religion
Edited by Tom Bailey and Valentina Gentile

From the Treasure House: Jewels from the Library of The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Library of The Chinese University of Hong Kong

November 24th, 2014

How to Cook Your Thanksgiving Turkey in the Dishwasher!? Herve This Explains



Thanksgiving, Turkey

“Use the dishwasher! For the next holiday meal, I recommend that you prepare two turkeys. Cook one in the dishwasher, in a plastic bag, for several cycles of your machine.”—Herve This

With Thanksgiving just a couple of days away, we thought we provide some more practical (or somewhat practical) advice on cooking a turkey from none other than Hervé This, most recently the author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food.

In a 2010 interview with Nature, This suggested the dishwasher as a possible cooking method:

Q: Another professional technique is to cook food for long periods at low temperatures in a vacuum-sealed bag. How might a home chef emulate this ‘sous-vide’ method?

Herve This: Use the dishwasher! For the next holiday meal, I recommend that you prepare two turkeys. Cook one in the dishwasher, in a plastic bag, for several cycles of your machine. In this way, you can get low temperatures. Butterfly the other turkey and cook it on the grill, creating the maximum expanse of delicious crispy skin. Then serve the moist, flavourful meat from the dishwasher turkey with the grilled skin. A good accompaniment would be foie gras, also cooked in the dishwasher at low temperature.

Now for those not comfortable with Maytag cuisine, here is an excerpt from Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking, also by Hervé This, on the science of roasting a turkey:

Since it is juicy, tender meat that we want, it is clear why there is no question of opening the oven while the meat is roasting. The water vapor that is released in a limited quantity could escape and then be replaced by the vaporization of a certain quantity of the juices. Opening the oven dries out the turkey. Neither, however, should one humidify the oven before putting the turkey in. In the presence of too much water, the surface water cannot evaporate, and the skin will not get crispy.

Having thus resolved the problem of the surface, the serious problem of tenderness within remains. We cannot disappoint our guests, who fear the pro­verbial dryness of the turkey.

Since tenderness results necessarily from the deterioration of the connec­tive tissue, let us consider this tissue. It principally contains three kinds of pro­teins: collagen, already discussed many times, reticulin, and elastin. Neither reticulin or elastin are notably altered by the heat of the oven, but the triple helixes of the collagen molecules can be broken up and form gelatin, which is soft when it is in water, as we all know.

Calculating the cooking time requires some skill, because the denaturation of the collagen and the coagulation of the muscle proteins (actin and myosin, mainly) take place at different temperatures and different speeds in the different parts of the turkey. It is necessary to know that the temperature of 70° (158°F) is essential for transforming the collagen into gelatin and tenderizing the mus­cles. But the longer the turkey remains at a high temperature, the more water it loses and the more its proteins risk coagulating. The optimal cooking time, consequently, is the minimum time it takes to attain the temperature of 70°C (158°F) at the center of the turkey.

Read the rest of this entry »

November 24th, 2014

Columbia University Press Open House Event at the Columbia University Bookstore



On Tuesday, December 3 at 6:00 we are holding a special open house event for the Columbia community at the Columbia Bookstore. Editors, publicists, book designers, and other members on the press will be on hand to celebrate our newest books and discuss book publishing with students and faculty members. We look forward to seeing you there!

Columbia University Bookstore Event

November 21st, 2014

University Press Roundup



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.)

While there were two high-profile accidents in the private space industry over the past few months, Chris Dubbs and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom, writing at the University of Nebraska Press Blog, argue that “private industry can operate space services better and more cheaply than a government agency.” They believe that NASA would do better to focus on the parts of space exploration for which there is no commercial market, leaving typical launch services to private companies like Virgin Galactic, Orbital Sciences, and SpaceX.

One of the most difficult parts of academic publishing is knowing how to classify, market, and price different book projects. At the Sydney Publishing blog of The University of Sydney Press, Agata Mrva-Montoya has a post in which she takes on difficult issues publishing issues, from commissioning trade nonfiction to distinguishing between monographs and trade books.

At the JHU Press Blog, Annemarie Goldstein Jutel claims that one of the most important parts of combating a disease like Ebola is generating reasonable and informed discourse. She points out that discussions of Ebola have often used military language: “We have a war to win against Ebola and an Ebola Czar to help us do so. We try to bring the outbreak under full control to neutralize the virus,” and argues that this way of talking about the disease actually hurts the public goal of eradicating the virus.

It’s now been over two years since Hurricane Sandy came through New Jersey, New York, and other Eastern seaboard states, doing a stupendous amount of damage. At the Princeton University Press Blog, Stuart Schwartz writes that in the course of looking back at public reaction to the storm, he found something both interesting and unexpected: in his post-storm public speeches over the past two years, NJ Governor Chris Christie has been echoing those of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the aftermath of Hurricane Flora, which devastated Cuba in 1963.

Ancient libraries, and the Library of Alexandria in particular, have long occupied near-mythic places in the public imagination as repositories of lost knowledge. However, as George W. Houston notes at the UNC Press Blog, only recently have there been serious scholarly attempts to discover traces of that lost knowledge and to reconstruct what an ancient library might have actually contained.

One of the biggest problems in regions that have been struck by disasters of any kind is reestablishing (or establishing for the first time) clean and effective systems of sanitation, a problem exacerbated in regions that are already struggling with poverty. At From the Square, the blog of NYU Press, Sara Fanning and Rob Curran discuss a possible solution to the sanitation problem in Haiti in a post honoring World Toilet Day.

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and at the OSU Press Blog, Penelope S. Easton has a moving guest post in which she looks back at her time visiting remote hospitals in Alaska. In particular, she talks about her discovery of the mismanagement of the food supply to the Kanakanak Hospital, and how the staff and patients had to be creative in coming up with a Thanksgiving meal.

In more temperate parts of the United States, the approach of Thanksgiving means the onset of Christmas decorations, Christmas music, and Christmas sales. In a post at the Florida Bookshelf of the University Press of Florida, Ronald D. Lankford, Jr. talks about the ever-lengthening Christmas season and wonders whether the whole process is a good or a bad thing.

There have been a number of high-profile cases in which athletes have committed crimes involving domestic violence on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years. At the OUPblog, Mike Cronin looks at the case of Ched Evans, who was convicted of rape, served a prison term, and is now looking to get back into professional football (soccer), prompting widespread debate about whether teams should offer him a contract. Cronin argues that “[t]hose who govern the world of male professional sport have to realise that they administer not simply their games, but they are also responsible for the meaningful creation of men with positive values who can act, in the best ways, as role models.”

Ever wonder who had the idea for creating a Top 40 radio station? Want to learn more about how the Top 40 has changed over time? The Chicago Blog of the University of Chicago Press has a fascinating excerpt from Eric Weisbard’s Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music in which Weisbard takes a closer look at what “Top 40″ has actually meant over the years.

John Brown’s attempt to try to violently overthrow the institution of slavery in 1859 has long been a hot topic in American history. As Ted Smith points out at the Stanford University Press Blog, Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry has been used by such diverse figures as Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Eugene V. Debs, the Weather Underground, Timothy McVeigh, Christopher Hitchens, and Cornel West in comparisons for good or bad with current events.

Finally, wine is commonly associated with France; sugar, perhaps not so much. However, at fifteeneightfour, the blog of Cambridge University Press, Elizabeth Heath argues that the way that both commodities have been treated over the years by French government officials can tell us a great deal about French domestic and colonial policy. Heath looks at recently discovered documents from colonial Guadaloupe to reach some surprising conclusions about what the French thought about citizenship and colony in the Third Republic.

November 21st, 2014

George Packer on The New Censorship by Joel Simon



Joel Simon, The New Censorship

In Why the Press is Less Free Today, a recent article in The New Yorker, George Packer discussed some of the key issues and arguments raised in The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, by Joel Simon.

Packer’s article and Simon’s book come at a time when journalists are increasingly under threat. As Packer writes, between 2002 and 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (C.P.J.), five hundred and six journalists were killed worldwide, as opposed to three hundred and ninety in the previous decade. Packer comments on the seeming contradiction of more journalists being killed at a time when other freedoms seem to be proliferating:

It seems strange to speak of growing censorship in an era when elections are common around the world, private freedoms have expanded even in repressive countries like China, the Internet and social media swamp our brains with indiscriminate information every nanosecond, and anyone with a Twitter account or a Facebook page can be a journalist. But Simon makes a persuasive case that the global trend is toward less, not greater, freedom of the press. “Deluged with data, we are blind to the larger reality,” he writes. “Around the world new systems of control are taking hold. They are stifling the global conversation and impeding the development of policies and solutions based on an informed understanding of the local realities. Repression and violence against journalists is at record levels, and press freedom is in decline.”

Read the rest of this entry »

November 20th, 2014

Joel Simon Discusses The New Censorship on The Leonard Lopate Show



Yesterday, Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom appeared on The Leonard Lopate Show to talk about the book and the increasing threats to journalists. Simon warns that these threats are leading to a shortage of the news reports we need to make sense of our globalized world and to fight against human rights abuses, manage conflict, and promote accountability.

November 20th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: Julia Kristeva and St. Teresa



Julia Kristeva, Teresa My Love

Today’s fiction corner features Julia Kristeva’s new novel Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila. While Kristeva first made her name as a philosopher and critic, she has also written several novels, including Murder in Byzantium and The Old Man and the Wolves.

In her newest novel Teresa, My Love, Kristeva mixes fiction, history, psychoanalysis, and personal fantasy. The novel follows Sylvia Leclercq, a French psychoanalyst, academic, and incurable insomniac, as she falls for the sixteenth-century Saint Teresa of Avila and becomes consumed with charting her life. Traveling to Spain, Leclercq, Kristeva’s probing alterego, visits the sites and embodiments of the famous mystic and awakens to her own desire for faith, connection, and rebellion.

Below is an excerpt from the novel:

November 19th, 2014

The Seven Things Obama Can Do to confront the New Censorship



Joel Simon, The New CensorshipThe following post is by Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom:

The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media covers events and trends from an international perspective. But some of the questions I’ve gotten from audience members at recent events have to do with the Obama administration and its policies. Below I will look at what Obama has done so far and what still needs to be done.

1. Advocate for the rights of individual journalists. One the simplest and most effective strategies that the Obama administration can implement is to raise the cases of persecuted journalists in bilateral meetings, public statements, and through diplomatic channels. In fact, the administration has a good record of doing this. Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciordone repeatedly spoke out about the imprisonment of Turkish journalists, much to the annoyance of the government in Ankara. U.S. officials have also raised the cases of imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai (who was recently released and is now in the United States), the so-called Zone 9 bloggers in Ethiopia, and the Al Jazeera journalists currently imprisoned in Egypt. How’s the administration doing so far in this area? Reasonably well. I would give it a B+.

2. Formulate policies that clearly articulate the balance between U.S. strategic interests and the promotion of human rights. The limitation of advocating on behalf of individual journalists is that the administration has not clearly articulated how far it will push the human rights agenda when it clashes with national security interests. For example, in Turkey, while the embassy and the state department spoke out, President Obama did not, and this was interpreted in Turkey as a signal that U.S. strategic interests would take precedence. The same is true in Ethiopia, which has been a key ally in confronting Islamic militantism in the Horn of Africa; and in Egypt, which despite its unbearable repression is seen as a bulwark against growing regional instability. These countries have effectively resisted U.S. pressure on protecting journalists because they view human rights and press freedom as something that can be negotiated. In other words, the more valuable you are as a strategic ally of the United States the more repression you can get away it. How has Obama done so drawing the line on press freedom violations? I would give him a C.

3. Limit surveillance. The staggering revelations made by Edward Snowden blew the lid on NSA program global surveillance, which we now know operates on scale that is difficult comprehend. Much has been made of the implications of surveillance in a domestic context, and the questions regarding the legality of U.S. spying need to be urgently addressed. But it is important to keep in mind that there are no legal restrictions on surveillance outside the United States, and as a former NSA official recently told me, a non-U.S. journalist speaking to a confidential source would make an ideal target for NSA spying. The scope of the NSA surveillance effort not only has a chilling effect on journalists around the world, it normalizes the efforts of country’s like China and Iran that routinely surveil both domestic critics and their perceived international adversaries (including journalists). When it comes to spying on journalists, the U.S. needs to put in place policies that carefully balance intelligence needs with the negative impact they might have on global freedom of expression. How’s the administration doing far? Poorly. I give it a D.

4. Defend the Internet. The Internet was developed by U.S. computer scientists and even though it is now a global system much of the core infrastructure that makes the Internet function is still based in the United States. For the most part, the U.S. has been a responsible global steward, and the administration has actively promoted the “right to connect” as a form of freedom of association. However, the political environment now requires that the U.S. modulate its role in Internet governance as a means of countering challenges from countries like China that seek to put the global Internet at service of state interests. China’s most compelling argument is that the U.S. is exploiting its privileged position to undermine rival powers by pumping in destabilizing information and carrying out massive surveillance. This is why the best way to ensure that the Internet remains a viable, shared global resource is for the U.S. to further internationalize governance. To its credit, the administration has been seeking to do this in the least few years. How is the administration doing on this critical front? Pretty well. I give the administration an A-.

Read the rest of this entry »

November 19th, 2014

Marc Lynch on the Arab Uprisings and Their Aftermath



“The pan-Arab revolutionary unity of early 2011 has long since given way to sectarianism, polarization between Islamists and their enemies, and horror over the relentless images of death and despair in Syria, Iraq and Libya.”—March Lynch

The Arab Uprisings Explained, Marc Lynch

In The Arab Uprisings Explained: New Contentious Politics in the Middle East, edited by Marc Lynch, leading scholars and observers of the Middle East examine the causes, dynamics, and effects of the Arab uprisings. Marc Lynch discussed some of the conclusions from the book in a Washington Post blog post from this summer and also discusses the failure of political scientists to predict the uprisings in the first place.

In a follow up, Lynch examines how experts, including himself, responded to and analyzed events that occurred during the Arab Spring and its aftermath. Lynch’s article comes out of a recent study in which he asked the contributors to The Arab Uprisings Explained to write short memos assessing their contributions after having another year to reflect on what has transpired since they wrote their original pieces. (free PDF available here)

In summarizing the contributors critiques of their own work and their failures to understand some of the dynamics of the Arab Uprisings, Lynch writes:

We paid too much attention to the activists and not enough to the authoritarians; we understated the importance of identity politics; we assumed too quickly that successful popular uprisings would lead to a democratic transition; we under-estimated the key role of international and regional factors in domestic outcomes; we took for granted a second wave of uprisings, which thus far has yet to materialize; we understated the risk of state failure and over-stated the possibility of democratic consensus.

Lynch admits that he and his colleagues might have become “too emotionally attached to particular actors or policies. Caught up in the rush of events, and often deeply identifying with our networks of friends and colleagues involved in these politics, we may have allowed hope or passion to cloud our better comparative judgment. That’s a fine quality in activists, but not so helpful for academic rigor.”

Lynch also revisits some of his own positions and analyses from the past three years since the Arab Spring. Specifically, he looks at the destabilizing effects of U.S. and Allied intervention in Libya, an action Lynch initially supported. Lynch concedes:

It is impossible to look at Libya’s failed state and civil war, its proxy conflict and regional destabilization, and not conclude that the intervention’s negative effects over the long term outweigh the short-term benefits. Moammar Gaddafi’s fall, combined with the prominence of armed militias, left Libya without a functioning state and little solid ground upon which to build a new political order. The likelihood of such an outcome should have weighed more heavily in my analysis.

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November 18th, 2014

An Interview with Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship



“This is the most deadly and dangerous time for journalists in decades”—Joel Simon
Joel Simon, The New CensorshipThe following is an interview with Joel Simon, author of The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom. On November 11 at Book Court in Brooklyn, there was a launch for a book and a discussion with Simon and George Packer of The New Yorker. Packer later wrote about a commentary based on the book on Why the Press is Less Free Today. For more on the book you can also read an excerpt from the chapter News of the Future (and the Future of News).

Question: Why did you write this book?

Joel Simon: As always there were a mix of personal and professional reasons. From a professional perspective, I hope to draw attention to the crisis that we are confronting around global free expression. This is the most deadly and dangerous time for journalists in decades, with record numbers being killed and imprisoned. Around the world, according to all available data, press freedom is in decline and the information we depend on makes sense of our globalized world is not flowing as freely as people believe. I hope the book draws attention to this urgent threat, helps readers understand its origins and consequences, and to points toward strategies that can help mitigate the impact.

From a personal perspective, I have always loved to tell stories. This is in large measure why I became a journalist and since my day job is a running an international nonprofit it is not something I generally able to do. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to take a step back, and consider the big picture, and sit, write, and contemplate.

Q: The book is called The New Censorship. How is this different from the old censorship?

JS: Traditional censorship is based on hierarchies of control. In its most rigid formulation, a country’s political leadership determines what people can know and state directives are executed by actual censors who occupy newsrooms and prevent the publication of prohibited material. In other words, people don’t know what they don’t know. This kind of censorship is anachronism in a globalized, networked world in which even autocratic regimes have to integrate into the international financial and information systems. So unless you want to ban the Internet—something only a handful of countries do these days—you need to find a way to manage information rather than relying on simple repression. In the book, I look at a variety of strategies focusing on new breed of elected autocrats who I dub the “democratators.” I look at the Chinese system for managing the Internet, and also explore the way that terror and criminal groups are using social media to disseminate message of fear and intimidation.

Q: You use this term, global citizen. What do you mean by that?

JS: One of the primary themes I explore in the book is the way that technology has transformed the global information system, including the global media. I use the term global citizen to represent all those who recognize that their interests transcend national boundaries. In order to make informed decisions about matters that affect their lives, global citizens require access to global information. It is true that technology makes it possible to access information from around the world in ways that would have not even been conceivable a few decades ago. But the glut of information blinds us to the huge gaps in our knowledge of global events, gaps produced by pressure from authoritarian governments, murderous violence perpetrated by criminal and terrorist groups, smothering surveillance of our online communication, and clear deficiencies in the media structures. By definition censorship itself transcends national boundaries, since it prevents people from outside the country where the censorship is taking place from accessing information that may be essential for their own lives. One of the primary arguments for press freedom in a national context is that it necessary for good governance and accountability. But there is no effective mechanism to ensure that news and information produces accountability at the global level.

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