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Way back in 2007, when Twittering truly was for the birds, a far-sighted editor at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography piped up: maybe people would like to listen as well as read? So was devised the Oxford DNB’s biography podcast which this week released its 200th episode—the waggerly tale of Charles Cruft (1852-1938), founder of the eponymous dog show held annually in early March.
Over the last seven years we’ve offered two episodes of the podcast per month. Each lasts between 10 and 25 minutes and follows a set format: the reading aloud of a single biography of a historical figure, taken from the Oxford DNB and chosen by Dictionary editors. The structure of an ODNB biography is ideal for the podcast format; dictionary entries being concise, rounded accounts of a life (personal as well as public), told chronologically, and written by specialist authors. Notable writers whose work appears in the podcast list include Will Self on J.G Ballard, Bernard Crick on George Orwell, David Lodge on Malcolm Bradbury, and Anthony Thwaite on Philip Larkin.
Since 2007 many episodes have been commissioned to mark noteworthy anniversaries. For example, Captain Edward Smith and the bandleader Wallace Hartley on the centenary, in 2012, of the sinking of the Titanic; or Ludwig Guttmann, creator of the Paralympics, for the London Games later that year. Others mark notable birthdays (the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing in June 2012, for instance); or dates in the British history calendar (the extraordinary story of Guy Fawkes for 5 November and Fred Perry for Wimbledon fortnight); or one-off events such as the enthronement in March 2013 of Justin Welby, the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, with the story of the first incumbent, St Augustine.
A great many of the 200 episodes—all of which are available free in the archive—chart the lives of well-known people: Anita Roddick, Roald Dahl, Scott of the Antarctic, Dr Crippen, Wallis Simpson, and so on. There are many more familiar names we’d love to include. However, the restrictions of the podcast format (a 25-minute recording allows an upper limit of c.3000 words for a script) means that this isn’t, unfortunately, the place for a Dickens or a Darwin whose ODNB entries run to more than 20,000 words. Even so, it’s possible to touch on major historical figures through the lives of those with whom they spent time: the story of Nora Joyce sheds light on James; that of Alice Liddell (of ‘Wonderland’ fame) on Lewis Carroll.
Photographic study “Pomona” (Alice Liddell as a young woman) by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1872. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
A few episodes, among them Orwell and Diana, princess of Wales, have been reduced from the original Oxford DNB article for reading aloud. Likewise, a handful of episodes take the form of dual lives comprising two Dictionary entries fused together: 15 minutes with the motor-car designer Charles Rolls just wouldn’t seem right without the accompanying story of Henry Royce; and so too the combined talents of Fortnum & Mason, Mills & Boon, or Eric & Ernie. Aside from these edits, what’s read aloud is pretty close to what you’ll find in the Oxford DNB for that individual. People with complex lives tend not to receive the podcast treatment: complicated, multi-layered stories are hard to untangle in 15-20 minutes. More suitable are recognizable people who dedicated themselves to a particular purpose (Alexander Fleming and penicillin, for instance) or lesser-known individuals closely associated with a familiar event or artefect, such as Charles Lucas, first recipient of the Victoria Cross.
Over the course a year, we hope to put out a mix of episodes covering a range of time periods, topics, and tones. Our earliest life is Boudicca (d.60/61 AD), the most recent (in terms of date of death) is Beryl Bainbridge (1932-2010). In between there’s plenty for the medievalist as well as the modernist—the life of Emperor Hadrian is much more than the story of wall-building, while that of the hermit St Godric is an ear-catching account of the privations of an 11th-century anchorite. Some of the chosen stories make for difficult listening. Try, for instance, Margaret Roper or Annie Darwin, daughters of Thomas More and Charles Darwin respectively. Others, like the scandalous medieval cleric, Bogo de Clare, or the raffish socialite Neil ‘Bunny’ Roger, are pure pleasure.
Entertainment is important, of course. But the podcast also provides an alternative route to historical biography for school teachers and pupils—many of whom, it’s fair to say, would not otherwise turn to a work of academic reference like the Oxford DNB. Episodes on Wilfred Owen, the abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, or the suffragette Emily Davison relate to aspects of the UK’s national curriculum. Hopefully, the series can also spring a few surprises on older listeners, be they the Hanoverian female soldier Hannah Snell; the doyen of pigeon racing, Albert Osman; or Charles Isham, bringer of garden gnomes to England.
About 650,000 episodes are downloaded annually from the ODNB podcast. Three things may account for this. First, there are our readers, Paul and Lynne—professional voice actors who have brought to life the words and worlds of writers, politicians, criminals, inventors, eccentrics, and—with Elizabeth Parsons—a would-be ghost. Then there’s the London studio where each episode is recorded, edited, and polished to a high standard.
Finally, and most importantly, there’s our common love of human stories, and of other people’s business—as testified by popular BBC radio series, such as “Great Lives”, “Last Word”, or the “New Elizabethans”. The Oxford DNB biography podcast makes a modest contribution to our fascination with real lives, albeit one that spans nearly 2000 years of British history and offers more than 50 hours listening time. That you can—while cooking dinner or walking the dog—be in the company of Mrs Beeton or, now, Charles Cruft seems rather wonderful.
Philip Carter is Publication Editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a collection of 59,003 life stories of noteworthy Britons, from the Romans to the 21st century. The Oxford DNB online is freely available via public libraries across the UK, and many libraries worldwide. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ allowing members to gain access free, from home (or any other computer), 24 hours a day. You can also sample the ODNB with its changing selection of free content: in addition to the podcast; a topical Life of the Day, and historical people in the news via Twitter @odnb. A new e-brochure offers more on the Oxford DNB podcast, along with selected content. All 200 episodes are available as free downloads in the Archive. New episodes in the podcast are available on alternate Wednesdays as ‘Oxford Biographies’ via iTunes.
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Sunday, 9 February 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the American television broadcast of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. For many writers on pop music, the appearance on the Sullivan show not only marked the debut of the Beatles in the United States, but also launched their career as international pop music superstars. The mass exposure to millions of television viewers rocketed the Fab Four to national prominence in the United States, and created a chain reaction for stardom in the entire world.
The Beatles, Stockholm, 1963
While the charisma and quality of the Beatles’ music drew great popularity in 1964, the group’s success was assisted by the entrepreneurial skills of American television, notably by the expertise of Ed Sullivan. However, several other television broadcasts predated the Sullivan show appearance, and laid the groundwork for the Beatles’ stardom in the United States. In particular, two news stories about the Beatles were aired in November 1963, four full months before the Sullivan appearance. This, plus another taped appearance by the group by another entrepreneur, NBC’s Jack Paar, paved the way for the Beatles’ stardom in the United States.
The Ed Sullivan Show
Ed Sullivan began his career as a journalist throughout the 1920s and worked his way into the position as theater columnist for the New York Daily News when Walter Winchell left the paper in the early 1930s. Sullivan was also a host for Vaudeville theaters, serving as master of ceremonies for a number of shows during World War II. He broke into television as host of telecasts of New York’s Harvest Moon Ball on CBS, and was asked to host a weekly variety show called Toast of the Town in 1948. The show would be renamed The Ed Sullivan Show in 1955.
With his journalistic experience, Sullivan was able to use his contacts to attract a wide range of celebrities on the show. He attracted comedians such as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Broadway stars like Julie Andrews, jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald, and even opera singers like Maria Callas and Robert Merrill. However, Sullivan may be best known for bringing rock‘n’roll to the small screen. He had Elvis Presley on the show on 6 January 1957, and many rockers such as Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, and many others thereafter.
Sullivan’s embrace (or at least tolerance) for rock music paved the way for the Beatles. Sullivan reportedly heard (or heard of) the Beatles during a trip to London and decided to put them on his show. He offered the band $10,000 to appear, a figure that, adjusted for inflation, would be a somewhat modest $75,000 in today’s dollars.
As the show opened on that historic night in 1964, Sullivan reported that Elvis Presley and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had sent a telegram to the Beatles wishing them luck. In his introduction, Sullivan also used the increased viewership to plug some of his other acts on previous shows, notably Topo Gigio (the Italian/Spanish mouse puppet created by Maria Perego), Van Heflin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sammy Davis, Jr. But the tension to hear the Beatles was palpable, and he segued into a commercial quickly, promising the Beatles after the break.
The appearance by the Beatles almost didn’t happen. George Harrison reportedly had a sore throat the week before, but by broadcast, was better. So, the Beatles went live with their full line-up, performing five songs that night: “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
While the Ed Sullivan appearance marked the first live US TV appearance of the Beatles, the groundwork had already been laid to introduce the band to the United States a few months earlier. NBC News did a four-minute story on the Beatles that was broadcast on The Huntley-Brinkley Report on 16 November 1963, three full months before the Sullivan show. The feature was narrated by reporter Edwin Newman, who would later anchor the NBC News.
Alexander Kendrick, CBS’s London Bureau Chief taped the story, which showed footage of the Beatles performing in England, and the story ended with Kendrick ruminating on the social significance of the group, representing England’s youth, or at least England’s youth as they “wanted to be.”
The Jack Paar Program
Also predating the Sullivan Show, the first prime time film footage of the Beatles actually aired on 3 January 1964. The person responsible was another entrepreneur—NBC’s Jack Paar. Like Ed Sullivan, Paar was not a TV celebrity “natural” and came to television as a master of ceremonies. After World War II, Paar made some appearances in a few low-budget films, and made his way to television as a game show host. He was chosen as the regular replacement for Steve Allen as the host of NBC’s Tonight Show in 1957. Paar did not have Allen’s musical talent, nor his talent for sketch comedy or practical jokes, but was able to surround himself with unusual talent to market his show. While not as “wooden” on stage as Sullivan, Paar tended to be low-key and conversational, rather than charismatic and presentational. Like Sullivan, Paar also had a flair for discovering unique talent and is often credited for discovering, or at least popularizing, such off-beat characters as comedians Jonathan Winters, Bill Cosby, and Bob Newhart. Paar left the Tonight Show (ushering in the Johnny Carson era) in 1962, but went on to host a weekly variety show called The Jack Paar Program, that aired on Friday nights on NBC. It was on this program that he introduced the Beatles to the United States.
Like Sullivan, Paar had heard of the Beatles while in London and decided to show some film footage of the band as a joke. “I thought it was funny,” he quipped later on a television retrospective. He admitted that he had no idea that the band would change the course of music history. On the 1963 broadcast, after showing the footage, he quipped: “Nice to know that England has risen to our [American] cultural level.”
The episode with the footage was taped on 16 November 1963, the same date as the NBC news story (undoubtedly the story was fed to Paar from the network news bureau), but was not aired until 3 January 1964, undoubtedly delayed by the Kennedy assassination. Paar’s film clip still predates the Sullivan appearance by more than a month.
Would the Beatles have made it as superstars without the entrepreneurial efforts of Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar to give them TV coverage? The answer is undoubtedly yes. But the mass exposure they receive through American TV broadcasts by Sullivan and Paar (as well as NBC and CBS news) laid the groundwork for the Beatles success by presenting the group to millions of television viewers in the United States, and the world.
Ron Rodman is Professor of Music at Carleton College, where he teaches courses in the music and cinema and media studies departments. He has published numerous articles on tonal music theory, film music, and music in new media. He is author of Tuning In: American Narrative Television Music.
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Image: The Beatles i Hötorgscity 1963, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
In the 1860s, the introduction of its first named series of education books, the ‘Clarendon Press Series’ (CPS), encouraged Oxford University Press to standardize its payments to authors. Most of them were offered a very generous deal: 50 or 60% of net profits. These payments were made annually and were recorded in the minutes of the Press’ newly-established Finance Committee. The list of payments lengthened every year, as new titles were published and very few were ever allowed to go out of print. Some authors did very well from their association with the Press, but most earned very modest sums. Many of the books in the Clarendon Press Series yielded almost nothing to publisher or author; once we exclude the handful of exceptional cases, typical payments were in the range of £5 to £15 a year.
W. Aldis Wright.
The outstanding financial successes of the Clarendon Press Series were the editions of separate plays of Shakespeare intended for school pupils and (increasingly) university students. The first to be published was Macbeth in 1869, but it was the next to appear – Hamlet in 1873 – which became something like a bestseller. In its first year, Hamlet sold 3,380 copies; 20 years and five editions later, 73,140 copies had been accounted for to the editor, W. Aldis Wright (a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge), who received over the years some £1,400 for this play alone. The whole CPS Shakespeare venture brought Wright an income of about £1,000 a year throughout much of the 1880s. To put this in context, the total of all royalties paid to authors in the late 1880s and early 1890s was about £5000 a year; in some years Wright was taking about 20% of that for his editions of Shakespeare alone.
A broader view of the Press’s payments to its authors on the Learned side can be gained by looking at three sample years: 1875, 1885, and 1895. In November 1875, the Finance Committee minutes listed 99 titles for which authors were being paid annual incomes, the total sum being paid out was £2,216. In November 1885, near the peak of publishing activity in the Clarendon Press Series, the Finance Committee minutes listed 238 titles generating revenue for their authors; they earned £4,740 between them. In November 1895, there were 240 titles leading to payments of £5,076. For most authors, their individual incomes were modest; in 1875, the median income was £7 16s, in 1885 it was £7 18s. However, in 1875 four authors and editors earned more than £100: Liddell and Scott received £372 each (for their Greek Lexicon), Aldis Wright received £220 (for various editions of Shakespeare’s plays), and Bishop Charles Wordsworth £152 (for his Greek Grammar). In 1885, eleven were earning more than £100, including Aldis Wright earning £934, Liddell and Scott each earning £350, Skeat earning £270 (for philological works), and Benjamin Jowett earning £261 (for editions of Plato’s works). In 1895, there were ten, including Aldis Wright with £578, J. B. Allen with £542 (for works on Latin grammar), and Liddell and Scott with £389 each.
These authorial incomes should be set against average academic incomes in Oxford. In the later nineteenth century, although there was much variation, the average annual income for a college fellow would be in the order of £600, usually made up of the fellowship dividend plus the tutorial stipend. In the wake of the Selborne Commission, in the early 1880s a reader would be paid £500, a sum might well be augmented by a fellowship dividend; professorships attracted £900 per annum. It is clear that, although most authors’ incomes were extremely small, the most successful authors, both inside and outside the Clarendon Press Series, were at their height earning a significant addition to their salaries through payments from the Press.
The incomes of the most successful were far in excess of what they would have earned had they sold their copyrights outright. On the other hand, those around the median probably earned less than a lump sum payment would have brought in or, at least, they had to wait longer for it. As a minor compensation to those who were paid small annual sums during this period – though it is unlikely that they would have known it – the purchasing power of the pound was rising between the mid-1860s and the mid-1890s, so their later small payments would have bought them more than their earlier small payments. The pound in a person’s pocket was actually worth more at the end of the nineteenth century than it had been at the beginning.
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Image credit: William Aldis Wright (1831-1914), editor, Shakespeare Plays, the Clarendon Press Series (Walter William Ouless, 1887). (The Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge) OUP Archives. Do not reproduce without permission.
Nationalist, conservative, and anti-immigration parties as well as political movements have risen or become stronger all over Europe in the aftermath of EU’s financial crisis and its alleged solution, the politics of austerity. This development has been similar in countries like Greece, Portugal, and Spain where radical cuts to public services such as social security and health care have been implemented as a precondition for the bail out loans arranged by the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, and in countries such as Finland, France, and the Netherlands that have contributed to the bailout while struggling with the crisis themselves. Together, the downturn that was initiated by the crisis and its management with austerity politics have created an enormous potential of discontent, despair, and anger among Europeans. These collective emotions have fueled protests against governments held responsible for unpopular decisions.
Protests in Greece after austerity cuts in 2008
However, the financial crisis alone cannot fully explain these developments, since they have also gained momentum in countries like Britain, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden that do not belong to the Eurozone and have not directly participated in the bailout programs. Another unresolved question is why protests channel (once again) through the political right, rather than the left that has benefited from dissatisfaction for the last decades? And how is it that political debate across Europe makes increasing use of stereotypes and populist arguments, fueling nationalist resentments?
A protester with Occupy Wall Street
One way to look at these issues is through the complex affective processes intertwining with personal and collective identities as well as with fundamental social change. A particularly obvious building block consists of fear and insecurity regarding environmental, economic, cultural, or social changes. At the collective level, both are constructed and shaped in discourse with political parties and various interest groups strategically stirring the emotions of millions of citizens. At the individual level, insecurities manifest themselves as fear of not being able to live up to salient social identities and their inherent values, many of which originate from more secure and affluent times, and as shame about this anticipated or actual inability, especially in competitive market societies where responsibility for success and failure is attributed primarily to the individual. Under these conditions, many tend to emotionally distance themselves from the social identities that inflict shame and other negative feelings, instead seeking meaning and self-esteem from those aspects of identity perceived to be stable and immune to transformation, such as nationality, ethnicity, religion, language, and traditional gender roles – many of which are emphasized by populist and nationalist parties.
The urgent need to better understand the various kinds of collective emotions and their psychological and social repercussions is not only evident by looking at the European crisis and the re-emergence of nationalist movements throughout Europe. Across the globe, collective emotions have been at the center of major social movements and political transformations, Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring just being two further vivid examples. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the collective emotional processes underlying these developments is yet sparse. This is in part so because the social and behavioral sciences have only recently begun to systematically address collective emotions in both individual and social terms. The relevance of collective emotions in recent political developments both in Europe and around the globe suggests that it is time to expand the “emotional turn” of sciences to these affective phenomena as well.
Christian von Scheve is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Freie Universität Berlin, where he heads the Research Area Sociology of Emotion at the Institute of Sociology. Mikko Salmela is an Academy Research Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and a member of Finnish Center of Excellence in the Philosophy of Social Sciences. Together they are the authors of Collective Emotions published by Oxford University Press.
Since their introduction in the United States in the 1940s, artificial fluoridation programmes have been credited with reducing tooth decay, particularly in deprived areas. They are acknowledged by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century (alongside vaccination and the recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard). Such plaudits however, have only gone on to fuel what is an extremely polarised ‘water fight’. Those opposed to artificial fluoridation continue to claim it causes a range of health conditions and diseases such as reduced IQ in children, reduced thyroid function, and increased risk of bone cancer. Regardless of the controversy, the one thing that everyone agrees upon is that little or no high quality research is available to confirm or refute any public concerns. The York systematic review of water fluoridation has previously highlighted the weakness of the evidence base by acknowledging the quality of the research included in the review was low to moderate.
Fluoride changes the structure of tooth enamel making it more resistant to acid attack and can reduce the incidence of tooth decay. This is why it is added to drinking water as part of artificial fluoridation programmes. The aim is to dose naturally occurring fluoride to a level that provides optimum benefit for the prevention of dental caries. The optimum range can depend on temperature but falls within the range of 0.7-1.2 parts per million (ppm) for Great Britain. Levels lower than 0.7ppm are considered to provide little or no benefit. Drinking water standards are set so that the level of fluoride must not exceed 1.5ppm in accordance with national regulations that come directly from EU law.
Severn Trent Water, Northumbrian Water, South Staffordshire Water, United Utilities, and Anglian Water are the only water companies in Great Britain that artificially fluoridate their water supply to a target level of 1 ppm. The legal agreements to fluoridate currently sit with the Secretary of State, acting through Public Health England, although local authorities are the ultimate decision makers when it comes to establishing, maintaining, adjusting or terminating artificial fluoridation programmes. As a programme dedicated to improving oral health, all of the associated costs come from the public health budget. Therefore, it is important to know that the money is being spent in the most effective way.
Our study has, for the first time, enabled an in-depth examination of the relationship between the incidence of two of the most common types of bone cancer that are found in children and young adults, osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma, and fluoride levels in drinking water across the whole of Great Britain. We have combined case data from population based cancer registries, fluoride monitoring data from water companies and census data within a computerised geographic information system, to enable us to carry out sophisticated geo-statistical analyses.
The study found no evidence of an association between fluoride in drinking water and osteosarcoma or Ewing sarcoma. The study also found no evidence that those who lived in an area of Great Britain with artificially fluoridated drinking water, or who were supplied with drinking water containing naturally occurring fluoride at a level within the optimal range, were at an increased risk of osteosarcoma or Ewing sarcoma.
It is important to note that finding no evidence of an association between the geographical occurrences of osteosarcoma or Ewing sarcoma and fluoride levels in drinking water, does not necessarily mean there is no association. Indeed, intake of fluids and food products that contain fluoride will not be the same for everyone and not taking this variation into consideration is one of the limitations of our study. Nevertheless, the methodologies we have developed could be used in the future to examine fluoride exposure over time and take other risk factors into consideration at an individual level. Such an approach could help the controversy surrounding artificial fluoridation ebb rather than flow.
Another important, although unexpected, finding arose from our use of fluoride monitoring data. We found that the fluoridation levels of approximately one third of the artificially fluoridated water supply zones were below 0.7ppm (the minimum limit of the optimum range). This finding reinforces that it is incorrect to assume an artificially fluoridated area is dosed up to 1ppm. In reality, it may be a lot less. A number of previous studies have mistakenly made this assumption making their conclusions unreliable. Our study shows that you cannot guarantee that fluoride levels in all artificially fluoridated water supply zones are close to the target level of 1ppm. Assuming that water fluoridation is a safe practice and evidence surrounding calculation of recommended dosage is reliable, this finding has economic implications in terms of public health. If public money is paying for artificial fluoridation shouldn’t the water supply zones be dosed up to a level that will provide the greatest benefit? If they aren’t then could it be that public money is merely being thrown down the drain?
The International Journal of Epidemiology is an essential requirement for anyone who needs to keep up to date with epidemiological advances and new developments throughout the world. It encourages communication among those engaged in the research, teaching, and application of epidemiology of both communicable and non-communicable disease, including research into health services and medical care.
The final sentence in the essay posted in January was not a statement but a question. We had looked at several hypotheses on the origin of the verb beg and found that none of them carried conviction. It also remained unclear whether beg was a back formation on beggar or whether beggar arose as a noun agent from the verb. Today we will examine the ideas connecting beggar with the religious order of the Beguines.
The order appeared in the thirteenth century and was active for at least three hundred years. Its modern descendants will not interest us here. As the form of the French word Beguine shows, we are dealing with a feminine noun, and, when Latinized, it was also feminine. The order took care of widows, unmarried women, and of the many solitary wives left at home by their crusading husbands. The male counterpart of the Beguines was called Beghards. In the detective story that is now unfolding (and a good etymology is always a thriller), the denouement will come next week. But it is not too early to reveal some facts. The word beggar has been tentatively derived from Beguine. However, there is a problem with this derivation: the Beguines were, at least initially, not a mendicant order — the women worked all day long. It is not even certain that, when beggars swarmed Europe and called themselves (or were called) Beguines, the connection between their occupation and the name was justified. Therefore, assuming that such a connection existed, it seems to have been established after the fact. We have to explore the etymology of the name Beguine, to see whether its inner form could suggest disapproval or perhaps a reference to the practice of asking for alms. The picture I am going to lay out is well-known, but the end result (beggars, buggers, and bigots) will be partly new.
One guess traces Beguine to French beige “gray.” This idea has little to recommend it. Even if the Beguines and Beghards wore gray clothes, this color could not be distinctive enough for giving the name to the orders. Monks (and the Beguines/Beghards were not nuns and monks) and many other people preaching moderation and the virtues of early Christianity, quite naturally, did not parade flamboyant apparel. Think of the gray monks, associated with the Benedictines (and, if you are tired of etymology and need a really depressing thriller, reread Chekhov’s “The Black Monk”). To repeat, it is most unlikely that the Beguines were recognized mainly because they wore gray clothes.
The founder of the sisterhood of the Beguines was Lambert le Bègue. French still has the word bègue (être bègue “to stammer”). However, it is not known whether Lambert was a stammerer. The word might refer to an impediment of speech or be an ironic reference to an endless repetition (mumbling) of prayers. Not improbably, people invented the nickname Bègue in retrospect, to provide a link between the name and the order the man founded. Medieval nicknames are tricky, and their origin sometimes poses insurmountable difficulties. Even in the Middle Ages Beguines needed an explanation, and suggestions about its etymology did not go beyond intelligent guessing. References to the color and stuttering, stammering, mumbling resemble exercises in folk etymology.
In my exposition, I am strongly influenced by a series of articles by Jozef van Mierlo, who wrote them between the mid-twenties and the mid-forties of the twentieth century. His conclusions were supported by Jozef Vercoullie, a distinguished historical linguist and the author of the first modern etymological dictionary of Dutch. The names of Van Mierlo and Vercoullie say nothing to non-specialists and little to anyone outside the circle of Germanic etymologists, except of course in the Netherlands, because both scholars wrote only in Dutch (at any rate, I have not seen anything by them in French or German).
Van Mierlo traced the word Beguine to Albigenses. This was not an original idea, but we should return to it because today, as in the past, few people share it. I am not going into a discussion of the Albigensian heresy. Suffice it say that the sect was eventually crushed by the Albigensian Crusades (1209-1229). It should be borne in mind that all the events surrounding the origin of the word beggar happened in the thirteenth century, and we depend on the records whose dating does not shed enough light on linguistic reconstruction. For example, if a word surfaced in texts in the twelve-tens, it does not mean that it was unknown several decades earlier.
In any case, with the destruction of the Albigenses, their name became a term of abuse. The loss of the first syllable in such long words is common, and there are no serious arguments against tracing Beguine to Albigen-. We need to discover the origin and spread of Beguine, to understand why it gave rise to beggar (if it did!). Presumably, bigen-, the stump of Albigen-, circulated widely as an indiscriminate term of abuse (and the more frequent a word, the greater the chance that it will shed syllables). It assumed various forms, and the similarity between Beghard and beggar is strong. But to make the derivation convincing, we should take note of an intermediate step. The (Al)bigenses stood for the most detested heretics. The Beguines and Beghards did not, but they too stayed outside the mainstream and were therefore often singled out for the opprobrium of the population. Religious or any other type of tolerance was not among the most conspicuous virtues of the Middle Ages.
The label derived from “Bigensians” developed in several directions. It could acquire the senses “hypocrite” and “parasite.” This is probably how the Beguines and Beghards became “beggars.” Curiously, even today we sometimes use the word beggar to express contempt, as in poor little beggar. If my story has credence, the events developed so. A word for a certain heresy broadened its sphere and began to express abhorrence, unconnected with religion. That word was Albigenses, known well in France and the Netherlands, from where it spread to England. It lost its first syllable, and the stump began to serve as a vague term of abuse. Among other things, it yielded the French source of beggar, an English innovation. The connection between the religious order and beggar “mendicant” is real but indirect. Given this scenario, beg was a back formation on beggar, but here too the picture may be more complicated than it seems.
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Image credit: Picture of a beguine woman, from Des dodes dantz, printed in Lübeck in 1489. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The annual Academy Awards ceremony draws weeks of media attention, hours of live television coverage beginning with stars strolling down the red carpet, and around 40 million viewers nationwide on Oscar night. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences relegates the awards for technical achievement to a separate ceremony a couple of weeks before, a sedate affair in a hotel ballroom rather the spectacular setting of the Dolby Theater. While this division between the arts and sciences is clear in awards season, that boundary has almost disappeared in the movies themselves, as computer-generated imagery and digital 3-D now occupy a prominent position in most major studio productions.
Academy Award for Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Photo by Loren Javier. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.
For almost a century popular American cinema has been primarily a storytelling medium, with the motion picture sciences playing a more secondary role, but the distinction between the popular arts of Hollywood and the engineering of Silicon Valley is blurring. The movie business is being incorporated into a TED world where technology and design are the cornerstones of most big-budget entertainment.
For the first three hours of Sunday’s broadcast, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity seemed to be soaring toward a Best Picture Oscar, a victory that would have marked a new stage in this transformation of the American movie industry. A tour de force of technological innovation, Gravity won a total of seven Academy Awards, including the bellwether prizes for Best Editing and Best Director, and the voters appeared on the verge of bestowing their top honor on one of the first films to utilize the full potential of 3-D, a film that creates an almost visceral, stomach-dropping sensation of weightlessness as the camera and bodies appear to bob and drift through space. At other times the camera hurtles forward and the storyline rushes us from one space vehicle to another, propelled by an accidental explosion or the blast of a strategically deployed fire extinguisher. In those moments the weakness of Gravity is as unmistakable as its technical prowess: its virtuoso, gravity-defying feats are accompanied by an almost absurdly insubstantial and implausible plot, even by the standards of Hollywood, where happy endings have been arriving on cue for decades and most cars seem to have a magical sixth gear that allows them to fly over rising drawbridges. The narrative seems almost like an afterthought in Gravity, a pretext to link together one floating space platform and the next and to celebrate cinematic technology in itself, untethering it from earthly concerns like the plot.
But the Academy voters obviously had a different narrative in mind when they submitted their ballots, and in keeping with a long tradition of last-minute plot twists, they managed to compose a far more heartening conclusion to the year in film. In your average year, the Academy Awards are, to borrow the title of one of this year’s Best Picture contenders, an “American hustle.” Every March, we anticipate the canonization of a new Citizen Kane or Vertigo, half-forgetting that these films, among the most revered American movies ever made, won a grand total of one Oscar (Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles, for the screenplay for Citizen Kane). Kane was nominated in nine categories and lost eight of them, and Hitchcock and the other makers of Vertigo left the Pantages Theater empty-handed in 1959.
The list of regrettable Academy Award decisions and omissions (for example, Hitchcock’s career-long snub in the Best Director category or the single statuette given to Stanley Kubrick in his lifetime, for visual effects in 2001) is at least as long as Oscar’s triumphs. While viewers tune in for the glitz, glamor, comedy, fashion, and, on occasion, a genuinely moving acceptance speech (or a train wreck taking place at the podium), the ceremony also promises to provide an annual assessment of the state of American cinema. The opulent spectacle arrives each year without fail, but the Academy almost habitually overlooks the truly vibrant pictures and artists working in the film industry in the United States. What does Oscar reward instead?
The recipients of the major awards are usually not the most lucrative blockbusters (which have already received their rewards at the box office) nor are they the type of formally innovative and idiosyncratic pictures that enter the canon retrospectively. The films that tend to be overrated by the Academy are well-meaning films that appear to address an important social issue, while discovering some heroes and reasons for hope in an otherwise trying situation (Slumdog Millionaire, Crash, and Million Dollar Baby, to name three of the last eight Best Picture winners). Films by recognized American auteurs like Martin Scorsese, the Coen brothers, or Kathryn Bigelow have also fared well (see, for example, The Departed in 2006, No Country for Old Men in the following year, and The Hurt Locker in 2009), as have historical films that depict a triumph over hardship, with the formula for contemporary cinema—adversity, heroism, survival, and even a measure of vindication—retooled for use in the past. (See The King’s Speech in 2010 for the most recent example, but note also the run of five consecutive awards beginning in 1993 for Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, The English Patient, and Titanic, which together established the historical film as a one of the surest paths to the podium.) What matters at Oscar time is the appearance of importance and a willingness to return to historical tragedies or to glance at contemporary social ills.
Viewed in retrospect, the Academy Awards perform something of a bait and switch, as instead of recognizing the best films created in the previous year they provide a barometer of the social and historical problems that continue to haunt us, including (to focus on this year’s nominees) political corruption, the excesses of Wall Street, uneven development, slavery and racism, the AIDS crisis, and the persistence of homophobia. This year’s Best Picture nominees have been justly scrutinized precisely because they seem so intimately linked with the problems they address. Four of the nine nominees are based on actual events drawn from the very recent past, another (Philomena) recounts a true story spanning a 50-year period from the middle of the twentieth century to the present, and 12 Years a Slave retells the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free African-American from New York who was kidnapped and sold into bondage in Louisiana. Add Gravity to this strong group of films, and oddsmakers were predicting the tightest contest in recent memory, with these many returns to history pitted against an immersive, high-tech cinematic experience of the future.
In TheWolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, a real-life financial scam artist played by Leonardo DiCaprio, finds himself unable to drive home after an overdose of Quaaludes that leaves him prostrate on the front steps of his country club. Summoning all his strength, he manages to slither across the driveway, hoist himself into his gull-winged sports car, and steer through a series of obstacles unscathed. Or at least that’s how the events unfold the first time, in what appears to be Jordan’s experience of reality. Immediately after that sequence, we see the police arrive and Scorsese presents us with a revisionist version, with a wreckage of cars and signposts left flattened in his wake. Hollywood’s approach to the past often resembles the first, more delusional of these scenes, with the heroic figure emerging triumphant from history.
In 12 Years a Slave the historical devastation caused by slavery is more frightening because the damage is all pervasive, because nothing is left uncorrupted by the system that frames every interaction through the lens of property. Screenwriter John Ridley and director McQueen had the courage to let Solomon Northup’s story remain largely unchanged from the original autobiography and to frame the most searing images in the simplest, most direct way, as in the agonizingly long take where a near lynching unfolds almost in slow motion. And in the best tradition of classical Hollywood cinema, McQueen manages to combine a compelling narrative with a series of subtle character portraits, as Northup travels through a looking glass from his prior existence as an accomplished musician and family man in New York to what seems like an alternative universe, where survival depends on the stripping away of those markers of identity and humanity. Rather than present slavery as an incomprehensible evil from another time, the film also chronicles the everyday rationalizations that allow the master to accept depravity as a way of life and the foundation of an economic order.
In most years the Oscars ceremony performs a bait and switch, as we await the announcement of the year’s best films and hear the name of a soon-to-be-forgotten film. But the Academy Awards also remind us why we continue to care about movies and ascribe to them a social significance and power all out of proportion with the relatively modest ambitions of even the Best Picture nominees, let alone the more standard studio fare. The Oscars are an advertisement for the potential of cinema to engage with traumatic historical and contemporary realities, even if we usually have to look elsewhere for the films that address those issues in all of their complexity. 12 Years a Slave, one of the few masterpieces also to win the award for Best Picture, reminds us that sometimes those films can come straight from Hollywood.
Within months of being introduced in 2009, enthusiasts were hailing bitcoin, the digital currency and peer-to-peer payment system, as the successor to the dollar, euro, and yen as the world’s most important currency.
The collapse of the Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange last month has dulled some of the enthusiasm for the online currency. According to bitcoincharts.com, the price of bitcoin, which had peaked at over $1100 in December, tumbled to about half of that in the wake of the Mt. Gox failure, leading a number of commentators to suggest that bitcoin is finished.
Others remain bullish on the currency, arguing that the collapse will lead to greater scrutiny of the system and the reemergence of a stronger, more secure bitcoin. Although the price of bitcoin has declined since the Mt. Gox collapse and volatility remains high, rallies are not unheard of. On 3 March 2014, for example, bitcoin began the day trading around $580 and peaked at over $700 before falling back into the upper $600s (data from bitcoincharts.com).
I have argued elsewhere that if bitcoin were to replace the leading world currencies, the results would be catastrophic. The most important objection is that—when it works according to plan—bitcoin mimics the gold standard. The total number of bitcoins that can be created (“mined” in bitcoin terminology, just to maintain the image of gold) is fixed and cannot be altered. Adopting a bitcoin standard would make it virtually impossible for central bankers to undertake aggressive monetary measures—as the Fed and European Central Bank have done—to bolster a flagging economy and a financial system on the point of collapse.
Another public policy downside of bitcoin is that because it is peer-to-peer, without a centralized monitoring authority, it allows funds to be transferred away from the prying eyes of government. This famously came to light last fall when the on-line drug bazaar Silk Road—which conducted much of its business in bitcoin–was shut down by the FBI and its proprietor arrested on drug and computer charges. Needless to say, the attractiveness of a payments system like bitcoin to criminals and terrorists should dampen the fervor of even the most enthusiastic bitcoin devotee.
Is there anything to like about bitcoin?
Yes. Bitcoin—or, more precisely, a system with some of bitcoin’s attributes—would give a boost to commerce.
Moving money with bitcoin is cheaper than using PayPal, credit cards, or bank transfers, all of which charge one or both parties fees. The savings on international transactions are even greater, since these transactions, when carried out with traditional currencies, typically involve both higher fees for moving the money as well as additional charges for converting form one currency to another. Denominating the transaction in bitcoin eliminates the currency conversion fee altogether.
Eliminating fees associated with commercial transactions is the most compelling argument in favor of bitcoin, as anyone who has ever used a credit card overseas, tried to transfer money, or used an out-of-network ATM will attest. The disadvantages of bitcoin far outweigh its benefits. Still, its ability to facilitate cheaper trade is appealing. The sooner someone figures out how to adopt that aspect of bitcoin for safer, more adaptable traditional currencies, the better for all of us.
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Image credit: Bitcoin banknote by CASASCIUS. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons.
Hands up if you’ve heard of National Voter Registration Day? And in the somewhat unlikely event that you have, did you realise that it took place last month?
If this momentous milestone passed you by, you’re not alone. Whatever 5 February means to the people of the United Kingdom, it’s safe to assume that electoral participation doesn’t figure prominently. This is not a surprise; it reflects a deep-seated public disengagement from politics, as indicated by the fact that only two thirds of eligible voters in the 2010 general election actually voted. Throughout the twentieth century, general election turnouts almost always exceeded 70%, but that’s a level of participation that has not been seen since 1997. Incidentally, the highest turnout since 1900 was 86.8% in January 1910, though only rate-paying men over the age of 21 could vote.
Low voter turnout is clearly a problem, but arguably a much greater worry is the growing inequality of that turnout. As a recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research makes clear, the United Kingdom is very much a ‘divided democracy’, with electoral participation among the young and the poor declining dramatically. In the 1987 general election, for example, the turnout rate for the poorest income group was 4% lower than for the wealthiest. By 2010 the gap had grown to a staggering 23 points. A similar pattern is observable in relation to age groups. In 1970 there was an 18-point gap in turnout rates between 18–24-year-olds and those aged over 65; by 2005 this gap had more than doubled to over 40 points, before narrowing slightly to 32 points in 2010. ”If we focus on participation within these age-groups,” the IPPR report concludes “we can see that at the 2010 general election the turnout rate for a typical 70-year-old was 36 percentage points higher than that of a typical 20-year-old.”
If this isn’t bad enough there is little evidence that young people will simply start voting as they get older. On the contrary, the IPPR’s research suggests that “younger people today are less likely than previous generations to develop the habit of voting as they move into middle age.” These trends mean that politicians tend to address themselves to the older and richer sections of society – the people, in other words, that are most likely to vote. This, in turn, reinforces the views of the young and the poor that politicians don’t care about them. And that, naturally, leads to even greater political estrangement.
So what’s the solution? How do we re-establish a connection between ordinary people and politicians? In particular, how do we persuade the young and the poor that the political system really does have something to offer them?
The answers lie not in quick fixes or technological solutions – such as the introduction of compulsory voting, changing the ballot paper or promoting ‘digital democracy’ – but in adopting a fundamentally deeper, richer and more creative approach to democratic engagement. People will only vote – be they young or old, rich or poor – when they understand why democratic politics matters and what it can deliver. Therefore, to increase electoral participation we must focus on promoting the public understanding of politics from all perspectives (conservative, traditional, radical, etc.) in a way that demonstrates that individual responses to collective social challenges are rarely likely to be effective. It’s this deeper understanding, this notion of political literacy promoted by Sir Bernard Crick and defined as ‘a compound of knowledge, skills and attitudes’that citizens can use to navigate the complex social and political choices that face us all. Political literacy can be seen as a basic social requirement that empowers people to become politically aware, effective, and engaged while also being respectful of differences of opinion or belief.
In this regard, the message from survey after survey is a dismal one. Large sections of the British public appear to know very little about the political system. Even relatively basic questions such as “What do MPs do?” or “What’s the difference between Parliament and the Executive?” tend to elicit a mixture of mild embarrassment and complete bafflement.
Given that levels of political literacy are so low, it’s little surprise that many people choose not to vote. They’re unaware of the very real benefits the political system delivers for them (clean water, social protection, healthcare, education, etc.) and they no longer believe that they can become the engine of real social change. And yet they can. Worse, by opting out of elections they risk diminishing their representation as politicians focus their messages on the groups that do vote. Young people are constantly reminded that to be “uneducated” – let alone innumerate or illiterate – is to risk deprivation and vulnerability, but in many ways to be politically illiterate brings with it exactly the same risks. Moreover, the impact of declining political literacy isn’t only felt at the individual level. With so many people in society alienated from politics, democracy itself is weakened
Such arguments are by no means abstract concerns. On 7 May 2015, a General Election will be held on the basis of individual voter registration rather than the previous system of household voter registration. Research suggests that although this transition is likely to increase electoral security it may also result in a considerable decline in levels of electoral participation amongst – yes, you’ve’ guessed it – the young and the poor. This is not a reason to turn back from individual registration but it is a reason to step-back and acknowledge that if we’re really serious about healing a divided democracy, then we need to focus on promoting engaged citizenship through different channels and processes. We need to take some risks and stir things up, but most of all we need a long-term plan for fostering political literacy.
“Organized” and “innovation” are words rarely heard together. But an organized approach to innovation is precisely what America needs today, argue Steve Currall, Ed Frauenheim, Sara Jansen Perry, and Emily Hunter. We sat down with the authors of Organized Innovation: A Blueprint for Renewing America’s Prosperity to discuss why American ought to organize its innovation efforts.
Why does America need a more organized innovation system today?
An “innovation gap” has emerged in recent decades — where US universities focus on basic research, and industry concentrates on incremental product development. At the same time, the stakes have risen around technology invention and commercialization. Innovation has become more central to the economic health of nations, but the rate of US innovation is slowing while that if other nations is accelerating. Since 2008, the number of foreign-origin patents that the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted annually has surpassed the number of domestic-origin patents. Between 1999 and 2009, the US share of global research and development spending dropped, while the share of Asia as a whole rose and exceeded the US share in 2009.
What’s behind this innovation gap?
In a nutshell, history and a set of myths held by many in the United States. The gap dates to the 1970s and 1980s, as big US companies retreated from basic research and focused on incremental product development. The shift had to do with a greater focus on short-term financial results, as well as increased competitive pressures. Research fell to the universities, but academic research often remains within particular disciplines, conducted in a vacuum that minimizes societal needs. Too often academic research does not make the leap beyond the lab to the real world. For years, observers have noticed the widening gap, but it has not been addressed. We think that has much to do with three myths—that innovation is about lone geniuses, the free market, and serendipity. These myths blind us from seeing that we tolerate an unorganized, less-than-optimal system of innovation.
What do you propose as a solution?
We call it Organized Innovation. It is a blueprint for better coordinating the key players in the US innovation ecosystem: universities, businesses, and government. The solution taps the power of both the private and public sectors to generate groundbreaking innovations—the kinds of new technologies that create good jobs and improve life for everyone.
The solution has three main pillars:
Channeled Curiosity: steering researchers’ fundamental inquiries toward real-world problems.
Boundary-Breaking Collaboration: tearing down walls between academic disciplines, and between universities and the private sector to better generate novel, high-impact technologies.
Orchestrated Commercialization: coordinating the various players involved in technology commercialization—including scholars, university administrators, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and corporations—to translate research insights into real-world benefits.
The Organized Innovation framework already has proven effective in closing the innovation gap. It is inspired by our nearly decade-long study of a highly successful but little-known federal initiative, the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Centers. These university-based centers require researchers to link basic science to social and market demand, require interdisciplinary and industry-academic collaboration and encourage the creation of proofs-of-concept to demonstrate that a lab-based technology has commercial potential. From 1985 to 2009, about $1 billion in federal funding was invested in the centers. They have returned more than 10 times that amount in a wide variety of technology innovations.
What is your favorite example about new technology generated from the Engineering Research Center program?
Our favorite case is about Mark Humayun and his artificial retina. Humayun is a fascinating individual, and his team developed a device that captures video from a camera embedded in eyeglasses and wirelessly relays digital signals to an implant placed directly on the retina. The artificial retina, called Argus II, is approved for use in the European Union and won US FDA approval in early 2013. Humayun’s device is changing lives — restoring useful vision to people blinded by retinal diseases.
You propose that the US government changes its approach to funding research and development. What is your message to policy makers?
We propose that federal and state funding agencies devote funds to research programs that embody Organized Innovation principles, which may translate into more funding for research with practical significance or innovation outcomes. The key advantages of our model are that we can maximize the public’s return on research and development investments. Both political parties can support this approach; it is fundamentally bipartisan.
Organized Innovation goes against the grain of widespread doubts about the ability of universities, business, and government to work together to solve problems, especially amid growing public deficits. But we’re convinced Americans will have the courage to see the value of such investments in our future.
Steve Currall, Ed Frauenheim, Sara Jansen Perry, and Emily Hunter are the authors of Organized Innovation: A Blueprint for Renewing America’s Prosperity. Steven C. Currall is Dean and Professor of Management in the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis. Ed Frauenheim is an author, speaker, and associate editorial director of Workforce magazine, where he writes about the intersection of people management, technology and business strategy. Sara Jansen Perry, Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at the University of Houston-Downtown, earned her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at the University of Houston. Emily M. Hunter is Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship in the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University after earning her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at the University of Houston.
Amores was Ovid’s first complete work of poetry, and is one of his most famous. The poems in Amores document the shifting passions and emotions of a narrator who shares Ovid’s name, and who is in love with a woman he calls Corinna. She is of a higher class and therefore unattainable, but the poems show the progression from infatuation to love to affair to loss. In these excerpts, we see two sides of the affair — a declaration of love, and a hot afternoon spent with Corinna. Our poet here is Jane Alison, author of Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation from Ovid, a new translation of Ovid’s love poetry.
It’s only fair: the girl who snared me should love me, too,
or keep me in love forever.
Oh, I want too much: if she’ll just endure my love,
Venus will have granted my prayers.
Please take me. I’d be your slave year after long year.
Please take me. I know how to love true.
I might not be graced with a grand family name,
only knight-blood runs in my veins,
my acres might not need ploughs ad infinitum,
my parents count pennies, are tight—
but I’ve got Apollo, the Muses, and Bacchus,
and Amor, who sent me your way,
plus true fidelity, unimpeachable habits,
barest candor, blushingest shame.
I don’t chase lots of girls—I’m no bounder in love.
Trust me: you’ll be mine forever.
I want to live with you each year the Fates spin me
and die with you there to mourn.
Give me yourself—a subject perfect for poems—
they’ll spring up, adorning their source.
Poems made Io (horrified heifer-girl) famous,
plus that girl led on by a “swan”
and the one who set sail on a make-believe bull,
his lilting horn tight in her fist.
We too will be famous, sung all over the world:
my name bound forever to yours.
Scorching hot, and the day had drifted past noon;
I spread out on my bed to rest.
Some slats of the windows were open, some shut,
the light as if in a forest
or like the sinking sun’s cool glow at dusk
or when night wanes, but dawn’s not come.
It was the sort of light that nervous girls love,
their shyness hoping for shadows.
And oh—in slips Corinna, her thin dress unsashed,
hair rivering down her pale neck,
just as lovely Sameramis would steal into a bedroom,
they say, or Lais, so loved by men.
I pulled at her dress, so scant its loss barely showed,
but still she struggled to keep it.
Though she struggled a bit, she did not want to win:
undone by herself, she gave in.
When she stood before me, her dress on the floor,
her body did not have a flaw.
Such shoulders I saw and touched—oh, such arms.
The form of her breast firm in my palm,
and below that firm fullness a belly so smooth—
her long shapely sides, her young thighs!
Why list one by one? I saw nothing not splendid
and clasped her close to me, bare.
Who can’t guess the rest? And then we lay languid.
Oh, for more middays just so.
Jane Alison is author of Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation from Ovid. Her previous works on Ovid include her first novel, The Love-Artist (2001) and a song-cycle entitled XENIA (with composer Thomas Sleeper, 2010). Her other books include a memoir, The Sisters Antipodes (2009), and two novels, Natives and Exotics (2005) and The Marriage of the Sea (2003). She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia.
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During November 2012 hundreds of thousands of people across Europe took to the streets. The protesters were, by and large, complaining about government policies that increased taxes and lowered government spending. This initially sounds like a familiar story of popular protests against government austerity programmes, but there is a twist to the tale. Many of the people protesting were not aiming their ire at the national governments making the cuts in spending, but rather at the European Union. In Portugal, people carried effigies of their prime minister on strings and claimed he was a ‘puppet of the EU’; in Greece people burned the EU flag and shouted ‘EU out’; and in Italy people threw stones at the European Parliament offices. It was, at least for some people on the streets, not the incumbent national politicians in Lisbon, Athens, and Rome who were to blame for the problem of the day, but rather politicians and bureaucrats thousands of miles away in Brussels.
The economic crisis in Europe has illustrated that citizens are increasingly blaming not just their national governments, but also ‘Europe’ for their woes. This raises the question of whether citizens can hold European politicians to account for the outcomes for which they are thought to be responsible. The notion of democratic accountability relies on the critical assumption that voters are able to assign responsibility for policy decisions and outcomes, and sanction the government in elections if it is responsible for outcomes not seen to be ‘in their best interest’. This process, however, is clearly complicated in the multilevel system of the European Union where responsibility is not only dispersed across multiple levels of government, but there are also multiple mechanisms for sanctioning governments.
Democratic accountability in multilevel systems can be viewed as a two-step process, where specific requirements need to be met at each step to allow voters to hold governments to account. The first step is one where voters decide which level of government, if any, is responsible for specific policy outcomes and decisions. This depends on the clarity of institutional divisions of powers across levels of government, and the information available about the responsibilities of these divisions. The second step is one where voters should be able to sanction the government in an election on the basis of performance. This depends on government clarity: that is the ability of voters to identify a cohesive political actor that they can sanction accordingly.
Both of these steps are important. Assignment of responsibility to a particular level of government is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to be able to punish an incumbent at the polls. To do so, voters also need to know which party or individual to vote for or against. Yet, the EU lacks a clear and identifiable government. Executive power is shared between the European Council and the European Commission, and legislative power is shared between the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. The primary mechanism through which citizens can hold EU institutions to account is via elections to the European Parliament. Unlike in national parliamentary systems, the majority in the European Parliament does not ‘elect’ the EU executive, however. Despite the formal powers of the European Parliament over the approval and dismissal of the European Commission there is only a tenuous link between the political majority in the Parliament and the policies of the Commission, not least since there is no clear government-opposition division in the Parliament. Despite current attempts to present rival candidates for the post of Commission president prior to the European Parliament elections in May, there is still no competition between candidates with competing policy agendas and different records at the EU level. Without this kind of politicised contest it is simply not possible for voters to identify which parties are responsible for the current policy outcomes and which parties offer an alternative.
As a consequence, the classic model of electoral accountability cannot be applied to European Parliament elections. Even if citizens think the EU is responsible for poor policy performance in an area, they find it difficult to identify which parties are ‘governing’ and punish, or reward, them at the ballot box. This has broader implications for trust and legitimacy. When people hold the EU responsible for poor performance, but cannot hold it accountable for that performance, they become less trusting of the EU institutions as a whole. Thus the danger for the EU is that every time the system fails to deliver — such as during the Eurozone crisis — the result is declining levels of trust and a crisis of confidence in the regime as a whole, because voters lack the opportunity to punish an incumbent and elect an alternative. In other words, the lack of mechanisms to hold EU policymakers to account may lead to a more fundamental legitimacy crisis in the European Union.
When I began work on my book, I knew I would be fortunate enough to experience a few moments of “Pinch me. This can’t really be happening.” There were, as it turned out, so many that I’d be black and blue if there was actual pinching going on. But of all of those moments, I think the highlight would have to be spending a day at Disneyland with Carol Channing and her late husband, Harry, who were then 90 and 91 respectively.
I had interviewed Carol the day before in front of an adoring audience at the annual Gay Days at Disneyland. But it had been decades since Carol had been in the park and the last time she was, her tour guide was, um, Walt Disney. She had a picture to prove it. Carol, Walt, and Maurice Chevalier on Main Street, USA! I couldn’t exactly beat that, but I did what I could. I mapped out the day with a full compliment of attractions starting gently enough with “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,“ an indoor show at which a robotic Abe recites the Gettysburg address. Carol was moved to tears. “It’s Walt!” she exclaimed. “This whole attraction is his spirit. Exactly who he was.” We emerged just in time to hear the Disneyland Marching Band emphatically playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” We clapped along before we hopped on “The Disneyland Railroad,” a steam train that circles the park. Carol grabbed my hand as we approached and began singing at full voice, “Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out…” the song from Hello, Dolly! that culminates with the full company boarding a similar train. We sang together as we chugged along. I died.
Mickey Mouse bows to Carol Channing. Photo courtesy of Eddie Shapiro.
We rode the Peter Pan ride and the tea cups, we met Mickey Mouse (who literally got on his knees and bowed down to Carol), and we had our own boat on “It’s a Small World.” It was all just as I had planned it until… the unexpected. As we were walking through Fantasyland, Harry kept staring in the direction of the carousel. I hadn’t planned on an attraction as simple as the carousel because, well, it’s a carousel. But I couldn’t help but notice Harry’s interest. “Harry,” I asked, “did you want to ride the carousel?” “I’m lookin’ at it,” came the reply. “Well Harry,” I said, “we’re here! If you want to ride it, let’s ride it.” We boarded and I went off in search of a nice bench for Carol and Harry. Carol seated herself but Harry was determined to mount a horse. At 91, however, he needed a hand or two, so I put my shoulder under his lower back and hoisted him up there. I then ran around to the other side and manually swung his leg astride the horse.
Harry, Carol Channing’s husband, on the carousel. Photo courtesy of Eddie Shapiro.
He was beaming, positively giddy. And in that moment, I realized that I was getting a major life lesson here. Carol and Harry were frail (he, in fact, passed less than three months later); one misstep could have been hugely consequential. A jostle from someone in the crowd could have been dire. But here they were, not just tasting everything life had to offer, but gobbling it up. If there was life to live, they were going to live it. And I thought to myself, “How does one become lucky enough to age into these people? Is it genetic? Is it a choice? What can I do to insure that when my golden years are upon me, I make them as golden as I can? Because these people have figured it out. They are who I aspire to be.”
When the sun was finally setting, we headed back to the hotel. I left them sitting in the lobby next to the grand piano while I went up to the room to retrieve their luggage. I returned just as the pianist was arriving for his set. He spied Carol and in no time he was gently tinkling the notes of “Hello, Dolly!” Before I knew what was happening, Carol was on her feet, one hand on the piano, the other aloft, belting out “Hello, Dolly!” for anyone who happened to be passing through the lobby of the Grand Californian Hotel at 4:30 in the afternoon. It was something to behold and a moment I will never, ever forget.
For months afterward, Harry would call me, just to say hello. “You don’t know the gift you gave us that day,” he would always end with. “Harry,” I’d always reply, “you don’t know the gift you gave me.”
Author Eddie Shapiro, Carol Channing, and her husband Harry on the tea cup ride at Disneyland. Photo courtesy of Eddie Shapiro.
In a unanimous decision, New York’s Court of Appeals, the Empire State’s highest court, recently held that John Gaied was not a New York resident for income tax purposes because he had no New York home.
Mr. Gaied was domiciled in New Jersey and had a business on Staten Island to which he commuted daily. He purchased a multi-family apartment building near his business in New York, both as an investment and to house his parents who lived in the building’s first floor apartment.
New York’s tax commissioner claimed that this Staten Island building made Mr. Gaied a New York resident for tax purposes. The New York Tax Appeals Tribunal and the New York Appellate Division affirmed the commissioner’s determination that this building constituted Mr. Gaied’s “permanent place of abode” in New York – even though Mr. Gaied personally did not lived there.
The good news is that Mr. Gaied ultimately prevailed. The bad news is that he had to fight his way to New York’s highest court to prevail. As that court held, “in order for a taxpayer to have maintained a permanent place of abode in New York, the taxpayer must, himself, have a residential interest in the property.” Since it was Mr. Gaied’s parents who lived in the first floor apartment, not Mr. Gaied himself, he was not a New York resident for tax purposes.
Mr. Gaied’s lawyer, Timothy P. Noonan of Hodgson Russ, LLP, is entitled to be proud of this victory for tax sanity in New York. The problem is that such sanity is all too rare. Mr. Gaied had to go to New York’s highest court to establish the common sense proposition that a “place of abode” is a location at which the taxpayer actually lives.
Unfortunately, the kind of irrationality manifested by New York’s tax commissioner in Gaied is endemic to New York’s tax system. Consider, for example, New York’s insistence that the modest beach house owned and used by Mr. John J. Barker for a handful of vacation days each year transforms Mr. Barker into a New York resident, even though his permanent home is in Connecticut. Or consider New York’s “convenience of the employer” doctrine under which New York taxes the income earned by nonresident telecommuters on the days such telecommuters work at their out-of-state homes and don’t set foot in the Empire State. There is much that is irrational and self-destructive in New York tax policy.
Governor Cuomo has eloquently proclaimed that New York can no longer be “the tax capital” of the United States. The Governor is right. Hopefully, Gaied will signal to New York’s policymakers the need to reform New York’s self-destructive approach to personal income taxation. Repairing New York’s definition of residence and abolishing the “convenience of the employer” doctrine would be good places to start.
Do people at the end of the eighteenth century celebrate their birthdays? More precisely, what did William Godwin (1756-1836) — philosopher, novelist, husband of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) and father of Mary Shelly (1797-1851) — do on his birthday, which falls on 3 March?
Godwin was a man of some exactitude. As a major contributor to the development of utilitarianism, the weighing of competing concerns and interests and the rigorous exercise of private judgment on the basis of rational reflection is a central theme in his philosophy. But his concern with detail is also reflected in the diary that he kept for the last 48 years of his long life. He used the diary to note things very precisely, if often cryptically — such as the entry in 1825: ‘void a large worm’; or in his twice daily recording of the interior temperature of the house for the last ten years of his life.
But he did not note birthdays. He mentions the birthday of Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) in 1788 because there is a party for Gibbon hosted by the bookseller Thomas Cadell. In 1825 he mentions that of Mary Lamb, sister of the essayist Charles Lamb, when she was 61, possibly also because there was some event. The only other appearance of the phrase in the Diary is in relation to a play which he identifies as Birth Day (probably by the German dramatist Kotzebue), which he sees (in whole or part) on five occasions. Moreover, he makes nothing of his own birthday — 3 March — whether it be his 40th, 50th, 60th, or 80th. The diary entries for his birthdays are wholly undifferentiated from other days. Moreover, there is no evidence that he celebrated Mary Wollstonecraft’s birthday, nor those of any of his children.
Page from William Godwin’s journal recording Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s (Mary Shelley’s) birth on 30 August 1797
In contrast, he noted over three hundred deaths in the diary — including ‘Execution of Louis’ on 21 January 1793, Edmund Burke on 8 July 1797, the assassination of the Prime Minister Spencer Percival on 11 May 1812, the death (also by assassination) of the German dramatist Kotzebue on 23 March 1819, but also a host of more quotidian occasions involving friends and acquaintances. Interestingly, these dates are all exact – other than Burke, who we now believe to have died the following day! But the exactitude of the others is striking because it means that Godwin was going back to his diary to fill in details as he became aware of them – the news of Louis’ execution took some 36 hours to reach Britain, and Kotzebue’s death would have travelled more slowly. This suggests that he took at least one of life’s major events very seriously, and noted the occasion with retrospective precision.
Is Godwin unusual? That he notes very occasional birthdays of others suggests both that he was, and, because he notes so few, that he was not. Or he was not unusual in the circles in which he moved — the literary and cultural circles of London in the last decades of the eighteenth and first thirty years of the nineteenth century. Moreover, he came from a family of dissenting ministers and was himself a minister in the years following his education, before turning in the 1780s to history and philosophy and an increasing agnosticism, punctuated by periods of atheism. In that tradition — nurtured on such texts as James Janeway’s, A Token for Children being an exact account of the conversion, holy and exemplary lives and joyful deaths of several young children (1671) — the manner of one’s life and death has infinitely more significance than the mere fact of birth.
This contrast is also evident in Godwin main philosophical work – Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) — is clear that there is little sacred in mere life. It is what a person does with his or her life — above all what they do for others and for the general good of the community that counts in our evaluation of them. While Godwin speculated that the lot of humanity would involve increasing subordination of the physical to the intellectual, with a concomitant shift to increasing longevity and eventual immortality, it is also clear that he took the measure of his fellow men and women in terms of how they lived their lives — hence his almost obsessive recording of the deaths of his contemporaries, both famous and obscure. The ending of life marks the point for its final reckoning. In Godwin’s philosophy that evaluation is to be made in terms of the person’s contribution to the good of one’s fellow human beings — above all, one’s contribution to their intellectual development and the expansion of the powers of mind and human knowledge. And, on that account, maybe we should commemorate Godwin’s death day instead — 7 April 1836.
Mark Philp is Professor of History and Politics at the University of Warwick. He has published widely on eighteenth century political thought and social movements and on contemporary political theory, including Reforming Ideas in Britain (2013), Thomas Paine (2007), and Political Conduct (2007). He directed the Leverhulme funded digitization and editing project on the diary of William Godwin. He co-directs the research project ‘Re-Imagining Democracy 1750-1850’ which has published Re-imagining democracy in the Age of Revolutions: America, France, Britain and Ireland (2013).
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Image credit: Page from William Godwin’s journal. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The recent adoption in July 2013 by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) of the Rules on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration marks an important milestone in the development of international investor-state arbitration. In the early days of this type of arbitration in the late 1990s, tribunals like those formed under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were subject to criticisms that the process was “secret’ and thus not legitimate.
The new Transparency Rules respond to many of these old critiques and UNCITRAL can be applauded for the result of its significant efforts. In particular, the Transparency Rules include provisions addressing: the free publication of information and documents submitted in an arbitration (Articles 2-3), the submission of amicus briefs (Article 4), submissions by non-disputing treaty Parties (Article 5), open hearings (Article 6), and the protection of confidential information (Article 7).
However, despite the good news, there is a counter-tension in the transparency debate in investor-state arbitration in favor of secrecy and the protection of government information. A default to confidentiality and privacy has its historical origin in the commercial arbitration roots of the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, but was also evident in more recent statements by the UNCITRAL members in the negotiations that resulted in the new rules.
The tension was made most evident in Article 7 of the Transparency Rules, titled “Exceptions to transparency”, and specifically in subparagraph (2) where the critical definition of “confidential or protected information” is set out. Although subparagraph (3) of the article makes clear that a tribunal has the authority to determine whether a document is confidential or protected, this is undermined by subparagraph (2)(c) which states that information of the respondent State party to the arbitration designated as protected is determined by the law of the respondent State. This is in contrast to earlier negotiation text versions of Article 7(2)(c) where such determinations would have been determined by the tribunal.
In effect, by making domestic law the governing law concerning the designation of documents as confidential, the ultimate authority to determine whether documents should be made public is effectively taken out of the hands of a tribunal. In well-developed systems of access to government information, such as with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the United States, or the Access to Information Act (ATIP) in Canada, this may not be problematic as there are domestic remedies for when government officials err too far on the side of secrecy.
The problem will be that, with States that have no such due process mechanisms, and a policy default to secrecy, Article 7 could well force tribunals to apply laws that are contrary to the very transparency objectives of the new Transparency Rules. The domino effect of this approach is that State respondents may apply the same restrictive approach to the production of documents to the arbitration itself – thus impeding transparency and potentially violating the new rules.
Some members of the UNCITRAL negotiating group believed the approach which was ultimately included in Article 7(2)(c) could be “open to abuse”. Specifically the view was offered in the October 2012 session of the UNCITRAL Working Group that “providing for mandatory application by a State of its national law in relation to information provided by it would permit a State to circumvent the object of the rules by introducing legislation precluding the disclosure of all information in investor-State disputes. In response, unanimous support was expressed for the proposition that it was not permissible for a State to adopt UNCITRAL rules on transparency and then use its domestic law to undermine the spirit (or the letter) of such rules.”
The compromise that occurred leading to the final version of the Transparency Rules Article 7(2)(c) was the inclusion of provisions in Article 1 relating to the “discretion and authority of the tribunal” to promote the transparency objectives of the new rules and provide a mechanism for balancing confidentiality and transparency. As stated in Article 1(6): “In the presence of any conduct, measure or other action having the effect of wholly undermining the transparency objectives of these rules, the arbitral tribunal shall ensure that those objectives prevail.”
It begs the question: what if a respondent State only partially undermines the transparency objectives of the rules? How such a provision will be applied in future by tribunals in the face of a respondent State intent on maintaining secrecy will be an important test of the effectiveness of the new UNCITRAL Transparency Rules.
Ian A. Laird is a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Crowell & Moring LLP and the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Investment Claims, an online law resource from Oxford University Press. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Law School and Georgetown University Law Center.
Investment Claims is a regularly updated collection of materials and analysis used for research in international investment law and arbitration. It contains fully searchable arbitration awards and decisions, bilateral investment treaties, multilateral treaties, journal articles, monographs, arbitration laws, and much more, all linked and cross-referenced via the Oxford Law Citator.
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Hominins and their closest living relative, chimpanzees, diverged approximately 6.5 million years ago on African continent. Fossil evidence suggests hominins have migrated away from Africa at least twice since then. Crania of the first wave of migrants, such as Neanderthals in Europe and Peking Man in East Asia, show distinct morphological features that are different from contemporary humans (also known as Homo sapiens sapiens). The first wave of migration was estimated to have occurred 7-9,000,000 years ago. In the 1990s, studies on Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA proved that the contemporary Eurasians are descendants of the second wave of migrants, who migrated out of Africa less than 100,000 years ago.
It has been reported that the habitats of Neanderthals and ancestors of contemporary Eurasians overlapped both in time and space, and therefore provides possibility of introgression between Neanderthals and ancestors of Eurasians. This possibility is confirmed by recent studies, which suggest that about 1-4% of Eurasian genomes are from Neanderthal introgression.
Adaptation to local environment is crucial for newly-arrived migrants, and the process of local adaptation is sometimes time-consuming. Since Neanderthals arrived in Eurasia ten times earlier than ancestors of Eurasians, we are trying to figure out whether the Neanderthal introgressions helped the ancestors of Eurasians adapt to the local environment.
Two major out-of-Africa migration waves of hominins. The purple and red colors represent the first and second migration waves, respectively. The circle near Middle East represents a possible location where main Neanderthal introgression might have occurred.
Our study reports that Neanderthal introgressive segments on chromosome 3 may have helped East Asians adapting to the intensity of ultraviolet-B (UV-B) irradiation in sunlight. We call the region containing the Neanderthal introgression the “HYAL” region, as it contains three genes that encode hyaluronoglucosaminidases.
We first noticed that the entire HYAL region is included in an unusually large linkage disequilibrium (LD) block in East Asian populations. Such a large LD block is a typical signature of positive natural selection. More interestingly, it is observed that some Eurasian haplotypes at the HYAL region show a closer relationship to the Neanderthal haplotype than to the contemporary African haplotypes, implicating recent Neanderthal introgression. We confirmed the Neanderthal introgression in HYAL region by employing a series of statistical and population genetic analyses.
Further, we examined whether the HYAL region was under positive natural selection using two published statistical tests. Both suggest that the HYAL region was under positive natural selection, and pinpoint a set of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) contributed by Neanderthal introgression as the candidate targets of positive natural selection.
We then explored the potential functional importance of Neanderthal introgression in the HYAL region. The HYAL genes attracted our attention, as they are important in hyaluronan metabolism and cellular response to UV-B irradiation. We noticed that an SNP pinpointed as a potential target for positive natural selection was located in the most conservative exon of HYAL2 gene. We suspect that this SNP (known as rs35455589) may have altered the function of HYAL2 protein, since this SNP is also associated with the risk of keloid, a dermatological disorder related to hyaluronan metabolism.
Next, we interrogated the global distribution of Neanderthal introgression at the HYAL region. It is observed that the Neanderthal introgression reaches a very high frequency in East Asian populations, which ranges from 49.4% in Japanese to 66.5% in Southern Han Chinese. The frequency of Neanderthal introgression is higher in southern East Asian populations compared to northern East Asian populations. Such evidence might suggest latitude-dependent selection, which implicates the role of UV-B intensity.
We discovered that Neanderthal introgression on chromosome 3 was under positive natural selection in East Asians. We also found that a gene (HYAL2) in the introgressive region is related to the cellular response to UV-B, and an allele from Neanderthal introgression may have altered the function of HYAL2. As such, we think it is possible that Neanderthals may have helped East Asians to adapt to sunlight.
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Image credit: Background map via Wikimedia Commons, with annotations by the authors.
The sentences of those who murder more than one person, or who kill in particularly gruesome circumstances are naturally the stuff of headlines. So it was again on 18 February when a specially constituted bench of the Court of Appeal, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that there is no legal bar on whole life orders for particularly heinous offences. In such cases, judges can continue to order that offenders deserve to remain in prison for the rest of their lives.
The case arose because in July 2013, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found in Vinter and others v United Kingdom that even offenders on whom whole life orders had been imposed had to have a prospect of release. To deny them this hope meant that the punishment was inhuman and degrading, thus infringing the prohibition of such punishments in Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights. It had to be clear to offenders at the time of sentencing that if circumstances changed and there was no further justification for continuing their imprisonment, there was an appropriate procedure in place for reconsidering continued detention. English legislation allowing for the release of prisoners facing whole life sentences only on compassionate grounds was deemed insufficient to give prisoners hope as the Secretary of State for Justice had stated in the ‘lifers’ manual’ that he would only consider the release on compassionate grounds of prisoners who were terminally ill or seriously incapacitated. In the view of the European Court, allowing someone out of prison only when they are at death’s door was not ‘release’ in the full sense of the term. This judgment left some English courts uncertain about whether they should impose whole life sentences, particularly as the UK government declared that it was reluctant to change the law or policy in terms of which it should be applied.
The Court of Appeal’s finding was presented by a large section of the press as a ruling that prisoners subject to life orders could be denied all prospect of release. Even the BBC led with ‘Court of Appeal upholds whole-life principle’.
The reality is far more complex. The European Court of Human Rights never held that courts could not sentence someone to whole life imprisonment. The confirmation that judges could continue to impose this sentence was therefore unsurprising. What the European Court had established was the principle that, even where such sentences were imposed, there still had to be a prospect of release for the offender who could demonstrate that his continued detention was no longer justified, because, for example he no longer posed a risk to society.
Close reading of the judgment shows that the Court of Appeal accepted this principle. It disagreed with the European Court only on whether the powers of the Secretary of State for Justice were so limited that he might not be able to release someone when required to do so. According to the Court of Appeal, the European Court had been misled by the lifers’ manual, which wrongly purported to limit the release powers of the Secretary of State. The Court of Appeal explained that as a matter of law, the Secretary of State was required to exercise his powers in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights and the common law. This meant that in every case where a prisoner claims that there are exceptional circumstances that justify his release from a whole life sentence, the Secretary for State will have to consider the claim and give a reasoned decision for allowing or rejecting it.
This outcome is rich in irony. Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, has been scathingly critical of the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in the Vinter case, and saw the decision of the Court of Appeal as restoring whole life sentences. He will now be responsible in his official capacity for the procedure which is designed to ensure prisoners subject to whole life orders retain a prospect of release, something which he resisted by declining to amend the lifers’ manual. Nor will the Secretary of State be able to allow his antipathy to the release of such prisoners to influence his decisions, which, the Court of Appeal emphasised, will be subject to the rigours of judicial review as required by the common law.
Together with Pete Weatherby QC and Simon Creighton, I argued in a recent article in the Human Rights Law Review that the consequences of the European Court’s judgment in the Vinter case are far-reaching. In order to ensure that prisoners serving whole life sentences have a hope of release, prison regimes will have to provide them with opportunities to prepare themselves to lead a crime free life; they must have an opportunity to rehabilitate.
Moreover, these release procedures must meet the requirements of due process. We recommend that the Secretary of State refer the release applications of prisoners serving whole life sentences to the Parole Board. Although current law, as interpreted by the Court of Appeal, would allow him to take the final decision in such cases, we propose that he should give the Parole Board the power to decide for it is fundamentally wrong for a politician to have the final say over whether someone should be released.
Finally, we suggest that the Secretary of State announces as a matter of urgency when whole life sentences will be reconsidered routinely. We suggest that this should happen after no more than 25 years have been served and at regular intervals thereafter.
In the end, what matters is that even the worst and most reviled offenders are treated fairly. Justice requires that regard be had for their rights too. It should not have required Europe to spell out that it was necessary to do so. The Court of Appeal has now gently reminded the Secretary of State of his common law duties in this regard too. One can only hope that misplaced opposition to European intervention does not lead to a failure to act.
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In honor of Black History Month, we sat down with Noel Erskine to learn more about the Plantation Church—the religions that formed on plantations during slavery—and its roots in the Caribbean.
How was the Plantation Church formed?
The Plantation Church was formed through the traffic across the Black Atlantic of Africa’s children, packed like sardines, and treated as human cargo, to work on plantations in the Americas. The plantation was at first a site of human bondage, and provided the context for chattel slavery, where the entire family was brutalized as they realized that there was a connection between higher sugar prices and cruel treatment of slaves. In plantation society the political power of the African chief was transferred to the white master, except in the context of the plantation, there were no safeguards for women and children. The entire family was dehumanized. Plantation etiquette required submission to the wishes of the master and failure to comply would often elicit a violent response. The will of the master applied to every aspect of plantation life. The master had the right to whip, sell, or trade members of the family whenever or for whatever reason. Africans found it difficult at first to mount a credible form of resistance against the violence perpetrated against them on plantations.
Slaves being transported in Africa, 19th century engraving. From Lehrbuch der Weltgeschichte oder Die Geschichte der Menschheit by William Rednbacher, 1890. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Why was the Plantation Church formed?
It is often forgotten that Africans who were captured and brought against their will to work on plantations in the New World left institutions of their clan and tribe behind. The creation of the Plantation Church was an attempt to hold body and soul together in an alien environment. In the Plantation Church, which was at first an African Church, Africans “stolen from the homeland” had to compensate for the loss of language, culture, and the constant change of environment as they were often sold and separated from members of their families. The cruelty meted out to Africans who traversed the Black Atlantic on route to the Caribbean and North American colonies for work in plantation society is beyond compare in the annals of the history of slavery. The Indians and Spaniards had the support and comfort of their families, their kinsfolk, their leaders, and their places of worship in their sufferings. Africans the most uprooted of all, were herded together like animals in a pen, always in a state of impotent rage, always filled with a longing for flight, freedom, change, and always having to adopt a defensive attitude of submission, pretense, and acculturation to the new world.
What characterized the Plantation Church?
Enslaved Africans on plantations “a long ways from home”, remembered home, and the memory of Africa became a controlling metaphor and organizing principle as they countered the hegemonic conditions imposed on them by their masters. There was a tension between their existence on plantations here in the New World and there in Africa, their home of origin. Here in plantation society they longed for there, their home, Africa – the forests, the ancestors, family, Gods and culture. They remembered the forests and they relived their experience of forests through the practice of religious rituals in the brush arbors, often down by the riverside. The memory of ancestors and a sense that their spirits accompanied them served as sites of a new consciousness on the plantations in which the struggle for survival and liberation took precedence. This awakening convinced them that they would survive through running away to the forests or through suicides that would reunite them with families and the Africa they remembered. It was primarily through religious rituals and the carving out of Black sacred spaces that enslaved persons were able to affirm self and create a world over against plantation society which was created for their families by the master. With the creation of the Plantation Church, the African priest and medicine man/woman were able to prevent the enslaved condition from dominating their consciousness and rob the children of Africa the freedom to dream a new world. It was the community’s memory of Africa that provided hope for dreaming the emergence of new worlds whether in Haiti, South Carolina, or Cuba.
Why is the Caribbean so important to the Plantation Church?
There were more than eleven million enslaved persons who were transported across the Black Atlantic and forced to work on plantations in the New World. Of this number, about 450, 000 arrived in the United States and all the rest went south of the border to the Caribbean nations and South America. More than twice the number of Africans who landed in the United States arrived in each of the islands of Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba. Additionally, it must be noted that slavery began in the Caribbean as early as 1502, well over a hundred years before the first twenty Africans landed in James Town Virginia in 1619. The historical priority and the numerical advantage point to the Black religious experience being born in the Caribbean and not the United States of America. W.E.B. Du Bois puts this in perspective, “American Negroes, to a much larger extent than they realize, are not only blood relatives to the West Indians but under deep obligations to them for many things. For instance, without the Haitian Revolt, there would have been no emancipation in America as early as 1863. I, myself, am of West Indian descent and am proud of the fact.”
With the Oscars round the corner, we’re delving into Film: A Very Short Introduction. Here’s an extract from Chapter 3 of Michael Wood’s book. In this extract he looks at the industry and the role of the moviegoer.
Film began as a very small business, a dramatic invention but a tiny piece of the world of entertainment. It was an act among others in a variety show. Very soon, though, there were shows composed only of films, and there were special places for their showing. A cinema called the Nickleodeon opened in Pittsburgh in 1905, and by 1907 there were 4,000 such places in the United States. Something resembling an industry developed in France, Italy, England, and Germany too, and audiences grew and grew across the world. Studios were born. Pathé and Gaumont in France; UFA in Germany; Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount in the USA. Hollywood itself, a small Californian town surrounded by orange groves, became a movie settlement because of its steady weather (and because California was thought to be far enough away from the lawsuits that rained down on experimenters and investors in New York). Something like the contours of later patterns of film-making began to form. Stars began to glitter. And above all, money began to gleam.
A whole support system blossomed: publicity machinery, fan magazines, prizes, record-kepping. Box-office results became the equivalent of sporting scores, or world championship boxing.
Avatar (2009) is the largest grossing picture ever made, unless we adjust for inflation, in which case the title goes to Gone with the Wind (1939), and Avatar moves to fourteenth place. The American Academy of Moton Pictures awarded its first Oscars in 1929, and has awarded them every year since. Programmes developed from sets of short films to single feature films plus supporting entries; and from there to the two film diet that was standard fare for so long. By 1929, 90 million cinema tickets were sold each week in America, with figures proportionally similar elsewhere. There were ups and downs during the Depression and the Second World War, but the figure had reached one hundred million by 1946. By 1955, however, the number was down to 46 million, not a whole lot more than the 40 million or so of 1922. Movie-houses, of which a little more later, rose and fell, naturally enough, to the same rhythm: there were 20,000 in America in 1947 and 11,000 in 1959.
Programmes often changed midweek, and shows were continuous, so you could come in at the middle of a film and stay till you got the middle again. Hence the now almost unintelligible phrase “This is where we came in”. There is a remarkable piece by the humorist Robert Benchley about a game he liked to play. Arriving, say, twenty minutes into a film, he would give himself five minutes to reconstruct the plot so far. Then he would interpret everything that followed in the light of his reconstruction. He would stay on to see how close he was – or pretend to see. He claimed many movies were improved by his method.
Theories of the Seventh Art arose, as well as plenty of attacks of the mindlessness of moviegoers. It was in reaction to one such attack that Walter Benjamin devloped an important piece of the argument of his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility” (various versions between 1935 and 1939). The French novelist George Duhamel had included an onslaught on cinema in his witty and gloomy book on America, Scénes de la vie future (1930). The relevant chapter is titled ‘cinematographic interlude or the entertainment of the free citizen’, and within the text, the cinema is called, in the same mode of a grand irony, a sanctury, a temple, an abyss of forgetfulness, and the cave of the monster. Duhamel says that film ‘requires no kind of effort’ and ‘presupposes no capacity for consecutive thought’, ‘aucune suite dans les idées.’ Benjamin agrees that film audiences are distracted but claims that there are forms of distraction that may function as localized, medium-specific attention. ‘Even the distracted person’ he says, thinking of the moviegoer, ‘can form habits. ‘The audience’ he adds, ‘is an examiner, but a distracted one’.
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In celebration of Black History Month, Social Explorer has put together an interactive infographic with statistics from the most recent Census and American Community Survey. Dig into the data to find out about current African American household ownership, employment rates, per capita income, and more demographic information.
Social Explorer provides quick and easy access to current and historical census data and demographic information. The easy-to-use web interface lets users create maps and reports to illustrate, analyze, and understand demography and social change. In addition to its comprehensive data resources, Social Explorer offers features and tools to meet the needs of demography experts and novices alike. From research libraries to classrooms to government agencies to corporations to the front page of the New York Times, Social Explorer helps the public engage with society and science.
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I had the pleasure of participating in certain parts of the Oral History Association’s Midwinter Meeting, held 14-16 February 2014 in Madison, Wisconsin. Let’s get this question answered right off the bat: Why Wisconsin in February? Because the organization meets in the winter (or early spring) at the location of the upcoming meeting. Since the OHA’s 48th Annual Meeting will be held in Madison (8-12 October), the group’s leadership met in Madison this month. It seems everyone in attendance embraced the Wisconsin winter, including marveling at the ice fishing “shacks” on Madison’s lakes and watching the cross-country skiers take over Capitol Square during Madison’s Winter Festival.
I served as a tour guide for the organization’s executive director Cliff Kuhn. Fresh off his appearance in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article (and video chat) about the Belfast Project, Cliff came into Madison ready to talk about all things oral history. Cliff thought both the article and the chat went well. “I was pleased that the Chronicle reporter addressed a complex subject in considerable depth,” he said. “With the chat we were able to discuss at some length a number of important issues the Belfast Project/Boston College case raised which are of interest to oral historians and archivists.”
The OHA Council (L-R): Cliff Kuhn, Gayle Knight, Amy Starecheski, Jeff Freidman, Anne Valk, Paul Ortiz, Dan Kerr, Stephen Sloan
As I took Cliff around to some possible off-hotel sites for the upcoming conference, and meetings with representatives from the Wisconsin Humanities Council and Wisconsin Historical Society, we chatted about the relationship between the OHA and the Oral History Review. Particularly, we both lauded the work our Editor-in-Chief Kathy Nasstrom has done to in her two-plus years in charge. “Kathy has really raised the bar, and it’s getting noticed,” Cliff enthused. “At a session at the AHA on journal editing, the OHR was singled out for its inclusion of digital content.” Cliff also felt an upcoming addition to the OHR’s editorial team, Stephanie Gilmore, will bring a great deal to the journal. (Gilmore will be featured in a future podcast; yes, this is a blogpost tease!)
Saturday morning, I attended the portion of the meeting regarding Oral History Review. Cliff and I briefed the OHA Council on a few important topics. Specifically, we both noted the great reception we have received in regards to the OHR’s short-form initiative. We joked to Council that the topic (almost) “trended on Twitter.” Overall, I felt what I already knew: All of OHA’s leadership who attended the midwinter meeting respect and appreciate the work we have done. And it’s always nice to be appreciated.
Troy Reeves is the Oral History Review’s Managing Editor (though, thus far, no one has been as impressed with that title as Reeves thinks they should.) He also oversees the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s oral history program, which is housed in the UW-Madison Archives. In his spare time, he tries — quite unsuccessfully — to teach the OHR’s Social Media Coordinator about 1970s and 1980s Americana.
This year’s slate of contenders includes established pros (John Williams, Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat) along with some newcomers (William Butler and Owen Pallett, Steven Price). This used to be a category where you had to pay your dues, but no longer. The last three winners had never been nominated before. So the real surprise winner in this category would be Williams.
Butler and Pallett already have a pocketful of awards and this is just the kind of “outsider” score (Butler and Pallett’s first nomination) that Academy voters love: remember Reznor and Ross winning for The Social Network? A win for Butler and Pallett makes the Academy seem hip and edgy and cool, not unimportant to an aging votership. Gravity is the favorite to win here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the statuette goes to Her. Its use of acoustic instruments (that piano!) brings coziness to the sterile interiors and even the electronic instruments radiate warmth. The score is crucial in helping us to understand the characters in the film and feel for them. This wouldn’t be the same film without the score.
Desplat has done some remarkable work in the last few years (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The King’s Speech, The Queen, Harry Potter, Fantastic Mr. Fox—a personal favorite) and he’s the go-to composer for films about England and now Ireland. But he’s perennially overlooked by Academy voters (he’s lost five times in the last seven years and for some amazing work—come on, Academy)! I don’t think this is his year. Philomena doesn’t have a high enough profile in the Oscar race. I would LOVE to be wrong about this. Desplat deserves an Oscar for something and why not for Philomena—it’s a heartfelt film with an equally heartfelt score.
Newman has twelve nominations and no wins but I don’t think this year is going to change that. Saving Mr. Banks was almost completely overlooked by the Academy (this is its only nomination) and Newman’s style of big symphonic scoring hasn’t found favor in recent years with Academy voters. (See John Williams below).
Steven Price: Gravity *clip from film includes “Debris” from the soundtrack
Gravity is the front runner here. The trailer’s tag line reads “At 372 miles above the earth, there is nothing to carry sound.” Except the soundtrack…which is filled with the score. Big, noticeable, dare I say it—intrusive, this is the kind of score you can’t fail to notice…even if you try. John Williams meets Hans Zimmer.
This is Williams’ forty-ninth nomination—but The Book Thief doesn’t have the visibility of other films in this category and Academy voters of late have failed to embrace the kind of big symphonic scores, like this one, that routinely won Oscars back in the twentieth century. Lush, melodic, memorable—vintage Williams. Like Newman for Saving Mr. Banks, Williams would be an upset.
Will win: Steven Price forGravity
Should win: William Butler and Owen Pallett for Her
Kathryn Kalinak is Professor of English and Film Studies at Rhode Island College. Her extensive writing on film music includes numerous articles as well as the books Settling the Score: Music in the Classical Hollywood Film and How the West was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford. She is author of Film Music: A Very Short Introduction.
Conservation physiology was first identified as an emerging discipline in a landmark paper by Wikelski and Cooke, published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution in 2006. They defined it as “the study of physiological responses of organisms to human alteration of the environment that might cause or contribute to population decline”. Although the case studies and examples presented by Wikelski and Cooke focused on wild animals, they indicated already that conservation physiology should be applicable to all taxa. With the launch of the journal Conservation Physiology – one year ago – this taxonomic inclusiveness was made more explicit, and the definition was broadened to “an integrative scientific discipline applying physiological concepts, tools and knowledge to characterizing biological diversity and its ecological implications; understanding and predicting how organisms, populations and ecosystems respond to environmental change and stressors; and solving conservation problems across the broad range of taxa (i.e. including microbes, plants and animals)”.
Although the definition of conservation physiology, and also the journal with the same name, covers in principle all taxa, plants (and also microbes, and among animals the invertebrates) are still clearly underrepresented. Of the 32 papers that were published in the journal in 2013, only three (9%) focussed on plants. This underrepresentation of plants, however, appears to be a general trend in conservation science, as the journal Conservation Biology had only ten out of 93 contributed papers (11%) focussing on plants in 2013. The journal Biological Conservation did a bit better with 59 out of 309 regular papers (19%) focussing on plants in 2013. Given the importance of plants as primary producers, which are indispensable for all other organisms, and the fact that 10,065 of the 21,286 species (47%) assessed by the IUCN Red List as globally threatened are plants, they clearly deserve more attention in the field of conservation physiology, and conservation science in general.
Conservation science has many important, frequently intertwined, sub-disciplines, including among others conservation policy, conservation genetics and conservation physiology. The strength of physiology, and thus of conservation physiology, is that it focusses on the mechanisms underlying patterns by identifying cause-and-effect relationships, preferably through experimentation. Physiology is directly related to the functioning and function of plants. This means that physiological knowledge is imperative for understanding the habitat requirements of endangered native plants and of potentially invasive exotic plants, and the ecological impacts of invasive exotic plants and migrating native plants. An accessory advantage of working with plants is that they lend themselves extremely well for experimental studies, as they are sessile, can easily be marked, and frequently can be grown in large numbers under greenhouse or garden conditions. Plants are thus ideal objects for conservation physiological studies.
Given that plants are underrepresented, a logical question is what kind of plant studies fall under the umbrella of conservation physiology. The three reviews on plants that were published in Conservation Physiology in 2013 do a great job in setting the scene. Hans Lambers and colleagues reviewed the research on phosphorus-sensitive plants in a global biodiversity hotspot. Many of these species are threatened by the introduced pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi and by eutrophication; the latter partly due to large-scale application of phosphite-containing fungicides (biostats) that are used to fight the pathogen. This illustrates how one conservation measure may cause undesired side effects. Physiological understanding of how phosphite functions could help to develop alternative fungicides with less negative side effects. Fiona Hay and Robin Probert reviewed recent research on seed conservation of wild plant species. They clearly make the case that if we want to preserve genetic material of wild plant species in ex-situ seed banks for conservation purposes, physiological research is imperative for developing optimal storage, germination and growth conditions. Last but not least, Jennifer Funk reviewed research on physiological characteristics of exotic plant species invading low-resource environments. Prevention of invasions and mitigation of the impacts of invasions requires physiological research that resolves the question whether exotic species manage to invade low-resource environments through enhanced resource acquisition, resource conservation or both. These three reviews thus illustrate already three important plant-related topics in conservation physiology: causes of threat of native plants, ex-situ conservation, and invasive exotic plants.
An important topic that hasn´t been covered yet in the journal Conservation Physiology is how plants will respond to climate change. As physiology underlies the fundamental niche of a species, physiological studies can inform predictive models on potential responses of plants to climate change. Related topics are how endangered and invasive plant species will respond to increased CO2 levels, and how their vulnerability to diseases may change under novel climatic conditions. Furthermore, as we seem to miserably fail in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, it becomes also more likely that governments will start to implement climate engineering methods to reduce incoming solar radiation or atmospheric CO2 levels. Undesired ecological side effects of these methods will raise novel conservation issues for which physiological knowledge will be imperative. Other topics that haven’t been covered yet are physiological responses of plants to pollution, and how endangered species that are difficult to propagate from seeds could be multiplied using tissue culture or other techniques. Obviously, the list of potential topics that I have mentioned here is far from exhaustive, but I hope it illustrates that many of the plant-related topics on which many of us work already or will work in the future fit within the discipline of conservation physiology.
Mark van Kleunen is a Professor of Ecology at the University of Konstanz. His research focusses on invasiveness of exotic plants, plant responses to global change and life-history evolution. This blog post is an adapted version of his editorial ‘Conservation Physiology of Plants‘ in the journal Conservation Physiology.
Conservation Physiology is an online only, fully open access journal published on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology. Biodiversity across the globe faces a growing number of threats associated with human activities. Conservation Physiology publishes research on all taxa (microbes, plants and animals) focused on understanding and predicting how organisms, populations, ecosystems and natural resources respond to environmental change and stressors. Physiology is considered in the broadest possible terms to include functional and mechanistic responses at all scales.
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Image credit: California wildflowers. By Rennett Stowe. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Many religious people think—or hope—that all those who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) are “seekers” looking for a spiritual home. And many non-religious people assume that SBNRs are routinely hostile to religion and probably have been hurt by it. In fact, after speaking with hundreds of SBNRs all across North America over a five-year period, I have found neither of these assumptions to be accurate or widely representative.
Photo courtesy of the author.
Instead, I have found my interviewees falling into five types. I spoke with adults from many generations and found that the types cut across all age groups. While I found that people sometimes moved from one type to another, many others stayed put. Having a set of categories like these helps us better understand this rapidly growing segment of the United States.
Here are the five types I found:
Dissenters: Dissenters largely stay away from institutional religion, whether from bad experiences or, more often, theological differences. Many of these had a religious background and either protested or simply drifted away from it. Against popular assumptions, however, this type made up a fairly small percentage of my total.
Casuals: For Casuals, religious and spiritual practices are generally approached on an “as-needed” basis and discarded or changed when no longer necessary. Spirituality is not felt to be the organizing center of their lives. Many of the “casuals”—especially younger ones—had little or no religious exposure either as children or adults. This type represented a very large percentage of my total.
Explorers: These people seem to have a spiritual “wanderlust.” Acting more like tourists, they don’t expect to settle down in any permanent spiritual home. They are different from “casuals,” however, because spirituality is a central interest for them. Thus, they are always ready to try something new. Explorers represented a modest but significant percentage and were certainly some of the more intriguing interviewees.
Seekers: Unlike the above types, these SBNRs are actually seeking a spiritual home in which to settle down. They may frequently be frustrated in the search, but they persevere. They do this because they long to belong, whether that is to God, Spirit, or a spiritually-grounded group. Against popular assumptions that every SBNR is a “seeker,” they only represented a modest percentage of the total.
Immigrants: These were interviewees who had moved to a new spiritual “land” and—like geographic immigrants—were trying to adjust, usually with some difficulty. Often they had once been “seekers.” This represented, by far, the smallest number of interviewees.
Once we understand that “spiritual but not religious” people come in different types, both religious and non-religious people will avoid the common conceptual traps that prevent us from fully seeing and appreciating this growing group. For religious people, there are two traps. First is what I call the “mea culpa” trap (“What did we do to hurt them?”). In fact, I heard very few religious “horror stories.” Clearly, religion isn’t as unilaterally repressive as some people like to think. But, in addition, fewer and fewer numbers are raised with any religious exposure at all. Thus, many interviewees had no bad experiences with religion to prevent them from considering it.
The second religious trap I call “If we build it, they will come” (“If only we fix our music, greet newcomers better, have better community, they will want to join us”). Yet for increasing numbers, religion is not a habit, but a strange world. Religious people should not expect SBNRs to show up at the sanctuary door. Instead, they will have to be encountered in other ways and places.
Non-religious people, too, need to avoid some traps. It is a mistake to assume SBNRs are generally hostile to religion. It is also misguided to assume SBNRs don’t take religious issues seriously. When I did find SBNRs who had explicit issues with organized religion, it was often a theological problem that kept them away or a sadness that, unlike others, they never quite “got it.”
Knowing the types and traps will help us take a more nuanced view towards the growing phenomenon of SBNRs. On the plus side, increasing numbers are becoming open to a variety of spiritual guides, alternatives, and even religious traditions, as they continue to nurture the spirit within. The downside, however, is that as many bring less information, heritage, or background with them on their spiritual journey, they will have to work harder to distinguish the deep spiritual wells from the shallow puddles.