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1. The month that changed the world: Saturday, 25 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Would there be war by the end of the day? It certainly seemed possible: the Serbs had only until 6 p.m. to accept the Austrian demands. Berchtold had instructed the Austrian representative in Belgrade that nothing less than full acceptance of all ten points contained in the ultimatum would be regarded as satisfactory. And no one expected the Serbs to comply with the demands in their entirety – least of all the Austrians.

When the Serbian cabinet met that morning they had received advice from Russia, France, and Britain urging them to be as accommodating as possible. No one indicated that any military assistance might be forthcoming. They began drafting a ‘most conciliatory’ reply to Austria while preparing for war: the royal family prepared to leave Belgrade; the military garrison left the city for a fortified town 60 miles south; the order for general mobilization was signed and drums were beaten outside of cafés, calling up conscripts.

Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl, Austria: the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Kaiserville, Bad Ischl, Austria. By Blue tornadoo CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl, Austria: the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Kaiserville, Bad Ischl, Austria. By Blue tornadoo CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How would Russia respond? That morning the tsar presided over a meeting of the Russian Grand Council where it was agreed to mobilize the thirteen army corps designated to act against Austria. By afternoon ‘the period preparatory to war’ was initiated and preparations for mobilization began in the military districts of Kiev, Odessa, Moscow, and Kazan.

Simultaneously, Sazonov tried to enlist German support in persuading Austria to extend the deadline beyond 6 p.m., arguing that it was a ‘European matter’ not limited to Austria and Serbia. The Germans refused, arguing that to summon Austria to a European ‘tribunal’ would be humiliating and mean the end of Austria as a Great Power. Sazonov insisted that the Austrians were aiming to establish hegemony in the Balkans: after they devoured Serbia and Bulgaria Russia would face them ‘on the Black Sea’. He tried to persuade Sir Edward Grey that if Britain were to join Russia and France, Germany would then pressure Austria into moderation.

How would Britain respond? Sir Edward Grey gave no indication that Britain would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Russians in a conflict over Serbia. His only concern seemed to be to contain the crisis, to keep it a dispute between Austria and Serbia. ‘I do not consider that public opinion here would or ought to sanction our going to war over a Servian quarrel’. But if a war between Austria and Serbia were to occur ‘other issues’ might draw Britain in. In the meantime, there was still an opportunity to avert war if the four disinterested powers ‘held the hand’ of their partners while mediating the dispute. But the report he received from St Petersburg was not encouraging: the British ambassador warned that Russia and France seemed determined to make ‘a strong stand’ even if Britain declined to join them.

When the Austrian minister received the Serb reply at 5:58 on Saturday afternoon, he could see instantly that their submission was not complete. He announced that Austria was breaking off diplomatic relations with Serbia and immediately ordered the staff of the delegation to leave for the railway station. By 6:30 the Austrians were on a train bound for the border.

That evening, in the Kaiservilla at Bad Ischl, Franz Joseph signed the orders for mobilization of thirteen army corps. When the news reached Vienna the people greeted it with the ‘wildest enthusiasm’. Huge crowds began to form, gathering at the Ringstrasse and bursting into patriotic songs. The crowds marched around the city shouting ‘Down with Serbia! Down with Russia’. In front of the German embassy they sang ‘Wacht am Rhein’; police had to protect the Russian embassy against the demonstrators. Surely, it would not be long before the guns began firing.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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2. Re-thinking the role of the regional oral history organization

By Jason Steinhauer

Jason Steinhauer. Photo by Amanda Reynolds

Jason Steinhauer. Photo by Amanda Reynolds

What is the role of a regional oral history organization?

The Board of Officers of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR) recently wrestled with this question over the course of a year-long strategic planning process. Our organization had reached an inflection point. New technologies, shifting member expectations and changing demographics compelled us to re-think our direction. What could we offer new and existing members that local or national organizations did not —and how would we offer it?

Our strategic planning committee set out to answer these questions, and to chart a course for 2014 and beyond. Four board members served on the committee: Kate Scott of the Senate Historical Office; LuAnn Jones of the National Park Service; Anne Rush of the University of Maryland; and myself, of the Library of Congress, acting as director. OHMAR dates back to 1976 and has been a vibrant organization for nearly 40 years. Therefore, our goal was not to re-invent but rather to re-focus. To start, we identified OHMAR’s core values. We determined them to be:

  • Openness
  • Passion
  • Community
  • Education
  • Expertise


Whatever our new direction, we would stay true to these ideals.

For months, the committee discussed how OHMAR could better serve members with these values in mind. We also polled membership and consulted with past organization presidents about what they valued in OHMAR and what they wanted in the future. What emerged was a plan with several key considerations for how any regional organization can serve its membership:

  • Build community. Through digital technology, formal and informal events, and low-cost membership, regional organizations can foster meaningful professional networks, offer support, and create opportunities for intimate interaction on an ongoing basis.
  • Provide targeted resources. Local knowledge can allow regional organizations like OHMAR to provide targeted educational, professional, and monetary resources. For example, oral historians working for the federal government in and around Washington, D.C., have unique challenges to which OHMAR can provide specific tools, tips, and advice.
  • Leverage expertise. Our region boasts tremendous expertise courtesy of oral historians such as Don Ritchie, Linda Shopes, Roger Horowitz, and more. These experts can help educate new members, especially those from fields such as journalism, the arts, public history, and advocacy on best practices.
  • Offer meaningful opportunities. By forming new committees, we can offer members meaningful ways to get involved and gain leadership experience.


We presented our findings in the form of a new Strategic Plan at our April 2014 annual meeting. The intimate two-day event was attended by more than 60 oral historians and reaffirmed the value of regional conferences. In fact, feedback stated that for some, ours was the best conference they had ever attended. On the afternoon of the second day, our members ratified OHMAR’s Strategic Plan for 2015-2020. Accordingly, next year, we will focus on improving our internal operations, updating our bylaws, and overhauling our website, member management system, and e-newsletter. In the following years, we will also introduce several new initiatives, including a Martha Ross Memorial Prize for students, named for our beloved founder.

We will be discussing our strategic plan and the role of regional oral history organizations in a panel at the Oral History Association’s upcoming 2014 annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. We hope you’ll join us and share your ideas.

Jason Steinhauer serves on the Board of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR). He directed the organization’s strategic planning process from 2013-2014. You can follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonSteinhauer and OHMAR at @OHMidAtlantic.

The Oral History Review, published by the Oral History Association, is the U.S. journal of record for the theory and practice of oral history. Its primary mission is to explore the nature and significance of oral history and advance understanding of the field among scholars, educators, practitioners, and the general public. Follow them on Twitter at @oralhistreview, like them on Facebook, add them to your circles on Google Plus, follow them on Tumblr, listen to them on Soundcloud, or follow their latest OUPblog posts via email or RSS to preview, learn, connect, discover, and study oral history.

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3. Microbes matter

By John Archibald


We humans have a love-hate relationship with bugs. I’m not talking about insects — although many of us cringe at the thought of them too — but rather the bugs we can’t see, the ones that make us sick.

Sure, microorganisms give us beer, wine, cheese, and yoghurt; hardly a day goes by without most people consuming food or drink produced by microbial fermentation. And we put microbes to good use in the laboratory, as vehicles for the production of insulin and other life-saving drugs, for example.

But microbes are also responsible for much of what ails us, from annoying stomach ‘bugs’ to deadly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and plague. Bacteria and viruses are even linked to certain cancers. Bugs are bad; antibiotics and antivirals are good. We spend billions annually trying to rid ourselves of microorganisms, and if they were to all disappear, well, all the better, right?

This is, of course, nonsense. Even the most ardent germaphobe would take a deep breath and accept the fact that we could no more survive without microbes than we could without oxygen. No matter how clean we strive to be, there are 100 trillion bacterial cells living on and within our bodies, 10 times the number of human cells that comprise ‘us’. Hundreds of different bacterial species live within our intestines, hundreds more thrive in our mouths and on our skin. Add in the resident viruses, fungi, and small animals such as worms and mites, and the human body becomes a full-blown ecosystem, a microcosm of the world around us. And like any ecosystem, if thrown off-balance bad things can happen. For example, many of our ‘good’ bacteria help us metabolize food and fight off illness. But after a prolonged course of antibiotics such bacteria can be knocked flat, and normally benign species such as ‘Clostridium difficile’ can grow out of control and cause disease.

virus-163471_1280

Given the complexity of our body jungle, some researchers go as far as to propose that there is no such thing as a ‘human being’. Each of us should instead be thought of as a human-microbe symbiosis, a complex biological relationship in which neither partner can survive without the other. As disturbing a notion as this may be, one thing is indisputable: we depend on our microbiome and it depends on us.

And there is an even more fundamental way in which the survival of Homo sapiens is intimately tied to the hidden microbial majority of life. Each and every one of our 10 trillion cells betrays its microbial ancestry in harboring mitochondria, tiny subcellular factories that use oxygen to convert our food into ATP, the energy currency of all living cells. Our mitochondria are, in essence, domesticated bacteria — oxygen-consuming bacteria that took up residence inside another bacterium more than a billion years ago and never left. We know this because mitochondria possess tiny remnants of bacterium-like DNA inside them, distinct from the DNA housed in the cell nucleus. Modern genetic investigations have revealed that mitochondria are a throwback to a time before complex animals, plants, or fungi had arisen, a time when life was exclusively microbial.

As we ponder the bacterial nature of our mitochondria, it is also instructive to consider where the oxygen they so depend on actually comes from. The answer is photosynthesis. Within the cells of plants and algae are the all-important chloroplasts, green-tinged, DNA-containing factories that absorb sunlight, fix carbon dioxide, and pump oxygen into the atmosphere by the truckload. Most of the oxygen we breathe comes from the photosynthetic activities of these plants and algae—and like mitochondria, chloroplasts are derived from bacteria by symbiosis. The genetic signature written within chloroplast DNA links them to the myriad of free-living cyanobacteria drifting in the world’s oceans. Photosynthesis and respiration are the biochemical yin and yang of life on Earth. The energy that flows through chloroplasts and mitochondria connects life in the furthest corners of the biosphere.

For all our biological sophistication and intelligence, one could argue that we humans are little more than the sum of the individual cells from which we are built. And as is the case for all other complex multicellular organisms, our existence is inexorably linked to the sea of microbes that share our physical space. It is a reality we come by honestly. As we struggle to tame and exploit the microbial world, we would do well to remember that symbiosis—the living together of distinct organisms—explains both what we are and how we got here.

John Archibald is Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Dalhousie University and a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Program in Integrated Microbial Biodiversity. He is an Associate Editor for Genome Biology & Evolution and an Editorial Board Member of various scientific journals, including Current Biology, Eukaryotic Cell, and BMC Biology. He is the author of One Plus One Equals One: Symbiosis and the Evolution of Complex Life.

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Image credit: Virus Microbiology. Public domain via Pixabay

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4. Occupational epidemiology: a truly global discipline

By Katherine M. Venables


Occupational epidemiology is one of those fascinating areas which spans important areas of human life: health, disease, work, law, public policy, the economy. Work is fundamental to any society and the importance society attaches to the health of its workers varies over time and between countries. Because of the lessons to be learned by looking at other countries as well as one’s own, occupational epidemiology is a truly global discipline. Emerging economies often prioritize productivity over other issues, but also can learn from the long history of improvement in working conditions which has taken place in developed countries. Looking the other way, the West can learn from fresh insights gained in studies set in low and middle-income countries.

Exposures are usually higher in emerging economies and epidemiological methods are an important tool in detecting and quantifying outbreaks of occupational disease which may have been controlled in the West. A recent study of digestive cancer in a Chinese asbestos mining and milling cohort provides additional evidence that stomach cancer may be associated with high levels of exposure to chrostile asbestos, for example. This was a collaborative study between researchers in China, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States, and illustrates the way that studying an “old” disease in a new context can provide results which are of global benefit.

Issues in occupational epidemiology are never static. Work exposures change along with materials and processes. The ubiquitous printing industry, for example, is always developing new inks, cleaning agents, and processes. A cluster of cases of the rare liver cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, was noted in Japanese printers and this finding was replicated in the Nordic printing industry by using one of the large Nordic population-based databases. This replication is important because it shows that the association is unlikely to be due to a lifestyle factor specific to Japan.

Woman smoking a cigarette“Big data” sharpens statistical power and there are now specific data pooling projects in occupational epidemiology, to supplement the use of existing large databases. The SYNERGY study, for example, pools lung cancer case-control studies with the aim of teasing out occupational effects from behind the masking effect of smoking, which remains by far the most important driver for lung cancer. A recent analysis with around 20,000 cases and controls was able to show that bakers are not at increased risk of lung cancer, whereas the many previous smaller studies had given inconsistent results.

The addition of systematic reviews to the toolkit has strengthened the evidence base in occupational epidemiology, allowing policy about occupational risks and their prevention to be made with confidence. Health economics, also, can be applied to findings from occupational epidemiology to clarify policy issues.

Development brings its own issues to which occupational epidemiology can be applied. We now live longer in the West, and we will have to work into old age, often while carrying chronic diseases. Despite frequently-expressed concerns about an ageing workforce, a recent study in an Australian smelter confirmed others in that the older workers maintained their ability to work safely and the highest injury rates were in young workers. Patients with previously fatal diseases survive into adult life and, potentially, the workforce; a survey of patients with cystic fibrosis, for example, found that disease severity was less important as a predictor of employment than social factors such as educational attainment and locality. A loss of heavy industry in the West, combined with cheap transport, means that many of us spend most of our waking hours sitting down, promoting obesity and its complications. A sample of UK office workers spent 65% of their work time sitting and did not compensate for this by being more active outside work. The economic downturn is a major political and social preoccupation, bringing uncertainty about future employment, which may fuel dysfunctional behaviour such as ‘presenteeism’. A Swedish study suggested that this may be associated with poor mental wellbeing.

Katherine M. Venables is a Reader in the Department of Public Health at the University of Oxford. Her research has always focused on aetiological epidemiology. At Oxford, she has worked on a cohort study of mortality and cancer incidence in military veterans exposed to low levels of chemical warfare agents, and also on the provision of occupational health services to university staff. She is editor of Current Topics in Occupational Epidemiology.

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Image: Woman smoking a cigarette by Oxfordian Kissuth. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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5. The vote for women bishops

vsi bannerBy Linda Woodhead


There are two kinds of churches.  The ‘church type’, as the great sociologist Ernst Troeltsch called it, has fuzzy boundaries and embraces the whole of society. The ‘sect type’ has hard boundaries and tries to keep its distance. Until recently, the Church of England has been the former – a church ‘by law established’ for the whole nation. Since the 1980s, however, the Church has veered towards sectarianism. It’s within this context that we have to understand the significance of the recent vote for women bishops.

Robert Runcie (Archbishop of Canterbury 1980 to 1991) was the last leader to have no doubts about the Church’s role as a pillar of society. That didn’t mean he was a flunky of the social establishment. When he prayed for the dead on both sides of the Falklands War, or commissioned the Faith in the City report which criticised the Thatcher government, he did so from a confident position at the centre of things rather than as critic standing on the margins.

A shift away from this stance began under Runcie’s successor, George Carey (Archbishop from 1991-2002). Carey was part of the modern evangelical wing of the Church, some of whose members were already pushing for the Church to keep its distance from ‘secular’ society, but it was under Archbishop Rowan Williams (2002-2012) that the really decisive shift took place.

The background was a British society whose values were changing rapidly. My recent surveys of British beliefs and values reveal a remarkably swift liberalisation of attitudes. In this context, liberalism is the conviction that all adults should be equally free to make up their minds about choices which affect them directly. Its opposite is not conservatism but paternalism – the view that one should defer to higher authorities.

In the 1960s and ‘70s the Church of England was travelling with society in a broadly liberal direction, with prominent Anglicans supporting the liberalisation of laws relating to abortion, homosexuality, and divorce. But after Runcie, Anglican leaders made a U-turn. The extension of equal rights to women and gay people proved hardest for them to swallow. At stake for evangelicals was God-ordained male headship, and for Anglo-Catholics, an exclusively male priesthood extending back to Christ himself, and good relations with Rome.

Under the leadership of Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, the Church of England campaigned successfully to be exempted from provisions of the new equality legislation, took a hard line against homosexual practice and gay marriage, and made continuing concessions to the opponents of women’s progress in the Church (women had first been ordained priests in 1994, expecting that the office of bishop would be opened to them soon after).

Williams often behaved like an outsider to mainstream English society. He was a fierce critic of liberal ‘individualism’, and thought that religious people should huddle together against the chilly winds of secularism (hence his support for sharia law). He favoured the moral conservatism of African church leaders over the liberalism of American ones, and made disastrous compromises with illiberal factions in the Church. It was the latter which led to the failure of the last vote for women bishops in 2012 – shortly before Williams stepped down.

Williams’ supporters can say that he maintained Anglican unity, both at home and abroad. But the cost has been enormous. Church of England numbers have collapsed,  and it has become more marginal to society and most people’s lives than ever before.

So the vote to allow women bishops is a turning-point which may see the Church re-engage the moral sentiments of the majority of its members and the country as a whole. But the sectarian tendency remains strong. Although Archbishop Welby supports women bishops, he remains opposed to same-sex marriage and assisted dying, and takes very seriously the relationship with African churches and their leaders. The sectarian fringes of the Church remain influential, and the bishops remain isolated from the views of ordinary Anglicans. The Church as a whole creaks under the weight of historic buildings, unimaginative mangerialism, and sub-democratic structures.

Over the last few decades the Church of England has missed a great opportunity to reinvent itself as a genuinely liberal form of religion in a world suffering from an excess of sectarian religion of illiberal and paternalistic kinds. It lost its nerve at the crucial moment, forgetting that liberalism has Christian as well as secular roots, and reading Britain’s drive towards greater freedom and toleration as permissive rather than moral.

To task Anglican clergywomen with putting all this right is to ask too much. But the vote for women bishops strikes a blow against sectarian ‘male’ Christianity. And if the Church is serious about drawing closer to the people it is meant to serve, then becoming representative of half the population and an even bigger proportion of Anglicans has to count as a significant step in the right direction.

Linda Woodhead is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, UK. Her research interests lie in the entanglements of religion, politics, and economy, both historically and in the contemporary world. Between 2007 and 2013 she directed the Religion and Society Programme http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk, the UK’s largest ever research investment on religion. She is the author of Christianity: A Very Short Introduction, which comes out in its second edition in August. She tweets from @LindaWoodhead.

The Very Short Introductions (VSI) series combines a small format with authoritative analysis and big ideas for hundreds of topic areas. Written by our expert authors, these books can change the way you think about the things that interest you and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about. Grow your knowledge with OUPblog and the VSI series every Friday, subscribe to Very Short Introductions articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS, and like Very Short Introductions on Facebook.

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Image credit: Common Worship Books, by Gareth Hughes (Own work). CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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6. The month that changed the world: Friday, 24 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


By mid-day Friday heads of state, heads of government, foreign ministers, and ambassadors learned the terms of the Austrian ultimatum. A preamble to the demands asserted that a ‘subversive movement’ to ‘disjoin’ parts of Austria-Hungary had grown ‘under the eyes’ of the Serbian government. This had led to terrorism, murder, and attempted murder. Austria’s investigation of the assassination of the archduke revealed that Serbian military officers and government officials were implicated in the crime.

A list of ten demands followed, the most important of which were: Serbia was to suppress all forms of propaganda aimed at Austria-Hungary; the Narodna odbrana was to be dissolved, along with all other subversive societies; officers and officials who had participated in propaganda were to be dismissed; Austrian officials were to participate in suppressing the subversive movements in Serbia and in a judicial inquiry into the assassination.

When Sazonov saw the terms he concluded that Austria wanted war: ‘You are setting fire to Europe!’ If Serbia were to comply with the demands it would mean the end of its sovereignty. ‘What you want is war, and you have burnt your bridges behind you’. He advised the tsar that Serbia could not possibly comply, that Austria knew this and would not have presented the ultimatum without the promise of Germany’s support. He told the British and French ambassadors that war was imminent unless they acted together.

Sergey Sazonov, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Sergey Sazonov, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

But would they? With the French president and premier now at sea in the Baltic, and with wireless telegraphy problematic, foreign policy was in the hands of Bienvenu-Martin, the inexperienced minister of justice. He believed that Austria was within its rights to demand the punishment of those implicated in the crime and he shared Germany’s wish to localize the dispute. Serbia could not be expected to agree to demands that impinged upon its sovereignty, but perhaps it could agree to punish those involved in the assassination and to suppress propaganda aimed at Austria-Hungary.

Sir Edward Grey was shocked by the extent of the demands. He had never before seen ‘one State address to another independent State a document of so formidable a character.’ The demand that Austria-Hungary be given the right to appoint officials who would have authority within the frontiers of Serbia could not be consistent with Serbia’s sovereignty. But the British government had no interest in the merits of the dispute between Austria and Serbia; its only concern was the peace of Europe. He proposed that the four ‘disinterested powers’ (Britain, Germany, France and Italy) act together at Vienna and St Petersburg to resolve the dispute. After Grey briefed the cabinet that afternoon, the prime minister concluded that although a ‘real Armaggedon’ was within sight, ‘there seems…no reason why we should be more than spectators’.

Nothing that the Austrians or the Germans heard in London or Paris on Friday caused them to reconsider their course. In fact, their general impression was that the Entente Powers wished to localize the dispute. Even from St Petersburg the German ambassador reported that Sazonov’s reference to Austria’s ‘devouring’ of Serbia meant that Russia would take up arms only if Austria seized Serbian territory and that his wish to ‘Europeanize’ the dispute indicated that Russia’s ‘immediate intervention’ need not be anticipated.

Berchtold made his position clear in Vienna that afternoon: ‘the very existence of Austria-Hungary as a Great Power’ was at stake; Austria-Hungary must give proof of its stature as a Great Power ‘by an outright coup de force’. When the Russian chargé d’affaires asked him how Austria would respond if the time limit were to expire without a satisfactory answer from Serbia, Berchtold replied that the Austrian minister and his staff had been instructed in such circumstances to leave Belgrade and return to Austria. Prince Kudashev, after reflecting on this, exclaimed ‘Alors c’est la guerre!

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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7. Polygamous wives who helped settle the west

By Paula Kelly Harline


Happy Pioneer Day! The morning of 24 July in downtown Salt Lake City, thousands of Westerners watch the “Days of ’47” parade celebrating the 1847 arrival of Mormon pioneers; in the afternoon, they attend a rodeo or take picnics to the canyons; at night they launch as many fireworks as they did for Fourth of July.

What may be less known than the role of Brigham Young in all this is the contribution made by polygamous women. When Brigham Young parceled out Salt Lake City land plots, he allowed polygamous husbands to draw a lot for each of their wives, and this pattern continued exponentially as polygamous wives sometimes moved without their husbands to settlements in Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, supporting themselves as teachers, hat-makers, landlords, post mistresses, boarding house proprietors, laundresses, venders, and farmers.

Photo of Martha Heywood

Martha Heywood. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

For example, in 1850 not long after 39-year-old Martha Spence Heywood arrived in Salt Lake City, she became the third wife of the 35-year-old captain of her wagon train. After a few months of living in the family’s Salt Lake house, Martha moved 90 miles south to the new settlement of Nephi where she had the first of two babies in a wagon with one Church sister attending. She tried to establish herself as a teacher but wrote in her diary that there were “considerably hard feelings” against her “as a school teacher,” maybe because she was sometimes sick or maybe because townspeople resented her husband who did not live in Nephi but had a supervisory role in their struggling settlement. Along with teaching, Martha made hats that her husband advertised in the Salt Lake Deseret News. After a few years in Nephi, she moved to southern Utah and claimed a vacant “good adobe” house. Once again taking up school teaching, she even accepted produce as payment so that any child could attend school and, over the years, established herself as a legendary school teacher. The Heywood family owned homes in three towns.

Photo of Mary Ann Hafen

Mary Ann Hafen. Courtesy of International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

Starting in 1890, Mormons no longer officially sanctioned new polygamous marriages, but those who were already married like second wife Mary Ann Hafen carried on until the polygamous generation died out. In 1891, she moved 50 miles away from her “general merchant” husband John (who lived in Santa Clara, Utah, with his first wife) to Bunkerville, Nevada, where they could get cheaper land. Mary Ann wrote in her autobiography that in the “first year” when she and her children were “just getting started” in Bunkerville, her husband came down from Santa Clara “frequently” and “helped [them] a good deal.” But as time went on, “he had his hands full taking care of his other [three] families,” so she cared “for her seven children mostly by [her]self” because, as she explained, “I did not want to be a burden on my husband, but tried with my family to be self-supporting.” John had provided them with “a house, lot, and land and furnished some supplies.” Mary Ann rented out her twenty-five-acre farm up the road—the 1900 census listed her as a “landlord.” Sometimes she and her children used the farm to grow cotton and sorghum cane that she could exchange at mills for cloth and sorghum sweetener. She sewed the family’s clothing on the White sewing machine she saved up for. They preserved peaches and green tomatoes and ate from their large garden, and they kept a couple of pigs, a cow, and some chickens.

Photo of David and Lydia Ann Brinkerhoff Family

David and Lydia Ann Brinkerhoff Family. Courtesy of Joanne Hadden, family descendant.

In yet another example, first wife Lydia Brinkerhoff settled in the town of Holbrook, Arizona, while the second wife Vina and their husband settled on farmland outside town—the two locations multiplied the family’s financial prospects. In town, Lydia took in boarders, did laundry for hotels, sold vegetables from the farm, and managed the town’s mail contract.

Settling new land was not easy, and, in general, frontier women worked hard sewing linens and clothing, churning butter, making cheese, raising chickens, planting vegetable gardens, preserving jams and jellies, curing meat, cooking, producing soap and candles, and washing clothes. Mormon polygamous wives also took seriously their responsibility to nurture their children into their faith.

During the historical reflection that accompanies Pioneer Day, we can see how polygamous wives also participated in the Western American dreams of independence and expanding land ownership.

Paula Kelly Harline has been teaching college writing for over 20 years for the University of Idaho, Brigham Young University, and Utah Valley University. She has also worked as a freelance writer and artist. She currently lives with her husband, Craig, in Provo, Utah. She is the author of The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women.

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8. Echoes of Billie Holiday in Fancy Free

When Leonard Bernstein first arrived in New York, he was unknown, much like the artists he worked with at the time, who would also gain international recognition. Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War looks at the early days of Bernstein’s career during World War II, and is centered around the debut in 1944 of the Broadway musical On the Town and the ballet Fancy Free. This excerpt from the book describes the opening night of Fancy Free.

When the curtain rose on the first production of Fancy Free, the audience at the old Metropolitan Opera House did not hear a pit orchestra, which would have followed a long-established norm in ballet. Rather, a recorded vocal blues wafted from the stage. Those attending must have been caught by surprise, as they were drawn into a contemporary sound world. The song was “Big Stuff,” with music and lyrics by Bernstein. It had been conceived with the African American jazz singer Billie Holiday in mind, even though it ended up being recorded for the production by Bernstein’s sister, Shirley. At that early point in Bernstein’s career, he lacked the cultural and fiscal capital to hire anyone as famous as Holiday. The melody and piano accompaniment for “Big Stuff” contained bent notes and lilting rhythms basic to urban blues, and the lyrics summoned up the blues as an animate force, following a standard rhetorical mode for the genre:

So you cry, “What’s it about, Baby?”
You ask why the blues had to go and pick you.

Talk of going “down to the shore” vaguely referred to the sailors of Fancy Free, as the lyrics became sexually explicit:

So you go down to the shore, kid stuff.
Don’t you know there’s honey in store for you, Big Stuff?
Let’s take a ride in my gravy train;
The door’s open wide,
Come in from out of the rain.

“Big Stuff” spoke to youth in the audience by alluding to contemporary popular culture. It boldly injected an African American commercial idiom into a predominantly white high-art performance sphere, and its raunchiness enhanced the sexual provocations of Fancy Free. “Big Stuff” also blurred distinctions between acoustic and recorded sound. It marked Bernstein as a crossover composer, with the talent to write a pop song and the temerity to unveil it within a high-art context.

Billie Holiday by William P. Gottlieb. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Billie Holiday by William P. Gottlieb, c. February 1947. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Billie Holiday was “one of [Bernstein’s] idols,” according to Humphrey Burton. He admired her brilliance as a performer, and he was also sympathetic to her progressive politics. In 1939, Holiday first recorded “Strange Fruit,” a song about a lynching that became one of her signatures. With biracial and left-leaning roots, “Strange Fruit” was written by the white teacher and social activist Abel Meeropol. Holiday performed “Strange Fruit” nightly at Café Society, a club that enforced a progressive desegregationist agenda both onstage and in the audience. Those performances marked “the beginning of the civil rights movement,” recalled the famed record producer Ahmet Ertegun (founder of Atlantic Records). Barney Josephson, who ran Café Society, famously declared, “I wanted a club where blacks and whites worked together behind the footlights and sat together out front.”

Bernstein had experience on both sides of Café Society’s footlights. In the early 1940s, he performed there occasionally with The Revuers, and he played excerpts from The Cradle Will Rock in at least one evening session with Marc Blitzstein. Bernstein also hung out at the club with friends, including Judy Tuvim, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green, listening to the jazz pianist Teddy Wilson and boogie-woogie pianists Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. Thus Bernstein had ample opportunities to witness the intentional “blurring of cultural categories, genres, and ethnic groups” that historian David Stowe has called the “dominant theme” of Café Society.

Robbins also had an affinity for the work of Billie Holiday. In the summer of 1940, he choreographed Holiday’s recording of “Strange Fruit” and performed it with the dancer Anita Alvarez at Camp Tamiment. “Strange Fruit was one of the most dramatic and heart-breaking dances I have ever seen—a masterpiece,” remembered Dorothy Bird, a dancer there that summer.

As a result of these experiences, the music of Billie Holiday had crossed the paths of both Robbins and Bernstein before “Big Stuff” opened their first ballet. While Billie Holiday’s voice was not heard the evening of Fancy Free’s premiere, only seven months passed before she recorded “Big Stuff” with the Toots Camarata Orchestra on November 8, 1944. The fact that Holiday made this recording so soon after the premiere of Fancy Free bore witness to the rapid rise of Bernstein’s clout within the music industry. Over the next two years, Holiday made six more recordings of “Big Stuff,” and when Bernstein issued the first recording of Fancy Free with the Ballet Theatre Orchestra in 1946, Holiday’s rendition of “Big Stuff” opened the disc. Both she and Bernstein recorded for the Decca label. Holiday recorded her final three takes of “Big Stuff” for Decca on March 13, 1946, and that label released Fancy Free the same year.

Musically, “Big Stuff” links closely to the worlds of George Gershwin and Harold Arlen, whose songs drew on African American idioms. Like some of the most beloved songs by these composers — whether Arlen’s “Stormy Weather” of 1933 or Gershwin’s “Summertime” of 1935 from Porgy and Bess – “Big Stuff” used a standard thirty-two-bar song form. With a tempo indication of “slow & blue,” “Big Stuff” has a lilting one-bar riff in the bass, a classic formulation for a jazzbased popular song of the day. The riff retains its shape throughout, as is also typical, while its internal pitch structure shifts in relation to the harmonic motion. Both the accompaniment and melody are drenched with signifiers of the blues, especially with chromatically altered third, fourth, sixth, and seventh scale degrees, and the overall downward motion of the melody is also characteristic of the blues, with a weighted sense of being ultimately earthbound.

Carol J. Oja is William Powell Mason Professor of Music and American Studies at Harvard University. She is author of Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War and Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s (2000), winner of the Irving Lowens Book Award from the Society for American Music.

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9. If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?

By Howard Rachlin

‘I know these will kill me, I’m just not convinced that this particular one will kill me.’
–Jonathan Miller to Dick Cavett on his lit cigarette, backstage at the 92nd Street Y in New York

Jonathan Miller’s problem is actually a practical form of the central problem of ancient Greek philosophy (a problem that continues to haunt philosophy up to the present day): the essential relationship between the abstract and the particular. Miller is right. No particular cigarette can harm a person, either now or later. Only what is essentially an abstraction (the relationship between rate of smoking and health) will harm him. Can it be that Miller is just not a very smart person incapable of understanding abstractions? No way. He is a “public intellectual,” a British theater and opera director, actor, author, humorist, and sculptor. And on top of that a medical doctor.

No matter how smart we are, we all tend to focus on the particular when it comes to our own behavior. Only when we observe someone else’s behavior or when circumstances compel us to experience the long-term consequences of our own behavior, are we able to feel their force.

Image Credit: Cigarette Butts. Photo by Petr Kratochvil. Public Domain CC0 via publicdomainpictures.net

Cigarette Butts. Photo by Petr Kratochvil. Public Domain (CC0) via publicdomainpictures.net.

How then can we use our brains to bring our behavior under the control of its wider consequences? First, and most obviously, to control our behavior we have to know what exactly that behavior is. That is, we must make ourselves experts on our own behavior. It is this step – self-monitoring – that is by far the most difficult part of self-control. Modern technology can make self-monitoring easier, but I myself prefer to just write things down. At points in my life where I need to control my weight I keep a calorie diary in which I write down everything I eat, its caloric content, and the sum of the calories I eat each day. Then I make summaries each week. If I were trying to control my smoking I would record each cigarette and the time of day I smoked it – or, each glass of scotch, each heroin injection, each cocaine snort, each hour spent watching television or doing crossword puzzles when I should be writing, etc. Every instance goes down in the book. There is no denying it – this is hard to do. For one thing, it is socially difficult. You don’t want to interrupt a dinner party by running into the bathroom every five minutes to write down that you’ve bitten your nails again. This is one reason it’s good to be married (I’m serious). Your spouse (whose objective view is necessarily better than your own subjective view) will remember until you get home. Or you can (and should) train yourself to remember over short periods.

You may say that by recording your behavior you are constricting your freedom, but in this regard it is good to remember the poet Valerie’s advice: “Be light like a bird and not like a feather.”

This first step – self-monitoring – is so important, and so difficult, that it should not be mixed up with actual efforts at habit change. First make yourself an expert on yourself. Make charts; make graphs, if that comes naturally. But at least write everything down and make weekly and monthly summaries. Sometimes this step alone, without further effort, will effect habit change. But do not at this point try in any way to change whatever habit you are trying to control. Once you become an expert on yourself, you will be 90% there. The rest is all downhill.

After you have gained self-observational skill, you are ready to proceed to the second step. For example, Jonathan Miller’s problem is that, so to speak, each particular cigarette weighs too little. How could he have given it more weight? Let us say that Miller has already completed Step 1 and is recording each cigarette smoked and the time it was smoked. (Note that this already gives the cigarette weight. It doesn’t just go up in smoke but is preserved in his log.) Let us say further that the day of his encounter with Cavett was a Monday. On that day Miller smokes as much as he wants to. He makes no effort to restrict his smoking in any way. (He is still recording each instance.) However, on Tuesday he must force himself to smoke exactly the same number of cigarettes as he did on Monday. If necessary he must sit up an extra hour on Tuesday to smoke those 2 or 3 cigarettes to make up the total. Then on Wednesday he is free again, and on Thursday he has to mimic Wednesday’s total. Now, when he lights a cigarette on Monday he is in effect lighting up two cigarettes – one for Monday, and one for Tuesday. As he keeps to this schedule, and organizes his behavior into 2-day patterns, it should be coming under control of the wider contingencies. Once this pattern is firmly established, he can extend the pattern to three days, duplicating his Monday smoking on Tuesday and Wednesday, then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, etc., always continuing to record his behavior. Eventually, each cigarette he lights up on Monday will effectively be 7 cigarettes – one for each day of the week. The weight of each cigarette will thus increase to the point where he no longer can say, “I’m not convinced that this particular cigarette will kill me.”

At no point is he trying to reduce his smoking or exerting his willpower. Willpower is not a muscle inside the head that can be exerted. It is bringing behavior under the control of wider (and more abstract) contingencies. This is a power that anyone can do who has the intelligence and is willing to invest the effort and time. And the exercise of this power can make a smart person happy.

Note: There is yet a third step – or rather a flight of steps. I have not mentioned social support. I have not mentioned exercise. Both of these are economic substitutes for addictions of various kinds. If either is lacking in an addict’s life, programs need to be established for its institution. I am assuming that we’re talking about the happiness of someone who already has an active social life, who already is as physically active as conditions allow. Addiction is not an isolated thing. It has to be regarded in the context of a complete life.

Howard Rachlin was trained as an engineer at Cooper Union and as a psychologist at The New School University and Harvard University. He has taught at Harvard University and at Stony Brook University. His current research, supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, lies in the development of methods for fostering human self-control and social cooperation. He is the author of The Escape of the Mind.

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10. The Great War letters of an Oxford family

The First World War has survived as part of our national memory in a way no previous war has ever done. Below is an extract from Full of Hope and Fear: The Great War Letters of an Oxford Family, a collection of letters which lay untouched for almost ninety years. They allow a unique glimpse into the war as experienced by one family at the time, transporting us back to an era which is now slipping tantalizingly out of living memory. The Slaters – the family at the heart of these letters – lived in Oxford, and afford a first-hand account of the war on the Home Front, on the Western Front, and in British India. Violet and Gilbert’s eldest son Owen, a schoolboy in 1914, was fighting in France by war’s end.

Violet to Gilbert, [mid-October 1917]

I am sorry to only write a few miserable words. Yesterday I had a truly dreadful headache which lasted longer than usual but today I am much better . . . I heard from Katie Barnes that their Leonard has been very dangerously wounded they are terribly anxious. But are not allowed to go to him. Poor things it is ghastly and cruel, and then you read of the ‘Peace Offensive’ articles in the New Statesman by men who seem to have no heart or imagination. I cannot understand it . . . You yourself said in a letter to Owen last time that [the Germans] had been driven back across the Aisne ‘We hope with great loss.’ Think what it means in agony and pain to the poor soldiers and agony and pain to the poor Mothers or Wives. It is useless to pretend it could not be prevented! We have never tried any other way . . . No other way but cruel war is left untried. I suppose that there will be a time when a more advanced human being will be evolved and we have learnt not to behave in this spirit individually towards each other. If we kept knives & pistols & clubs perhaps we should still use them. Yesterday Pat & I went blackberrying and then I went alone to Yarnton . . . the only ripe ones were up high so I valiantly mounted the hedges regardless of scratching as if I were 12 & I got nice ones. Then I went to the Food Control counter & at last got 5 lbs. of sugar . . . It was quite a victory we have to contend with this sort of sport & victory consists in contending with obstacles.

Gilbert to Owen, [9 February 1918]

I have been so glad to get your two letters of Dec. 7th & 18th and to hear of your success in passing the chemistry; and also that you got the extension of time & to know where you are . . . I am looking forward to your letters which I hope will make me realise how you are living. Well, my dear boy, I am thinking of you continually, and hoping for your happiness and welfare. I have some hope that your course may be longer than the 4 months. I fear now there is small chance of peace before there has been bitter fighting on the west front, and little chance of peace before you are on active service. I wonder what your feelings are. I don’t think I ever funked death for its own sake, though I do on other accounts, the missing a finish of my work, and the possible pain, and, very much more than these, the results to my wife & bairns. I don’t know whether at your age I should have felt that I was losing much in the enjoyment of life, not as much as I hope you do. I fear you will have to go into peril of wounds, disease and death, yet perhaps the greater chance is that you will escape all three actually; and, I hope, when you have come through, you will feel that you are not sorry to have played your part.

Second Lieutenant Owen Slater ready for service in France

Second Lieutenant Owen Slater ready for service in France. Photo courtesy of Margaret Bonfiglioli. Do not reproduce without permission.

Owen to Mrs Grafflin, [3 November 1918]

This is just a very short note to thank you for the knitted helmet that Mother sent me from you some time ago. It is very comfortable & most useful as I wear it under my tin hat, a shrapnel helmet which is very large for me & it makes it a beautiful fit.

We are now out at rest & have been out of the line for several days & have been having quite a good time though we have not had any football matches & the whole company is feeling rather cut up because our O.C. [Officer Commanding] has died of wounds. He was an excellent [word indecipherable] father to his men & officers.

Margaret Bonfiglioli was born in Oxford, where she also read English. Tutoring literature at many levels led to her involvement in innovative access courses, all while raising five children. In 2008 she began to re-discover the hoard of family letters that form the basis of Full of Hope and Fear. Her father, Owen Slater, is one of the central correspondents. After eleven years tutoring history in the University of Oxford, James Munson began researching and writing full-time. In 1985 he edited Echoes of the Great War, the diary of the First World War kept by the Revd. Andrew Clark. He also wrote some 50 historical documentaries for the BBC.

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11. Which witch?

By Anatoly Liberman


To some people which and witch are homophones. Others, who differentiate between w and wh, distinguish them. This rather insignificant phenomenon is tackled in all books on English pronunciation and occasionally rises to the surface of “political discourse.” In the thirties of the past century, an irritated correspondent wrote to the editor about “the abuse of such forms as what, when, which, wheel, and others”: “Dictionaries in vain lay down the law that the h should be heard in such words. If heard at all it will probably come from the lips of Scotsmen, as they do give full value to the h. In this way the difference of a nationality can, as a rule, be detected. Long ago I had to be present at King’s College when the prizes were given away. A Mr. Wheeler was a winner of the Elocution prize; but he was called out as Mr. Weeler by, save the mark, the Professor of Elocution himself.” We’ll save the mark and go on.

In Old English, many words began with hl-, hn-, hr-, and hw-. In the beginning, the letter h stood for ch, as in Scots loch or gh as in the family name McLaughlin. Later it was weakened to h and lost. The same change occurred in the other Germanic languages, except Icelandic and, if I am not mistaken, Faroese. Sounds seldom disappear without a trace. Thus, when h was shed, it devoiced the consonant after it. In Icelandic, voiceless l, n, and r can easily be heard, but elsewhere they merged with l, n, and r in other positions. Only hw developed differently. It either stayed in some form or devoiced w.

It has never been explained why consonants tend to disappear before l, n, r, and w. A classic example of this process, not related to the subject being discussed here, is the fate of kn- and gn-, as in knock and gnaw. One can of course say that such groups are rare and inconvenient for pronunciation. But such an explanation is illusory, because it presents the result of the change as its cause. Outside English, kn- and gn- cause speakers no trouble. Besides, the loss of k- and g- happened at a certain time. Why did it “suddenly” become inconvenient to articulate the groups that had not bothered the previous generations? We will accept the history of hw as we find it and leave it to others to account for the change.

The reverse spelling (wh- for hw-) goes back to Middle English and can only confuse those who believe that modern spelling is a good guide to etymology. The letter writer, whose displeasure with dictionaries we have just witnessed, made no mistake. The speakers of London, where in the late Middle Ages the Modern English norm was being forged, lost h before w and accepted voiced w (this happened as early as the end of the fourteenth century), while northern England, Scotland, Ireland, and, to some extent, American English have either hw or voiceless w.

Yet some authorities who taught as late as the first half of the eighteenth century insisted on the necessity to enunciate h before w. They may have trusted the written image of the words in question. In 1654 and the subsequent decades, such opinions could no longer be heard. After voiced w had won the victory in southern speech, the “true” (historical) pronunciation was often recommended as correct and returned to solemn recitation and sometimes even to everyday speech. Such cases are not too rare. Consider the pronunciation often and fore-head, which owe their existence to modern spelling. Some people believe that the more “letters” they pronounce, the more educated they will sound. “Ofen” and “forid,” rhyming with soften and horrid, strike them as slipshod.

It is instructive to look at some Modern English words beginning with wh-. Quite a few, including when, where, what, and why, did once have hw- at the beginning. As a result, southerners have homophones like which ~ witch, when ~ wen, whither ~ wither, whale ~ wail, and so forth. (Shakespeare could not know that woe and wail are related, but his ear and instinct made him write the unforgettable alliterating line in Sonnet 30: “And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.”)

The pernicious habit of writing wh, sometimes for no obvious reason, resulted in the creation of several unetymological spellings. Whore, from Old English hore (a common Germanic noun), is akin to Latin carus “dear” (Italian caro, etc.). The Old English for whole was hal (with a long vowel). According to the OED, the spelling with wh-, corresponding to a widespread dialectal pronunciation with w, appeared in the sixteenth century. But why should this dialectal pronunciation have prevailed to such an extent that the spelling of an old and very common word was affected? Home also has a dialectal variant whoam, but, luckily, we still stay at home, rather than at whome. Equally puzzling is whelk (from weolc); here the influence of welk “pimple” has been pressed into service. Whig traces, though in a circuitous way, to a verb meaning “to drive”. Its wh- has no justification in history. Naturally, whim was bound to cause trouble, the more so as its earliest attested meaning is “pun”; no record of whim predates the seventeenth century. Then there is whiffler “an attendant armed with a weapon to keep the way clear for a procession,” from wifle “javelin” (Od Engl. wifel).

The consonant group hw- must always have made people think of blowing and light sweeping motions. Whistle, whisper, and whisk are rather obvious sound-imitating words (which does not mean that whisky ~ whiskey, from Gaelic, should have wh-; whisker, however, is derived for whisk, and its original sense was “brush”). Whir and whirl seem to belong with other onomatopoeic formations. Whew, an exclamation of astonishment, is an onomatopoeia pure and simple. Wheedle is late and has an obscure history.

Inglewhite, Lancashire.  (Cowfield. Grazing south of Langley Lane. Photo by Chris Shaw. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Inglewhite, Lancashire. (Cowfield. Grazing south of Langley Lane. Photo by Chris Shaw. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

By way of conclusion, I may mention several thw- words in which thw- once alternated with hw-. Today we remember only the verb thwart, but the adjective thwart “obstinate, perverse” also existed, and over-hwart has been attested. Another archaic word thwite “to cut” is a cognate of whittle. Thwack and whack used to alternate, and thwack is a synonym of dialectal thack. Apparently, thw- too had a sound-imitative value. In the place name Inglewhite (Lancashire), the second element was thwaite “meadow.” The last name Applewhite goes back to the place name Applethwaite in Cumberland. The change of thwaite to white is a product of folk etymology.

All this is very interesting, except that wh- is often an unnecessary embellishment. For the benefit of those who like learned words I may say that this group is sometimes otiose.

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears on the OUPblog each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.” Subscribe to Anatoly Liberman’s weekly etymology articles via email or RSS.

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12. Roll over, Rimbaud: P. F. Kluge, Walt Whitman, and Eddie and the Cruisers

By Kirk Curnutt


Ask folks who came of age in the 1980s what they remember about the movie Eddie and the Cruisers and one of the following responses is likely:

  1. It spawned the great rock-radio staple “On the Dark Side” and briefly made MTV stars of the improbably named John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band.
  2. It was such a shameless Bruce Springsteen rip-off that Boss fans considered it as sacrilegious as devout Christians do Jesus Christ Superstar.
  3. It had a whiplash-inducing twist ending that Roger Ebert called “so frustrating, so dumb, so unsatisfactory that it gives a bad reputation to the whole movie.”
  4. It was a box-office flop that thirty years ago this month shocked Hollywood by becoming a surprise HBO hit.
  5. It was a movie you rented repeatedly during the decade’s video boom because it fit perfectly VHS’s promise of cheap home entertainment: undemanding, toe-tapping, and eminently re-watchable, it was an ideal 99-cent diversion that helped you forget VCRs cost $500 and were as boxy as Samsonite suitcases.


What you’re less likely to hear, unfortunately: it was based on one of the best, most criminally underappreciated rock ‘n’ roll novels ever.

In a preface to Overlook Press’s 2008 reissue (the book’s first widely available trade paperback), no less than Sherman Alexie admits he never knew Eddie was originally a novel by P. F. Kluge until deep into his own career, long after “obsessing” over the movie as a high-schooler. It’s indicative of how the film overshadows its source material that Kluge’s Eddie doesn’t even make this supposedly comprehensive list of rock novels published since the 1950s.

The novel’s relative obscurity is a shame, for as Alexie notes, it has literary “ambitions and secrets and qualities” that far surpass the movie’s “mainstream” pleasures. Director Martin Davidson, who co-wrote the script with his wife, Arlene, made several changes to Kluge’s tale of a Jersey rock star who may or may not be haunting former bandmates twenty years after his supposed death. The most significant is seemingly the most cosmetic. Whereas Kluge conceived hero Eddie Wilson as a Dion-esque doo-wop rocker, Davidson turned him into an awkward splice of Springsteen and Jim Morrison. In so doing, the filmmaker altered the literary inspiration that in Kluge gives the musician a model for imagining rock ‘n’ roll as an art form instead of mere entertainment. The change is decisive to how differently each version of Eddie depicts the purpose of popular music.

Une_saison_en_enfer_-_01

Une saison en enfer, Arthur Rimbaud, Bruxelles, Alliance typographique, 1873. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In the movie, college dropout Frank “Wordman” Ridgeway, the story’s Nick Carraway, introduces Eddie to the 19th-century French symboliste Arthur Rimbaud. Literature spurs the hunky frontman to make “serious” music instead of cranking out bar-band favorites for Jersey beachgoers: “I want songs that echo,” Eddie insists. “The [music] we’re doing now is like bed sheets. Spread ’em, soil ’em, ship ’em out to laundry. Our songs — I like to fold ourselves up in them forever.” Soon enough, Eddie pens a concept album called A Season in Hell, after Rimbaud’s most famous work. His slimy record-company owner refuses to release it, however, because the music sounds “like a bunch of jerkoffs making weird sounds.” The rejection sends Eddie squealing away in his ’57 Chevy, which hurtles off the Raritan Bridge, either an accident or a suicide. The Cruisers are forgotten for two decades later until an Entertainment Tonight-type reporter begins hyping Hell as an ominous foreshadowing of the late sixties, “a new age, an age of confusion, an age of passion, of commitment!” Suddenly, someone claiming to be the dead rock star is stalking the surviving Cruisers, intent on finally releasing the missing opus so the public can recognize Eddie’s brilliance.

Serious scholarly papers have drawn parallels between Eddie and Rimbaud, but the script’s invocation of the poet never really rises above literary window dressing. Davidson mainly uses Rimbaud to allude to Morrison, who idolized the literary libertine and who, according to a farcical urban legend, faked his 1971 death to escape the rock biz (much as Rimbaud abandoned literature before he was twenty). The movie asks us to believe that the Beatlemania-era Eddie predicted the Dionysian extremes of the Doors’ “The End” or (God help us) “Horse Latitudes,” but the song that’s supposed to illustrate his visionary genius, “Fire,” hardly qualifies as “weird sounds”. It’s merely an arthritic gloss on Springsteen’s “Adam Raised a Cain” with none of the Boss’s blistering vitality.

Walt Whitman by George C. Cox (1851–1903, photo) Adam Cuerden (1979-, restoration). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Walt Whitman. Photo by George C. Cox, restoration by Adam Cuerden. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

For Kluge’s Eddie, by contrast, the spirit father isn’t Rimbaud but Walt Whitman, and Eddie’s magnum opus is Leaves of Grass. Having seen Leaves appropriated to do everything from woo interns to expose unlikely meth kingpins, I’ll be the first to say that the Good Gray Poet’s popularity as the Go-To Lit Reference sometimes leaves me craving a Longfellow revival. Yet his role in Kluge isn’t gratuitous. Whitman inspires Eddie to reimagine rock ‘n’ roll as the vox populi, a medium not for becoming famous but for creating the true song of democracy. To produce his rock version of Leaves, Eddie recruits black and white greats from Elvis to Sam Cooke to Buddy Holly (the novel is set in 1957-58, a half-decade earlier than the film). Their mission is to snip the American barbed wire of segregation through a series of secret jam sessions designed to “to bring off the impossible, some fantastic union of black and white music.” What breakthroughs Eddie achieved before his supposed death is as compelling a page-turner as the mystery of who’s harassing the surviving Cruisers. (Spoiler alert: Eddie does not predict “Ebony and Ivory”).

In ditching Whitman for Rimbaud, Davidson’s film became a story not about the Gordian knot of race in American music but about rock-star greatness and fame. That point is bashed home like a gong by the movie’s trick ending, which reveals Eddie is indeed alive but indifferent to the hullaballoo the media creates when his masterwork is finally released. Despite the adaptation’s defects, Kluge speaks appreciatively of it, and rightly so: as a cult favorite, the movie kept the novel’s name alive during the decades the book was out of print. Besides, when the other movie based on your writing is Dog Day Afternoon, you can afford to be generous.

Nevertheless, the lack of attention Book Eddie receives feels like a missed opportunity for rock novels in general. The genre is a diverse, unruly one. Some of its entries are romans à clef that do little more than pencil fictional names into legends rock fans already know by heart (Paul Quarrington’s Brian Wilson-retelling Whale Music). Many others are coming-of-age novels in which that form’s traditional theme of lost innocence plays out like a Behind the Music episode, all downward-spiral cocaine and coitus. Still others are less about music-making than about the grotesquery of fame and fan worship (Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street). What rock novels aren’t nearly as often about is race — or, at least, the alchemies of ethnic interchange explored in such great nonfiction music histories as Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom (1986). A handful of exceptions do come to mind, Alexie’s own Reservation Blues (1995) most notably. Yet for the most part storylines about ahead-of-their-time geniuses predominate, and frankly, the plot of making personal art instead of appeasing a hits-happy public is as tired as the playlist at my local oldies station.

The idea of rock ‘n’ roll as both the promise and impasse of a racially egalitarian barbaric yawp, on the other hand… That’s a song in fiction we still don’t hear nearly enough.

Kirk Curnutt is professor and chair of English at Troy University’s Montgomery, Alabama, campus, where Scott Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre in 1918. His publications include A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald (2004), the novels Breathing Out the Ghost (2008) and Dixie Noir (2009), and Brian Wilson (2012). He is currently at work on a reader’s guide to Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Read his previous OUPblog posts.

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13. What is the role of governments in climate change adaptation?

By Kai A. Konrad and Marcel Thum


Adaptation to climate change is currently high on the agenda of EU bureaucrats exploring the regulatory scope of the topic. Climate change may potentially bring about changes in the frequency of extreme weather events such as heat waves, flooding or thunder storms, which in turn may require adaptation to changes in our living conditions. Adaptation to these conditions cannot stop climate change, but it can reduce the cost of climate change. Building dikes protects the landscape from an increase in sea level. New vaccines protect the population from diseases that may spread due to the change in the climate. Leading politicians, the media and prominent interest groups call for more efforts in adaptation.

But who should be in charge? Do governments have to play a leading role in adaptation? Will firms and households make the right choices? Or do governments have to intervene to correct insufficient or false adaptation choices? If intervention is necessary, will the policy have to be decided on a local level or on a national or even supranational (EU) level? In a recent article we review the main arguments for government intervention in climate change adaptation. Overall, we find that the role of the state in adaptation policy is limited.

In many cases, adaptation decisions can be left to private individuals or firms. This is true if private sector decision-makers both bear the cost and enjoy the benefits of their own decisions. Superior insulation of buildings is a good example. It shields the occupants of a building from extreme temperatures during cold winters and hot summers. The occupants – and only the occupants – benefit from the improved insulation. They also bear the costs of the new insulation. If the benefit exceeds the cost, they will invest in the superior insulation. If it does not pay off, they will refrain from the adaptation measure (and they should do so from an efficiency point of view). There is no need for government intervention in the form of building regulation or rehabilitation programmes.

In some other cases, adaptation affects an entire community as in the case of dikes. A single household will hardly be able – nor have the incentive – to build a dike of the appropriate size. But the local municipality can and should be able to so. All inhabitants of the municipality can share the costs and appropriate the benefit from flood protection. The decision on the dike could be made on the state level if not at the municipal level. The local population will probably have a long-standing experience and superior knowledge about the flood events and its potential damages. The subsidiarity principle, which is a major principle of policy task assignment in the European Union, suggests that the decisions should be made on the most decentralized level for which there are no major externalities between the decision-makers. In the case of the dike, the appropriate level for the adaptation measure would be the municipality. Again there is no need for intervention from upper-level governments.

floods

So what role is left for the upper echelons of government in climate change adaptation? Firstly, the government has to help in improving our knowledge. Information about climate change and information about technical adaptation measures are typical public goods: the cost of generating the information has to be incurred once, whereas the information can be used at no additional cost. Without government intervention, too little information would be generated. Therefore, financing basic research in this area is one of the fundamental tasks for a central government.

Secondly, the government has to provide the regulatory framework for insurance markets. The economic consequences of natural disasters can be cushioned through insurance markets. However, the incentives to buy insurance are insufficient for several reasons. For instance, whenever a major disaster threatens the economic existence of a larger group of citizens, the government is under social pressure and will typically provide help to all those in need. By anticipating government support in case of a disaster, there is little or no incentive to buy insurance in the market. Why should they pay the premium for private insurance, or invest in self-insurance or self-protection measures if they enjoy a similar amount of free protection from the government? If the government wants to avoid being pressured for disaster relief, it has to make disaster insurance mandatory. And to induce citizens to the appropriate amount of self-protection, insurance premiums have to be differentiated according to local disaster risks.

Thirdly, fostering growth helps coping with the consequences of climate change and facilitates adaptation. Poor societies and population groups with low levels of education have the highest exposure to climate change, whereas richer societies have the means to cope with the implications of climate change. Hence, economic growth – properly measured – and education should not be dismissed easily as they act as powerful self-insurance devices against the uncertain future challenges of climate change.

Kai A. Konrad is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance. Marcel Thum is Professor of Economics at TU Dresden and Director of ifo Dresden. They are the authors of the paper ‘The Role of Economic Policy in Climate Change Adaptation’ published in CESifo Economic Studies.

CESifo Economic Studies publishes provocative, high-quality papers in economics, with a particular focus on policy issues. Papers by leading academics are written for a wide and global audience, including those in government, business, and academia. The journal combines theory and empirical research in a style accessible to economists across all specialisations.

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Image credit: Flooding, July 2007, by Mat Fascoine. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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14. Why are women still paid less than men?

By Forrest Briscoe and Andrew von Nordenflycht


The recent firing of Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of the New York Times, after less than three years on the job focused the news cycle on gender inequity, with discussions of glass cliffs (women get shorter leashes even when they get the top jobs) and reports showing the persistence of glass ceilings and pay disparities (e.g. Abramson was paid less than her male predecessor). In the United States, women now represent a substantial majority of those earning advanced degrees. Yet as we look higher and higher up the ladders of career attainment, we see smaller and smaller percentages of women – as well as the persistence of pay gaps for women, even in senior positions. In other words, even as women break through one glass ceiling, they encounter another on the next rung.

Take law firms. Women make up almost half of US law school graduates (up from 5% in 1950). But they represent only 20% of US law firm partners and an even smaller share (16%) of the more elite class of equity partners. And the higher one looks within the partnership stratosphere, the less diverse it gets. Furthermore, the leaders of the profession, as well as clients of law firms, express frustration with the slow pace of progress in generating more gender and ethnic equality at the top of the profession. These efforts can be aided by improving our understanding of the work and career processes within law firms and, by extension, partnerships in other professional fields, such as accounting, consulting, and investment banking.

So how exactly do partners rise to different levels within the partnership hierarchy, and how do those processes challenge female partners? To date, researchers have analyzed the challenge of becoming a partner, but we know curiously little about how professional careers unfold after that. Although partners at large law firms may all be one-percenters, they are certainly not equal, with distinctions made between equity and non-equity partners, and recent surveys showing some “super-partners” earn up to 25 times more than their peers.

To get at these questions, we studied how partners gain power within a partnership, as measured by their “book of business” – the fees paid to the firm by clients with whom the partner holds the primary relationship. The more client revenue that a partner is responsible for, the more that partner will hold influence in their firm, command respect, and generate career mobility options in the wider profession. To understand power in a partnership, then, is to understand how partners come to obtain books of business.

What we found was intriguing. In short, although women may be disadvantaged in a primary “path to power” in the partnership, they may have opportunities along a second pathway of growing importance.

The primary pathway involves “inheriting” clients from an established power partner. To build a book of business, one needs to either pursue that strategy, or the alternative of “making rain” by bringing new clients to the firm. A newly minted partner thus needs to decide which path to invest in—or how much to invest in each path. Do you spend time working for clients of power partners nearing retirement—or pounding the pavement (or the cocktail circuit) seeking new clients of your own? Of course, each path has its risks. Investing in the inheritance path can backfire, for example, if a retiring benefactor bequeaths a client to a rival partner. And the rainmaking strategy can backfire if nibbles of new-client business don’t eventually turn into a large revenue stream for the firm. Since both investments require time and energy, what’s the optimal career strategy?

iStock_000020274536Small

Deepening the puzzle, both paths are also likely to pose particular challenges to female attorneys, as they depend on forming social relationships with either the senior power partners or with decision makers at potential new client firms. Much research shows the existence of “homophily” in interpersonal relationships, or the tendency for people to be drawn to and feel greater affinity for people who are like themselves in terms of race and gender. So where senior partners and/or client decision makers are largely male, female junior partners may be at a disadvantage in forming the bonds of affinity or trust that help win the client business.

Analysis of the internal records of law firms shows, unsurprisingly, that female partners have smaller books of business than their male peers. More interestingly, though, we are finding that the rate of return on investments in the two paths to power differs between men and women. In fact, the inheritance strategy appears to be a particularly poor investment for women. For women, larger investments in the inheritance path are associated with lower future books of business. Why? We speculate this could be because of “selective affinity.” That is, when it comes time for the power partners to pass on their clients, they may unconsciously favor partners who are more demographically similar to them.

Yet, when it comes to the rainmaking strategy, the opposite may be true. For female partners, investments in the rainmaking path appear to pay handsomely. In fact even better than for male partners. Why could that be? Perhaps female partners recruit new clients in different ways than male partners, or perhaps “selective affinity” can actually favor female partners in the open marketplace (rather than the closed ecosystem of the firm’s internal networks).

What does it all mean? First off, for partnerships, there may be considerable value in studying the inheritance and rainmaking processes going on in their own organizations. Virtually all firms now have the relevant internal data waiting to be analyzed. Second, our findings are important for managing diversity in partnerships. For example, the results suggest there could be a “double payoff” to supporting rainmaking efforts for newly-made female partners – double in the sense of the firm’s overall revenue generation as well as diversity goals.

Forrest Briscoe is an Associate Professor of Management in the Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on careers, networks, and management processes in professional organizations, as well as on the factors that promote and inhibit changes within organizational fields. Andrew von Nordenflycht is an Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. His research focuses on the challenges of managing professional services firms, the patterns of professional careers, and the impact of different organizational forms on the performance, creativity, and ethics of professionals. Andrew is the author of the paper ‘Does the emergence of publicly traded professional service firms undermine the theory of the professional partnership? A cross-industry historical analysis’ published in the Journal of Professions and Organization.

The Journal of Professions and Organization (JPO) aims to be the premier outlet for research on organizational issues concerning professionals, including their work, management and their broader social and economic role.
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15. The downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17

By Sascha-Dominik Bachmann


The downing of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on 17 July 2014 sent shockwaves around the world. The airliner was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over Eastern Ukraine by an surface to air missile, killing all people on board, 283 passengers including 80 children, and 15 crew members. The victims were nationals of at least 10 different states, with the Netherlands losing 192 of its citizens.

With new information being released hourly strong evidence seems to indicate that the airliner was downed by a sophisticated military surface to air missile system, the SA-17 BUK missile system. This self-propelled air defence system was introduced in 1980 to the Armed Forces of the then Soviet Union and which is still in service with the Armed forces of both Russia and Ukraine. There is growing suspicion that the airliner was shot down by pro-Russian separatist forces operating in the area, with one report by AP having identified the presence of a rebel BUK unit in close proximity of the crash site. The United States and its intelligence services were quick in identifying the pro-Russian separatists as having been responsible for launching the missile. This view is supported further by the existence of incriminating communications between the rebels and their Russian handlers immediately after the aircraft hit the ground and also a now deleted announcement on social media by the self declared Rebel Commander, Igor Strelkov. This evidence points to the possibility that MH17 was mistaken for an Ukrainian military plane and therefore targeted. Given that two Ukrainian military aircraft were shot down over Eastern Ukraine in only two days preceding 17 July 2014 a not unlikely possibility.

It will be crucial to establish the extent of Russia’s involvement in the atrocity. While there seems to be evidence that the rebels may have taken possession of BUK units of the Ukrainian, it seems unlikely that they would have been able to operate these systems without assistance from Russian military experts and even radar assets.

Makeshift memorial at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for the victims of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which crashed in the Ukraine on 18 July 2014 killing all 298 people on board. Photo by Roman Boed. CC BY 2.0 via romanboed Flickr.

Makeshift memorial at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for the victims of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which crashed in the Ukraine on 18 July 2014 killing all 298 people on board. Photo by Roman Boed. CC BY 2.0 via romanboed Flickr.

Russia was quick to shift the blame on Ukraine itself, asking why civil aircraft hadn’t been barred completely from overflying the region, directly blaming Ukraine’s aviation authorities during the emergency meeting on the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 18 July 2014. Russia even went so far to blame Ukraine indirectly of shooting down MH17 by comparing the incident with the accidental shooting down of a Russian civilian airliner en route from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk in 2001. Despite Russia’s call for an independent investigation of the incident, Moscow’s rebels reportedly blocked actively international observers from OSCE to access the site.

While any civilian airliner crash is a catastrophe, and in cases of terrorist involvement an international crime, the shooting down of passenger jets by a state are particularly shocking as they always affect non combatants and resemble acts which are always outside the parameters of the legality of any military action (such as distinction, necessity, and proportionality). Any such act would lead to global condemnation and would hurt the perpetrator state’s international reputation. Consequently, there have only been few such incidents over the last 60 years.

What could be the possible consequences? The rebels are still formally Ukrainian citizens and as such subject to Ukraine’s criminal judicial system, according to the active personality principle. Such a prosecution could extent to the Russian co-rebels as Ukraine could exercise its jurisdiction as the state where the crime was committed, under the territoriality principle. In addition prosecutions could be initiated by the states whose citizens were murdered, under the passive personality principle of international criminal law. With Netherlands as the nation with the highest numbers of victims having a particularly strong interest in swift criminal justice, memories of the Pan Am 103 bombing come to mind, where Libyan terrorists murdered 270 humans when an airliner exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland. Following international pressure, Libya agreed to surrender key suspects to a Scottish Court sitting in the Netherlands.

The establishment of an international(-ised) criminal forum for the prosecution of the perpetrators would require Russia’s cooperation, something which seems to be unlikely given Putin’s increasing defiance of the international community’s call for justice. A prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague under its Statute, the Rome Statute, is unlikely to happen as neither Russian nor Ukraine have ratified the Statute. An UNSC referral to the ICC — if one accepts that the murder of 298 civilians would amount to a crime which qualifies as a crime against humanity or even a war crime under Article 5 of the ICC Statute — would fail given that Russia and its new strategic partner China are Veto powers on the Council and would veto any resolution for a referral.

Other responses could be the imposing of unilateral and international sanctions and embargos against Moscow and high profile individuals. Related to such economic countermeasures is the possibility to hold Russia as a state responsible for its complicity in the shooting down of MH17; the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be the forum where such a case against Russia could be brought by a state affected by the tragedy. An example for such an interstate case arising from a breach of international law can be found in the ICJ case Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988 (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America), arising from the unlawful shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 by the United States in 1988. The case ended with an out of Court settlement by the US in 1996. Again, it seems quite unlikely that Russia will accept any ruling by the ICJ on the matter and even less likely would be any compliance with an damages order by the court.

One alternative could be a true US solution for the accountability gap of Russia’s complicity in the disaster. If the US Congress was to qualify the rebel groups as terrorist organizations then this would make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, and as such subject to US federal jurisdiction in a terrorism civil litigation case brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA-18 USC Sections 2331-2338) as an amendment to the Alien Torts Statute (ATS/ATCA – 28 USC Section 1350). The so-called “State Sponsors of Terrorism” exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA Exception-28 USC Section 1605(a)(7)), which allows lawsuit against so-called state sponsors of terrorism. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) Exception of 1996 limits the defense of state immunity in cases of state sponsored terrorism and can be seen as a direct judicial response to the growing threat of acts of international state sponsored terrorism directed against the United States and her citizens abroad, as exemplified in the case of Flatow v. Islamic Republic of Iran (76 F. Supp. 2d 28 (D.D.C. 1999)). Utilising US law to bring a civil litigation case against Russia as a designated state sponsor of international terrorism would certainly set a strong signal and message to Putin; it remains to be seen whether the US call for stronger unified sanctions against Russia will translate into such unilateral action.

Time will tell if the downing of MH17 will turn out to be a Lusitania moment (the sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania with significant loss of US lives by a German U-boat led to the entry of the US in World War I) for Russia’s relations with the West, which might pave the way to a new ‘Cold War’ along new conflict lines with different allies and alliances. What has become clear already today is Russia’s potential new role as state sponsor of terrorism.

Sascha-Dominik Bachmann is an Associate Professor in International Law (Bournemouth University); State Exam in Law (Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich), Assessor Jur, LL.M (Stellenbosch), LL.D (Johannesburg); Sascha-Dominik is a Lieutenant Colonel in the German Army Reserves and had multiple deployments in peacekeeping missions in operational and advisory roles as part of NATO/KFOR from 2002 to 2006. During that time he was also an exchange officer to the 23rd US Marine Regiment. He wants to thank Noach Bachmann for his input. This blog post draws from Sascha’s article “Targeted Killings: Contemporary Challenges, Risks and Opportunities” in the Journal of Conflict Security Law and available to read for free for a limited time. Read his previous blog posts.

The Journal of Conflict & Security Law is a refereed journal aimed at academics, government officials, military lawyers and lawyers working in the area, as well as individuals interested in the areas of arms control law, the law of armed conflict and collective security law. The journal aims to further understanding of each of the specific areas covered, but also aims to promote the study of the interfaces and relations between them.

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16. The exaltation of Christ

By Christopher Bryan


Every Good Friday the Christian church asks the world to contemplate a Christ so helpless, so in thrall to the powers of this age, that one might easily forget the Christian belief that through it all, God was with him and in him. Therein lies the danger of serious misunderstanding: for if any were so distracted by the pain of the crucifixion as to forget that it was God who in Christ consented to be there humiliated, then, from a Christian point of view, they would have robbed the event of its chief significance. If God were not in Christ on that first Good Friday, then Jesus’ cross was simply another of the world’s griefs, one more item in that tally of blood and violence that marks our history from the biblical murder of Abel, through Auschwitz and Hiroshima, to the latest act of inhumanity in our own time. The cross of Jesus is different precisely because in a unique way God was involved in it. Good Friday shows Christians what prophets and psalmist had spoken of through the ages: the pathos of God, who is afflicted in all our afflictions.

But then, as the climax of Easter, the church at Ascensiontide presents the world with an altogether different picture: a picture of Jesus “exalted with triumph” and “ascended far above all heavens,” as the various Collects associated with the Ascension have it. This is a picture so full of divine glory that one might be tempted to fall into the opposite error. One might be tempted to forget that amid this glory it is humanity—our humanity—which is here raised to the right hand of God. From a Christian point of view, if it is not our humanity that is here exalted, then the Ascension is no more than the pleasing story of a god, and has little to do with us. The exaltation of Jesus means that humanity is bound to God in God’s glory. The Ascension of Jesus is therefore a promise, a sign, and a first-fruit of our human destiny.

The Ascension by Giotto (c. 1305). Public domain via WikiArt.

The Ascension by Giotto (c. 1305). Public domain via WikiArt.

To put it another way, Christ’s ascension reminds Christians that the risen life that they are promised will have a purpose, just as this life has a purpose. That purpose is union with God. Human beings in all their evident fragility are, as Second Peter puts it, to be “partakers of the divine nature,” perfectly united with the ascended Christ and with each other, beholders of and sharers in the glory which was (according to the Fourth Evangelist) Christ’s before the foundation of the world. Of course Christians do not claim to know yet what that will mean, though many would suggest that from time to time they catch glimpses of it—in the noblest human endeavors (which as often as not come from the humblest among us), in the greatest of human art and performance, and (in another way) in the gospels’ accounts of the Transfiguration of Christ. Christians are, however, assured of this: that, as Saint Paul says, the risen life will have a glory to which the sufferings of this present age are “not worth comparing.” Perhaps First John puts it best of all, “My little children, already we are God’s children, and it is not yet manifest what we shall be. But we do know this, that when he is manifested we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

It is in the light of that promise that Christians dare open their hearts to the Spirit of God and attempt those lunatic gestures to which the gospel invites them, such as forgiving their enemies, doing good to those who do evil to them, and turning the other cheek. They do not attempt this behavior because they think it leads to successful lives as the world counts success, or because they think it leads to clear consciences. If they did, they would be very naïve. Most likely such living leads to a cross, if they are good at it; or to a continuing sense of their own guilt and failure if (as is more usual) they are not. Why then try it at all? Simply because they believe that God is like this, forgiving those who do evil, and causing gracious rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. And they try to be like God because as Christians they believe that that is their destiny.

Christopher Bryan is a sometime Woodward Scholar of Wadham College, Oxford. He was ordained deacon in Southwark Cathedral on Trinity Sunday 1960, and priest in 1961. He taught New Testament at the University of the South until his semi-retirement in 2008. He continues to write, teach, and serve local parishes as a priest. He is presently editor of the Sewanee Theological Review. In 2012 The University of the South awarded him the degree of Doctor of Divinity honoris causa. He is the author of several books on the Bible, including Listening to the Bible and The Resurrection of the Messiah, and also two novels, Siding Star and Peacekeeper.

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17. Antislavery history and antislavery activism converge in Philadelphia

By W. Caleb McDaniel


This past weekend, the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic held its thirty-sixth annual meeting in Philadelphia. Members attended conference sessions, browsed the book exhibit, and met up with colleagues old and new. But one group of SHEAR members also caught up with supporters and officers of Historians Against Slavery (HAS), a non-profit antislavery organization whose Board will hold its semi-annual meeting on Friday.

The coincidence of these two meetings is fitting, since HAS traces some of its intellectual and organizational roots to the 2005 annual meeting of SHEAR, also held in Philadelphia. On that occasion, James Brewer Stewart, the distinguished historian of American abolitionism and then president of SHEAR, delivered a presidential address entitled, “Reconsidering the Abolitionists in an Age of Fundamentalist Politics.” Stewart’s lecture, later published in the Journal of the Early Republic, urged historians in attendance to pay more attention to the role of evangelical abolitionists in the coming of the Civil War, citing the political success of present-day evangelical activists as evidence that grassroots movements can affect electoral and party politics.

Yet the address also had two larger questions in view: what is the legacy of nineteenth-century American antislavery in the present, and which present-day activists (if any) can rightly claim to wear the abolitionists’ mantle? While contemporary evangelicals on the Religious Right often claim to be descended from the abolitionists, Stewart challenged that pedigree, pointing to significant theological and political differences between the two movements. In 2005, Stewart left unanswered the question of which, if any, contemporary activists were the rightful heirs to the antislavery movement. He focused instead on the historiography of the sectional crisis. But from its opening lines, Stewart’s appeal to historians of the early republic to think about the intersection between their work and the present rang out like a clarion call: “Consider for a moment our own time.”

Iron mask, collar, leg shackles and spurs used to restrict slaves. Illus. in: The penitential tyrant / Thomas Branagan. New York : Samuel Wood, 1807. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division

Iron mask, collar, leg shackles and spurs used to restrict slaves. Illus. in: The penitential tyrant / Thomas Branagan. New York : Samuel Wood, 1807. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division

In the years that followed, Stewart continued to consider “our own time” in relationship to his historical work. One result was Historians Against Slavery, which he founded in January 2011 after attending a large anti-trafficking conference the previous year. At that meeting, Stewart found a new group of activists claiming to be “modern-day abolitionists.” Some, but not all, hailed from the same circles of evangelical politics he had alluded to in his 2005 SHEAR address. As before, Stewart found that these would-be heirs were often ignorant of what earlier abolitionists believed, what they were up against, and what actions had contributed to their success. But if Stewart found that he had things to teach “modern-day abolitionists,” these activists also taught him much about the present. As Stewart learned more about the scale of contemporary forms of enslavement and human trafficking, he began to envision HAS as a vehicle for productive conversations between historians of slavery and abolitionism and contemporary antislavery activists—an organization that could help use history to make slavery history.

In the few short years since that vision took shape, Historians Against Slavery has become much more than a one-man show. When Stewart retires from the Board later this year, he will return to the ranks of a thriving organization now led by co-directors Randall Miller and Stacey Robertson, along with a seven-person Board. The Society now oversees a speakers bureau, a book series, a platform for organizing student antislavery groups called The Free Project, and a blog, Twitter feed, and Facebook page, which offer intellectual and practical resources for scholars, activists, and teachers. Plans are also underway for the Society’s second national conference in 2015, which will build on the success of a 2013 Conference held at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Historians Against Slavery has also recently expanded its reach overseas, following in the footsteps of early transatlantic abolitionists. But SHEAR also continues to serve as a natural base for the collaborations between scholars and students that HAS seeks to foster. At last year’s meeting in St. Louis, historians packed the room for an HAS-sponsored session to hear Yale historian Edward Rugemer and others discuss how to teach the “long history of slavery.” And many of the new society’s Board Members, speakers, and supporters also hail from SHEAR.

This overlap in membership can be explained partly by the fact that some of the most influential scholarship on American abolitionism and slavery in the last thirty years got its start at SHEAR meetings or in SHEAR publications. That tradition continues this weekend in Philadelphia where, as the Junto blog pointed out in a preview, there were sessions on “the emancipation process,” antislavery petitions, and the politics of slavery. (The complete program is available online.)

Meanwhile, in the audience, on the panels, and gathered at post-session watering-holes around the City of Brotherly Love, Historians Against Slavery also heeds James Brewer Stewart’s original call to “consider for a moment our own time.”

Consider, for example, questions like this: How might we reconsider the abolitionists or early emancipation efforts in the antebellum North in an age when, according to one reputable, recent estimate, nearly 30 million people remain enslaved? To quote from the final pages of the final volume of David Brion Davis’s magisterial study of the problem of slavery, published just this year, what do the “shocking estimates of the number of women and men held today in different kinds of bondage” tell us about the history of slaveries that came before, and vice versa? How might activist work against slavery in all its forms illuminate historical scholarship, and how might historical expertise better inform activism in the present?

Those, among others, are the kinds of questions Historians Against Slavery are eager to ask and answer. Hopefully, by the time the thirty-sixth annual meeting of HAS rolls around, the organization will have followed in the footsteps of SHEAR in more ways than one, growing as SHEAR did from the vision of a few into an organization that embraces hundreds of dedicated citizen-scholars. Even more hopefully, however, in thirty-six years time, antislavery historians will be able to look back on decades of significant progress in the fight against human bondage.

As historians, though, we know from the past that such progress will hardly be inevitable. For, as David Brion Davis again reminds us, if the history of slavery abolition teaches any lesson, it is that moral progress, when it comes, must be “willed.”

W. Caleb McDaniel is the author of The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery: Garrisonian Abolitionists and Transatlantic Reform (LSU Press, 2013), which won a Merle Curti Award from the Organization of American Historians. He is assistant professor of history at Rice University and a Board Member for Historians Against Slavery. He tweets at @wcaleb.

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18. Mindful Sex

By Jeff Wilson


Mindfulness seems to be everywhere in North American society today. One of the more interesting developments of this phenomenon is the emergence of mindful sex—the ability to let go of mental strain and intrusive thoughts so once can fully tap into sexual intercourse.

But how do we truly let go of various pervading thoughts and completely immerse ourselves in the sexual moment? Mindful sex is practiced in a variety of medical, religious, and spiritual ways.

In my research I’ve noticed three broad streams for the mindful sex movement. The first category is the scientific discussion of using mindfulness to treat sexually-related problems in a patient or client population. In the past six years more than a dozen clinical studies of the effectiveness of mindfulness in treating sexual problems have been published in respected peer-reviewed medical and psychological journals.

A leader in this field is Dr. Lori Brotto. She created a program for women who experienced lowered levels of sexual arousal following treatment for gynecologic cancers, and mindfulness meditation was a primary element. As Brotto explains, “After a foundation of mindfulness skills was established, we introduced more sensually-focused mindfulness exercises in which women were encouraged to notice sensations in the body while engaged in a progressive series of activities, for instance while having a bath, while examining her genitals in a mirror, while applying light touch to her genitals… Finally, they were introduced to erotic tools such as visual erotica, fantasy, and vibrators as reliable methods of boosting the sexual arousal response followed by a mindfulness of body sensations immediately afterward while they took note of any triggered arousal sensations in the body.” Initial results were encouraging, and subsequent studies seemed to support the assertion that mindfulness practice can help mitigate some problems for women experiencing significant sex-related conditions, especially decreased interest in sexual activity due to psychological or medical trauma.

Detail of the hands of an ancient stone Buddha statue. © Natalia_Kalyatina via iStockphoto

Detail of the hands of an ancient stone Buddha statue. © Natalia_Kalyatina via iStockphoto

Studies such as Brotto’s are designed for the consumption of elite audiences with sophisticated training in the study and treatment of serious human maladies. They use Buddhist practices for clinical purposes, hoping to move their patients away from the effects of disease and biomedical treatment, defined in these studies as greater ability to engage in sexual activity and reduction of sex-related pain.

The second category of works on mindful sex—those belonging to the self-help genre—take these impulses further. These books and articles are often written by medical doctors, therapists, and other specialists, but their target audience is mainstream North Americans without any particular credentials or connection to the health industries. As such, they reach a vastly larger audience than the medicalized mindfulness studies. Books in this category are no strangers to the bestseller lists, and these mindful sex promoters tout their expertise on impressive websites and through popular TED talks.

A good example of this category is A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex, by Dr. Laurie Mintz. As she states, “If you are among the astonishingly large group of women whose chief complaint is that chronic fatigue and stress from balancing multiple demands has led to a disinterest in sex, this book is designed to help you. The goal of this book is to get you feeling sexual again.” How does one achieve this goal? You guessed it: mindful sex. As Mintz explains, “Mindful sex is sex in which you are totally and completely immersed in the physical sensations of your body.”

The goal here is taken beyond dealing with serious medical illness, as in the scientific studies, and reoriented now toward providing what Mintz calls “awesome sex.” Using Buddhist practices in pop cultural applications, these promoters try to move their audience closer to a state of well-being, defined as getting past the regular difficulties of mainstream North American life and achieving more and better orgasms, along with increased emotional intimacy with one’s partner.

The third category is spiritual applications of Buddhist mindfulness to sex. These are typically promoted by people without formal medical or psychological credentials who operate outside of overtly Buddhist institutions. They offer mindful sex as part of a package of techniques and perspectives for personal enhancement.

An example is Orgasmic Yoga. As co-founder Bruce Gether explains in his manifesto, Nine Golden Keys to Mindful Masturbation:

“Mindful masturbation is a simple, yet powerful practice. It requires dedication, and becomes its own reward. Just pay full attention while you masturbate. Don’t let yourself get distracted by imagination. Keep your primary focus on yourself, your own body, your penis and your own sensations. This path of self-pleasure can take you into realms of ecstasy you have never before experienced.” 

Mindful sex is framed in religious language here, rather than medical or psychological ones. As Gether says, “your penis is sacred… Your penis is an organ designed to provide you with the awareness that you are one with all things.” These spiritual applications of mindful sex go even further than the self-help ones, using Buddhist practices to help initiates achieve self-growth and transcendental bliss.

What are the points that I want to make with all of this? First, North Americans use Buddhist practices to enhance their desires, rather than retreat from or conquer them. Mindfulness of the body used to be an ascetic monastic practice designed to eliminate sexual feelings and break down the erroneous sense of an enduring personal self. Mindful sex is a pleasure-enhancing practice designed for laypeople to rekindle their sexual fires, promote self-esteem, and variously lead the practitioner to mind-blowing orgasm, greater bonding, or perhaps metaphysical oneness with all.

This transformation may be seen as ironic, but it is not without precedent, as Buddhism has been used for achieving these-worldly benefits more or less since its creation, be they faith-healing, safe childbirth, protection from harm, and so on. This sort of flexibility is what allows complex religious traditions such as Buddhism to cross cultural borders and find niches in new societies. By appearing in scientific, self-help, and spiritual modes, mindfulness is able to influence a far larger percentage of North Americans than the relatively small number of formal Buddhist adherents.

Jeff Wilson is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College (University of Waterloo). He is the author of Mourning the Unborn Dead: A Buddhist Ritual Comes to America, Dixie Dharma: Inside a Buddhist Temple in the American South, and Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture.

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19. The month that changed the world: Monday, 20 July to Thursday, 23 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


The French delegation, led by President Raymond Poincaré and the premier/foreign minister René Viviani, finally arrived in Russia. They boarded the imperial yacht, the Alexandria, while a Russian band played the ‘Marseillaise’ – that revolutionary ode to the destruction of royal and aristocratic privilege. The tsar and his foreign minister welcomed the visitors before they travelled to Peterhof where a spectacular banquet awaited them.

While the leaders of republican France and tsarist Russia were proclaiming their mutual admiration for one another, the Habsburg emperor was approving the terms of the ultimatum to be presented to Serbia three days later. No one was to be forewarned, not even their allies: Italy was to be told on Wednesday only that a note would be presented on Thursday; Germany was not to be given the details of the ultimatum until Friday – along with everyone else.

In London, Sir Edward Grey remained in the dark. He was optimistic; he told the German ambassador on Monday that a peaceful solution would be reached. It was obvious that Austria was going to make demands on Serbia, including guarantees for the future, but Grey believed that everything depended on the form of the demands, whether the Austrians would exercise moderation, and whether the accusations of Serb government complicity were convincing. If Austria kept its demands within ‘reasonable limits’ and if the necessary justification was provided, it ought to be possible to prevent a breach of the peace; ‘that any of them should be dragged into a war by Serbia would be detestable’.

Raymond Poincaré, President of France, public domain

On Tuesday the Germans complained that the Austrians were keeping them in the dark. From Berlin, the Austrian ambassador offered Berchtold his ‘humble opinion’ that the Germans ought to be given the details of the ultimatum immediately. After all, the Kaiser ‘and all the others in high offices’ had loyally promised their support from the first; to treat Germany in the same manner as all the other powers ‘might give offence’. Berchtold agreed to give the German ambassador a copy of the ultimatum that evening; the details should arrive at the Wilhelmstrasse by Wednesday.

That same day the French visitors arrived in St Petersburg, where the mayor offered the president bread and salt – according to an old Slavic custom – and Poincaré laid a wreath on the tomb of Alexander III ‘the father’ of the Franco-Russian alliance. In the afternoon they travelled to the Winter Palace for a diplomatic levee. Along the route they were greeted by enthusiastic crowds: ‘The police had arranged it all. At every street corner a group of poor wretches cheered loudly under the eye of a policeman.’ Another spectacular banquet was held that evening, this time at the French embassy.

Perhaps the presence of the French emboldened the Russians. The foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, warned the German ambassador that he perceived ‘powerful and dangerous influences’ might plunge Austria into war. He blamed the Austrians for the agitation in Bosnia, which arose from their misgovernment of the province. Now there were those who wanted to take advantage of the assassination to annihilate Serbia. But Russia could not look on indifferently while Serbia was humiliated, and Russia was not alone: they were now taking the situation very seriously in Paris and London.

But stern warnings in St Petersburg were not repeated elsewhere. In Vienna the French ambassador believed as late as Wednesday that Russia would not take an active part in the dispute and would try to localize it. The Russian ambassador there was so confident of a peaceful resolution that he left for his vacation that afternoon. The Russian ambassador in Berlin had already left for vacation and had yet to return; the French ambassador there returned on Thursday. The British ambassador was also absent and Grey saw no need to send him back to Berlin.

In Rome however, San Giuliano had no doubt that Austria was carefully drafting demands that could not be accepted by Serbia. He no longer believed that Franz Joseph would act as a moderating influence. The Austrian government was now determined to crush Serbia and seemed to believe that Russia would stand by and allow Serbia to ‘be violated’. Germany, he predicted, ‘would make no effort’ to restrain Austria.

By Thursday, 23 July, twenty-five days had passed since the assassination. Twenty-five days of rumours, speculations, discussions, half-truths, and hypothetical scenarios. Would the Austrian investigation into the crime prove that the instigators were directed from or supported by the government in Belgrade? Would the Serbian government assist in rooting out any individuals or organizations that may have provided assistance to the conspirators? Would Austria’s demands be limited to steps to ensure that the perpetrators would be brought to justice and such outrages be prevented from recurring in the future? Or would the assassination be utilized as a pretext for dismembering, crushing or abolishing the independence of Serbia as a state? Was Germany restraining Austria or goading it to act? Would Russia stand with Serbia in resisting Austrian demands? Would France encourage Russia to respond with restraint or push it forward? Would Italy stick with her alliance partners, stand aside, or join the other side? Could Britain promote a peaceful resolution by refusing to commit to either side in the dispute, or could it hope to counterbalance the Triple Alliance only by acting in partnership with its friends in the entente? At last, at least some of these questions were about to be answered.

At ‘the striking of the clock’ at 6 p.m. on Thursday evening the Austrian note was presented in Belgrade to the prime minister’s deputy, the chain-smoking Lazar Paču, who immediately arranged to see the Russian minister to beg for Russia’s help. Even a quick glance at the demands made in the note convinced the Serbian Crown Prince that he could not possibly accept them. The chief of the general staff and his deputy were recalled from their vacations; all divisional commanders were summoned to their posts; railway authorities were alerted that mobilization might be declared; regiments on the northern frontier were instructed to prepare assembly points for an impending mobilization. What would become the most famous diplomatic crisis in history had finally begun.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914. Read his previous blog posts.

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Image credit: Raymond Poincaré, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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20. 10 questions for Jenny Davidson

Each summer, Oxford University Press USA and Bryant Park in New York City partner for their summer reading series Word for Word Book Club. The Bryant Park Reading Room offers free copies of book club selections while supply lasts, compliments of Oxford University Press, and guest speakers lead the group in discussion. On Tuesday 22 July 2014, Jenny Davidson, Professor of English at Columbia University, leads a discussion on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

Jenny Davidson_PhotoWhat was your inspiration for choosing this book?

The book I’ll be talking about is Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. It doesn’t tend to be a favorite with readers, though I’ve always loved it; I especially appreciated it when I was a graduate student, as there is something about the status of the novel’s protagonist Fanny Price as hanger-on and dependent relation that resonated with my own station in life! I write a little bit in my new book Reading Style: A Life in Sentences about how there is a perfect Austen novel for every stage of life: I loved Pride and Prejudice the most when I was young, Sense and Sensibility as a teenager, Emma in bossy adulthood, and Persuasion now that I have fully come into my own professionally as a literary critic. I am not a huge fan of Northanger Abbey, but I do love Austen’s juvenilia, the short tales like Love and Friendship and so forth. I think in many ways they show us how we might want to read the novels of Austen’s adulthood.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?

I wanted to write books for as long as I can remember. (Here is the evidence: it’s my first known work, age three or so, as dictated to my mother.) I wrote compulsively throughout childhood and adolescence, but it wasn’t until my first year of college that I realized that though I really still wanted to write novels as well, my true vocation would be as a professor of literature. It still seemed an almost insurmountably long road, but from that point onward I was sure what direction I should point myself in.

Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?

Well, many authors would have been very poor teachers – but I would have to say Anthony Burgess, whose book 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 was my guide for reading throughout my teenage years. He would have been disreputable – unreliable, frequently hungover – but brilliant. Gore Vidal would have been another interesting one to have in the classroom.

What is your secret talent?

Punctuality. I have a very bad sense of direction – all places look the same to me, and I can get lost even in places I know very well – but it is easy for me to be on time and also to have a sense of how time’s passing. You would have to ask my students to know if this is really true, but I pride myself on not wasting their time in class and ending a little early whenever possible.

What word or punctuation mark do you most identify with?

The exclamation point! I do have a soft spot for the semi-colon, of course, and I can’t do without commas and periods. I am also rather partial to the em-dash and the hyphen, each of which has its own charms. I will hyphenate whenever possible.

Where do you do your best writing?

The truthful answer: anywhere with no Internet! I like to go to a cafe where there’s a bit of background buzz – easier for me to concentrate against a backdrop of minor noise than in full silence – and either write by longhand, with no distractions in the way of the internet.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?

No, but I sometimes have to look up something or remind myself of what exactly I said in the past. My novel The Explosionist was written because I’d fallen in love with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books and Garth Nix’s Sabriel books, and was haunting the bookstore wishfully hoping for something similar. When there really wasn’t anything new along those lines, I realized that I would have to write it myself.

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?

I am still on longhand for a lot of draft-writing. Occasionally I have a project that seems to call out for typing rather than handwriting, but it’s less common. The couple things I always write on the computer, that come easily and enjoyably and wouldn’t feel the same in handwriting: blog posts and lectures.

What book are you currently reading? (And is it in print or on an e-Reader?)

Just finishing Alice Goffman’s wonderful On the Run, which I highly recommend. I love my Kindle Paperwhite, and read most of my pleasure reading on it these days. My apartment is also full of stacks of library books right now that I’m dipping into to make a new fall-semester syllabus.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I have toyed with the idea of taking up “kitten socializer at animal shelter” as a secondary job description. More seriously: neurologist; epidemiologist; copy editor. It would be hard for me not to be an academic of one kind or another, though I suspect I’d be in the hard sciences, computer programming or mathematics if I weren’t a humanist.

Jenny Davidson is a Professor of English at Columbia University in the City of New York. She is interested in eighteenth-century British literature and culture; cultural and intellectual history, especially history of science; and the contemporary novel. He latest book is Reading Style: A Life in Sentences. She blogs at Light reading.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter and Facebook. Read previous interviews with Word for Word Book Club guest speakers.

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21. Bioscience, flies, and the future of teleportation

By William Hoffman


In pondering how rapidly animal, plant, microbial, viral, and human genetic and regulatory sequences travel around the world over wireless and fiber optic networks, I’m transported back to the sci-fi movie The Fly I watched as a boy. Released in 1958, the film was based on a story George Langelaan published in Playboy. In it, an experiment has gone awry: a matter transporter device called the disintegrator-integrator manages to hybridize the scientist who built it with a housefly. The fly sneaks into the action while the scientist is trying to dematerialize and transport himself from one chamber to another nearby. Two creatures result: a man with the head and left arm of a fly — the head retaining the scientist’s mental faculties — and a fly with a man’s miniature head and left arm.

Hybrid life forms are nothing new in biology. When neuroscientists outfitted laboratory mice with human brain cells, it prompted fears of “nightmare scenarios in which a human mind might be trapped in an animal head,” nightmare scenarios like that of The Fly. Leo Furcht and I noted the ethical concerns surrounding experiments that fused human embryonic cells with rabbit eggs, and human DNA with cow eggs, in The Stem Cell Dilemma. Ananda Chakrabarty, whose name is associated with the 1980 US Supreme Court decision ruling that genetically modified organisms can be patented, raised the question “What is human? This is not a question of the moral dilemma to define a human but is a legal requirement as to how much (human) material a chimpanzee must have before it is declared a part human….”

Hermann Muller employed radioactivity to induce point mutations in the fruit fly Drosophila, sometimes with bizarre results, though there is no evidence (of which I am aware) that George Langelaan was influenced by such experiments in conceiving his story. The technologies that captured Langelaan’s imagination had more to do with communications and information. Communications and culture run the show in his story: the telephone, a constant annoyance that drives the scientist to search for an escape; the typewriter, which he turns to when his voice is altered by the failed experiment; and above all a metamorphic miscommunication made possible by a crude teleporter and a fly. Science and culture scholar Bruce Clarke sees Langelaan’s story and the film as an allegory of modern media.

Another allegory of modern media was the 1960s TV series Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry, its creator, had not read or viewed The Fly when he initially conceived of the “beam me up, Scotty” transporter that Star Trek made famous. Quantum physics tells us it’s not quite that simple to convert a person or object into energy, beam the energy to a target, and then reconvert it into matter. But physicist and author Michio Kaku has predicted that a teleportation device similar to that in Star Trek would be invented by the early 22nd century. (Roddenberry’s fictional device was invented in the early 22nd century by Dr. Emory Erickson.)

The "transporter" on the starship Enterprise. Image Credit: Konrad Summers via Wikimedia Commons.

The “transporter” on the Starship Enterprise. Photo by Konrad Summers. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

J. Craig Venter, who led teams that sequenced the genomes of both the fly (Drosophila) and Homo sapiens, described a “biological teleporter” in Life at the Speed of Light. What he and his research team created is manifestly not a matter disintegrator-integrator but a biological code conversion system. The machine, called a digital biological converter, transforms digital-biological information transmitted in electromagnetic waves into proteins, viruses, and even single microbial cells. Unlike the teleporting machines Langelaal and Roddenbery imagined, Venter’s is based on what is actually known about biology, physics, chemistry, materials science, and informatics. Venter’s converter incorporates a variety of technologies including nucleotide synthesis and 3D bioprinting. Though enveloped in myth, the biological teleporter/converter “is not a myth,” says Venter, whose project was funded by DARPA’s “Living Foundries” program. It is already being used to develop and produce vaccines over great distances, and in short order.

On the subject of great distances, Venter wants to use his system to detect life on Mars and bring it to earth. “Although the idea conjures up ‘Star Trek,’ the analogy is not exact,” the New York Times reported. “The transporter on that program actually moves Captain Kirk from one location to another. Dr. Venter’s machine would merely create a copy of an organism from a distant location — more like a biological fax machine.”

chart - hoffman

The technology timeline above shows the accelerating growth of biological technologies and their convergence with other technologies. Unlike Michio Kaku we do not speculate about human teleportation. We suggest that a self-replicating microbe created entirely from computer code may make its debut in the not-too-distant future. Teleporting it to Mars should be eminently feasible with existing technology. It would be a modest step until the day when mechanisms for our own disintegration and distant reintegration become available, mechanisms equipped with regulatory safeguards to protect us against complications posed by house pests.

William Hoffman has been a writer and editor in the University of Minnesota Medical School for more than three decades. He is the co-author of The Biologist’s Imagination: Innovation in the Biosciences with Leo T. Furcht. He has worked closely with faculty in genetics and bioengineering and with the medical technology and bioscience industries. He has also coauthored books and articles on genetics, stem cell research, and heart disease.

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22. “How absurd!” The Occupation of Paris 1940-1944

By David Ball


In the Epilogue to his penetrating, well-documented study, Nazi Paris, Allan Mitchell writes “Parisians had endured the trying, humiliating, and essentially absurd experience of a German Occupation.” Odd as it may sound, “absurd” is exactly right. Both the word and the sense of absurdity come up again and again in the diary kept by a remarkable French intellectual during those “dark years,” as he called them. For the absurd is not only laughable: it can be dangerous. Here is a sampling of the absurdities Jean Guéhenno noted in his Diary of the Dark Years 1940-1944.

24 October 1940

Pierre Laval

French politician Pierre Laval (1883-1945) as lawyer in 1913. Agence de presse Meurisse‏ Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday evening all the newspapers were shouting out the great news: “M. Pierre Laval has met with the Führer.” . . . For what price did he sell us down the river? As early as 9 PM, the English radio was announcing the conditions of the deal: but what can we really know about it? Did the Marshal reject them? Are we going to be forced to put all our hopes on the resistance of that old man? This tyranny is too absurd, and its absurdity is too obvious to too many people for it to last.

For we have been plunged into vileness, that much is certain, but still more into absurdity.

29 November 1940

The newspapers are lamentably empty. This morning, however, I find the speech that Alfred Rosenberg, the high priest of Nazism, delivered yesterday from the podium of our Chamber of Deputies. For it is from there that Nazism is to hold sway over France . . . The history of the 19th century, he claims, is nothing but the struggle of blood against gold. “But today, blood is victorious at last . . . which means the racist, creative strength of central Europe.” I am recopying it exactly . . . Race? Claiming to rebuild Europe on a fable like that — how absurd!

7 January 1941

. . . my deepest reason for hope: it’s just that all this is too absurd. Something as absurd as this cannot possibly last. It seems to me I can read their embarrassment on the faces of the occupying forces. Every day, they are increasingly obliged to feel like foreigners. They don’t know what to do in the streets of Paris or whom to look at. They are sad and exiled. The jailor has become the prisoner. If he were sincere and he could speak, he would apologize for being here. No doubt that pitiable revolver he carries at his side reduces us to silence. And so? For how long will he be carrying it — will he have to carry it? For, without a revolver . . . Will he be condemned to wear it forever and live in this exile, without any other justification, any other joy than that little revolver?

10 February 1941

Every evening at the Opera, I am told, German officers are extremely numerous. At the intermissions, following the custom of their country, they walk around the lobby in ranks of three or four, all in the same direction. Despite themselves, the French join the procession and march in step, unconsciously. The boots impose their rhythm.

11 March 1941

M. Darlan is proclaiming “Germany’s generosity.” It is the height of absurdity: these vanquished generals have become our masters, and because of their very defeat, they must fear England’s victory and the restoration of France above all.

17 September 1941

I went on a trip to Brittany for a change of air and to try to get supplies of food, for life here has become increasingly wretched . . . Everywhere I found the same absurdity . . . On the sea, on the moors, in the forest, . . . just when I was going to forget about him, suddenly the gray soldier was there in front of me, with his rifle and his face of an all-powerful, barbaric moron. But it is impossible that he himself cannot feel how vain is the terror he is wielding. The sailors of Camaret make fun of him openly . . . He will go away as he came; he will have gone on a long, absurd trip.

Paris Opera Palais Garnier

Paris Opera Palais Garnier by Smtunli, Svein-Magne Tunli. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

22 February 1943

. . . those officers one meets around the Madeleine and the Opera in their fine linen greatcoats, with their vain, high caps, that look of proud stupidity on their faces and those nickel-plated daggers joggling around their bottoms. Then there are [the] busy little females — those mailwomen or telephone operators who look like Walkyries: one can sense their vanity and emptiness. The other day on the Place de la Concorde in front of the Ministry of the Navy I stopped to watch the sentries — those unchanging puppets who have stood there on each side of the door for more than two years, without drinking, eating or sleeping, like the symbol of deadly, mechanical [German] order right in the middle of Paris. I stood looking at them for a while as they pivoted like marionettes. But one tires of the Nuremberg clock . . .

29 May 1944

A torrent of stupidity. Two movie actors had put on Racine’s Andromaque in the Édouard VII Theater. Their interpretation of the play seemed immoral. Andromaque has been banned. This morning, the newspapers are publishing the following note: “The French Militia is concerned about the intellectual protection of France as well as public morality. That is why the regional head of the for the Militia of the Paris region notified the Prefect of Police that it was going to oppose the production of the scandalous play by Messieurs Jean Marais and Alain Cuny now playing at the Édouard VII Theater. The Prefect of Police issued a decree immediately banning the play.

David Ball is Professor Emeritus of French and Comparative Literature, Smith College. He is the editor and translator of Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris.

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23. When simple is no longer simple

By Lawla Law


Cognitive impairment is a common problem in older adults, and one which increases in prevalence with age with or without the presence of pathology. Persons with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have difficulties in daily functioning, especially in complex everyday tasks that rely heavily on memory and reasoning. This imposes a potential impact on the safety and quality of life of the person with MCI as well as increasing the burden on the care-giver and overall society. Individuals with MCI are at high risk of progressing to Alzheimer’s diseases (AD) and other dementias, with a reported conversion rate of up to 60-100% in 5-10 years. These signify the need to identify effective interventions to delay or even revert the disease progression in populations with MCI.

At present, there is no proven or established treatment for MCI although the beneficial effects of physical activity/exercise in improving the cognitive functions of older adults with cognitive impairment or dementia have long been recognized. Exercise regulates different growth factors which facilitate neuroprotection and anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. Studies also found that exercise promotes cerebral blood flow and improves learning. However, recent reviews reported that evidence from the effects of physical activity/exercise on cognition in older adults is still insufficient.

Brain Aging

Surprisingly, studies have found that although numerous new neurons can be generated in the adult brain, about half of the newly generated cells in the brain die during the first 1-4 weeks. Nevertheless, research also found that spatial learning or exposure to an enriched environment can rescue the newly generated immature cells and promote their long-term survival and functional connection with other neurons in the adult brain

It has been proposed that exercise in the context of a cognitively challenge environment induces more new neurons and benefits the brain rather than the exercise alone. A combination of mental and physical training may have additive effects on the adult brain, which may further promote cognitive functions.

Daily functional tasks are innately cognitive-demanding and involve components of stretching, strengthening, balance, and endurance as seen in traditional exercise programs. Particularly, visual spatial functional tasks, such as locating a key or finding the way through a familiar or new environment, demand complex cognitive processes and play an important part in everyday living.

In our recent study, a structured functional tasks exercise program, using placing/collection tasks as a means of intervention, was developed to compare its effects on cognitions with a cognitive training program in a population with mild cognitive impairment.

Patients with subjective memory complaint or suspected cognitive impairment were referred by the Department of Medicine and Geriatrics of a public hospital in Hong Kong. Older adults (age 60+) with mild cognitive decline living in the community were eligible for the study if they met the inclusion criteria for MCI. A total of 83 participants were randomized to either a functional task exercise (FcTSim) group (n = 43) or an active cognitive training (AC) group (n = 40) for 10 weeks.

We found that the FcTSim group had significantly higher improvements in general cognitive functions, memory, executive function, functional status, and everyday problem solving ability, compared with the AC group, at post-intervention. In addition, the improvements were sustained during the 6-month follow-up.

Although the functional tasks involved in the FcTSim program are simple placing/collection tasks that most people may do in their everyday life, complex cognitive interplays are required to enable us to see, reach and place the objects to the target positions. Indeed, these goal-directed actions require integration of information (e.g. object identity and spatial orientation) and simultaneous manipulation of the integrated information that demands intensive loads on the attentional and executive resources to achieve the ongoing tasks. It is a matter of fact that misplacing objects are commonly reported in MCI and AD.

Importantly, we need to appreciate that simple daily tasks can be cognitively challenging to persons with cognitive impairment. It is important to firstly educate the participant as well as the carer about the rationale and the goals of practicing the exercise in order to initiate and motivate their participation. Significant family members or caregivers play a vital role in the lives of persons with cognitive impairment, influencing their level of activities and functional interaction in their everyday environment. Once the participants start and experience the challenges in performing the functional tasks exercise, both the participants and the carer can better understand and accept the difficulties a person with cognitive impairment can possibly encounter in his/her everyday life.

Furthermore, we need to aware that the task demands will decrease once the task becomes more automatic through practice. The novelty of the practicing task has to be maintained in order ensure a task demand that allows successful performance and maintain an advantage for the intervention. Novelty can be maintained in an existing task by adding unfamiliar features, and therefore performance of the task will remain challenging and not become subject to automation.

Dr. Lawla Law is a practicing Occupational Therapist for more than 24 years, with extensive experience in acute and community settings in Hong Kong and Tasmania, Australia. She is currently the Head of Occupational Therapy at the Jurong Community Hospital of Jurong Health Services in Singapore and will take up a position as Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia in August 2014. Her research interests are in Geriatric Rehabilitations with a special emphasis on assessments and innovative interventions for cognitive impairment. Dr. Law is an author of the paper ‘Effects of functional tasks exercise on older adults with cognitive impairment at risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a randomised controlled trial’, published in the journal Age and Ageing.

Age and Ageing is an international journal publishing refereed original articles and commissioned reviews on geriatric medicine and gerontology. Its range includes research on ageing and clinical, epidemiological, and psychological aspects of later life.

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Image credit: Brain aging. By wildpixel, via iStockphoto.

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24. Debussy and the Great War

By Eric Frederick Jensen


When war was declared in the summer of 1914, Claude Debussy was fifty-one. Widely regarded as the greatest living French composer, he lived in Paris in a fashionable, elegant neighborhood near the Bois de Boulogne. Politics had never held much interest for him, and as the movement toward war increased in both France and Germany, Debussy’s focus was on more personal matters. He worried about his growing debt, a result of consistently living beyond his means. And he was frightened by his lack of productivity: in the past few years he’d produced only a handful of compositions.

When France’s armies were mobilized, Debussy was genuinely astonished by the fervor it aroused. He himself was not a flag-waver, and took some pride in observing that he had never “had occasion to handle a gun.” But he was drawn into a more active role as family and friends became involved, and as the German invasion threatened to overrun Paris.

That September he witnessed the repulse of the German forces from temporary asylum in Angers, and grew increasingly horrified by daily reports in the French press of “Hun atrocities” against civilians in Belgium and France. The violation of Belgian neutrality by the Germans (“the rape of Belgium”) served as the basis for what became a well-organized propaganda campaign, one that soon drew on Debussy’s fame.

One of the first publications intended to broaden support for the Allies appeared in November 1914: King Albert’s Book. A Tribute to the Belgian King and People from Representative Men and Women Throughout the World. The popular English novelist, Hall Caine, was listed as “general organizer,” and there were more than 200 contributors from all branches of the arts, including Edward Elgar, Jack London, Edith Wharton, Walter Crane, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Anatole France. Debussy was one of the few composers approached to be part of the project, and contributed a short piano piece, Berceuse héroïque. He described it as as “melancholy and discreet . . . with no pretensions other than to offer a homage to so much patient suffering.”

Claude Debussy. Ink drawing by Joseph Muller. Digital ID: 1147651. New York Public Library.

Claude Debussy. Ink drawing by Joseph Muller. Digital ID: 1147651. New York Public Library.

The Berceuse was followed by two brief piano pieces similar in intent: Page d’album and Elégie. Page d’album was composed in June 1915 for a concert series created to supplying clothing for the wounded. Debussy’s wife, Emma, was involved with the project, and that helps to explain his participation. The Elégie, a simple and solemn piece, was published six months later in Pages inédites sur la femme et la guerre. Profits from sale of the book were intended for war orphans.

That same month Debussy completed his final work directly inspired by the war effort: Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus des maisons (Christmas for Homeless Children). Here Debussy presented children as an illustration of the horror and atrocities of war. He composed both words and music. Its recurrent refrain—“Revenge the children of France!”—gives an indication of its mood. (The following year Debussy started work on a cantata about Joan of Arc, Ode à la France, set in Rheims—whose cathedral, destroyed by German shelling, had become a symbol both of French fortitude and German barbarity—but completed only a few sketches.)

Life in Paris during the war years became more and more of a challenge, with increasing shortages of food and fuel, and a steady escalation in their cost. In time it became difficult for Debussy simply to earn a living. Concert life was reduced, as were commissions for new compositions. Debussy’s last surviving, musical autograph—a short, improvisatory piano piece—was presented as a form of payment to his coal-dealer, probably in February or March 1917.

It came as a surprise to Debussy that, in the midst of all these hardships, he began to compose more than he had in years, including works more substantial in size and broader in their appeal. Among them were En Blanc et Noir (for two pianos), the Etudes (for solo piano), and a set of sonatas, including ones for violin and cello. These were not propagandistic pieces, but the war affected them nonetheless. They were created, Debussy confided to a friend, “not so much for myself, [but ]to offer proof, small as it may be, that 30 million Boches can not destroy French thought . . . I think of the youth of France, senselessly mowed down by those merchants of ‘Kultur’ . . . What I am writing will be a secret homage to them.” For the sonatas, the last compositions completed before his death, he provided a new signature: “Claude Debussy, musicien français”—an indication not just of Debussy’s nationalism during a time of war, but of the heritage he drew upon in writing them.

Debussy died of cancer on 21 March 1918, at a time when Paris was under attack as part of a mammoth, final German offensive. But by that time his perception of the war had altered. The years of carnage had made a straight-forward patriotic stance simplistic. “When will hate be exhausted?” Debussy wrote. “Or is it hate that’s the issue in all this? When will the practice cease of entrusting the destiny of nations to people who see humanity as a way of furthering their careers?”

Eric Frederick Jensen received a doctorate in musicology from the Eastman School of Music. He has written widely in his areas of expertise: German Romanticism, and nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French music. His studies of Debussy and Robert Schumann are in the Master Musicians Series.

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25. How much do you know about investment arbitration?

Int Court Justice law robesInvestment arbitration is a growing and important area of law, in which states and companies often find themselves involved in. In recognition of the one year anniversary of Investment Claims moving to a new platform, we have created a quiz we hope will test your knowledge of arbitration law and multilateral treaties. Good luck!

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