What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Recent Comments

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing Blog: OUPblog, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 3,878
Visit This Blog | Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
Blog Banner
Introducing brilliant authors to the blogosphere. The Official blog of Oxford University Press.
Statistics for OUPblog

Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 3
1. Walter W. Skeat (1835-1912) and spelling reform

By Anatoly Liberman

Henry Bradley, while writing his paper (see the previous post), must have looked upon Skeat as his main opponent. This becomes immediately clear from the details. For instance, Skeat lamented the use of the letter c in scissors and Bradley defended it. He even noted, in the supplement to the paper devoted to Spelling Reform, that, all Skeat’s ardor and arguments notwithstanding, in his publications and personal letters he stuck to traditional spelling. This mild taunt was beside the point. Why should Skeat have adopted reformed or simplified spelling before it became the norm?

Skeat’s program paper was delivered in 1906. In modern times, the proposal for simplified spelling was first made in 1881, and the decade before the First World War witnessed an unprecedented and never to be repeated splash of interest in this matter. In the United States, some linguistic journals agreed to print papers with the words having the appearance favored by the reformers. George O. Curme, a distinguished American linguist, published a scholarly article in a leading German periodical using “new orthography” (1914). I needn’t remind anyone that this was the epoch of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, hence the numerous cartoons connecting him and the Reform. In 1910 George B. Shaw believed that England would move toward phonetic spelling in the foreseeable future. Foreign scholars, especially in Sweden and the Netherlands, clamored for action, and offered recipes. English, they pointed out, had become an international language and its written form was the greatest handicap to those who wished to learn it.

The most timid attempt at Spelling Reform

The most timid attempt at Spelling Reform

The war made all such problems irrelevant. Then came the Bolsheviks and the Nazis and another war. In later times, the Chomskyan revolution did a lot of harm to the “cause.” Chomsky’s emphasis on the historical logic of English spelling contributed to the loss of the little enthusiasm scholars might have for Spelling Reform. He taught that one has to distinguish between underlying forms and surface realizations. Archaic English spelling provided Chomsky and his closest ally Morris Halle with a treasure trove of “underlying forms” (for example, we spell take, and the underlying form has “long a,” that is, the vowel of Modern Engl. spa, father, etc., and it is exactly this vowel from which the modern diphthong developed). In that academic battle, Bradley won a decisive victory, a fact to be regretted.

Skeat’s paper runs to eighteen pages. His main point, so cleverly contested by Bradley, is predictable: letters should represent sounds, but English spelling fails to do so. Very funny from our perspective is his suggestion for explaining to boys (naturally!) the true value of English vowels. The English should give up their habit of Anglicizing Latin pronunciation, and, once the boys begin to read Latin approximately as they would read Italian, they will understand the nature of sound change, and it will be easier to explain the correlation between letters and sounds, a major prerequisite for the success of the Reform. Alas and alack, today this recommendation has little value: our “boys” no longer study Latin for six years.

Help from Abroad

Help from Abroad

One of the pioneers of Spelling Reform was the great philologist Henry Sweet, and Skeat supported his ideas. These are the spellings both of them advocated: hav, liv, abov; agreev, aproov, solv, freez, etc. (in the e-less category, only adz and ax gained a foothold, and only in American English); jepardy, bredth; acheev, beleev; cumfort, tuch, cuzin; flurish; batl, ketl, writn; lam, num; lookt, puld; honor, labor (once again the last words will not offend the American eye). Skeat referred to two great gains the Reform would have. The first strikes me as almost humorous, even though offered in dead earnest, the second as vital.

“The first is that those partial reforms would necessarily involve the disuse of a large number of useless letters. In this way more matter would be got into a page, and some labour in the compositions of the type would be saved; and as this would happen in every case, …it might very easily save every printer and publisher a considerable sum of money. It would not be surprising if the aggregate savings, in the course of a year, throughout the British Empire, were to amount to a considerable sum of money. [He projected the economy of thousands of pounds.]… The second is that the task of learning to read would be considerably simplified, and the time taken to achieve that task would be considerably shortened…. In this case there can be no doubt at all that the sums thus saved would be very considerable.”

He devoted several paragraphs to beating this willing horse.

Skeat summarized the situation quite convincingly: English words have turned into hieroglyphs that have to be learned mechanically. With this spelling we are not quite in China (figuratively speaking), because many words are still spelled phonetically, but we are halfway through (I am paraphrasing, not quoting Skeat). Close to the end of the paper he admitted that since 1881 absolutely no progress had been made in reforming English spelling. Publishers and journalists crushed every attempt to tamper with the existing system (“I speak it to our utter shame,” he added). But his explanation of the reasons for the failure is probably wrong. He ascribed the public’s near universal resistance to its ignorance of the most basic facts of linguistics. The obtuseness and ignorance of his countrymen was one of Skeat’s favorite subjects; he had no patience with human stupidity.

However, in this case, it was probably not only ignorance that killed the Reform. We should rather consider the natural wish of human beings to protect their riches, be it material possessions or spiritual property. Someone who has learned the spelling of the noun occurrence (very few have, as far as I can judge), has perhaps been whipped, rapped over the knuckles, or received bad grades for spelling it with -ance or with one r (or one c), will cling to the hard-obtained treasure like grim death. To waste years on such terrible words and give up their spelling? No! Besides, in England honor, labor, ax, and their likes had the stigma of being Americanisms. Who would fall so low as to imitate the Americans? Even after 1918 British periodicals carried blood curdling letters to the editor about the corrupting influence of Americanisms on pure English.

From this point of view, it is curious to read the concluding paragraph of Skeat’s paper.

“If, however, it should come to pass that a real Spelling Reform should previously be effected in America, it may quite possibly be a gain to us; because the history of our language is there more generally known. I lately met with the President of an American university, who said to me (I have no doubt with perfect truth) ‘In our universities English takes the first place’. This is one of those facts of which the ordinary Englishman is entirely ignorant; indeed, it is almost impossible for him to imagine how such a state of things can be possible. I recommend the contemplation of this astounding fact to your serious consideration.”

I am a great fan of Walter Skeat’s and often try to placate his irascible shadow. This time I hasten to reassure the great man that English no longer takes the first place in American universities; at all stages, we teach concepts and critical thinking, not facts. We despise memorization and encourage discussion, ideally group discussion following a PowerPoint presentation. One semester of the history of English is rarely required even of English majors, and for spelling we have spellcheckers. However, it is not good to finish even a grim comedy (that is, a drama in which the protagonists don’t die) on a gloomy note. Perhaps indeed, the stimulus to reform English spelling will come from America; we’ll see. The past is hard to reconstruct, but the future is even harder to predict.

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.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only language articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credits: (1) Printed in 1911 in the American Transactions of the Philological Association (part of the article by Charles P.G. Scott “Bogus and his Crew”; Scott was the etymologist for The Century Dictionary). (2) A sample of what the Swedes suggested (the Anglic Fund, Uppsala). Both images courtesy of Anatoly Liberman.

The post Walter W. Skeat (1835-1912) and spelling reform appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Walter W. Skeat (1835-1912) and spelling reform as of 4/23/2014 10:29:00 AM
Add a Comment
2. Developing a module for Oxford Scholarship Online


Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) launched in 2003 with 700 titles. Now, on its tenth birthday, it’s the online home of over 9,000 titles from Oxford University Press’s distinguished academic list, and part of University Press Scholarship Online. To celebrate OSO turning ten, we’ve invited a host of people to reflect on the past ten years of online academic publishing, and what the next ten might bring.

By Nicola Wilson

When I was invited to develop two lists for Oxford Scholarship Online, I jumped at the chance. From the perspective of a commissioning editor, digital publishing has extended the “life” of our copyrights indefinitely, and we no longer need to hold a book in physical print for it to continue to be available to our readers.

Social determinants of healthThe first module that I developed was “Public Health and Epidemiology,” back in 2008. The books contained in the module have been published by our medical department over the course of three decades, and many are now considered public health classics, such as Michael Marmot’s Social Determinants of Health, and Geoffrey Rose’s The Strategy of Preventative Medicine.

The books that we chose to include on Oxford Scholarship Online present research and analysis of global health issues, and insight into the impact of diseases and conditions on populations. Several of the projects in the module have directly influenced policy planning and clinical attitudes to disease prevention and management, transforming scientific investigation methods and treatment approaches worldwide.

The biggest challenge in developing the module was the time that it took to clear permission to reproduce the material online. Many of the contracts and agreements that we held for our older books long pre-dated electronic resources, and we had to ask the authors and editors to sign contract addendums to allow us to proceed with publishing the books online. In some instances, authors had died since the book was published with us, so we needed to contact authors’ estates and ask surviving relatives to grant us permission to reproduce the material online.

In other cases, we needed to trace the ownership of third-party copyrighted material which was included in the books, so I became a detective, trying to identify the current owners of defunct publishers, some of which had changed their ownership through multiple company mergers over a thirty-year period. What naively started out as a few hours of looking through dusty hard-copy records in our basement, turned into a few months of internet heavy investigation and phone calls to numerous publishers’ Rights departments.

The amount of work that clearing permissions created turned it into an “all hands on deck during evenings and weekends” project. Over half of the medical department pitched in extra hours over a four-month period to ensure that we hit the launch deadline that we had been set. (Never underestimate the power of food to complete a project on schedule.)

The trickiest book that we worked on was Nutrition for Developing Countries, which was originally published in 1993 before our copyright clearance rules were defined. It’s full of unique hand drawn illustrations of Tanzanian families, different types of food, and easy-to-read graphs. It was specifically presented in such a way that could be used as a “show and tell” book by doctors working with non-literate families in Africa. For example, they could point at the illustrations of healthy foods in the book and explain to nursing mothers how eating those foods would help their babies to grow strong and remain healthy.

However, our challenge was trying to find out who had drawn the pictures, and subsequently who owned the copyright for them. Many of the illustrations had been drawn by a friend of one of the editors, and given to the editor as a wedding present. Did this mean that the copyright was held by the editor, or was it held by the artist? No copyright permission had ever been signed to state either way, and we had no contact details for the artist to enquire with them directly. We contacted the book editor, but they were often working in areas of Africa where Internet access was non-existent, so it took around four months to liaise with the editor and the artist (whom the editor contacted on our behalf), and acquire permission from both of them (to cover all legal bases) to use the illustrations in a digital form.

A major benefit of putting books online is the global availability of the information they contain; practitioners and academics can access and use these books online wherever they are in world. It’s wonderful that public health and epidemiology books attract a global readership, and through their availability online, they will have an even broader reach, and continue to help develop and improve research and treatment for many years to come.

Nicola Wilson is Commissioning Editor for the “Palliative Care” and “Public Health and Epidemiology” modules on Oxford Scholarship Online.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only education articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Developing a module for Oxford Scholarship Online appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Developing a module for Oxford Scholarship Online as of 4/23/2014 7:55:00 AM
Add a Comment
3. Searching for more legal certainty in bitcoins and mobile payments

By Niels Vandezande

In the last few months, international media have reported extensively on the latest developments in the online economy. These reports have focused mostly on the rise of so-called cryptocurrencies, with bitcoin being the most well-known example. Such cryptocurrencies are characterized by their decentralized nature, meaning that they aren’t controlled by a central government. As such, their emission is controlled by an algorithm rather than by economic imperatives. While originally used by only a small group of enthusiasts, bitcoin has now captured the attention of the global economy and lawmakers. It has given impulse to the creation of several other cryptocurrencies, some of which are known for their community efforts — such as dogecoin — and others which are known for being named after a celebrity — which isn’t always appreciated.

While this rise of cryptocurrencies certainly has economic potential — with bitcoin alone having a current market capitalization estimated at over USD 5 billon — the last few months have also exposed a number of the less pleasant issues. These issue range between its role in, for instance, an online black market, theft, and money-laundering. One of the important contributing factors in this, is that cryptocurrencies have for long operated within a legal gray zone. From the beginning, it was unclear whether — and if so, which — existing regulation could be applied to this phenomenon. But for as long as this development played only a marginal societal role, specific legislative initiative attempting to regulate this matter wasn’t seriously considered.

This position of laissez-faire seems to be changing now. Just last week, for instance, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a notice in which it holds that cryptocurrencies should be considered as property for taxation purposes. Other governments have also tried their hand at finding a legal basis for the use of cryptocurrencies. However, in most of such discussions, lawmakers’ and governments’ efforts remain mostly limited to providing for the taxation of gains made from transactions involving cryptocurrencies.


This is why the European Commission’s proposal for a review of the Payment Services Directive (Directive 2007/64/EC) could have been a great opportunity to explore the possibilities for a more fundamental overhaul of the legal framework regulating most of today’s online payments. Online payments focus more and more on mobile technologies, and now also include the use of non-governmental currencies. However, the currently existing framework set by the Payment Services Directive and its close companion the E-money Directive (Directive 2009/110/EC) isn’t suited to extend to the complete field of online payments.

A new proposal in this matter could have merged the closely related matters of payment services and e-money. It could have expanded the scope to emerging technologies. It could have taken a more direct approach in addressing non-governmental currencies. All of such approaches could have provided the user of mobile payment technologies and cryptocurrencies with more legal certainty regarding the protection that is — or isn’t — offered to him by the law.

The European Commission’s proposal, however, takes a different approach. First, it was decided that due to the late implementation of the E-money Directive, there wasn’t sufficient practical experience with this framework to allow for a review. As a result, payment services and e-money will for the time being remain subject to separate legal instruments. Second, the proposed new Payment Services Directive doesn’t deviate much from its predecessor. It still aims to cover a broad definition of ‘payment services’, with a wide range of exemptions from that scope. The scope has been somewhat enlarged, now also covering ‘payment information services’ and ‘payment initiation services’. These are both services aimed at providing access to a user’s payment account at another service, thus not disposing of the funds moved on said account.

Under the original Payment Services Directive, the unclear formulation of the scope exemptions has resulted in different interpretations between EU Member States. Moreover, it was found that this uncertainty allowed market players to adapt their business models in order for them to fall into the negative scope of the directive, thus being exempt from having to comply with this legal framework. The new proposal aims to tighten the scope of the exemptions mostly by introducing new terminology. Such terminology — including formulations as ‘precise needs’, ‘specific instruments’, and ‘used in a limited way’ — hasn’t been properly defined in itself, thus leaving room for even more broad and divergent interpretations. Only the so-called ‘added value’ exemption has been made more clear due to the addition of a value limitation. As a result, this scope exemption will only apply to single transactions of maximum EUR 50 and cumulative transactions of maximum EUR 200 per billing month.

While the proposed review of the Payment Services Directive does include a few good points — such as the inclusion of additional service providers, new measures aimed at raising security and transparency, and the inclusion of a value limitation in one of its scope exemptions — the overall feeling remains that good opportunities have been left unused. As the online economy continues to grow in the direction of mobile payment solutions and the use of cryptocurrencies, the legal questions underlying these matters are becoming increasingly urgent. For the time being, it is clear that the answer won’t be found in the EU’s regulation of payment services and e-money.

Niels Vandezande is a legal researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for law & ICT (ICRI) — iMinds at the KU Leuven – University of Leuven, Belgium. A more in-depth analysis of the issues touched upon in this post can be found in his article “Between Bitcoins and mobile payments: will the European Commission’s new proposal provide more legal certainty?”, published in the International Journal of Law and Information. Follow him on Twitter @NielsVandezande.

The International Journal of Law and Information Technology provides cutting edge and comprehensive analysis of Information Technology, communications and cyberspace law as well as the issues arising from applying Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to legal practice.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only law articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Physical Bitcoins by CASASCIUS. Work released into public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Searching for more legal certainty in bitcoins and mobile payments appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Searching for more legal certainty in bitcoins and mobile payments as of 4/23/2014 5:21:00 AM
Add a Comment
4. Why are money market funds safer than the Bitcoin?

Few realise that Brazil was the birthplace of the money market fund. Since their inception money market funds have grown and spread globally. However, they have often eluded a firm definition. In this series of podcasts Viktoria Baklanova, Chief Credit Officer of Acacia Capital (New York), describes the genesis of money market funds, explains what they are, and gives insight to the size of the industry and the major players within it. As well as providing an overview to money market funds Baklanova discusses their possible regulation. In response to the recent popularity of the Bitcoin, Baklanova describes what the Bitcoin is, why it is popular, and what dangers it poses. In doing so she provides a comparison between the Bitcoin and money market funds, explaining why the latter is safer.

What are money market funds and what is the size of the industry?
[See post to listen to audio]Bitcoin euro

Who are the major players?
[See post to listen to audio]

Where and how did money market fund originate?
[See post to listen to audio]

Why are money market funds safer than the Bitcoin?
[See post to listen to audio]

How should money market funds be regulated?
[See post to listen to audio]

What is the future of money market funds?
[See post to listen to audio]

Victoria Baklanova is Chief Credit Officer at Acacia Capital, New York. She is the co-author of Money Market Funds in the EU and the US.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only law articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Bitcoin. CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The post Why are money market funds safer than the Bitcoin? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Why are money market funds safer than the Bitcoin? as of 4/23/2014 5:21:00 AM
Add a Comment
5. New sodium intake research and the response of health organizations

The American Journal of Hypertension (AJH) recently published the findings of a comprehensive meta-analysis monitoring health outcomes for individuals based on their daily sodium intake. The results were controversial, seemingly confirming what many notable hypertension experts have begun to suspect in recent years: that levels of daily sodium intake recommended by governmental agencies like the CDC are far too low, perhaps dangerously so.

Media outlets were quick to broadcast the findings, and the response from the CDC and organizations like the American Heart Association were much the same as in the past, dismissing the analysis, without pointing to specifics, as relying on “faulty methodology” and “flawed data.”

We recently spoke to Dr. Niels Graudal, lead author of the meta-analysis published in AJH, to understand, among other things, the details of his research and his opinion on the reaction of governmental health agencies to new findings on sodium intake.

Could you start by talking to us about the nature of a meta-analysis? What about your meta-analysis makes its findings more valid than, say, a single, localized study?

Population studies are accepted in health science as a means to define associations between health-factors. For instance, the associations between blood pressure, cholesterol, and mortality have been defined by such studies. Meta-analyses integrate the results from many individual studies to provide an average of the association of the “risk factor” to outcome. Such analyses help to reach a consensus, and constitute the core of the Cochrane Collaboration, which systematically organizes medical research information on the basis of scientific evidence.

Was there a common methodology among the studies included in your meta-analysis?

In population studies on sodium intake, the individually-measured sodium intake is used to categorize the participants in groups of low, intermediate, and high sodium intake. The groups are followed for years, while mortality (death rate) and morbidity (disease rate) in the different groups are recorded. Successively, the association between sodium intake and mortality/morbidity is calculated.

heart rate

What are some possible obstacles encountered in population studies like this?

There are factors which could bias the result in a wrong direction, so-called “confounders.” For instance, sodium intake typically increases with energy intake. Sick participants with a low energy intake may therefore eat less sodium than healthy people, and overweight participants predisposed to diabetes and cardiovascular disease may eat more sodium than healthy people. Therefore, the energy intake is a confounder, which could explain a potential increased mortality in participants with a low and a high sodium intake. However, there are statistical methods that allow us to correct for such confounders in order to ensure for accurate findings; such methods are used in almost all such studies, and have been for many years.

What were the specific findings of your meta-analysis on sodium intake?

Perhaps most importantly, the implications of these findings are that the present recommendation from the CDC that individuals should reduce sodium intake to below 2300 mg/day is too restrictive, and that the majority (about 95%) of the global population presently eat sodium within the safest range (2,645-4,945 mg/day) and therefore have no need to alter their intake.
Our present analysis showed that both high sodium intake and low sodium intake were associated with increased mortality when compared with the present usual sodium intake of most individuals worldwide, which is between 2,645 and 4,945 mg per day. In spite of the fact that sodium intake is somewhat difficult to measure precisely, the signal from the nearly 275,000 participants we looked at was abundantly clear.

Perhaps most importantly, the implications of these findings are that the present recommendation from the CDC that individuals should reduce sodium intake to below 2300 mg/day is too restrictive, and that the majority (about 95%) of the global population presently eat sodium within the safest range (2,645-4,945 mg/day) and therefore have no need to alter their intake.

How did you account for those participants in your analysis that were already suffering from, say, hypertension or obesity? Might they have affected the findings in some way?

When we excluded groups of populations with diseases from our analysis and only included healthy populations, which were random samples of the general population and within which multiple statistical adjustments for confounders had been performed, the results concerning low sodium intake were even more significant, indicating that confounders could not have affected the outcome of our analysis.

Is your meta-analysis the first scientific research to suggest that extremely low levels of sodium intake like those promoted by the CDC may actually be associated with negative health outcomes?

Actually, a 1984 paper published in the journal Science questioned the wisdom of population-wide sodium intake reduction on the basis of an investigation of about 10,000 participants. The FDA immediately published a high-profile response in The New York Times, claiming that the findings were likely the result of a statistical fluke or “something wrong with the analysis.” This immediate move to quell any dissenting evidence seems to have governed the debate ever since.

More recently, though, a population study published while our meta-analysis was under review showed results very similar to ours. Two of the individual studies (1, 2) included in our analysis also concluded that there was a “U” shaped correlation between sodium intake and mortality (increased risks at very low and high doses). For the record, excluding these two studies from our analysis did not change our results. In the past year, then, four recent studies have independently confirmed increased risks associated with both high and low sodium intakes, and suggest that the present recommendation of less than 2,300 mg/day is in conflict with available science.

What are the arguments against research like this?

Often, health organizations will attempt to call into question researchers’ objectivity by labeling them biased agents of the food industry. In a recent response to a paper showing that the majority of the world’s populations had a salt intake significantly above the recommended 2,300 mg/day, representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) accusatorily asked, “why has the food and beverage industry mounted yet another campaign to try to resist beneficial changes, either directly or indirectly through their academic voices?”

Sometimes agencies will willfully misinterpret findings. In a short commentary to the recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on sodium intake in populations, nine CDC employees quoted the IOM report as follows: “When it comes to sodium intake levels <2,300mg per day… the committee found insufficient and inconsistent evidence regarding the benefit or harm in certain population subgroups (e.g., individuals with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or preexisting cardiovascular disease)”. However, the actual quote from the study was this: “science was insufficient and inadequate to establish whether reducing sodium intake below 2,300 mg/d either decreases or increases CVD risk in the general population.”

Often, they claim that our data and methods are somehow flawed, though they rarely cite specific instances. In a response to our present meta-analysis, the American Heart Association (AHA) stated that the analysis relied on “flawed data and should not change the way anyone looks at sodium.” They went on to say that:

“…those studies were poorly designed to examine the relationship between sodium intake and mortality, and the findings fail to take into account well-established evidence about sodium intake. Other problems with the new study included unreliable measurements of sodium intake and an overemphasis on studying sick people rather than the general population.”

This is a small selection of the arguments which have been raised for years by representatives of public institutions (WHO, FDA, NIH, CDC, AHA) in response to scientific investigations that don’t agree with their population-wide sodium reduction agenda.

So that we can avoid generalizations, what are the specific studies these organizations usually cite in support of population-wide sodium reduction, and what do you think are their flaws?

The rebuttals of health organizations are almost invariably propped up by vague references to an “immense” – usually unspecified – body of research which “proves” the beneficial effects of sodium reduction for the general population. If they do cite specific studies, it’s usually either

  • A group of randomized trials in which the baseline blood pressure of participants was actually much higher than the average 71 mmHg of the general population: 80-89 mmHg, 83-89 mmHg, borderline hypertensives and hypertensives, and hypertensives (>90 mmHg). Though these studies are obviously not useful for general population policymaking, they are, nonetheless, used to bolster the population-wide sodium reduction agenda of health organizations.
  • A meta-analysis (which, ironically, would have the same hypothetical methodological weaknesses the AHA and CDC supposedly see in ours) that finds increased risk of stroke in individuals consuming more than 4,945 mg/day. The results don’t conflict with our findings (our healthy range is 2,645 – 4,945 mg/day), but also don’t examine negative outcomes for low sodium intake, so are irrelevant to debate around determining an intake range.
  • Follow-ups (1, 2) of two older studies, pooling and analyzing their data with cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality and all-cause mortality (ACM) as outcomes. These showed no significant difference between the low sodium group (ACM = 2.3%) and the normal sodium group (ACM = 2.6 %) (p = 0.58), thus confirming that sodium reduction may have no effect. The authors did, however, on several occasions, dissect the results by means of multiple adjustments, and did succeed in finding a few marginal or borderline significant results in favor of sodium reduction. The analyses behind these results, though, were not predefined in a protocol and should therefore be considered as having an extremely high risk of bias.

These flawed or irrelevant studies tell us that, concerning the general population, the blood pressure surrogate link between sodium intake and mortality is unreliable. As a matter of fact, the blood pressure surrogate link has been opposed by a meta-analysis that accounted for the full range of global population blood pressure and showed negative side effects for sodium reduction.

Where does this leave us?

As blood pressure is obviously not a reliable link between sodium intake and mortality, the conclusion of the aforementioned 2013 IOM report based on evidence from population studies is the best we have. This report was conducted by independent researchers and sponsored by the CDC, who, for less-than-transparent reasons, chose to follow the example of the AHA by rejecting their own report. As previously mentioned, this report found no evidence to establish whether reducing sodium intake below 2,300 mg/day either decreases or increases CVD risk in the general population. It also found no evidence in support of recommending different sodium intakes to diseased and normal groups, and did find evidence for potential harm in a sodium intake below 1,500 mg. However, the report failed to specify the dimensions of a safe sodium intake zone, but, by implication, indicated that such a safe zone does exist, consistent with the experience of all other essential nutrients.

In your opinion, what should organizations like the CDC and AHA, who control the development and implementation of public health policy, be doing now, in light of this new research?

Any policy like the current one that would aim to have 95% of the world’s population drastically alter their diet ought to be based upon strong, irrefutable scientific evidence.
I think that, instead of immediately moving to accuse dissenting scientists of economic and intellectual corruption, it may be more appropriate for powerful health organizations to ask what scientific mind would buy a theory as simplistic as the one currently governing sodium intake policy (sodium intake leads to high blood pressure, which leads to death) without a modicum of skepticism? Would it be so unreasonable for these groups to at least take our skepticism seriously, instead of reflexively attempting to explain away the results?

Our study provides evidence that a U/J shaped curve exists for the association between sodium intake and health outcome, as it does with all other nutrients. I will be the first to admit that this evidence is based on observational population studies, which are inevitably subject to flaws caused by imprecise measurements and confounders. These flaws, though, are greatly mitigated by the inclusion of a large number of participants, by statistical adjustments, by sensitivity analyses of subgroups, and by consistency in results between several independent studies.

There can never be any scientific guarantee that these safeguards eliminate all flaws; on the other hand, though, in the absence of a conflicting body of data, the IOM report and our analysis should be included in the determination of public policy, not ignored. Any policy like the current one that would aim to have 95% of the world’s population drastically alter their diet ought to be based upon strong, irrefutable scientific evidence.

Niels Graudal, MD, DMsc, is the lead author of “Compared With Usual Sodium Intake, Low- and Excessive-Sodium Diets Are Associated With Increased Mortality: A Meta-Analysis” (available to read for free for a limited time) with Gesche Jürgens, Bo Baslund1 and Michael H. Alderman in the American Journal of Hypertension. He is a chief consultant at the Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Denmark and is mainly treating patients with systemic inflammatory diseases. He has a special interest in meta-analyses

The American Journal of Hypertension is a monthly, peer-reviewed journal that provides a forum for scientific inquiry of the highest standards in the field of hypertension and related cardiovascular disease. The journal publishes high-quality original research and review articles on basic sciences, molecular biology, clinical and experimental hypertension, cardiology, epidemiology, pediatric hypertension, endocrinology, neurophysiology, and nephrology.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only health and medicine articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: heart health fitness concept. © cosmin4000 via iStockphoto.

The post New sodium intake research and the response of health organizations appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on New sodium intake research and the response of health organizations as of 4/22/2014 11:15:00 AM
Add a Comment
6. Earth Day, 44 years on

By Ellen Wohl

The 1960s are famous for many reasons: the civil rights movement, the first moon walk, the Cuban missile crisis, rock and roll. The 1960s were also a period when awareness of environmental degradation spread to society at large. Events such as the 1962 publication of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s expose of pesticides, the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, and the regular occurrence of smog in many of the world’s large cities helped to convince people that pollution and environmental degradation were pervasive and needed to be addressed.

John McConnell proposed a day to honor Earth at a UNESCO conference in 1969, and the first Earth Day was celebrated on 21 March 1970, the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. This was definitely an idea whose time had come. A month later, another Earth Day was started by US Senator Gaylord Nelson. The second Earth Day took the form of a teach-in first held on 22 April 1970. Earth Day went international in 1990 when US Earth Day coordinator Denis Hayes organized activities in 141 countries. Nearly 200 countries now celebrate Earth Day, and some have expanded the observance to Earth Week. Thinking of this makes me want to paraphrase the standard answer parents give to children when they ask why we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but no children’s day: Every day is (or should be) Earth Day.

Students picking up trash

Students pick up trash along roadside. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Earth Day has without question helped to increase visibility of environmental issues and promote governmental and citizen responses to these issues. One indication of this response is the increasing breadth and depth of Environmental Science. Environmental science means different things to different people. Some interpret it as the systematic study of the total environment, a broadly interdisciplinary approach that draws on knowledge from diverse disciplines. Others interpret environmental science as a collection of subdisciplines that explicitly focus on the environmental component within their discipline, typically in an attempt to minimize environmental impacts. Environmental architecture, for example, focuses on green building technology using recycled and sustainable building materials and reduced energy use within buildings. Environmental history examines the development of societies within the context of environmental constraints imposed on human actions and human attitudes toward the environment. The commonality among diverse approaches to environmental science is an explicit recognition that individuals and societies exist within an environmental context defined by the weather, topography, soils, water, and plant and animal communities that interact to create an ecosystem.

Loch Vale. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

Loch Vale by Drew Parker. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

Environmental degradation was pervasive and obvious during the early observances of Earth Day. Publication of the now-famous Blue Marble photograph of Earth taken during the 1972 Apollo mission created a stunning reminder of the limited area of the universe habitable by life. More than 40 years on, many of the issues that environmental science addresses today are much less obvious, and may therefore be more difficult to bring to public attention. One of my personal reminders of this is Loch Vale, a stunningly beautiful, high-elevation lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Visitors to the national park have to work to reach Loch Vale. The trail to the lake winds over 5.7 miles and gains more than a thousand feet in elevation. When you arrive, you feel that you have reached someplace special, a pristine mountain lake far from the noise and crowding of the urban areas at the base of the mountains. Yet, research by many scientists over the past two decades indicates that the soil and waters of the lake ecosystem are becoming acidic, largely as the result of atmospheric nitrate deposition. These nitrates originate from the feedlots and agricultural lands, industries, and tailpipes of the millions of people living at the base of the mountains, who are out of sight at Loch Vale, but not out of reach. Without the dedicated, ongoing efforts of environmental scientists such as Jill Baron of the US Geological Survey, who has led much of the research at Loch Vale, we would never be aware of the invisible but continuing acidification of this ecosystem.

For me, the lessons of Loch Vale are threefold. First, there is more to environmental degradation than meets the eye. Some of the most thorough and persistent changes are largely hidden from casual view. Second, the efforts of environmental scientists are critical to documenting environmental changes. We can only act to mitigate environmental degradation if we are aware of it. And third, we need Earth Day more than ever. Whatever form your observance of this day takes, I hope that it includes the recognition that every day is lived on Earth.

Ellen Wohl is Professor of Geology in the Department of Geosciences at Colorado State University. She is Editor in Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Environmental Science, Associate Editor of Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America. She has published several books on rivers and environmental issues, including Virtual Rivers, Disconnected Rivers, A World of Rivers, Island of Grass, Of Rock and Rivers, and Wide Rivers Crossed.

Developed cooperatively with scholars worldwide, Oxford Bibliographies offers exclusive, authoritative research guides. Combining the best features of an annotated bibliography and a high-level encyclopedia, this cutting-edge resource guides researchers to the best available scholarship across a wide variety of subjects.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only earth and life sciences articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

Image: Students pick up trash along roadside

The post Earth Day, 44 years on appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Earth Day, 44 years on as of 4/22/2014 8:39:00 AM
Add a Comment
7. The Compleat Earth Day

First published by Izaak Walton in 1653, The Compleat Angler remains one of the most original and influential books about the environment ever written in the English language. Walton’s narrative depicts a group of urbanites whose appreciation of the natural world deepens as they go fishing in the countryside north of London. In honor of Earth Day, here are some interesting facts about The Compleat Angler as an environmental text.

By Marjorie Swann

(1)   Before The Compleat Angler, fishermen were regarded as loners, but Walton’s book transformed angling into a sociable activity that draws men together through their shared experiences of the natural world.

(2)   Walton champions core principles of wildlife management, including closed seasons, size limits, and restrictions on fishing methods.

(3)   For Walton, outdoor recreation enhances spirituality:

“So when I would beget content, and increase confidence in the Power, and Wisdom, and Providence of Almighty God, I will walk the Meadows by some gliding stream, and there contemplate the Lillies that take no care, and those very many other various little living creatures, that are not only created but fed (man knows not how) by the goodness of the God of Nature, and therefore trust in him.”

(4)   Walton was an early advocate of food security. Without environmental laws to guarantee sustainable food production, Walton argues, fish stocks will drop so precipitously that the population of England “will be forced to eat flesh.”

(5)   As Londoners visiting rural Hertfordshire, Walton’s anglers are exemplary ecotourists. They treat the natural environment they visit respectfully and take care to compensate fairly the local inhabitants who provide their food and lodging.


Otter in Southwold, Suffolk, England. By Catherine Trigg (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons.

(6)   Walton censures “conservators of the waters”—officials charged with overseeing rivers and their fisheries—who turn a blind eye to illegal (and environmentally harmful) fishing practices.

(7)   Walton’s anglers practice environmental justice by giving financial donations and most of the fish they catch to poor residents of the countryside.

(8)   Reading The Compleat Angler can also help us to appreciate how our attitudes toward the environment have changed over time. Walton regarded otters as pests that should be controlled in order to protect fish populations and in The Compleat Angler, Walton’s fishermen join an otter hunt at Amwell Hill in Hertfordshire. Otters became extinct in Hertfordshire in the 1970s, but in the 1990s, the Otter Trust successfully reintroduced otters to the Amwell Nature Reserve. The Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust is now working to improve otter habitat in the Amwell Nature Reserve by creating “fish refuges.”

(9)   In the 1890s, the Pullman Company created a special railway car for American sportsmen called the “Izaak Walton.” Staffed by both a cook and a waiter, the car could hold twelve passengers and was fitted out with dog kennels, gun racks, an ammunition room, an ice-chest for game, and a wine closet.

(10)   Walton’s depiction of a “brotherhood” of environmentally-conscious anglers inspired the creation of the Izaak Walton League of America, a mass-membership conservation organization founded in 1922 that now has more than 43,000 members in the United States and Britain.

Marjorie Swann, Associate Professor of English at Southern Methodist University, is the author of Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England. She has edited a new edition of The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton for Oxford World’s Classics and is now writing a book about Walton’s Angler and its post-seventeenth-century afterlives.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only literature articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post The Compleat Earth Day appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on The Compleat Earth Day as of 4/22/2014 8:39:00 AM
Add a Comment
8. The politics of green shopping

By Thomas Jundt

On this day forty-four years ago, some 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and lecture halls for an event billed as a national environmental teach-in—Earth Day.

When he announced plans for the event, Wisconsin Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson, a longtime conservationist, hoped it would gather enough attention to pressure his colleagues into passing environmental legislation that he had been struggling to push through Congress. It did. President Nixon and policymakers responded to the growing environmental fervor with some of the most significant environmental laws in the nation’s history. Although Nixon once called environmental issues “just crap,” he was a savvy politician who understood that the public mood required some sort of action.

On 1 January 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law. The National Environmental Education Act, which mandated environmental education in public schools, was signed into law in October. By President Nixon’s executive order the Environmental Protection Agency came into being two months later, charged with overseeing the enforcement of federal environmental policies. The Marine Mammal Protection Act followed in 1972.

Girl Scout in canoe, picking trash out of the Potomac River during Earth Week. O'Halloran, Thomas J., photographer 1970 April 22. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Girl Scout in canoe, picking trash out of the Potomac River during Earth Week. Photo by Thomas J. O’Halloran, 22 April 1970. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Environmentalists had urged such action for decades. The brutal light of atomic bomb flashes revealed a vulnerable planet, and key intellectuals soon recognized other ways that humans might destroy the earth. The head of the New York Zoological Society, Fairfield Osborn, warned of “man’s conflict with nature” in his 1948 bestselling book, Our Plundered Planet. Among the many planetary threats he addressed was the chemical DDT, made public shortly after the war. “The new chemical is deadly on many kinds of insects—no doubt about that,” he conceded. “But what of the ultimate and net result to the life scheme of earth?”

Big business was at the epicenter of this threat. “One of the most ruinous limiting factors is the capitalistic system,” William Vogt emphasized in his own 1948 bestseller, Road to Survival. “Free enterprise—divorced from biophysical understanding and social responsibility… must bear a large share of the responsibility for devastated forests, vanishing wildlife, crippled ranges, a gullied continent, and roaring flood crests.” Desire for stronger federal environmental regulations had been building long before Earth Day, and years before Rachel Carson’s seminal Silent Spring in 1962.

The Earth Day era’s reforms proved inadequate. Rules and regulations that worked well initially were often less effective once corporate lawyers went to work figuring out how they could be exploited, and corporate lobbyists aimed their skills at softening their impact. As Denis Hayes, hired by Senator Nelson to organize Earth Day, said years later, the new laws looked good so long as you ignored things like “graft, corruption, huge campaign contributions, friendships forged on golf links, and all of the other stickiness in the system.”

The real world bore little resemblance to a political-science text. Indeed, in 1972 Nixon moved to undermine his own EPA. The president told his aid, John Ehrlichman, to have the EPA “say a number of things designed to shock the consumer that the cost of the environment will be very high and that the air quality laws are very impractical.” The EPA complied, shaking the public’s confidence enough to reduce or delay a number of antipollution regulations opposed by the automobile industry. “Whether it’s the environment or pollution or Naderism or consumerism,” President Nixon assured a gathering of Ford Motor Company executives, “we are extremely pro-business.”

None of this would have surprised many of the Americans who turned out for Earth Day. As ecologist Kenneth Watt observed in a speech at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, “More and more people are giving up on the system. This isn’t just the young people, or the poor, or the black people. I’ve been startled to discover the extent to which white, middle-class, suburban housewives have become so frustrated and are so full of despair about the ability to have any effect on the system that they’ve given up on it.” Mary Humphrey, of the activist group Ecology Action, at an EcoFair near Los Angeles concurred: “I don’t think you’ll find anyone who really thinks the government will do something.”

Perhaps the most telling admission that the political system was not up to the task was made by prominent Senate Democrat and conservationist Edmund Muskie of Maine. “The power of the people is in the cash register,” he proclaimed in an Earth Day speech. He was right.

In a study that asked those who attended Earth Day events in 1970 what actions they would take to help the environment, the plan most frequently cited, by 40% of Earth Day attendees polled, was to change their “consumer behaviors.” In comparison, only about 8% mentioned changes in activities such as joining others to take action.

For critics, this is a troubling example of businesses’ ability to co-opt the ideals of reformers and sell them back to them as organic soy lattes. They charge those who practice personal politics through consumption with avoiding the more difficult work required to organize for traditional politics.

But the retreat to eco-consumerism is understandable. Lacking political solutions, with a two-party system beholden to the very corporations pillaging the planet, citizens concerned about the environment have turned to alternative green consumption. They are not lazy or indifferent, and they are certainly not ignorant. The fact is policy and enforcement favor business at the expense of citizens and the environment.

Organics and other products believed to be environmentally friendly exploded in popularity as producers recognized a ready market in the millions who turned out for Earth Day events across the nation. Today, nearly all consumer products seem to offer a choice of greener alternatives, and for most Americans, consumer choice remains the most popular, if ironic, expression of environmental concern.

During the Cold War Americans heard about citizens in the Soviet Union who coveted Beatles records and blue jeans. Although it might have been a desperate and limited response, we comprehended that type of counterculture consumption as an under-standable reaction to political conditions Soviet citizens felt powerless to change. Green consumption is similar, limited yet understandable. With government in thrall to corporations and chamber of commerce ideologues, as we watch the seas rise, buying a Prius seems like the only game in town.

Thomas Jundt is a visiting assistant professor of history at Brown University, and author of Greening the Red, White, and Blue: The Bomb, Big Business, and Consumer Resistance in Postwar America.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only American history articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post The politics of green shopping appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on The politics of green shopping as of 4/22/2014 6:03:00 AM
Add a Comment
9. Global responsibility, differentiation, and an environmental rule of law?

By Duncan French and Lavanya Rajamani

As we celebrate Earth Day this year, it is timely to reflect on the international community’s commitment to halting serious environmental harm. The idea that all States have a ‘common interest’ in promoting global environmental responsibility — as evidenced most clearly through their active participation in multilateral environmental agreements — has been a cornerstone of international environmental policy for the last few decades. At the heart of this responsibility is the recognition that sovereign self-interest is enhanced, rather than compromised, through collective responses to matters of global concern. And that universal participation of diverse states in pursuit of common objectives is best secured through differential treatment of states tailored to their responsibilities and capabilities.

But this ideal of responsibility — common but differentiated responsibility — is facing serious challenge. In particular, the increasing questioning of differential treatment as a valuable tool in achieving common objectives has highlighted — if nothing else — a breakdown of previous certainties, however fragile the consensus ultimately was.

Since the 1990 London Amendments to the 1987 Montreal Ozone Protocol, differentiation in commitments and obligations of financial and technological support towards developing countries has characterised, and partially defined, international environmental law. Even among multilateral environmental agreements, the climate change regime is distinctive for the nature and extent of differential treatment it contains in favour of developing countries. The extent of this differential treatment, however, has proven deeply contentious over the years.


Indeed, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, while representing the high-water mark of differential treatment in international environmental law, is set, to come to an end in 2020. This is partly due to the deep divisions concerning the differential treatment it contains. The latest round of negotiations, under the auspices of the Ad Hoc Group on the Durban Platform (ADP) and which are to conclude in 2015, has been mandated to produce an outcome that is ‘applicable to all’. Although, ‘applicable to all’ implies universality rather than uniformity of application, the use of the term, given the political context of the negotiations, is suggestive of a shift towards greater symmetry and more nuanced differentiation between Parties. The battle over differentiation — the existence, nature and extent of it — is raging in the ongoing climate negotiations, and will no doubt prove to be one of the final issues to be resolved in Paris, 2015.

It could of course be argued that such a shift in the climate regime is but a function of larger geo-political shifts that have occurred in international relations in the past two decades; differentiation as it was originally conceived being an artifact of the period in which it was negotiated. Traditional North-South dichotomies have since disintegrated in the face of economic growth in some developing countries and the shrinking of some first world economies. Such differential treatment in favour of developing countries, especially those that are today in the middle income or higher income brackets, is an anachronism, and thus the move towards greater symmetry, it might be argued, is both natural and politically necessary. Moreover, some developed countries have become disenchanted with differentiation over time, particularly when it is rigidly structured and increasingly viewed as artificial, particularly since the global economic collapse of 2007 and the challenges faced by many ‘developed’ economies.

Whether this move in international environmental law towards greater symmetry and more nuanced differentiation in obligations for Parties, albeit with greater deference to national circumstances, is likely to either result in a more efficient approach, which in turn will promote more ambitious legal outcomes or be sufficient to appease the majority of the global South remains uncertain. Undoubtedly there appears to be a systematic dismantling of a pervasive architecture of differentiation that had assumed a stronghold in international environmental law in the past three decades.

Does this matter; should not international environmental law reflect changing political and economic realities? Should not a regime be negotiated in a manner that seeks to include as many countries as possible? And where a regime such as Kyoto has become so contested, is it not better to seek an alternative that more States can endorse?

While these are valid arguments, they do not account for the fact that differentiation was not adopted merely to improve treaty compliance or prevent a zero-sum outcome in participation. Differentiation reflected a broader ambition; that environmental obligations should be fair and equitable as well as effective. That the international community should not be allowed to neglect historic injustices, enduring differences and considerable disparities in wealth when responding to the environmental challenges. Of course, differentiation can be achieved in many different ways and with greater or more limited financial and technological assistance attached thereto. But the bedrock of differentiation — and even stringent versions of it — had seemingly been accepted. Should this now be disregarded?

There are perhaps equally valid perspectives on this matter that transcend both politics and law. But some queries do arise in this context. If the international community is a community of law, bound within a legal framework, should such a framework to be with or without a moral core? And if the former, what role does equity play and what weight should be placed on it as a characteristic of any legal system? The parties to the climate regime might be right to reconsider their approach to differentiation; but in doing so, equity must still be a valid consideration.

Duncan French is Professor of International Law and Head of the University of Lincoln Law School, UK. He was previously co-rapporteur of the International Law Association’s Committee of International Law on Sustainable Development and is presently Chair of its Study Group on Due Diligence in International Law. Lavanya Rajamani is a Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. She writes, teaches and consults on international environmental law, in particular international climate change law. Her current work is in the field of treaty law (negotiation, design, architecture and interpretation), legal principles and models of differentiation in international agreements.

In recognition of Earth Day this year, we have looked across Law, History, Economics, Literature, Life Science, and Social Sciences to identify key articles in environmental studies, all made freely available.

The Journal of Environmental Law has established an international reputation as a lively and authoritative source of informed analysis for all those active in examining evolving legal responses to environmental problems in national and international jurisdictions.

Oxford University Press is a leading publisher in international law, including the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, latest titles from thought leaders in the field, and a wide range of law journals and online products. We publish original works across key areas of study, from humanitarian to international economic to environmental law, developing outstanding resources to support students, scholars, and practitioners worldwide. For the latest news, commentary, and insights follow the International Law team on Twitter @OUPIntLaw.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only law articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Wild Nature via iStockphoto

The post Global responsibility, differentiation, and an environmental rule of law? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Global responsibility, differentiation, and an environmental rule of law? as of 4/22/2014 6:03:00 AM
Add a Comment
10. Shakespeare and the music of William Walton

By Bethan Greenaway

On 23 April 2014 we celebrate the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. Nearly 400 years after his death he is still a source of inspiration for countless authors, composers, and artists all over the world. His plays are performed again and again in hundreds of languages, and have been the inspiration for numerous operas, ballets, and films. The most well-known and highly acclaimed Shakespeare films are the trilogy made in the 1940s and 50s, starring Sir Laurence Olivier and featuring music written by a famous William of the twentieth century — William Walton.

Walton and Olivier had met in 1936 on the set of As You Like It (another Shakespearean film featuring music by Walton) and again at a BBC recording of Christopher Columbus. By 1944, when he was approached to write the film score for Henry V, Walton had already made a name for himself with his ceremonial and dramatic music (including Crown Imperial March for the coronation of George IV in 1937), and music to accompany various patriotic films during World War II. Olivier and Walton were to work together on three films: Hamlet (1948), Richard III (1955), and their most successful partnership, Henry V (1944).

All three film scores where highly acclaimed in their day, Henry V and Hamlet attracting Oscar nominations. What made them so very successful was Walton’s unerring ability to reflect the nature of each play in his music; he knew exactly how and when to heighten emotions, create tension, and provide moments of light relief. The scores for both Richard III and Henry V rely heavily on pastiches of “Shakespearean-style” music, including folk songs (at the suggestion of another OUP composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams), brass-heavy battle fanfares, and the use of the harpsichord, whilst Hamlet has a darker, motif-led, more brooding score, again reflecting the mood of the play.

Hamlet, by William Walton

Click here to view the embedded video.

Henry V, by William Walton

Click here to view the embedded video.

Richard III, by William Walton

Click here to view the embedded video.

The original film score of Henry V was arranged into two suites; in 1945 by Malcolm Sargent and again in 1963 by Muir Mathieson (the conductor on the original film soundtrack). Henry V remains not only Walton’s most well-known film score but also one of his most popular orchestral works. In fact, in an interview given to the BBC in 1977, Laurence Olivier himself remarked that the film would have been “terribly dull” without the music. High praise indeed.

In March 2014 Oxford University Press published the final volume in its magnificent William Walton Edition. Walton’s entire output, including his film music, is now available to scholars and performers in a definitive and fully practical edition.

Bethan Greenaway is Production Controller for Printed Music at Oxford University Press.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only music articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Shakespeare and the music of William Walton appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Shakespeare and the music of William Walton as of 4/22/2014 6:03:00 AM
Add a Comment
11. Putin in the mirror of history: Crimea, Russia, empire

By Mark D. Steinberg

Contrary to those who believe that Vladimir Putin’s political world is a Machiavellian one of cynical “masks and poses, colorful but empty, with little at its core but power for power’s sake and the accumulation of vast wealth,” Putin often speaks quite openly of his motives and values—and opinion polls suggest he is strongly in sync with widespread popular sentiments. A good illustration is his impassioned speech on 18 March to a joint session of the Russian parliament about Crimea’s secession and union with Russia (an English translation is also available on the Kremlin’s website). The history of Russia as a nation and an empire are key themes:

“In Crimea, literally everything is imbued with our common history and pride. Here is ancient Chersonesus, where the holy Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of turning to Orthodoxy predetermined the shared cultural, moral, and civilizational foundation that unites the peoples of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. In Crimea are the graves of Russian soldiers, whose bravery brought Crimea in 1783 under Russian rule. Crimea is also Sevastopol, a city of legends and of great destinies, a fortress city, and birthplace of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Crimea is Balaklava and Kerch, Malakhov Kurgan and Sapun Ridge [major battle sites during the Crimean War and World War II]. Each one of these places is sacred for us, symbols of Russian military glory and unprecedented valor.”

No less revealing is his reflection on the relationships uniting the diverse peoples of Russia.

“Crimea is a unique fusion of the cultures and traditions of various peoples. In this, it resembles Russia as a whole, where over the centuries not a single ethnic group has disappeared. Russians and Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and representatives of other nationalities have lived and worked side by side in Crimea, each retaining their own distinct identity, tradition, language, and faith.”

How Russians have often understood their history as an “empire” (though the word is no longer favored) pervades these words and Putin’s thinking.

Try to figure out Putin’s mind—getting “a sense of his soul,” as George W. Bush famously thought he had seen after meeting Putin in 2001—has long been a political preoccupation, and has become especially urgent since the events in Crimea in March. Until now, most commentators viewed Putin as a rational and potentially constructive “partner” in international affairs. Even the growing crackdown on civil society and dissidence, though much criticized, did not undermine this belief. Russia’s annexation of Crimea shattered this confidence. German chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Putin seemed to be living “in another world.” Influential commentators in the United States declared that these events unmasked the real Putin, destroying any “illusions” that might have remained (Obama’s former national security advisor, Tom Donilon), revealing a revanchist desire “to re-establish Russian hegemony within the space of the former Soviet Union” (former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton) by a “cynical,” power-hungry, “neo-Soviet” despot seeking to reclaim “the Soviet/Russian empire” (Matthew Kaminski of the Wall Street Journal). A less radical reassessment, but with roughly the same conclusion, is President Obama’s argument that Putin “wants to, in some fashion, reverse…or make up for” the “loss of the Soviet Union.” In this light, the key question becomes “how to stop Putin?”


History haunts arguments about what Putin thinks, how much further he might go, and what should be done. Some commentators focus on how Putin sees himself in history. The Republican chairman of the US House of Representative’s Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, told Meet the Press that “Mr. Putin…goes to bed at night thinking of Peter the Great and he wakes up thinking of Stalin.” The logical conclusion is that if we do not stop Putin “he is going to continue to take territory to fulfill what he believes is rightfully Russia.” Others think of historical analogies. The former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example, writing in the Washington Post, described Putin as “a partially comical imitation of Mussolini and a more menacing reminder of Hitler,” making the Crimea annexation, if West does not act, “similar to the two phases of Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland after Munich in 1938 and the final occupation of Prague and Czechoslovakia in early 1939.” Echoing these interpretations are scores of satirical images of Putin as Stalin and Hitler that have appeared at demonstrations and in social media (images of Putin as Peter the Great, more common once, are seen as too flattering now).

Putin himself has a lot to say about history in his 18 March 2014 speech. He points, as he often has, to the recent history of humiliation and insults suffered by Russia at the hands of “our western partners” who treat Russia not as “an independent, active participant in international affairs,” with “its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected,” but as a backward or dangerous nation to dismiss and “contain.” Worse, the Western powers seem to believe in their own “chosenness and exceptionalism, that they can decide the fate of the world, that they alone are always right.” Rulers since Peter the Great have been fighting for Russia to be respected and included, and generally along the same two fronts: proving that Russia deserves equal membership in the community of “civilized” nations through modernizing and Europeanizing reforms, and winning recognition through demonstrations of political and military might, “glory and valor” (in Putin’s phrase). That Russia was famously disgraced during the original Crimean War, revealing levels of economic and military backwardness that inspired a massive program of reform, and that Western commentators now are expressing surprised admiration at the advances in technique and command seen among the Russian army since it was last seen in the field in Georgia, is not only surely gratifying to Putin (who has made military modernization a priority) but part of an important story about nation and history.

Putin also has a lot to say about empire. In the nineteenth century, a theme in Russian thinking about empire was that Russians rule the diversity of its peoples not with self-interest and greed, like European colonialists, but with true Christian love, bringing their subjects “happiness and abundance,” in Michael Pogodin’s words. As Nicholas Danilevsky put it in 1871, Russia’s empire was “not built on the bones of trampled nations.” The Soviet version of this imperial utopianism was the famous “friendship of peoples” (druzhba narodov) of the USSR. Putin, we see, echoes this ideal. He also directs it against ethnic nationalisms that suppress minorities (above all, Russian speakers in Ukraine). Hence his warnings about the role of “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes, and anti-Semites” in the Ukrainian revolution, and his declaration that Crimea under Russian rule would have “three equal state languages: Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar,” in deliberate contrast to the decree of the post-Yanukovych Ukrainian parliament that Ukrainian would be the only official language of the country (later repealed).

Of course, the Russian empire and the Soviet Union were not harmonious multicultural paradises, nor is the Russian Federation, but the ideal is still an influence in Russian thinking and policy. At the same time, Putin contradicts this simple vision in worrisome ways. A good example is how he wavers in his March speech between defining Ukrainians as a separate “people” (narod, which also means “nation”) or as part of a larger Russian nation. Until the twentieth century, very few Russians believed that Ukrainians were a nation with their own history and language, and many still question this. Putin works both sides of this argument. On the one hand, he expresses great respect for the “fraternal Ukrainian people [narod],” their “national feelings,” and “the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state.” On the other hand, he argues that what has been happening in Ukraine “pains our hearts” because “we are not simply close neighbors but, as I have said many times already, we are truly one people [narod]. Kiev is the mother of Russian [russkie] cities. Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other.”

Putin’s frequent use of the ethno-national term russkii for “Russian,” rather than the more political term rossiiskii, which includes everyone and anything under the Russian state, is important. Even more ominous are Putin’s suggestions about where such an understanding of history should lead. Reminding “Europeans, and especially Germans,” about how Russia “unequivocally supported the sincere, inexorable aspirations of the Germans for national unity,” he expects the West to “support the aspirations of the Russian [russkii] world, of historical Russia, to restore unity.” This suggests a vision, shaped by views of history, that goes beyond protecting minority Russian speakers in the “near-abroad.”

Putinism often tries to blend contradictory ideals—freedom and order, individual rights and the needs of state, multiethnic diversity and national unity. Dismissing these complexities as cynical masks does not help us develop reasoned responses to Putin. Most important, it does not help people in Russia working for greater freedom, rights, and justice, who are marginalized (and often repressed) when Russia feels under siege. “We have every reason to argue,” he warned in his March speech, “that the infamous policy of containing Russia, which was pursued in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, continues today. They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner.” Of course, Putin is not wrong to speak of Western arrogance toward Russia (though he is hardly a model of respect for international norms) nor to warn of the dangers of intolerant ethnic nationalism (though he looks the other way at Russia’s own “nationalists, neo-Nazis, and anti-Semites”). That he can be hypocritical and cynical does not mean his thinking and feelings are “empty,” much less that he has lost touch with reality or with the views of most Russians.

A version of this article originally appeared on HNN.

Mark D. Steinberg is Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author or editor of books on Russian popular culture, working-class poetry, the 1917 revolution, religion, and emotions. His most recent books are Petersburg Fin-de-Siecle (Yale University Press, 2011) and the eighth edition of A History of Russia, with the late Nicholas Riasanovsky, published by Oxford University Press in 2010. He is currently writing a history of the Russian Revolution.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only history articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Vienna, Austria – March 30, 2014: A sign made up of a photo composite of Vladimir Putin and Hitler looms over protesters who have gathered in the main square in Vienna to protest Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. © benstevens via iStockphoto.

The post Putin in the mirror of history: Crimea, Russia, empire appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Putin in the mirror of history: Crimea, Russia, empire as of 4/21/2014 7:49:00 AM
Add a Comment
12. The contours and conceptual position of jus post bellum

By Carsten Stahn, Jennifer S. Easterday, and Jens Iverson

In our previous post, “Jus post bellum and the ethics of peace,” we introduced the concept of jus post bellum, including its history, functions, and varied definitions. Because jus post bellum can operate simultaneously with related but distinguishable concepts, it is important to keep the goals of related concepts clear. Jus post bellum may serve a particular function in facilitating choice among competing interests in the transition from armed conflict to peace.

Relationship to related concepts

Jus post bellum overlaps with Responsibility to Protect (R2P), Transitional Justice, and the law of peace. It is sometimes even argued that it forms part of these concepts, but there are differences.

The concept of transitional justice emerged in the context of the post-democratic transitions of the 1990s. Traditionally, it has a different focus than jus post bellum. It is geared towards accountability for past violations and the establishment of new political order that would prevent human rights violations from re-occurring. Jus post bellum is not a ‘human rights’ or ‘justice’ project per se. It is geared at peacebuilding more broadly, focusing on the organization of the interplay between actors, norms, and institutions in situations of transitions, and the establishment of sustainable peace.

Jus post bellum is also distinct from Responsibility to Protect. R2P was developed to provide authority for protective duties and response schemes, through a definition of sovereignty as responsibility. Its application is linked to atrocity crimes. This trigger has oriented the concept towards prevention and response to conflict. Ethics of care in the aftermath of conflict have been side-lined in its operation. Jus post bellum is tied to the ending of hostilities. It entails certain due diligence obligations towards intervention, but is mostly focused on the organization of post-conflict peace. It includes negative obligations (i.e. ‘do no harm’ principle) and positive duties. In some cases, conduct may be warranted by R2P (e.g. continued international presence), but sanctioned under jus post bellum, i.e. due to lack of consent (e.g. unlawful occupation).

Monrovia, Liberia - 24 February 2012: The abandoned Ministry of Defence building stands empty and ruined, a reminder of the civil war here not so long ago. © MickyWiswedel via iStockphoto.

Monrovia, Liberia – 24 February 2012: The abandoned Ministry of Defence building stands empty and ruined, a reminder of the civil war here not so long ago. © MickyWiswedel via iStockphoto.


In just war theory, some attempts have been made to define the ideal content of a jus post bellum. Areas included in this checklist are:

  • Disarmament, Demilitarization, Re-integration (DDR)
  • Compensation
  • Punishment
  • Constitutional reform
  • Economic reconstruction

This ‘toolbox’ logic deserves critical scrutiny. These factors are typically tied to international armed conflicts, rather than dilemmas of internal armed conflicts, or mixed conflicts. More fundamentally, there is an inherent danger that jus post bellum might be used to tell what a ‘just society’ ought to look like.

An alternative way to think about content is to view jus post bellum as a mechanism to facilitate choice among competing interests. The concept provides an incentive to integrate the goal of sustainable peace into decision-making processes requiring a balancing of conflicting rationales. For example, this is relevant to peace arrangements, processes of governance, and redress for victims. How should ‘consent’ used in peace negotiation and peacebuilding efforts, and how inclusive should it be? What factors should be taken into account in the restoration of public authority and democratic rule? How can judicial reform be reconciled with ‘vetting’ of institutions? To what extent is there an adequate equilibrium between protection of fundamental freedoms and socio-economic rights in post-conflict settlements? Is damage repaired in a way that that addresses harm and needs of post-conflict societies?

Such choices require a certain ‘margin of appreciation’. In some areas, a deviation from peacetime standards may be acceptable. Classical examples are collective reparation, the focus on targeted accountability, or conditional amnesties.

Jus post bellum may also offer some guidance for specific procedures. One example is the permissibility of derogation from human rights, including their justification and declaration. Existing principles have been applied primarily in the context of human rights obligations of States. In the context of jus post bellum, such principles become relevant in relation to other entities, such as regional organizations, peace operations, or the Security Council.

Another example is ‘sequencing’ and coordination of the temporal application of specific responses. Under a ‘justice after war’ perspective, classical dilemmas of peace v. justice are at forefront of attention. In the context of peacebuilding, sequencing gains broader importance in additional areas, such as the timing of elections or the determination of status issues. Jus post bellum may further determine parameters for ‘exit’ after intervention.

The fundamental problems of minimizing the evils of war and building a robust peace are not new, but they are often treated as new. Too often, contemporary peacebuilding difficulties are treated as essentially unprecedented, when in fact legal history could serve as a valuable aide. A key thesis of jus post bellum is that the rich legal and philosophical traditions that guide the law of armed conflict and the general prohibition on the use of force could also inform the transition from war to peace. Unfortunately, these traditions are too often ignored. Rather than being depreciated or held sacred, those traditions must be refreshed and revisited if they are to be applied meaningfully to contemporary problems. We could extend the dualistic approach of jus ad bellum and jus in bello to a tripartite conception that includes jus post bellum. Such a conception would cover the entire process of entering into armed conflict, fighting, and exiting from armed conflict. This more comprehensive approach would improve our capacity to manage the enduring difficulties inherent in ending war and building peace. Jus post bellum does not offer the promise of a more comprehensive approach on its own, but only in combination with other, related concepts. Together, however, they offer the promise of transitions to peace that are both more just and more secure.

Carsten Stahn, Jennifer S. Easterday, and Jens Iverson are the editors of Jus Post Bellum: Mapping the Normative Foundations. Carsten Stahn is Professor of International Criminal Law and Global Justice and Programme Director of the Grotius Centre for International Studies, Universiteit Leiden. Jennifer S. Easterday is a Ph.D Researcher, Faculteit Rechtsgeleerdheid, Instituut voor Publiekrecht, Internationaal Publiekrecht, Universiteit Leiden. Jens Iverson is a Researcher for the ‘Jus Post Bellum’ project and an attorney specializing in public international law, Universiteit Leiden.

Oxford University Press is a leading publisher in international law, including the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, latest titles from thought leaders in the field, and a wide range of law journals and online products. We publish original works across key areas of study, from humanitarian to international economic to environmental law, developing outstanding resources to support students, scholars, and practitioners worldwide. For the latest news, commentary, and insights follow the International Law team on Twitter @OUPIntLaw.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only law articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post The contours and conceptual position of jus post bellum appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on The contours and conceptual position of jus post bellum as of 4/21/2014 4:55:00 AM
Add a Comment
13. A religion reading list from Oxford World’s Classics

By Kirsty Doole

Religion has provided the world with some of the most influential and important written works ever known. Here is a reading list made up of just a small selection of the texts we carry in the series, covering religions across the globe.

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People – Bede

Bede’s most famous work was finished in 731, and deals with the history of Christianity in England, most notably, the tension between Roman and Celtic forms of Christianity. It is one of the most important texts in English history. As well as providing the authoritative Colgrave translation of the Ecclesiastical History, the Oxford World’s Classics edition includes a translation of the Greater Chronicle, in which Bede discusses the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, Bede’s Letter to Egbert gives further reflections on the English Church just before his death.

The Varieties of Religious Experience – William James

This work is William (brother of Henry) James’s classic survey of religious belief in its most personal aspects. Covering such topics as how we define evil to ourselves, the difference between a healthy and a divided mind, the value of saintly behaviour, and what animates and characterizes the mental landscape of sudden conversion, The Varieties of Religious Experience is a key text examining the relationship between belief and culture. At the time James wrote it, faith in organized religion and dogmatic theology was fading away, and the search for an authentic religion rooted in personality and subjectivity was something deemed an urgent necessity. With psychological insight, philosophical rigour, and a determination not to jump to the conclusion that in tracing religion’s mental causes we necessarily diminish its truth or value, in the Varieties James wrote a truly foundational text for modern belief.

Saint Augustine of Hippo On Christian Teaching – Saint Augustine

This is one of Saint Augustine’s most important works on the classical tradition. Written to enable students to have the skills to interpret the Bible, it provides an outline of Christian theology. It also contains a detailed discussion of moral problems. Further to that, Augustine attempts to determine what elements of classical education are desirable for a Christian, and suggests ways in which Ciceronian rhetorical principles may help in communicating faith.

The Book of Common Prayer

Along with the King James Bible, the words of the Book of Common Prayer have permeated deep into the English language all over the worldFor countless people, it has provided the framework for  a wedding ceremony or a funeral. Yet this familiarity also hides a violent and controversial history. When it was first written, the Book of Common Prayer provoked riots, and it was banned before eventually being translated into a host of global languages. This edition presents the work in three different states: the first edition of 1549, which brought the Reformation into people’s homes; the Elizabethan prayer book of 1559, familiar to Shakespeare and Milton; and the edition of 1662, which embodies the religious temper of the nation down to modern times.

The Qur’an

The Qur’an, the Muslim Holy Book, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over 1400 year ago. It is the supreme authority in Islam and the source of all Islamic teaching; it is both a sacred text and a book of guidance, that sets out the creed, rituals, ethics, and laws of Islam. The greatest literary masterpiece in Arabic, the message of the Qur’an was directly addressed to all people regardless of class, gender, or age, and this translation aims to be equally accessible to everyone.

Natural Theology – William Paley

Natural Theology is arguably as central to those who believe in Intelligent Design as Darwin’s Origin of Species is to those who come down on the side of evolutionary theory. In it, William Paley set out to prove the existence of God from the evidence of the order and beauty of the natural world. It famously starts by comparing our world to a watch, whose design is self-evident, before going on to provide examples from biology, anatomy, and astronomy in order to demonstrate the intricacy and ingenuity of design that could only come from a wise and benevolent deity. Paley’s work was both hugely successful, and extremely controversial, and Charles Darwin was greatly influenced by the book’s accessible style and structure.

The Bhagavad Gita

‘I have heard the supreme mystery, yoga, from Krishna, from the lord of yoga himself.’

So ends the Bhagavad Gita, the best known and most widely read Hindu religious text in the Western world. It is the most famous episode from the great Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata. Across eighteen chapters Krishna’s teaching leads the warrior Arjuna from confusion to understanding, raising and developing many key themes from the history of Indian religions in the process.

It considers religious and social duty, the nature of action and of sacrifice, the means to liberation, and the relationship between God and human. It culminates in an awe-inspiring vision of Krishna as an omnipotent God, disposer and destroyer of the universe.

Kirsty Doole is Publicity Manager for Oxford World’s Classics.

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, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only literature articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Saint Augustine of Hippo. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The post A religion reading list from Oxford World’s Classics appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on A religion reading list from Oxford World’s Classics as of 4/21/2014 4:55:00 AM
Add a Comment
14. Easter rites of initiation bring good news for American Catholics

By David Yamane

For many Catholics in America, waking up in the morning to find no news about the church is a relief. They won’t have to deal with stories about the lingering stench of the priest sexual abuse scandal, the consolidation of parishes and closing of schools, controversy over Catholic hospitals and the loss of Catholic youth, fewer and older nuns and more and younger “nones.”

But what if no news was not the only good news? What if Catholics turned on their TVs and opened their papers on Easter Sunday and heard some real good news instead?

Photo of family watching tv

Family watching television 1958. Image credit: CC 2.0 via Flickr.

At Easter Vigil Masses on Saturday night, 19 April, something truly remarkable will take place. Tens of thousands of adults in thousands of parishes across the United States became Catholic. For most of them, this rite of passage is the climax of a months- (and in some cases years-) long process of formation called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

As I have written previously, the implementation of this modernized ancient process of initiation is an excellent example of the contemporary re-invention of rites of passage and a fruitful legacy of the Second Vatican Council. It is a Catholic success story.

Sign reserving pews for the Catechumens.

Sign reserving pews for the Catechumens. Photo by John Ragai. CC 2.0 via Flickr.

Although based on a single, universal ritual text, the way the RCIA process is implemented differs from parish to parish. We do well to remember a variant on Tip O’Neill’s quip that “all politics is local.” All Catholicism is local. In some parishes we find elaborate and beautiful rituals, rich with fragrant oils and soaring hymns and full body immersion in the waters of baptism. In some parishes, we see minimalistic ceremonies that strain the use of the term ritual.

Regardless of the quality of the celebration, however, through the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist—individuals become Catholic. When the officiating minister speaks the words and performs the actions of the sacraments—“I baptize you…” and “Be sealed…” and “Receive the Body of Christ”—from the perspective of the church, they have the intended effect. It does not matter if the priest says the words excitedly, sincerely, or in a monotone while yawning under his breath. It does not matter if a team of 20 catechists and thousands of parishioners welcome the new Catholic warmly and profusely, or if a single deacon rushes through a minimalistic ceremony while a few dozen assembled individuals wait impatiently for communion. It does not matter if the symbols of the initiation ceremony are rich or sparse. An individual who receives the sacraments of initiation in a Catholic Church is a Catholic. The individual now can check the “Catholic” box, join a parish, receive communion, get married in the church, and so on.

Pink Floyd album cover

Dark Side of the Moon album cover. Via pinkfloyd.com.

This fact reminds us that, at the same time that all Catholicism is local, we can also say that no Catholicism is only local. Without the universal church, there would be no RCIA process in local parishes. The Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium (promulgated in 1963) led to the editio typica of the Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum (issued in 1972), which led to the vernacular typical edition of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (published in 1988), which has gradually been implemented in US parishes. Understanding this movement from universal to local is important. I think of this as being like the image on the cover of Pink Floyd’s album, “Dark Side of the Moon.” The album cover shows a beam of white light hitting a triangular prism, which refracts it to create a rainbow of colors. The culture and resources of local parishes do act as prisms, but without the light, you have no rainbow.

With unprecedented opportunities to choose a religion (or no religion) and to choose how to practice that religion (or not practice), the fact that tens of thousands of people still voluntarily chose Catholicism again this year is indeed good news for American Catholics.

David Yamane teaches sociology at Wake Forest University and is author of Becoming Catholic: Finding Rome in the American Religious Landscape. He is currently exploring the phenomenon of armed citizenship in America as part of what has been called “Gun Culture 2.0″—a new group of individuals (including an increasing number of women) who have entered American gun culture through concealed carry and the shooting sports. He blogs about this at Gun Culture 2.0. Follow him on Twitter @gunculture2pt0.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only religion articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Easter rites of initiation bring good news for American Catholics appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Easter rites of initiation bring good news for American Catholics as of 4/20/2014 11:29:00 AM
Add a Comment
15. Is CBD better than THC?: exploring compounds in marijuana

By Gary Wenk

Marijuana is the leafy material from Cannabis indica plant that is generally smoked. By weight, it typically contains 2%-5% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive agent. However the plant also contains about fifty other cannabinoid-based compounds, including cannabidiol (CBD).

One Internet ad claims that “cannabidiol (CBD) can cure arthritis, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, schizophrenia, and epilepsy.” CBD is the main non-psychotropic cannabinoid present in the Cannabis sativa plant, constituting up to 40% of its extract. Somehow this one particular component of the marijuana plant has become much more popular than all of the sixty (at least) other biologically active molecules that have been isolated from this plant, to the point where growers are breeding marijuana plants with significantly higher levels of CBD.


Why are people so excited about CBD? The answer lies in unpacking a series of complex truths, making distinctions between what is known and what is not known, and dispelling some false claims.

The human brain naturally possesses a pair of protein receptors that respond to endogenous marijuana-like chemicals. These receptors are incredibly common and are found throughout the human brain. When a person smokes marijuana, all of the various chemicals in the plant are inhaled, ultimately, into the brain where they find and bind to these receptors, similar to a key fitting into a lock. Which receptors are affected, and what parts of the brain are involved, differs for just about everyone, depending upon their genetic make-up, drug-taking history, and expectations regarding the experience; the last factor being commonly known as the placebo effect.

wenk figure

The images above come from Dr. Wenk’s research at Ohio State University, and demonstrate an increase in hippocampus neuron activity in rats following a cannabinoid treatment.

In addition, the chemicals inhaled into the brain also interact with a complex array of other neural systems; these interactions also contribute to the overall psychoactive experience, such as the marijuana’s ability to reduce anxiety, produce euphoria, or induce “the munchies.” My own research has demonstrated the positive effects of stimulation of the endogenous cannabinoid neural system in the aging brain.

Both CBD and THC are capable of interacting with this complex variety of proteins. However, and this is where things get interesting, they do not do so with the same degree of effectiveness. Scientists have shown that THC is over one thousand times more potent than is CBD, meaning a person would need to consume 1,000 “joints” of the genetically modified CDB-marijuana plant to get high. This chemical property of CBD has led to the accurate claim that CBD does not make one feel “high.” However, the low potency of CBD may also indicate that, by itself, it offers limited clinical benefits – currently- no one knows. Animal studies have discovered many beneficial effects of CBD but only when administered at very high doses.

What has become quite apparent is that no single component of the plant is entirely good or bad, therapeutic or harmful, or deserving of our complete attention. To date, all of the positive evidence supporting the use of medical marijuana in humans has come from studies of the entire plant or experimental investigations of THC. Given the very low potency of CBD within the brain it is highly unlikely that CBD alone will provide significant clinical benefit. Some small clinical trials are being initiated; until rigorous scientific studies are completed no one can claim that CBD is better than THC.

Gary L. Wenk, PhD., a Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience & Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics at the Ohio State University and Medical Center, is a leading authority on the consequences of chronic brain inflammation and animal models of Alzheimer’s disease. He is also the author of Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only health and medicine articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image Credit: First image is from United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Is CBD better than THC?: exploring compounds in marijuana appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Is CBD better than THC?: exploring compounds in marijuana as of 4/20/2014 8:33:00 AM
Add a Comment
16. The 4/20 update

By Mitch Earleywine

A lot has changed this year in cannabis prohibition. Science and policy march on. Legendary legalization laws in Colorado and Washington have generated astounding news coverage. Maryland is the latest state to change policies. A look at these states can reveal a lot about the research on relevant topics, too.

Colorado and Taxes

Colorado provides taxed and regulated access to recreational users for the first time since 1937’s Marijuana Tax Act. Money rolls into the state’s coffers (roughly $3.4 million in January and February) and the sky has yet to fall. Some observers grouse that the taxes on the recreational market are not generating as much as pundits predicted, as if economic wonks have never guessed wrong before. Apparently, fewer medical users switched from their medical sources to the recreational suppliers. Given that the tax on medical cannabis is 2.9% and the recreational sources cost an additional 25%, we shouldn’t be stunned. It’s nice to see that people behave rationally. It’s only been a few months (since 1 January 2014), but the anticipated spikes in emergency room visits, psychotic breaks, and teen use are nowhere to be found.

Washington and DUI

Washington State continues to hammer out details for how their legal market will work. A per se driving law there has generated controversy. All 50 states prohibit driving while impaired after using cannabis, but the majority require prosecutors to prove recent use and unsafe operation. In contrast, these per se laws essentially make it illegal to drive with a specified amount of cannabis metabolites in the blood. Perfectly competent, safe drivers with the specified amount of metabolites are still breaking the law. For Washington State, the specified amount is 5ng/ml. Unfortunately, this level does not say much about actual impairment and laws like these don’t decrease traffic fatalities. Medical users, who often have more than the specified amount of metabolites, are particularly worried. Though they have developed tolerance to the plant with frequent use and likely show fine driving skill, they remain open for arrest. Plenty of prescription and over-the-counter medications have the potential to impair driving, but comparable laws for these drugs are not on the books. Given the potential for biased enforcement, per se laws like these will undoubtedly face challenges. Standard roadside sobriety tests like those used for alcohol, though less than perfect, might be fairer.

bush of hemp stock

Maryland and Rising Change

A few days ago, the governor of Maryland signed bills removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis and setting up medical distribution. Citizens there caught with 10 grams of the plant risk arrest, a criminal record, a $500 fine, and up to 90 days in jail. After 1 October 2014, they’ll get slapped with a $100 fine for their first offense. Decriminalization can mean different things in different states, especially given the varied styles of police enforcement in each area. But comparable laws appear in Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, and others. These laws have the potential to free up law enforcement time to decrease serious crimes.

Maryland will also become the 21st medical cannabis state. Over a third of the US population lives in states with medical cannabis laws now, but the details of distribution remain perplexing. Markedly fewer have access than this statistic would imply. Medical marijuana laws have provided the plant for the sickest of the sick, but without increasing teen use. They also appear to decrease traffic fatalities, perhaps by decreasing alcohol consumption. Medical marijuana laws appear to lower suicide rates in men by 5%, perhaps also via the impact on drinking.

Reaching the Public

A Pew Poll earlier this month suggests that data like these and changes in state laws accompany altered public opinion.

More people than ever (52%) support a legal market in the plant. Less than ¼ think possession should lead to jail time. Over 60% think that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis. With attitudes like these, comparisons to the repeal of alcohol prohibition are loud and numerous. Though no one has a crystal ball and it’s impossible to guess the implications of policies that haven’t been around long, everyone agrees we’re in for an informative and wild ride in the years ahead.

Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Clinical Science and Director of Clinical Training in Psychology at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition and Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence. He has received nine teaching awards for his courses on drugs and human behavior and is a leading researcher in psychology and addictions. He is Associate Editor of The Behavior Therapist.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only science and medicine articles the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Bush of a hemp. Lowryder 2. © Yarygin via iStockphoto.

The post The 4/20 update appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on The 4/20 update as of 4/20/2014 5:37:00 AM
Add a Comment
17. Trauma happens, so what can we do about it?

By Carolyn Lunsford Mears, Ph.D.

Fifteen years ago, 20 April 1999, it happened in my community… at my son’s school. Two heavily armed seniors launched a deadly attack on fellow students, teachers, and staff at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado.

As the event played out live on broadcast TV, millions around the globe watched in horror as emergency responders evacuated survivors and transported the wounded. At first, a quiet sort of disbelief mixed with shock and anguish descended upon us. Hours later, when the final tally was released – 15 dead, 26 injured – the reality of the tragedy brought the entire community to its knees.

The Columbine shootings became a benchmark event for school violence in the United States. I thought surely this was the turning point; nothing like this would ever happen again. Yet, barely a month later, Conyers, Georgia was added to the list of communities devastated by a shooting. At an alarming rate more towns and neighborhoods join the list, which now includes shootings in theaters, youth camps, shopping malls, and churches.

Memorial quote NORMAL

In 1999, trauma counseling primarily addressed PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) among veterans and victims of domestic violence, abuse, or sexual assault. Few strategies addressed wholesale community trauma. Even less was available to help parents manage the day-to-day challenges of parenting traumatized teens or to advise traumatized educators on teaching students who had witnessed murder in their own school. My response to the situation was to learn as much as I could about what helps people recover from the crushing shock and grief that follows catastrophe, which led me to doctoral research and a continuing focus on trauma as a human experience.

Mass shootings like at Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Utøya, Norway are only one type of trauma we may face. Life has risk, and even the best planning doesn’t ensure invulnerability. Random events happen… accidents, sudden death of a loved one, natural disaster, assault; the list seems endless. Thankfully, effective approaches for promoting recovery are becoming more widely known.

Whenever a tragic event grabs headlines and non-stop media coverage, generous offers support and resources start flooding in. For personal traumas, the situation is different; survivors often suffer in silence as they try to find a way to a livable future alone.

Columbine Memorial

Research that offers insight into trauma’s effects can help us better understand the challenges people face. Efforts to promote public awareness of trauma and recovery offer a genuine benefit. Many are unaware that trauma is a natural human condition, a biologic response to an experience in which the victim feels powerless and overwhelmed in the face of life-threatening or life-changing circumstance.

The human brain is charged with survival, and traumatic response is its attempt to learn from a threatening situation in order to survive threat in the future. Humans try to make sense of their world, and when everything turns to chaos, the brain struggles to learn to identify future risks and to regain a feeling of competence and comfort in the everyday. Behaviors associated with traumatic stress include hypervigilence; extreme sensitivity to smells, sights, and sounds connected to the event; flashbacks; anxiety; anger; depression; and memory problems.

The good news is that even in the face of such challenge, people can successfully integrate their trauma-experience into their own personal history and reclaim their life with a renewed sense of purpose. Victims and their families find that this process takes time and sensitivity. For some, caring friends, family, clergy, and social resources are enough. Others, not everyone, may develop clinical PTSD that best responds to professional counseling. Unfortunately, some may try to “just forget about it” and “get back to the way things used to be,” thereby short-circuiting the process of real recovery. Unresolved trauma can take a high toll on relationships and quality of life.

I no longer take anything for granted

Trauma’s effect on our lives, as individuals and as communities, may be more widespread than commonly realized. It isn’t a problem faced only by the military; it is not uncommon among civilians. Estimates are that in the United States about 6 out of every 10 men (60%) and 5 of every 10 women (50%) experience at least one traumatic event in their life. For men, it is likely an accident, physical assault, combat, disaster, or witnessing death or injury. For women, the risk is more likely domestic violence, sexual assault, or abuse. A 2004 study reported by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network found that over 50% of children had experienced a traumatic event.

A sense of shame and perceived stigma from needing psychological counseling may keep people from seeking help. Perhaps with education to increase understanding of trauma, more will realize that traumatic response is not a sign of weakness or defect. Instead, it can be a sign of a healthy, normal attempt to reclaim a sense of well-being and safety.

Life after tragedy can bring a deeper sense of purpose and heightened appreciation for living. A former Columbine student I had first interviewed for Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma: Advice Based on Experience and again later for another study said,

I used to think I was a totally different person after Columbine. That there is no way I could have emerged without being radically altered. And trust me, I was. But what I realize now is that at my core, at my very center, there continues the essence of who I was before, and maybe more importantly, who I was meant to be.

Outcomes such as this are possible. People are slowly recognizing trauma as a critical health issue, not only in the United States but worldwide. Public dialogue can reduce the stigma and isolation felt in trauma’s aftermath. Increased recognition of the occurrence of trauma among civilians and the military, combined with greater awareness of trauma as a natural response, can make a profound difference in the lives of millions. That’s a goal that deserves attention.

Carolyn Lunsford Mears, Ph.D., is a founder of Sandy Hook-Columbine Cooperative, a non-profit foundation dedicated to trauma recovery and resilient communities. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and researcher. She is the author of “A Columbine Study: Giving Voice, Hearing Meaning.” (available to read for free for a limited time) in the Oral History Review. Her 2012 anthology, Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma, won a prestigious Colorado Book of the Year Award, given by the Colorado affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, alliance member of the National Centre for Therapeutic Care, Fellow of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, and Board of Directors member for the I Love You Guys Foundation, and adjunct faculty at the University of Denver.

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 the latest OUPblog posts via email or RSS to preview, learn, connect, discover, and study oral history.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only history articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: All images of the Columbine Memorial courtesy of Carolyn Lunsford Mears. Do not reproduce without permission.

The post Trauma happens, so what can we do about it? appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Trauma happens, so what can we do about it? as of 4/20/2014 5:37:00 AM
Add a Comment
18. The continuing threat of nuclear weapons

By Barry S. Levy and Victor W. Sidel

Out of sight. Out of mind.

Nine countries, mainly the United States and Russia, possess 17,000 nuclear weapons, many of which are hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki almost 70 years ago. An attack and counterattack in which fewer than 1% of these nuclear weapons were detonated could cause tens of millions of deaths and could disrupt climate globally, leading to crop failures and widespread famine. A greater conflagration could cause a “nuclear winter” and threaten the future of life on earth.

The recent tensions concerning Ukraine demonstrate that although 23 years have elapsed since the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons remain a clear and present danger to humanity. Persistent threats include accidental launch of nuclear warheads, proliferation of nuclear weapons among nations, potential acquisition and use of nuclear weapons by non-state actors, and diversion of human and financial resources in order to maintain and modernize nuclear arsenals in the United States and other nations.

Despite safeguards, accidental detonation remains a real possibility. A few years ago, a US Air Force plane transported six missiles tipped with nuclear warheads, unbeknownst to the pilot and crew. Twice, in recent weeks, it was revealed that as many as half of navy and air force personnel who maintain nuclear-armed missiles and would be responsible for launching them if commanded to do so had cheated on their competency examinations. In 1995, Boris Yeltsin, then president of Russia, had only a few minutes to decide whether to launch Russian nuclear-armed missiles against the United States in response to what, on radar, looked like a US air attack with multiple re-entry vehicles (MERVs); it turned out to be a rocket launched by a team of Norwegian and US scientists to study the aurora borealis.

Another major concern is that the leaders of the nine nations that possess nuclear weapons each have absolute authority — unchecked by other government officials or institutions, even in the United States — to launch an offensive or allegedly defensive nuclear strike.

Furthermore, proliferation remains a serious threat. During the past decade North Korea obtained nuclear technology and fissile materials, and developed and tested one or more nuclear weapons. At least until recently, Iran apparently was — and may still be — on the path to developing nuclear weapons. Given the widespread knowledge about nuclear technology and the potential availability of fissile material, non-state actors could acquire and use nuclear weapons.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Betty Puma, from the 5th Munitions Squadron, reviews a nuclear weapons maintenance procedures checklist as part of the Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI) May 19, 2009, at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. An NSI is designed to evaluate a unit's readiness to execute nuclear operations. Areas to be evaluated during the NSI include operations, maintenance, security and support activities needed to ensure the wing performs its mission in a safe, secure and reliable manner. This no-notice inspection is expected to conclude May 22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Miguel Lara III/Released). defenseimagery.mil

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Betty Puma, from the 5th Munitions Squadron, reviews a nuclear weapons maintenance procedures checklist as part of the Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI) May 19, 2009, at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. An NSI is designed to evaluate a unit’s readiness to execute nuclear operations. Areas to be evaluated during the NSI include operations, maintenance, security and support activities needed to ensure the wing performs its mission in a safe, secure and reliable manner. This no-notice inspection is expected to conclude May 22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Miguel Lara III/Released). defenseimagery.mil

Highly-enriched uranium (HEU) — the fissile material used in nuclear weapons — is distributed globally, and used in nuclear reactors to perform research or power aircraft carriers and submarines. Converting to low-enriched uranium would eliminate the possibility of HEU being stolen or otherwise diverted to produce nuclear weapons.

Yet another major concern is the huge diversion of financial resources to maintain and modernize the US nuclear weapons arsenal, estimated over the next 30 years to be about $1 trillion. The proposed nuclear weapons budget of the US Department of Energy for fiscal year 2015 is higher than at any time during the Cold War. Meanwhile, substantial cuts have been proposed in programs to dismantle and prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons — and in programs to reduce poverty and protect human rights.

To most Americans, all of these concerns are out of sight and out of mind. Each of us has a responsibility to become more educated about these issues, increase the awareness of other people about them, and advocate for measures to reduce the dangers associated with nuclear weapons, including the abolition of nuclear weapons.

A longstanding proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons is the Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC). In 1997, a consortium of experts in law, science, public health, disarmament, and negotiation drafted a model convention. The Convention would require nations that possess nuclear weapons to destroy them in stages — taking them from high-alert status, removing them from deployment, removing warheads from delivery vehicles, disabling warheads by removing explosive “pits,” and placing fissile material under control of the United Nations. Such a convention has had wide public support throughout the world.

An immediate step that could pave the way to the Nuclear Weapons Convention and the eradication of nuclear weapons is a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Such a treaty could be negotiated with or without the participation of those nations possessing nuclear weapons. It could create an international norm of the illegality of nuclear weapons, similar to the norms that have been established concerning chemical and biological weapons, antipersonnel landmines, and cluster munitions. Such a treaty could put substantial pressure on the nations possessing nuclear weapons to comply with their disarmament obligations — which they have been unwilling to do thus far. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has mobilized 300 civil-society organizations in 90 countries to campaign, on humanitarian grounds, for such a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Given resurgent Cold-War-era arguments for revitalizing US nuclear-weapons capabilities to deter Russian actions in Ukraine, we must resist measures that would reset the “Doomsday Clock” to a point that places all humanity — and indeed all life on earth — in great peril of annihilation by nuclear weapons.

Barry S. Levy, M.D., M.P.H., and Victor W. Sidel, M.D., are co-editors of the recently published second edition of Social Injustice and Public Health as well as two editions each of the books War and Public Health and Terrorism and Public Health, all of which have been published by Oxford University Press. They are both past presidents of the American Public Health Association. Dr. Levy is an Adjunct Professor of Public Health at Tufts University School of Medicine. Dr. Sidel is Distinguished University Professor of Social Medicine Emeritus at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein Medical College and an Adjunct Professor of Public Health at Weill Cornell Medical College. Victor W. Sidel was a member of the 1997 consortium of experts in law, science, public health, disarmament, and negotiation that drafted the model Nuclear Weapons Convention. Read their previous blog posts.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only health and medicine articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post The continuing threat of nuclear weapons appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on The continuing threat of nuclear weapons as of 4/19/2014 9:17:00 AM
Add a Comment
19. Very short talks

vsi banner

By Chloe Foster

We have seen an abundance of Very Short Introductions (VSI) authors appearing at UK festivals this year. Appearances so far have included at Words by the Water festival in Keswick, Oxford Literary Festival, and Edinburgh Science festival. The versitility of the series and its subjects means our author talks are popular at a variety of different types of festivals. First up, Words by the Water:

Later this month, we’ll have talks from VSI authors at Chipping Norton Literary Festival on the 26th and 27th April. This is followed by a series of talks at Ways with Words festival in Devon on the 12th July, Kings Place festival in London on the 14th September, and Cheltenham Literature festival from 3rd -12th October.

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.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS
Subscribe to Very Short Introductions articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Very short talks appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Very short talks as of 4/18/2014 4:21:00 AM
Add a Comment
20. Initiation into America’s original megachurch

By David Yamane

The American religious landscape is ever changing. The rise of religious nones, the spiritual not religious, thoughtful spirituality, the emerging church, online religion, megachurches, and on and on.

As a sociologist of religion who specializes in Roman Catholicism, it is easy to feel old-fashioned in the face of so much novelty. But in its typically deliberate way, the original megachurch in America continues to make its mark on the religious landscape.

Photo of adult being baptized

Easter Vigil Baptism, April 11, 2009. Image Credit: Photo by IC MONROVIA RCIA, CC 2.0 via Flickr.

On Saturday night, April 19th, at Easter Vigil Masses in most of the 17,000+ parishes in the United States, tens of thousands of individuals will join the Catholic Church. On average over the past ten years, 67,000 adults annually have been baptized Catholic and 83,000 baptized Christians annually have been “Received into Full Communion” with the Roman Catholic church in the United States.

To put these numbers in perspective, these 1.5 million people becoming Catholic over the past decade in themselves would comprise one of the 20 largest religious bodies in America. Catholic converts collectively are about 11% of all Catholics in the United States today. These 5.85 million individuals would be the fifth largest religious body in America, just ahead of the Church of God in Christ and behind the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church).

These numbers are impressive, but even more notable is that most adults who become Catholic in America today do so through an elaborate initiation process that is both ancient and modern: the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

Fresco of Baptism of St Augustine

Baptism of St Augustine, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In the ancient church, adult baptism was preceded by a structured period of instruction (“catechesis”), which could last as long as three years. Individuals undergoing instruction were called “catechumens” (“hearers of the word”) and the period of instruction was called the “catechumenate.” The process also called for a number of pre-baptismal rites associated with purification and exorcism in preparation for initiation.

As the church’s attention shifted to infant baptism, these rich traditions of adult initiation fell by the wayside. By the mid-20th century in the United States, the process of adult initiation was brief, private, and focused on doctrinal instruction. But the church would soon “modernize” the process of adult initiation, not by looking to the future, but by looking to the past.

French theologians call this ressourcement – looking to the ancient church for models of liturgy and practice to be implemented in the contemporary church. In this way, the church uses tradition to renew tradition. This is exemplified by the call to restore the ancient catechumenate for adults in the Second Vatican Council’s 1963 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, nos. 64-66).

That call led to the publication in 1972 of a new book of rites for adult initiation, in Latin of course, called Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum (the Latin editio typica or “typical edition”). A provisional English translation of this new “order of initiation” was introduced into the Catholic Church in the United States in 1974 and the final official American English translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (the “vernacular typical edition”) was published in 1988. At that time, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops also issued guidelines for and mandated the use of the new process.

Like the ancient model, the modern RCIA takes individuals through distinct periods of formation with public ritual transitions that move individuals from one period to the next. The process can take anywhere from months to years to complete. (Tomorrow, I will discuss in greater detail the nuts and bolts of the process.)

Since it was mandated in 1988, at least two million adults have been initiated into the Catholic Church through the RCIA process. But the Catholic Church does not only make its mark on the American religious landscape numerically. The RCIA has also become an influential model of initiation for other Christian traditions. Among the denominations that have implemented a catechumenal process of initiation are the Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Mennonite Church USA. In 1995, the North American Association for the Catechumenate was founded as an ecumenical group to support and promote the catechumenal process of initiation outside the Catholic Church. Denominational partners include the Anglican Church of Canada, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, and the United Methodist Church.

The influence of the RCIA both inside and outside the Catholic Church suggests that it is one of the most fruitful — if one of the least recognized — legacies of the Second Vatican Council.

David Yamane teaches sociology at Wake Forest University and is author of Becoming Catholic: Finding Rome in the American Religious Landscape. He is currently exploring the phenomenon of armed citizenship in America as part of what has been called “Gun Culture 2.0″ — a new group of individuals (including an increasing number of women) who have entered American gun culture through concealed carry and the shooting sports. He blogs about this at Gun Culture 2.0. Follow him on Twitter @gunculture2pt0.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only religion articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Initiation into America’s original megachurch appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Initiation into America’s original megachurch as of 4/18/2014 7:15:00 AM
Add a Comment
21. Identifying unexpected strengths in adolescents

By Johanna Slivinske

Think for a moment, back to when you were a teenager. What were you like? What did you enjoy doing? In what did you excel? The positive activities in which we partake in adolescence shape our adult lives. In my case, playing the clarinet in band and competing in extemporaneous speaking on the speech team molded me the most, and became my personal strengths.

360px-Chambre_adolescentMusic and the creative arts continue to influence my writing and speaking, and many of these facets of my professional life can be traced back to strengths developed and built upon in my youth. Another strength was the fact that I had a loving, kind, and caring family. This provided me with a solid foundation for life, and in a sense, these protective factors in my life made me resilient. However, strengths can also be found in unexpected venues, perhaps peering through the cracks of hardship.

  1.   Adolescents might find strengths through their failures in discovering that they are able to get back up after falling. When teens fail, and continue to try despite the failure, they show a level of resilience, diligence, and perseverance.
  2.   The communities of adolescents, even if less than perfect, can be a source of strength. Creating dialogues about community leaders may benefit teens that need role models in their lives. It can help them figure out whom they aspire to be similar to in character and in positive personal qualities. A community leader can be anyone who functions as a responsible person in the community, or anyone else who cares about the well-being of the community as a whole.
  3.   Acting out behaviors may be viewed through a strengths lens if those behaviors are a response to traumatic experiences such as community violence or sexual assault. The nonproductive response of acting out behaviors during adolescence may be reframed therapeutically as a survival mechanism or a stepping-stone leading toward a more productive path of healing and growth.
  4.   Instead of viewing quirks, eccentricities, or diagnoses as negative qualities, these may sometimes be perceived as qualities that foster the creation of unique perspectives and promote divergent ways of understanding the world.
  5.   When everyday necessities are lacking from adolescents’ lives, they may learn to be resourceful. Resourcefulness may entail surviving under extremely stressful circumstances or learning how to “make due” with limited resources. Teens may have learned how to cook for themselves, or they may have asked friends to share clothing with them. These are examples of using the strength of resourcefulness under difficult circumstances.

When working with adolescents and their families, it is essential to focus not only on their problems, but also on their strengths. This may sometimes present as a challenge, but if you search intensely, with an open mind, strengths may be identified and built upon as a solid foundation for life. This contributes to the fostering of resilience in adolescents and their families.

Hidden or obscured strengths, when perceived in a positive manner, may serve as methods of coping or means of survival during times of stress. Even when strengths are obvious to professionals, adolescent clients may not be aware of their own strengths, and may benefit from therapists’ ability to identify, recognize, and name them. Through working with adolescents, it’s possible to identify strengths and help them learn more about themselves and what makes them unique, so that they can grow to become productive members of their communities.

Johanna Slivinske is co-author of Therapeutic Storytelling for Adolescents and Young Adults (2014). She currently works at PsyCare and also teaches in the Department of Social Work at Youngstown State University, where she is also affiliated faculty for the Department of Women’s Studies.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only social work articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Chambre de jeune français. Photo by NdeFrayssinet. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Identifying unexpected strengths in adolescents appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Identifying unexpected strengths in adolescents as of 4/18/2014 7:15:00 AM
Add a Comment
22. Top five hip hop references in poetry

By David Caplan

Hip hop has influenced a generation of poets coming to prominence, poets I call “The Inheritors of Hip Hop.” Signaling how the music serves as a shared experience and inspiration, they  mention performers and songs as well as anecdotes from the genre’s development and the artists’ lives, while epigraphs and titles quote songs. The influence of hip hop can be heard in the work of many poets including (but certainly not limited to): Kevin Coval, Erica Dawson, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Matthew Dickman, Major Jackson, Terrance Hayes, Dorothea Lasky, John Murillo, Eugene Ostashevsky, D.A. Powell, Roger Reeves, and Michael Robbins.


In no particular order, here are my five favorite hip hop references in poetry:

(1)   Kevin Young, “Expecting”
To capture the experience of first hearing his child’s heartbeat during a sonogram exam, Young develops a wildly inventive simile followed by metaphors borrowed from hip hop:

And there
it is: faint, an echo, faster and further

away than mother’s, all beat box
and fuzzy feedback. You are like hearing
hip-hop for the first time–power

hijacked from the lamppost–all promise.
You couldn’t sound better, break-
dancer, my favorite song bumping

from a passing car. You’ve snuck
into the club underage and stayed!

(2)   Rowan Ricardo Phillips, “Mappa Mundi
Describing his hometown of the Bronx, Phillips combines Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon’s verse in “Triumph,” “Aiyyo, that’s amazing gun-in-your-mouth talk,” and Samuel Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight,” “the redbreast sit and sing”:

Whether red birds sit and sing from rooftops

Or rappers cypher deep into the night,
The gun-in-your-mouth talk of a ransomed
God, nature is a lapse in city life.

(3)   Harryette Mullen, “Dim Lady”
Hip hop is nearly everywhere in Mullen’s earlier collection, Muse and Drudge, but my single favorite reference in her work to hip hop appears in “Dim Lady,” collected in Sleeping with the Dictionary. The prose poem rewrites and updates Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. In the place of Shakespeare’s lines,

“I love to hear her speak, yet well I know / That music hath a far more pleasing sound,”

Mullen offers,

“I love to hear her rap, yet I’m aware that Muzak has a hipper beat.” 

(The poem’s ending always makes me laugh, “And yet, by gosh, my scrumptious Twinkie has as much sex appeal for me as any lanky model or platinum movie idol who’s hyped beyond belief.”

(4)   A. Van Jordan, “R&B
A subgenre of poems about hip hop criticizes the music. A rare exception to the ignorance such work typically show (see, for instance, Tony Hoagland’s “Rap Music”), “R & B” offers a well-informed, thoughtful critique. “Listen long enough to the radio, and you’ll think / maybe C. Dolores Tucker was right,” the poem opens and an endnote reminds readers of Tucker’s significant contributions to the black civil rights movement.

(5)   Michael Cirelli, “Dead Ass”
“I am not afraid of dope lyrics,” Michael Cirelli writes in “Dead Ass.” Several poems in Lobster with Ol’ Dirty Bastard retell moments from hip hop history. To describe teens grooving to the music, “Dead Ass” borrows from Oakland slang, “hyphy,” meaning “crazy” in a good sense, “hyphy / music makes their bodies dip up and down / like oil drills.” (My favorite line in the book, though, describes eighties pop, not hip hop, “We danced incestuously to Michael and Janet that night.”)

Bonus Tracks

(6)   Adrien Matejka, “Wheels of Steel
“I got me two songs instead of eyes,” the poem opens then swaggering quotes five songs in twenty-seven lines.

(7)   Marcus Wicker, “Love Letter to Flavor Flav” tries to make sense of Public Enemy’s most puzzling member:

How you’ve lived saying nothing
save the same words each day
is a kind of freedom or beauty.
Please, tell me I’m not lying to us.

David Caplan is Charles M. Weis Chair in English and Associate Director of Creative Writing at Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the author of Rhyme’s Challenge: Hip Hop, Poetry, and Contemporary Rhyming Culture. His previous books include Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form and the poetry collection In the World He Created According to His Will.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only literature articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: turntable spinning. Photo by Tengilorg, 2005. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The post Top five hip hop references in poetry appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Top five hip hop references in poetry as of 4/18/2014 10:09:00 AM
Add a Comment
23. Reinventing rites of passage in contemporary America

By David Yamane

“It has often been said that one of the characteristics of the modern world is the disappearance of any meaningful rites of initiation.”

Mircea Eliade made this comment in his 1956 Haskell Lectures on the History of Religions at the University of Chicago (subsequently published as Rites and Symbols of Initiation). The qualifier meaningful in Eliade’s statement is significant, because something so fundamental to human societies (across cultures and over time) as rites of initiation do not simply melt into air, modernity notwithstanding.

An initiation near the Sepik River

Initiation ritual along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea in 1975. Photo by Franz Luthi. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Contemporary ritual studies luminary, Ronald Grimes, highlights a unique and contradictory aspect of Western industrialized societies when it comes to initiation, one perhaps implied by Eliade. “Initiation goes on all the time,” Grimes writes in his book, Deeply Into the Bone: Re-inventing Rites of Passage. But we lack “explicit or compelling initiation ceremonies.”

The centrifugal forces of modernity have rendered the initiation that does take place in Western industrial societies more diffuse, haphazard, individualized, and even sometimes only imaginary. In the face of this, some communities are attempting to create or re-create rites of passage that are mindful and intentional.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, less than a decade after Eliade’s lectures, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church meeting at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) called for a restoration of the “catechumenate”—the ancient process for ritually initiating adults. As I noted yesterday, this culminated in the publication in 1972 of Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum, subsequently translated into English in 1988 as Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

In his work on re-inventing rites of passage, Grimes does not mention the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), but he could have. In “returning to the sources” in the ancient church for an earlier model of initiation (what French theologians call ressourcement), the creators of the contemporary RCIA engaged in the very process of reinvention that Grimes calls for.

Anointing with Holy Oil

Anointing with Holy Oil. Photo by John Ragai. CC 2.0 via Flickr.

When fully implemented, the RCIA process takes those considering becoming Catholic on a journey through four distinct periods of formation which are demarcated by three ritual transitions.

Period 1: Evangelization and Precatechumenate

The opening stage of the RCIA process is intended to introduce individuals to the Catholic faith and to answer questions about it. Also during this period individuals are paired with sponsors, members of the church who will accompany the individual on their journal toward initiation.

Ritual Transition 1: Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens

Those who decide to continue in the RCIA process go through this first of three major ritual transitions. During a liturgy individuals are asked to affirm their acceptance of the Gospel of Christ and the assembly is asked to affirm their support of the candidates. The passage to the status of “catechumen” is then ritually enacted by the priest, catechist, or sponsor tracing the sign of the cross on the forehead (and often also the ears, eyes, lips, chest, shoulders, hands, and feet) of the candidate.

Period 2: Catechumenate

This is the main time of formation for those seeking initiation. The purpose of this period is to give catechumens “suitable pastoral formation and guidance, aimed at training them in the Christian life” through catechesis, community, liturgy, and service (RCIA, no. 75). Once catechumens are ready to receive the sacraments of initiation they must publicly declare this and go through a ritual transition to become one of the “elect.”

Ritual Transition 2: Rite of Election

Typically held the first Sunday of Lent and presided over by the bishop, this ritual brings together individuals in the RCIA process from the entire diocese so that for the first time the candidates are able to see and experience the church writ large. In this rite, God “elects” those catechumens who are deemed ready to take part in the sacraments of initiation and who affirm their desire to do so. The candidates’ names are enrolled in the diocesan “Book of the Elect” which is countersigned by the bishop who declares them ready to begin their final period of preparation before initiation.

Period 3: Purification and Enlightenment

This period focuses on spiritual preparation for the rites of initiation and coincides with the 40 days preceding Easter, known as the season of Lent. As part of their spiritual cleansing, the elect undergo three public “scrutinies” which typically involve prayer over the elect and an “exorcism” enacted by a laying on of hands by the presider. The elect are also ritually presented the text of the Nicene Creed and Lord’s Prayer. At the conclusion of this period, the elect undergo the most significant ritual transition: the reception of the sacraments of initiation.

Ritual Transition 3: Reception of the Sacraments of Initiation

This moment of incorporation—literally becoming part of the body of the church—normatively and most often takes place during the Easter Vigil, what Augustine called “the mother of all holy vigils.” In and through this ritual, individuals receive the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, and eucharist) and in doing so become Catholic.

Period 4: Mystagogy

This is sometimes called the period of “post-baptismal catechesis” because it seeks to lead the newly initiated more deeply into reflection on the experience of the sacraments and membership in the church. It is a springboard from the RCIA community to the broader church community.

By the turn of the 21st century, more than 80% of American parishes were using some version of this RCIA process to initiate adults. Although it is not yet fully implemented in every parish, the RCIA is the officially recognized liturgical and catechetical process by which adults become Catholic today.

As a reinvented rite of passage, the RCIA process has been very successful at bringing individuals into the Catholic Church in a mindful, intentional, and compelling way. As I noted in my first OUPblog entry, it is also helping to shape the process of ritual initiation in other churches. I will suggest in my third and final entry that the RCIA, therefore, represents a bit of good news amid a lot of bad news for the Roman Catholic Church in the contemporary United States.

David Yamane teaches sociology at Wake Forest University and is author of Becoming Catholic: Finding Rome in the American Religious Landscape. He is currently exploring the phenomenon of armed citizenship in America as part of what has been called “Gun Culture 2.0″—a new group of individuals (including an increasing number of women) who have entered American gun culture through concealed carry and the shooting sports. He blogs about this at Gun Culture 2.0. Follow him on Twitter @gunculture2pt0.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only religion articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Reinventing rites of passage in contemporary America appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Reinventing rites of passage in contemporary America as of 4/19/2014 6:23:00 AM
Add a Comment
24. Preparing for INTA 2014, the first annual meeting in Asia

By Christopher Wogan & Ruth Anderson

In their new book A Practical Guide to Trade Mark Law, authors Amanda Michaels and Andrew Norris observe that:

In the past, products and services would have been purchased over the counter or by a personal transaction, but today purchases may be made in a plethora of ways, many of which involve no personal contact between the vendor or supplier and his customer. In such circumstances, advertising, PR, and image become increasingly important, and as a corollary the power of a trade mark to act as a distinguishing sign, guaranteeing the source and quality of goods or services, is increasingly vital to business.

This observation highlights both the importance of trade marks and trade mark law in the 21st century, and underlines the relevance of the upcoming meeting of the International Trademark Association in Hong Kong. The first annual meeting held in Asia, INTA 2014 presents a unique opportunity for colleagues, practitioners, and trade mark specialists to meet each other face to face, many for the first time. Take a look at the list of attendees for this year’s INTA.

Around 8,500 delegates from all over the globe will convene at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 10-14 May 2014. The programme naturally features a special focus on Asia, with eight sessions focused on hot topics and substantive case law updates in the region.

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. hotot by Edwin. CC BY 2.0. via Edwin.11 Flickr.

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Photo by Edwin. CC BY 2.0. via Edwin 11 Flickr.

The five-day conference is packed with informative panel discussions and networking events. Highlights include a session moderated by Karen Fong, from Rouse, UK entitled ‘What Role Will Trademarks Play in the Future of Asia?’, and ‘Trademarks at the Crossroads of Trade and Culture’ moderated by Irene Calboli, and including Oxford author Lionel Bently as a speaker. Both the Welcome Reception and INTA Gala are not to be missed.

Here are some of the conference events we’re excited about:

  • Saturday, 10 May, 4:00-5:00 p.m.: First-Time Attendee Annual Meeting Orientation
    First-time attendees and new members will find this orientation essential to surviving their first Annual Meeting. Learn from experienced Annual Meeting attendees about the many resources and opportunities for education and networking; also find out how to navigate the Exhibition Hall and make the best use of your time.
  • Monday, 12 May, 12:00-1:00 p.m.: Meet Oxford author Neil Wilkof
    Neil will be signing copies of Overlapping Intellectual Property Rights. at Oxford University Press booth #409.
  • Monday, 12 May, 3:00-4:00 p.m.: Meet Oxford author Amanda Michaels
    Amanda will be signing copies of the new fifth edition of A Practical Guide to Trade Mark Law at Oxford University Press booth #409.
  • Monday, 12 May, 5:15-7:00 p.m.: Academic and Young Practitioner Happy Hour
    Enjoy a cocktail with colleagues while discussing interesting new trademark law developments. Don’t miss this excellent networking opportunity for law and paralegal students, practitioners new to trademark law, as well as professors and adjunct professors.
  • Wednesday, 14 May, 7:00-11:00 p.m.: Grand Finale
    Enjoy your final night of the 2014 Annual Meeting at Hong Kong Disneyland.

But Hong Kong (香港) offers so much more. A gateway between East and West, Hong Kong is often at the intersection of trade, art, and culture. Located on China’s south coast, at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong (along with Macau) is one of the two Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China.

Here are a few tips on what to expect when you get to Hong Kong:

  • The weather in Hong Kong in May will be warm. Expect temperatures to reach between 24-29 degrees Celsius, 75-84 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • At the Convention and Exhibition Centre, free wi-fi is available for attendees with wi-fi-compliant devices in all exhibition halls and meeting rooms together with their foyers, all public areas, and the Centre’s restaurants.
  • There are seven restaurants at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, including Congress Restaurant which services extensive set lunch menus, and a dinner buffet with choice of savoury delicacies. The harbour view is a main attraction.
  • You find can find details of the floor plans of the Convention and Exhibition Centre on the web.
  • If you would like to try something different when you are in Hong Kong, why not visit Jumbo Kingdom, one of the world’s largest floating restaurants. It is situated in Aberdeen, and can seat up to 2,300 diners.


If you are lucky enough to be joining us in Hong Kong, don’t forget to visit Oxford University Press at booth number 409 where you can browse our award-winning books, pick up a sample copy of one of our intellectual property journals including Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice or Reports of Patent, Design and Trade Mark Cases.

To follow the latest updates about the INTA Conference as it happens, follow us @OUPAcademic and the hashtag #INTA14. See you in Hong Kong!

Christopher Wogan is the Marketing Manager for Intellectual Property Law products at Oxford University Press. Ruth Anderson is Senior Commissioning Editor for Intellectual Property Law products at Oxford University Press.

Oxford University Press is a leading publisher in intellectual property law including the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice, edited by Professor Jeremy Phillips, and Reports of Patent, Design and Trade Mark Cases, as well as the latest titles from experts in the field, and a wide range of law journals and online products. We publish original works across key areas of study, from trade marks to patents, designs and copyrights, developing outstanding resources to support students, scholars, and practitioners worldwide.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only law articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

The post Preparing for INTA 2014, the first annual meeting in Asia appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Preparing for INTA 2014, the first annual meeting in Asia as of 4/19/2014 6:23:00 AM
Add a Comment
25. Henry James, or, on the business of being a thing

By Jeff Sherwood

It is virtually impossible for an English-language lexicographer to ignore the long shadow cast by Henry James, that late nineteenth-century writer of fiction, criticism, and travelogues. We can attribute this in the first place to the sheer cosmopolitanism of his prose. James’s writing marks the point of intersection between registers and regions of English that we typically think of as mutually opposed: American and British, Victorian and modernist, intellectual and popular, even the simple good sense of Saxon-Germanicism and the fine silk shades of Franco-Romanticism. Thus, because his writing defies easy categories, it isn’t hard to suppose that James belongs in the back parlor of English-language history, a curiosity of passing interest, but one which, in its very idiosyncrasy, fails to capture the ‘ordinary, everyday’ language.


Henry James in the OED

Nevertheless, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites Henry James over one thousand times, often in entries for common English words like useturn, comedo, and be. At least one explanation for this preponderance is the fact that, precisely because James’s prose incorporates elements from so many different kinds of English, it is uniquely positioned to exemplify—and even differentiate between—very subtle distinctions of usage and meaning. Thus, at green adj. James’s early novel The American provides a downright crystalline use of the phrase green in earth to mean ‘just buried’: ‘He thought of Valentin de Bellegarde, still green in the earth of his burial.’ By adding the final (semantically superfluous) three words, not only does James clarify the phrase’s context, he accentuates its poetic wordplay; its dependence on the double sense of green both as ‘new’ (sense 7a) and as ‘covered with vegetation’ (sense 2a) in order to conjure the renewal of the earth that is part and parcel of the burial rite. In this case, poeticism, often an obstacle to meaning, is actually the most probable explanation for the collocation’s longevity.

This old thing?

James’s ability to write prose that is both fastidiously discerning and euphemistically elliptical is not accidental, and cannot fail to intrigue someone whose business it is to describe words all day. In fact, despite clearly affectionate attachments to a number of words (presence and relation leap to mind), the one I would nominate as James’s absolute favorite is of great concern for lexicography—the thoroughly common word thing. Meaning quite literally any-thing from the genitals (sense 11 c) to a work of art (sense 13, complete with a James citation), thing is remarkably Jamesian in its ability to denote both the most concretely literal elements of reality and the most rarefied abstractions of human thought. And it is in just this respect that the word presents itself at the heart of perhaps the most naïve yet essential question that the lexicographer must answer: whether any particular meaning associated with a given word is actually ‘a thing.’ At times, this can be quite easy: it is not difficult to evaluate whether the physical object we mean when we say ‘smart phone’ is a ‘thing.’ But in many cases, the ‘thing’ referred to by a word is only conceptual. The existence of what we mean by ‘freedom’, for example, cannot be empirically proven. All we can say for sure is that the frequency and manner in which people use such words strongly suggests that they mean specific ‘things’.

Philosophically speaking, what makes ‘thing’ so interesting is that it straddles the gap between words that refer to physical objects and those that refer to abstract concepts, serving as a kind of verbal ‘junk drawer’ where items from both groups get casually tossed, only to wind up completely tangled and confused. Unsurprisingly, this confusion is just what James chooses to explore in his short story ‘The Real Thing.’ Its protagonist is an illustrator visited by two aristocrats, Major and Mrs. Monarch, who have fallen on hard times. They volunteer themselves as models for the artist, presuming that as bona fide members of society they are more suitable subjects for the aristocratic characters he depicts than the working-class types he typically employs. In fact, of course, the couple is awkward and unnatural, unable to embody the concept of aristocracy despite being literal examples of it.

Defining the tooth fairy

In just the same way, when a particular word is used ‘in the real world’, it will almost never be a perfect example of the concept it refers to. Consequently, it becomes the lexicographer’s job to improve upon ‘the real thing’, to illustrate a word more vividly than the real world can. This is especially clear when the word being defined refers to a fictional character, like the tooth fairy. To give wholesale priority to this term as a lexical object would render a definition like ‘a fairy that takes children’s baby teeth after they fall out and leaves a coin under the child’s pillow.’ This covers how the term is ordinarily used, since in everyday speech we are not in the habit of constantly remarking on the key conceptual detail that the tooth fairy is not real. Nevertheless, a definition that fails to note this misses, paradoxically enough, ‘the real thing.’ Just as Major Monarch doesn’t quite look like ‘the real thing’ he is, sometimes a word used in everyday speech doesn’t quite capture the thing it really is.

Jeff Sherwood is a US Assistant Editor for Oxford Dictionaries. Read more about Henry James with Oxford World’s Classics. A version of this article originally appeared on the OxfordWords blog.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only language articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image: Montage of Henry James Oxford World’s Classics editions.

The post Henry James, or, on the business of being a thing appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Henry James, or, on the business of being a thing as of 4/19/2014 9:17:00 AM
Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts