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The light in the Orkneys is so clear, so bright, so lucid, it feels like you are on top of the world looking though thin clouds into heaven.
It doesn’t even feel part of the UK: when you sail off the edge of Scotland by the Scrabster to Stromness ferry, you feel you are departing the real world to land in a magical realm.
Nowhere else on earth can you go to a place and see eight thousand years of continuous history in such a tiny space.
Skara Brae is what remains of a neolithic village, older than Stonehenge and the pyramids, kept secret underground until uncovered by a severe storm in 1850. You can walk in and sit down, look around at the stone walls, stone beds, stone cupboards, dressers, seats, and storage boxes. Recognizably human people lived here, seeing this same landscape and coast, feeling the same wind on their faces that you do, their eyes resting on the doors, hearths and toilets (one in each dwelling).
This is ‘stone age’ but talking about such ages is a misnomer in the Orkneys where they had no appreciable bronze age nor iron age so proceeded from the non-use of one metal to the non-use of another in what is now the best preserved neolithic site in Europe.
The Orkneys have been so fascinating for so long that even the vandalism needs to be preserved. In Maeshowe burial mound you can see where Viking tourists who came to the monument, already ancient by their time, wrote graffiti about their girlfriends on the walls. They wrote in Norse runes.
The Orkney islands were the headquarters of the Viking invasion fleets, and to this day the Orkneys are the only place in the world besides Norway where the Norwegian national day is celebrated.
The islands are filled with Tolkeinesque place names like the Ring of Brodgar, the Brough of Birsay, the Standing Stones of Stenness. Sagas were born here, like that of the peaceable 12th century Earl of Orkney, treacherously assassinated and now known as St Magnus, after whom the cathedral is named.
Sagas were created here in living memory. This is where the British home fleet was at anchor and the German fleet still lies. The battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy transferred in its entirety to Scapa Flow in 1919 to await a decision on its future. The German sailors could not bring themselves to give up their ships; they opened the seacocks and scuttled them all. At low tide you can still see the rusting hulks of Wilhelmine ambitions to dominate Europe.
If the Orkneys sound bleak and rocky, that would be the wrong impression to leave. They have rich and fertile farming land with green plains rolling on under a pearl sky. People tell folk tales around the peat fires, drinking ginger-flavoured whiskey; an orange cat pads around the grain heaps in the Highland Park distillery, and the islands shimmer under the ‘simmer dim’ of nightless summer days. I should be there now.
On the subject of competition law inspections and similar procedures, tensions have been building between the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Court of Justice of the European Union (EUCJ). The latest case-law appears like a step in the direction of reconciling the two. One of the crucial points that must be resolved in the future is the lawfulness of the authorities’ extensive digital evidence gathering during on-site inspections. Such searches are nowadays a matter of routine, although the law seems to be lagging behind. Not only must the lawfulness of those measures be resolved, but also the matter of procedure. Companies subject to inspections have gone to court repeatedly in order to obtain up-front judicial control of specific measures such as copying and mirroring of hard drives and servers.
Delta Pekárny concerned a competition law inspection. The inspection began with an examination of digital correspondence. Delta Pekárny was subsequently fined for refusing to allow an in-depth examination of its data. It challenged that decision, arguing, among other points, that it was contrary to domestic law and to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for the Czech Competition Authority to carry out an inspection without having received prior authorisation from a court. In the judgment, the ECtHR makes references to EU law, to a comparative study of the investigative procedures prevailing in all Member States, and to the Commission’s inspection powers. The ECtHR considered that in the absence of a prior judicial authorisation by a judge, an effective control afterwards of the necessity of the measure, and rules on destruction of copies made, the procedural guarantees were insufficient to prevent the risk of an abuse of powers. There had been a violation of Article 8 of the ECHR (right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence).
The ECtHR’s legal assessment in Delta Pekárny cannot, in my opinion, be seen as a criticism of the investigation procedure under Regulation 1/2003, a procedure that has been copied in several Member States. Rather, the outcome seems specific to the procedural rules applicable in the Czech Republic.
Delta Pekárny builds partly on Robathin, a case that concerned a search warrant at the office of an Austrian practicing lawyer who was suspected of aggravated theft, aggravated fraud and embezzlement. The warrant was issued by an investigating judge in the context of criminal proceedings. All files of the lawyer’s computer system were copied. The ECtHR held that domestic law and practice must afford adequate and effective safeguards against any abuse and arbitrariness. There should be particular reasons to allow the search of all data, having regard to the specific circumstances prevailing in a law office. There were no such reasons either in the search warrant itself or in any other document. The ECtHR found that the seizure and examination of all data went beyond what was necessary to achieve the legitimate aim. There was a violation of Article 8 of the ECHR.
The Robathin case concerned classic or hard core criminality. Depending on the circumstances, a competition law fine can be considered a criminal penalty. Competition law cases nevertheless lean more towards the administrative enforcement side, and this can influence the procedural requirements.
A hint at how the ECtHR may regard competition law dawn raids came in Bernh Larsen Holding. The case concerned a tax inspection.Three companies used a server jointly and the Norwegian tax authorities copied the entire sever content. The inspection order was adopted without prior judicial authorisation. Volumes of surplus information without importance for the tax inspection had been copied, including private correspondence and business secrets. The ECtHR accepted considerations of efficiency of the tax audit, but made clear that this did not confer on the tax authorities an unfettered discretion. The Court assessed whether the measure was necessary and proportionate. There was a wider margin of appreciation since the measure was aimed at legal persons and not at an individual. The nature of the interference was not of the same seriousness and degree as in the case of search and seizure carried out under criminal law since the consequences of a tax subject’s refusal to cooperate were exclusively administrative. The outcome was that the Norwegian order had been subject to important limitations and was accompanied by effective and adequate safeguards against abuse. There was no violation of Article 8 of the ECHR.
The judgments of the ECtHR can be seen in relation to those of the EUCJ. In Nexans, the Commission carried out a dawn-raid and decided to remove four DVD-ROM discs and a copy of the hard drive of the laptop of an employee of Nexans France, for later review at its premises in Brussels. The inspection decision, as well as the mirroring measures and other measures, were appealed to the General Court. Nexans’ claim relating to the Commission’s decision to remove copies of certain computer files and of the hard drive, was deemed inadmissible. After reminding that Nexans could bring its claims within an appeal against a final decision, the General Court pointed out that Nexans could also bring an action for damages against the Commission if it believed that copying of several computer files and of a hard drive for later examination in its offices was illegal and had caused harm. There was consequently no assessment in substance.
“Step by step, the Court in Strasbourg is moving into domains that have, for many years, primarily been a matter for the EUCJ”
An outcome which appears opposite can be observed in Deutsche Bahn. Deutsche Bahn challenged three Commission inspection decisions. One of the claims was that Deutsche Bahn’s defence rights had been infringed in view of irregularities during the first inspection. According to Deutsche Bahn, the second and third inspections were based on information that had been unlawfully obtained during the first inspection. Among other things, the Commission had searched certain e-mails that were clearly unrelated to the subject-matter of the first inspection. Allegedly the Commission officials had also used certain keywords unrelated to the inspection during their electronic search. The General Court looked into all those aspects in relative detail and finally rejected the plea as unfounded. The General Court’s judgment has been appealed.
While the General Court’s judgment in Nexans seems somewhat difficult to reconcile with the case-law of the ECtHR, the approach in Deutsche Bahn appears to be more in line with the methodology envisaged by the ECtHR in Robathin and Bernh Larsen Holding. The facts of Delta Pekárny may be too specifically related to Czech domestic law to be of general application. Nevertheless, the ECtHR’s approach is telling. Step by step, the Court in Strasbourg is moving into domains that have, for many years, primarily been a matter for the EUCJ. This as such, should come as no surprise. The EUCJ has made references to the ECHR for decades in competition law rulings. Can we in the years to come expect to see a mutual alignment?
Featured image credit: FW Pomeroy’s statue of Justice atop the Old Bailey. Photo by Ben Sutherland. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr
On the surface, the Lifetime channel’s special Women of the Bible tells a very different story than The Red Tent. The two-hour program which aired just prior to the miniseries premiere claims to read with the Bible rather than against it, suggesting that the text itself depicts strong and faithful women—no retelling necessary. Moreover, while the miniseries adaptation of Anita Diamont’s novel valorizes goddess worship and condemns the patriarchal bias of the Bible, Women of the Bible recounts the story of selected biblical women from a decidedly conservative Christian perspective.
This perspective is clearly evident in the choice of the “experts” chosen to comment on the biblical narratives. Victoria Osteen, wife of evangelist Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meier, described on her website as a “charismatic Christian author,” appear alongside a woman designated as “Bible Teacher” and several female leaders of Christian ministries. Those outside this circle include a female rabbi and a female professor at Notre Dame, though their comments are integrated with rather than contrasted with the majority of conservative Christian voices.
Conservative Christian theology is also reflected in the choice of biblical women and the aspects of their stories eliciting commentary.
Eve. The program spends little time on Eve as a character. Instead, commentators use her story to discuss “the Fall,” a distinctively Christian understanding that Genesis 3 depicts a universal human fall from grace to which Jesus later provides a remedy.
Sarah. The two episodes selected from Sarah’s story are (1) her motherhood late in life and (2) her response to Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22). Although the Bible does not include Sarah in this latter story, commentators speculate on how she must have felt, and the visual reenactment depicts her running to find her son. This passage is far less relevant to understanding the Bible’s characterization of Sarah than it is to certain strands of Christianity theology. In Christianity, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son has traditionally been invoked as prefiguring God’s willingness to sacrifice his son Jesus on the cross. This linkage is clearly implied in the video footage. Although Genesis 22 indicates that God provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice, the program shows a lamb instead (in the gospels and later Christian tradition, Jesus is called the “lamb of God”).
Rahab. This brothel owner who saved the Israelite spies is praised for her willingness to protect her family. Commentators also expound upon the significance of the red cord she uses to mark her house for deliverance. Following traditional Christian interpretation, they connect Rahab’s red cord with Jesus’ blood shed on the cross to save humanity. They also explicitly trace Rahab’s genealogy to Jesus, following the gospel of Matthew.
Samson’s mother and his mistress Delilah. In the program, these two women are not explicitly linked with the Christian message. The commentators instead use their stories to advance important morals and teachings. Samson’s mother is explained as providing hope to “mothers who try to be good parents but the children stray,” and Delilah becomes a cautionary tale of being “tempted like Eve.”
The Marys. The majority of the program (close to one half) is devoted to Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene is depicted as playing an important role in early Christianity, and yet most of the scenes depicting both women recounted the life and death of Jesus. Their stories offer windows into his story. In keeping with a particular understanding of the importance of Jesus shedding blood at his crucifixion, scenes graphically depict Jesus’ flogging and crucifixion (“he came to die”). The imagined feelings of the Marys become a means to reflect on the painfulness of Jesus’ sacrifice: “I would imagine they felt this way,” “They must have felt this way.” Although the program insists that the Magdalene was instrumental in the growth of Christianity, it provides no support for this claim.
As a biblical scholar devoted to gender critical work, I was amazed and disturbed that this program demonstrated no awareness of the important discussions conducted by feminist interpreters of the Bible over the past 40 years. Reassessments of Eve, Sarah, Mary Magdalene, and our traditions of reading are now old news, as is the recognition that standard ways of depicting Jesus as female-friendly have anti-Jewish dimensions. At least since the 1990s, Jewish feminists have insisted upon the inaccuracy and the danger of statements like those made in the program: “a Jewish rabbi wouldn’t talk to a woman,” “women were devalued in that culture.” The program leaves these statements to stand unchallenged and actually reinforce them in the costuming of the reenactments of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion: Jewish leaders wear the pointed hats used to designate Jews in Medieval anti-Jewish iconography.
I also was appalled that in the apparent attempt to include actors of color insufficient attention was paid to the ways in which casting might perpetuate racial stereotypes. Samson was depicted as a huge, violent man of African descent who could not control his passions. When his deadlocks were cut, he was bound in chains to a column. In the US context, this image too closely mirrors that of the slave on the auction block to pass for an attempt at “diversity.”
Neither the commentators nor the marketers of this program named the monolithic perspective that informed the presentation. Although the rhetoric of the program suggests that the commentators are simply reading the Bible, in reality the program recounted a particular Christian narrative about sin and Jesus’s role of overcoming it. Women were lauded as important to the degree that they were instrumental in advancing that narrative.
In turn, biblical texts that stray from this perspective are overlooked, such as:
Abraham’s willingness to give Sarah to another man—twice—to save himself.
The abuse suffered by Hagar.
The likelihood that the Israelite spies were visiting Rahab’s brothel rather than simply hiding.
Jesus’ statements that challenge the priority of family (Mark 10; Luke 14; Matthew 22). In this program, the distance between Jesus and his mother was described as a normal mother-son dynamic rather than part of Jesus’ message (Mark 3). The commentators stressed the ways in which Jesus provided for his mother from the cross, since “a son ought to love his mother and make sure she is looked after.”
Even though this program reflected a far more conservative religiosity than The Red Tent, similar ideologies of gender run through both productions. Women are valued primarily for being mothers, wives, and protectors of their families. Biblical women who do not fill these roles are passed in silence: Deborah, Huldah, Athalia, Miriam, and the women involved in ministry with Paul. (See an Index of Women in the Bible with relevant biblical passages.)
Responsible interpretation of the Bible requires a deep understanding of the ancient world reflected in its pages. Engagement with on-going biblical scholarship is crucial, since our knowledge of the past continues to grow through archaeological investigation, the discovery of new texts, and the development of research methodology. Responsible interpretation also requires a self-awareness of the lenses through which we read and the commitments that guide our choice of texts and our determination of their meaning.
Women of the Bible, sadly, reflects neither solid scholarship nor attentiveness to perspective. Based on the speculation of interpreters whose interests remain unnamed rather than on current research on gender in the ancient world, the Lifetime program perpetuates particular tropes for women rather than offering viewers fresh insight.
All hell broke loose today as DC Comics quickly tried to sweep a host of cancellations under the rug. The upcoming Convergence event taking place in April and May seems to be pulling some big change in the house of Batman and Superman. The news came from CBR, who announced the solicitations for March 2015. However, it’s hard not to miss some of these books, especially when realizing that some of the titles have been with the publisher since the launch of the New 52 in 2011, including Swamp Thing, Batwoman, Green Lantern: New Guardians and Red Lanterns. It also seems likely that Batman Eternal was planned to end at #52 this week, seeing as how that is now the magic number for DC Comics.
Here are the titles on the chopping block:
Aquaman and the Others #11
Arkham Manor #6
Batman Eternal #52
Green Lantern: New Guardians #40
Infinity Man and the Forever People #9
Injustice: Gods Among Us – Year Three #12
Red Lanterns #40
Secret Origins #11
Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie #8
Swamp Thing #40
Trinity of Sin #6
World’s Finest #32
Some of these books are downright shocking when considering new these launches are, ongoings like Trinity of Sin, Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie, Klarion and Arkam Manner barely got a chance to launch before being outright cancelled. Perhaps DC has something else in store?
Rumors have been flying around the internet, hinting at a possible relaunch for the company in June. With so much of their superhero line in limbo, this now seems like it is a must for DC.
The French literary year will start with a bang, as the new Michel Houellebecq novel is due out on 7 Janaury -- Soumission (yes, 'Submission'); pre-order your (French) copy at Amazon.fr.
Les inRocks have some of the details (in French); The Local.fr has the gist -- 'Muslims rule France in provocative new novel', as their headline has it, of this set-in-2022 novel -- in English (but without the intriguing detail that the novel's erectile dysfunctional protagonist is also a: "spécialiste de J-K Huysmans").
No word yet as to US/UK editions, but presumably they shouldn't be too long coming.
While Houellebecq sure as hell doesn't look like he's aging well, he still has a name/brand-recognition rare among authors-in-translation.
Quite a few Houellebecq-titles are under review at the complete review; see, for example: The Elementary Particles (published as Atomised in the UK).
A couple of days ago they announced the Ngā Kupu Ora Aotearoa Māori Book Awards.
Great to see the support for Māori writing (and hopefully it will translate, at least a bit, abroad as well), and good to see, for example, Patricia Grace as guest speaker (though it kills me that her advice included: "write about what you know" -- the most dangerous and damaging of Creative Writing 101 advice (because the kids take it so to heart, in all the wrong (i.e. confessional) ways) ...)).
Libraries and book stores that once saw their premises bustling with bibliophiles at one time wear a deserted look now.
None of the shops are up-to-date. The reason is the same -- a lack of interest in reading.
And, while India has lagged in this regard until recently, e-books -- and the fact/concern that the: "onset of online behemoth Amazon has dramatically altered the rules of the game" (Amazon being very new to India) -- are, of course, much/easy to blame for the situation.
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In 2015, Valiant Entertainment is gearing up to send Aric of Dacia, the greatest, most butt-kicking 15th century Visigothic that was ever placed out of time in a brand new storyline entitled Dead Hand. The creative team features the usually spectacular talent of Robert Venditti and Diego Bernard, and kicks off after Enter: Armorines concludes. The story begins in March’s X-O Manowar #34 in 2015.
Author Robert Venditti himself chimed in via a press release from Valiant on what he has been brewing for the series:
“DEAD HAND is going to take the mythology surrounding the X-O Manowar armor, and the entire Valiant Universe, in a direction not seen before,” said Venditti “As formidable as the adversaries in the series have been to date, none of them measure up to this single-minded, doomsday threat. X-O Manowar has made a habit of taking what readers expect and turning it on its head. We’ve challenged ourselves to do that again.”
After exploring space for a little, the Visigoth seems to have gone too far into the unknown. He accidentally stumbles across a squad of bloodthirsty robots known as the Dead Hand, whose creators have been proclaimed long dead (pun intended). Aric has activated these robots in the storyline who have been created to combat an unknown enemy.
Valiant’s Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons had the following to say about Aric’s predicament:
“Last summer, X-O Manowar went up against the Armor Hunters for a full-metal throwdown between Earth and alien life. Well, we won the battle, but that doesn’t mean we’ve won the war,” said Simons. “Somewhere out there, something colder, grimmer, and more calculating is about to come online. And it won’t concede that war, even in death. An extinct world has saved a nasty treat for the Valiant U – something insanely effective that could only exist in the wake of their failure – a dead hand. Venditti’s cooked up a good one, folks.”
The first issue hits finer comic book shops in March with covers from both Lewis Larosa, and Jorge Molina. Take a look at the solicitation copy from Valiant:
X-O MANOWAR #34 (NEW ARC! “DEAD HAND” – PART 1)
Written by ROBERT VENDITTI
Art by DIEGO BERNARD
Cover A (Overlay Wrap) by LEWIS LAROSA
Cover B (Wraparound) by JORGE MOLINA
Variant Cover by DAS PASTORAS
Dead Hand Design Variant by JORGE MOLINA
Artist Variant by BUTCH GUICE
$3.99 | 32 pgs. | T+ | On sale MARCH 4 (FOC – 2/9/15)
November was no October when it came to comics sales, but it didn’t need to be to improve upon last year’s performance. Based on Comichron’s analysis of data released by Diamond Comic Distributors, comics shops in North America ordered nearly $46 million in printed product during the month, 8% more than last November — and the gains were made by both comic books and graphic novels. Click to see the sales estimates for comics ordered in November 2014.
The graphic novel category improved more during the month, up 14.4% thanks in part to the category leader, Walking Dead Vol. 22: A New Beginning, which debuted with first-month orders of nearly 23,000 copies. Sales of the Top 300 graphic novels for the whole year to date are still lagging 1% behind the same grouping last year — but since Diamond reports that all graphic novels sold are up 6%, that means the growth has all been in the “long tail,” the books outside the Top 300. (And there are a lot of them!)
Amazing Spider-Man #9, one of two issues of the title released in the month, led the comics category with sales of more than 135,000 copies. The Top 300 comics for the month outsold the same grouping for last November by nearly 100,000 copies, so that extra Spidey issue could be considered the margin of difference.
Walking Dead returned to its previous sales level, following last month’s Loot Crate-enhanced sales; this would seem to strengthen the case that the October Loot Crate purchase ofWalking Dead#132was likely around 256,000 copies. That’s more than Loot Crate appears to have bought of Guardians of the Galaxy #1 earlier in the summer, so it’s likely there’s quite a bit of variance in its orders from set to set. Given how the “crates” can be purchased a la carte as well as by subscription, that would make sense.
November 2014: $25.12 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +16%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +35%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +44%
YEAR TO DATE: $287.5 million, +1% vs. 2013, +22% vs. 2009, +48% vs. 2004, +55% vs. 1999 ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
November 2014 versus one year ago this month: +5.47% YEAR TO DATE: +3.80%
TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2014: $8.8 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +19
Versus 5 years ago this month: -9%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: +45%
Versus 15 years ago this month, just the Top 25 vs. the Top 25: +39%
YEAR TO DATE: $82.31 million, -1% vs. 2013 ALL TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
November 2014 versus one year ago this month: +14.44% YEAR TO DATE: +6.16%
TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
November 2014: $33.92 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +11%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +24%
Versus 15 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +59%
YEAR TO DATE: $369.8 million, +1% vs. 2013 ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
November 2014 versus one year ago this month: +8.36% YEAR TO DATE: +4.52%
OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
November 2014: approximately $45.77 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +8%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +31%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +59% YEAR TO DATE: $496.96 million, +5% vs. 2013
New comic books released: 499
New graphic novels released: 301
New magazines released: 32 All new releases: 832
The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.71; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $3.73. The median and most common price for comics offered was $3.99. Click to see comics prices across time.
As mentioned Friday, Comichron projects the comic shop market will complete the year with orders totaling around $542 million, up a little less than 5% over 2013. You can contribute to that total by visiting your local comic shop; find one here. John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 20 years, including a decade editing the industry’s retail trade magazine; he is the author of several guides to comics, as well as more than a hundred comic books for various franchises. He is the author of several novels including Star Wars: Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Dawn, and the upcoming Star Trek: The Next Generation – Takedown. Visit his fiction site at http://www.farawaypress.com. And be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter andFacebook.
This is obviously prefaced with a heaping helping of “what the hell does a straight white male know about these issues?”. The simple truth: I don’t know anything. I likely never will – or at least not in a way that can be internalized. At best, I can gather other people’s feelings and memories and keep them in my brain for reference, paging through as I react and respond, because… well, I might not know anything about this, but I think that reaction and response is important instead of choking the fire of discussion dead through inaction.
So. Batgirl #37.
The new creative team on Batgirl arrived with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. Briefly bringing my experience as a retailer into the fray, the fervour was created almost entirely by the creative team themselves, and not the company publishing the book. A book lives on finding an audience and marketing to that audience, and while DC did eventually run a house ad steeped in current social media trends, it was the creative team that was actually out on social media sites stirring the fan base and building a culture. At the time, I remember thinking that this was something important – not only in the way the creatives were interacting with the fans, but in the way that the reaction seemed to transform into a small movement of sorts, one that would boost sales of a series through actual interest in tone and content. This week, it seems as though the shine is off that apple with the release of the team’s third issue, Batgirl #37.
In the issue, Barbara Gordon is confronted with another Batgirl, one that is using social media and various forms of “art” to essentially take her branding identity away from her. Over the course of the book, you discover that the person under this fake Batgirl’s mask is in fact Dagger Type, an artist who is identified by characters in the story as male. Babs is taken aback by this and is left defeated as the issue’s villain continues with their nefarious plan to steal her public identity.
As the book crescendos, Dagger Type is portrayed as erratic, firing a gun into a crowd of essentially innocent bystanders. Babs eventually defeats the villain, and discovers that they’ve been doing this at the behest of a mysterious benefactor. The cops take Dagger away, and the book draws to a close. This reading of Batgirl #37 has dredged up accusations of transphobia. As with all art, this is a valid interpretation of fictitious events – a reaction to substance informed by opinion, experience and information. That’s a shame because… well, this book was meant to be something else. As stated before, it was something different than the norm, and marketed to a different and potentially new audience, and this misfire will probably do some damage. The only consolation, I would think, is that despite this valid interpretation of the comic, it isn’t something done with malicious intent, more than it was the unfortunate side-effect of the story’s plot.
Revisiting the plot again, using the same reference material, the plot is also about the nature of art, identity, and belonging. The book opens with the fake Batgirl going on a crime spree. Babs shows up and stops the crime, but not the fake Batgirl, who is said to have been up to these types of heists and behaviours for quite some time, chronicling these events on social media platforms. Babs is upset that she’s being defamed, which is compounded when she goes to a Dagger Type art show that features nothing but pictures of this so-called Batgirl, complete with a rendition of the heroine in a wheelchair, splashed with shadow and a bright red overlay. The presentation effects the characters present in different ways. It strikes Babs as demeaning and regressive. She makes a move to find Dagger Type, and soon discovers that the artist has been the fake Batgirl all along. The plot involves using art and social media to co-opt the Batgirl brand, and add it to the Dagger Type cache. When the reveal happens, everyone in the audience acts dismissive. Dagger waxes poetic about how they should relish in this moment, where they “begin to comprehend that the artist is really the subject. And the subject, his brand!” This elicits the greatest reaction from the crowd, who rejects this notion with lines like “why does everything cool turn out to be an ad?”
The intention – or at least my interpretation of the events as described – is a comment on art and commercialism, as seen through the lens of the modern superhero genre. It’s an ugly balance that comic companies (and retailers… hi!) have been trying to work with for years, taking art and using it for commercial gains. It’s an exploration of the kind of rejection that occurs when false notes are struck, and the commercial ends up bleeding into the art. It’s also about the pretension of craving attention, and the effect popularity can have on art and the artist. There’s a lot to dig into there, but at the core of it all, deep down in the nugget, I truly believe this book is about art, and the reactions to it. It’s typified by the scene where Babs and her friends are walking through the Batgirl gallery, and they all have different reactions to the presentation based off of experience. Babs’ very personal experience with the identity being explored in these photos elicits a very personal and valid response. I can only imagine that’s what many people felt as they read through this issue and experienced a similarly flawed take on identity. The issue essentially agrees with the idea of interpretation being in the eye of the beholder, and never once says that people who enjoyed the art installation in the pages of the book are wrong. It does cast judgement on intent. Dagger Type’s intent was self serving to a cartoonish degree, climaxing in rage when people didn’t understand his genius. I don’t think the creative team is doing that here. I think they wanted to turn in a story that commented on what they did, letting the art speak for itself. It may have said something things they didn’t intend, but they aren’t mad at anyone for it – as the issue implies, any reaction to art is valid.
Now, not long after I wrote this article (but a long while before it’s been posted), Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher and Babs Tarr issued an apology.
I wish Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr and Maris Wicks all the best as they continue to explore this character and produce art for us to consume. I hope that it continues to challenge us, and causes discussion. I hope that discussion comes from an honest place, and is not confronted with reductive reasoning. I also hope that, like all great artists, they will continue to grow and learn from previous experiences and new information, as even the best intentions can be flawed. The best artists take those noted flaws and learn to grow, instead of digging their heels in. These people are some of the best. Oh, and one more thing:
If you didn’t think an apology was needed, the apology wasn’t for you.
Photographer/comics writer Seth Kushner has been very ill and battling for his life after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in the spring. A failed bone marrow transplant a few months ago left him with very few options but….well, just go read this. That’s all I have to say. And keep thinking good thoughts.
Kushner’s portraits of cartoonists are ubiquitous—you wouldn’t believe how many headshots of cartoon types you see on the web every day are Kushner’s work. They were part of the Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics book of profiles that came out a few years ago. Kushner is also a comics creator, with his book SCHMUCK.
Soon 2014 will be a memory and 2015 will be an itinerary from Travelocity. And WonderCon Anaheim—to be held April 3-5 in Anahaim has announced its first five guests, Neil Adams, Becky Cloonan, Aaron Kuder, Kevin Maguire and Dustin Nguyen. I’m sure many more will be announced, as this has grown to be the SoCal full service co for people who don’t want to go to San Diego.
PS: If I’m not mistaken the photo of Neal Adams above is by Seth Kushner. As I was saying…
BTW for those planning travels, WonderCon is the same weekend as the MoCCA Festival here in New York. Emerald City Comic Con is the week before. Megacon is the week after. Big Wow is the week after, and C2E2 is the final week in April. I got a few of these dates from this list , but only some. Comics Reporter also has a useful but partial event listing.
Q: I love that the first issue of “The Multiversity” is full of people of color, from black superheroes and politicians to aboriginal gods and gay geeks. Why did you do this, and does it have anything to do with the super-white superheroes who have made the jump from comics to film and TV?
A: To be honest, it happened quite naturally and wasn’t something I did consciously. A couple of characters were ones I’d created for “Final Crisis” and others were new, but all of them were introduced to play specific roles in the story and it wasn’t until I’d finished writing the first issue that I realized my team of superpowerful, multiversal justice champions didn’t include a single straight white man.
I live in a world defined by a diversity of skin color, sexual orientation and opinion. I think it’s important to reflect the influence of that world in my “art.” An accident of birth has made me what I am — a middle-aged and obviously decaying white dude from the west of Scotland — so I’d never presume to elect myself a spokesperson for any minority or group. I’m not trying to make political points here but I do feel it’s important to reflect a world in the comic books that more closely approximates the world in which I find myself living. And basically, I identify with everyone who ever felt like an outsider.
§ Steve Ditko is alive and still making comics…and Kickstarting them. Long time Ditko collaborator Robin Snyder is the enabler here. hey have two 22 page books in the works, #22 and Tales of the Mysterious Traveler. The latter is making his first appearance in 30 years.
§ Speaking of long waits, the second issue of Nate Simpson’s Nonplayer has been finished! It’s been three and a half years since the first issue appeared from Image Comics. Back in 2011, Nonplayer was a beautifully illustrated comic that fit in squarely with the neo-Mobius movement that was taking place. Now Image is awash with gorgeous books, and it doesn’t stand out quite as much. Simpson spent the last three years on his day job in video games recovering from a bike accident and staying up every night until 4 am drawing one precious line a night.
The problem is that so many readers are looking at exactly the same ordering material as the retailers are. Retailers like it when their customers preorder, since that reduces their uncertainty. But to have them do that, they give them the Previews catalog (or an equivalent). There isn’t a retailer-only information channel, so retailers are often left unaware of why a publisher thinks a particular comic will be a big seller if that turns on a plot event (like a death) that the publisher doesn’t want to reveal early. The publisher can’t tell their actual customer because there’s no way to keep the information from going wide to the public. That’s been an issue so long as the direct market has been around. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. (Long digression, huh?) What I want to point out is three examples of material where the publisher can and should have given retailers information that would definitely affect their ordering patterns, but chose not to.
The American Geophysical Union 2014 Fall Meeting begins on 15 December 2014 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center with nearly 24,000 scholars, scientists, and researchers predicted to attend. The AGU Fall Meeting brings together the entire Earth and space sciences community for discussions of emerging trends and the latest research.
To get a short preview of this event, we touched base with Ellen and Tad to learn more about the new discoveries and investigations in these developing fields.
The disciplines that populate the Earth & Environmental Sciences have traditionally worked as defined entities with specific research trends. When faced with the multitude of issues stemming from natural disasters and environmental stressors, for example, is this model still relevant?
W. Tad Pfeffer: This is about the organization of knowledge, of course, as opposed to actual knowledge content. I think the disciplinary road map, with knowledge divided by traditional subject boundaries, is still important for the simple fact that so much of the recorded knowledge is organized and stored in that way. We need the traditional disciplinary structure to take full advantage of the existing body of scientific knowledge – but we also need linkages to the more recent (and growing) inter- and cross-disciplinary road maps, so that whatever map (i.e. knowledge structure) a user decides to follow, he or she not only gets to the right place (i.e. finds the right knowledge to apply to a problem), but can see the entire landscape along the way (i.e. is made aware of important related issues and alternative solutions).
Ellen Wohl: The model is relevant in that the depth of understanding that comes with disciplinary training and knowledge is critical to addressing complex, transdisciplinary issues. However, the issues transcend disciplinary boundaries and, to be effective, each individual must at least have some familiarity with the conceptual framework and knowledge of other relevant disciplines.
How can we best facilitate open trans-disciplinary dialogue in the Earth & Environmental Sciences, and ensure that these possibilities mature?
W. Tad Pfeffer: This probably comes about mostly through our education – what structure we experience as students when we are first learning our fields. But this can be supplemented by exposure to those linkages connecting disciplinary and cross-disciplinary ways of organizing knowledge. Fast, easy-to-use tools for finding knowledge, seeing how knowledge is organized, and comparing different organizational structures might be very powerful, and modern web-based search platforms combined with good documentation are perhaps ideal for this task.
Ellen Wohl: Among the ways to do this are to (1) tie research dollars to such approaches, (2) demonstrate the relevance of such approaches by highlighting (in journal articles and other venues) successful, multidisciplinary approaches to problem solving (whether the problem is applied/management or basic science), and (3) facilitating ease of access to information across disciplines, as with Oxford’s online resources.
What strengths and weaknesses can you identify in current research in your field, and how that research relates to applications?
W. Tad Pfeffer: One great strength in my research area of cryospheric environmental change is the growing use and sophistication of remote sensing tools for detecting and quantifying environmental change. These data sources generate tremendous volumes of data and demand disciplined use of data bases and imaginative processing methods to avoid getting hopelessly lost – another job for the tools I mentioned above.
A crucial weakness in my particular area, sea level rise and environmental change, is the lack of awareness among my colleagues of the nature of the needs and concerns of the actual consumers, or “end users,” of the knowledge we produce: planners, policy makers, risk managers, etc. The scientific community, guided by traditional “pure science” principles and motivations, look for problems that are challenging, interesting, and hopefully solvable with the tools available. These criteria do not always lead my colleagues toward problems that “end users” and the public find most urgent.
This is most obvious in the disparity in time scales of future events. End users and decision makers need knowledge of environmental changes on near-term time scales of decades, while the most attractive and challenging problems for scientists studying environmental change will, in many cases, not become significant human issues for centuries or millennia.
Ellen Wohl: The literature of my field and closely related fields has expanded so rapidly that it is difficult to keep abreast of continuing research and it can be very intimidating to try to learn about a new, related field when my research expands in different directions. That is one of the great values of review and synthesis papers, as well as one of the primary services that the Oxford Bibliographies Online can supply to professional scholars, as well as to students.
Headline image credit: 2011 Flooding From Mississippi River Levee Breach. NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
In celebration of the recently published biography, Elvis Presley: A Southern Life by Joel Williamson, I thought I would share some memories of Christmas past. In the 1970s we listened to Elvis on vinyl. Every December when it was time to decorate the tree you could hear the deep dulcet warbling of Elvis coming from the hi-fi. Some of my favorite Elvis renditions of Christmas songs follow.
With the tree up and ready to be decorated we’d pop on the Elvis to kick off the Christmas season with “The First Noel”.
In the kitchen we’d often hear my mother sing along to “Winter Wonderland” as she made stained-glass window cookies to hang on the tree.
One of my dad’s favorites was “Silver Bells”. He’d sing along so that it sounded like Elvis was his backup singer.
My best friend Tracy had an artificial, all-white tree bedecked in tinsel and lit solely with blue lights. In the evenings we’d just sit in her living room watching the tree as she and Elvis sang “Blue Christmas”.
Now that I am older, I still like to listen to Elvis when I decorate for Christmas. Then when I have everything just the way I want I like to get a crackling fire going, turn down the lights, plug in the tree, toss back a few slugs of egg nog, settle into a comfy couch with someone special, and listen to Elvis’s “Merry Christmas Baby”.
Here’s hoping your stocking is stuffed with Elvis this season. I find he makes the holiday merry.
Headline image credit: Elvis! Photo by Kevin Dooley. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
They've announced the eighty titles that will be considered for the Man Booker (II) Prize, a.k.a the 'Folio Prize':
These are the 80 works of fiction published in the UK in 2014 that, in the eyes of the 235 writers and critics who constitute the Academy, are the best of the year.
Unmentioned: these are the 80 works of fiction written in English (or maybe they just can't conceive that a translated work might also be among 'the best of the year' ...).
The process explanation also suggests the selection process is slightly more complicated -- that of the eighty titles:
The first 60 will be nominated by the Academy.
Publishers will then be invited to write letters in support of additional titles, after which the balance of 20 books will be called in by the judges.
Strangely enough, this is not mentioned in the official announcement.
See also the list of the eighty titles (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
Reminding me yet again that I read far too little contemporary English-language fiction, very few of these titles are under review at the complete review:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have apparently announced (though not yet at their 'media center', last I checked ...) that they'll be publishing the English translation of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano's latest in the US, the bestselling-in-France Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier (see the Gallimard publicity page), in late 2015.
(MacLehose Press had previously announced it was publishing this one, and two more, in the UK.)
Alexandra Alter reports the news in The New York Times -- along with some sales figures for the few Modiano titles actually currently available in English;
One of his most famous works, Missing Person, which is published by David R. Godine, had sold just 2,031 copies before the prize was announced in October, and has since sold more than 13,600 copies.
Yale University Press has sold more than 30,000 copies of Suspended Sentences, a collection of three novellas by Mr. Modiano that was published last month.
At The Washington Post's Style Blog Ron Charles also reports on the news, in New Patrick Modiano novel coming to U.S. next fall, with the additional information that the translation will be by Euan Cameron (translator of, for example, Philippe Djian's Unforgivable book), and offering slightly different sales-numbers:
The book clubs are all adopting Missing Persons [sic], and if you're going to read a Modiano, that's the one to read.
We've sold 18,000 copies. Honeymoon also did well, and his children's book [Catherine Certitude] did well.
Meanwhile, an interesting titbit from Jennifer Maloney's report at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy weblog:
British publisher Harvill Secker UK then pulled its e-book version of Modiano's novel, The Search Warrant, off Amazon.co.uk.
It turned out that Harvill Secker never had the rights to publish the ebook -- which Modiano's French publisher, Éditions Gallimard, discovered after the Pulitzer [sic] was announced, according to Anne-Solange Noble, Gallimard's foreign-rights director.
For almost a hundred years, international law has been on the receiving end of relentless criticism from the policy and academic worlds. That law, sometimes called the law of nations, consists of the web of rules developed by states around the world over many centuries through treaties and customary practices, some bilateral, some regional, and some global. Its rules regulate issues from the very technical (how our computers communicate internationally or the lengths of airport runways) to areas of common global concern (rules for ships on the seas or ozone pollution) to the most political for individual states (like when they can go to war or the minimum standards for human rights).
The first challenge to international law comes from those politicians, pundits, and political scientists who see it as fundamentally ineffective, a point they see as proved ever since the League of Nations failed to enforce the Versailles Treaty regime against the Axis in the 1930s. But those who really know how states relate to each other, whether diplomats or academics, have long found this criticism an unrealistic caricature. While some rules have little dissuasive power over some states, many if not most important rules, are generally followed, with serious consequences for violators, like ostracism, reciprocal responses, or even sanctions. The list of routinely respected rules is enormous, from those on global trade to the law of the sea to the treatment of diplomats to the technical areas mentioned above. Most international cooperation is grounded in some legal rules.
The second challenge to international law has come from domestic lawyers and some legal scholars who asserted that international law is not really “law” because it lacks the structure of domestic law, in particular an executive or police force that can enforce the rules. But this too is a canard. As the British legal scholar H.L.A. Hart pointed out more than a half-century ago, one does not need to have perfect enforcement for a rule to be “law,” as long as the parties treat the rules as law. With international law, states certainly interact in a way that shows they treat those rules as law. They expect them to be followed and reserve special opprobrium and responses for law violators. Certainly, powerful states can get away with some law violations more easily than weak states, but that has nothing to do with whether international law is law.
Third, international law has faced a challenge from some philosophers and global leaders that it is fundamentally immoral. They claim that its rules reflect self-interested bargains among governments, but lack moral content. It is intriguing that this moral criticism actually comes from two opposite directions. On the one hand, so-called cosmopolitan philosophers, who think people’s moral duties to one another should not turn on nationality or national borders (which they view as morally arbitrary), condemn many rules for sacrificing concern for the individual, wherever he or she may live, for the mere interests of states. On the other hand, leaders of many developing world nations claim that many of international law’s rules are immoral for not privileging states enough, in particular because they see the rules as part of a move by Northern states to undermine poor nations’ national sovereignty.
One example shows the criticism. Consider the rule on secession, a rule that helps us evaluate, for instance, whether Crimea’s separation from Ukraine, and Russia’s engineering of that move, is illegal. International law has a “black-letter” rule that strictly limits the possibility for a group of people disaffected with their government to secede unilaterally from their state, only endorsing it if the government is severely denying them representation in the state. The point of the rule is to avoid the violence that comes from secessions – as we have seen from the break-up of Yugoslavia, the war between Sudan and the recently formed South Sudan, and the Ukraine-Russia conflict today. Cosmopolitan philosophers condemn the rule for not allowing individuals enough choice, by forcing people to remain tied to a state when they would prefer to have their own state, just for the sake of the stability of existing and arbitrary inter-state borders. Developing world leaders, often intolerant of minority groups in their state, criticize the rule for the opposite – for harming states by opening the door, however slightly, for some groups to secede and form their own states.
I think both of these criticisms miss the mark. In my view, many core rules of international law are indeed just because they do what all rules of international law must do – they promote peace, interstate or domestic, while respecting basic human rights. We need international rules to promote peace because the global arena is still characterized by a great deal of interstate and internal violence. At the same time, we cannot tolerate rules that trample on basic human rights, which are a sort of moral minimum for how we treat individuals.
This standard for a just system of international law is different from the more robust form of justice we might expect for a domestic society. The great theory of contemporary justice, that of John Rawls, demands both an equal right to basic liberty for all individuals within a state and significant redistribution of material wealth to eliminate the worst economic inequality. But we can’t really expect international law to do this right (particularly the second) now. Why? Because we cannot assume the domestic tranquility on which to build that more robust justice, and because the international arena does not have the same kind of strong institutions to force those sorts of rules on everyone (even though it can force some rules on recalcitrant states).
To return to my example about secessions, I think the rule we have strikes the right balance between peace and human rights. It promotes interstate and internal peace by disallowing merely unhappy groups to separate unilaterally; but it keeps the door open to that possibility if they are facing severe discrimination from the central government. So the Scots, Quebecers, or ethnic Russians in Ukraine do not have a right to secede, but Estonians did, and maybe Kurds still do. Other rules of international law will also meet this test, though I think some of them do risk undermining human rights.
Why should we care whether international rules are just? Because, as I stated earlier, those norms actually do guide much governmental action today. If a norm of international law is just, we have given global leaders and the public good reasons to respect it – as well as good reasons to be wary of changing it without careful reflection. And for those that are not, we can use an ethical appraisal to map out a course of action to improve the rules. That way, we can develop an international law that can promote global justice.
Over the next few weeks, Paul Gluck, co-author of Physics Project Lab, will be describing how to conduct various Physics experiments. In this first post, Paul explains how to investigate motion on a cycloid, the path described by a point on the circumference of a vertical circle rolling on a horizontal plane.
If you are a student or an instructor, whether in a high school or at university, you may want to depart from the routine of lectures, tutorials, and short lab sessions. An extended experimental investigation of some physical phenomenon will provide an exciting channel for that wish. The payoff for the student is a taste of how physics research is done. This holds also for the instructor guiding a project if the guide’s time is completely taken up with teaching. For researchers it seems natural to initiate interested students into research early on in their studies.
You could find something interesting to study about any mundane effect. If students come up with a problem connected with their interests, be it a hobby, some sport, a musical instrument, or a toy, so much the better. The guide can then discuss the project’s feasibility, or suggest an alternative. Unlike in a regular physics lab where all the apparatus is already there, there is an added bonus if the student constructs all or parts of the apparatus needed to explore the physics: a self-planned and built apparatus is one that is well understood.
Here is an example of what can be done with simple instrumentation, requiring no more than some photogates, found in all labs, but needing plenty of building initiative and elbow grease. It has the ingredients of a good project: learning some advanced theory, devising methods of measurements, and planning and building the experimental apparatus. It also provides an opportunity to learn some history of physics.
The challenge is to investigate motion on a cycloid, the path described by a point on the circumference of a vertical circle rolling on a horizontal plane.
This path is relevant to two famous problems. The first is the one posed by Johann Bernoulli: along what path between two points at different heights is the travel time of a particle a minimum? The answer is the brachistochrone, part of a cycloid. Secondly, you can learn about the pendulum clock of Christian Huygens, in which the bob and its suspension were constrained to move along cycloid, so that the period of its swing was constant.
Here is what you have to construct: build a cycloidal track and for comparison purposes also a straight, variable-angle inclined track. To do this, proceed as follows. Mark a point on the circumference of a hoop, lid, or other circular object, whose radius you have measured. Roll it in a vertical plane and trace the locus of the point on a piece of cardboard placed behind the rolling object. Transfer the trace to a 2 cm-thick board and cut out very carefully with a jigsaw along the green-yellow border in the picture. Lay along the profile line a flexible plastic track with a groove, of the same width as the thickness of the board, obtainable from household or electrical supplies stores. Lay the plastic strip also along the inclined plane.
Your cycloid track is ready.
Measure the time taken for a small steel ball to roll along the groove from various release points on the brachistochrone to the bottom of the track. Compare with theory, which predicts that the time is independent of the release height, the tautochrone property. Compare also the times taken to descend the same height on the brachistochrone and on the straight track.
Design a pendulum whose bob is constrained to move along a cycloid, and whose suspension is confined by cycloids on either side of its swing from the equilibrium position. To do this, cut the green part in the above picture exactly into two halves, place them side by side to form a cusp, and suspend the pendulum from the apex of the cusp, as in the second picture. The pendulum string will then be confined along cycloids, and the swing period will be independent of the initial release position of the bob – the isochronous property. Measure its period for various amplitudes and show that it is a constant.
Have you tried this experiment at home? Tell us how it went to get the chance to win a free copy of the Physics Project Lab book. We’ll pick our favourite descriptions on 9th January. Good luck to all entries!
Featured image credit: Advanced Theoretical Physics blackboard, by Marvin PA. CC-BY-NC-2.0 via Flickr.
With the announcement of Scotland as Place of the Year 2014, we asked a few of our staff members who hail from Scotland to share their thoughts about home. They responded with heartfelt opinions, patriotism, nostalgia, poems, and a little homesickness. Here are their thoughts about Scotland being voted Place of the Year:
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If I had been given a penny each time I was asked in 2014 about the Scottish referendum, I could quite possibly have written off the UK national debt. However, while there was no financial gain in these chats, I did sense that something much more valuable was happening; Scotland was finding its voice again. In the referendum, political debate was no longer a pursuit reserved for a privileged few, but open to everyone. There are some famous traditions in Scotland like haggis, tartan, and 12 year old Speyside whiskies (and I love all three), but I think the most lasting Scottish tradition is a readiness to stand at the vanguard of change. Whether this is manifest in new inventions, poetry, or indeed in changing the nature of political debate, Scotland’s voice is often worth listening to.
I’m glad that Scotland’s story is still being told as part of the United Kingdom but I remain grateful for the events of 2014 and the good they can bring. This year has allowed us to take stock, and hopefully, in the words of Rabbie Burns, ‘To see oursels as ithers see us’ and to change for the better again. I may be biased, but Scotland will always be my place of the year.
– Alistair Shand, Marketing Executive, Oxford Journals, from Markinch
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I’m delighted that Scotland has been voted Oxford Atlas Place of the Year for 2014. If nothing else, I hope it means that people will think of something other than the stereotypical kilts, haggis, and bagpipes when they think of Scotland. It is a vibrant modern nation full of fantastic culture, rich history, and as we have seen this year, progressive politics. No matter which side of the referendum debate you were on, the level of engagement was really heartening, and spanned the generations; for the first time 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote. While 55% of voters decided against independence, the referendum has elevated Scotland in the world’s consciousness, and that makes me one tremendously proud Scot.
– Kirsty Doole, Publicity Manager, from Glasgow
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It’s a great choice having Scotland as Oxford Atlas Place of the Year for 2014. Despite having lived away from Scotland for the best part of 20 years, I’m still a fiercely proud Scot (you can take the girl out of Scotland….). When people hear your accent for the first time, they always want to talk to you about Scotland. Where should they visit? (where do I start!) Is Glasgow scary (not in the least!), do you support Rangers or Celtic (neither, I’m a St Johnstone fan). It’s such a beautiful country, something of which I am reminded every time I take a trip across the border. The colours in autumn are spectacular, the natives are friendly, and its cities are vibrant, cosmopolitan places with plenty to explore. But if you asked me what I missed most about The Homeland, my answer might surprise you. It’s the drinking water. Crystal clear, straight out of the tap, and with no limescale — I’m homesick already.
– Fiona McPherson, Senior Editor, Oxford English Dictionary, from Grangemouth
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I don’t think there are many other countries that provoke such a positive sense of belonging as Scotland. We may well have a reputation for being travellers, but no matter how far from ‘home’ or how long you’ve been away, that pride remains strong. When I think of home, it’s not the spectacular scenery that springs to mind (nor the much-maligned weather!), but the warm spirit, welcoming nature and humour of the people. We saw this in the summer of this year where Glasgow was the perfect host for the ‘Friendly Games’ and we see it annually in Edinburgh where the Fringe and Hogmanay are the focus of a global audience. However, my own favourite example of our welcoming, humorous people came in a football match against Italy in 2007 where the visiting Italians were treated to a rendition of ‘Deep fry your pizza. We’re gonna deep fry your pizza.’
— Paul Repper, Commissioning Editor, Primary Maths, Oxford Education, from Aberdeen
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‘Ah dinna ken whit like your Scotland is. Here’s mines. National flower: the thistle. National pastime: nostalgia.’ — Liz Lochhead
In recent years, the whole world has caught a glimpse of my nostalgic Scotland. This is something we can all thank Alex Salmond for. As the referendum loomed, it seemed as though the drastic change in governance we were pursuing was based entirely on the first verse of ‘Flower of Scotland’. For those of you who may need a refresher in unofficial Scottish national anthems, this football fans’ favourite refers to Scots king Robert the Bruce sending Edward II of England ‘homewards, tae think again’.
Whichever way we voted in September, I’m pretty sure we Scots can all agree that our nation has been invented by nostalgics. We can wince all we like at Mel Gibson’s attempt at William Wallace, and shout down anyone who asks if we solely eat haggis and shortbread, but we’re just as guilty as the rest of you. I personally, having moved to England less than six months ago, have spun many a yarn about the mysterious land in the north, trying to appear exotic to my Oxford colleagues.
Scotland being chosen as the Oxford Atlas Place of the Year warms my nostalgic tartan heart; I always welcome an excuse to quote Rabbie Burns and raise a glass to Caledonia.
— Kathleen Sargeant, Marketing Assistant, Oxford Journals, from Falkirk, Stirlingshire
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I may be somewhat biased but I thought it fitting that Scotland was announced as Place of the Year 2014. In a shortlist dominated by war and varying degrees of civil unrest, Scotland was a beacon of progress and positive political involvement. In the lead up to the independence referendum, held in September, the people of Scotland engaged with their future and their choices in a way rarely seen today, with 97% of people registering to vote. It was amazing to see my relatively small country become the focus of worldwide attention, especially for such a positive reason.
– CJ Cook, Marketing Executive, Law Marketing, from Livingston (but an adopted Glaswegian)
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Scotland is my favourite place in the world and I’ve never found a bunch of friendlier people than those you find in Glasgow. Our sausage is square, our squash is called juice, and our pigeon holes are ‘dookits’. You’re guaranteed to make a friend if you travel any distance on public transport. My favourite bit about going home to Scotland is standing in the queue to board the plane. I never truly realise how much I miss the accent until I’m standing there, surrounded by people who over pronounce their ‘r’s’ in the same way I do. That’s when I know I’m nearly home.
– Jane Williams, Senior Marketing Executive, Medicine Marketing, from Inchinnan
Heading image: Heading image: Flag of Scotland by Cayetano. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The Red Tent was perfect for the Lifetime channel. The network’s four-hour miniseries closely followed Anita Diamont’s 1997 novel, which gave voice—and agency—to the biblical character of Dinah. In both the novel and the miniseries, Dinah the daughter of Jacob is characterized not as a victim (as in Genesis 34) but as a strong, assertive woman raised by a band of mothers who draw power from one another and from their worship of the Divine Mother rather than the patriarchal god of Jacob. And yet, as much as she delivers strong speeches against patriarchal ways, Dinah Redux does not stray from the traditional scripts for women. Her life is shaped by romances with muscled men and by motherhood.
Dinah is tenderly loved by two men. Her first husband Shalem, who in Genesis 34 is called Shechem and is described as seizing Dinah by force, becomes in The Red Tent Dinah’s consensual spouse. Refusing to request permission to marry from her father, she claims her union with Shalem as “my life, my future, my choice.” It is the men of her family who construe her choice as defilement, using it as a pretext for slaughtering Shalem and all the men of his village. Her second husband, created for the novel, overcomes her reluctance to marry again and, like her first husband, consummates their union in slow motion on a dimly-lit bed of mutual pleasure and tenderness. While criticizing patriarchal ideas in general and some men in particular (including Laban, who is depicted as a drunk, gambling, abusive tyrant), Dinah clearly loves her husbands as well as her brother Joseph.
From the beginning of her pregnancy with Shalem’s child, Dinah’s identity rests in her role as mother. When her son is claimed by Shalem’s Egyptian mother, Dinah is willing to live in a mice-infested cellar and be treated as a slave in order to remain in her son’s life. Childbearing as the essential essence of womanhood, indeed, runs throughout The Red Tent. Even as a child, Dinah learns from her mothers in the women’s-only space of the tent the power of menstrual blood and the ability to give birth; her later role as midwife allows her to continue to participate in this most female of activities.
In placing romance and the mother-child bond at the center of women’s lives, The Red Tent follows a very modern script. Like the heroines of romance novels, Dinah willingly surrenders to the attentions of attractive men and is passionately devoted to her son. Other modern tropes appear as well. She and her mothers attempt to protect Laban’s wife from domestic violence, treat slaves as their equals, and eventually manage their anger. While Dinah resists patriarchy as a system, she ultimately forgives the people (like her father) who embody that system. Dinah is strong and independent but still desirable to men, still a devoted mother, still kind in a self-sacrificing way.
The novel The Red Tent is so beloved by many women because it offers a relatable female biblical character, one whose loves, commitments, and challenges resonate in the modern world. Presented as the recovery of the lost voices of ancient women, it also plays well with a current climate of distrust in religious traditions and institutions. Like The Da Vinci Code, The Red Tent is fiction, but its claim that history has demeaned women’s stories rings true for many who are desperately seeking a usable past.
And yet, by making the past mirror the present, this retelling of the biblical story not only does disservice to the past but also reinscribes the very gender scripts it claims to resist.
My recent work as the editor in chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies aims to work against such anachronistic assumptions. In the case of ancient Israel, our participating scholars explored topics such as the nature of goddess worship, marriage, gender roles, and the social significance of children. They argue that the worship of female deities was not limited to women and had little bearing on the well-being of human women; that children’s importance was as much economic as affectional; that “biblical marriage” required neither female consent, mutual vow making, nor romance; and that low life expectancies not only promoted the “marriage” of females by the age of 13 but also meant that few people would have ever known their grandparents. Johanna Stiebert, author of “Social Scientific Approaches,” contextualizes The Red Tent as one strategy of feminist appropriation of the ancient world, while Susanne Scholz (“Second Wave Feminism”) and Teresa J. Hornsby (“Heterosexism/Heteronormativity”) explain the perspectives of those who find the valorization of romance and motherhood as reflective of rather than resistant to patriarchy. Deborah W. Rooke (“Patriarchy/Kyriarchy”) traces the history of conversations about goddesses and women in the ancient world.
These and other entries suggest just how speculative, selective, and skewed many of The Red Tent’s portrayals of the ancient world are. In Diamant’s world, four women willingly share Jacob as husband and experience little competition within women’s space. In the red tent, they cooperate with one another, sharing stories and essential oils. Such portrayals downplay not only biblical stories of tensions between women but also the modern systems that pit women against one another.
By paying attention to the ways in which gender is constructed in the diverse texts, cultures, and readers that constitute “the world of the Bible,” gender-sensitive biblical scholarship seeks to move beyond such stereotypes of women. It suggests that women—and men and those whom societies place as “other”—operate within systems and structures that must be named and, when necessary, critiqued. Though giving Dinah agency within a world that limits women’s roles to romance and motherhood might seem liberating to some readers/viewers of The Red Tent, gender studies brings into focus the socially constructed nature of these limits of women’s worth.