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China has all but overtaken the United States based on GDP at newly-computed purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates, twenty years after Paul Krugman predicted: “Although China is still a very poor country, its population is so huge that it will become a major economic power if it achieves even a fraction of Western productivity levels.” But will it eclipse the United States, as Arvind Subramanian has claimed, with the yuan eventually vying with the dollar for international reserve currency status?
Not unless China battles three economic foes. One is well-known: diminishing marginal returns to capital. Two others have received less attention. The first is Carlos Diaz-Alejandro. Not the man, but the results uncovered by his research on the Southern Cone following the opening up of its capital account that culminated in a sovereign debt crisis and contributed to Latin America’s lost 1980s. If the capital account is liberalized before the domestic financial system is ready, the country sets itself up for a fall: goodbye financial repression, hello financial crash. The second is the “reality of transition”: rejuvenating growth requires hard budgets and competition to improve resource allocation and stimulate innovation, counterbalanced with a more competitive real exchange rate. This is the principal insight from the transition in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), which was far simpler than anything China faces.
China was able to raise total factor productivity (TFP) growth as an offset to diminishing marginal returns to capital, especially after joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, and faster growth was accompanied by a rising savings rate. But TFP growth is hard to sustain. Any developing country targeting growth above the steady state level given by the sum of human capital growth, TFP growth and population growth (the latter two falling rapidly in China) will find that its investment rates need to continually increase unless it can rejuvenate TFP growth. China’s investment rates have risen from around 42% of GDP over 2005-7 (prior to the global crisis) to 48% in recent years even as growth has dropped from the 12% to the 7.5% range. Savings rates have hovered around 50%, reducing current account surpluses (numbers drawn from IMF 2010 and 2014 Article IV reports).
This configuration has forced China to choose between either investing even more, or lowering growth targets. It has chosen the latter, with its leaders espousing anti-corruption, deleveraging, environmental improvement and structural reform to achieve higher quality growth. The central bank, People’s Bank of China (PBoC), has reaffirmed its goal of internationalizing the yuan and liberalizing the capital account.
China’s proposed antidote is to “rebalance” from investment and exports to domestic consumption. But growth arithmetic would require consumption to grow at unrealistic rates, given the relative shares of investment and private consumption in GDP, even to meet scaled-down growth targets. Besides, households need better social benefits and market interest rates on bank deposits to save less and consume more. Hukou reform alone, or placing social benefits received by rural migrants on a par with their urban counterparts, could easily cost 3% of GDP a year for the next seven years as some 150 million additional people gain access to such benefits—quite apart from the public investment needed to upgrade urban infrastructure, according to calculations shared by Xinxin Li of the Observatory Group. And the failure to liberalize bank deposit rates has led to the rise of “wealth management products” in the shadow banking system. These “WMPs” offer higher returns but are poorly regulated and more risky.
Indeed, total social financing, a broad measure of credit, has soared from 125% to 200% of GDP over the five years 2009-2013 (Figure 2 in the July 2014 IMF Article IV report, with Box 5 warning that such a rapid trajectory usually ends in tears). Local government debt was estimated at 32% of GDP in mid-2013, much of it short-term and used to fund infrastructure projects and social housing with long paybacks. Housing prices show the signs of a bubble, especially away from the four major cities. Corporate credit is 115% of GDP, about half of it collateralized by land or property. While the focus recently has been on risks from shadow banking, it is hard to separate the shadow from the core. Besides, WMPs have become intertwined with the booming real estate market, a major engine of growth yet the centre of a “web of vulnerabilities” (to quote the IMF) encompassing banks, shadow banks, and local government finances. A real estate shock would ripple through the system, lowering growth and forcing bailouts. The gross cost of the bank workout at the end of the 1990s was 15% of GDP in a much simpler world!
2014 began with fears of a hard landing and an impending default by a bankrupt coal mine on a $500 million WMP-funded loan intermediated by a mega-bank. The government eventually intervened rather than let investors take a hit and risk a confidence crisis. And starting in April, stimulus packages were launched to meet the 7.5% growth target, a tacit admission that rebalancing is not working. But concerns persist around real estate. Besides, stimulus will help only temporarily and China is likely to be facing the same questions about growth and financial vulnerability by the end of the year.
With rebalancing infeasible, and investing even more prohibitively costly, virtually the only remaining option is to spur total factor productivity growth: China is still far from the global technological frontier. This calls for a package that cleans up the financial sector and implements hard budgets and genuine competition, especially for the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), while keeping real exchange rates competitive. The real appreciation of the past few years may have been offset by rising productivity, but continued appreciation will make it harder for the domestic economy to restructure and create 12 million jobs a year to absorb new graduates and displaced SOE workers.
In sum, China must heed Diaz-Alejandro. No one knows what the non-performing loans ratio is in China and few believe the official rate of 1%. If the cornerstone of a financial system is confidence and transparency, China is severely deficient. This must first be fixed and market-determined interest rates adopted before entertaining hopes of internationalizing the currency. China must also accept the reality of transition; the formidable remaining agenda in the fiscal, financial, social, and SOE sectors reminds us that China is still in transition to a full-fledged market economy.
The combination of a financial clean up and the policy trio of hard budgets, competition, and a competitive real exchange rate will improve resource allocation and force innovation, boosting total factor productivity growth. But doing this is hard—that’s the essence of the “middle-income trap”. Huge vested interests will be encountered, evoking Raghuram Rajan’s description of the middle-income trap as one “where crony capitalism creates oligarchies that slow down growth”. Dealing with this agenda is the Chinese leadership’s biggest challenge.
The era of cheap China is ending, while the ability of the government to virtually decree the growth rate has fallen victim to diminishing returns to capital. Diaz-Alejandro and the reality of transition are no less important as China seeks a way forward.
Headline image credit: The Great Wall in fall, by Canary Wu. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Hadrian’s Wall has been in the news again recently for all the wrong reasons. Occasional wits have pondered on its significance in the Scottish Referendum, neglecting the fact that it has never marked the Anglo-Scottish border, and was certainly not constructed to keep the Scots out. Others have mistakenly insinuated that it is closed for business, following the widely reported demise of the Hadrian’s Wall Trust. And then of course there is the Game of Thrones angle, best-selling writer George R R Martin has spoken of the Wall as an inspiration for the great wall of ice that features in his books.
Media coverage of both Hadrian’s Wall Trust’s demise and Game of Thrones’ rise has sometimes played upon and propagated the notion that the Hadrian’s Wall was manned by shivering Italian legionaries guarding the fringes civilisation – irrespective of the fact that the empire actually trusted the security of the frontier to its non-citizen soldiers, the auxilia rather than to its legionaries. The tendency to overemphasise the Italian aspect reflects confusion about what the Roman Empire and its British frontier was about. But Martin, who made no claims to be speaking as a historian when he spoke of how he took the idea of legionaries from Italy, North Africa, and Greece guarding the Wall as a source of inspiration, did at least get one thing right about the Romano-British frontier.
There were indeed Africans on the Wall during the Roman period. In fact, at times there were probably more North Africans than Italians and Greeks. While all these groups were outnumbered by north-west Europeans, who tend to get discussed more often, the North African community was substantial, and its stories warrant telling.
Perhaps the most remarkable tale to survive is an episode in the Historia Augusta (Life of Severus 22) concerning the inspection of the Wall by the emperor Septimius Severus. The emperor, who was himself born in Libya, was confronted by a black soldier, part of the Wall garrison and a noted practical joker. According to the account the notoriously superstitious emperor saw in the soldier’s black skin and his brandishing of a wreath of Cyprus branches, an omen of death. And his mood was not further improved when the soldier shouted the macabre double entendre iam deus esto victor (now victor/conqueror, become a god). For of course properly speaking a Roman emperor should first die before being divinized. The late Nigerian classicist, Lloyd Thompson, made a powerful point about this intriguing passage in his seminal work Romans and Blacks, ‘the whole anecdote attributes to this man a disposition to make fun of the superstitious beliefs about black strangers’. In fact we might go further, and note just how much cultural knowledge and confidence this frontier soldier needed to play the joke – he needed to be aware of Roman funerary practices, superstitions, and the indeed the practice of emperor worship itself.
Why is this illuminating episode not better known? Perhaps it is because there is something deeply uncomfortable about what could be termed Britain’s first ‘racist joke’, or perhaps the problem lies with the source itself, the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta. And yet as a properly forensic reading of this part of the text by Professor Tony Birley has shown, the detail included around the encounter is utterly credible, and we can identify places alluded to in it at the western end of the Wall. So it is quite reasonable to believe that this encounter took place.
Not only this, but according to the restoration of the text preferred by Birley and myself, there is a reference to a third African in this passage. The restoration post Maurum apud vallum missum in Britannia indicates that this episode took place after Severus has granted discharge to a soldier of the Mauri (the term from which ‘Moors’ derives). And has Birley has noted, we know that there was a unit of Moors stationed at Burgh-by-Sands on the Solway at this time.
Sadly, Burgh is one of the least explored forts on Hadrian’s Wall, but some sense of what may one day await an extensive campaign of excavation there comes from Transylvania in Romania, where investigations at the home of another Moorish regiment of the Roman army have revealed a temple dedicated to the gods of their homelands. Perhaps too, evidence of different North African legacies would emerge. The late Vivian Swann, a leading expert in the pottery of the Wall has presented an attractive case that the appearance of new forms of ceramics indicates the introduction of North African cuisine in northern Britain in the second and third centuries AD.
What is clear is that the Mauri of Burgh-by-Sands were not the only North Africans on the Wall. We have an African legionary’s tombstone from Birdoswald, and from the East Coast the glorious funerary stela set up to commemorate Victor, a freedman (former slave) by his former master, a trooper in a Spanish cavalry regiment. Victor’s monument now stands on display in Arbeia Museum at South Shields next to the fine, and rather better known, memorial to the Catuvellunian Regina, freedwoman and wife of Barates from Palmyra in Syria. Together these individuals, and the many other ethnic groups commemorated on the Wall, remind us of just how cosmopolitan the people of Roman frontier society were, and of how a society that stretched from the Solway and the Tyne to the Euphrates was held together.
What obligation do public or school libraries have to purchase materials that present a range of views on controversial subjects?
Must every controversy be treated the same way?
How do our personal biases affect our purchasing decisions?
Should libraries take the opinions of their patrons or the ethos of their communities into consideration when making these decisions?
If there are no materials that meet our selection criteria, should we add materials of poor quality simply to ensure that all viewpoints are available?
Should well-known titles on controversial topics be retained once better-written books are available?
Is there a difference between adding donated materials and spending taxpayers’ money to purchase them?
These are a few of the questions which occurred to me in response to the recent discussions about MY PARENTS OPEN CARRY by Brian Jeffs and Nathan Nephew (White Feather Press). The publisher kindly sent me a review copy of the book in response to my emailed request and it arrived yesterday, giving me time to examine it carefully and to share it with my coworkers.
Though formatted as a picture book, the character whose parents “open carry” is a 13-year-old girl named Brenna. And despite the title, she doesn’t narrate the text. As the authors indicate in their, “…note to home school teachers: This book is an excellent text to use as a starting point on the discussion of the 2nd Amendment,” which suggests that they are hoping to reach a market with a broad age-range.
I was hoping the book would be well-enough written that I would find it a plausible purchase for our collection, but my hopes have not come to fruition. The text is tedious, the conversations are repetitious and attempts at descriptive writing fail to convey information.
Here are some examples of the writing:
“One morning, Brenna was sleeping and dreaming dreams only a 13-year-old girl would dream.” (p. 1)
“All in all, Brenna had a great day with her mom and dad. She again realized how much they loved her and how lucky she was to have parents that open carry.” (p. 21)
And then there are the creepier moments: “To increase Brenna’s awareness, her dad often tries to sneak up on her to catch her off guard; it’s a game they play.” (p. 15)
In addition, the robotic figures depicted in the illustrations with their stiff postures and eerie, fixed smiles are rather discomfiting.
I confess that the level of paranoia Jeffs and Nephew express to justify their need to carry guns in plain sight whenever they go out in public disturbs me, but I won’t debate the Second Amendment here. Whatever our personal opinions on the matter may be, we librarians still must grapple with the sorts of questions I’ve framed above.
I feel honor-bound, however, to point out that Jeffs and Nephew espouse the consumption of canned spinach and this is a sentiment that any right-minded person would find abhorrent. Fresh spinach is delicious and frozen spinach is an acceptable substitute in recipes calling for cooked spinach, but canned spinach is an abomination. The only proper use for a can of spinach that I can think of would be to aim at it during target practice.
But spinach aside, if this book had received a starred review, would you add it to your collection?
Miriam Lang Budin, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee
Have you ever watched the television show Girls written by and starring Lena Dunham? If you have and if you like the show, you will like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be. It is like Girls in a book. According to a review in the Sunday New York Times, the reviewer felt the same. He even quotes Dunham saying that Heti is one of her favorite authors. Heti herself said she modeled the book after an MTV reality show called The Hills. Having never seen that program, I can’t remark on any similarity.
What I can remark on is how there seems to be a certain tone and persona that young female novelists have in common. Heti has it, Offil has it in Department of Speculation and Kushner has it in The Flamethrowers. Young, smart woman, fairly self-aware but a bit lost for some reason, looking for something, she is not always sure what. There is a wry sense of humor, the story has something to do with art or artists in some way, there is growth in the protagonist but one is not sure just how much, and the ending is rather open-ended giving you to understand that the story continues but the book does not. Does this count as a trend or just a coincidence? Or is this just the common experience of what it is like to be a young woman in 2014? I’m not certain since I am wandering in the desert known as middle age where I am neither young nor old.
The book is a “novel from life” whatever that means. The narrator and person trying to figure out how a person should be is named Sheila. Most of the characters in the book have the same name and occupation of friends of the real life Sheila. And many of the conversations between Sheila and her best friend, Margaux, are copied from actual conversations they had in real life. In the book Sheila starts recording their conversations in an effort to discover the mystery of what it means to be Margaux and in the process figure out what it means to be Sheila.
In the novel Sheila is writing a play commissioned by a feminist group. She has been working on it for two years and is getting nowhere with it. The problem, with the play and with Sheila, is that she wants both to be a work of art. She believes she has a destiny and she wants her play to be so good it brings some kind of salvation to the masses. But while she wants to be god-like in this respect, she, at the same time, worries that she is not human, worries that somehow she is missing out on what it means to be human. She flip-flops back and forth worried she can’t fulfill her destiny, worried she is just like everyone else, worried that she isn’t like everyone else.
Such worrying could get old fast but somehow it doesn’t. Sheila worries about not being human but that worry itself reveals just how human she is, she just can’t see it. Eventually she figures out a few things.
The novel has no real plot. Things happen but they don’t especially pull the narrative along. The one event that does is a an almost friendship ruining argument she has with Margaux brought on by Sheila buying the same dress Margaux does when they are at an art festival in Miami where some of Margaux’s paintings are being shown. The argument is sparked by the dress, but of course it isn’t really about the dress at all.
There is also an ugly painting contest between Margaux and their friend Sholem. Which of them can paint the ugliest painting? Sholem ends up in a rather depressed place after completing his painting but this not being a tragedy kind of book, his situation is darkly funny and he is eventually brought back to a sunnier frame of mind.
How Should a Person Be? is well written, kind of quirky, sometimes grim, and occasionally uncomfortable. It has an honest quality about it. The pacing is perfect, it never bogs down even with the lack of plot. I’m not entirely sure how Heti manages to make it all work but she does.
The books in the series are very much running together for me by the time I get to Patty’s Romance, and this one is no exception. Although I guess that’s a funny thing to day about a book that has, as its central incident, Patty’s kidnapping.
I mean, it’s not the most dramatic kidnapping. There’s kind of a cool bit where the various members of the Kenerley household, where Patty’s staying, slowly come to the realization that she must have been taken. But after that, there’s not much suspense, just a lot of men talking about how they don’t believe in paying ransom normally, but it’s different when it’s Patty. She never seems to be in much danger, unless it’s of dying of boredom, and we see very little of the kidnappers.
Patty cleverly brings about her own rescue, but it’s then carried out by Phil Van Reypen, which, as you can imagine, doesn’t make me very happy. It’s the high point of Phil behavior in this book, the low point coming when he tells her she’s not smart enough to play golf. That happens post-rescue, when Phil and his aunt take Patty on a trip to…oh, I don’t know, every mountain resort in the northeast. That’s what it feels like, anyway.
Phil gets another shot at rescuing Patty at one of these, thanks to a character who seems to exist solely for the purpose of stealing their boat and leaving them stranded on a small island. But Bill Farnsworth shows up and saves his life/steals his thunder. Which I guess is representative of his now obvious status as Wells’ favorite. Especially if you think about Mr. Hepworth rescuing Patty when her boat comes unmoored in Patty’s Summer Days.
Anyway, at this point if you’re paying attention you know that Patty’s going to fall in love with Bill eventually, and maybe that’s why Wells keeps heaping praise on Phil — because she feels sorry for him, or because she’s trying to cover her tracks. Or because it seems too much like Patty’s in love with Bill already. There’s a fine line between “Bill’s always been kind of special to her” and “why does Patty keep saying she’s not in love with anyone?”
So, this book isn’t one of my favorites, but it’ll do, mostly thanks to Bill. And I’m enjoying him as much as I can, because, if I recall correctly, I’m going to like him a lot less two or three books from now.
Danielle Hark founded Broken Light Collective, a community for photographers coping with mental health issues, more than two years ago. We’ve been following that project for a while (and mentioned it in a mental health-focused roundup earlier this year), so it was nice to see Danielle, and Broken Light Collective as a whole, receive the attention they deserve in a New York Times profile. It was published to coincide with the Collective‘s first group gallery show, which closed in New York in August.
Ana Sofía Peláez‘s site has showcased the colorful, mouthwatering delights of Caribbean cuisine for more than five years, mixing in great storytelling with beautiful food photography. Next month, Ana Sofía will see her book, The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History (St. Martin’s Press), hit bookstores (and kitchens) everywhere. A labor of love on which she collaborated with photographer Ellen Silverman, the book chronicles Cuban food cultures from Havana to Miami to New York.
Earlier this week, Notches editor Julia Laite, a lecturer at the University of London, wrote a thought-provoking article in The Guardian on another fascinating topic: our decades-long obsession with Jack the Ripper.
Justine Brooks Froelker, the blogger behind Ever Upward, has been chronicling her journey through infertility, loss, and acceptance in posts that are at once unflinching and moving. Now, Justine is preparing for the release of her book, also named Ever Upward, in early October (it’ll also be available on Amazon starting February). You can get a taste of Justine’s writing in this excerpt from the book’s opening chapter.
Are you publishing a book soon? Has your blog made the news? Leave us a comment — we’d love to know.
#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft are great steps toward an improved public response to domestic violence. There are many, many risks and obstacles that make “Why didn’t she just leave?” at best an ignorant question and at worst the beginning of a victim-blaming spiral that can be as traumatizing as the violence.
Sympathy is a good start and it is truly amazing to see the media and the general public open their eyes to some of the challenges women face when their relationships turn violent. However, there are still many other stereotypes and old ways of thinking that are getting repeated even today. Here are a few items on my wishlist for beyond #WhyIStayed:
(1) Starting asking what is going on with the perpetrators. Batterers create domestic violence and yet we still turn to the victims of domestic violence and ask what they can or should do. Where are the batterers? Where are the men? When a burglar breaks into a house, we do not spend all of our time trying to understand the homeowner. We do not expect an explanation about why they decided to stay in their home or need an analysis of why they purchased that flat-screen TV. We try to catch the burglar and understand that the victims are just going about their lives, trying to get their needs met like the rest of us.
(2) Do not stereotype anyone or any institution. In the last several days there have particularly been numerous negative comments about churches and other religious organizations. Yes, some religious leaders send bad, blaming messages about domestic violence and encourage victims to stay for the sake of the marriage. However, many religious leaders and religious institutions are important parts of the solution to domestic violence in many communities. Many religious leaders stand by victims with years of support, both tangible and intangible, often long after social service benefits are tapped out. We know that many family members sometimes pressure victims to stay too, but we do not start describing families in a negative light. Do not assume that every religious organization is part of the problem.
(3) Awareness is not enough. We need to follow up with better services. The first and most obvious step is to do a better job with safety planning and risk assessment. Risk assessment needs to include all of the reasons people have shared with #WhyIStayed. The Victim Inventory of Goals, Options, and Risks, called The VIGOR, offers a big-picture, holistic approach for risk assessment. The VIGOR allows victims to report all of the risks and obstacles they might be facing, including not only the violence to them, but also threats to loved ones, housing needs, financial needs, legal needs, and issues related to the rejection by family or community members. The VIGOR is also unique in that it asks victims to describe their strengths and resources and helps them brainstorm about their options.
Research with the VIGOR backs up this newly empowered view of victims of domestic violence. The women who participated came up with over 150 different coping strategies for domestic violence. This is far more than any existing safety plan. This can also be the legacy of #WhyIStayed—more comprehensive safety planning that recognizes the complexities and also the many strengths of battered women.
Headline image credit: Blue door by Ana_J. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.
Scottish women are said to hold the key to independence, as they predominate in the ‘no’ camp. Men have been repeatedly estimated from poll data to be around 50:50 for and against, while those women who were sure of their intentions were 60% against.
This has been represented as an alarming gender divide, but a look at the history of women fighting for the vote in Scotland shows they have long been resolute in their positions, more concerned with what politics could do in real life than the grandstanding of political ideas, and much more internationalist than their sisters south of the border.
The Scottish route to women’s suffrage started in 1867 with the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage; similar societies were established in Manchester, London, and Dublin. Later these suffragists were joined by the suffragettes, who attracted considerable publicity for arson, vandalism, and hunger-striking in the cause, to the disdain of the constitutional campaigners who thought this sort of behaviour counter-productive. This major division in tactics has served to obscure the fundamental similarity of both campaigns as both sides were directed towards the same objective: for women to have the vote on the same basis as men, which was then on a property-owning franchise. They also both steered away from engagement in other social activities. The vote was all-important, it was a millennialist objective, which once achieved would inaugurate an era of social justice and peace. Other social activity was at best a distraction and could wait till after the advent of the franchise. For this reason English suffragists such as Millicent Fawcett were not involved in important campaigns like those against the Contagious Diseases Acts and for temperance, whatever their personal views may have been.
Scottish women took another path, with a much more inclusive vision of the purpose of political activism. For them the vote was one of a number of issues on which to campaign, and temperance was another. Using the vehicle of the Scottish Christian Union, Scottish women allied with the American Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the most powerful women’s suffrage organisation in the world.
The temperance cause was part of a set of progressive measures as disparate as anti-slavery, ‘social purity’ (sexual control), universal education, and promoting enhanced domestic skills to the poor. All had women as prime movers or playing a prominent part – the so-called ‘feminine public sphere’. Scottish women embraced this ‘woman’s mission’ with a vengeance, for example eagerly seizing on the municipal vote which was granted to Scottish women in 1881, in order to favour candidates who wanted strict alcohol licensing. Other areas of activity included such practical institutions as the Glasgow Samaritan Hospital for ‘diseases of women’ and rescue homes for ‘female inebriates.’ It has been said that alcohol more than slavery or suffrage or any other single cause politicised American women. Megan Smitley in The Feminine Public Sphere (MUP, 2009) has convincingly argued that the same can be said for Scottish women.
In the United States the Women’s Christian Temperance Union saw through enfranchisements state by state, and sent out missionaries to New Zealand (which became the first nation to enfranchise women in 1893) and to Australia (which started enfranchising with South Australia in 1894). Isabel Napier, who was National Superintendent of the Suffrage Department of the Scottish Christian Union, grew up in New Zealand and retained strong links. “When Suffrage became law in New Zealand all their influence was thrown on the side of Temperance Reform,” she said, “and so you have the advanced laws that now obtain.” WCTU speakers toured Scotland from the Shetlands to the Borders, hosted by the Scottish Christian Union.
In contrast, English women considered the US temperance campaign vulgar and did not welcome WCTU speakers; they feared the ‘Americanisation’ of their field. Nor did English and Welsh temperance organisations officially support women’s suffrage (though individual members doubtless did).
The importance of this tradition of social activism for the independence debate has been that Scottish women were not moved by the same arguments as men. The ‘Braveheart tendency’ of independence at all costs as a patriotic ideal, regardless of the consequences, has had limited feminine appeal. As Lesley Riddoch wrote in The Scotsman: “Toughing out controversy and appearing to spoil for a fight may earn respect from male commentators and small armies of cyber-angry, anonymous men. Clever dick answers, snide-sounding put downs and swaggering arrogance turn off watching women as swiftly as they appear to engage watching men.” That was the level at which most of the independence campaign was fought, however, leading to a frantic late catch-up as more ‘woman friendly’ policies were rolled out.
The issues that women took most interest in were: How would either side deal with child poverty, low pay, and poor housing? What could be done about the European-wide disgrace of poor health and low life expectancy in parts of Scotland? Finally (and in a manner that would be instantly recognisable to nineteenth century prohibitionists) how to deal with the appalling levels of alcohol abuse in Scotland which are so damaging to personal health and family life?
Such practical matters of national renewal were often drowned out by masculine bluster.
HOORAY! Throw the confetti and pop your champagne! Pub Crawl’s very own Kat Zhang has a new book–a book I know I’ve been anxiously awaiting. The third book in the Hybrid Chronicles, Echoes of Us hits stores today!
In case you’re new to the Hybrid Chronicles, they follow Eva and Addie–sisters whose souls share a single body. The first book, What’s Left of Me, has an INCREDIBLE trailer to introduce you:
And here’s the trailer for the second book, Once We Were (which the amazing Kat MADE the trailer for. She’s a regular ol’ Renaissance woman!):
If that doesn’t make you want to read this series, then I don’t know what would. I highly recommend these books. Kat Zhang’s prose is powerful, vivid, and always makes me feel like a complete hack when I read it. :) I’m not even joking, and I’m SURE this final installment in the series will prove just as heart-wrenching (and ego-smashing) as the first two titles.
Now were’s a summary for the latest epic release:
All Eva ever wanted was the chance to be herself. But in the Americas, tobe hybrid—to share your body with a second soul—is not tolerated past childhood. Now Eva and Addie, her sister soul, are constantly on the move, hiding from the officials who seek to capture them. But the tide is changing. A revolution is brewing, and people are starting to question the hybrids’ mistreatment.
Then Marion, an ambitious reporter, offers Eva and Addie a daring proposal: If they go undercover and film the wretched conditions of a hybrid institution, she will not only rescue them, she’ll find a way to free Jackson, the boy Addie loves. It’s risky, and Eva will have to leave Ryan and her friends behind, but if she succeeds, it could also tip the scales forever and lead to hybrid freedom.
As Eva and Addie walk into danger, they cling to each other and the hope of a better future. But the price they might pay is higher than they ever could have imagined.
ACK! I need my copy now!
To celebrate Kat’s release, we’re giving away a copy of Echoes of Us. Or–if you haven’t started the trilogy yet–you can opt for a copy of What’s Left of Me instead. To enter the giveaway, simply fill out the Rafflecopter form below.
AND CONGRATULATIONS, KAT!!
We’re all so happy for you and so proud to have joined you on this trilogy’s journey! ♥
ALSC Personal Members are invited to suggest titles for the 2015 Batchelder Award given to an American publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country and subsequently published in English in the United States during 2014. Please remember that only books from this publishing year are under consideration for the 2015 award. Publishers, authors and illustrators may not suggest their own books.
You may send recommendations with full bibliographic information to committee chair, Diane Janoff, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline to submit suggestions is December 31st, 2014.
The award will be announced at the press conference during the ALA Midwinter Meeting in February 2015.
For more information about the award, visit the ALSC website at http://www.ala.org/alsc/. Click on “Awards and Grants” in the left-hand navigation bar; then click on “ALSC Book & Media Awards.” Scroll down to the “Batchelder Award Page”
Imagine a possible world where you are having coffee with … Aristotle! You begin exchanging views on how you like the coffee; you examine its qualities – it is bitter, hot, aromatic, etc. It tastes to you this way or this other way. But how do you make these perceptual judgments? It might seem obvious to say that it is via the senses we are endowed with. Which senses though? How many senses are involved in coffee tasting? And how many senses do we have in all?
The question of how many senses we have is far from being of interest to philosophers only; perhaps surprisingly, it appears to be at the forefront of our thinking – so much so that it was even made the topic of an episode of the BBC comedy program QI. Yet, it is a question that is very difficult to answer. Neurologists, computer scientists and philosophers alike are divided on what the right answer might be. 5? 7? 22? Uncertainty prevails.
Even if the number of the senses is a question for future research to settle, it is in fact as old as rational thought. Aristotle raised it, argued about it, and even illuminated the problem, setting the stage for future generations to investigate it. Aristotle’s views are almost invariably the point of departure of current discussions, and get mentioned in what one might think unlikely places, such as the Harvard Medical School blog, the John Hopkins University Press blog, and QI. “Why did they teach me they are five?” says Alan Davies on the QI panel. “Because Aristotle said it,” replies Stephen Fry in an eye blink. (Probably) the senses are in fact more than the five Aristotle identified, but his views remain very much a point of departure in our thinking about this topic.
Aristotle thought the senses are five because there are five types of perceptible properties in the world to be experienced. This criterion for individuating the senses has had a very longstanding influence, in many domains including for example the visual arts.
Yet, something as ‘mundane’ as coffee tasting generates one of the most challenging philosophical questions, and not only for Aristotle. As you are enjoying your cup of coffee, you appreciate its flavor with your senses of taste and smell: this is one experience and not two, even if two senses are involved. So how do senses do this? For Aristotle, no sense can by itself enable the perceiver to receive input of more than one modality, precisely because uni-modal sensitivity is what according to Aristotle identifies uniquely each sense. On the other hand, it would be of no use to the perceiving subject to have two different types of perceptual input delivered by two different senses simultaneously, but as two distinct perceptual contents. If this were the case, the difficulty would remain unsolved. In which way would the subject make a perceptual judgment (e.g. about the flavor of the coffee), given that not one of the senses could operate outside its own special perceptual domain, but perceptual judgment presupposes discriminating, comparing, binding, etc. different types of perceptual input? One might think that perceptual judgments are made at the conceptual rather than perceptual level. Aristotle (and Plato) however would reject this explanation because they seek an account of animal perception that generalizes to all species and is not only applicable to human beings. In sum, for Aristotle to deliver a unified multimodal perceptual content the senses need to somehow cooperate and gain access in some way to each other’s special domain. But how do they do this?
A sixth sense? Is that the solution? Is this what Aristotle means when talking about the ‘common’ sense? There cannot be room for a sixth sense in Aristotle’s theory of perception, for as we have seen each sense is individuated by the special type of perceptible quality it is sensitive to, and of these types there are only five in the world. There is no sixth type of perceptible quality that the common sense would be sensitive to. (And even if there were a sixth sense so individuated, this would not solve the problem of delivering multimodal content to the perceiver, because the sixth sense would be sensitive only to its own special type of perceptibles). The way forward is then to investigate how modally different perceptual contents, each delivered by one sense, can be somehow unified, in such a way that my perceptual experience of coffee may be bitter and hot at once. But how can bitter and hot be unified?
Modeling (metaphysically) of how the senses cooperate to deliver to the perceiving subject unified but complex perceptual content is another breakthrough Aristotle made in his theory of perception. But it is much less known than his criterion for the senses’ individuation. In fact, Aristotle is often thought to have given an ad hoc and unsatisfactory solution to the problem of multimodal binding (of which tasting the coffee’s flavor is an instance), by postulating that there is a ‘common’ sense that somehow enables the subject to perform all the perceptual functions that the five sense singly cannot do. It is timely to take a departure form this received view which does not pay justice to Aristotle’s insights. Investigating Aristotle’s thoughts on complex perceptual content (often scattered among his various works, which adds to the interpretative challenge) reveals a much richer theory of perception that it is by and large thought he has.
If the number of the senses is a difficult question to address, how the senses combine their contents is an even harder one. Aristotle’s answer to it deserves at least as much attention as his views on the number of the senses currently receive in scholarly as well as ‘popular’ culture.
Headline image credit: Coffee. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay
The other day I mentioned I’ve been meaning to write a post about the 1972 middle-grade novel Sarah and Katie by Dori White. THIS IS NOT THAT POST. This is purely a curiosity itch I can’t wait to scratch. I took my query to Twitter, too, and…crickets. Now, ordinarily the merest mention of any book on Twitter, let alone a childhood favorite, garners zillions of immediate and enthusiastic responses. People love to talk about their childhood books.
Which leads me to believe that no one I know either on Twitter or here has heard of this book!
Can this be? Am I alone in my Sarah and Katie mini-obsession?
Illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, you guys. It was a Scholastic Book Clubs book; I’m sure that’s where I came across it.
This book haunted me. I don’t remember what age I was, maybe eleven? Story of two best friends, sixth graders, in Depression-era Oregon. Thick as thieves, a regular Betsy-Tacy pair, but the arrival of a new girl in their midst doesn’t work out quite as well as when Tib shows up. (Then again, B-T and Tib were around six in that book. Big difference between six and twelve. Trios are much trickier, at twelve.) The new girl is dazzlingly beautiful, a cloud of red curls, glamorous, dazzling, a wee bit manic; and everyone including Sarah is smitten—except Katie, who sees through Melanie’s stories. Ring a bell? No? There’s a play, and of course Melanie gets THE PART, and she’s amazing in it, she’s this incredible actress, but that too sticks in Katie’s craw…
And the whole scene when they go to Melanie’s crummy apartment, and she’s playing it up, lady of the manor, lavish, starletty…until her mother comes home and suddenly she’s TOTALLY CHANGED—clothes, hair, voice, manner. All meek and humble. And Katie’s like I KNEW IT!
What haunted me about it was the disturbed and disturbing tone, the undercurrents caused by Melanie’s deception. And the idea, which must have been new to me then, that a girl could so thoroughly fool people, could fool even her own mother. And the gradual realization, handled so deftly by Dori White (as I noticed when rereading it last year for the first time in maybe two decades), that there was a deep longing and desperation behind Melanie’s actions, that she wasn’t just someone you could slap a Bad Guy label on. Katie awakens to this slowly, painfully, and she brought me right along with her. The only other children’s book I remember experiencing that same awful poignancy—almost a sense of guilt—was The Hundred Dresses.
Okay, so now I sort of have written the post I was thinking about, I guess. But really what I want to know is, have none of you heard of it?
As revealed at Comic Con, then reported in Comic Book Resources, Tom Sniegoski is writing World of Payne, which he co-created with Frank Cho. The story centers around a psychic private investigator named Lockwood Payne, who is actually a modern day sorcerer from an ancient society of witches and wizards and his strange misadventures in the world of the occult and unrealities. Along the way, he's helped by his ever-loyal and unflappable friend, Doctor Hurt, an urgent care doctor in the strip mall next door to Payne's office, and the beautiful Michelle, a witch-in-training.
The series will be told in a hybrid format, mixing traditional comic book storytelling with prose elements. Look for the first volume, World of Payne: Book 0 - Ghost Dog, in Spring 2015. Check out these preview pictures! Click thumbnails below for full-sized images.
Patty’s Suitors is pretty much Kit Cameron’s book, if you’re looking for an easy way to remember it (and I am). It also gives us proposals from Ken and Phil (yes, again) as well as another flying visit from Big Bill Farnsworth, but Kit is new and Kit is involved throughout. And Kit is funny, and Phil Van Reypen hates him, so I’m pretty cool with that.
Kit is the cousin of Patty’s new friend Marie Homer (who exists to provide an alternate love interest for Ken as well as to introduce Kit, but who seems nice). Patty ends up accidentally talking to him on the phone one night when she’s trying to get hold of Marie, and, being Patty, conceals her identity and flirts with him instead of apologizing for the wrong number.
This clearly appeals to Kit’s sense of humor, and, once the issue of Patty’s identity is cleared up, they spend most of the rest of the book playing pranks on each other. He proposes to her, too, but she mostly talks him out of being serious about it.
Anyway, it doesn’t mean much. Once she’s out in society, people are always proposing to Patty. And then she steers them towards her friends. Kit gets pointed in the direction of Daisy Dow, who used to be awful to Patty but I guess isn’t in love with Bill Farnsworth anymore. Ken is paired off with Marie Homer by the narrative even before he’s proposed to Patty. I wish Ken didn’t have to propose to Patty, though. It reduces him, somehow. He’s been a part of Patty’s life since Patty at Home, and everyone thinks he’s great. I understand that everyone has to fall in love with her, but when it comes time to refuse him, Patty has to give him reasons she’s not in love with him and reasons he shouldn’t be in love with her, which is a) super condescending, and b) not her decision to make.
She doesn’t give Phil reasons. I’m very resentful of Phil Van Reypen being treated better than Kenneth Harper. And Patty apparently likes Phil best right now, which makes me like Patty less than I’ve ever liked her before.
Bill shows up toward the end, in an episode that should definitely tell you, if you didn’t already know, that he’s endgame. There have been plenty of men and boys who have been jealous of Patty’s other suitors, but none of them have made Patty jealous, and that seems to be the point of this bit — to show us that even if Patty doesn’t know it yet, this one is different for her.
This is the centenary year of the enactment of the third Home Rule Bill, as well (of course) as the year of the Scottish referendum on independence. Yet the centenary conversation in Ireland and the somewhat more vigorous debate upon Scots independence, have been conducted — for the most part — quite separately.
While it would be wrong to push the analogies too far, there are some striking similarities – and some differences – between the debate on Home Rule in 1912-14, and the current debate upon Scottish independence. These similarities (and indeed distinctions) might well give food for thought to the protagonists within the Scottish ‘Yes’ and ‘Better Together’ camps — and indeed there is evidence that both Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond have ruminated accordingly.
One critical difference between Ireland in 1914 and Scotland in 2014 is that of militancy — Ireland on the eve of the First World War being an armed camp comprising the Ulster and Irish Volunteer movements, opponents and proponents of Home Rule, as well as the British Army. The Scottish political debate has not been militarised, and there is no evidence that it will become so (the Scottish National Liberation Army, for example, has never posed a significant threat). Modern Scottish nationalism has developed as a wholly constitutional and pacific phenomenon.
Of course mainstream Scottish nationalism has only recently, through successive Holyrood elections, emerged as a majority phenomenon. But it has never had to encounter the challenge (faced by Irish nationalism a century ago) of returning a majority of elected representatives, while being lengthily resisted in London.
One aspect of the Irish experience in 1914 was that a fraught constitutional debate, heightened political expectations, and the delaying or disappointment of those expectations (with Unionist resistance and the onset of War), combined to make a highly volatile political chemistry. The hardening expectations of change across Scotland in 2014 mean that national (as well as social and economic) aspirations may need to be quickly and sensitively addressed, whatever the result of the referendum.
One critical dimension of this militancy in 1914 was the trenchant support given to Ulster Unionist paramilitarism by the British Conservative leadership — this in part a symptom of the profound divisions in British and Irish politics and society precipitated by the debate over Home Rule. It is striking that both the Home Rule issue in 1914 and the referendum in 2014 have each attracted an unusually broad range of declarations of allegiance from a complex array of interest groups and individuals. In 1914 there was a high level of ‘celebrity’ endorsement and intervention over Home Rule: taking literary figures alone, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came out as a Home Ruler, while Rudyard Kipling was a strong Unionist. In 2014 Irvine Welsh has declared in favour of independence, while J.K. Rowling is against. Ian Rankin provides a case-study in the complexity (and profundity) of division: he is an agnostic on the issue, but is clear that his characters would have strong opinions. So, Inspector Rebus joins the unionists of 2014 (though the actor Ken Stott, most recent of the TV Rebuses, is reportedly in the ‘yes’ camp).
The analogies between Home Rule and the debate on Scottish independence extend much further than the ‘A’ list, however. The substantial strength and challenge of Home Rule sentiment produced striking intellectual movement before and in 1914 — just as the strength of the movement for Scots independence has produced similar movement a century later.
In 1912-14 the constitutional impasse over Home Rule in fact helped to stimulate support for (what was then called) ‘federalism’ among some of the Unionist elite, including even Edward Carson. In terms of the (nearly) equally weighted forces fighting over Scottish independence, Gordon Brown has now moved to embrace the idea of a federal United Kingdom; and he has been joined or preceded by others, including (for example) the Scottish Conservative journalist, David Torrance. Discussion of a possible English parliament was broached prominently in 1911-1914 and again in 2014. Both in 1914 and in 2014 it appears that the constitutional shape of the ever-malleable United Kingdom is once again in transition — but because unionists are now shifting no less then nationalists.
And indeed some Scots Nationalists have moved towards embracing at least some of the symbols of the British connection. John Redmond, the Home Rule leader, emphasised monarchy and empire in his vision of Irish autonomy during the Home Rule era, partly through personal conviction, and partly in terms of subverting unionist arguments. In similar vein, Alex Salmond (despite a strong tradition of republican sentiment within the SNP), has embraced the ‘union of the crowns’ as SNP strategy, and has in recent years referred deferentially to the Queen (‘of Scots’), and her central place in an independent nation.
Here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s century-old debate on Home Rule speaks to the current condition of Scotland. Indeed here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s wider experience of Union chimes with that of the Scots.
René Descartes wrote his third book, Principles of Philosophy, as something of a rival to scholastic textbooks. He prided himself in ‘that those who have not yet learned the philosophy of the schools will learn it more easily from this book than from their teachers, because by the same means they will learn to scorn it, and even the most mediocre teachers will be capable of teaching my philosophy by means of this book alone’ (Descartes to Marin Mersenne, December 1640).
Still, what Descartes produced was inadequate for the task. The topics of scholastic textbooks ranged much more broadly than those of Descartes’ Principles; they usually had four-part arrangements mirroring the structure of the collegiate curriculum, divided as they typically were into logic, ethics, physics, and metaphysics.
But Descartes produced at best only what could be called a general metaphysics and a partial physics.
Knowing what a scholastic course in physics would look like, Descartes understood that he needed to write at least two further parts to his Principles of Philosophy: a fifth part on living things, i.e., animals and plants, and a sixth part on man. And he did not issue what would be called a particular metaphysics.
Descartes, of course, saw himself as presenting Cartesian metaphysics as well as physics, both the roots and trunk of his tree of philosophy.
But from the point of view of school texts, the metaphysical elements of physics (general metaphysics) that Descartes discussed—such as the principles of bodies: matter, form, and privation; causation; motion: generation and corruption, growth and diminution; place, void, infinity, and time—were usually taught at the beginning of the course on physics.
The scholastic course on metaphysics—particular metaphysics—dealt with other topics, not discussed directly in the Principles, such as: being, existence, and essence; unity, quantity, and individuation; truth and falsity; good and evil.
Such courses usually ended up with questions about knowledge of God, names or attributes of God, God’s will and power, and God’s goodness.
Thus the Principles of Philosophy by itself was not sufficient as a text for the standard course in metaphysics. And Descartes also did not produce texts in ethics or logic for his followers to use or to teach from.
These must have been perceived as glaring deficiencies in the Cartesian program and in the aspiration to replace Aristotelian philosophy in the schools.
So the Cartesians rushed in to fill the voids. One could mention their attempts to complete the physics—Louis de la Forge’s additions to the Treatise on Man, for example—or to produce more conventional-looking metaphysics—such as Johann Clauberg’s later editions of his Ontosophia or Baruch Spinoza’s Metaphysical Thoughts.
Cartesians in the 17th century began to supplement the Principles and to produce the kinds of texts not normally associated with their intellectual movement, that is treatises on ethics and logic, the most prominent of the latter being the Port-Royal Logic (Paris, 1662).
By the end of the 17th century, the Cartesians, having lost many battles, ultimately won the war against the Scholastics.
The attempt to publish a Cartesian textbook that would mirror what was taught in the schools culminated in the famous multi-volume works of Pierre-Sylvain Régis and of Antoine Le Grand.
The Franciscan friar Le Grand initially published a popular version of Descartes’ philosophy in the form of a scholastic textbook, expanding it in the 1670s and 1680s; the work, Institution of Philosophy, was then translated into English together with other texts of Le Grand and published as An Entire Body of Philosophy according to the Principles of the famous Renate Descartes (London, 1694).
On the Continent, Régis issued his General System According to the Principles of Descartes at about the same time (Amsterdam, 1691), having had difficulties receiving permission to publish. Ultimately, Régis’ oddly unsystematic (and very often un-Cartesian) System set the standard for Cartesian textbooks.
By the end of the 17th century, the Cartesians, having lost many battles, ultimately won the war against the Scholastics. The changes in the contents of textbooks from the scholastic Summa at beginning of the 17th century to the Cartesian System at the end can enable one to demonstrate the full range of the attempted Cartesian revolution whose scope was not limited to physics (narrowly conceived) and its epistemology, but included logic, ethics, physics (more broadly conceived), and metaphysics.
Headline image credit: Dispute of Queen Cristina Vasa and René Descartes, by Nils Forsberg (1842-1934) after Pierre-Louis Dumesnil the Younger (1698-1781). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Saxo, who lived in the latter part of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, was probably a canon of Lund Cathedral (then Danish). He was secretary to Archbishop Abslon, who encouraged his gifted protégé to write a history of his own country to emulate those of other nations, such as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Absalon was able to supply him with a large amount of material for the last few of the 16 books, since, as a warrior archbishop, he had taken a leading part in the Danish campaigns against the Wends of North Germany.
The work is a prosimetrum: in the prose text of six of the first nine books he inserts poems, some quite substantial. The poetry, he tells us, are meant to put into metrical Latin verse some of the narratives he had found in old Danish (and probably Icelandic) heroic poetry, such as the courageous last stand of Biarki and Hialti defending their lord after a Swedish ambush on the royal palace. He begins his work with the ancient myths and legends. Only in Book Nine does he start to introduce recognizable historical figures, after which he proceeds through the lives and activities of Viking kings, like Cnut the Great, ending in 1185 with the earlier exploits of Cnut Valdemarson.
As the first major Danish historiographer, Saxo’s work is a valuable fund of material, even though, like many other medieval historians, his accuracy can be variable, sometimes to the extent of invented episodes. Nevertheless, he is the only source available for the period in places. Needless to say, he favours the Danes against neighbouring nations like the Swedes and Germans (we read a great deal about the treachery of the Holy Roman emperors), and he is keen to trace the rise and spread of Christianity in Scandinavia.
The Gesta Danorum is also the first outstanding work of Danish literature. Although his general style is elegant and complex, he is a consummate story-teller, and when he gets his teeth into a good yarn, he can relate it in a swift and lively manner. These narratives range from heroic tales like those told of the tough old warrior Starkath (who loathes German sausages), to the tender love stories in Book Seven, and the early books are full of dragons, witches, wizards, and tales of the supernatural, including one about a vampire. He often displays a wry sense of humour, as in the story about a drunkard who persistently defies the king’s edict forbidding the brewing and consumption of beer. One of Saxo’s claims to literary importance is his inclusion of the first-known version of the Hamlet story. The fortunes of his Amleth foreshadow those of Shakespeare’s hero in surprising detail.
Whatever his merits as a historian, and they are many, Saxo always provides a good read, and generations of Danish children have been entertained by his tales at their mother’s knee.
The UK Government will no doubt be shocked if the referendum on 18 September results in a Yes vote. However, it has agreed to respect the outcome of the referendum and so we must assume that David Cameron will accept the Scottish Government’s invitation to open negotiations towards independence.
The first step will be the formation of two negotiating teams — Team Scotland and Team UK, as it were. These will be led by the governments of both Scotland and the UK, although the Scottish Government has indicated that it wants other political parties in Scotland to join with it in negotiating Scotland’s position. We would expect high level points to be set out by the governments, the detail to be negotiated by civil servants.
What then would an independent Scotland look like?
The Scottish Government plan is for an interim constitution to be in place after March 2016 with a permanent constitution to be drafted by a constitutional convention composed of representatives of civil society after Scottish elections in May 2016.
The Scottish Government intends that the Queen will remain head of state. But this and other issues would presumably be up to the constitutional convention to determine in 2016.
Similarly the Scottish Parliament will continue to be a one chamber legislature, elected by proportional representation, a model rejected by UK voters for Westminster of course in a referendum in 2011.
The Scottish Government seeks to keep the pound sterling as the currency of an independent Scotland. The UK Government’s position is that Scotland can use the pound but that there will be no formal currency union. After a Yes vote this position could change but the unionist parties are united in denying any such possibility.
The UK has heavily integrated tax, pension, and welfare systems. It will certainly be possible to disentangle these but it may take longer than 19 months. In the course of such negotiations both sides may find that it makes sense to retain elements of close cooperation in the social security area, at least in the short to medium term.
The Scottish Government has put forward a vision of Scotland as a social democracy. It will be interesting if it follows through on plans to enshrine social rights in the constitution, such as entitlements to public services, healthcare, free higher education, and a minimum standard of living. The big question is: can Scotland afford this? It would seem that a new tax model would be needed to fund a significantly higher commitment to public spending.
A third area of great interest is Scotland’s position in the world. One issue is defense. The SNP promises a Scotland free of nuclear weapons, including the removal of Trident submarines from the Clyde. This could create difficulties, both for Scotland in seeking to join NATO, but also for the remainder UK, which would need to find another base for Trident. The Scottish Government rejects firmly that it will be open to a deal on Trident’s location in turn for a currency union with London, but this may not be out of the question.
Another issue is that the Scottish Government takes a much more positive approach to the European Convention on Human Rights, than does the current UK government. In fact, the proposal is that the European Convention will become supreme law in Scotland, which even the Scottish Parliament could not legislate against. This contrasts with the current approach of the Conservative Party, and to some extent the Labour Party, in London which are both proposing to rebalance powers towards the UK Parliament and away from the European Court in Strasbourg.
Turning to the European Union, it seems clear to me that Scotland will be admitted to the EU but that the EU could drive a hard bargain on the terms of membership. Compromises are possible. Scotland does not, at present, qualify for, and in any case there is no appetite to join, the Eurozone, so a general commitment to work towards adopting the Euro may satisfy the EU. The Scottish Government also does not intend to apply for membership of the Schengen Area but will seek to remain a part the Common Travel Area, which would mean no borders and a free right to travel across the British and Irish isles.
The EU issue is also complicated because the UK’s own position in Europe is uncertain. Will the UK stay in the EU? The prospect of an in/out referendum after the next UK general election is very real. Another issue is whether an independent Scotland would gradually develop a much more pro-European mentality than we see in London. Would Scotland become positive rather than reluctant Europeans, and would Scotland seek to adopt the Euro in the medium to longer term? We don’t know for now. But if the UK votes to leave the EU, then this may well be the only option open to an independent Scotland in Europe.
To conclude, a written constitution, a stronger commitment to European human rights standards, a more pro-European Union attitude, and an attempt to build a more social welfarist state could bring about an independent Scotland that looks very different from the current UK. However, the bonds of union run deep, and if Scotland does achieve a currency union with the UK it will be tied closely to London’s tax structure. In such a scenario the economies, and therefore the constitutions, of the two countries, will surely continue to bear very many similarities. Much also depends upon relationships with the European Union. If the UK stays in the EU then Scotland and the UK could co-exist with a sterling currency union and a free travel area. If the UK votes to leave then Scotland will need to choose whether to do likewise or whether to align much more closely with Europe.
I want an independent Scotland that is true to the ideals of egalitarianism articulated in some of the best poetry of Robert Burns. I want a pluralist, cosmopolitan Scotland accountable to its own parliament and allied to the European Union. My vote goes to Borgen, not to Braveheart. I want change.
Britain belongs to a past that is sometimes magnificent, but is a relic of empire. Scotland played its sometimes bloody part in that, but now should get out, and have the courage of its own distinctive convictions. It is ready to face up to being a small nation, and to get over its nostalgia for being part of some supposed ‘world power’. No better, no worse than many other nations, it is regaining its self-respect.
Yet the grip of the past is strong. Almost absurdly emblematic of the complicated state of 2014 Scottish politics is Bannockburn: seven hundred years ago Bannockburn, near Stirling in central Scotland, was the site of the greatest medieval Scottish victory against an English army. Today Bannockburn is part of a local government zone controlled by a Labour-Conservative political alliance eager to defeat any aspirations for Scottish independence. In the summer of 2014 Bannockburn was the site of a civilian celebration of that 1314 Scottish victory, and of a large-scale contemporary British military rally. The way the Labour and Conservative parties in Scotland are allied, sometimes uneasily, in the ‘Better Together’ or ‘No’ campaign to preserve the British Union makes Scotland a very different political arena from England where Labour is the opposition party fighting a Conservative Westminster government. England has no parliament of its own. As a result, the so-called ‘British’ Parliament, awash with its Lords, with its cabinet of privately educated millionaires, and with all its braying of privilege, spends much of its time on matters that relate to England, not Britain. This is a manifest abuse of power. The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood looks – and is – very different.
Like many contemporary Scottish writers and artists, I am nourished by traditions, yet I like the idea of change and dislike the status quo, especially the political status quo. National identity is dynamic, not fixed. Democracy is about vigorous debate, about rocking the boat. Operating in an atmosphere of productive uncertainty is often good for artistic work. Writers enjoy rocking the boat, and can see that as a way of achieving a more egalitarian society. That’s why most writers and artists who have spoken out are on the ‘Yes’ side. If there is a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September 2014, it will be a clear vote for change. If there is a ‘No’ vote, it will be because of a strong innate conservatism in Scottish society – a sense of wanting to play it safe and not rock the boat. Whether Scotland’s Labour voters remain conservative in their allegiances and vote ‘No’, or can be swayed to vote ‘Yes’ because they see the possibility of a more egalitarian future — is a key question.
As we get nearer and nearer to the date of the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September, I expect there will be an audible closing of ranks on the part of the British establishment. Already in July we have had interventions from the First Sea Lord (who gave a Better Togetherish speech at the naming ceremony for an aircraft carrier), and a lot of money from major landowners and bankers has been swelling the coffers of those opposed to independence. In Glasgow it was good to read at an event with Liz Lochhead, Kathleen Jamie, Alasdair Gray, and other poets and novelists in support of independence. This is a very exciting time for Scotland, a time when relationships with all kinds of institutions are coming under intense scrutiny. Whatever happens, the country is likely to emerge stronger, and with an intensified sense of itself as a democratic place.
Wondering what this is all about? Click on the link up there in that first sentence, and you'll be caught up nicely. Then come back here to continue the festivities.
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Back now? Great! Let's get to it, shall we?
You'll recall (if you've been here before) or you now know (if you're new but clicked that link up there) that for our Fifth Anniversary of the Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, we've focused our weird-detecting magnifying glass on picture books and poetry anthologies.
Last week's post had all picture books, with the Variation on the Overall Weirdo Theme of Weirdly True.
Well, fans of verse, rejoice! Because today is the day we're:
That's right! Today is all about the rhymes. The weirder and the funnier, the better – and one collection is even set to music:
Readers of this collection of Shel Silverstein's poems and drawings will have lots to ponder, lots to smile about, and lots to laugh through.
With poems about stars needing a polish, and a bee who may want to consider a career in tattoo artistry, and a camel wearing a quite unusual piece of clothing, kids will have lots to giggle over.
With poems about a bridge that will only take you halfway there, and a difference in perspective between two friends: a tree and a rose, and someone who shoots an arrow into the sky, kids will have plenty to think about.
And with illustrations like the boy with the hot dog for a pet, and the anteater (or rather, aunt-eater), and the polar bear in the refrigerator, kids will have that little bit of extra fun to go with the poems they're enjoying.
It is a collection not to be missed.
The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders
Rhymes by Jack Pretutsky
Pictures by Petra Mathers
Ages 4 - 8
Here is a beautifully illustrated collection of children's verse by Jack Prelutsky. Readers will chortle through poems about a disastrous shopping trip, and a partying group of farm animals in Tuscaloosa, and pigs and frogs performing onstage for a swooning audience of chickens and ducks. They'll smile through rhymes about a gardener's unconventional crops, and a little brown toad's chronicle of his carefree life, and a description of a smiley, giggly baby. They'll take time to let their eyes and hearts exploew the rich, full-page illustrations.
An afternoon spent with the verse and pictures in this book is an afternoon well-spent.
A Bad Case of the Giggles: Kids' Favorite Funny Poems
Selected by Bruce Lansky
Illustrated by Stephen Carpenter
Ages 6 - 12
This is a collection of funny poems written for kids, and chosen for inclusion by editor Bruce Lansky – with the help of a panel of 800 elementary school kids!
Readers will laugh over poems about the joy (or not) of having a baby sibling, the indignities of being a boy who must wear hand-me-downs...from his family full of sisters, a girl with questionable hygiene habits, the olfactory downside of living in a shoe, the classic about the old man from Peru, and many, many more.
Written by an ecclectic mix of poets both well-known (like Judith Viorst) and well-known-but-kind-of-not (like Anonymous), the poems in this collection are the laugh-out-loud type that kids just love to read, and read, and read. Often out loud. Expect guffaws.
Frog Trouble and Eleven Other Pretty Serious Songs
Songs and Illustrations by Sandra Boynton
For Ages One to Older Than Dirt
Fans of Ms Boynton's previous musical collaborations (Philadelphia Chickens, Blue Moo, Dog Train, Rhinoceros Tap, and GRUNT Pigorian Chant) will revel in this newest venture. Frog Trouble is a CD and songbook full of country songs written by Ms Boynton, produced by Ms Boynton and Michael Ford, and sung by some of the biggest names in country music today.
Listeners will enjoy reading along in Part One as they enjoy songs with lines like, "It's a beautiful thing – When Pigs Fly," and "I really don't like it when you Copycat," and "...I don't need shoes 'cause I've got alligator feet," and of course, "I've got two words to say: Frog Trouble."
Part Two is a Sing and Play Along complete with melodies and lyrics for each song from Part One. Part Three introduces readers to the performers, and there's even a cut-and-fold activity sheet at the end to make a puppet. (But we won't tell you what the puppet is. You'll have to guess...)
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And that's that for this time. Be sure to come back next Friday, September 19th, for Installment #18. It should be a monstrously good time.
Until then, we'll leave you with this:
"Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that's easy. What's hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."
Playing Man (Homo Ludens), the trail-blazing work by Johan Huizinga, took sport seriously and showed how it was essential in the formation of civilizations. Adult playtime for many pre-industrial cultures served as the crucible in which conventions and boundaries were written for a culture. Actions were censured for being “beyond the pale”, a sports metaphor for being “out of bounds”.
A quasi-sacred time and space set apart for games were a microcosm for the lives of all who played and for the spectators. Sport was a place in which individual merit was the rule and performance was regulated by the terms of the event.
The Ancient Olympic Games, an invention of the 700s BCE, preceded Athenian Democracy by about 200 years, and yet those earliest Games allowed any free citizen to participate and win the supreme Panhellenic crown. Yes, probably most of the first contenders were wealthy by token of having more leisure time to train and travel to the festival.
Yet in the pre-democratic centuries, the sporting model showed that what counted was individual ability and acquired skill, not status by birth. So the era of rule by tyrants and elite families was balanced by models of egalitarian display in the stadium in footraces, wrestling, boxing, and other track and field events.
Chariot racing was of course still the exclusive domain of the wealthy, a vestige of heroic tradition, but the athletes contending mano a mano ushered in more meritocratic ways. The Greek custom of requiring athletes in track and field and combat events to participate in the nude underscored this democratic ethos, perhaps popularized among the communally oriented Spartans by 600 BCE, but soon adopted universally by all Greeks.
The double entendre in my title “playing man” is intentional, with allusion to the sense that sport has been for most of history and globally a performance by and for males. For the Greeks, athletics were for men only, with a few interesting exceptions, notably girls’ ritual races at Olympia to ask Hera for a happy marriage.
In the modern Olympics, there was no women’s marathon race until 1984, almost 90 years into the games. Even then, in 1984, only 25% of all Olympic participants were female; today it is still at less than half (45% in 2012). The first women boxing events came in 2012.
Women’s participation in sports at all venues and events has slowly improved over the last 30 years, thanks to gender equity movements as a whole. Still, males have been the participants in and the most avid audiences for competitive sports globally throughout history.
Is it tradition and culture or nature (testosterone and men’s greater muscle bulk) that has driven this trend? Scholarly disagreement continues, but the answer must include nature and culture, with nature perhaps playing a heavier role. The attempts to bring women’s sports to the fore have largely not succeeded: world viewers, broadcasters, and corporate sponsors overwhelmingly prefer male contests.
Overt displays of machismo characterized the ancient Greek contest, or agôn, whence our term agony, the pain of struggle. Combat sports of boxing and wrestling topped the popularity charts and the rewards at the festivals that gave valuable prizes.
At the Olympics, there were no second or third place prizes; only first counted, and one boxer said “give me the wreath of give me death”. Many were brutalized or killed, as is shown on vases in which blood streams from the contestants.
The Greeks were overly familiar with violence meted out by men in war on a daily basis, and so violent sport here did not inspire violence. But the association of athletes with Homeric heroes maintained the display as acceptable and even superhuman (see the funeral games of Iliad 23).
Greek sport, then, is worthy of our attention as the model in many ways for our own very different contests. Yes, the modern Olympics appropriated the Greek ones for its own very different aims. But arguably the ‘deeper’ social inheritances from the Greek men who “played” are, on the one hand, a greater egalitarianism, and on the other a heroized violence and machismo with which we all still wrestle.
September is Pain Awareness Month. In order to raise awareness of the issues surrounding pain and pain management in the world today, we’ve taken a look back at pain throughout history and compiled a list of the eight most interesting things we learned about pain from The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers by Joanna Bourke.
In the past, pain was most often described as an independent entity. In this way, pain was described as something separate from the physical body that might be able to be fought off while keeping the self intact.
In India and Asia some descriptions of varying degrees of pain involved animals. Some examples include “bear headaches,” that resemble the heavy steps of a bear, “musk deer headaches” like the galloping of a running dear, and “woodpecker headaches” as if pounding into the bark of a tree.
In the late twentieth century, children’s sensitivity to pain was debated. There were major differences in the beliefs of how children experienced pain. 91 % of pediatricians believing that by the age of two a child experienced pain similarly to adults, compared with 77% of family practitioners, and only 59% of surgeons.
It had long been observed that, in the heat of battle, even severe wounds may not be felt. In the words of the principal surgeon to the Royal Naval Hospital at Deal, writing in 1816, seamen and soldiers whose limbs he had to amputate because of gunshot wounds “uniformly acknowledged at the time of their being wounded, they were scarcely sensible of the circumstance, till informed of the extent of their misfortune by the inability of moving their limb.”
Prior to 1846, surgeons conducted their work without the help of effective anesthetics such as ether or chloroform. They were required to be “men of iron … and indomitable nerve” who would not be “disturbed by the cries and contortions of the sufferer.”
Concerns about medical cruelty reached almost hysterical levels in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, largely as a consequence of public concern about the practice of vivisection (which was, in itself, a response to shifts in the discourse of pain more widely). It seemed self-evident to many critics of the medical profession that scientists trained in vivisection would develop a callous attitude towards other vulnerable life forms.
In the 19th century it was believed that pain was a necessary process in curing an ailment. In the case of teething infants, lancing their gums or bleeding them with leeches were painful treatments used to reduce inflammation and purge the infant-body of its toxins.
John Bonica, an anesthetist and chronic pain suffer himself established the first international symposium on pain research and therapy in 1973, which resulted in the founding of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).
Featured image credit: The Physiognamy of Pain, from Angelo Mosso, Fear (1896), trans. E. Lough and F. Kiesow (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896), 202, in the Wellcome Collection, L0072188. Used with permission.
On 18 September 2014 Scots will vote on the question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’
Campaigners for independence and campaigners for the union agree that this is an historic referendum. The question suggests a simple choice between different states. This grossly over-simplifies a complex set of issues and fails to take account of a range of other debates that are taking place in Scotland’s ‘constitutional moment’.
Four cross-cutting issues lie behind this referendum. National identity is but one. If it was simply a matter of identity then supporters of independence would be well ahead. But identities do not translate into constitutional preferences (or party political preferences) in straightforward ways. In the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections more people who said they were ‘British and not Scottish’ voted for the Scottish National Party than voted Tory. Scottish identity has survived without a Scottish state and no doubt Britishness will survive without a British state. Nonetheless, the existence of a sense of a Scottish political entity is important in this referendum.
Party politics, and especially the party systems, also play a part in the referendum. Conservative Party weakness – and latterly the weakness of UKIP in Scotland – north of the border has played into the sense that Scotland is politically divergent. This trend was highlighted by William Miller in a book, entitled The End of British Politics?, written more than thirty years ago. It has not been the geographic distance of London from the rest of the UK so much as the perceived ideological distance that has fuelled demands for Scottish autonomy. Polls continue to suggest that more people would be inclined to vote for independence if they thought Mr Cameron and his party were likely to win next year’s general election and elections into the future than if Labour was to win. It is little wonder that Mr Cameron refuses to debate with Mr Salmond.
The dynamics of party politics differ north and south of the border. Each side in the referendum campaign works on the assumption that membership of the EU is in Scotland’s interest, suggesting that Scotland will find itself outside the EU if the other wins while a very different dynamic operates south of the border. Debates in immigration and welfare differ on each side of the border. While there is polling evidence that public attitudes on a range of matters differ only marginally north and south of the border, the much harder evidence from election results, evident in the recent uneven rise of UKIP, suggests something very different.
It is not only that different parties might govern in London and Edinburgh but that the policies pursued differ, the directions of travel are different. In this respect, policy initiatives pursued in the early years of devolution, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats controlled the Scottish Parliament, have fed the sense of divergence. The SNP Government has only added – and then only marginally – to this divergence. The big items that signalled that Holyrood and Westminster were heading in different policy directions were tuition fees and care for the elderly. These were policies supported by all parties in Holyrood, including the then governing Labour Party and Liberal Democrats. There is fear in parts of Scotland that UK Governments will dismantle the welfare state while Scots want to protect it.
The constitutional status of Scotland is now the focus of debate. This is not new nor will the referendum resolve this matter for all time, regardless of the result of the referendum. Each generation has to consider the relationship Scotland has with London, the rest of the UK, and beyond. This is currently a debate about relationships, articulated in terms of whether Scotland should be an independent country. Relationships change as circumstances change. The backdrop to these changing relationships has been the party system, public policy preferences and identities. The role and remit of the state and the nature of Scotland’s economy and society have changed and these changes have an impact on the constitutional debate.
Adding to the complexity has been a development few had anticipated. Both sides to the debate report large turnouts at public meetings, engagement we have not witnessed in a long time with a far wider range of issues arising during Scotland’s constitutional moment than might have been suggested by that simple question to be asked on September 18th. Prospectuses on the kind of Scotland people want are being produced. This revival of political engagement may leave a legacy that reverses a trend that has seen decline in turnout, membership of political parties and civic engagement. That would make this referendum historic.