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Results 26 - 50 of 12,005
26. Henry Bradley on spelling reform

By Anatoly Liberman


Last week I wrote about Henry Bradley’s role in making the OED what it is: a mine of information, an incomparable authority on the English language, and a source of inspiration to lexicographers all over the world. New words appear by the hundred, new methods of research develop, and many attitudes have changed in the realm of etymology since the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, but nothing said in the great dictionary has become useless, even though numerous conjectures and formulations have to be revised.

Unfortunately, the world knows little about those who did all the work. It will probably not be an exaggeration to say that before Katharine Maud Elisabeth Murray wrote a book on her grandfather (1977) and gave it the wonderful title Caught in the Web of Words, few people outside the profession had any notion of who James A. H. Murray, the OED’s senior editor, was. Samuel Johnson’s definition of a lexicographer as a harmless drudge has been trodden to death by authors who live on borrowed wit. Alas, very often the only way to honor a distinguished “drudge” is to publish a short obituary, usually forgotten on the same day. As I mentioned last time, Bradley had better luck: a posthumous volume of his collected works appeared in 1928. I was happy to see his archival picture in my post. Many eminent scholars of that epoch were photographed in the same position, so that they look like venerable old twins, writing desk, glasses, beard and all. Yet this picture is different from the one reproduced in the 1928 book.

How harmless lexicographers are I cannot tell. It seems that, with regard to character, this profession, like any other, is, to use the most popular word of our time, diverse. In any case, lexicographers do not only shuffle index cards and sit at computers, trying to disentangle themselves from the web of words: they have opinions about many things, not related directly to the art of dictionary making. For example, both Bradley and Skeat had non-trivial ideas about spelling reform. Today I will summarize Bradley’s views. Skeat’s turn will come round next Wednesday. To begin with, Bradley, who made his thoughts public in 1913, was an opponent of Simplified Spelling, but he addressed only one side of the reform, namely the proposal that phonetic spelling should be adopted. In making his position clear, he advanced several perfectly valid arguments but overlooked perhaps the most important aspect of the problem.

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In one respect, Bradley was decades ahead of his time. He insisted that the written form of Modern English and of any language using letters, far from being a mechanical transcript of oral speech, has a life of its own. This is perfectly true. Much later, the members of the Prague Linguistic Circle, a great school of European structuralism, made the same point. Bradley wrote: “Among peoples in which many persons write and read much more than they speak and hear, the written language tends to develop more or less independently of the spoken language.”  He referred with admiration to the epoch of ideographic writing, when characters were pictures. Even today, he stated, we never read letter by letter, but grasp whole words. So we do, and for this reason we tend to overlook typos. Bradley did not object to many English words being ideograms, or images that have to be memorized and remain independent of the sounds of which they consist. Many scholarly words are familiar to us only from books; they are hardly ever pronounced, so may they preserve their familiar form, he said.

Bradley made his attitude clear: English spelling is an heir to an age-long tradition and should be reformed with care. Sounds, he added, change, and, “when change of pronunciation had made a spoken word ambiguous, the retention of the old unequivocal written form is a great practical convenience. It makes the written language, so far, a better instrument of expression than the spoken language.” Sometimes he was forcing open doors, but in his days there was no theory of orthography, and his point is well taken. Indeed, modern spelling has several (though hardly equally important) functions. For example, it may connect related words, in violation of the phonetic principle. Thus, k- in know ~ knowledge is a nuisance (I was almost tempted to write knuisance), but it should probably be retained by reformers because k- is pronounced in acknowledge (however, I am afraid that aknowledge would be quite enough).

It may be convenient that in some situations we bow to the ideographic principle and have write, wright ~ Wright, and rite. The recent invention of phishing is characteristic: it designates fishing for customers in muddy waters, fishing with an evil flourish (phlourish?). Bradley did not cite rite and its kin, but referred to hole and whole, son and sun, night and knight among numerous other homophones, which are not homographs. (Homophones sound alike; homographs are spelled alike.) He quoted the line Nor burnt the grange, no buss’d the milking-maid (buss means “kiss”) and remarked that Tennyson would not have agreed to write bust for bus’t; hence the virtue of the apostrophe.  When words are spelled differently, we are apt to ascribe different meanings to them. This is again correct. Bradley recalled the case of grey versus gray (see my post on this word): many people, especially artists, when asked about their thoughts on those adjectives, replied that they associate gray and grey with different colors.

Bradley agreed that the spelling of some words should be changed. He admitted that it may be useful to teach children some variant of phonetic spelling before introducing them to letters, for this would make them aware of the sounds they pronounce. But phonetic spelling as the aim of a sweeping reform was unacceptable to him. I am all for simplifying English spelling, but I think Bradley was right—not so much for theoretical as for practical reasons.  The English speaking world will never agree to a revolution, and promoting a hopeless cause is a waste of time. But the most interesting aspect of Bradley’s attack on the reform is his general attitude. He addressed only the needs of those who had already mastered the intricacies of English spelling. Obviously, to someone who learned that choir is quire and a playwright is not a playwrite, even though this person writes plays, any change will be an irritation. But the advocates of the reform have the uneducated in mind. They and Bradley speak at cross-purposes.

Strangely, only one aspect of English spelling worried Bradley: the existence of many words like bow as in make a low bow and bow in bow and arrow. This situation, he thought, had to be changed, even though he could not offer any advice. In his opinion, words that sounded differently had to be spelled differently. “The task of rectifying these anomalies, and of making the many readjustments with their correction will render necessary, will require great ingenuity and thought.” Consequently, homophones may be spelled differently (right, write, wright, Wright, rite), but homographs should be homophones (for this reason, bow1 and bow2, read and its past read, etc. need different visual representations).

The rest of Bradley’s argumentation against the reformers is traditional (English speakers pronounce words differently: for example, lord and laud are not homophones with 90% of English speakers, and so forth) and need not be discussed here, but we will return to it in connection with Skeat’s passionate defense of the reform.

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

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Image credit: Theodore Roosevelt cartoon via Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt.

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27. The Pulitzers and Graywolf Press Rocks!

Oh Pulitzer Prize! Such an interesting mix of winners, but isn’t that mostly the case? How did I miss knowing bout the Margaret Fuller biography that won? And am I happy that Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch won? (or, as the Pulitzer Committee originally tweeted it The Goldfish) I have not read Tartt’s book, had decided not to actually because every time I would read a review of it I found myself changing my mind. First it was, oh it sounds good! Then it was, oh sounds like I won’t like it. And back and forth I went until I just decided that I won’t worry about reading it at all and find something else to read instead. But now it has won a Pulitizer and one moment I thought, well I guess I will read it after all and a little after that while reading commentary on the fiction selections in general I decided I wouldn’t read it. Why do I torture myself so? Do other people do this to themselves? Please tell me I am not alone in my craziness.

What I am really excited about is that the poetry winner was published by Graywolf Press. Graywolf is an indie publisher in Minneapolis. They published Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection Life on Mars. I’ve always been proud that they are in Minneapolis and impressed by the quality of the books they publish, but now I am simply over the moon.

I have not read the winning book or poet. The book is 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri. You can read three of the poems from the book at the link and two more previously published poems at Poets.org. I like them enough that I want to read more.

Have you read any of the prize winners and if so, what did you think? Deserved? Or would you have preferred a different choice?


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28. Aunt Crete’s Emancipation

When I get in a certain kind of mood, there’s nothing that I want more than stories about downtrodden people being showered with care and nice things and the people who have been metaphorically treading on them having that shoved in their faces. And Aunt Crete’s Emancipation, by Grace Livingston Hill, is the distilled essence of that. And you guys know me pretty well, I guess, because a number of you have recommended it to me over the past few years. It’s my own fault for not giving in and reading it sooner.Aunt Crete is Lucretia Ward, a dumpy middle-aged spinster who lives with her sister Carrie and her niece Luella. They’re not particularly nice to her, in just about every way they can manage. They pass off to her the greater share of the housework, deprive her completely of anything she wants for herself, and put down everything about her: her looks, her intelligence…even the kindness and love for her dead eldest sister that make her look forward to a visit from her unknown Western nephew.  Carrie and Luella are much less excited about the nephew, who they picture as gawky and uncivilized, and flee to a seaside resort just before he arrives, leaving Aunt Crete to receive him — and also to finish trimming some of Luella’s dresses and make jam and whitewash the cellar. The nephew, of course, is neither gawky or uncivilized. He’s handsome and wealthy and well-educated and kind, and he both appreciates and returns Aunt Crete’s affection. He also quickly grasps the actual nature of the situation, hard as Aunt Crete tries to hide it from him, and immediately starts making up for it. First he takes her shopping for clothes, sparing no expense — an essential part of this kind of book — and then he takes her to the same resort Carrie and Luella have run off to. From there on, Hill wallows in gentle malice. And she does it with such balance. She’s less gentle than, say L.M. Montgomery, but less malicious than Mary Jane Holmes, who would have had Luella die at the end of the book, but not before all her hair had fallen out. Hill only makes Luella marry a plumber, but she rubs Aunt Crete’s newly acquired advantages in Luella and Carrie’s faces exactly as much as I wanted her to.  To paraphrase Jimmy Carr on 10 o’ Clock Live, Grace Livingston Hill has clearly found my level. I’m just kind of impressed by the purity of this book, for lack of a better word. It’s the platonic ideal of this trope, whatever this trope is called. It’s unsullied by romance and there’s no plot to speak of – just nice things being showered on Aunt Crete and not on Carrie and Luella, and Carrie and Luella having that rubbed in their faces. It’s petty, and vindictive on behalf of a character who couldn’t be, and I love it. I should go figure out where I left that copy of Cloudy Jewel.


Tagged: 1910s, cinderella, gracelivingstonhill

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29. How it feels…

…to get the latest Eric Shanower/Skottie Young Oz graphic novel for your birthday.

Emerald City

She’s been waiting for this one for a long time, in girl-years.

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30. 25 recent jazz albums you really ought to hear

By Ted Gioia


Jazz Appreciation Month gives us an opportunity to celebrate musical milestones of the past. But it also ought to serve as a reminder that jazz is a vibrant art form in the current day. Here are 25 recordings released during the last few months that are well worth hearing.

Ambrose Akinmusire1. Ambrose Akinmusire – The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint
Akinmusire is one of the most talented young trumpeters on the jazz scene. This release also represents a ‘return to its roots’ for the Blue Note label, which has increasingly strayed from mainstream jazz in recent years, but shows here that it hasn’t forgotten its heritage.

2. Greg Amirault – East of the Sun
Many of the most interesting new jazz albums are self-produced or issued by small indie labels. Montreal guitarist Amirault’s new CD is a case in point. He is hardly a household name in the jazz world, but this is one of the best guitar albums released in recent months.

3. The Bad Plus – The Rite of Spring
Stravinsky has been inspiring jazz artists for decades, but this ranks among the most creative reinterpretations of his work that I’ve heard.

4. Jeff Ballard – Time’s Tales
Check out the funky 9/4 groove that opens this leader date for drummer Jeff Ballard—joined byguitarist Lionel Loueke and saxophonist Miguel Zenon.

5. Joe Beck5. Joe Beck – Get Me
Guitarist Joe Beck died in 2008, but this posthumous release (coming out in a few days) is likely to reignite interest in a very talented and underrated artist.

6. George Cables – Icons and Influences
I’ve been a fan of Cables’ piano work since I was a teenager. He has been in poor health in recent years, but this new albums finds him playing at top form.

7. Regina Carter – Southern Comfort
Carter combines jazz with traditional Southern music on her latest release. Even listeners who don’t think they like jazz might find themselves enjoying this appealing album.

8. Matt Criscuolo – Blippity Blat
This is another self-produced album that merits close listening. Criscuolo is formidable saxophonist with a sweet tone and supple phrasing.

9. Karl Denson's Tiny Universe9. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe – New Ammo
With this high-octane funk-oriented release, Denson proves that jazz can still work as dance music. This album might make a good entry point into jazz for rock fans who want to broaden their tastes and expand their ears.

10. Nir Felder – Golden Age
The recently revived OKeh label is releasing a number of outstanding jazz albums, but this CD from up-and-coming guitarist Nir Felder may be its most ambitious project of 2014, pushing beyond conventional boundaries of jazz and popular music.

11. Craig Handy – Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith
Handy mixes elements of New Orleans party music and Hammond organ soul jazz in a very exciting hybrid. In a fair and hip world, this album (and the Denson release mentioned above) would be generating lots of radio airplay.

12. Vijay Iyer – Mutations
Iyer’s debut album with the ECM label is one of his best to date, revealing his maturity not just as a jazz player but also as a composer of jazz-oriented chamber music.

13. Christian Jacob13. Christian Jacob – Beautiful Jazz
Here’s another smart self-produced jazz album that you could easily miss. Pianist Jacob is a master at updating and reharmonizing the traditional jazz repertoire.

14. Erik Jekabson – Live at the Hillside Club
Jekabson is one of the most promising young trumpeters on the West Coast, and continues to impress with this new album.

15. John Lurie – The Invention of Animals
John Lurie has never gotten the respect he deserves for his jazz work with the Lounge Lizards. He subsequently abandoned music to focus on painting, but these rediscovered tracks testify to his brilliance as a jazz improviser.

16. Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra – Strength in Numbers
I have heard several outstanding jazz big band albums this year, but this one is the best of breed.

17. The North17. The North – Slow Down (This Isn’t the Mainland)
Fans of mid-period Keith Jarrett and E.S.T. will enjoy this trio album. This band is still a well-kept secret in the jazz world, but their music has clear crossover potential.

18. Danilo Pérez – Panama 500
Pérez has long ranked among the leading Latin jazz artists. Here he draws on the Panamanian music tradition for a theme album commemorating the 500th anniversary of Balboa crossing the Isthmus of Panama.

19. Matthew Shipp – Root of Things
Pianist Shipp possesses an expansive vision of jazz that, over the years, has encompassed everything from hip-hop to electronica. In his latest album, he returns to the acoustic trio format, where he is joined by bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey.

20. Revolutionary Snake Ensemble – Live Snakes
This Boston-based band is a throwback to the earliest roots of jazz, when hornplayers often performed in parades and brass bands entertained at social gatherings.

21. (718) – Sputnik
The group’s name comes from its phone area code, and the album title honors a 1950s spacecraft. But the music here is rock-oriented funk jazz in the spirit of the best 1970s fusion bands.

22. Helen Sung – Anthem for a New Day
I’ve been following Sung’s career with interest for a number of years, but this is her best album to date.

23. Daniel Szabo23. Daniel Szabo – A Song From There
Daniel Szabo is one of the most impressive young pianists on the scene today, but even in jazz circles most won’t recognize his name. I suspect they will soon. I highly recommend his new album.

24. Norma Winstone – Dance Without Answer
Norma Winstone has been a major force on the British jazz scene since the 1960s. At an age when many jazz singers start showing wear and tear in their voices, Winstone is recording some of her finest work.

25. John Zorn – Psychomagia
It’s easy to take John Zorn for granted. He records prolifically, and puts very little effort into marketing and promoting his projects. But this 2014 release deserves your attention.

Ted Gioia is a musician, author, and leading jazz critic and expert on American music. The first edition of his The History of Jazz was selected as one of the twenty best books of the year in The Washington Post, and was chosen as a notable book of the year in The New York Times. He is also the author of The Jazz Standards, Delta Blues, West Coast Jazz, Work Songs and The Birth (and Death) of the Cool.

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31. What to Make of It?

I’m seventy-five pages into my review copy of Francine Prose’s new book Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 and I’m just not sure what to make of it. It is one of those novels told in multiple voices with sometimes very distant perspectives to the main course of the plot. Most of the telling happens through documents — letters, chapters from a biography, newspaper stories, chapters from a memoir of some kind — but sometimes there is a chapter of regular narrative storytelling. This sort of approach I generally have no issues with, I often like the variety of perspective such a style has to offer. But this time I am struggling with it.

My struggles aren’t because I am having trouble following along or keeping things straight. My struggle comes from how contrived and same-y it feels. Prose can’t seem to find different voices for the different perspectives so they all come across as too much alike. And the letters, ugh! The letters are being written by only one character to his parents, a young man from Hungary who has gone to Paris to try and make his name as a photographer. This is 1924 and the guy is writing stuff to his parents that I wouldn’t write to mine in 2014! Plus the style in which he writes is not a correspondence style, or rather, each letter begins that way but as soon as he starts telling his parents what he has been up to it turns into a regular prose narrative with dialogue conversations that end with a plea for money and a sign off from the loving son. In addition, there are so many different narratives it is getting a bit cacophonous.

And now I find myself wondering if I should even keep reading. The story isn’t bad but it hasn’t grabbed me either. It is all just so-so. I am on the fence over whether I should give it another twenty pages or if I should call it quits because so-so isn’t good enough at the moment and King Lear is taunting me because I know I will love it since it is a reread that I loved the first time around. It is easy to give up on bad books or good books I am definitely not getting along with, but giving up on so-so books is harder because there is still the hope that maybe it will get better in ten more pages. But that can end up being a trap when after ten pages it still isn’t getting better but maybe in ten more. See me talking myself into making this book a DNF? The fence is starting to wobble.


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32. Passover in Jewish Eastern Europe

By Glenn Dynner


Today, observant Jews the world over are selling off their leavened foodstuffs (chametz) in preparation for the Passover holiday, which begins with a seder this evening and is followed by eight days of eating matzah, macaroons, and other unleavened products.

But in Eastern Europe, where the vast majority of American Jews have roots, the sale of leavened products not only used to be more widespread, it was more complicated. Many East European Jews—almost 40%—made their living selling beer, wine, and rye-based vodka in taverns leased from the Polish nobility. Passover was a forced holiday for them.

Henryk Rodakowski, “Karczmarz Jasio,” z cyklu Album Pałahickie, 1867, akwarela na papierze, 32 x 23 cm.

Henryk Rodakowski, “Karczmarz Jasio,” z cyklu Album Pałahickie, 1867, akwarela na papierze, 32 x 23 cm.

During the eight days of Passover, Jewish tavernkeepers had to “sell” all of their leavened products to non-Jewish neighbors. Rabbis drew up contracts for the fictitious sales similar to those utilized today, a loophole meant to prevent economic ruin.

Problems emerged in the early nineteenth century, when the government attempted to drive Jews out of rural tavernkeeping (ostensibly to protect the peasants from drunkenness and ruin) by imposing heavy concession fees on them. The Hasidic master Moses Eliyakim Beriyah of Kozienice lamented that “several of the [Jewish] villagers were forced to apostatize because of their need to make a living.”

The main issue for the numerous traveling Jewish merchants, who relied on Jewish-run taverns for hospitality, was not that those proprietors had converted to Christianity. It was that, according to Jewish law, the proprietors were technically still Jewish. Yet who could be sure that they were “selling off” their leaven products to gentiles during the intermediate days of Passover? This cast doubt on the ritual fitness of everything they sold. A governmental investigation, preserved in Polish archival records, confirms that most Jewish customers refused to purchase liquor from apostate tavernkeepers on these grounds.

Thus, conversion to Christianity did not turn out to be much of a solution for Jewish tavernkeepers struggling under the weight of discriminatory legislation. Instead, many began to evade concession fees by going underground—permanently installing Christians as “fronts” for their taverns. They did this with the full knowledge and participation of their Christian neighbors, a beautiful reflection of Jewish-Christian coexistence at the local level during the rise of absolutism!

Glenn Dynner is Professor of Jewish Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and the author of Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor, and Life in the Kingdom of Poland. He has been a Fellow at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, and is currently the NEH Senior Scholar at the Center for Jewish History in New York.

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33. Jus post bellum and the ethics of peace

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


Whenever there is armed conflict, international lawyers inevitably discuss the legality of the use of armed force and the conduct of the warring parties. Less common is a comprehensive legal analysis, informed by ethics and policy concerns, of the transition from armed conflict to peace. The restoration of peace after conflict is often sidelined in post-conflict legal analysis. Interventions and peace operations seeking to build a just and sustainable peace frequently suffer from a misalignment between ‘means’ and ‘ends.’ There can be stark discrepancies between the immediate reaction to conflict and post-conflict engagement. It is true that concepts such as ‘humanitarian intervention,’ the ‘Responsibility to Protect,’ (R2P) or the ‘protection of civilians’ (POC) have been used to establish capacity and political will to respond to atrocity situations. But attention shifts quickly to other situations of crisis once a cease-fire or peace agreement has been reached. Some of the underlying premises of engagement, such as ideas of responsibility or the ethics of care, receive limited attention in the aftermath of crisis and during the lengthy process of peacebuilding.

An old idea that seeks to mitigate these dilemmas is the concept of jus post bellum. The basic idea emerged in classical writings (e.g., Alberico Gentili, Francisco Suarez, Immanuel Kant) and has its most traditional and systemic rooting in just war theory. In this context, it is part of a structural ‘framework’ to evaluate the morality of warfare, and in particular the ‘right way to end a war’, including ’post-war-justice’ (Michael Walzer, Brian Orend). Outside just war theory, jus post bellum is largely unexplored. The notion was used sporadically in different contexts over the past decade: peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction, transformative occupation, transitional justice, and the law of peace (lex pacificatoria) more generally. But the concept has lacked consistency; there are almost as many conceptions of jus post bellum as scholars, within and across disciplines.

A modern understanding of jus post bellum requires a fresh look at each of the core components of the classical concept, namely the meanings of ‘jus,’ ‘post,’ and ‘bellum.’ In traditional scholarship, jus post bellum has mostly been understood as ‘justice after war’. However, in modern scholarship, the concept of ‘jus’ is debated. Does it mean ‘law,’ ‘justice,’ or a complicated mix of the two? The concept of time and what it means to be ‘post’ conflict, and even that of ‘war’ itself, with blurred distinctions between modern armed conflicts, are now more and more contested.

Functions of jus post bellum

Classical scholarship tied jus post bellum to the vindication of ‘rights’ and ‘duties,’ military victory, and the distinction between ‘victors’ and ‘vanquished’. Today, such conceptions require re-consideration. The experience of the two World Wars has confirmed the Kantian postulate that peace remains fragile if it contains tacitly reserved matter for a future war’ (Perpetual Peace). But in modern conflicts (e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq), the entire concept of ‘victory’ has become open to challenge.

Insights from contemporary conflict research indicate that it is not enough to deal with the formal ending of conflict or the ‘pacification’ of violence. Distinctions between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ become muddied, making it more difficult to mitigate the risk of a return to violence. Structural approaches to peacebuilding require engagement with social injustices, the ‘violence of peace,’ the establishment of ‘trust’ in norms and institutions and other factors that make a society more  ‘resilient’ against conflict.

This makes it necessary to re-think the concept of ‘jus’ beyond its traditional focus on rights and post-war justice (i.e. punishment, responsibility). Past decades have witnessed a rapid rise of the ‘liberal justice model’ and norms and instruments of criminal justice. Core challenges of modern transitions lie therefore not so much in the definition of proper accountability mechanisms, but rather in their coordination with other rationales and priorities (i.e. protection of socio-economic rights) and their perception as elements of ‘just peace.’ This creates space for a modern function of jus post bellum. A modern jus post bellum may pursue different rationales beyond rights vindication or punishment:

(i) it may have a certain preventive function, by requiring actors to look into the consequences of action before, rather than ‘in’ and ‘after’ intervention.
(ii) it may serve as a constraint on violence in armed conflict; and
(iii) it may facilitate a succession to peace, rather than a mere ‘exit’ from conflict.

System, framework, or interpretative device?

The branding of jus post bellum as a modern concept comes with its own problems and politics. The very use of the label creates some risks (e.g. fears of abuse and instrumentalization) and concerns relating to the function and reach of law. But there is some space to ‘think outside the box.’ A modern jus post bellum does not necessarily have to be framed in the structure and form of established concepts, such as jus ad bellum or jus in bello. There is virtue in diversifying the foundations of jus post bellum.

First, Jus post bellum may be said to form a system of norms and principles applicable to transitions from conflict to peace. It provides, in particular, substantive norms and guidance for the organization of post-conflict peace. Some voices have even called for new codification, i.e. a fifth Geneva Convention. But more law and abstract regulation do not necessarily suffice to address tensions arising in the aftermath of conflict. There may a greater need for a better application of the existing law, and its adjustment to context, rather than the articulation of new norms and standards. Some promise may lie in the strengthening of informal mechanisms and flexible principles.

A second and more ‘modest’ conception of jus post bellum is its qualification as a ‘framework.’ This conception emphasizes the functionality of jus post bellum, such as its capacity to serve an instrument to evaluate action (e.g., legitimate ending of conflict) and to establish a public context for debate. Jus post bellum might be construed as an ‘ordering framework,’ or as a tool to coordinate the application of laws, solve conflicts of norms, and balance conflicting interests.

Thirdly, jus post bellum may constitute an interpretative device. The concept might inform a context-specific interpretation of certain normative concepts, such as ‘military necessity’ or the principle of proportionality. It might, for instance introduce a novel end in relation to the conduct of hostilities, namely the objective not to defeat the goal of sustainable peace through the conduct of warfare.

In moral philosophy, the idea of jus post bellum has been associated with the struggle for ‘justice’ and ‘just peace’ for centuries. It has been driven by ambitions to reconcile ideas of justice and punishment with moderation towards the vanquished. These dilemmas continue today. But underlying tensions have received increased attention in the legal arena since the 1990s. Many of the unexplored strengths and new opportunities lie in the broader role of the concept in relation to peacebuilding. It is here where the concept provides new prospects to rethink some of the fundamental elements of the table of contents and institutions of international law, not necessarily in the form of the ‘liberal’ peace idea, but in a novel, pluralistic way.

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

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

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34. The Year of Delight

Mel happened to be reading this one when I said I wanted a Cinderella book, and something that was like The Blue Castle but wasn’t The Blue Castle, and recommended it. And Margaret Widdemer’s The Year of Delight is very definitely both of those things, and if Margaret Widdemer can’t stop her characters from coercing each other into being married…well, it bothers me a lot less when the person being coerced is the man.

The title makes both more and less sense when you know that it’s the name of the title character. Delight Lanier is a dreamy, obedient child, brought up at a cross between a boarding school and an orphan asylum, and she grows up into a dreamy, obedient young woman, working as a secretary for a philanthropic cousin. She exist more in her daydreams, which take place in the year after next, than in her real life.

That changes when her cousin dies and leaves her six million dollars and she’s simultaneously diagnosed with pernicious anemia. She’s only got a year to live, so there isn’t any year-after-next anymore. But she’s got millions of dollars at her disposal, so she decides to start living in year-after-next now. She collects the girl she wanted as a best friend when she was a kid and hires her as her companion, does a lot of shopping, buys a house in the country, and gets up a house party with the man she hasn’t realized she’s in love with and his fiancée as its nucleus. And, with all that in place, she tries to be an ordinary young person, in a way she’s never gotten to be before.

She’s very good at it, of course. That’s the kernel of the whole Cinderella story thing: a heroine who’s out of the world in some way — whether because she’s poor, or sheltered, or a drudge or whatever — to the point where she doesn’t really know how to…do life, I guess. But then she gets fitted out with a nice set of worldly possessions and thrown in with a nice set of people, and finds out that actually she’s very good at doing life.

Margaret Widdemer has a pretty solid grasp on that concept — see The Rose Garden HusbandThe Wishing-Ring ManWhy Not?, etc. Don’t see I’ve Married Marjorie, because it’s gross. And she executes it very well here: The Year of Delight is materialistic but light-hearted, and Widdemer understands the value of being pettily mean to the hero’s fiancée, and of having an extra man on hand to fall in love with the heroine. She’s also really good at convincing you that her characters really enjoy each other’s company, which is always a plus.

The Year of Delight is almost too much like The Wishing-Ring Man, without being quite as good. Delight’s love interest, Julian, was a little less attractive by the end than he was at the beginning, partly as a consequence of clinging to Edna, his fiancée, for a little too long, and while Widdemer tries to make Delight’s inconsistency seem more like a feature than a bug, it doesn’t quite work. Still, though, mostly it’s just super, super fun. I feel like Widdemer delights in the same kind of knotty emotional situation that I do, and sometimes I almost don’t dislike her for I’ve Married Marjorie.


Tagged: 1920s, cinderella, margaretwiddemer, romance

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35. Mid-April

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Golly, more than a week since I posted. I think that’s only happened three or four times in the nine years I’ve been writing this blog. And no big reason; I got sick midweek, a virus that had already made the rounds of the rest of the family, and it walloped me a bit; but not so much I couldn’t have gotten a post or two up, if I’d been inclined. I suppose I was just thrown off rhythm.

Wasn’t reading a whole lot, either, so I had very little to report in my daily reading notes! When I’m sick I always crave Agatha Christie, and  I spent the week revisiting a comfortable volume of Miss Marple stories. I first fell under Jane Marple’s gentle spell at age eleven, in a collection found on my aunt shelves. Every year or two when we stayed at her apartment, I hunted that book back out—along with a Lewis Carroll collected works and a volume of Poe stories. I still remember lying in one of the two twin beds in my Aunt Genia’s guest room, flat on my back, the heavy hardbound Poe tome propped on my chest, trying to make sense of “The Pit and the Pendulum.” I found it baffling yet captivating, and I remember being haunted by its terrible choice, falling asleep with the images so sharp in my mind that they carried over into my dreams. I remember rolling into the Pit and awakening with a start.

There’s nothing at all baffling about Miss Marple, and I’m sure that’s why I seek her out when my head is fuzzy.

Beyond that, all last week’s reading was things with the kids. Lots of poetry with the girls—more Donne, a bit of Herbert, and our continuing journey through the Poetry 180 selections, which offer much food for thought. The King’s Fifth, which I read with Jane ages ago but none of the rest remember. The Secret Garden with Rilla. Stellaluna with the three littles. Other picture books I’m forgetting.

A Huck funny I want to remember (I feel a little embarrassed to share it, but I have to remind myself I keep this blog for me, for my own record, and this is most certainly a moment I want to hold on to): he was only three when Fox and Crow Are Not Friends came out, and if it registered with him then that I had written it, the knowledge left no impression. (Like many writers’ children, my younger set are decidedly unimpressed by my profession. Obviously parents shut themselves away for a while every day and write books. That’s ordinary and boring. What’s really interesting are people who drive garbage trucks.) But Huck is reading quite well now, and when he asked me to read Fox and Crow to him yesterday, he recognized the name on the title page. “That’s your name!” he said.

“Yes,” explained, “this is one of my books.”

He slowly craned his neck and peered up at me. “That you wrote?” he asked. “You made this story?”

“Yep. And Sebastian Braun drew the pictures.”

And suddenly he threw his arms around my neck and squeezed me tight. “I love this story,” he said. “Thank you, Mommy!”

And that, my friends, just may be the best review I have ever gotten. :)

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36. Parent practices: change to develop successful, motivated readers

Oxford University Press is a proud sponsor of the 2014 World Literacy Summit, taking place this April. The Summit will provide a central platform for champions of literacy from around the globe to come together and exchange points of view, knowledge, and ideas. We asked literacy experts Jamie Zibulsky and Anne E. Cunningham to discuss the importance of literacy on this occasion.

By Jamie Zibulsky and Anne E. Cunningham


Being literate involves much more than the ability to sound out the words on a page, but acquiring that skill requires years of development and exposure to the world of words. Once children possess the ability to sound out words, read fluently, and comprehend the words on a page, they have limitless opportunities to learn about new concepts, places, and people. To say that becoming a reader gives one the power to change is an understatement. In fact, attempting to detail the many ways that reading can foster personal growth and development without writing an entire book on the topic is truly challenging!

Children’s capacities to build the many skills required to access text are, to a large degree, determined by their environments. Parents and teachers play a critical role in introducing children to the sounds of words, the print on a page, the ideas and concepts that provide the background for comprehension, and the structure of stories. For these reasons, if we want to ensure that all children have the opportunity to become successful, motivated readers, we need to think about the power the adults in their lives have to change children’s literacy trajectories.

The language and literacy experiences of young children are largely social in nature, and both the environment and the adults that care for them initially guide children’s development. In fact, psychologists point out that language development occurs first as a social act between people and then later as an individual act, as we gradually internalize the directions, strategies, and advice of more skilled others by verbalizing them to ourselves. Similarly, to make sense of the written symbols used to convey any language, children need guidance from the adults in their lives. Talking and reading together with children is a powerful way to help them gain entry to the world of words, and doing so most effectively may require parents to change their current practices.

The kids reading together. photo by Valerie Everett. CC BY-SA 2.0 via valeriebb Flickr.

The kids reading together. Photo by Valerie Everett. CC BY-SA 2.0 via valeriebb Flickr.

Here are some powerful tips that families can use to make shared reading time supportive and effective for young children learning a variety of languages:

  • Let your child take the lead during reading time. We often think of reading together as a time when a parent reads a story to a child straight through, page by page. Instead, let your child take more of an active role by using the pictures to narrate the story, answering your questions about aspects of the book, or sounding out some words independently. This may feel like you and your child are swapping your regular reading roles. And that’s exactly what we want you to do. Even before children are able to read independently, they are ready to be active participants in book reading experiences. Giving them these opportunities helps children build stronger language skills, and provides some insight into their skills and interests.
  • Give your child hints, rather than providing the answer, when he is struggling. This support helps the child solve the problem in a way that allows him to feel competent and to learn from the situation, but also lets the adult to guide the child through the problem-solving process. In addition, it gives him the chance to successfully experience tasks he would not have been able to tackle alone, or that would otherwise make him become frustrated and give up.
  • Identify your child’s strengths, and those reading skills he or she already possesses. Providing experiences that build on the skills your child already possesses will allow her to enhance her learning capacities. If you think about almost any activity you expect your child to complete, you can probably think back to a time when you completed that activity for her. Gradually, over time, she took more responsibility and was able to do more of the task independently. This is not only true for activities like getting dressed and tying shoes, but also for language and literacy tasks, as well as tasks that require memory and concentration.
  • Label the behavior that you want your child to display, and praise it specifically.  Praise and encouragement from parents is a powerful motivational tool. Because shared reading is such a social activity, much of your child’s initial pleasure in reading together may come not primarily from the stories that he hears, but from the joy of sitting in your lap and spending time together. Your child values the time you spend together and will, over time, begin to value the books in front of him and the strategies needed to make sense of them. You can help him build his reading motivation by praising specific skills he displays, like listening carefully, sounding out words, and making great predictions.


Each of these tips helps set the stage for a successful shared reading experience, but may require change on the part of parents to help foster a powerful and engaged reader. These changes, though, help empower children to identify themselves as readers from the time they are young. And this strong foundation prepares them for so many challenges they will face in the future, so doing everything one can to raise a successful, motivated reader is one of the best gifts a parent can give any child.

Anne E. Cunningham, Ph.D. and Jamie Zibulsky, Ph.D. are the authors of Book Smart: How to Develop and Support Successful, Motivated Readers. Anne Cunningham is Professor of Cognition and Development at University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Education and Jamie Zibulsky is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Learn more at Book Smart Family.

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37. What is clinical reasoning?

By Lloyd A. Wells


It is easy to delineate what clinical decision-making is not. It is not evidence-based medicine; it is not critical thinking; it is not eminence-based medicine; it is not one of many other of its many attributes; and it stands alone, with many contributions from all these fields. It is far more difficult to characterize what clinical reasoning is and very difficult to define.

But the clinicians among us deal with it every day and, I think, recognize it when we do it and observe it.

Evidence-based medicine is a mantra. But it is a difficult mantra. No one wants to say, “I reject evidence: I am a quack.” But it is complex and difficult. Evidence from the research in psychiatry comes from clinical trials, neural imaging, genetics, and other fields. Clinical trials can be read and understood. They are viewed as the sine qua non of evidence-based medicine. But the trials are conducted on patients without any other clinical conditions and are usually of very brief duration. The clinician, on the other hand, is often dealing with patients with many other syndromes and a great deal of chronicity. It is hard to make a claim, based on evidence, that the excellent clinical trial of Drug X applies to such a patient.

Neural imaging is far more difficult. It is a very complex methodology, and psychiatric studies which use it include as investigators physicists, neuroradiologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and others. The work is so interdisciplinary that, usually, none of the authors understands the entire paper. This is a huge question, I believe, for philosophy of science. Most of these studies are conducted on a small N, with very complex statistics, and few have been replicated. What is the clinician to do with them? Many clinicians make the assumption that the spectroscopic findings somehow translate to clinical “facts”, but that is generally not a safe assumption, nor one on which to base treatment decisions as yet.

Similarly, genetics studies are also very difficult, especially because of the completely central statistical analyses which are necessary to understanding the papers — and which few clinicians have time to read or sufficient training to understand.

800px-Wooden_Sculpture_of_Science_Genetics

Many clinicians try hard to be “evidence-based”, but it is very difficult for anyone to truly sort through the evidence in order to make an on-the-spot clinical decision which will affect the health of a patient. Some journals and digests attempt to do this in order to assist clinicians, but reliance on them implies a trust in their employees which may or may not be justified.

For all these reasons, “eminence-based” reasoning has some attraction. The clinician should base his decisions on recommendations of experts rather than her or his own scrutiny of the literature. But many of the experts are quite old and have been removed from day-to-day clinical interactions for many years.

A couple of years ago I encountered a young patient with a severe, atypical depression. My immediate response was, “This patient reminds me of another patient, who had a superb response to a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, so perhaps I should try one.” This is a poor rationale for a clinical decision until it is parsed, but, in fact, the young man’s depression was categorically similar to that of the other patient, neither had responded to more traditional treatment, and there was a supportive literature for the use of a monoamine oxidase inhibitor in this type of clinical situation. The patient in fact responded well to this treatment. I believe that this type of clinical decision-making is common and that it is based on science and evidence, though sometimes the science and evidence are not immediately apparent unless the clinician thinks about it.

467px-Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_002

Clinical reasoning requires consideration of the evidence and efforts to assess it, good critical thinking, and also, in my view, the experience of interacting with and treating many patients over time. It is not a laboratory exercise but one which involves a doctor, a patient, and the world around them.

Lloyd A. Wells, Ph.D., M.D., is Consultant Emeritus at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. While there, he chaired the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for nineteen years and was the Department of Psychiatry’s Education Chair for twelve years. He is co-editor, with Christian Perring, of Diagnostic Dilemmas in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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Image credits: (1) Wooden Sculpture of Science Genetics, by epSos.de, CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Sorrowing Old Man, by Vincent van Gogh, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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38. The Mexican-American War and the making of American identity

By John C. Pinheiro


Few Americans today would have difficulty imagining a United States where the citizens disagree over the wisdom of immigration, question the degree to which Mexicans can be fully American, and dispute about the value of religious pluralism. But what if the America in question was not that of 2014 but rather the 1830s and 1840s? Along with being a high point of anti-Catholic nativism, these two decades witnessed the Texas Revolution, the US annexation of Texas, violence in US cities against Catholic immigrants, and the Mexican-American War. As Americans struggled to negotiate their identity as a people in terms of race, religion, and political culture, the war with Mexico clarified and for one century afterward cemented American identity as a Protestant, Anglo-Saxon republic.

Manifest Destiny held that American Anglo-Saxons, by reason of their cultural and racial superiority, were destined to overtake the western hemisphere. This Anglo-Saxonism was not so much based on attributes like skin color, as it was on unique attitudinal traits that predisposed Anglo-Saxons to be the most effective guardians of liberty. From this innate love of freedom had sprung Protestantism and republicanism—the religion and government for free men.

While the majority of Americans condemned a series of mob attacks against Catholic convents, churches, and schools in Boston and in Philadelphia, they nevertheless agreed with nativists that Catholicism was incompatible with representative—or what they called, “republican”—government. Politically unstable Mexico, they said, was proof of this.

When the United States and Mexico went to war in 1846, doubts quickly surfaced about the patriotic fortitude of foreign-born, Irish-Americans in a war against a Catholic nation. Irish immigrant soldier John Riley fled the US army on 12 April 1846, about two weeks before the first battle of the war. American authorities suspected that in September 1846 he was the leader of a group of mostly Irish and Catholic deserters at the Battle of Monterey. These rumors were true, and in late 1847 the US Army captured the San Patricios, or Saint Patrick Battalion. In the United States, debate ensued over the San Patricios’ motives and goals. At stake was the question of immigrant Catholic loyalty to the United States.

So, what were the factors in the San Patricio desertion? Abuse by nativist American officers was one of them. For a given crime, officers would sometimes merely demote native-born soldiers while imprisoning, whipping, or dishonorably discharging foreign-born men. Atrocities, church looting, and violence against priests by some American troops aggravated the fear that the Protestant United States was attacking not just Mexico but the Catholic faith.

The causes of this desertion, however, were not a one-sided affair. Mexican propaganda enticed Americans to leave their ranks. One broadside was addressed to “Catholic Irishmen” by General Antonio López de Santa Anna but the writer probably was Riley. It beckoned Americans to “Come over to us; you will be received under the laws of that truly Christian hospitality and good faith which Irish guests are entitled to expect and obtain from a Catholic nation.” It then asked, “Is religion no longer the strongest of all human bonds? Can you fight by the side of those who put fire to your temples in Boston and Philadelphia”?

It is most accurate, then, to say that while religion was involved in the defection, most of the San Patricios deserted because of intense abuse by officers, not for love of Mexico or the Catholic Church. This includes Riley. In all, 27 San Patricios were hanged.

Image of the hanging of the San Patricios

Hanging of the San Patricios following the Battle of Chapultepec. Painted in the 1840s by Sam Chamberlain. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The capture and punishment of the San Patricios may have been dramatic, but the questioning of Catholic loyalty was just one small part of religion’s interplay with the war. Religious rhetoric constituted an integral piece of nearly every major argument for or against the war. This civil religious discourse was so universally understood that recruiters, politicians, diplomats, journalists, soldiers, evangelical activists, abolitionists, and pacifists used it. It helped shape everything from debates over annexation to the treatment of enemy soldiers and civilians. Religion also was the primary tool used by Americans to interpret Mexico’s fascinating but alien culture.

More than any other event during the nineteenth century, the Mexican-American War clarified the anti-Catholic assumptions inherent to American identity. At the same time, from the crucible of war emerged an American civil religion that can only be described as a triumphalist Protestant and white, anti-Catholic republicanism. That civil religion lasted well into the twentieth century. The degree to which it is still alive today in current debates over Latino immigration is debatable, but one can hardly miss the resemblance and connection between the issues of the 1840s and those of 2014.

John C. Pinheiro is Associate Professor of History at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written two books on the Mexican-American War. His newest book is Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War.

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39. Does torture really (still) matter?

By Rebecca Gordon


The US military involvement in Iraq has more or less ended, and the war in Afghanistan is limping to a conclusion. Don’t the problems of torture really belong to the bad old days of an earlier administration? Why bring it up again? Why keep harping on something that is over and done with? Because it’s not over, and it’s not done with.

Torture is still happening. Shortly after his first inauguration in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order forbidding the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” and closing the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” But the order didn’t end “extraordinary rendition”—the practice of sending prisoners to other countries to be tortured. (This is actually forbidden under the UN Convention against Torture, which the United States signed in 1994.) The president’s order didn’t close the prison at Guantánamo, where to this day, prisoners are held in solitary confinement. Periodic hunger strikes are met with brutal force feeding. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before.

Nor did Obama’s order address the abusive interrogation practices of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) which operates with considerably less oversight than the CIA. Jeremy Scahill has ably documented JSOC’s reign of terror in Iraq in Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. At JSOC’s Battlefield Interrogation Facility at Camp NAMA (which reportedly stood for “Nasty-Ass Military Area”) the motto—prominently displayed on posters around the camp—was “No blood, no foul.”

Torture also continues daily, hidden in plain sight, in US prisons. It is no accident that the Army reservists responsible for the outrages at Abu Ghraib worked as prison guards in civilian life. As Spec. Charles A. Graner wrote in an email about his work at Abu Ghraib, “The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, ‘I love to make a grown man piss himself.’” Solitary confinement and the ever-present threat of rape are just two forms of institutionalized torture suffered by the people who make up the world’s largest prison population. In fact, the latter is so common that on TV police procedurals like Law & Order, it is the staple threat interrogators use to prevent a “perp” from “lawyering up.”

We still don’t have a full, official accounting. As yet we have no official government accounting of how the United States has used torture in the “war on terror.” This is partly because so many different agencies, clandestine and otherwise, have been involved in one way or another. The Senate Intelligence Committee has written a 6,000-page report just on the CIA’s involvement, which has never been made public, although recent days have seen moves in this direction. Nor has the Committee been able to shake loose the CIA’s own report on its interrogation program. Most of what we do know is the result of leaks, and the dogged work of dedicated journalists and human rights lawyers. But we have nothing official, on the level, say, of the 1975 Church Committee report on the CIA’s activities in the Vietnam War.

Frustrated because both Congress and the Obama administration seemed unwilling to demand a full accounting, the Constitution Project convened a blue-ribbon bipartisan committee, which produced its own damning report. Members included former DEA head Asa Hutchinson, former FBI chief William Sessions, and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering. The report reached two important conclusions: (1) “[I]t is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” and (2) “[T]he nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture.”

No high-level officials have been held accountable for US torture. Only enlisted soldiers like Charles Graner and Lynndie England have done jail time for prisoner abuse in the “war on terror.” None of the “highest officials” mentioned in the Detainee Task Force report (people like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush) have faced any consequences for their part in a program of institutionalized state torture. Early in his first administration, President Obama argued that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past,” but this is not true. Laying blame for the past (and the present) is a precondition for preventing torture in the future, because it would represent a public repudiation of the practice. What “will be gained” is the possibility of developing a public consensus that the United States should not practice torture any longer. Such a consensus about torture does not exist today.

Tolerating torture corrupts the moral character of the nation. We tend to think of torture as a set of isolated actions—things desperate people do under desperate circumstances. But institutionalized state torture is not an action. It is an ongoing, socially-embedded practice. It requires an infrastructure and training. It has its own history, traditions, and rituals of initiation. And—importantly—it creates particular ethical habits in those who practice it, and in any democratic nation that allows it.

Since the brutal attacks of 9/11/2001, people in this country have been encouraged to be afraid. Knowing that our government has been forced to torture people in order to keep us safe confirms the belief that each of us must be in terrible danger—a danger from which only that same government can protect us. We have been encouraged to accept any cruelty done to others as the price of our personal survival. There is a word for the moral attitude that sets personal safety as its highest value: cowardice. If as a nation we do not act to end torture, if we do not demand a full accounting from and full accountability for those responsible, we ourselves are responsible. And we risk becoming a nation of cowards.

Rebecca Gordon received her B.A. from Reed College and her M.Div. and Ph.D. in Ethics and Social Theory from Graduate Theological Union. She teaches in the Department of Philosophy and for the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of Letters From NicaraguaCruel and Usual: How Welfare “Reform” Punishes Poor People, and Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States.

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40. Overcoming everyday violence [infographic]

The struggle for food, water, and shelter are problems commonly associated with the poor. Not as widely addressed is the violence that surrounds poor communities. Corrupt law enforcement, rape, and slavery (to name a few), separate families, destroys homes, ruins lives, and imprisons the poor in their current situations. Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, authors of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, have experience in the slums, back alleys, and streets where violence is a living, breathing being — and the work to turn those situations around. Delve into the infographic below and learn how solutions like media coverage and business intervention have begun to positively change countries like the Congo, Cambodia, Peru, and Brazil.

Infographic Locust Effect

Download a copy of the infographic.

Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros are co-authors of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. Gary Haugen is the founder and president of International Justice Mission, a global human rights agency that protects the poor from violence. The largest organization of its kind, IJM has partnered with law enforcement to rescue thousands of victims of violence. Victor Boutros is a federal prosecutor who investigates and tries nationally significant cases of police misconduct, hate crimes, and international human trafficking around the country on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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41. Purina® “PAW”ty Challenge (Funpage for Kids)

First Book and Purina® have teamed up to celebrate two of our favorite things – reading and pets. And we want you to join the fun! Click on the image below to download and print our Purina® “PAW”ty Challenge funpage. You’ll find creative activities like drawing, story writing and a book maze for your kids or students to enjoy.

Purina and First Book fun page

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42. Review – Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting by Kevin Power

9781444780819When I received a copy of Kevin Powers’ collection of poetry I was quite apprehensive. I definitely wanted to read the collection as The Yellow Birds was beyond amazing. It still resonates very strongly with me everytime I think about it and Powers’ poetry background really comes through in his writing. But I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to have the same feelings and get the intensity from his poems, and if I did, I wasn’t confident in being able to review or talk about the poetry collection in the same way I am comfortable in doing so with prose.

Kevin Powers first poetry collection is divided into four parts. The first part I definitely enjoyed the most which helped me greatly. The first two parts of the collection deal mainly with his experience as a soldier in Iraq and for the most part are quite short and sharp. The title piece is amazing but the other poems are all powerful in their own different ways. Part two is made of up of slightly longer pieces and begin to move away from the war, although not completely. Improvised Explosive Device that ends part two is probably the most emotionally charged piece in the book and my favourite line ends After Leaving McGuire Veterans Hospital for the Last Time:

You came home
with nothing, and you still
have most of it left.

The rest of the collection varies in form and subject and my lack of poetry experience, understanding and confidence began to disadvantage me.

There is no doubt Kevin Powers is an extraordinary talented writer. War brings out the best and worst in humanity and Powers writing is able to funnel that into beautiful words and devastating emotions. The war poets of World War One were the only ones who could truly convey the horrors of the trenches to those who were not there. Since then other forms of words and pictures have taken over showing those at home what happens during war. However there are more sides to war than the battles and there are more casualties of war than those who are physically wounded or killed. To be able to convey these many sides in a succinct form with strong emotional intensity is rare a precious gift indeed.

Buy the book here…

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43. Some of This, Some of That

Yesterday was far too nice a day to be indoors in front of a computer. We actually made it to 70F (21C)! It was the warmest day we’ve had since October 11, 2013. There should be a state law that says the first 70 degree day of spring is a holiday. But since there isn’t, I had to take advantage as best I could. I ate my lunch outdoors in the sunshine and instead of blogging when I got home I sat on my deck and wrote a few cards to mail. Of course today is not as warm and it will probably be another week before we reach 70 again. That’s spring in Minnesota. But enough about the weather.

I just found out there is going to be a ballet at the Royal Opera House in London during their 4014/15 season based on the life and works of Virginia Woolf! Does the Royal Ballet ever tour? I would so love to see a Virginia Woolf ballet. Please bring the show to Minneapolis!

For poetry month Tor (science fiction fantasy) has commissioned a number of authors to compose original poems for them. Jo Walton did one and is it ever good. Hades and Persephone turns the story from one of abduction and rape into one of love with Persephone bringing light and flowers into the darkness of Hell. It’s a poem about desire and how much light and darkness need each other.

Have you ever heard of Drop Everything and Read Day? It is celebrated on April 12th, Beverly Cleary’s birthday since she is the author of the book in which D.E.A.R first appeared. For whatever reason I was not a Cleary reader or Ramona fan when I was a kid. Nonetheless, I can certainly get behind a day of doing nothing but reading! Come Saturday I will try my hardest to drop everything and read. Household chores can wait another day, right?


Filed under: Books, Poetry, Reading, Virginia Woolf

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44. Unsung heroes of English etymology: Henry Bradley (1845-1923)

By Anatoly Liberman


At one time I intended to write a series of posts about the scholars who made significant contributions to English etymology but whose names are little known to the general public. Not that any etymologists can vie with politicians, actors, or athletes when it comes to funding and fame, but some of them wrote books and dictionaries and for a while stayed in the public eye. Ernest Weekley authored not only an etymological dictionary (a full and a concise version) but also multiple books on English words that were read and praised widely in the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century. Walter Skeat dominated the etymological scene for decades, and his “Concise Dictionary” graced many a desk on both sides of the Atlantic. James Murray attained glory as the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. (Curiously, for a long time people, at least in England, used to say that words should be looked up “in Murray,” as we now say “in Skeat” or “in Webster.” Not a trace of this usage is left. “Murray” yielded to the anonymous NED [New English Dictionary] and then to OED, with or without the definite article).

Those tireless researchers deserved the recognition they had. But there also were people who formed a circle of correspondents united by their devotion to some journal: Athenaeum, The Academy, and their likes. Most typically, the same subscribers used to send letters to Notes and Queries year in, year out. As a rule, they are only names to me and probably to most of our contemporaries, but the members of that “club” often knew one another or at least knew who the writers were, and being visible in Notes and Queries amounted to a thin slice of international fame. Having run (for the sake of my bibliography of English etymology) through the entire set of that periodical twice, I learned to appreciate the correspondents’ dedication to scholarship and their erudition. I learned a good deal about their way of life, their libraries, and their antiquarian interests, but not enough to write an entertaining essay devoted to any one of them. That is why my series died after the first effort, a post on Dr. Frank Chance (Dr. means “medical doctor” here), and I still hope that one day Oxford University Press will publish a collection of his excellent short articles on English and French subjects.

To be sure, Henry Bradley is not an obscure figure, but even in his lifetime he was never in the limelight. And yet for many years he was second in command at the OED and, when Murray died, replaced him as NO. 1. In principle, the OED, conceived as a historical dictionary, did not have to provide etymologies. But the Philological Society always wanted origins to be part of the entries. Hensleigh Wedgwood was at one time considered as a prospective Etymologist-in-Chief, but it soon became clear that he would not do: his blind commitment to onomatopoeia and indifference to the latest achievements of historical linguistics disqualified him almost by definition despite his diligence and ingenuity. Skeat may not have aspired for that role. In any case, James Murray decided to do the work himself. That he turned out to be such an astute etymologist was a piece of luck.

Bradley-with-logo1-460x326

Beginning with 1884, Bradley became an active participant in the dictionary. According to Bridges, in January 1888 he sent in the first instalment of his independent editing (531 slips). In the same year he was acknowledged as Joint Editor, responsible for his own sections, in 1896 he moved to Oxford, and from 1915, after the death of Murray in July of that year, he served as Senior Editor. In 1928 Clarendon Press published The Collected Papers of Henry Bradley, With a Memoir by Robert Bridges, and it is from this memoir that I have all the dates. About the move to Oxford, Bridges wrote: “He definitely entered into bondage and sold himself to slave henceforth for the Dictionary.” (How many people still remember the poetry of Robert Bridges?)

James Murray was a jealous man. He might have preferred to go on without a senior assistant, but even he was unable to do all the editing alone. It could not be predicted that Bradley would trace the history of words, inherited and borrowed, so extremely well. Once again luck was on the side of the great dictionary. In 1923, when Bradley died, not much was left to do. Even today, despite a mass of new information, the appearance of indispensable dictionaries and databases (to say nothing of the wonders of technology), as well as the publication of countless works on archeology, every branch of Indo-European, and the structure of the protolanguage and proto-society, the original etymologies in the OED more often than not need revision rather than refutation. This fact testifies to Murray’s and Bradley’s talent and to the reliability of the method they used.

Bradley joined the ictionary after Murray read his review of the first installments of the OED (The Academy, February 16, pp. 105-106, and March 1, pp. 141-142; I am grateful to the OED’s Peter Gilliver for checking and correcting the chronology). Bridges wrote about that review: “…its immediate publication revealed to Dr. Murray a critic who could give him points.” But today, 140 years later, one wonders what impressed Murray so much in Bradley’s remarks and what points “the critic” could give him. Bradley did not conceal his admiration for what he had seen, suggested a few corrections, and expressed the hope that “the work [would] be carried to its conclusion in a manner worthy of this brilliant commencement.” It can be doubted that Murray melted at the sight of the compliments: with two exceptions, everybody praised the first fascicles, and those who did not wrote mean-spirited reports. More probably, he sensed in Bradley someone who had a thorough understanding of his ideas and a knowledgeable potential ally (Bradley’s pre-1883 articles were neither numerous nor earth shattering). If such was the case, he guessed well.

Finding word origins was only one small (even if the trickiest) part of the editors’ duties, but my subject is limited to this single aspect of their activities. The title of Bradley’s posthumous volume, The Collected Papers, should not be mistaken for The Complete Works. Nor was such a full collection needed, though some omissions cause regret. Like Murray, Bradley wrote many short notes (especially often to The Academy, of which long before his move to Oxford he was editor for a year). My database contains sixty-five titles under his name. Here are some of them: “Two Mistakes in Littré’s French Dictionary,” “Obscure Words in Middle English,” “The Etymology of the Word god,” “Dialect and Etymology” (the latter in the Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society; Bradley was born in Manchester, so not in Yorkshire), numerous reviews and equally numerous reports, some of whose titles evoke today unexpected associations, as, for example, “F-words in NED” (the secretive year of 1896, when the F-word could not be included!).

Bradley had edited and revised the only full Middle English dictionary then in use. The modest reference to “obscure words” gives no idea of how well he knew that language. And among The Collected Papers the reader will find, among others, his contributions on Beowulf and “slang” to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, ten essays on place names (one of his favorite subjects), and a whole section of literary studies. Those deal with Old and Middle English, and in several cases his opinion became definitive. Bradley’s tone was usually firm (he made no bones about disagreeing with his colleagues) but courteous. Although he sometimes chose to pity an indefensible opinion, the vituperative spirit of nineteenth-century British journalism did not rub off on him. Nor was he loath to admit that his conclusions might be wrong. Temperamentally, he must have been the very opposite of Murray.

One of Bradley’s papers is of special interest to us, and it was perhaps the most influential one he ever wrote. It deals with the chances of reforming English spelling. I will devote a post to it next week.

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

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45. Peter the Brazen

I’m finally done with Peter the Brazen, and I feel I can say definitively now that it is the worst. The worst. I hardly know what else to say about it, or how to catalog its various failings.

I thought I was going to enjoy this book. Peter Moore is a wireless operator, and he’s the best wireless operator. He can hear things no one else can hear, and other wireless operator recognize…I don’t know, the inflections of his Morse code, or something. And he doesn’t have a lean, sardonic countenance, but he does have a tendency to smile inappropriately, which practically amounts to the same thing. So, all of that boded well. And I was prepared for some racism, because this is the kind of book where the existence of actual Asian people is completely irrelevant to the glamour of Asia. But in general I thought that this book wouldn’t be very good, but that I would enjoy it.

I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.

We can start with the racism, which is of the “protagonist who supposedly knows China like the back of his hand can’t tell the difference between people from Asian countries” variety. There was a Eurasian girl who wasn’t evil, and maybe one or two Chinese people who were well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful, but as a whole, George F. Worts paints the entire population of a continent as pretty much worthless. Not that he has a very high opinion of humanity in general — I saw here the same kind of cynicism that made me uncomfortable in Girl Alone. He also gets in some jabs at Dutch people – no discernible traits besides being boring and liking to eat — and Mexicans — the “fiery gladness” of knocking a “greaser” into the ocean. There’s not anything in particular I can pick out to take issue with, just grindingly awful racial determinism throughout.

As bad as the racism and xenophobia were, the misogyny was worse. Peter Moore is apparently irresistible to women, but I’m not sure why. I mean, if two women have similar coloring he can’t tell the difference between them (even if he’s in love with one of them), and if they’re “exotic” he makes up stories about them for his own amusement, and if a woman tells him her husband beats her, he doesn’t believe it until he sees the bruises and then asks her why, as if she must have done something to deserve it. Which I guess makes sense, since he mostly views women as men’s possessions anyway.

Worts credits him with  “quaint, mid-Victorian views regarding woman,” and if mid-Victorian views regarding women consist of distrusting them and treating them as objects then, yeah, he does, but I don’t know why we’re supposed to like him for it.  I kept thinking of a quote from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: “I’m told the women literally bow down before him, if that’s what women do.” Women do literally bow down before Peter Moore in this book, but no, that’s not what women do.

Then there’s the writing, which is terrible on two levels. At the sentence level, it’s hideously flowery. People who refer to guns as “blue steel” already have a mark against them in my book, but that’s just the beginning of Worts’ excessive reliance on colors for description. I think my favorite bit was the number of synonyms for “red” he used in describing a cinnabar mining city. Here is a bit of it: “And instantly he was obsessed with the flaming color of that man’s unappeased passion. Red—red! The hovels were spattered with the red clay. The man, the skinny, wretched creature who begged for a moment of his gracious mercy at the gate, dripped in ruby filth. The mule sank and wallowed in vermilion mire.”

There are a lot of bits like that.

My favorite sentence, though, was one of the less flowery ones: “And Peter was all alone, although his aloneness was modified to a certain extent by the corpse at his feet. “

The language is hilariously terrible, but everything else is just terrible. I don’t know what to call the other level on which the writing is terrible. Plot? Character development? Basic logic? It’s probably all of the above. The way people act just doesn’t make sense. The omniscient third person narration says things that exist in an alternate reality where it does make sense. Peter spends a lot of the climactic action scenes unconscious, although I guess that’s for the best.

And nothing is ever resolved or explained. Like, Peter spends the entire book trying to figure out why the guy who rules the city of Len Yang keeps kidnapping beautiful young women to work in his mines. And I would still kind of like to know why, but I suspect that there isn’t actually a reason. If there is one, Worts certainly doesn’t let us in on it.

There were moments, even halfway through the book, when I though the whole thing might genuinely be a joke, it made so little sense. It’s not just the usual thing where an author ascribes to a protagonist all sorts of qualities that they don’t actually seem to have. It’s a more far-reaching version of that, where you can tell the author is ascribing to the narrative all sorts of things that aren’t there. I mean, it’s also got the thing where the protagonist is supposed to be super competent but in practice is terrible at everything, but that’s sort of commonplace compared to the whole story’s weird, disjointed, “does George F. Worts understand how events are supposed to follow each other” quality.

So, uh, yeah. This book is objectively terrible. It’s also subjectively terrible. Don’t read it. The bits that are terrible in a funny way aren’t worth it.


Tagged: 1910s, adventure, china, georgefworts, stupid

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46. Librarians in Literature

I love reading about librarians in books. Sometimes they are annoyingly stereotypical-the bun-wearning shushing types. But other times they are more true to the librarians I know-creative, energetic, and maybe with some secret powers!

I got excited when I saw an upcoming release, The Ninja Librarians by Jennifer Swan Downey. (Sourcebooks, April 2014) The book is  ”Just a little story about your average sword-swinging, karate-chopping, crime-fighting ninja librarians.” (from Goodreads) It got me thinking about a few of my other favorite librarians in literature.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

-Alcatraz must save the world from the most evil villain there is-librarians! They’re plotting to take over the world and Alcatraz must stop them.

Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner, illusrated by Michael Emberly

-Miss Brooks is a great librarian who won’t give up on reader’s advisory-even when she’s faced with the toughest critic.

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

-Mr. Lemoncello isn’t a librarian, but he builds an amazing library and employs some great librarians-who happen to be inspired by real life librarians.

Who are your favorite fictional librarians?

Are you interested in reading more tween-related posts?  The YALSA Blog and the ALSC Blog both offer information of interest to librarians who work with tweens. 

 

 

 

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47. A conversation with Alberto Gallace

From Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR Inc. to the latest medical developments, technology is driving new explorations of the perception, reality, and neuroscience. How do we perceive reality through the sense of touch? Alberto Gallace is a researcher in touch and multisensory integration at the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy, and co-author of In touch with the future: The sense of touch from cognitive neuroscience to virtual reality. We recently spoke to him about touch, personal boundaries, and being human.

Out of all the human senses, touch is the one that is most often unappreciated, and undervalued. When did you first become interested in touch research?

I was in Oxford as a visiting PhD student and working on multisensory integration, in particular on the integration between tactile and visual signals in the brain. Soon I realized that, despite the fact that is a very important sensory modality, there was not much research on touch, and there were not even a lot of instruments to study such sensory modality. I started by working more with engineers and technical workshops then with psychologists and neuroscientists, just because I needed some device to test the sense of touch in a different way as compared to what was done in the past. Touch was mainly studied with reference to haptic object recognition, mostly on visually impaired individuals or in terms of its physiological mechanisms. Many of the most relevant aspects of touch were very little, if not at all, investigated.

HandsWe use touch for walking, talking, eating, nearly everything basically. It also plays a major role on our interpersonal relationships, it affects the release of hormones and it contributes to define the boundary of our self.

To my students I often say, where our touch begins, we are. I wanted to understand more of these topics. I wanted to compare touch with other sensory modalities. In doing that I was convinced that research on touch had to get away from the fingertips or hands and extend to the whole body surface. The more I studied this sense, the more I became interested in it. For every question answered there were many more without responses. I like touch a lot because there are many things that still need to be understood about it, and I am a rather curious person, particularly when it comes to science.

What do you think has been the most important development in touch research in the past 100 years?

I am not sure if it’s the most important development, but what I certainly consider important is the recent study of certain neural fibres specialized in transmitting socially-relevant information via the sense of touch. That is, the C tactile afferents in humans, that are strongly activated by ‘caress like’ stimuli, might play an important role in many of our most pleasant social experiences. However, I should also say that my personal way to think about science is much more ‘future oriented’. That is, I believe that the most important developments in touch research are the ones that we will see in the next years. I am really looking forward to reading (or possibly writing) about them.

Why did you decide to research this topic?

Most of the previously published books on touch — there aren’t many, to be honest — were focused on a single topic. Most of them were based on research on visually-impaired individuals, and the large majority of them were authored books, a collections of chapters written by different people, sometimes with a different view. Charles [Spence, University of Oxford] and myself wanted something different, something more comprehensive, something that could help people to understand that touch is involved in many different and relevant aspects of our life. We envisioned a book where the more neuroscientific aspects of touch were addressed together with a number of more applied topics. We wanted something where people could see touch ‘at work’. We talk about the neural bases of touch, tactile perception, tactile attention, tactile memory, tactile consciousness, but also about the role of touch in technology, marketing, virtual reality, food appreciation, and sexual behaviour. Many of these topics have never been considered in a book on touch before.

Philippe Mercier - The Sense of Touch

Philippe Mercier’s The Sense of Touch

What do you see as being the future of research in this field in the next decade?

I think that research in my field, pushed by technological advances, will grow rapidly in the coming years. One of the fields where I see a lot of potential is certainly related to the reproduction of tactile sensations in virtual reality environments. Virtual reality will likely become an important part of our life, maybe not in the next decade, but certainly in a not so distant future. However, if we want to create believable virtual environments we need to understand more of our sense of touch, and in particular how our brain processes tactile information, how different tactile stimulations can lead to certain emotions and behaviours, and how tactile sensations can be virtually reproduced. Following the idea that ‘where our touch begins, we are’, research will certainly invest a lot of resources in trying to better understand the neurocognitive mechanisms responsible for supporting our sense of ‘body ownership’ (the feeling that the body is our own) and how this sense can be transferred to virtual/artificial counterparts of our self. Here research on touch will certainly play a leading role.

If you weren’t doing touch research, what would you be doing?

I think I’d work as a scientist in a different field, but always as a scientist. I am too curious about how nature works to do something different. Since I was twelve I’ve always had a special interest in astronomy and astrophysics and I can easily picture myself working in that field too. Understanding the secrets of black cosmic matter or studying the mysteries of white brain matter? Not sure which would be better. What I am sure about is that I like my job a lot, and I won’t change it with anything else that is not based that much on creativity and curiosity.

Alberto Gallace is a researcher at Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy, and co-author of In touch with the future: The sense of touch from cognitive neuroscience to virtual reality. His research interests include spatial representation, multisensory integration, tactile perception, tactile interfaces, body representation, virtual reality, sensory substitution systems, and neurological rehabilitation of spatial disorders.

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Image credits: (1) Via Catalana Barcelona Plaça Catalunya 37. Photo by Judesba. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (2) The Sense of Touch, painting by Philipe Mercier. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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48. Disposable captives

By Lori Gruen


The decision by the administrators of the Copenhagen Zoo to kill a two-year-old giraffe named Marius by shooting him in the head in February 2014, then autopsy his body in public and feed Marius’ body parts to the lions held captive at the zoo created quite an uproar. When the same zoo then killed the lions (an adult pair and their two cubs) a month later to make room for a more genetically-worthy captive, the uproar became more ferocious.

Animal lovers across the globe were shocked and sickened by these killings and couldn’t understand why this bloodshed was being carried out at a zoo.

The zoo’s justification for killing Marius was that he had genes that were already “well represented” in the captive giraffe population in Europe. The justification for killing the lions was that the zoo was planning to introduce a younger male who was not genetically related to any of the females in the group.

Sacrificing the well-being and even the lives of individual animals in the name of conserving a diverse gene pool is commonplace in zoos. Euthanasia, usually by means less grotesque than a shotgun to the head, is quite common in European zoos. In US zoos, contraception is often used to prevent “over-representation” of certain gene lines. The European zoos’ reason for not using birth control the way most American zoos do is that they believe allowing animals to reproduce provides the animals with the opportunity to engage the fuller range of species typical behaviors, but that also means killing the undesirable offspring. In both European and US zoos, families are broken up and individuals are shipped to other facilities to diversify and manage the captive gene pool.

If this all has a ring of eugenic reasoning, consider what the executive director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Gerald Dick, had to say: “In Europe, there is a strict attempt to maintain genetically pure animals and not waste space in a zoo for genetically useless specimens.”

A stuffed giraffe, representing Marius, at a protest against zoos and the confinement of animals in Lisbon, 2014

A stuffed giraffe, representing Marius, at a protest against zoos and the confinement of animals in Lisbon, 2014

The high-profile slaughter of Marius and the lions that ate his body focus attention on an important debate about the purpose of zoos and more generally the ethics of captivity. Originally, zoos were designed to amuse, amaze, and entertain visitors. As public awareness of the plight of endangered species and their diminishing habitats grew, zoos increasingly saw their roles as conservation and education. But just what is being conserved and what are the educational lessons that zoo-goers take away from their experiences at the zoo?

A recent study suggests that zoo-goers learn about biodiversity by visiting zoos. Critics have suggested that the study is not particularly convincing in linking the small increase in understanding of biodiversity with the complex demands of conservation. Some zoos are committed to direct conservation efforts; the Wildlife Conservation Society (aka the Bronx Zoo) and the Lincoln Park Zoo are just two examples of zoos that have extensive and successful conservation programs. Despite these laudable programs, these WAZA-accredited zoos, like the European zoos, are also in the business of gene management and a central tenet of the current management ethos is to value genetic diversity over individual well-being.

Awe-inspiring animals such as giraffes and gorillas and cheetahs and chimpanzees are not seen as individuals, with distinct perspectives, when viewed, as Dick says, as either useful or useless “specimens.” They are valued, if at all, as representative carriers of their species’ genes.

This distorts our understanding of other animals and our relationships to them. Part of the problem is that zoos are not places in which animals can be seen as dignified. Zoos are designed to satisfy human interests and desires, even though they largely fail at this. A trip to the zoo creates a relationship in which the observer, often a child, has a feeling of dominant distance over the animals being looked at. It is hard to respect and admire a being that is captive in every respect and viewed as a disposable specimen, one who can be killed to satisfy a mission that is hard for the zoo-going public to fully understand, let alone endorse.

Causing death is what zoos do. It is not all that they do, but it is a big part of what happens at zoos, even if this is usually hidden from the public. Zoos are institutions that not only purposely kill animals, they are also places that in holding certain animals captive, shorten their lives. Some animals, such as elephants and orca whales, cannot thrive in captivity and holding them in zoos and aquaria causes them to die prematurely.

Death is a natural part of life, and perhaps we would do well to have a less fearful, more accepting attitude about death. But those who purposefully bring about premature death run the risk of perpetuating the notion that some lives are disposable. It is that very idea that we can use and dispose of other animals as we please that has led to the problems that have zoos and others thinking about conservation in the first place. When institutions of captivity promote the idea that some animals are disposable by killing “genetically useless specimens” like young Marius and the lions, they may very well be undermining the tenuous conservation claims that are meant to justify their existence.

Lori Gruen is Professor of Philosophy, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University where she also coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies and directs the Ethics in Society Project. She is the author of The Ethics of Captivity.

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Image credit: Sit-in protest in Lisbon. Photo by Mattia Luigi Nappi, 2014. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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49. Just How Many Books Can Volunteers Get to Kids in One Year?

New homes, a birthday party and a seaplane … what do these have in common?

These are all ways that First Book volunteers got books to kids in need this year. First Book has a network of dedicated and passionate volunteers in hundreds of communities in the U.S. and Canada who support our efforts to provide books and educational resources in fun and innovative ways.

Just last year, First Book volunteers distributed over 613,000 books all across the United States! Here are a few of our favorite First Book volunteer stories:<!--[if gte mso 9]>

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1507874_10152120653148894_1055536980_nTess Reiman, a 9th grader who raised funds for First Book to support Habitat for Humanity in Atlantic Beach, Florida.  While her brother volunteered building houses with Habitat, Tess saw that many of the children moving into new homes did not have any books to fill their newly constructed rooms.

Tess created “Project Storybook” and raised the money needed to help get new books into these children’s hands. She then purchased books from the First Book Marketplace and donated baskets of new books to for their new Habitat homes.  In her first year, she donated over 200 new books to 40 families.

59383kirkland0328_First-BookSeven year old Maguire Brooke loves to read.  This year he didn’t want birthday presents.  He wanted his friends and family to help him get books to kids in need. With the support of First Book-Seattle he created a virtual book drive, raised $500, donated 200 books to two second-grade classrooms and provided a starter library of six books to each child. Titles included some of Maguire’s favorites, including the Magic Treehouse series and The Diary of A Wimpy Kid.

“It was awesome,” Maguire said. “I’m the proudest person on earth.”

Books by dog sled, boat, ATV and seaplane!  Many remote areas in the Alaskan Bush are only accessible via these modes of transportation.  That didn’t stop First Book-Anchorage from distributing 47,000 books to schools in over 55 rural Alaskan communities.  They also distributed approximately 33,000 books in Anchorage.

volunteers01Every child from pre-school to 12th grade received 3 to 5 books each.  To secure these books, the volunteers fundraised, received in-kind support and connected First Book to local programs and classrooms. There are over 85 K-12 schools located throughout rural Alaska that are not meeting their Academic Yearly Progress (AYP) in more than 4+ years in the area of literacy.

We’ve put tons of new books into the hands of a lot of children in need in the last twenty-plus years and we couldn’t have done it without our volunteers. Thank you!

Click here to learn more about volunteering with First Book.

The post Just How Many Books Can Volunteers Get to Kids in One Year? appeared first on First Book Blog.

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50. Interview: Kirsten B. Feldman

When I asked author Kirsten B. Feldman to sum up her book No Alligators in Sight in twenty words or less, she replied: "Lettie Endquist yearns to make herself a better life and travels from Provincetown to Key West to get it."

The main characters of No Alligators in Sight were in Kirsten's head for years. The tale actually began as a short story, "Squelch." That short story then became the majority of Chapter 1, and over the course of about two years, "a chapter here and a chapter there grew to become the first draft," Kirsten explained. "The story grew because Lettie had more to say, and so I happily gave her the opportunity."

In turn, I'm giving Kirsten the opportunity to tell us more about her writing process and her personal stories, as well as her fictional ones:

Did anything major change between the first draft and the final draft? Was that due to your own thought process, or were the changes suggested by an editor, your agent, or a beta reader?

I did have some terrific feedback from both an agent and several beta readers, including the suggestion to make it shorter, losing some minor characters, and get to Florida faster. Also, some early readers thought that Joel, her father, was too harsh, which was great for me to know, because I saw and heard him differently than he at first appeared on the page to readers. All of these changes made sense to me, and then other, smaller ones grew organically from there as I revised.

What were you like at Lettie's age?

When I was Lettie's age, I was consumed with the idea of going to high school and the changes that would bring to my life. I viewed high school as the bridge to where I wanted to go in life, which indeed it was, and as Lettie does. I saw the many open doors that high school offered, and I went through nearly all of them, at top speed and full volume. Lettie ultimately does the same.

The road to publication can be bumpy and tough, but you made it!

Why, thank you!

You're welcome! Insert virtual high-five here. (I love high-fives.) What was your favorite part of the publishing process?

My favorite part of the publishing process continues: engaging with readers about the book, Lettie, and life in general. The whole process also made me excited to do it all over again.

What can you tell us about your next book?

As I think you can tell from No Alligators in Sight, my website, and this interview, I adore the adolescent point of view. My yet-to-be-named next novel explores the world of Harry Kavanaugh, a girl named for Harry Potter who has lived her whole life on the grounds of her school, a prep school in Washington, DC, since her mother is the school's most revered teacher with on-campus housing privileges. For the nearly-six-foot Harry, a girl who loves black, alternative music, and large animals more than humans, this existence is stifling and unfulfilling, so she sets out to find what might better rock her world, especially now that Kurt Cobain has passed on. Helping her on her quest are her Great Dane Frances Bean, her older brother with issues of his own, and her oldest friend and neighbor who may want to be more. I hope to have it revised and ready for print this summer.

Best of luck with it! Which storytellers (authors, poets, musicians, artists, actors, anyone!) have influenced your writing?

Broadly defined as someone or something who shows me a compelling story, it is character that speaks to me more than plot or setting or any literary device. If I can feel deeply for any character, be it in a book, a song, a painting, a movie, or a poem, then that work will resonate and stay with me and thus with my writing. Some of my influences and inspirations include, in no particular order: Margaret Atwood, Sarah Dessen, Michael Dibdin, Julia Roberts, Kate Atkinson, Mary Oliver, Georgia O'Keeffe, Robert Frost, Billy Collins, Robert Downey, Jr., Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Matt Damon, Taylor Swift, Mark Rothko, John Dowd, Jim Forsberg, Dakota Fanning, Tom Petty, and, certainly not least, Jane Austen.

That's a pretty cool mix. Last question: What are your top ten favorite books?

So hard to pick, so many great books, but here are the first ten to pop into my head:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
eleanor & park by Rainbow Rowell
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Watership Down by Richard Adams

Say hello to Kirsten at her website!

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