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26. The terror metanarrative and the Rabaa massacre

Just after dawn prayers on the morning of 14 August 2013, Egyptian security forces raided a large sit-in based at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiyya Square and another at al-Nahda Square. Six weeks earlier, military leader and Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi staged a coup to remove Egypt’s first democratically elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, from office. In response, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians across the country congregated in public spaces to protest the coup and the perceived reversal of the revolutionary moment that began in early 2011 with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade long authoritarian rule.

As they opened fire on the encampment, security forces killed over one thousand Egyptians. The exact figure has been difficult to ascertain, in part because officials reportedly burned the bodies of those killed during the course of the twelve-hour operation. Graphic images of the charred interior of the Rabaa al-Adawiyya Mosque began making the rounds on social media within hours of the raid. A recently published investigative report by Human Rights Watch contends that “police and army forces systematically and intentionally used excessive lethal force in their policing, resulting in killings of protesters on a scale unprecedented in Egypt.” The report also asserts that no Egyptian officials have been held accountable for the Rabba massacre, while all state inquiries have essentially justified the army’s actions.

Just as shocking as the new military regime’s repressive clampdown on the Islamist opposition has been the widespread support for such measures across broad swaths of Egyptian society. In addition to the hundreds of thousands who supported Morsi’s overthrow by taking to the streets on 30 June, a month later Sisi called upon Egyptians to rally in Tahrir Square in support of the military’s aim to “fight terrorism”—code for the continued clampdown on Morsi’s supporters. It is under the shroud of this popular support that the state could commit the horrors at Rabaa without batting an eye.

Photo of unrest in Egypt

One year later, there is little moral outrage in Egypt over the appalling course of events at Rabaa. Rather than offer up a moment of collective introspection, the passage of time and the newfound political stability under Sisi have only more deeply entrenched the dominant narrative that the protesters got what they deserved. In Egypt’s “new normal,” popular culture has internalized the necessity of extreme state violence against a perceived minority of violent political agitators.

To be sure, the critiques of the Muslim Brotherhood spanned a wide array of issue areas, from the group’s vision for an Islamic government to its contentious interactions with state institutions and revolutionary forces. However, the emphasis on the group’s supposed inclinations toward organized violence is singled out here for its propensity to validate egregious human rights violations by state authorities in the name of security.

The dehumanization of thousands of ordinary men, women, and children, many of whom are not even members of the Muslim Brotherhood, occurred as state officials and media personalities continually utilized the imagery of terrorism and violent extremism to depict the protestors. Footage of police raids was set to the soundtracks of Hollywood action films and televised with large captions reading “Egypt Fights Terrorism” in Arabic as well as English.

Given its enduring quality, however, it would be a mistake to assume that this incitement campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood is a recent incarnation. Far from being a makeshift construct that aided in Sisi’s alarmingly rapid political ascent, the recent application of the “war on terror” motif stems from a historic struggle over the Egyptian national narrative that pits the state against one of the country’s oldest social movement organizations.

In their attempt to overturn a popular mass movement that had made limited revolutionary gains, counter-revolutionary forces constructed a broad narrative that placed the historical trajectory of the Muslim Brotherhood within the state’s struggle to combat terrorism that dated back to the mid-twentieth century. To press its case to a public that is largely ignorant of the historical nuances involved, the anti-Muslim Brotherhood movement made exceptionally anachronistic use of various flashpoints in modern Egyptian history.

Shortly after Morsi’s election in 2012, during a commemorative event for the sixtieth anniversary of the 23 July 1952 revolution, self-declared Nasserists lamented that Egyptians had not learned the lessons of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s experience with the Muslim Brotherhood. “They were never to be trusted,” said one prominent spokesperson for the group. In successive weeks, other writers and commentators referred to the campaign of political violence that dated back to the 1940s, placing the blame squarely on the Muslim Brotherhood and its brand of Islamic activism.

Elsewhere, the chorus of critics recalled the turbulent 1970s and the rise of underground militant groups that they attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood and in particular the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the organization’s leading ideologue until his execution by the Nasser regime in 1966. The rise of an Islamic insurgency culminated with the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. The chronology continues well into the Mubarak era, as prominent media personalities impugned the Muslim Brotherhood for its supposed role in the outbreak of anti-state violence in the mid-1990s.

If one follows this chronology to its logical conclusion, one could reasonably believe that the Muslim Brotherhood was founded with an ideological bent toward violent, anti-state contention, which it pursued through the active development of a military wing and then sustained through successive waves of terrorist acts over the course of eighty-six years.

The problem with the terror metanarrative is that it represents a gross misreading of history and a transparent effort by the state to paint its opposition with the broad brush of extremism. In reality, the Muslim Brotherhood confronted the question of political violence at various stages in the development of its activist mission. The appearance of its militia during the 1940s is well documented and has been examined at length by numerous scholars. Many of the recent references to this research, however, fail to mention that the Muslim Brotherhood’s armed wing existed within the chaotic field of post-war Egyptian politics in which every major political party and social actor was as likely to fight its battles in the streets as much as in the parliament or the newspapers.

The Secret Apparatus, responsible for covert attacks against public officials in the late 1940s, was dismantled following Nasser’s repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954. As it reorganized itself in later years, the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood’s core leadership internalized many of the elements of this nebulous section of the organization—its strict hierarchical structure, discipline across the ranks, emphasis on secrecy and indoctrination—but notably not its inclinations toward violence. In other words, the proponents of the Secret Apparatus, figures like Mustafa Mashhur and Kamal al-Sananiri, believed in its tenets as a means of enduring state repression, not actively resisting it.

When the Muslim Brotherhood resumed its activism in the mid-1970s after a two-decade absence, it was in the shadow of major developments within the Islamic movement that covered both the ideological and the organizational realms. The pressures of a repressive political climate and the widespread use of torture in Nasser’s prisons threatened to fracture the Islamic movement, leading a small minority of former Muslim Brotherhood members and impressionable young Islamic activists to adopt a militant outlook that found inspiration in Qutb’s impassioned and uncompromising view of the Nasserist state. Qutb’s most fervent supporters believed Egyptian society to have become so corrupted by a secular dictatorship that the gradual reformist mission of the Muslim Brotherhood would simply not suffice. Instead, they argued for the path of violent revolution led by a vanguard of true believers.

For all the attention it has received in recent years, this view never prevailed among the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood leaders, most of whom worked actively to discredit it. In 1969, the group’s imprisoned leader, Hasan al-Hudaybi, authored a tract entitled Preachers, Not Judges, which argued forcefully in favor of a reformist approach to political empowerment that hinged upon popular preaching and mobilization across all segments of Egyptian society. Hudaybi directly repudiated the practice of “takfir,” or declaring fellow Muslims to be unbelievers, limiting the role of Islamic activists to one of “du‘a” or callers to the faith.

In spite of the alarming rise of a number of Islamic militant groups that committed notorious crimes throughout the late 1970s, the more important (and certainly more enduring) story of the decade was the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to reconstitute itself as the chief representative of the mainstream Islamic movement. Hudaybi’s successor, a lawyer named ‘Umar al-Tilmisani, oversaw the group’s reemergence by constructing an Islamic call, or “da‘wa” that found widespread appeal within a new generation of Islamic activists across Egypt’s colleges and universities. By the end of the Sadat era, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had found in the Muslim Brotherhood a forum for oppositional politics premised on building a strong social base and gradual engagement with state institutions. In fact, as several student leaders from the era have since argued, were it not for the moderate and gradualist Islamism packaged and distributed by Tilmisani’s Muslim Brotherhood, the spread of militancy among the nation’s disaffected youth would have been far more pervasive.

That sentiment is worth recalling as one unpacks the implications of the coup government’s efforts to eradicate one of the country’s oldest social movements from Egyptian society. In the past year, the organization was declared illegal by judicial decree as well as a cabinet decision. As the state’s campaign of intimidation, indefinite detentions, torture, and mass executions continues to descend upon the nation’s independent activists, Sisi’s pledge to destroy the opposition presents a haunting prospect. “There will be nothing called the Muslim Brotherhood during my tenure,” he told an interviewer last May. Sisi’s aggressive social engineering project is bound to hold grave consequences for a country that is already reeling from several years of social and economic volatility and a regional insurgency that become more potent after the military’s takeover.

Despite its desperate attempts to do so, the Sisi regime has yet to demonstrate that the Muslim Brotherhood has had a hand in any of the militant bombings that have occurred since Morsi’s overthrow. For all of its faults—and they are many—the organization has maintained a consistent record of non-violent contention against successive authoritarian rulers, having reasserted its ideological as well as institutional mission in the 1970s.

As recent events in neighboring states have demonstrated, when the avenues for the legitimate expression of an Islamically oriented political program are closed, extremism prevails. The alarming rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is just one such example. In a recent online video, an ISIS spokesman commenting on events in Egypt reserved the bulk of his condemnation for Morsi, not Sisi. He declared the imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood leader “an apostate” and relished at the prospect of serving as his executioner. The greatest threat to religious militancy is not an equally violent state-sponsored secularism, but rather an open political climate that accommodates competing modes of activism irrespective of their religious, sectarian, or ideological leanings.

By conflating the Muslim Brotherhood’s legacy of oppositional politics with violent incarnations of anti-state contention, the terror metanarrative attempts to establish on a false basis the state’s ability to respond to perceived threats with all means at its disposal. The memory of the massacre at Rabaa will live on as a reminder of the painfully high cost of the abuse of history.

Headline image credit: AFP PHOTO / MOSAAB EL-SHAMY, CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.

The post The terror metanarrative and the Rabaa massacre appeared first on OUPblog.

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27. Books Strengthen Family Bonds

DSC00616Lydia sat with her two children in the waiting room. Her eldest read aloud from his new book, pausing every now and again to teach his mother and younger sister how to say the words in English. His little sister beamed with pride when he let her turn the page.

Andrea Gatewood of the Nassau County (NY) Department of Health knows that providing new books to families like Lydia’s leads to priceless interactions. For the past ten years, she and her colleagues at the Nassau County Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program have been giving books from First Book to the local low-income women and children they serve.

Traditionally, WIC programs supply women who are pregnant or recently gave birth and children up to age five found to be at nutritional risk with supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education. But at five WIC sites in Nassau County, families also receive colorful new books.

teen parenting program 3“The books from First Book teach children how to count, the alphabet, the importance of family, other languages, colors, different foods and incentives to promote physical activity,” said Andrea. “They strengthen family bonds, promote diversity and improve literacy.”

Andrea takes great care in selecting books that are both engaging and culturally relevant as nearly 100 percent of the children she serves come from minority households.

“We have distributed books at Christmas, Halloween and to kick off the school year. Our goal is to reach as many children as possible,” Andrea shared. “The partnership between First Book and WIC has allowed thousands of children to receive brand new books and will have a lasting impact on an individual and community level.”

Over the past ten years, the Nassau WIC Program has received approximately 20,000 books from First Book, thanks to grant funding made possible by members of the First Book – Long Island volunteer chapter and the Guru Krupa Foundation. The Foundation, based in Jericho, New York, funds initiatives related to education, health and basic sustenance of underprivileged children in India and the United States, and has helped First Book provide more than 51,000 books to children in need in the greater New York and Los Angeles areas in the past two years.

DSC00612“We at Guru Krupa Foundation believe that education is a cornerstone for future success in life,” said Mukund Padmanabhan, president of the Guru Krupa Foundation. “Supporting initiatives that bring the benefits of education to underprivileged children can lead to enormous future dividends, not only for the children but to society.”

Join the Guru Krupa Foundation in supporting program leaders like Andrea by making a gift to First Book. Just $2.50 provides a brand-new book to a child in need.

The post Books Strengthen Family Bonds appeared first on First Book Blog.

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28. Win a vampire kitty-cat

Front Patch 200WEmily has a blog called Kitty Cat Chronicles, and when she came across The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles, she contacted me for an ebook to review. I sent her one, and her review is here.

More than that, she’s running a drawing to give away a free ebook copy. So I hope you’ll visit her blog and enter to win.

Here’s an excerpt from her review:

“The book jumps right into the action from the get-go, which I appreciated. The story starts with Patch, the cat narrator, being turned into a vampire, who then goes on to share all the adventures and troubles he runs into as he tries to adjust to his new lifestyle. He makes several friends (and enemies) throughout his journey, including his new "associate" Amy, a freshly turned "vee" who has an ambitious streak. The cast of characters includes a seven-foot tall vampire with a flair for the dramatic, a pair of opportunistic vampire lawyer twins, an extremely wealthy and corrupt human mob-boss, an extremist preacher turned vampire, and a weasely journalist who is out to catch the newest "it" story. These characters will have you laughing, groaning, and rolling your eyes for sure. They keep you on your toes too!”

Emily had some Photoshop fun turning her own cats into vampires, too. Her review catches the spirit of The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles--it's for fun!


© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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29. Ethical issues in managing the current Ebola crisis

Until the current epidemic, Ebola was largely regarded as not a Western problem. Although fearsome, Ebola seemed contained to remote corners of Africa, far from major international airports. We are now learning the hard way that Ebola is not—and indeed was never—just someone else’s problem. Yes, this outbreak is different: it originated in West Africa, at the border of three countries, where the transportation infrastructure was better developed, and was well under way before it was recognized. But we should have understood that we are “all in this together” for Ebola, as for any, infectious disease.

Understanding that we were profoundly wrong about Ebola can help us to see ethical considerations that should shape how we go forward. Here, I have space just to outline two: reciprocity and fairness.

In the aftermath of the global SARS epidemic that spread to Canada, the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto produced a touchstone document for pandemic planning, Stand on Guard for Thee, which highlights reciprocity as a value. When health care workers take risks to protect us all, we owe them special concern if they are harmed. Dr. Bruce Ribner, speaking on ABC, described Emory University Hospital as willing to take two US health care workers who became infected abroad because they believed these workers deserved the best available treatment for the risks they took for humanitarian ends. Calls to ban the return of US workers—or treatment in the United States of other infected front-line workers—forget that contagious diseases do not occur in a vacuum. Even Ann Coulter recognized, in her own unwitting way, that we owe support to first responders for the burdens they undertake for us all when she excoriated Dr. Kent Brantly for humanitarian work abroad rather than in the United States.

We too often fail to recognize that all the health care and public health workers at risk in the Ebola epidemic—and many have died—are owed duties of special concern. Yet unlike health care workers at Emory, health care workers on the front lines in Africa must make do with limited equipment under circumstances in which it is very difficult for them to be safe, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. As we go forward we must remember the importance of providing adequately for these workers and for workers in the next predictable epidemics — not just for Americans who are able to return to the US for care. Supporting these workers means providing immediate care for those who fall ill, as well as ongoing care for them and their families if they die or are not longer able to work. But this is not all; health care workers on the front lines can be supported by efforts to minimize disease spread—for example conducting burials to minimize risks of infection from the dead—as well as unceasing attention to the development of public health infrastructures so that risks can be swiftly identified and contained and care can be delivered as safely as possible.

Ebola in West Africa. Three humanitarian experts and six specialists in dangerous infectious diseases of the European Mobile Lab project have been deployed on the ground, with a mobile laboratory unit to help accelerate diagnoses. © EMLab, European Commission DG ECHO, EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection. CC BY-ND 2.0 via European Commission DG ECHO Flickr.
Ebola in West Africa. Three humanitarian experts and six specialists in dangerous infectious diseases of the European Mobile Lab project have been deployed on the ground, with a mobile laboratory unit to help accelerate diagnoses. © EMLab, European Commission DG ECHO, EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection. CC BY-ND 2.0 via European Commission DG ECHO Flickr.

Fairness requires treating others as we would like to be treated ourselves. A way of thinking about what is fair is to ask what we would want done if we did not know our position under the circumstances at hand. In a classic of political philosophy, A Theory of Justice, John Rawls suggested the thought experiment of asking what principles of justice we would be willing to accept for a society in which we were to live, if we didn’t know anything about ourselves except that we would be somewhere in that society. Infectious disease confronts us all with an actual possibility of the Rawlsian thought experiment. We are all enmeshed in a web of infectious organisms, potential vectors to one another and hence potential victims, too. We never know at any given point in time whether we will be victim, vector, or both. It’s as though we were all on a giant airplane, not knowing who might cough, or spit, or bleed, what to whom, and when. So we need to ask what would be fair under these brute facts of human interconnectedness.

At a minimum, we need to ask what would be fair about the allocation of Ebola treatments, both before and if they become validated and more widely available. Ethical issues such as informed consent and exploitation of vulnerable populations in testing of experimental medicines certainly matter but should not obscure that fairness does, too, whether we view the medications as experimental or last-ditch treatment. Should limited supplies be administered to the worst off? Are these the sickest, most impoverished, or those subjected to the greatest risks, especially risks of injustice? Or, should limited supplies be directed where they might do the most good—where health care workers are deeply fearful and abandoning patients, or where we need to encourage people who have been exposed to be monitored and isolated if needed?

These questions of fairness occur in the broader context of medicine development and distribution. ZMAPP (the experimental monoclonal antibody administered on a compassionate use basis to the two Americans) was jointly developed by the US government, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and a few very small companies. Ebola has not drawn a great deal of drug development attention; indeed, infectious diseases more generally have not drawn their fair share of attention from Big Pharma, as least as measured by the global burden of disease.

WHO has declared the Ebola epidemic an international emergency and is convening ethics experts to consider such questions as whether and how the experimental treatment administered to the two Americans should be made available to others. I expect that the values of reciprocity and fairness will surface in these discussions. Let us hope they do, and that their import is remembered beyond the immediate emergency.

Headline Image credit: Ebola virus virion. Created by CDC microbiologist Cynthia Goldsmith, this colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library, #10816 . Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Ethical issues in managing the current Ebola crisis appeared first on OUPblog.

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30. Living in the dark

It is well known that many of the permanent inhabitants of caves have evolved a bizarre, convergent morphology, including loss of eyes and pigment, elongation and thinning of appendages, and other adaptations to conditions of complete darkness and scarce food. These species include the European cave salamander, or olm, studied since the time of Lamarck.

This photo, by Gregor Aljančič, Laboratory Tular, Slovenia, has been used with permission.
This photo, by Gregor Aljančič, Laboratory Tular, Slovenia, has been used with permission.

Sometimes, the extremes of morphology of cave animals strain credibility, as is the case of a springtail from a Cambodian cave, with antennae several times the length of its body.

This photo, by Louis Deharveng, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, has been used with permission.
This photo, by Louis Deharveng, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, has been used with permission.

The adaptations shown by the olm and the springtail illustrated make sense in an environment of constant darkness and scarce food.

Species with morphologies like the olm and the Cambodian cave springtail, occur in and have evolved in habitats that only share the physical feature of darkness with caves. There are seven different kinds of dark habitats that occur close to the boundary of lighted and dark habitats:

  • Extremely shallow ground water only a few centimeters underground that emerges in very small seepage springs
  • The underflow of rivers
  • The cracks and tiny solution tubes at the top of limestone deposits
  • The cracks and crevices in rocks
  • Shallow aquifers created by the precipitation of calcium carbonate in arid conditions
  • The soil
  • Lava tubes, which unlike limestone caves, always form a few meters from the surface.

All of these habitat harbor de-pigmented and eyeless species, even though there is often abundant organic matter present, and there are strong seasonal and sometimes daily fluctuations in temperature and other environmental conditions. Except for lava tubes, none provide the allure and adventure of caves.

The first of these categories, the fauna of seepage springs and the associated groundwater, epitomizes the ecological and evolutionary conundrums these shallow subterranean habitats pose. The habitat itself consists of a mixture of rocks and leaf litter underlain by a clay layer. The habitat is relatively rich in organic matter (both dissolved and particulate) and nutrients. Essentially, these are miniature drainage basins, that typically cover a few thousand square meters, and appear to be little more than wet spots in the woods.

This photo, by William K. Jones, Karst Waters Institute, Leesburg, VA, has been used with permission.
This photo, by William K. Jones, Karst Waters Institute, Leesburg, VA, has been used with permission.

These seepage springs and their fauna were first described from sites on Medvednica Mountain in Croatia in 1963 by Milan Meštrov, in several papers that are largely forgotten.

What he did leave is a tongue-twisting name for the habitat—hypotelminorheic, perhaps not surprising for a French word with Greek roots first coined by a Croatian. Unlike deep caves, the hypotelminorheic is high variable, and in many places the seepage spring dries up during the summer months, and most of the water is retained in the colloidal clay. The habitat is so shallow that there are daily temperature fluctuations. In spite of all this, these seeps harbor a number of amphipod, isopod, and snail species with the characteristic long antennae and absence of eyes and pigment characteristic of the deep cave fauna.

In one case, there are enough species of one genus of amphipods (Stygobromus), that relative size of antennae can be compared, and no differences between cave and hypotelminorheic species were found. What was different among the different subterranean habitats, was body size. A repeated pattern of small animals in habitats with small dimensions (soil and the upper layer of limestone) and large animals in habitats with large dimenions (lava tubes and deep caves). The conclusion is that absence of light and habitat size, not availability or organic matter or environmental variability, drives the evolution of the convergent morphology of subterranean animals. In fact, divergence as well as convergence occurs in subterranean habitats. Cene Fišer and his colleagues from the University of Ljubljana, have shown that when three or more species of the amphipod genus Niphargus are present in a subterranean site, their morphological divergence is greater than expected by chance. The task for biologists studying the subterranean fauna is to tease out the convergent and divergent aspects of adaptation.

The post Living in the dark appeared first on OUPblog.

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31. The New Phone Book’s Here

In the immortal words of Navin R. Johnson:


Things are going to start happening to me now!

Yes, due to life, it took a long time to arrive, but that lovable scamp Virgil Creech is back in Virgil Creech Sings for His Supper.

 Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00063]



Even the idyllic little town of Portsong isn’t immune to the coming depression. What will our favorite family of eleven do when their chief bread-winner is left without a job? Enter the youngest son, Virgil Creech, who discovers an unlikely talent that may just keep the family afloat.

Meanwhile, half the world away, town grocer Harland Gentry discovers the truth of the ancient proverb, Pride goes before a fall. On the vacation of a lifetime, Harland decides to reinvent himself as a man of means, hoping to leave the small town behind. But he is not prepared for what he discovers on his unpredictable African adventure.

Of course, Virgil Creech Sings for His Supper contains a healthy dose of the lovable Colonel Clarence Birdwhistle, as he and Henry begin to rebuild the Lee family farm. All of these stories come together for another delightful romp through Portsong, the southern town halfway between Savannah and heaven.


From the back of the book, here is our new friend, Harland Gentry as drawn by Aprilily.


It is always rewarding to have someone read one of my books. But I was particularly excited to get a Five Bookworm Review on the first book in the series because it came from a kid, which is my target audience.  He is also not a family member!

You can read his take here.


If you haven’t had a chance to read Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption, the ebook version is going to go free for a week sometime soon as publicity for the sequel. Of course, I’ll announce it here.

I wrote the final piece of the Portsong Series last year hope to release it fairly soon. I am now working on my first piece of adult humor and would love to put it out in 2015. We shall see if life gets in the way of that one as well.

Filed under: From the Writer

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32. Call for Papers: Children's Rights and Children's Literature



Special Issue of The Lion and the Unicorn

Guest Editors:
Lara Saguisag, College of Staten Island-City University of New York
Matthew B. Prickett, Rutgers University-Camden

We are seeking papers that investigate the intersections between the histories, theories, and practices of children's rights and children's literature. In response to the ratification of the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC) in 1989, advocates and scholars have debated the necessity and revealed the complexity of defining and implementing children's rights across the globe. Critical discourse on children's rights, however, has not yet fully examined the role that children's literature plays in shaping, promoting, implementing and interrogating children's rights. This special issue invites scholars to explore the connections between the institutions of children's rights and children's literature.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

Depictions of young people's political and/or economic participation in children's and young adult literature
Literary representations of child soldiers, child laborers, child sex workers and other young people whose rights are deemed violated
The role of children's literature in fulfilling young people's rights (such as the right to education and the right to leisure)
The relationships between charters on human and children's rights (such as the 1930 White House Convention Children's Charter, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1989 United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child) and twentieth-century children's literature
How historical fiction and non-fiction about other rights movements (women's rights, gay rights, Civil Rights, labor rights, immigrant rights, etc. ) attempt to shape young readers' understanding of rights
U.N.-funded children's books that explicitly promote children's rights
Poverty and children's and young adult literature
Colonialism/Postcolonialism and children’s and young adult literature
Citizenship and children's and young adult literature
Censorship and children's rights
Conflicts between child characters and adult characters over the child's rights and obligations

Essays should be sent to guest editors Lara Saguisag and Matthew B. Prickett at LU.RightsIssue@gmail.com by May 31, 2015. Submissions should be 15-20 pages (4000-6000 words). Accepted articles will appear in issue 40.2 (2016) of The Lion and the Unicorn.

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33. Review – Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro

I’ve been on a bit of backlist bender lately and with one of my favourite books of 2014 being compared to this I thought I’d give it ago. This is one of the most haunting coming of age novels I have ever read. Set in England in an alternative late 1990s the story is narrated by Kathy […]

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34. Perdido Street Station

I read my first China Miéville book a couple years ago, The City and the City. Imagine two cities with different cultures and architecture existing in the same space. So, for instance, you live in one city but your next door neighbor lives in the other city. You see each other coming and going but you live in two different cities and you are not allowed to even acknowledge you see one another or the government will come and take you away for reconditioning. But that is not what the book is about, that is just the setting. The book is actually a police procedural. Trippy, right?

So when I sat down to read my second ever Miéville, Perdido Street Station, I was prepared to be plunged into something richly imagined but I had no idea what. The thing I like about reading Miéville is that you do just plunge in. He has created an incredibly detailed world with geography and beings of different races each with their own history and cultures but he doesn’t just tell you about it, he lets you experience it in the context of the story. This makes the beginning of his novels both exciting (you never know what you might discover) and hard going (you have no idea what is going on). If you are going to read Miéville, you have to be okay with total immersion and the confusion and uncertainty that goes along with it. Eventually you will know everything you need to know, you just have to wait and pay attention.

And so at the beginning of Perdido Street Station we find ourselves arriving by boat on a filthy river with a stranger to a city called New Crobuzon. And then the narrative shifts to Isaac and Lin and we don’t know who this stranger is for a number of chapters. But we don’t know who Isaac and Lin are either. Through the story we learn Isaac is human and Lin is Khepri, a humanoid woman body with an insectoid head, and the pair are lovers. Prejudice against inter-species love abound and so we start to think that this is going to be a love story of sorts about breaking through boundaries. And it is that, but that does not turn out to be the main story.

The main story congeals around Isaac a scientist semi-attached to the university but no longer really welcome there because his research is just too far out of the realm of what anyone believes is possible. Except it isn’t. And his far out research ends up in a breakthrough that eventually saves the entire city of New Corbuzon from being destroyed by slake moths, nightmare creatures escaped from government control that suck the consciousness out of sentient beings leaving them as living vegetables.

The book manages to be a romance, a thriller, science fiction, and horror all rolled into one. And it works. It really works. Miéville is always in control and no matter how weird the story gets or uncertain the reader might start to feel about making sense of it all, you can trust Miéville and so relax and enjoy the ride. This is speculative science fiction at its best, a substantial story, complex and intricately told. His vocabulary is one that sent me to the dictionary again and again. It’s smart and makes demands of the reader. And as alien as the world and the story turn out to be, it is all so richly detailed with such a sense of depth to it that it feels real and you believe in the places and peoples and histories and cultures. It really is astonishing.

If you don’t read a lot of science fiction, I wouldn’t recommend this book to you, however, if you are an avid SF fan or even read it now and then and feel comfortable in an SF world, definitely give this book a try. It is worth all the effort you will have to put into it.

Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: China Mieville

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35. Interview at Bartography: Video Games & Me

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Chris Barton, author of many excellent children’s books including that Peterson family favorite, Shark vs. Train, is celebrating the impending launch of his newest book, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, by interviewing other authors about their relationship with video games. Today it’s my turn. I had a blast (Asteroids reference, get it?) answering his questions. You know how I love me my games. :)


CB: What games did you play the most when you were a kid? What did you love about them?

MW: We got an Atari 2600 when I was around 8th or 9th grade. I. LOVED. THAT. THING. Fave game: Adventure. The way the dragons curled up when you stabbed them! I went through a whole blissful nostalgia-binge not long ago, revisiting Adventure on a desktop version. It’s amazing the wave of feelings it conjures up. That exhilaration of discovery; the happy state of tension I love in a game.

Naturally I had to give a big shoutout to Glitch, the best game of all time (sniff).


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36. Shark Week Is for Readers, Too: 10+ Books to Read this Week

JAWSEach year for one week, The Discovery Channel takes over the airwaves with a seven-day onslaught of movies, documentaries, survivor tales and semi-factual mockumentaries about sharks. As fascinating as it all is, readers are left high and dry—where are all the books about sharks? I’ve rounded up several—some classic, some campy, some for kids, some nonfiction—for those of us who want all the thrill of Shark Week, but with somewhat less screen time. (Or supplement your Discovery marathoning. There are no rules in Shark Week.)

1. Jaws

It wouldn’t be a list about shark books without the one that started it all. Peter Benchley’s classic inspired Steven Spielberg’s film, and 40 years later it’s still deeply, relentlessly terrifying. Hank Searls’ followup novelizations of Jaws 2 and Jaws: The Revenge and Benchley’s The Deep are also highly encouraged reading for the week.

2. The Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway’s tale of a Cuban fisherman going head-to-snout with a marlin is remembered for many reasons, none of which pertain to Shark Week. We should change that. The Nobel Prize in Literature is nice and all, but this week is a big deal right now, and an entirely unscientific survey I just conducted reveals that only one in several readers outside of high school has bothered to pick up The Old Man and the Sea, except when rearranging bookshelves. (That one is me. This book is worth reading any week of the year.)

Megbook3. The Meg series

You don’t have to be an especially well-read fan of megalodon lore to enjoy Steve Alten’s bestselling undersea thriller series featuring the rediscovery of the largest shark species in history. Begin at the beginning with Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, then dare yourself to tear through the next five Meg novels (The Trench, Primal Waters, Hell’s Aquarium, Nightstalkers and Origins) before you have to enter a body of water larger than a bathtub.

4. In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

Technically, Doug Stanton’s harrowing story of the 317 men who survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis isn’t specifically about sharks. But it’s damn good reading, and a sufficient quantity of sharks are involved in the story to include it on this list.

5. Sharks! by National Geographic Kids

Sharks are scary, but they’re also super-cool. If you have a small person who enjoys reading, consider picking this title up on your next trip to the library. Or check it out for yourself—no one dislikes 32 pages of cool facts about sharks.

Nugget and Fang6. Nugget and Fang: Friends Forever–or Snack Time?

So maybe stories about vicious attacks or details about shark migration are a little too advanced for some kids. Fortunately for them, there is Tammi Sauer and Michael Slack’s adorable little story about vegetarian sharks who make friends with a school of minnows.

7. Shark Girl 

Kelly Bingham’s debut young adult novel chronicles the life of a girl who has lost her arm to a shark attack, and then must return to high school with a prosthesis to face the potential mockery of her fellow classmates. Shark Girl is less shark-centric than, say, Meg, but more personal and introspective than most other books on this list. And as a young adult novel in verse, it’s possible that Shark Girl is the only book (so far) about a shark-attack-survivor in high school that also rhymes. (Joking aside, Bingham’s work here is impressive and award-winning, and worth reading even outside the brief moment that is Shark Week.)

BAIT8. Bait

If you put four drug addicts on an island, heroin on a nearby island, and a shiver of sharks between, what happens? This is the premise of J. Kent Messum’s award-winning first novel, Bait. You’ll have to find out for yourself what happens after that.

9. The Secret Life of Sharks

For every myth Jaws perpetuated, Pete Klimley debunked three in his celebrated collection of real facts about sharks—what they eat, when, how they raise their young, when and how they migrate. From hammerheads to great whites, there are few books as full of firsthand data on shark behavior.

10. Shark Fin Soup

There are few books more appropriate for this week than Susan Klaus’ thriller about a man who avenges his wife’s murder at the hands of shark finners by becoming an ecoterrorist called Captain Nemo. Nemo’s methods may be suspect, but his heart is in the right place.

There’s no way to include every book about sharks on this list. What are your favorites?


Adrienne Crezo is the managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @a_crezo.

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37. Work and Life

On a recent solo road trip, I grabbed a random book on CD from the 658s and ended up with “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance” by Tony Schwartz. This book was recently re-published under the title “Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live”. This was one of the best ways that I could have spent my 10 hours on the road. I’m an exempt employee who loves my job, so I tend to struggle with my work life balance, often leaning towards more work and less life.

The basic idea of the book is that we have four core needs that help us perform at our best: security, self-expression, significance & sustainability. We need to make sure that these needs are met so that we can be more efficient and focused when we are at work.

Significance: This is the “why” of your work. Why do you get up in the morning?

Security: Feeling accepted and appreciated for who you are.

Self-Expression: The ability to use your unique talents and skills.

Sustainability: Taking care of yourself so that you can take care of your work.

Sustainability is definitely my trouble area. Schwartz argues, with research to back him up, that powering through a 12 hour day is less productive than an 8 hour day with plenty of “renewal” breaks. Examples of renewal breaks include reading, taking a nap, going on a run or just getting outside for a walk.

Schwartz also argues that we run through a daytime cycle, similar to the 90 minute sleep cycle and we can only give 90 minutes of focused energy before we have to take a break. After 90 minutes, one becomes less productive. He recommends scheduling meetings for a maximum of 90 minutes and some for only 30 minutes. He said that in a 30 minute meeting, you tend to get more done because you don’t have the luxury of time.

He also talked about the myth of multi-tasking and the idea that we are always distracted, giving only a portion of our attention to any one thing; that we don’t fully engage in anything and definitely don’t spend enough time thinking about long term planning or big picture stuff.

Most importantly he mentions that it is important to turn off work and not check email constantly from home, but to fully engage in other activities in order to be better at work.

After I returned home I shared this book with my colleagues and I picked up a print copy for myself. After skimming through the material again I compiled a thirty-one item list of things to do to improve my work life balance. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so although I have only made half of these improvements, I feel good about my progress.

Right now I am looking very much forward to my second to last vacation of the year. I plan to leave work behind and enjoy my family and the last bit of summer.

If you are struggling to leave work at work, I highly recommend this read (or listen). If you are not sure if you could benefit from the book, take this Energy Audit quiz.

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38. Hearing Voices

When you read do you hear voices in your head? I do. I just asked Bookman and he does too. I suspect most readers hear a book as they read.

What you hear, is it you? Or do you hear the characters? I have a narrative voice and the characters get voices too but they aren’t especially distinctive voices, they are more like my narrative voice doing voices rather than say, Jim Dale doing all the voices on the Harry Potter audiobook with each one distinct. But even my narrative voice, while it is me, it doesn’t sound like me if I were to speak. I wish my speaking voice did sound like my inner narrative voice because that inner voice sounds so much more assured and resonant with lovely tonal variation that my real speaking voice does not possess.

Bookman tells me he has a narrative voice too. And, if he has seen a movie made from the book he is reading or has listened to the book on audio and heard the voices animated, he hears those voices when he reads. I think I have an inclination towards that too, just like the visuals of characters I have seen in film will overlay the visuals of the characters in the book.

You may or may not be surprised to know that the phenomenon of hearing voices is not a well studied one. Some academics at the University of Durham in the UK are working on changing that and you can help. Currently they are at the Edinburgh book festival talking to readers there, but, if you, like me, aren’t there, you can still participate in the study by filling out their online survey.

Before you take the survey, be sure to read a bit about it at the Guardian.

I took the survey and spent about 15 minutes or so at it. You should know it asks about more than just hearing voices while you read. It also asks about whether or not you talk to yourself and whether you had or have imaginary friends. I’m not sure what imaginary friends have to do with it. Oh, yes, I suppose when talking to an imaginary friend you might hear that friend’s voice. As someone who never had such a friend I was confused by those questions but now I get it. I can be a little slow sometimes!

It’s a fascinating topic so help them out and fill out their survey. Also, be sure to let us all know whether you hear voices. I can pretty much guarantee we won’t think you are crazy.

Filed under: Books

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39. More Than Books for Back to School

Yesterday marked the first day of school for many kids across the country. And from Sacramento to Savannah, classroom shelves were stocked and backpacks stuffed to the brim with brand new books from First Book.

For over 20 years, we’ve been in the fortunate position to help teachers get the books their students need to start school off strong. And this year is no different. In fact, we’re now offering more tools than ever before to help kids in need read, learn and succeed. In addition to books, our network of 130,000 educators and program leaders will also be able to access games, bookmarks, school supplies and interactive learning tools for the kids they serve.

Check out some of the cool new tools we’re offering on the First Book Marketplace – just in time for back to school:

How else will kids carry all their great new books?

JuniorHighKit2014Kits for Kidz
Notebooks, pencils, scissors, a ruler – these ready-made kits contain 30 essential items required for an entire school year. Available for primary, elementary and junior high school.

Help kids stay on track during math class with brand new calculators. Scientific and pocket calculators available in carton or single quantities.

neon_fanned_neonMark-My-Time Digital Bookmarks
Vibrant digital bookmarks enable kids (and their caregivers) to track their reading time and feel a sense of accomplishment.

coins_count_lmCoins Count!
Coins Count! is a fun board game that helps kids make sense of money and learn the value of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollar bills.

Bug Barn Kitbug_barn_image
This fun viewing barn and tools helps lets do hands-on science explorations and take a closer look at the natural world.

Do you work with kids in need?  Sign up with First Book today to access all these great learning resources.

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40. The life of oceans: a history of marine discovery

By Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams

It pays to be nice. One of the most absolutely, emphatically wrong hypotheses about the oceans was coined by one of the most carefree and amiable people in nineteenth century science. It should have sunk his reputation without trace. Yet, it did not. He thought the deep oceans were stone cold dead and lifeless. They’re certainly not that. Even more amazingly, it was clear that the deep oceans were full of life even before he proposed his hypothesis — and yet the idea persisted for decades. He is still regarded as the father of marine biology. There’s a moral in that somewhere.

Edward Forbes was born a Manxman who early developed a love of natural history. He collected flowers, seashells, butterflies with a passion that saw him neglect, then fail dismally in, his studies: first as an artist (he had a fine talent for drawing) then as a doctor. He drifted into becoming some kind of itinerant naturalist who naturally shook things up around him. Going to the British Association meeting in Birmingham, he reacted to the formal atmosphere by decamping to a local pub, the Red Lion, and taking a good deal of the membership with him. There, fueled by beef and beer, they debated the great scientific ideas of the day. They expressed agreement or disagreement with debating points not by a show of hands, but growling like lions and fluttering their coat-tails (Forbes’s technique with the coat-tails was held up as a model for the younger Lions).

In 1841, Forbes was on board a surveying ship, the HMS Beacon, in the Mediterranean. He noticed that as they dredged in deeper waters, the dredge buckets brought up fewer types of marine organism. He extrapolated from that to propose the “azoic hypothesis” — that the deep oceans were dead. It seemed not unreasonable — as one climbs higher up mountains, life diminishes, then disappears. For it to do the same in the oceans would show a nice symmetry. The azoic hypothesis took hold.

The trouble was, even then, commercial ships — with sounding lines far longer than the Beacon’s dredge buckets could go — were occasionally pulling up starfish and other animals from as much as two kilometers down. That should have killed the azoic hypothesis stone dead. But it didn’t. As luck had it, the first reports of such things happened to be sent in by ship’s captains who were either known for telling tall tales or who were plain bad-tempered. They couldn’t compete with Forbes’s eloquence or charm.

It took quite a few years before the weight of evidence finally dragged down the azoic hypothesis. We now know that the Earth’s deep oceans are alive, the thriving communities sustained by a rain of nutrients from above. Edward Forbes’s brainchild is simply one of many of the ideas through which we have gained — tortuously — a better understanding of the Earth’s oceans.

There have been other extraordinary characters, too, involved in this story. The scientists who concocted the inspired lunacy of the American Miscellaneous Society (AMSOC), for example, where every member automatically became a founding member, and where one of the rules was that there were no rules. Crazy as it was, AMSOC led to the Ocean Drilling Program, which revolutionized our knowledge of the deep ocean floors, of the history of global climate and of very much else. It’s also one of the great unsung revolutions of world science — but then there’s much that concerns the oceans that deserves to be more widely known.

There are extraordinary characters involved, too, in the new frontier of ocean science: the oceans that exist, or once existed, on other worlds. There’s the unfortunate Giordano Bruno, who imagined far-off worlds like our own — and who was burned at the stake for expounding these and other heresies. There’s Svante Arrhenius, who, a century ago, got Mars exactly right (no chance of canals, or water, he said) — but got Venus quite wrong (a thoroughly wet planet, he thought, and not the dry baking hell we now know it to be). There’s the wonderful mistake, too, of the contaminated detectors on a spacecraft on Venus — that led to the discovery of the oceans that likely once existed there.

We discover seas on other planets and moons, even as we still try to understand our own Earthly oceans. Just how have they lasted so long? And how will they change — in the next century, and in the next billion years? The story of oceans is really, truly never-ending.

Jan Zalasiewicz is Senior Lecturer in Geology and Mark Williams is Professor in Geology, both at the University of Leicester. They are also co-authors of Ocean Worlds: The story of seas on Earth and other planets.

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Images: Underwater sea life – Public Domain via Pixabay. Jellyfish – Public Domain via Pixabay

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41. The teenage exploits of a future celebrity

By Carol J. Oja

Rising to prominence at lightning speed during World War II, Leonard Bernstein quickly became one of the most famous musicians of all time, gaining notice as a conductor and composer of both classical works and musical theater. One day he was a recent Harvard graduate, struggling to earn a living in the music world. The next, he was on the front page of the New York Times for his stunning debut with the New York Philharmonic in November 1943. At twenty-five, Bernstein was the newly appointed assistant conductor of the orchestra, and he stepped in at the last minute to replace the eminent maestro Bruno Walter in a concert that was broadcast over the radio.

At the same time – and with the same blistering pace — Bernstein had two high-profile premieres in the theater: the ballet Fancy Free in April 1944, and the Broadway musical On the Town in December that same year. For both, he collaborated with the young choreographer Jerome Robbins, and the two men later became mega-famous for West Side Story in 1957. Added to that, the writers of the book and lyrics for On the Town were Bernstein’s close friends Betty Comden and Adolph Green, whose major celebrity came with the screenplay for Singin’ in the Rain in 1952.

So 1944 was a key year for Bernstein in the theater. Yet he already had considerable experience with theatrical productions, albeit with neighborhood kids in the Jewish community of Sharon, Massachusetts, south of Boston, where his parents had a summer home, and as a counselor at a Jewish summer camp in the Berkshires.

Some of these productions were charmingly outrageous, including a staging of Carmen in Sharon during the summer of 1934, when Bernstein was fifteen. Together with his male friend Dana Schnittken, Bernstein organized local teens in presenting an adaptation of Carmen in Yiddish, with the performers in drag. “Together we wrote a highly localized joke version of a highly abbreviated Carmen in drag, using just the hit tunes,” Bernstein later recalled in an interview with the BBC. “Dana played Micaela in a wig supplied by my father’s Hair Company—I’ll never forget his blonde tresses—and I sang Carmen in a red wig and a black mantilla and in a series of chiffon dresses borrowed from various neighbors on Lake Avenue, through which my underwear was showing. Don José was played by the love of my life, Beatrice Gordon. The bullfighter was played by a lady called Rose Schwartz.” Bernstein’s father, who was an immigrant to the United States, owned the Samuel J. Bernstein Hair Company in Boston, which not only prospered mightily during the Great Depression but also provided wigs for his son’s theatrical exploits.

Bernstein conducting the Camp Onota Rhythm Band. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Bernstein conducting the Camp Onota Rhythm Band. Courtesy of Library of Congress

The young Leonard’s summer performances also involved rollicking productions of operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan. In the summer of 1935, he directed The Mikado in Sharon. Bernstein sang the role of Nanki-Poo, and his eleven-year-old sister Shirley was Yum-Yum. Decades later, friends of Bernstein who were involved in that production—by then quite elderly—recalled going with the cast to a nearby Howard Johnson’s Restaurant to celebrate. After eating a hearty meal, they stole the silverware! Being upright young citizens, they quickly returned it.

In the summer of 1936, Bernstein and his buddies produced H.M.S. Pinafore. “I think the bane of my family’s existence was Gilbert and Sullivan, whose scores my sister Shirley and I would howl through from cover to cover,” Bernstein later reminisced to The Book of Knowledge.

As a culmination of this youthful activity, Bernstein produced The Pirates of Penzance during the summer of 1937, while he worked as the music counselor at Camp Onota in the Berkshires. His future collaborator Adolph Green was a visitor at the camp, and Green took the role of the Pirate King.

A photograph in the voluminous Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress vividly evokes Bernstein’s experience at Camp Onota. There, the youthful Lenny stands next to a bandstand, conducting a rhythm band of even younger campers. This is clearly not a stage production. But there he is – an aspiring conductor, honing his craft in the balmy days of summer.

As it turned out, Bernstein’s transition from teenage artistic adventures to mature commercial success—from camp T-shirts to tux and tails—took place in a blink.

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

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42. Aleister Crowley and Thelema

By Alyssa Bender

The twelfth of August marks the Feast of the Prophet and his Bride, a holiday that commemorates the marriage of Aleister Crowley and his first wife Rose Edith Crowley in the religion he created, Thelema. Born in 1875, Crowley traveled the world, living in Cambridge, Mexico, Cairo, China, America, Sicily, and Berlin. Here, using Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism as our trusted guide, we take a closer look at the man and his religion.

Photo of Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley, Golden Dawn. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1898 Alesiter Crowley was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as Frater Perdurabo. The teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were based upon an imaginative reworking of Hermetic writings further informed by nineteenth-century scholarship in Egyptology and anthropology. The order was structured around the symbolism of the kabbalah and organized into temples that were run on strictly hierarchical lines. Authority was vested in leading individuals, and initiates were given a rigorous and systematic training in the “rejected” knowledge of Western esotericism. They studied the symbolism of astrology, alchemy, and kabbalah; were instructed in geomantic and tarot divination; and learned the underpinnings of basic magical techniques.

Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA

Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Crowley’s magical self, Perdurabo, was a part of his concept of selfhood. In his own words:

As a member of the Second Order [of the Golden Dawn], I wore a certain jewelled ornament of gold upon my heart. I arranged that when I had it on, I was to permit no thought, word or action, save such as pertained directly to my magical aspirations. When I took it off I was, on the contrary, to permit no such things; I was to be utterly uninitiate. It was like Jekyll and Hyde, but with the two personalities balanced and complete in themselves.

Photo of K2 expedition.

The base camp of 1902 expedition for K2. Aleister Crowley is in setted in the middle. By Jules Jacot Guillarmod. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1902, Aleister Crowley was a part of the team who made the second serious attempt to climb the world’s second highest summit, K2.

Frontpage from a published versions of Liber AL vel Legis

Frontpage from a published versions of Liber AL vel Legis. By Ordo Templi Orientis. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In the spring of 1904, while on his honeymoon in Cairo, Egypt, he received a short prophetic text, which came to be known as Liber AL vel Legis or The Book of the Law. The book announces the doctrines of a new religion called Thelema, with Crowley—referred to in the book as “the prince-priest the Beast”—as its prophet.

The most important book of The Holy Books of Thelema, The Book of the Law is a channeled text that consists of 220 short verses divided into three chapters.

Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA

Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The core doctrines of this new creed of Thelema were expressed in three short dictums: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” “Love is the law, love under will,” and “Every man and every woman is a star.”

Thelema Abbey, Cefalù, Sicily

Thelema Abbey in Cefalù, Sicily, by Frater Kybernetes. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thelema Abbey was established in the small Italian town of Cefalù in the period between 1920 and 1923. It consisted of one large house occupied by a small number of Crowley’s disciples and mistress(es). Life at the Abbey was for the most part Crowley’s attempt to translate his magical and Thelemic ideas into social reality. For the participants, the regime of life involved a great deal of occult and sex-magic activity as well as experiments with various mind-and mood-altering substances, such as hashish, cocaine, heroin, and opium.

Alyssa Bender is a marketing coordinator in Academic/Trade marketing, working on religion and theology titles as well as Bibles. She has worked in OUP’s New York office since July 2011.

Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, edited by Henrik Bogdan and Martin P. Starr, is the first comprehensive examination of an understudied thinker and figure in the occult.

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43. Founding Gardeners

Who knew that gardening could be such a political thing? That a gardening philosophy could have such an impact on the beginnings of a country and how its people conceived of themselves? Until I read The Founding Gardeners: How the Revolutionary Generation Created an American Eden by Andrea Wulf, I had never really thought much about American politics and gardening. That there is a connection is still amazing to me.

A number of the early founders of America were great gardeners, Thomas Jefferson, for instance. This is generally well known. What is not so well known is how revolutionary his gardening was and how that also played itself out in his politics and his vision of America. Wulf takes a look at not only Jefferson, but also George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison, all great gardeners, all signers of the Declaration of Independence, all Presidents of the United States.

Early in this country’s beginning, a lack of labor combined with heavy duties and taxes by the British prevented the not yet United States from developing much in the way of manufacturing. Thus, forcing the colonists to rely on British goods and keeping them under the thumb of the king. So instead of developing as a manufacturing country, the roots of America grew in the soil. A vast country with rich and fertile land, the colonists took to the fields raising raising grain, corn and tobacco. Almost all the colonists lived off the land, and became self-sufficient which eventually allowed them to break away from British rule and become the United States of America.

So it was that George Washington, general and first president, was himself a farmer. And it was planning and tending his farm that kept him warm all those cold winter nights during the revolutionary war. When the latest march was finished and the newest plan against the British worked out, Washington would sit down and write long letters to his farm manger about what to plant, where to plant it and when it should be planted. Not only was he a revolutionary war hero but his garden too was revolutionary. Independence from Britain also meant independence from the nation of British gardeners. It meant using American plants instead of plants from Britain and Europe. It meant finding the beautiful that existed in this country and elevating it to an even higher status as being worthy of being not just part of a wild landscape, but part of an ornamental garden.

This choosing to create gardens using the plants of America was something Adams, Jefferson and Madison did as well. Sure, they would travel to Europe and get ideas about gardening and agriculture, but then they would go home and adapt those ideas to their native American soil. These men, especially Jefferson, believed the future of America was in agriculture. They wrote letters to each other and their farm managers and wives and children about compost and crop rotations, about vegetables and trees.

Jefferson installed an extraordinary vegetable terrace at Monticello. Instead of hiding away the vegetables like most estates did, Jefferson turned his into a gorgeous experimental garden in its own right. He obtained seeds of every kind and variety he possibly could from anyone and everyone and planted them and observed and tasted. His goal was to find the best beans, the best, corn, the best squash and then spread the word and seeds to other farmers. America was to be an agrarian Eden, a republic of hardy, moral men working together to create something great.

In the beginning of the country there were no political parties. This lasted until Hamilton ran for president. His vision of America greatly contrasted with Jefferson’s and friends’ agrarian one. Hamilton wanted roads and cities, trade and manufacturing, and during his presidency established a national bank, a move which Jefferson though would be the end of everything that made America great. And so two parties formed. Which is really interesting because those seeds remain in the parties that exist today and is especially noticeable in Minnesota. The democratic party in Minnesota goes by the name “DFL” or Democratic Farm-Labor Party. It is the party that Jefferson and the others would likely find themselves agreeing with, though they would perhaps not be so keen on the social liberal part of the agenda. The republican party in the state is always on about business, trade, money, an agenda Hamilton would likely find familiar.

When it came to the building of Washington D.C., agrarian versus manufacturing politics played out there as well. Jefferson want a small town surrounded by farms. If he had his way the White House would be nothing more than a fancy farm house and the streets would be lined with trees and gardens and the city surrounded by fields. The other vision was one of broad avenues and grand architecture. In spite of Jefferson’s best efforts he mostly lost that argument. Though the presence of an organic vegetable garden at the White House these days harkens back to the past when we were all farmers.

By the time James Madison came along the fertile soil that had sustained the early colonists had begun to be depleted. The country was so large though that instead of taking care of the fields that had already been created, people started moving west, ploughing new fields. Forests were already disappearing and to Madison this was a travesty. Yes, this new country was large and full of resources, but that was no excuse to ruin one part of it and move on to ruin another part. Eventually we would run of out of room and then what? Long before Thoreau and John Muir, Madison began speaking out about the importance of conservation, of taking care of the fields, of saving forest land. Madison’s Address to the Agricultural Society of Albemarle was groundbreaking and at its publication amounted to a bestseller. It did not turn Americans into environmentalists overnight, but it began a movement that led to people recognizing that American forests were a national treasure.

As wonderful and revolutionary as the gardening practices of the Founders were, they still could not manage to bring themselves to rise above and see slavery as an evil. All of them had slaves. All of them worked their slaves on their farms and in their gardens. In creating a park lined with trees in front of his house, Washington made his slaves dig up full-grown trees in winter from the forest on the estate and move them to their new location. Madison was considered forward thinking when it came to slaves. He created a model village in the middle of his garden for a few of his slave families. They each had a small cottage and a small garden. The “village” was in full view of the house and was much admired by the constant stream of guests visiting Madison. The slaves, of course, had to pretend to be happy, always on display, always putting on a performance. Meanwhile, the rest of the slaves who worked in the farm fields lived in dingy cabins down by the fields, out of sight of the house and all the visitors. It will always be a disappointment to me that these great thinkers could never think their way clear of slavery.

Nonetheless, the early vision of America as an agricultural paradise lingers. These days even though the majority of Americans live in cities, we still have a view of ourselves as a nation of farmers. It is in the songs we sing about our country — amber waves of grain and fruited plains — and in the pride we take in our national parks and “purple mountain majesty.” It is in the upsurge in popularity of farmers markets, community supported agriculture and urban farming. It is in the pendulum swing from consumer capitalism to a movement towards self-sufficiency, homesteading, resource sharing, do-it-yourself alternatives. The vision of our founders still speaks to us, still captures our imagination, and still holds promise.

I had been wanting to read this book for ages so I owe Danielle for finally getting me to read it with her suggestion we read it together. Be sure to hop over and see what she has to say about it.

Filed under: Books, gardening, History, Nonfiction, Reviews

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44. Nicholson’s wrong theories and the advancement of chemistry

By Eric Scerri

The past couple of years have seen the celebration of a number of key developments in the history of physics. In 1913 Niels Bohr, perhaps the second most famous physicist of the 20th century after Einstein, published is iconic theory of the atom. Its main ingredient, which has propelled it into the scientific hall of fame, was it’s incorporation of the notion of the quantum of energy. The now commonplace view that electrons are in shells around the nucleus is a direct outcome of the quantization of their energy.

Between 1913 and 1914 the little known English physicist, Henry Moseley, discovered that the use of increasing atomic weights was not the best way to order the elements in the chemist’s periodic table. Instead, Moseley proposed using a whole number sequence to denote a property that he called the atomic number of an element. This change had the effect of removing the few remaining anomalies in the way that the elements are arranged in this icon of science that is found on the walls of lecture halls and laboratories all over the world. In recent years the periodic table has even become a cultural icon to be appropriated by artists, designers and advertisers of every persuasion.

But another scientist who was publishing articles at about the same time as Bohr and Moseley has been almost completely forgotten by all but a few historians of physics. He is the English mathematical physicist John Nicholson, who was in fact the first to suggest that the momentum of electrons in an atom is quantized. Bohr openly acknowledges this point in all his early papers.

Nicholson hypothesized the existence of what he called proto-elements that he believed existed in inter-stellar space and which gave rise to our familiar terrestrial chemical elements. He gave them exotic names like nebulium and coronium and using this idea he was able to explain many unassigned lines in the spectra of the solar corona and the major stellar nebulas such as the famous Crab nebula in the constellation of Orion. He also succeeded in predicting some hitherto unknown lines in each of these astronomical bodies.

The really odd thing is that Nicholson was completely wrong, or at least that’s how his ideas are usually regarded. How it is that supposedly ‘wrong’ theories can produce such advances in science, even if only temporarily?

Image Credit: Bio Lab. Photo by Amy. CC BY 2.0 via Amy Loves Yah Flickr.

Image Credit: Bio Lab. Photo by Amy. CC BY 2.0 via Amy Loves Yah Flickr.

Science progresses as a unified whole, not stopping to care about which scientist is successful or not, while being only concerned with overall progress. The attribution of priority and scientific awards, from a global perspective, is a kind of charade which is intended to reward scientists for competing with each other. On this view no scientific development can be regarded as being right or wrong. I like to draw an analogy with the evolution of species or organisms. Developments that occur in living organisms can never be said to be right or wrong. Those that are advantageous to the species are perpetuated while those that are not simply die away. So it is with scientific developments. Nicholson’s belief in proto-elements may not have been productive but his notion of quantization in atoms was tremendously useful and the baton was passed on to Bohr and all the quantum physicists who came later.

Instead of viewing the development of science through the actions of individuals and scientific heroes, a more holistic view is better to discern the whole process — including the work of lesser-known intermediate figures, such as Nicholson. The Dutch economist Anton den Broek first made the proposal that elements should be characterized by an ordinal number before Moseley had even begun doing physics. This is not a disputed point since Moseley begins one of his key papers by stating that he began his research in order to verify the van den Broek hypothesis on atomic number.

Another intermediate figure in the history of physics was Edmund Stoner who took a decisive step forward in assigning quantum numbers to each of the electrons in an atom while as a graduate student at Cambridge. In all there are four such quantum numbers which are used to specify precisely how the electrons are arranged first in shells, then sub-shells and finally orbitals in any atom. Stoner was responsible for applying the third quantum number. It was after reading Stoner’s article that the much more famous Wolfgang Pauli was able to suggest a fourth quantum number which later acquired the name of electron spin to describe a further degree of freedom for every electron in an atom.

Eric Scerri is a full-time chemistry lecturer at UCLA. Eric Scerri is a leading philosopher of science specializing in the history and philosophy of the periodic table. He is also the founder and editor in chief of the international journal Foundations of Chemistry and has been a full-time lecturer at UCLA for the past fifteen years where he regularly teaches classes of 350 chemistry students as well as classes in history and philosophy of science. He is the author of A Tale of Seven Elements, The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance, and The Periodic Table: A Very Short Introduction.

Chemistry Giveaway! In time for the 2014 American Chemical Society fall meeting and in honor of the publication of The Oxford Handbook of Food Fermentations, edited by Charles W. Bamforth and Robert E. Ward, Oxford University Press is running a paired giveaway with this new handbook and Charles Bamforth’s other must-read book, the third edition of Beer. The sweepstakes ends on Thursday, August 14th at 5:30 p.m. EST.

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45. The 2014 Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards!

For 2014, the Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards will be open to books published from January to December 2013, in the following categories:

Fiction in English - A novel in English, in any of the following genres: literary fiction, mystery/thriller, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, horror, speculative fiction

Fiction in Filipino (or Taglish) – A novel in Filipino (or Taglish), in any of the following genres: literary fiction, mystery/thriller, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, horror, speculative fiction

Romance in English – A novel or novelette in English, in any of the following genres or classifications: romance, chick lit, erotica

Romance in Filipino (or Taglish) – A novel or novelette in Filipino (or Taglish), in any of the following genres or classifications: romance, chick lit, erotica

Fiction Anthology – A short story compilation by a single author or multiple authors, in either English or Filipino

Young Adult Fiction – A novel aimed towards the young adult audience, in either English or Filipino

Children’s Picture Book – A children’s picture book, fiction or nonfiction, in either English or Filipino

Comics & Graphic Novels – A comic compilation or graphic novel, fiction or nonfiction, in either English or Filipino

Poetry – A collection of poetry by a single author or multiple authors, in either English or Filipino

Inspirational / Religious – Nonfiction, in any of the following classifications: religious, spiritual, inspirational, in either English or Filipino

Humor – Nonfiction work, classified as humor, in either English or Filipino
Food & Cookbook – Nonfiction work, classified under food or cooking

Nonfiction – A single work or anthology, of the following classifications: arts and culture, memoir, autobiography, biography, creative nonfiction, history, philosophy, psychology, in either English or Filipino

Nominations for the awards will be open until August 18. Anybody can nominate books! To nominate books, just fill out this online nomination form.

For more details on the 2014 Filipino Readers' Choice Awards, please visit this link or email filipinoreaderschoiceATgmailDOTcom.

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46. Technologies of sexiness

By Adrienne Evans

What does it mean for a woman to “feel sexy”? In our current consumer culture, the idea of achieving sexiness is all-pervasive: an expectation of contemporary femininity, wrapped up in objects ranging from underwear, shoes, sex toys, and erotic novels. Particular celebrities and “sex symbol” icons, ranging throughout the decades, are said to embody it: Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Farrah Fawcett, Madonna, Sharon Stone, Pamela Anderson, Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Megan Fox. Ways of achieving sexiness are suggested by new sex experts, confidence and self-esteem advocates, and make-up aficionados, who tell us how to “Have Better Sex!”, “Seduce Your Man!!”, “Look Sexy, Feel Sexy!!!”

All this expectation to be sexy, and to be constantly working on becoming sexy, has created a high level of cultural anxiety around sexiness — not to mention that this should remain “naturally” sexy, as though no work had gone into it at all (see, for example Jennifer Lopez’s “ordinary” sexy selfie in a bath full of rose petals).

Alongside these pressures, women’s feelings of sexiness now also take place in a period that’s been defined as “post-feminist.” It’s become culturally normative to assume the battles of the feminist period have been won, and that women now have equality with men. This means that, ironically, we are told how to do, think, act and feel sexy, as long as we’re doing it for ourselves. The expectation to feel sexy becomes as contradictory as a “Question Authority” bumper sticker.

How do women make sense of sexiness as part of feeling like a woman in the 21st Century? More importantly, one has to understand how generation figures into the equation, in terms of the “discursive repertories” that different age groups would have at their disposal in the context of “post-feminism.” How do women at different life stages negotiate the pressures to be sexy? Is sexiness achievable, or is the expectation too much? Do all women have an equal right to feel sexy? Who is missing from contemporary understandings of sexiness? How does the culture of sexiness interact with how women feel about themselves?

Postmodern sleeping beauty

During the research stage of our book, we spoke to two groups of white, heterosexual women, whom we called the “Pleasure Pursuers” (aged 25-35) and the “Functioning Feminists” (aged 45-55). Our discussions with these women were filled with stories of pleasure, pain, anxiety, fun, concern, disgust, and support. However, what was interesting was how both groups made sense of sexiness as a way of defining themselves as ‘good’ people: either as “good” new sexual subjects (fun and pleasure-seeking) or as “good” feminists (critical and nostalgic). Both allowed women to understand themselves in affirmative, authoritative ways. But the actual experience to feel sexy was something to work towards, or something that had already passed. Neither groups talked about feeling sexy in the here and now.

What it means to feel sexy now, today, is political. It folds together spheres of governmental policy, consumer culture, identity, and new digitally-driven feminist activism. The idea of a powerful and self-defined sexually confident woman has a strong pull for feminist researchers, as do calls to respect women’s “voice” and agency. However a consumer culture that sells confidence, choice and self-determination to women is way more difficult to defend. What we did find, though, through our discussions with women, was that their positions were slippery, contested full of contradiction, and never fully formed. For us, this spoke volumes about how to make sense of sexiness today, as a political construct, and as feminist academics and researchers.

Whether we’re pursuing the post-feminist promise of the sassy, sexy, self-determined, self-knowing feminine identity, or critically reacting against it, wishing it was replaced with more “authentic” feminist notions of sexiness, the cultural impulse to be sexy is side stepped. In a similar argument, Nina Power, author of One Dimensional Woman, warned us not to “be misled: The imperative to “Enjoy!” is omnipresent, but pleasure and happiness are almost entirely absent.” What it means for women to feel sexy today is what’s missing — and it’s these missing places, gaps, and contradictions, that deserve more critical inquiry and inter-generational dialogue.

Adrienne Evans is a Senior Lecturer in Media at Coventry University. Her main research interest is in exploring women’s contemporary sexual identities. Her current work continues in contemporary gender relations and the use of creative methods in research and teaching. She has published this work in the European Journal of Women’s Studies, Journal of Gender StudiesMen and MasculinitiesTeaching in Higher Education, and Feminism and Psychology. She is co-author of Technologies of Sexiness: Sex, Identity, and Consumer Culture.

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Image: Postmodern Sleeping Beauty by Helga Weber. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

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47. Review – Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

This book needs to come with a warning that if you don’t have time to read it the rest of the day don’t start it! Lauren Beukes takes her writing and her dark imagination to another level following the utterly amazing The Shining Girls. Beukes has chosen Detroit for the setting of this novel, the perfect place […]

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48. On unauthorized migrants and immigration outside the law

From news stories about unaccompanied minors from Central America to invisible workers without legal standing, immigration continues to stir debate in the United States. The arguments framing the issue are often inflected with distorted ideas and words. We sat down with Hiroshi Motomura, the author of Immigration Outside the Law, to discuss this contentious topic.

You use the term “unauthorized migrants” instead of “illegal” or “undocumented” immigrants. Why this choice of words?

This is a topic that is so controversial that even the labels provoke deep disagreement. The words “illegal” or “undocumented” often reflect very strong views. Because my goal is to explain what makes these debates so heated and then to analyze the issues carefully, I start with neutral terms, like “unauthorized” and “immigration outside the law.” I reach some firm conclusions about the nature of unauthorized migration and the best policy responses, but I try hard to work through the many arguments on both sides, acknowledging my own assumptions and taking all views seriously. This effort requires that I start with neutral terms.

What was the influence of the landmark 1982 US Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe on our current discussion of immigration policy?

Plyler was pivotal. The Court said that the state of Texas couldn’t keep kids out of public schools just because they are in the United States unlawfully. It was a 5–4 decision, and we can debate whether the Court would come out the same way today. But Plyler it is much more than constitutional law. Plyler turned on three questions that remain at the heart of controversy. First, what does it mean to be in the United States lawfully––is “illegal” or “undocumented” more apt? Second, what is the state and local role in immigration policy? Third, should unauthorized migrants be integrated into US society—are they “Americans in waiting”?

A photograph of the May 1st, "Day without an Immigrant" demonstration in Los Angeles, California. © elizparodi via iStockphoto.

A photograph of the May 1st, “Day without an Immigrant” demonstration in Los Angeles, California. © elizparodi via iStockphoto.

Are unauthorized migrants “Americans in waiting”?

Many unauthorized migrants are Americans in waiting, meaning that their integration into American society should be recognized and fostered. Unauthorized migrants have contributed to US society, especially through work, often over a long period of time. Their contributions justify lawful immigration status and a path to citizenship. An argument that is just as strong, though less often heard, is that unauthorized migrants have come to the United States as part of an economic system that depends on them — to be tolerated when we need them and exposed to discretionary enforcement when we don’t. These two arguments aren’t mutually exclusive, and both find support in history and the reality of today’s America.

Can unauthorized migrants currently assert their rights within the US legal system?

Unauthorized migrants can assert rights in many settings. They can sue if an employer refuses to pay them. They have a right to due process in the courts. In many states, unauthorized residents are eligible for driver’s licenses and in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. They are not relegated to oblivion. Why not? These rights recognize in small ways that unauthorized migrants are Americans in waiting. To be sure, broad scale legalization proposals in Congress attract a lot of attention, but mini-legalizations take place every day in settings where decision-makers at all levels of government acknowledge the place of unauthorized migrants in American society.

What have state and local governments done to address immigration outside the law?

The state government authority was at the heart of Plyler, and the state and local role has been controversial ever since. States and localities have tried to enforce federal immigration laws directly or indirectly. Arizona’s SB 1070 is a prominent example. At the same time, other states and localities try to integrate unauthorized migrants, through driver’s licenses, ID cards, and access to higher education, and by curtailing cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. Does federal immigration authority displace both types of state or local laws? I think not. The compelling reason to limit state and local enforcement is preventative––so state and local officials can’t enforce immigration laws in ways that are selective and discriminatory. This concern doesn’t apply when states and localities recognize or foster the integration of unauthorized migrants.

A version of this article will appear in the UCLA School of Law alumni magazine.

Hiroshi Motomura is Susan Westerberg Prager Professor of Law at UCLA. He is the author of Immigration Outside the Law and Americans in Waiting.

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49. Why study trust?

By Geoffrey Hosking

In many countries, including Britain, the Euro-elections in May showed that a substantial minority of voters are disillusioned with mainstream parties of both government and opposition. This result was widely anticipated, and all over Europe media commentators have been proclaiming that the public is losing trust in established politicians. Opinion polls certainly support this view, but what are they measuring when they ask questions about trust? It is a slippery concept which suggests very different things to different people. Social scientists cannot reach any kind of consensus on what it means, let alone on what might be undermining it. Yet most people would agree that some kind of trust in the political process is essential to a stable and prosperous society.

Social scientists have had trouble with the concept of trust because most of them attempt to reach an unambiguous definition of it, distinguishing it from all other concepts, and then apply it to all societies at different times and in different parts of the world. The results are unsatisfactory, and some are tempted to ditch the term altogether. Yet there self-evidently is such a thing as trust, and it plays a major role in our everyday life. Even if the word is often misused, we should not abandon it. My approach is different: I use the word as the focus of a semantic milieu which includes related concepts such as confidence, reliance, faith and belief, and then see how they work in practice in different historical settings.

The original impulse for Trust came from a specific historical setting: Russia during the 1990s. There I observed, at first hand, the impact on ordinary Russians of economic and political reforms inspired by Western example and in some cases directly imposed by the West. Those reforms rested on economic and political precepts derived from Western institutions and practices which dated back decades or even centuries – generating habits of mutual trust which had become so ingrained that we did not notice them anymore. In Russia those institutions and practices instead aroused wariness at first, then distrust, then resentment and even hatred of the West and its policies.

I learnt from that experience that much social solidarity derives from forms of mutual trust which are so unreflective that we are no longer aware of them. Trust does not always spring from conscious choice, as some social scientists affirm. On the contrary, some of its most important manifestations are unconscious. They are nevertheless definitely learned, not an instinctive part of human nature. It follows that forms of trust which we take for granted are not appropriate for all societies.

Despite these differences, human beings are by nature predisposed towards trust. Our ability to participate in society depends on trusting those around us unless there is strong evidence that we should not do so. We all seek to trust someone, even – perhaps especially – in what seem desperate situations. To live without trusting anyone or anything is intolerable; those who seek to mobilise trust are therefore working with the grain of human nature.


We also all need trust as a cognitive tool, to learn about the world around us. In childhood we take what our parents tell us on trust, whereas during adolescence we may well learn that some of it is untrue or inadequate. Learning to discriminate and to moderate both trust and distrust is extraordinarily difficult. The same applies in the natural sciences: we cannot replicate all experiments carried out in the past in order to check whether they are valid. We have trust most of what scientists tell us and integrate it into our world picture.

Because we all need trust so much, it tends to create a kind of herd instinct. We have a strong tendency to place our trust where those around us do so. As a senior figure in the Royal Bank of Scotland commented on the widespread profligacy which generated the 2008 financial crisis: “The problem is that in banks you have this kind of mentality, this kind of group-think, and people just keep going with what they know, and they don’t want to listen to bad news.”

Trust, then, is necessary both to avoid despair and to navigate our way through life, and it cannot always be based on what we know for certain. When we encounter unfamiliar people – and in the modern world this is a frequent experience – we usually begin by exercising an ‘advance’ of trust. If it is reciprocated, we can go on to form a fruitful relationship. But a lot depends on the nature and context of this first encounter. Does the other person speak in a familiar language, look reassuring and make gestures we can easily ‘read’? Trust is closely linked to identity – our sense of our own identity and of that of those around us.

On the whole the reason we tend to trust persons around us is because they are using symbolic systems similar to our own. To trust those whose systems are very different we have to make a conscious effort, and probably to make a tentative ‘advance’ of trust. This is the familiar problem of the ‘other’. Overcoming that initial distrust requires something close to a leap in the dark.

Whether we know it or not, we spend much of our social life as part of a trust network. Such networks can be very strong and supportive, but they also tend to erect around themselves rigid boundaries, across which distrust is projected. When two or more trust networks are in enmity with one another, an ‘advance’ of trust can only work satisfactorily if it proves possible to transform negative-sum games into positive-sum games. However, an outside threat helps two mutually distrusting networks to find common ground, settle at least some of their differences and work together to ward off the threat. When the threat is withdrawn, they may well resume their mutual enmity.

During the twentieth century the social sciences – and following them history – were mostly dominated by theories derived from the study of power and/or rational choice. We still talk glibly of the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism, without considering the kinds of social solidarity which underlie both forms of government. I believe we need to supplement political science with a kind of ‘trust science’, which studies people’s mutual sympathy, their lively and apparently ineradicable tendency to seek reciprocal relationships with one another, and also what happens when that tendency breaks down. It is supremely important to analyse forms of social solidarity which do not derive directly from power structures and/or rational choice. Among other things, such an analysis might help us to understand why certain forms of trust have become generally accepted in Western society, and why they are in crisis right now.

Geoffrey Hosking is Emeritus Professor of Russian History at University College London. A Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Doctor of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he was BBC Reith Lecturer in 1988. He has written numerous books on Russian history and culture, including Russian History: A Very Short Introduction and Trust: A History.

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Image credit: David Cameron, by Valsts kanceleja. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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50. If it’s 2014, this must be Sacramento

By Frank S. Gilliam

It is likely that most ecologists have their own stories regarding the annual meetings of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the world’s largest organization of professional ecologists. Some revere it, whereas others may criticize it. There is, however, truth in numbers—growth in attendance has been seemingly exponential since my first meeting in the early 1980’s. So, it is without debate that the annual ESA meeting remains an integral part of the professional life of many ecologists throughout the world.


This year’s ESA meeting will take place in Sacramento, CA. Image credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My first ESA meeting was at the Pennsylvania State University (note: we were small enough to meet on college campuses then) in 1982 while still a Ph.D. student at Duke University working with Norm Christensen on herb-layer dynamics of pine forests of the southeastern United States. I was understandably wide-eyed at seeing the actual human forms of ecologists walking around, giving talks, drinking beer—all of whom had only been names on papers and books I had read as I was writing my dissertation. Despite logistical errors regarding my talk (the projectionist insisted on placing my slides in the tray, rather than allowing me to do so; then promptly put them in backwards), my first ESA was an unmitigated success, allowing me to meet folks who would become lifelong friends and colleagues. Small surprise that I not only attended the next year, but have attended all meetings since then, save two—1991, when I could not afford to travel to Hawaii, and 2012, when my son was entering the United States Naval Academy.

Although I still recall high points of virtually all meetings through the years, the ones that stand out the most for me are those when I collaborated to organize symposia. There have been three of these: 1993 (University of Wisconsin—Madison), 1998 (Baltimore, Maryland), and 2006 (Savannah, Georgia). Although they were of somewhat contrasting themes, I took the same approach to all of them—I always thought that topics/presentations worthy of an ESA meeting were also worthy of some type of formal publication, whether in a peer-reviewed journal or a book.

My old Duke office mate/best friend/collaborator, Mark Roberts, and I organized a symposium on the effects of disturbance on plant diversity of forests for the 1993 meeting. Highly successful at the meeting, with very high attendance and vigorous question/answer periods following each talk, this symposium resulted in the publication of a Special Feature in Ecological Applications in 1995.

Mark and I used that first symposium as a kind of template for the one which was part of the 1998 meeting, well into the period where the number of attendees had outgrown college campuses, relegating ESA to convention centers. The 1998 symposium was on the ecology of herbaceous layer communities of contrasting forests of eastern North America. We had assembled what we felt was a very good group, including the late Fakhri Bazzaz, who was actually the first person I had contacted prior to writing the proposal for the Program Committee, also very successful in terms of attendance and questions. We were also pleased with our efforts on this topic following the symposium.

For the 2006 meeting, another friend and colleague of mine, Bill Platt, and I organized a symposium on the ecology of longleaf pine ecosystems. This experience was especially rewarding in that it was so closely connected with both the meeting theme of that Savannah (Uplands to Lowlands: Coastal Processes in a Time of Global Change), and the meeting’s geographic location in the main region of natural longleaf pine—the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States. We published these talks in a Special Feature in Applied Vegetation Science.

Oh, there was another high point for me—one not related to symposia. It was with great pride that I accepted the nomination to become the Program Chair for the 2010 Annual Meeting of ESA in Pittsburgh, PA. I chose the following for the scientific theme: Global Warming: the Legacy of Our Past, the Challenge for Our Future. At a time when eastern US venues were not nearly as popular for attendance as were western ones, attendance at this meeting was surprisingly high. I was especially pleased to be able to thank the Society publicly and collectively when I addressed them at the beginning of the meeting.

Since my arrival in 1990 here at Marshall University—a public school small state (West Virginia ranks 38th among the 50 United States) and with limited direct access to colleagues doing similar research—annual ESA meetings have provided me a lifeline, if you will, connecting me with ecologists, especially biogeochemists and vegetation scientists, from throughout North America and, indeed, the world. Most of my contributions to the field of ecology, including peer-reviewed publications, book chapters, and books, have been products of this event that has not only become an annual summer tradition of mine, but also has been invaluable to my career as a plant ecologist.

It’s 2014, folks—see you in Sacramento!

Frank S. Gilliam is a professor of biological sciences, teaching courses in ecology and plant ecology, at Marshall University. He is also the editor of the second edition of The Herbaceous Layer in Forests of Eastern North America.

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