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1. Review – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

After only reading Cloud Atlas I was already in awe of David Mitchell so I dove straight into his new novel at the first available opportunity. And once again was swept away by the storytelling, the language and the imagination. The book has been described as “his most Cloud Atlas-y novel since the global phenom Cloud Atlas” and I […]

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2. The US Supreme Court should reverse Wynne – narrowly

Maryland State Comptroller of the Treasury v. Brian Wynne requires the US Supreme Court to decide whether the US Constitution compels a state to grant an income tax credit to its residents for the out-of-state income taxes such residents pay on out-of-state income.

Brian and Karen Wynne live in Howard County, Maryland. As Maryland residents, the Wynnes pay state and county income taxes on their worldwide income. The Maryland income tax statute provides that Maryland residents who pay income taxes to states in which they do not live may credit against their Maryland state income tax liability the taxes paid to those states of nonresidence. However, the Maryland tax law grants no equivalent credit under the county income tax for out-of-state taxes owed by Maryland residents on income earned outside of Maryland.

When the Wynnes complained about the absence of a credit against their Howard County income tax for the out-of-state income taxes the Wynnes paid, Maryland’s Court of Appeals agreed. Maryland’s highest court held that such credits are required by the nondiscrimination principle of the US Constitution’s dormant Commerce Clause. The absence of a credit against the county income tax induces Maryland residents like the Wynnes to invest and work in-state rather than out-of-state. This incentive, the Maryland court held, may impermissibly “affect the interstate market for capital and business investment.”

For two reasons, the US Supreme Court should reverse. First, Wynne highlights the fundamental incoherence of the dormant Commerce Clause test of tax nondiscrimination: any tax provision can be transformed into an economically equivalent direct expenditure. No principled line can be drawn between those tax provisions which are deemed to discriminate against interstate commerce and those which do not. All taxes and government programs can incent residents to invest at home rather than invest out-of-state. It is arbitrary to label only some taxes and public programs as discriminating against interstate commerce.

Suppose, for example, that Howard County seeks to improve its public schools, its police services or its roads. No court or commentator suggests that this kind of routine public improvement violates the dormant Commerce Clause principle of nondiscrimination. However, such direct public expenditures, if successful, have precisely the effect on residents and interstate commerce for which the Court of Appeals condemned the Maryland county income tax as discriminating against interstate commerce: Better public services also “may affect the interstate market for capital and business investment” by encouraging current residents and businesses to stay and by attracting new residents and businesses to come.

There is no principled basis for labeling as discriminatory under the dormant Commerce Clause equivalent tax policies because they affect “the interstate market” of households and businesses. Direct government outlays have the same effects as do taxes on the choice between in-state and out-of-state activity. If taxes discriminate against interstate commerce because they encourage in-state enterprise, so do direct government expenditures which make the state more attractive and thereby stimulate in-state activity.

Snow Clouds Over a Snowy Field, Patuxent Hills, Maryland. Photo by Karol Olson. CC BY 2.0 via olorak Flickr.
Snow Clouds Over a Snowy Field, Patuxent Hills, Maryland. Photo by Karol Olson. CC BY 2.0 via olorak Flickr.

Second, the political process concerns advanced both by the Wynne dissenters in Maryland’s Court of Appeals and by the US Solicitor General are persuasive. Mr. and Mrs. Wynne are Maryland residents who, as voters, have a voice in Maryland’s political process. This contrasts with nonresidents and so-called “statutory residents,” individuals who are deemed for state income tax purposes to be residents of a second state in which they do not vote. As nonvoters, nonresidents and statutory residents lack political voice when they are taxed by states in which they do not vote.

Nonresidents and statutory residents require protection under the dormant Commerce Clause since politicians find it irresistible to export tax obligations onto nonvoters. The Wynnes, on the other hand, are residents of a single state and vote for those who impose Maryland’s state and local taxes on them.

In reversing Wynne, the Supreme Court should decide narrowly. The Wynnes, as residents of a single state, should not receive constitutional protection for their claim to a county income tax credit for the out-of-state taxes the Wynnes pay. However, the Court’s decision should not foreclose the Court from ruling, down the road, that credits are required to prevent the double income taxation of individuals who, for income tax purposes, are residents of two or more states. Such dual residents lack the vote in one of the states taxing them and thus require constitutional succor which the Wynnes do not.

Dissenting in Cory v. White, Justice Powell (joined by Justices Marshall and Stevens) argued “that multiple taxation on the basis of domicile” is unconstitutional. Since the Wynnes are taxed by only one state, the Supreme Court need not now confront this issue again. However, the Court should decide Wynne in a fashion which allows the Court to revisit this question in the future by holding that credits are constitutionally required to prevent the double taxation of dual residents.

The post The US Supreme Court should reverse Wynne – narrowly appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Book Recommendation: Jeff VanderMeer’s WONDERBOOK

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Susan Dennard

WonderbookI’m a HUGE fan of books on writing. Like, I probably have an addiction and I know my husband would be REALLY happy if I’d throw out some of these gazillion craft books hogging up the basement…

Recently and sort of on a whim, I picked up Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. I am so, so, SO glad I did. Seriously guys, this is my new favorite book on writing craft. Not only does this book give beginners everything they need to know to start crafting stories, but it’s an incredibly helpful book for experienced writers too.

Here’s the trailer:

Not only does VanderMeer introduce some awesome concepts and prose possibilities that I’d never considered before, but he also shares tons of essays from other authors on how THEY do things.

Then there’s all the art to go along with it!! A few of the crazy diagrams left my Muse spinning in the best possible way. Like this Hero’s Journey as depicted with a Mexican Luchador:

Mexican-Wrestler-Mono-myth-VanderMeer-Zerfoss-Wonderbook-2013

On top of all the graphics, there’s an interactive website to go along with the text. SO. MUCH. INFORMATION. It took me weeks to get through this book, and I enjoyed/savored every sentence.

So watch the trailer below, read an excerpt or the web extras, and maybe pick a copy of your own. I promise: all artists can gain something from this fantastic guide.

Jeff VanderMeer is the author of more than 20 books and a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award. His books have made the year’s-best lists of Publishers Weekly, LA Weekly, the Washington Post, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many more. He is the cofounder and codirector of Shared Worlds, a unique writing camp for teenagers, and has taught at Clarion, the world’s premiere fantasy/sci-fi workshop for adults. VanderMeer is based in Tallahassee, Florida.

SusanDennardBefore she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor, Susan Dennard traveled the world as marine biologist. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series (Tor, 2015), and when not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or practicing her tap dance shuffles. You can learn more about Susan on her blogTwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

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4. Best Books of August 2014

This month, I read 14 books and scripts. I also wrote roughly 130 pages of new material, most of which was written longhand with pen and paper before I typed and revised everything multiple times. (Many thanks to my beta readers and personal cheerleaders, notably AD, E, K, and C.)

Before my fingers cramp up again, let me point to you to some interviews I did this month, all with authors who are celebrating the release of their new books:

Jen Wang, who collaborated with Cory Doctorow on In Real Life; Kelly Jensen, blogger and author of It Happens; Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird, two of the three minds who created Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature; and Micol Ostow, who is scaring up audiences with Amity.

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5. How Contemporary British TV Animation Went Off the Rails

British TV networks wanted to find the next "Simpsons" and "South Park," but things didn't go quite as planned.

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6. War poetry across the centuries

‘Poetry’, Wordsworth reminds us, ‘is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’, and there can be no area of human experience that has generated a wider range of powerful feelings than war: hope and fear; exhilaration and humiliation; hatred—not only for the enemy, but also for generals, politicians, and war-profiteers; love—for fellow soldiers, for women and children left behind, for country (often) and cause (occasionally).

So begins Jon Stallworthy’s introduction to his recently edited volume The New Oxford Book of War Poetry.  The new selection provides improved coverage of the two World Wars and the Vietnam War, and new coverage of the wars of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Below is an extract of two poems from the collection.

 JOHN MILTON

1608–1674

 On the Late Massacre in Piedmont* (1673)

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones,
Forget not; in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
and his Latin secretary, John Milton.
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant, that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

* The heretical Waldensian sect, which inhabited northern Italy (Piedmont) and southern France, held beliefs compatible with Protestant doctrine. Their massacre by Catholics in 1655 was widely protested by Protestant powers, including Oliver Cromwell and his Latin secretary, John Milton.

 

LOUIS SIMPSON

The Heroes (1955)

I dreamed of war-heroes, of wounded war-heroes
With just enough of their charms shot away
To make them more handsome. The women moved nearer
To touch their brave wounds and their hair streaked with gray.
I saw them in long ranks ascending the gang-planks;
The girls with the doughnuts were cheerful and gay.
They minded their manners and muttered their thanks;
The Chaplain advised them to watch and to pray.
They shipped these rapscallions, these sea-sick battalions
To a patriotic and picturesque spot;
They gave them new bibles and marksmen’s medallions,
Compasses, maps, and committed the lot.
A fine dust has settled on all that scrap metal.
The heroes were packaged and sent home in parts
To pluck at a poppy and sew on a petal
And count the long night by the stroke of their hearts.

Image credit: Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post War poetry across the centuries appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. SEPTEMBER UPDATE!

COMIX! One of the real fun things about my last year in Paris was being able to share sketches, gags, and photos from the trip on uclick as a comic strip called PARIS DOODLES. In fact, it was so fun, I've decided to keep sharing drawings and ideas on uclick with a new strip called FROM THE MO WILLEMS SKETCHBOOK.   I'll be sharing drawings from my sketchbook, dining room dinner doodles,

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8. LOGO MAGIC



TRYING
TO PROMOTE YOUR BOOK?

ANY LUCK?
NO!


Then, allow me lend you my
Magic Wand.
 

 PS:
You'll need to supply the imagination yourself. 

I see so many of the same writers flashing the same book covers on Facebook,
Google+ and elsewhere. My DELETE button works overtime - I'll bet yours does too.

Then there are those that think reams of words are better.
Their covers are followed by mountains of text.

DELETE!


Wanna learn some MAGIC?
Wanna get attention for that book and cover?
Wanna halt that reflex delete?


The MAGIC WORD 
is 
"Snipping Tool"from Microsoft


Now you are ready to  
LINE UP, COPY, PASTE, RESIZE, JUGGLE AROUND, ADD
BACKGROUND, TEXT BOX, PAGE COLOR AND BORDERS.


All this magic gives you a JPEG that is awesome.
You can SNIP anything from anywhere on the web - the whole page,
a picture, or only the exact part you want to use.


Snipping Tool Magic
lets you present your books in different ways on different days.
TOGETHER - SEPARATELY - WITH TEXT or WITHOUT.

REMEMBER
One memorable LOGO is worth 10,000 chunks of text!






TRY "SNIPIT"

IT'S AWESOME!


******************
Books for Kids - Skype Author Visits
Manuscript Critiques
http://www.margotfinke.com 
*******************



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9. Hardy Har Har

Almost two weeks ago now I started reading Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. I’ve not ever read Hardy before. I know! I have seen a movie version of Tess a very long time ago, does that count? Anyway, whenever I’ve mentioned Hardy on this blog over the years I’ve gotten two reactions:

  1. He’s sooo good, you have to read him!
  2. He’s really depressing so be prepared

The so good and the really depressing even come from the same people, implying that depressing does not mean a bad book. So when I began Far from the Madding Crowd I was expecting a really good book that is also a downer. Maybe it’s me, or maybe this is Hardy’s only non-depressing book, but I’ve been laughing while reading it. Laughing a lot. This I did not expect and was confused at first, worried perhaps I was misreading or something. But no, Hardy is funny. How can this not make you laugh?

Oak sighed a deep honest sigh—none the less so in that, being like the sigh of a pine plantation, it was rather noticeable as a disturbance of the atmosphere.

Or this:

‘Come, Mark Clark—come. Ther’s plenty more in the barrel,’ said Jan. ‘Ay—that I will, ’tis my only doctor,’ replied Mr. Clark, who, twenty years younger than Jan Coggan, revolved in the same orbit. He secreted mirth on all occasions for special discharge at popular parties.

Or that one man in the neighborhood is known only as “Susan Tall’s husband” because he has no distinguishing characteristics of his own. I find myself giggling every time Susan Tall’s husband shows up, which isn’t often enough if you ask me, but I suppose you have to play lightly with that joke or it will wear itself out too quickly.

It’s not like Hardy’s humor slaps you in the face, it is pretty subtle most of the time. It doesn’t make me laugh out loud but it does make me grin. I’m far enough along to know there is trouble ahead for Bathsheba, but I’m not sure that it will be enough to turn everything depressing. Am I safe to put my hanky away or should I keep it in reserve?


Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Thomas Hardy

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10. The Corner on Character

FLIGHT SCHOOL was recently mentioned in Barbara Gruener's lovely blog, The Corner on Character, and has been included in this year's Character Case at her school in Friendswood, Texas. Here's a link to the article.

case

Here's a small section from the article:

As we head into this year's dash, don't our little birds deserve to see their potential as eagles, not their limitations as penguins? We must take our role as flight instructors to assist and support them with "the technical parts" seriously.

The post The Corner on Character appeared first on Lita Judge.

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11. Ethics of social networking in social work

Facebook celebrated its tenth anniversary in February. It has over 1.2 billion active users — equating to one user for every seven people worldwide. This social networking phenomenon has not only given our society a new way of sharing information with others; it’s changed the way we think about “liking” and “friending.” Actually, “friending” was not even considered a proper word until Facebook popularized its use. Traditionally, a friend is not just a person one knows, but a person with whom one shares personal affection, connection, trust, and familiarity. Under Facebook-speak, friending is simply the act of attaching a person to a contact list on the social networking website. One does not have to like, trust, or even know people in order to friend them. The purpose of friending is to connect people interested in sharing information. Some people friend only “traditional friends.” Others friend people on Facebook who are “mere acquaintances,” business associates, and even people with whom they have no prior relationship. On Facebook, “liking” is supposed to indicate that the person enjoys or is partial to the story, photo, or other content that someone has posted on Facebook. One does not have to be a friend to like someone’s content, and one may also like content on other websites.

Unbeknown to many Facebook users is how Facebook and other websites gather and use information about people’s friending and liking behaviors. For instance, the data gathered by Facebook is used to help determine which advertisements a particular user sees. Although Facebook does have some privacy protection features, many people do not use them, meaning that they are sharing private information with anyone who has access to the Internet. Even if a person tries to restrict information to “friends,” there are no provisions to ensure that the friends to not share the information with others, posting information in publically accessible places or simply sharing information in a good, old-fashioned manner – oral gossip. So, given what we know (and perhaps don’t know) about liking and friending, should social workers like their clients, encourage clients to like them, or friend their clients?

When considering the use of online social networking, social workers need to consider their ethical duties with respect to their primary commitment to clients, their duty to maintain appropriate professional boundaries, and their duty to protect confidential client information (NASW, Code of Ethics, 2008, Standards 1.01, 1.06, and 1.07). Allow me to begin with the actual situation that instigated my thinking about these issues. Recently, I saw a social worker’s Facebook page advertising her services. She encouraged potential clients to become friends and to like her. She offered a 10% discount in counseling fees for clients who liked her. What could possibly be a problem with providing clients with this sort of discount? The worker was providing clients with a benefit, and all they had to do was like her… they didn’t even have to become her friend.

In terms of 1.01, the social worker should ask herself whether she was acting in a way that promoted client interests, or whether she was primarily promoting her own interests. If her decision to offer discounts was purely a decision to promote profits (her interests), then she may be taking advantage (perhaps unintentionally) of her clients. If her clients were receiving benefits that outweighed the costs and risks, then she may be in a better position to justify the requests for friends and likes.

Woman in home office with computer and paperwork frowning. © monkeybusinessimages via iStockphoto.
Woman in home office with computer and paperwork frowning. © monkeybusinessimages via iStockphoto.

With regard to maintaining appropriate boundaries, the worker should ask how clients perceive her requests for friends and likes. Do clients understand that the requests are in the context of maintaining a professional relationship, or might terms such as friending and liking blur the distinctions between professional and social relationships? If she truly wants to know whether clients value her services (as opposed to like), perhaps she should use a more valid and reliable measurement of client satisfaction or worker effectiveness. There are no Likert-type scales when it comes to liking on Facebook. You can only “like” or “do nothing.”

Confidentiality presents perhaps the most difficult issues when it comes to liking and friending. When a client likes a social worker who specializes in gambling addiction, for instance, does the client know that he may start receiving advertisements for gambling treatment services… or perhaps for casinos, gambling websites, or racetracks? Who knows what other businesses might be harvesting online information about the client. “OMG!” Further, does the client realize that the client’s Facebook friends will know the client likes the social worker? Although the client is not explicitly stating he is a client, others may draw this conclusion – and remember, these “others” are not necessarily restricted to the client’s trusted confidantes. They may include co-workers, neighbors, future employers, or others who may not hold the client’s best interests to heart.

One could say it’s a matter of consent – the worker is not forcing the client to like her, so liking is really an expression of the client’s free will. All sorts of businesses offer perks to people who like or friend them. Shouldn’t clients be allowed to pursue a discount as long as they know the risks? Hmmm… do they know the actual risks? Do they know that what seems like an innocuous act – liking – may have severe consequences one day? Consider, is it truly an expression of free will if the worker is using a financial incentive – particularly if clients have very limited income and means to pay for services? Further, young children and people with dementia or other mental conditions may not have the capacity to understand the risks and make truly informed choices.

Digital natives (people born into the digital age) might say these are the ramblings of an old curmudgeon (ok, they probably woudn’t use the term curmudgeon). When considering the ethicality of social work behaviors, we need to consider context. The context of Facebook, for instance, includes a culture where sharing seems to be valued much more than privacy. Many digital natives share intimate details of their life without grave concerns about their confidentiality. They have not experienced negative repercussions from posting details about their intimate relationships, break-ups, triumphs, challenges, and even embarrassments. They may not view liking a social worker’s website any riskier than liking their favorite ice cream parlor. So, to a large segment of Facebook users, is this whole issue much ado about nothing?

In the context of Internet risks, there are far more severe concerns than social workers asking clients to like them on Facebook. Graver Internet risks include cyber-bulling, identity theft, and hacking into national defense, financial institutions, and other important systems that are vulnerable to cyber-terrorism. Still, social workers should be cautious about asking clients to like them… on Facebook or otherwise.
The Internet offers social workers many different approaches to communicating with clients. Online communication should not be feared. On the other hand, social workers should consider all potential risks and benefits before making use of a particular online communication strategy. Social work and many other helping professions are still grappling with the ethicality of various online communication strategies with clients. What is hugely popular now – including Facebook – may continue to grow in popularity. However, with time and experience, significant risks may be exposed. Some technologies may lose popularity, and others may take their place.

Headline image credit: Internet icons and symbols. Public domain via Pixabay.

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12. United Airlines and Rhapsody in Blue

As anyone who has flown United in the past quarter-century knows, the company has a long-standing history with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The piece appears in its television advertisements, its airport terminals, and even its pre-flight announcements. However, the history of United’s use of the piece is far from straight forward. This brand new safety video offers a compelling case in point:

Like recent videos by Air New Zealand and Delta Airlines, United’s safety briefing is designed to keep our attention as it reiterates the standard safety announcements that we know all too well. The video rewards paying close attention on multiple viewings. In fact, there are several airline-travel and United-specific “Easter Eggs.” A few of my favorites appear in the Las Vegas section. A tour bus traversing the Las Vegas Strip scrolls “lavatory occupied” and later “baggage on carousel 2.” Perhaps more subtle is a movie poster for a film titled “Elbow Room 2.” Look closely and you will see that it features a shot encountered later in the safety video as a James Bond-looking figure goes hand to hand against his nemesis a cable car—a clear reference to the 1979 film Moonraker for the alert viewer.

Under the banner “Safety is Global,” the familiar themes of the Rhapsody are musically arranged while diverse members of the United flight crew provide instructions from a series of specific and generic international locales. Certainly, the visuals play a key role in signaling our recognition of these surroundings: the Eiffel Tower and street corner cafe for Paris, a pagoda in front of Mt. Fuji for Japan, casinos and neon signs for Las Vegas, snow-covered peaks and a ski gondola for the Alps, kangaroos for Australia, a Vespa scooter and Mt. Edna for Italy, Chilean flamingos for the bird sanctuary, and palm trees and white-sands for the tropical beach.

But perhaps most important in drawing out the setting of each scene are the dramatic—if not clichéd—musical arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue. While in France a pair of accordions play the introductory bars of the piece while a pilot welcomes us aboard and reminds us to heed their instruction. A flight attendant hops a cab to Newark Airport (United’s East Coast hub) to the strains of a jazz combo setting of the love theme. A tenor saxophone improvises lightly around this most famous melody of the Rhapsody while she provides instruction on how to use the seatbelt from the bumpy backseat. A gong signals a move to Asia, where we encounter the ritornello theme of the Rhapsody on a plucked zither and bamboo flute. The bright-lights of the Las Vegas strip (where we learn about power outages) and a James Bond-inspired depiction of the Swiss Alps (where we learn about supplemental oxygen) are accompanied by the traditional symphonic arrangement of the Rhapsody created by Ferde Grofé. Curious kangaroos learn about life vests as the ritornello theme is heard on a harmonica punctuated by a didgeridoo and a rain stick. A mandolin plucks out the shuffle theme while a flight attendant extinguishes a volcano like a birthday candle—no smoking allowed! Finally, steel drums transport us to a Caribbean bird sanctuary and a tenor saxophone playing the stride theme to a laid-back, quasi-bossa nova groove relocates us to the beach.

Although each of these settings is somewhat stereotypical in its sonic and visual depiction of its respective locale, such treatment of the Rhapsody stands as less formulaic than past attempts at international representation by the airline. Both domestic and international advertisements have adapted the Rhapsody.

Although the video is a bit rough, by comparison to “Safety is Global,” the visuals and instrumentation choices are much more stereotypical. We clearly hear the “orientalist” signifiers at play: a taiko drum, a shakuhachi flute, a trio of pipas. But just as this commercial provides its American market with a glimpse at Asian cultures through the streamlined gaze of corporate advertising, a commercial aired in Japan in 1994 provides an equally reductive depiction of the United States.

The spot features a Japanese puppet of the traditional Bunraku style seated on an airplane as the voiceover announces a series of locales that travelers could visit at ever-increasing award levels. The puppet appears in a succession of wardrobes representative of each destination with arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue emphasizing each costume change: a shamisen accompanies the traditional Japanese kimono, an erhu for the silk Chinese robe, a Hawaiian slide guitar for a bright floral patterned shirt and yellow lei, a fiddle-driven two-step for a cowboy hat and bolo tie, and finally a calypso, steel drum for the white Italian sports coat and dark sunglasses—a clear reference to Don Johnson and Miami Vice. The commercial not only effectively promotes United’s frequent flyer program but also reinforces its corporate logos—both motto and music—to an international market. Through easily identifiable visual and sonic representations of destinations in the United States from Hawaii to Texas to Florida, it also promotes a positive—if not stereotypical—view of American culture using one of its most recognizable musical works.

And this is ultimately what the “Safety is Global” video accomplishes as well. By treating Rhapsody in Blue to a variety of musical arrangements, United Airlines has re-staked its claim on the Rhapsody not as its corporate theme music, but also as an international anthem. Its visualization of the Rhapsody over the course of time repositions the piece from a uniquely American (or specifically New Yorker) theme to one that aims to unite us all through the friendly skies.

Headline Image: Airplane Flying. Photo by Michael Stirling. CC0 1.0 Universal via Public Domain Pictures

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13. Interview: Micol Ostow

micolIn 1974, Ronald DeFeo Junior killed all six members of his family in their home in Amityville, New York. A year later, another family moved into that home only to move out 28 days later, saying they were terrorized by something paranormal in the house. Their story was captured in a book by Jay Anson, then subsequently retold in various films and other adaptations.

In Micol Ostow's new novel Amity, we meet two teenagers who live in Amityville at two different times. This is not time travel; instead, they alternate narrative duties, weaving their stories together chapter by chapter. Inspired by the real story but wholly fictional, this YA book is now available for late night reading. But I promise, this interview is not scary, and neither is Micol.

Do you recall the first time you heard about the Amityville Horror?

The first time I heard about the Amityville Horror was when reading Stephen King's Danse Macabre, where he talks about the components of an effective horror movie. In fact, I didn't realize it was based on a true story (and that there was a bestselling book about the original crime!) until much later. Once I became interested in a riff on Amityville as a possible subject for a novel, I went back and read the original book by Jay Anson, as well as High Hopes, the book written specifically about the DeFeo family (as opposed to the Lutzes, who moved in after the DeFeos' murders and claim to have experienced hauntings within).

When did the seed for your novel Amity firmly plant itself in your brain?

Around Halloween, 2011. My novel Family had come out in April and I was tossing around ideas for the next book under contract. My husband was out of town and I was indulging in my favorite guilty pleasure: horror movies and Red Vines. The Amityville 2005 remake was on, and something clicked. But it wasn't until several months later that I had a pitch to show my agent, and it was a few months after that before we put something together for my editor. I went back and forth a lot trying to decide whether I wanted to tell the Lutz family's story, or the DeFeos' story. Both concepts – the "possessed," murderous son, and the beleaguered, haunted successors to the house – were equally compelling to me. Ultimately that's what led me to tell two alternate narratives, set ten years apart. That way I didn't have to choose!

amityWhen you started writing the book, did you know the ending? (Readers, don't worry - we kept this answer spoiler free!)

I one hundred percent knew the ending, and it didn't change one bit, strangely. Maybe a hint of clarification here and there. Some of the supernatural bits tend to read more straightforward in my brain than on a first-draft page. But it was an interesting process as compared specifically to Family, my first book with Egmont. The ending to Family changed three times, as did my feelings about where the protagonist needed to be, emotionally, by the story's end. This one was much more clear-cut. The two narratives needed to converge and I could only really see one way for that to happen.

Have you ever been to Amityville, New York?

We have family out on Long Island and therefore drive past the Amityville exit on the LIE several times a year, at least. I always point it out, like a huge dork. But I've never visited the house and to be honest, at this point, I probably wouldn't. It's been renovated heavily so specifically, those iconic half-moon “eye” windows are gone. And more to the point, there's also the fact that 1) it's a little icky to make a spectacle of a place where a family was murdered and 2) it's actually a private home, where people live. Personally, I prefer the make-believe versions of the Amityville story and am happier to spend my time there.

You've written for a number of different audiences - kids, teens, adults, fantasy, comedy, mixed media. Do you consciously try to mix it up?

I really don't try to mix it up, believe it or not! It just seems to work out that way! I was fortunate enough to come into publishing through the back door, in that I worked as an editor in the work-for-hire realm. So some of my earlier contracts were the results of editors seeking me out and offering me the chance to work with them. (Note: this is not the typical author's path to publication and I am very, very lucky. Trust me, I know!) The Bradford Novels were the product of an editor's original concept, and Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa came from a publishing friend suggesting I mine some of my own adolescent experiences and pitch her a story. Even So Punk Rock was actually originally conceived of by my brother, David Ostow, who worked with me on the story and illustrated the book.

Family was the first novel I sat down to write, as they say, "on spec." And because it wasn't under contract and was coming purely from me, I was free to experiment. I had no idea when I sat down to my computer that what would come out was going to be such a massive departure from my previous work. But once it was published, it was treated as a sort of literary debut. So for Amity, I was much more conscious of trying to write something that would match Family in tone and audience.

What genre or audiences would you like to write for that you haven't yet?

As far as what's coming down the pike that's different, I have a chapter book series releasing this spring called Louise Trapeze, about a little girl in a circus family who wants to learn to fly on the trapeze but is afraid of heights. Talk about a departure!

Have you always been drawn to the horror genre?

Yes! My mother is a huge horror buff and always had the TV set to old B-movies, and scary-covered novels on her nightstand. They completely terrified me but obviously burrowed into my subconscious.

I've known people who can watch horror movies but can't read horror novels, and I've known people who can read horror but can't watch it. Do you lean more towards one than the other?

Love them both! Although in general, I watch a broader range of horror movies than I read horror novels. The only category of horror I really stay away from is the straight-up torture. The extreme gore really doesn't do it for me. With the books I tend to lean more heavily toward literary horror or dark thrillers as opposed to paranormal... and basically anything in the Stephen King cannon.

QUICK DRAW! Time for simple questions:

First horror story that gave you goosebumps: The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
(Little Willow adds: I liked that book, too!)

First scary film that gave you nightmares: Frankenstein

Horror movie or book that you love but can only watch or read in the daylight: It by Stephen King

Favorite funny spooky story: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Favorite funny spooky movie: Shaun of the Dead

Favorite horror authors: Stephen King, Joe Hill, Shirley Jackson, Daniel Krause, Sarah Waters for purer horror. Adele Griffin (Tighter), Barry Lyga (I Hunt Killers), Libba Bray (The Diviners), Nova Ren Suma (Imaginary Girls), Mariana Baer (Frost), Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs) for creepy psychological thriller/suspense-y stories. Robert Bloch's original Psycho was great. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg.

Favorite season of American Horror Story: Season One, Murder House, was amazing for just flinging all the fundamental tropes at the wall, and doing something different – and genuinely scary! – on TV. And I absolutely loved that finale.

Favorite Halloween costume you've worn: I'm super boring on Halloween! I love celebrating and decorating and eating treats and watching movies, but I rarely dress up. I'm kind of a party pooper that way. Last year I wore my “Overlook Hotel” tee-shirt and called it a day. But my daughter usually cycles through at least three costumes over the course of the festivities so I think that evens us out.

Ouija board: Wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole or bring it on?
I'm a little superstitious. I'd rather not tempt fate.

Ghosts and/or haunted houses: Believe, don't believe, or open-minded?
I have not had any paranormal experiences myself, but as per the above and being slightly superstitious – I do believe, actually. Kind of. Let's call it open-minded. That works.

Amity Giveaway!

What's your favorite ghost story? EGMONT USA is giving away a signed copy of the finished book to one lucky USA/Canada resident. Leave a comment below with the title of a book, movie, or play that chills you -- or even a personal story! -- along with your email address. You may mask the address, like myname (at) eeemail (dot) com - but we must be able to reach you to get your mailing information. The first comment with the proper info will get the signed book!

Follow the blog tour!

Micol is also visiting the readergirlz blog today. Check out the full schedule at the Egmont USA website.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Interview: Micol Ostow (2006)
Interview: Micol Ostow (2007)
Book Review: Popular Vote by Micol Ostow
Book Review: So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow with art by David Ostow

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14. Aspirin the wonder drug: some food for thought

So far it has been an unusually warm and sunny summer in the United Kingdom, but unfortunately this clement weather has not been matched by the news coverage of world events, which for months has been overcast and stormy as war and tragedy have stalked Europe and the Middle East. But there was a break in the cloud — the combined British broadcast and print media rejoiced in the news (reported in Annals of Oncology) that an international group of academics have shown that consuming low doses of aspirin from middle age onwards can reduce the risk of dying of cancer, heart attack, or stroke. This is certainly not the first time that aspirin as a prophylactic wonder-drug has taken centre stage, but, a curious thing, amongst all of the coverage there has been no consideration of what aspirin is, or indeed why it might have these beneficial effects.

Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid to give it its more formal name, is the acetylated form of salicylic acid — the acetylation simply serves to help the compound bypass the stomach before it is absorbed in the small intestine. Salicylic acid itself is an intriguing molecule. It’s found across all plants where it acts as a hormone, making a major contribution to the hormonal cross-talk that dictates the plant’s response to environmental stresses and attacks by other organisms. The plant’s primary defensive hormones are the ‘jasmonates’, and one key role of salicylic acid is to try to reduce the cellular effects of the jasmonate hormones. In effect, salicylic acid tries to switch the plant’s response from one suited to abiotic stressors and defence against herbivores toward a longer-term “immune” response suited to resisting biotrophic and viral pathogens.

The fascinating thing is that the jasmonate system is a genetically-conserved ortholog of the mammalian prostaglandin system. Both were inherited from a distant common unicellular ancestor of plants and humans. Jasmonates and prostaglandins are therefore closely related structurally and they trigger similar cellular responses in their respective taxa, with the exception that the mammalian response includes multiple inflammatory cascades whereas the plant manufactures a palette of chemicals that help it deal with the stressors. One key activity of salicylic acid when consumed by humans is the antagonism of the prostaglandin system in the same manner that it would have targeted the plant’s jasmonate system. It’s this property which gives aspirin the celebrated anti-inflammatory and blood thinning effects that contribute to its cardiovascular benefits. Similarly, salicylic acid’s potential anti-cancer effects are liable to be predicated on it inducing programmed cell death in tumour cells in a process that closely resembles the ‘hypersensitive response’ that it coordinates in plants in response to microbial pathogens.

Whilst this ‘cross-kingdom’ transfer of salicylic acid’s cellular effects is fascinating, the more important point is that salicylic acid, as a ubiquitous plant chemical, is also a natural part of our diet. Research shows that humans exhibit circulating levels of salicylic acid that correlate with their consumption of plant derived foods, and that the highest concentrations achieved via this natural route can be greater than the concentrations seen in individuals that regularly take aspirin. This is nothing new; we and our prostaglandin system have evolved in the continuous presence of salicylic acid, probably at much greater concentrations than seen in modern man. Taken in this context the exhortation of medical practitioners for us to take aspirin looks like yet another case of the unnecessary medicalization (as also seen recently with regards sterols) of an issue that can be tackled simply by modifying the poor diets now enjoyed by the populations of developed nations. Surely it would be much better if we simply shifted our consumption of fruit and vegetables towards the levels enjoyed by our distant ancestors and took advantage of dietary salicylic acid’s natural properties?

Headline image credit: Pills (cropped). Original photo by Jill Watson. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via jillwatson Flickr.

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15. What can old Europe learn from new Europe’s transition?

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!
– William Wordsworth on the French Revolution

I was not that young when New Europe’s transition began in 1989, but I was there: in Poland at the start of the 1990s and in Russia during its 1998 crisis and after, in both cases as the resident economist for the World Bank. This year is the 25th anniversary of New Europe’s transition and the sixth year of Old Europe’s growth-cum-sovereign debt crisis. Old Europe can learn from New Europe: first, about getting government debt dynamics under control if you want growth. Second, about implementing the policy trio of hard budgets, competition and competitive real exchange rates to keep debt dynamics under control and get growth. The contrasting experiences of Poland and Russia underline these lessons (Andrei Shleifer’s take on the transition lessons can be found here).

Poland started with a big bang in 1990, but ran into political roadblocks on the privatization of large state enterprises. It achieved single-digit inflation only in 1998. Between 1995 and 1998, Russia did the opposite. By early 1998, privatization was done and single-digit inflation achieved. But while Poland started growing in 1992 and has one of the most enviable growth records in Europe, Russia suffered a huge crisis in August 1998 after which it was forced to adopt the same policy agenda as Poland.

The first difference is that Poland quickly established fiscal discipline and capitalized on the debt reduction it received from the Paris and London Clubs to get government debt dynamics under control. Russia lost control over its government debt dynamics even as the central bank obsessively squeezed inflation out.

The second difference is that Poland instantly hardened budgets by slashing subsidies to state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and subsequently restricting bank lending to loss-making SOEs. It summarily increased competition by liberalizing imports, but was careful to avoid a large real appreciation by devaluing the zloty 17 months after the big bang, and then moving to a flexible exchange rate. The first two elements of this micropolicy trio, hard budgets and competition, forced SOEs to raise efficiency even before privatization. The third, competitive real exchange rates, gave them breathing space. Indeed, SOEs were in the forefront of the economic recovery which began in late 1992, ensuring that debt dynamics would remain sustainable. This does not mean privatization was irrelevant: SOE managers were anticipating it and expecting to benefit from it; but the immediate spur was definitely the micropolicy trio.

iStock_000005303068Small-1
Economic balance, © denisenko, via iStock Photo.

In contrast, Russia’s privatized manufacturing companies were coddled by budgetary subsidies and large subsidies implicit in the noncash settlements for taxes and energy payments that sprouted as real interest rates rose to astronomical levels. Persistent fiscal deficits and low credibility pushed nominal interest rates sky high even as the exchange rate was fixed in 1995 to bring inflation down. The resulting soft budgets, high real interest rates and real appreciation made asset stripping easier than restructuring enterprises, killing growth. Tax shortfalls became endemic, forcing increasingly expensive borrowing that placed government debt on an explosive trajectory and made the August 1998 devaluation, default and debt restructuring inevitable. But this shut the country out of the capital markets, at last hardening budgets. The real exchange rate depreciated massively, leading to a 5% rebound in real GDP in 1999 (against initial expectations of a huge contraction) as moribund firms became competitive and domestic demand switched from imports to domestic products. This policy mix was maintained after oil prices recovered in 2000, ensuring sustainable debt dynamics.

Old Europe, especially the periphery, can learn a lot from the above. Take Italy. By 2013, its real exchange rate had appreciated over 3% relative to 2007, while real GDP had contracted over 8%. The government’s debt-to-GDP ratio increased by 30 percentage points (and is projected to climb to 135% by the end of this year), while youth unemployment went from 20% to 40% over the same period! Italy has no control over the nominal exchange rate and lowering indebtedness through fiscal austerity will worsen already weak growth prospects. Indeed, Italy has slipped back into recession in spite of interest rates at multi-century lows and forbearance on fiscal austerity.

The counter argument is that indebtedness and competitiveness don’t look that bad for the Eurozone as a whole. However, this argument is vacuous without debt mutualisation, a fiscal union and a banking union with a common fiscal backstop, the latter to prevent individual sovereigns, such as Ireland and Spain, from having to shoulder the costs of fixing their troubled banks; the recent costly bailout of Banco Espirito Santo by Portugal is a timely reminder. Besides, Germany has to be willing to cross-subsidize the periphery. Even then, this would only be a start. As a recent IMF report warns, the Eurozone is at risk of stagnation from insufficient demand (linked to excessive debt), a weak and fragmented banking system and stalled structural reform required for increasing competition and raising productivity. Debtor countries are hamstrung by insufficient relative price adjustment (read “insufficient real depreciation”).

The corrective agenda for the Eurozone has much in common with the “debt restructuring-cum-micro policy trio” agenda emerging from the Polish and Russian transition experience. The question is whether the Eurozone can have meaningful growth prospects based on banking and structural reform without an upfront debt restructuring. The answer from New Europe’s experience is “No.” Debt restructuring will result in a temporary loss of confidence and possibly even a recession; but it will also lead to a large real depreciation and harden budgets, spurring governments to complete structural reform, thereby laying the foundation for a brighter future. The key is not the debt restructuring, but whether government behaviour changes credibly for the better following it. As the IMF report observes, progress “may be prone to reform fatigue” with the rally in financial markets. In other words, the all-time lows in interest rates set in train by ECB President Draghi’s July 2012 pledge to do whatever it takes to save the euro is fuelling procrastination even as indebtedness grows and growth prospects dim. Rising US interest rates as the recovery there takes hold and the growing geopolitical risk over Ukraine, which will hurt the Eurozone more than the US, only worsen the picture. The Eurozone has a stark choice: take the pain now or live with a stagnant future, meaning its youth have fewer jobs today and more debt to pay off tomorrow.

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16. Review – The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

The third and final volume in an absolutely brilliant series is a truly fitting finale. It is everything you want from the final book in a series. Loose ends are tied up, the gang gets back together for one last, possibly world ending, epic quest. Grossman throws you straight back into the world of Quentin […]

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17. The Memory Garden

I was really excited when my turn for The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert came up at the library. I had read a few blog reviews of it (I’m sorry I don’t remember who!) and knew, as a first novel, it was a bit uneven. Still it sounded good and I was enchanted by the prospect of the shoe garden.

The book was a bit bumpy. There were moments when it had an identity crisis. It flirted with being a YA book. It thought about being a coming of age story. Sometimes it wanted to be a mystery or a ghost story. What it finally ends up being is a story about friendship.

Nan, Mavis, Ruthie and Eve were best friends. They were always together and not only was their friendship special, they were special too — an unusual knack for gardening and herbal lore, a special ability to heal through the art of cooking, a certain charisma that made everyone listen and follow orders. Nothing so very strange but strange enough for their peers to notice and whisper “witches” behind their hands. But being special does not make one exempt from tragedy. The four are sixteen, seventeen, when Eve dies. There is a secret around Eve’s death that is slowly revealed as the story progresses, and it is that secret that spilt the remaining three friends apart.

Years have passed, they are now all old women in the their seventies. They have not seen each other in that long time. Now Nan, feeling her age and worried about her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bay, invites Mavis and Ruthie for a long weekend visit, hoping for, she is not quite sure what.

Bay is not Nan’s biological daughter. Nan never married. Nan was well known as an herbalist who could help women out of difficulties, and one day a baby in a basket was left on her porch. In the basket with the baby was a caul. Babies born with a caul are witches by default. Nan has kept this a secret from Bay but recent incidents compelled her to tell Bay about the caul and what that means. But Bay, being a teenager who wants nothing more than to be “normal” refuses to believe anything. She is used to hearing Nan called a witch. People come by in the night fairly regularly and throw shoes at the house or yell or, on Halloween, smash all the pumpkins. Nan has turned all the shoe “donations” into a garden that passersby stop to admire. Bay loves the garden and her Nan while, in typical teenage fashion, is utterly embarrassed by her and her ways.

And then Mavis and Ruthie arrive. The three friends carry their old resentments and anger just below the surface where it frequently bubbles up and burns anyone who happens to be around. When they finally begin to see each other as the people they are now, the old women they have become, they are able to let down their walls, talk about what happened to Eve, and forgive themselves and each other. It is this story, the story of three old women and the ties of friendship that stretched so thin they almost broke, this story is what the book finally decides to be about. We don’t get to read stories about elderly women and friendship very often. Sure there are some unusual elements, but the witch thing is so very minor, and really, when you think about it, women are often accused of being witches. You can embrace the light fantasy aspect of it or you can stick with the light social commentary on women’s friendship and behavior that the label plays with. Of course you can also enjoy both, which I did.

The writing is sometimes rough but it moves along at a good pace and the description of the flower feast is really wonderful. The Memory Garden isn’t a great novel but it is an enjoyable one. It will make you think of your own best girlfriends and remember just how special their friendship is.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Mary Rickert

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18. Alice Paul, suffragette and activist, in 10 facts

Ninety-four years ago today, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States took effect, enshrining American women’s right to vote. Fifty years later, in the midst of a new wave of feminist activism, Congress designated 26 August as Women’s Equality Day in the United States. The 1971 Joint Resolution read, in part, “the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States” and women “have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex.” For that reason, Congress was prevailed upon to declare 26 August a day to commemorate the the Nineteenth Amendment as a “symbol of the continued fight for equal rights.”

Alice Paul was a pivotal and controversial figure in the last years of the American battle to win the vote for women. Her first national action was to organize a grand suffrage procession in Washington, DC on 3 March 1913. She organized the parade on behalf of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the only group working to win women the vote on a national scale. She later founded her own organization, the National Woman’s Party, and charted a surprisingly aggressive course of social protests to convince Congress to pass a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution.

Alice Paul lived long enough to see Women’s Equality Day established; she died in 1977. She did not live to see the project which consumed the remaining years of her life ratified — an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. In 2014, a renewed effort emerged to pass the ERA.

As Women’s Equality Day is celebrated around the country today, here are a few things you may not know about suffrage leader and ERA author Alice Paul:

Alice Paul. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Alice Paul. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

1.  Alice Paul was proudly a birthright Quaker, but as she became interested in politics, she became frustrated with her faith’s reluctance to actively work for woman suffrage. We often associate Quakers with political activism, but in the late nineteenth century, the vast majority of Quakers disapproved of such efforts.

2.  Paul loved dancing and sports. Indeed, her love for physical activity was a factor in drawing her into social protest, first in England, then in America. In her high school and college years, she played softball, basketball, hockey, and tennis, and also ice skated when she could. She learned to dance while attending Swarthmore College near Philadelphia and regretted her few opportunities to attend dances in her later years.

3.  Paul was arrested seven times in England for her suffrage activism, but only once in America. The longest sentence she served in Britain was one month. In the United States, she was sentenced to seven months, but only served one.

4.  Paul endured forced feeding fifty-five times in London’s Holloway Prison in 1909 and perhaps another twenty-five times while at the District of Columbia’s Jail in 1917. Authorities used forced feeding to break the hunger strikes initiated by suffrage prisoners. Some women suffered health problems as a result. Alice Paul struggled with digestive issues for years after and may have lost her sense of smell.

5.  Paul is often portrayed as eager to leave NAWSA to found her own militant suffrage group. In fact, she did so only when her hand was forced. Divisions over strategy or tactics are nothing new to any political group and NAWSA itself came about only in 1890 after two long-estranged suffrage organizations compromised in order to present a united front. The 1914 effort to oust the controversial Alice Paul from NAWSA arose from multiple sources, including the current NAWSA president, Anna Howard Shaw and once-and-future president, Carrie Chapman Catt.

6.  Paul’s persona as a leader combined stereotypically feminine and masculine traits in a way that invited fervent loyalty or deep-seated antipathy. Her dislike of the spotlight and ingrained modesty lent her a vulnerability which undercut concerns about her militant past and her powerful drive. Others found her charismatic authority threatening.

7.  Though the protests of Paul’s National Woman’s Party are often described as “civil disobedience,” Paul believed all of her actions were completely within the law. Before Paul initiated picketing to protest the lack of a suffrage amendment in 1917, picketing was largely the province of labor organizations. After consulting with attorneys about the legality of the practice, Paul adapted the silent vigil of two earlier protests and sent “silent sentinels” to picket the White House. While labor picketing often prompted violence on both sides, Paul gave her troops strict instructions to remain non-violent. Violence was, however, visited upon them by bystanders outraged by the women’s insistence on pressing for suffrage while the country was engaged in World War I.

8.  Paul’s most colorful protests occurred after the House of Representatives passed the suffrage amendment bill. It took another eighteen months to convince the Senate to pass the amendment. To maintain pressure on Congress, Alice Paul crafted watchfire protests across from the White House in Lafayette Square, during which suffragists burned President Wilson’s words about his much-celebrated belief in democracy. They even burned Wilson in effigy to urge him to use his political power to sway the Senate.

9.  Alice Paul was not present during the frenzied effort to make Tennessee the ratifying state for the suffrage amendment. She longed to be at the Tennessee statehouse, but NWP lobbying required a constant input of cash. Her ability to raise funds surpassed anyone else’s, so she chose to stay in Washington to keep the money flowing. Paul’s ability to raise funds was a key factor in the success of the NWP.

10.  Alice Paul bequeathed us the iconic images of the battle for the ballot: photographs of the 1913 procession, the 1917 White House pickets, the 1918 watchfire protests. These images speak to the courage, the persistence and the fortitude of all the women who fought to gain the most fundamental right of citizenship: the right to consent.

Featured image: Alice Paul. Public Domain via Library of Congress.

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19. A Woman’s Iliad?

Browsing my parents’ bookshelves recently, in the dog days that followed sending Anna Karenina off to press, I found myself staring at a row of small hardback volumes all the same size. One in particular, with the words Romola and George Eliot embossed in gold on the dark green spine, caught my attention. It was an Oxford World’s Classics pocket edition – a present to my grandmother from her younger sister, who wrote an affectionate inscription in curling black ink (“with Best Love to Dellie on her 20th birthday from Mabel, July 3rd 1917”), and forgot to rub out the price of 1 shilling and 3 pence pencilled inside the front cover. Inside the back cover, meanwhile, towards the bottom of a long list of World’s Classics titles, my heart missed a beat when I espied “Tolstoy, Anna Karenina: in preparation”: Louise and Aylmer Maude’s translation was first published only in 1918.

As I drove homethat night with Romola in my bag, I thought about my grandmother reading Eliot’s novel (unusually set in Florence during the Renaissance, rather than in 19th-century England), and I also thought about the seismic changes taking place in Russia at the time of her birthday in 1917. I wondered whether she was given the new Oxford World’s Classics edition of Anna Karenina for her 21st birthday, and was disappointed on a later visit to my parents to be presented with her copy of Nathan Haskell Dole’s pioneering but wholly inadequate translation, reprinted in the inexpensive Nelson Classics series. I pictured my grandmother struggling with sentences such as those describing Anna’s hostile engagement with her husband. After Karenin has begun upbraiding Anna for consorting too openly with Vronsky at the beginning of the novel (Part 2, chapter 9), we read, for example: ‘“Nu-s! I hear you,” she said, in a calm tone of banter’. The Maudes later translated this sentence into English (“Well, I’m listening! What next?” said she quietly and mockingly”), but they also changed Tolstoy’s punctuation, and the sarcastically deferential tone of Anna’s voice (Nu-s, ya slushayu, chto budet, – progovorila ona spokoino i nasmeshlivo – “Well, I’m ready to hear what is next,” she said coolly and derisively”).

Back in 1917, Oxford Word’s Classics “pocket editions” featured a line-drawn portrait of the author, but no other illustration. These days, nearly every edition of Anna Karenina has a picture of a woman on the cover, even if Tolstoy’s bearded face is absent opposite the title page. More often than not it will be a Russian woman, painted by a Russian artist, and while we know this is not Anna, it is as if the limits of our imagination are somehow curbed before we even start reading. The dust-jacket for the new hardback Oxford World’s Classics edition of Anna Karenina reproduces Sir John Everett Millais’ portrait of Louise Jopling. The fact that this is an English painting of an English woman already mitigates against identifying her too closely with Anna, but this particular portrait is an inspired choice for other reasons, as I began to understand when I researched its history. To begin with, it was painted in 1879, just one year after Anna Karenina was first published as a complete novel. And the meticulous notes compiled by Vladimir Nabokov which anchor the events of the narrative between 1872 and 1876 also enable us to infer that the fictional Anna Karenina was about the same age as the real-life Louise Jopling, who was 36 when she sat for Millais. Their very different life paths, meanwhile, throw an interesting light on the theme at the centre of Tolstoy’s novel: the predicament of women.

Louise Jane Jopling (née Goode, later Rowe), by Sir John Everett Millais. National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 6612. Wikimedia Commons
Louise Jane Jopling (née Goode, later Rowe), by Sir John Everett Millais. National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 6612. Wikimedia Commons

Louise Jopling was one of the nine children born into the family of a railway contractor in Manchester in 1843. After getting married for the first time in 1861 at the age of 17 to Frank Romer, who was secretary to Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, she studied painting in Paris, but returned to London at the end of the decade when her husband was fired. By 1874, her first husband (a compulsive gambler) and two of her three children were dead, she had married for the second time, to the watercolour painter Joseph Jopling, exhibited at the Royal Academy, and become a fixture in London’s artistic life. To enjoy any kind of success as a female painter at that time in Victorian Britain was an achievement, but even more remarkable was Louise Jopling’s lifelong campaign to improve women’s rights. She founded a professional art school for women in 1887, was a vigorous supporter of women’s suffrage, won voting rights for women at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters after being elected, fought for women to be able to paint from nude models, and became the first woman member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1902. None of these doors were open to Anna Karenina as a member of St. Petersburg high society, although we learn in the course of the novel that she has a keen artistic sense, is a discerning reader, writes children’s fiction, and has a serious interest in education. Tolstoy’s wife Sofya similarly was never given the opportunity to fulfil her potential as a writer, photographer, and painter.

Louise Jopling was a beautiful woman, as is immediately apparent from Millais’ portrait. In her memoirs she describes posing for him in a carefully chosen embroidered black gown made in Paris, and consciously donning a charming and typically feminine expression to match. On the third day she came to sit for Millais, however, the two friends chanced to talk about something which made her feel indignant, and she forgot to wear her “designedly beautiful expression”. What was finally fixed in the portrait was a defiant and “rather hard” look, which, as she acknowledges, ultimately endowed her face with greater character. This peculiar combination of beauty and defiance is perhaps what most recalls the character of Anna Karenina, who in Part 5 of the novel confronts social prejudice and hypocrisy head-on by daring to attend the Imperial Opera in the full glare of the high society grandes dames who have rejected her.

Louise Jopling’s concern with how she is represented in her portrait, as a professional artist in her own right, as a painter’s model, and as a woman, also speaks to Tolstoy’s detailed exploration of the commodification and objectification of women in society and in art (as discussed by Amy Mandelker in her important study Framing Anna Karenina). It is for this reason that we encounter women in a variety of different situations (ranging from the unhappily married Anna, to the betrayed and careworn housewife Dolly, the young bride Kitty, the unmarried companion Varenka, and the former prostitute Marya), and three separate portraits of the heroine, seen from different points of view. Ernest Rhys interestingly compares Anna Karenina to “a woman’s Iliad” in his introduction to the 1914 Everyman’s Library edition of the novel. Another kind of woman’s Iliad could also be woven from the differing stories of some of Tolstoy’s intrepid early translators, amongst them Clara Bell, Isabel Hapgood, Rochelle S. Townsend, Constance Garnett, Louise Maude, Rosemary Edmonds, and Ann Dunnigan, to whom we owe a debt for paving the way.

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20. The road to hell is mapped with good intentions

Antebellum Americans were enamored of maps. In addition to mapping the United States’ land hunger, they also plotted weather patterns, epidemics, the spread of slavery, and events from the nation’s past.

And the afterlife.

Imaginative maps to heaven and hell form a peculiar subset of antebellum cartography, as Americans surveyed not only the things they could see but also the things unseen. Inspired by the biblical injunction to “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction… and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 KJV), the maps provided striking graphics connecting beliefs and behavior in this life to the next.

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21. Is America generous? [infographic]

Being a generous person and donating a part of one’s income is something many people—and many religions—believe is important. In their Science of Generosity Survey, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson took a closer look at this practice, particularly concerning Americans, to find not only how much of their income they donated, but how much they said they donated, as illustrated in this infographic.

Infographic of Smith/Paradox of Generosity

Download a jpg or PDF of the infographic.

Headline image credit: Photo by 401(k) 2012, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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22. Patty’s Social Season

The stretch of the series between Patty’s Social Season and, I guess, Patty-Blossom, tends to run together. Lunches and evening parties alternate with house parties and Phil Van Reypen getting Patty into scrapes and flying visits from Bill Farnsworth. This one starts with Patty’s official debut — she’s an adult now, not that you would know the difference — encompasses Mr. Hepworth’s engagement to Christine Farley and a Christmas house party with the Kenerleys, and winds up with Christine and Mr. Hepworth’s wedding. I think Wells felt she had to dispose of Mr. Hepworth quickly.

When I first read the books in which Mr. Hepworth was paired off with someone who wasn’t, you know, Patty, I was pretty upset. But that was when I was in college, and since then I’ve grown to appreciate the fact that the adult who falls in love with a child doesn’t end up with her, as he would in kind of an upsettingly large number of other books. That said, I still have issues with how Wells gets rid of Gilbert Hepworth. Because it’s like she also came around to the idea that they shouldn’t get married late in the game, only now she wants to pretend that she never meant Patty and Mr. Hepworth to be a thing, and I don’t think that’s true.

I’m not saying Patty’s in love with him, ever, just that we’re coming off a string of books in which he understands her better than anyone else, in which she trusts him more than anyone else, and in which it’s pretty clearly demonstrated that the only reason she doesn’t know he’s in love with her is that she’s chosen not to know. And those things are all fine, and possible to move on from, but it feels a little bit weird when you don’t even acknowledge them. It’s like Wells doesn’t want to admit there was ever a possibility of Patty falling in love with him, and…I don’t know, I just really think she must have.  Anyway, Wells tries to get through this somewhat awkward situation by not having Patty and Mr. Hepworth exchange more than a few words once he’s engaged, and it’s not convincing. Or it’s afraid to try to be convincing, maybe.

The Mr. Hepworth parts of the book are pretty minor, but, well. I spend a lot of time thinking about this.

The other thread that runs through the book is Mona Galbraith’s involvement with an adventurer she doesn’t particularly want to be rescued from. Also Phil proposes for the first time–for the first dozen times, probably, very few of them in situations where Patty is able to walk away from the conversation if she wants to. (He is, as ever, the worst.) Also, Patty, Elise, Mona and Clementine Morse (Clementine Morse!) start a club to entertain working people on Saturday afternoons, and it’s pretty cute.

The entire book is cute, really, aside from Philip. And it’s pretty routine, but that’s a nice thing. Nothing ever really happens in Patty Fairfield books, and I’ve never been sure whether my love of them is because or in spite of that. But I’m very sure that I love them.


Tagged: 1910s, carolyn wells, girls, series

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23. 3 Sections

Until Vijay Seshadri won the Pulitzer for poetry earlier this year for his book 3 Sections, I had never heard of him before. Born in Bangalore, India in 1954, he came to the United States when he was five. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. He teaches poetry and nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. I am really glad he won the Pulitzer because otherwise I might never have heard of him and his book, 3 Sections is well worth reading.

It is not a mystery why the book is called 3 Sections because it actually has three sections. The first and longest section is poetry, mostly one to at most two pages long. The second section is a prose essay about salmon fishing called “Pacific Fishes of Canada.” The third section is one long poem called “Personal Essay” which is, perhaps, an essay in the form of a poem. The Pulitzer committee describes the book as a “collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia.” They make it sound as though the book has a progression of some kind beginning with birth and ending with dementia. But this is not the case. I am certain there is some kind of logic behind the arrangement of all the pieces in the book, there generally always is, but it is not something I found especially noticeable. I just liked the poems a lot.

I also like Seshadri’s voice. It is firm, assured, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. His lines have a pleasant pacing, slow, but not so slow they become plodding. The slow movement of his lines serves to soften the firmness of his voice. He is not melodic but he is at times soothing. Seshadri’s language is straightforward, everyday. Though this does not mean that he doesn’t have some fantastic and startling images:

Therefore is he choked in the coils
of his being’s enormous Ponzi scheme
(Yet Another Scandal)

And:

Self-esteem is leaking and oozing
over the concrete floor to pool around the feet.
Its color is the pink color of anti-freeze. The air is stringent
with the smell of anti-freeze.
(The People I Know)

And while Seshadri’s voice is firm and his language plain, one could even say grounded, he manages to write a number of poems that approach the spiritual. Here is the entirety of a short one, “Imaginary Number,” to give you an idea:

The mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
is not big and is not small.
Big and small are

comparative categories, and to what
could the mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
be compared?

Consciousness observes and is appeased.
The soul scrambles across the screes.
The soul,

like the square root of minus 1,
is an impossibility that has its uses.

One of my favorites in the collection is called “Memoir.” Here is a taste:

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.

And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.

Humiliated by joy. But isn’t it true? Those moments of pure joy when we are and aren’t ourselves, should someone see us in such a moment, we are so very embarrassed by it. I wonder why that is?

I am not quite sure how the second prose section fits into the book. The narrator gets a job on a fishing boat during salmon fishing season. There is one sentence that really stood out for me:

my duties were light enough to give me plenty of time to indulge my invented self, my sea-going fictional self, and wallow in my version of the well-documented affliction that causes people to live in literature rather than life.

Heh.

And the final section, “Personal Essay,” is a marvelous, somewhat meditative poem on consciousness, identity, and reality. One of my favorite lines in the poem is this:

Clouds oversized, exaggerated in the pale sky, drawn with a crayon by a kid,
which confirms that we are in a fabrication, maybe even in a mistake,
maybe even in a cartoon.

There is a wonderful poem called “Rereading” in which David Copperfield is taken to task for dismantling the lives of the Peggotys in their cozy beached boat upon the strand. And I was also pleased about “Three Urdu Poems.” I love ghazals, a poetic form in which the couplets tend almost towards aphorism at times. I love trying to puzzle out how the seemingly unrelated lines actually do relate and form a whole. It is not a form that those who write in English use very often so they always get my attention when they turn up.

3 Sections is a great collection, full of all sorts of gems. And for those who don’t really consider themselves poetry readers but would like to read poetry now and then, I bet you’d like this one too.


Filed under: Books, Poetry, Reviews

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24. Review – When The Night Comes by Favel Parrett

Past The Shallows was an exceptional novel and Favel Parrett has out done herself with her new book. When The Night Comes is a story of growing up, both as a child and as an adult. It is about journeys into the great unknowns. And that anything in life is possible. The story alternates between two points of view; […]

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25. Alice Paul, suffragist and activist, in 10 facts

Ninety-four years ago today, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States took effect, enshrining American women’s right to vote. Fifty years later, in the midst of a new wave of feminist activism, Congress designated 26 August as Women’s Equality Day in the United States. The 1971 Joint Resolution read, in part, “the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States” and women “have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex.” For that reason, Congress was prevailed upon to declare 26 August a day to commemorate the the Nineteenth Amendment as a “symbol of the continued fight for equal rights.”

Alice Paul was a pivotal and controversial figure in the last years of the American battle to win the vote for women. Her first national action was to organize a grand suffrage procession in Washington, DC on 3 March 1913. She organized the parade on behalf of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the only group working to win women the vote on a national scale. She later founded her own organization, the National Woman’s Party, and charted a surprisingly aggressive course of social protests to convince Congress to pass a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution.

Alice Paul lived long enough to see Women’s Equality Day established; she died in 1977. She did not live to see the project which consumed the remaining years of her life ratified — an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. In 2014, a renewed effort emerged to pass the ERA.

As Women’s Equality Day is celebrated around the country today, here are a few things you may not know about suffrage leader and ERA author Alice Paul:

Alice Paul. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Alice Paul. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

1.  Alice Paul was proudly a birthright Quaker, but as she became interested in politics, she became frustrated with her faith’s reluctance to actively work for woman suffrage. We often associate Quakers with political activism, but in the late nineteenth century, the vast majority of Quakers disapproved of such efforts.

2.  Paul loved dancing and sports. Indeed, her love for physical activity was a factor in drawing her into social protest, first in England, then in America. In her high school and college years, she played softball, basketball, hockey, and tennis, and also ice skated when she could. She learned to dance while attending Swarthmore College near Philadelphia and regretted her few opportunities to attend dances in her later years.

3.  Paul was arrested seven times in England for her suffrage activism, but only once in America. The longest sentence she served in Britain was one month. In the United States, she was sentenced to seven months, but only served one.

4.  Paul endured forced feeding fifty-five times in London’s Holloway Prison in 1909 and perhaps another twenty-five times while at the District of Columbia’s Jail in 1917. Authorities used forced feeding to break the hunger strikes initiated by suffrage prisoners. Some women suffered health problems as a result. Alice Paul struggled with digestive issues for years after and may have lost her sense of smell.

5.  Paul is often portrayed as eager to leave NAWSA to found her own militant suffrage group. In fact, she did so only when her hand was forced. Divisions over strategy or tactics are nothing new to any political group and NAWSA itself came about only in 1890 after two long-estranged suffrage organizations compromised in order to present a united front. The 1914 effort to oust the controversial Alice Paul from NAWSA arose from multiple sources, including the current NAWSA president, Anna Howard Shaw and once-and-future president, Carrie Chapman Catt.

6.  Paul’s persona as a leader combined stereotypically feminine and masculine traits in a way that invited fervent loyalty or deep-seated antipathy. Her dislike of the spotlight and ingrained modesty lent her a vulnerability which undercut concerns about her militant past and her powerful drive. Others found her charismatic authority threatening.

7.  Though the protests of Paul’s National Woman’s Party are often described as “civil disobedience,” Paul believed all of her actions were completely within the law. Before Paul initiated picketing to protest the lack of a suffrage amendment in 1917, picketing was largely the province of labor organizations. After consulting with attorneys about the legality of the practice, Paul adapted the silent vigil of two earlier protests and sent “silent sentinels” to picket the White House. While labor picketing often prompted violence on both sides, Paul gave her troops strict instructions to remain non-violent. Violence was, however, visited upon them by bystanders outraged by the women’s insistence on pressing for suffrage while the country was engaged in World War I.

8.  Paul’s most colorful protests occurred after the House of Representatives passed the suffrage amendment bill. It took another eighteen months to convince the Senate to pass the amendment. To maintain pressure on Congress, Alice Paul crafted watchfire protests across from the White House in Lafayette Square, during which suffragists burned President Wilson’s words about his much-celebrated belief in democracy. They even burned Wilson in effigy to urge him to use his political power to sway the Senate.

9.  Alice Paul was not present during the frenzied effort to make Tennessee the ratifying state for the suffrage amendment. She longed to be at the Tennessee statehouse, but NWP lobbying required a constant input of cash. Her ability to raise funds surpassed anyone else’s, so she chose to stay in Washington to keep the money flowing. Paul’s ability to raise funds was a key factor in the success of the NWP.

10.  Alice Paul bequeathed us the iconic images of the battle for the ballot: photographs of the 1913 procession, the 1917 White House pickets, the 1918 watchfire protests. These images speak to the courage, the persistence and the fortitude of all the women who fought to gain the most fundamental right of citizenship: the right to consent.

Featured image: Alice Paul. Public Domain via Library of Congress.

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