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1. An interview with Shadi Hamid

With turmoil in the Middle East, from Egypt’s changing government to the emergence of the Isalmic State, we recently sat down with Shadi Hamid, author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, to discuss about his research before and during the Arab Spring, working with Islamists across the Middle East, and his thoughts on the future of the region.

In your recent New York Times essay “The Brotherhood Will Be Back,” you argue that there is still support for the mixing of religion and politics, despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent failure in power. So do you see a way for Egypt to achieve stability in the years ahead? Can they look toward their neighbors (Jordan, Tunisia?) for a positive example?

Cultural attitudes toward religion do not change overnight, particularly when they’ve been entrenched for decades. Even if a growing number of Egyptians are disillusioned with the way Islam is “used” for political gain, this does not necessarily translated into support for “secularism,” a word which is still anathema in Egyptian public discourse. One of my book’s arguments I is that democratization not only pushes Islamists toward greater conservatism but that it also skews the entire political spectrum rightwards.

In Chapter 3, for instance, I look at the Arab world’s “forgotten decade,” when there were several intriguing but ultimately short-lived democratic experiments. Here, the ostensibly secular Wafd party, sensing the shift in the country toward greater piety, opted to Islamize its political program, something which was all too obvious (perhaps even a bit too obvious) in its 1984 program. It devoted an entire section to the application of Islamic law, in which the Wafd stated that Islam was both “religion and state.” The program also called for combating moral “deviation” in society and purifying the media of anything contradicting the sharia and general morals. The Wafd party also supported the supposedly secular regime of Anwar Sadat’s ambitious effort in the late 1970s and early 1980s to reconcile Egyptian law with Islamic law. Led by speaker of parliament and close Sadat confidant Sufi Abu Talib, the initiative wasn’t just mere rhetoric; Abu Talib’s committees painstakingly produced hundreds of pages of detailed legislation, covering civil transactions, tort reform, criminal punishments, as well as the maritime code.

The point here is that the Islamization of society (itself pushed ahead by Islamists) doesn’t just affect Islamists. Even Egypt’s president, former general Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, cannot escape these deeply embedded social realities.

Egypt is de-democratizing right now, but the Sissi regime, unlike Mubarak’s, is a popular autocracy where the brutal suppression of one particular group — the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists — is cheered on by millions of Egyptians. Sissi, then, is not immune from mass sentiment. A populist in the classic vein, Sissi seems to understand this and, like the Brotherhood, instrumentalizes religion for partisan ends. In many ways, Sissi’s efforts surpass those of Islamists before him, asserting great control over al-Azhar, the premier seat of Sunni scholarship in the region, and using the clerical establishment to shore up his regime’s legitimacy. Sissi has said that it’s the president’s role to promote a “correct understanding” of Islam. His regime has also been politically ostentatious with religion in its crackdown against the Gay community, leading one observer to note that

Religion is a powerful tool in a deeply religious society and Sissi, whatever his personal inclinations, can’t escape that basic fact, particularly with a mobilized citizenry.

Looking at the region more broadly, there are really no successful models of reconciling democracy with Islamism, at least not yet, and this failure is likely to have long-term consequences on the region’s trajectory. Turkish Islamists had to effectively concede who they were and become something else — “conservative democrats” — in order to be fully incorporated in Turkish politics. In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda party, threatened with Egypt-style mass protests and with the secular opposition calling for the dissolution of parliament and government, opted to step down from power. The true test for Tunisia, then, is still to come: what happens if Ennahda wins the next scheduled elections, and the elections after that, and feels the need to be more responsive to its conservative base? Will this lead, again, to a breakdown in political order, with secular parties unwilling to live with greater “Islamization”?

You began your research on Islamist movements before the start of the Arab Spring. How did your project change after the unrest in 2011? What book did you think you would write when you began living in the region — and what did it become after the revolutions?

I began my research on Islamist movements in 2004-5, when I was living in Jordan as a Fulbright fellow. These were movements that displayed an ambivalence toward power, to the extent that they even lost elections on purpose (an odd phenomenon that was particularly evident in Jordan). Power, and its responsibilities, were dangerous. After the Islamic Salvation Front dominated the first round of the 1991 Algerian elections, and with the military preparing to intervene, the Algerian Islamist Abdelkader Hachani warned a crowd of supporters: “Victory is more dangerous than defeat.” In a sense, then, I was lucky to be able to expand the book’s scope to cover the tumultuous events of 2011-3, allowing me to explore evolving, and increasingly contradictory, attitudes toward power. Because if power was dangerous, it was also tempting, and so this became a recurring theme in the book: the potentially corrupting effects of political power, a problem which was particularly pronounced with groups that claimed a kind of religious purity that transcended politics. The book became about these two phases in the Islamist narrative, in opposition and under repression, on one hand, and during democratic openings, on the other. And then, of course, back again. I knew the military coup of 3 July 2013 and then the Rabaa massacre of 14 August — a dark, tragic blot on Egypt’s history — provided the appropriate bookend. The Brotherhood had returned to its original, purer state of opposition.

The Arab Spring also provided an opportunity to think more seriously and carefully about the effects of democratization. Would democratization have a moderating effect on mainstream Islamist movements, as the academic and conventional wisdom would suggest? Or was there a darker undercurrent, with democratization unleashing ideological polarization and pushing Islamists further to the right? I wanted to challenge a kind of cultural essentialism in reverse: that Islamists, like its ideological counterparts in Latin America or Western Europe, would be no match for “liberal democracy,” history’s apparent end state. Any kind of determinism, even the liberal variety, would prove problematic, especially for us as Americans with our tendency to believe that the process of history would overwhelm the whims of ideology. In a way, I wanted to believe it too, and for many years I did. As someone who has long been a proponent of supporting democracy in the Middle East, this puts me in a bit of a bind: In the Middle East, democracy is simply less attractive. Yes. And now, since the book has come out, I’ve been challenged along these very lines: “Maybe democracy isn’t so good after all… Maybe the dictators were right.” Well, in a sense, they were right. But this is only a problem if we conceive of democracy as some sort of panacea or short-term fix. Democracy is supposed to be difficult, and this is perhaps where the comparisons to the third-wave democracies of the 1980s and 1990s were misleading. The divides of Arab countries were “foundational,” meaning that they weren’t primarily “policy” problems; they were the more basic problems of the State, its meaning, its purpose, and, of course, the role of religion in public life, which inevitably brings us back to the identity of the State. What kind of conception of the Good should the Egyptian or Tunisian states be promoting? Should the state be neutral or should it be a state with a moral or religious mission? These are raw, existential divides that hearken back more to 1848 than 1989.

Tahrir Square on February11 by Jonathan Rashad. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Tahrir Square on 11 February 2011, by Jonathan Rashad CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

You conducted many interviews to research Temptations of Power. How did the interviews craft your argument — whether you were speaking with political leaders, activists, students, or citizens? Feel free to mention some examples.

Spending so much time with Islamist activists and leaders over the course of a decade, some of whom I got to know quite well, was absolutely critical. And this book — and pretty much every thing I know and think about Islamist movements — has been informed and shaped by those discussions. I guess I’m a bit old-fashioned that way; that to understand Islamists, you have to sit with them, talk to them, and get to know them as individuals with their own fears and aspirations. This is where I think it’s important for scholars of political Islam to cordon off their own beliefs and political commitments. Just because I’m an American and a small-l liberal (and those two, in my case, are intertwined), doesn’t mean that Egyptians or Jordanians should be subject to my ideological preferences. If you go into the study of Islamism trying to compare Islamists to some liberal ideal, then that’s distorting. Islamists, after all, are products of their own political context, and not ours. So that’s the first thing.

Second, as a political scientist, my tendency has always been to put the focus on political structures, and the first half of my book does quite a bit of that. In other words, context takes precedence: that Islamists — or, for that matter, Islam — are best understood as products of various political variables. This is true, but only up to a point and I worry that we as academics have gone too much in this direction, perhaps over-correcting for what, decades ago, was a seeming obsession with belief and doctrine.

When religion is less relevant in our own lives, it can be difficult to make that jump, to not just understand — but to relate — to its meaning and power for believers, and for those, in particular, who believe they have a cause beyond this life. But I think that outsiders have to make an extra effort to close that gap. And that, in some ways, is the most challenging, and ultimately rewarding, aspect of my work: to be exposed to something fundamentally different. I think, at this point, I feel like I have a good grasp on how mainstream Islamists see the world around them. What I still struggle with is the willingness to die. If I was at a sit-in and the army was coming in with live fire, I’d run for the hills. And that’s why my time interviewing Brotherhood members in Rabaa — before the worst massacre in modern Egyptian history — was so fascinating and forced me to at least try and transcend my own limitations as an analyst. Gehad al-Haddad — who had given up a successful business career in England to return to Egypt — told me was “very much at peace.” He was ready to die, and I knew that he, and so many others, weren’t just saying it. Because many of them — more than 600 — did, in fact, die.

Where does this willingness to die come from? I found myself pondering this same question just a few weeks ago when I was in London. One Brotherhood activist, now unable to return to Egypt, relayed the story of a protester standing at the front line, when the military moved in to “disperse” the sit-in. A bullet grazed his shoulder. Behind him, a man fell to the ground. He had been shot to death. He looked over and began to cry. He could have died a martyr. He knew the man behind him had gone to heaven, in God’s great glory. This is what he longed for. As I heard this story, it couldn’t have been any more clear: this wasn’t politics in any normal sense. Purity, absolution. This was the language of religion, the language of certainties. Where politics, in a sense, is about accepting, or at least coming to terms, with impossibility of purity.

Are you working on any new publications at the moment?

I’m hoping to build on the main arguments in my book and look more closely at how the inherent tensions between religion and mundane politics are expressed in various contexts. This, I think, is at least part of what makes Islamists so important to our understanding of the Middle East. Because their story is, in some ways, the story of a region that is breaking apart because of the inability to answer the fundamental questions of identity, religion, God, citizenship, and State-ness. One project will look at how various Islamist movements have responded to a defining moment in the Islamist narrative — the military coup of July 3, 2013, which has quickly replaced the Algerian coup of 1992 as the thing that always inevitably comes up when you talk to an Islamist. In some ways, I suspect it will prove even more defining in the long-run. Algeria, as devastating as it was, was still somehow remote (and, ironically enough, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Algerian offshoot allowed itself to be co-opted by the military government throughout most of Algeria’s “black decade”).

This time around, there are any number of lessons to be learned. One response among Islamists is that the Brotherhood should have been more confrontational, moving more aggressively against the “deep state” instead of seeking temporary accommodation. While others fault the Brotherhood for not being inclusive enough, and alienating the very allies who had helped bring it to power. But, of course, these two “lessons” are not mutually exclusive, with many believing that the Brotherhood — although it’s not entirely clear how exactly this would work in practice — should have been both more aggressive and more inclusive.

You recently went on a US tour to promote and discuss Temptations of Power­ — any recent discussion items, comments or questions which supported your conclusions or refined your thinking that you would like to share?

During the tour, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the more philosophical aspects of the book, including the “nature” of Islam, liberalism, and democracy. These are contested terms; Islam, for instance, can mean very different things to different people. A number of people would ask about Narendra Modi, India’s democratically-elected prime minister and somewhat notorious Hindu nationalist. Here’s someone who, in addition to being illiberal, was complicit in genocidal acts against the Muslim minority in Gujarat. But an overwhelming number of Indians voted for him in a free, democratic process. There’s something inspiring about accepting electoral outcomes that might very well be personally threatening to you. Another allied country, Israel, is a democracy with strong (and seemingly stronger) illiberal tendencies. Popular majorities

In some sense, the tensions between liberalism and democracy are universal and trying to find the right balance is an ongoing struggle (although it’s more pronounced and more difficult to address in the Middle Eastern context). So it makes little sense to expect a given Arab country to become anything resembling a liberal democracy in two or three years, when, even in our own history as Americans, our liberalism as well as our democracy were very much in doubt at any number of key points. (I just read this excellent Peter Beinart piece on our descent into populary-backed illiberalism during World War I. Cincinnati actually banned pretzels).

At the same time, looking at other cases has helped me better grasp what, exactly, makes the Middle East different. For example, as illiberal as Modi and the BJP might be, the ideological distance between them and the Congress Party isn’t as much as we might think. In part, this is because the Hindu tradition, to use Michael Cook’s framing, is simply less relevant to modern politics. As Cook writes, “Christians have no law to restore while Hindus do have one but show little interest in restoring it.” Islamists, on the other hand, do have a law and it’s a law that’s taken seriously by large majorities in much of the region. The distinctive nature of “law” — and its continued relevance — in today’s Middle East does add a layer of complexity to the problem of pluralism. This gets us into some uncomfortable territory but I think to ignore it would be a mistake. Islam is distinctive in how it relates to modern politics, at least relative to other major religions. This isn’t bad or good. It just is, and I think this is worth grappling with. As the region plunges into ever greater violence, with questions of religion at the fore, we will need to be more honest about this, even if it’s uncomfortable. This, sometimes, can be as simple as taking religion, and “Islam” in particular, more seriously in an age of secularism. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes, which I cite in the book, from the great historian of the Muslim Brotherhood, Richard Mitchell. The Islamic movement, he said, “would not be a serious movement worthy of our attention were it not, above all, an idea and a personal commitment honestly felt.”

Heading image: Protesters fests toward Pearl roundabout. By Bahrain in pictures, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The post An interview with Shadi Hamid appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. The problem with moral knowledge

Traveling through Scotland, one is struck by the number of memorials devoted to those who lost their lives in World War I. Nearly every town seems to have at least one memorial listing the names of local boys and men killed in the Great War (St. Andrews, where I am spending the year, has more than one).

Scotland endured a disproportionate number of casualties in comparison with most other Allied nations as Scotland’s military history and the Scots’ reputation as particularly effective fighters contributed to both a proportionally greater number of Scottish recruits as well as a tendency for Allied commanders to give Scottish units the most dangerous combat assignments.

Many who served in World War I undoubtedly suffered from what some contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists have labeled ‘moral injury’, a psychological affliction that occurs when one acts in a way that runs contrary to one’s most deeply-held moral convictions. Journalist David Wood characterizes moral injury as ‘the pain that results from damage to a person’s moral foundation’ and declares that it is ‘the signature wound of [the current] generation of veterans.’

By definition, one cannot suffer from moral injury unless one has deeply-held moral convictions. At the same time that some psychologists have been studying moral injury and how best to treat those afflicted by it, other psychologists have been uncovering the cognitive mechanisms that are responsible for our moral convictions. Among the central findings of that research are that our emotions often influence our moral judgments in significant ways and that such judgments are often produced by quick, automatic, behind-the-scenes cognition to which we lack conscious access.

Thus, it is a familiar phenomenon of human moral life that we find ourselves simply feeling strongly that something is right or wrong without having consciously reasoned our way to a moral conclusion. The hidden nature of much of our moral cognition probably helps to explain the doubt on the part of some philosophers that there really is such a thing as moral knowledge at all.

Edinburgh_Castle,_Scottish_National_War_Memorial_rear
Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle. Photo by Nilfanion, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1977, philosopher John Mackie famously pointed out that defenders of the reality of objective moral values were at a loss when it comes to explaining how human beings might acquire knowledge of such values. He declared that believers in objective values would be forced in the end to appeal to ‘a special sort of intuition’— an appeal that he bluntly characterized as ‘lame’. It turns out that ‘intuition’ is indeed a good label for the way many of our moral judgments are formed. In this way, it might appear that contemporary psychology vindicates Mackie’s skepticism and casts doubt on the existence of human moral knowledge.

Not so fast. In addition to discovering that non-conscious cognition has an important role to play in generating our moral beliefs, psychologists have discovered that such cognition also has an important role to play in generating a great many of our beliefs outside of the moral realm.

According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, quick, automatic, non-conscious processing (which he has labeled ‘System 1′ processing) is both ubiquitous and an important source of knowledge of all kinds:

‘We marvel at the story of the firefighter who has a sudden urge to escape a burning house just before it collapses, because the firefighter knows the danger intuitively, ‘without knowing how he knows.’ However, we also do not know how we immediately know that a person we see as we enter a room is our friend Peter. … [T]he mystery of knowing without knowing … is the norm of mental life.’

This should provide some consolation for friends of moral knowledge. If the processes that produce our moral convictions are of roughly the same sort that enable us to recognize a friend’s face, detect anger in the first word of a telephone call (another of Kahneman’s examples), or distinguish grammatical and ungrammatical sentences, then maybe we shouldn’t be so suspicious of our moral convictions after all.

The good news is that hope for the reality of moral knowledge remains.

The good news is that hope for the reality of moral knowledge remains. – See more at: http://blog.oup.com/?p=75592&preview=true#sthash.aozalMuy.dpuf

In all of these cases, we are often at a loss to explain how we know, yet it is clear enough that we know. Perhaps the same is true of moral knowledge.

Still, there is more work to be done here, by both psychologists and philosophers. Ironically, some propose a worry that runs in the opposite direction of Mackie’s: that uncovering the details of how the human moral sense works might provide support for skepticism about at least some of our moral convictions.

Psychologist and philosopher Joshua Greene puts the worry this way:

‘I view science as offering a ‘behind the scenes’ look at human morality. Just as a well-researched biography can, depending on what it reveals, boost or deflate one’s esteem for its subject, the scientific investigation of human morality can help us to understand human moral nature, and in so doing change our opinion of it. … Understanding where our moral instincts come from and how they work can … lead us to doubt that our moral convictions stem from perceptions of moral truth rather than projections of moral attitudes.’

The challenge advanced by Greene and others should motivate philosophers who believe in moral knowledge to pay attention to findings in empirical moral psychology. The good news is that hope for the reality of moral knowledge remains.

And if there is moral knowledge, there can be increased moral wisdom and progress, which in turn makes room for hope that someday we can solve the problem of war-related moral injury not by finding an effective way of treating it but rather by finding a way of avoiding the tragedy of war altogether. Reflection on ‘the war to end war’ may yet enable it to live up to its name.

The post The problem with moral knowledge appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Science Literacy Moments #alsc14

“Pretend the window is a screen,” said poet Susan Blackaby at this morning’s #alsc14 session “The Poetry of Science.” People spend so much time with their eyes glued to their electronic devices that they’re liable to miss what’s going on in their environment. Imagine if people gave as much concentration to nature as they give to their computer screens. How many hawks would they see? What other wonders would they encounter?

Author Margarita Engle joined today’s panel, discussing how she uses both poetry and her science background to advocate for animal and environment conservation. As a child, Engle said, “No curiosity was too small for concentration.” She made the point that the phrase “the spirit of wonder” is applicable to both science and poetry. Because of this commonality, it’s possible to interest poetry loving kids in science phenomena and give science fans the chance to experiment with language.

Poet Janet Wong said that it’s easy–and vital–to create science literacy moments in the classroom and at the library. The key is to be bold. “Science and technology are accessible to people if they’re not afraid.” As gatekeepers of information, teachers and librarians should embrace the responsibility to expose kids to all subjects. Linking language and science may be a key way to make science more approachable. It doesn’t even have to be an elaborate lesson: just a few science literacy moments a week will have a lasting impact on children’s lives.

Check out these great resources:

Jill’s post about Thursday’s edition of “The Science of Poetry”

Presenter Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children blog

Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s blog and book, The Poetry Friday Anthology.

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4. A visual history of the Roosevelts

The Roosevelts: Two exceptionally influential Presidents of the United States, 5th cousins from two different political parties, and key players in the United States’ involvement in both World Wars. Theodore Roosevelt negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War and won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. He also campaigned for America’s immersion in the First World War. Almost 25 years later, Franklin Delano Roosevelt came into office during the calamitous aftermath of the Great Depression, yet during his 12-year presidency he contributed to the drop in unemployment rates from 24% when he first took office, to a staggering mere 2% when he left office in 1945. Furthermore, the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged discussion and implementation of women’s rights, World War II refugees, and civil rights of Asian and African Americans even well-after her husband’s presidency and death. Witness the lives of these illustrious figures through this slideshow, and take a look at the first half of 20th century American history through the lives of the Roosevelts.


Headline image credit: The Roosevelt Family. Library of Congress.

The post A visual history of the Roosevelts appeared first on OUPblog.

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5. Wild Things! Review and a Giveaway

I enjoyed this book as a fan of children's literature, but it is also a valuable resource to teachers of literacy.

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6. ‘This is my word’: Jesus, the Eucharist, and the Bible

It is a well known fact that the Christian church has, in the course of its 2,000-year long history, often been torn with controversy over how to understand those four simple words, ‘This is my body.’

The Orthodox have never been entirely comfortable with the label ‘transubstantiation,’ and at the outset of the Reformation, the Catholic understanding of the Mass was one of the prime issues that provoked Luther to decry the ‘Babylonian captivity’ of the church.

Luther, of course, went on to denounce Zwingli’s view of the Eucharist as vehemently has he had the Catholic one, and slightly later the Reformed followers of Calvin decided that they disagreed with both Luther and Zwingli. The intensity of these debates is understandable in light of the fact that all involved assumed that a correct understanding of the Eucharist had a direct bearing upon the manner in which Jesus was present to his followers.

Was Jesus still here, bringing salvation to his church, or had he departed and left them to get by as well as they could on their own? Defining the nature of this ritual was intrinsically tied to understanding the purpose of this community. Although this story is one often told, the parallels it presents to Christian views on the Bible have often gone overlooked. For the sources of Christian communal identity for the past two millennia include not only a ritual meal but also a written book.

30.12.2012: Kariye Camii, Müzesi or Chora Church, Istanbul
Cyril of Alexandria. Photograph by Nick Thompson. CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Flickr.

At first this assertion strikes the reader as so obvious it hardly merits mentioning. However, recognizing the importance of this principle accounts for some of the disconnect modern readers of the Bible experience when they attempt to read accounts of scriptural interpretation from late antiquity.

As recounted in Michael Legaspi’s The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies, in the past five hundred years the Bible in the West has undergone a transformation as it was abstracted from its previous home in a unified Christian church and resituated in the context of modern academia.

Such a move would have appeared quite foreign to Christians of an earlier age who assumed that the Bible could not be understood properly apart from grasping its place in the divine plan of salvation centered upon the person of Jesus Christ.

For example, Cyril of Alexandria, the fifth-century bishop of the city that served as the intellectual capital of the Roman world, liked to use a metaphor to explain the Bible’s purpose to his Christian hearers.

In his sermons and writings, he explained the presence of the Bible in the church by stating that Jesus had given this book to his followers, like a shepherd providing his flock with green grass for their nourishment.

Cyril, of course, knew that the Bible was written by countless persons over a vast span of time, and he tried, using the best tools available to him, to attend to that sort of historical detail. But what was most important, in his view, was the fact that when the Bible was read, Jesus himself was present to save, in a manner akin to his presence in the Eucharist.

Whether it was the words of Moses or of the evangelist Mark, when Christians sitting in the basilica in late antique Alexandria heard the scriptures, what they experienced was Jesus himself speaking to them through that myriad of human voices.

And in making this assumption they were following a trajectory already begun in the New Testament itself. Had not the Apostle Paul declared that Christ was speaking in him (2 Cor. 13.3), and did not Jesus himself say that his words were ‘Spirit and life’ (John 6.63)?

For most twentieth-century historians, early Christian exegesis was regarded as unworthy of historical attention due to its failure to attain the standards of modern hermeneutical method.

Imagine the absurd parallel of modern scientists rejecting medieval views on the Eucharist on the basis that those benighted premoderns did not properly understand the chemical composition of bread and wine. Such a dismissal hardly grapples seriously with the way Christians tried to articulate the function of the ritual.

supper
The Last Supper. Photography by Novica Nakov (originally posted to Flickr as Icon #8) CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Late antique readers fair somewhat better when seen in their own context. If the Bible is viewed as the written and living voice of Jesus, then the task of interpretation comes to mirror this assumption.

Just as Jesus speaks through the human authors of the Bible, so interpretation must be a process of finding Jesus in those same words, so as to provide spiritual nourishment for Christians seeking to grow in virtue and understanding.

In this way, what Cyril and his contemporaries believed about the Bible determined the way in which they read the Bible as a community, and the consistency of their approach is laudable.

The Bible is open to a great many interpretive approaches, and the plausibility of those methods will always be a product of the community in which the reader is situated. Late antique Christians, who assumed that scripture functioned analogously to the Eucharist, at least managed to find an interpretive method that accorded with their communal experience of this book.

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7. books fly with us

booksfly


Filed under: children's illustration, flying, journeys

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8. Happy Captain Blood Day!

This is a formal apology for not having anything special to post.

But here, check out some of Sabatini’s early short stories. It’s fun to guess beforehand a) whether or not it will be terrible, b) whether or not he recycled the story into a novel later, and c) whether the hero will have a lean sardonic countenance.


Tagged: sabatini, stuff

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9. The Lovesome Book For Little Folk

The lovesome book for little folks

Nid-Nod said the daisies,
Nid-Nod the whispering breeze, Nid-Nod crooned the birdies - Nid-Nod the rustling trees. Nid - Nod winked the little stars in the soft evening light.The whole big world's a Nodding - Nid-Nod Nid-Nod goodnight.



This is a glorious collection of stories, poems, songs and prayers. There are games to play and things to do. Published by The Epworth Press, London, undated but c1953.


The stories include Betty and the dream man by Chris G Temple, The lost thimble by Elizabeth Gould Binks's tail by P. B. Longson, Seeing the world by Dorothy MacNulty, and Two grey kittens by Ruth Ainsworth.



One of four pretty endpapers 

Come on in...

there is lots to see.

Heather and Geoffrey obviously loved The Lovesome Book

they spent a great deal of time colouring in the pictures and completing the dot-to-dots. I think mummy might have helped with the spots on the giraffe. 

Smiling comes easily when looking at this gorgeous book. 

Dandy the circus dog demonstrating one of his tricks. 

More pretty pictures

Songs and prayers


Excellent colouring in


A bedtime story...
Nid-Nod said the daisies, Nid-Nod the whispering breeze, Nid-Nod crooned the birdies - Nid-Nod the rustling trees. Nid - Nod winked the little stars in the soft evening light.The whole big world's a Nodding - Nid-Nod Nid-Nod goodnight.

The Lovesome Book For Little Folk

Thank you for your visit...

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10. Wonderful Weirdos of Literature 2014 – Installment #18

If you've been following along with our Fifth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, we're glad you're back for more. And if you're visiting for the first time, well, we're glad you're here.




If you need a refresher on what this series is all about, clicking on that link up there at the beginning of the post will catch you up quite nicely. Then come on back here to keep the weirdness rolling.

So far in the Picture Book and Poetry Palooza that is this year's sub-theme within the Overall Weirdo Theme, we've frolicked through the following weekly Variations on the Overall Weirdo Themes:


And today, we bring you Installment #18:

Supernatural

Specifically, monsters. Not the dark, blood-curdling, super-scary kind. (We don't do a lot of dark here on Bugs and Bunnies.) Just the quirky ones:



The Monster Trap
Story and pictures by Dean Morrissey
Written by Dean Morrissey and Stephen Krensky
Ages 5 - 10

Paddy has come to stay with his grandfather for a few days. It's his first time there on his own, and Pop's place seems darker than Paddy remembers. That night, they listen to Monster Radio Theater, and when bedtime comes, Paddy is sure he hears the monster from the radio stories. Pop's solution? A monster trap, complete with "sure-fire, high-grade monster bait."

The next morning, the small trap is empty. Pop thinks that means there aren't any monsters. But Paddy thinks they were just too smart for the trap. So Pop and Paddy get to work building a bigger, smarter trap.

And if it works? Well, that could be a whole new problem.




I Need My Monster
Written by Amanda Noll
Illustrated by Howard McWilliam
Ages 5 - 8

When Ethan heads to bed one night, instead of his usual monster under the bed, he finds a note: "Gone fishing. Back in a week. – Gabe" 

Ethan can't sleep without his monster under his bed. And he can't go without sleep for a whole week. So he does the only thing he can think of – interview for a replacement.

But can any of the other monsters measure up to Gabe?

* An added treat: We found this video from SAG Foundation's StoryLineOnline.net, with actress Rita Moreno reading I Need My Monster, including animated illustrations from the book presented as she reads. A bit over 11 minutes, total, and very, very fun!



Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo
Written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer
Ages 3 - 8

Professor Wormbog's beastie collection is incomplete. Though he has found a beastie for nearly every letter of the alphabet, from the Askinforit to the Yalapappas, there is one last beastie that still eludes him: the one for Z, the Zipperump-a-Zoo.

So the professor sets off, determined to catch one and complete his collection. He digs a pit. He fishes the sea. He tries to lure it out of the air. He climbs a craggy peak. He drops into caves. Each time, he finds something. But each time, it is not the Zipperump-a-Zoo. Finally, the disappointed professor gives up and heads home, empty-handed.

But sometimes? The very thing a person searches for the hardest tends to turn up in the most unexpected of places...




The Mysterious Tadpole
Written and illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Ages 5 - 8

Every year, Uncle McAllister – who lives in Scotland – sends Louis a birthday present for his nature collection. And when this year's gift arrives, Louis proclaims it "the best one yet," and takes it to school the next day. His teacher proclaims it a tadpole, and Louis names it Alphonse.

By summer, Alphonse still looks nothing like a frog, and has outgrown his jar, the kitchen sink, the bathtub, and even the apartment. Louis decides what Alphonse really needs is a swimming pool – which they don't have, and can't afford to build. Though nobody wants to, it looks like the only option is to take Alphonse to the zoo. But that night, Louis remembers the middle school pool, which sits unused all summer. He happily sneaks Alphonse in, and it works...until the swim team shows up for its first practice, and the coach says Alphonse has to be gone by the next day.

Louis is out of options and in despair when he runs into his friend, Miss Seevers, the librarian, on his way home. He tells her his problem, and then takes her to meet Alphonse. And then, Miss Seevers comes up with a plan to help. A plan so far-fetched, it just might work.

* * *

See? Not scary at all. Be sure to come back next Friday, September 26th, for Installment #19 of the Fifth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, when animals and people show there's more to them than meets the eye.

Until then, we'll leave you with this:


"The possibilities that are suggested in quantum physics tell us that everything that we're looking at may not be in fact there, so the underlying nature of being is weird."

                                    – William Shatner


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11. Eight myths about Fair Rosamund

Most of what we hear and read about twelfth-century hottie Rosamund Clifford, aka “Fair Rosamund,” just wasn’t so. True, she was Henry II’s mistress. But that’s about it. Like so many other medieval myths, Rosamund’s legendary life and death are a later invention. Herewith, the best of (untrue) Rosamund:

Myth 1:   She went to school at, lived at, had assignations with the king at, retired to, died at, or in any way hung out at Godstow Abbey.

Sadly, Rosamund never entered Godstow until she was a fair corpse. She died around the year 1176, in the midst of her affair with the king, and was buried at Godstow, probably because her mother was already buried there. Contrary to what you will read in various places, there is no evidence that the king paid for her tomb. Her tomb was placed in the front of the high altar, and the king did show particular favor to the monastery because of it. Fifteen years later, Bishop Hugh of Lincoln made the nuns move the tomb out of the church because it was inappropriate for a “whore” to be buried there.

Myth 2:   She and Henry went drinking at the Trout. Or the Perch.

I read this about the pubs near Godstow in a student handbook when I was doing my postgraduate work at Oxford, and I wanted to believe it. So did visiting relatives. Alas, not true. See number 2 above: no hanging out at Godstow. But my visitors and I did enjoy some pleasant pints at both the aforementioned hostelries.

Myth 3:   She lived in a maze at Woodstock.

Of course this is a later embellishment, related to the next two myths. But a fairly elaborate pleasure garden does seem to have been incorporated into the royal residence at Woodstock in this period, adjacent to a room that just a generation later was known as “Rosamund’s Chamber.” So the maze story may have evolved from a real trysting place in a complex garden.

Myth 4:   The queen found her in the maze by means of a silken thread.

See previous myth. But there is, just barely, a silken thread in Rosamund’s true story. After her burial at Godstow, King Henry wanted a special relationship with her burial place, so the nunnery’s patron deeded his patronal rights in Godstow to the king. In the ceremony he used a silk cloth that was later described as “a silken thread.”

Queen Eleanor & Fair Rosamund by Evelyn de Morgan. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Queen Eleanor & Fair Rosamund by Evelyn de Morgan. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Myth 5:   She was murdered by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The earliest version of this story, from the fourteenth century, has Eleanor stabbing Rosamund; in Renaissance versions the queen makes Rosamund choose between stabbing and poison. Interestingly, even the Victorians made a sympathetic victim of poor Rosamund (the fornicating mistress) and turned Eleanor (the wronged wife) into a murderous monster. Needless to say, there’s no truth to the murder stories, which arose long after Rosamund died.

Myth 6:   She was the mother of Henry II’s illegitimate son Geoffrey Plantagenet, archbishop of York, and/or his illegitimate son William Longespee, earl of Salisbury.

Rosamund was too young to be Geoffrey’s mother, who was apparently a woman named Ikeni. William Longespee was the son of Ida de Tosny.

Myth 7:   Latin bell inscriptions all over England make reference to her.

These inscriptions read, “I who am struck am called Maria [or Katherine], the rose of the world.” Rosamund was a rare, possibly unique, name for a woman in twelfth-century England, but the phrases rosa munda (pure rose) and rosa mundi (rose of the world) were epithets for the Virgin Mary. It’s likely that Rosamund Clifford was named (creatively and, as it turned out, ironically) in honor of the Virgin, and that the bell inscriptions came from the same general cultural source.

Myth 8:   Roses were spread over her tomb.

No, just a silken pall and candles, as far as we know. It’s possible, however, that the Gallica rose ‘Rosa Mundi’ was named for her, as her legend grew in the later Middle Ages. Perhaps the rose, like the bells, was named for the Virgin Mary, but the name of the rose is one bit of Rosamund lore that seems plausible.

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12. Life’s uncertain voyage

Uncertainty is everywhere. There can hardly be a person alive who has not experienced it at some time. Indeed, as Shakespeare indicates in his play The Tempest (Act I) we are all submitted to “life’s uncertain voyage.” We may well find ourselves asking “What shall I do?” or “How should I react?”, familiar questions as we continue our voyage.

This common factor in human experience is heightened when the circumstances involve serious illness, whether for the patient or for those who care for them. Living with uncertainty affects all at the bedside. The patient longs for normality and yearns for safety. The family has to face unexpected disruption bringing new routines, responsibilities, and many new people into their lives. A whole new world seems to open up. A client once said, “It is like having a new job” referring to all the new things she had learnt following her husband’s terminal diagnosis.

The professional or volunteer carer, too, has to adjust to uncertainty. The progression of the disease is endlessly variable. There are no certainties in medicine, only likelihoods. This may place the carer under pressure to say something that will give patients and their families a sense of having a handle on their life, regardless of the seriousness of the condition. There are also the practical issues, often difficult and complex, about, for instance, discharge arrangements and future support. Working alongside the families, the carer must hold an appropriate balance between hope for the future alongside a realism about what is or could be involved.

Challenges and choices in life-threatening illnesses create a spectrum of strong feelings among those experiencing them. The patient may well ask “Will I ever be well again? What are they going to do to me? Can I cope with the noise and bustle of a hospital ward? Why has this happened to me?” Fear, anger, grief and helplessness are all present in some degree. Even time itself seems to drag amidst the pain and weakness, loss of ability and responsibility. The notion of self-worth can be seriously challenged. The present and the future may look bleak and insecure as compared with “normal” life. Many of the same feelings will be felt also by families, including anxiety about whether they will be able to cope with the new circumstances and the inevitable increase in financial costs.

Fagus Sylvatica  by Jean-Pol Grandmont. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Fagus Sylvatica by Jean-Pol Grandmont. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The radical changes in circumstances can promote the reasonable question “Why me or us?” Disease is often understood to be a form of judgement, and where the patient has done their best, and in their own view, lived a “good life,” the question arises out of what is felt to be an unjust judgement and cruel sentence. People can feel rewarded, unjustly, by the disease, even if in some ways they have unconsciously contributed to its onset by excessive working, smoking, or drinking. The disease can also arise out of the environment in which the patient lives, or their genetic make-up, over which they have no control. The illness therefore becomes an unfair threat and obstruction in the mind of those involved whether as a patient or family member.

Major disease can not only radically change a person’s circumstances, but also their judgement, attitude, and mood. They can be changed as people. Medical experience can be overwhelming, distorting judgements and decisions, undermining relationships, and creating a deep sense of vulnerability. “Why me?” becomes a cry from the heart; a cry for help; a cry out of hopelessness. But it need not be.

We are all vulnerable. There is a fault in creation, just as there is wonder and genius. Both facets can be seen within scientific fact as well as religious and moral recognition. Disease can be judged as part of nature just as death is part of life. Such reality challenges the patient just as it does the doctor and researcher.

Such natural faults need to be accepted and worked with. They confront but they also inspire. Our uncertain voyage can involve major illness and its concomitants. A constructive but very difficult response can be to accept, remain positive and be grateful to those who are helping by their skills, support, and encouragement. Disease and disorder are part of the underbelly of creation of which we are all a part. “Why me?” can be changed to “Why not me?” The change in the question can bring about change in outlook and peace.

As Shakespeare reminds us of “life’s uncertain voyage”, we wrestle with uncertainty. Often, we hope, we may find resources which help us along the road. Close supportive relationships, a commitment to an ideal or an allegiance to a faith which inspires, even those quiet times of reflection and self-realization can prove invaluable. They all have a part to play in helping us to cope with the unknown. Self-confidence or lack of it can be instrumental in how we manage uncertainty, but neither can assure us that our thoughts and actions are right. Subsequent experience is often the only measure of that.

We can learn from experience — we can learn to live life fully, whatever the circumstances, even when we are uncertain as to what they may be or lead to. We will never know everything, and perhaps it requires a sense of peace to live with such uncertainty — a tough challenge, but one with a great reward.

Heading Image: Snowstorm by William Turner. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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13. What commuters know about knowing

If your morning commute involves crowded public transportation, you definitely want to find yourself standing next to someone who is saying something like, “I know he’s stabbed people, but has he ever killed one?” . It’s of course best to enjoy moments like this in the wild, but I am not above patrolling Overheard in London for its little gems (“Shall I give you a ring when my penguins are available?”), or, on an especially desperate day, going all the way back to the London-Lund Corpus of Spoken English, a treasury of oddly informative conversations (many secretly recorded) from the 1960s and 1970s. Speaker 1: “When I worked on the railways these many years ago, I was working the claims department, at Pretona Station Warmington as office boy for a short time, and one noticed that the tremendous number of claims against the railway companies were people whose fingers had been caught in doors as the porters had slammed them.” Speaker 2: “Really. Oh my goodness.” (Speaker 1 then reports that the railway found it cheaper to pay claims for lost fingers than to install safety trim on the doors.)

Photo by CGPGrey and Alex Tenenbaum. Image supplied with permission by Jennifer Nagel.
Photo by CGPGrey and Alex Tenenbaum. Image supplied with permission by Jennifer Nagel.

If you ever need a good cover story for your eavesdropping, you are welcome to use mine: as an epistemologist, I study the line that divides knowing from merely thinking that something is the case, a line we are constantly marking in everyday conversation. There it was, in the first quotation: “I know he’s stabbed people.” How, exactly was this known, one wonders, and why was knowledge of this fact reported? There’s no shortage of data: knowledge, as it turns out, is reported heavily. In spoken English (as measured most authoritatively, by the 450-million-word Corpus of Contemporary American English), ‘know’ and ‘think’ figure as the sixth and seventh most commonly used verbs, muscling out what might seem to be more obvious contenders like ‘get’ and ‘make’. Spoken English is deeply invested in knowing, easily outshining other genres on this score. In academic writing, for example, ‘know’ and ‘think’ are only the 17th and 22nd-most popular verbs, well behind the scholar’s pallid friends ‘should’ and ‘could’. To be fair, some of the conversational traffic in ‘know’ is coming from fixed phrases, like — you know — invitations to conversational partners to make some inference, or — I know — indications that you are accepting what conversational partners are saying. But even after we strip out those formulaic uses, the database’s randomly sampled conversations remain thickly larded with genuine references to knowing and thinking. Meanwhile, similar results are found in the 100-million-word British National Corpus; this is not just an American thing.

Kanye West performing at Lollapalooza on April 3, 2011 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by rodrigoferrari. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Kanye West performing at Lollapalooza on April 3, 2011 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by rodrigoferrari. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It’s perhaps a basic human thing: conversations naturally slide towards the social. When we are not using language to do something artificial (like academic writing), we relate topics to ourselves. Field research in English pubs, cafeterias, and trains convinced British psychologist Robin Dunbar that most of our casual conversation time is taken up with ‘social topics’: personal relationships, personal experiences, and social plans. Anthropologist John Haviland apparently found similar patterns among the Zinacantan people in the remote highlands of Mexico. We talk about what people think, like, and want, constantly linking conversational topics back to human perspectives and feelings.

There’s an extreme philosophical theory about this tendency, advanced in Ancient Greece by Protagoras, and in our day by the best-known living American philosopher, Kanye West. Protagoras’s ideas reach us only in fragments transmitted through the reports of others, so I’ll give you Kanye’s formulation, transmitted through Twitter: “Feelings are the only facts”. Against the notion that the realm of the subjective is unreal, this theory maintains that reality can never be anything other than subjective. Here (as elsewhere) Kanye goes too far. The mental state verbs we use to link conversational topics back to humanity fall into two families, with interestingly different levels of subjectivity, divided along a line which has to do with the status of claims as fact. The first family is labeled factive, and includes such expressions as realizes, notices, is aware that, and sees that; the mother of all factive verbs is knows (and according to Oxford philosopher Timothy Williamson, knowledge is what unites the whole factive family). Non-factives make up the second family, whose members include thinks, suspects, believes and is sure. Factive verbs, rather predictably, properly attach themselves only to facts: you can know that Jack has stabbed someone only if he really has. Non-factive verbs are less informative: Jane might think that Edwin is following her even if he isn’t. In saying that Jane suspects Edwin has been stabbing people, I leave it an open question whether her suspicions are right: I report her feelings while remaining neutral on the relevant facts. Even when they mark strong degrees of subjective conviction — “Edwin is sure that Jane likes him” — non-factive expressions do not, unfortunately for Edwin in this case, necessarily attach themselves to facts. Feelings and facts can come apart.

Factives like ‘know’, meanwhile, allow us to report facts and feelings together at a single stroke. If I say that Lucy knows that the train is delayed, I’m simultaneously sharing news about the train and about Lucy’s attitude. Sometimes we use factives to reveal our attitudes to facts already known to the audience (“I know what you did last summer”), but most conversational uses of factives are bringing fresh facts into the picture. That last finding is from the work of linguist Jennifer Spenader, whose analysis of the dialogue about railway claims pulled me into the London-Lund Corpus in the first place (my goodness, so many fresh facts with those factives). Spenader and I both struggle with some deep theoretical problems about the line between knowing and thinking, but it nevertheless remains a line whose basic significance can be felt instinctively and without special training, even in casual conversation. No, wait, we have more than a feeling for this. We know something about it.

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14. A Jumble of Things

Ah Thursday! A happy day that means tomorrow is Friday and the weekend is very close at hand. I have a jumble of things this evening.

RIP Update
I am nearly done with Haggard’s She. I am alternately amused and appalled by it. I have also found the structure of the novel interesting because Danielewski’s House of of Leaves which I am also reading has a similar structure. Maybe structure isn’t the right word, frame or perhaps technique would be better. I find it fascinating that this very Victorian novel and a wacky postmodern novel both use manuscripts from a dead man to tell the story and each uses footnote comments from the inheritor of the manuscript to comment on the the text. It goes even farther than that in House of Leaves. But that I am reading two RIP books from different centuries that both use the same approach is fascinating. I’m not sure what else to say about that yet, perhaps there is a post about it after I finish both books. Oh and House of Leaves, had me feeling the chills in broad daylight.

Andrea Dworkin
I did some looking into various books of hers today and it turns out that someone has probably illegally scanned them and made them available online as PDFs. So if you are interested, download them while you can! The titles I am especially curious about at the moment are Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourse on Sexual Politics, Woman Hating, and Right-Wing Women. I have no idea how long these books will be allowed to stay out in the wild, so if you are interested, get them now.

Experimental Novels
Flavorwire has a list of experimental novels that are worth the effort in honor of the publication in the U.S. of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. I am proud to say the U.S. publisher is Minneapolis’s own independent Coffee House Press. Woo! I am very much interested in the novel. Has anyone read it yet?

As to Flavorwire’s list, I take exception to the “worth the effort” bit. Any good book is worth the effort, so what if it is difficult. The list is good in spite of that. I’ve not read any of the books on it though I have read other books by several of the authors listed. Does anyone have a favorite experimental novel (if that even really means anything) that is not on the list you would recommend?

Reading Insecurity
A somewhat amusing article at Slate, Reading Insecurity. What is it? That feeling that you are not getting as much from your reading as you used to. The worry that you aren’t reading as much and when you do read you are distracted. The belief that you spent all day lost in a book as a kid and can no longer achieve that level of reading nirvana. It isn’t a bad article as these things go.

Readathon!
I was just wondering the other day when the fall readathon was going to be because it has ben a couple years since I participated and I am in the mood. Then today in my feed reader, behold! Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is scheduled for Saturday, October 18th. I have signed up and I am already wondering what I will read! Not only that I am wondering what delicious snacks I can get Bookman to make me to fuel my reading! I’m not sure which I am more excited about, the reading binge or the snacks.

Well, that should do it for now. Off to get in a little exercise and a little reading.


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15. Riley Mae and the Sole Fire Safari

Hi All!  "Riley Mae and the Sole Fire Safari", has been released!  I've done the book covers for this new Christian series for tween-age girls.  Hope you enjoy!

http://www.amazon.com/Riley-Sole-Safari-Faithgirlz-Shoes/dp/0310742838/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411072525&sr=8-1&keywords=riley+mae+sole+fire+safari

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16. The Secret to Superhuman Strength: Alison Bechdel’s next graphic novel will be about fitness

17artsbeat bechdel master675 The Secret to Superhuman Strength: Alison Bechdels next graphic novel will be about fitness

Fresh off winning a MacArthur Genius grant, and a months-0ong residency at an Umbrian castle, Alison Bechdel has also announced the subject of her next graphic novel. The Secret to Superhuman Strength will be published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin. Having explored the psyches of her father in Fun Home and her mother in Are you My Mother, Bechdel turns her laser sight on her self:

“The Secret to Superhuman Strength” is Ms. Bechdel’s third graphic memoir and chronicles her decades long obsession with various fitness and exercise fads, including downhill skiing, uphill skiing, rollerblading, martial arts, running, hiking, weight lifting and home workout videos and currently, yoga. The book will also explore the history of American fitness fads, and Ms. Bechdel’s efforts to rekindle her creativity through exercise, and it is shot through with her signature darkness.

Given America’s obsession with these obsessions, this could be another best seller.

1 Comments on The Secret to Superhuman Strength: Alison Bechdel’s next graphic novel will be about fitness, last added: 9/19/2014
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17. Bookish Ways (for the Young-ish Set) to Celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Avast, me hearties! International Talk Like a Pirate Day be soon upon us. Aye, very soon. Tomorrow, in fact.

If this oh-so-fun little-known holiday, celebrated annually on September 19th, has taken ye by surprise this year, never fear. We scalawags here at Bugs and Bunnies have some fun and bookish ways for teachers an' kids ta celebrate the day.




Since pirates are some of our favorite people, we've reviewed a fair number of fantastic piratical books. Below are summaries of all of 'em to date. If we've done a full review, clicking the titles will take ye to the full review posts for each one:



The Mousehunter 
Written and illustrated by Alex Milway
Ages 10 - 12

Twelve-year-old Emiline Orelia is mousekeeper for Isiah Lovelock, Old Town's most famous mouse collector and one of its wealthiest citizens. Emiline cares for her own Grey Mouse, named Portly, as well as all of the mice in Lovelock's vast collection. It's not a glamorous job, but Emiline is very good at it, and hopes one day to become a mousehunter, so she can go out and discover new and interesting mice.

In Emiline's world, collecting and trading mice is valued above all else - but these are no ordinary field mice. There is the Sharpclaw Mouse: a sneaky, mischievous mouse with huge, dagger-like claws on its front paws that can slice through even wood and metal with ease. Or the Magnetical Mouse: prized by sailors for their bulletlike nose that always points due north. Or the Howling Moon Mouse: best known of all the howler mice, it howls only on nights with a full moon. And this is only to name a few.

When Mousebeard, the most feared pirate on the Seventeen Seas, sinks Lovelock's merchant ship, Lovelock hires Captain Devlin Drewshank to hunt him down and capture him. Emiline overhears the deal and, seeing this as the chance of a lifetime, runs away and boards Drewshank's ship, excited to be on the adventure. The journey is a dangerous one, filled with pirates, and battles, and even sea monsters. And Emiline soon comes to realize that all is not exactly as she thought it was, and that no one she's met is exactly who she thought they were.




Fish
By Gregory Mone

Ages 8 and up

Maurice "Fish" Reidy is eleven years old when Shamrock dies. Without their horse, the family can't afford to feed itself, let alone farm their land. Someone has to go into the city to work and send money home. Since Fish is the worst at farming, it's agreed he should be the one to go.

His father arranges for Fish to work for his uncle as a courier. When Fish is entrusted with a mysterious package of coins, he's robbed before he can make the delivery. He tracks down the thief amongst a bunch of pirates, aboard their ship, the Scurvy Mistress. Determined to get that package back and to its rightful recipient, Fish sneaks aboard and joins the pirate crew. He soon learns the coins are more than what they seem, and some of the crew are not as loyal as they'd have their captain believe.

As the Scurvy Mistress sets sail, Fish finds himself on an adventure he never saw coming, with friends he never imagined making. It's a journey that promises to change his life - and that of his family - forever.




How I Became a Pirate
Written by Melinda Long
Illustrated by David Shannon

Ages 4 - 8

Jeremy Jacob was just a boy building a sandcastle on the beach - until the day the pirates came. The pirates were in need of a digger to help bury their treasure. And the captain couldn't help but notice that "He's a digger, he is, and a good one to boot!" The crew heartily agreed, "A good one to boot!" And that is how Jeremy Jacob became a pirate.



Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1
Written and illustrated by Alan Snow

Ages 9 - 12

Young Arthur is a resident of Ratbridge. Or, rather, a resident under Ratbridge. He's not sure why he lives below ground, except that his inventor grandfather says that they must. They share this underground world with curious creatures: boxtrolls, cabbageheads, rabbit women, and the rather fearsome trotting badgers.

One day, Arthur gets caught above-ground on one of his nightly forays to the surface world to gather food. The rather nasty Snatcher, his grandfather's old nemesis, has stolen the machine Arthur's grandfather built for him to be able to fly about, and he doesn't know how to get back home.

But Arthur is not without friends. He is helped by the kindly retired lawyer Willbury Nibble, and the underlings who live with him: the boxtrolls Fish, Egg, and Shoe, and the shy cabbagehead Titus. Then there's the pirates-turned-laundry-workers, talking rats and crows, and oh! we can't forget The Man in the Iron Socks. They are all determined to get Arthur back home safely.

Arthur and his friends soon discover that something stinks in Ratbridge, and it isn't just the cheese: Someone has begun hunting Wild English Cheeses again - an outlawed sport. And mysterious goings-on are afoot at the old Cheese Hall. And all the entrances to the underground world have been sealed up. And the boxtrolls and cabbageheads are all disappearing. And the underlings' tunnels are starting to flood. Grandfather is worried, and they all know Snatcher is the root of this mystery. Somehow. Whatever will they do?




Another Whole Nother Story
As told by (The Incomparable) Dr. Cuthbert Soup
Ages 8 and up 


Mr. Ethan Cheeseman and his three smart, polite, and relatively odor-free children are back in another adventure - with all-new names, of course. Now that they've got the LVR working (the supposedly secret, yet relentlessly sought-after time machine introduced in A Whole Nother Story), the family is all set to travel back in time to just before their beloved wife and mother Olivia Cheeseman meets her unfortunate end at the hands of those seeking to "acquire" the LVR.

But all does not go according to plan. First, they wind up not in the relatively recent past, as they'd planned, but way back in 1668. Worse, their crash landing has damaged the LVR, and unless they can find the proper parts to repair it, the family has no way to return to their own time in the 21st century. As if that weren't trouble enough, the family finds themselves facing suspicion of witchcraft, battling pirates, and navigating a haunted castle. Add to that their tangle with a dangerous nemesis from their present whom they believed they'd seen the last of, and things don't look good.

Despite these odds, the likeable Cheesemans are not without friends, meeting several helpful souls along the way. But is it enough to help them get out of the distant past, and into the nearer past, so they can save their beloved Olivia Cheeseman, and get back to their own time?



* * *


Well, land lubbers, that's all we got, and we ain't got no more. But keep a weather eye on the Bugs and Bunnies horizon – we've got our eyes on more'n a few other fantastic pirate-y books we'd love ta be postin' about in future.

But for now, mateys, we hope you enjoy what we've presented here today, and have a most fabulous International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th.

 

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18. How I found The Body in the Woods after a long search

TheBodyintheWoods high res cvrI got exciting news this week!  Scholastic has bought a bunch of copies of The Body in the Woods, the first in my new series. Girl, Stolen and The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die have been Scholastic bestsellers, so I'm hoping this book meets the same fate.

I got the idea in April 2012 when a friend told us her teen was a volunteer with Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue. Our local SAR does what all SARSs do—find people lost in the wilderness—but ours is unique in two respects. First, it is an all teen-led organization.  Adults can volunteer, but they can't be elected to leadership positions. Second, about 30% of what these teens do is search for evidence at crime scenes.  Evidence they have found has been credited with helping solve dozens of murders. The more I learned, the more I was sure I had found what I had long sought: a realistic hook for a teen mystery series.


The teen volunteers receive about 300 hours of training. They meet every Wednesday evening as well as go on weekend outings once a month. I have gone to trainings with them, most recently a unit on "man tracking," which is what they call it when you follow someone's tracks. It's a real art, and the only clue that someone might have been there can be as small as a broken twig or a few grains of sand on top of a leaf.  (I told folks at my kung fu school that I was learning to man track and another lady said, "Oh, don't worry, honey, I can set you up with somebody!")
SAR guy learning trackingSAR kids responding
SAR grid blackberriesSARS GroupHow to write about something you
Kids break SAR woods
don't know much about
I stared first where I always start: at the library.  I checked out books about Search and Rescue.  I even bought a few manuals (which were expensive, even if they weren't that much bigger than a book. I don't understand why textbooks and such always priced so much higher.)

I interviewed the girl who was a volunteer, and she showed me all the things you have to carry in your pack and on your person when you are called out for SAR.  After signing a criminal background check, I started going to meetings, including an orientation meeting, where I took notes and talked to people. But the best thing I did was to make the acquintance of Jake K., a guy in his early 20s who had volunteered for SAR since he was a teen. Like many SAR volunteers, SAR is Jake's passion. But he's also willing to answer a million questions by email.

And slowly I found my way to a story.  Actually I found my way to ideas for about a dozen stories, but i picked one and worked on that.

First up: the Body in the Woods
Alexis, Nick, and Ruby have very different backgrounds: Alexis has spent her life covering for her mom’s mental illness, Nick’s bravado hides his fear of not being good enough, and Ruby just wants to pursue her eccentric interests in a world that doesn’t understand her. When the three teens join Portland County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, they are teamed up to search for a autistic man lost in the woods. What they find instead is a dead body. In a friendship that will be forged in danger, fear, and courage, the three team up to find the girl’s killer—before he can strike one of their own.

Next in the series: Blood Will Tell
This last weekend, I turned in the final draft of the next book in the series. The working title was Blood Will Tell.  The amazing thing is I think the publisher kept it.  I think the last time that happened was 10 years ago.

In Blood Will Tell, Nick, Alexis and Ruby are well on their way to being full-fledged members of Portland’s Search and Rescue—and to being friends. When a woman is found stabbed to death, their team is called out to search for evidence. Suspicion begins to fall on a guy who lives nearbyr, an awkward kid who collects knives, loves first-person shooter video games, and doodles violent scenes in his school notebooks: Nick Walker. As the evidence against their friend mounts, Alexis and Ruby must decide where their loyalties lie—even if it puts them in danger.


Awards and honors

  • A Junior Library Guild selection.

  • Kirkus: "A fast-moving and well-constructed mystery... A quick, thrilling read that doesn’t skimp on characterization."

  • Publishers Weekly: "The author’s expertise at plotting a murder mystery and knowledge of police procedure are evident."

  • School Library Journal: "A pervading sense of threat and danger."

  • VOYA: "Henry has created not only a gripping mystery, but rich and detailed characters as well."

Click here to read the first chapter
CHAPTER 1
TUESDAY
BLOOD
For Alexis Frost, Nick Walker, and Ruby McClure, it all started with a phone call and two texts. It ended with fear and courage, love and loathing, screaming and blood. Lots of blood.
*   *   *
When the classroom phone rang in American history, Alexis Frost straightened up and blinked, trying to will herself awake as the teacher answered it. She managed to yawn without opening her mouth, the cords stretching tight in her neck. Last night had been another hard one.

“Alexis?” Mrs. Fairchild turned toward her.

“Yes?” Her heart sped up. What was it this time? The possibilities were endless. None of them good.

“Could you come up here, please?”

Mrs. Fairchild was looking at Alexis as if she was seeing her in a new light. Had it finally happened, then, the thing she both feared and longed for? Had something happened to her mother?

*   *   *
Nick Walker’s thumbs were poised over the virtual keyboard of the phone he held on his lap. He was pretending to listen to Mr. Dill, his English teacher, while he was really texting Sasha Madigan, trying this angle and that to persuade her to study with him tonight. Which he hoped would mean lots of copying (on his part) and lots of kissing (on both their parts).

The phone vibrated in his hand. Mr. Dill was busy writing on the board, so Nick lifted it a little closer to his face. It wasn’t a reply from
Sasha but a message from his Portland Search and Rescue team leader.

Search in Forest Park. Missing man. Meet time 1500.

His first SAR call-out! He jumped to his feet.

“Nick?” Mr. Dill turned and looked at him over the top of his glasses. “What is it?” Mr. Dill had a lot of rules. He had already complained about Nick’s habit of drawing—only Mr. Dill called it doodling—in class.

Nick held up his phone while pointing at it with his other hand as if he had been hired to demonstrate it. “I’m with Portland Search and Rescue, and we’ve been mobilized to find a man missing in Forest Park. I have to leave now.”

“Um, okay,” Mr. Dill said uncertainly. Someone in Wilson High’s administration had had to sign off on Nick being allowed to join searches during the school day, but maybe the information hadn’t filtered down to his teachers.

No matter. Nick was already out the door.

He just hoped someone from class would tell Sasha. A text wouldn’t do it justice.

Nick Walker, called out on a lifesaving mission.

*   *   *
Ruby McClure felt her phone buzz in her jeans pocket. She waited until the end of chemistry to check it.

Fifteen hundred made so much more sense than three P.M. Ruby preferred military time. No questions about whether “nine” meant morning or night. No having to rely on context. No one getting hung up on whether 1200 had an A.M. or a P.M. after it, which was a ridiculous idea because A.M. meant “ante meridiem” and P.M. meant “post meridiem” and meridiem was Latin for “midday,” and twelve noon was midday itself.

It was 1357 now. Which meant she had an hour to get home, change into hiking clothes, pick up her SAR backpack, and meet the rest of the team at the Portland sheriff’s office.

Piece of cake.

Ruby pulled out the keys to her car as she walked to the office to sign herself out. On the way, her phone buzzed again. It was Nick, asking for a ride.

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19. Scots wha play: an English Shakespikedian Scottish independence referendum mashup

THE DATE: 18 September 2014, Fateful Day of Scotland’s Independence Referendum

THE PLACE: A Sceptred Isle

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:
Alexander the Great, First Minister of Scotland
Daveheart, Prime Minister of the Britons
Assorted Other Ministers, Attendant Lords, Lordlings, Politicos, and Camp Followers
Three Witches
A Botnet of Midges
The Internet (A Sprite)
A Helicopter
Dame Scotia
St George of Osborne
Boris de Balliol, Mayor of Londres
UKIP (An Acronym)
Chorus

ACT I: A Blasted Heath.

Enter THREE WITCHES

When shall we three meet again,
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

When the referendum’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

That will be when Salmond’s gone.

Where the place?

Hampstead Heath.

Better Together unto death!

Is that your phone?

Daveheart calls: anon! –
Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the plebs and filthy air.

[WITCHES vanish.]

ACT II: The Scottish Camp (Voters at Dawn)

Enter a SMALL FOLKS’ CHORUS, Botnet Midges,
Who flap their wings, and then commence this chant:

See here assembled in the Scottish Camp
The Thane of Yes, Lord Naw-Naw, Doctor Spin.
Old folk forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But we’ll remember, with advantages,
This Referendum Day. Then shall that name
And date, familiar as our household words –
Alex the Great, the eighteenth of September –
And many, many here who cast their votes,
A true sorority, a band of brothers,
Long be remembered — long as “Auld Lang Syne” –
For she or he who votes along with me
Shall be my sibling; be they curt or harsh
This day shall gentle their condition:
Scots students down in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed, they were not here,
Casting their votes in this our referendum.

ACT III: On Arthur’s Seat, a Mount Olympus
Near the Scots’ Parliament at Holyrood

Proud Edward Milibrand, Daveheart, Nicholas Clegg,
And Anthony a Blair perch on the crags
With English Exiles. Now Lord Devomax speaks:

Stands England where it did? Alas, poor country,
Almost afraid to know itself, a stateless
Nation, post-imperial, undevolved;
Still sadly lacking its own Parliament,
It commandeers to deal with its affairs
The British Parliament, whose time it wastes
With talk of what pertains to England only,
And so abuses that quaint institution
As if it were its own, not for these islands
Set in a silver sea from Sark to Shetland.

[Exit, pursued by A. Blair]

ACT IV: The Archipelago (High Noon)

Enter THE INTERNET, A Sprite, who sings:

Full fathom five Westminster lies;
Democracy begins to fade;
Stout, undevolved, John Bull still eyes
Imperial power so long mislaid;
England must suffer a sea-change
Into something small and strange,
MPs hourly clang Big Ben:

DING-DONG!

Come, John Bull, and toll Big Ben.

ACT V: South London: top floor of the Shard

Boris de Balliol, St George of Osborne,
Attendant Lords, and Chorus Bankerorum,
Et Nympharum Tamesis et Parliamentorum

Sheet lightnings flash offstage while clashing cymbals
Crescendo in a thunderous night’s farrage.

ST GEORGE: Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
Ye exit polls and hurricanoes spout!
Come, Boris, here’s the place. Stand still.

How fearful

And dizzy ’tis, to cast one’s eyes so low!
The crows and choughs, that wing the midway air
Seem gross as bankers’ apps: here from this Shard
See floors of smug short-sellers, dreadful traders
Inside a giant gherkin, and the City
Fraternity of inegalite
Spread out around us while its denizens
Appear like lice.

ATTENDANT LORDS: Scotia and Boris, hail!

BORIS: O Bella, Bella Caledonia,
Hic Boris Maior, Londinii Imperator,
Ego –

Fanfare of hautboys, bagpipes, and a tucket.

ST GEORGE: A tucket!

BORIS:                             Tempus fugit.

CHORUS:                                                    Fuckaduckit!

Pipers, desist! Your music from this height
Has calmed the storm, and, blithely, while we wait
For the result to come from Holyrood,
So charms the ear that, clad in English tartans –
The Hunting Cholmondesley, the Royal Agincourt,
And chic crisscrosses of the National Trust –
Our city here, ravished by this fair sound
Of tweeted pibroch, YouTubed from the Shard
To Wapping, Westminster, and Heathrow’s tarmac,
While gazing up from bingo and Big Macs,
Brooding upon our disunited kingdom,
Stands all agog to hear Dame Scotia speak.

Scotia descends, ex machina helecopteris

HELICOPTER: Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

SCOTIA: O England, England, your tight cabinet’s
Sly Oxbridge public-schoolboy millionaires
Fight while your country sinks beneath their yoke;
It weeps, it bleeds; and each new day a gash
Is added to those wounds: new Europhiles
Repulsed, the world repelled; England whose riots
Failed to stop students’ fees for your own folk
Or to contain their escalating cost.
Sad, catastrophic, calculating drones
Miscalculating loans, kicking the arts,
England betrayed by Scoto-Anglish Blair
Into wrong wars and then to Gordon Brown,
Jowled lord of loss and light-touch regulation.
O England, England! Rise and be a nation
United under your own Parliament!
Methinks I am a prophet now inspired
And thus, inspiring, do foretell of you:
Your Europhobia must not endure,
For violent fires must soon burn out themselves;
Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short.
Learn from the Scots: plant windfarms, make yourself
A Saudi Arabia of tidal power,
Though not of gender; learn, too, from the French,
There is no need to stay a sceptred isle,
Scuffed other Eden, demi-paradise;
No fortress, built by UKIP for themselves,
Against infection in their Brussels wars;
Be happy as a nation on an island
That’s not England’s alone, a little world,
This precious stone set in a silver sea,
Which serves to link it now with all the globe,
Or as the front door to a happy home,
Be, still, the envy of less happier lands,
And set up soon an English Parliament,
Maybe in London, Britain’s other eye,
Maybe in Yorkshire, so you may become
A better friend to Scotland whose folk love
This blessed plot, this earth, and independence.

She zooms northwards.

Heading image: Macbeth by John Martin (1789–1854). Scottish National Gallery. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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20. China’s economic foes

China has all but overtaken the United States based on GDP at newly-computed purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates, twenty years after Paul Krugman predicted: “Although China is still a very poor country, its population is so huge that it will become a major economic power if it achieves even a fraction of Western productivity levels.” But will it eclipse the United States, as Arvind Subramanian has claimed, with the yuan eventually vying with the dollar for international reserve currency status?

Not unless China battles three economic foes. One is well-known: diminishing marginal returns to capital. Two others have received less attention. The first is Carlos Diaz-Alejandro. Not the man, but the results uncovered by his research on the Southern Cone following the opening up of its capital account that culminated in a sovereign debt crisis and contributed to Latin America’s lost 1980s. If the capital account is liberalized before the domestic financial system is ready, the country sets itself up for a fall: goodbye financial repression, hello financial crash. The second is the “reality of transition”: rejuvenating growth requires hard budgets and competition to improve resource allocation and stimulate innovation, counterbalanced with a more competitive real exchange rate. This is the principal insight from the transition in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), which was far simpler than anything China faces.

China was able to raise total factor productivity (TFP) growth as an offset to diminishing marginal returns to capital, especially after joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, and faster growth was accompanied by a rising savings rate. But TFP growth is hard to sustain. Any developing country targeting growth above the steady state level given by the sum of human capital growth, TFP growth and population growth (the latter two falling rapidly in China) will find that its investment rates need to continually increase unless it can rejuvenate TFP growth. China’s investment rates have risen from around 42% of GDP over 2005-7 (prior to the global crisis) to 48% in recent years even as growth has dropped from the 12% to the 7.5% range. Savings rates have hovered around 50%, reducing current account surpluses (numbers drawn from IMF 2010 and 2014 Article IV reports).

Hall of Supreme Harmony, Beijing.
Hall of Supreme Harmony, Beijing, by Daniel Case. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This configuration has forced China to choose between either investing even more, or lowering growth targets. It has chosen the latter, with its leaders espousing anti-corruption, deleveraging, environmental improvement and structural reform to achieve higher quality growth. The central bank, People’s Bank of China (PBoC), has reaffirmed its goal of internationalizing the yuan and liberalizing the capital account.

China’s proposed antidote is to “rebalance” from investment and exports to domestic consumption. But growth arithmetic would require consumption to grow at unrealistic rates, given the relative shares of investment and private consumption in GDP, even to meet scaled-down growth targets. Besides, households need better social benefits and market interest rates on bank deposits to save less and consume more. Hukou reform alone, or placing social benefits received by rural migrants on a par with their urban counterparts, could easily cost 3% of GDP a year for the next seven years as some 150 million additional people gain access to such benefits—quite apart from the public investment needed to upgrade urban infrastructure, according to calculations shared by Xinxin Li of the Observatory Group. And the failure to liberalize bank deposit rates has led to the rise of “wealth management products” in the shadow banking system. These “WMPs” offer higher returns but are poorly regulated and more risky.

Indeed, total social financing, a broad measure of credit, has soared from 125% to 200% of GDP over the five years 2009-2013 (Figure 2 in the July 2014 IMF Article IV report, with Box 5 warning that such a rapid trajectory usually ends in tears). Local government debt was estimated at 32% of GDP in mid-2013, much of it short-term and used to fund infrastructure projects and social housing with long paybacks. Housing prices show the signs of a bubble, especially away from the four major cities. Corporate credit is 115% of GDP, about half of it collateralized by land or property. While the focus recently has been on risks from shadow banking, it is hard to separate the shadow from the core. Besides, WMPs have become intertwined with the booming real estate market, a major engine of growth yet the centre of a “web of vulnerabilities” (to quote the IMF) encompassing banks, shadow banks, and local government finances. A real estate shock would ripple through the system, lowering growth and forcing bailouts. The gross cost of the bank workout at the end of the 1990s was 15% of GDP in a much simpler world!

2014 began with fears of a hard landing and an impending default by a bankrupt coal mine on a $500 million WMP-funded loan intermediated by a mega-bank. The government eventually intervened rather than let investors take a hit and risk a confidence crisis. And starting in April, stimulus packages were launched to meet the 7.5% growth target, a tacit admission that rebalancing is not working. But concerns persist around real estate. Besides, stimulus will help only temporarily and China is likely to be facing the same questions about growth and financial vulnerability by the end of the year.

With rebalancing infeasible, and investing even more prohibitively costly, virtually the only remaining option is to spur total factor productivity growth: China is still far from the global technological frontier. This calls for a package that cleans up the financial sector and implements hard budgets and genuine competition, especially for the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), while keeping real exchange rates competitive. The real appreciation of the past few years may have been offset by rising productivity, but continued appreciation will make it harder for the domestic economy to restructure and create 12 million jobs a year to absorb new graduates and displaced SOE workers.

In sum, China must heed Diaz-Alejandro. No one knows what the non-performing loans ratio is in China and few believe the official rate of 1%. If the cornerstone of a financial system is confidence and transparency, China is severely deficient. This must first be fixed and market-determined interest rates adopted before entertaining hopes of internationalizing the currency. China must also accept the reality of transition; the formidable remaining agenda in the fiscal, financial, social, and SOE sectors reminds us that China is still in transition to a full-fledged market economy.

The combination of a financial clean up and the policy trio of hard budgets, competition, and a competitive real exchange rate will improve resource allocation and force innovation, boosting total factor productivity growth. But doing this is hard—that’s the essence of the “middle-income trap”. Huge vested interests will be encountered, evoking Raghuram Rajan’s description of the middle-income trap as one “where crony capitalism creates oligarchies that slow down growth”. Dealing with this agenda is the Chinese leadership’s biggest challenge.

The era of cheap China is ending, while the ability of the government to virtually decree the growth rate has fallen victim to diminishing returns to capital. Diaz-Alejandro and the reality of transition are no less important as China seeks a way forward.

Headline image credit: The Great Wall in fall, by Canary Wu. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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21. Kissing from a strictly etymological point of view

Like every other custom in life, kissing has been studied from the historical, cultural, anthropological, and linguistic point of view. Most people care more for the thing than for the word, but mine is an etymological blog, so don’t expect a disquisition on the erotic aspects of kissing, even though a few lines below will lead us in that direction. Did the ancient Indo-Europeans, the semi-mythic people who lived no one knows exactly when and where kiss? And if they did, what was their method of performing this “gesture”? Did they rub one another’s nose, the way many people do? Did they kiss their children before putting them to their nomadic beds? Did they kiss goodbye to lost objects, blow a kiss to a friend, or kiss the hand of the woman whose affections they hoped to gain? Alas, we will never know. Even a common Indo-European word for “head” does not exist, and if there is no head, how does one kiss in a truly Proto-Indo-European way? Our records, beginning with Ancient Egypt, the Old Testament, and Vedic texts are quite old but not old enough.

In 1897 Kristoffer Nyrop (1858-1931), a distinguished student of Romance linguistics and semantic change, wrote a book called Kysset og dets historie (The Kiss and Its History; being a nineteenth-century Dane, he stuck to the reactionary habit of writing his works in Danish, but the book was translated into English almost immediately and is still available.) The 190-page study reads like a novel. A week after its publication, all the copies were sold out, and Nyrop was asked to prepare a second edition and do so in a wild hurry, to be ready for Christmas sales. As could be expected, he complied. Regrettably, he said nothing about the origin of the word. Yet the literature on the etymology of kiss is huge.

As usual, I’ll begin with Germanic. The ancestors of the Modern Germans, Dutch, Frisians, Scandinavians, and English had almost the same word for “kiss,” approximately koss (coss). Part of the New Testament in Gothic has come down to us. Gothic is a Germanic language, recorded in the fourth century, and the word for the verb kiss in it is kukjan. As early as 1861, Dutch dialectal kukken surfaced in a scholarly work, and somewhat later an almost identical East Frisian form was set in linguistic circulation. It became clear that at one time Germanic speakers had two forms—one with -ss-, the other with -kk-. Their relation has never been explained to everybody’s satisfaction.

Solomon in The Song of Songs mentions passionate kisses on the mouth, and Judas must also have kissed Jesus on the mouth. At least, such was the general perception in the Middle Ages (for example, this is how Giotto and Fra Angelico, but more explicitly Giotto, represented the scene), so the Hebrews and the Romans kissed as we do, and Wulfila, the translator of the Gothic Bible, probably had a similar image before his eyes while working with the Greek text. So the speakers of the Germanic languages called “kiss” a kuss- (the vowels might differ slightly) or a kukk-.

Whenever the ritual of kissing came into being, some kisses were used to show respect and in other situations served a purpose comparable to shaking hands (think of a handshake sealing a bargain). Kissing the foot of a king or the Pope belongs here too. Dutch zoenen has the root of a verb meaning “reconcile” (a cognate of German versöhnen). Consequently, people kissed to mark the end of hostilities. Later the Dutch verb broadened its meaning and began to denote any kiss. Something similar happened in Russian, in which the verb for “kiss” is akin to the adjective for “whole”: tselovat’ (stress on the last syllable), from tsel. A kiss must have been a gesture signifying “be healthy, gesundheit.” Another Dutch verb for “kiss” (this time, dialectal), with a close analog in dialectal German, is poenen ~ puunen and seems to have meant “push, plunge, thrust; come into contact.” Here the emphasis was obviously on the movement in the direction of another person. Then there is Engl. smack, believed to be sound-imitative: apparently, when one kisses someone, smack is heard. Onomatopoeia is always hard to prove, but compare Russian chmok, which means exactly the same as smack. Latin savium, of obscure origin, designated an erotic kiss, while osculum goes back to the word for “mouth” (os). Neither is sound-imitative.

Klimt's The Kiss
Klimt’s The Kiss

Where then does Old Germanic kuss- ~ kukk- belong? Many researchers have suggested that it is sound-imitative, like smack. Perhaps we really hear or think we hear smack, chmok, kuss, and kukk when we kiss. However, even an onomatopoeic word can have a protoform. Reconstructing any protoform is pure algebra. For example, the Gothic for come is qiman (pronounced as kwiman). Its indisputable Latin cognate is venire. To make the two belong together, we should posit an ancestor beginning with gw-. In Latin, g was lost, and in Germanic it yielded k, according to the law of the consonant shift (b, d, g to p, t, k). Did the ancestors of Latin speakers ever say gwenire? Most likely, they did.

In the same way, kiss was tentatively connected with Latin gustare “to taste,” on the assumption that at one time the sought-for form began with gw-. Although this suggestion can be found in one of the best Germanic etymological dictionaries, it now has few, if any, supporters. More instructive is the fact that the Hittite for “kiss” was kuwaszi, and it resembles Sanskrit ṡvaṡiti “to blow; snort” (k- and s- alternate according to a certain rule, while u and w are variants of the same phonetic entity). Add to them Greek kuneo “kiss,” in whose conjugation -s- appears with great regularity: the future was kuso and the aorist ekusa, earlier ekussa. On the basis of this evidence, several authoritative modern dictionaries posit a Proto-Indo-European form of kiss. Can we imagine that three or so thousand years ago there was a common verb for kiss that has come down to our time? Possibly, if “kiss” designated something very common and important, that is, if, for example, it existed as a religious term, something like “worship an idol by touching the image with one’s lips.”

Other hypotheses also exist. Kiss was compared with the verb for “speak,” from which English has the antiquated preterit quoth; Engl. choose and chew; Swedish kuk “penis,” Low (= Northern) German kukkuk “whore; vulva,” Irish bel “lip,” and especially often with Latin basium “kiss” (noun) ~ basiare “kiss” (verb), recognizable today from its cognates: French baiser, Italian baciare, and Spanish besar. All those conjectures should probably be dismissed as unprofitable. The origin of basiare is unknown, and nothing good ever comes from explaining one obscure word by referring it to another equally obscure one.

We are left with two choices. Perhaps there indeed once existed a proto-verb for kiss sounding approximately like it, but who kissed whom or what and in what way remains undiscovered. Or, while kissing, different people heard a sound that resembles either kuss or kukk. Neither solution inspires too much confidence, but, in any case, the long consonant (-ss and -kk) points to the affective nature of the verb. Perhaps an ancient expressive verb belonging to the religious sphere had near universal currency, with Hittite, Sanskrit, and Germanic still having its reflexes. If so, the main question will be about the application of that verb. The sex-related look-alikes (“penis,” “vulva,” and the rest) should, almost certainly, be ascribed to coincidence.

To prevent the Indo-European imagination from running wild, one should remember that alongside kiss, Engl. buss exists. Although it sounds like Middle Engl. bass (the same meaning), bass could not become buss, and it is anybody’s guess whether bass is of French or Latin origin. Swedish dialectal puss corresponds to German Bavarian buss, which is remembered because Luther used it. French, Spanish, Portuguese, Lithuanian, Persian, Turkic, and Hindu have almost identical forms (Spanish is sometimes said to have borrowed its word from Arabic), while Scottish Gaelic and Welsh bus means “lip; mouth.” Even Engl. ba “to kiss” has been recorded. This array of b-words seems to tip the scale toward the onomatopoeic solution, the more so because, to pronounce b, we have to open the lips. For millennia people have kussed (no pun intended), kossed, kissed, kukked, bassed, and bussed, to show affection and respect, to conclude peace, and just for the fun of it, without paying too much attention to origins. This is not giving a kiss of death to etymological research: it is rather a warning that some things are hard to investigate.

Nowadays the question where does a certain sentence occur? has lost its edge. Google will immediately provide the answer. So find out who wrote: “‘A gentleman insulted me today’, she said, ‘he hugged me around the waist and kissed me’.” Then read, laugh, and weep with the heroine.

Image credits: (1) “The prince awakened Sleeping Beauty.” From Kinder und Hausmarchen, von Jakob L. und Wilhelm K. Grimm; illus. von Hermann Vogel. Dritte Auflage), 1893. NYPL Digital Gallery. Digital ID: 1698628. New York Public Library (2) The Kiss. Gustav Klimt. 1907-1908. Austrian Gallery Belvedere. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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22. Books Just Ruin Everything

Books have a way of wrecking a person’s life. Well, okay, not wrecking, that’s far too strong. Ruin maybe. Well, no not ruin either. Let me try again. Books have a tendency to keep a person from being settled in her opinion of things. The opposite could be true too, books could serve to always confirm a person’s opinions and beliefs. I guess it all depends on what sorts of books a person reads. For me, the first one tends to hold sway.

Most recently my opinion of Andrea Dworkin has been ripped to shreds. I am reading a book of essays called Icon edited by Amy Scholder to review for Library Journal and I just finished an essay in it by Johanna Fateman on Andrea Dworkin. I can’t say that I have ever read Dworkin. I have read bits and pieces, passages, quotes, never an entire book of hers. By the time I came along to college and took a women’s literature class, Dworkin had already pretty much been written off by feminists because of her anti-porn and, purported, anti-sex, stance. I wasn’t especially concerned with porn, but when you are twenty, the thought of being anti-sex, even if you weren’t having any, was preposterous. So I wrote off Dworkin too as a kooky feminist who had gone way too far. I was all, feminism yay! But I just didn’t see the reason it had to go to such extremes.

But this Fateman essay is forcing me to re-evaluate my opinion of Dworkin. To be sure she did go way out there, but she had reasons. And now, from the perspective of 20+ years, I can also understand that sometimes one needs to go to extremes in order to get any sort of attention on an issue that people don’t think is a problem or refuse to believe is anything to be concerned with.

And did you know Dworkin wrote novels? A couple of memoirs? And some supposedly excellent literary criticism? I certainly had no idea. And now this (not) stupid essay has made me want to go and dig some of those things up, especially the criticism, to discover for myself just what made her so known and influential before everyone turned on her.

If I hadn’t agreed to review this book for Library Journal, and if there hadn’t been an essay in it about Dworkin then I could still be going on my merry way with not a thought about the woman. But now, blast it all, I am not going to be able to let it go. I will have to investigate further. Darn books, why can’t you just let me be ignorant? I don’t have time for this. Books have to go an ruin everything.


Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Andrea Dworkin

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23. Cybils 2014

cybils logo

It’s that time of year again: Cybils Award season. The judge announcements went out this morning. I’m delighted to be serving on the First-Round panel for YA Fiction. My last stint on this panel was in 2010, aka The Year I Read a Million Books. (I’m sure it’s a TOTAL COINCIDENCE that that was also the year I began to need reading glasses.)

My appointment to this panel spurred me to make a move I’ve been considering for some time, which is to dust off my tumblr (again) and try using it for my YA-related content. I’ve got a new YA of my own coming out next year, and tumblr seems a better fit for connecting with teen readers. I’ll add a link to the sidebar, or if that topic interests you enough to want to follow it in a feed reader, here’s the RSS. (I also use tumblr for reposting interesting articles and art I’ve come across, so fair warning.)

Disclaimer: I consider all platform changes to be experimental until they’ve proven themselves convenient, so this may or may not be a long-term shift. I just really like keeping things in different boxes. But if you’ve seen my garage, you know there usually comes a point where I get annoyed by the clutter and dump everything into one big container. (Believe me, you don’t want to see my garage.)

I believe this post may have set a new record for ending paragraphs with parentheticals. (Yeehah!)

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24. Thoughts on YA

So I wrote this really long post about YA fiction on tumblr, and then I was like ARGH, maybe it should go at Bonny Glen instead, what am I even doing? So now you know exactly how decisive I am.

Well, it’s there, and I’m leaving it there, but here’s a piece of it, and if you have trouble commenting on that site you’re welcome to bring the discussion here.

Something I’ll be thinking about as I gorge is what stories these writers are telling and why. (Not just how, which is a primary measure of a book’s merit—how is this story being told? How well? How vividly? How compellingly? How convincingly? How searingly? Does it leave something behind? A scar on the mind, a rune engraved on the heart? A face you can’t ever forget? How? How?)

In an endeavor like this, selecting a Cybils shortlist, the what and why questions are equally pressing. What makes this book stand out from the crowd—and a crowd it will be. Why this plot, this narrator, this voice. Why verse, or why prose? When you read a lot of books at once you can’t help but spot patterns and trends. Small details, perhaps, like the naming of cars—in 2010 we had a gaggle of them, including not one but two cars named “Holden,” (totally by coincidence I have no doubt). But larger trends as well, clusters of books exploring similar subject matter. In realistic YA fiction this very often means suicide, addiction, medical or mental disorders, sexual or physical abuse. And that, I think, tells us a great deal about what the world is like for teens. And is why the best YA is both gripping and probing—that’s what teens do: they grip tightly to each other, to ideas, to hopes, to identity, to music, to fears; and they probe and dig and ponder and search. In this light the naming of cars makes perfect sense—the quest for identity, the assignment of personality to objects of significance, the search for the real, true meaning of things. Naming a thing helps define the thing. Naming it Holden—oh there’s so much to unpack there. Holden Caulfield, the original teen gripper and prober.

You can’t read a book that is gripping without being gripped, and that’s what I’m preparing myself for. To have my mind shaken, my heart squeezed.

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25. 10 ways to survive being a psychology student

How do you survive as a psychology student? It might be a daunting prospect, but we here at OUP are here to give you a helping hand through three years of cognitive overload. Here are our top tips:

1. Do some essential reading before you start your degree! Psychology is a very broad subject, so build some strong foundations with a wide reading base, especially if you’re new to the subject. Check out our Essential Book List to get you started (and recommendations welcome in the comments below).

2. Stay up-to-date with current affairs. Psychology is a continually evolving subject, with new ideas and perspectives emerging all the time. Read blogs, journals, and magazines; watch TED talks; listen to podcasts; and scan newspapers for psychology-themed stories.

3. Always keep your eyes and ears open. University is your chance to learn beyond the classroom. Pay attention to life – just watching your favourite TV programme can give you an insight into how a theoretical concept might actually work. Use everyday events and interactions to deepen your understanding of psychological ideas.

4. Learn from everyone around you. Psychology asks questions about how we as humans think – so go and think together with some other humans! Compare and contrast different ideas and approaches, and make the most of group learning or other opportunities, like taking part in other people’s surveys or experiments. Joining your university psychology society is a great way to learn from your peers and to balance work with play.

Photo by Reidaroo CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons
Business Student. Photo by Reidaroo CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

5. Learn how to study independently. This is your chance to learn what you want, not what you have to. You will have much greater academic freedom than ever before. Wherever you choose to study, you will have to take on your own independent research, and if you see yourself building a career in psychology, then independent investigation is crucial.

6. Hone your note-taking / diagram-making skills. On your laptop, tablet, smartphone — or with paper and pens — you’ll be writing a lot of notes over the course of your degree. Referencing and formatting might not seem like the most exciting aspects of your degree, but good preparation and organisation will make them more bearable (and quicker!). Get to know how best you learn, remember and process information.

7. Get enough sleep. Sitting up late staring at textbooks and computer screens is easy, but it’s not the healthiest habit to get into. Studying well is less about the number of hours you put in, than how effectively you spend those hours. Keep up a balanced diet, stay hydrated, do regular exercise, and find someone to talk to if you’re feeling stressed.

8. Don’t be afraid to admit to your own weaknesses. Psychology is a demanding subject, and questions are more common than neat answers.

9. Try to enjoy your studies. There are many ideas to explore, from behaviour to dreams, memory to psychoanalysis. Keep looking at different topics that interest you to stay motivated. When it does get too much, don’t be afraid to step back and take a break.

10. Finally, remember what psychology is about. You can get lost in surveys and experiments, theories and concepts, but try to always keep in mind what drew you to psychology in the first place. In studying psychology you’re taking part in a great tradition of questioning how the human mind works and behaves – be proud of that.

Heading Image: Student. Photo by CollegeDegrees360, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

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