Monthly Archives: January 2009

Obama and Bush Creating the Presidency

January 21, 2009
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Obama and Bush Creating the Presidency

As a nationally recognized expert on political communication and coauthor of Presidents Creating the Presidency, the definitive book on presidential rhetoric, Kathleen Hall Jamieson was called upon yesterday to assess the speeches of both the outgoing and the incoming president. She told USA Today that, “like his predecessors, Bush ‘trying to set the criteria by which the presidency will be judged.'” And, in today’s article on Obama’s inaugural address, she explains to USA Today readers that “inaugurations have four basic goals: Reuniting people after a tough election, celebrating shared American values, forecasting the administration’s policies and swearing fidelity to the Constitution as the president takes the oath of office”—an argument also cited by Jill Lepore in her recent New Yorker article on presidential inaugurals. If you’re interested in learning more about how presidents have used rhetoric to shape the presidency—and how they continue to re-create it—you couldn’t stumble across a better starting point than Karyln Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamison’s newly updated book on the subject. . . .

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Chris Otter on the political history of gaslight

January 21, 2009
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Chris Otter on the political history of gaslight

Chris Otter, author of The Victorian Eye: A Political History of Light and Vision in Britain, 1800-1910 is today’s guest on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed. On the program Otter joins host Laurie Taylor and Lynda Nead, Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London, to discuss the political and social changes brought about in 19th century Britain by the use of gas lighting. Tune in at the Thinking Allowed website after the live broadcast, or find out more about Otter’s book. . . .

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Inaugurama

January 20, 2009
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Inaugurama

As part of its coverage leading up to today’s presidential inauguration, the New York Times ran an article yesterday about the books that have contributed the new president’s worldview. “His appreciation of the magic of language and his ardent love of reading have not only endowed him with a rare ability to communicate his ideas to millions of Americans while contextualizing complex ideas about race and religion,” Michiko Kakutani argues, “they have also shaped his sense of who he is and his apprehension of the world.… He has tended to look to non-ideological histories and philosophical works that address complex problems without any easy solutions, like Reinhold Niebuhr’s writings, which emphasize the ambivalent nature of human beings and the dangers of willful innocence and infallibility.” Indeed, as President Obama himself has noted, “Niebuhr is one of my favorite philosophers. I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away … the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they . . .

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Artistry of the Viet Cong

January 19, 2009
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Artistry of the Viet Cong

Arts and culture blog truthdig.com posted a review last week of Sherry Buchanan’s recent book, Mekong Diaries: Viet Cong Drawings and Stories, 1964-1975—a collection of work by ten Vietnamese soldier-artists that, as truthdig contributor Christian G. Appy notes, offers the western world new insight into the experiences of those on the other side of the Vietnam War and the resilience of those soldiers in the face of the much better equipped U. S. military. Appy’s article begins by quoting a Chicago novelist: “We lost the war because the Vietnamese just flat out beat us. And we lost the war because we didn’t understand that they were poets.” I was offered this Delphic explanation of American defeat in Vietnam by Larry Heinemann, a novelist who survived some of the war’s fiercest fighting in 1967 and 1968 as a soldier with the 25th Infantry Division near the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh province.… But how could poetry, or any kind of art, help explain one of history’s most astonishing victories? I think what Heinemann meant was that the Communist-led cause in Vietnam mobilized not just bodies, but souls.… To maintain morale, the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) deployed . . .

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TV as fine art

January 16, 2009
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TV as fine art

In a speech before the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961, the then-chairman of the FCC Newton N. Minow famously dubbed TV a “vast wasteland.” And as Andy Battaglia notes in his article for the February/March issue of Bookforum, “ambassadors of high culture voiced similar worries almost from the moment the first televised image was broadcast to a putatively unwitting and undereducated public.” But in her new book TV by Design: Modern Art and the Rise of Network Television, author Lynn Spigel offers an alternative account of the medium’s history that “upends talk of early television as an empty enterprise,” by demonstrating a surprising partnership between television and the world of modern art that transformed the way Americans experienced the world visually. Battaglia writes: Focusing on broadcasting’s formative era, the ’40s through the ’70s, Lynn Spigel… looks at the ways in which the new medium got in bed with various disciplines—in the fine arts as well as more utilitarian modes of graphic design—thought to be of higher mind.… Valuable chapters survey developments in visionary set design and avant-garde programming (including “silent” broadcasts by comic Ernie Kovacs and provocatively awkward ones by Andy Warhol), but the book mainly focuses on the . . .

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Hope in the dark?

January 15, 2009
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Hope in the dark?

News agencies around the world are reporting today that more than 1,000 Palestinians have now died in Gaza as a result of the battles that continue even as diplomats report progress in efforts to establish a cease-fire. The images that accompany these reports are saddeningly familiar: for decades, we’ve looked from afar at images of violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. But for all the harrowing power of these images, it is still nearly impossible for many people to imagine the struggles of those living in the midst of the fighting. In Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine American-born Israeli David Shulman takes us right into the heart of the conflict with an eye-opening chronicle of his work as a member of the peace group Ta‘ayush, which takes its name from the Arabic for “living together.” Though Shulman never denies the complexity of the issues fueling the conflict—nor the culpability of people on both sides—he forcefully clarifies the injustices perpetrated by Israel by showing us the human dimension of the occupation. Here we meet Palestinians whose houses have been blown up by the Israeli army, shepherds whose sheep have been poisoned . . .

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Is the financial crisis eroding the ivory tower?

January 14, 2009
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Is the financial crisis eroding the ivory tower?

Introducing a report yesterday on Stanford University’s newly announced energy institute—to be funded by a $100 million gift by wealthy alums—the host of American Public Media’s Marketplace noted that though “it’s tough sledding out there if you’re a charity or a foundation or a university endowment … the money hasn’t completely dried up.… schools will have to rely on private funding for a while, and that could cause some sticky situations.” Daniel S. Greenberg, whom Marketplace interviewed for yesterday’s report, is an expert on those kinds of situations, and in Science for Sale: The Perils, Delusions, and Rewards of Campus Capitalism, he reveals that the ties between private wealth and college campuses are more complicated—and less profitable—than media reports would suggest. But just because potential corruption is overhyped, Greenberg argues, doesn’t mean that there’s no danger. As he told Marketplace, “the Ivory Tower is gone.… The record seems to show that universities are much more interested in getting the money and getting on with the project than they are in protecting their traditional values.” For its part, Stanford noted that, in the words of university president John Hennessy, “universities such as Stanford need to focus their full talent on . . .

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The return of the weather book

January 14, 2009
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The return of the weather book

From last month’s ice storms on the east coast, to the current arctic blast invading the US, the winter weather has had us turning more often than usual to our local and national forecasts to help keep us warm, dry, and safe. But despite this perennial interest in the weather, few of us grasp the science behind it. As the author of The USA Today Weather Book, (published back in the early 90s), meteorologist and former USA Today weather editor Jack Williams has continuously sought to remedy that situation by providing the public with his comprehensive and in-depth guide to the weather. Now, as USA Today’s Bob Swanson writes on The Weather Guy’s blog, “the Weather Book rides again.” In April the press will publish William’s new book The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America’s Weather—the most comprehensive and up-to-date resource available for anyone who wants to understand how hurricanes form, why tornados twirl, or even why the sky is cerulean blue. To find out more about the book navigate to the book’s product page or listen to an audio clip of the author explaining some of the differences between The AMS Weather Book and The USA Today . . .

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Read more nonfiction, too

January 13, 2009
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Read more nonfiction, too

Since yesterday, when the National Endowment for the Arts announced the results of its latest study of national reading habits, scores of articles have appeared to report on its findings that “for the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature”—a great leap forward from the portrait of our habits painted by the NEA’s last study, in 2002, which found that reading was “in crisis.” Amid the flood of ink spilled over this apparently dramatic shift, David Ulin’s column in today’s Los Angeles Times stands out as particularly nuanced. “I’m not so sure reading really was in crisis—any more than it ever has been,” he writes, arguing that while he’s “glad that reading also seems to be on the upswing,” the NEA’s report might not paint the fullest picture possible of Americans’ literary lives. Ulin points out, for example, that though the NEA for the first time included online reading habits in its survey, “nonfiction was left out of the loop.… That puts the works of David McCullough, Joseph Mitchell, Patricia Hampl and a lot of other authors into the ‘not literature’ category and out of the picture.” Without wading into the debate over what . . .

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Ha Jin on the World Books podcast

January 12, 2009
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Ha Jin on the World Books podcast

In his post yesterday on the arts blog, The Arts Fuse, Bill Marx links to a recent interview he conducted with novelist and poet Ha Jin for Public Radio International’s World Books podcast. In the interview, Marx engages Jin in a discussion on the topic of the author’s most recent book, The Writer as Migrant. Marx writes: The Writer as Migrant looks at the different ways writers have dealt with geographic displacement, from Joseph Conrad and Alexander Solzhenitsyn to V. S. Naipaul. In our conversation, Jin talks about the personal discoveries he made while writing the book, as well as his belief that history is best understood through fiction. Navigate to the website of PRI’s The World to listen and navigate to the press’s website to find out more about the book. . . .

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