Monthly Archives: July 2009

Who you calling ugly?

July 23, 2009
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Who you calling ugly?

Flipping through the New York Daily News‘s slideshow of “The World’s Ugliest Animals,” we came across more than a few creatures that, in our estimation, certainly do not deserve that dubious distinction (who doesn’t love a sloth? or a fish that appears to be wearing lipstick for that matter?) and a few more that definitely do (blobfish, I’m looking at you). But we were surprised to see our old friend the Yeti Crab come in at number six on the list. Connoisseurs of crustaceans will remember the little fellow from the pages of The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss, a veritable treasure trove of the strangest looking lifeforms on earth. While we disagree that the Yeti Crab is ugly—comical and improbable, sure—there are more than a few creatures lurking in the briny fathoms—and the pages of The Deep—that more than earn the insult (scaly dragonfish, anyone?). Check out a gallery of remarkable sea monsters here or order a copy of The Deep for more! . . .

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Memories of Kolakowski

July 23, 2009
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Memories of Kolakowski

Last Friday, the world lost an influential philosopher, celebrated scholar, and prolific author when Leszek Kolakowski passed away in Oxford, England, on July 17. During his long career, Kolakowski was a member of the University of Chicago faculty from 1981 until his retirement in 1994. While in Hyde Park, he also became a University of Chicago Press author. Executive Editor T. David Brent knew Kolakowski quite well during his time in Chicago and remembers here the lighter side of the great thinker. In early fall of 1986, Morris Philipson, then director of the University of Chicago Press, invited Leszek Kolakowski to meet with him and various members of the editorial staff in Philipson’s office. The bottle of sherry and fancy sherry glasses on a special silver platter clearly suggested it was a special occasion. Kolakowski arrived dressed in his Oxford best, and Philipson offered him a seat in the fine leather chair reserved for important authors. Kolakowski made himself comfortable and produced a Gauloises Bleu cigarette. Instead of informing Kolakowski that smoking in a University building was not permitted, Philipson told his assistant to bring him an ashtray and offered him a glass of sherry. Philipson began the conversation. “You . . .

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The world beyond—and before—MapQuest

July 23, 2009
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The world beyond—and before—MapQuest

If you are planning to travel this summer through unfamiliar territory, chances are that you’ll use MapQuest or Google Maps, if not a GPS, to guide you—at least, you will if you’re anything like Regina Robins Flynn’s travel writing students. In the current Chronicle of Higher Education, Flynn reflects on the ways that new technologies have changed how travelers look at (or don’t look at) maps and, by extension, the terrain they traverse. Talking to her students about an assignment that required them to write about a trip they had just taken, she “took an informal survey in class: ‘Who reads maps?'” The answer? “No one.” It’s not exactly news that, as Flynn puts it, “people nowadays—and not just young people—do not like to encumber themselves with Rand McNally or Michelin books of maps, displaying every state in the union. Instead, they go to their laptops, print out directions to wherever they are going, and they’re off.” But it’s easy to forget, now that map-guided journeys can evoke such powerful nostalgia—Flynn remembers “being a kid traveling in my family’s nine-passenger station wagon,” where she’d “sit in the front seat and unfold all the crinkly creases, laying the maps out along . . .

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The hard evidence behind the debate on gun control

July 22, 2009
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The hard evidence behind the debate on gun control

The New York Times published an article today on the Senate’s striking down of a provision that would expand the rights of gun owners with valid permits to carry concealed weapons across state lines. The provision received support from both sides of the aisle and was only narrowly shot down (pun intended) receiving 58 of the 60 votes required to pass in the Senate. Opposition to the provision came mostly from Democrats who, with the backing of “a number of big-city mayors including Michael R. Bloomberg” have been outspoken about their views that legislation which puts more guns in the hands of citizens is linked to increases in violent crime and homicides, especially in dense urban areas. The NYT article cites Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and a leading opponent of the amendment: Lives have been saved with the defeat of this amendment. The passage of this amendment would have done more to threaten the safety of New Yorkers than anything since the repeal of the assault weapons ban. Other opinions differ. According to John R. Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime—one of the most comprehensive studies of the issue available—it just isn’t so. Through his . . .

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Who is Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

July 22, 2009
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Who is Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

“Oh, but, grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have,” said Little Red Riding Hood. “The better to eat you with,” said the wolf. And scarcely had the wolf said this, than with one bound he was out of bed and swallowed up Little Red Riding Hood. —from the Brothers Grimm “Little Red Riding Hood” In the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood is devoured by the Big Bad Wolf because she didn’t fear him enough to flee; after all, she thought he was her sickly grandmother. In nature, similarly naïve creatures—such as unsuspecting elk living among reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone Park—fall prey to predators they have either forgotten, or never learned, to fear. Joel Berger is fascinated by this counterintuitive behavior. Why don’t Little Red Riding Hood or the elks try to elude their predators? And what role does fear—or lack thereof—play in survival of both the ungulates of Yellowstone and other species across the globe? To answer these questions, Berger traveled the world studying predator-prey relationships across climates and continents. The Better to Eat You With is the chronicle of his research. Reviewing the book in the July 17 Times Literary Supplement, Barbara J. King notes Basing his . . .

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Leszek Kolakowski, 1927–2009

July 22, 2009
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Leszek Kolakowski, 1927–2009

Philosopher Leszek Kolakowski died in Oxford on July 17 at the age of 81. Kolakowski earned his doctorate at Warsaw University and taught there until 1968. Early on Kolakowski embraced Marxism and joined the Polish communist party, but a trip to Moscow in 1950—sponsored by the party for promising young intellectuals—instead convinced him of “the enormity of material and spiritual desolation caused by the Stalinist system.” After Stalin’s death Poland (as elswehere) bubbled with conflict. By that time Kolakowski was a leading revisionist and an inspiration to those calling for more democracy. He was expelled from the party in 1966 and dismissed from his professorship two years later. He went into exile, but his writings, circulating underground in Poland, continued to shape the Polish intellectual opposition. His greatest work, Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution, appeared in the late 1970s, a three-volume history, analysis, and critique of the system he famously called “the greatest fantasy of our century.” Kolakowski was, above all, a critic of dogmatism and prevailing opinion, who delivered his critiques with incisive intelligence, erudition, and humor. Kolakowski taught at a number of universities in the West and was most-closely associated with Oxford University. From . . .

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Identity, Race, and the Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

July 21, 2009
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Identity, Race, and the Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Yesterday news broke of a startling incident that raised troubling questions about racial profiling. Last Thursday, preeminent scholar and respected public intellectual Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested in Cambridge, Mass., where he teaches at Harvard University and directs the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. According to the Associated Press, Gates was arrested after police responded to a call about a possible break-in: Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing “two black males with backpacks on the porch,” with one “wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.” Turns out that was Gates, who had just returned from a trip aboard, attempting to enter his own home. Reports the Boston Globe: He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had “no idea who he was messing with,”‘ the report said. Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because “I’m a black man in America.'” The arrest unsettled the university’s black community, who voiced concerns about . . .

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The politics of purchasing

July 21, 2009
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The politics of purchasing

Consumerism has long been the target of political activism but as Lawrence B. Glickman demonstrates in his new book Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America it has been used as one of activism’s most effective tools for far longer. In a review appearing in last Friday’s Chicago Tribune, Eric Arnesen praises Gllickman’s book for it’s thoroughly researched demonstration of how Americans have used purchasing power to support causes and punish enemies throughout the Nation’s history. From the Boston Tea Party to the slow food movement Glickman’s book tracks American consumer activism across the centuries to show it as “‘a consistent and long-standing element of American political culture,’ extending back to the 18th Century.” Eric Arnesen writes for the Tribune: Over the years, a wide range of groups have turned to consumer activism to achieve their ends. Trade unionists engaged in boycotts of anti-labor employers; a half century before the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56, Southern African-Americans boycotted segregated transportation systems and, by the 1930s, launched numerous “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaigns. Top-down organizations such as Consumers Union and Consumers’ Research offered expert advice in the realm of product testing and consumer education. The Ku Klux . . .

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From the Earth to the Moon and back

July 21, 2009
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From the Earth to the Moon and back

Where were you on July 20, 1969? Newspapers all over the United States posed this question to readers over the past couple of days, generating hundreds of responses that explain how the moon landing, with its worldwide scale, also had countless much more personal dimensions. “At that moment I had serious doubts about the relevance of our hard work and the ordering of my personal priorities,” remembers a then-student archaeologist. “We had the technology to put a man on the moon,” a Vietnam veteran remembers thinking, “yet here I am, dirty and worn out, fighting like it was 1869.” At the National Review Online, John Derbyshire remembers being at work as a bartender in Liverpool when “in a fragile contraption hurled by a spasm of burning gases across a quarter million miles of empty space (and built, as it happens, less than ten miles from my present home), human beings set themselves down on the surface of another world, in an alien landscape.” Though the unfamiliar landscape he traverses is a bit closer to home, and though the moon he writes of is artificial, Phillip Graham’s forthcoming The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon has more in common with . . .

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Another murder in the Caucasus

July 20, 2009
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Another murder in the Caucasus

The death of human rights worker Natalya Estemirova was widely reported last week as the latest in a string of unsolved murders of members of the small circle of journalists and activists working to expose the extreme brutality of the now decades-old conflict over Chechen independence. Since the 2006 murder of journalist and press author Anna Politkovskaya, whose book A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya offers an eyeopening look at the lives of Chechens caught in the crossfire between violent rebels and an equally violent counterinsurgency, we have followed some of the larger developments in what has been so far an unsuccessful quest to find and try her murderer(s). And now with the assassination of Estemirova, who according to the UK’s Times Online recently “became the first recipient of an award in name for work for the leading Russian rights group Memorial,” the world has also lost one of the most prominent inheritors of Politkovskaya’s legacy. Find out more about Politkovskaya’s groundbreaking work in A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya with this excerpt or follow some of the coverage of the assassinations at the New York Times or at the Times Online website. . . .

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