Monthly Archives: July 2009

George Lakoff on Obama’s “political war of words”

July 10, 2009
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George Lakoff on Obama’s “political war of words”

Yesterday WBEZ’s Worldview invited linguist and author George Lakoff, whose many books include Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Second Edition and Metaphors We Live By, to discuss the Obama administration’s attempts to wage a “political war of words” to combat the conservative political rhetoric that, according to Lakoff, has entrenched itself in the popular American idiom. In the discussion Lakoff focuses his attention on the radically different rhetoric the Obama administration has used to approach the concepts like torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques” in Cheneyese), and “Islamic terrorism,” (“violent extremism” as the Obama administration has phrased it), arguing that in order to win over the American public on many of the hot button issues of the day the president must formulate rhetoric that reconnects them to the personal realities of the issue they face. Listen to the archived audio of the conversation on the WBEZ website or find out more about Lakoff’s books on our website including this excerpt from Moral Politics. . . .

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Bigfoot and the yeren (Part III): the conversation concludes

July 9, 2009
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Bigfoot and the yeren (Part III): the conversation concludes

We recently asked Joshua Blu Buhs—author of Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend —and Sigrid Schmalzer—author of The People’s Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China—to expound upon the similarities and differences between the wildmen of their books. Their far ranging discussion began here and continued here. In Part III, Schmalzer begins by taking up Buhs question of professional vs. popular accounts of wildmen. Sigrid Schmalzer: I see the most critical issue to be that of differing ideas about authority in knowledge making: in this case, both who is authorized to speak about science and whether science itself should be considered the authoritative way speak about wildmen. In the late 1970s, things in China were changing rapidly, but ideas about science from the Mao era (1949-1976) still held a lot of water. I already mentioned the big emphasis on using science to stamp out “superstition”: this suggested that scientists had privileged access to knowledge and that other people (especially people with lower educational levels, like peasants in remote villages) would be authorized to speak only when they were rid of superstition and had embraced science. But at the same time there was another strong current . . .

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UCP authors write “The Books of Our Times”

July 9, 2009
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UCP authors write “The Books of Our Times”

About a week ago or so, Newsweek devoted quite a few pages of the magazine to listing and briefly describing “which books—new or old, fiction or nonfiction—open a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways.” It was a surprisingly eclectic list of fifty, opening with The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope before moving on to Lawrence Wright’s book on “how 9/11 happened, and why.” We can’t take responsibility for any of the titles on the Newsweek list (though we do have the best edition of the book at #24, Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley). A couple of our authors do have books on the list, however: David Hickey at #15, and Edmund S. Morgan at #20. Beyond the gaze of Newsweek, we have a fairly clear idea which books we’ve published are opening new windows for our readers, because they are surging in sales beyond expectations. Lots of readers are looking for perspectives on socialism (The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek], on capitalism (Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman), and on America’s role in the world . . .

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Bigfoot and the yeren (Part II): the conversation continues

July 8, 2009
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Bigfoot and the yeren (Part II): the conversation continues

We recently asked Joshua Blu Buhs—author of Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend —and Sigrid Schmalzer—author of The People’s Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China—to expound upon the similarities and differences between the wildmen of their books. Their far ranging discussion began here. In Part II, Schmalzer begins by asking Buhs about Bigfoot and race. Sigrid Schmalzer: I wanted to pick up on your mention of the way Bigfoot has naturalized racial hierarchies. Your book offers an effective analysis of racialized imagery in Bigfoot stories and art. I wonder if you had also thought about the possible relationship between anthropological theories about Bigfoot and anthropological theories about race. I was interested to see the anthropologist Carleton Coon appear in your book—not in his usual role as author of one of the most notoriously racist scientific books on human evolution, but for his involvement in Abominable Snowman work (which I don’t recall knowing about). He appears in my book in that former role. He argued that separate evolutionary paths had led the modern races to be inherently unequal, and he even sought to bring these ideas to bear on civil rights issues—including Brown v. Board . . .

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The Smokejumper’s Story: Bob Sallee on the Mann Gulch Fire

July 8, 2009
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The Smokejumper’s Story: Bob Sallee on the Mann Gulch Fire

Sixty years ago this August, a crew of fifteen of the Forest Service’s elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Two hours after their jump, all but three of these men were dead or mortally burned. Bob Sallee, then just seventeen, was one of the survivors. In a new radio interview for American Public Media’s The Story Sallee relates the harrowing tale of how he survived the blaze that raced up Mann Gulch. For years Sallee declined to talk about that day, until Norman Maclean—best known for authoring the classic story, A River Runs Through It—contacted Sallee in the course of research for Young Men and Fire. Maclean, an English professor at the University of Chicago and a former wilderness firefighter, spent the final years of his life researching the story which, for him exemplified a moment when “life takes on the shape of art,” whose “remembered remnants… are largely what we come to mean by life and become almost all of what we remember of ourselves.” Listen to the archived audio from Sallee’s interview and see our website for Maclean, including an excerpt of the decisive moment of . . .

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Bigfoot and the yeren: a conversation about wildmen

July 7, 2009
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Bigfoot and the yeren: a conversation about wildmen

In May, the Press published Joshua Blu Buhs’s Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend, which explored the very real legacy of a mythical creature. (Check out Buhs’s recent conversation with the LA Times Jacket Copy blog.) But Buhs’s book wasn’t the first on our list to consider a legendary wildman. Among the many topics explored in The People’s Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China, author Sigrid Schmalzer delves into the meaning and resonance of the yeren, China’s answer to the West’s Bigfoot. We recently asked the two scholars to discuss the similarities and differences between the wildmen of their books. The far-ranging discussion that resulted was so fascinating that we’re publishing the dialogue in three installments. Part I kicks off below with Buhs remarking on the parallels between the two figures. Joshua Blu Buhs: There are some amazing similarities between Bigfoot and the yeren, especially in our discussion of them in our books. First, there is the theme of loving the beast and sacrificing friends and family in the hunt for it. Second, there is the way that wildmen represent the possibility of extinction, authenticity, and the horrors of civilization. Third, there are parallel . . .

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Slumming and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable

July 7, 2009
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Slumming and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable

The New York Times City Room blog ran an article yesterday on a 19th century pastime that began as a morally transgressive practice of the urban upper class, but also played an important role in dramatically recasting the racial and sexual landscape of cities like New York and Chicago. “Slumming”, as the practice was popularly known, invited “well-off white urban to explore black, Chinese, gay, or poor working-class communities” in search of a good time, and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable. In the late 1800’s upper class whites, sometimes accompanied by a local guide, would push their way into the living spaces residents in impoverished neighborhoods in a voyeuristic attempt to “see how the other half lived,” reveling in the excitement of police raids, opium dens, and “gawking at prostitutes, gays, lesbians and cross-dressers.” The City Room posting cites Chad Heap, author of Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940 as he explains how, in the course of the following decades, the practice of slumming evolved into a vital avenue for communication and appreciation across social, economic and cultural barriers that typified Jazz-Age America. From the City Room blog: “In the late 19th century, American . . .

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How does lobbying actually work?

July 6, 2009
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How does lobbying actually work?

Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth apologized yesterday after news broke about the company’s now-canceled plan to host a series of sponsored dinners that would have offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record access to Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper’s editorial staff. The sponsorships, advertised as costing between $25,000 and $250,000, had generated waves of criticism. “If it’s ugly for a Washington Post reporter to lobby for lobbyists,” Slate‘s Jack Shafer, for one, argued, “it’s doubly ugly for the publisher to do the same.” Even if dinners had taken place, though, the lobbying they might have facilitated would have stood a high chance of failing. As the authors of Lobbying and Policy Change point out, sixty percent of recent lobbying campaigns failed to change policy despite millions of dollars spent trying. After examining nearly one hundred issues, the authors found that resources explained less than five percent of the difference between successful and unsuccessful lobbying efforts. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that lobbies don’t have any impact at all. When advocates for a given issue do finally succeed, the authors found, policy tends to change significantly—which corresponds with the argument coauthor Frank Baumgartner made with Bryan Jones . . .

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L.A. Times interview with Bigfoot author

July 6, 2009
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L.A. Times interview with Bigfoot author

Last Tuesday the L.A. Times Jacket Copy blog interviewed Joshua Blu Buhs on the topic of his new book, Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend. The interview begins with Buhs discussing his motivation for writing a book about the mythical creature: Jacket Copy: Straight from the start, you tell us that Bigfoot doesn’t exist. Even though you say there is no Bigfoot, why did you choose to pursue this mythical creature in your writing? Buhs: Initially it was the fact that I didn’t think Bigfoot existed, which was interesting to me. It was also about American ideas of what the natural world is. Sort of like: Here’s a screen on which people can project their ideas about nature. Though it turned out not to be as much about nature as I originally thought it would be. And indeed, Buhs fascinating new book uses the story of Bigfoot to gauge everything from our culture’s relationship to wilderness, individuality, and class, to modern attitudes towards consumerism and the media as well. Writing with a scientist’s skepticism but an enthusiast’s deep engagement, Buh’s Bigfoot offers the definitive take on this elusive beast, and its profound significance in twentieth century American culture. . . .

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A Legendary History of our Humorous Heroes

July 2, 2009
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A Legendary History of our Humorous Heroes

As the imminent Fourth of July holiday ushers in the annual paeans to American independence and editorials about the importance of remembering its history, several momentous chapters in our national story—including the temporary misplacement of America, the unfreezing of the Earth, and the invention of the prairie dog—are once again missing from the familiar Independence Day narrative. So it’s a good thing that, just in time to correct these grievous oversights, we rediscovered in the vault Walter Blair’s Tall Tale America, a classic of American humor that features as its chief historical figures not presidents, military leaders, and tycoons but folk heroes and popular characters such as Davy Crockett (and his pipe-smoking pet bear Death Hug), Old Stormalong, Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry. More traditional characters do make brief appearances: Blair briefly tells the story, for example, of when Thomas Jefferson “put on one of his oldest suits of clothes, just to show he was one of the folks.… walked from his boarding house through the mud up the hill to the brand new Senate chamber, and started to run the country.” But the tall tales of “Daniel Boone’s Discovery of Kentucky and His Other Puzzling Habits” and . . .

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