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Sonia Sotomayor cites Pulled Over in her Supreme Court dissent

June 22, 2016
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Sonia Sotomayor cites Pulled Over in her Supreme Court dissent

From Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent to this week’s Supreme Court verdict in Utah vs. Strieff, which twice cited Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship, including its core argument about how police stops deleteriously convey messages about citizenship and racial disparity: Writing only for myself, and drawing on my professional experiences, I would add that unlawful “stops” have severe consequences much greater than the inconvenience suggested by the name. This Court has given officers an array of instruments to probe and examine you. When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner. We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens. Although many Americans have been stopped for speeding or jaywalking, few may realize how degrading a stop can be when the officer is looking for more. This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants—so long as he can point to a pretextual justification after the fact. . . . The indignity of the stop is not limited to an officer telling you that you look like a criminal (See Epp, Pulled Over, at 5). To read more about Pulled . . .

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The Guardian’s #21 Best Nonfiction Book: Kuhn’s The Structure

June 20, 2016
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The Guardian’s #21 Best Nonfiction Book: Kuhn’s The Structure

The Guardian recently began chronicling their “100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time.” Placing 21st on the list and profiled by Robert McCrum, Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions proves not only why it merited a new edition for its fiftieth anniversary in 2012, but also why new generations continue to find relevance in Kuhn’s concept of the “paradigm shift,” and the potential in situating the history of science in a dialectic composed of “normal” and “revolutionary” phases. From the Guardian: Yet, against the odds, Kuhn remains evergreen. His great insight, which owed something to Kant, but was based on his own study of the Copernican revolution, was provocatively at odds with Karl Popper (a later entry in this series). Kuhn’s description of the dialectic of change in science (the making of a paradigm; the recognition of anomalies, with an ensuing crisis; finally, the resolution of the crisis by a new paradigm) still holds true today, albeit in a radically different intellectual environment dominated by information science and biotechnology. Kuhn’s argument for an episodic model of scientific development in which periods of continuity are interrupted by passages of revolutionary science remains disputed by some, but is widely accepted within most circles. He himself has written . . .

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Love Game in the New York Times

June 10, 2016
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Love Game in the New York Times

From a recent review of Elizabeth Wilson’s Love Game: A History of Tennis from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon (or, In Defense of Scholarly Publishing) in the New York Times: Wilson drop-shots mini-essays on broader intellectual topics like corporate dominance (“McDonaldization”) into the mix, and occasionally hits the mark, as in a paragraph on punk culture: “When Nastase and Connors brought the spectators into the drama this was a distinctly punk tactic, whether they realized it or not.” Caveat emptor for tennis fans, however: It’s an indication of the content and tone of the book that the Baader-Meinhof Group receives two mentions while the late tennis writer, historian and commentator Bud Collins shamefully gets none. No shame in the Indexical Cultural Context (Love) Game. To read more about Love Game, click here. . . .

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Free e-book for June: Mark Monmonier’s Coastlines

June 8, 2016
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Free e-book for June: Mark Monmonier’s Coastlines

Our free e-book for June is: Mark Monmonier’s Coastlines: How Mapmakers Frame the World and Chart Environmental Change *** In the next century, sea levels are predicted to rise at unprecedented rates, causing flooding around the world, from the islands of Malaysia and the canals of Venice to the coasts of Florida and California. These rising water levels pose serious challenges to all aspects of coastal existence—chiefly economic, residential, and environmental—as well as to the cartographic definition and mapping of coasts. It is this facet of coastal life that Mark Monmonier tackles in Coast Lines. Setting sail on a journey across shifting landscapes, cartographic technology, and climate change, Monmonier reveals that coastlines are as much a set of ideas, assumptions, and societal beliefs as they are solid black lines on maps. Whether for sailing charts or property maps, Monmonier shows, coastlines challenge mapmakers to capture on paper a highly irregular land-water boundary perturbed by tides and storms and complicated by rocks, wrecks, and shoals.Coast Lines is peppered with captivating anecdotes about the frustrating effort to expunge fictitious islands from nautical charts, the tricky measurement of a coastline’s length, and the contentious notions of beachfront property and public access. Combing maritime . . .

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Deirdre N. McCloskey on “How the West Got Rich”

June 6, 2016
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Deirdre N. McCloskey on “How the West Got Rich”

In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Deirdre N. McCloskey underlines some of the major themes that inform her decade-in-the-making trilogy The Bourgeois Era, including those particular to its most recent volume, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World. Denying the centrality of accumulated capital, and turning instead to the accumulation of ideas, McCloskey posits “betterment” at the core of, well, how we became bourgeois. More about this in her book, but here’s a teaser from the WSJ: What caused it? The usual explanations follow ideology. On the left, from Marx onward, the key is said to be exploitation. Capitalists after 1800 seized surplus value from their workers and invested it in dark, satanic mills. On the right, from the blessed Adam Smithonward, the trick was thought to be savings. The wild Highlanders could become as rich as the Dutch—“the highest degree of opulence,” as Smith put it in 1776—if they would merely save enough to accumulate capital (and stop stealing cattle from one another). A recent extension of Smith’s claim, put forward by the late economics Nobelist Douglass North (and now embraced as orthodoxy by the World Bank) is that the real elixir is institutions. On this . . .

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“The most mind-boggling coffee table art book of 2016 (or any time)”

June 3, 2016
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“The most mind-boggling coffee table art book of 2016 (or any time)”

I, too, am biased. I find Paul Laffoley’s work speculatively seductive—the paranoiac bad vibes-side of the New Age, mixed with some pretty great architectural schematics that anticipate accelerationism and our non-anthropocentric future. As part of a pretty compelling interview with Douglas Walla, Paul Laffoley’s legendary gallerist and editor of his catalogue raisonné, conducted by Richard Metzger (another pal of Laffoley’s) for Dangerous Minds, here’s a chunk that capitalizes on the wonder: Richard Metzger: Right after the publisher sent me a black and white print out of the book, you called me up and gingerly suggested that I “might want to give Paul a call at the hospital.” I indicated how great I thought the book was and you replied—more poetically than I’m putting it here—that you were relieved and satisfied that Paul would die knowing that he was on his way into the modern art pantheon, on his own terms. “He’s not going to die an enigma” is what you said. How did he feel about knowing the book would be coming out and the likely trajectory of his posthumous reputation as an artist? Considering his global renown and the financial success that it brought him in the final 15 years of his . . .

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Thomas Bernhard’s Walking is the #1 funniest book of all time LOL

June 2, 2016
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Thomas Bernhard’s Walking is the #1 funniest book of all time LOL

Can’t make this stuff up. From Adam Ehrlich Sachs’s “The 10 Funniest Books” at Publishers Weekly: 1. Walking by Thomas Bernhard  Bernhard’s oeuvre is the longest, funniest joke in literature. If I were being honest this list would probably consist of nine Bernhard books and maybe one by Beckett. But I’ll go with this novella for its extremely long, hysterically funny description of Karrer’s mental breakdown in a clothing store, when he tries to convince a salesman, at some length, that the pants they are selling, when held up to the light, display a number of thin spots that can only be attributed to the use of shoddy materials, materials which Karrer insists (for page after page after page) must be what he refers to as “Czechoslovakian rejects.” To read more about (the patently absurd/deeply wounded/somberly screwball, which might be synonyms for “funny,” so we’ll take it) Walking, click here.   . . .

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The Book of Frogs lights the internet aflame

May 31, 2016
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The Book of Frogs lights the internet aflame

I mean, truly—here’s a positively radiant review, by Jesse Nee-Vogelman for Spectrum Culture: Review 1 I’m not an expert on frogs. In all likelihood neither are you. If you desire to remedy this ignorance, The Book of Frogs contains a significant amount of information about frogs. Two thumbs up. Review 2 I don’t think I’ve ever cared for anything the way Tim Halliday cares for frogs. By comparison, I am emotionally barren. I can barely handle a single romantic relationship. Batrachophilia is a much more work-intensive ardor. The Book of Frogs details over 600 species of frogs, which, mind-bogglingly, comprises less than one-tenth of total frog species. Tim Halliday writes about each one as if it were his lover. Consider his description of the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog, a “slim, athletic frog with…long, muscular legs,” which isn’t even one of the prettier frogs in the catalog. Halliday is an emotional cosmonaut, exploring the outermost reaches of human feeling. He has breached the extremities of passion. Should not we all hope to touch, if briefly, such fondness for the world and its creatures? . . . . . .

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Jellyfish (in nature—the other Nature)

May 27, 2016
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Jellyfish (in nature—the other Nature)

Just in time for this weekend’s unofficial “start of summer” gong, Nature (yea, that Nature—though also, ostensibly, “nature,” the wilder of nouns, not that other one qua Lucretius’s De rerum natura) came through with a review of Lisa-ann Gershwin’s Jellyfish: A Natural History. Stuck behind a paywall? Here it is in its glory, for your holiday reads: One resembles an exquisitely ruffled and pleated confection of pale silk chiffon; another, a tangle of bioluminescent necklaces cascading from a bauble. Both marine drifters (Desmonema glaciale and Physalia) feature in jellyfish expert Gershwin’s absorbing coffee-table book on this transparent group with three evolutionary lineages. Succinct science is intercut with surreal portraiture — from the twinkling Santa’s hat jellyfish (Periphylla periphylla) to the delicate blue by-the-wind sailor (Velella velella). To read more about Jellyfish, click here. . . .

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Rachel Havrelock on the Sykes-Picot Agreement for Foreign Affairs

May 26, 2016
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Rachel Havrelock on the Sykes-Picot Agreement for Foreign Affairs

  The Sykes-Picot Agreement, ratified on May 16, 1916, was a concord developed in secret between France and the UK, with acknowledgement of the Russian Empire, that allocated control and influence over much of Southwestern Asia, carving up and establishing much of today’s Middle East, along with Western and Arab sociopolitical tensions. The real reason for the divide? The region’s petroleum fields, and the desire to share in its reserves, but not its pipelines. Rachel Havrelock’s book River Jordan: The Mythology of a Dividing Line considers the implications of yet another border in the region, the river that defines the edge of the Promised Land in the Hebrew Bible—an integral parcel of land for both the Israeli and Palestinian states. With her expertise in the ideologies that undermine much cartography of the region (her book includes a map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement’s splitting of territories), Havrelock understands how the demarcation of influence was central to the production of very specific oil-producing nation states. In a recent piece for Foreign Affairs, appearing a century after the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Havrelock writes about the potential for the region to remake itself, in the self-image of its peoples and their local resources: The dissolution of oil concessions could hold the key to . . .

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