This photograph of a 9,550-year-old Swedish spruce tree is one of several images shot by photographer Rachel Sussman, featured in a slideshow at Time magazine. The photos are drawn from Sussman’s latest project, The Oldest Living Things in the World, which chronicles the decade Sussman spent traveling the globe, taking stunning photographs of continuously living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older.
From the Time piece:
There’s a sense of wonder imbued in these photographs of organisms that seem to be a physical record of time, but there’s also a call to action. Many of these subjects of Sussman’s portraits are under threat from habitat loss or climate change or simple human idiocy. (Sussman has written movingly about the loss of the 3,500-year-old Senator tree in Orlando, destroyed in a fire that was almost certainly set on purpose.) “The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of our past, a call to action in the present and a barometer of the future,” Sussman has said—and the images that follow prove her out.
Read more about The Oldest Living Things in the World here.
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Chicagoland, a non-scripted documentary series produced by Robert Redford for CNN, premieres tonight. The show, touted as “Where policy meets real people’s lives,” ostensibly focuses its eight parts on the plight of a “heartland” city “generating change and innovation in social policy, education, and public safety.” Rick Kogan, writing for the Chicago Tribune, pins down the first episode’s emerging storylines—violence and public schools—as not necessarily un-akin to the offerings of scripted urban dramas like The Wire (the Trib will be live-blogging this evening’s premiere). Whether and what the show delivers remains to be seen, but Kogan’s review hints at a beautifully shot advertisement for a rebranded CNN and a program which, for better or worse, could define the city for years to come. Tune in for a cameo by UCP author Neil Steinberg, whose You Were Never in Chicago similarly captures our city in the raw through a series of essays that chronicle Steinberg’s own fixations and proclivities.
You can read more about You Were Never in Chicago here.
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From Janet Burroway, editor of A Story Larger than My Own:
We were shocked to learn of the death of Maxine Kumin, who in spite of a serious horse-riding accident, a year spent immobile in a metal “halo,” and permanent pain, continued to write fine poetry and prose and to exude essential vitality.
Kumin at 88 was what Carol Muske-Dukes calls the last member of the “august sisterhood of poets,” which included Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Adrienne Rich.
In one of her last published essays, Kumin traced her journey in “Metamorphosis: From Light Verse to the Poetry of Witness,” a kind of template for the writers in this book and for women of her generation, who began their careers in the fifties or early sixties and grew in stature as feminism grew. “I did not yet know that a quiet revolution in thinking was taking place,” she writes of her situation as a pregnant mother of two in 1956. “Of course motherhood was not enough. Perhaps I could become a literary critic?” She did that and much more.
An excerpt from “Metamorphosis: From Light Verse . . .
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Scott Cutler Shershow’s Deconstructing Dignity: A Critique of the Right-to-Die Debate employs Derridean theory to uncover self-contradictory and damaging assumptions that underlie both sides of the controversial discussion. In the piece below that Shershow drafted for the Chicago Blog, he contextualizes two cases that generated recent headlines about how—and to which extents—we define life, especially in light of its termination.
“Thinking and Rethinking the Right to Die” by Scott Cutler Shershow
The vexed question of a so-called “right to die” pushes its way to our attention again.
Hasn’t this all happened before, many times? An intimate family story is catapulted into the media spotlight; an unconscious being (once again, as is almost always the case, a female) becomes the figurehead for a protracted medical, legal, and political struggle; and each side accuses the other of being motivated by money.
In one of the two cases that have recently occupied our attention, the family of California teenager Jahi McMath, declared by her doctors to be “brain dead” after routine surgery, were granted permission by a judge to keep the girl on what is . . .
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The PROSE Awards (or, the American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence) are unique to the scholarly and professional publishing communities—not only prestigious, but selected from “over 535 entries of books, reference works, journals,and electronic products in more than 40 categories,” juried by a community of peer publishers, librarians, and academics. In addition to offering congratulations to all the winners, we are delighted to point you toward those books from our own list that received either a PROSE Award or honorable mention for general excellence:
Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North
By Peter John Brownlee, Sarah Burns, Diane Dillon, Daniel Greene, and Scott Manning Stevens
Biological Sciences (Honorable Mention)
The Ornaments of Life: Coevolution and Conservation in the Tropics
By Theodore H. Fleming and W. John Kress
The Lost World of Fossil Lake: Snapshots from Deep Time
By Lance Grande
Education, Justice, and Democracy
Edited by Danielle S. Allen and Rob Reich
Environmental Science (Honorable Mention)
Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the . . .
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For the past several years, we’ve been fortunate enough to have scholar Sandra M. Gustafson contribute a post following Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union addresses, providing thematic context for the president’s speeches and scrutinizing his use of rhetoric within larger social and political frameworks. Read Gustafson’s 2014 post in full after the jump below.
In previous State of the Union addresses, President Barack Obama has called for a civil and deliberate politics in the wake of the 2011 Tucson shootings; fought for cooperation with Congress in 2012; and exhorted his audience to devote itself in 2013 to engaging in “The hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.“
This year’s address was different. After giving credit for the improving economy and communal wellbeing to everyday people—a teacher, an entrepreneur, an autoworker, a farmer—the president emphasized how the failure of Congress to pass needed legislation has inhibited rather than fostered those achievements. He described how, “for several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate—one that dates back . . .
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If you reside in the Bay Area:
How to Feed the World without Destroying the Planet: Michael Pollan and Sarah Elton, February 4th at 1 PM
Food for a Finite Planet: Sarah Elton, in conversation with Nigel Walker, on Wednesday, February 5th at 6 PM
From Sarah Elton’s Consumed: Food for a Finite Planet
How will we feed ourselves in 2050? In the next forty years, the world’s population is expected to surpass nine billion. At the same time, climate change is transforming life on the planet. According to scientists who look at these big-picture issues, in the space of about one generation, a messy combination of climate, population trends, and environmental change will profoundly affect the world as we know it. We need to figure out how to feed the world, dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and cope with climate change.
So how do we best move forward? How do we ensure that everybody has enough to eat as we contend with a new climate? How do we do this without releasing even more greenhouse gases, thereby ruining the environment and further hampering the ability of . . .
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From Adam Morris’s review “Disobedience & Miseducation: Occupy and the Academy,” at the Los Angeles Review of Books:
The unwritten premise of the three essays in Occupy is that we live in the anteroom of an authoritarian police state. Or that perhaps, in a Borgesian twist, we have been living in one for some time already. Just as allegations of a “Jewish menace” abetted the power grabs of the Nazis, the “terrorists” and now “anarchists” of the 21st century provide an alibi for the US security-industrial complex to retrench in practices that, while subtler than 20th-century totalitarianisms, are even more effectively internalized and agreed upon by the dominated domestic population. The public’s laconic initial reaction to the revelations of Edward Snowden offers proof that most Americans, like Winston at the end of Orwell’s 1984, have come to accept the state’s scare-fueled propaganda and gradual elimination of civil rights in exchange for a false sense of “security.” They already love Big Brother.
Daring to oppose police repression and buck this public inertia, the defiantly energetic spirit of dissent that characterized OWS is therefore political disobedience of the most necessary and noble kind. This exuberance is the subject of Taussig’s poetic . . .
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From “The Investigations as a Depiction of Our Times,” in Stanley Cavell’s This New Yet Unapproachable America: Lectures after Emerson after Wittgenstein
Let us see whether we can now sketch what I called a perspective from which the writer of the Investigations is a philosopher—even a critic—of culture. I start here form a variation on a question Professor von Wright poses in his paper “Wittgenstein in Relation to His Times” (in Wittgenstein and His Times, edited by B. McGuinness). Von Wright asks whether “Wittgenstein’s attitude to his times,” while naturally essential to understanding Wittgenstein’s intellectual personality, is also essential in understanding Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Von Wright describes the attitude in question, for good reason, as Spenglerian, and he sees the link between the attitude and the conceptual development of the philosophy in “Wittgenstein’s peculiar view of the nature of philosophy.”
Because of the interlocking language and ways of life, a disorder in the former reflects disorder in the latter. If philosophical problems are symptomatic of language producing malignant outgrowths which obscure our thinking, then there must be a cancer in the Lebenweise, in the way of life itself.
Given my sense of two directions in the idea of a form of life, von . . .
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Our Once and Future Planet delivers an account of one of the most impressive areas of current environmental experimentation and innovation: ecological restoration. Veteran investigative reporter Paddy Woodworth spent years traveling the globe and talking with people—scientists, politicians, and ordinary citizens—who work on the front lines of the battle against environmental degradation, and the book positions the restoration of our ecosystems as vital—and often successful—leverage.
A recent review of the book in the Irish Examiner highlighted the implications of this restoration, from the vantage of long-term, if uncertain, commitment:
Here, as elsewhere, the fight to preserve refugia and take a long term view of restoration is well justified, but seldom a priority for a society and their political leaders guided by short term considerations.
Species restoration, especially of ‘cuddly’ animals or ‘trophy’ birds of prey, tugs at the heartstrings and can gain public support and finance. But habitat restoration is a much more difficult task to finance from the public purse. Woodworth’s experience confirms the complexity of the latter and reveals just how much of a knowledge gap exists for effective restoration. Ecological succession is a dynamic process, constantly being pushed by environmental changes . . .
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