The Lost Art of Presidential Decision-Making

 

You’ve got to ask the question, what caused me to want to win?” George W. Bush, during his oral history for The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush’s Decision to Surge in Iraq

How does a president decide to send troops into battle? How does he or she weigh the contradictory, even conflicting advice from national security officials, military advisers, and those outside of government? Variations across time, individuals, and problems mean that Presidents have approached wartime decisions more like artists than engineers. They have drawn on bits of history, their interpretation of the national interest, and consideration of their fellow citizen’s views in making choices and crafting strategy.

Continue reading “The Lost Art of Presidential Decision-Making”

The Lost Art of Presidential Decision-Making

On Brand – the Fashion Choices of Hajj Amin al-Husayni

Yet again, the controversial Palestinian leader Hajj Amin al-Husayni is making headlines. In May 2019, in a Washington post op-ed, Middle East studies scholar Dr. Maha Nassar addressed recent critics of US House Representative Rashida Tlaib, saying that ‘by citing the pro-Nazi propaganda of Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husayni to claim that “Palestinian leaders at the time sided with Hitler,” they conflate the statements and actions of a single individual with those of an entire people.’[1] This conflation is indeed a problem.

Notorious for siding with the Nazis during the Second World War and for his inclusion on the UN War Crimes Commission list, Husayni’s prewar career comes into focus in Statecraft by Stealth. When writing the book, I tried to address the Mufti’s prewar career without being unduly influenced by our knowledge of his collaboration with the Nazis. In fact, I argued that he showed little interest in the Nazis before the war. It is helpful to examine the beginning of Husayni’s career in order to better understand the events which led up to his disastrous choices of the 1940s.

Continue reading “On Brand – the Fashion Choices of Hajj Amin al-Husayni”

On Brand – the Fashion Choices of Hajj Amin al-Husayni

A Tank in Prague

Monuments have recently become focal points for debates about history, politics, and social justice. In the United States, protestors have called for the removal of statutes of Confederate leaders. In South Africa, students advocating for the “decolonization of education” have succeeded in having a statute of Cecil Rhodes removed from the University of Cape Town. In Ukraine, a law about communist monuments has led to what Ukrainians dub “Leninopad”—the “Lenin fall”— most of the statutes of the Soviet leader have now been dismantled.

empire of friendsMy new book, Empire of Friends: Soviet Power and Socialist Internationalism in Cold War Czechoslovakia, begins and ends with a monument in Prague. The monument was a Soviet tank: it was erected in July 1945 by Soviet and Czechoslovak leaders to honor the Soviet army’s liberation of Prague from German occupation in World War II.

A tank on the streets of a Central European city is the paradigmatic symbol of the Soviet Union’s oppression of its Eastern bloc satellites during the Cold War. A Soviet tank in Prague on a summer’s day remains an especially indelible image of the USSR’s violent efforts to maintain control over its socialist empire in Europe. It calls to mind the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, which crushed the country’s experiment in reform communism, known as the Prague Spring. In this familiar narrative of the superpower’s use of force against its satellite states, the 1945 monument to the Soviet Tank Crews in Prague is the foundation of Soviet hegemony in Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe.

Yet long before the tank monument became a quintessential symbol of Soviet hard power in Czechoslovakia and the rest of the Eastern bloc, it was part of an audacious but less well-known experiment in power of a different kind: the attempt by Soviet and Eastern European officials to use transnational “friendship” to create a cohesive “socialist world.” This experiment, which involved cultural diplomacy, interpersonal contacts, and the trade of consumer goods across national borders behind the Iron Curtain, linked citizens of the superpower and its satellites in an “empire of friends” that lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Empire of Friends tells the story of the rise and fall of this friendship project between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. The book’s central argument is that Soviet power in Czechoslovakia and the other Eastern bloc countries constituted a new type of empire—an empire of friends. I use this term to highlight the paradoxes of the relationship: between high politics and the realm of everyday life, amity and violence, cultural exchange and authoritarianism, and hard and soft power. The Monument to the Soviet Tank Crews in Prague illustrates this paradox. The monument employed a tank—a symbol of military force—to connote Soviet liberation and friendship. Over the course of the following four and a half decades, the tank monument became the most iconic symbol of friendship between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.

Following the Soviet invasion in 1968, many Czechoslovaks came to see this symbol of soft power as a painful reminder of Soviet hard power. In the spring of 1991, in the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution, which brought an end to communism in Czechoslovakia, and not long before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a young Czech artist named David Černý undertook an act of political protest art. He painted the tank pink and stuck a giant model of a paper mache middle finger at its center. Protests that followed led the Czechoslovak government to move the offending monument to a military museum, where it remains today.


 

Rachel Applebaum is a historian of the Soviet Union, communist Eastern Europe, and the global Cold War. Her first book, Empire of Friends: Soviet Power and Socialist Internationalism in Cold War Czechoslovakia, is available for purchase, here

A Tank in Prague

What makes Pete Buttigieg such an effective communicator?

The biggest surprise of the 2020 presidential campaign so far has been the rise of South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg from relative unknown to contender. People who hear him speak tend to come away impressed, and there are many possible reasons for this, including the fact that he just seems like a decent human being, which offers a refreshing contrast to the current president.

Mayor Pete also seems to have an intuitive grasp of effective framing, which means that he is good at describing ideas in a way that makes listeners agree with him. I am a cognitive scientist who studies the importance of framing in political discourse. In my new book, America the Fair: Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation, I discuss framing techniques that liberal politicians could use to make their policy proposals more palatable to conservative voters.

The first technique was pioneered by George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at UC Berkeley who has published several excellent books arguing that the language used by politicians and pundits to describe policies plays a fundamental role in determining how those policies are perceived by people—because of the way that language activates the mind.

In other words, the way in which a policy is framed could induce agreeable or disagreeable mind states.

Lakoff believes that the popularity of the conservative worldview in contemporary America is due to the fact that conservatives are better framers than liberals. He believes that many people have biconceptual minds, meaning that they are capable of understanding both liberal and conservative value systems. However, the inner liberals of many biconceptual citizens have gone dormant and need to be reawakened—by consistent and persistent use of liberal frames by liberal politicians.

In America the Fair, I express skepticism about Lakoff’s technique and suggest that liberal frames do not work well on conservative minds. A more promising approach, pioneered by Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto and Robb Willer of Stanford University, recognizes that conservative minds are much more likely to be persuaded by arguments that are consistent with conservative morality. For example, environmental protections can be framed to conservatives as maintaining purity, and to liberals as protecting the defenseless.

This brings us back to Mayor Pete, who seems to understand conservative morality way better than most liberals. More impressively, he talks about liberal ideals using conservative language.

MEEGANThe most newsworthy example is the way he talks about his experience as a gay man. To conservative Christians who think that homosexuality is a choice, he challenges them using their language: “If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” About his marriage to his husband, Chasten, he says it has moved him “closer to God.”

Some of Buttigieg’s competitors for the Democratic nomination have proposed that college should be free to anyone who wants it. When he was asked recently about free college, he replied, “Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t. As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidize a minority who earn more because they did.”

Notice how clever this is? He identifies himself as a progressive while using language that is reassuring to conservatives. When Mayor Pete talks about liberal ideas using conservative language, it rubs people the right way.


Daniel Meegan is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Guelph, and the author of America the Fair: Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation. 
You can view and purchase his book, here.

UPCOMING EVENTS

May 1st, 2019 at 7pm: Book Launch with Daniel Meegan: America the Fair

 

What makes Pete Buttigieg such an effective communicator?

Mastering Natural History

One of my former Baja students wrote, just last week, with two exciting bits of news. First, now that she finally has a real job, she is buying a house in Billings, Montana.  Second, she is pursuing certification as a master naturalist. I wrote her back immediately.

Although it’s always exciting to learn that former students are acquiring mortgages and the other accoutrements of adulthood, I was intrigued by the news that she planned to become a master naturalist.

I must confess that, despite having taught natural history courses at the university level for a dozen years, I had no idea what qualifies one as a master naturalist. I got on the internet and searched for master naturalist programs, pleased to discover not only that such things exist, but that there is a fledgling organization, the  Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs, ANROSP, that networks naturalist and/or master naturalist training programs in 29 states.

In the days of yore my mother earned a bachelor’s degree in interpreting natural history at the University of Colorado. Does that sound a bit old school? These days, one interested in such things might pursue a course of studies in environmental education, and I know of at least one master’s program in that subject offered by Western Washington University. But even there, the question might be asked what qualifies one as a master naturalist.

In my recent book, Coves of Departure: Field Notes from the Sea of Cortez, I mention that Harvard’s E. O. Wilson, one of the foremost naturalists at work today, writes of having once been instructed that he couldn’t call himself a naturalist until he had identified ten thousand species. Yikes. But even if Wilson’s counsel had been offered tongue-in-cheek, it dabbles with a real question of whether one can actually master natural history.

Experts could argue that the master would need such breadth of knowledge that it would take a lifetime to achieve sufficient depth to achieve mastery.

coves
In my next book, Nature Beyond Solitude: Notes from the Field, I make the case that we are just now entering into the golden age of natural history. Many will argue otherwise, however, because less and less natural history is being taught at the university level. This is especially true in biology departments, where expertise in organismal biology is being replaced by interests in molecular & cellular biology. At the same time, citizen science is producing a wealth of data related to natural history that could never have been collected, let alone processed, as recently as when I earned my bachelor’s degree. And now we have programs like the Montana Master Naturalist Program!

Even if I’m wrong about a forthcoming golden age of natural history—you’ll have to read the book to decide on that—it must be stipulated that natural history is occupying vibrant new niches everywhere one looks.

Here in Seattle, just a few days ago, more than 5,000 Amazon employees signed off on an open letter to the company’s board of directors that identified climate change as an existential threat. I doubt that many of the signatories of this letter would identify themselves as naturalists, let alone master naturalists, and yet the letter itself, which can be read HERE, is informed by a sophisticated understanding of ecology and natural history. I am encouraged by the shared belief, articulated in this letter, that “climate impact must be a top consideration in everything we do.”

Natural history relates directly and unambiguously to climate change. Indeed, the American Museum of Natural History recently opened a permanent display on climate change. The exhibit covers everything from corals to glaciers, forests to polar ice caps, and that’s a lot of natural history. And now what we need are a few more master naturalists to help us understand where we’re going with nature.


 

John Seibert Farnsworth, who recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, is fast becoming a serial author with Comstock Publishing Associates. His first book, Coves of Departure: Field Notes from the Sea of Cortez, was released this past November. His second, Nature Beyond Solitude: Notes from the Field, will be published on March 15.

Mastering Natural History

Reframing Vaccination Controversies

Vaccines have saved millions of lives. The scourge of smallpox is gone from this planet, except for stockpiles kept in Siberia and Atlanta, and polio has almost been eradicated. Dangerous and burdensome diseases have been tamed, and child survival improved due to vaccines. Refusal of vaccination denies these historical and medical truths and puts all people at risk of infectious disease.

That’s one way to start a story about vaccine skepticism. Here’s another:

Ever since there have been vaccines, there has been vaccine dissent. Themes in antivaccination protest are remarkably cohesive: impure vaccine ingredients, physician and corporate greed, potential ill effects, and threats to bodily integrity animate historical and contemporary concerns. While significant majorities accept vaccination regimes across the globe, determined minorities rely on a variety of belief systems and evidence to support their claims that vaccines are damaging to individuals, populations, and the planet.

The first narrative initiates a story that only flows one way—toward excoriation of those who cannot, for whatever reason, see the truth. The next sentence in the story is some version of this one: Vaccine dissent is essentially selfish, foolish, and irrational.

The second narrative offers a more open-ended opportunity, but currently, in the United States and elsewhere, only the first is allowable. Try to argue that beliefs about vaccination are complex and socially contextual, or even that people’s individual beliefs matter when it comes to vaccination, and you will be targeted as an antivaxxer. Vaccine hesitant parents are vilified and ridiculed in the media; well-founded concerns about the political impact of strict vaccine mandates are automatically criticized; and any suggestion that vaccination policies and requirements could be adjusted in response to public concerns is labeled science denial.

What is going on? In the 1990s, major news outlets in the U.S. reported evenhandedly about parental worries about thimerosal, a mercury-containing vaccine preservative in use since the 1930s. In the 2000s, though, as mainstream consensus coalesced around the lack of a connection between vaccines and autism, reporting on vaccination shifted to a more critical stance toward those who still questioned vaccine safety. After 2006 and the roll-out of Gardasil, an HPV vaccine marketed to prevent cervical cancer (whose maker, Merck, lobbied for state-level mandates, angering Christian conservatives who objected to a school-entry mandate for a vaccine against a sexually-transmitted disease), it became commonplace to see inflammatory news reporting in traditionally reliable outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Anti/Vax: Reframing the Vaccination Controversy tries to reorient public debate around vaccination by reminding us that there are numerous currents in American culture that share the concerns of vaccine skeptics. In the book I try to change the way we tell the story of vaccine dissent, much like a recent New York Times article that identifies poverty, political and social unrest, international travel, and geographical barriers as significant deterrents to comprehensive measles vaccination coverage globally.

Vaccine dissent is only one factor affecting current measles outbreaks in the U.S., and probably not the most important one. Balanced reporting about vaccination and infectious disease can illuminate the highly complex context in which modern medical efforts often conflict with local traditions, personal and community beliefs, and political realities in the context of globalization.

antivax

The way we tell stories matter. Storytelling can open up or shut down meaningful conversation. We are at a time in American history when talking across barriers of belief, ideology, and cultural identification are more important than ever. Vaccination controversy, and the contentious public debate that envelops it, is just one element in an increasingly polarized cultural conversation about what binds us and divides us as a nation.

We need to craft vaccination stories that differ from the inflammatory, accusatory, and vilifying narratives that we have created across social media and more traditional news platforms. Understanding vaccination controversy more deeply, with more attention to the features it shares with other cultural concerns, is one way to start.


Bernice L. Hausman is professor of humanities and public health sciences and chair of humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. The author of four single-author studies of medical controversies (including Anti/Vax), she has a background in women’s studies, literary and critical theory, and the medical humanities. 

You can purchase Anti/Vax: Reframing the Vaccination Controversy, here


Featured blog post image: ‘The Public Vaccinator’ by Lance Calkin. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

Reframing Vaccination Controversies

NATO and the Dangers of Democracy

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is in crisis. NATO is one of the most successful and longest-lasting military alliances in history.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

A glance at news headlines from any of the last seven decades might leave you thinking NATO has been in a perpetual state of crisis since its origins in 1949. And yet, time and time again, the Presidents and Prime Ministers of NATO states have decided that NATO should – indeed must – remain in existence. What explains this cycle of crises accompanied by determination to keep NATO together? How can every generation’s pundits write headlines warning of the imminent demise of the alliance, while its leaders insist that the alliance must continue?

sayle

The answer to the riddle lies in the fact that many of NATO’s largest and most important powers were led by governments that relied on public support for their political power. This led to what I call in Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order the “dangers of democracy.” It was these dangers that help us why NATO leaders thought the alliance was necessary but also why they constantly fretted about its future.

The leaders who formed and maintained NATO did so because they thought the alliance would protect members from being blackmailed by the Soviet Union. In the late 1940s, the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin argued that the Soviet Union would use its military and political power to compel other states to act as Moscow wished. The “Russians,” as Bevin called them, “seem to be fairly confident of getting the fruits of war without going to war.” Soviet pressure on Finland, in which Moscow gained significant influence in the shaping of Finland’s foreign policies, offered an example of how this might happen. A Soviet ultimatum to Norway, and later a coup in Czechoslovakia, suggested that the Soviets would gain influence in Europe by picking off one state at a time. In the aftermath of the Second World War, it seemed likely that Europeans, cajoled or bullied by the Soviet Union, would urge their leaders to give in to any Soviet demands rather than risk confrontation. George F. Kennan, the famous American diplomat and expert on the Soviet Union, explained this fear eloquently when he said that “it is the shadows rather than the substance of things that move the hearts, and sway the deeds, of statesmen.” And the Kremlin cast long shadows.

NATO offered a solution.

NATO’s integrated military commands were never so much about being able to defend against the Soviet Union in case of war, but in cancelling out the Soviet Union’s ability to influence and compel European states to do what Moscow wished. Ideally, NATO would ensure that the Soviet Union would not bother trying to pressure an ally. But if a crisis came, NATO’s military capability had to be real enough to ensure that leaders could convince their citizens they did not have to give in. The alternative would be for frightened voters to pressure their leaders – be it through elections or other public protest – to give into Soviet demands. NATO insured against one danger of democracy – a panicked electorate faced with crisis – that might have otherwise allowed for the “Finlandization” of more European states.

The NATO leaders’ other worry, however, was that in times of peace, or even cold war, their electorates were not interested in maintaining the defense spending on which NATO relied.

Periods of détente with the Soviet Union seemed to strip away the rationale for NATO. The public reaction to the Vietnam War in both the United States and Europe caused allies to wonder whether there had been an outright rejection of the military instrument of foreign policy. These worries were amplified in the 1970s and 1980s as some protesters challenged NATO’s reliance on nuclear weapons.

NATO’s champion believed the alliance prevented crises and would allow them to prevail if one did occur.

They also believed that NATO worked, in a sense, too well – that it caused their voters to forget why NATO was important. On its 70th anniversary, the greatest challenge to the alliance may be an American president who ignores these nuances and does not understand the power of shadows.

 


About the author of this blog post: Timothy Andrews Sayle is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Toronto and a Senior Fellow of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History. He is the author of Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order, and the editor, with Jeffrey A. Engel, Hal Brands, and William Inboden of The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush’s Decisions to Surge in Iraq, forthcoming from Cornell University Press.

NATO and the Dangers of Democracy

Why Strong Governments are Bad for Precarious Workers

rathgeb_precarious

Philip Rathgeb, author of the recently published Strong Governments, Precarious Workers: Labor Market Policy in the Era of Liberalization, chatted with our publicity manager Cheryl Quimba. Here’s their conversation:

What is Strong Governments, Precarious Workers about?

It examines why some European welfare states protect unemployed and ‘atypically’ employed workers better than others. While all countries faced the emergence of such precarious workers, some compensated them with better protection and training, whereas others reinforced new divisions within the workforce. The question is, why? Looking at the cases of Austria, Denmark, and Sweden in particular, I find that trade unions are the most consistent force in resisting precarious employment and welfare. What is most striking, however, is that left-right differences between political parties matter less for trade unions – and thus precarious workers – than differences between weak and strong governments. Only when governments are weak can trade unions enforce greater social solidarity in the interest of precarious workers. The book therefore challenges theories that attribute precarity to union clientelism.

Can you explain this relationship between strong governments and precarious workers?

The gradual stages of the liberalization era shifted the balance of class power from labor to capital, which created opportunities for employer associations to push governments in their preferred direction. Governments of the right as well as the left therefore stimulated job creation by liberalizing the labour market. Strong governments are unrestrained in this regard, because they are internally united and have enough seats in parliament. As a result, they can marginalize trade unions to prevent lengthy and costly negotiations. Weak governments, by contrast, need trade unions for consensus mobilization, which creates opportunities for trade unions to strike policy deals for precarious workers. Variations in government strength best explain why trade unions in Social Democratic countries like Denmark and especially Sweden faced remarkable defeats in labor market reform, whereas their counterparts in a Conservative country like Austria remained influential and could thus enhance the protection of precarious workers.

What motivated you to write this book?

What I find striking is the gradual breakdown of the long-term employment relationship in favour of flexible short-term jobs. Among the middle classes of my generation – the so-called “millennials” – this shift is often welcomed, because it can create greater autonomy in working life. You can switch jobs and adapt working hours according to your current life situation or desire for self-realization. This is certainly a great progress for well-educated people without problems in making ends meet or reconciling work-family life.

But I care more about the other side of this story: in-work poverty, unpredictable income, low protection when unemployed or retired. While “flexibility” means greater autonomy for some, it means greater insecurity for others. I wanted to understand when political actors respond to the social demands of workers that are unemployed or on temporary ‘atypical’ contracts, as they face the costs of growing flexibility on contemporary labour markets.

Why do you think this is important?

Precarity is associated with several trends that are detrimental to democracy and society. First, we know that precarious workers are less likely to vote, because they gradually lose faith in the political system. This refers to a process of political resignation so impressively captured by Marie Jahoda, Paul Lazarsfeld, and Hans Zeissel in their seminal study Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal. I vividly remember reading this book when I was in high school, as it has shaped my way of thinking about unemployment ever since. Second, it is clear that precarious workers are more likely to face economic poverty, unequal life chances, poor health, and even an increased relative risk of suicide. Understanding how political actors respond to precarity is thus of great political and social significance in contemporary capitalism.

 

Philip Rathgeb is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz.

Why Strong Governments are Bad for Precarious Workers

Shaping a City, Ithaca, New York: A Developer’s Perspective

At 320 Pages with 115 photographs, published by Cornell Publishing, an Imprint of Cornell University Press, you will find Shaping a City a fascinating behind the scenes look at why and how Ithaca, NY has grown from a mud flat at the head of Cayuga Lake to the successful miniature metropolis it is today. For Ithacan’s, it is our story, our history, starting in the early 1800’s, and focusing on the most recent 40 years of real estate development. For readers beyond Ithaca, it will become the roadmap for how to shape your own small town from a vacant, under-utilized cross-roads to a vibrant, dense, thriving and attractive small city, and possibly —like Ithaca as recognized in a score of national publications—, turn it into one of the “Best Small Cities in the country.”

This book is my story of financial survival as I began renovating old houses and went on to be selected by the City and Cornell University as the Preferred Developer for Collegetown. It is the story of City politicians building the Commons pedestrian mall on our main street in downtown in 1974, and then rebuilding it again from 2013 to 2015.

It is the stories of over a dozen major developers and their projects, which have contributed to the revitalization of Ithaca—John Novar, Jason Fane, Gus and Nick Lambrou, Andy Sciarabba, Bill Downing, Travis Hyde Properties, Schon  Bloomfield, David Lubin, Joe Daley, Marc Newman and Bryan Warren, John Guttridge, David Kuckuk, Neil Patel, and others.

It is the story of how a group of us salvaged Center Ithaca, the largest building in downtown out of bankruptcy, and how philanthropist Jeb Brooks; music producer Dan Smalls; and our company, Travis Hyde, with assistance from the Tompkins Trust Company and the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, saved the 1600 seat historic State Theatre, and the 200 year old historic Clinton House from foreclosure and certain demolition.

It is the story of Ithaca Neighborhood Housing and its significant role in creating affordable housing in our community. It is the story of Carl Haynes and the Tompkins Cortland Community College purchase of the M&T Bank Building for its Ithaca Campus and as a source of income for the College. It is the story of the creation of Coltivare, an upscale farm-to-bistro restaurant that serves as a training laboratory for the Tompkins Cortland Community College students. It is the story of why and how our oldest bank, Tompkins Trust Company, chose to consolidate its operations and construct a new 7-story office building downtown.

And primarily, it is the story of the BID, our local business improvement district, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, for which I served as founding member and president. Our Executive Director, Gary Ferguson has guided us through the formation of two, ten year Strategic Plans that have been created by the stakeholders of downtown, based on professional feasibility studies, the findings of  retail and marketing consultants, and approved by the City Council.

We have recognized that it is arts, dining, and entertainment that drive downtown revitalization, and we have formed a Tax Abatement Program that stimulates downtown development. There is much to appreciate, and much to learn, as developers, city and county staff and representatives, local banks, and often local philanthropists, work together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration to create what has been recognized as one of the Best Small Cities in America

City centers are an under-utilized resource in our country and I invite you to read my book, and learn how the principles and values developed in Ithaca and set forth in Shaping a City, can perhaps be replicated in your community.

 Featured event:

Join #CornellPress author Mack Travis for Gallery Night: Book Release for Mack Travis’ Shaping a City this upcoming December 7th, 2019; an event hosted by Downtown Ithaca & The History Center in Tompkins County.

SHAPING


 

About the author of this blog post: As one of Ithaca’s major developers, as one of the founders, and former president of Ithaca’s Business Improvement District, and as a frequent lecturer at Cornell’s Graduate Program in Real Estate, Mack Travis is uniquely qualified to write this 40-year look back at the people and projects that have shaped Ithaca.

Shaping a City, Ithaca, New York: A Developer’s Perspective

The Economic Interpretation of History as a Way of Understanding American Politics

With the publication in 1913 of An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Charles Austin Beard (1874-1948) became one of the most famous, influential, and controversial historians in America.  His book initiated a trend that for two generations became dominant in the way American history was written and taught. The thirty-seven books that he wrote during his legendary career—some of them with his historian wife, Mary Ritter Beard—sold millions of copies. He was esteemed and reviled for arguing that from the country’s beginnings and at every turning point in its history, American politics had to be understood mainly through the motives and world view of economic elites.

The kinetic energy of the historical process in America did not suddenly stop with the Second World War, Beard contended. In the years immediately preceding that conflict, he took a leading role in what became known as the isolationist movement. Beard objected to this label, seeing nothing isolationist about following the advice given by George Washington in his Farewell Address, for the American people to mind their own business. Creating a society of republican virtue at home would be challenge enough for them, without assuming the burden of international responsibilities. Beard judged the Farewell Address to be the most profound statement ever issued about American foreign policy. The mislabeled isolationist movement sought to do no more than to honor the first president’s teaching about how the United States should relate to the rest of the world in a spirit of amity and comity, playing no favorites and resolutely thwarting all attempts to coopt American power and influence for partisan foreign ends.

When the fighting began in 1939, Beard opposed American intervention, claiming that at bottom the conflict had to do on both sides with the acquisition or retention of markets, territories, and resources, just as the First World War had done. The two wars were one war, in his view, with a twenty-year armistice in between. Both wars had imperialist motives. Even after Pearl Harbor, he continued to claim that the war fundamentally concerned not the evil of Hitler—as of December 1941 Stalin, our ally, was the greater criminal by far—but the greed of competing empires. In two classic works written after the war, he denounced the foreign policy of FDR as a masterpiece of deception about a fictitious war for the Four Freedoms, which served as a distraction from the real war for economic empire.

Beard never could accept the vulgate interpretation of the Second World War. In the triumphalist postwar years, he came under mounting attack as an unreliable historian and a man lacking in patriotism. His economic interpretation of history became increasingly marginalized, as consensus historians plighted to the cause of American exceptionalism dominated the field. Beard’s stock as a thinker continued its downward spiral during the Cold War, which he described at its outset as a straightforward imperialist contest between the United States and the Soviet Union. Whichever side won, the world would be subjected to an imperialist order. In no way a Marxist, he conceded that the imperialism practiced by corporate capitalism stood on a higher plane of morality than did the Stalinist variety. Nonetheless, Americans deceived themselves when they imagined the cardinal policies in peace and in war of their leaders to be about anything but imperial control.

Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American Imperialism offers a fresh interpretation of the origins and development of “Beardianism,” as a way of understanding the connection between economics and politics in American history. The book is especially timely today because of the manifest way in which America’s policies for the maintenance and augmentation of its empire have confirmed his predictions of what the country’s fate would be in the aftermath of the “good war.”

austin beard


About the author of this blog post: Richard Drake holds the Lucile Speer Research Chair in Politics and History at the University of Montana where he teaches European and American history.

The Economic Interpretation of History as a Way of Understanding American Politics

How does an ideology win the hearts of people?

“Prof, can you talk about fascism at a students’ gathering?”

I was surprised to receive such an invitation from a student last month, which I happily accepted. I am not an expert of theories of Fascism, but I have many things to say about various fascist movements in the 1930s and early ’40s, especially those in East Asia. The student body was diverse in their origins, with many exchange students. They were politically and demographically very similar, however: liberal, cosmopolitan, well-educated, and young. I soon discovered that this gathering was organized not because of their academic interests in political ideologies per se, but their everyday fear of the rise of “fascism,” so to speak. One by one, students asked for practical strategies to fight fascism in contemporary society. The room was filled with anxiety.

I felt sympathetic. But at the same time, discussing what might constitute “fascism” appeared misdirected for the purpose of addressing their concern. More urgent is to examine why pseudo-fascism—xenophobia, racism, or exclusive nationalism—resonates so widely today. How could such a violent thought (with detrimental historical baggage) capture people’s hearts? This is also a chance for liberals to step back and question what we take for granted. What specific experiences made liberal ideas convincing and sacred in our own lives?

These questions, or in short, how and why people internalize an ideology, motivate my research on the Japanese empire. It is well-known that wartime Japan had a totalitarian character in many ways, with the wide swaths of people worshipping the emperor and willing to sacrifice their lives. It might be less known that it conducted similarly fervent totalitarian rule over its colonies, Taiwan and Korea. Youth mobilization appeared particularly successful—During World War II, hundreds of thousands of colonial youth applied to Japanese army recruitment each year. Scholars typically depicted this colonial “volunteer fever” as a product of relentless government coercion, persuasion, and brainwashing without much giving thought to the causal mechanism.

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My book, Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies, takes a different angle. Instead of assuming the state directly influenced individuals’ behavior, it focuses on thick layers of local social relationships that determined the value of state directives from the viewpoints of people. It offers a fine-grained analysis of twists and turns of social dynamics in four villages across the empire since the late nineteenth century up to the immediate postwar period—how the popularity of urban modernity and the emphasis on agrarianism shaped the mental worlds of young villagers, how the “cult of youth” affected family politics, what the shifts in landlord-tenant relationships meant to young people, how youth programs unexpectedly changed youth’s future prospects, and how these youth survived the postwar chaos, for example. Local battles generated strong emotions, and whatever they were, these emotions were often expressed as a firm belief in the imperial cause. Seen in this way, Japan’s ideological mobilization both in the metropole and colonies was a much more complicated process than previously assumed, but also had a distinct pattern.

Again, it is not the definition of an ideology (Japanese nationalism) that explains the widespread acceptance most persuasively. It is the social complexities that made people emotionally attached to that ideology.

This means that it would take deep investigative work to make an analogy between politics of the 1930s and that of today, far more than merely reviewing what the fascist ideology was. But I hope this would provide a pointer to students who are earnestly trying to account for and confront the rise of pseudo-fascism—go find out social dynamics and emotions at the local level!

NATION EMPIRE COVER

 


 

About the author of this blog post: Sayaka Chatani is  Assistant Professor of History at National University of Singapore, and the author of Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies.

How does an ideology win the hearts of people?

On Veterans Day, remember that civilians serve too

On Veterans Day, the nation thanks those who have served honorably in the United States armed forces in both peacetime and wartime. It should also be a time to remember that not all of the veterans of America’s foreign wars wear uniforms.

Civilians serve too.

Modern warfare, especially the counterinsurgency and nation-building missions that the armed forces have been called upon to perform in recent years, requires a range of civilian expertise.  This can involve base management or intelligence analysis.  It has also meant going outside the wire to be part of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which work to bolster the performance of local governments as part of ongoing nation-building missions. This work is vital to the military’s exit strategy, and hence getting the troops home.

As I show in my book To Build as well as Destroy: The American Experience of Nation-Building in South Vietnam, civilians have been deploying to war zones for a long time.  In fact, the practice reached its postwar height in the Vietnam War.  This is something it is easy to miss if we rely on the standard history books and movies to gain our understanding of the war.

As well as a brutal guerrilla war, Vietnam was also a war of nation-building. The issue over which the war was fought was the governance of South Vietnam. Would it be united with Communist North Vietnam, or would it develop an independent, non-Communist government?  The latter was the U.S. preference, and over the course of the war over ten thousand civilians deployed to Southeast Asia to try to shape the development of South Vietnam’s government to enable it to defend itself from the Communist challenge.

They came from a variety of backgrounds and agencies – the State Department, the CIA, the Agency for International Development, even the Peace Corps. In the early years, some hitchhiked from postings elsewhere in Asia to join the nation-building mission.  Many were inspired by the ideals of development with an almost missionary zeal – they wanted to save the people of South Vietnam from the corruption, mismanagement and brutality of their own government. They often served deep in the countryside, where no American had ever gone before.

As American involvement in the Vietnam War expanded in the late 1960s, this nation-building apparatus grew in size as well.  In 1967, the Johnson administration created the Office of Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) to expand the nation-building mission. CORDS was headed by a civilian, and throughout its ranks thousands of military and civilian personnel worked side by side on the same mission, being exposed to the same dangers and writing each other’s efficiency reports.  Its “sandwich” structure meant that civilians gave orders to military personnel and vice-versa.

It was an experiment without precedent in American history and has not been repeated on such a scale since.

Civilians who have served in war zones have faced some unique burdens, both during the Vietnam War and today. They are all volunteers who usually must be granted permission by their host agencies to go overseas. Often these agencies see such deployments as a distraction from the “real” jobs their employees are supposed to be doing at home, and so serving can be harmful to careers.  As a result, the military has often struggled to attract enough volunteers. As of July 2018, 70% of the necessary positions for civilians in Afghanistan were unfilled.

So, this Veterans Day, spare a thought for these “expeditionary civilians”. They often serve in the shadows, and some pay the ultimate price.  They deserve to be honored, too.

to build as well


 

About the author of this blog post: Dr. Andrew J. Gawthorpe is Lecturer in History and International Studies at Leiden University in The Netherlands.  He has written for publications including Stars and Stripes, Foreign Affairs, and more.

On Veterans Day, remember that civilians serve too

Fashion Cycles

The language of fashion has long been used to dismiss various forms of literary scholarship. Most recently, that charge has been made against types of “post-critique”—methods of reading that seek alternatives to interrogating and demystifying a text’s unstated ideological commitments or implications. Yet, for decades, conservative critics have used the language of fashion to dismiss literature and scholarship that focuses on race, gender, sexuality, and other categories of difference, or that engages “theory,” which usually means poststructuralist thought and its legacies. Ironically, however, some of the canonical works and movements that those literary traditionalists champion were also charged with being fashionable. Modernism, in particular, was parodied as modish before it was canonized, due in part to modernist writers’ preoccupation with style. In all of these cases, to be unfashionable or anti-fashion is to be aligned with more substantial and lasting social and political ideals and aims. But these claims disavow the critic’s own inevitable entwinements with fashion.

Many modernists themselves decried fashion as the epitome of superficial, commodified change.

But, as I argue in Modernism à la Mode: Fashion and the Ends of Literature, they also turned to fashion to consider what stylized objects might do in midst of war, imperialism, global capitalism, and on-going racial violence. In the work of Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, W.E.B. Du Bois, Nella Larsen, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, fashion is treated as a collective mood, a set of influential material objects, as well as a target of critique. Through these authors’ engagements with fashion, their writing becomes a means to understand and generate shared forms of feeling, to excite and animate readers’ bodies, or to imagine alternatives the very economic and political structures that fuel the global fashion system.

Via fashion, modernism becomes of the moment once again.

That is because modernist treatments of fashion intersect with contemporary work in literary and cultural studies that investigates the nature and force of collective emotions, the power of supposedly inanimate objects, as well as the way that beauty and style might fuel various political projects. Virginia Woolf’s treatment of fashion as a shared mood, for example, provides contemporary scholars of affect with ways to describe how seemingly personal feelings emerge with and through specific material, historical, and social conditions. In her anti-war essay Three Guineas, Woolf also provides a timely critique of the ways that seemingly liberal states disavow their fascist, imperialist underpinnings in part by celebrating uniforms—and, we might add, suits—as rational, utilitarian garments that supposedly transcend the vagaries of fashion.

As this example suggests, modernists treatment of fashion help us to reconsider facile distinctions between what is lasting and what is a passing phenomenon.

Given the on-going public disinvestment in higher education, demands that humanities research justify itself in market terms, and the virtual collapse of the “job market” in literary studies, it can seem urgent to champion what is unfashionable. But such a stance usually relies upon caricatures of literature, literary study, and of fashion. Instead, taking fashion seriously can help us to grapple with what it means to do work in the humanities right now.

modernism a la mode


 

About the author of this blog post: Elizabeth Sheehan is Assistant Professor of English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. She is the author of Modernism à la Mode: Fashion and the Ends of Literature and co-editor of Cultures of Femininity in Modern Fashion, and will be attending The Modernist Studies Association Conference “Graphic Modernisms” in Columbus, Ohio, this November 8-11, 2018.

Fashion Cycles

Ideas and Things

Can we be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by American culture and politics? Daily we read or more like hear about political polarization, deep ideological divides, a politicized Supreme Court, protests over race and history. Of course, there are histories and context to each issue and conflict, but sometimes what we need is something more fundamental. Behind all these things are ideas.

Intellectual historians have attracted larger and larger audiences that are hungry for explanations about the origins, contexts, and consequences of ideas that seem more powerful than ever. How do we understand a society riddled by profound contradictions—a society that transitioned, most recently, from Barack Obama to Donald Trump?

Ideas matter. A lot. Most people recognize as much. Intellectual history—the study of ideas in the past—thus has a lot to offer people. With my colleague Andrew Hartman, we have co-edited a collection conceived with this basic fact in mind.

We asked the authors to consider the following question: How might the methods of intellectual history shed light on contemporary issues with historical resonance? Their answers, while rigorous, original, and challenging, are eclectic in approach and temperament. For example, to understand the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between the left and liberals (or supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton, respectfully), Hartman argues we need to grapple with the idea of freedom: “The left’s mission—the reason for its existence—was to expand the idea of political freedom, which was limited and went by the name of liberalism, to include economic freedom, a broadened conception that went by the name of socialism. The route to such freedom was class struggle.”

In another essay, David Sehat helps us locate a position from which to look critically at “originalism” or the idea that seems to capture the politicized nature of the present U.S. Supreme Court better than any other. Sehat explains: “Intellectual historians, like all historians, recognize [the] reality of historical change and growth, which is why they have tended to be some of the strongest critics of originalism. They know that the past is different than the present; that time is corrosive of meanings, arrangements, and cultural ideas at particular moments; that its corrosiveness leaves only remnants from the past that historians must pick over to make sense of now-lost worlds; and that the reconstruction of the past is always, as a result, only provisional and partial. As such there is not, historians have suggested, a set of interpretive rules to be followed by which original meaning will be revealed, since that meaning was contested at the founding and has evolved over the centuries.”

But when we come right down to the most pressing questions of our age, we all want to know “why Trump?”

In her essay tracing the genealogy of conservatism, Liza Szefel wonders in an era that is “post-truth” what good is intellectual history to such a question? She offers an answer: “A line of inquiry gaining traction attempts to move beyond rise and fall narratives to examine conservatism not merely as an ideology, grass roots social movement, or party, but as a sensibility, temperament, and mentality. Casting conservatism as an orientation brings into relief values shared by the left and right.” Indeed, intellectual history uses the tools of social history and cultural history to look at the world—as well as world views—of Trump’s working-class supporters. By doing so, Szefel demonstrates how intellectual history identifies the ideas behind all sorts things, including Donald Trump.


 

About the author of this blog post: Raymond Haberski, Jr. is Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He is the co-author of the upcoming #CornellPress title American Labyrinth: Intellectual History for Complicated Times. Take a closer look and pre-order your copy here.

Ideas and Things

East Asia’s unicorn builders: different strategies in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan

Unicorns are increasingly running the streets of East Asia. In fact, policymakers in Singapore and Hong Kong wave the flag of their first unicorns with pride and Taiwan is on track to have its own unicorn. I am not talking the mythical animals adorning children’s storybooks. In the world of start-ups and venture capital, since 2013 a “unicorn” is understood to be a privately-owned (technology) start-up that achieves valuations in excess of $1 billion. A unicorn is also a validation that a start-up ecosystem is succeeding, and a key performance indicator used by governments.

From myth to reality: unicorns in Singapore, Hong Kong and (soon) Taiwan

Singapore has unicorns inhabiting its island, with Garena, Lazada, and Razer all comfortably achieving $1 billion valuations. But the ever-active and promoting Singaporean state isn’t stopping there. On Monday, October 2nd, the Singaporean parliament approved the “variable capital companies” (VCC) bill in an effort to further project the Lion City’s position as leading destination for asset management firms, particularly venture capital funds, to domicile and operate. In explaining the power of the new VCC structure, the Bill will provide a mechanism for overseas funds to be constituted as Singaporean. The Business Times asserts that one of the benefits to Singapore is that it “enhances Singapore’s position as a full-service international fund management centre”. This is a time-tested strategy in the Lion City.

GoGoVan, a logistics company, excited Hong Kong start-up enthusiasts in September 2017 as it achieved unicorn status. Finally, Hong Kong – and its government – had something to show for the rising support of start-ups and innovation (and within two years of the promotion of the Innovation & Technology Commission to Bureau level status).

For Taiwan, in May 2018 an electric scooter company called “Gogoro” was being picked as the likely candidate. This unicorn excitement came as the Taiwanese government announced in early 2018 that it promised to incubate its first unicorn by 2020 (Japan made a similar promise, through its J-Start-up program which launched in June 2018, that it would help build 20 unicorns by 2023).

These unabashed efforts to build unicorns is not a new phenomenon. In The Venture Capital State: The Silicon Valley Model in East Asia, I detail how each country purposefully, but differently than one another, helped catapult its local VC market to world-class size and operations. They don’t copy the real or imagined Silicon Valley model either. Even the “core elements” of the American legal and tax environment within which Silicon Valley VC emerged were not deployed in each case. Here’s a visual of the unique “yellow brick roads to Oz” – or, policies implemented with the aim of building a local VC market akin to Silicon Valley:

SILICON VALLEY

Why variation amidst convergence?

Though each country had the same aim – of building a local VC market that could support the growth of its local unicorn population – they all took different paths. The phenomenon reminds me of the Seinfeld-inspired play “I love you, you’re perfect, now change”. Each country’s policymakers fell in love with the idea of building Silicon Valley-like venture capital markets. This, they concluded, was part of the recipe for creating innovative firms, as well as ensuring vibrant financial markets. But after falling in love with the model, they changed it.

The Venture Capital State systematically explores why and how this change occurred as it has in these East Asian nations. And crucially, it explains that this adaption has been essential to success in East Asia, as elsewhere. It’s not about copying Silicon Valley in order to build local unicorns. It’s about local competitive advantage and approaches that reflect distinct environments.


 

About the author of this blog post: Robyn Klingler-Vidra is a lecturer in Political Economy at King’s College London, and the author of The Venture Capital State: The Silicon Valley Model in East Asia

East Asia’s unicorn builders: different strategies in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan

Open wound: privatizing the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)

After spending more than 30 years researching health care delivery and nursing in the American private, profit-driven health care marketplace, I decided to explore how the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) delivers healthcare to 9 million of the nation’s veterans. Although neither I, nor anyone in my family is a veteran, I knew that the VHA had made impressive strides in implementing healthcare teamwork and improving patient safety. I knew the system was more accountable than the settings in which I –a non-veteran– get my healthcare. I had, however, no idea how impressive the system really is.

Nearly five years observing and interviewing veterans, their families, and their caregivers, showed me how the VHA delivers excellent care –at far lower cost than is available in the private sector– to the nation’s most complex patients.

In Wounds of War, I introduce you to the veterans who receive this care and the dedicated employees who deliver it. I take you into exam rooms, hospital wards, therapy groups, homeless and legal programs, and even cooking classes where the VHA caregivers are interacting with their patients.

And you’ll find that while our broader healthcare system delivers fragmented healthcare services, the VHA is grounded in an integrated model.

It has perhaps the only functioning mental and behavioral health system in the United States and delivers high quality geriatric and end of life care, all while simultaneously addressing patients’ housing, employment, and legal problems.

True, we should all have this kind of integrated care; but it is critical to veterans. After all, military training and service places them at high risk for mental health and substance abuse problems, suicide, chronic pain, homelessness, and legal issues, to name a few.

The VHA has done something really rare in American medicine. Today, many hospitals may advertise team-based care, but will not spend their resources to teach people to work together. The VHA has devoted enormous time and energy to train employees to work on teams. You’d be surprised to find out that a veteran’s primary care provider will actually consult with his or her mental health therapist or orthopedist, social worker, dietician, or physical therapist in a face-to-face conversation –not only through notes entered into a shared electronic medical record–, in order to determine the best plan of care.

Over and over again, I am reminded how lacking this kind of integrated care is outside the VHA.

The other day, a friend who’d been suffering for years from back pain, consulted with a high- priced orthopedic specialist. The specialist peered at his X-rays and declared that he wasn’t a candidate for surgery. Maybe, the physician told my friend, PT would work, or chiropractic, or acupuncture, or even yoga.  Check it out, he advised, as he rushed on to his next appointment. My friend was on his own.

If my friend was a veteran, he would have been scheduled for a visit with an integrative pain team. He would have been helped to enroll in the kind of pain classes that significantly reduce patients’ perceptions of pain and enhance daily function. He would have been scheduled for physical therapy and even signed up for classes of yoga and mindfulness meditation. And all of this would have been coordinated by caregivers, not left in the hands of a vulnerable patient.

Plus, it wouldn’t cost the veteran one dime.

Today, President Donald J. Trump and Congressional Republicans are attacking and trying to privatize the entire system, rather than to improve and strengthen it. They are following the game plan of ultra right wing-libertarian billionaires like the Koch brothers, who have carefully crafted a narrative of a broken government-run healthcare system. Aided and abetted by some Democrats who fail to understand the promise and problems of the VHA, they have passed legislation like VA MISSION and VA Accountability Acts. These laws will outsource more VHA care to the private sector, starve the system of resources, close facilities, vilify VHA employees and shift billionaires of tax payer dollars into the hands of private sector hospitals, doctors, mental health practitioners, medical equipment companies, and even real estate developers.

That’s why I hope you will not only read Wounds of War but also join me and the veterans, healthcare reform groups, and unions that are fighting for the VHA. We owe it to the veterans who have sacrificed for their country to maintain and improve a healthcare system designed to serve their specific needs. And it would also be an important step towards promoting the kind of successful models of care that should ultimately be available to all of us, not just veterans.


For more information on Wounds of War and the VHA, listen to our latest #1869podcast:

 

About the author of this blog post: Suzanne Gordon is an award winning journalist and author who writes about healthcare delivery, health care systems and patient safety. Her last book, The Battle for Veterans’ Healthcare: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Policy Making and Patient Care was published by Cornell University Press in May of 2017.  She received the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Special Recognition Award for her work covering veterans’ healthcare. Ms. Gordon is the Senior Policy Fellow at the Veterans’ Healthcare Policy Institute.

Open wound: privatizing the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)

“Celebrate life” with our #CCAM Cancer Crossings giveaway!

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (#CCAM), and both politicians and healthcare professionals are calling for a “Cancer Moonshot.” Thanks to exciting work in checkpoint inhibitors, anti-cancer vaccines and immunotherapy, we’re making major inroads against a disease that impacts 14 million people across the globe every year.

Yet to have real progress, we need to remember the lessons of a small team of doctors who reached the pinnacle of cancer research a half-century ago. Nicknamed the “Cancer Cowboys,” this extraordinary group of doctors took acute lymphoblastic leukemia from a 100 percent death sentence to the 90 percent survival rate it has today.

Not that long ago few in the medical community dared to take on cancer. In the 1960s, pediatric handbooks had little to offer about possible care and treatments. The Cancer Cowboys decided this was unacceptable.

Even though they were sometimes ostracized by their peers, these doctors developed modern-day chemotherapy practices and invented the blood centrifuge machine, helping thousands of children live longer lives. And despite being at hospitals scattered across the country – Buffalo, Memphis, Houston and Washington, D.C. – these doctors gathered every few months, often after-hours at each other’s homes, to discuss their latest clinical trials and findings.

“Of course, this was before cellphones and video conferencing,” says Dr. Donald Pinkel, who founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. “So, it wasn’t easy. But we made sure we always knew where we stood with each other.”

The patients and their families benefited greatly from such efforts. My younger brother, Eric, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1966. Soon after he was admitted to Roswell Park in Buffalo, New York, my mother was told she was now part of his medical team. That this team extended from the doctors to the nurses to the families themselves. “I appreciated that we were all in it together,” she says. “That we needed to be to make any real progress.”

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to write about many successful teams and organizations, including the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey squad, the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers. But none was as impressive as the Cancer Cowboys.

Today, many more hospitals and healthcare systems have joined the efforts to stand up to cancer in all its forms. Yet in touring the country in support of Cancer Crossings -my book that’s part family memoir, part medical narrative-, I wonder if today’s health-care community can be as united, as determined, and as accessible as the Cancer Cowboys once were. In the end, our hopes for another Cancer Moonshot may well depend upon it.

Click here to start reading Cancer Crossings FOR FREE, with our “Celebrate life” on #CCAM GIVEAWAY, and for the month of September only!

 

Celebrate Life

 

 


 

Also of interest: Check out author Tim Wendel’s interview on our #1869podcast for more information on Cancer Crossings: A Brother, His Doctors, and the Quest for a Cure to Childhood Leukemia, and the story behind this wonderful book:

 


 

About the author of this blog post: Tim Wendel is the author of “Cancer Crossings: A Brother, His Doctors and the Quest to Cure Childhood Leukemia.” Part family memoir, part medical narrative, his latest work is a valuable voice in Cancer Awareness Month.

 

“Celebrate life” with our #CCAM Cancer Crossings giveaway!

The importance of telling stories… but whose story?

Jean Cocteau once wrote that ‘the poet does not invent, he listens’ in order to tell a story. But is there an art to this? Robert Saviano recently argued that he tells stories about Italian Mafias because he constantly seeks to raise awareness to fight them more effectively and he has succeeded extremely well in that. But do his stories always have to be so dark and uber-naturalistic for his message to attract a mass audience? No.

There are many examples of Camorra stories which include different voices, registers, and tones. In Francesco Rosi’s film ‘Le Mani sulla Città’, there is a scene where during a council meeting, the councillors put their hands up and shout ‘our hands are clean, we have got clean hands’, implying that they are not involved in corruption. This one single act summarises the story of corruption which Rosi is trying to tell. More recently, in the Neapolitan Mafia musical, ‘Ammore e Malavita’, the Camorra is portrayed with humor as a harsh reality, but the love story between the Mafia hitman Ciro and Fatima, the witness-nurse, shows that alternatives to the Camorra life are possible, and we laugh at the couple’s attempt to escape it.

FELIA COVERLike Sciascia, Roberto Saviano believes that ‘mafia stories are our defence against organized crime’. And there is no doubt that he is right about the importance of telling stories to help break down l’omertà, (the law of silence), disband traditional stereotypes and introduce a dose of reality. As part of my research for The Invisible Camorra, I too was keen to let the criminals have their say, and use their voices to explain their clan’s mobility around Europe. Adopting a bottom-up, insider’s perspective of the many camorristi who travelled across Europe, I was able to trace their presence and activities in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. This allowed me to get a taste of their thinking but at the same time, a better-informed overview of their rationale and consequent actions. By using their language, I became fascinated by their mind-set, their choices and acts, which forced me to go beyond the obvious scenarios.

However, I soon realized that it would have been simplistic to leave this one-sided view of their behaviour unchallenged. I too needed to listen to other individuals, those in the wider community and context. After all, criminals do not exist in a vacuum; they act and think in relation to their civil society, the economy and politics and as a researcher interested in un-packaging the complexities of this criminal phenomenon, it was necessary for me to give a voice to all the actors involved. Therefore, I collected the stories of the camorristi, but also of all those who interacted with them (police officers, anti-mafia judges, expert observers, and state witnesses). This helped me produce a multi-dimensional, multi-layered story.

Saviano argues that in his creative non-fiction, the key is to allow the criminal’s point of view to frame the story. He wants to show these camorristi as they are, and he suggests that as a consequence of this, there are no positive characters in his stories. The result is a very bleak and violent portrayal of the Camorra today: young and old camorristi jetting around Naples city and Campania to conquer territory, business deals, and political favours. Like in Kafka’s novels, Saviano’s convincing description of the Neapolitan underworld as lived by his criminals, is one where you cannot breathe, where there is no hope nor escape route.

But, would positive characters in his stories have detracted from his fast tempo and gripping account? Yes, I believe they would have made a difference, and they would have made Saviano’s incomplete stories complete. Different and varied non-criminal voices would have added to the intricate detail, the harsh reality, and the gruesomeness of Camorra lives and business. It would have put his stories in context and not left them isolated. As story tellers of the mafia, it is our responsibility to produce complete accounts of this complex phenomenon. In this way, we are not inventing but continuously listening attentively like Cocteau.


About the author of this blog post: Felia Allum is senior lecturer in Politics and Italian at the University of Bath. She is author of the The Invisible Camorra (Cornell University Press, 2016). From September 2018, she is a Leverhulme Major Research Fellow.

 

 

The importance of telling stories… but whose story?

Happy Independence Day, India: Grassroots Resistance in India Past and Present

Since India won its independence in 1947, it has celebrated its victory over its bygone British colonial occupiers on August 15th annually. In contemporary India the holiday is celebrated with parades, flag-raising ceremonies, and the singing of the national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana.” The festivities mark a celebration of the modern Indian state, but it is also day of remembrance and a repudiation of the repressive colonial powers of the past. Most of the princely states and regions that are now unified under the state flag of India were under the thumb of the British Raj for close to a century (and some lands had been under military occupation by the East India Company or other colonial interests for a least a hundred years before that). Thus, India is no stranger to foreign interventions, and it should be quite comprehensible that many Indians are still sensitive to soft and hard applications of power by outside influences.

Celebratory parade in India, photo by Jessica Falcone.

As I discussed in my book, Battling the Buddha of Love: a Cultural Biography of the Greatest Statue Never Built, when an American-based transnational Tibetan Buddhist group of mostly non-heritage Buddhists sought to build the biggest statue in the world, they became embroiled in a dispute with local Indians in Kushinagar. The Buddhist group, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), wanted to build a 500-foot behemoth Maitreya statue in Kushinagar, the site of the Shakyamuni Buddha’s death about 2500 years ago.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
A Buddha statue in Kushinagar, photo by Jessica Falcone

The “Save the Land Movement,” comprised of rural Indian farming families and their advocates, argued that the land acquisition of several hundred arable acres that had been organized by the state government for the Maitreya Project would be a complete disaster for those affected. In the process of arguing against the statue, locals said that even if they did consent to sell their farms, which most refused to do outright, the state was forcibly taking their land at far less than market value. While some Indian farmers felt that the project could offer some benefits to the local economy, they were almost in total agreement that the proposed process of land acquisition would be so imbalanced that they themselves would be shunted aside long before any potential benefits trickled down to their villages.

During my years of research on the Maitreya Project, I was often compelled by informants to think about how such a compulsory land acquisition on behalf of a foreign institution was not unlike a neocolonial incursion.

When I embarked upon ethnographic work in India in the mid-aughts, I did not seek to study the echoes of colonialism, but as many scholars in the region will attest, postcolonial India is haunted by the past, especially insofar as domination of the poor by the rich has continued unabated, albeit under new globalized, neoliberal, neocolonial guises. Even armed with the intellectual understanding of this history and cultural context, I naively hoped that the project that I was studying would be different. But my hope that the cultural logics of Buddhist morality would set this intervention on a more deliberate, ethical path were not borne out in fact. Most surprising to me, FPMT and its Maitreya Project, seemed utterly ambivalent about the local resistance movement directed against them.

A village protesting against the Maitreya Project, photo by Jessica Falcone.

An elderly woman in Kushinagar who counted herself as an anti-Maitreya Project protestor told me that she remembered Gandhi’s anticolonial protests from her childhood. She told me during our interview that they had beat the British and they would fight against this Maitreya Project too. On another occasion, I was approached by a local man, let’s call him Sanjay, who likened the Maitreya Project to a foreign parasite. He said, “We will win against the Maitreya Project. I am 100 percent sure that we will be successful. [Around 1600 CE] the East India Company came from London. The East India Company was also a ‘project.’ The Maitreya Project is like the East India Company.” When I hastily wished him and his peers well in their struggle against the Maitreya Project, he seemed skeptical and anxious.

And so, on the occasion of this year’s celebration of Indian independence, as I find myself thinking about Indian resistance movements past and present, allow me to share what Sanjay said to me by way of farewell, “We are stronger now. You tell them that we can’t be colonized again.”

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About the author of this blog post: Jessica Falcone is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University where teaches about South Asian and Asian-American cultural and religious worlds. Her book, Battling the Buddha of Love: a Cultural Biography of the Greatest Statue Never Built, will be released on September 15, 2018 by Cornell University Press. Since the release date of Manikarnika: the Queen of Jhansi was postponed until next year, she will be celebrating India’s Independence day by watching the movie, Lagaan, for the hundredth time.

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Happy Independence Day, India: Grassroots Resistance in India Past and Present

What Does Faith Demand? Elizabeth Seton and the Beliefs of Others

This summer has found Americans arguing over religion. What do we think of a baker who refused, on grounds of religious liberty, to make a cake celebrating a gay couple’s marriage? Should Catholic hospitals consider offering contraceptive services if they’re the only hospital in their region? Is it ever a good idea to turn to Scripture in order to justify or criticize government policies? Arguments like those made news. Other moments, in which someone looked with kindness, indifference, or contempt at a neighbor’s hijab, or crucifix, or flying spaghetti monster bumper sticker, didn’t. But in their daily accumulation, those small encounters also make history: the history of how people who disagree on things they consider supremely important, decide how and whether they will live in peace.

Elizabeth SetonNext month Cornell University Press will publish Elizabeth Seton, my biography of the woman who in 1975 became the first native born American citizen to be canonized in the Roman Catholic Church. Seton (1774-1821) changed her mind about her beliefs more than once during her life, and she also changed her mind about whether what she believed in should affect the society around her. As a very young woman, Seton laughed at the idea that faith needed any particular doctrinal content: if one found one’s way to cheerfulness and harmony, then all was well. This form of religion neither inspired Seton nor offended anyone else.

 

In her early thirties, after years of personal tragedy and spiritual inquiry, Seton converted to Catholicism. Her new faith allowed her to create a women’s religious community whose spiritual daughters serve others to this day. It also left Seton ablaze with certainty that only those who believed as she did were on the path to salvation. Her efforts to convince others of this angered many in her cosmopolitan Manhattan circle: they thought that faith should be held privately, its edges smoothed to avoid friction. Seton felt her friends’ and family’s insistence that she should keep her faith to herself was an assault on her beliefs and good intentions. Friends and family found her proselytizing a violation of their right to be left alone.  Everyone felt unfairly judged.

Within a decade, Seton had once again changed her mind. And although she continued to believe that the Catholic Church was the only safe path to God, she no longer tried to persuade others to follow it. Neither the venerable magisterium of the Catholic Church nor the First Amendment, its ink still damp, deserve the credit for this view; Seton’s growing desire for harmony and her growing spiritual humility do. She now believed that her faith imposed a different kind of obligation than she’d first believed, an obligation to offer specific, loving attention to those around her. Nurturing relationships, not spreading doctrine, would be the external manifestation of her faith. She wanted, she wrote, to “constantly find occasions of rendering [others] good offices and exercising kindness and good will towards them.”

As the summer’s arguments show, living harmoniously when people disagree vehemently will always be challenging. So will the act of creating a faith community that makes no unwanted claims on those outside it, but is meaningful to those within. Yet I think often of the principle Elizabeth Seton set forth late in her life: “Fear nothing so much as not to love enough.” Amid our many (and necessary) arguments, this seems like a promising place to start.

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Related upcoming event of interest: Living History Tour 

For more on Elizabeth Seton visit:

Daughters of Charity Federation

National Shrine of Elizabeth Seton

About the author of this blog post: Catherine O’Donnell is an historian at Arizona State University.  She writes and teaches about early America, religion, and the Atlantic World.

What Does Faith Demand? Elizabeth Seton and the Beliefs of Others