Archives for March 2011

Colin Dayan on “Who Owns the Body?”


(Excerpt from a forthcoming article)

by Colin Dayan, author of The Law is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons

The Supreme Court recently ruled that Henry Skinner, a Texas inmate sentenced to die for killing his girlfriend and her two sons nearly twenty years ago, can ask to test evidence from the  scene of the crime—knives, fingernail clippings, blood and hairs, etc.—that might prove his innocence. Texas prosecutors had always refused to consent to the testing. But remedying the violation of Skinner’s civil rights by granting such a request does not mean that the tests will actually be carried out.  All it does is add the support of federal civil rights law to the post-trial DNA testing issue.  And there is no guarantee that any results will exculpate him.  As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her opinion, “they might further incriminate Skinner.”

Now, another prisoner on death row has raised questions, not about whether his civil rights have been violated, but about his rights to dispose of his own body—after execution. Christian Longo, in Oregon, guilty of murdering his wife and three children, wants to donate his organs after his execution.  The state says he can’t.  Who owns the corpse? Does a person who is to be executed have no right to property, even his own body?

*A full version of this piece is forthcoming in Law, Culture, and Humanities, Volume 7, Issue 2 (June 2011).

Praise for an “ambitious” new series — Lives of Great Religious Books

Read a sample chapter
Read a sample chapter
Read a sample chapter

Publishers Weekly’s Religion Bookline has a great feature about our new book series The Lives of Great Religious Books.

Calling the series ambitious, G. Jeffrey MacDonald writes “If it’s true that a book takes on a life of its own, then each has a life story waiting to be told. So let the telling begin–starting with books that have sought the divine and rocked history, one soul at a time.”

He continues to praise Princeton University Press for aiming “to fill a void on the publishing landscape.”

MacDonald is not the only person praising the ambitiousness of this project. In the Chronicle of Higher Education’s PageView blog last week, Carlin Romano noted:

With three marquee scholar-experts like [Wills, Marty, and Lopez], it’s clear that Princeton isn’t fooling around, isn’t simply launching a series of low-profile secondary works. Forthcoming volumes are also impressive in conception, including Annping Chin and Jonathan Spence on The Analects of Confucius, and John J. Collins on The Dead Sea Scrolls. Someone up in New Jersey plainly wants to launch a distinctive, powerful genre.

And with that, Romano’s hit the nail on the head. This new series is the brain-child of religion editor Fred Appel who tells me that this series is designed around the idea of exploring why religious books exert such power on culture and history.

“What we need to know—and what a book of reasonable length could realistically impart to us—is how and why countless numbers of our fellows have been inspired, moved, galvanized, driven to despair or ecstasy by religious books,” concludes Appel.

Learn more about the Lives of Great Religious Books series here and become a fan of the series on Facebook to receive updates about current and forthcoming titles and authors in the series.

Project Syndicate: “Sources of Chinese Conduct” by Yan Xuetong

BEIJING – Six decades ago, the American diplomat George Kennan wrote an article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” that galvanized American and world opinion, which soon hardened into the rigid postures of the Cold War. Today, given China’s decisive influence on the global economy, and its increasing ability to project military power, understanding the sources of Chinese conduct has become a central issue in international relations. Indeed, better understanding of China’s foreign policy motivations may help prevent relations between China and the United States from hardening into rigid and antagonistic postures.

Since 2008, discussions among Chinese scholars and strategists on the nature of their country’s foreign policy have focused on two issues: its ideological foundations, and China’s international appeal and standing – its “soft power.”

Mainstream thinking, known as the Chinese School, insists, with the government, on “Marxism with Chinese characteristics” as the bedrock principle of China’s foreign policy. But a minority school argues that China should rely instead on the country’s traditional political thought, emphasizing the universal value of traditional Chinese philosophy. While People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, consistently attacks that position, the Party itself has been rehabilitating Confucius, the central figure in Chinese traditional thought, going so far as to erect a statue of him in Tiananmen Square.

Read on…

Yan Xuetong is professor of political science and director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing. His many books include International Politics and China, American Hegemony and China’s Security and Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power.

Celebrate Major League Baseball’s Opening Day by Reading about Baseball in Blue and Gray

Today is THE day baseball fans. Major League Baseball is back in action. Over at the New York Times, they are celebrating by looking back at the early days of baseball. Specifically, they have posted an article from Princeton University Press author George B. Kirsch on baseball during the Civil War.

Compare Kirsch’s description of “spring training” and “opening day” in 1861 to the great hullabaloo today:

In late March and early April 1861, ballplayers in dozens of American towns looked forward to another season of play. But they were not highly paid professionals whose teams traveled to Florida or Arizona for spring training. Rather, they were amateur members of private organizations founded by men whose social standing ranged from the working class through the upper-middle ranks of society. There were no formal leagues or fixed schedules of games, although there were regional associations of clubs that drew up and enforced rules for each type of bat and ball game. Contests between the best teams attracted large crowds (including many gamblers), and reporters from daily newspapers and weekly sporting magazines wrote detailed accounts of the games.

While much has changed in American baseball since 1861, what hasn’t changed is the anticipation, excitement and pure sport of the game. Unfortunately, this spirit wasn’t enough to hold the reality of the Civil War at bay according to Kirsch. He writes:

As military action between the North and the South loomed, sportswriters highlighted the analogy between America’s first team sports and warfare. Yet they were also aware of the crucial differences between play and mortal combat. In March 1861, The New York Clipper anticipated the impending crisis:

God forbid that any balls but those of the Cricket and Baseball field may be caught either on the fly or first bound, and we trust that no arms but those of the flesh may be used to impel them, or stumps, but those of the wickets, injured by them.

But three months later sober realism replaced wishful thinking. A Clipper editor remarked:

Cricket and Baseball clubs … are now enlisted in a different sort of exercise, the rifle or gun taking the place of the bat, while the play ball gives place to the leaden messenger of death. Men who have heretofore made their mark in friendly strife for superiority in various games, are now beating off the rebels who would dismember this glorious “Union of States.”

Click over to read the complete article and peruse the Disunion feature at the New York Times. Disunion is tracking, day-by-day, the course of the Civil War in America through terrific articles from experts in a variety of fields. While there is certainly a lot of military history, the editors are also focusing on cultural and social issues (like baseball!) which make for truly compelling reading.

Richard Crossley Unplugged: Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes

Earlier Crossley Unplugged videos:


Skeptic Lecture with Professor Ray Jaywayardhana

Don’t miss your chance to see Professor Ray Jaywayardhana, author of Strange New Worlds, on April 3, 2011 at the California Institute of Technology, Caltech Campus, hosted by The Skeptic Society. Ray Jaywayardhana is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, as well as an award-winning science writer. His new book Strange New Worlds provides an insider’s look at the cutting-edge science of today’s planet hunters, our prospects for discovering alien life, and the debates and controversies at the forefront of extrasolar-planet research.

Date: Sunday, April 3, 2011.

Time: 2:00 p.m.

Location: Baxter Lecture Hall @ Caltech Campus, 332 S. Michigan Avenue, Pasadena, CA.

More Info: Here.

Tickets: First come, first served at the door. Seating is limited. $8 for Skeptics Society members and the JPL/Caltech community, $10 for nonmembers.

Be sure to check out Strange New Worlds’ Facebook Page for book news and upcoming events!

Robert Kurzban’s Northwest Tour

We’re all hypocrites. Why? Hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind. In his new book, Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite, Robert Kurzban shows us that the key to understanding our behavioral inconsistencies lies in understanding the mind’s design. Don’t miss your chance to see Professor Kurzban at these two upcoming events, where he will explain to you the roots and implications of our inconsistent minds, and why it is perfectly natural to believe that everyone else is a hypocrite.

Date: Tomorrow, Thursday, March 31.

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Where: Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Avenue, Seattle, WA.

More Info: Here.

Date: Monday, April 4, 2011.

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Where: Bagdad Theater & Pub, 3702 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR.

More Info: Here.

Be sure to check out the official Facebook Page of Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite for updates on all events and book news.

David Weintraub on How Old Is the Universe? Part 1

This video was taped at Vanderbilt University as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

This Week’s Book Giveaway

Can’t get enough baseball? This week’s book giveaway,  Baseball on the Border:  A Tale of Two Laredos by Alan Klein, will help fill the gap.

From 1985 to 1994 there existed a significant but unheralded experiment in professional baseball.Baseball on the Border For ten seasons, the Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos (The Owls of the Two Laredos) were the only team in professional sports to represent two nations. Playing in the storied Mexican League (an AAA affiliate of major league baseball), the “Tecos” had home parks on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, in Laredo, Texas and in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. In true border fashion, Mexican and American national anthems were played before each game, and the Tecos were operated by interests in both cities. Baseball on the Border is the story of the rise and unexpected demise of this surprising team. Anyone with an interest in baseball will be enlightened & entertained by this informative book.

“Read this book, enjoy the characterizations of the players, managers, and administrators … listen to the crowd cheer for their home town heroes, and pause to think, as Klein paints the picture with a masters stroke, of what this [book] can tell us about transnational relations and the impact of sport.”–Patricia A. Adler and Peter Adler, authors of Backboards and Blackboards

“The book is very well written. . . . It contributes greatly to the literature on the cultural basis of sport, to our understanding of the manner in which cultural inventions reflect national identity and processes, and substantiates an important insight to the idea that sport may provide a window to ongoing social change.”–Carlos Velez-Ibañez, American Anthropologist

Everyone who LIKES us on our Facebook Page is automatically entered in our weekly book giveaways.

Baseball on the Border: A Tale of Two Laredos by Alan Klein

Professor Jayawardhana’s “Alien Life, Coming Slowly Into View”

If you haven’t read it already, be sure to check out Ray Jayawardhana’s op-ed piece in Sunday’s New York Times, “Alien Life, Coming Slowly Into View.” Here’s a sneak peak:

I REMEMBER the first time the concept of another world entered my mind. It was during a walk with my father in our garden in Sri Lanka. He pointed to the Moon and told me that people had walked on it. I was astonished: Suddenly that bright light became a place that one could visit.

Schoolchildren may feel a similar sense of wonder when they see pictures of a Martian landscape or Saturn’s rings. And soon their views of alien worlds may not be confined to the planets in our own solar system.

After millenniums of musings and a century of failed attempts, astronomers first detected an exoplanet, a planet orbiting a normal star other than the Sun, in 1995. Now they are finding hundreds of such worlds each year. Last month, NASA announced that 1,235 new possible planets had been observed by Kepler, a telescope on a space satellite. Six of the planets that Kepler found circle one star, and the orbits of five of them would fit within that of Mercury, the closest planet to our Sun.

By timing the passages of these five planets across their sun’s visage — which provides confirmation of their planetary nature — we can witness their graceful dance with one another, choreographed by gravity. These discoveries remind us that nature is often richer and more wondrous than our imagination. The diversity of alien worlds has surprised us and challenged our preconceptions many times over.

Read On…

Ray Jayawardhana is professor and Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, as well as an award-winning science writer. He is the author of Strange New Worlds.

The Great American Mission Wins 2011 Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize!

Many congratulations to David Ekbladh for his book The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order, winner of  the 2011 Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize, presented by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. David Ekbladh is an assistant professor of history at Tufts University.

The Great American Mission has been praised as “one of the most compelling portraits yet of the liberal ideas that guide U.S. foreign policy” and a “sweeping, provocative appraisal of the U.S. attempt to employ development as an ideological weapon” among many other exciting reviews. It also won the 2010 Best First Book Award, Phi Alpha Theta.

According to the SHAFR website, “[T]he purpose of the award is to recognize and encourage distinguished research and writing by scholars of American foreign relations. The prize of $2,500 is awarded annually to an author for his or her first book on any aspect of the history of American foreign relations.”

Again, a warm congratulations to David Ekbladh for this exceptional award!

Check out the Introduction to The Great American Mission, here.

To see other recent PUP award winning books, please click here.

Margaret Cohen’s The Novel and the Sea Wins Louis Gottschalk Prize!

Congratulations to Margaret Cohen, author of The Novel and the Sea for winning the 2010-2011 Louis Gottschalk Prize, by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies! Margaret Cohen teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature at Stanford University. She is also the author of The Literary Channel and The Sentimental Education of the Novel.

Examining works across two centuries, The Novel and the Sea recounts the novel’s rise, told from the perspective of the ship’s deck and the allure of the oceans in the modern cultural imagination. Margaret Cohen moors the novel to overseas exploration and work at sea, framing its emergence as a transatlantic history, steeped in the adventures and risks of the maritime frontier.

About the award: “This prize is for an outstanding historical or critical study on the eighteenth century and carries an award of $1,000. Louis Gottschalk (1899-1975) second President of ASECS, President of the American Historical Association, and for many years Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, exemplified in his scholarship the humanistic ideals that this award is meant to encourage.”

To read an excerpt from The Novel and the Sea, click here.

To check out other award winning PUP books, please click here.