Archives for December 2011

This new year, can the U.S. resolve to help the small saver?

Along with “quit smoking” or “lose weight,” “save more” is consistently one of the most popular new year’s resolutions. But that’s easier said than done, especially when millions of Americans still lack access to a basic bank account.

Sheldon Garon, Princeton professor and author of Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves, argues that there are ways to change that.  In addition to the new reforms and protections recommended by the Dodd-Frank Act and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the U.S. Postal Service could provide services similar to the postal banks still popular in countries with high personal savings rates–such as Belgium, France, and Germany. In the process, the USPS might also “save” itself from its well-publicized financial woes.

Professor Garon recently talked with Kiyoshi Okonogi of the Asahi Shimbun about postal savings and other possible solutions–read the full Q&A here. (See also Reid Cramer’s post at the New America Foundation’s The Ladder blog, Felix Salmon’s article at Reuters, and  Tim Fernholtz’s post at GOOD.)

Gregory Mills of the Urban Institute‘s MetroTrends blog wrote up a post earlier this week about the importance of making it easier for would-be small savers to access basic financial services. He goes on to argue that the U.S. could seriously benefit from “modern-day, higher-tech equivalents” of school or postal savings banks.

Want to add your two cents to the discussion? Prof. Garon will be speaking with Marty Moss Coane on WHYY’s “Radio Times” this coming Tuesday, January 3rd–call in with your questions!

Olivier Zunz writes that the history of Christmas Seals demonstrates how the 99% can get stuff done

How did something so small and insignificant as a stamp change the world?

In an op-ed from the New York Times this morning, PUP author Olivier Zunz relates the origins of the Christmas Seals campaign and the birth of mass philanthropy in the United States. At a time of year when we are inundated by requests to give a little, give a lot, just give — this article takes on special meaning. Not only is the Christmas Seals story a fascinating, heartwarming history, but Olivier hints at the larger lessons we can draw from it, writing:

It might be worthwhile for all those who sympathize with the occupiers of Zuccotti Park and other plazas and squares around the country to learn from the example of the Christmas Seals campaign. We have no shortage of urgent causes that will benefit from the energy of the grass roots. The seals campaign showed that the 99 percent, even when feeling disenfranchised, are hardly powerless to repair the safety net — and even influence the actions of the 1 percent.

The seals in this post are shared from the complete 104-year gallery at the American Lung Association: http://www.christmasseals.org/galleries/1907-1919.html. It is fascinating to watch the themes and imagery of the seals shift and change over the years and now the Christmas Seal program is high tech. You can send an e-card with a Christmas Seal or post one on Facebook. If you prefer the low-tech version, you can still purchase Seals for 2011: http://www.shoplungusa.org/xmasseals/getseals.asp

 

If you are interested in the history of philanthropy in America, please check out Olivier Zunz’s new book Philanthropy in America: A History. We are pleased to offer a complimentary excerpt on our web site: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9513.pdf

Let’s talk about wine

It’s always nice to know someone who knows something about wine. With the holidays just around the corner, we decided to tap our own James Simpson, author of the recently released Creating Wine: The Emergence of a World Industry 1840-1914, for his holiday wine memories, tips, and historical expertise. He’s exactly who you’d want to have handy when you’re puzzling over whether sherry goes with turkey, or how to avoid looking like a slouch if you happen to be raising your glass in Barcelona. Enjoy:

Christmas is an excuse, if one is needed, to think of wine. For those of us of a certain age it also provides an opportunity to reflect on how wine has changed over the years. In my case, being raised in rural Wales, traditions were passed across generations. Stockings were mysteriously filled while asleep; the church service was followed by a long lunch; and only when this was finished were we allowed to rummage under the Christmas tree to produce one present at a time, and wait patiently while it was opened, before another was chosen. My first recollection of wine was naturally this lunch – not the claret that was drunk by most of the grown-ups, but rather the small glass of sherry that my grandmother consumed. Even this would not have made an impression on my tiny mind but for the elaborate ceremony that accompanied it, and was repeated one Christmas after another. First my grandmother would refuse and make a few degrading remarks about alcohol, but then would finally accept ‘just a drop’, before emptying the glass with some relish. The message was clear, drinking wine was something quite special, even a bit daring! It was also helps explain why sherry and port should have been the most popular wines in this market until relatively recently, as these could be safely left in the bottle or decanter for months at a time with a minimum of deterioration. Drinking at this speed obviously limits consumption, and for centuries the reluctant British drinker managed just one or two bottles of wine a year.

One happy Christmas I was finally allowed to drink some of the claret, rather than just serve it. In some years the wine had come from a friend who had bought a hogshead from a Bordeaux merchant, and then bottled it himself. Other times it was the result of a fortunate purchase that my father had made of some better wines from a London auction house. A surprise flood in the cellar saw the boxes disintegrate, but while this quickly ended his interest in wine as a financial investment, it left us with an excellent stock to consume over the next decade or so.

Christmas during the second half of my life has been in Spain. Cards depicting snow covered nativity scenes suddenly look strangely surreal, and of course nobody drinks claret. I have also learnt that my grandmother was correct to protest about having been given the rather sickly sweet drink called sherry to consume with her turkey, as I have discovered the delights of sipping a glass of another sherry, a chilled fino, while eating gambas, and watching the Atlantic waves role in at Chiclana in Cadiz.

Being a major producer, most Spaniards are accustomed to drinking wine, but Christmas also demands something a bit special. Nobody with any pretension would celebrate a meal with a bottle of Valdepeñas or anything that comes from the baking hot central plain of La Mancha, even though the better wines from this region offer a considerable better beverage that many from the supposedly ‘superior’ ones that sell for much higher prices. Just as the loyalty of most Spaniards belongs to either Real Madrid or Barcelona (or should the order be reversed to read Barça and Real Madrid?), so their allegiance is split between Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Today all Spaniards claim to be wine experts, so before ordering at a restaurant it is crucial to know more than just their football team. When cakes or a toast is required, then it must be Cava, a sparkling wine produced in Catalonia. For decades the cakes were much better than the wine, but quality has recently diverged dramatically, as the artisan production of pastries has given way to mass production, and the wine-making techniques have vastly improved.

Times have changed, and British drinkers today consume just twenty per cent less wine per person than the Spanish. Yet I feel that most drinkers still remain rather provincial. I have no doubt that if my parents were alive today they would still be drinking claret on Christmas day. Not so my sister, but in her household it all seems to be Australian red and New Zealand white. It is even more limited in Spain. My local wine store in central Madrid now stocks some ‘foreign’ wines, but the choice is poor, and price / quality decidedly unattractive. Depending who is inviting me to dinner it remains obligatory to continue to take a bottle of Rioja or a Ribera. Some change would be fun, so why not a Bethlehem burgundy to brighten up Christmas lunch – that would be different!

James Simpson is professor of economic history and institutions at the Carlos III University of Madrid. He is the author of Spanish Agriculture: The Long Siesta, 1765-1965.

Richard Crossley on the Christmas Bird Count

Think Christmas, Hannukah, and New Year’s Eve are enough to celebrate in December? Here’s one more family and friends get-together to add to the list — the Christmas Bird Count. I am a new birder and this is the first year I have been aware of the CBC so I asked Richard Crossley if he would answer a few questions. Read on to learn more about the CBC and how Richard’s count went this year.

 

Richard will be on Science Friday this week to discuss the CBC with host Ira Flatow and a nation-wide NPR audience. Check local your local NPR affiliate for the air time and tune in.

 

Richard, at this time of year we start hearing about the Christmas Bird Count. What is it?
The National Audubon started the CBC in 1900 in New York (Central Park I believe). The first one for my backyard, Cape May, was only 3 years later in 1903. It sounds amazingly simple, but the goal of the program is to have tens of thousands of volunteers literally count birds around Christmas time. For many this has now become an annual family tradition spanning many generations.

Do you have a sense of how many people participate in the CBC?
Well last year there were over 2200 groups reporting in and they saw over 60 million birds according to National Audubon. This year, the counts will take place until Jan 5th. Our patch, Cape May County, did ours on Sunday. There were 62 participants and we counted 152 species. The best birds I had were Rufous Hummingbird and Bells Vireo – both lingering rarities.

Is the CBC purely a collaborative venture or do teams compete with each other to find the most species?
It is a collaborative venture. Having said that there is clearly a little friendly rivalry within and between counts. There is often a meeting in the evening where most of the records are compiled and ‘war stories’ are swapped. Often people will try to find the rarest bird and announce it at the get together – all in good spirit of course. Neighboring districts will often try to have the higher counts. The most frequently heard comparisons are with the previous year and the previous high count for that territory. Friends on the west coast will send their results over to us, especially if there’s a goodie or a high count, they like to have bragging rights.

Who collects all this data and what do they do with it?
The Audubon takes all those reports from around the country and posts the data on their site (ed. note you can actually look up the figures by year or by bird here: http://cbc.audubon.org/cbccurrent/current_table.html). The beauty of the CBC is that it creates an annual snapshot of bird populations. Comparing this data year to year reveals trends in bird populations which is absolutely invaluable information for scientists and conservationists working on conservation issues. The earliest CBC counts are some of the best data we have on bird populations in the early twentieth century.

How can someone participate in the CBC? Do they have to be in an Audubon club?
Anyone can join, the count gets published with your name if you give a $5 donation, all in a great cause. Each area has its own coordinator who collects all the records.

You are originally from the UK. Is there a CBC there, too?
In Britain, there is a bird count for one day each year in winter, conducted by the RSPB and asks folks to look in their gardens for one hour. This has been ongoing for 25 years. Back in my day, when I lived in the UK the breeding bird census was the big census event. I remember spending days trying to find and count all the breeding birds in a relatively large area – I suppose I was a bit younger back then! Bird Population trends in Britain have changed even more dramatically in recent decades than here and so reinforces the importance of all of these counts, whatever the time of year. Certainly, an annual breeding survey on the same scale as the annual Christmas count would have a huge conservation impact.

Do you have a final word for people who are considering being part of the CBC?
Yes—do it. It’s a great way to get outdoors with your family and friends and inspire them to look for and count birds. Plus, you’re making an important contribution to bird conservation efforts so you can feel good about it too. Doing the CBC helps keep you young, as evidenced especially by Alan Brady. who has done it since he was 12 years old and is now 92. He has been doing the count for 80 years and still drives down for the event from Pennsylvania. If that isn’t what legends are made of, I don’t know what is!

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Economist Carmen Reinhart, coauthor of THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT, shares a prestigious NY Times Opinion panel with Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman, and Joseph Nocera, and

Wow, what a lineup! We are so proud to see Carmen Reinhart, the co-author of our New York Times bestselling classic THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, discuss economic issues on a recent New York Times Opinion talk with Times journalists Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, and Joe Nocera. This brilliant and entertaining program streamed live on the internet and covered today’s economic issues such as the Eurozone crisis, deleveraging, inequality, Occupy Wall Street, and space aliens. Check out the video if you want to see what great minds have to say about our economic situation and what’s coming next.

Watch live streaming video from nytimesopinion at livestream.com

Do you know the way to Dura-Europos?

Yeah…me neither.

But John Noble Wilford of the New York Times does!  Check out his article on the intersection of empires and learn about the fascinating exhibit at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World open through January 8, 2012.  ISAW has a co-pub with PUP to put out the gorgeous exhibition catalog.

Impress your relatives this holiday season with your knowledge of the forgotten ruins in Syria.

 

Colombia Tanagers courtesy of Richard Crossley

Richard is still hard at work on the upcoming Western version of The Crossley ID Guide. In the meantime, enjoy his video of Colombia Tanagers and other Western species coming in to feed on bananas. Listen carefully as he IDs a young male that his companions previously thought was a female. This type of ID — using transitional plumage — is where The Crossley ID Guide is absolutely invaluable. Richard’s photo spreads include more plumages, more specimens, more of everything to make difficult IDs easier.

Also, if you are a fan of NPR’s Science Friday, tune in this week to hear Richard discuss the Christmas Bird Count.

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New Philosophy Catalog

We invite you to check out our new 2012 philosophy catalog at:
http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/phil12.pdf

You will find books by Martha C. Nussbaum, Peter Singer, Steven Nadler, John M. Cooper, Emrys Westacott, Patricia S. Churchland, Pascal Bruckner and many more. Many new paperbacks and ebooks are also available. It’s easy to download the catalog to your smartphone or tablet for browsing.

Will we see you in D.C. at the annual American Philosophical Association meeting? We’ll be there in the exhibit hall (booth no. 103). Stop by to say hello and browse new books.

Will you get a MITx degree? Free Excerpt from Unlocking the Gates on the origins of OCW at MIT

Today, MIT announced “that for the first time it will offer credentials — under the name MITx — to students who complete the online version of certain courses, starting with a pilot program this spring.”

This major milestone in the open courseware movement is covered in Chronicle of Higher Ed here: http://chronicle.com/article/MIT-Will-Offer-Certificates-to/130121/. In the article, they reference PUP book Unlocking the Gates by Taylor Walsh, writing on behalf of Ithaka S+R (including colleagues Roger Schonfeld who is quoted in the AP article announcing MITx). This seminal book provides unprecedented data and analysis of several case studies including OCW at MIT.

So, to celebrate the launch of MITx we are pleased to offer this complimentary excerpt from Unlocking the Gates that includes this prescient tidbit:

Vest wrote in 2004 that “the real pay-off of what we hope will become the open-courseware movement will be its effect on educators and learners around the world.”65 The language of the original grant proposal’s sections dealing with impact reveals both MIT’s vast ambitions for OCW’s effects on the wider world and a lack of clear metrics for systematically assessing that impact. The proposal’s authors state that “we believe that in the long run, OCW, like other successful contributions to education, will lead to greater equality and improvements in economic performance, but  these long-term, ultimate outcomes are impossible to isolate and measure.”

Excerpt as PDF: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/walsh-excerpt-owci.pdf

BOOK FACT FRIDAY

FACT: “Prior to 1980, the January ratio of excess debt relative to spending on the immediately preceding Christmas averaged about 15 percent. Since 1980 it has risen steadily to nearly 50 percent. That is, a month after Christmas, the holiday is now only halfway paid off. Of the component that was charged to credit cards in December, about three-quarters is not paid off.”

Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays
by Joel Waldfogel

Christmas is a time of seasonal cheer, family get-togethers, holiday parties, and-gift giving. Lots and lots—and lots—of gift giving. It’s hard to imagine any Christmas without this time-honored custom. But let’s stop to consider the gifts we receive—the rooster sweater from Grandma or the singing fish from Uncle Mike. How many of us get gifts we like? How many of us give gifts not knowing what recipients want? Did your cousin really look excited about that jumping alarm clock? Lively and informed, Scroogenomics illustrates how our consumer spending generates vast amounts of economic waste—to the shocking tune of eighty-five billion dollars each winter. Economist Joel Waldfogel provides solid explanations to show us why it’s time to stop the madness and think twice before buying gifts for the holidays.

By reprioritizing our gift-giving habits, Scroogenomics proves that we can still maintain the economy without gouging our wallets, and reclaim the true spirit of the holiday season.

“Waldfogel delivers a badly needed poke in the eye at holiday-time consumer madness, positing that not only is compulsory gift giving stressful and expensive, but it’s economically unsound. . . . This lively, spot-on book may be the one gift that still makes sense to buy come Black Friday.”—Publishers Weekly

“[A] small but very well-written and well-argued book which makes some serious points as well as poking fun at the nightmare of Christmas shopping. . . . Point by point the author demolishes the case for giving gifts. In fact, this is a very sensible book on every level.”—Times Literary Supplement

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s8972.pdf

A Special Holiday Giveaway

‘Tis the season for giving—and we’re feeling very generous today! We’re hosting 2 book giveaways next week, one on our main PUP Facebook page, and the other on our Princeton Birds and Natural History Facebook page. 1 winner from each page will be selected Thursday, December 22 at noon. All you have to do is “like” our Facebook pages and you’ll be entered to win! Here are the details:

On our main PUP Facebook page, the winner will get to choose a prize from 3 of our bestsellers: On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays by Joel Waldfogel, and Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk among Us by John Quiggin. The choice is yours! Just be sure to “like” us by next Thursday at noon!

Over on our Princeton Birds and Natural History Facebook page, we’re giving away a copy of The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley. This stunningly illustrated book from acclaimed birder and photographer Richard Crossley revolutionizes field guide design by providing the first real-life approach to identification. “Like” this page by Thursday at noon if you haven’t already to win!

Good luck, and Happy Holidays from Princeton University Press!

Criminologist Federico Varese on “Is Burma the Next Mexico?”

Princeton University Press author and University of Oxford criminologist Federico Varese has published an op-ed on Reuters.com’s The Great Debate blog describing his recent research trip to Myanmar and the surrounding area. He wanted to see the opium trade and its effects on the local population. His work has led to the question “Is Burma the next Mexico?”  For a good read, check out Varese’s MAFIAS ON THE MOVE: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories

From Reuters.com
Hillary Clinton had many “hard issues” to tackle during her recent visit to Myanmar. Yet there was no mention of one of the most, if not the most, difficult issue Burma faces: their lucrative drug trade.

Northern Burma is the home of the “Golden Triangle,” a hub for opium production and the location of hundreds of heroin and amphetamine refineries. So how do political leaders and the international community plan to tackle this problem in the event that Burma truly becomes a democratic country?

To read more, continue to Reuters.com.