Archives for September 2012

Safari Time: J is for Jackal


This post is part of a Safari Series to celebrate the publication of Birds of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Animals of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Vicki Kennedy.

Check out additional Safari photographs of birds and animals here.

Animals of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy & Vicki Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy

Celebrate International Translation Day with PUP

Celebrate International Translation Day with Princeton University Press! Promoted by FIT, International Translation Day celebrates the feast of St. Jerome, who translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin, and who is recognized today as the patron saint of translators. Enjoy the day browsing this sampling of some of our favorite, recent translations!


The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492
Translated, Edited & Introduced by Peter Cole
Read the Introduction.

Angina Days: Selected Poems
Günter Eich
Translated and introduced by Michael Hofmann
Check out the Introduction.

Oranges and Snow: Selected Poems of Milan Djordjevic
Translated and introduced by Charles Simic
Here’s the Introduction.

Poems Under Saturn: Poèmes saturniens
Paul Verlaine
Translated and with an introduction by Karl Kirchwey
Read the Introduction.


Alexander the Great and His Empire: A Short Introduction
Pierre Briant
Translated by Amélie Kuhrt
Here’s the Introduction.

The Axe and the Oath: Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages
Robert Fossier
Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane
Read Chapter 1.

Globalization: A Short History
Jürgen Osterhammel & Niels P. Petersson
Translated by Dona Geyer
Check out Chapter 1.


The Paradox of Love
Pascal Bruckner
Translated by Steven Rendall and with an afterword by Richard Golsan
Here’s the Introduction.

The Seducer’s Diary
Søren Kierkegaard
Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong
With a new foreword by John Updike

As If God Existed: Religion and Liberty in the History of Italy
Maurizio Viroli
Translated by Alberto Nones
Here’s the Preface.


The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales
Béla Balázs
Translated and introduced by Jack Zipes
Illustrated by Mariette Lydis
Read Chapter 1.

Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales
Kurt Schwitters
Translated and introduced by Jack Zipes
Illustrated by Irvine Peacock
Check out Chapter 1, here.

Jill Lepore at the Harvard Book Store

Don’t miss out on your chance to hear Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore discuss her latest book, The Story of America: Essays on Origins, at the Harvard Book Store, this coming Monday, October 1st, at 7:00 pm. In her new book, Jill Lepore investigates American origin stories—from John Smith’s account of the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural address—to show how American democracy is bound up with the history of print. Over the centuries, Americans have read and written their way into a political culture of ink and type. past to present, Lepore argues, Americans have wrestled with the idea of democracy by telling stories. In this thoughtful and provocative book, Lepore offers at once a history of origin stories and a meditation on storytelling itself. This is one event you don’t want to miss !

Date: Monday, October 1, 2012
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location: Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
More Info: Here

See you all there!

“Jill Lepore is one of America’s most interesting scholars–a distinguished historian and a brilliant essayist. This prolific collection of articles and essays is a remarkable body of work that moves from early America to our present, contentious age.”–Alan Brinkley, author of The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

Safari Time: I is for Ibis


This post is part of a Safari Series to celebrate the publication of Birds of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Animals of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Vicki Kennedy.

Check out additional Safari photographs of birds and animals here.

Animals of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy & Vicki Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy


FACT: “Argentina’s first coup, supported by middle-class groups, occurred in 1930 when General José F. Uriburu attempted to establish a praetorian regime in some ways akin to Benito Mussolini’s fascist state. Following Uriburu’s brief reign, the military was in an out of power—with truly civilian governments seldom enjoying more than a few consecutive years in office—until 1983. The army’s political involvement was partially motivated by their aversion to Peronist influences in politics. Juan Perón, a former army colonel who took an important role in the 1943 coup and subsequently served as minister of labor, was thrice elected president (1946, 1952, and 1973) and became immensely popular among the lower classes. The armed forces detested Perón’s left-wing populist polices and, backed by opposition parties and the Roman Catholic Church, toppled his regime in 1955. Following an eighteen-year exile, Perón returned to Buenos Aires and to power in 1973 only to be felled by heart attacks nine months later.”

The Soldier and the Changing State: Building Democratic
Armies in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas

by Zoltan Barany

The Soldier and the Changing State is the first book to systematically explore, on a global scale, civil-military relations in democratizing and changing states. Looking at how armies supportive of democracy are built, Zoltan Barany argues that the military is the most important institution that states maintain, for without military elites who support democratic governance, democracy cannot be consolidated. Barany also demonstrates that building democratic armies is the quintessential task of newly democratizing regimes. But how do democratic armies come about? What conditions encourage or impede democratic civil-military relations? And how can the state ensure the allegiance of its soldiers?

Barany examines the experiences of developing countries and the armed forces in the context of major political change in six specific settings: in the wake of war and civil war, after military and communist regimes, and following colonialism and unification/apartheid. He evaluates the army-building and democratization experiences of twenty-seven countries and explains which predemocratic settings are most conducive to creating a military that will support democracy. Highlighting important factors and suggesting which reforms can be expected to work and fail in different environments, he offers practical policy recommendations to state-builders and democratizers.

We invite you to read the Introduction here:

Princeton University Press books in Standpoint Magazine (U.K.)

The current issue of Standpoint Magazine (U.K) has two wonderful interviews of Princeton University Press books:

“[Through the Eye of a Needle] should be daunting but it is not; for while the book is heavy to lift, it is even harder to put down. It makes utterly compelling reading.”–Eric Ormsby, Standpoint


Through the Eye of a Needle:
Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD
Peter Brown

“Stedman Jones…describes the scene with remarkable accuracy, including its financial underpinning and its ties with conservatism.”–Karen Horn, Standpoint



Masters of the Universe:
Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics
Daniel Stedman Jones

In the News: The Messy Matter of “Screened” High Schools in New York City

bookjacketWith news out today that the NAACP intends to ” file a complaint on Thursday over the admissions test at New York City’s specialized high schools, among the nation’s most elite public schools, citing effective discrimination against black and Latino students,” education experts Checker Finn and Jessica Hockett are poised to offer key insight into the “messy matter” of  exam-based admissions at selective schools in New York City.


Finn and Hockett conducted the first-ever study of selective public high schools, the so-called “exam schools” and their findings are essential background for anyone interested in learning more about the NAACP complaint.


Here we present several key excerpts from their book Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools as well as some info graphics comparing the demographics at public high schools and selective public high schools across the nation and for New York City.


Graphic: The Demographics of Public and Selective Public High Schools


Excerpt 1: The Messy Matter of “Screened” High Schools in New York City


New York’s high school landscape presented a unique challenge for our list. The city uses a complex application-and-placement system for all of its 600+ high school programs, and hundreds of those programs (and entire schools) are “screened,” meaning that those running them set various criteria or preconditions for admission to them. Sometimes those criteria involve prior academic accomplishment, but such prerequisites are set at various levels. About 75 such programs technically meet all six of our criteria, but in many cases their academic bar is set low. To make sure that our list was not overwhelmed by the largest city in the country—and to make sure that we identified within that city the schools that are its most academically selective—we included only those screened schools that require applicants to have minimum scores of 85 percent on the state assessments. This yielded fifteen “screened” high schools, in addition to the city’s eight specialized high schools that base their admission entirely on scores on their own separate test.


Excerpt 2: The Admissions Maze

Despite tight quarters in a city where space is always hard to come by, Townsend Harris High School [in Queens, for example], is flooded with eager applicants (about 5,000 for 270 9th-grade openings), of whom many (around 1,200) meet it’s very demanding threshold requirements for admission. THHS does not, however, control its own admissions—though it wields considerable influence over who ends up enrolling.

Since 2004, New York City’s method for matching 8th graders with places in the system’s 650-odd high school programs in almost 400 buildings has been, in its way, rational and generally fair, but it’s also seriously complicated. It’s intended to foster school choice on a citywide basis and to minimize “gaming” and influence peddling en route into Gotham’s competitive-admission schools and programs.

Unless they want to attend one of the city’s twenty-some charter high schools or its myriad private and parochial schools, every 8th grader in New York must pass through a centralized placement system before landing somewhere for 9th grade. There’s no longer an automatic de- fault into a “zoned” or neighborhood high school.

Modeled on the medical field’s “match” procedure for placing newly minted doctors in residency programs in specialties of their choice, the New York system asks every 8th grader to list twelve high school pro- grams in order of preference. Many of these are open to all comers and listing one of them as top choice pretty much guarantees entry into it. But hundreds of programs and schools (including Townsend Harris) are “screened,” meaning that those running such a school or program establish its admission prerequisites and then rank their (eligible) applicants in order of the school’s preference, based on its own distinctive criteria.  The school doesn’t know where the applicant ranked it, and the applicant doesn’t know where the “screened” school to which he/ she applied ranked him/her. Then the “big computer in the sky” seeks to match students with programs in order of each’s preference for the other. After all this, the student receives a single placement.

This works pretty well for most kids. City data indicate that some 83 percent of applicants (for 2011–12 high school entry) got one of their top five choices and another 9 percent got one of their other choices. But, for  a host  of reasons,  almost  one-tenth of 8th  graders  fail to “match”  anywhere during  the main  selection  cycle and must  present themselves in person to arrange individual placements—rarely into desirable screened programs—by  the Education Department’s Office of Student Enrollment.

High-demand academic schools face a different  problem—and  complicating wrinkle—namely,  that  the city also operates what  amounts to a parallel  admissions process  for nine  of its most competitive  high schools, including  the illustrious  original big three: Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. These plus five newer academic high schools have their admissions determined strictly by student scores on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT), which some 28,000 youngsters take each year and for which many eager families spend serious money to “prep” their children, as if for the SAT. These Specialized High Schools have statutory protection—indeed, a legislative mandate— to admit pupils solely on the basis of [this] special test (though LaGuardia also requires auditions). The relevant amendment to the New York State Education Code dates to 1971, when there were demands to do away with these “elitist” institutions and their “culturally biased” entrance exam. Two Bronx legislators managed to get enacted a bill that says “Admission to [these schools] shall be solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination…. No candidate may be admitted to a special high school unless he [sic] has successfully achieved a score above the cut- off score for the openings in the school for which he has taken the examination.” The political trade- off was creation of a “Discovery Program” to assist disadvantaged and minority youngsters to prepare for the competitive exam, although that program seems to have fallen by the wayside. [Still] this separate admissions system enables students to apply to both the test-based  schools and the regular 600+ high school programs, and it’s possible to end up being matched with one of each.

That’s what happens to many THHS applicants, which is why this school’s “yield”—those who actually enroll there—is about half of the 600 or so kids who are matched to it. The other half wind up attending one of the “exam” schools or a private school. The reason, of course, is that Townsend Harris’s applicant pool contains many of the same kids who are applying, and often getting admitted, to Stuyvesant and the other “exam” schools.


© 2012 by Princeton University Press. All rights reserved.



Exam Schools
Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools

Chester E. Finn, Jr. & Jessica A. Hockett

“Could, and should . . . academically selective public high schools play a more expansive role in educating the nation’s high-potential, high-achieving students[?] These are some of the questions that longtime education pundit Checker Finn, joined by educational consultant Jessica Hockett, set out to answer in their book.”–Erik Robelen, Education Week

“[E]ye-opening . . .”–Jay Mathews, Washington Post

Remember Romney’s Dog?

Of course you do. You could probably refresh your memory of the story in a few clicks. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is the author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, which argues that the all-too-perfect memory of the digital realm has serious implications for all of us. Case in point: Just last week, Mitt Romney suffered a setback at the hands of a certain widely released fundraiser video. It’s a familiar story. Politicians and public figures have suffered countless humiliations courtesy of cyberspace’s refusal to let bygones be bygones, a comeuppance that can seem unfair when the result can mean an entire career of public service cancelled out by one all-too-visible error in judgment (or tweet). Perhaps with so much of life digitally preserved,  mankind can learn to adjust and filter accordingly?  Read Schönberger’s Election 101 post here.


Remembering Romney’s Dog

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger


Mitt Romney’s dog, tied to the roof of the family car during a long vacation drive, is one picture (even if only imagined, based on the light-hearted story told by Romney’s son) that fails to fade. A year ago, aspiring young Democratic Congressmen Anthony Weiner, married to Hilary Clinton’s long-time personal aide abruptly resigned; he had sent partially nude digital pictures of himself together with explicit messages to at least six women he barely knew.

This election cycle is no different from the last. Stories and pictures from a politician’s past appear and shape our perceptions of who he (or she) is. And these images don’t go away, they stay in our collective mind, and no matter how hard politicians try, these images continue to define them in the public eye. At best they go away when the politician does. Rep. Weiner’s images have faded from the public eye, because so has he.

With so much of our daily lives captured digitally, so many digital photos taken, so many billions of emails exchanged, Tweets sent, Facebook Status messages posted, many of the digerati, the self-proclaimed Internet experts, predicted that humans would swiftly adjust to comprehensive digital memory, and develop robust cognitive filters. We would, the argument went, simply disregard the meme of Romney’s dog or Weiner’s explicit messages as an irrelevant little piece of digital trivia that is not representative of Governor Romney or Representative Weiner. If everyone has such skeletons in the closet, why should we bother? Wouldn’t we be better advised to scrutinize politicians’ agendas than their digital memories?

It’s an admirable viewpoint – and always struck me as terribly naïve. For one, not all of us strap our dogs to car roofs for long rides, or send sexually explicit messages to people we barely know. And the ubiquity of digital cameras (and the ease of sharing photos) does not turn us into Exhibitionists or Peeping Toms. But even more importantly, human cognition is primed to remember the exceptional, and to forget the ordinary. That is how we think. For thousands of years it helped us to quickly recognize changed conditions; it made us aware of dangers and saved our ancestor’s (and perhaps our) lives. We have this particular ability to see the red rose in a field full of yellow tulips – and that rose is what we later remember in detail, not the thousands of tulips around it. Because we recognize and remember exceptions, we can’t quickly forget Romney’s dog and Weiner’s explicit messages, even if we wanted to.

Thus, if more of our lives is captured digitally, preserved, and kept accessible, neither politicians nor we ourselves can hope for a cognitive adjustment that lets us put aside extraordinary bits of the past.

In politics this means that we may continue to remember Romney’s dog as much (or more) as his political agenda, even though that’s not how most of us like to see ourselves: rational and objective. It does not only complicate a politician’s life (she has to assume to be constantly watched), it also makes politics an unattractive career. That is troubling for a democracy.

But retaining an ability to forget in the digital age is important not just for democracy, but for all of us. We all have trespassed in the past, and unlike in the analog age these misdeeds are more frequently captured digitally now, and preserved long-term. It may be time to think how we best can rid ourselves of some of these digital memories that are no longer relevant to who we are today.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is professor of internet governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and a member of the academic advisory board of Microsoft. His other books include Governance and Information Technology. A former software developer and lawyer, he spent ten years on the faculty of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Safari Time: H is for Honey Badger


This post is part of a Safari Series to celebrate the publicaton of Birds of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Animals of Masai Mara by Adam Scott Kennedy and Vicki Kennedy.

Check out additional Safari photographs of birds and animals here.

Animals of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy & Vicki Kennedy

Birds of the Masai Mara
Adam Scott Kennedy


FACT: “Upon his inauguration, Obama was in a position somewhat similar to Ronald Reagan’s in 1980. Both took office when Americans were pessimistic about the economy and dissatisfied with the incumbent president. In a late November 1980 Gallup poll, only 31% of Americans approved of the job Jimmy Carter was doing. At the same point in time in 2008, only 29% approved of George W. Bush.”

“The Hand You’re Dealt” from The Gamble:
Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election

by John Sides & Lynn Vavreck

“The Hand You’re Dealt” is the first of a series of free eBook preview chapters from John Sides and Lynn Vavreck’s groundbreaking Fall 2013 book, The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election. These eBook chapters are scheduled to be released between August and December 2012.

What are the odds that Barack Obama will be reelected in November, despite a weak economy? Many answers to this question are backed by little more than speculation and spin. But what does current and historical data—and political science—suggest? In this chapter, political analysts John Sides and Lynn Vavreck show that Obama is surprisingly popular given the state of the economy, and they offer several explanations—including Obama’s likability and the fact that more people blame George W. Bush for the country’s economic problems than blame Obama. But Sides and Vavreck also show that the mixed economic picture and the events of Obama’s first term make it likely that the election will be close. These are just some of the points that Sides and Vavreck make in this incisive chapter as they gauge the most important factors in the political and economic landscape going into the election campaign—and what they portend for Obama’s (and Mitt Romney’s) chances.

This book represents an unprecedented effort to use a “Moneyball” approach to tell the story of what promises to be a dramatic election campaign, drawing on large quantities of data about the economy, public opinion, news coverage, and political advertising to determine the factors that really make a difference. At the same time, Sides and Vavreck will be visiting the campaign trail to find out what matters most to both of the campaigns and to voters. The result promises to be the only book about the election that combines on-the-ground reporting, social science, and quantitative data in order to look beyond the anecdote, folklore, and conventional wisdom that too often pass for analysis of presidential elections.

To find out more, download this chapter and begin reading the authors’ special introduction to this and the other free chapters that will follow as the election campaign unfolds.

The Gamble is scheduled to be published as a complete print and ebook in September 2013.

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.

Airport Paranoia and the De-humanizing Agendum it Stems From

A great number of things have changed in American airlines since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Newer, “safer” procedures have been introduced, and seemingly outdated processes have been cast aside. What’s questionable, however, is if these new procedures really hold much of a benefit or any advantage at all. With the creation of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act on November 19, 2001, airlines no longer contracted with private companies for airport screening. The federal government has taken over airline precautions in the form of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA has implemented a number of policies to make the airports and airlines safer places to go. A more watchful eye now oversees our airline’s customers.

Long gone are the days when passengers could enter the cockpit at free will. Flight decks now include bulletproof doors made with heavy duty materials, such as ballistic aluminum armor unified with composite armor laminates to prevent unauthorized access by terrorists or anyone wishing to do harm. While procedures like these seem to bear little negative repercussions in regard to travel safety, there are certainly some security actions on the social side of the spectrum that could be categorized as socially questionable.  Tallying off the list of possible missteps in airline security policy prompts many experts in sociology, law, and philosophy to dissect the newer airline security model. Perhaps there should be some consideration given to the fact that certain regulations have “pushed the envelope” a little too far.

Take for example the case of Nick George, as reported by PBS NewsHour. George was passing through security in a Philadelphia airport on his way back to college in California. While going through the security checkpoint, George had been carrying some 200 flashcards written in Arabic. Around ten of the flashcards had ‘alarming’ vocabulary written on them, such as “bomb” or “terrorist.”

George was using these flash cards for his Arabic language course and had merely been trying to study more about the Arabic media. George’s offered explanation did not prevent him from being meticulously questioned by the FBI and TSA for hours on end. The vocabulary words were not in fact used for sadistic doctrine, as the airport security officials’ actions might have suggested. This raises the question as to whether or not George’s First and Fourth amendment rights were violated. A suit had been filed on behalf of The American Civil Liberties Union and has since been dropped by the federal defendants and is now “proceeding to discovery,” which means further investigation is underway.

So, are basic human rights being violated by some of the more radical regulations instituted by today’s airlines? Harvey Molotch, author of Against Security believes there is a case to be made. Molotch addresses some of the most controversial policies that have sparked heated debates across human rights and political forums across the nation. When it comes to de-humanizing individuals, Molotch believes the movement to ban public restrooms is at the paramount of humiliation and degradation aimed toward the human species. To deprive people of such a basic human function is frightening to anyone who values their freedoms and constitutional rights.

Read more about airport security and what we can do to make travel in our country safer without sacrificing our dignities and the right to live life peacefully:


Against Security:
How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger
Harvey Molotch

Econlog’s Bryan Caplan really gets Martin Gilens’s new book AFFLUENCE & INFLUENCE

I was very pleased to see Bryan Caplan’s review this morning on Econlog. He really gets to the heart of Marty Gilens’s new book AFFLUENCE AND INFLUENCE: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.  From the review:

“In The Myth of the Rational Voter, I discuss several mechanisms that might explain why, given public  opinion, democracies’ policies are better than you’d expect.  But I was simply unaware of the facts presented in Martin Gilens‘ new Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.  Gilens compiles a massive data set of public opinion surveys and  subsequent policy outcomes, and reaches a shocking conclusion: Democracy has a strong tendency to simply supply the policies favored by the  rich.  When the poor, the middle class, and the rich disagree, American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class….”

As Caplan mentions later in the review, Gilens’s findings are going to be misinterpreted by the left and the right.  He also found in AFFLUENCE AND INFLUENCE, to many liberals dismay, “American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class” for the better!