Princeton authors speaking at Oxford Literary Festival 2014

We are delighted that the following Princeton authors will be speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival in Oxford, UK, in the last week of March. Details of all events can be found at the links below:images5L8V7T97

Jacqueline and Simon Mitton, husband and wife popular astronomy writers and authors of From Dust to Life: The Origin and Evolution of Our Solar System and Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe respectively, will be speaking  on Monday 24 March at 4:00pm

David Edmonds, author of Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us  about Right and Wrong will be speaking on Monday 24 March at 6:00pm

Robert Bartlett, author of Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation will be speaking on Tuesday 25 March at 2:00pm

Michael Scott, author of Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World will be speaking on Wednesday 26 March at 10:00am

Simon Blackburn, author of Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love will be speaking on Wednesday 26 March at 4:00pm

Roger Scruton author of the forthcoming The Soul of the World will be speaking Thursday 27 March 12:00pm

Alexander McCall Smith, author of What W. H. Auden Can Do for You will be speaking about how this poet has enriched his life and can enrich yours too on Friday 28 March at 12:00pm

Averil Cameron, author of Byzantine Matters will be speaking on Friday 28 March at 2:00pm

Edmund Fawcett, author of Liberalism: The Life of an Idea will be speaking on Saturday 29 March at 10:00am

In addition, Ian Goldin will be giving the inaugural “Princeton Lecture” at The Oxford Literary Festival, on the themes within his forthcoming book, The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It on Thursday 27 March at 6:00pm


Can whistleblowing ever be justified? — Edward Snowden exposes NSA’s confidential surveillance program and is said to be hiding in Hong Kong

The National Security Agency (NSA)National Security Agency (NSA) has a secret program that allows the commission to gain access to user information stored by big-name internet organizations. Some of the most recognizable companies include Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Skype.

29-year-old Edward Snowden, a mid-level IT worker contracted by the NSA, leaked top-secret NSA documentation about PRISM. PRISM tracks user information such as photos, content of e-mails, live chat, videos, and login alerts. Snowden is said to be hiding out in Hong Kong. All companies involved have allegedly denied allowing NSA to gain direct access to their databases. It is currently up for debate as to whether or not Snowden is a hero to the public or someone that acted recklessly, endangering the safety of all Americans.

PRISM is reported to have been authorized and enforced in 2007. President George Bush passed PRISM along with other changes to the US surveillance rules. President Barack Obama renewed the edict last year.

KQED Forum: Edward Snowden

The Guardian via Getty Images — Edward Snowden speaks during an interview in Hong Kong.

KQED Forum with Michael Krasny is a live call-in program that presents wide-ranging discussions of local, state, national and international issues, as well as in-depth interviews. On Tuesday, June 11, Krasny posted a session that includes political science expert and author of Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy, Rahul Sagar. Sagar is an Assistant Professor at Princeton University within the Department of Politics. Sagar has taken a firm stance that Snowden was “misguided” and his choice to leak information was ill-considered. He feels that Snowden has acted inappropriately by taking the law into his own hands. By exposing this information, Sagar believes Snowden acted wrongfully from a legal standpoint and should have pursued a safer avenue if he wanted his discovery to be revealed.

To hear more about PRISM and Sagar’s viewpoint on whistleblowing, listen to Krasny’s segment on the NSA leak:

View this recording on the KQED Forum webpage:

Secrets and Leaks:
The Dilemma of State Secrecy

Rahul Sagar

Rahul Sagar -- Princeton U: Assistant Professor, Department of PoliticsRahul Sagar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His primary research interests are the field of political theory and include topics in ancient and modern political theory including executive power, moderation, tyranny, and political realism.

Sagar’s first book, Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy, is set to be released in October 2013. Sagar examines the complex relationships among executive power, national security, and secrecy. State secrecy is vital for national security, but it can also be used to conceal wrongdoing. How then can we ensure that this power is used responsibly? Typically, the onus is put on lawmakers and judges, who are expected to oversee the executive. Yet because these actors lack access to the relevant information and the ability to determine the harm likely to be caused by its disclosure, they often defer to the executive’s claims about the need for secrecy. As a result, potential abuses are more often exposed by unauthorized disclosures published in the press.

But should such disclosures, which violate the law, be condoned? Drawing on several cases, Rahul Sagar argues that though whistle-blowing can be morally justified, the fear of retaliation usually prompts officials to act anonymously–that is, to “leak” information. As a result, it becomes difficult for the public to discern when an unauthorized disclosure is intended to further partisan interests. Because such disclosures are the only credible means of checking the executive, Sagar writes, they must be tolerated. However, the public should treat such disclosures skeptically and subject irresponsible journalism to concerted criticism.

Avner de-Shalit to discuss ‘The Spirit of Cities’ at three events in the UK


Princeton University Press author Avner de-Shalit will be speaking at three events in the UK next week. On Monday 20th February he will be discussing what makes cities tick at Jewish Book Week with Barbara Mann, chaired by Ziona Strelitz. On Tuesday 21st, Professor de-Shalit will be giving a lunchtime talk at The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and discussing why cultivating the distinctive ‘spirit of cities’ is the best antidote to global homogenisation. Finally, on the evening of 21st February, he will be in Bristol, discussing cities with Sunder Katwala at a Bristol Festival of Ideas event. These talks all tie into Avner de-Shalit’s book, The Spirit of Cities, which is co-authored by Daniel A. Bell and was recently published by Princeton University Press.

The talks at Jewish Book Week and the RSA will be recorded and made available online. Please follow the links for more information.


“The Expanding Circle” on Bloggingheads

Check out a great conversation between Peter Singer and Robert Wright on an episode of Bloggingheads! Starting with the  reissue of Singer’s book The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress, they go on to discuss how moral arguments have evolved, how human reasoning is linked to moral progress, wondering if aliens would share our morality, and the highs and lows of being a philosopher.

Be sure to re-read your copy of The Expanding Circle for more food for thought on morality as universal or relative, tied up with questions about whether morality is biologically or culturally based:

The shift from a point of view that is disinterested between individuals within a group, but not between groups, to a point of view that is fully universal, is a tremendous change — so tremendous, in fact, that it is only just beginning to be accepted on the level of ethical reasoning and is still a long way from acceptance on the level of practice. Nevertheless, it is the direction in which moral thought has been going since ancient times. Is it an accident of history that this should be so, or is it the direction in which our capacity to reason leads us?


Looking for something to do during the scheduled May 21 Rapture?

Religion Dispatches Magazine Online’s Lauri Lebo has a good suggestion for what to do this coming Saturday when, according to Harold Camping, true believers will ascend to heaven while the rest of the Earth heads towards destruction: throw a party!

Apparently many atheists (and believers who don’t think the Rapture is coming in two days) have decided to ring in the purported end of the world with a celebration.  Lebo has a few tips for a successful judgement day bash, including appropriate drinks to serve (such as the “Death in the Afternoon,” a Hemingway favorite) and what time to start your festivities (6 p.m. is allegedly when the Rapture will begin).

Interestingly enough, the reported information about the rapture includes not just a specific start time, but a prophesy that there will be “a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth.” If this sounds familiar, it may be because historically earthquakes have figured into the apocalyptic predictions of many civilizations. Read Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archaeology, and the Wrath of God by Amos Nur with Dawn Burgess to find out more!

(And please, be careful with that absinthe!)

Dan Drezner and Mother Jones’s Adam Weinstein talk zombies at Bloggingheads

In what is a truly creative diavlog, author Daniel Drezner chatted about his new book THEORIES OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS AND ZOMBIES with Mother Jones editor Adam Weinstein on a recent edition of