Wednesday, September 21, 2011 4:33 PM
“Save the whales” may have become something of a schoolyard taunt for anti-environmentalists to hurl, but make no mistake: Some activists are still out there, saving whales. Foremost among them is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has harassed, butted, and even boarded whaling ships in its mission to deter illegal whaling.
Sea Shepherd founder and leader Paul Watson is described as an “anti-Ahab” in Prospect by writer Philip Hoare, who explains that the bold group managed to put a large dent in Japan’s whale take last season:
In February, the Japanese fisheries minister announced that Sea Shepherd’s actions, which include boarding whaling ships, forced the curtailment of the 2010-11 season on safety grounds. As a result, many fewer whales were caught. Sea Shepherd put Japan’s catch at 30, compared to the country’s fleet’s self-declared quota of 900. Campaigners quickly claimed a victory in the making.
Loare notes that soon after this, one of Japan’s four major whaling communities was devastated by the tsunami, “knocking out a pillar of the nation’s whaling industry,” the New York Times reported.
It remains to be seen if the one-two punch of Sea Shepherd’s campaigns and the tsunami will have a lasting effect on whaling by Japan, which often skirts legality by falsely claiming to be whaling for scientific reasons. In the meantime, a documentary about Watson and his merry band of whale savers, Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist, is opening in Germany and heading for U.S. release. View the trailer here:
(article available to subscribers only),New York Times, Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Friday, August 12, 2011 12:15 PM
Cats embody different qualities to different people—gods to ancient Egyptians, witches’ familiars to Puritanical Americans, disease carriers and rodent exterminators, howling scourges to writers, cuddly medication to depressives. In the digital age, cats have become cheezburger-craving running punchlines and adorable lunch break distractions.
In short, we’ve become a society obsessed by cats. That doesn’t mean, however, that we had any say in the relationship. “[A]mong all domestic animals cats boast a unique distinction,” writes Tom Chatfield for Prospect, trying to understand Western civilization’s feline affinity, “to the best of our knowledge, it was them who chose us. Or rather, cats chose what humans represented: the plentiful supply of tasty vermin that lived among the stock and refuse of early civilization.”
From a sociological perspective, cat people (this writer included) are fairly irrational. “Vermin-catching skills aside, cats are not useful to humans in any instrumental sense, nor much inclined to put themselves at our service,” says Chatfield, stating the obvious,
In contrast to the empathetic, emphatically useful dog, a cat’s mind is an alien and often unsympathetic mix of impulses. And it’s perhaps this combination of indifference and intimacy that has made it a beast of such ambivalent fascination throughout our history. Felines have been gods, demons, spirits and poppets to humankind over the centuries—and that’s before you reach the maelstrom of the internet and its obsessions. They are, in effect, a blank page onto which we doodle our dreams, fears and obsessions.
It sounds more like Stockholm Syndrome. But Chatfield lucidly acknowledges how the power dynamic might play out in a slightly different world: “I know that [my cat] appreciates the stroking as well as the feeding; but I’m equally certain that, if our sizes were reversed, the only thing that would stop him from eating me instantly would be the pleasure of hunting me first.”
Image by stephenhanafin, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 2:29 PM
Many American novelists have tried their hand at what is now widely referred to as “9/11 fiction,” more often than not, to mixed reviews. Often novels by writers from other countries are cited as the most successful books on the matter. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, who was born in Ireland and schooled in The Netherlands, is often said to be the best novel about September 11, 2001.
This, too, is the conclusion reached by Adam Kirsch in “In the shadow of the twin towers” (Prospect, June 2011). Naming the (in Krisch’s view) failed attempts by some of America’s heavy weights, like Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (“But style defeats itself in these cool, hypnotic sentences, precisely because DeLillo knows that he is wagering everything on style.”) and John Updike’s Terrorist (“Sex, not God, is Updike’s God, which is why he overdetermines Ahmad’s rage by giving him a clear Freudian grievance…”), Krisch is left to conclude that American writers may just be “ill-suited to a subject that, like the sun, does not bear looking at directly.” This conclusion seems a bit simplistic to me, as do others in this article, like when Krisch uses a description from a nonfiction book about one man’s descent from the south tower on September 11 to criticize a novelist’s decision to devote “the last ten pages of his novel to the thoughts of his protagonist, Kevin, while he plunges to his death from the 52nd story of a burning building.” In fact, as we learn from the nonfiction writer, nothing enters the mind, much less ten pages worth of thoughts: “My mind switched off. I didn’t start praying. I didn’t have visions of childhood. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. It was a puzzling feeling.” Putting aside the discussion of how the thoughts of someone falling to his death from a skyscraper might differ from those of someone trying to run for his life from one, no matter what appears on those last ten pages of a novel, it is unfair to compare them to a work of nonfiction. I am not one to claim that there is no imagination in nonfiction—that it’s a simple task of retelling—but surely there is a distinction between someone trying to relay their experience in a book and someone trying to possess “the imagination of disaster” (a term coined by Henry James and used by Kirsch) and fictively tell the story of a character falling through the sky. Now, if the thoughts of the falling character are unbelievable, that’s another story, but comparing them to a work of nonfiction seems arbitrary to me.
Kirsch’s argument also falls short for me when he addresses attempts by writers to focus on the perpetrators of the attacks:
There is something admirable about the dogged attempts of American writers to inhabit the minds of the hijackers. After all, the terrorist act involves a radical refusal to imagine the experience of the victim. By contrast, the novelist’s insistence on his obligation to inhabit the mind of the terrorist can be seen as an exemplary liberal response.
In practice, however, this kind of liberal imagination depends on a psychological and materialist understanding of character, which leaves the novelist ill-equipped to understand religious fanatics whose deepest motives are theological and absolute.
Couldn’t the same be said about any individual throughout time whose “deepest motives” were “absolute”? Isn’t this and the “radical refusal to imagine the experience of the victim” what make up any number of novels about murder?
While I disagree with much of Kirsch’s reasoning, I appreciate his attempt to address these books, writers , and topic with a level of respect. Kirsch reminds us that after a brief moment of a new national “sobriety and sternness of purpose,” most of the country went back to business as usual. The fact that so many American writers to this day are wrestling seriously with this subject matter shows Kirsch that at least that demographic has remained steadfast toward that sobriety and sternness. “American writers, to their credit,” Kirsch writes, “have taken the exhortation to seriousness quite seriously.” And who am I to say that his ultimate conclusion is not correct? Maybe “there is no need for the novelist to re-imagine 9/11 when, on some level, Americans have never stopped thinking about it.”
(Note: The online version of this article includes interesting responses from three American novelists, Siri Hustvedt, Stefan Merrill Block and Teddy Wayne.)
Image is in the public domain.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011 12:00 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best international coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
NACLA Report on the Americas
covers Latin American people and politics with a depth, nuance, and historical context rarely found in mainstream media coverage of the region. From elections to revolutions, this bimonthly is on the front lines.
weighs the world on the scales of justice. By tapping into a vast global network of activists, the compassionately written and tightly edited magazine breathes life into the stories of people who are working to build a better planet.
is an essential touchstone for anybody seeking an international perspective on current events. The British weekly allows American readers not only to look out beyond their borders, but also to envision standing outside those borders.
On the pages of Britain’s Prospect, witty screeds sit beside far-flung travel writing, fresh fiction beside wonky policy analysis, knowledgeable criticism beside provocative political essays. Most crucially, complex issues of the day receive ample space and a nuanced treatment.
deepens its readers’ understanding of Europe and developing countries, where local politics have global consequences. Whether on the beat of economic protest in Warsaw, agricultural reform in Brasília, or the rise of Scottish socialism, the magazine’sactivist reporters get fists pumping and crowds chanting for justice.
There’s no room for sensational headlines or ideological bombast on the densely packed pages of The Wilson Quarterly. There are too many new ideas and essential issues to cover, from China’s economic future to Israel’s inner life. And the peerless editors ensure that the prose is as tight as the analysis.
“A journal of ideas and debate,” World Affairs, founded in 1837, burrows beneath the headlines to lend a historical perspective and an open mind to those international issues that promise to dictate our political, cultural, and economic future. The answers aren’t easy, but the questions demand forward motion.
rage is as righteous as it mission. Examining the United States’ behavior around the globe through the lens of race, gender, and class, the monthly’s radical rabble-rousers refuse to take refuge in easy slogans or dusty dogma. And no one person or ideology escapes scrutiny.
See our complete list of 2011 nominees.
Image by Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 18, 2011 1:40 PM
David Foster Wallace is a difficult genius. Starting with the publication of his debut novel The Broom of the System in 1987, the postmodern author’s dense, grandly-footnoted, ontological examinations of mundane subjects—cruise ships, high-school tennis, the IRS—have beguiled, daunted, and delighted readers. The Pale King, Wallace’s almost-finished novel chronicling the life of a tax auditor, was posthumously published (Wallace committed suicide in 2008) on April 15. In the weeks leading up to The Pale King’s publication, Wallace’s last work was met with both ebullient praise and sharp criticism.
Jonathan Franzen is probably Wallace’s most high-profile fanboy. Now that Franzen’s has some freedom from Freedom, he penned a piece for New Yorker about his travels to the remote Pacific Island of Masafuera to catch up on some Robinson Crusoe and mourn Wallace’s death. (Subscription required).
Authors David Lipsky (also Wallace’s biographer) and Rick Moody praised The Pale King on KCRW’s Bookworm. Moody reads the novel’s opening lines as well. You can listen to the podcast here.
If you want to dig deeper into Wallace’s personal life, consider joining up with his cultish fanclub, The Howling Fantods. Or, for that matter, you can follow the path of The Awl’s Maria Bustillos and visit the Wallace archives at University of Texas at Austin’s Ransom Center. Make what you will out of his obsession with self-help books.
As Kottke points out, even Wallace’s classics aren’t universally loved. A prankster posted the opening page of Wallace’s epic tome Infinite Jest on Yahoo! Answers under the subject line “First page of my book. what do you think?” Although the expertise of the commenters shouldn’t be forgotten, the experiment elicited some interesting responses. “Honestly, my first thought was, ‘There are so dang many HYPHENS!’ and I couldn’t concentrate until I didn’t see any more,” wrote one; “No discernible voice/tone in this writing. Rambling descriptions. I, frankly, do not care where each and every person is seated. I don’t care what shoe you’re wearing. If you take out all the unnecessary details, you’d be left with about seven words,” wrote another.
Bookslut’s Jessa Crispin is no fan of Wallace herself (“I expect my current obsession with Henry James is met with bafflement by quite a few who feel the same way about him”) points to a sharp piece of criticism from Prospect’s Geoff Dyer, who suffers from a severe literary allergy. “I liked the idea of someone swimming in big modernist and postmodern theory and still making room for human feeling,” writes Dyer, “but a page—sometimes even a sentence, or an essay title—brings me out in hives.”
Sources: Bookslut, Bookworm, Kottke, New Yorker (subscription required), Prospect, The Awl
Thursday, June 17, 2010 2:52 PM
Russia stretches across 11 time zones and 6,200 miles. With such expansive territory, the country’s topography and demographics are more diverse than fretful Western media encourage us to believe. There is one thing, however, that 96 percent of Russians have in common: Channel One, the most widely broadcast state-run television channel in Russia.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin can be found across the spectrum of television programming on Channel One. In a column for Prospect, Ben Judah writes that a “relentless, never-ending PR campaign [is] ... spinning the prime minister into various guises designed to appeal to different groups across Russia’s fractured society.” Putin has appeared on The Battle for Respect, a popular hip-hop program. On another program he comes to the rescue of a desperate housewife by ordering an avaricious grocer to lower his sausage prices.
Mostly, Putin appears as a vigorous adventurer. “He is the picture of Russia’s strength,” writes Judah. “Rural Russians can identify with Putin swimming bare-chested down a river … after the Moscow metro bombings in Late March, Putin sought to shore up his image by single-handedly tagging a polar bear.”
The spin isn’t entirely malicious. “Men here can expect to live to the age of 59 on average—below the life expectancy of Pakistanis or even Palestinians,” says a Russian diplomat trainee named Masha. The prime minister has to promote health and exercise at any cost, he says, “and if that means bare-chested calendars, swimming shoots, judo or being on a rap show—so be it.”
With only 33 percent internet penetration, television serves as the common platform for Russians, but that reach doesn’t always serve Putin’s interests.
When, at a recent televised charity concert for sick children, Russian rocker Yuri Shevchuk, a legendary dissident artist, challenged Putin on his record of civil rights abuses, including the lack of media autonomy and crackdowns on public assembly, the country watched Mr. Putin squirm in his chair and defend freedom of speech in an angry retort.
As Vladimir Kara-Murza of World Affairs Journal writes, “This was widely taken as a message that ... a promise made in such public setting by the prime minister of Russia would not be easily broken.” The very next day protesters in Moscow's Triumfalnaya Square were being beaten and detained by police.
“At the end of the meeting with Mr. Putin,” writes Kara-Murza, “Yuri Shevchuk proposed a toast ‘on behalf of our children’ who, he hoped, will grow up not in a ‘gloomy, corrupt, and totalitarian country,’ but in a ‘bright and democratic’ Russia, where ‘everyone is equal before the law.’ ‘Like toast, like drink,’ Mr. Putin retorted. The glasses were filled with plain water.”
Sources: Prospect (article not yet available online), World Affairs Journal
Image by azrianman, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, February 19, 2010 4:24 PM
For Prospect’s William Davies, receipts are a sign of the growing depersonalization of our social interactions. The purchase of a cup of coffee to start off the day is no longer simply a pleasant trade of cash for caffeine, but an Official Transaction, accompanied by an official document—the receipt. “The receipt seems to cleanse transactions, to seal them off from the social ambiguity that accompanies two strangers interacting in public,” he writes. “Whereas its cousin, the bill, can be issued in a range of moods—from mint-laden and charming, to red and angry—the receipt only ever arrives with the blank gaze of the auditor.”
Image by ArnoldReinhold, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 2:15 PM
In the latest issue of Prospect, Open University's Nigel Warburton looks at recent censorship scandals in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Ireland and writes, "perhaps it's not just cheap clothes that we'll be importing from China this year." From there he launches into a (very) short history of Western philosophers who argued against free expression:
Plato wanted to censor the arts because, he argued, they misrepresented the nature of reality, something that only philosopher-kings could accurately discern. Two millennia later, in 1965, the Marxist Herbert Marcuse also railed against free expression, asserting that it was of little use when the people in a capitalist democracy were so indoctrinated that they parroted their master's thoughts.
Monday, January 11, 2010 12:16 PM
The image of video gamers as pasty, white loners isolated in basements lit by only the glow of a computer screen may be going away. Today’s gamers are just as likely to be iPhone-toting hipsters playing zombie games over Facebook or 50-year-old mothers playing versions of Scrabble online with their friends. New social games are breaking down the line between work, play, and life, and creating a world where everyone is a gamer.
“What videogames suggest is that almost anything can be made more compelling with the application of gaming principles,” Tom Chatfield writes for Prospect. Schools are integrating Guitar Hero into classrooms, and the military (problematically) is integrating video games into warfare. Companies that make simple, inexpensive games that integrate with Facebook and other social networks are quickly turning into multimillion-dollar businesses. No longer a solitary activity, Chatfield writes, “It’s becoming increasingly hard to tell where the serious business of play ends and the playful business of life begins.”
Image by Miss Karen, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 03, 2009 4:37 PM
Humans are treating the natural world like a giant Ponzi scheme, according to David P. Barash in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes that a small number of investors are cashing in on the earth’s natural resources, constantly paid off by “more suckers, more growth, more GNP, based—as all Ponzi schemes are—on the fraud of ‘more and more,’ with no foreseeable reckoning, and thus, the promise of no comeuppance, neither legal nor economic nor ecologic. At least in the short run.”
Treating the environment this way is unsustainable, like all Ponzi schemes. According to Barash, people cannot continue to rely on the next technological advance to come to humanity’s rescue.
The problem is that the unsustainable, consumerist mindset can’t simply disappear. It needs to be replaced with something, Amitai Etzioni writes for Prospect. A mass dialogue is already underway “about the relationship between consumerism and human flourishing,” that could redefine humanity’s relationship to work, consumption, and the definition of the “good life.”
“We need a culture that extols sources of human flourishing besides acquisition,” Etzioni writes. He suggests people focus on communitarian pursuits, that value human relationships, and transcendental ones, like spirituality, art, and philosophy. Whatever people choose to focus on, Etzioni writes that society needs to value pursuits enrich people’s lives, rather than extract from the earth.
Chronicle of Higher Education
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 3:24 PM
American audiences were shocked last week to see a photo of their commander-in-chief with French President Nicolas Sarkozy giving what looked like lecherous glances toward a young woman. French audiences, on the other hand, likely knew what they were getting into when they elected their president. Sarkozy’s electoral victory displays “the collective desire of the French people to be represented by a dominant libidinous male,” Lucy Wadham writes for Prospect Magazine. The French people elected Sarkozy because he is a “libidinous sex dwarf.”
The lascivious French attraction to Sarkozy goes back to Napolian Bonaparte, according to Wadham. She writes, “Sarkozy, like Bonaparte, has all the characteristics of a sex dwarf: he is short, shamelessly flirtatious and tireless in his pursuit of women.”
Newsweek leapt to Barack Obama’s defense, saying that he was “in the midst of an entirely gentlemanly maneuver,” while “proving again that chivalry is not dead.” Sarkozy’s leering appears less defensible. The video below allows people to draw their own conclusions.
Friday, June 26, 2009 9:20 AM
It seems unfair: Why can some of the greatest creative minds produce masterpieces while under the influence, while others simply end up with drivel? Apparently it’s genetic. The British magazine Prospect reports on a 2004 study that found “around 15 percent of Caucasians have a genetic variant, known as the G-variant, that makes ethanol behave more like an opioid drug, such as morphine, with a stronger than normal effect on mood and behavior.” This allows some “to remain healthy and brilliant despite consumption that would kill others.” But if you happen so be so fortunate, don’t get too carried away—as with any alcohol consumption, there is a fine line between optimum creativity and exceeding your limits.
Image by preater, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009 10:47 AM
David Gaffney has created his own innovative marketing technique on Amazon.com while trying to push his new book, “Sawn Off Tales”. The more aggressively he tries to dissuade customers from buying his merchandise, the more he sells.
The secret formula as revealed in Prospect magazine is more of an exercise in farce. Offering a best-selling book, free, with every purchase of his novel quickly turned into offering a free copy of his book, with each order of a best-seller—books which naturally received much more traffic on Amazon. Brilliantly using the Amazon marketplace as a space for free advertisement, he decided even if customers didn't want his used copy of a best-seller they could read his book's Amazon page, read reviews, and perhaps buy it. He writes, “I identified the top 20 fiction sellers on Amazon, bought a copy of each and put them up for sale, trying to ensure that mine was both the cheapest and—crucially—that no one in their right mind would actually buy the book I was offering, thus maximising my advertisement’s time on the page." Eventually, he started selling random books from his own collection.
Some of the adverts he used: “QI: The Book of General Ignorance. ₤4.50. Dropped down toilet so still damp and a bit smelly. Free sample of David Gaffney’s hilarious Sawn Of Tales with every purchase.”
“A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian ₤3.00. Book stored on pig farm so strong odour of animal feed.”
Or: “Cheap ink used in this edition causes headaches and comas in pets”; “Blood stains on cover and inside from bedroom fight”; “Has had eye-holes drilled through for comedy spy prop”.
The plan ultimately backfired when these decoy books sold like hotcakes, and he was losing money on every transaction, while losing his high-profile ad space. Gaffney realized this type of marketing wasn’t doing him any good, and concludes for next time, “I should just write a better book.”
Thursday, March 12, 2009 5:06 PM
With literary competitions cropping up everywhere, and contests being fueled largely by popularity and PR, Prospect's resident arts and books editor Tom Chatfield takes the trove of literary prizes to task and wonders why we don't just ditch them all—except maybe the Booker. It may be flawed, but not a total failure.
Chatfield concedes that prizes “occupy an increasingly crucial, and volatile, position amid those imperfect processes by which writing is turned into literature,” but he feels that readers are “ill-served by much of the current marketplace of overlapping awards and those ‘prize-winning’ books manufactured to claim them.”
How do we fix the system? Re-evaluate, says Chatfield. It’s time to tone down the media hype, bolster the quality of juries, and “thin” out some of the competitions that aren’t serving writers (or readers) well. Chatfield suggests money could be better spent on award programs that foster authors aiming to get their first books into print.
The final and crucial component? Quality winners. “Without these,” he writes, “and without a public’s faith in these, it descends into a mere opinion poll; and we already have plenty of those.”
Image by hapticflapjack, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, April 25, 2008 1:31 PM
Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines have compiled their second list of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals, and they want you to pick your favorite five. There’s a little public intellectual for everyone, whether you prefer “pop sociologists” like Malcolm Gladwell or “aid skeptics” like William Easterly.
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