Picture this: Washington and Baltimore Art Deco

strinerThe bold lines and decorative details of Art Deco have stood the test of time since one of its first appearances in the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925. The style reflected the confidence of the age—streamlined, chrome-clad, glossy black. Along with simple elegance, sharp lines, and cosmopolitan aspirations, Art Deco also carried surprises, juxtaposing designs growing out of speed (race cars and airplanes) with ancient Egyptian and Mexican details, visual references to Russian ballet, and allusions to Asian art.

Melissa Blair, coauthor with Rick Striner of Washington and Baltimore Art Deco: A Design History of Neighboring Cities, speaks on Wednesday, January 28 at 1:00 p.m. at Baltimore’s Pikesville Library about the legacy of this exuberant architectural style in two quite different cities: the white-collar New Deal capital and the blue-collar industrial port city. Visit the library website for more information about the talk—and enjoy this  selection of images from the very handsome book.

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Filed under American History, American Studies, Baltimore, Book talks, D.C., Uncategorized, Urban Studies, Washington

Freedom Time: Toward a Black Radical Imagination

Guest post by Anthony Reed

reed“ ‘Freedom Time’ is a question, an insistence, a plea, a command, a description of a time yet to come, and a reminder that the definition of ‘freedom’ is not given or limited to present enunciations.”

In the postscript of my book, Freedom Time, I meditate on W. E. B. Du Bois’ claim in his 1926 essay “Criteria of Negro Art” that “all art is propaganda and ever must be” and that claim’s relation to his declaring that black art has an obligation to “let this world be beautiful.” That latter phrase, and the ways it lends itself to both the idea of giving permission and removing obstacles, haunted the entire process of my thinking and continues to stay with me. In Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, the phrase “color line,” sometimes hyphenated, serves as a name for what blocks, distorts, and prevents the beauty of the world. In my reading, it makes the color line one separator between speech and noise, or between the intelligible and the unintelligible. It determines whether and how things appear, and is the line that I argue black experimental writing confronts, redraws, or ignores in its presentation of worlds that exist beyond, invoking Du Bois again, the “limitations of allowable thought.”

Though I wasn’t thinking explicitly about her essay, I can see with the benefit of hindsight the ways my book is also engaging with Barbara Christian’s 1988 essay “The Race for Theory,” where literature—and art-making more generally—becomes a mode of theoretical practice. “My folk,” she writes, “have always been a race for theory—though more in the form of the hieroglyph, a written figure that is both sensual and abstract, both beautiful and communicative.” Her sense of literature as “necessary nourishment” and collective endeavor rhymes very much with my own arguments, and I was happy to come back across it.

And yet, that “always,” like Du Bois’ “all,” gives me pause. To be clear, my concern isn’t essentialism. Rather than referring to principles or clearly articulate political concerns, claims of essentialism to often serve to derail certain arguments, especially those that start to reveal the ways universality is often a projection of particular communities, peoples, and practices. My hesitation is with the ways “all” and “always” threaten to still art-making and the practices of its reception—reading, viewing, or listening—into ontologies, the unfolding of a pre-existing unity, rather than the practices through which a collectivity understands itself as a collectivity, or understands what collectivity can be.

If for Stuart Hall, another figure whose thought informs my own at a fundamental level, identities are names we give for relations to the past, then “color line” is also a name for the various forms in which we contest the past and attempt to name the future. It is a complex assemblage of contradictory legends, rumor, claim and counterclaim, open-ended. It is from this perspective that I came to think of “experimental” as modifying both possibilities of literature—moving beyond the closure of received genres and conventions—and race, seeing race as open-ended, a name both for the ways people relate themselves to the past and the senses of history with which they might think pastness, which they also contest.

Black experimental writing exists at the nexus of experience and open-ended endeavor without guarantees. It is a name, finally, for what I would now call a black radical imagination, imagining new beginnings and beginning again, imagining possibilities beyond those already predicted by the present. This isn’t the imagination that black people have, but ways of surviving and producing the beauty necessary to sustain and nourish black lives, of reaching toward a future on terms other than those of the present. These are the questions that mark Freedom Time and its incompleteness, what it endeavors to do and what we must endeavor to do again: catch the movement of that imagination and figure out—emphasizing “figure”—the forms of freedom adequate to what it demands.

Anthony Reed is an assistant professor of English and African American studies at Yale University and the author of Freedom Time: The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing.

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Will Congress give Obama authority to negotiate trade agreements?

Guest post by William Krist

President Obama called on Congress to give him authority to negotiate trade agreements in last night’s State of the Union address. This authority, commonly called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or Fast Track Authority, was last granted to the President in 2002, but that authority expired in 2007. Under our Constitution, authority to regulate foreign commerce rests with Congress, but since the 1930s Congress has periodically delegated authority for trade negotiations to the President in legislation that sets out the objectives and specific conditions for consultations.

kristRight now the U.S. is engaged in two monumental trade negotiations. The farthest along, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), involves eleven other nations, including Japan, Vietnam, and Malaysia. The objective of the negotiation is to almost completely eliminate trade barriers among the twelve countries and develop strong rules on investment, protection of intellectual property, practices of state-owned enterprises, and other issues. The other enormous trade negotiation, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), involves the European Union.

The U.S. hopes to complete the TPP negotiations early this year and the TTIP next year, but this will not happen unless Congress grants the President Trade Promotion Authority. TPA commits the Congress to vote up or down on a trade agreement—without the possibility of amendment— in a specified period of time. Without this commitment, our trade partners know that Congress may never consider the agreement, or if it does is likely to force changes to satisfy key members of Congress.

In the TPP negotiations, we are asking our trade partners to make major concessions; for example, we are asking the Japanese to open their market to U.S. rice, beef, and other products. Politically, Japan and our other partners simply will not make difficult concessions if they think Congress will diddle around with the agreement.

Major business groups will lobby aggressively for approval of TPA. The business group coordinating lobby activity, Trade Benefits America Coalition, has over 200 companies and associations and its membership reads like a who’s who of big business. However, gaining Congressional approval for TPA will be enormously difficult. In 2002 the House only approved this authority by three votes, and today Congress is far more divided than it was in 2002.

The Republicans have traditionally been strong proponents of TPA. However, the Republicans may now be divided. Seven Tea Party groups have come out in strong opposition to TPA, largely because of distrust of President Obama and because they see it as an abrogation of Congressional authority. For example, Tea Party Patriots has said that “President Obama has seized power time and again . . . Denying him Fast Track Authority sends a clear message that enough is enough.”

In addition to Congressional fissures, however, is the fact that U.S. trade policies are more controversial today than they were in 2002. Many blame our trade policies for some of the unemployment in America and for our increasing income inequality. Indeed, most economists believe that our trade agreements have contributed to both unemployment and income inequality, although probably less than other factors such as education and technology.

If Trade Promotion Authority is to be approved, the President and Congress will need to seriously address the concerns of the critics. Here are three measures that have to be addressed:

#1. TPA will have to include Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which improves unemployment benefits and includes provisions to help people who lose their job because of trade agreements. This doesn’t fully offset the impact on labor, but it can go a long way if constructed right. Organized labor would likely still oppose TPA, but their opposition will be greatly reduced with TAA in the bill.

#2. TPA will have to require reform of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. Environmentalists, health advocates, and labor have long worried that these provisions, which enable companies to sue a government that it believes has indirectly appropriated its investment, are subject to abuse and can limit the ability of governments to regulate for health and safety. These fears have been enflamed by a Philip Morris suit against Australia.

#3. TPA will have to require that the President negotiate new trade rules to prevent countries from manipulating their currency to gain an unfair trade advantage. Some countries, notably China and Japan in the past, have deliberately undervalued their currency to gain a trade advantage, and this has contributed to the unemployment problem in America. If currency manipulation is addressed, the auto and steel industries likely would support TPA; if not, their opposition will be fierce.

William Krist is a senior policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of Globalization and America’s Trade Agreements. During his career he was an Assistant U.S. Trade Representative, a legislative assistant for both a congressman and a senator, and an advocate for the high-tech industry. 

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A diversity committee: born out of fear and duty

Guest post by Keith Brock, JHUP Staff

After serving just over two years as the chair of the JHUP Diversity Committee, I am still in awe of its existence and accomplishments over such a short period of time. I do not make these statements to applaud my efforts, nor do I intend to be self-deprecating; however, I must admire how the community of staff members at JHUP has surrounded the idea of diversity and put in the work to create a vibrant and productive social group.

To give a bit of background about the Committee and its formation, I have to take you back to October of 2012. I felt compelled to attend the annual Diversity Conference of John Hopkins University’s Diversity Leadership Council (DLC). To my surprise—or perhaps embarrassment—I had no clue that such a council existed for the entire Hopkins community, or that it had been created during my undergrad years at Hopkins. Upon attending the 2012 conference and listening to the panels and speakers, I was stunned at what I had been missing at Hopkins: something I had not even been seeking. I finally felt relevant because an often invisible community cared about my future and well-being. I found community.

I remember rushing back to tell my boss, Davida Breier, how I was moved by my experience. I told her how the Hopkins community was speaking openly about inequalities and pressures that existed on campus for individuals of minority groups, and I knew that we had to be a part of this discussion. I was stunned by the fact that I saw only one other individual from the Press who attended that year, another member of a minority class. We talked about how sad it was that so few even knew of the event or decided to attend. I told Davida that everyone should have to attend. She responded, “Then you’re going to have to tell them yourself.” She then asked our director, Kathleen Keane, if I could get up in front of the staff to discuss my experience at the conference and, with much grace and respect, Kathleen obliged.

Now what most folks have never known is that I was petrified to discuss my experience. I was so scared that I created a video presentation to avoid speaking in front of a crowd, but Davida said that my voice had to be heard in order for me to connect with the audience. I was also fearful about becoming the diversity spokesperson. I was afraid that I might be mistreated by those who thought we needed no additional diversity at the Press; fortunately, though, I had a boss who believes in personal empowerment. Despite my reservations, I also felt obligated to share my presentation, as it had become a type of duty in my mind. I believed that by sharing my experience there was the possibility that I could change the course of the Press’ future and that in some small way I would be contributing to all those before me who stood up and spoke about the most uncomfortable subject matters for change.

The day came; I spoke; and the reception was tremendous. It turns out that this subject was on quite a few minds. I could see the audience become invigorated when I discussed moving beyond the simple black and white issues of the past and into issues where we could all relate. This was the moment when the Diversity Committee was intrinsically formed.

After discussions with Kathleen and other members of the Executive Committee, the Diversity Committee was formed just two months after my November 2012 speech. It has been doing good work since. As a member of multiple minority groups, I realize that not many people in the publishing industry may identify with my experience, and I also understand that change can often take far too long. I can proudly say that we have started our process through volunteer activities, community collaborations (both internal and external), diversity training, creating mission statements, and increasing awareness. The JHU Press has only just begun its genuine and sincere climb towards a workplace that promotes and supports equality in Maryland, and I hope and pledge to do my part to ensure we continue on the path towards complete equality and understanding in our workplace. To that end, I hope that everyone looks to attend the upcoming Diversity Safe Zone Training event, as well as more in-class training series in our near future.



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First, do no harm

Guest post by John M. Henshaw

John Haygarth is scarcely remembered today. But the British physician (1740–1827) was highly regarded in his day, when he made important contributions to the prevention of smallpox and to the treatment of patients with fevers. He was also one of the very first physicians to publish a study of what we now call the placebo effect.

Ask any doctor, and he or she will tell you that the placebo effect is real. Sick people sometimes do get better just because they think they are being treated with powerful medicine. One consequence of this is that the placebo effect must be accounted for when measuring the effectiveness of a new treatment. In order, for example, for a new drug for treating high blood pressure to be considered effective, patients treated with it must show significant improvement compared to those treated with placebos in carefully controlled clinical experiments.

In John Haygarth’s day, however, what we now call placebos played a much different role in medicine. In an era when they were virtually powerless to treat a whole host of maladies, doctors often administered “medicines” that they knew had no curative abilities. But that’s not what they told their patients. Thomas Jefferson wrote about a successful physician who claimed to have prescribed “more bread pills, drops of colored water, and powders of hickory ashes, than of all other medicines put together.” Many doctors saw nothing wrong with this practice, and some of their patients who received these bogus treatments actually did get better.

It’s a fine line between that sort of behavior and the kind of medicine practiced by a well-known contemporary of Haygarth’s, the American physician Elisha Perkins (1741–1799). Perkins was what we would today call a quack, and even in his day there were many who identified him as such. Perkins invented, patented, and successfully marketed a set of strangely shaped metal rods, supposedly made from special alloys, called Perkins tractors. Among the many purchasers of these devices was one George Washington. Perkins claimed that the rods, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, could “draw off the noxious electrical fluids that lay at the root of suffering.” He treated a whole host of ailments with his tractors, and had legions of followers. Perkins’ son, Benjamin, introduced Perkins tractors to England, where they were also successful.

And it was there, in 1799, that Haygarth investigated their efficacy by first purchasing an authentic set of Perkins tractors and then using them to create a second set, made of wood, but painted to look like the real thing. Haygarth ran a test in which he compared the effectiveness of the real Perkins tractors to the fake set—the latter being what we might today call the placebo set. Haygarth’s experiment, while crude by today’s standards, allowed him to conclude that both sets of tractors, the authentic ones and the wooden fakes, were relatively successful at relieving the symptoms of his patients, all of whom believed they were being treated with the real thing. He recorded his findings in an 1800 book entitled On the Imagination as a Cause & as a Cure of Disorders of the Body.

But Haygarth, it seems, was ahead of his time. More than a hundred years later, physicians were still evaluating new medicines and treatments not through controlled quantitative clinical trials but instead qualitatively, by consulting panels of experts. It is now well understood that being administered a placebo during a clinical trial is not at all the same as receiving no treatment at all. Today’s controlled clinical trials employ powerful statistical techniques to quantify the effects of modern medicines.

The list of remarkable medical innovations that predates the widespread acceptance of the controlled clinical trial is long indeed. It includes the discovery of penicillin and the advent of insulin therapy, among many others. Why was the quantitative statistical approach to determining the efficacy of medical treatments so slow in catching on? Among the reasons is surely this one: that medicine was then, and it remains today, an intensely personal science. Human beings—doctors—care for other human beings, trying to cure whatever ails them.

Could it be that the cold, quantitative approach short-circuits, or at least appears to, some part of the human aspect of medicine? Doctors have long since come to believe in the power of the quantitative analysis of medical trials to evaluate new treatments, but nonetheless, medicine remains a gutsy human enterprise. And so doctors have to live in both worlds: the quantitative analysis of cold, unfeeling data right alongside the qualitative, personal aspects of caring for human beings in need.

Perhaps that’s one reason why being a really good doctor is so hard.

henshawJohn M. Henshaw is the department chair and Harry H. Rogers Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Tulsa. He is the author of An Equation for Every Occasion, A Tour of the Senses: How Your Brain Interprets the World, and Does Measurement Measure Up? How Numbers Reveal and Conceal the Truth, published by JHU Press.


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Outbreaks, trust, and public fears

Guest Post by Maria Carney

When the Nassau County Health Department was at the epicenter of the H1N1 influenza (swine flu) outbreak in 2009, a young pregnant woman died, and hospital emergency rooms were overloaded with frantically ill  individuals. The media covered the story and fed people’s anxieties. In my public role at that time, I had to address the fear of the unknown. What would happen when the illness spread? Were people going to die? How does the virus spread? How could illness and death be prevented? How were health care providers going to effectively address this outbreak without themselves getting ill? Sound familiar?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked feverishly earlier this year to address the outbreak of Ebola and limit its impact on the United States. By publishing new guidelines on how to prevent the spread of Ebola, a virus originating in West Africa with high fatality rates, the agency tried to share facts and expertise. The goal and hope is to minimize the spread and impact of the disease.

Yet despite this expert guidance, the CDC’s recommendations were questioned.

New York and New Jersey leadership announced a stricter response than what CDC put forth. A nurse fought for her right to go home prior to the completion of her (non-CDC) imposed quarantine, stating that it was a violation of her personal rights. U.S. Military personnel providing care to Ebola victims were required to participate in a mandatory quarantine upon caring for individuals with Ebola, but U.S. hospital workers caring for Ebola victims did not. While some challenged the guidelines and policies, hospitals across the nation continued to prepare for the possible spread of disease by training health care workers on how to protect themselves if they found themselves in a position to care of individuals with this highly fatal illness.

Public fears were high. A physician with Ebola died, causing concerned people to propose travel bans to and from West Africa. The anxiety was real, and the perceived confusion regarding the different mandates didn’t help to convey trust in those providing care and guidance. Today’s public fears and initial distrust of the country’s response could have been improved by initiating an intensive communication strategy based on the principles of Dr. Vincent T. Covello, director of New York’s Center for Risk Communication.

An upcoming issue of the journal Progress in Community Health Partnerships includes an article entitled “A Community Partnership to Respond to an Outbreak: A Model that can be Replicated for Future Events.” Here, the authors, of which I am one, describe a three-phase strategy based on the H1N1 influenza efforts in Nassau County, New York. We encourage public health entities to accept the community as a partner, plan carefully, listen to their audience, coordinate and collaborate with all sources, address the media, and speak clearly and with compassion. It may seem difficult for a federal government agency such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to speak clearly and with compassion, but it is necessary. The public needs to know that the decisions made are based on facts as well as compassion.

The CDC communicated in various forms to the public: press conference, guidance distribution, social media. But did the CDC take input from community partners as well as they possibly could? Did an extensive two-way dialogue take place? For example, by listening and understanding to the concerns of hospital and health care worker (a high-risk population), the CDC could have used the information to formulate the implementation phase of disease prevention.

Some other strategies we learned from the H1N1 outbreak could have made a tremendous difference with the Ebola response. We recommend partnering with those most affected, as well as providing facts about the disease’s current state, how it is transmitted, when it is most virulent, and how you will minimize the spread further. Do not overpromise, and do not minimize the concerns of a patient, family member, nurse, physician, hospital or governor. As soon as possible, share your disease prevention strategy, plans, and information. Continually update your stakeholders during what will be a dynamic and extensive course. Don’t be afraid to be compassionate and show your concern. Most importantly, by doing so you are partnering with the communities who are and may be most affected by the Ebola virus disease. This is one strategy to improve trust that may have been challenged.

Maria Carney, MD, is the chief of geriatrics and palliative care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital. She is also an assistant professor at Hofstra North Shore–LIJ School of Medicine and previously served as the Nassau County Department of Health commissioner. 

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Meet us in San Antonio: Joint Mathematics Meetings

If you are attending the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Antonio from January 10 to 13, be sure to visit booth #607 to browse JHU Press books and journals. Press authors will be stopping by, and we’ll offer a 30% discount throughout the meeting. Read more about the conference on the Joint Mathematics Meetings website, and check out these new and forthcoming books from JHUP:

Introduction to Abstract Algebra: From Rings, Numbers, Groups, and Fields to Polynomials and Galois Theory, by Benjamin Fine, Anthony M. Gaglione, and Gerhard Rosenberger
Matrix Computations, fourth edition, by Gene H. Golub and Charles F. Van Loan
An Equation for Every Occasion: Fifty-Two Formulas and Why They Matter, by John M. Henshaw

Mathematics in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art: Content, Form, Meaning, by Robert Tubbs
Constitutional Calculus: The Math of Justice and the Myth of Common Sense, by Jeff Suzuki
The Siddhāntasundara of Jñānarāja: An English Translation with Commentary, by Toke Lindegaard Knudsen

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