‘Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an’ Author Wins $10,000 Hamilton Book Award

Denise Spellberg, grand prize winner of the Hamilton Book Awards.

Denise Spellberg, grand prize winner of the Hamilton Book Awards.

Denise Spellberg, professor in the Departments of History, Middle Eastern Studies and Religious Studies, won the $10,000 grand prize at the Hamilton Book Awards for her work “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.” (Knopf, 2013) on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin.

The awards are the highest honor of literary achievement given to published authors at The University of Texas at Austin. They are sponsored by the University Co-operative Society.

TJQIn “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders,” Spellberg recounts how a handful of the country’s founders, Jefferson foremost among them, drew upon Enlightenment ideas about the tolerance of Muslims to fashion a practical foundation for governance in America. For more about the book listen to her podcast on the History Department’s Not Even Past website.

Four other UT Austin professors received $3,000 runner-up prizes:

– Desmond F. Lawler — Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering, for his work “Water Quality Engineering: Physical/Chemical Treatment Processes,” co-authored with Mark Benjamin, University of Washington; Published by John Wiley & Sons

– Huaiyin Li — Department of History, for his work “Reinventing Modern China: Imagination and Authenticity in Chinese Historical Writing”; Published by University of Hawaii Press

– Allison E. Lowery — Department of Theatre and Dance, for her work “Historical Wig Styling: Volumes 1 and 2”; Published by Focal Press/Taylor and Francis Group

– Mark Metzler — Department of Asian Studies, for his work “Capital as Will and Imagination: Schumpeter’s Guide to the Postwar Japanese Miracle”; Published by Cornell University Press

The Hamilton Awards are named in honor of Professor Robert W. Hamilton, the Minerva House Drysdale Regent Chair-Emeritus in Law. Professor Hamilton was chair of the Co-op Board for 12 years, from 1989 to 2001, and was in large measure responsible for the Co-op’s uncommon growth and profitability during that period. Visit this website for more about the award winners.

Richard Pells’ War Babies Released

War BabiesWar Babies: The Generation that Changed America by Richard Pells, emeritus professor of history, was released in August by Cultural History Press. Pells examines the lives of famous Americans born between 1939 and 1945, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.

War Babies may be ordered from Amazon: http://amzn.to/1t39MPD

Read an excerpt: http://authorrichardpells.com/excerpt-from-war-babies-carl-bernsteins-memories-of-mccarthyism

A Q&A with Ecosickness Author Heather Houser

Take a look at your surroundings. Are you sitting in a climate-controlled office next to a window overlooking a sea of traffic? Or are you skimming this article on a porch swing underneath a shady oak tree? Whether you’re surrounded by wide open spaces or a concrete jungle, your environment is significantly affecting your emotional and physical well-being.

Houser-bookAuthors such as David Foster Wallace and Leslie Marmon Silko have explored this intrinsic bond with the natural world in a genre of fiction called “Ecosickness.” In a new book Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction, UT Austin English Professor Heather Houser shows how contemporary American novels and memoirs are developing a new understanding of the connections between ecological damage and physical health.

Read on to learn more about her book and how this new mode of contemporary American fiction is sparking questions about the current state of our environment—and the potential consequences of techno-scientific innovations such as regenerative medicine and alternative ecosystems.

How did you become interested in this particular literary genre?

My initial interest was in 20th-century narratives of disease. As I read a wide range of works on this theme, I began to notice many writers couldn’t talk about disease without also depicting built and non-built environments and ecological issues. I was aware of environmental health memoirs such as Susanne Antonetta’s Body Toxic and Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, but what I was finding didn’t quite fit this genre. Unlike these books, ecosickness fiction is less interested in determining the causal link between environmental conditions and disease. Instead it imagines how emotions, narrative techniques, and aesthetics bring body and earth into relation. One way I explain this in Ecosickness is by showing how recent U.S. novels and memoirs “medicalize” environmental representation, that is, how they figure space using specialized anatomical and physiological terms, often ones referring to the body in a state of dysfunction. Wallace’s Infinite Jest is a rich site for this representational strategy.

Heather Houser is an assistant professor of English at UT Austin.

Heather Houser is an assistant professor of English at UT Austin.

How can people benefit from gaining an awareness of their environmental surroundings?

To put it bluntly, the environment is us; self-awareness and awareness of social, economic, and political structures emerge from environmental awareness. For many, spending time in more natural settings and interacting with animals produce joy and rejuvenate. This is certainly an important benefit of environmental awareness. Yet even if we’d rather be inside playing video games than out swimming in rivers, we’re still embedded in our environments. The state of our surroundings affects our health, where we live, how we get from point A to point B, what we eat, and much more. Just as importantly, the environment is a repository for changing historical and social conditions; it records individuals’ and a culture’s values.

Is there an Ecosickness author in particular who inspires you?

Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead inspired the ideas for the project, even though it may be the book in Ecosickness I enjoyed reading the least. It’s challenging because of its length, huge cast of characters, loose structure and depictions of violence and depravity. It’s the most overtly political book I examine and imagines a revolution sweeping through the Americas that will destroy capitalism and colonialism and restore and heal lands expropriated from indigenous peoples.

Silko builds anxiety through a number of strategies, above all through scenes in which villainous characters use biotechnologies like genetic manipulation and artificial ecosystems to promote injustice. We might think anxiety is useful for stirring up a population and fomenting revolution; I wondered if this was the case. I asked whether, in the novel, anxiety impinges on the very possibility of revolutionary action the book otherwise advocates. Almanac was so inspiring to my research because it powerfully demonstrates that environmental scholars need to account for the full spectrum of environmental effects and study how those emotions influence our ethical and political orientations.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

A crucial takeaway of Ecosickness and my other research is that we can’t comprehend environmental challenges and their ethical dimensions through the languages of science and economics alone. We must call on aesthetic tropes, metaphors, and narratives and the knowledge they produce. Our bodies and emotions are crucial conduits to understanding and responding to environmental change. I emphasize this point in the book’s conclusion, when I describe ecosickness fiction as “an invitation to read its stories out into the world. It opens channels to the talk between policy and psychology, aesthetics and activism, education and ethics, and data and doxa that positive interventions in pervasive sickness demand.”

Could you highlight a particular message in this book that is relevant today?

One of the thrills of studying contemporary culture is that most everything I research is relevant today. But if I had to choose a message that’s most relevant both today and in the day-to-day, it’s that we must approach techno-scientific “fixes” to illness and environmental with respectful skepticism. Ecosickness authors aren’t technophobes or antiscience, and my book doesn’t encourage these positions either. I hit on the idea of respectful skepticism throughout my readings but perhaps most poignantly in the chapter on AIDS memoirs by Jan Zita Grover and Wojnarowicz and how they conceptualize discord. Grover’s and Wojnarowicz’s books show discord to be crucial to the medical politics of AIDS and the environmental politics of land development because it helps us strike a balance between trust in science and skepticism toward it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I hope Ecosickness expands our sense of what counts as “environmental literature.” When I say this is my research area, people often assume I study Henry David Thoreau or Edward Abbey. Yet environmental representation is all around us, not just in works by artists we think of as environmentalist. Those representations shape how we perceive the world off the page and govern our responses to it. Therefore, it’s important to identify unexpected environmental tropes and examine their workings and functions wherever we find them.

From MOOC to eBook: John Hoberman on “Age of Globalization”

ohn Hoberman

John Hoberman in a video lecture on EdX.org

In Fall 2013, Dr. John Hoberman was among the first University of Texas professors to offer a MOOC, or Massively Open Online Course as part of edX,a consortium with Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and other global institutions of higher education. The course, Age of Globalization was very well received by the thousands of students worldwide who actively participated.  But for those who were not seeking to earn a certificate of completion, Hoberman wanted to offer the course in another format.   Thus, the College of Liberal Arts worked together with The University of Texas Press to create an enhanced e-book version of the course, now available to anyone who wants to better understand the systems of competition that drive globalization.

The video and audio enhanced e-book “Age of Globalization” is available in multiple e-reader formats, as well as through a standard web browser.

“When academic interest in something called “globalization” first came to my attention in 1995, it struck me as a remote and exotic topic,” says Hoberman.  Over the years, he’s found it a nearly limitless topic that allows deep and wide exploration into how the world works as a collection of overlapping systems.

For Hoberman, writing the lectures and writing the book were largely one and the same thing. “Composing the lectures required doing a lot of online research during the writing process.”  For the MOOC, these lectures were videotaped short 9- to 13- minute segments, divided into twelve sections.  “I wrote the twelve sections aiming for a jargon-free clarity of presentation that suited both the video lectures and the eventual e-book text. “ The transcripts from the video production became the basis for the text of the enhanced e-book.

“I’m very glad the electronic book is available because it is undoubtedly a more efficient learning experience than watching and listening to the videos, even with the text scrolling down on the right-hand side of the screen,” said Hoberman. “The advantage of the visual MOOC experience is that the narration is integrated with hundreds of useful and instructive images such as maps and photos of all sorts of things. The e-book contains dozens of images, including some that are interactive, but watching the MOOC on screen will understandably be the more dramatic visual experience.”

Image from the Course by LAITS Development Studio

Image from the Course by LAITS Development Studio

Hoberman continues to monitor current global developments, such as various international  organizations including United Nations, NGO’s like Greenpeace, as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the major international sports federations that are affiliated with it. He points to the recent 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games as an opportunity to watch globalization in action.

“The transnational IOC, which is accountable to no authority other than itself, represents itself as a peace movement that promotes human rights,” says Hoberman.  “But, in 2007, the IOC awarded the 2014 Winter Olympiad to Vladimir Putin and Russia, despite Putin’s merciless war against Chechnya (1999-2000) and his subversion of democracy in post-Communist Russia. The question here is whether a global ‘movement’ run by a group like the IOC is willing to take principled stands on behalf of ‘global norms’ that conflict with the objectives of dictatorial regimes. In fact, the IOC always fails to enforce “global norms” that represent humanitarian principles. In this case, President Putin rewarded the supposedly peace-promoting IOC by attacking Ukraine only days after the Closing Ceremonies of the Sochi Games,” Hoberman points out.

“The moral of this story is that the lofty claims of all global organizations should be carefully scrutinized and compared with what they actually do or do not do to promote the welfare of the global community.”

Hoberman’s compelling new e-book delves into the topics of Transportation, the Media and Internet, Transnational Organized Crime, Small Country Self Assertion, Popular Culture and Sports through the lens of Globalization, exposing the dramatic narrative of positive and negative forces that are affecting us all.

Follow these links to purchase the Age of Globalization enhanced e-book by John Hoberman:

Web-based ebook: http://tinyurl.com/ageofglobal
Apple iBook: https://itun.es/i6g82Qg
Amazon Kindle ebook: http://amzn.com/B00HQ50T8K
Google Play ebook: http://tinyurl.com/ageofglobal-google

The Buck Stops Here

Global Shell GamesHit TV series like Breaking Bad demonstrate just how far criminals will go to conceal their piles of dirty money. But of all the countries in the world, these illicit activities are most easily carried out under the guise of shell companies right here in the United States.

A shell company is a business in name only, with no actual employees or products. It exists only on paper and can be set up within a matter of hours. They are the global getaway cars for criminals involved in money laundering, bribery, tax evasion, drug trafficking, and perhaps even terrorism, says Michael Findley, assistant professor of government.

To see just how far they could go to secure an untraceable shell company, Findley and his research team impersonated a range of criminals – from money launderers to terrorist financiers to drug traffickers. They made thousands of email solicitations to nearly 4,000 services in more than 180 countries around the world. Despite the glaring red flags signaling potential security threats, they were able to secure approval to set up untraceable shell companies online for as little as a few hundred dollars.

“On the whole, forming an anonymous shell company is as easy as ever in the United States, despite supposed increased attention following 9/11,” says Findley, who focuses much of his research on terrorism and counterterrorism.  “The results are disconcerting and demonstrate that we are much too far from a world that is safe from crime and terror.”

International laws mandate shell providers to require notarized photo identification from clients. Yet the researchers found almost half of the firms they solicited failed to ask for proper identification—and one fifth did not want any photo ID at all. The grim results are detailed in the authors’ new book, Global Shell Games: Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime and Terrorism. Findley conducted the investigations with his co-authors Daniel Nielson, of Brigham Young University; Jason Sharman, of Griffith University; and their team of research assistants.

Michael Findley

Michael Findley is a political scientist in the Department of Government and co-director of Innovations for Peace and Development.

Among the top offenders is the United States. The findings show that Delaware, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming are some of the easiest places in the world to score an illicit shell operation. In fact, classic tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Jersey are much more compliant with transparency rules than the rich, powerful countries.

While shopping around the United States for anonymous shell companies, the researchers were able to seal the deal in less than three hours after trying about a dozen approaches. However, in so-called tax havens, it took more than double the time and effort.

Enforcement is not especially expensive, given that even tiny tax havens and developing countries are able to apply international standards on corporate transparency, The problem, Findley says, boils down to necessity.

“Tax havens have tightened up the standards much more vigorously than other places, partly because they have to,” Findley says. “They have to protect their incorporation industries and make sure they don’t fall out of favor in the international community. By tightening up their standards, perhaps by necessity, they make it possible to have this good business-operating environment.”

To fix the problem, Findley says shell company providers need to require proper ID from their clients, especially foreigners. But most importantly, regulators need to follow up with providers to make sure they’re up to code. Random audits requiring the information on the actual owners of shell corporations would not cost much and appear to make the difference for the most law-abiding countries. The laws need to be enforced at the international, national and state levels, Findley notes.

Until the United States and other countries in the elite Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) start playing by the rules, corruption will continue to run rampant all over the world.  Organized crime will flourish, drug cartels will run smoothly, and corrupt officials will live the life of luxury on stolen money, Findley says.

For example, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych owned a presidential palace, a private zoo, a vintage car collection and many other luxuries thanks in part to anonymous shell companies, Findley says.

“I would like to see this type of leader go away,” Findley says. “What we have found here is not a silver bullet solution, but it is a very important part of the puzzle. Money drives corruption. If we could understand the money laundering process and take steps to track the real people in control of shell companies, it would be much more difficult for organized criminals and possibly terrorists to carry out their nefarious activities.”

Go to this website for more about the book: www.globalshellgames.com

Architecture Professor Receives Subvention Award for Book on Early Colonial Buildings in Oaxaca, Mexico

Benjamin Ibarra Sevilla, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, has been granted a $5,000 book subvention award by the Office of the Vice President of Research, Subvention Grants Program. The award will support the book named “Mixtec Stonecutting Artistry / El arte de la cantería mixteca” to be published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico Press.

Ibarra, who was involved in the restoration of early colonial buildings in Oaxaca Mexico, had been planning for a number of years to study the three beautiful sixteenth-century churches of la Mixteca in southern Mexico.

Benjamin Sevilla

His curiosity for these buildingsarose from the extraordinary refinement in the construction and the outstanding ribbed vaults forming the ceilings. These churches have been recognized by art historians for their monumentality, the exquisite pieces of art found in the buildings, and because of their important role that they played in the historic events that took place during early colonial times in Mexico. Ibarra’s work looks at the buildings from a different perspective.

“The churches of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán, San Juan Bautista Coixtlahuaca, and San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcoloula are unique pieces of architecture in the Americas, they are the continuation of the Gothic architecture on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.” wrote Professor Enrique Rabasa who is the author of the book’s foreword.

In order to develop his analysis, Ibarra relied in the latest technologies, which allowed him to analyze the buildings in the digital environment. This required first, to establish collaboration agreements with institutions and the government of Mexico, in order to obtain the permissions for the documentation of the buildings. Once the agreements were in place, Ibarra used a 3D laser scanner that created a 3D model in the computer. These 3D models were analyzed obtaining the information of how the vaults were designed and how they were built stone by stone. The study looks at the buildings from the point of view of the methods of construction and the transference of building technology necessary to complete such complex buildings. The methodology implemented by Ibarra is illustrated through sixteenth-century and eighteenth-century depiction methods in combination with digital models creating a number of attractive drawings and 3D prints.

Parallel to this book, Ibarra has curated an exhibition that includes fifteen models created with 3D printing technology and thirty-seven panels profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings. The exhibition is currently traveling through different cities in Mexico and the US, and it will visit the city of Austin in late 2014. “My goal is to place these buildings in the global context of the History of Construction,” has said Ibarra in his presentations about his research work. He notes his book “will be obligated reference to those who study sixteenth-century architecture in Mexico and those who admire the achievements of the indigenous people during this period of time.”

Cognitive Psychologist Art Markman Shows Us How to Create New Habits in Smart Change

illustration of bookThe New Year is on the horizon, and just like clockwork many people are dutifully preparing lists of resolutions that will likely be forgotten by mid-January.

Art Markman, a cognitive psychologist at The University of Texas at Austin, shows us a better way to make lifestyle changes in his new book Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others, which was released on Jan. 7. Based on decades of cognitive research, the book shows how to harness the brain’s capabilities to adopt better habits – from becoming more productive at the office to curbing mindless midnight snacking.

We caught up with Markman for more details about his how-to approach for transforming bad habits into positive behaviors.

Briefly describe Smart Change.

Markman, Art 2011

Art Markman (Photo by Marsha Miller)

Smart Change starts with the observation that many people want to change their behavior, but few people really know why their brains make them continue to repeat the same behaviors they have had in the past. The more you understand about how the brain motivates you to act, the more effectively you can help yourself to act in new ways. After exploring the motivational mechanisms in the brain, Smart Change presents five sets of tools that you can use to change even the most persistent behaviors.

Why is it so hard to break a bad habit, such as late night snacking in front of the TV?

Your brain is optimized to continue doing what you did last time without having to think about it. So, when you decide you want to change a behavior, you are fighting against millions of years of evolution that have created mechanisms that want you to maintain your behaviors. The hardest part about these behaviors is that they are habits, and so they are done mindlessly. You are often unaware of when and why you are performing the behaviors.

One of the hardest parts about changing a behavior like snacking is that your first reaction is going to be to replace the behavior with nothing (that is, not eating). But, your brain cannot learn to do nothing. So, you need to start the process by trying to replace an existing habit with a new one. If you typically snack while watching TV, maybe you should take up knitting or do a jigsaw puzzle while you watch. That will keep your hands busy.

You provide a free Smart Change journal online, which includes a 14-Day Habit Diary. Could you share some insight into how journaling helps people change their behavior?

Much of what you do on a daily basis is mindless. It is hard to figure out the situations in which you are carrying out the behaviors you want to change until you can become more aware of when and where you are doing them. Spending two weeks just observing your behavior gives you a lot of insight into why you do what you do now. Those insights will be helpful when you start generating a plan to change your behavior.

In this age of instant communication, people often fe

el the pressure of being “always on.” How can this book help us adjust a balance between technology and our daily lives?

If you feel like one of your habits is to carry your work home with you, then you can use Smart Change to find new habits that will create a separation between work and home. In the book, I talk about how I took up the saxophone as an adult. I had to clear time and space in my life to add a new routine. Thirteen years later, though, my life is richer for it (and I even play in a blues band on Sunday nights).

In addition to productivity and time management, how can this book help people with their personal struggles?

Your motivational system does not care whether the behaviors you are changing are ones you do at work or at home. Your brain helps you live your whole life. The principles you use to help you to be more productive at work are the same ones that engage to give you a meaningful life at home. The book draws on examples of behavior change at work and at home.

In your book, one of the five steps is to engage with people. Why is this important?

Human beings are social creatures. We are wired to adopt the goals of the people around us. If you spend time with people who have the habits you want to develop, it will naturally lead you to adopt the same goals. One important thing you can do is to find a mentor—someone who has the aspects of your life that you want. Then, spend time with that person and get to know how that person succeeds. Use their wisdom to help you make changes in your own life.

Once your readers follow the steps and successfully change their behavior, how can they pay it forward to others?

After you have your own success changing your behavior, it is time to be one of those people in the community who has the life that other people want. When you become a mentor for other people who are trying to change their behavior, it also helps you to recognize aspects of your own behavior that you still want to improve. Being a mentor can give you added motivation to continue to move forward in your own life.

What sets this book apart from other behavior modification self-help books?

There are a lot of books out there on habits and behavior change. Some of the books describe how people form habits, but they don’t provide specific tools to help you change. Other books present a model of behavior change that is presented as a one-size-fits-all approach to developing new behaviors.

Smart Change is different, because it roots everything in the science of psychology. The first two chapters help you to understand the aspects of your brain that influence your behavior. Only then do I introduce tools to help you to change your behavior. Each of those tools has an evidence base behind it. In addition, each tool requires some work. It isn’t enough just to read about changing your behavior. You have to be active in your own change. The book comes along with a Smart Change Journal that you can use to take a comprehensive approach to changing behavior.

Finally, the book ends by pointing out that all of the tools that you use to change your own behavior can also be used to influence the behavior of the people around you. Real persuasion does not involve constructing arguments to convince people that a particular course of action is the right one. Instead, it requires the development of a plan that will ultimately change people’s behavior.

Art Markman is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. His recent book, Smart Thinking, presents a three-part formula to show readers how to develop “smart habits,” how to acquire high quality knowledge, and how to use that knowledge when it’s needed. He is also on the scientific advisory boards for The Dr. Phil Show and The Dr. Oz Show.

Prof. Robin Moore to translate Cuban music author’s essays to English for first time

Robin Moore

Robin Moore

Robin Moore, professor of ethnomusicology in the Butler School of Music, has been granted a $5,000 book subvention award by the UT Office of the Vice President for Research’s Subvention Grants Program in support of an annotated translation of the works of Cuban music author Fernando Ortiz (1881-1969), to be published by Temple University Press.

Moore, who has been the editor of Latin American Music Review since 2005, had been considering taking the project on for about five years. He was encouraged by a colleague who is the editor of a series on Latin American music at Temple Press to pursue the project, which meant contacting the heirs of author Ortiz in Spain, making selections of his writings for inclusion, and vetting the idea with the Temple Press editorial board. The working title is Fernando Ortiz on Music: Selected Writings on Afro-Cuban Expressive Culture.

“Cuban music has wide popularity, and thus Ortiz’s work will interest a general readership of fans and performers,” wrote Moore in his prospectus. “Beyond this, the text will prove useful to students of Cuban studies, Caribbean studies, Latin American studies, African diaspora studies, ethnomusicology, cultural anthropology, and related fields.”

Ortiz has received recognition as the instigator and early advocate of Afro-Cuban studies; he founded the Society of Afrocuban Studies in Havana in 1937, and organized and edited periodicals dedicated to the investigation of Cuban traditional arts. Yet despite his importance, most of Ortiz’s works on music—which in fact constitute the majority of what he published—have never been translated into English.

Moore will translate several of Ortiz’s essays, including shorter instrument essays on various types of percussion, as well as others on songs, dances, ritual processions and ceremonies in which specific forms of music derived from Yoruba, Kongo, and other West African groups is a central component. To preface the book, Moore will write an extended essay outlining the scope of Ortiz’s inquiries as well as the author’s origins of source material, his changing attitude towards Afro-Cuban expressive arts, and his interactions with academic co-collaborators.

Moore notes his book “could serve as a supplemental text for those teaching on the history of ideas in the Caribbean and Latin America, and those interested in debates over race, culture, and society.”

Q&A: Professor Robert Jensen on “Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialog”

Laura Byerley shares this Q&A from the College of Communication.

arguing_for_our_livesRobert Jensen, professor in the School of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin College of Communication, is the author of “Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialog,” (City Lights Publishers, March 2013). The book explores issues with public discourse, trust in the leadership of elected officials and what Jensen calls an “Age of Anxiety.” It also offers strategies for addressing these crises.

In late April, Jensen spoke about his book at BookPeople. Here, he answers questions about his book and future projects.

What inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration was really more of a slow-building awareness of two simple but important points: information isn’t knowledge, and knowledge isn’t wisdom. We live in a society awash in information, yet more and more people report being unable to arrange all that information to come to social and political analyses that help them understand the world. And we live in times where seemingly knowledgeable people routinely act in very unwise ways. I wanted to use the material I had developed in the classroom and in community organizing to offer a framework for analysis and action that might help people sort out all that information and use that knowledge as wisely as possible.

In your book, you talk about how we live in an Age of Anxiety. How would you define today’s Age of Anxiety?

We all experience anxiety as individuals in our personal lives. But in this context, I am talking about a larger anxiety about the state of our society, and the health of the larger living world on which we depend. All the human systems that structure our lives –political, economic, cultural – are failing us, and all the news about the health of the ecosphere is bad and getting worse. That is bound to produce anxiety, whether people acknowledge it or not.

Where have we gone wrong in public dialog today, and how can it be improved?

The main problem is fear. People are understandably afraid to face the depth of the failure of our systems and the severity of these multiple, cascading ecological crises. Rather than grapple with the complexity of the questions, people are more eager than ever for simplistic answers and more prone to ideological rigidity.

You say that our culture has attacked the idea of critical thinking. Why is this – and how can we create a culture in which people aspire to be critically thinking intellectuals?

A number of factors undermine critical thinking. In the public schools, the obsession with standardized testing is an obvious problem. More generally, we are the most propagandized society in history, targeted by the massive advertising, marketing and public-relations industries. And we live in a hyper-mediated, entertainment-saturated culture that has made it easier to tune out than to take responsibility for thinking critically.

People routinely talk about politics and economics separately, compartmentalizing them. Why do you argue that the two systems cannot be understood independently of each other?

It’s obvious that the distribution of wealth in a society will affect the distribution of power. In a system that dramatically concentrates wealth, such as contemporary corporate capitalism, meaningful democratic dialogue and deliberation based on equal access is going to be difficult to achieve. Many people recognize this and argue that “we have to get money out of politics,” but it’s impossible to ever do that effectively – concentrated wealth simply can’t be kept out of politics. So, we have to face the fact that in some ways capitalism and democracy are incompatible.

Toward the end of the book, you say that we should shift from an Age of Anxiety to an Age of Anguish. Can you explain this?

Rather than stay stuck in that state of anxiety over these crises, it’s healthier and more productive to recognize reality. We’re in big trouble, and there are no easy answers. People who are aware of that often feel a deep grief, which is a healthy emotion. Denying reality is a bad strategy for coping with reality. Coming to terms with reality makes sensible action possible.

What future projects are you working on?

The most important projects I’m working on involve community organizing – promoting critical thinking about politics and building strong local networks of people committed to progressive change. My efforts at the moment are focused on a local community center and the worker cooperative movement.

As for writing projects: Tucked in the back of my mind is the possibility of a book about a friend, Jim Koplin, who died last year. It wouldn’t be a standard biography but more the story of how we can live our lives with integrity and contribute patiently to the slow work of making the world a better place. He was one of those extraordinary ordinary people who had a profound effect on thousands of people, not only through his teaching and activism but by the example he set.

More about the author: Jensen joined The University of Texas at Austin faculty in 1992 after completing his Ph.D. in media ethics and law in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Before his academic career, he worked as a professional journalist for a decade. He teaches courses in media law, ethics and politics.

New E-Book Offers Valuable Career Tips for Business

17205886Art Markman, author of several books on analogical reasoning, categorization, decision-making and motivation, has written a new book, “Habits of Leadership” (Perigee, Jan. 2013). In the e-book, now available online, Markman addresses how aspects of personality influence the habits one brings to leadership situations. He does this by demonstrating the correlation of personality and habits, and the impact they have on leadership potential and innovation success.

In a recent interview on Fox 7 Good Day Austin, Markman shared insight into how people with highly agreeable personalities can have difficulties leading unless they find ways to overcome their discomfort with being critical and preference for being indirect.

Here are some highlights from his on-air interview:

“Certainly if you want to be a leader you need to establish a rapport with others. But direct communication leads to efficient leadership.”

He recommends that those who have such agreeable personalities and find themselves in a position of leadership develop a script to deliver criticism such as: “I know it’s hard to hear this type of criticism, but…” and follow with a clear, direct statement.

“Not everybody is a natural leader, but if you find yourself in a situation in which you need to be a leader, you can learn to do it more effectively. And ‘Habits of Leadership’ can help.”

For more information about the book visit his Smart Thinking website. To learn more about Markman’s publications, laboratory, blogs, and courses he teaches, visit his faculty profile.

More about the author: Markman, the Annabel Iron Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology, is the founding director of the Human Dimensions of Organizations, a new program at The University of Texas at Austin. The program offers professional seminars, and, beginning in fall 2013, a Masters of Arts degree program for working professionals in a variety of career fields.