Several books from area writers arrived at the U.S. 1 office in 2019. So once again it is time to provide a quick end of the year overview to celebrate the writers working in our region and sharing ideas.
In “Race After Technology” Princeton University associate professor of African American studies Ruha Benjamin examines race and technology and finds a new brave new world of racial bias.
A study by a team of computer scientists at Princeton examined whether a popular algorithm, trained on human writing online, would exhibit the same biased tendencies that psychologists have documented among humans. They found that the algorithm associated White-sounding names with “pleasant” words and Black-sounding names with “unpleasant” ones.
Such findings demonstrate what I call “the New Jim Code”: the employment of new technologies that reflect and reproduce existing inequalities but that are promoted and perceived as more objective or progressive than the discriminatory systems of a previous era. Like other kinds of codes that we think of as neutral, “normal” names have power by virtue of their perceived neutrality. They trigger stories about what kind of person is behind the name — their personality and potential, where they come from but also where they should go …
The power of the New Jim Code is that it allows racist habits and logics to enter through the backdoor of tech design, in which the humans who create the algorithms are hidden from view. In the previous chapters I explored a range of discriminatory designs — some that explicitly work to amplify hierarchies, many that ignore and thus replicate social divisions, and a number that aim to fix racial basis but end up doing the opposite. Politybooks.com, $19.95.
“The Ignorance of Bliss: An American Kid in Saigon” uses Lambertville writer Sandy Hanna’s true coming of age story to capture a fading history as well as warn today’s readers about the dangers of ignorance.
The Colonel, my father, asked me to tell the story you are about to read. He gave me an expose written by his military counterpart, Colonel Le Van Sam, chief of Ordnance ARNV. It came as a direct order, something never to be disregarded. He wanted me to write something compelling, because he believed that if you don’t understand history, you repeat it. He knew Americans shied away from anything having to do with Vietnam after the cessation of American involvement in the conflict, as if by ignoring it there would be no need to understand the “what” and “why” of it. He felt that Americans’ lack of understanding about what had led to our involvement in Vietnam has left everyone in a state of ignorance about the past, the present, and what would happen in the future. He said the mistakes that were made in Vietnam were being repeated in the Middle East and bringing disaster on all fronts. I’ve attempted to make this story palatable by telling it through my eyes, those of a ten-year-old child of a military family …
For those who remember and lived through that period, it is often with great sadness and unanswered questions. For those of us who, as children, experienced the years before the United States became submerged in a state of war, it was an extraordinary experience. Perhaps different conversations will emerge form hearing about the days that preceded those unfortunate fully-engaged war years. I hope that you, the reader, will access a broader understanding of that period time and its people. I welcome you to my Vietnam: mon Saigon. Post Hill Press, $11.59.
West Windsor writer Diane Ciccone’s “Into the Light” is her illumination of the overlooked lives of Black male students who transformed themselves and a nation.
This work was inspired by my desire to bring the lives of the early Black men that attended Colgate University out of the shadows and into the light. As they struggled to overcome the footprints left by the slave oligarchy, their courage, and commitment, lay the bedrock for future Blacks at Colgate and within emerging black communities in the South. The black men celebrated in these pages worked faithfully to affect change. These men were involved in the abolitionist movement, they educated freedom seekers (runaway slaves), and took a stand against Jim Crow. Regardless of the path, no study of this crucial period of American history is complete without investigating their lives and times. Whether standing up for Civil Rights or sitting down at organized sit-ins planned as nonviolent protests on the Colgate campus, the stories of these men remain familiar and relevant to the students of color who attend Colgate today . . .
The period between 1840 and 1930 was a time of transformation in American history. President Lincoln decided to bring the idea of transformation to the doorsteps of the South, and the Union Army prevailed in what is regarded as the bloodiest war on American soil. Although the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in measured stages by prescription, the legacy of the slave oligarchy was extended and perpetuated through America’s racial cast system, in Jim Crow.
The early Black men who attended Colgate were not merely passive observers of arguably one of the most transformative periods of American history, they were active participants and agents of that transformation. In short, they committed their lives and education to surviving and resisting the atrocities of the slave oligarchy and its poisonous legacy. It was this commitment to education and transformation that became the blueprint of their lives. Bolder Spirit Publishing, $18.95.
“Goodbye Homeboy” is Princeton writer Steve Mariotti’s first-person account of exploring education from an entrepreneur’s perspective — with exciting potentials.
I have personally witnessed that entrepreneurship education is our greatest weapon against the relentless efforts of both drug cartels and terrorist organizations to recruit from low-income communities.
Sadly missing from United States foreign policy is an awareness of the power of entrepreneurship education to reach frustrated low-income youth in unstable nations, help them develop small business, and encourage democracy. Where we ignore this opportunity, terrorist organizations and drug cartels move in, taking advantage of the dangerous combination of extreme poverty and sky-high youth unemployment that creates fertile ground for recruitment.
Imagine if all young people, instead, were business literate enough to create their own pathways out of poverty. To sell a product or service to another human being is an act that has the power to revolutionize lives, rebuild families, and forever change communities. Why aren’t we teaching all the world’s children how to do it? BenBellaBooks.com, $16.95.
“So You Want to Sing Early Music” is Princeton University faculty member Martha Elliott’s overview of how to approach musical performances. And while she talks of the past, the observations she shares are still applicable — to both singing and, in a way, to public speaking.
Regarding demeanor, (Pier Francesco Tosi (1653-1732) says) singers should have a noble bearing, good posture, and avoid grimaces or avoid strange movements. Tosi recommends practicing with a mirror to “avoid those convulsive motions of the body, or the face.” He also advises practicing in the morning and warns that one hour a day may not be enough. He cautions against holding your music in front of your face when you perform, and he recommends performing often in front of people of distinction to get over the fear that causes so many vocal problems, including difficulty with breath, choking, singing out of tune, unsteady tone, and poor rhythm.
Tosi disapproves of singers who make excuses for being sick or not in good voice, criticizes singers who sound as if they have asthma when they take a breath, and advises a singer to “manage his respiration, that he may always be provided with more breath than is needed.” Singers should not breathe in the middle of a word unless it is during a long division, in which case taking a breath is allowed. Divisions should be fast and distinctly articulated, neither too marked, nor too joined together. You shouldn’t use your head, chin, or tongue to help with agility, and you shouldn’t use “ha ha ha” or “gh gha gha” to help with the articulation. Vowels must be sung clearly, and words must always be pronounced correctly without affection and distinctly understood; otherwise, there is no difference between a human voice and an oboe. Communicating the meaning of the text is the “greatest part of that delight which vocal musick conveys.” Rowman & Littlefield, $38.
“From Berlin to Babylon” is Princeton area writer/editor R.C. Hunsicker’s treatment of German photographer and journalist Peter Erik Winkler’s life in words and images — from the start of World War I to World War II in Paris and Morocco and life in the United States. He begins his journey as follows.
In June, 1961, I made my way back to Bayerische Viertel, Schoenberg, an affluent section of Berlin, where my apartment house had once stood. The grand old house had been destroyed during the war, and the mains removed long ago. While looking at the vacant lot… my thoughts went back to those days when my family once lived here …
One year before the beginning of World War I, I was born the second son of Paul and Charlotte Simon Winkler. They named me Peter after my father’s identical twin brother. The Winklers were a rare collection of Germans born in Russia, raised and schooled in Moscow, where they learned to speak seven languages before returning to Berlin around the turn of the century.
With the outbreak of WWI, my father was drafted into the army . . . It was mid-October 1918, one month before the end of WWI, when my mother told me that our father had died. Pharos Studio Press.
“Dreaming Since Eve” is Princeton writer Valerie Meluskey’s examination of dreams and dream therapy, one, she says, that “illustrates ways for dreamers to discover their innate powers of creativity and healing.” Using imagery from the Bible and mythology, she notes early in the book the scene in Genesis when God puts Adam to sleep and creates Eve.
The divine purpose of Adam’s deep sleep unfolded nothing less amazing than the creation of the sexes. The marvelous creation of Eve emerged through Adam’s unconscious condition, not as an afterthought, or a comely companion merely for Adam’s pleasure, but inspired out of Adam’s need for a very special kind of companionship and partnership. God’s understanding of Adam, who was made in God’s image, led him to create a mutually supportive and complementary twosome. ..
Many more traditions indicate a connection between the creation of the sexes and a deep sleep. The Hindu myths of Shakti and Shiva express how meditation and life force depend on a relationship between the masculine and feminine energies. Shiva sits in samadhic bliss until Shakti’s serpentine movement awakens him. Only then, does he awaken to his true state — when the feminine energy spirals up from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Egyptian gods and goddesses dramatize spiritual and earthly interdependence of the masculine and feminine. Ra-Atum, as a dual sexed god, brought forth other gods, though notably a daughter to be a companion for his son — and they ushered forth earth and sky. The ancient Greeks say we are born out of Chaos, a name for confusion and unconsciousness. First, they tell us, came Gaea and Uranus, or Mother Earth and the Overhanging Heavens, who produced a multitude of children from their union.
As descendants of Heaven and Earth, we enter the realm of endless possibility when we dream. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, $22.99.