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Beyond the Book Articles
Society and Politics

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What a Way To Go (03/13)
In a passage on suicide, Winterson remarks that 'when natural gas was introduced in the 1960's, the British suicide rate fell by one-third.' I thought that perhaps she was using some creative math for dramatic effect, but a little research revealed that she wasn't exaggerating at all. Here's a summary of the way things were in Great ...
Accepting Death and Dying Well: Additional Resources (03/13)
One cannot finish Dr. Byock's book without resolving, as much as possible, to take responsibility for one's own death and to become deeply involved in the experiences and medical treatments of those we love who are dying.

His website, www.dyingwell.org, provides readers with additional information and helpful resources on the topic of...
Refugees in the United States (02/13)
The 1951 Refugee Convention which established the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, defines a refugee as someone who 'owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to...
The Locavore Food Movement (02/13)
In his preface to Birdseye, Mark Kurlansky faces the issue of whether or not Clarence Birdseye made what we eat better: 'Eating frozen food instead of fresh represents a decline in the quality of food. But very often people are eating frozen food when they would have been eating canned, in which case frozen is an improvement.' Kurlansky ...
Parents of Young Killers (01/13)
Parents of young adults who are accused of murder are confronted with an intense emotional minefield and have, in many cases, reported experiencing feelings ranging from guilt and shame to horror and despair. Susan Klebold, whose son Dylan, alongside classmate Eric Harris, carried out the massacre of 13 people at Columbine High School in ...
Transgender Teens and Bullying (11/12)
Teens are already subject to a lot of stress, but transgender teens face myriad additional challenges. According to PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a majority of LGBT kids (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) are bullied and harassed in school. In fact, 74% of students polled heard the words faggot and ...
Human Population Control (11/12)
In Bergman's story 'Yesterday's Whales,' Lauren faces a tough decision when she discovers she's pregnant. Lauren and her boyfriend Malachi are proponents of 'voluntary human extermination,' and as such have signed a 'No Breeding Pledge.' Malachi, in fact, is the founder of a non-profit called Enough with Us, a population control ...
Roe vs. Wade (09/12)
The United States started adopting laws restricting abortion in the early 1800s, ultimately outlawing it in most states by the turn of the century. Interestingly, at the time, abortion wasn't proscribed as a moral issue the same way it is today; it was criminalized primarily because it was a dangerous practice with very high mortality ...
Foster Care Statistics in the U.S. (09/12)
As she discusses in the book trailer below, the author, Summer Wood, was once a foster parent of four young boys (ages eight months through four years) in addition to having three boys of her own. This unplanned experience, she says, is what her novel Wrecker grew out of - the exploration of what happens to a child after he is taken from...
The Julia Tuttle Causeway Sex Offender Colony (07/12)
Lost Memory of Skin revolves around a colony of convicted sex offenders residing beneath the Archie B. Claybourne Causeway, which connects the city of Calusa, Florida with the bordering Great Panzacola Swamp. Banks's vivid descriptions bring these fictional locations to life, and though they are imaginary, both the city and the colony ...
Freeganism (06/12)
In The Astral, the Quirk's daughter Karina is a practicing 'freegan' - a term that comes from a fusion of the words 'free' and 'vegan' (although not all freegans are vegans) - and as such, she chooses to eschew conventional consumerism. Often referred to as 'dumpster divers,' freegans generally believe that western society throws ...
Thailand's Political Turmoil (05/12)
In Colin Cotterill's Killed at the Whim of a Hat, protagonist Jimm Juree makes this tongue-in-cheek assessment of Thailand's political climate:

'Politics used to be a lot more complicated before the recent introduction of the English Premiership system of colored shirts, which helped no end to know who was who. The yellows, headed ...

The Mothers' Bridge of Love (03/12)
Xinran founded a charity in 2004 called The Mothers' Bridge of Love (MBL), which aims to build understanding between adopted Chinese children growing up around the world, their adoptive parents and their birth culture. The following letter, abbreviated from the original, written by an adopted girl to her unknown birth-mother, ...
Chinese Immigration to the USA (11/11)
During much of the second half of the 19th century, the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) was able to maintain a monopoly on coal production because it controlled the only means of transportation into the Western territories. Thus it owned and operated all the coalmines, fixed coal prices to its own benefit and was able to establish its ...
The Controversy Over Bullfighting (11/11)
Bullfighting - drenched in symbolism, embedded in tradition - is as synonymous with Spanish culture as flamenco dancing and paella. It is a centuries-old blood sport to beat all blood sports with its ceremonial battle to the death between man and beast. An uneven playing field? Perhaps. Only recently, thousands of stunned fans, both in ...
The Nature Conservancy (10/11)
Proulx purchased the square mile of land that she named 'Bird Cloud' from The Nature Conservancy, an organization incorporated in the USA in 1951 with a mission to take 'direct action' to save threatened natural areas. The non-profit now has a presence in all fifty American states as well as in more than thirty other countries. It is ...
Waste Not, Want Not (09/11)
Every day Americans waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl football stadium.

Food waste makes up as much as 25% of what's in America's landfills.

Household recycling of items like aluminum, glass, and plastic increased 400% in the decade to 1999; meanwhile, only 2.5% of eligible food waste is composted.

The average family of four ...
The United States Marine Corps (06/11)
The United States Marine Corps (USMC) serves as a force-in-readiness within the United States security structure. Among other branches of the US military, it is unique in its ability to rapidly deploy a combined-arms task force to almost anywhere in the world within days. It is capable of entry into hostile or dangerous situations from ...
Runaways (03/11)
Nobody knows why Nora Lindell, the main character of Pittard's novel, went missing 30 years ago, but one theory is that she ran away. Below is some information on modern-day runaways:

Runaways vs throwaways
A runaway episode is either when a child leaves home without permission and stays away overnight; or a child who is ...
Death Row Syndrome (02/11)
According to Amnesty International's 2009 report, the USA's 37 legal executions in 2008 placed it fourth in the world after China (1718), Iran (346) and Saudi Arabia (102). However, this ranking needs to be taken with a pinch of salt as it does not adjust for population size; and does not take into account additional executions that may ...
Nurses, Nannies, Governesses, Tutors, and Companions: A Taxonomy (02/11)
The childcare arrangements of the nineteenth-century British upper crust have spawned a dynasty of classic literary characters. Can you tell your nursemaids from your nannies, your tutors from your governesses?

Nurse was in charge of the nursery regime - the diapers, the baths, and, especially in the case of the wet nurse, the ...
Desegregation Bussing (11/10)
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court handed down its judgment for Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas.  In their landmark unanimous (9-0) decision, the Court stated that 'separate educational facilities are inherently unequal', and thus ruled segregation to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the&#...
Illegal Drug Use in the USA (11/10)
The primary protagonist in Crossers is the head of a powerful Mexican drug cartel specializing in the sale and distribution of both marijuana and cocaine.

Illicit narcotics have been smuggled across the Mexican border into the United States for decades, and the illegal drug market in the United States is one of the most ...
Charities That Save Lives (10/10)
The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 27,000 children die every day from preventable, poverty-related causes.

The Life You Can Save website has links to relief organizations that Singer has examined for effectiveness and transparency:

  • GiveWell leads the campaign for evaluating the ...

A brief history of borders (08/10)
Most of us take it for granted that every person on earth is the citizen of a nation state, but this is a relatively recent concept.

Take Europe for example. Although there had long been empires that stretched across large tracts of land, up until the Middle Ages Europe was essentially made up of multiple city states. Indeed, the ...
Yom Ha'atzmaut & Al-Nakba (07/10)
There have long been Jewish communities in Palestine, but populations saw particularly rapid growth as Jews fled European pogroms during the 19th century.  A large wave of immigration, mainly from the Russian Empire began in 1881 and continued up until the start of World War I. During this period, known as the First and Second Aliya ...
Guides to Giving - How to find the right charity (07/10)
Kristof & WuDunn frequently mention two websites that can help readers decide which charitable organizations to give their money to. These two sites - GiveWell.net and CharityNavigator.org – rate charities based on efficiency and other factors and make that information public. You can see whether $90 of your $100 goes to those in ...
Irish Travellers (06/10)
Among themselves, Travellers refer to themselves as Pavees.  To outsiders they are often referred to as pikeys, knackers or tinkers (the latter two descriptions refer to traditional crafts in which they were employed, rendering animals and tin-smithing; the first two are considered particularly derogatory). In Irish, they are...
Aboriginal Land Rights (06/10)
Carpentaria is essentially a novel about the clash of cultures, told from the perspective of the Aboriginal people of Australia. Just as the book illustrates, there is still debate in Australia about who can legitimately claim rights to the land - indigenous Australians, or descendants of the original European settlers. From the ...
American Labor on the Docks (03/10)
The Miles Archer character in Gores's novel has earned his tough-guy reputation by helping quell labor unrest on the docks of Seattle, in part by outing 'Wobblies.' For the unfamiliar, this plot line may be a bit confusing, but it is historically accurate, and adds welcome color to the novel's setting.

The history of American labor is ...
Missing Children (01/10)
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children posts the following U.S. Department of Justice statistics on taken children:

  • 797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period of time (approximately 2,185/day), but the majority of these were quickly found.
  • 203,900 children were the victims of ...

Spy Agency Acronyms (11/09)
Like many spy thrillers, The Spanish Game is awash in an alphabet soup of acronyms. Below is a brief translation for the uninitiated.

MI5: 'Military Intelligence, Section 5.' Formed in 1909, MI5is a UK counter-intelligence and security agency which concentrates its efforts mainly on security issues within the UK (approximately equivalent...
Teenage Boys and Reading: Did you know? (09/09)
In 2005, The Washington Post published an article titled 'Why Johnny Won't Read' that explored a worrisome trend:

'From 1992 to 2002, the gender gap in reading by young adults widened considerably. In overall book reading, young women slipped from 63 percent to 59 percent, while young men plummeted from 55 percent to 43 percent.'

The ...

American Slavery in the Seventeenth Century (09/09)
Toni Morrison locates her novel at a moment of transition in American history, the moment when, to use the historian Ira Berlin's terms, a society with slaves became a slaveholding society. British colonialists had owned African slaves ever since the founding of Jamestown, but in the beginning of the seventeenth century, slavery ...
Theory of Surveillance: The Panopticon (09/09)
The Panopticon was proposed as a model prison by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a Utilitarian philosopher and theorist of British legal reform.

The Panopticon ('all-seeing') functioned as a round-the-clock surveillance machine. Its design ensured that no prisoner could ever see the 'inspector' who conducted surveillance from the ...
Immersion Journalism (09/09)
Factory Girls is an example of immersion journalism. Immersion journalism involves more depth than traditional newspaper reporting, which is limited by column space and time, and includes less of the reporter's own thoughts and reactions to events. Classic examples include Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1966), Joan Didion's ...
Chinese Propaganda Posters (08/09)
At one point in Lake with No Name, Diane Wei Liang recounts her harrowing childhood experience bringing cabbage in from the frost, a yearly event that all the children at the collective had to participate in to demonstrate their strength and patriotism. Liang describes becoming ill with fever after carrying damp, cold cabbages for hours, ...
Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church (04/09)
The tide of sexual abuse cases against Catholic Church officials took its toll on William Lobdell, causing him to abandon his faith altogether. Surprisingly, however, this may not be a widespread effect. According to a recent survey, while membership in most religious groups has fallen during the last two decades, the Catholic...
Contemporary Slavery (04/09)
On October 28, 2000, President Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act into law. It charges the State Department to direct and sponsor programs that combat slavery. It also is responsible for evaluating the abolition efforts of any nation with more than 100 slaves.

One of the primary tools the State Department uses ...
The Yasa of Genghis Khan (02/09)
As Genghis Khan consolidated the nomadic tribes of the Asian steppe, he realized that a consistent rule of law was necessary to maintain order. He accomplished this by creating his 'Yasa' (or 'Yassa'), a comprehensive set of rules governing nearly all aspects of Mongolian life and culture. The original Yasa ('decree' or 'order') is ...
Sign Language & Deaf Culture (02/09)
Hundreds of years of evolution have shaped American Sign Language (ASL), today the main sign language for deaf people in the U.S., parts of Canada and Mexico, and many other countries around the world. Derived in part from the personal hand signal repertoires of many deaf individuals, ASL has grown to become a fully functional language, a...
The Roma People in Britain (11/08)
From the first page to the last, Winspear sympathetically portrays Maisie Dobb's acceptance of and respect for Roma people, and celebrates their spirit. Sometimes referred to pejoratively as 'gypsies' in English speaking countries (a ...
A Short History of al-Qaeda (07/08)
The history of the Sunni-Muslim organization al-Qaeda ('The Base') can be traced to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Osama bin Laden, a young, wealthy Islamic idealist from Saudi Arabia, felt compelled to assist his fellow Muslims in their struggle against these 'infidels.' He moved his factories to Afghanistan, and ...
A Short History of Social Security in the USA (06/08)
  • The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 14, 1935.
  • In the 1960s the age when men were eligible for retirement benefits was lowered to 62 and health coverage was extended to Social Security beneficiaries aged 65 or older.
  • One in six Americans (45 million) receives a Social Security benefit, almost 1 in 3 ...
US Military Recruitment (06/08)
After several bad years, all branches of the military met their 2006 & 2007 recruitment targets (figures below are 2007 stats rounded to the nearest 1000):
  • Army: 80,000
  • Navy: 37,000
  • Marines: 36,000
  • Air Force: 28,000

This was a relief for the military, as the ongoing war in Iraq has made recruitment increasingly difficult. It is rare to try to ...

A Short History of the Gulag (01/08)
The Soviet system of forced labor camps known as the Gulag spanned nearly four decades of Soviet history and affected millions of individuals. GULAG is an acronym of Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagereian which, depending on the source, translates as 'The Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps' or 'Main Camp Administration'. The earliest camps...
Modern Day Slavery (10/07)
According to the US State Department, slavery is now the third largest type of illegal trade in the world (after drugs and weapons); every year between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders with about 17,500 entering the USA. Many advocacy sources put the figures much higher, for example some say that about 1 ...
Parsis (03/07)
Parsis are Zoroastrians, most likely descended from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to Indian from the Middle-East to escape Muslim persecution.  Zoroastrianism is both a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster (c.1200 BCE) who proclaimed Ahura Mazda to be the one divine authority and ...
The English Grammar School System (02/07)
Established in medieval times, the original purpose of grammar schools was to educate select members of the young in the grammar of Latin and other useful topics.

In 1944 England established a tripartite education system which placed grammar schools at the top of the heap. Less gifted children (as defined by those who failed an ...
(02/07)
Quick Facts (from Enrique's Journey)

  • About 700,000 immigrants enter the United States illegally each year. In recent years the demographics have changed with many more single mothers arriving.
  • Nearly three-quarters of the 48,000 children who migrate alone to 'el Norte' through Central America and Mexico each year are in search...

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