Monthly Archives: September 2009

More than just corn and cows

September 30, 2009
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More than just corn and cows

NPR’s The Picture Show—a blog of sorts that features photos, commentary, and questions from NPR’s multimedia team—has today posted a stunning rejoinder to all of those who would write off the Midwestern landscape as a monotonous repetition of corn rows and cattle. Featuring a gallery of selected images from Michael Forsberg’s Great Plains: America’s Lingering Wild, the posting demonstrates the diversity and abundance of wildlife and habitat still to be found in what was once the largest, but is now perhaps the most endangered, ecosystem in North America. Check out the photos on NPR’s The Picture Show blog. And if that’s not enough to convince you of the wild spirit and splendor of this irreplaceable part of the planet, the Press’s website also hosts a a gallery with even more of Forsberg’s spectacular photographs.

Between the fall of 2005 and the winter of 2008, Forsberg traveled roughly 100,000 miles across 12 states and three provinces, from southern Canada to northern Mexico, to complete the photographic fieldwork for this project, underwritten by the Nature Conservancy. Complementing Forsberg’s images and firsthand accounts are a forward by former poet laureate Ted Kooser, and essays by Great Plains scholar David Wishart and acclaimed . . .

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A crisis is whatever the president says it is

September 29, 2009
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A crisis is whatever the president says it is

The Bush presidency may be one of the most criticized in the history of the office, but the one criticism leveled at the previous administration perhaps more often than any is that the former President exploited the threat of terrorism to hurdle constitutional checks and balances on executive power. Arguably, it was the public reaction to Bush’s relentless power grab that became one of the driving forces behind the election of the current administration. Yet as New York Times contributor Anand Giridharadas points out in a recent article, President Obama has become the target for some of the very same accusations, as some argue that he too has used the Great Recession, and a renewed terrorist threat from Afghanistan, to push his own left wing agenda.

So with both sides of the aisle directing similar criticisms at one another, do their accusations actually carry any weight? Giridharadas’ article cites Peter Alexander Meyers, author of Civic War and the Corruption of the Citizen who argues that in fact, presidential power, regardless of party affiliation, has “been steadily accruing since the nineteenth century, edging both Congress and the public out of decision-making during anything claimed to be a crisis.” Giridharadas writes:

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A Chicago 2016 Reading List

September 28, 2009
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A Chicago 2016 Reading List

President Barack Obama announced this morning that he is heading to Copenhagen later this week to put in the good word to the International Olympic Committee for his hometown of Chicago, which is competing with Rio, Madrid, and Tokyo to host the 2016 summer games. Meanwhile, Chicago is counting down to the announcement on Friday, which is expected at around 11:30 local time.

It’s an exciting week in the Windy City, as the Chicago 2016 bid committee wraps up years of campaigning (which included, as of late, appealing to morning commuters on CTA buses). But no matter what happens Friday, Chicago is undoubtedly a world-class city that deserves the attention and affection of the global community. So, in a last minute appeal to the IOC (who we are sure are loyal readers of The Chicago Blog), the Press presents a reading list that extols Chicago’s many virtues. Let friendship shine!

Urban Nature

Chicago’s motto is “Urbus en Horto,” or “City in a Garden.” And indeed, modern Chicago more than lives up to its name with an extensive park and beach system (covering more than 7,300 acres). To begin, any city naturalist would do well to check out Sally A. . . .

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John Keats, Fanny Brawne, and “Bright Star”

September 25, 2009
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John Keats, Fanny Brawne, and “Bright Star”

Bright Star, the new film written and directed by Jane Campion, opened in the Chicago area yesterday. Bright Star weaves a story of the romantic love and poetic longing of John Keats and Fanny Brawne during the last three years of Keats’ too-short life. Campion’s script was, according to today’s review in the Chicago Tribune, “inspired by the exceptional Andrew Motion biography Keats,” which we published in paperback in 1999.

Motion’s biography is an interesting choice for a filmmaker. Andrew Motion is a poet above all; he served as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009. He has numerous books of poetry to his credit, as well as criticism and several other biographies. Keats is a poet’s biography of a poet; it is steeped in the words of the poet, shaped primarily by Keats’ letters and punctuated by Keats’ poems. It is as textual as you can get.

Keats has come down to us, Motion writes, as a poets’ poet: the champion of truth and beauty, a sensualist, the archetype of the Romantic poet, who poured out words in a frenetic rush, writing all the poems we know him for in the space of a month or . . .

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What went wrong with public housing in Chicago?

September 24, 2009
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What went wrong with public housing in Chicago?

This week’s Chicago Reader has an excellent piece on the failure of Chicago’s infamous housing projects and D. Bradford Hunt’s new book on the subject Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing. Hunt offers a fresh and insightful look at why the highrise buildings of the Chicago Housing Authority became dilapidated post-apocalyptic wastelands that are now largely demolished. The Reader‘s Deanna Isaacs writes:

Amid all the unemployment, poverty, and broken families, the institutional racism, political corruption, and bureaucratic incompetence, Hunt believes he’s found a relatively simple answer to the question of what went wrong with public housing in Chicago: too many kids. Taking into account all the other influences, he says, that was the single most important factor. The decisions that put multibedroom apartments filled with youngsters into hard-to-access towers were the CHA’s blueprint for disaster.

Hunt wants to make it clear that he doesn’t blame “families for having lots of kids, or single mothers. The tenants are the victims here,” he says. “They wanted what everyone wants: building maintenance, security, and decent schools for their kids—and they fought to make the buildings work.” The devil is in “the policy choices.” The projects became ungovernable because there weren’t . . .

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Review: Mann, Breakfast with Thom Gunn

September 23, 2009
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Review: Mann, Breakfast with Thom Gunn

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Elyn Saks Wins 2009 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship

September 22, 2009
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Elyn Saks Wins 2009 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship

Earlier this morning the Chicago based MacArthur Foundation released a list of its 2009 fellowship recipients including author and legal scholar Elyn Saks. Saks is best known for her work in mental health policy advocacy, addressing legal issues related to those suffering from severe mental illness including involuntary commitment, competency to be executed, proxy consent, and the right to refuse treatment. She has published many books on these issues including Refusing Care: Forced Treatment and the Rights of the Mentally Ill—an insightful exploration of when, if ever, the mentally ill should be treated against their will—and, more recently, a memoir of her own battle with schizophrenia in The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.

The MacArthur Fellowships, also known as “genius grants,” provide each recipient with $500,000 over five years to facilitate subsequent creative work. We are proud to have supported Saks in her past endeavors and look forward to her future contributions to the field of mental health advocacy as a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.

And as we congratulate her, we add her name to the growing list of Press authors who have received a MacArthur fellowship, including 2008 fellowship recipient and author of Medieval and Early Renaissance . . .

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The politics of Soldier Field

September 21, 2009
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The politics of Soldier Field

Football fans nationwide know Soldier Field as the home of the Chicago Bears—where a last-minute field goal defeated the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday. But as Liam T. A. Ford’s book, Soldier Field: A Stadium and Its City, reminds us, the Bears are latecomers to Soldier Field. For more than half a century before football became the stadium’s mainstay, it played host to everything from a worldwide gathering of Catholics, to heavyweight prizefights, and even rodeos—all while playing a pivotal role in the careers of some of Chicago’s biggest political bosses as well.

As columnist John Kass notes in a recent article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, many big names in Chicago politics—Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson and Edward Kelly to name a few—were intimately tied up in the stadium’s construction and use as they pushed for the “great public works” that allowed them “to control gargantuan budgets and cement their power.”

Drawing an analogy to the city’s recent bid for the 2016 Olympic games Kass asks, “Does any of this have the ring of current events?”

As the day for the IOC’s decision draws nearer, and debates about the public payoff of the games get louder, as Kass points out, . . .

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Scott McLemee on the passing of Jim Carroll and Ricoeur’s Living Up to Death

September 17, 2009
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Scott McLemee on the passing of Jim Carroll and Ricoeur’s Living Up to Death

With the flurry of celebrity deaths appearing in the newspapers lately you might think the grim reaper had taken up residence in Hollywood for the season, but in an article for the September 16th Inside Higher Ed Scott McLemee takes note of the passing of a pop cultural icon from the opposite coast in a piece that uses the recent death of author, poet, autobiographer, and punk musician Jim Carroll as a segue into an insightful review of Paul Ricoeur’s Living Up to Death—the philosopher’s posthumously published meditation on the subject of mortality.

Consisting of one complete essay likely inspired by his wife’s approaching death in 1996, and a series of fragments written during the author’s own final days, as McLemee notes, the material in Living up to Death is less focused upon an individual’s personal experience of dying as it is about “how an individual’s death echoes in the memory of others”—a topic particularly relevant to the passing of so many, Jim Carroll included, whose work will likely live on well past their deaths. So for a slightly more insightful perspective on death and dying than most articles on “The Summer of Celebrity Deaths” are likely to offer, read . . .

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Debating end-of-life issues

September 16, 2009
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Debating end-of-life issues

Thanks to a certain former governor from Alaska, “death panels” (and the attendant fear that the Obama administration will somehow decide when and how Americans die) have gained increasing currency in the health-care reform debate. Despite repeated assurances from the administration that the bill calls for no such thing (and evidence from fact-checking organizations that dispute Palin’s claim), a new poll shows that 41% of Americans believe that “senior citizens or seriously-ill patients would die because government panels would prevent them from getting the medical treatment they needed.”

This week, Newsweek magazine devoted its cover to an article (not-so-subtly) titled “The Case for Killing Granny.” The piece argues that “the need to spend less money on the elderly at the end of life is the elephant in the room in the health-reform debate” and that in order to rein in health care costs, we, as a nation, despite how uneasy it makes us, are going to need to confront this reality. As the article suggests, “Americans are afraid not just of dying, but of talking and thinking about death. Until Americans learn to contemplate death as more than a scientific challenge to be overcome, our health-care system will remain . . .

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