Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Golden Arches of Health Care Reform

September 30, 2010
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The Golden Arches of Health Care Reform

The Wall Street Journal leaked a story this morning quickly picked up by the folks at Gawker about a warning McDonald’s Corp. has issued to federal regulators: waive the U.S. health care overhaul’s new premium requirement or else 30,000 hourly restaurant workers might find themselves without insurance.

The requirement in question? A “mini-med” plan clause that offers limited benefits to over 1.4 million American low-wage workers. More specifically, McDonald’s is up in arms about the percentage of premiums that must be spent on worker benefits:

Last week, a senior McDonald’s official informed the Department of Health and Human Services that the restaurant chain’s insurer won’t meet a 2011 requirement to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care.

McDonald’s and trade groups say the percentage, called a medical loss ratio, is unrealistic for mini-med plans because of high administrative costs owing to frequent worker turnover, combined with relatively low spending on claims.

Democrats who drafted the health law wanted the requirement to prevent insurers from spending too much on executive salaries, marketing, and other costs that they said don’t directly help patients.

The article goes on to mention dozens of other low wage-providing companies . . .

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Blair Kamin, out and about

September 29, 2010
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Blair Kamin, out and about

With his much-anticipated new book, Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age, finally here, Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin is making the rounds, in Chicago and beyond.

Kamin appeared on Fox Chicago News last night to talk about the book, which explores architecture both here in Chicago and throughout the world. You can watch that appearance at the Fox site. And Kamin will also be making a slew of public appearances in the coming weeks, speaking about the book and meeting readers. He’s got full details on those events at his Cityscapes blog (which, if you’re at all interested in architecture or Chicago, you should already be reading anyway!).

Come out and see him—find out what he thinks of green architecture, the housing boom and bust, the Trump Tower, the legacy of Daley, and much, much more.

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Pablo Boczkowski on pack journalism

September 29, 2010
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Pablo Boczkowski on pack journalism

Yesterday, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab ran a piece discussing Pablo J. Boczkowski’s new book News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Information Abundance. Boczkowski, a pioneer in the field of exploring the effects of technology on the media, takes a look at how the Internet has changed the way the news is both consumed and produced. In particular he examines the phenomenon of how the limitless space and interconnectivity of the Internet has led to a surprising homogenization of news stories.

To a degree, the reasons this has happened are fairly simple. Right now it’s likely that while reading this you’re also keeping an eye on the current headlines, whether you’ve got CNN’s website open in another tab, RSS feeds filling up your Google Reader, or Twitter feeding you a constant drip of headlines and links. And if consumers of the news are closely monitoring breaking news, you can bet editors and reporters are even more concerned with what the competition is up to.

Boczkowski studied the current state of online news by looking at two papers in Argentina, and there he discovered a new species of newsroom worker, “the cable guy.” Megan Garber at Nieman describes this new . . .

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Congratulations to this year’s MacArthur Foundation award winners!

September 28, 2010
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Congratulations to this year’s MacArthur Foundation award winners!

There are your everyday, humdrum grants and awards and prizes, and then there are the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius awards.” They’re special. They’re an event. It’s not just that they’re valuable, or that the money comes with no strings attached. It’s that they’re shrouded in secrecy: recipients receive a phone call out of the blue informing them that they’ve won—in other words, that, unbeknownst to them, someone has been quietly paying attention to their work and thinks it worthy. Whether an honoree is famous or obscure—and this year’s list includes both—surely there’s a moment, holding the phone, when they feel like they’ve fallen into a fairy tale?

Today’s MacArthur-sponsored fairy tale features a University of Chicago Press author as one of its characters. Shannon Lee Dawdy, an anthropologist here at the University of Chicago, was honored for her work

combining archaeological scholarship with historical preservation to reveal the dynamics of intellectual and social life in New Orleans from its establishment as a French colony to the present day.

That research is the basis of her book Building the Devil’s Empire, a fascinating, picaresque account of the early years of New Orleans that traces the town’s development from its origins in 1718 . . .

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Royko was a softie

September 24, 2010
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Royko was a softie

For those that know Mike Royko’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columns, it might be difficult to guess that one of Chicago’s “toughest-talking, hardest-working and hardest-drinking” newspapermen had a soft side, but as several recent reviews of Royko in Love: Mike’s Letters to Carol note, his new book not only proves he did, but that it also provided the inspiration for some of his best writing. As Jane Christmas writes for the Canadian weekly Maclean’s:

Mike Royko never shared his private life with his legion of newspaper readers, but they came to know him as a perceptive, chain-smoking, funny-but-fearless champion of the underclass, and a thorn in the side of the Chicago politicians he took delight in spearing. He became a celebrated syndicated columnist and a Pulitzer Prize winner, but the love letters written in 1954 to woo Carol, his childhood sweetheart, were likely the most important assignment of his life. He sure wrote like it was.

Crushed to learn of her engagement while Royko prepared for military service in Korea, Royko had thought his opportunity to woo Carol lost. But after returning stateside to serve at Blaine Air Force Base in Washington, he learned of her impending divorce. Mick soon began . . .

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“All that great writing, trapped in mediocre books!”

September 22, 2010
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“All that great writing, trapped in mediocre books!”

The September 14th issue of the London Review of Books features an extended, combative review by Elif Batuman of a recent book from Harvard University Press, Mark McGurl’s The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. Though Batuman takes issue with many of McGurl’s points, her essay is the sort of review any author ought to be happy to get, one that takes the book seriously enough to engage deeply with its ideas.

Ultimately, however, Batuman is simply much more critical of university writing programs and the fiction they’ve spawned than McGurl is, arguing, among other things, that their ahistorical approach to fiction is a short-sighted, narcissistic mistake. “Literary scholarship,” writes Batuman, “may not be an undiluted joy to its readers, but at least it’s usually founded on an ideal of the collaborative accretion of human knowledge.”

Batuman’s essay brought to mind one of our books, D. G. Myers’s The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing since 1880, which takes a longer view than McGurl’s book, surveying and analyzing more than a century of debate over how—and even whether&#8212creative writing should be taught. Myers draws on a wide range of writers—including Longfellow, Emerson, Frost, John Berryman, John Dewey, . . .

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Mapping race in the city

September 21, 2010
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Mapping race in the city

If you want to get our attention here at the Chicago Blog, all you need to do is combine two of our favorite things—maps and urban sociology. Our love for maps is strong, and our interest in the social dynamics of cities, especially those of our hometown, is deep. So it’s no surprise that today’s infographic of the day from Fast Company caught our eye. That post presents Eric Fischer’s finely detailed and rather beautiful maps depicting racial integration (or its lack) in many major American cities. Fischer was inspired by Bill Rankin’s map of Chicago’s racial makeup, which reveals that while the city continues to be highly segregated, some traditional ethnic enclaves are transforming. One such Chicago neighborhood—Andersonville and the area around the Argyle stop on the red line—is analyzed in detail in Japonica Brown-Saracino’s A Neighborhood that Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity.

As Rankin notes, his map overturns the usual way of delineating areas of cities, where “neighborhoods are almost always drawn as perfectly bounded areas.” That traditional approach can undermine our understanding of what’s really happening in cities. The power of maps to change our perception of reality has been at the . . .

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David Royko on his father’s birthday

September 20, 2010
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Dad, a.k.a. Mike Royko, would have turned 78 yesterday, Sunday, September 19, and if he were still around, I would not greet him with a “Happy Birthday.”

Many people, men and women alike, especially after a “certain age,” prefer to ignore their birthdays and wish the world would too. But the rest of us prefer to ignore their wishes and gleefully rub the day in the birthday boys’ and girls’ faces. Hey, we all get older, so get over it, right?

Dad, though, was different. On September 19, 1979, Carol—Mom—died. He’d loved her since they were kids, married her when they were very young adults, and lost her on his 47th birthday. They had been coming up on their 25th wedding anniversary. She was 44.

And that was it for birthdays.

I might’ve tried a quiet, mumbled “happy birthday” one year, but the reaction, the grunt and turning-away, taught me not to try it again. So year after year, I’d try to find some excuse to stop by, either his home or down at the paper, and casually drop something off, like a book or CD, and never with any mention of why. He’d accept it with a quick “Oh, . . .

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A course syllabus for the digital age

September 17, 2010
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A course syllabus for the digital age

As culture and technology find themselves increasingly intertwined—for better, or for worse—scholars like Christina Dunbar-Hester, professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers, are finding themselves at the forefront of some of the most complex, yet compelling, inquiry in the humanities today. In a recent article in the Atlantic, Dunbar-Hester has offered up a course syllabus for her PhD-level class on technology and media citing some of the best new books on the topic including several published by the University of Chicago Press. The following is a short list of the UCP titles that she deems required reading for her course:

How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics by N. Katherine Hayles

In this age of DNA computers and artificial intelligence, information is becoming disembodied even as the “bodies” that once carried it vanish into virtuality. While some marvel at these changes, envisioning consciousness downloaded into a computer or humans “beamed” Star Trek-style, others view them with horror, seeing monsters brooding in the machines. In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles separates hype from fact, investigating the fate of embodiment in an information age.

From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, . . .

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IP in Alphaville?

September 16, 2010
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IP in Alphaville?

Debates over fair use, free culture, illegal downloading, and copyright protection have been simmering since the dawn of the digital era. Intellectual property is a hot-button topic, as the Atlantic’s technology blogger Nicholas Jackson points out, and every once and a while a story breaks that positions a major cultural figure at the center of the IP wars. Today’s news stars New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, who recently donated 1,000 euros toward the legal defense of James Climent, a French citizen accused of downloading 13,788 MP3s. Godard’s pithy rationale? “There’s no such thing as intellectual property.”

Whether or not you share Godard’s position, Adrian John’s Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates, is a vital history worth consulting. Piracy explores intellectual property wars from the advent of print culture in the fifteenth century to the reign of the Internet in the twenty-first, ultimately arguing that piracy has always stood at the gateway between creativity and commerce. Be sure to take a timely glance at an excerpt from the book here before reading the full account of Godard’s donation at internet technoculture site Boing Boing, the first to translate the news.

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