Blog Archives

Our Bodies, our Ack?!

October 4, 2010
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Our Bodies, our Ack?!

The halls of feminist pop culture were a-chorus with their final “Ack!” this past Sunday, when long-running comic strip Cathy ran its final installment. Illustrated and created by Cathy Guisewite, the strip and its single everywoman heroine capped off a thirty-four-year run, departing a world noticeably different from that of its November 1976 debut (though the passage of time in semi-ageless Cathy’s world had a tendency to be marked by promotions and new boyfriends, and of course, evolution of the four “guilt groups”: food, love, Mom, and work). In many ways Cathy aspired to be the archetypal late-twentieth-century career woman, less eye-candy than Transparent Eyeball for a generation that grew up with Jane Fonda, Our Bodies, Ourselves, and society’s changing pressure on and opportunities for working women. In a fitting end, the strip finished with Cathy announcing her pregnancy to her parents and tech-geek partner Irving, who quipped about viewing the sonogram on his iPhone. Love or hate Cathy, closing shop with an iconic pregnancy helps us remember something important about the comic’s origins. For ordinary women like Cathy, who came of age in the ’70s and ’80s, access to information about issues related to their own health—contraception, pregnancies, abortion—helped . . .

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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 likely . . .

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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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The Grand Poobah of Them All

September 13, 2010
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The Grand Poobah of Them All

Roger Ebert is a man who needs no introduction—though clever pundits across America are certainly debating new taglines in light of his growing culinary expertise (from The Wind that Shakes the Barley to The Pot and How to Use It?). Early respondents to “Roger Ebert Presents at the Movies,” a new series from Chicago’s own WTTW, seem to agree on one thing: we want more Ebert! In the new show, Ebert takes a backseat to other critics—NPR’s Elvis Mitchell and the AP’s Christy Lemire, among them—introducing their views and serving as executive producer to the dueling critics format he made famous with Gene Siskel more than 35 years ago. Phil Rosenthal has a great piece in a recent issue of the Chicago Tribune that pines for a more Ebert-centered review program and gushes about the Great Movies series of columns and books, the most recent of which was published by the University of Chicago Press: Ebert is interesting, insightful and entertaining on almost any subject. But anyone who has heard his DVD commentary tracks for films such as Citizen Kane and Casablanca will attest to how it enhances the viewing experience. Were Ebert to adapt his “Great Movies” series of . . .

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The Ideology of Evolution, or the Evolution of Ideology

September 9, 2010
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The Ideology of Evolution, or the Evolution of Ideology

Press author Denis Alexander, director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, has a piece up at the Huffington Post, as part of their new series of op-eds and commentaries, Religion and Science: A Contemporary Discussion. In considering the ideological uses of science, Alexander makes a striking point about how certain biological ideas have been put to quite opposite ideological tasks throughout history, by different nations and at different times. As he explains: The ideological uses of science very often become tangled up in the debate between science and religion. Theories that for the scientist do practical work in the laboratory to make sense of certain data, and help map out the direction for future research, can be deployed in the world outside for or against various political, social, religious or anti-religious agendas. In the process the science becomes socially transformed, the original meanings of words in scientific discourse conveying quite different connotations. Though Alexander makes use of the example of evolution, the world wide web has been agog with recent instances of this intertwining: philosopher Tim Crane’s post on The Stone blog at the New York Times, biologist Ursula Goodenough’s review of Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design at . . .

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Jonthan Franzen, Political Scientist?

September 2, 2010
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Jonthan Franzen, Political Scientist?

For those geeked on all things IT or your favorite ’90s aficionado, the big news is that 90210 Day has finally arrived—but we’re busy ringing in 09-02-10 at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting. A big part of scholarly publishing focuses on the conferences, colloquia, and symposia whose panels and poster sessions are a rite of passage for academics—and a captive audience for booksellers and acquisitions editors alike. The Wardman Park Marriott is aflutter with bow ties and smart suits and I’m trying to sneak away private moments with my copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (purchased during a mechanical flight delay at O’Hare—how many times can a writer described as our modern day Tolstoy refer to War and Peace in his own book, I dare to ask? But I kid, I kid—this one’s a keeper!), which has turned out to be perfect reading. Franzen’s hot in pursuit of the ghostly affective presences of globalization, consumption, and stewardship that hang, specter-like, over our contemporary moment. It turns out that the theme of this year’s APSA—”The Politics of Hard Times: Citizens, Nations, and the International System under Economic Stress”—couldn’t be more pitch-perfect for the concerns of current political science studies or . . .

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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading

August 27, 2010
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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading

John Simon is off and running in the New York Times with a review of Czech novelist-in-exile-now-French-citizen and perpetually rumored Nobel Prize nominee Milan Kundera’s new “essayistic” book Encounter. The collection of 26 pieces, ranging in size, provides commentary on the twentieth-century artists, writers, philosophers, filmmakers, and other cultural luminaries that Kundera champions—those who “keep beauty alive,” as Simon aptly states. The review includes some juicy bits from the book itself, including reference to the great Czech writer and advocate of the long sentence, Bonhumil Hrabal: “A world where a person can read Hrabal is utterly different from a world where his voice could not be heard! One single book by Hrabal does more for people, for their freedom of mind, than all the rest of us with our actions, our gestures, our noisy protests!” Kundera’s lingua franca has always been, well, a lingua franca (albeit one of disappearance and return, both somberly and stubbornly poetic in its redefinitions)—Alfred Thomas, author of Prague Palimpsest: Writing, Memory, and the City, captures Kundera’s reinvention of Franz Kafka as the prophet of a city of political forgetting in his magisterial tome The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979): “The point is that Kundera . . .

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Of Memorials and Mistrials

August 26, 2010
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Of Memorials and Mistrials

Fresh on the heels of the White House, the National Park Service announced this morning that Laura Bush and Michelle Obama will join together to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks at a memorial service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania—site of the United Flight 93 crash. The service will mark the first meeting of the two women since their informal tea at the White House during the Bush-Obama transition and will include them among the million plus visitors who have made a pilgrimage to the temporary memorial dedicated to the flight and its victims. American studies professor Erika Doss examines the often spontaneous offerings that materialize at sites of tragic and traumatic death, like this one—as well as the powerful public feelings of loss and the politics of representation that often accompany them—in the recently published Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America. The United 93 memorial site, which was moved across the street from its original location alongside the crash field in 2008, has been widely documented on the web, spawning sites that have become their own mini-memorials, dedicated to archiving the religious items, hand painted rocks, hat collections, flowers, memorial wall, and 40-foot chain fence that dot . . .

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