Politics and Current Events

Our free e-book for October: In Defense of Negativity

October 1, 2014
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Our free e-book for October: In Defense of Negativity

Americans tend to see negative campaign ads as just that: negative. Pundits, journalists, voters, and scholars frequently complain that such ads undermine elections and even democratic government itself. But John G. Geer here takes the opposite stance, arguing that when political candidates attack each other, raising doubts about each other’s views and qualifications, voters—and the democratic process—benefit.

In Defense of Negativity, Geer’s study of negative advertising in presidential campaigns from 1960 to 2004, asserts that the proliferating attack ads are far more likely than positive ads to focus on salient political issues, rather than politicians’ personal characteristics. Accordingly, the ads enrich the democratic process, providing voters with relevant and substantial information before they head to the polls.

An important and timely contribution to American political discourse, In Defense of Negativity concludes that if we want campaigns to grapple with relevant issues and address real problems, negative ads just might be the solution.

“Geer has set out to challenge the widely held belief that attack ads and negative campaigns are destroying democracy. Quite the opposite, he argues in his provocative new book: Negativity is good for you and for the political system. . . .

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Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness

August 15, 2014
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Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness

When you think about Wikipedia, you might not immediately envision it as a locus for a political theory of openness—and that might well be due to a cut-and-paste utopian haze that masks the site’s very real politicking around issues of shared decision-making, administrative organization, and the push for and against transparencies. In Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness, forthcoming this December, Nathaniel Tkacz cuts throw the glow and establishes how issues integral to the concept of “openness” play themselves out in the day-to-day reality of Wikipedia’s existence. Recently, critic Alan Liu, whose prescient scholarship on the relationship between our literary/historical and technological imaginations has shaped much of the humanities turn to new media, endorsed the book via Twitter:

With that in mind, the book’s jacket copy furthers a frame for Tkacz’s argument:

Few virtues are as celebrated in contemporary culture as openness. Rooted in software culture and carrying more than a whiff of Silicon Valley technical utopianism, openness—of decision-making, data, and organizational structure—is seen as the cure for many problems in politics and business.

 But what does openness mean, and what would a political theory of openness look like? With Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness, Nathaniel Tkacz uses Wikipedia, the most prominent . . .

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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

November 20, 2013
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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

Compelled by the title of Bernard E. Harcourt’s upcoming talk (tomorrow) at Yale University—

“So Michel Foucault and Gary Becker Walk into a Bar. . . .  A Lecture and Conversation with Bernard Harcourt on Punishment, Sexual Capital, and Neoliberalism”—we remembered a passage of his from Occupy: Three Inquiries In Disobedience. “We the People”: Myth and Democratic Challenge Judith Butler said, at Occupy Wall Street, “We’re standing here together making democracy, enacting the phrase ‘We the people!'” A bold statement—indeed, a real reappropriation that raises deep questions about this collective myth.

In an odd way, it almost feels as if the Occupy movement had it harder than other contemporary resistance movements—dare I say, harder than even the Arab Spring revolutions. To be sure, the resisters in the Arab world faced (and may still face today) brutal authoritarian regimes. They risked, and in many cases lost, their lives. Their unmatched courage has been an inspiration around the world. On that count, they have stared down a far more violent and oppressive adversary than anyone else. But they had one. They had an identifiable adversary—oppressive and authoritarian regimes—that they could target and topple. They had and have a concrete goal, grievances, an objective, . . .

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Carole Emberton on Paula Deen, SCOTUS, and the VRA

June 26, 2013
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Carole Emberton on Paula Deen, SCOTUS, and the VRA

In a recent piece for the History News Network, scholar Carole Emberton (whose Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South published this month) takes on the Paula Deen controversy, both prior to and in light of SCOTUS’s recent decision on the Voting Rights Act:

For the past few days, there has been much ado about Paula Deen’s use of a certain racial epithet. It’s not much ado about nothing, however, as many of her defenders would like to us believe. This incident, along with a seemingly unrelated case now before the Supreme Court, challenge our understandings of what history is and what it means for the nation’s political life.

Both Deen and her defenders plead her case by arguing that she is old and southern and therefore cannot help using such language. Her great-grandfather owned slaves. She grew up under Jim Crow. “She’s just from another time,” concluded one patron of her popular restaurant. Perhaps it is ironic that the patron was of the race that bears the stigma of the racial epithet that the chef admitted using. Perhaps not. For both Deen and her unlikely defender, the past is like . . .

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A reading list for marriage equality

March 28, 2013
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A reading list for marriage equality

To better understand the shift in activist politics and policy—from rejection of marriage as an institution to lobbying for same-sex couples’ right to marry—by gay and lesbian rights organizations, read The Nuptial Deal: Same-Sex Marriage and Neo-Liberal Governance by Jay Cee Whitehead.

Whitehead’s argument parallels the transformation that occurred in the minds of activists and ordinary citizens with the rise of neo-liberalism, ultimately arguing that the federal government’s resistance to same-sex marriage stems not from “traditional values” but from fear of exposing marriage as a form of governance rather than a natural expression of human intimacy.

 

 

 

To better grasp the pattern of waxing and waning same-sex marriage has faced in terms of public visibility—and to comprehend how policy cycles and political opportunity have characterized debates since the 1996 passing of the Defense of Marriage Act—read The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage, edited by Craig A. Rimmerman and Clyde Wilcox.

The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage brings together an esteemed list of scholars who consider how court rulings and local legislatures have kept the issue alive in the political sphere, and conservatives and gay rights advocates have made the issue a key battlefield in . . .

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Sandra M. Gustafson on the State of the Union (2013)

February 21, 2013
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Sandra M. Gustafson on the State of the Union (2013)

‘The hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government’

In the first State of the Union Address of his second term, President Barack Obama echoed themes from past speeches, most recently his Second Inaugural Address delivered a few weeks ago and his victory speech from election night. A central theme—arguably the central theme—of all these addresses and many previous ones has been the need for the nation’s elected officials to work together to solve lingering problems caused by two wars and a major economic crisis. The president opened his fifth State of the Union Address with a quotation drawn from John F. Kennedy, who along with Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., is his favorite source. Kennedy opened his second State of the Union address by urging Congress to remember that, “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress.” And so President Obama once again urged the representatives of the rival parties in Congress to work together to pass legislation to stimulate the economy, improve education, and reduce gun violence.

He continued to quote from Kennedy’s 1962 speech: “‘It is my task,’ said, ‘to report the State of . . .

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PODCASTS: A not-quite episodic series

February 7, 2013
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PODCASTS: A not-quite episodic series

The phonograph predates the podcast by about 125 years, but theoretically any device used to reproduce sound could carry the moniker. So we say: ready your zonographs and talking machines—as part of our ongoing podcast series, hosted by Chris Gondek of Heron & Crane, we’re delivering a fresh batch from some of our Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 favorites. More information and links for listening below.

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Stephen T. Asma’s Against Fairness vindicates our unspoken and undeniable instinct to favor—and makes the case for favoring favoritism, so to speak. In this podcast interview, Asma considers where preferential bias fits in our utilitarian construction of fairness—and what this might have to say about our larger ethical worldview. The job of the philosopher, the evolutionary advantages of favoritism, Confucian thought, quotable Gandhi, the multinational politics of maternity leave, and the ideology of equality all make an appearance in a larger discussion about what might lead us to happier, more productive lives.

Listen to the podcast here.

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First Son: The Biography of Richard M. Daley has already been heralded by Publishers Weekly as “compelling,” “dynamic,” “highly focused” and “meticulous.” In his . . .

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2012: A Year in Books

December 21, 2012
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2012: A Year in Books

In wrapping of the year’s best-of-2012 lists, we couldn’t help but single out the University of Chicago Press titles that made the cut as reads worth remembering. With that in mind, here’s a list of our books that earned praise as cream of the crop here and abroad, from scholarly journals, literary blogs, metropolitan newspapers, and the like. If you’re looking, might we (and others) recommend—

        

A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

made the Philadelphia City Paper’s Best of the Year list named one of the best books of the year by the Houston Chronicle included in Bookriot’s list of the five most overlooked books of 2012 picked as the book of the year by a bookseller at the Oxford Blackwell’s: “ feel so evangelical about I want to run around screaming ‘YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK OR YOUR LIFE WILL BE INCOMPLETE,’ in Billy Graham style.” named one of the ten best fiction books of 2012 by the Wall Street Journal named by Wall Street Journal fiction editor Sam Sacks as one of his own favorite fiction books of 2012 named by Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker as . . .

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John R. Gillis on Post-Sandy America

December 5, 2012
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John R. Gillis on Post-Sandy America

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States, the Caribbean, and Eastern Canada continues to exceed early damage estimates, with almost 66 billion dollars in losses currently anticipated for the US alone, and a death toll of 253 afflicting seven nations. In his recent book The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History, John R. Gillis articulates—and even anticipates—how our relationship to the sea has begun to take on new and potentially catastrophic dimensions. Accounting for more than 100,000 years of seaside civilization, Gillis argues that in spite of mass movement to the coasts in the last half-century, we have forgotten how to live with our oceans. Applying this knowledge to our tenuous responses to this most recent disaster, Gillis explains how a shift in education, awareness, and planning might yet allow us to learn the lessons necessary for sustainable coinhabitance with the seas. You can read more of his thoughts on what we can do below.

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“History Has Lessons for Post-Sandy America” by John R. Gillis

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Americans are finally beginning to ask themselves whether or not it might be advisable to build . . .

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Margaret Morganroth Gullette on the vote for physician-assisted dying

October 22, 2012
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Margaret Morganroth Gullette on the vote for physician-assisted dying

This election day, voters in Massachusetts will face the option of following the examples of Washington and Oregon, in choosing to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill (in Massachusetts, this option is currently banned by common law, rather than outright prohibition). Here,  Margaret Morganroth Gullette, resident scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center and author of Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America (along with Aged by Culture) weighs in on the Act Relative to Death with Dignity, placing its concerns in a broader context of conversation surrounding American ageism and government rhetoric.

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“Why I am, after all, voting for Massachusetts’s Act Relative to Death with Dignity”

Massachusetts’s voters will decide on physician-assisted dying in November, yeah or nay.  Positions are hardening, but there are more balanced views yet to be heard, on cultural contexts which may affect everyone who hopes to grow old in America.

Choice is the major argument in favor, as was the case in Oregon and Washington, which passed bills similar to our “Act Relative to Death with Dignity.” Those in favor say that giving the dying more choice in how and when they die relieves deep apprehension and provides . . .

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