Technology & Innovation

In this month’s Vanity Fair, David Kamp charts how our centuries-long obsession with the American Dream may be dying. To take stock of where the American Dream stands today, let's turn to one of its most unmediated representations, the game show.

Kamp argues that the heady ambitions inherent to the concept of the American dream were quite possibly the key to its undoing.

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Politics & Current Affairs

This week television series Battlestar Galactica travelled to where few shows have gone before—a United Nations summit.

Sound surreal?  You can watch the full 2-hour summit here and see just how real science fiction can get.  Sponsored by the U.N’s Creative Community Outreach Initiative, the event juxtaposed scenes from the series with testimony from U.N. representatives who have faced the reality of human rights violations across the globe and discussion with the show’s producers and actors. Stand out moments include when Mary McDonnell speaks on the challenges of portraying a female president whose dispersion of power necessarily reflects the tensions women face today in assuming historically masculine roles. Likewise, Edward James Olmos’ soon to be famous speech on race followed by his invocation of the show’s anthem “So Say We All!” seems to erase the boundaries between Olmos the actor and the powerful Admiral Adama he plays on the series.

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Politics & Current Affairs

In the media’s continuing coverage of how the economy is ruining all the best laid plans of higher education, the New York Times asks, how many public research institutes does the nation truly need?

Have universities like Arizona State, in their drive to become prominent research institutions, lost focus on their public mission to provide solid undergraduate education for state residents?  What can public universities do to weather these economic conditions, and at what cost?

Historically, public universities have been at the mercy of state funding, cutting back or spending more depending on whether it’s been a good year or not.  In drought years like this one, universities are faced with increasing tuition across the board while reducing faculty and staff and implementing enrollment caps.  But while these measures are designed to fix immediate budgetary problems, public universities are unlikely to survive intact if they fail to change their underlying funding structures from an untenable system of competition for limited resources to one of broad, cross-disciplinary collaboration. 

The financial mess that public universities find themselves in has been building steadily over the last 10 years. After unprecedented growth during the 1960’s of the state university system, by the 90’s those same systems began to topple under the weight of their own enormity as the increased number of universities within state systems was forced to compete for declining state funds.  In 1998 former UC-Berkeley chancellor Robert Berdahl sounded the alarm on the peril large state systems would find themselves in if they tried to build too many expensive flagship universities. 

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A few days ago, Maureen Dowd disclosed some revealing opinions from fellow Times columnist David Brooks about Michelle Obama’s arms. But is this really the way to save the New York Times?

Since publication of Dowd's op-ed, which included Brooks' suggestion that Ms. Obama should “put away Thunder and Lightning,” the blogosphere latched onto the story like a pack of pitbulls, terming the whole affair "Sleevegate."

To me, the fixation on Michelle Obama’s arms is the equivalent of Southern hospitality—saying one thing when you mean another. For a country whose baby boomers grew up seeing black women in popular culture as either racial militants or hyper-sexualized bodies, the extensive conversation on Michelle Obama’s fashion choices poorly masks the ideological anxieties surrounding the country’s first African-American first lady. In a "post-multicultural" world, Sleevegate should stand as a useful reminder of just how distorted conversations on gender and race still are in public discourse.

It begins with Dowd’s defense of Michelle Obama’s bared arms:

"Let’s face it: The only bracing symbol of American strength right now is the image of Michelle Obama’s sculpted biceps. Her husband urges bold action, but it is Michelle who looks as though she could easily wind up and punch out Rush Limbaugh, Bernie Madoff and all the corporate creeps who ripped off America."

Dowd shoots back at Brooks’ arm-phobia with a solid strike grazing Limbaugh and Madoff and in the process and initiating a whole pile of defenses provoked by the Sleevegate fallout.

Meanwhile, over at the Huffington Post, Bonnie Fuller defended Michelle Obama as a female “superhero” ready to take on Brooks’ right-leaning critical gaze with "because if there's one thing this country needs right now besides a strong and principled president instituting change, it's a superhero, and the non-sexist American public will take a female one."

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