Thursday, June 28, 2012

Individuals, Aggregates, and the Affordable Care Act

Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts
Today was a big day at the Supreme Court, which has just issued its ruling on Obamacare. For those who are interested, you can get a transcript of the court's opinion here.

Needless to say, the case has attracted a lot of attention. But I'd like to bring one issue to the fore that, to my mind, has not received enough attention. 

One way to think about the polarized debate regarding the Affordable Care Act is that it pits the individual against the community. Proponents of the law see it as an attempt to fix the health care system as a whole. They worry that our premiums are too high, that Medicare is on a fast track to insolvency, and that insurance companies refuse to cover pre-existing conditions. Critics, on the other hand, tend to dwell on what it will mean for individual consumers of health care. They worry about limiting individual care, that bureaucrats will get in between doctors and their patients, and that I will have to pay for my neighbor's unhealthy lifestyle.

There's a way in which this very basic dynamic plays itself out in today's Supreme Court decision as well.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hand Dryers and Brand Ascent

Something weird is going on with hand dryers.

Over the last few years, I've found myself talking about hand dryers more and more – mostly in bars. This never happened before, and it's largely based on the success of two new brands: Excel's Xlerator (featured above) and the Dyson Air Blade (below). 

Time was, hand dryers were terrible, and the only argument for using them (over paper towels) was an environmental one. Most people didn't notice differences between the various dryers they encountered almost daily, nor did they notice their deficiencies in an explicit way.

Monday, June 4, 2012

"New Crittercism"

This morning I enjoyed listening to Carla Nappi interviewing Graham Burnett about his book The Sounding of the Whale (previously mentioned here) on the New Books in STS podcast. The whole thing is worth the listen, but I was struck by Burnett's offhand use of the phrase the "new crittercism." He has used it before, attributing it in Trying Leviathan to "an irreverent colleague." Today, it called to mind our on-going discussions (begun, more or less, here) about the ways in which environmental history and HOS/STS are growing more closely together. The "new crittercism" marginalizes this trend, it seems to me, for all its charm, while our conversations (HOTeES or HotMeSs) have tended to go in the opposite directions. In the podcast, Burnett distances his book, with the faintest apology, from those that privilege the agency of animals or other non-humans in their narratives.