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by Zane Austin Grant

29 Jul 2009

When 125,000 people converged last weekend for the 40th San Diego Comic-Con to meet those who shared an interest comics and comics related media, I expected chaos.  I was warned about how crowded this year would be, and that traffic would be backed up for hours on I-5 South.  Another friend warned me about a man who would be dressed as the Hulk and randomly tackle attendees, but not be reprimanded because he was just being his character.  On top of these random assaults, there would be so many people that we could hardly move.  It was nothing like that.

After a quick two hour drive, Brea Grant and I went to the IDW Publishing booth to do a signing for our forthcoming series.  Everyone there was extraordinarily nice, especially given that most were working all day at the convention, starting at 5:00am.  Since our 1920’s zombie comic doesn’t come out until early next year, we made limited edition CDs, with lo-fi songs we wrote that retell the stories of seven horror movies from the narrative perspective of characters in the films, to sign and trade.  People were really friendly and traded everything from dances to push-ups to a drawing of Brea fighting zombies with a speech bubble that said, “Zane I know you are my brother, but when the zombies attack, I will trip you.” 

As we looked around for old friends and comics stars, continuing our trading and shopping spree, the rest of the weekend became dizzying.  I traded Jason Shawn Alexander (Abe Sapien, Empty Zone) for a shirt with a zombie eating a dog and picked up a signed copy of Dark Horse Comics re-invention of the Creepy series.  He took the time to say we were weird for making such a CD.  Becky Cloonan (Demo, American Virgin) traded us some beautiful limited prints and books.  Jimmy Aquino (Comic News Insider) traded a copy of Fat Chunk Vol. 2, an edited collection of zombie comic short stories, a few of which he penned.  Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories) traded us a copy of Lowbright, and the list goes on and on.

by PopMatters Staff

29 Jul 2009

The Mountain Goats
The Life of the World to Come
Releasing: 6 October (US)

01 1 Samuel 15:23
02 Psalms 40:2
03 Genesis 3:23
04 Philippians 3:20-21
05 Hebrews 11:40
06 Genesis 30:3
07 Romans 10:9
08 1 John 4:16
09 Matthew 25:21
10 Deuteronomy 2:10
11 Isaiah 45:23
12 Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace

The Mountain Goats
“Genesis 3:23” [MP3]

by Jason Gross

29 Jul 2009

If you’re a music and writing nut, you’ve no doubt combed through Jonah Weiner’s Spinning in the Grave article at Slate about the recent ongoing death of music mags. It’s a good, thoughtful article (disclaimer: he used to edit me at Blender), but it’s also incomplete, missing out on some fundamentals of why these magazines are crashing and burning.

Mulling over print-based magazines’ demise has been going on for years now, with some thoughtful pieces popping up recently. Culled as an except from his book Say Everything, Scott Rosenberg’s How Blogs Changed Everything (Salon) talks about how blogs not only reshaped the whole media landscape, but also how they’re akin to phone technology in their reach, influence and social capacity. One point that comes up briefly there, and is worth exploring more is that blogs are part of Web 2.0 media. In other words, instead of the static pages that dotted the early web landscape, they’re interactive with the user.

The whole idea of an interactive web is passe because we’re so immersed in it now, but when you think about it, it’s really a big break from the old model. It’s not just the way that users can participate in it, but the way that it’s constantly updated, even by the second (which you rarely saw in the early days of the web). Print media is closer to the old web model and for that reason, maybe more than any other, it’s dying out now.

by PopMatters Staff

29 Jul 2009

We’re big fans of Florence & the Machine’s debut Lungs, giving the album a 9. Emily Tartanella recently said, “Florence & the Machine deliver a stunning debut in the wake of overwhelming expectations.” Jamie T. recently remixed “Rabbit Heart” and gave it some heavier beats.

Florence & the Machine
“Rabbit Heart” (Jamie T.‘s Lionheart remix) [MP3]

by Rob Horning

29 Jul 2009

I haven’t written much about the health-care-reform debate because it tends to make me irrationally angry. I’m about to lose my health coverage, and it gives me the general feeling that the society in which I live doesn’t really care if I die a preventable death, and that seems like a sucky society to live in. The current American system seems to enshrine the worst aspects of this country’s prevailing ideology—that we regard the idea of collective well-being as a empty notion, and that it’s okay for people to suffer as long as the “free market” says it must be so. Right now, professional standards among doctors—basically their pride in their profession—is all that stands between sick people and their remorseless exploitation, and as economist Kenneth Arrow notes in this interview at The Atlantic‘s site, they are “eroding.”

Some doctors understand that they shouldn’t abuse the system. But you still see problems in the way doctors behave towards patients. They goof off. Sometimes it’s too much work. Some things are difficult and risky to diagnose.

No system will ever remove the inevitability of human error and individual immorality, but certainly we can arrange for a system in which these undesirable behaviors aren’t encouraged. Arrow suggests that the free-floating free-market ideology churned out of the University of Chicago economics department is partly responsible for the current cultural climate, in which profit is seen as the only ethics:

I think there has been a general drift around the country towards the idea that greed is good. Look at Wall Street. All of these industries involve a professional element in which information is flowing. You’re supposed to be constrained to be honest about it. I don’t really know why. But there is now more of an emphasis on popularization, which does improve efficiency but can also lead to an erosion of professional standards. There was this idea that professional standards were a mask for monopoly power—a Chicago theory, which I believe came from George Stigler. I don’t know if they were that influential, but they seemed to be saying a lot of things that people were taking up in practice. I’m not totally sure why these professional standards changed, but it’s more than medical reasons.

Rather than having patients pay for the treatment and resolution of an illness, the American system instead nickels and dimes customers with a bewildering variety of charges for tests, consultations, transportation of samples, X-rays, test analyses, and so on. Having your blood tested for a vitamin deficiency can result in six or seven different bills from a variety of medical-service providers. Insurers are supposed to manage this process so that it doesn’t trouble or confuse the patient, who has his or her health to worry about. But instead this patchwork system has become a chaotic blizzard of invoices that incentivizes doctors to overprescribe and insurance companies to try to deny payment and care. Both are given economic reasons to keep patients ignorant, even as some like Ronald Bailey in this Reason article, argue that customers (i.e. sick people) must be forced to contain health-care costs, implying that it is their fault that spending has gotten out of hand. In the face of all the confusing billing, customers have failed to be “cost conscious” about health care. But it is impossible to know without an absurd amount of investigation and scrutiny what one is even being charged for in the health-care realm; that we would perform price comparisons and veto procedures and tests before the fact over our doctor’s suggestions is a totally unreasonable notion. The insurance market is also notorious for its confusing contracts and for its misleading paperwork, and for denying coverage customers had been led to expect. That’s known as rescission and is just about the worst thing in the medical business. Which is why it shouldn’t be a business. Arrow argues that things like nonprofit hospitals and the eschewing of medical advertising signal the medical community’s commitment to professional standards and its collective effort to correct the inherent market failures, whereas the recent “emphasis on markets and self-aggrandizement in the context of healthcare” undermines those standards and sends the opposite signals. As a result, patients like me get super-paranoid and even less rational in our medical decision-making, worsening the failures that libertarians and liberals alike complain about. Bailey thinks government intervention and regulation has helped cause this problem and only consumers can fix it by being better watchdogs over what they pay for; he alleges that “competition would provide a strong impetus for medical practitioners to provide consumers with good information about the effectiveness of various treatments and drive innovation.” Most liberal analysts believe that patients will always be at an informational disadvantage (not least because being sick renders one vulnerable and incapable of rationally sorting through billing details) and only government intervention can help fix it.

At his NYT blog, Paul Krugman summed up the essential problems facing market-driven health care (and why the American system so badly needs reforming), drawing on this classic paper (pdf) by Arrow. Krugman’s post is worth reading in its entirety, but the gist is this: For-profit insurers “try to deny as many claims as possible, and ... avoid covering people who are actually likely to need care. Both of these strategies use a lot of resources, which is why private insurance has much higher administrative costs than single-payer systems. And since there’s a widespread sense that our fellow citizens should get the care we need—not everyone agrees, but most do—this means that private insurance basically spends a lot of money on socially destructive activities.” Achieving cost-effective treatment can’t be entrusted to for-profit entities, because they will always put profit ahead of your health, defeating the ultimate purpose of medical care in a society. The state has a better chance of organizing workable health-insurance pools without concentrating energy on innovating new ways to deny care to maximize profit. 

This is the point at which conservatives complain of rationing—the government is going to decide who gets what care. This is meant to distract us from the de facto as rationing already in place through unaffordable prices. The current arrangement suggests that we as a society believe the poor should just go get sick and die. Reform efforts are aimed at present a different face of our society, one currently suppressed, in which we collectively face the mortality risk we all share, the thread that unites us all, no matter what other circumstance we may have been born into.

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