Daily Edition March 11, 2014
What do Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel (the Columbia “memory” neuropsychiatrist), MacArthur Genius Grant winner Danielle Allen, and Aspen Institute CEO (and Steve Jobs biographer) Walter Isaacson have in common? They want to teach 7th grade. Well, not exactly–they don’t want to go daily to a classroom and confront a bunch of snarling, overtired, distracted, sugar-saturated 12-year-olds on the cusp of puberty. No, they like the offices they have. But they are happy to lend their expertise to the teachers who actually have day-to-day interactions with the kids. So Amplify, an independent educational subsidiary of News Corporation, has developed a digital curriculum for sixth, seventh and eighth grade English Language Arts classes based on lessons of each of these prominent thinkers. With the help of Common Core curriculum experts, Amplify has tapped Kandel and company to create a full year’s worth of English Arts lessons focused on personal narrative (voiceovers provided by actors Chadwick Boseman and Elizabeth Olsen), fiction, poetry and other texts.
So what’s the benefit of the dramatic readings and Academy Award eligible story animations that populate the program? According to Amplify, “school-based pilots have shown that when students watch a dramatic reading of the first chapter of a book, they’re more likely to go on and read the entire text.” And although the SAT is eliminating the essay requirement of the test, students still need to meet Common Core requirements which include grasping difficult literary concepts, perspectives and points of view. The digital curriculum (available on every digital device out there, $45 per student) allows teachers to track each student’s progress and the class as a whole. The whole thing sounds winsome, a vocabulary word that, like the essay, is slated to be removed from the SAT.
The daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice King, does not want to sell her father’s Nobel Peace Prize and Bible. “These two artifacts are too sacred to be sold or be bought under any circumstance,” she said. However, her brothers, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King, are taking her to court over the two possessions, which they want to sell through the King Estate. Ms. King is being legally forced to hand over the items to the Fulton County Superior Court until the court case is heard on September 29. (Worth millions, the items will be located in an undisclosed safety deposit box.)
President Obama used the Bibles of Dr. Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln when he was sworn in for his second term in January 2013. Two weeks prior to the swearing in, Dexter King said: “Including my father’s Bible in the swearing-in ceremony speaks to the great progress we’ve made as a country. As we move forward as a nation, I know that we’ll continue to make great strides in the fight for equality and freedom for all. My father was a man of God, of love and of peace. I hope the presence of his Bible will provide similar inspiration to the American people as we celebrate the inauguration of our president.” Presumably this eloquent testimony will be included in the catalog, if the King brothers prevail and the good book goes on the auction block.
From the Rolex Magazine Blog: “On December 10, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize and in the photo (above), you see Dr. King holding his coveted Nobel Peace Prize medallion in his hand, and if you click on the image and look closely, you see him wearing his trademark yellow gold Rolex Datejust on his wrist.”
Note: A replica of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Nobel Prize for Peace is on exhibit at The King Center.
“Basketball is a team game, it’s not for individual honors,” wrote Bill Russell in response to LeBron James’ recent assertion that he would one day enter the “Mount Rushmore” of basketball superstars, a number capped, like the South Dakota monument, at four. That basketball is first and foremost a team game is a notion too often forgotten in our age of the superstar. Even the NBA continually forgets to mention it, marketing its brightest stars far more fervently than its best teams. (You’ll hear more chatter about LeBron versus Kevin Durant than about the Miami Heat versus the OKC Thunder.) Russell went on to pretty much carve his own monument, mentioning that he won “back-to-back NCAA championships in college” before winning those unequaled 11 NBA championships.
LeBron James can’t say that. Neither can Kevin Durant. But there is one current NBA superstar who can: Chicago’s Joakim Noah, the best team basketball player in the NBA, who won back-to-back NCAA championships at Florida in 2006 and 2007. Or, as Noah would insist, his team won those championships. Noah does all the things on the court that coaches drool over. He hustles on every play like a 12-year-old trying to eke out a double. He sets screens as hard and memorable as that wall in China. He defends as though the offense is trying to steal food from his children. He blocks and steals. He passes brilliantly. He scores just 12 points a game, though he grabs nearly an equal number of rebounds. He averages almost five assists per game. But it’s the sum total of all this, the mesmerizing energy with which he plays that makes Noah the most compelling player in the league right now. And it’s what makes his Chicago Bulls–a team that is supposed to be an also-ran due to key injuries–a competitive force and true contender. No other player in the league is as galvanizing as Noah–the win column is even drawn to him. And no other player in the league is quite so much like Bill Russell on the floor. There is real justification to consider Joakim Noah for MVP. It’s a team game, after all.
Q: The new Brookings TechTank blog is devoted to understanding technology’s implications–especially as it impacts governance. It’s a truism that tech advances, like financial innovations, routinely outpace regulations. In a country that exalts technology and prizes transparency, but also where there are still no cameras allowed in the Supreme Court, is it possible that the gap between between innovation and commensurate legislation can ever be closed?
A: The public sector routinely trails the private sector in technology innovation. The government doesn’t have the same culture of risk-taking and experimentation found in many companies. The reason is that policymakers fear failure more than they value success. If they try something new and it fails, they will end up on the front page and be the object of ridicule. Opponents will condemn them for their foolhardy venture and question why they supported the new initiative. In this situation, it is easier to keep doing the same thing even though the processes often aren’t very effective at addressing specific problems.
What we need is a new culture of government that rewards innovation. There needs to be a new attitude that recognizes no one has definitive answers and what we need to do is try various solutions, track their performance, and see what works. Successes get scaled up and failures get shut down quickly. This kind of data-driven and adaptive enterprise is what makes businesses more effective at solving problems than the public sector. Until government agencies embrace change, it will be hard for them to become as innovative as their private counterparts.
–Darrell M. West is vice president and director of Governance Studies and holds the Douglas Dillon Chair at the Brookings Institute. He is founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. West’s studies include technology policy, electronic government, and mass media.
“Twisted.” That is the word Rebecca’s mother, Eva, will use to describe the shoes. It’s a word, an image that will drop into Rebecca’s memory; a haphazard seed, taking root. “Twisted,” Eva will declare wringing her hands as if she were squeezing the life out of a wet washcloth. Rebecca will picture black lace-up oxfords with thick soles and a hard raised heel – prison shoes. In her mind, they are contorted, cartoonishly, into corkscrews.
Rebecca will imagine the girl in the shoes when they were new, shiny. Or, maybe they had been worn by others before her and were beat. Perhaps they were too tight and pinched the girl’s toes, or too loose and caused her to shuffle her indignity across the floor Rebecca will ponder. Rebecca will see her in a loose, rough cotton shirtwaist with button tabs where the waistband should be. A dress the color of schoolroom walls, holding areas, of bus station lavatories – numbing and anonymous. Her dark hair spread out stark and alarming against the Vaseline green of the fabric; shocking in its refusal to lie flat and quiet, it coiled and curled wildly, too obvious, dangerous. She will picture the girl as stocky and square and sturdy in her shoes. And angry. Her face, Rebecca will think…her face is…? Familiar.
This week, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled that Michael Robertson, a 32-year-old male subway rider from Andover, Massachusetts who allegedly attempted to secretly take photographs of women riders underneath their skirts, could not be charged with violating Massachusetts’ “Peeping Tom” statute. The statute proscribes the photographing or videotaping a “nude or partially nude person.” This practice apparently is so widespread it is known by the verb, “upskirting.” Although the court’s ruling was unanimous, the public uproar over the court’s decision was resounding. The dichotomy between the court’s decision and the general public’s reaction is an example of the benefits of a judiciary that is appointed rather than elected, and living in a land where the legislative and judicial powers of government are exercised separately.
Notwithstanding the depravity of Mr. Robertson’s alleged actions, the soundness of the decision is reflected in the unanimity of the ideologically-split SJC. Every justice on the Supreme Judicial Court agreed that Robertson could not be tried for the crime because the plain language of the “Peeping Tom” statute under which he was charged did not proscribe what he allegedly did. The statute defined “partially nude” as “the exposure of the human genitals, buttocks, pubic area or female breast below a point immediately above the top of the areola.” Because none of these areas of the body were “laid bare or exposed to view,” as “exposure” is generally understood to mean, the court reasoned, Mr. Robertson could not be convicted of that crime. In reaction to widespread public condemnation of the court’s decision, and at the urging of District Attorney Dan Connolly, the elected representatives in the Massachusetts legislature quickly amended the law, in an attempt to cover this repulsive practice. If Massachusetts elected its judges, rather than appointed them (essentially, for life), however, consideration of re-election prospects might have caused the Justices to order Mr. Robertson be tried for a crime that he did not commit. Though many would have applauded this, such an outcome would have been tantamount to non-elected judges writing a criminal law, after-the-fact, for the purpose of convicting the defendant, and would have undermined the proper separation of powers, which John Adams and other Massachusetts founders had the wisdom and foresight to enshrine in Article XXX of the Massachusetts Constitution, ensuring that we live under “a government of laws and not of men.” // Michael J. Racette
“Imagine being unable to pass a mirror without the image you see there causing you deep distress and pain.”
Throughout transition I’ve been surprised by the tenderness and, at times, tentativeness with which those friends and colleagues unfamiliar with transgender issues approached the subject. At my most self-conscious I wondered if such overt care could be a response to the misconception that transgender people are emotionally volatile. Or perhaps, I thought, they worried about unknowingly saying the wrong thing and causing offense. Often transgender people seem a total mystery to the majority of the population. Our very existence appears to challenge what has long been considered a basic truth of human experience: our genitalia defines each of us as male or female. But the relationship between sex and gender is extremely complicated. In actuality, gender is a spectrum, and it is entirely possible for a person’s gender to not match their assigned sex at birth. The result of this mismatch between brain and body is often gender dysphoria, which can have devastating effects on a transgender person’s life.
Imagine having never recognized your face in a mirror. Imagine entering puberty hoping to develop as female/male, and the absolutely disorienting reality of inhabiting a body that does not match. Imagine vocalizing the trauma of your experience to parents and teachers, perhaps even doctors, and likely being met with skepticism and scorn. Imagine growing into early adulthood, irreparable harm having been done to your body through puberty, or if you are very lucky, having had the opportunity to delay adolescence through medical intervention, until you are old enough to be taken more seriously. Imagine being unable to pass a mirror without the image you see there causing you deep distress and pain. Imagine the alienation you would face in personal relationships and friendships, in all social settings, as you constantly cope with and contain the disconnect you feel. Imagine finally starting transition, beginning to experience what others describe as normalcy, and being asked by family and friends: Why can’t you just be happy with the body you have? Imagine being so highly visible in your daily life that every grocery store and gas station, every post office and school, every restaurant and office building you enter, you are met with long stares as people try to figure out what you are. Imagine staring into a mirror, awestruck in those the first moments of self-recognition. Imagine then the questions that flood your life from every corner: What’s your real name? Which bathroom do you use? Will you have surgery to change your genitals? Will you have your breasts removed/augmented? What will you tell future partners about your past? When will you tell? How will you explain that you used to be a boy/girl, you know – before the change or transition or whatever it’s called?
–Jordan Rice’s poems have been published in American Literary Review, Colorado Review, The Feminist Wire, Gulf Coast, Mid-American Review, Mississippi Review, and Witness, among others, and selected for many prizes including the Indiana Review Poetry Prize. She received an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, and is completing her Ph.D. in English from Western Michigan University. She’s currently raising money for her GCS, here.
Kenneth Cole wants 21st century men to pay it forward. The retailer is challenging men–preferably well-groomed–to perform a good deed each day for three weeks. The 21 day challenge is the core of Kenneth Cole’s new marketing campaign to promote the fragrance Mankind. It comes with its own Google Glass app so men can prove and share completion of their good deeds (and become eligible to win a Mankind toolkit valued at $1,000).
“Man Up for Mankind Challenge” doesn’t quite comport with the traditional notions of altruism. The old school idea of a selfless act didn’t involve demonstrating one’s charitable instincts to friends afterwards. Good people don’t need digital prompts to pick up trash, hold a door open for a stranger, or overtip a waitress–a few of Kenneth Cole’s suggestions for the kindness-impaired 21st century man. People tended not to expect recognition (or reward) for such everyday good deeds either. But if a man is so moved to spend $72 for 3.4 ounces of cologne, perhaps he does need a reminder to focus on the rest of humanity. Whatever it takes, Kenneth Cole, whatever it takes.
Q: Your celebration of William S. Burroughs’ centenary is one of those literary parties that, like Burroughs himself, attracts the attention of people beyond savvy book lovers. Is the Burroughs legend (the drugs, the William Tell, etc.) by now even bigger than the literary contribution? Or does the writing underpin everything?
A: The Burroughs mythology — that which was built around the darker details of his life — the killing of Joan Vollmer, the death of his son, drug abuse, etc. — has been parsed in a number of biographies, critical writings, reviews, and by WSB himself. It is no longer mythology but part of the history of the writer. The Iconography, which took off in the 1980s through musicians, artists, actors, etc. citing him as an influence; the extensive touring in rock-n-roll venues; the endorsement of commercial products; and collaborations with those previously cited — records, appearances on Saturday Night Live, and the rest; developed organically — add to that his success in the art world as a painter, as well. Iconography fades as the Icon is no longer there to support it. Mythology becomes history and thus is taken for granted. A dead writer starts with a clean slate.
However, the work, yes that thing which he should primarily be known for, lives on. His challenges to the American Modernist movement broke new ground; his “shoaling” work as it survived obscenity trials, helped to make new laws and more room for all writers. Naked Lunch is one of Grove Press’s top backlist sellers. It continues to be one of the most important post WWII books published anywhere in the world. The body of work, while showing stylistic differences over time, is translated into countless languages; it continues to be taught, analyzed, and at the center of the conversation around post-modernism. Books don’t stay alive if it isn’t about the work. Burroughs was one of the most adventurous stylists, most disturbing voices, most articulate satirists of the 20th century. I think we have a keeper. The work, obviously speaks for it self. Viva WSB.
– Ira Silverberg has worked in the literary world for nearly thirty years. Among the positions he’s held are Literature Director of the National Endowment for the Arts, Editor-in-Chief of Grove Press, and Publisher and founding co-editor of High Risk Books/Serpent’s Tail.
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