If you needed more evidence that Thanksgivukkah—the mash-up conceived on a highway near Boston for this year’s coinciding Thanksgiving and Hanukkah celebrations—has spread far and wide, here it is: Seven thousand miles away from Beantown, 150 guests, including the U.S. ambassador and his wife, gathered on Thursday night at a restaurant overlooking Kigali, Rwanda for a Thanksgiving dinner featuring oven-roasted turkey, apple-and-sausage stuffing, pumpkin pie—and potato latkes. Maya Ruxin, the daughter of the restaurant’s owners, even lit a Coke-bottle menorah during the meal:
It was just another night—albeit a special one—at Heaven, a gourmet restaurant started by Alissa Ruxin and her husband Josh, a public health professor at Columbia University, in 2008. The establishment, located in an upscale, expat-friendly neighborhood of the Rwandan capital, now employs around two dozen people. And in his new book A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda, Josh makes the case that the project—an agile, private enterprise that employs Rwandans and builds local capacity—represents a new and more effective way of thinking about poverty eradication on a small scale.
It’s a “venture capital approach to development,” Ruxin told me over the phone, while munching on a Heaven burger at the bar as the staff prepared Thanksgiving dinner. “When you employ one person in a place like Rwanda, there are at least a dozen people who are completely dependent on that person’s income for education, health, shelter, food, you name it.” He says job creation is particularly important in a country where families and communities are so tight-knit, and where people are still rebounding from the devastating 1994 genocide (one of Heaven's cooks, a Tutsi, lost his brother in the violence and served as an administrator in the impromptu court system established after the massacre to mete out justice).
Humanitarian organizations, Ruxin claims, could learn a lot from the private equity investors rushing into East Africa to capitalize on robust economic growth in the region. They could, for example, devote more resources to financing small- and medium-sized businesses like Heaven. As he noted in a recent interview, Heaven is “not aid. It’s a business.”
Ruxin, who’s originally from Connecticut, frames the issue even more bluntly in his book:
Why, after all the fundraising and new charities and billions in foreign aid from successful countries and full-hearted volunteers heading off to all corners of the world and donated goats and sponsored children, is there still so damn much poverty in the world?... It suggests that poverty programs are created for our own satisfaction and rationalization, not for true and permanent results. While most development assistance has evaporated without a trace—eaten up by business-class plane tickets, hotel stays, conferences, and never-to-be-read presentations and pamphlets—there are also too many abandoned schools and clinics and other things of great human value littering the landscapes of the poor—facilities funded by well-meaning people with short attention spans and no true belief that poverty can actually be eliminated.
Large, established relief organizations do important work, Ruxin argues, but they’re too hulking, too bureaucratic, and too focused on responding to emergencies to combat poverty in long-lasting, self-sustaining ways. “There are people who are starving and people who need immunizations and fertilizer and improved agriculture, and kids who need access to education,” he says. “But very few people are thinking about the other side: What then?”
It’s a characterization that major players like USAID and UNICEF would likely dispute. And the criticism comes amid a pivotal debate in the development world about just how large a role the private sector should play in fighting poverty. As the journalist Paul Starobin recently explained, some observers have marveled at China's ability to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty over the past two decades on the strength of economic growth rather than foreign aid, and arrived at a conclusion: "the best medicine for poverty is reforms to scale back the role of the state in the economy and to open sheltered markets to global investors."
Ruxin himself left New York for Rwanda in 2005 to head up a Millennium Village Project 25 miles south of Kigali—part of a bold experiment by the economist Jeffrey Sachs to end extreme poverty by investing heavily in everything from agriculture to education to health care in a string of model village clusters across Africa. Detractors argue that Sachs has set overly ambitious goals and shielded the campaign from the kind of rigorous assessment necessary to prove whether his interventions are effective. But Ruxin argues that his village, which is now being wound down as responsibilities are transferred to local and national authorities, is “replicable” and now being “adopted and scaled” by the Rwandan government, which he claims has been particularly receptive to the project.
In making the case for the ‘Heaven model’ for poverty reduction, Ruxin points to Solange Murekatete, the restaurant’s sous-chef, who started out as a cleaner and dish-washer and moved into her current role when Alissa learned that the staff liked her cooking best. The young chef, who was six at the time of the Rwandan genocide, is now helping put her siblings through high school and herself through a degree in business management at the Kigali Independent University, making her the first person in her family to attend college. “There are more dreams than ghosts in today’s Rwanda,” Ruxin writes in a chapter devoted to Solange's story.
As Thanksgiving approached this year, Heaven’s staff turned to the difficult task of serving up a holiday dinner in a country where several of the traditional components are nowhere to be found. Local farmers raised turkeys and grew orange sweet potatoes specially for the occasion (the first year the Ruxins had turkey at Thanksgiving dinner in Rwanda, they kept the birds in their backyard). Chefs searched for a suitable alternative to cranberry sauce (the solution: Japanese plum chutney). Speaking to the staff as preparations were underway, I got the sense that debates about how best to eliminate poverty had been put on hold.
You can check out Heaven's Thanksgiving dinner menu and recipes below:
The planning behind, and consequences of, China's expansion of its Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, in the East China Sea remain obscure. Of the various attempts to explain it, for now I like Robert Kelly's on Asian Security Blog best. It emphasizes the contradictory possibilities -- expansionism, miscalculation, domestic posturing -- that might all simultaneously be true. Previous coverage here, here, and here.
Related question: Should we worry that the U.S. government, having quickly taken a "this is bullshit!" stance by sending B-52s through the new ADIZ, is showing contradictions of its own, in urging U.S.-based airlines to file flight planes with the Chinese authorities?
No. This isn't the airlines' battle.* They already file flight plans for every operation with various national and international authorities. It's no harm to them to copy the Chinese in too. The immediate danger of this ADIZ is that it will be one more occasion for national-pride chest-bumping among Chinese and other (Japanese, U.S., South Korean, Taiwanese) military aircraft, in an already tense region where an accident or miscalculation could have big and dangerous consequences. It makes sense to minimize the chance that passenger airplanes could be involved.
And to be clear: this is a potentially very dangerous situation. The build-up to it has involved animus from many players, but this latest move is all China's doing.
Now let's look on the brighter side, all still in the aviation theme.
1) Private pilots' licenses come to China. Huzzah! This is one more step down the path I examined in China Airborne. That is, China's determination to will itself into leadership as an international aerospace power, despite its lack of (a) airports, (b) airplanes, (c) an advanced aircraft or engine-building industry, (d) flyable airspace, and (e) pilots. Everyone knows about its efforts to address the first three shortages -- or would, if they'd read my book! Last week I mentioned a long-awaited move on the airspace front: reducing the amount under the military's control. And yesterday we hear: easier requirements for certification as a pilot.
This is good news. Though anyone familiar with road traffic in China will pause for reflection on reading this quote, via the NYT:
On Friday, The Beijing News carried the headline: “In the future, getting a private pilot’s license will be just as easy as getting an automobile driver’s license.”
2) World's shortest commercial flight: the apparent champ. Via the very interesting site of Matt Dearden, a UK-born bush pilot working in Indonesia, this clip of a 73-second flight from one hilltop airstrip to another. Between the two airstrips is a very deep valley. The dramatic part of the video starts about 30 seconds in, with an approach to one of the tiny airstrips.
Passengers pay $5 apiece to save the many hours the steeply down-and-up-hill journey would take on foot. In case you're wondering, the locale of this flight is West Papua -- which is on the western, Indonesian half of the island whose eastern half is the nation of Papua New Guinea.
Also in case you're wondering, the elevation at these airfields is around 4500 feet, which is high-ish; and the landing strips appear to be around 1000 - 1200 feet long, which is short. Impressive. (Photo at top of this post is from Dearden's site. And here is a sample dramatic entry from his Papuan flying adventures.)
A different pilot's video of landing on one of these airports is here.
3) World's shortest flight: runner up. It's from my ancestral homeland of Scotland, and it's about 90 seconds from takeoff to touchdown -- as you can see in the video of one entire flight, below. You'll note that about 40 seconds after takeoff the pilot is already reducing power to prepare for landing.
Compared with normal commercial journeys, this up-and-down flight path seems very odd -- but it's not that different from the routine training exercise of "flying the pattern" that all pilots have gone through. Pattern work involves taking off, climbing to 800 - 1000 feet above the ground, and doing a series of four right- or left-hand turns to make a rectangular path above the ground before coming in for landing again, a minute or so after takeoff. My point is simply that reducing power and speed very soon after lifting off is a familiar rather than an alien thing to do.
* Airlines have identifiable home countries -- American Airlines, All-Nippon, Singapore Air, etc -- but those with international routes truly do operate, like shipping lines, in a beyond-national-borders, international-commons regime. It would make a bad situation worse to bring airlines further into it, as players, or pawns.
The collective mood of a nation mired in a prolonged economic recession shows many of the symptoms of clinical depression: despair, fatalism, an inability to make decisions, lack of motivation, and irritability. This is one of the impressions I got from a recent trip to Spain and Italy, two nations I know well and visit often. While both countries have recently made small strides on the path to recovery, I nevertheless came away with the strong sense that their economies are in recession and their societies are in depression. In the course of my travels, I also felt more than ever before that Europeans have fallen out of love with Europe—or, more precisely, with the idea of building a Europe-wide union.
Hopelessness and irascibility are present in spades in statements by politicians, activists, and opinion leaders, and in media reports on the mood of the “people in the street.” Pessimism is the default attitude, and there is a notable paucity of the kinds of exciting ideas and proposals that energize society. All of this is understandable. When a family suffers a major trauma, it is natural for its members to react by becoming more self-absorbed and withdrawing from the world. The same is true for countries.
In both Italy and Spain—two of the hardest-hit economies in Europe—I found a tendency to turn inward and focus on events at home rather than developments abroad. My visit to Spain, for example, coincided with an incident in the Catalan Parliament in which a lawmaker took off his sandal and threatened Rodrigo Rato, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, who was testifying at a hearing about the large, bailed-out Spanish bank he had led, Bankia.
Naturally, the incident attracted a lot of media attention; almost everyone with whom I spoke in Spain mentioned it. What received significantly less press was the news that on that same day, in Beijing, Chinese officials had unveiled major economic reforms at the Communist Party’s Third Plenum. I noticed the same inward-looking attitude in Italy. For the past two decades, any visit to the country has been bound to coincide with some attention-grabbing news about Silvio Berlusconi and his relationship with power and, inevitably, women. This time was no different, with the buzz centering on the lead-up to the Italian Senate’s expulsion of the former Italian prime minister. And yet, if the decisions made at the Third Plenum help China avoid an abrupt economic slowdown that would harm the global economy—and prolong Italy and Spain's economic troubles—then what happened in Beijing will have a far greater impact on the lives of Italians and Spaniards than the theatrics of Catalonia’s sandal-toting legislator or the travails of Italy’s former prime minister. Despite these realities, I found that even well-informed elites in these countries are paying little attention to what is going on in China—or in the rest of the world, for that matter.
In fact, the “the rest of the world” increasingly seems to be a mere blip on the radar of many Spaniards and Italians. And, sadly, “the rest” now even includes Europe. Growing indifference to a European project that promised much and has fallen short of high initial expectations has been noticeable for some time now. And the region’s economic crisis, with its uncertain future and legacy of massive unemployment, has deepened disappointment and disinterest in the European Union. Granted, there is support for some of the more tangible features of the EU, like free trade and more open borders that facilitate the movement of people. But there is little backing for a more united Europe, and I could not find anyone during my trip who felt that deeper integration could spur the economic growth that crisis-stricken countries desperately need. On this subject, the opinions of Italians and Spaniards are consistent with those of their fellow Europeans. According to the Eurobarometer, a survey of 27 EU member countries, half of all citizens are pessimistic about the future of the European Union as an institution. Two-thirds feel as if their voice is meaningless in the decisions taken by the EU.
These responses are as serious as they are easy to understand. Many factors feed the gloom and doom about the EU. The continent’s five-year-old economic crisis has been deeply damaging, and the EU is widely perceived as being complicit in imposing the austerity policies that have created a strong social and political backlash. Moreover, European leaders are perceived as remote, bureaucratic, and opaque, not to mention lacking in charisma. To many, the European project now feels like a dull and irrelevant initiative at best—and a dangerous, intrusive, and expensive one at worst.
This can and must change. Europe needs to once again seduce the millions of Europeans who no longer believe that the project of building a more united continent will directly benefit them and their families. The problems that are undermining the European project are numerous and well-known. But perhaps the greatest threat to the union is that Europe has lost its luster among its own people. Just think how remote the “welcome parties” that greeted the euro’s introduction in 2002 in cities like Athens and Berlin feel today. The European project needs leaders who are able to persuade voters that a grand and vigorous Europe is possible. The best antidote to the region’s depression may very well be a strong dose of integration.
There's nothing more American than stampeding stores on Black Friday to save some money on your holiday shopping. But it's meaningless.
Not meaningless in an existentialist way, though that too. Rather, meaningless as an economic indicator. See, Black Friday sales tell us nothing about overall holiday sales—and hence the state of consumers. You can see that in the chart below from Capital Economics (via Neil Irwin). It compares the change in sales during Thanksgiving week with the change in total sales from November to January. There's not much of a relationship, and if anything, there's a slightly negative correlation. In other words, better Black Fridays are associated with worse holiday sales seasons.
So don't think of the crowds as a referendum on the economy. Some people like to shop on Black Friday, and some people don't, and that's pretty much all there is to say about it. Just think of them as your competition for the best deals.
Not that I need to say that.
"When I first heard about The Vagina Monologues, I was shocked. I thought, how could someone give a play a name like that?" says Xiao Hang. That was five years ago, when Xiao Hang was, by her own admission, "mainstream and quite conservative." But after volunteering for an NGO in her sophomore year at college, she began to see society through a different lens. She no longer thinks, as she once did, that "it isn't elegant to talk about your vagina in public." In fact, she thinks it's vital to.
Today Xiao Hang is one of the organizers behind Bcome, the Beijing-based feminist group which has put on around a dozen performances of The Monologues this year to mark the ten-year anniversary of its first showing in China. Performed in over 150 countries worldwide in some 50 different languages, Eve Ensler's play was first shown in the Mainland at Guangzhou's Sun Yatsen University in 2003.
In their offices just outside Beijing's third ring road, Xiao Hang and Bcome's other volunteers are preparing leaflets to send out for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The leaflets have titles such as "20 Misconceptions about Sexual Violence," "The ABCs of Feminism," and "Resist Verbal Abuse."
"We've already done lots of online and print promotions as well as panel discussions. The Vagina Monologues is new, fresh and attention-grabbing," says Ai Ke, another organizer. "It's not just a play, it's a tool for spreading feminism, a method for public education."
To prepare the script, the organizers translated from the English version, took parts from past Mandarin versions, and created original scenes through a series of workshops they ran last year. At the beginning of each workshop, they voted on which topic they wanted to discuss ("We're very democratic," laughs Xiao Hang), noted down their own experiences, and gave key words to the scriptwriters. "We wanted to localize the play as much as possible, so we added issues such as the obsession and anxiety over virginity," explains Ai Ke.
With their script complete, Bcome's committee organized shows at Beijing's LGBT center, at culture cafes, and at an art space where they performed to an audience of 400. They also put on the play for a community of migrant sex workers ("This helped us better understand them and write a scene about their lives") and organized college campus productions—including a now notorious rendition by female students at Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).
The BFSU students caused an internet storm earlier this month when, in an effort to promote their version of the Monologues, they posted pictures of themselves holding up messages from their vaginas to the popular social network RenRen. Written in English, Chinese and Korean, the messages ranged from "My vagina says: I want freedom" and "My vagina says: I want respect" to "My vagina says: You need to be invited to get in." The images were soon reposted on Sina Weibo and picked up by local media outlets, who focused on the girl's "confessions." A video of the images received over 2 million views on Sina.
The wave of online misogyny that followed was nasty. Commenters focused on the women's looks ("Seeing their faces, I've lost all interests in their vaginas" said one @Taoist_Mua), others expressed shock that students at one of the country's top universities could have written such things ("How could BFSU admit such vulgar girls?" @冬天的亭子) or simply resorted to pure name-calling ("These ignorant grandstanding tarts" @保护地球绿色家园). One user, @shendeon, even exclaimed, "If my daughter did this, I'd slap her across the face."
These reactions only seemed to validate the need for performances of The Vagina Monologues in China. The critics "have this image that female university students must be pure," says Xiao Hang. "They were terrified because women in China never talk about sex in public."
Bcome received mostly positive feedback for their other performances of The Vagina Monologues, which included a traditional xiangsheng (comic dialogue) about different kinds of moaning when reaching a climax and an interactive section where audience members were invited to share their stories. "Some people laughed, some people were so moved that they cried," says Ai Ke. Several people came up to her afterwards and thanked her for the "growing experience" they had, or for convincing them that they were not "odd" for thinking about such things.
However, Ai Ke admits that the people who came to watch the play were probably already open-minded. In China, this isn’t surprising: There's a difference between intellectual elites performing in the safe environment of the student union or culture cafes and the opinions of the public at large, which the BFSU students were exposed to online.
Chinese government repression plays a key role, too. While the last decade has seen The Vagina Monologues performed many times at universities across the country, a professional production in Shanghai was banned in 2004 after hundreds of tickets had been sold and a 2009 production was forced to call the show "The V Monologues" instead of the full name. Bcome found that "as soon as the word vagina was mentioned," official theaters and even some small independent outfits such as Beijing's Peng Hao and Mu Ma theaters refused them.
The Monologues's checkered history in China reflects the inconsistent approach towards sex and sexuality in the country. While the government continues to crack down on pornography and vulgarity, reform and opening of the last few decades has coincided with more liberal attitudes towards sex. Indeed, in China, sexuality is on view everywhere: Even state-run news outlets like Xinhua and the People's Daily use soft porn slide-shows to bump up click rates.
But just because there's more flesh on view than during the puritan past, that doesn't necessarily women's sexual rights have improved. Using the "v-word" is still a taboo in China, and magazines such as Cosmopolitan China don’t run articles on obtaining a "perfect orgasm," as their Western counterparts do. "China is still a male dominated world," says Ai Ke. "The sexual freedom gained in the last few years has been for men. The pleasure that women can get from sex is so seldom talked about."
And it's not just the female right to enjoy sex that has become an important feminist issue in China: There’s also the right to protect their bodies. Around a quarter of China’s female population suffers from domestic abuse, according to the All-China Women's Federation, but there is no law specifically targeting the crime.
Women are beginning to speak out. Last year, after the official Sina Weibo account of the Shanghai Subway Line 2 posted a photo of a passenger in a revealing dress with the caption "dressed like that, it's no wonder you get harassed. There are many perverts on the subway, can't catch them all. Girl, have some self-respect!" many net users were outraged. For their part, Bcome organized flash mob readings of the Monologues scene "My Short Skirt" on the Beijing subway.
"Most people just looked awkward, tried to not to look us in the eyes and instead fiddled with their phones," admits Xiao Hang. Perhaps asking people to face sexual issues directly remains too much to ask for in China.
More reassuring, though, is what happened after each of their performances. When the women approached passengers with a petition to support legislating against domestic violence, they collected over 10,000 signatures in 15 hours. That, at least, is something to celebrate.
To paraphrase Georges Clemenceau on Brazil, the New York Jets are the team of the future—and always will be. In 1969 the Jets tossed the pro football world on its head when the AFL upstart Jets were led by Joe Namath to a Super Bowl victory over the NFL old-guard team Baltimore Colts. Since then, the Jets have accomplished nothing—despite intermittent reboots of team management and proclamations that the future will soon be brighter.
The team has never been back to the Super Bowl; four times they were one victory away and lost. That makes one Super Bowl appearance from 1969 till now. Only the Detroit Lions and the Arizona (formerly the St. Louis) Cardinals have a worse won-lost record among franchises that have been around at least half a century.
Why has the team been so bad for so long? Blame a persistent shortsightedness among its leaders over the year.
Much of the Jets’ history of futility over the decades can be traced to Leon Hess, an oil-company billionaire. Hess, along with Sonny Werblin and three other investors, purchased the franchise in 1963 and by 1984 had bought out the other investors to become the team’s sole owner. Hess was well liked, but fans complained in those years that the team didn’t seem to be run by “football people”—that is, management grounded in the strategy, tactics, and economics of the game. Hess seemed more interested in the prestige of owning a pro football team and treating his friends to a box-seat view than in building a solid franchise.
After Hess died in 1999, the Jets were sold for $635 million to Woody Johnson, heir of the Johnson & Johnson fortune. He has proved he knows as little about the game as Hess did. A September a headline in the New York Daily News called him “clueless,” one of the kinder descriptions of his football acumen.
This inept line of owners has resulted in a series of false starts for the Jets. Nearly every new coach hired over the years has brought with him the promise of a new day. Walt Michaels, after four seasons (1977-1980) without a winning record, took the Jets to a 10-5-1 record in 1980 before losing in the first round of the playoffs. One year later, Michaels was gone. In 1985, coached by Joe Walton, they were 11-5 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. In Walton’s seven seasons he won just one playoff game. Pete Carroll grabbed a national championship with the University of Southern California and is currently having great success with the Seattle Seahawks, but when he came to New York in 1994 the best he could manage was 6-10. In 1995, Hess fired Carroll and announced he was hiring Rich Kotite because, “I want results now.” He got them, but not the kind he was looking for: The Jets were 4-28 in two seasons under Kotite.
In 1998 the Jets finally got a football man to head the team; Bill Parcells had won two Super Bowls with the Giants and in 1996 had coached the New England Patriots to the big game. Even Parcells could do no better in three seasons than a 29-19 with a 1-1 record in the postseason.
And so on. In 2009, with management once again impatient to win—Woody Johnson told the press, echoing Leon Hess, “I think our fans deserve a winner now” —Rex Ryan was hired to fill the head job. Rex had no head coaching experience but did have a great pedigree as the son of beloved NFL coach and one-time Jets defensive guru Buddy Ryan.
In 2009 and 2010, Rex went 20-12 and won four of six playoff games, losing the conference championships in both years in tough games. But in those losses the Jets showed enough heart for their fans to think that in this dawn the sun would surely rise. Since then, the Jets have won 19 and lost 24.
In the October 22 Wall Street Journal, Kevin Clark, in one of those judgments a sportswriter would rather forget, wrote that Ryan’s “bone-shattering defense” was “back atop the football world, having stopped the New England Patriots in overtime.” That proved to be yet another false start: The next week, the Jets gave up 402 yards to the Cincinnati Bengals in a 49-9 loss.
It was one of five times this year the Jets have followed a victory with a defeat. This week, according to USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin, the most reliable power ratings analyst, the Jets are the 30th-best team in the league, ahead of only the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jets defense, which is supposed to be their strength, has given up 287 points this season, making it 25th in the NFL; they have been outscored by 101 points, the second worst differential in the league.
In general manager Mike Tannenbaum, Woody Johnson and Rex Ryan found a front-office man whose shortsightedness matched their own. Instead of building a solid foundation for the team through drafts, trades, and free agent acquisitions, Tannenbaum never stopped believing that one star quarterback would turn everything around. Let’s call this the curse of Joe Namath.
In 2008, Eric Mangini’s last year as coach, Tannenbaum brought in a washed-up, 39-year-old Brett Favre, who lasted one season. In 2012, with Ryan as coach, the GM proved he had learned nothing from the Favre debacle and created yet another media circus by signing Tim Tebow, a quarterback apparently never intended to be used in any capacity. Tebow was dumped unceremoniously in April. The only benefit from these two moves was the extra money the team made from jersey and sweatshirt sales.
This year the Jets replaced Tannenbaum with John Idzik, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks. Idzik aped his predecessor by going after another hot-shot quarterback. It should have been a clue that the other 31 teams passed on Geno Smith in the draft before the Jets got to him, yet the Jets brain trust insisted that Smith was a franchise quarterback. So far this year Smith—who has completed 55.2 percent of his passes for an average 7.0 yds/try and throwing 8 TDs to 18 interceptions—is having just about exactly the same success as the man replaced, the much-maligned Mark Sanchez.
But what’s a guy supposed to do, Smith would be justified in asking, when he gets lousy pass blocking and the defense is so bad that you’re always playing catch-up? Sanchez would have been right to ask the same questions. His passing numbers in 2011 and 2012, when the New York media roasted him and the fans nearly booed him off the field, were virtually the same as they were in 2009 and 2010, when he had the Jets just one game away from the Super Bowl.
The main difference between the 2011-12 Jets and the 2009-10 team is pass protection. On the 2011-12 team the Jets quarterback was sacked or knocked down twice as often and the Jets defense collapsed. In Sanchez’s rookie year the Jets were first in the league in fewest points allowed; the next year they dropped to sixth. In both 2011 and 2012 they were 20th. Now they’re 25th. Does anyone see a trend here?
Every embarrassing Jets defeat spurs another round of debate over whether Ryan should be fired. But what difference will firing the coach make unless the entire team is rebooted under a new concept--where patience and sound judgment prevail over the concept of the quick fix?
“I want results now,” Hess said. Well, don’t we all? But until the Jets learn to plan for the future, they’re never going to have a present.
When it comes to tackling the problem of chronic absenteeism, students who already have a track record of skipping class can be a particularly tough crowd to sway. But a new report out of New York City—where one out of every five students missed a month or more of school last year—suggests an intensive community-wide initiative is gaining ground.First, some background: chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of the instructional days over the course of an academic year, which amounts to about 18 days in the average district. The national advocacy group
Attendance Works considers chronic absenteeism as an early warning system that too many schools, parents and students are failing to heed.
Student Absenteeism: Turning More Eyes Toward Empty Desks
The Early Habit of Being Late
some of the reasons why kids say they skip class, and the role motivation can play in their academic success). It's also important to note that it's not just the later grades that matter. A recent Chicago study found absenteeism in preschool contributed to social-emotional developmental delays as well as academic hurdles that students were still trying to overcome years down the road.
Now on to the New York City report, compiled by the Everyone Graduates Centerat Johns Hopkins University, which looked at the impact of a task force created by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010 to address the city's high rate of school absenteeism. The task force's pilot program was aimed at at-risk students and launched with 25 high-need schools in its first year and has since grown to 100 schools with more than 60,000 students participating. The initiative crafted an intensive network of mentors, support services, staff training, better tracking and sharing of data of individual student attendance, and community outreach—particularly to parents.
Among the key findings of the report:
- Students living poverty were 15 percent less likely to absent at the task force schools than their peers at similar campuses. The gains were even greater for students living in temporary shelters—they were 31 percent less likely to absent. The city's Department of Homeless Services was given access to student data and staff received specialized training and support. One city official told the researchers, "It seems like common sense, but until now we just didn’t have the tools, data, or knowledge to do it," according to the report.
- Assigning mentors to work one-on-one with students was the most successful intervention, with kids adding an average of nine days (nearly two full school weeks) of attendance per school year. High school students working with mentors were 52 percent more likely to be enrolled the following academic year than their comparison peers, suggesting the program also contributed to dropout prevention.
- Students who were chronically absent in the 2009-10 academic year at the task force schools were 20 percent more likely to still be in school three years later when compared to similarly situated students at campuses that didn't participate in the task force's programs. That suggests the initiative was also effective as a means of dropout prevention.
Should any of this be a surprise? Probably not to researchers and policymakers who are increasingly focusing on the growing body of evidence about the long-term effects of even short-term absenteeism. Will it raise the volume on calls for more interventions and programs targeting what many educators consider to be an under-addressed factor in student success? That remains to be heard.
Abraham Lincoln often spoke and dreamed about being assassinated, convinced that he would not outlast the rebellion when his work would have been done. Prior to his inauguration, he received letters warning him that he would be killed before reaching Washington. After he died an envelope with eighty such letters was found among his eﬀects, and although twice while president he had his hat shot from his head by unknown assailants, he deprecated all attempts to guard his life.
An assassin’s bullet ﬁnally found him on April 15, 1865, during a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. He was seated in a private box when shot with a .44-caliber bullet ﬁred from a Derringer at close range. The bullet entered the back of his skull to the left of the midline and just above the left lateral sinus (a large venous channel that drains blood from the left side of the brain), which it severed. It penetrated the dura mater (the outermost membrane covering the brain), passed through the left posterior lobe of the brain into the left lateral ventricle, and came to rest in the white matter, just above the anterior portion of the left corpus striatum. It fractured both orbital plates of the frontal bone, causing the eye sockets to become engorged with blood and pushing fragments of bone into the brain.
Dr. Charles A. Leale, a 23-year-old assistant surgeon, U.S. Volunteers, reached the patient within minutes of the shooting and was accosted immediately by a distraught First Lady crying: “Oh, physician! Is he dead? Can he recover?” The President was not yet dead. However, after a cursory examination, Leale announced: “His wound is mortal; it is impossible for him to recover.” At 7:20 a.m., Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States of America, breathed his last, and his spirit ﬂed to God who gave it.
Why Lincoln died is no mystery. His wound, as Dr. Leale predicted, was mortal, because in 1865 little could be done for patients with such wounds. Today modern advances in trauma care have greatly expanded our capacity to manage traumatic brain injuries and have radically altered the prognosis of patients with injuries like Lincoln’s. Could these techniques have saved Lincoln if they had been available in 1865, and if so, what would he have been capable of in the aftermath of such care? These questions were addressed in 2007 by Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, director of the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, the world’s oldest such center, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, during the school’s bicentennial celebration. Dr. Scalea believes that recent advancements in trauma care discussed below would not only have saved Lincoln’s life, but would also have restored much of the President’s neurological function.
Lincoln was shot in the left occiput at close range with a relatively low-velocity bullet. Two young physicians, Dr. Charles Leale, who had graduated from medical school only days before the shooting, and Dr. Charles Taft, just 30 years old, cared for Lincoln. In accordance with the medical practice of the day, they repeatedly probed the President’s wound to prevent blood from accumulating within the skull and compressing his brain. For a time, this maneuver relieved Lincoln’s respiratory distress.
Lincoln’s initial symptoms and his dilated left pupil were caused by cerebral herniation—displacement and compression of vital areas of the brain by blood and edema ﬂuid accumulating within his skull. His physicians remarked that “as long as bleeding continued, the President’s condition remained stable. When the ﬂow stopped, the vital signs weakened … It would produce signs of increased compression. The breathing became stertorous and intermittent, and the pulse became more feeble and irregular.” The most likely path of the bullet that killed Lincoln was through the left lateral sinus. As it traveled through the brain, it created pressure waves that damaged the brain stem (the upper spinal cord). It also produced intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding into the inner cavities of the brain), a deep laceration of the left cerebral hemisphere, and bilateral subdural hematomas (pools of blood collected on the surface of the brain). In time, these primary injuries (i.e., those occurring at the time of impact) were likely magniﬁed by inadequate delivery of oxygen to the brain resulting from repeated episodes of hypotension and the president’s irregular breathing. This, in turn, caused pressure within the skull (the intracranial pressure [ICP]) to rise, producing additional (secondary) damage to the brain.
Lincoln’s intracerebral hemorrhaging would have caused his ICP to soar. Whereas repeated probing of his wound allowed blood to escape from his skull and for a time relieved his elevated ICP, it also contributed to substantial blood loss. The brain is an extremely vascular organ and when injured bleeds profusely. In fact, Lincoln’s attendants commented that his sheets were crimson and his bed surrounded by a pool of blood. Thus, it is likely that he died because of both cerebral herniation and massive hemorrhaging.
Modern trauma care involves a continuum of activities that can be artiﬁcially divided into several phases. The process begins with a preliminary assessment of the patient at the scene of the injury and application of stabilization measures, such as assisted respiration and the administration of intravenous ﬂuids. Appropriate patients are then quickly transported to trauma centers for special- ized care. At the trauma center, another examination is performed to identify immediately life-threatening injuries, which are dealt with as discovered. Next, resuscitation measures as, for example, blood transfusions in the case of Lincoln, are administered as needed, followed by a more systematic, head-to-toe physical examination and appropriate radiographic studies, after which deﬁnitive care is given.
Today, a trauma system of this sort would be activated promptly if the President were injured. In fact, whenever the President leaves the White House, area trauma centers are alerted so that they are available immediately in case of illness or injury involving the chief executive. When the President travels in Maryland, the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland is the one alerted and remains on standby, ready to provide care as needed.
Although the advantages of stabilizing trauma patients in the ﬁeld, so-called “stay-and-play”, versus immediate transport to a trauma center, so-called “scoop-and-run”, might be debated in injuries as severe as Lincoln’s, there is no question that in an urban environment such as the Baltimore/Washington, DC area, with its trauma center literally just minutes away, the “scoop-and-run” option is the best. One might argue, for example, that patients with brain injuries of the magnitude of Lincoln’s should be intubated in the ﬁeld. However, in a recent survey of patients with severe brain injuries treated in the Maryland Trauma System, an organization with considerable airway-management experience, patients intubated upon arrival at the trauma center had a substantially better outcome than those intubated in the ﬁeld. Therefore, Lincoln would have been managed best initially by inserting an intravenous line, through which ﬂuids and blood might be administered, and by assisting his breathing, using a ventilation bag attached to a ventilation mask. Once he arrived at the Trauma Center, an endotracheal tube would have been inserted promptly into his upper airway by a trained anesthesiologist.
Although hyperventilation (rapid forced ventilation) has traditionally been used to reduce brain swelling in patients with severe head injuries, it has not been shown to improve outcome. Hyperventilation does reduce ICP but, unfortunately, does so by diminishing the ﬂow of blood to the brain, which, in turn, reduces the amount of oxygen delivered to the brain. Nevertheless, in patients like Lincoln with impending herniation, hyperventilation is sometimes the only way of lowering ICP rapidly enough to prevent herniation.
President Lincoln’s dilated left pupil reﬂected impending herniation and would have been treated initially with an intravenous concentrated salt solution to support his blood pressure and also to lower his ICP by drawing edema ﬂuid from his damaged brain back into the bloodstream. Because Lincoln’s ICP was almost certainly extremely high, he also would have been treated with modest hyperventilation. A chest x-ray would have been performed, along with an array of routine blood tests. After a third physical examination searching for previously unrecognized injuries, he would have been rushed to the computed tomography (CT) scanner for a deﬁnitive examination of his head injury.
In that acute subdural hematomas must be evacuated promptly in patients with signs of impending herniation, Lincoln would next have been wheeled into the operating room for an emergency craniotomy, ideally within 15 minutes of his arrival in the Trauma Center. His surgery would have been performed by neurosurgeons continuously on call in a room permanently on standby for such emergencies. The neurosurgeons would evacuate the President’s hematomas, débride the bullet’s entrance wound, and repair the damaged dura. They would also place catheters inside his skull to monitor his ICP, cerebral blood ﬂow, and brain oxygen levels, as well as to remove cerebrospinal ﬂuid as needed to lower the ICP. Another head CT scan would be performed looking for evidence of further secondary damage requiring additional surgery. When all necessary surgery had been performed, the president would have been moved to an intensive care unit.
Traumatic brain injury, even if unaccompanied by other injuries, is a systemic disorder in that it activates a neurohumoral cascade—a sequence of pathophysiological reactions involving hormones as well as nerves—capable of causing dysfunction of virtually every organ system. The circulatory system and the lungs are especially hard hit. In certain cases, a full-blown systemic inﬂammatory response ensues, resulting in intestinal dysfunction, renal failure, and a generalized capillary leak. Sometimes, patients develop a coagulopathy (inappropriate clotting of the blood), both as a consequence of clotting mediators released by injured brain tissues and as a complication of transfusions given to replace blood lost as a result of both the injury and surgery.
While in the intensive care unit, Lincoln’s ICP, blood pressure, and blood oxy- gen level each would be monitored closely, with measures taken to optimize the ﬂow of blood and oxygen to his damaged brain. Antibiotics would be given to prevent infection, along with anticonvulsants to prevent seizures. Because traumatic brain injuries are associated with substantial tissue breakdown, not just at the site of the injury but throughout the body, early intravenous nutritional sup- port would be added to his treatments to facilitate healing. Sequential compression devices would be applied to his legs as soon as he was stabilized, along with low-molecular-weight heparin on the third postoperative day to prevent blood clots from forming in the deep veins of his legs.
Some trauma patients develop dangerously high ICPs that are refractory to the measures listed above and require additional, more aggressive interventions to bring their ICP under control. One such intervention is decompressive craniectomy, in which a portion of the skull is removed and saved for possible replacement at a later date to permit the brain to swell unimpeded in the immediate aftermath of the injury. Because the skull is a rigid container, swelling of the brain or bleeding into it causes the ICP to increase. If it rises to a level greater than the pressure within the brain’s blood vessels, blood ﬂow to the brain ceases. In such cases, decompressive craniectomy may be the only eﬀective means of lowering the ICP and restoring proper delivery of glucose and oxygen to the brain. In the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, decompressive craniectomy has been used successfully to relieve refractory traumatic intracranial hypertension 80 percent of the time, and achieved a survival rate of 78 percent with a favorable neurological outcome in 50 percent of such patients.
The ICP correlates closely with the pressure inside both the thorax and the abdomen in patients with severe head trauma , in all likelihood because of communication between the three anatomical compartments via their venous systems. On occasion, harnessing this relationship is the only means, albeit a drastic one, of alleviating refractory intracranial hypertension in patients with severe head trauma. In a recent series of 17 such patients, abdominal decompression (opening the abdomen surgically to reduce intra-abdominal pressure) lowered ICP by nearly 50 percent, even in the absence of elevated intra-abdominal pressure preoperatively.
Optimal management combining early mobilization, a multidisciplinary approach to treatment, and early aggressive rehabilitation might have saved Lincoln. However, it could not have restored his neurological function to normal. At best, he would have been left with several permanent neurological deﬁcits. Patients surviving injuries like his tend to have increased impulsivity, lack of emotional control, decreased problem-solving ability, and impaired eye–hand coordination. Given the nature and extent of Lincoln’s injury, almost certainly he also would have been left with right hemiplegia (paralysis of his right side) and homonymous hemianopsia (blindness in the right half of the visual ﬁeld of both eyes), as well as dyslexia, dysgraphia (diﬃculty writing), and dysphasia (diﬃculty speaking). However, because his frontal lobe was largely spared, his cognition likely would have remained reasonably intact. His rehabilitation would have been long and difﬁcult and at a minimum would have involved a team of professionals consisting of a physiatrist, a neuropsychologist, a speech therapist, a physical therapist, and an occupational therapist. The full extent of his recovery would have taken several years of intensive rehabilitation to have been realized.
When Lincoln died, he was succeeded as president by Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat lacking in diplomatic skills and incapable of compromise. Johnson vetoed unsuccessfully many of the civil rights bills Lincoln would have endorsed. He also ignored passage of “black codes” by Southern states, whereby blacks were prevented from leaving current positions or owning land. He tried to force provisional governors to turn over state control to former Confederate leaders and vetoed legislation creating both the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was trying to help newly liberated blacks assimilate into a free society, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. He also vetoed three Reconstruction acts designed to give blacks the right to vote, before Congress ﬁnally passed the 14th Amendment in 1868.
If Lincoln had lived but been disabled, the situation might well have been even more chaotic, because in 1865 no provision existed for the Vice President or anyone else to take over as chief executive for an incapacitated president. At that time, the Constitution contained provisions for the transfer of such power only when a president died. Not until 1967 was the 25th Amendment passed, which speciﬁes the procedures by which the government deals with an incapacitated president.
Given the extent of the damage to Lincoln’s brain caused by the bullet from Booth’s Derringer, one would be inclined to dismiss Dr. Scalea’s prediction regarding what his team might have accomplished as overly optimistic. However, the case of U.S. Representative Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords seems to suggest otherwise. On January 27, 2011, she was shot in the head with a Glock semiautomatic pistol. A 9mm bullet entered the back of her head just to the left of the midline at almost exactly the same spot at which Booth’s bullet entered Lincoln’s head, and traveled the same path as Booth’s bullet before exiting through the front of her skull near her left eye socket. Giffords was treated according to a protocol similar to that outlined above, including removal of a portion of her skull to allow her brain to swell unimpeded, after which she participated in an intensive rehabilitation program. Now, a little over a year later, she can walk, she can speak in a halting manner, and she is apparently hopeful of one day returning to politics.
Although Giffords’ case seems to validate Dr. Scalea’s conclusions, no two head trauma cases are identical. Whereas Lincoln’s and Giffords’ injuries have much in common, they also diﬀer in several important aspects. Lincoln was shot with a .44-caliber low-velocity bullet, Giffords with a 9mm high-velocity bullet. Lincoln’s bullet didn’t exit the skull; Giffords’ did. Most important, Giffords’ bullet traveled only through the left side of her brain. Lincoln’s is thought to have done so as well; however, Leale’s description of a bulging right eye suggests that the bullet actually crossed the midline into the right cerebral hemisphere, in which case Lincoln’s chances of surviving his injury, even if treated in a modern shock trauma center, much less recovering neurological function to Giffords’ degree, would be minimal.
On January 4, 2006, Ariel Sharon, then Prime Minister of Israel, suﬀered a different though no less devastating brain injury—a massive stroke. The Israeli heath care system, arguably one of the best in the world, reacted quickly and decisively with a series of sophisticated interventions, hoping for the kind of miraculous recovery sometimes seen in such patients. In spite of a host of aggressive measures, including several surgeries related to his comatose state, Sharon never regained his cognitive abilities. He was placed in a long-term care facility on November 6, 2007. Six years later, he is alive but in a persistent vegetative state.
Abraham Lincoln suﬀered his massive brain injury almost a century and a half earlier. The health care system in which his physicians operated was far less sophisticated than that of modern-day Israel or the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. It had neither the knowledge nor the tools to save Lincoln’s life, much less preserve his cognitive abilities, in the aftermath of Booth’s attack. If Dr. Scalea’s team had had access to Lincoln at the time of the assassination, perhaps he might have survived, albeit with right-sided hemiplegia and homonymous hemianopsia, along with persistent dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dysphasia. If so, he might yet have retained enough cognitive and communicative function to have restrained the forces of prejudice and vindictiveness that marred Johnson’s period of reconstruction. Lincoln’s genius, after all, was that “In the cave of winds in which he saw history in the making, he was more a listener than a talker.”
However, in medicine as in politics, nothing is certain. Although under the care of a trauma team like Dr. Scalea’s Lincoln might have made a recovery as miraculous as that of Giffords, he might also have fared no better, or even worse, than under the care of Doctors Leale and Taft. As in the case of Ariel Sharon, modern technology produces tragic failures along with spectacular successes. Sometimes a life is saved only to leave the patient “to linger in dying … never again [to] speak, see, hear, or awaken into a conscious being.” It is because of such uncertainty that knowing when not to treat can be more diﬃcult and more important than knowing how to treat.
This post is adapted from Philip A. Mackowiak's Diagnosing Giants: Solving the Medical Mysteries of Thirteen Patients Who Changed the World.
Since their birth as a science-fair curiosity at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the late 1950s, video games have moved inexorably towards higher and more central cultural ground, much like film did in the first half of the 20th century.
Games were confined at first to the lowbrow carnival of the arcade, but they soon spread to the middlebrow sphere of the living room, overran this private space, and burst out and upwards into the public spheres of art and academia. With prestigious universities like NYU and USC now offering graduate-level programs in game design, and major museums like MoMA, MAD, and SF MoMA beginning to acquire games and curate game exhibitions, preserving the early history of the medium appears more important than ever. But what exactly does it mean to preserve a digital game?
The answer is surprisingly simple: It means, first and foremost, preserving a record of how it was played and what it meant to its player community. Ensuring continued access to a playable version of the game through maintenance of the original hardware or emulation is less important—if it matters at all.
That, at least, was the provocative argument Henry Lowood made at Pressing Restart, which recently brought preservationists, teachers, academics, and curators together at the NYU Poly MAGNET center for a day of "community discussions on video game preservation." Lowood is no contrarian whippersnapper; as a curator at the Stanford Libraries, he has been professionally involved in game preservation efforts for well over a decade.
In his talk, part of a panel on collection criteria for collecting institutions, Lowood decried the fallacy of the executable—the idea that game librarians in 2100 can sleep easy feeling they've done their job well so long as they can brainsync their patrons with fresh working copies of Diablo III, Bejeweled, or any other canonical game. The problem with this attitude, Lowood argued, is that a game is not simply a piece of software, but rather a historically specific site of shared experience.
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Charles Pratt, who curates the annual No Quarter exhibition, is reluctant to take clear sides on a "really complicated" issue, but agrees with Lowood for blurbing purposes. "[When it comes to game preservation,] documentation is probably the most important thing,” he said. “We should preserve the apparatus of a game, but it's impossible to save the culture of a game, which is really the most important part. With this restriction in mind, we should just try and save as much of the memories and events surrounding the game as possible."
The value of this perspective comes into clearest focus when we think about massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). If we want our children to understand Everquest, should we make sure they can log onto an emulated server and kill some rats alongside a few other game history students? Or is it more important that they have access to footage of high-level play from the game's heyday, as well as records of the game's Internet fan communities, not to mention the Everquest Widow controversies the game produced?
It's not that the work we're more accustomed to think of as game preservation—middle-aged electrical engineer guys hunting down obsolete CRT monitors to replace the originals in old arcade machines, hackers reverse-engineering SNES games into ROMs for us to take for granted on our Ouya emulators—has fallen out of favor in the institutional world of game preservation. These more traditional perspectives were well-represented at Pressing Restart.
JP Dyson of The Strong National Museum of Play, for instance, takes maintaining both the original hardware and software as his mandate, and likens game preservation to architectural preservation, with all the challenges and compromises that entails. It's game preservation as idol worship, or radical nostalgia, or a nobly quixotic battle against the reality of the 4th dimension.
Clara Fernandez-Vara, a NYU- and MIT-affiliated game designer, talked about the value of emulation as a game-design teaching tool. Though, like JP Dyson, she seemed to place value in the original physical object, her classroom experience has led her to stress a more pragmatic perspective. Playing through the whole game on the original hardware may be the ideal, but emulation not only delivers universal access to a fair approximation—Fernandez-Vara compared ROMs to facsimiles—but also converts old games from tape to CD using save states, a huge pedagogical win.
Dylan McKenzie, a game designer, curator, and a driving force behind the NYU Game Center Open Library, in many ways shares Fernandez-Vara's pragmatic view of what it means to preserve a game and why we should bother.
"In the case of the NYU Game Center Open Library, the purpose of the collection is to enable game design education. We believe that in order to make great games our students need advanced, deep game literacy, so we're preserving the ability of our students to develop that literacy. In order to become literate in 19th Century Russian Literature you should read books written by Russian authors from the 19th century. If you want to make psychological thriller movies watch Hitchcock films. If you want to push the boundaries of what's possible with videogames you need to know what has already been done, and to do that you need to play games."
For the majority of us, though, preserving the memory of games past doesn’t have the instrumental value that it does for game designers (though we do benefit from game designers knowing the history of their medium and making more original, sophisticated games as a result).
But that’s not to say that it has no value at all, just that this value is more personal. Often, we most love and remember those games that remind us of a particular time in our life or a community that we used to belong to. Game preservation can help us understand ourselves and one another by preserving the memory of those communal experiences. At its best, it can help us be more empathetic, more connected to each other.
Consider Generations, a game designed to last 250 years that Brice Roy presented at Pressing Restart. In this game, you and your descendants work together to build upwards, digging down into parts of the structure that your ancestors built to get the materials you need. Imagine seeing how your dad screwed up most of the levels just how you'd expect. Imagine seeing how he got level 36 just right. Imagine feeling like he was thinking of you when he did it.
Isn't that worth preserving?
A version of this post also appeared on Kill Screen, an Atlantic partner site.
Generally, life after death is a tricky subject to tackle, but in the short film Ruby, artist Emma Allen uses time-lapse images to show her personal rendering of the process. According to Allen, the film is “an animated self-portrait exploring the idea of rebirth and illustrating the transfer of energy from one incarnation to another.” Shot over the course of five days, Allen used stop-frame animation, face paint, and a camera to show her body’s transition to the afterlife. The journey takes Allen from old age, through decomposition, into a budding flower, out into the stars of the solar system, and back towards reincarnation as a new living creature.
"Belgium's Princess Elisabeth is the first zero-emission station in Antarctica. Perched on a nunatak, the aerodynamic stainless steel structure integrates renewable wind and solar energy, water treatment facilities, passive building technologies and a smart grid for maximising energy efficiency. It has no interior heating system."
"As on Twitter, courting the bot-making community has resulted in a surfeit of novelty. One user created a bot that plays tic-tac-toe in the comments of Reddit threads; another scans the comments for replies with the proper syllable count, then reformats them as a haiku."
"When the spoons were tasted with food, there were some surprising revelations. Baked black cod with zinc was as unpleasant as a fingernail scraped down a blackboard, and grapefruit with copper was lip-puckeringly nasty. But both metals struck a lovely, wild chord with a mango relish, their loud, metallic tastes somehow harmonised by its sweet-sour flavour. ('With sour foods, like mango and tamarind, you really are tasting the metal,' says Laughlin, 'because the acid strips off a little of the surface.') Tin turned out to be a popular match for pistachio curry. And Laughlin sang the praises of gold as a spoon for sweet things: 'Gold has a smooth, almost creamy quality, and a quality of absence – because it doesn’t taste metallic.'"
"While at Apple, I created several hundred characters contributing to a native color emoji font. Originally designed for the iPhone in Japan, they are now used worldwide."
"We always joke too that your iPhone or your Blackberry should have a breathalyzer with it."
Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your genetically enhanced bird, then...
The first and last rule of prices is that nobody knows what anything is really worth. Shoppers are guided by shallow clues ("this is cheaper than that") and latent emotions ("it just feels like a good deal") rather than knowledge and deliberate thinking.
The discounts you'll see Friday are equal parts economics and theater co-produced by retail stores and suppliers. A red cardigan sweater on sale for more than 40 percent off looks pretty appealing at $39.99. But 40 percent off of what, exactly? "It was [probably] never meant to sell at its $68," the Wall Street Journal reported in its wonderful investigation of the black magic of Black Friday. The discount game works for everybody: We get our discount dopamine hit, and the stores get their profit.
Smart shopping might be an oxymoron. But smarter shopping? It is, at least, a noble goal. Here are 11 tips from microeconomics, behavioral economics, and social psychology to guide you to successful and as-smart-as-possible Black Friday.
(1) Remember Why It's Called "Black Friday." No, not because it starts at 3 am. It's called Black Friday because it's the beginning of the season when many stores go from being in the red to being in the black. That doesn't sound like much of an economic lesson for you, but that's the point. Black Friday isn't for you. It's for the stores.
The biggest mistake that people make on Black Friday is that they assume that the most popular day of the year to shop is the best day of the year to buy anything. If you're walking into a store at 5 AM Thursday morning, you're expecting floor-kissing prices in every corner. But store-wide discounts aren't in the best interest of the store. It's more common that a few tantalizing items will be sold at a loss to lure shoppers while smart floor design guides them toward more profitable (even full-priced) items. "Black Friday is about cheap stuff at cheap prices, and I mean cheap in every connotation of the word," Dan de Grandpre, a veteran deal expert, told the New York Times.
Stores know you're making this mistake, and they know how to manipulate floor traffic to their higher-margin stuff. As experts in "retail ergonomics" (it's a thing) have shown, counterclockwise traffic flows result in more spending; putting high-margin items at eye-level to the customers' right is most likely to motivate a purchase; and forcing you to walk around a display is an easy way to draw our attention to items the store wants us to throw in the cart.
(2) The Best Deals Aren't This Week (Probably). The two most common reasons for steep discounts are price discrimination and inventory pressure. Price discrimination is the store saying: "Hey you, cheapo, I know you won't buy this steel pot at $50, so we're selling it at $40. Buy it now!" Inventory pressure is the store saying: "You didn't buy our steel pot at $50, or $40, and now it's taking up space and costing us money, so, please, just take it, how about $38?"
It's in the stores' interest to make you think prices will go up after Black Friday. Otherwise, everybody will wait until Saturday. But as inventory piles up, prices will stay low or go lower in early December, as Stephanie Clifford has reported in the New York Times. In general, though, predicting exactly when prices on your single favorite item will be lowest is like trying to buy a plane ticket at its single lowest price. Even our smartest algorithms struggle to do it.
(3) The Full Price Is More Than What's on the Receipt. To appreciate the net cost of your shopping trip, remember to include the gas you use commuting from mega-sale to mega-sale, the shipping and handling costs, and the warranties and rebates (much more on those later).
We tend to ignore net cost when we shop because we're focused on the bargain story. Shoppers love stories—"This skirt was 80% off, I am a discount ninja!"—because when it comes to prices, nobody knows anything, and stories are all we have. Narratives fill the space where knowledge should be. If you drive 40 minutes to a super-sale and sit in a parking-lot line for another 20 minutes, that's an hour of your time and gasoline. That hour might not be part of the story you tell yourself and your friends later. But those are real costs counting against that magnificent 80% discount you found inside.
(4) Make a List. Check it Twice. Shoppers understand that spending a little money makes it easier to spend a little more money. We get a dopamine rush from buying the perfect thing. But making decision after decision depletes our good judgment. This effect, called decision fatigue, exhausts our ability to resist items that feel cheap at the end of a shopping trip.
Keeping track of how much you've spent sounds like sage advice, especially if you're keeping a budget. But be aware that that number will also frame prices in a negative way. Economist Dan Ariely has called this the "problem of relativity." Imagine you see a fetching $150 chair. But you'll be more likely to buy it after a $500 spending spree than a $5 lunch. Expensive is a relative term.
The best way to overcome decision fatigue and the problem of relativity is to write a list and buy only what's on the list. That way you approach Black Friday not as an exploratory mission into the dark world of discounts and window shopping, but as a pure check-the-boxes trip.
(5) Beware of "Free." Something weird happens to our brains when the price for something goes from $1 to $0.01 to free. We stop thinking clearly. Getting things for free feels like such a good deal that we'll go out of our way to get it. Here's Dan Ariely in his book Predictably Irrational:
"A few years ago, Amazon.com started offering free shipping of orders over a certain amount. Someone who purchased a single book for $16.95 might pay an additional $3.95 for shipping, for instance. But if the customer bought another book, for a total of $31.90, they would get their shipping FREE! Some of the purchasers probably didn't want the second book (and I am talking here from personal experience) but the FREE! shipping was so tempting that to get it, they were willing to pay the cost of the extra book."
Free isn't bad. It's good. It's great. It's free! But we're often so enraptured by free that we overreact, tailoring our purchases around getting to FREE! shipping, or FREE! membership, or FREE! headphones, and wind up spending more in the process. Don't do it. Instead, just buy exactly what you want.
(6) Warranties Are Dastardly Tricks. Price discrimination is most dangerous when you can barely see it. Buying insurance on an electronic toy? Ah, such peace of mind! Rebates? Ah, the savings!
Perhaps. But warranties push risk-averse customers into paying a higher price for the same product. "[Warranties] make no rational sense," Harvard economist David Cutler told theWashington Post. "The implied probability that [a product] will break has to be substantially greater than the risk that you can't afford to fix it or replace it. If you're buying a $400 item, for the overwhelming number of consumers that level of spending is not a risk you need to insure under any circumstances."
Rebates test customers' memories and willpower. A $10 rebate on a $40 candlestick feels right in the moment. But four months later, when the words "candlestick rebate" flash in your brain at work, are you really going to take time out of your day to save the equivalent of one day's lunch?
Your brain is smarter in slow motion. Feeling hurried can force bad decisions in all aspects of life, as nowhere is it true more than a crowded store. When we're bombarded with stimuli, racing to grab cardboard boxes before the frantic mother of five behind us, we forget the key question in shopping: Will I still want this thing when I leave the store?
(7) Focus on the Long Game. Thinking about how much we'll regret our purchases can radically change our shopping behavior. A recent study of holiday shopping out of Harvard and Columbia Business Schools devised a mischievous three-part experiment. First, shoppers chose between an expensive or cheap article of clothing. Second, they were randomly divided into groups and asked how much they expected to regret their purchase in one day or ten years. Third, they were released into a mall. The economists found that thinking about short-term regret moved shoppers to buy discounted products. Those primed to take the long view bought more extravagant goods.
One conclusion from the study is that short-term thinking leads to discount-hunting while taking a longer perspective on our buying habits motivates us to price quality over bargains. In the frenzied atmosphere of a Black Friday store, we're manically focused on saving money. But a broader perspective might move us to spend more on the few items we really care about.
(8) Beware "Good Deals" on Items You Know Nothing About. I love this story from Priceless by William Poundstone. Once, Williams-Sonoma couldn't sell their $279 breadmaker, perhaps because, you know, it was a $279 breadmaker. But when the company introduced a $429 breadmaker next to their $279 model, sales of the cheaper model doubled even though practically nobody bought the $429 machine.
Plausible Lesson 1: Williams-Sonoma shoppers are inscrutably nuts. Plausible Lesson 2: We don't know what anything's worth, especially weird stuff like breadmakers, so we're more susceptible to cues that tell persuasive stories about what they *should* cost. Don't let that happen! Don't fall for what looks like a "good deal" just because you can justify it to yourself on the basis of "it was 40% cheaper than the other model." Research prices before you allow store cues to give you answers.
(9) The Most Efficient Gift Is the Worst Gift. It's cash. Yes, it's awful. It's cold and bloodless and impersonal and everybody will hate you if you get it for them. It's also extremely efficient for buying somebody exactly what they want for the perfect price. The famous economic paper "The Deadweight Loss of Christmas" showed that gift-giving "destroys" between a tenth and a third of the value in what we buy. That means the recipient of a $100 shirt would value it between $70 and $90. Cash is better.
You can't get cash for that special someone, unless you happen to be dating an economist studying deadweight loss. So best to follow the advice of Geoffrey Miller, the University of New Mexico professor, whose book The Mating Mind informs us the best gifts are "the most useless to women and the most expensive to men."
(10) Waking Up at 2 AM to Stand in Line For Hours Isn't *Necessarily* Crazy. Your shopping experience, like any experience, has a value. In other words, it has a price. It might seem silly for people to waste perfectly good hours of sleep to wait in line at Best Buy. I happen to think it is silly. But it is not irrational, for two reasons.
First, it's another example of price discrimination, since retail stores are essentially gifting their best deals to their most discount-desperate customers. Second, if you love waiting in frigid Walmart lines at 2 AM, well that's just, like, your time-cost preference, man. Maybe the absurd inconvenience of the wait is a part of the story you want to remember and tell friends later. We pay for memories and stories and extreme experiences that will bring us joy later down the line all the time. Maybe this isn't any different. So don't think: While I was sleeping, my friends were wasting their lives for a slim bargain. Think: While I was sleeping, my friends were paying for an entertaining experience with their time.
(11) One Last Thing: Don't Buy That One Last Thing! Black Friday is exhausting. And when you feel exhausted, your brain gets drunk with stupid. It's decision fatigue, it's leg fatigue, it's everything fatigue. Retail stores know this. So they put cheap stuff tantalizingly close to our arms in the checkout aisle. It's so cheap, and small, and cute, I have to have it, your decision-fatigued brain will plead. Don't listen.
This post is based on a version we originally published on November 21, 2012.
Chen Weihua, columnist and chief Washington correspondent for China Daily:
The Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is not a Chinese invention. The United States, Japan and some 20 other countries declared such zones in their airspace long time ago.
China’s announcement of its first ADIZ in the East China Sea reflects its frustration with Japan’s refusal to admit that there is a dispute over the sovereignty of Diaoyu Islands, or, as the Japanese call them, the Senkaku. And a number of times Japan has used its own declared ADIZ as a pretext to criticize China of intruding into its airspace, which, in China’s view, is disputed.
The declaration of such ADIZ should by no means be seen as a signal that China is willing to shoot down any foreign planes entering the zone without prior reporting. The declaration of the zone gives China a strong legal basis and argument in certain cases, just as Japan did to its advantage in past years.
There is a lot of over-reaction and over-explanation of this as a Chinese provocation. Remember, China has as large a stake in the peace, stability and prosperity in the region as anyone else. Its economy depends on this. Despite the tension, China and Japan’s trade goes on unimpeded. So China would not want military conflict.
I believe leaders in China and Japan are under pressure, trying to appease to nationalistic sentiment in their countries, but I do hope and believe that both have the wisdom to find a compromise, so as to ensure a win-win situation for both.
The U.S. has a role to play here, given that Vice President Biden is going to China, Japan and South Korea next week. But the U.S. should not just try to reassure its allies, maybe more importantly it should win the trust of China if it wants to be a credible broker. You are not qualified to be a judge of a soccer match if one team happens to be made up of your brothers and cousins. The only way to do that is if you are ready to be stricter with that team, and willing to show more yellow or red cards to your own brothers and cousins at times such as when the Japanese government nationalized the islands a year ago.
The U.S. flying B-52 bombers there, if deliberate, only encourages more nationalistic sentiment in China and adds more pressure on the leaders.
James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic:
Chen Weihua is certainly right to point out that ADIZs have a long history around the world. Also he is right that, that as their name (Air Defense Identification Zone) implies, their purpose is to require aircraft to identify themselves—as opposed to being excluded from an airspace or shot down. But it’s worth noting that most U.S. coverage has made both these points. Indeed, in an earlier post I did at The Atlantic, I put up a map of the many ADIZ areas that surround the United States, and also explained the difference between an ADIZ and a “no-fly zone.”
There are two aspects of the situation that I think deserve more attention on the Chinese side. One is that establishment of this new ADIZ is clearly a change in the status quo. You can argue, as Chen Weihua does, that it’s a justified change—but I hope the Chinese government recognizes that in a very difficult situation, it has taken a step that changes previous understandings and may well provoke reactions from other parties.
The other is that the U.S. interest in this dispute—as I understand it, from a journalistic rather than a governmental perspective—is to contain the disagreement and encourage a diplomatic settlement. It has no interest in being directly involved or “taking sides.” The United States has deep and important relations with both China and Japan. In addition, as all governments in the region realize, it has a treaty obligation to defend Japan as part of the Constitutional arrangement that has kept Japan from fully rebuilding its own military.
All the governments involved have an interest in stepping back from a potential confrontation. I believe that this point is well understood in Washington, and I hope it is in both Tokyo and Beijing.
Tai Ming Cheung, director of the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation:
China’s decision to establish an ADIZ over the East China Sea comes barely one year after Xi Jinping became chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) at the 18th Communist Party Congress. The move is a major example of Xi’s emerging doctrine of “preparing for military struggle” that is the centerpiece for his plans to develop a battle-ready PLA. This means enhancing the military’s war-fighting readiness and accelerate the pace of its weapons modernization.
Xi has been extremely active in his first year in consolidating his leadership of the PLA by visiting military facilities across the country, especially naval and air units. For example, he toured the PLA Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in Qingdao in September and submarines and destroyers in Hainan in April.
With Xi’s close attention to military affairs, he is almost certain to have been involved in the decision-making for the establishment of the ADIZ given the wide-ranging international strategic significance of such an action. While the final decision would officially have been taken by the CMC, the PLA Air Force would likely have been the main proponent for the move because it stands to gain the most.
To be able to effectively implement the ADIZ, the air force will argue that it needs extensive resources ranging from long-range surveillance radars to advanced fighter aircraft and airborne early warning aircraft. How aggressively the Chinese authorities will seek to enforce the rules that China has defined for the ADIZ will determine whether the move will heighten the chances for conflict between China, the U.S., and Japan.
The biggest concern is that the PLA’s lack of operational experience, overlapping ADIZs, and unclear rules of engagement could lead to accidents that could easily spiral into dangerous incidents. The only way to address this is for China to talk with Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. as soon as possible to work out their differences. But the initial strongly negative response from these other countries to Beijing’s surprise unilateral move means this may not happen anytime soon.
Stephanie Kleine-Albrecht: director of Asia-Pacific programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace:
Tai Ming Cheung put his finger on a key issue—how the newly announced ADIZ will further empower actors within China to push for bolder action in the contested territories in the East China Sea.
But in so doing, Beijing dangerously narrows its options. Such announcements directly empower Chinese military and civilian law enforcement actors in the disputed areas and embolden nationalists and netizens to hold the government accountable to implement them in practice. The last announcement of this type was on September 10, 2012 when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs set baselines to formally demarcate China territorial waters in the area. In Beijing's eyes, this move legally placed the disputed islands under Chinese administration in a direct challenge to Japan's administration of the islands.
Such an unprecedented move to formalize its claim obliged China under its own laws—and in the court of domestic public opinion—to assert jurisdiction over the waters surrounding the islands and empowered Chinese maritime law enforcement agencies to assert China's sovereignty around the islands. Almost immediately, China increased the presence of Maritime Ocean Surveillance vessels in disputed waters on what the Foreign Ministry claimed was a “rights defense law enforcement action.” Sure enough, Internet users tracked Chinese law enforcement vessels via satellite photos, mocking and criticizing the government when they stopped short of disputed waters. (One netizen summed it up: Beijing “can’t just verbally draw [the territorial sea baselines], then neglect them. That’s humiliating”.) They held Beijing to statements that it may have made during a time of high public pressure, not allowing for the option of selective enactment. We can imagine a similar dynamic taking place now with the ADIZ. Certainly heated discussions have already taken place in Beijing after the US B-52 flight. Beijing is again setting itself up to be criticized internally as too weak in a highly-charged atmosphere. This emboldens belligerent voices and constricts the space for diplomacy.
Given this situation, there must be serious efforts made on both sides to deal with the potential risks, which as Tai Ming pointed out, are aggravated by the PLA’s lack of operational experience, overlapping ADIZs, and unclear rules of engagement, which could lead to accidents. I would add to that list the lack of “hotlines” or even effective channels of communication in times of crisis and the evaporation of back-channel diplomacy between Tokyo and Beijing.
It is dangerous that the agency with arguably the greatest interest in de-escalating tensions has limited access to information and constricted room for maneuver. And the majority of governments are routed through the MFA in their dealings with China, limiting their understanding of the Chinese decision-making process because they are talking to the weakest link.
A path actually exists to reduce the chances of unintended escalation, so no one needs to re-invent the wheel on maritime communication arrangements between China and Japan. Mechanisms just need to be reactivated. Over the last five years, China and Japan worked together to develop several maritime confidence building and communication arrangements to reduce the chances of unintended escalation in the East China Sea and improve Sino-Japanese relations (up until Sept 2012 of course). These include the Japan China Maritime Communications Mechanism (JCMCM), the Maritime Search and Rescue Cooperation Agreement (SAR Agreement), and the High level Consultation on Maritime Affairs (High Level Consultation). (For a full list, see this). Despite considerable progress in reaching agreement in principle, the political will has been lacking for the signature or implementation of these agreements.
The problem here is that while China knows that it needs to manage the islands together with Japan, it will not talk directly to Japan about protocols/rules of the road/confidence building measures (CBMs) around islands until Japan admits they are disputed. China sees direct talks with Japan about protocols/rules of the road/CBMs as a compromise; not as the logical thing to do to avoid a misstep. There is an argument in Beijing that without this sort of concession from Tokyo, it would be heavily criticized internally for showing weakness by entering into direct talks with Tokyo. For Tokyo’s part, admitting the existence of a dispute is also an unacceptable compromise.
Compounding the danger is that many in the PLA and Maritime surveillance officials are far from convinced of the need to talk to Japan because they are confident that they can avoid a mishap. Some actors within the PLA and Maritime surveillance even say that a “minor crisis” could actually help their position, as long as it doesn’t escalate. They believe they can control escalation.
I understand that many Japanese were hopeful that after the 3rd plenum we might see a thaw. But regrettably, I think that the Chinese government is comfortable waiting this out, while making moves to try to consolidate its position. Beijing feels it has achieved something. It has taken advantage of Japan’s purchase move in September 2012 to permanently challenge Japan’s administrative control of the islands (which can be termed “reactive assertiveness:” a tactic that turns perceived provocation by rivals claiming territory into a chance for changing the status quo in China’s favor). Despite expressions by both governments that they wish to avoid a war, the potential for escalation has increased significantly and there is deepening pessimism on all sides over the prospects of a peaceful settlement.
The United States—as a treaty ally of Japan, which has vital strategic interests in fostering peaceful relations with China—has been brought into the heat of the conflict. But, in this situation, Beijing views Washington as a threat, and Tokyo is questioning Washington’s resolve to defend Japan should an armed dispute erupt. Vice President Biden will have his hands full on his upcoming trip.
This post first appeared at ChinaFile, an Atlantic partner site.
Building the Brooklyn Bridge was hard enough. Rebuilding it out of typefaces has taken Cameron Moll, a designer and lecturer, an insane amount of dedication, meticulousness, and know-how. His typographically re-imagining of the storied New York landmark is the latest in a series of projects rendering world monuments in letters. Before the bridge, he tackled the Coliseum in Rome. “I did the first one, the Salt Lake Temple in Utah, basically as a challenge to see if I could convert something into type,” he told me in an email.
Moll is a digital expert who works with the latest image-making computer software—he uses Adobe Illustrator for these projects—but that doesn’t make the intricate workmanship much easier. “Some characters can be copied and pasted from previously completed sections, but probably 70 to 80 percent of the characters you see in the artwork are positioned, sized, and rotated one by one," he said. "It's extremely tedious, and I can do only about an hour at a time. My eyes literally go bonkers if I stretch it out any longer.”
At the end of every design session, Moll prints out his work to ensure its accuracy. “When the artwork hangs on someone's wall, it needs to looks great up close,” he wrote, “but it also has to look like the building or structure from far away. Printing allows me to inspect close-up details, as well as stand back and assess the piece from a distance.”
Moll works with digitized fonts that are historically related to the periods of the structures. For the Brooklyn Bridge he used a Font Bureau typeface called Antique Condensed that's extremely close to a specimen of type from when the bridge was completed in 1883. For his rendering of the Coliseum, in addition to Frederic Goudy's version of the classic Trajan, Moll digitized several glyphs based on the work of Italian calligrapher M. Giovambattista Palatino, which are used throughout the artwork.
Moll has “screen-recorded” every hour he’s worked on the Brooklyn Bridge, “but I've yet to go back and tally those hours. With the Coliseum, I estimated about 250 hours of design time. I would imagine the Brooklyn Bridge required at least that much time,” he said. “However, I'd be willing to bet the time spent researching the project prior to designing surpasses the actual design time. I put an enormous amount of effort into ensuring I recreated the historic bridge properly. David McCulloch's The Great Bridge was immensely helpful, as was the advice from [type experts] like Jonathan Hoefler of Hoefler & Frere-Jones, and Robert Warner, who runs the Bowne & Co. museum today.”
Moll does not have a grand plan for his work. “I just love re-imagining structures in type,” he said. "Well, it's more of a love-hate relationship. I love the outcome. The arduous process, on the other hand, is hated at times. One of the best feelings through the Brooklyn Bridge project was sitting down at my desk for another design session ... and find[ing] myself thinking, ‘Wow. This looks incredible.’ It's rare that we designers find ourselves stunned by our own work, but that was the case often with this project.”
He said this labor-intensive effort has taught him a lot. “I walk away from a project like this so amazed at how much it took not just to architect each structure, but to construct it, too,” Moll told me. “John Roebling deserves credit as the architect of the Brooklyn Bridge, but his son, Washington, deserves as much or more credit as the one who made thousands of decisions during its construction.”
Moll’s Bridge is a tribute to the men who died building the actual Brooklyn Bridge, and to many others who made the bridge possible and lived to tell about it. “And I think it's a tribute to all of us who create, too,” he said. “One of the best things ever said about the bridge was written the day it opened. ‘It so happens,’ wrote Montgomery Schuyler for Harper's Weekly on May 24, 1883, "that the work which is likely to be our most durable monument, and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity, is a work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, not a palace, but a bridge.’ If John, Washington, and Emily Roebling could make something as beautiful and historic with something as mundane and utilitarian as a bridge, there's hope for the rest of us working on similarly mundane and utilitarian projects.”
We lived in Spain when I was growing up. My dad was in the Navy and we were stationed at the Rota Naval Base in Andalucía, a small fishing village in Southern Spain. This was 1980. My brother and I, eight and nine respectively, went to a Department of Defense elementary school on base, but we lived out on the economy in downtown Rota, in a typical Spanish white-washed house with a terracotta tiled roof and iron bars on the windows. We didn’t have a telephone, and our TV only got two channels—both in Spanish, of course. The programming consisted mostly of bullfights (shockingly graphic and gory), endless soccer games, and the occasional political quasi-news program (very boring to us—typically a bunch of men smoking and yelling at each other).
We did, however, have a small collection of VHS tapes. Consequently there are about a dozen movies that my brother and I know by heart from having watched them in constant rotation over a three-year stretch. It’s a weird assortment (some of it quite age inappropriate for us, but the parenting styles were different in the ‘80s) running the gamut from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Midnight Express, The Wizard of Oz, Magnum Force, Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, Stroker Ace, and the 1980 Neil Diamond gem, The Jazz Singer. (There was also a copy of High School Memories, a porno flick that my dad kept on the highest bookshelf that he thought we didn’t know about, but we did. But that trauma is a whole other story.)
I was on the elliptical machine the other day, flipping through channels, when I happened upon The Jazz Singer again for the first time in more than 30 years. The things that struck me the most as I watched it again were A: how I could still remember the dialog word for word despite not having seen it in three decades, and B: how much I learned from watching this movie when I was a kid. And I’m not just talking about how epic the hairstyles were back then. It occurred to me that The Jazz Singer was my first introduction to many of the practices and customs of a religion other than my own. It was also an early introduction to feminism.
Being raised Catholic, I didn’t have much, if any, exposure to other religions. So for years after watching The Jazz Singer, I’d un-ironically explain to people that much of what I knew about the customs and traditions of Jewish life I’d learned from Neil Diamond. I mistakenly thought the film was autobiographical for Diamond, not realizing until years later that it’s actually a remake of the 1920’s movie, starring Al Jolson.
Neil Diamond’s character, Yussel Rabinovitch, is a fifth-generation Cantor. He lives in a small, run-down apartment in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, a woman he had known since childhood, and his elderly father, also a Cantor, played by Laurence Olivier. Diamond (I’m just going to call Diamond's and Olivier’s characters Diamond and Olivier) sings at the Shul but yearns for more, as we discover when we see him getting out of bed in the middle of the night to pick out notes for what will become “Love on the Rocks” on his guitar.
His wife, Rivka, overhears him singing “Love on the rocks, ain’t no big surprise” (subtle), and knows her husband pines for something more. That scares her, as she is happy in the traditional life she has married into. “I like being married to a Cantor,” she later pleads with him. When his buddy, Bubba, asks him to fill in on a gig because one of the band members got arrested, Diamond finds himself singing under the stage name Jess Robin in a black club ... in blackface. He’s generally rocking the audience until one of the more observant audience members notices his hands are still white. A riot ensues, resulting in Neil Diamond and the band having to get bailed out of jail by Diamond’s bewildered father: “I thought you were at the library. The guard said there was no Yussel Rabinovitch, only a Jess Robin.”
In the next scene Diamond has to come clean with his dad and try to make him see his point of view: “Dad, I’m making music that people enjoy. What’s so terrible?” Olivier: “If it’s not so terrible, why all the sneaking around?” Diamond resolves to stay in the traditional role his father desires for him.
Deus ex machina arrives shortly after, however, in the form of a phone call from Bubba, who has since moved to L.A. to pursue his music career. A popular rock star has heard “Love on the Rocks” and wants to record it, but the catch is that Diamond must fly out to L.A. For two weeks. Tomorrow!
But the timing couldn’t be worse. It’s the night of a big celebration at the Shul for Pop. Diamond breaks the news to his father. “You’ll never come back,” Olivier cries. Diamond dances “Hava Nagila” with his sobbing father, kisses his distraught wife goodbye as she’s whisked past him in the circle dance, and Pan Ams it to the West Coast. He’s greeted by the Rock Star’s agent, Molly Bell, who quickly bonds with Diamond when she tells him her name is really Molly Bellengocavella.
The Rock Star (picture a slightly less punked out, somewhat disco version of Billy Idol) wants to record “Love on the Rocks” as a rock song, not the ballad Diamond had intended it to be. During a break after a temper tantrum the Rock Star throws because he wants the band to give him “more boom-boom-boom,” Diamond offers to sing it for him as a ballad. The Rock Star is unimpressed and fires him, but Molly sees that Diamond is the real deal and makes it her mission to make him the star he’s clearly meant to be. But can it be done in two weeks? Turns out it can, thanks to Bell’s indefatigable machinations. Diamond gets booked as the opening act for Zany Grey. The audience goes wild. A star is born. But the thrill is short. Rivka, Diamond’s wife, has arrived for the performance and is looking on from the wings as a clearly enraptured Molly Bell snaps photos.
Rivka confronts Molly Bell and the conversation goes something like this:
Rivka: “You and Jess have done so much these two weeks. I wonder if there’s anything more you’ve done that he hasn’t told me about?”
Bell: “I offered him my body, but he settled for a pizza.”
Rivka: “You don’t understand, our life. It’s bigger than this. It’s tradition. It’s who we are. It’s in our blood.”
Bell: “I don’t understand the hold you people have on him.”
Diamond, having tasted the intoxicating nectar of success, is hooked. Also, he’s wearing a very snazzy purple shirt unbuttoned to the navel to best reveal his swarthy chest hair (not to be outdone by his winged hairdo and mutton chops).
It’s over for Diamond and Rivka. Rivka will return to the traditional life she loves. Diamond will stay in California to pursue his dream. There will be a divorce. But it’s okay. Rivka is at peace with it. “I have everything I want,” she claims, which conveniently frees Diamond up to pursue his newfound success and his attraction to Molly Bell. Liberated of his old-world wifely impediment (we never see Rivka again), his career takes off. He cuts an album. He and Molly are a couple. She wears a white napkin on her head and waves her hands over the candles. She makes him a ham. But Jewish people can’t eat ham! She covers her face with her hands in embarrassment upon realizing her adorable mistake.
Then Papa ruins everything when he unexpectedly shows up at Diamond’s door one sunny California afternoon (no one in this family announces when they are traveling across the country to drop in on Diamond). “No piazza, no gondolas? And this is Venice?,” says the addled Olivier. “Come in, Pop,” says Diamond. But lo, there is no thing on the door that Jewish people kiss (which I now know is a Mezuzah), which signals the first sign of trouble. The second, and the breaking point, is when Bell shows up holding two bags of groceries. It’s clear they are living together. In sin. “I haff no son!” cries Papa as he rips his coat, signaling that Diamond is now dead to him. Also it’s pretty impressive that he can rip that wool with his bare hands. It looks like a pretty high-quality, strong weave.
Riddled with guilt and battling his inner demons, Diamond lashes out at his band mates and Molly Bell. “I don’t need any of you” he says as he storms out, jumps into his convertible mustang, and floors it out of the parking lot, forcing another car off the road and a nearby police officer to run over, arms waving, left to stare in disbelief. Diamond speeds away leaving a cloud of dust behind on his quest to find himself, which involves a very prolonged shot of him driving down the highway, the wind whipping through his magnificent hair. That's until he runs out of gas, abandons the mustang on the side of the road (but not before trying in vain to start it a few times—as if running out of gas didn’t occur to him), grabs his leather jacket, thumbs it and hitches rides with big rig truckers, whom he entertains with his guitar. He also grows a full-on country and western beard, acquires himself a full-gallon cowboy hat and boots, and travels with only a small duffle bag and his guitar for company.
“I need a job,” he says as he pulls himself up to the bar of some watering hole. “Hell, I’ve got a few minutes,” the jolly barkeep says, “Play me something.” “What do you want to hear?” asks Diamond in what appears to be a newly affected southern accent. “’You Are My Sunshine,’” says the barkeep. Diamond’s got the job. Business is booming for the delighted barkeep who can now sit on the other side of the bar and enjoy his oversized plate of ribs since Diamond is packing ‘em in for a full house night after night. Looks like Diamond has settled into his new life until his old buddy, Bubba, shows up. “One musician can always find another” he explains, proffering a photo of Diamond’s new son, Charlie Parker Rabinovitch, born yesterday to proud mom Molly Bell.
Diamond hightails it back to California. There he finds Molly Bell—on a wool blanket on the beach with a giant baby who is sporting nothing but a diaper in what seems to be far too cold and blustery a day to have an infant out on the beach with sand blowing everywhere, but who’s to say? Parenting styles were different in the ‘80s. Diamond watches Molly Bell and his giant baby from a perch about 10 yards back, but she senses him and turns slowly, the drama unfolding as “Hello Again” plays in the background. They walk towards each other slowly and meet in a passionate embrace. She takes him back instantly despite that fact that he shows up after having disappeared for what has to be a minimum of nine months.
“That’s very convenient for him, isn’t it?” I remember my mother saying from her seat next to me on our sectional couch as she inhaled so fiercely from her Marlboro that her lips were like two taught white rubber bands. I guess, as a Navy wife frequently left for months at a time to raise two kids under the age of two while her husband was deployed out to sea, she wasn’t buying into this. My mom would make a similar observation, years later, of Brad Pitt’s odyssey in Legends of the Fall, which prompted me to confront the classmate who had recommended the film as being “the epitome of romantic” with my mom’s version: Pitt’s a selfish, misogynist ass who left his fiancé, Julia Ormond, with no hope for a future, ultimately bringing her to blow her brains out after he sought remedies for his inner demons in faraway lands in the arms of various native women, only to show back up and marry someone else. “I hadn’t looked at it that way, but I see your point,” the classmate replied.
Back in The Jazz Singer, Molly Bell wastes no time getting Diamond’s career back on track. Plucky and tenacious, she gets him the big gig—three minutes on national TV. In New York. Also, the timing is rather auspicious. “It’s Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. It’s time to make things right with your father,” Molly Bell insists.
Diamond surprises his dad by showing up to sing at Yom Kippur. Papa, still refusing to acknowledge that he has a son, cannot resist the news that he has a grandson “with Mama’s smile and your eyes.” There is peace. Diamond goes on to rock another audience with “America.” The credits roll.
The movie was actually a critical flop, universally panned for a variety of reasons including Laurence Olivier’s ridiculous overacting—he and Diamond won Golden Raspberry awards in, respectively, the Worst Supporting Actor and Worst Actor categories. It did, however, do pretty well commercially, and produced some of Neil Diamond’s most popular songs: “America,” “Hello Again,” and “Love on the Rocks.”
And it occurred to me from my perch on the elliptical machine, 30 years after having first watched this movie, that I owe Neil Diamond a debt of gratitude. Not only for demystifying some of the basics of Jewish culture and opening up my eyes to a world of customs and traditions outside my own, but because it gave me (and my brother) the opportunity to see this film through my mom’s lens—teaching me at a young age to recognize the flaws in the “romantic” tropes Hollywood packages up. Not to mention dazzling me with a time capsule capturing the splendor of the late 70’s. What’s so terrible about that?
American Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November. Countless institutions depend on this date being predictable year in and year out: football teams planning their "Turkey Bowl" games, schools setting their vacation schedules, department stores deciding when to put up their Christmas decorations.
But the Thanksgiving date wasn't always so reliable. For decades, the president got to decide when the holiday fell each year. They tended to follow the example of Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863 set Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of November—until Franklin D. Roosevelt went rogue. In 1939 there were five Thursdays in November, so according to Lincoln's example, Thanksgiving would have been on the last day of the month. Roosevelt worried that such a late Thanksgiving would mean that Christmas shopping season would be too short, which would be hard on merchants already hurting from the Great Depression. So he declared that Thanksgiving that year would fall on the second-to-last Thursday, November 23rd.
Though the change was intended to help a struggling nation, it ended up dividing the country. Twenty-two states refused to go along with Roosevelt's decision and instead celebrated Thanksgiving on the 30th. Almost all the other states sided with the president and feasted the week before. (Texas, Mississippi, and Colorado couldn't make up their minds and declared both the 23rd and the 30th holidays.)
For some college students studying away from home, the division over Thanksgiving caused a real problem: What if the state where they went to school celebrated Thanksgiving on one date, and their home state celebrated it on the other? They'd be stuck in class while their families enjoyed the meal together. Miss Eleanor Lucy Blydenburgh, a student at the Pratt Institute in New York (which celebrated Thanksgiving on the 23rd) who grew up in Connecticut (which celebrated on the 30th), expressed her "heart ache" at this situation in a letter to President Roosevelt:
Your recent decision to change the date of our Thanksgiving Day has just taken effect here at Pratt Institute. Our directors announced that our school vacation would begin on the twenty-third of November and last until the twenty-sixth because New York, being your home state, is abiding by your decision. However, where I come from, Connecticut, they'll be observing it on the thirtieth of November as usual. Really, this situation makes my heart ache because I love our Thanksgiving Holidays as much if not a bit more than our Christmas Holidays.
Oh, I've missed one other Thanksgiving at home with my parents because I was away at college and too far away to get home to celebrate with them and I didn't like being away at that time either but I see it's going to happen again.
I would really like to know just why you did change the date, my curiosity has been aroused. You probably won't see or hear of this letter because you are so busy however, it's been nice writing you about the situation.
(Miss) Eleanor Lucy Blydenburgh
Fortunately, the confusion only lasted a few more years. In 1941, Congress passed a resolution stating that Thanksgiving would be on the fourth Thursday of November, as it remains today. Now, the primary "heart ache" that college students experience this time of year is the romantic kind.
From parties to prisons, narratives of a single place or remarkable journeys, the past year at our Twitter book club, @1book140, has sparked great conversations. Yet every book we choose to read closes the door on conversations that might have been.
This month, let's bring back runners-up from 2013. Read about this month's picks, scroll to the bottom of the article, and make your selection. Voting ends Sunday at noon ET. I'll post a reading schedule soon after.
If you're still reading November's book, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's In The First Circle, don't worry! I think many of us will be catching up on this 96 chapter masterpiece over the weekend. Follow the reading schedule here and join the conversation on our hashtag, #1book140.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (January Vote). In the New York Times review, Janet Maslin writes that Boo "is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama." Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Martha Nussbaum argues that Boo is inattentive to the social context. Who's right? If you choose this book, we'll ask bloggers from the Indian Twittersphere to be our guides.
In February, an adventurous group of readers went ahead and read the runner-up, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. The rest of us read The Fault in our Stars by John Green. Since we already read the runner-up, I'm omitting this month.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (March Vote). In the New York Times Book Review, Joy Williams wrote of Vampires: "Fiction is by definition unreal, and Russell takes this coldly awesome truth and enjoys fully the rebel freedom it confers." Russell's novel Swamplandia! was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, though no prize was ultimately awarded. Vampires, Russell's latest collection of absurdist fiction, has made quite a splash since its release in January.
In April, we read The Great Gatsby. In May, we read poetry and followed up on Twitter with Susan Harris, director of Words Without Borders. When Chimamanda Adichie's Half a Yellow Sun didn't get selected in June, a group of readers split off and spent the month discussing it. I'm omitting these months.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander was suggested by Katelin Hansen (October Vote). This book argues that the criminal justice system in the United States has created the equivalent of a caste system. NPR's Fresh Air summarizes the book: "millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities." A strongly argued book, it's not all intellect; Alexander keeps the style lively with stories and personal anecdotes.
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, a classic spy novel by John le Carré (November Vote), shocked Western audiences with its cold portrayal of the calculating business of espionage. When British intelligence officer Alec Leamas's last operative is shot, he's brought home for one last desperate job: a fake defection to East Germany. Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, and Oskar Werner star in the excellent 1965 film.
It's fortuitous that a nuclear agreement with Iran was announced just days before Thanksgiving, a time when football crowds out foreign policy. Summarized in a single, simple bottom line, the interim deal announced on Sunday will roll back Iran’s nuclear drive from our red zone to the 30-yard line. As Chart 1 illustrates, over the past four years, without any constraints on its nuclear program, Iran has marched relentlessly toward our goal line.
As Chart 2 shows, the agreement, if implemented, will push Iran back from our 10-yard line, out of our red zone, to the 30-yard line. Having an opponent 30 yards away from one’s goal line is not comfortable, but it is nonetheless a lot better than having that opponent be just several yards shy of the end zone.
The terms of the interim deal call for Iran to stop all enrichment of uranium to the 20-percent level. Moreover, they require Iran to eliminate its stockpile of almost a bomb’s worth of 20 percent-enriched material accumulated since 2010. For many observers, this may seem like a technical distinction without a difference, since Iran will continue operating centrifuges that produce 3.5 percent-enriched uranium, adding to a stockpile that is already sufficient, after further enrichment, for nearly seven bombs.
But the difference really matters. When a state has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent (the level used to fuel a civilian nuclear power plant), it has done seven-tenths of the work to produce bomb-usable material (which is 90-percent enriched). When that material is enriched further to 20 percent, nine-tenths of the work required to make bomb-usable material has been completed.
It is instructive to recall that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to sound the alarm about the Iranian nuclear program in his speech at the United Nations last year, he focused on this same yardstick in his oft-cited graphic illustrating Iran’s progress toward a bomb. He drew a new red line onto his cartoon diagram: one bomb’s worth of 20 percent-enriched uranium. (Israeli officials later clarified that this was equivalent to 250 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium in hexafluoride form.)
As Chart 4 shows, by the prime minister’s metric, the interim agreement not only requires Iran to respect Bibi’s red line. It goes beyond what he demanded, forcing Iran to eliminate the nearly one bomb’s worth of 20 percent-enriched material by diluting or converting it to oxide to fuel the country's research reactor.
Of course, a challenge as complex as Iran’s nuclear ambitions cannot be captured by any single measure. Other key metrics include the number and production rate of centrifuges installed and operating, which the agreement freezes; the frequency of international inspections of ongoing enrichment activity, which the agreement advances from once a week to daily; and the speed at which construction of a further plutonium-producing reactor at Arak progresses, which the agreement slows, stopping all critical advances for six months.
In sum, the interim agreement to push Iran back 20 yards on its fastest path to a bomb, stop its advance on other fronts, and expand international inspections of ongoing activities is a modest but significant first step. Moving beyond this deal to a comprehensive agreement that pushes Iran further away from an exercisable nuclear weapons option will prove much more important—and much more difficult. But if we compare where Iran is today with where it will be over the next six months under the agreement, we are clearly better off. And if we compare where Iran’s nuclear program will be over the next six months with where it would have advanced in the absence of an agreement, we are even better off.
By John Tierney
If you’ve been following the reports here by Deborah and Jim Fallows in their American Futures series, you know that the small city of Eastport, Maine, a town that has faced hard times in the past, is a place with lots of good things going on. Most recently, we’ve learned from Deb about the positive, “yes-we-can” attitude that has become widespread there, reaching into (and being reinforced by) the language people use. And from Jim, we’ve heard about efforts to build harbor traffic for the deep-water port there and an ambitious, large-scale project to harness the hydro-kinetic power of ocean tides and river currents.
Now let’s look in on another bold venture in Eastport, this one of much smaller scale and different orientation, but no less important in the way it’s helping to revitalize this coastal community. This is the story of how an art museum -- The Tides Institute & Museum of Art -- got started there in the past decade, and what it’s come to mean in the life of this small community of 1,300 people.
Hugh French, an Eastport native, and his wife, Kristin McKinlay, were living in Portland, Maine, in 2002 when they decided -- in the great American spirit of mobility -- to move. Where, they weren’t exactly sure.
But on a visit back to Hugh’s hometown, they saw an old, dilapidated building for sale, the former home of the Eastport Savings Bank, and decided, virtually on the spot, to buy it and create an art museum there.
Laughing at the memory, McKinlay told me: “We went through the building. It was in dire shape, and yet we came out saying to each other, ‘We have to do this.’” Laughing harder, she said, “It was somewhat a matter of putting the cart before the horse.” What she meant was that they hadn’t previously made a conscious decision to move back to Eastport, much less looked for or purchased a home there, but they bought the building anyway, planning to create a museum. Their thinking, I realized as McKinlay explained to me the origin of the Tides Institute, was akin to Ray Kinsella's inspiration in the 1989 film Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”
They saw something in that run-down building: hope -- and a future. “We realized there was a need here for the kind of cultural institution that could help revitalize the town,” French said. “We knew that Eastport needed a cultural anchor; that was the genesis of the concept. Of course, we knew it would be hard: the town has a small population, there’s little money here, and there’s no big urban center nearby.” But they went ahead anyway, believing in the project -- and in the town. “We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t feel Eastport was already moving in a positive direction,” McKinlay said.
They started out, McKinlay told me, by “putting up a website first. We did that even before we moved from Portland to Eastport. We wanted to elicit responses from people up here about what was needed. So, having a website made it useful to gather ideas about collections, research resources, and so on. Also, potential funders were able to look at it.”
They chose the name with deliberation: rejecting Eastport or Passamaquoddy in favor of Tides, thinking it to be less limiting geographically, but still suggestive of the area and the community's aspirations for connection to the world beyond. (“Tides connect everywhere,” French noted.) And they chose Institute because they felt it implied the kind of innovative institution they were hoping to create, with an educational mission and “an open-ended institutional capacity.” French explained, “We didn't want to needlessly box ourselves in.”
Thanks to family heritage, French already had a collection of objects on which to build -- paintings, historical photos, oral histories, and the like -- much of this, cultural material about the sardine canneries that once dominated the economic life of Eastport. But they knew that building a museum meant they’d have to add substantially to their collection.
Helping to make that happen was the French family name, well known in town. McKinlay explained: “It’s been crucial to our success to have a known quantity in town doing this. Previously, there wasn’t an institution here that people knew and trusted, so people who had artwork, documents, or other valuable things to donate sent their items elsewhere – to other museums around the state or beyond, to the archives of their alma maters, etc. But because people knew Hugh, knew the Frenches, they were willing to give us their items of value. So, things started coming in.”
The museum’s collections cover different time periods and places, but are regional in many respects. Included among the kinds of items in the permanent collection are Native-American basketry, hand-painted ceramics, boat models, portraits of ships, and photographs from the sardine canneries. The total museum space is allocated roughly evenly between the permanent collection and special exhibits.
Once their extensive reconstruction of the building was completed, French and McKinlay started doing exhibits right away. That helped to build the collection, too. “People would come in to see exhibits and say ‘Oh, I have something you might want to add to your collection.’”
One of their recent exhibits showed the work of Andrea Dezso, a well-known artist who happened to come through Eastport, saw the museum, and approached French and McKinlay, saying, “I’d love to work with you.” So, she put together an exhibit based on her research on the area. Some of her work was her take on the imagination of a child working in the sardine canneries, one piece of which is shown below.
Another exhibit, this past summer, featured the installation of a separate structure on the plaza in front of the museum, containing a large camera obscura. McKinlay said that the exhibit, called Vorti-Scope, was “terrifically engaging to people of all ages.” (This video shows Vorti-Scope when it was installed in Fredericton, New Brunswick.)
When the Tides Institute first opened, it was one of the few places in Eastport open on Sundays. Sometimes the fledgling museum had only one or two people come in over the course of a Sunday – or nobody at all. Now, on Sundays in the summer, it's not uncommon for as many as 150 people to come through.
Apart from building their collection and attracting an audience, another constant worry for French and McKinlay has been financing. But they’ve had some encouraging success on that score, too. For example, they applied for funding from ArtPlace, which is a collaboration of national foundations, banks, and the National Endowment for the Arts, aiming to promote public interest in the arts, encourage “creative place-making,” and support efforts to transform communities that are making strategic investments in the arts.
When French and McKinlay applied for an ArtPlace grant a couple years ago, theirs was one of approximately 2,200 initial applications, out of which 200 were invited to make final applications. Only 47 grants ultimately were awarded – one of those (for $250,000) to the Tides Institute. “We’re the only institution in Maine ever to get money from them,” French told me, attributing that success to the attractiveness of the idea behind one of the Tides Institute’s missions, “to build connectedness and engage people in the community, including across the border in Canada.”
The ArtPlace grant helped subsidize the restoration of another old (1887), rundown building nearby that French and McKinlay acquired. This second space, now renovated, houses their StudioWorks facility, providing studio space, with print-making equipment, a letterpress, and assorted digital resources. The building also serves as home to an artist-in-residence program that has grown rapidly in popularity, receiving 70 to 80 applications for the four sequential residencies available this past summer. The program is attracting the attention of artists, in part because it provides recipients with a stipend, along with free housing in an attractive space a block away.
The artist-in-residency program is dear to McKinlay and French because it helps meet their purpose of engaging the community. They want people to see artists at work in a studio, and they ask the artists to do work that people can participate in. Similarly, they run an educational program that, in addition to bringing school kids into the museum on field trips, also sends artists into the local schools to talk to kids about what artists do and to show some work. “We want kids to know that becoming an artist is one potential path ahead,” said McKinlay.
In the spirit of trying to strengthen the bonds of community, another important venture of the Tides Institute is its New Year’s Eve Celebration, which started about six years ago. French told me, “We commissioned an artist to create an 8-foot sardine that gets lowered from the roof of the museum at midnight, like the crystal ball at Times Square. It’s a very popular event. Hundreds of people come out for it.”
Looking back on what they’ve accomplished, French and McKinlay are proud of seeing their two buildings restored and happy to see how their efforts are contributing to the growing vitality of this small city. They’re gratified, too, French said, at how the Tides Institute & Art Museum has “encouraged cooperation and exchange among communities here on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.”
Not only would they do it all again, despite the formidable challenges they’ve faced, but they’d offer encouragement to others considering starting new ventures in the arts. As McKinlay put it. “I’d say to them, You can do it. You can be creative. You can be innovative. Yes, it’s true: you have to be a little crazy. And you have to be willing to make some sacrifices and take some risks. But there’s a great opportunity to make a difference, especially in small towns.”
French and McKinlay are the first to say that they didn’t do all this on their own. “This is a tight community. People here work together,” McKinlay told me. “But I think it’s true everywhere that people will try to be helpful when they see something coming along that promises to be beneficial to the whole community. That’s certainly what we've found. So, my message to people would be: Take that gamble.”
[All photos provided by the Tides Institute and Museum of Art.]
John Tierney. Email: TierneyJT at gmail.com Twitter: @_JohnTierney_
The image usually associated with Thanksgiving in 1943 is Norman Rockwell's Freedom From Want, which was painted as part of a series illustrating the four freedoms President Roosevelt outlined in his State of the Union address in 1941: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.
But that same year, the United States was coming up on the second anniversary of its entrance into World War II.
On July 10, British, American, and Canadian forces had invaded Sicily. They began the assault on the mainland in September, and in the months that followed, the Allies inched northwards, encountering heavy German resistance.
Thanksgiving Day in 1943 was celebrated in the U.S. with carefully saved ration stamps. For the millions of Americans abroad, it was a day observed with fellow servicemembers and allies—and with turkeys shipped weeks earlier from home. Below, two photos from celebrations in Italy and in England.