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Advice for the MacArthur Genius Grants

23 Mar

Ideas, Predictions & Advice

I had heard of the MacArthur Foundation and its Fellows Program, where they give grants of $500,000 (turns out it has gone up to $625,000) to people who are doing work that they want to encourage.  A bit of reading on the matter yielded the dismaying impression that, to a considerable extent, the Program functions as just another liberal self-congratulatory scheme, awarded disproportionately to professors at places like Harvard and Berkeley.

In other words, I grew concerned at the prospect that many of these awards might be serving merely to burnish the résumés and supplement the wealth of elite northerners who were already pretty well-positioned to pursue their talents and their visions.  Maybe I had been overly idealistic about the MacArthur Foundation  in general, and about this program in particular.  But it seemed appropriate to offer a suggestion that might eventually facilitate some improvement; hence this email on…

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Time for some Cabbage

6 Sep

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How I Found a Home in Jersey City and Got Steve Fulop Elected Mayor, Part 1

15 Jul

On that last, not really. I voted for him and made a small contribution to his campaign and I did one or two others things. But I didn’t spend 10, 20 or more hours a week volunteering for the campaign nor did I bundle big bucks for his campaign war chest. Still...

* * * * *

What is home? That’s a tricky one. I think of Johnstown, Pa. as my hometown. I was born in Pittsburgh, but that’s only where the hospital was located. I spent the first three or four years of my life in Ellsworth, Pa., but I don’t remember those years at all. Johnstown is the place I remember. Actually, a suburb in Richland, Twp. just outside Johnstown proper.

That’s where I went to primary and secondary school and that’s where I returned during summers when I was at college in Baltimore (Johns Hopkins). When I graduated with my BA I remained in Baltimore, summers too, getting a master’s degree and working out my alternative service (those were the Vietnam years) in the Chaplain’s Office at Hopkins. At the same time my father’s job moved the family to Allentown, Pa. No more returning to Johnstown. My hometown could no longer serve as my home.

From Baltimore I moved to Buffalo to pursue a Ph.D. I was as comfortable living there as I’d been since living in Johnstown, and it’s only recently that I’ve felt that kind of comfort here in Jersey City.

Why? There’s an easy and obvious explanation for my comfort in Buffalo. Though I was studying in the English Department at SUNY (the State University of New York), and liked the department, my real intellectual home was in a running seminar hosted by Prof. David G. Hays, in linguistics. Hays and I clicked as I’ve never clicked with any other thinker. Continue reading

What’s happening in Egypt now

6 Dec

This post is from a Muslim woman in Cairo who does not like what the current government is doing. The violence is not being adequately reported. Read her post. Here’s the first several paragraphs:

Open any international newspaper today and read a misleading, watered-down version of the truth.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters clash with protestors, Morsi’s backers and rivals battle in streets of Cairo, Egypt descends further into political turmoil – these are all spins on what is really happening here.

The truth is uglier and more unsettling. This is not about two factions battling each other. This is about a well organized and devious militant militia, with members that carry pictures of al Qaida and Bin Laden, who yesterday went to disrupt a peaceful protest with guns, ammunition and gas. I saw them attacking women and men of different backgrounds who stood opposed to them, in the most violent way.

This is not about Egypt being divided. Yes, we are a diverse and populous nation and we will not all agree on everything, socially or politically. But this is about one faction that wants to bring a war against everyone who does not belong to or endorse their version of Islam. I am a Muslim woman and they label me a crusader and an infidel because I do not support their view of Islam.

We stood in peace. We came as we had come on Tuesday 4th December to express our outrage at the draft Constitution that the President and his supporters want to pass and the sweeping powers he has accorded himself, but we came peacefully. Tuesday evening and the huge march towards the presidential palace, which thousands joined, provide ample evidence of that. Crowds of us assembled, stretching as far as the eye could see. We carried lights and flags; we chanted; the atmosphere was full of hope and unity. Like the best times of the Revolution, we felt a sense of possibility for the future of our country and conviction that only by challenging Morsi’s bullying, authoritarian tactics could this possibility become a reality.

 

Nation Spends $2.5 Billion on Nothing : The New Yorker

7 Nov

One day after the costliest Presidential election in U.S. history, Americans awoke to the ugly realization that the nation had spent $2.5 billion with absolutely nothing to show for it.

“Four years ago, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, and that is still the case,” says Professor Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota. “The only difference is that we as a nation are out $2.5 billion.”

via Nation Spends $2.5 Billion on Nothing : The New Yorker.

How Did Coal-Rich India End Up With Power Blackouts? | The Nation

23 Aug

“If you work hard, and put your heart and soul into it, then you are allowed to steal some,” said Shivpal Singh Yadav, a minister for public works for India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh (UP). “But don’t be a bandit.” Caught on camera, Yadav’s words were replayed in newscasts across India on August 9, 2012, nine days after a power failure left half of India’s population—one-tenth of the planet’s people—without power. Among the Indian states that suffered the blackout, twice, was Yadav’s home state of UP.

A preliminary government investigation into the cause of the blackouts blamed “indiscipline of state electricity boards and faulty management by the northern grid operator Power Grid Corporation” for the blackouts. Yet two other simpler reasons, theft and climate change, should not be overlooked.

Theft and corruption have played a role in India’s power failures for decades. At every step in the supply chain, money is siphoned off via direct bribes or shortcuts.

So, the US financial industry isn’t the only center of corruption in the civilized world. Small comfort.

via How Did Coal-Rich India End Up With Power Blackouts? | The Nation.

After Knight Capital, New Code for Trades – NYTimes.com

9 Aug

Software is buggy. Some of my buddies in the industry tell me that it IS possible to write reliable code, but very expensive. So expensive and time-consuming that it is almost never done. Think about that for a minute. We live in a too-big-too-fail world that’s held together by software that’s almost guaranteed to fail. Sometime.

AS a former software engineer, I laughed when I read what the Securities and Exchange Commission might be considering in response to the debacle of Knight Capital’s runaway computerized stock trades: forcing companies to fully test their computer systems before deploying coding changes.

That policy may sound sensible, but if you know anything about computers, it is funny on several accounts.

via After Knight Capital, New Code for Trades – NYTimes.com.

White Bison Is Born in a Connecticut Farm – NYTimes.com

28 Jul

For Mr. Fay, what happened was an astoundingly unexpected oddity — white bison are so rare that each birth is viewed as akin to a historic event.

For Marian White Mouse of Wanblee, S.D., and other American Indians, it is a supremely auspicious message from the spirits. She will fly with her family to Connecticut for naming ceremonies at the end of the month that are expected to draw large crowds.

via White Bison Is Born in a Connecticut Farm – NYTimes.com.

Linsanity

17 Jul

We’re not all Change-the-World and do it NOW here at TNT. We have time for fun and games too.  In this story in Salon Andrew Leonard points out that speculation about the future of a single man, point guard Jeremy Lin, is messing with the market capitalization of Madison Square Garden.

In pure dollars-and-cents terms, Lin transcends mere basketball. Who cares how many assists per game he gets — if you count the global Chinese population (and you should), his fans literally number in the billions. That’s a lot of jersey sales and a serious spike in the TV ratings. His early spring run as a Knick raised the market capitalization of the Knicks’ parent company, the Madison Square Garden company, by around $70 million. The rumors that the Knicks might not sign him have resulted in a $50 million drop! Consider this: the Houston Rocket offer is worth $25.1 million over three years — that’s just half the loss in value MSG has suffered since the news broke that the Knicks are giving Lin the cold shoulder.

via Jeremy LIn – Salon.com.

Tokyo’s Newborn Baby Panda Dies – Japan Real Time – WSJ

11 Jul

The birth on July 5 of the zoo’s first baby panda for 24 years and its progress during its first few days of life attracted broad news coverage in Japan.

National broadcaster NHK ran breaking news headlines over its normal programming to announce the birth, and death, of the cub, while newspapers gave daily updates on the cub’s milk intake and published front-page photos of Shin Shin cradling the pinkish newborn — weighing a mere 133 grams at birth.

Could it be that the Japanese, caught in the awful resonance of Fukushima, had pinned their hopes on this baby panda? Is the future that fragile?

via Tokyo’s Newborn Baby Panda Dies – Japan Real Time – WSJ.