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Within months of being introduced in 2009, enthusiasts were hailing bitcoin, the digital currency and peer-to-peer payment system, as the successor to the dollar, euro, and yen as the world’s most important currency.
The collapse of the Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange last month has dulled some of the enthusiasm for the online currency. According to bitcoincharts.com, the price of bitcoin, which had peaked at over $1100 in December, tumbled to about half of that in the wake of the Mt. Gox failure, leading a number of commentators to suggest that bitcoin is finished.
Others remain bullish on the currency, arguing that the collapse will lead to greater scrutiny of the system and the reemergence of a stronger, more secure bitcoin. Although the price of bitcoin has declined since the Mt. Gox collapse and volatility remains high, rallies are not unheard of. On 3 March 2014, for example, bitcoin began the day trading around $580 and peaked at over $700 before falling back into the upper $600s (data from bitcoincharts.com).
I have argued elsewhere that if bitcoin were to replace the leading world currencies, the results would be catastrophic. The most important objection is that—when it works according to plan—bitcoin mimics the gold standard. The total number of bitcoins that can be created (“mined” in bitcoin terminology, just to maintain the image of gold) is fixed and cannot be altered. Adopting a bitcoin standard would make it virtually impossible for central bankers to undertake aggressive monetary measures—as the Fed and European Central Bank have done—to bolster a flagging economy and a financial system on the point of collapse.
Another public policy downside of bitcoin is that because it is peer-to-peer, without a centralized monitoring authority, it allows funds to be transferred away from the prying eyes of government. This famously came to light last fall when the on-line drug bazaar Silk Road—which conducted much of its business in bitcoin–was shut down by the FBI and its proprietor arrested on drug and computer charges. Needless to say, the attractiveness of a payments system like bitcoin to criminals and terrorists should dampen the fervor of even the most enthusiastic bitcoin devotee.
Is there anything to like about bitcoin?
Yes. Bitcoin—or, more precisely, a system with some of bitcoin’s attributes—would give a boost to commerce.
Moving money with bitcoin is cheaper than using PayPal, credit cards, or bank transfers, all of which charge one or both parties fees. The savings on international transactions are even greater, since these transactions, when carried out with traditional currencies, typically involve both higher fees for moving the money as well as additional charges for converting form one currency to another. Denominating the transaction in bitcoin eliminates the currency conversion fee altogether.
Eliminating fees associated with commercial transactions is the most compelling argument in favor of bitcoin, as anyone who has ever used a credit card overseas, tried to transfer money, or used an out-of-network ATM will attest. The disadvantages of bitcoin far outweigh its benefits. Still, its ability to facilitate cheaper trade is appealing. The sooner someone figures out how to adopt that aspect of bitcoin for safer, more adaptable traditional currencies, the better for all of us.
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Image credit: Bitcoin banknote by CASASCIUS. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons.
Read it because the poems are so sharp and beautiful that they hurt. Read it because the pain feels good, even when it makes you cry. Read it because the sadness and longing takes you through to something new and different and wonderful.
An Empty Spot to Stay
Go now into the garden, dear, and lie
in an empty spot where the grass grows tall.
That’s what I have always wanted to be,
an empty spot for someone, to stay.
And you don’t want to miss lines like this:
My topography is too enigmatic
to describe, too evident
for words, I am because I am.
Or like this from a poem inspired by a painting by Mondriaan:
he died and saw everything, saw everything and he died.
I have never read any other poet who begins a serious poem:
When I was still a horse in a meadow
Nor have I read anyone who has made tears spring to my eyes so easily no matter how many times I read the poem:
this is happening here: a garden in the evening
and what you don’t hear and don’t see — the places
where we dug holes
and filled them up again, weeping
I tell this because I do not want to be alone
before I am.
It is a shame that only a fraction of Kopland’s poetry has been translated into English from Dutch. My friend Cath told me about this collection and I am ever so grateful to her for it. Many poems will be going into my personal poetry anthology. You can read more about Kopland at Poetry International. The article describes his poetry as evoking “a wistful, almost nostalgic atmosphere of a lost paradise,” but I didn’t find his poetry to be wistful or nostalgic nor did I get a sense of lost paradise. Loss, yes, loss of love, pets, people, but not paradise. I get the sense that paradise was never known to begin with and the longing and desire in so many of the poems is for something never experienced and perhaps impossible to experience.
WordPress has kindly reminded me that today is the 7th anniversary of Redeeming Qualities. So, you know, happy birthday to my blog, which I’ve been neglecting shamefully. Normally I’d try to do something special for today, but between the vast amount of work stress I’m experiencing at the moment, and also the NHL trade deadline, I don’t really have the capacity.
I’m currently in the first third of a hilariously terrible adventure novel set in China, which I will report back on when I’ve finished. Meanwhile, what are you folks reading? Comment with recommendations — or, better yet, with anti-recommendations. Is there a word for that? I basically haven’t had a full night’s sleep in three weeks, so I can’t be expected to remember words.
Today is the official release date of PLEASE, LOUISE. I have been buzzing with excitement all month and am thrilled that many of you have joined in spreading the word about the new book. To help welcome Louise into the world today, check out this fun birthday video! Congratulations to the contest winners. Thanks to everyone so much for sharing your stories and love of books, there were so many worthy winners. I hope that the book will inspire that same love for other young readers!
“Organized” and “innovation” are words rarely heard together. But an organized approach to innovation is precisely what America needs today, argue Steve Currall, Ed Frauenheim, Sara Jansen Perry, and Emily Hunter. We sat down with the authors of Organized Innovation: A Blueprint for Renewing America’s Prosperity to discuss why American ought to organize its innovation efforts.
Why does America need a more organized innovation system today?
An “innovation gap” has emerged in recent decades — where US universities focus on basic research, and industry concentrates on incremental product development. At the same time, the stakes have risen around technology invention and commercialization. Innovation has become more central to the economic health of nations, but the rate of US innovation is slowing while that if other nations is accelerating. Since 2008, the number of foreign-origin patents that the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted annually has surpassed the number of domestic-origin patents. Between 1999 and 2009, the US share of global research and development spending dropped, while the share of Asia as a whole rose and exceeded the US share in 2009.
What’s behind this innovation gap?
In a nutshell, history and a set of myths held by many in the United States. The gap dates to the 1970s and 1980s, as big US companies retreated from basic research and focused on incremental product development. The shift had to do with a greater focus on short-term financial results, as well as increased competitive pressures. Research fell to the universities, but academic research often remains within particular disciplines, conducted in a vacuum that minimizes societal needs. Too often academic research does not make the leap beyond the lab to the real world. For years, observers have noticed the widening gap, but it has not been addressed. We think that has much to do with three myths—that innovation is about lone geniuses, the free market, and serendipity. These myths blind us from seeing that we tolerate an unorganized, less-than-optimal system of innovation.
What do you propose as a solution?
We call it Organized Innovation. It is a blueprint for better coordinating the key players in the US innovation ecosystem: universities, businesses, and government. The solution taps the power of both the private and public sectors to generate groundbreaking innovations—the kinds of new technologies that create good jobs and improve life for everyone.
The solution has three main pillars:
Channeled Curiosity: steering researchers’ fundamental inquiries toward real-world problems.
Boundary-Breaking Collaboration: tearing down walls between academic disciplines, and between universities and the private sector to better generate novel, high-impact technologies.
Orchestrated Commercialization: coordinating the various players involved in technology commercialization—including scholars, university administrators, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and corporations—to translate research insights into real-world benefits.
The Organized Innovation framework already has proven effective in closing the innovation gap. It is inspired by our nearly decade-long study of a highly successful but little-known federal initiative, the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Centers. These university-based centers require researchers to link basic science to social and market demand, require interdisciplinary and industry-academic collaboration and encourage the creation of proofs-of-concept to demonstrate that a lab-based technology has commercial potential. From 1985 to 2009, about $1 billion in federal funding was invested in the centers. They have returned more than 10 times that amount in a wide variety of technology innovations.
What is your favorite example about new technology generated from the Engineering Research Center program?
Our favorite case is about Mark Humayun and his artificial retina. Humayun is a fascinating individual, and his team developed a device that captures video from a camera embedded in eyeglasses and wirelessly relays digital signals to an implant placed directly on the retina. The artificial retina, called Argus II, is approved for use in the European Union and won US FDA approval in early 2013. Humayun’s device is changing lives — restoring useful vision to people blinded by retinal diseases.
You propose that the US government changes its approach to funding research and development. What is your message to policy makers?
We propose that federal and state funding agencies devote funds to research programs that embody Organized Innovation principles, which may translate into more funding for research with practical significance or innovation outcomes. The key advantages of our model are that we can maximize the public’s return on research and development investments. Both political parties can support this approach; it is fundamentally bipartisan.
Organized Innovation goes against the grain of widespread doubts about the ability of universities, business, and government to work together to solve problems, especially amid growing public deficits. But we’re convinced Americans will have the courage to see the value of such investments in our future.
Steve Currall, Ed Frauenheim, Sara Jansen Perry, and Emily Hunter are the authors of Organized Innovation: A Blueprint for Renewing America’s Prosperity. Steven C. Currall is Dean and Professor of Management in the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis. Ed Frauenheim is an author, speaker, and associate editorial director of Workforce magazine, where he writes about the intersection of people management, technology and business strategy. Sara Jansen Perry, Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at the University of Houston-Downtown, earned her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at the University of Houston. Emily M. Hunter is Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship in the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University after earning her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at the University of Houston.
Amores was Ovid’s first complete work of poetry, and is one of his most famous. The poems in Amores document the shifting passions and emotions of a narrator who shares Ovid’s name, and who is in love with a woman he calls Corinna. She is of a higher class and therefore unattainable, but the poems show the progression from infatuation to love to affair to loss. In these excerpts, we see two sides of the affair — a declaration of love, and a hot afternoon spent with Corinna. Our poet here is Jane Alison, author of Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation from Ovid, a new translation of Ovid’s love poetry.
It’s only fair: the girl who snared me should love me, too,
or keep me in love forever.
Oh, I want too much: if she’ll just endure my love,
Venus will have granted my prayers.
Please take me. I’d be your slave year after long year.
Please take me. I know how to love true.
I might not be graced with a grand family name,
only knight-blood runs in my veins,
my acres might not need ploughs ad infinitum,
my parents count pennies, are tight—
but I’ve got Apollo, the Muses, and Bacchus,
and Amor, who sent me your way,
plus true fidelity, unimpeachable habits,
barest candor, blushingest shame.
I don’t chase lots of girls—I’m no bounder in love.
Trust me: you’ll be mine forever.
I want to live with you each year the Fates spin me
and die with you there to mourn.
Give me yourself—a subject perfect for poems—
they’ll spring up, adorning their source.
Poems made Io (horrified heifer-girl) famous,
plus that girl led on by a “swan”
and the one who set sail on a make-believe bull,
his lilting horn tight in her fist.
We too will be famous, sung all over the world:
my name bound forever to yours.
Scorching hot, and the day had drifted past noon;
I spread out on my bed to rest.
Some slats of the windows were open, some shut,
the light as if in a forest
or like the sinking sun’s cool glow at dusk
or when night wanes, but dawn’s not come.
It was the sort of light that nervous girls love,
their shyness hoping for shadows.
And oh—in slips Corinna, her thin dress unsashed,
hair rivering down her pale neck,
just as lovely Sameramis would steal into a bedroom,
they say, or Lais, so loved by men.
I pulled at her dress, so scant its loss barely showed,
but still she struggled to keep it.
Though she struggled a bit, she did not want to win:
undone by herself, she gave in.
When she stood before me, her dress on the floor,
her body did not have a flaw.
Such shoulders I saw and touched—oh, such arms.
The form of her breast firm in my palm,
and below that firm fullness a belly so smooth—
her long shapely sides, her young thighs!
Why list one by one? I saw nothing not splendid
and clasped her close to me, bare.
Who can’t guess the rest? And then we lay languid.
Oh, for more middays just so.
Jane Alison is author of Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation from Ovid. Her previous works on Ovid include her first novel, The Love-Artist (2001) and a song-cycle entitled XENIA (with composer Thomas Sleeper, 2010). Her other books include a memoir, The Sisters Antipodes (2009), and two novels, Natives and Exotics (2005) and The Marriage of the Sea (2003). She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia.
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During November 2012 hundreds of thousands of people across Europe took to the streets. The protesters were, by and large, complaining about government policies that increased taxes and lowered government spending. This initially sounds like a familiar story of popular protests against government austerity programmes, but there is a twist to the tale. Many of the people protesting were not aiming their ire at the national governments making the cuts in spending, but rather at the European Union. In Portugal, people carried effigies of their prime minister on strings and claimed he was a ‘puppet of the EU’; in Greece people burned the EU flag and shouted ‘EU out’; and in Italy people threw stones at the European Parliament offices. It was, at least for some people on the streets, not the incumbent national politicians in Lisbon, Athens, and Rome who were to blame for the problem of the day, but rather politicians and bureaucrats thousands of miles away in Brussels.
The economic crisis in Europe has illustrated that citizens are increasingly blaming not just their national governments, but also ‘Europe’ for their woes. This raises the question of whether citizens can hold European politicians to account for the outcomes for which they are thought to be responsible. The notion of democratic accountability relies on the critical assumption that voters are able to assign responsibility for policy decisions and outcomes, and sanction the government in elections if it is responsible for outcomes not seen to be ‘in their best interest’. This process, however, is clearly complicated in the multilevel system of the European Union where responsibility is not only dispersed across multiple levels of government, but there are also multiple mechanisms for sanctioning governments.
Democratic accountability in multilevel systems can be viewed as a two-step process, where specific requirements need to be met at each step to allow voters to hold governments to account. The first step is one where voters decide which level of government, if any, is responsible for specific policy outcomes and decisions. This depends on the clarity of institutional divisions of powers across levels of government, and the information available about the responsibilities of these divisions. The second step is one where voters should be able to sanction the government in an election on the basis of performance. This depends on government clarity: that is the ability of voters to identify a cohesive political actor that they can sanction accordingly.
Both of these steps are important. Assignment of responsibility to a particular level of government is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to be able to punish an incumbent at the polls. To do so, voters also need to know which party or individual to vote for or against. Yet, the EU lacks a clear and identifiable government. Executive power is shared between the European Council and the European Commission, and legislative power is shared between the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. The primary mechanism through which citizens can hold EU institutions to account is via elections to the European Parliament. Unlike in national parliamentary systems, the majority in the European Parliament does not ‘elect’ the EU executive, however. Despite the formal powers of the European Parliament over the approval and dismissal of the European Commission there is only a tenuous link between the political majority in the Parliament and the policies of the Commission, not least since there is no clear government-opposition division in the Parliament. Despite current attempts to present rival candidates for the post of Commission president prior to the European Parliament elections in May, there is still no competition between candidates with competing policy agendas and different records at the EU level. Without this kind of politicised contest it is simply not possible for voters to identify which parties are responsible for the current policy outcomes and which parties offer an alternative.
As a consequence, the classic model of electoral accountability cannot be applied to European Parliament elections. Even if citizens think the EU is responsible for poor policy performance in an area, they find it difficult to identify which parties are ‘governing’ and punish, or reward, them at the ballot box. This has broader implications for trust and legitimacy. When people hold the EU responsible for poor performance, but cannot hold it accountable for that performance, they become less trusting of the EU institutions as a whole. Thus the danger for the EU is that every time the system fails to deliver — such as during the Eurozone crisis — the result is declining levels of trust and a crisis of confidence in the regime as a whole, because voters lack the opportunity to punish an incumbent and elect an alternative. In other words, the lack of mechanisms to hold EU policymakers to account may lead to a more fundamental legitimacy crisis in the European Union.
When I began work on my book, I knew I would be fortunate enough to experience a few moments of “Pinch me. This can’t really be happening.” There were, as it turned out, so many that I’d be black and blue if there was actual pinching going on. But of all of those moments, I think the highlight would have to be spending a day at Disneyland with Carol Channing and her late husband, Harry, who were then 90 and 91 respectively.
I had interviewed Carol the day before in front of an adoring audience at the annual Gay Days at Disneyland. But it had been decades since Carol had been in the park and the last time she was, her tour guide was, um, Walt Disney. She had a picture to prove it. Carol, Walt, and Maurice Chevalier on Main Street, USA! I couldn’t exactly beat that, but I did what I could. I mapped out the day with a full compliment of attractions starting gently enough with “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,“ an indoor show at which a robotic Abe recites the Gettysburg address. Carol was moved to tears. “It’s Walt!” she exclaimed. “This whole attraction is his spirit. Exactly who he was.” We emerged just in time to hear the Disneyland Marching Band emphatically playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” We clapped along before we hopped on “The Disneyland Railroad,” a steam train that circles the park. Carol grabbed my hand as we approached and began singing at full voice, “Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out…” the song from Hello, Dolly! that culminates with the full company boarding a similar train. We sang together as we chugged along. I died.
Mickey Mouse bows to Carol Channing. Photo courtesy of Eddie Shapiro.
We rode the Peter Pan ride and the tea cups, we met Mickey Mouse (who literally got on his knees and bowed down to Carol), and we had our own boat on “It’s a Small World.” It was all just as I had planned it until… the unexpected. As we were walking through Fantasyland, Harry kept staring in the direction of the carousel. I hadn’t planned on an attraction as simple as the carousel because, well, it’s a carousel. But I couldn’t help but notice Harry’s interest. “Harry,” I asked, “did you want to ride the carousel?” “I’m lookin’ at it,” came the reply. “Well Harry,” I said, “we’re here! If you want to ride it, let’s ride it.” We boarded and I went off in search of a nice bench for Carol and Harry. Carol seated herself but Harry was determined to mount a horse. At 91, however, he needed a hand or two, so I put my shoulder under his lower back and hoisted him up there. I then ran around to the other side and manually swung his leg astride the horse.
Harry, Carol Channing’s husband, on the carousel. Photo courtesy of Eddie Shapiro.
He was beaming, positively giddy. And in that moment, I realized that I was getting a major life lesson here. Carol and Harry were frail (he, in fact, passed less than three months later); one misstep could have been hugely consequential. A jostle from someone in the crowd could have been dire. But here they were, not just tasting everything life had to offer, but gobbling it up. If there was life to live, they were going to live it. And I thought to myself, “How does one become lucky enough to age into these people? Is it genetic? Is it a choice? What can I do to insure that when my golden years are upon me, I make them as golden as I can? Because these people have figured it out. They are who I aspire to be.”
When the sun was finally setting, we headed back to the hotel. I left them sitting in the lobby next to the grand piano while I went up to the room to retrieve their luggage. I returned just as the pianist was arriving for his set. He spied Carol and in no time he was gently tinkling the notes of “Hello, Dolly!” Before I knew what was happening, Carol was on her feet, one hand on the piano, the other aloft, belting out “Hello, Dolly!” for anyone who happened to be passing through the lobby of the Grand Californian Hotel at 4:30 in the afternoon. It was something to behold and a moment I will never, ever forget.
For months afterward, Harry would call me, just to say hello. “You don’t know the gift you gave us that day,” he would always end with. “Harry,” I’d always reply, “you don’t know the gift you gave me.”
Author Eddie Shapiro, Carol Channing, and her husband Harry on the tea cup ride at Disneyland. Photo courtesy of Eddie Shapiro.
Our favorite line from The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. And Sir Isaac Newton (the newt) cracks Rilla up every time.
And in the you-had-me-at-hello department, how’s this for an opening?
When I walk into a bookstore, any bookstore, first thing in the morning, I’m flooded with a sense of hushed excitement. I shouldn’t feel this way. I’ve spent most of my adult life working in bookstores, either as a bookseller or a publisher’s sales rep, and even though I no longer work in the business, as an incurable reader I find myself in a bookstore at least five times a week. Shouldn’t I be blasé about it all by now? In the quiet of such a morning, however, the store’s displays stacked squarely and its shelves tidy and promising, I know that this is no mere shop. When a bookstore opens its doors, the rest of the world enters, too, the day’s weather and the day’s news, the streams of customers, and of course the boxes of books and the many other worlds they contain—books of facts and truths, books newly written and those first read centuries before, books of great relevance and of absolute banality. Standing in the middle of this confluence, I can’t help but feel the possibility of the universe unfolding a little, once upon a time.
—from The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, one of your memoir suggestions from the other week, and also mentioned by jep in the comments here.
And a bit of Howards End this morning. I didn’t read much this weekend. How about you?
Seth MacFarlane can do anything: create animation, make live-action features, sing, act, produce live-action sitcoms and science documentaries, host the Oscars, and add to that list now, write novels. Of course, whether he does any of it well is another question.
Happy March! Was February a really long month for you? It was for me. And March continues on just like February. It was -4F (-20C) while I waited for the bus this morning. We have now managed to gain the rank of ninth coldest winter on record in the Twin Cities. We have more snow than average and we have had 50 days so far where temperatures have fallen below zero (-18C). So in celebration of this lovely weather, here is some Minnesota poetry for you:
It’s winter in Minnesota
And gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour
At thirty-five below.
Oh, how I love Minnesota
When the snow’s up to your butt
You take a breath of winter
And your nose gets frozen shut.
Yes, the weather here is wonderful
So I guess I’ll hang around
I could never leave Minnesota
I’m frozen to the ground.
At least with the weather so cold February was a good month for reading. I am almost done with David Copperfield. Will be done by the end of the week I suspect. Then my next fat book is A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin, the third book in the Game of Thrones series.
Old Goriot by Balzac is still on the go too. The book does not allow one to read it very quickly, which is fine especially since I am enjoying it. I am up to the part where Rastignac has just found out that Goriot is not spending all his money on keeping mistresses but from paying his daughters’ debts. The cruelty of everyone in the boardinghouse toward Goriot is astonishing, I feel so sorry for the poor man.
I did finish reading Memories of the Unknown by Rutger Kopland. It is a wonderful poetry collection I will write about tomorrow.
What’s ahead for March then aside from finishing those books I have already mentioned? I began reading Landscape with Rowers, a small poetry anthology/selection of Dutch poets put together by J.M. Coetzee.
Because of Grad I started reading The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. It’s a beautiful nature journal and artist’s notebook that helps me mentally escape winter for just a little while.
Under the algae that carpets the swamp, near the duck who paddles in ooze, close to the turtle who takes a snooze . . . hides a gator! Still as a log, only his watchful eyes can be seen. But when gator moves, he really moves! What happens to the duck, the turtle, the egret, the deer, and the many other critters of the swamp when gator makes his move!
A great time was had with the kids at The Lighthouse! We learned about the plants and the animals that inhabit the Everglades and studied the layers of swamp water that enables gators and other animals the ability to hide. What a great time we had!
“Here’s a fun tale that introduces young readers to concepts of camouflage and predator-prey interactions. And kids will love searching for the hidden alligator in the beautiful illustrations.”
–Annie Oxarart, Board Member, League of Environmental Educators in Florida Available HERE
The recently-published FOUNDING MOTHERS, by Cokie Roberts, presents the incredible accomplishments of the women who orchestrated the American Revolution behind the scenes.
In this vibrant nonfiction picture book, Roberts traces the stories of heroic, patriotic women such as Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Phillis Wheatley, Mercy Otis Warren, Sarah Livingston Jay, and others through their personal correspondence, private journals, ledgers and lists, and even favored recipes. The extraordinary triumphs of these women created a shared bond that urged the founding fathers to “Remember the Ladies.”
Here are some Common Core objectives that FOUNDING MOTHERS can help meet:
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
Describe the overall structure of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.
And here are some questions you can use and build on for a Common Core-ready lesson:
How does the structure of nonfiction text affect how we understand the material? RI.5.5
What composite structure does the author use to shape events, ideas, concepts and information? RI.5.5
What is the author’s purpose for writing this book? Do you think the author is a reliable source? Discuss. RI.5.8, SL.5.1d, SL.5.4
We’ll be highlighting lots more titles and how they can be used to support the Common Core in the coming months, so be sure to check back often for our Common Core Spotlight feature!
In a unanimous decision, New York’s Court of Appeals, the Empire State’s highest court, recently held that John Gaied was not a New York resident for income tax purposes because he had no New York home.
Mr. Gaied was domiciled in New Jersey and had a business on Staten Island to which he commuted daily. He purchased a multi-family apartment building near his business in New York, both as an investment and to house his parents who lived in the building’s first floor apartment.
New York’s tax commissioner claimed that this Staten Island building made Mr. Gaied a New York resident for tax purposes. The New York Tax Appeals Tribunal and the New York Appellate Division affirmed the commissioner’s determination that this building constituted Mr. Gaied’s “permanent place of abode” in New York – even though Mr. Gaied personally did not lived there.
The good news is that Mr. Gaied ultimately prevailed. The bad news is that he had to fight his way to New York’s highest court to prevail. As that court held, “in order for a taxpayer to have maintained a permanent place of abode in New York, the taxpayer must, himself, have a residential interest in the property.” Since it was Mr. Gaied’s parents who lived in the first floor apartment, not Mr. Gaied himself, he was not a New York resident for tax purposes.
Mr. Gaied’s lawyer, Timothy P. Noonan of Hodgson Russ, LLP, is entitled to be proud of this victory for tax sanity in New York. The problem is that such sanity is all too rare. Mr. Gaied had to go to New York’s highest court to establish the common sense proposition that a “place of abode” is a location at which the taxpayer actually lives.
Unfortunately, the kind of irrationality manifested by New York’s tax commissioner in Gaied is endemic to New York’s tax system. Consider, for example, New York’s insistence that the modest beach house owned and used by Mr. John J. Barker for a handful of vacation days each year transforms Mr. Barker into a New York resident, even though his permanent home is in Connecticut. Or consider New York’s “convenience of the employer” doctrine under which New York taxes the income earned by nonresident telecommuters on the days such telecommuters work at their out-of-state homes and don’t set foot in the Empire State. There is much that is irrational and self-destructive in New York tax policy.
Governor Cuomo has eloquently proclaimed that New York can no longer be “the tax capital” of the United States. The Governor is right. Hopefully, Gaied will signal to New York’s policymakers the need to reform New York’s self-destructive approach to personal income taxation. Repairing New York’s definition of residence and abolishing the “convenience of the employer” doctrine would be good places to start.
Usually, when I get a call from a stranger who asks for someone else and I say, "Sorry, you have the wrong number," the person on the other end of the line just hangs up on me, showing off their excellent social skills and phone manners. I'd rather have the experience shared in Kristen Tracy's new novel, where a wrong number leads to a really cool friendship.
Lucy calls what she thinks is a trophy place and leaves a brief message. She doesn't get a response. A few days later, she calls and leaves another message. No response. Another call. No response. Naturally, she becomes increasingly frustrated. Finally, two weeks later, someone picks up when she calls - only it's not the engraver. It's James, a guy Lucy's age who got a recycled number from a phone company. He apologizes for the confusion and wishes her luck tracking down her order.
A week later, James calls Lucy and leaves her a message. Over the course of the next two months, the two teenagers become friends, communicating solely over the phone, without meeting face-to-face. They become friends, sharing funny things that happened to them during the day as well as more personal anecdotes. Sometimes, you just need to hear the voice of someone that cares about you - and sometimes, you just need to be heard.
Instead of using your typical narrative form, this story is told in a series of voicemails and phone conversations, making for a quick read. With only two characters speaking, you really see (and hear) the world through their words, because all you have to go on is what they say. The book ends at the perfect moment. I'd compare that moment to a similar moment in another book I read recently, but that would give too much away. I will say that the dialogue is great, very snappy and fun. I enjoy Kristen Tracy's books because they are always full of dramedy, and I love dramedies1 because that's what life is, a mix of comedy and drama - and that's what Hung Up is. And it's great. So you should read it, and we should talk about it, okay? Give me a call later when you're done.
1 Ask me about the TV show Leverage sometime. I really love that show.
Lucy is a young photographer. So is her father. When she learns that her dad will be judging a national photo scavenger hunt in which kids submit pictures inspired by a specific list of words and phrases, Lucy decides to enter. They've just moved to an old house in a new town. After her father leaves town for a work trip, and while her mom, a computer programmer, works from home, Lucy spends the summer exploring New Hampshire and snapping pictures of the land, the animals (including her dog Ansel), and her neighbors. Next door is Nate, his older sister, Emily, his parents, his aunt, his cousins, and his grandma. They introduce Lucy to the loons that live on the lake. Grandma Lilah can't go out on the lake anymore, so she makes sure the kids report on all things loon-related whenever there's a sighting. The kids do their best to protect the birds from a distance, respecting their space and protecting their land.
When you share an interest with someone else in your family, you might find it comforting - or competitive. Lucy wants to be a photographer in her own right and make her dad proud. By entering the contest under another name, she hopes her portfolio will impress her father, that he will appreciate it not because they are related, but because she has a good eye and good instincts. Lucy loves taking photos, but she's not sure if she's any good. Like many of us, she's her own worst critic. She tries her hardest to take interesting, unique pictures that fit the contest's requirements, but often, the candid moments she captures are better than the shots she carefully planned out. When she brings Nate and Grandma Lilah into the picture, things change, for better and for worse, and she's not sure what to do.
Half a Chance, Cynthia Lord's third novel for kids, encourages readers to see things from other people's perspectives, to appreciate and protect the environment (especially/specifically local birds), and to find the courage to reach out and speak up. It will likely also inspire kids to grab a camera and take a bunch of pictures of the world around them. If you loved this book but don't consider yourself a photographer or an environmentalist, consider volunteering at a local elderly home or senior center.
To see some of the words on the scavenger hunt, visit Cynthia Lord's website. If you take any pictures inspired by Half a Chance, please share your pictures in the comments below!
Maggie Mayfield is excited by life a lot of the time: she's eager to learn, she loves going to school, and she's got big plans for the future, including becoming the President of the United States. She tolerates - even loves - her two older sisters, Layla and Tiffany, who are in high school. She's very close to her parents, especially her dad, who shares his love of music and upbeat nature with her every chance they get. But Maggie's dad has multiple sclerosis, which has made him unable to walk or work the way he used to.
As the father's condition and abilities change, each family member's responsibilities change and shift: the mother gets a new job working at a hotel, the eldest daughter quietly assumes some of her mom's household duties, and so on. And though Maggie is extremely bright, since she's only eleven and is the youngest member of her household, her family tries to shield her from some things, purposely glossing over details that are revealed later, when it is obvious and necessary for her to know more.
Set in 1988 & 1989, Megan Jean Sovern's debut novel The Meaning of Maggie realistically handles the father's condition and its effects on the family without being either too depressing or too idealistic. The book's style and tone are just right for its target audience of tweens: sweet but not saccharine. It will also appeal to adults who were kids in the 80s; they are sure to delight over the pop culture references. Also delightful is the parents' relationship: their love is strong, their marriage is strong, and they are absolutely dedicated to one another. They are likewise dedicated to raising three strong, independent young women.
Inspired by the author's own life, The Meaning of Maggie has been made with love and is carefully crafted, with its bookend opening and closing pages and everything in-between. The family's ups and downs feel real, with sibling spats and silly car conversations that sound authentic and lively. Narrated by Maggie, many passages travel at the speed of thought, such as:
...I fought sleep with thoughts of everything Mom did without exploding. I mean, spontaneous combustion is a real thing because it's in the dictionary. How did she do so much And then I had a thought: Maybe she was powered by all of her freckles. Mom was covered in freckles from head to toe. Maybe each one gave her energy to do every single thing she had to do. Maybe each one was a dish done, a towel folded, a dinner made. Maybe the ones clustered by her heart were for Layla, Dad, and me, and maybe even Tiffany. Maybe every cluster was like a constellation that powered her through one big deal to the next. - page 49
I like Maggie a lot. She's very smart, but she doesn't rub her intelligence in anyone's face. She simply has a thirst for knowledge, and she drinks up everything that she can, at school, at home, in back issues of National Geographic, at the science fair. She appreciates old photographs and paintings and music. She likes hearing people's personal histories and future plans. I especially liked the scenes that took place at the library and the museum, where she was so amazed and impressed by her surroundings:
I opened the library door and the smell of knowledge and dust hit me in the face. I loved everything about the library. I loved the rows and rows of books. I loved the cranky old ladies who read about knitting while knitting. I loved the book alarm that caught book thieves. I loved that while technology progressed, I could still depend on books because no one ever lied in books. - page 137
The following exchange comes from page 105, during her trip to the museum:
I searched the photos for electricity and swore I saw a spark here and there. "I'm going to make history one day too, you know."
Mom smiled. "You already are."
Though Maggie is intellectually ahead of her peers, her emotional age matches her real age, which is clear in her effervescent narrative:
...Tiffany [was] furious because she had to do her chores and mine for a few weeks, but whatever. I was trying to change the world. The only thing she ever changed was boyfriends. - page 135
The only question that remains, for me, is how the book got its title. I like it - it's alliterative, it's easy to remember, and I have always liked the name Maggie - but I don't know that it captures the story, which is ultimately not about the meaning of Maggie's name or her life or her place in the world, but rather about this specific year in her life and what happened to her family during that time.
A writer myself, I am attuned to title and character names and meanings. My latest piece had two working titles. When I was done, I couldn't decide between them, so I combined them, and I liked the result. (Thank goodness!) But that's another story for another time.
The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern will be available in May. A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to the National MS Society.
If you like The Meaning of Maggie, you will also like The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers, which also has a female middle school protagonist who uses clever footnotes. One of my favorite footnotes in Maggie's story appears on page 102:
The amount of time and effort my sisters put into their looks is really astounding. I bet if you added it all up, they've both spent 80 to 80% of their lives shellacking on Bonne Bell Lip Smackers.
This year’s slate of contenders includes established pros (John Williams, Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat) along with some newcomers (William Butler and Owen Pallett, Steven Price). This used to be a category where you had to pay your dues, but no longer. The last three winners had never been nominated before. So the real surprise winner in this category would be Williams.
Butler and Pallett already have a pocketful of awards and this is just the kind of “outsider” score (Butler and Pallett’s first nomination) that Academy voters love: remember Reznor and Ross winning for The Social Network? A win for Butler and Pallett makes the Academy seem hip and edgy and cool, not unimportant to an aging votership. Gravity is the favorite to win here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the statuette goes to Her. Its use of acoustic instruments (that piano!) brings coziness to the sterile interiors and even the electronic instruments radiate warmth. The score is crucial in helping us to understand the characters in the film and feel for them. This wouldn’t be the same film without the score.
Desplat has done some remarkable work in the last few years (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The King’s Speech, The Queen, Harry Potter, Fantastic Mr. Fox—a personal favorite) and he’s the go-to composer for films about England and now Ireland. But he’s perennially overlooked by Academy voters (he’s lost five times in the last seven years and for some amazing work—come on, Academy)! I don’t think this is his year. Philomena doesn’t have a high enough profile in the Oscar race. I would LOVE to be wrong about this. Desplat deserves an Oscar for something and why not for Philomena—it’s a heartfelt film with an equally heartfelt score.
Newman has twelve nominations and no wins but I don’t think this year is going to change that. Saving Mr. Banks was almost completely overlooked by the Academy (this is its only nomination) and Newman’s style of big symphonic scoring hasn’t found favor in recent years with Academy voters. (See John Williams below).
Steven Price: Gravity *clip from film includes “Debris” from the soundtrack
Gravity is the front runner here. The trailer’s tag line reads “At 372 miles above the earth, there is nothing to carry sound.” Except the soundtrack…which is filled with the score. Big, noticeable, dare I say it—intrusive, this is the kind of score you can’t fail to notice…even if you try. John Williams meets Hans Zimmer.
This is Williams’ forty-ninth nomination—but The Book Thief doesn’t have the visibility of other films in this category and Academy voters of late have failed to embrace the kind of big symphonic scores, like this one, that routinely won Oscars back in the twentieth century. Lush, melodic, memorable—vintage Williams. Like Newman for Saving Mr. Banks, Williams would be an upset.
Will win: Steven Price forGravity
Should win: William Butler and Owen Pallett for Her
Kathryn Kalinak is Professor of English and Film Studies at Rhode Island College. Her extensive writing on film music includes numerous articles as well as the books Settling the Score: Music in the Classical Hollywood Film and How the West was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford. She is author of Film Music: A Very Short Introduction.
I received a proof copy of my book "I Fell Through The Crack" today. I got it printed by MILK books, (I'm testing various printers and formats). I must say they've done a very good job. Contact me if you want to buy a signed copy.
So this morning the littles and I stayed in and read. Mice, more mice, is what Rilla wants these days. Kittens and hedgehogs are an acceptable substitute. Any small creature that wears clothing, really.
So first it was The Story of Miss Moppet—four times! I ask you. They kept begging and begging.
Then The Tale of Tom Kitten, which is crammed with delicious language. All Beatrix Potter is, but this one especially tickles me.
“While they were in difficulties, there was a pit pat, paddle pat! and the three Puddle-ducks came along the hard high road…”
“‘My friends will arrive in a minute, and you are not fit to be seen; I am affronted,’ said Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit.”
That petulant “I am affronted” cracks me up every time. Mrs. Tabitha is the Mrs. Bennet of B. Potter characters.
And then finally we got to the necessary mice. Well, mouse, singular. We read about half of The Mouse of Amherst (speaking of delicious language). She didn’t remember it from three years ago, which made it all the more fun. Seven is the perfect age for this loveliest of little books.
I slept too late to get any Howards End in, but did grab a few minutes for …on the Landing. Now that I’ve determined I’m going to buy a copy, I may save the rest for later and turn to one of the other interlibrary loans I have piled up, as time is ticking and they can’t always be renewed. I have The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop and a couple of Gladys Taber’s Stillmeadow books, which were recommended to me in the memoir thread the other week. I also got hold of Helene Hanff’s Elizabeth I biography for children—she admired Elizabeth so, and it seemed a fun choice for a sampling of her children’s nonfiction.
In honor of our seven-year anniversary, we're catching up with rgz divas and featured authors over at the readergirlz blog. Some folks are posting lists of 7 Things You Don't Know About Me, revealing both silly and serious personal traits and anecdotes. Kicking off our anniversary series (or shall we say, anniver-series?) of posts is none other than our own Melissa Walker.
readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!
Many religious people think—or hope—that all those who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) are “seekers” looking for a spiritual home. And many non-religious people assume that SBNRs are routinely hostile to religion and probably have been hurt by it. In fact, after speaking with hundreds of SBNRs all across North America over a five-year period, I have found neither of these assumptions to be accurate or widely representative.
Photo courtesy of the author.
Instead, I have found my interviewees falling into five types. I spoke with adults from many generations and found that the types cut across all age groups. While I found that people sometimes moved from one type to another, many others stayed put. Having a set of categories like these helps us better understand this rapidly growing segment of the United States.
Here are the five types I found:
Dissenters: Dissenters largely stay away from institutional religion, whether from bad experiences or, more often, theological differences. Many of these had a religious background and either protested or simply drifted away from it. Against popular assumptions, however, this type made up a fairly small percentage of my total.
Casuals: For Casuals, religious and spiritual practices are generally approached on an “as-needed” basis and discarded or changed when no longer necessary. Spirituality is not felt to be the organizing center of their lives. Many of the “casuals”—especially younger ones—had little or no religious exposure either as children or adults. This type represented a very large percentage of my total.
Explorers: These people seem to have a spiritual “wanderlust.” Acting more like tourists, they don’t expect to settle down in any permanent spiritual home. They are different from “casuals,” however, because spirituality is a central interest for them. Thus, they are always ready to try something new. Explorers represented a modest but significant percentage and were certainly some of the more intriguing interviewees.
Seekers: Unlike the above types, these SBNRs are actually seeking a spiritual home in which to settle down. They may frequently be frustrated in the search, but they persevere. They do this because they long to belong, whether that is to God, Spirit, or a spiritually-grounded group. Against popular assumptions that every SBNR is a “seeker,” they only represented a modest percentage of the total.
Immigrants: These were interviewees who had moved to a new spiritual “land” and—like geographic immigrants—were trying to adjust, usually with some difficulty. Often they had once been “seekers.” This represented, by far, the smallest number of interviewees.
Once we understand that “spiritual but not religious” people come in different types, both religious and non-religious people will avoid the common conceptual traps that prevent us from fully seeing and appreciating this growing group. For religious people, there are two traps. First is what I call the “mea culpa” trap (“What did we do to hurt them?”). In fact, I heard very few religious “horror stories.” Clearly, religion isn’t as unilaterally repressive as some people like to think. But, in addition, fewer and fewer numbers are raised with any religious exposure at all. Thus, many interviewees had no bad experiences with religion to prevent them from considering it.
The second religious trap I call “If we build it, they will come” (“If only we fix our music, greet newcomers better, have better community, they will want to join us”). Yet for increasing numbers, religion is not a habit, but a strange world. Religious people should not expect SBNRs to show up at the sanctuary door. Instead, they will have to be encountered in other ways and places.
Non-religious people, too, need to avoid some traps. It is a mistake to assume SBNRs are generally hostile to religion. It is also misguided to assume SBNRs don’t take religious issues seriously. When I did find SBNRs who had explicit issues with organized religion, it was often a theological problem that kept them away or a sadness that, unlike others, they never quite “got it.”
Knowing the types and traps will help us take a more nuanced view towards the growing phenomenon of SBNRs. On the plus side, increasing numbers are becoming open to a variety of spiritual guides, alternatives, and even religious traditions, as they continue to nurture the spirit within. The downside, however, is that as many bring less information, heritage, or background with them on their spiritual journey, they will have to work harder to distinguish the deep spiritual wells from the shallow puddles.
Over two years ago, before The Only Ones came out, I did a countdown of 99 things (books, movies, art, places, etc.) that inspired it. It was a fun way to revisit some stuff I was actively thinking about when I wrote the book, as well as some stuff I didn’t realize influenced me until I had some time to reflect.
Well, it’s 99 days until The Riverman hits shelves and I figured, why not do it all again? So, without further ado, here is my list of #99inspirations that I’ll be counting down daily on Twitter. This doesn’t represent all of my favorite things (sorry, no bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens here), though it does include some stuff that I truly love. And hopefully it sparks some conversation about the stuff you love and the stuff that leaks into your creations.