August 31:  Short Letter Day

Today is the anniversary of a short letter that became the opening salvo in a chain of events that changed television history. The letter, dated August 31, 1988, was sent to NBC President Brandon Tartikoff by George Shapiro, agent for comedian Jerry Seinfeld. This brief letter of recommendation led to a meeting between Seinfeld and NBC executives, and an eventual pilot called The Seinfeld Chronicles. That pilot then became one of television’s most successful sitcoms Seinfeld running from 1990 to 1998.

With the popularity and longevity of Seinfeld, you might think success was assured for Jerry Seinfeld, but few people know that he was dropped from an earlier sitcom Benson in 1980 after appearing in three episodes (1).

Looking back at the text of the Shapiro’s letter — only three sentences long — it’s hard to believe it was the spark that set of a powder keg of comedy that dominated American TV ratings from nearly ten years:

Call me a crazy guy, but I feel that Jerry Seinfeld will soon be doing a series on NBC, and I thought you’d like to see this article from the current issue of People Magazine.

Jerry will be appearing in concert in New York City at Town Hall on Saturday, September 10. If any of you will be in New York at that time I’ll be happy to arrange tickets for you and your guests.

When the show ended in 1998, it was still at the top of the ratings, and Jerry Seinfeld made it into The Guinness Book of World Records under the category “Most Money Refused” when he turned down an offer of $5 million dollars per episode to continue the show. In addition to ratings success, the sitcom also made an impact on American vernacular with catchphrases such as “Yada, Yada, Yada.”

Seinfeld’s Agent George Shapiro, who later became one of the show’s executive producers, had the gift for writing a short but strong letter of recommendation for his client (2).

Unlike an email, a short letter is likely to get the attention of your audience. If you want something done or you want an answer to a question, a short letter is a great way to guarantee a response. However, unlike the sitcom Seinfeld you can’t write a letter about nothing; you need a specific subject and purpose for your letter. Below are four important guidelines for a successful letter.

The Four S’s of Business Letters:

Keep it Short

Cut needless words, needless information, stale phrases, and redundant statements.

Keep it Simple

Use familiar words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep it simple, and use a conversational style.

Keep it Strong

Answer the reader’s question in the first paragraph, and explain why you’re writing. Use concrete words and examples, and stick to the subject.

Keep it Sincere

Answer promptly, be friendly in tone, and try to write as if you were talking to your reader (3).

Today’s Challenge: Short, Simple, Strong, and Sincere Snail Mail
What is something that you would recommend right now, something that is overlooked or underappreciated?  Just as George Shapiro wrote a letter of recommendation for Jerry Seinfeld, your job is to write a short letter of recommendation.  Your letter, however, should not recommend a person, rather it should recommend an object or an experience.  This idea comes from a weekly feature of The New York Times Magazine called “Letter of Recommendation,” where various writers recommend an object or experience that has been overlooked or underappreciated.  Past topics featured have been:   egg shakers, summer Fridays, The Oxford English Dictionary, Skiing, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, and alternative search engines.

Brainstorm a list of ideas.  Then, select the topic you feel most passionately about.  Your purpose is to share your passion with a general audience, telling and showing them why your object or experience is worth holding in higher esteem. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: The second button literally makes or breaks the shirt. Look at it. It’s too high. It’s in no-man’s land. You look like you live with your mother. –First line from the first episode of Seinfeld and the last line from the last episode. In both cases Jerry is speaking to George.

1- Jerry Seinfeld.

2 – Grunwald, Lisa and Stephan J. Adler (Editors). Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999. New York: The Dial Press, 1999.

  1. Business Letter Writing – Business Letter Writing Checklist

 

August 19:  Post-it Note Day

Today is the birthday of Arthur Fry, the inventor of the Post-it note.  Fry was born in Minnesota on this day in 1931.

Fry’s idea for the Post-it note was born in 1973.  At his job as a new product developer at 3M, Fry attended a presentation by a colleague named Spencer Silver.  Silver’s talk was on an weak adhesive he had developed, a seemingly useless invention — a glue that didn’t stick.

Later when Fry was singing in his church choir, he had the epiphany that brought the Post-it note to life.  To mark the pages of his hymnbook, Fry used slips of paper.  When he opened the hymnbook to a marked page and the bookmark fell out, he got his million-dollar idea.  Applying some of Silver’s adhesive to the bookmark, Fry discovered that not only did the bookmark stay in place, it also could be removed without damaging any pages of the hymnal.  

Later, when he wrote some notes to his boss on his new invention, Fry realized it had more uses than just as a bookmark.

Post-it notes went on the market for the first time in 1980, and today Post-it notes and Post-it related products are sold in over 100 countries worldwide (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Post-it Pitch
What are some possible uses for a Post-it note?  Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, trying for a wide range of ideas.  Follow Fry’s example by thinking out of the box. Where others saw just a glue that wouldn’t stick, Fry saw useful innovation.  After you have generated at least twenty ideas, select your best single idea and write your pitch on one or more Post-it notes.  If you’re working with others, have a contest to see which ideas are the best. (Common Core Writing 1)

Quotation of the Day: [Post-it notes] spread like a virus. It was always a self–advertising product, because customers would put the notes on documents they sent to others, arousing the recipient’s curiosity. They would look at it, peel it off and play with it and then go out and buy a pad for themselves.  -Arthur Fry

1- Horne, Richard and Tracey Turner.  101 Things You Wish You’d Invented …and Some You Wish No One Had.  New York:  Walker & Company, 2008.

 

July 8:  Credo Day

On this day in 1941, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960) gave a radio speech in which he presented ten principles that, according to him, “point the way to usefulness and happiness in life, to courage and peace in death.”  

John D. Rockefeller 1885.jpgRockefeller was the only son of oil baron John D. Rockefeller.  Unlike his father, he became better known for the money he gave away than for the money he made.  His philanthropy included the establishment of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.  John’s son Nelson Rockefeller served as both the governor of New York and the 41st Vice President of the United States under President Gerald Ford (1).

Rockefeller’s 1941 speech is written as a credo, Latin for “I believe.”  As you read each of his ten statements of personal belief below, notice how he organizes each one in parallel fashion, using clear and concise language:

-I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

-I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.

-I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.

-I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.

-I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

-I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.

-I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character—not wealth or power or position—is of supreme worth.

-I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.

-I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfillment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.

-I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.

Rockefeller’s credo is etched in granite at the entrance to the skating rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City (See September 7:  Words Chiseled in Granite Day).

Today’s Challenge:  Your PSB
What are some examples of the personal beliefs you live by? You have probably heard of a Public Service Announcement or PSA, but have you ever heard of a PSB?  A PSB is a Personal Statement of Beliefs, also known as a credo.  Crafting your own credo and periodically revising it is a nice way to identify and practice the beliefs that you feel are essential to live life to its fullest.  The writer Robert Fulghum, for example, would sit down each spring and write and revise his credo (See October 30: All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Kindergarten Day).  Write your own PSB with at least three statements.  Begin each one with “I believe . . .”  As you write and revise, ask yourself how you would explain and justify the importance of each of your statements. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death. –Robert Fulghum

1- Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.

 

 

July 6: Lake Wobegon Day

Today is the anniversary of the first broadcast of the radio show the Prairie Home Companion. The show was conceived by Garrison Keillor, who hosted the variety show modeled after the Grand Ole Opry since its premier in 1974. Keillor’s show was broadcast on over 580 public radio stations until its final broadcast on July 3, 2016.

In addition to music and commercials for imaginary products, each week’s show featured a monologue by Keillor about his mythical hometown Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Each monologue began the same: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon,” but the stories that Keillor told about the Lake Wobegon residents were always different. Keillor’s colorful descriptions, humor, and realistic insights into the human condition brought his characters to life and brought listeners back each week.

In addition to using the same opening, Keillor also used a stock concluding line each week for his monologue: “That’s the news for Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above-average.”

It’s the last part of Keillor’s concluding line, “all the children are above-average,” that has captured the imagination of sociologists who have adopted Keillor’s fictional town in what they call the Lake Wobegon Effect. The Lake Wobegon Effect is the tendency for groups of people to overestimate their achievements and competence in relation to other groups.

The term entered the lexicon in 1987 when Dr. John Cannel published a study that revealed that every state claimed that their students’ test scores were above the national average. This humorous and absurd finding became publicized as the Lake Wobegon Effect. The fictional town in Minnesota became a metaphor of a nationwide phenomenon.

Often we think of metaphor as the exclusive tool of poets. The fact is, however, every good communicator understands and uses metaphor to connect the known to the unknown. Scientists, business people, psychologists, sociologists, and doctors all turn to metaphor to communicate their ideas, theories, and discoveries.

This is done so frequently that there is an entire book of these metaphors called The Babinski Reflex. The author, Phillip Goldberg, calls them metaffects:

“. . . a recognized effect, law, or principle whose official meaning can be transferred to another context. The Babinski Reflex, for example, is a term describing an automatic response in the foot of an infant, thought to be a vestige of our primate ancestry. As such, it resonates metaphorically with certain forms of adult behavior that might be considered primitive or infantile . . . .” (1).

Today’s Challenge: Cause for the Effect
What is an example of an effect that happens frequently enough to be named? Research one of the effects below or create your own based on your experience and/or observation.  Write a definition of the effect as well as some background details on its cause and when, where, and why it occurs.

Cocktail Party Effect

Eureka Effect

Butterfly Effect

The False Consensus Effect

Hawthorne Effect

Boomerang Effect

Bandwagon Effect

Barnum Effect

Dunning–Kruger Effect

Pygmalion Effect

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don’t read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they think the sun is shining.  –Garrison Keillor

1 – Goldberg, Phillip. The Babinski Reflex: and 70 Other Useful and Amusing Metaphors from Science, Psychology, Business, Sports … and Everyday Life. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990.

July 4: Twenty-Seven Reasons Day

Today we celebrate the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Thomas Jefferson, only 33 years old at the time, was chosen to write a draft of the Declaration. One of the masterworks of both literary and political prose, the Declaration opens with a 71-word sentence that although long is clearly and precisely worded:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation (1).

United States Declaration of Independence.jpgAlthough the preamble is Jefferson’s, a comparison of his drafts shows that he was influenced by others like English philosopher John Locke and an earlier Declaration of Rights written by the Virginian George Mason. Another clear influence was Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense, published in January 1776, used plain language to ignite revolutionary fervor in the colonists. In fact, Paine gave us the modern sense of the word “revolution” as change, as opposed to describing the movements of the planets.

In addition to being influenced by others, Jefferson got help with revisions. His document underwent 40 changes and 630 deleted words as drafts were presented to the Committee of Five and Congress. The date on the Declaration of Independence reads July 4, 1776, but a more accurate date is probably July 2nd when the actual proposal to declare independence was ratified. According to Bill Bryson in Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, only two of the 57 signers of the Declaration did so on July 4th, Charles Thomson and John Hancock. Hancock’s large signature later became synonymous with signing your name.

The official signing did not take place until August 2nd and the names of the signers, for fear of retaliation, were not released until January 1777. Signing such a document was no small act. It was considered treason, and according to Bryson: “The penalty for treason was to be hanged, cut down while still alive, disemboweled and forced to watch your organs burned before your eyes, then beheaded and quartered” (2).

Stories of the Declaration of Independence being read in Philadelphia on July 4th to the ringing of the Liberty Bell are a myth since the first public reading was on July 8th, and “there is no record of any bells being rung. Indeed, though the Liberty Bell was there, it was not so called until 1847 . . . . “(2).

One year later, however, on July 4, 1777 there is a record of celebrations and parades on the first anniversary of independence. It is also on this date that a new word appeared: fireworks, which previously had been called rockets.

At the core of the Declaration is a list of 27 specific grievances that provide the rationale for revolution. American school children learn mainly about “taxation without representation” (#17), but as you can see by the parallel list below, American colonists had many more reasons to be unhappy with the British monarchy:

-He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
-He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
-He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
-He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
-He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
-He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
-He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
-He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
-He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
-He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
-He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
-He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
-He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
-For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
-For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
-For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
-For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
-For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
-For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
-For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
-For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
-For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
-He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
-He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
-He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
-He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
-He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Today’s Challenge: 27 Reasons to Celebrate
What is something that you love so much that you could write 27 reasons to celebrate it? Select a person, place, or thing you feel passionate about and list your 27 reasons to celebrate it. For example, today might be a day to good day to write “Twenty-seven Reasons to Celebrate American Independence.” (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. –Thomas Jefferson

1 – Declaration of Independence. http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/declaration_transcript.html

2 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: William Morrow, 1995.

June 13:  Miranda Day

Today is the anniversary of a landmark U. S. Supreme Court case Miranda vs. Arizona, decided in 1966. The case involved a man convicted of rape and armed robbery, Ernesto Miranda. His case was appealed, and his lawyers argued that he had not been advised of his rights before he signed a confession. Miranda’s attorneys won the case by a narrow 5 to 4 vote.

Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svgThe Miranda case changed the way police operate when taking a suspect into custody, compelling them to advise the accused of his or her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The paragraph that police read to the accused has added a new verb to the English language: Mirandize. The familiar words of the warning read:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk with a lawyer and have the lawyer present with you during any questioning. And if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you so desire.

In the book The Words We Live By, Brian Burrell begins by citing the Miranda warning as an example of a paradox that he has noticed – that some of the best know words and passages like the Miranda warning are so well known that people disregard them. As a result of this paradox, the vast majority of accused people don’t “remain silent”; instead, they try to persuade the authorities of their innocence. Burrell’s book reexamines these “Words We Live By”: the pledges, rules, mottoes, oaths, and creeds that we hear almost every day and too often take for granted (1).

I’ve Heard that Somewhere

Read the examples below of “Words We Live By” from the various different categories in Brian Burrell’s book. See if you can identify them.

  1. Principle: In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.
  2. Advice: Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
  3. Creed: I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
  4. Preamble: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense ….
  5. Address: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
  6. Inscription: ….Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …
  7. Motto: All the News That’s Fit to Print
  8. Oath: I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
  9. Code: I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life . . . .

Today’s Challenge:   Court Decision – Verdict

What is an example of a specific Supreme Court decision?  What was the case about and what was the verdict?  Research a specific Supreme Court decision, and write an explanation of what Constitutional issues the case addressed.  Also explain the impact of the verdict.  Below are some examples of the most influential cases in American history.

Marbury v. Madison, 1803

McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857

Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896

Korematsu v. United States, 1944

Brown v. Board of Education, 1954

Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963

New York Times v. Sullivan, 1964

Loving v. Virginia, 1967

Roe v. Wade, 1973

United States v. Nixon, 1974

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 1978

Bush v. Gore, 2000

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day: I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights. –Bishop Desmond Tutu

Answers: 1. Peter Principle 2. Advice from Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac 3. The Apostles’ Creed 4. Preamble to the Constitution 5. The Gettysburg Address 6. Inscription on a plaque mounted in the Statue of Liberty Museum. 7. Motto of the New York Times 8. The Presidential Oath 9. Code of Conduct for Members of the Armed Forces of the United States.

1- Burrell, Brian. The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges That Have Shaped America. New York: The Free Press: 1997.

June 10:  Historical Anecdote Day

On this day in 323 BC an ancient king and an ancient philosopher died.

Alexander the Great mosaic.jpgThe king was Alexander the Great, the Macedonian general who conquered most of the ancient world.  As a youth, Alexander was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle, and his favorite author was Homer.  Legend says that he slept with a copy of the Iliad and a dagger under his pillow.  After earning his first military victory at the age 18, Alexander fought for the next 15 years with an undefeated record in battle.  When Alexander realized there were no more worlds to conquer, he wept.

The ancient philosopher was Diogenes the Cynic.  Diogenes believed in living a life free of conventions and constraints.  He eschewed possessions and famously made his home in a large discarded clay jar.  He once owned a wooden cup, but discarded one day when he witnessed a young boy using his cupped bare hands to drink water.  Diogenes was known to walk through the marketplace in the middle of the day carrying a lighted lamp.  When asked why he carried the lamp and inspected the faces of those he met, Diogenes answered, “I am trying to find a man.”

Although these two men died in separate parts of the world — Alexander in Babylon and Diogenes in Corinth — the two men are connected in cultural memory through one of history’s best known anecdotes.

The story goes that the young Alexander once made a visit to Diogenes’ hometown of Corinth.  Everyone flocked to catch a glimpse of the great leader, to hear him speak, and to gain his favor — everyone that is but Diogenes.  Since Diogenes did not come to see him, Alexander determined to make a personal visit to see the philosopher.  Accompanied by a throng of admirers, Alexander approached Diogenes’ home, the large barrel-shaped jar.  Diogenes did not greet the young conqueror; in fact, he didn’t even stand.  Instead, he simply sat up on one elbow.  After a short period of awkward silence, Alexander asked:  “Diogenes, is there anything I can do for you?”

“Yes,” Diogenes replied, “Stand to one side.  You’re blocking the sunlight.”  

The crowd was hushed and amazed at Diogenes’ insolence, but Alexander was unphased.  He simply turned away and said quietly, “If I were not Alexander, I should be Diogenes.”

More than one ancient biographer wrote that Alexander and Diogenes died on the same day, June 10, 323 BC.  The exact cause of the two men’s deaths is not exactly clear.  Although it might be expected that the warrior Alexander died in battle, no such report exists.  Instead accounts of his death conflict.  Some say he died of poisoning, others of malaria or typhoid fever.  Only 32 years of age at his death, Alexander’s body was submerged in a vat of honey to stave of decay.

As for the death of Diogenes, there are also conflicting accounts.  One account claims he simply held his breath, another claims he became ill after eating raw octopus, and still another claims he died of infection from a dog bite.

This last possibility is especially ironic, considering that Diogenes’ creed of Cynicism means “doggishness.”  In his History of Cynicism, the scholar R. Dudley explains why the Cynics embraced a dog’s life:

There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named. First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them.

Today’s Challenge:  From History to Story
Who are some great historical figures you would like to know more about?  What are some specific stories that include one or more of these individual?  Brainstorm a list of historical figures who are of interest to you.  Do a bit of research to discover an anecdote about one of them.  Tell the story of a single specific incident using your own words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam—and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer barrel?  -Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Tragedy of the Prince of Denmark

 

June 8:  Bill of Rights Day

On this day in 1789 a draft of the Bill of Rights was presented to the First Federal Congress. The United States Constitution had been ratified on September 17, 1787. It established the organization of the central government and the elaborate system of checks and balances on the power of the three branches. What was not included in the Constitution at this time, however, was how the powers of the central government should be balanced against the rights and liberty of the people.

Bill of Rights Pg1of1 AC.jpgBeginning with the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215, there is a long history of attempts to balance the power of the state or the Crown against the power of the individual. The Bill of Rights is a high water mark in this history.

Credit for championing the draft of the Bill of Rights goes to James Madison, who would later become the fourth President of the United States. Madison had been the major architect of the document that was written at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and in 1789 he demonstrated the same breadth of knowledge and the same skill in forming compromises as he argued for the Bill of Rights.

Madison’s first draft of 17 amendments was approved by the House of Representatives, but 5 of the amendments were later shot down by the Senate. The state legislatures would later remove two more amendments. The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution known as the Bill of Rights were finally adopted on December 15, 1791.

Today’s Challenge: Know Your Rights
What are the 10 amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, and what makes those rights so important?  Today there are a total of 27 amendments to the United States Constitution, but it’s the first ten that are known as the Bill of Rights. Read each of the 10 amendments below.  Then, research one of the amendments that you think is particularly important.  Write an explanation of what this right means and why you feel is so important.

Amendment I – Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, and Petition

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II – Right to Bear Arms

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III – Quartering of Soldiers

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV – Search and Seizure

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V – Right of the Accused

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI – Requirements for Jury Trial

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII – Rules of Common Law

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII – Limits on Criminal Punishments

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX – Rights Kept by the People

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X – Lawsuits Against a State

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness. -Carl Sagan

1- The National Archives: http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/bill_of_rights.html

 

February 24:  Two Things Day

On this date in 2012 The Guardian newspaper published a column entitled, “This Column Will Change Your Life:  The Two Things.”

The column begins with an anecdote about the economist Glen Whitman.  In 2002 Whitman was sitting in a bar and struck up a conversation with a stranger.  Upon discovering that Whitman was an economist, the stranger asked, “So, what are the Two Things about economics?”  Whitman wasn’t sure what he meant by “Two Things” so he asked for clarification.  The stranger replied:  “You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are only two things you need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

Getting the picture, Whitman thought for a moment and replied with his Two Things about economics:  “One: incentives matter. Two: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

That brief conversation in a bar in 2002 began Whitman’s quest for other Two Things from other fields, such as philosophy, marketing, finance, and computer science.  The idea behind the Two Things game is to distill and to simplify.  To do this experts must re-examine what they know and go back to basics.  This helps them see their field with new eyes.   Experts within a single field seldom agree on their Two Things; nevertheless, what they come up with is always interesting and illuminating, both to insiders and to outsiders.

At his website Whitman has collected numerous examples by posing the Two Things question.  Here are a few examples of the answers he’s gotten from various fields and areas of expertise:

The Two Other Things about Marketing:

  1. Find out who is buying your product.
  2. Find more buyers like them.

The Two Things about Advertising:

  1.  Get people’s attention
  2.  Overwhelm them with charm.

Two Things about Trial Lawyering:

  1.  90% is just showing up (borrowed from Woody Allen’s philosophy of life).
  2.  When you are winning, keep your mouth shut.

The Two Things about Neuroscience:

  1. Neurons strengthen or weaken signal strength between connected synapses.
  2. If you think you’ve found the part of the brain that controls _________, you’re probably wrong.

The Two Things about Writing:

  1.  Include what’s necessary.
  2.  Leave everything else out.

The Two Things about Editing:

  1.  Know the rules.
  2.  Pay attention. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Two Things Game

What would you say is the area or field in which you have the most expertise?  What are the two things that people need to know about that area or field?  Select an academic discipline, an area of interest (such as a hobby, sport, or pastime), a profession, a specific person, place, thing, or idea that you know well.  Then determine what the Two Things are that everyone needs to know about it.  Assume that your audience knows little about your topic, and write an explanation that goes with each of your two things. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. -Albert Einstein

1-http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/24/two-things-to-know-oliver-burkeman

2-The Two Things by Glen Whitman

http://www.csun.edu/~dgw61315/thetwothings.html

 

February 23:  Best Two Songs Day

On this date in 1978, two songs tied for Song of the Year at the 20th Annual Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles.  The two songs were Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) and Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.”  It was the first time in Grammy history that there was a tie for Song of the Year.  Today neither song has stood the test of time as a quality song.  The best choice in retrospect would have been the Eagles “Hotel California,” which also nominated and which still receives airplay today.  Fans of the Eagles will find solace, however, in the fact that “Hotel California” did win the Grammy for Record of the Year (1).

You Light Up My Life (album).jpgThis brings up the questions of the semantic difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year.  Record of the Year recognizes an artist’s performance of a song along with the song’s producers; Song of the Year is an award given to the writer or writers of a song.

Today’s Challenge:  Two Timeless Tunes

What are two songs that you consider timeless — two songs that you consider to be works of genius and that you can listen to over and over?  Select two songs that you would argue are timeless classics.  Make your argument for what makes each unique, while giving some of the necessary background on the artist, songwriter, and song genre. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Putting two songs together, I’ve always loved that trick when it works.  -Paul McCartney

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/its-a-tie-for-song-of-the-year-at-the-20th-annual-grammy-awards