Thursday, October 30, 2014

Saving the American Playground From Itself

by Susan G. Solomon
author of The Science of Play: 
How to Build Playgrounds That Enhance Children's Development

The American playground today fails as a resource that could help kids mature or prepare for unidentified future ordeals.

Unlike the exciting playgrounds of the 1950s and 1960s, today’s typical playgrounds are maintenance-free caged areas that emphasize safety more than critical thinking, smart reasoning, hopeful investigations, or thrilling adventures. In the UK, they have a nickname for this standard structure: “KFC”: Kit for low, directional, unchallenging equipment; Fence for the ubiquitous enclosure that cordons off area for kids; Carpet for the expansive uninterrupted flat, squishy surface. Here in the US, we could also add “P”—for Parents who hover and direct how their children experience this limited scope of play.

In addition to the easy upkeep of these boring playgrounds, they’re often prohibitively expensive for schools or communities to purchase.

In my new book examining the link between playground design and child development, The Science of Play, I illustrate several ways to break away from this mold and to create places that allow children to explore, to take limited risks, and to make friends.

And my favorite examples of these solutions are those that use inexpensive or repurposed materials. Even someone’s “junk” can find its way onto the playground and be a revitalizing force!

Here are a few playgrounds—along with some actionable advice!—from around the world that break the playground mold and show how you can create enriching environments for not a lot of money:


1. Re-imagine the swing set.


How much does a sling swing cost? Maybe $50, including the chain. The design firm Carve, in the Netherlands, created an affordable swinging/climbing contraption by varying the height and position of the off-the-shelf swings.


2. Mine a construction site for reusable scraps.


Architects Haugen/Zohar in Trondheim, Norway, took advantage of local wood construction and secured pieces from a nearby building site to erect this conical Fire Hut. In the depths of winter, children enter the hut and surround the fire to chat and stay warm.


3. Use old tires for more than just ground cover.


This twelve-square-meter cube, called the "Cave," is built from preindustrial waste, recycled from the automotive and shoe industries, that would have been placed in a landfill or burned if it hadn't been repurposed. Architects Haugen/Zohar "carved" several exterior niches where children can place their found "treasures." And the interior, which has a secretive, almost spooky quality, allows kids to slither and slide through passages and to constructively get "lost."


4. Turn industrial waste back into an asset.


In Stavanger, Norway, an administrative hub of the booming oil industry, resourceful hometown architects Helen & Hard created an "otherworldly" landscape using an assortment of oil industry implements. This section of immovable balls has become a place to run and jump, do back flips and any number of crazy acrobatics.


5. Remember: one person's junk can be your playground.


Although so-called "adventure playgrounds" have a distinguished history in the UK, they've never gained a strong following in America. One exception is, of course, The Adventure Playground in Berkeley, California, opened in the late 1970s. Composed of a wide assortment of materials, odds and ends, including disused telephone poles, tires, hammers and nails, old pianos and harps, the space encourages children to try many things they have not tried before. Kids have used a board and some logs to create a seesaw from scratch—even though a real fulcrum seesaw is hard to find on the average American playground!


6. Even schoolyards should reclaim waste for play.

video

Take a look at this video, an appeal to British industry to help stock the Play Pods that the Children's Scrapstore provides in England.


ALSO OF INTEREST:

Once Upon A Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975



Monday, October 13, 2014

7 Reasons Everyone Hated Paul Revere




Under the moonlit New England sky, a lone figure on a majestic steed courageously brings the warning of an approaching army to the people of Concord and Lexington.

The myth of Paul Revere, perpetuated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and others throughout history, has endured to this day, and though the warning was real, the man who brought it was far from the universally admired figure that we think we know today.

Borrowing from his new book on the Revolutionary icon, The Court-Martial of Paul Revere, Michael Greenburg offers several instances in which the so-called hero fell well short of his legend:


1. After the midnight ride, no more free rides. 

After his midnight ride, Revere began submitting bills to the state for courier services which he routinely provided. In nearly every instance his charges were deemed excessive and promptly reduced by the legislature.


2. Even his mother? 

Ever the business man, Revere charged rent to his own mother for lodging in his North End home.


3. He once got mad at a hatter—really mad. 

In May of 1761, more than a decade before his famous ride, Revere was charged in the courts of Suffolk County for criminally “assaulting and beating” a hatter by the name of Thomas Fosdick, who was married to one of Revere’s cousins. Revere denied the charge and pleaded not guilty, but after a full hearing on the matter, Judge Richard Dana ruled, “it appears he is guilty.” The defendant was fined for his transgression and ordered “to keep ye peace & be of good behavior.


4. He helped “invent” the Tea Party. 


Revere was an active participant in the Boston Tea Party, which was in fact a meticulously conceived, major act of vandalism conducted by a band of hooligans bent on violent insurrection.


5. And the Boston Massacre, too. 


Following the Boston Massacre, Revere created a copperplate engraving that depicted the event in a generally inflammatory and inaccurate light. Though he profited by the prints that were widely circulated in newspapers of the day and were reproduced innumerable times throughout history, Revere was accused of misappropriating the work of a Boston engraver by the name of Henry Pelham. “I… find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived not only of any proposed Advantage but even of the expense I have been at as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway,” wrote Pelham in a scathing letter to Revere. “If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect and consider of one of the most dishonourable Actions you could well be guilty of.”


6. He didn’t suffer cowards well. 

In an effort to force five deserters to return to his artillery regiment on Castle Island, the fort on which Revere was commander, he gave the order for his cannon to open fire on an American war ship.


7. But he was worse at following orders. 


During the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition, General Peleg Wadsworth, the grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ordered a barge under the control of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere to be launched in the rescue of a besieged American Schooner. Instead of allowing his men to follow the order, Revere indignantly turned to the general and grumbled that his personal baggage and other belongings were stowed on the barge. “Who would thank [me] for loosing that, in attempting to Save the Schooner to the State?” said Revere. Wadsworth would promise Revere’s immediate arrest for the act and Revere would, in fact, face a court-martial for opposing Wadsworth’s order and for leaving the Penobscot River without orders to do so.


This has been reposted from Buzzfeed.com.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Ship That (Finally) Conquered the Arctic

The Fram leaves Bergen, Norway, on July 2, 1893


by Charles W. Johnson
author of Ice Ship: The Epic Voyages of the Polar Adventurer Fram (ForeEdge; Oct. 2014)

The golden age of polar exploration is back!

Those glory years of the 1800s and early 1900s when intrepid and sometimes foolhardy adventurers tried to fight their way through the polar ice, north toward the Pole or east-west above the northern continents in search of a shortcut to the Orient—they're back in the news. That era of bold ideas, high adventure, and dramatic failure, worthy of the many tales following in their wake, has come alive for us again, in two new books and an exciting new discovery, all surfacing within weeks of each other.

First, the discovery. One of the most mysterious—and infamous—Arctic expeditions was Sir John Franklin’s 1845 disastrous attempt to find the Northwest Passage (sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific above North American). Franklin, his crew of 128, and two ships disappeared, stimulating over thirty subsequent but futile expeditions from several countries to find them. Though there has been fragmentary, pieced-together evidence of their torturous journey, details have been shrouded in speculation for over the century and a half. But this September, the Canadian government announced that it had found one of the ships, recently determined to be the the Erebus, lying on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean in 35 feet of water, off King William Island. From this wreck may come important new information about the trials and fates of those unfortunates.

Nansen's polar expeditions, 1893-96. Click to enlarge.
The North Pole was a later goal, not to find shortened trade routes such as the Northwest or Northeast Passages, but for the fame and attention it would bring to the explorers and their nations. But the high Arctic had kept its secrets well, for no one had been able to breech or surmount the formidable ice to find out what it really was. Many then believed it to be an open ocean, or on a continent within that ocean. Many, too, had tested their wills to reach the Pole, whatever they thought it was, and all had failed, often in suffering and tragedy. One of these was George De Long, captain of the refitted American vessel Jeannette, whose story Hampton Sides tells in his fine new book, In the Kingdom of Ice. The Jeannette was crushed in the ice-bound waters north of Siberia in 1881 on its quest for the Pole. What followed was a harrowing tale of disaster, death, and chance survival as the crew struggled across a thousand miles of ice and water to reach help of Siberian natives.

But the Jeannette itself did not completely disappear with its sinking. In a cruel yet momentous irony, the Jeannette’s demise—and the lessons from it—led directly to the creation of the Fram, the most innovative, successful, and celebrated ship in polar exploration history. It happens to be the subject of my new book, Ice Ship: The Epic Adventures of the Polar Adventurer Fram.

Three years after the Jeannette went down, bits of it and a few possessions of the crew turned up on a floe off southern Greenland, three thousand miles away across the top of the world. From these battered, translocated clues, Norwegian explorer-scientist Fridtjof Nansen divined what he thought the Arctic was—a vast ocean covered with drifting ice, not the imaginary open ocean or even rock-solid continent the Jeannette was trying to find.

The Fram, under construction.
Over stinging criticism by renowned explorers of the time, he set out to prove his theory, building a ship like no other to withstand the lethal ice and taking it on a one-way trip, locked in the ice for years, across the trackless north polar sea…or, as many believed, into oblivion. This ship, the Fram, was designed especially for life in extreme polar conditions. Its hull was smooth and rounded, to slide up when the ice began to press against it (“like a watermelon seed squeezed between the thumb and forefinger”). But if caught, the massive hull—triple-planked, more than two feet thick, and supremely reinforced side-to-side and top-and-bottom—could withstand the incredible, prolonged pressures of shifting, grinding pack ice. With elaborate insulation of living-quarters, it could keep the crew warm during the coldest times. It could carry enough provisions to keep thirteen men alive and well for five years, just in case they were frozen in that long.

The Fram survived three years locked in the Arctic ice (1893-96), drifting across the Arctic Ocean (to less than 300 miles from the Pole), from north of Siberia, not far from where the Jeannette went down, to popping out east of Greenland. In doing so, it was everything that Nansen hoped and dreamed, dealt with everything he foresaw. It vindicated his controversial ideas and methods. It proved his theory about the true nature of the Arctic and reshaped our knowledge of that vast region. It performed flawlessly and as planned. Everyone returned safely.

The Fram would go on other extended polar voyages and on to further acclaim. From 1898 to 1902 Otto Sverdrup took it on an extraordinary four-year venture in the Canadian Arctic, frozen in four winters, during which over 200,000 square miles lands west of Greenland were discovered, explored, and mapped. In 1910 Roald Amundsen, the first to guide a ship (Gjøa) through the Northwest Passage, unexpectedly took it to Antarctica, staging his famous, triumphant race with Scott to the South Pole.

My book, Ice Ship, follows the absorbing adventures of the Fram’s twenty-five years of active life and 84,000 miles of adventures, from the Arctic to Antarctic and back again. It paints pictures of the tough, resourceful, and often colorful men aboard. It also chronicles how the ship and its visionary Norwegian leaders succeeded where others had failed for so long and so consistently. Nansen, Sverdrup, and Amundsen—all adopting Inuit approaches to survival in the Arctic—showed the way polar exploration should be done: using a ship specially designed (not retrofitted) for the purpose; deploying small, more easily provisioned expeditionary forces; gathering food from land and sea; using furs and skins instead of fabric for clothing; traveling on ice with dogs, sledges, and skis; taking to kayaks on open water.

The Fram, restored and refurbished, now resides in its own museum in Oslo and is visited by tens of thousands each year. Whether you go there to walk its decks, or pick up Ice Ship after you've finished Hampton Sides' book, you will be taken on fantastic, enthralling voyages and adventures of another era, set deep in the vastness of the polar regions.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Value of Time Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

By Nicholas A. Tonelli from Pennsylvania, USA

In her new book from Brandeis University Press, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season, poet Marcia Falk casts a contemplative light on these most important days of the Jewish year, beginning today with Rosh Hashanah and culminating with Yom Kippur on October 4.

While it may be easier to channel one's focus toward each of the bookend days, Falk says that it is "more accurate, and truer to the spirit of the season, to view the High Holidays as a span of time, a continuous progression that begins at the onset of Rosh Hashanah and concludes at the close of Yom Kippur..."

This "between" time—between past and future, night and day, birth and death—she calls liminal time. And in fact, liminal time comprises that moment, all too fleeting, when one thing, such as light, changes into another, the dark. And depending on your level of attention to it, either nothing happens in that space of time or everything does.

The High Holidays, Falk goes on, are "ten days of meeting oneself face-to-face, opening the heart to change."

So in the universal spirit of taking the time and opening oneself to the unimaginable potential of liminality, as autumn passes from fiery hues to cool smolder, make the next ten days count.


From the book:

Opening the Heart

At the year's turn
in the days between

we step away
from what we know

        wall and window
        roof and road

into the spaces
we cannot name

        cloud and sky
        cloud and wings

Slowly the edges
begin to yield

the hard places
soften

        wind and clover
        reed and river

The gate to forgiveness
opens



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Your Dirigible Preparedness Education

Blimps. Zeppelins. Airships. Dirigibles.

Long before these inflatable flying machines became synonymous with a tire manufacturer and were relegated to loops overhead football stadiums, they were the future of aviation! Before the Wright brothers had liftoff in Kitty Hawk, a daring and big-dreaming Brazilian named Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1852 became the world's first to achieve true dirigibility—that is, to fly through the air by engine power—over the Zoological Garden west of Paris.

With this first success came lofty visions for a tomorrowland in which wars were fought by airborne armadas and calmer skies were highways of balloon transport, complete with landing platforms, filling stations, and repair shops, though we can safely assume you'd never pull up to find "free air."

We tend to forget, however, that the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 wasn't a small hitch in the rise of the airship age—it was its end. As C. Michael Hiam writes in his newly released Dirigible Dreams, after that flaming failure over New Jersey, "not a single customer was taken up in an airship ever again, and by the start of World War II just two years later, the airship had become entirely extinct."

Today's blimps are hardly awe-inspiring; Hiam calls them merely "quaint reminders of the beginning of man's dirigible dreams." But a recent report suggests that something of an airship revival may be in the works. According to the New York Times, "engineers are designing sleek new airships that could streak past layers of cloud and [into] the stratosphere, 65,000 feet above the ground...with onboard telescopes that peer into distant galaxies." Even NASA is getting into the steampunk spirit, considering sponsoring a contest to design a better blimp.

Guaranteed that nobody imagined the end of the shuttle program would give rise to the dirigible department.

Fifty years ago, as NASA was entering its golden age of discovery, while the military advanced its own aerodynamic fleets, the idea of balloon aviation must have been at its most laughable. Which may be what was so funny about a little humor piece in the September 1962 issue of the now-defunct Pageant magazine. (A copy of said issue was serendipitously rescued by a UPNE colleague from a dusty box full of old glossies at an estate sale.)

The jokey article, by Charles Barsotti—published on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis—claims to be "Your Illustrated Guide to Dirigible Defense, Vol. 1." (Is it a dig at Castro's air force might?) For reasons obvious or not, but shamelessly coincidental to the publication of Hiam's Dirigible Dreams, we thought we'd bring this long-lost bit of bellicose humor into the digital age.

Do you have the chops to be a Civilian Watcher for Unidentified Dirigibles (CWUD)?

The whistle is an essential part of the uniform.
Leggings, too, apparently.

You may be just as likely to spot one by looking down. #hindenburghumor

Whatever you do, don't speak to the dirigible.

Also mistaken for dirigibles: the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

If you can lend more historical context to this article, please leave a comment!

Meantime, journey back to the true age of the airship with C. Michael Hiam's Dirigible Dreams.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Beyond the Ride of Paul Revere

"Paul Revere's ride" by Office of War Information - National Archives' Pictures of the Revolutionary War





by Michael M. Greenburg
author of The Court-Martial of Paul Revere: A Son of Liberty and America's Forgotten Military Disaster (ForeEdge; October 7, 2014)

The story of Paul Revere in popular American culture really begins in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War, about forty-three years after Revere’s death. A New England poet and well-know abolitionist by the name of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, upon a visit to the North Church and Copp’s Burial Ground, found inspiration for his seminal work, "Paul Revere’s Ride" which was published in the January, 1861 issue of The Atlantic. The poem would galvanize the Union cause with a metaphorical call for courage and urgency – and forever clothe the man with a cloak of valor, deserved or not. 

Prior to Longfellow’s poem, Revere had been known locally as a competent goldsmith, a successful entrepreneur, and a dedicated member of the Sons of Liberty, but his midnight ride on April 18, 1775 had been all but lost to history. Indeed his obituary in 1818 made no mention of this, his seminal moment according to modern history. Though based only loosely on fact, Longfellow’s poem would immediately elevate the name of Paul Revere to iconic and legendary status—a status that even perhaps Revere himself might have found puzzling today. 

*

When most people today visualize Paul Revere they conjure that heroic lone rider, a la the North End statue or, of course, Longfellow’s mythical figure on a majestic stead. He was, of course, an ardent patriot, but an unbiased view of the record reveals what author and historian Bernard Cornwell, describes as “an extraordinary character; belligerent, touchy, capable, awkward, resentful and unstoppable.” 

And Revere is all of that. There is not a question that he displayed extraordinary courage on the night of April 18, 1775, when he brought the warning of the British march to Hancock and Adams and from Charlestown to Lexington, but it is also quite indisputable that in later years he showed himself to be somewhat petty and confrontational and allowed personality conflicts to interfere with his duty as an officer. Revere was many things, but even as his chief biographer Esther Forbes points out, he was definitely not a soldier.

"Penobscot Expedition" by Dominic Serre

On September 6, 1779, following the disastrous American defeat at the Penobscot Expedition on the coast of Maine, a marine Captain by the name of Thomas J. Carnes delivered an incendiary statement to the Massachusetts Council. In a scathing six-count indictment, Carnes accused the artillery commander of the expedition—Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere—of “disobedience of orders…neglect of duty…and unsoldierlike behavior during the whole expedition to Penobscot which tends to Cowardice.” The complaint would lead Revere into a four-year battle for his reputation that culminated in a trial by court-martial.

Stories of Revere’s personal conduct on the expedition preceded his return to Boston. As a successful businessman, he was extremely independent and unaccustomed to following orders. He was legalistic in his interpretation of rules, and during the expedition he was often combative in the many councils of war that were held to determine strategy. On several occasions he ignored the orders of his superior officers and, as the operation degenerated into failure, he left for home without specific authorization to do so.

During the tense standoff with the British he was seen retiring to one of the ships for meals while the men labored on the cliffs with his artillery, and was accused of actually sleeping on board while all hands had been ordered to remain on shore. Solomon Lovell, the commanding officer of the rebel ground forces commented on several occasions that his artillery commander was nowhere to be found. The implication, of course, was that Revere purposely kept himself out of sight to avoid battle. And, in a stroke of historic irony, Peleg Wadsworth, second in command of land forces at Penobscot—and the grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—promised Revere’s immediate arrest as soon as the army could be gathered for failure to follow his orders. Not exactly the Paul Revere that we learned about as children.

Upon his return to Boston, Revere was, in fact, immediately stripped of his command and temporarily placed under house arrest.

So how did Paul Revere go from vigilant patriot to the accused in a court-martial proceeding? We all learned in school about his midnight ride but that is the extent of what most people know about him. The reality is that Revere’s noble service essentially ended on April 19, 1775—and his troubles actually began.


The Court-Martial of Paul Revere: A Son of Liberty and America's Forgotten Military Disaster, by Michael M. Greenburg, releases from ForeEdge on October 7th. 
 

Monday, August 11, 2014

How to Talk Like a Politician


by Tom Haushalter 

American voters like their even-numbered years. These are when our elections, either presidential or mid-term, seem to matter most, when billions of dollars are thrown at candidates to elevate them to seats in the U.S. House or Senate—and one (un)lucky soul to the Oval Office.

In odd-numbered years, in which we hold "off-year" elections, we install governors and state legislators and mayors, and mercifully most of those campaigns aren't steered by special interests or dragged to CNN levels of uber-analysis. Accessible and tangibly specific, local elections tend to restore our faith in democracy.

But who are we kidding? Even-numbered years rule. We're crazy for the bloodsport of our national electoral process. We hover on the edge of our seats for what seems like months (and may in fact be that long), refreshing Politico and Nate Silver and Twitter every minute, living and dying by the newest poll results, cringing when our candidate gaffes, hoping for the other guy soon to do the same.

And election seasons like the one we're heading into are prime time for politician soundbites—those condensed talking points designed to lure us into a way of thinking while also providing us with prepackaged catchphrases to redistribute freely! Not only the messaging itself, but the style of the message, the sorts of filler words and prefatory phrases you might learn in a book called How to Talk Like a Politician (which surprisingly doesn't exist).

We're all familiar with what a "maverick" is. And a "wing nut." And "bridge builders" who "reach across the aisle." And in the weeks leading up to Election Day, we brace for that "October Surprise." But in the lexicon of politician-speak, these are pretty rudimentary. How well can you call out the subtler and even more patronizing terminology of our elected officials?

Authors Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark, both longtime Beltway journalists, have written the guide to understanding the coded language of American politics and its punditry. Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes is an annotated—and very entertaining—glossary of the things these people get away with saying, while most of us sit back and second-guess none of what they really mean. McCutcheon and Mark are here to tell us what they really mean.

Here are a few shining examples to program into your personal B.S. detector (excerpted from the book):

"The American People"

Every politician, even the ones in complete disagreement, claims to speak for the people. It's invoked often enough to have achieved drinking game status. Vanderbilt University communications studies professor Paul Stob says "the people" has become "the keyword for all populist discourse." Other subsets to describe political audiences: hardworking Americans, American families, the good people of [fill in blank with any state or city], God-fearing Americans, "real Americans," and so on.

"My good friend"

Politician-speak for somebody they often can't stand. "My good friend" is used commonly on the House or Senate floors when addressing a colleague. Usually it's a thinly veiled way of showing contempt for the other lawmaker while adhering to congressional rules of decorum. Sometimes it's not even clear that a lawmaker (especially one in a chamber of 435 members like the House) even knows his or her supposedly "good friend."

"Let me be clear"

A frequent expression of exasperation from a politician who believes he or she isn't making a fully understood argument. It's the rhetorical heir to Richard Nixon's famous "Let me make one thing perfectly clear." "Let me be clear" is President Barack Obama's most common verbal tic. "It is his emphatic wind-up for, well, everything," the AP's Ben Feller wrote in 2009. [I would also add President George W. Bush's standby "Make no mistake" to the repertoire of rhetorical wind-ups.]

"The most important election of our lifetime"

A cliche that partisans from both sides trot out before each presidential election, warning ominously of effects if the other side were to win.

"I'm sorry if I offended anyone"

A classic non-apology apology that makes it clear the public figure is sorry for being caught, not for what he or she actually said. Any time "if" is included in an "apology" it's safe to say the person isn't particularly sorry. Adding it "or any other conditional modifier to an apology makes it a non-apology," author John Kador writes in his 2009 book Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust [a book subtitle rather overflowing with politician-speak, I might add].

And if I were to wager a guess as to the favorite adverb of elected officials, I would say, unequivocally (though that's not the adverb, but close): "fundamentally." How easily it rolls off the tongue—and softly, like a feather pillow of tough talk—when the senator from somewhere twangs "My good friend from the great state of Kansas and I fundamentally disagree on what is best for the American people."

Want to suggest your own piece of political jargon? Go to dogwhistlebook.com, and maybe it'll end up in the next book!

Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech releases in September.