Thursday, July 21, 2016

Académie Américain?

Many years ago, never mind how long exactly, I learned of the French Academy. I immediately thought it was a cool idea: 40 seats, each one rotating with the greatest minds of the Arts and Sciences - the most notable contributors to French culture and life. In place since 1635, it is a veritable 'whose who' of great French people. Their not-subtle motto is "to immortality".

The seats are numbered, and have included: Seat Two: Montesquieu, Seat Three: Georges Clemenceau and Marguerite Yourcenar, Seat Five: Joseph Fourier, Seat Seven: Henri Bergson, Seat Thirteen: Jean Racine, Seat Fourteen: Pierre Corneille and Victor Hugo, Seat Seventeen: Louis Pasteur and Jacques Cousteau, Seat Eighteen: Alexis de Tocqueville, Seat Twenty-Four: La Fontaine, Marivaux, Sully Prudhomme, and Henri Poincare, Seat Twenty-Nine: Claude Levi-Strauss, Seat Thirty-One: Jean Cocteau, Seat Thirty-Three: Voltaire, Seat Thirty-Five: Georges Cuvier, Seat Thirty-Eight: Anatole France and Paul Valery, and so on.

Now, the purpose of the Academie is to protect what the French hold most dear: their language. But as I conceived of an American version of this traditional body, I figured it would be best to have such notables advise the country in a meaningful way. The Seats, too, should be fixed, so as to not end up with lopsided membership (fourteen novelists, for example).

After considering the roles that would be suited to the task I went ahead and made some basic rules:

American Congressional Academy

Purpose: To make an annual report to Congress and the public of the areas in which the United States should direct its energies, financial, intellectual, and professional, with a focus on problem-solving.

Membership requirements: 1) American Citizen and resident for at least 10 years. 2) Significant innovation or influence in the field. 3) Not currently serving in the United States Legislature, Judiciary, or Executive branches of government in an elected position. 4) Must be able to attend the three annual meetings in person

Foreign membership requirements: 1) Significant innovation or influence in the field, of global recognition. 2) Must be able to attend at least one of the three annual meetings in person.

Organization: The Academy consists of twenty-five permanent Seats, each representing a different facet of American life. One individual serves as Secretary General, whose position must also reflect a significant contribution to the field of Activism. All of the Academy Membership requirements apply to the Secretary General. The Seats, initially filled by Congress, are lifetime appointments, allowing for an Academy Member to resign at any time, with possibility of reappointment. Seats are appointed by a 2/3 majority of the sitting Academy Members. The Secretary General is also appointed by 2/3 majority of the Academy Members. In addition, five International Seats will also be appointed by the Academy Members, by 2/3 majority. Being an International Member provides the same contribution privileges, however they do not vote on new membership of any type except Secretary General. As with Academy Membership, International Members are lifetime appointments, but may resign with possibility of reappointment. The Secretary General may be recalled from the post by a 2/3 majority vote of the entire Membership, consisting of both the Academy and International Seats. If recalled, the individual may be appointed to a vacant Seat, or later reappointed as Secretary General, or Academy Member.

So far so good. With this in mind, I came up the Seats, and suggested inaugural members:

Inaugural 2016 Academy Membership:

Seat 1, Health: Louis Wade Sullivan, 82

Seat 2, Physics: Steven Weinberg, 83

Seat 3, Prose: Toni Morrison, 85

Seat 4, Mathematics: Persi Diaconis, 71

Seat 5, Poetry: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 97

Seat 6, Chemistry: EJ Corey, 88

Seat 7, Law: Sandra Day O’Connor, 86

Seat 8, Education: Sal Khan, 39

Seat 9, Technology: Elon Musk, 45

Seat 10, Music: Wayne Shorter, 82

Seat 11, History: David McCullough, 83

Seat 12, Architecture: I.M Pei, 99

Seat 13, Journalism: Gloria Steinem, 82

Seat 14, Human Rights: Dolores Huerta, 86

Seat 15, Economics: Amory Lovins, 68

Seat 16, Anthropology and Sociology: Jared Diamond, 78

Seat 17, Astronomy and Cosmology: Neil deGrasse Tyson, 57

Seat 18, Biology: E.O. Wilson, 87

Seat 19, Design: Paula Scher, 67

Seat 20: Philosophy: Saul Kripke, 75

Seat 21, Two-Dimensional Art: Kara Walker, 46

Seat 22, Three-Dimensional Art: Maya Lin, 56

Seat 23, Psychology: Philip Zimbardo, 83

Seat 24, Theater Art: Lin-Manuel Miranda, 36

Seat 25, Film and Television: Spike Lee, 59

Secretary General (Activism): Angela Davis, 72

Inaugural 2016 International Members:

Art: Ai Weiwei, 58, China

Science: Jane Goodall, 82, United Kingdom

Social Science: Muhammad Yunus, 76, Bangladesh

Politics: Kofi Annan, 78, Ghana

Law and Journalism: Tawakkol Karman, 37, Yemen

Given the ages of the membership above I'm pretty sure Seats would open very soon. Any suggestions on who should be elected to the Seats next in the various categories? Or were any of the Inaugural Seats poorly filled? I'd be interested on folks opinions.

I called up everyone I thought of, and they very graciously flew out to Berkeley for a photo op. Terribly nice of them.

Friday, July 1, 2016

New Definition of 'Middle Class' in U.S. to Apply in 2017

Over five days experts gathered at the historic Mount Washington Hotel, located in Bretton Woods, NH, where in 1944 modern economics was born. Their task was to determine - once and for all - a definition of ‘middle class’. “There’s surprisingly little agreement, not just among academics, but also policymakers, which is a problem,” said Mani Ratnam, a research fellow of the Lawrence J. Breckenridge Institute, a long-time socioeconomic bellwether.  “For example, the poverty line provides a pretty clear lower-threshold, but we found in a study of 218 government-issued publications that the discrepancy for upper threshold could be as much as fifty thousand dollars a year.”  Or twice the income of a family of four living at the poverty line.
Convening last Sunday, June 26, the national leaders on the issue fell into a routine of breakout meetings in the morning, followed by full-assembly lunch meetings in the Rosebrook section of the Hotel, looking out onto the mountains. “It was some of the best food I’ve ever had,” said Chen Kaige, Nobel-laureate and Economics Professor Emeritus at Duke. “After the spectacular meals, instead of afternoon sessions, we usually didn’t have any energy, and just went back to our rooms.”
It was the second-to-last day when the breakthrough came, fittingly while in the Rosebrook. “I was sitting next to Elsa Morante,” an independent researcher who published The Middle (Class) Way in 2009, “and noticed she was taking a picture of her lobster baked with gruyere and new potato shavings. That’s when I hit upon the definition we’d all been looking for in charts and statistics for four days.” 
With great excitement, according to the fellow members, the idea was shouted across the room to the conference head by Alex Mackendrick, the man sitting next to Morante’s lobster-doting photography: “Food porn!” “And with those two words, the room erupted,” he recalls. 
About half an hour was spent wrangling over the new official definition, to be implemented in all U.S. publications starting in January of 2017. The main contention was whether you qualified as ‘middle class’ by being able to afford taking food porn pictures at restaurants or if you had to produce the salivating-worthy dishes - and pics - at home. “There was definitely a pro-restaurant faction,” Kaige disclosed. “I was one of them!” But in the end, the at-home delegation won out. To be properly middle class in America means you must have the means, know-how, and camera filters to pull off food porn in your own kitchen. The conference attendees upheld the motion almost unanimously, 136-14.
With the decision made, and rather hastily written up, the panel dispersed, to enjoy the “food comas” brought on by “a truly marvelous spread”. The final day of the conference was mainly spent in the Rosebrook. The White House, whose top representative at the “New Bretton Woods” was Deputy Treasury Secretary Al Jolson, issued a statement this afternoon. In it the President lauded a new definition which he said “will replace a confusing, and sometimes contradictory set of numbers” with “a common-sense understanding all Americans can get behind.”
Additional reporting provided by Reuters