WHEN they had finally gotten clear of King George and set about the business of establishing a new country, America's Founding Fathers wanted to sever their ties to the old order of Europe. So wary were they of the trappings of monarchy -- especially an official aristocracy -- that they declined to establish any kind of national mechanism to recognize greatness. There would be no knighthoods in America; fame could be acknowledged, and revoked, only by popular assent.
Henry Mitchell MacCracken wanted to change that somewhat. MacCracken was a Presbyterian minister, and also the chancellor of New York University. A century ago he decided to expand his college from crowded, commercial Washington Square to the more bucolic Fordham Heights (now University Heights) section of the Bronx. MacCracken bought a parcel of land on one of the highest natural elevations in the city, once the site of Fort Number Eight, a British installation. Then he secured a $2 million gift from the daughter of the railroad baron Jay Gould, and hired Stanford White to design and build the city's most beautiful campus. But MacCracken had something still bigger in mind.
Henry Mitchell MacCracken took great pride in his country's history and heritage. It pained him that America had no pantheon, no shrine to those whose achievements and contributions would forever touch the nation and even the world jurists and statesmen, scientists and inventors, writers and artists. So he decided that he would build an American pantheon on his new campus. He had White design a 630-foot open-air Beaux Arts colonnade with niches for busts and tablets; it would sit prominently on the crest of a hill overlooking Washington Heights and the Palisades. But what to call it? MacCracken came up with the words "hall of fame" -- and called his pantheon the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.
"Fame" is one of those words that have changed some over the years. These days it means "celebrity." But in MacCracken's time "fame" was a more value-laden concept, closer in meaning to "renown." And MacCracken wanted to make sure that the people enshrined in his Hall of Fame were truly famous, not just memorable. So he established a board of electors, composed of men and women who were themselves possessed of some measure of renown, ostensibly people of great character and sound judgment.
Gilbert Stuart, Member
Over the years that body would include the most respected writers, historians, and educators of their day, along with scores of congressmen, a dozen Supreme Court justices, and six Presidents; seven former electors have themselves been elected to the Hall of Fame. To ensure that nominees would be evaluated with adequate sobriety and perspective, it was decided that no one could be elected who had not been dead for at least twenty-five years. Everyone thought that was just fine; after all, as the old maxim holds, "Fame is a food that dead men eat."
Even before the Hall of Fame was formally dedicated, on Memorial Day, 1901, it had become a focal point for national pride. Part of its appeal lay in the fact that it was a truly democratic institution -- anyone could nominate a candidate, admission would be free, and although NYU served as a steward, raising funds and running the elections, the whole thing was technically the property of the American people. But more important, it was the first institution to unite the notions of fame and America. The country was still in its adolescence, still struggling to emerge from the shadows of the great powers of Europe, still trying to heal the rifts of the Civil War that had torn it apart. The Hall of Fame promised, for the first time, to launch Americans into the orbit of universal immortality. In a sense it was the vehicle of our validation, and people took it very, very seriously. Newspaper publishers used their editorial pages to lobby for or against nominees, and groups like the American Bar Association and the United Daughters of the Confederacy waged extensive, expensive campaigns to get "their" candidates elected. Installation ceremonies were elaborate events. For a while the term "Hall of Famer" carried greater cachet than "Nobel laureate," and a hilltop in the Bronx seemed, to many, the highest spot in the country, if not the world.
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It was inevitable that something as popular and prestigious as the Hall of Fame would inspire spinoffs.
One of the first was the Baseball Hall of Fame, which opened in Cooperstown, New York, in 1939. Four decades had passed since the establishment of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, and the country had changed quite a bit. We had conquered the world's greatest military power, only to be ourselves laid low by the world's greatest economic crisis. Radio had emerged and ushered us into the media age. Inventors and scientists and statesmen and thinkers were no longer the heroes of the day. Athletes were. Yet not a single one had made it into the Hall of Fame, and none ever would. The hall's standards of admission -- indeed, its defining mission -- made that impossible.
So the Baseball Hall of Fame filled a void. Its mission was different. It had to be, because this new hall of fame, with its narrow scope and particular focus, could not afford to hold to the standards of the original. The people enshrined in Cooperstown were undoubtedly gifted and even inspirational, their achievements not easily forgotten, but it would be a stretch in most cases to claim that those achievements will forever touch the nation and the world. The Baseball Hall of Fame's founders knew this; they also knew that its inherent limitations liberated them to diverge from the staid, almost ascetic dignity of the original. They weren't restricted to bronze busts and plaques; they could build glass display cases and fill them with jerseys and gloves and balls and banners. Nominees didn't have to be dead, just retired -- so much for the old maxim. Their electors weren't senators and historians and poets; they were sportswriters (who now have their own hall of fame, in Salisbury, North Carolina). And the Baseball Hall of Fame could, and did, charge admission.
That last item could have sunk the new venture, but it didn't. People came and paid to get in a lot of people. So many, in fact, that people decided to open a Football Hall of Fame, in Canton, Ohio; a Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, Massachusetts; a Boxing Hall of Fame, in Canastota, New York; and a Bowling Hall of Fame, in St. Louis. Today there are halls of fame for volleyball, lacrosse, tennis, soccer, swimming, skiing, golf, yachting, polo, fishing, racquetball, gymnastics, field hockey, figure skating, auto racing, horse racing, water skiing, weightlifting, skeet shooting, snowmobiling, surfing, curling, and dozens of other pastimes. Canada opened a Hockey Hall of Fame, in Toronto. Individual states opened their own athletic halls of fame. So did cities. So did teams.
By this time, of course, the definition of "fame" had changed dramatically. It no longer required achievement on a broad scale coupled with some kind of lasting universal contribution. Now achievement alone was enough, even achievement within a narrow context.
This change opened the hall-of-fame door -- opened it wide. If athletes could have their own halls of fame, why couldn't cowboys, policemen, businessmen? Today they do, in Oklahoma City, Miami Beach, and Chicago, respectively. There is a "Hall of Flame" for firemen, in Phoenix. Astronauts have a hall in Titusville, Florida. Daredevils have one in Niagara Falls. Rock-and-roll has one in Cleveland. It is just a short drive from the Checkers Hall of Fame, in Petal, Mississippi, to the Agricultural Aviation Hall of Fame, honoring crop dusters, in Jackson. St. Petersburg seems like a logical place for the Shuffleboard Hall of Fame, but why is the Marbles Hall of Fame in Wildwood, New Jersey? What's the Burlesque Hall of Fame doing in Helendale, California, in the Mojave Desert? Will the Clown Hall of Fame really bring busloads of tourists to Delavan, Wisconsin (population 7,000)? Can the Soap Box Derby Hall of Fame breathe new life into Akron? Should Newport's renaissance be attributed to the fact that it is home to halls of fame for tennis, yachting, and croquet?
There are hundreds of halls of fame in America; no one knows for sure exactly how many. Some celebrate people who didn't actually do much more than exist. Some don't even celebrate people. Palo Alto, California, the home of Stanford University, is also home to the Barbie Hall of Fame, where visitors can pay four dollars to see America's most popular plastic doll in its many incarnations and outfits. Select Sires, a bovine-artificial-insemination cooperative, runs the Bull Hall of Fame, in Plain City, Ohio; its dozen honorees were chosen for the quality and quantity of their output. Michael Bohdan, an exterminator in Plano, Texas, has established a Cockroach Hall of Fame in the back of his shop; according to Bohdan, the museum, which features both gargantuan roaches and roaches dressed up to resemble Elvis, Liberace, and Ross Perot, is the third most popular tourist attraction in the Dallas area (after the Kennedy Memorial and Southfork Ranch). And there are two halls of fame honoring the once important, now irrelevant Route 66.
It would be easy from all this to draw the conclusion that the divorce of fame and achievement is now complete -- that the only achievement most halls of fame celebrate these days is the achievement of fame itself. And it would be easier still to lay the blame at the feet of those who created and own such "lesser" shrines. But with a few exceptions the proprietors of America's halls of fame do not themselves bestow fame; they merely acknowledge it. Only society can bestow fame. And there is no surer measure of the values of a society than those things upon which it chooses to bestow fame -- or from which it revokes it.
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Today the Hall of Fame for Great Americans is forgotten. For twenty years, in fact, it has been too broke to hold new elections, too broke even to commission busts of the people it elected two decades ago, including Louis Brandeis, Clara Barton, Luther Burbank, and Andrew Carnegie. It took nineteen years to raise the $25,000 needed to commission the bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1973 NYU abruptly abandoned its Bronx campus and the Hall of Fame. Eventually the state bought the whole thing, and it is now in the hands of Bronx Community College. In the late 1970s the state spent $3 million restoring the colonnade's crumbling foundation; a few years ago it spent another $200,000 restoring the ninety-eight bronze busts, many of which had deteriorated badly. But private gifts, which were always the Hall of Fame's primary source of support, stopped coming many years ago. No one is quite sure why the public has abandoned the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, but it most definitely has.
These days hardly anyone even knows it exists. Only 20,000 people visit it each year, most of them local school children on field trips. What they see there is less a shrine than a tomb, the last repository of a seemingly defunct kind of American idealism and dignified self-respect. The state gives what it can for maintenance, but it's not nearly enough; there is evidence everywhere of the insidious presence of pigeons and vandals. Not long ago the latter pushed over the bust of Andrew Jackson, sending it tumbling down the hill toward the Harlem River, leaving nothing in the seventh President's niche but a bronze plaque bearing the quotation "Our federal union -- it must and shall be preserved."
Nearby is the bust of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, arguably the country's greatest sculptor. Saint-Gaudens created the hall's bust of Abraham Lincoln, who was elected the first time around, in 1900; twenty years later the artist himself was elected. The quotation on his plaque "Too much time cannot be spent in a task that is to endure for centuries" -- could in days past have been the Hall of Fame's motto. Today it seems more like an epitaph.
In an NPR interview, the Pretenders singer compared comments about her book—and its description of her sexual assault—to a “lynch mob.”
In maybe one of the most uncomfortable NPR interviews since Joaquin Phoenix went on Fresh Air, the Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde spoke with Morning Edition’s David Greene on Tuesday about her book, Reckless. Or, more specifically, about the mass outrage sparked by the section in which she writes about being sexually assaulted at the age of 21 by a group of bikers, and of taking “full responsibility” for it.
GREENE: I’ll just read a little bit here: “The hairy horde looked at each other. It was their lucky day. ‘How bout yous come to our place for a party.’” And you ended up with them, and then you proceeded to describe what they were asking you to do. “‘Get your bleeping clothes off, shut the bleep up, hurry up, we got bleep to do, hit her in the back of the head so it don’t leave no marks.’” This certainly sounds like an awful, awful experience with these men.
HYNDE: Uh, yeah. I suppose, if that’s how you read it, then that, yeah. You know, I was having fun, because I was so stoned. I didn’t even care. That’s what I was talking about, I was talking about the drugs more than anything, and how f***** up we were. And how it impaired our judgment to the point where it just had gotten off the scale.
Here’s what happens if astronomers make contact with a civilization on another planet.
The false alarm happened in 1997.
The Green Bank Radio Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, was picking up some unusual signals—and Seth Shostak, then the head of the Center for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research in Mountain View, Caifornia, was convinced that they had come from intelligent life somewhere in the universe.
“It looked like it might be the real deal,” Shostak recalled. Within a few hours, he had a call from The New York Times.
But within a day, it became clear that the source of excitement was actually a European satellite. To make matters worse, a second telescope in Georgia, which would have told the scientists about the true nature of the signal, wasn’t working.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they've failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family” tragically helped create this system, it's time to reclaim his original intent.
By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol.
National Geographic Magazine has opened its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 16, 2015.
National Geographic Magazine has opened its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 16, 2015. The Grand Prize Winner will receive $10,000 and a trip to National Geographic headquarters to participate in its annual photography seminar. The kind folks at National Geographic were once again kind enough to let me choose among the contest entries so far for display here. Captions written by the individual photographers.
What went wrong with the conversion ministry, according to Alan Chambers, who once led its largest organization
In 2001, Alan Chambers was hired as the president of the world’s largest ex-gay ministry, Exodus International. That same year, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report that stated, “there is no valid evidence showing that sexual orientation can be changed.”
Like most conservative Christian leaders at the time, Chambers considered the countercultural nature of his work a point of pride. During the latter part of the 20th century, Exodus and similar conservative groups promoted the idea that gay people could—and should try to—become straight. Ex-gay leaders traveled to churches and appeared on television news programs citing a litany of examples of happily married “former homosexuals” to demonstrate that sexual orientation is a choice and that change is possible.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— Deuteronomy 15: 12–15
Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.
The country has seen periods of turmoil before. But this time may be different.
I am usually an optimist when it comes to Turkey’s future. Indeed, I wrote a whole book about The Rise of Turkey. But these days, I’m worried. The country faces a toxic combination of political polarization, government instability, economic slowdown, and threats of violence—from both inside and outside Turkey—that could soon add up to a catastrophe. The likelihood of that outcomeis increasing amid Russia’s bombing raids in Syria in support of its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which threaten to debilitate the moderate rebels and boost the extremists in Syria’s civil war, while leaving Turkey to deal with two unruly neighbors: Assad and ISIS.
Of course, Turkey has gone through periods of political and economic crisis before. During the 1970s, the country’s economy collapsed, and the instability led to fighting among right- and left-wing militant groups and security forces that killed thousands of people. Then, in the 1990s, Turkey was pummeled by triple-digit inflation and a full-blown Kurdish insurgency that killed tens of thousands. Turkey survived both those decades. The historian in me says that Turkey will be able to withstand the coming shock this time as well.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.