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The list of MacArthur Foundation grant recipients is out. The $500,000 awards, spread over five years and often referred to colloquially as the "genius" grants, are a one-time massive investment in the work of an individual, unasked-for and unsupervised. In other words, they're a big honor, a huge surprise to their recipients, and a great generator of commentary.

  • Translation of 'Genius' Grants The phrase "no strings attached" comes up multiple times with bloggers covering the $500,000 MacArthur grants. Winners don't "even have to apply," adds Insider Higher Ed's Quick Takes blog. The Boston Globe's Laura Collins-Hughes Laura Collins-Hughes notes that the money is spread out over 5 years, while the New York Press staff call it "an excuse for people to invite you to highfalutin panels and dinner parties with heads of state."

  • This Is an 'Eclectic' Bunch "A honey-bee breeder, a jellyfish scholar, a stone carver and an Emmy-winning screenwriter," sums up Dealbreaker. "Oceanic acoustic engineering! Jellyfish propulsion!" notes Choire Sicha at The Awl. The Boston Globe's Laura Collins-Hughes, focusing in particular on Jessie Little Doe Baird's grant for reviving the Wampanoag language, points out that even just the winners from New England are quite the mix:
typeface designer Matthew Carter, 72, of Cambridge; Harvard Law School historian Annette Gordon-Reed, 51, of Cambridge; stone carver Nicholas Benson, 46, of Newport, R.I.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology quantum astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala, 42, of Cambridge; musician and music educator Sebastian Ruth, 35, of Providence; and Baird.
  • Intrigue "One of the winners," writes Think Progress blogger Matthew Yglesias, continuing this theme, "is an Australian biomedical animator, which I think is cool largely because it hasn't occurred to me previously that one could be a professional biomedical animator."
  • Lots of Academics, adds Insider Higher Ed's Quick Takes blog. "The winners include professors at the California Institute of Technology; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Cornell, Harvard, Oregon State and Stanford Universities; the University of California campuses at Berkeley, Davis, and San Diego; and the Universities of Chicago and Minnesota."
  • Must We Continue the David Simon Love-Fest? "Sure, we liked The Wire," admits the staff of New York Press, "and it's great that someone like Simon, who works in a medium that could use a few more geniuses, can be on a list with brilliant biophysicists and, uh, David Cromer, but doesn't anyone ever get sick of this guy?" Gabe at Videogum is less direct: "Finally, the unpaid and unrewarding task of creating popular television pays off. (Just kidding, buddy! Just tearing down your towers!)"
  • Singled Out  Tyler Cowen talks about winner Emmanuel Saez, who also "won the Clark Award [in 2009] for his work on income inequality," and now is "cited for his work on the value of a kindergarten teacher, summarized here by David Leonhardt." Cowen is also quick to mention jazz pianist Jason Moran among the other winners. Meanwhile, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, writing at his personal blog, is "incredibly pleased to see that Sebastian Ruth, whose project Community MusicWorks [Ross] wrote about in 2006," make the list.
  • You Have to Hand It to the Committee At the very least, "their track record on visual artists and writers over the decades has been nearly impeccable," writes Choire Sicha at The Awl he points to Ada Louise Huxtable (1981), and David Foster Wallace (1997), among others.
  • What One Winner May Do With the Money Laura Collins-Hughes dedicates a full story to Jessie Little Doe Baird in The Boston Globe. Baird won the grant for her efforts to revive Wampanoag, which include getting a masters at MIT in linguistics (having not in fact possessed a college degree before embarking on her language project), working on an English-Wampanoag dictionary, raising her daughter to speak the language from birth, and more.

So far, Baird has a long list of possible uses [for the MacArthur money], including giving some of it to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe's language department, buying audio equipment, and getting help with interactive software to produce a distance-learning curriculum.

The money will also help in planning and developing a Wampanoag language school, Baird said.

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