Swarthmore in the News August 19, 2011


 Editor's note: This is a double issue.

The International Herald Tribune

After the viral video, a life in song

By Dave Itzkoff

August 15, 2011

When Diana Radcliff stepped into a convenience store in Kansas City, Missouri, on the morning of Sept. 1, 2010, she had no idea she would witness a botched robbery and a frantic escape accompanied by a hail of bullets; or that her account of the thwarted crime, as recorded by a local television station, would become an Internet viral sensation; or that that video, in turn, would make her, at least for a short while, a pop-music star.

Speaking to a reporter for a local network affiliate, Ms. Radcliff described her ordeal. ''When I'm on my knees, I'm backin' up, backin' up, backin' up, backin' up, backin' up, backin' up, 'cause my daddy taught me good,'' she said, while hunching down and shuffling backward to recreate the scene. And that was how numerous Internet users were introduced to Ms. Radcliff in a video clip that was posted about a year ago.

Many millions of viewers know her from a different video, though, one in which she does not merely recite the story of her ordeal, but rather sings it, accompanied by snappy electronic percussion:

I'm backin' up, backin' up,

backin' up, backin' up,...

This might not seem like the kind of thing you would hear on a Top 40 radio station or see on MTV - not yet, anyway - but ''Backin Up Song (feat. Diana),'' a video produced by a group of musicians-slash-Internet comedians called the Gregory Brothers, based in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, has been viewed more than 10 million times.

Through a combination of old-fashioned musical ability, high-tech skills and the do-whatever-you-want spirit of the Web, the Gregory Brothers - a quartet consisting of siblings Evan, Michael and Andrew, as well as Sarah Fullen Gregory, Evan's wife - have built a cottage industry around videos like ''Backin Up,'' and previous videos like ''Double Rainbow Song'' and ''Bed Intruder Song.'' They do this by taking footage that has already been widely circulated around the Internet - a viral video sensation - and, to use a word from their lexicon, they ''songify'' it.

''The first time you hear most songs, it's, like, awesome,'' Michael Gregory, the youngest of the three brothers, said at the group's studio in Brooklyn. ''And then the next time you hear it, you're like, 'Bo-ring.' But if it's a good song, you still care. And it's the same thing with this.''

The brothers grew up in Radford, Virginia, and after Evan graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, he was the first to move to New York to try his hand at a musical career. Andrew followed, and along the way they met Sarah, a native of San Antonio, Texas, and a graduate of Southern Methodist University, who was in transition from the theater world to music.

They describe their sound as ''blue-eyed soul,'' a euphemism for R&B music performed by white people. But as they were preparing to release their first album, the group started getting noticed for a very different reason.

During the 2008 election season, Michael, who had been interning at production studios, began creating music videos from footage of the presidential and vice-presidential debates and posting them on YouTube. In another, Michael made the vice-presidential candidates, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Sarah Palin, appear as if they were singing their remarks (''Pak-i-stan / That's where they live / That's where they are'') to each other in chirpy, slightly robotic voices, by means of a process called Auto-Tuning.  ...


The New York Times

More Colleges Adding 'Green' to School Colors

By Umair Irfan of Climate Wire

August 16, 2011

For Sophia Watkins, crimson wasn't the only color that beckoned her to America's oldest college. Having grown up in Ecuador and traveled around the world, working with leatherback turtles in Costa Rica and on reforestation in Kenya and rainforest sustainability in Guyana, it was another color that brought her to Harvard University: green.

"You can't help but fall in love with nature and wildlife," said Watkins, 19. She applied to various colleges, including Swarthmore College, Middlebury College and Cornell University, looking into environmental science programs. "I remember reading a lot about it once I got into the schools," she said. But she was also interested in how the schools implemented their environmental and conservation programs on campus, instead of just labs and research.

In the end, Harvard's sustainability initiatives and grants swayed her. She is joining the class of 2015 and will study environmental science and public policy, though she is already in Cambridge, Mass., taking classes and attending weekly eco-film screenings.

...While the Obama administration has been pushing green jobs, America's higher education institutions are involved in a related push. Winning the competition for students means green for them in more ways than one. As high school seniors schedule college visits and polish their personal statements, they are paying more attention to a college's green score alongside student-to-faculty ratios, dorms and aid packages.

In turn, colleges are marketing their green initiatives more aggressively. Smaller schools, like College of the Atlantic and Middlebury, are using their programs as their calling cards, while even large, well-recognized brands, like Harvard, Georgia Institute of Technology and Arizona State University, are adding sustainability to their repertoire.

Colleges are also beginning to see that environmental initiatives have impacts on how their peers, along with their current and past students, perceive them. A school's reputation may hinge as much on its green credibility as it does on conference titles and championships. ...


The Morning Call (PA)

50 Years Of The Philadelphia Folk Festival;
The shindig celebrates with veteran performers and young artists who continue the folk tradition

By John J. Moser of The Morning Call

August 14, 2011

It was just four years after the Philadelphia Folksong Society was founded in 1957 by a small group of folk artists and enthusiasts that the landscape for music started to change.

The society had put on concerts in local halls and the YMCA or at nearby University of Pennsylvania or Drexel. But big outdoor festivals were being held at places such as the University of Chicago and Swarthmore College, says Gene Shay, who then was a host of folk shows on Philadelphia radio.

So society member David Hadler came up with the idea of putting on a two-day festival at a private farm outside Philadelphia to more easily accommodate crowds and avoid noise regulations. He became the first festival's chairman and enlisted Shay as his vice chairman.

Headlining that first festival was folk icon Pete Seeger, who wrote "If I Had a Hammer" and other standards. That first festival was a success, and gave the society the momentum to build the festival into what now is a 31/2-day event that annually draws up to 20,000 people at Old Pool Farm near Schwenksville.

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which bills itself as the largest, continuously running outdoor musical event in its kind in North America.

To celebrate, the Folksong Society has put together a lineup that again offers some of the biggest names in folk -- Arlo Guthrie, Levon Helm, David Bromberg, Jorma Kaukonen, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush and Justin Townes Earle.


The Berkshire Eagle (MA)

Science Q&A

August 13, 2011

Q: At the top of the classification scheme are the Dinosauria, which immediately break down into those with lizardlike hips like Tyrannosaurus rex vs. those with birdlike pelvises like Stegosaurus. And on and on it goes.

Just how many species of dinosaurs were there?

A: Pinning down an exact number is elusive, partly because mistakes have been made during classification, says paleontologist Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania in "Science Illustrated.Com " magazine.

For example, scientists recently concluded that a dino they had called "torosaurus" is actually the adult form of triceratops.

To date, researchers have identified approximately 650 extinct species, with about 140 discovered in China, now surpassing the U.S.

Using previous rates of discovery, Dodson and Swarthmore College paleo-statistician Steve Wang have estimated that nearly 1,850 species of dinosaurs roamed the Earth at some point.


The Philadelphia Inquirer

A look back at the World Wide Web's first 20 years

By Jeff Gelles; Inquirer Columnist

August 11, 2011

The World Wide Web turned 20 on Saturday, if a technology can be said to celebrate birthdays. That was the date in 1991 when the first website went online at CERN, the Swiss particle-physics laboratory where British scientist Tim Berners-Lee developed its essential software.

The Web's multinational origins - not to mention its ambitious name and now familiar initials - foreshadowed its immense global import. Berners-Lee set out to provide scientists a better way to present and share information across the Internet, with a common "browser" interface and point-and-click ease. What he created has transformed how much of the world works, shops, and plays.

Today, the mobile Internet captures increasing attention with applications for smartphones and tablets that bypass the Web. But the Web is still essential, and a birthday is a chance to reminisce.

Here's a taste of what I found during a tour through the archives - an easy trip with the Web's databases at your fingertips.

First steps. The Inquirer first mentioned the Web in June 1994, in a profile of two recent Swarthmore College graduates with a new business, NetMarket, that was starting out by selling flowers and music via "the hottest new Internet route, a graphics-based path known as the World Wide Web."

"At their music store, you type in the name of the artist or whatever part of the title you remember, and up pops a list of songs and albums," the article said. "You can look at a picture of the album cover and even listen to a 30-second sample of the music to try to match it with the melody in your mind."

The concept was simple and was eventually echoed by the founders of Amazon.com and thousands of other familiar sites. But implementing it wasn't, recalls one of NetMarket's founders, Guy Haskin Fernald. For one thing, the company had to address a concern that still bedevils Internet commerce today: how to ensure that online transactions are secure.

The start-up's whiz kids - three Swarthmore grads and a friend from Yale - drew credit from publications such as Computerworld for taking an essential step: NetMarket was the first site to protect credit-card and other personal data with "public-key encryption," which let any computer user send sensitive data to a website in encrypted form.  ...


The Philadelphia Inquirer

Making a memory. - Perry the Platy-bus, our kids' Woodstock

By Molly Baker

August 10, 2011

..."People have this unconscious idea that they are free to do things in the summer they wouldn't otherwise do," says Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "Even though summer vacation is really just a school break, everyone wants to be part of the ritual."

It came to me from the television in the other room.

..."Surely, taking my two youngest, ages 9 and 12, to the kickoff of Perry the Platy-bus tour had all the makings of a magical memory: a journey to Times Square, a show and characters with cachet for the tween set, and the scarcity value of a sighting of Perry the Platy-bus - making only seven stops across the country.

...In the age of immediate information dissemination and marketing madness, is it even possible to plot a pilgrimage that would one day be coveted by generations not yet born - a la Woodstock or Lollapalooza or Burning Man?

"There's a temptation to romanticize that what happened in the past is real and what happens today is synthetic," says Bob Rehak, professor in the film and media studies program at Swarthmore College. "But companies have learned from what people take from festivals or blockbusters in the past, and now they are delivering it back."

For modern-day audiences, the tours and extravaganzas may make the original show, music, or characters even more meaningful, rather than less.

"These fan pilgrimages and big public events are a reaction to the isolation people feel when they consume media today," Rehak explains. ...

"Sure, a festival or a tour can corral audiences and generate money," Rehak says, "but people are getting something out of it. It is individual, social, and real." ...

....And so, by taking my kids to New York, watching them shake hands with the man behind the Platypus gurgle, did we catch summer's proverbial firefly? Make a memory that might get better over time?

As the sun set over the Pennsylvania Turnpike, my youngest declared from the backseat, "Everything about today was good." Then he promptly fell asleep.


The San Francisco Chronicle

Bustling amid bad times;
El Cerrito pawn shop thriving as many struggle to make ends meet

By Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer

August 8, 2011

A steady stream of people in need flows through Granters Jewelry & Loan, an El Cerrito pawn shop with a carved carousel horse in the window and a cigar-store Indian in the vestibule.

..."It's hard times," said Tammi Owens of San Pablo. A student of early childhood education, she was pawning her removable "grillz" gold teeth until the school year starts and she gets her financial aid check. "There are no other options," she said. "I have to pay my bills."

Pawn shops fling open a window onto how hard many Americans are struggling to make ends meet these days. With credit tight and jobs scarce, more people than ever - including middle-class consumers and small businesses - are hocking possessions to get quick cash, although they pay a price in interest and fees.

"We have the pulse of the economy," said Vito Wise, proprietor of Granters. "There is definitely an increase in people getting loans and selling things."

...Over the past 18 months, the average pawn-shop loan in California has risen to $150 from $85, according to the California Pawnbrokers Association. At the national level, defaults on pawn loans are rising, said the National Pawnbrokers Association. If a customer defaults, the pawnbroker keeps the pawned item to resell.

"The pawn business supplies short-term small-dollar loans to people who have nowhere else to turn," said Emmett Murphy, a spokesman for both the California and national associations. "Because of the economic situation, consumers are using it a lot more."

The skyrocketing price of gold - now topping $1,600 an ounce - is bringing in more customers eager to cash in on the modern-day gold rush.

...In reality, pawn-shop customers pay a premium for the convenience of a quick, collateral-backed loan with no credit check.

"The pawn loan is obviously more expensive than the interest you'd pay on a loan from the bank or on a credit card," said John Caskey, an economics professor at Swarthmore and author of the book Fringe Banking: Check-Cashing Outlets, Pawn Shops and the Poor.

Still, he sees a place for pawn loans. "It is a credit source for people who don't have good alternatives," he said. "Maybe they could borrow from a family member but would get a lecture about how they mismanaged their money. For people who just want a quick transaction, it provides a service."

Most pawn-shop customers pay back their loans. "As hard as times are, you want to keep your possessions," Owen said.

At Granters, about 10 percent of customers used to forfeit their items. Now that's up to about 15 percent, Wise said. ...


The Daily News Journal (TN)

Dad 2 Dad: Pursuit of happiness can backfire

August 8, 2011

An article in the latest issue of The Atlantic by Lori Gottlieb discusses how parental
obsession with a child's happiness can make the child into an unhappy adult.

Parents want to do the right thing. We try to keep kids safe. We want them to feel
loved. We long for them to be successful We hope they will grow into happy
productive adults. But how do we do that? It turns out that's a harder question than we might imagine.

When we grew up, our parents were pretty much focused on discipline. Over the last
decade or so there has been a focus on so-called "self-esteem," which has included
an aversion to competition, criticism and correction in favor of praise, promotion and
potential. We want our kids to be happy. However, Gottlieb quotes Barry Schwartz,
professor at Swarthmore College, who notes, "Happiness as a byproduct of living
your life is a great thing. But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster."  ...




The Delaware County Daily Times (PA)

In the Community

August 9, 2011

The Delaware County Athletes Hall of Fame has announced the individuals who will be inducted into the Hall at the association's fall awards dinner Thursday, Oct. 20, at Concordville Inn.

Joining the Hall will be baseball player Connie Newman, track and field athlete and coach Ted Woolery, bowler Jules Falcone, football coach John Leary, swimmer Mary Ann Olcese, former Flyers defenseman Jimmy Watson and Dave Johnson, a Swarthmore High and Swarthmore College track and field athlete who is director of the Penn Relays.