Skip to main content

Swarthmore in the NewsJanuary 27, 2012


Athens Banner-Herald (Athens, Ga.)

Lecture shows that sign language can be funny

By April Burkhart

January 25, 2012

Every culture and community has a sense of humor. The deaf community is no different.

Donna Jo Napoli, professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College and award-winning children's author, will present a lecture titled "Humor in Sign Language" today, when she will use both American Sign Language and British Sign Language to show a range of examples of sign humor.

So, what is the humor in sign language?

"That's like asking what's the humor in spoken language," Napoli said. "A lot of what's humorous for hearing people is humorous for deaf people, but there are some types of humor that one group appreciates more than the other. The sociological role of humor in a deaf community is quite important, and somewhat different from what you would find among hearing people. I'm going to zero in on linguistic manipulations in sign humor - and that's humor that depends on the particular modality of language. So it should be an eye-opener for hearing people and a lot of fun, I hope, for deaf people."

Napoli earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Harvard University and studied Romance languages in graduate school. She went on to earn a doctorate from Harvard in 1973 and began teaching. One of her students wrote a senior thesis on issues involved in deaf children learning to read. To guide the thesis, Napoli had to read everything her student read.

"By the end of the semester, I was hooked," Napoli said. "Sign language is a door to deaf culture and deaf culture is fabulously rich."


Napoli's passion for studying sign language and interacting in the deaf community has led her to help coordinate national and international conferences on deaf issues and to write articles discussing education and deaf children.

"Deaf people have a history of social, psychological, and financial oppression in most countries. And that history is ongoing still in many places," Napoli said. "It is my firm belief that scholars whose work shows that sign languages are bona fide languages need to work with activists for deaf rights to protect the rights of deaf people everywhere, from their fundamental right to language, to their rights to an education, a job, housing, medical access - plain old basic civil rights."


next gen journal (Web site)

Egypt's Enduring Revolution

By Reem Abdou ['14], Swarthmore College

January 25, 2012

On Wednesday, January 25th, Egyptian protestors will mark the one-year anniversary of the uprising that toppled the Mubarak regime by marching to Tahrir Square and demanding that the ruling military council hand power to civilians.

The renewal of activist dissent is concurrent with Monday's inaugural session of the first freely elected Parliament in six decades, which resulted in nearly half of the member seats being given to Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, Egyptians across the demographic spectrum fear that the Islamists will ultimately stifle the democratic movement, which continues to sweep across the Arab nations. The larger concern is that both the ultraconservative members of Parliament and army commanders will work jointly to obstruct any of the reforms that the protestors had fought so hard for. These include any progress made on negligible economic growth, grave human rights abuses, and the enduring lack of political freedom.

It seems that the most urgent responsibility of the newly elected parliament is to act quickly in an effort to amend laws that restrict free speech, association, and assembly and that give police (acting under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) far-reaching power to violently restrain protestors. ...


The Associated Press State & Local Wire

States weaken teacher tenure rights

By Kimberly Hefling, education writer

January 25, 2012

WASHINGTON-America's public school teachers are seeing their generations-old tenure protections weakened as states seek flexibility to fire teachers who aren't performing. A few states have essentially nullified tenure protections altogether, according to an analysis being released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The changes are occurring as states replace virtually automatic "satisfactory" teacher evaluations with those linked to teacher performance and base teacher layoffs on performance instead of seniority. Politically powerful teachers' unions are fighting back, arguing the changes lower morale, deny teachers due process, and unfairly target older teachers.


Tenure protections were created in the early 20th century to protect teachers from arbitrary or discriminatory firings based on factors such as gender, nationality or political beliefs by spelling out rules under which they could be dismissed after a probationary period.


"Tenure laws will be under assault for many years to come," said Marjorie Murphy, a professor of history at Swarthmore College who wrote a book about the teacher labor movement. Murphy said ending tenure protections will "take over any sense of fair play between employer and employee. All of that will be gone."

(This article also appeared in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer (Ky.), and Republican-American (Waterbury, Conn.)


Los Angeles Times

Culture monster, influences; a taste for the uncategorizable

By Scott Timberg

January 25, 2012

Even with the genre-bending eclecticism of today's avant-garde, Lars Jan stands out.

"Abacus," the piece he brings to town next week, draws from opera, film and performance art, and concerns, among other things, the arbitrary state of national boundaries, the craze for TED presentations and the communication style of mega-churches.

"I've become really interested in our heavily screen-based society," the multimedia artist says. "This is the screen age. I feel like screens have kicked the pants off performance since cinema was invented," increasing the advertising beamed at us and limiting our ability to have long-term thoughts. "I wonder what will happen when the pendulum begins to swing back."

Jan is a polymath in other ways too: The son of emigres from Afghanistan and Poland, he's worked in Japan, Afghanistan and Ukraine and studied at Swarthmore and CalArts. ("Abacus" came out of his Los Angeles-based art lab, Early Morning Opera.)



Slate (USA)

The Phony Crisis of Capitalism - I'm the college student Nick Kristof cited as evidence that students have turned socialist. He's wrong.

By Jon Emont ['12]

January 24, 2012

Last week, Nicholas Kristof wrote a column about Americans losing faith in free markets and the financial industry. He described how he was startled during a visit to Swarthmore College, where a student asked him whether it was immoral to seek banking jobs. Using the student as a foil, Kristof worried that "America's grasping capitalists are turning young Americans into socialists." He advised liberals to "be wary of self-selecting" out of jobs in the financial industry, and cautioned students not to "mock their classmates who choose Citigroup over CARE."

I'm the student who asked Kristof the question. He's wrong. There's no crisis of faith in capitalism, or of liberal students shunning jobs in finance.

Kristof cites a Pew poll taken last year. "Only 50 percent of Americans reacted positively to the term capitalism," he worries. Furthermore, "Among Americans aged 18-29, more had a negative view of capitalism than had a positive view of capitalism."

There's nothing new in these numbers. Capitalism has always been controversial. In Modern American Capitalism: Understanding Public Attitudes and Perceptions, the authors found that in 1989, 32 percent of Americans agreed that "Capitalism denies the masses property in life, liberty, and estate." More than one-half agreed that "Capitalism must be altered before any significant improvements in human welfare can be realized." And-surprise, surprise-college students were substantially more likely than the rest of the population to believe that capitalism was unjust. That was true in 1980 as well as 1989. When you look at the 2011 and 1989 data side by side, it's remarkable how little the numbers have changed.


Other schools' numbers tell a similar story. At Yale, from 2008 to 2010, the percentage of students entering "finance/business" jobs dropped from 19 to 11. But the percentage of students entering "industry" professions during the same span increased from 7 to 16. "Industry" encompasses professions from management consulting to sales and marketing, and the Yale institutional researchers interpreted the data simply: "Due to the economic downturn, graduates shifted from jobs in business and finance to jobs in industry instead." ...


Kristof writes more than anybody about the importance of good teaching, smart government employees, and the great work of many international NGOs. All of those goals are threatened when as many as one-half the students at top universities go directly into consulting and finance jobs. So the next time a student asks Kristof whether it's moral to go straight into banking, maybe, instead of worrying about an anti-capitalist climate, he should counsel the student to spend a couple of years doing something different.


The Washington Post

The Honorable Judge Rakoff  v. Corporate America, the SEC, cynicism and the '64 Phillies

David S. Hilzenrath

January 22, 2012

From a courtroom in Manhattan, not far from the epicenter of the nation's financial crisis, a longtime federal judge is becoming a hero to many and a nightmare to some for demanding greater accountability in cases of alleged Wall Street fraud.

Jed S. Rakoff [’64] is driving regulators nuts by refusing to rubber-stamp the kind of deals that have long defined Securities and Exchange Commission justice - boilerplate settlements in which companies use shareholders' money to pay fines while they neither admit nor deny doing anything wrong. The latest example called for Citigroup to pay $285 million for alleged misconduct during the mortgage meltdown.

The potential effect of Rakoff's stand goes beyond the financial arena to other industries and regulators that rely on negotiated settlements.

"This is Jed Rakoff against the world," said Joel Seligman, a scholar of securities law.


The judge's fans - and how many judges have fans? - see him as the rare authority trying to impose Wall Street penalties that fit the offense. Rakoff for president, some say.


In hours of conversation since late November, he exuded wit and wisdom about life that seemed part rabbinical and part borscht-belt comedy.


And he explained how a kid from Philadelphia became an ardent fan of the New York Yankees.

After the Phillies choked in 1964, he decided to root for another team "so heartless, so soulless - so totally like corporate America - that if they lost, I wouldn't care."

Delivered with a twinkle, the quip was offered not as a put-down of corporations but rather as a sly parody of his perceived attitude toward them.

The son of a fertility doctor and a guidance counselor, Rakoff attended an elite public high school in Philadelphia and went on to Swarthmore - "a very liberal college," he said - where he was editor of the newspaper and president of the student council.

He spent a summer working for the Congress of Racial Equality and was on the Mall in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

At Oxford, he wrote a master's thesis on Mohandas Gandhi, the leader of India's independence movement whose nonviolent tactics helped inspire the civil rights movement in the United States.


In a recent e-mail that began by reviewing his long-ago record as a prosecutor, he lamented that federal sentencing guidelines now put pressure on even innocent defendants to plead guilty, shifting power from judges to prosecutors.

"Worst of all, it means that virtually all federal criminal justice is conducted behind closed doors. That is because a trial is nearly the only place where the entire criminal justice system is put to the test of truth: Do you have the proof of guilt, or don't you?"

In a follow-up, he said, "And, to state the obvious, a system of justice that chiefly operates behind closed doors will sooner or later be a system that . . . leads to abuse."

It sounded a lot like his critique of the SEC.


Ralph C. Ferrara, who worked with Rakoff at the Justice Department, served as general counsel of the SEC and now defends clients in SEC cases, views Rakoff's action as remarkable from either side of the debate.

"On the one hand, Judge Rakoff . . . has finally pronounced that the king has no clothes, and for the first time the world seems to be noticing the nakedness of the SEC on this issue," Ferrara said. "On the other hand, one could say, 'Look, Judge Rakoff has engaged in almost, in an unconstitutional encroachment.'"

Rakoff's legacy on the issue is now in the hands of an appeals court. He's been knocked down before - notably, when he ruled that the death penalty "is tantamount to foreseeable, state-sponsored murder of innocent human beings."

The judge said he still believes he was right about that, and in his chambers hangs an oversize copy of a newspaper article about his ruling.

"If you're never reversed on appeal," he said, "you probably have taken too narrow a view of the law."


The Gazette (Montreal)

Decisions: We're maxed out

By Hannah Hoag, freelance

January 21, 2012

By studying people with brain injuries, scientists can learn more about why we think and act the way we do.


In a new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, authors John Tierney and Roy Baumeister argue that willpower is a limited resource and that when we overdraw from this finite bank of mental energy, typically levelheaded people lose their self-control and start to make bad decisions.

"Making decisions consumes willpower and the basic energy the mind and the body have. After making multiple decisions, you have a reduced amount of energy available, and then decision fatigue sets in," says Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, who teamed up with New York Times journalist Tierney to write the book.


...There are 563 toasters for sale on Most of the listings offer detailed technical specifications and reviews from customers and consumer magazines. In the quest for the best, "it's so easy to be seduced, so easy to search some more," says Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and the author of the 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.

No surprise then that when faced with many choices, the willpower to sift through the options is sapped, and the brain freezes.


By limiting the number of choices to evaluate, you can avoid the paralysis associated with decision fatigue, though you may not end up with the best toaster, says Schwartz.

Not only does more choice not promise perfection, it tends to lead to regret. "If you choose something and it is not perfect - and so very few things are - it is extremely possible to imagine that something else is better," says Schwartz.


Experts offer tips on how to avoid feeling overwhelmed:

Don't make important decisions late in the day; tackle them first thing in the morning. ...

Don't wait for perfection. Stop looking and make the purchase once something meets your standards.


(This article was also distributed by the Canwest News Service)