Some postscripts for previous columns; some previews of columns to come (or not).
Last week’s column noted the importance of little things that can have a big influence on our actions — “nudges,” I called them. A front door that opens at 185 Nassau Street might encourage more people from town to attend events at that facility. A doorway that opens from the Princeton Public Library to the Hinds Plaza does nudge people from the plaza to the library, and vice versa.
A day after the column came out we read that Mathematica Policy Research on Alexander Road had conducted a study showing how a personal message attached to a test score report could encourage a qualified student to take an Advanced Placement course that could help him or her gain acceptance to a selective college.
It’s an issue because, according to the College Board “high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely than other high-achieving students to never take an AP class.” But little nudges count. “Students who received a personalized message about their potential to succeed in AP course work . . . were 49 percent more likely to participate in AP classes than similar students who did not receive the message.”
It was a good week for nudges. On Monday, October 9, the University of Chicago economist cited in last week’s column, Richard H. Thaler, who literally co-wrote the book on nudges, received the Nobel Prize in economics.
The Lewis Center. I followed up on my column of last week by spending time over the weekend at the grand opening festival of the new $330 million Princeton University arts complex. At the architects’ panel discussion we learned that at one point, early in the planning, the ground level forum and staircase to the plaza above were oriented 90 degrees away from where they eventually ended up — facing the campus rather than Alexander Road and the train station as they do now. Thank goodness for AutoCAD software that allows architects to re-work their plans.
A presentation on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” reminded me that the arts at Princeton are more than just a set of new buildings. Anne Margaret Daniel, who earned her Ph.D. in English at Princeton, explored the Fitzgerald papers in the archives at Firestone Library. The result: a collection of previously unpublished stories by Fitzgerald, “I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories.”
Scott Berg, Princeton Class of 1971, the biographer of Fitzgerald’s “editor of genius,” Max Perkins, gave an informative presentation on Fitzgerald’s life, particularly his later days writing in Hollywood and beginning (but not completing) the novel, “The Last Tycoon.”
Berg marveled at the new Lewis Arts complex. When he was an undergraduate, he recalled, “the arts were applauded, but not appreciated much.” Berg remembered classic movies being shown on a white sheet tacked to a wall in the old Wilson College. “The Lewis Center will change the campus, the town, the state.” Addressing the students in the audience, he said, “Get involved.”
Over the weekend I ran into a who’s who of Princeton people in the arts: Jeff Snyder, the university’s director of electronic music; Snyder’s wife, Anica Mrose Rissi, a children’s book author who was on the cover of the September Princeton Echo; McCarter artistic director Emily Mann, Lewis Center executive director Marion Young; and Wendy Heller, chairman of the Department of Music; among many others.
By Sunday afternoon, everyone seemed a little fatigued. The idea of a kiosk selling coffee, pastries, and the like got a lot of support from the people I was with. Someone said they had lobbied the architects for just such an amenity but the idea never gained any traction. Maybe the sticking point was the lease with the Wawa convenience store, selling coffee to go by the hundreds every day and not counting on nearby competitors. But maybe Wawa could run a little kiosk during peak hours at the forum. There must be a creative and artful solution.
Lovell and McPhee. Readers of my September 20 column will recall that I put British biographer Mary Lovell in a class with Princeton-based creative nonfiction writer John McPhee. Some readers might point to my disclosure that Lovell is a personal friend and argue that my write-up was a stretch. Fair enough. But I hope those same people keep an eye out for Lovell’s new book, “The Riviera Set,” in the New York Times Book Review. Word on the street is that something may appear in the October 15 edition.
As for McPhee, word is that he, too, will have some media attention coming his way. Watch the October 18 edition of U.S. 1 for a major feature on McPhee and his latest book, “Draft No. 4,” in advance of his appearance at Labyrinth Books on Tuesday, October 24. Ticket alert: The 6 p.m. event is free but requires a ticket, which can be picked up at Labyrinth on Nassau Street.
A preview of a column to come. The subject: How journalists can be fair in a partisan world. My supposition is that journalists are mostly liberal (for a variety of logical reasons) but they can be fair if they follow some basic rules. One is to not try to be friends with the people you write about and — a corollary — if you do write about a friend let everyone know (see Mary Lovell reference above).
Another rule should be that you don’t protect someone just because they are a friend or because you want them to be your friend. Take the recent sexual abuse charges against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. The conservative media maintain that the allegations have been talked about for years but never previously reported because of liberal bias protecting Weinstein, known for his support of progressive causes.
Princeton professor Robert George, both a social and political conservative, tweeted out this point of view: “If you consider how Ted Kennedy & Bill Clinton escaped, you see why Harvey Weinstein is trying: ‘I’m sorry — and don’t forget, I’m a liberal.’”
Escaped? I have written before in this space about knowing one Washington-based political reporter who, shortly after Chappaquiddick, told me that Ted Kennedy would never be president. The liberal press corps was ready to derail him if he ever got close to the nomination. He just wasn’t fit to be president. As for Clinton, he got impeached as a result of the Monica Lewinsky episode. Neither outcome sounds like an escape to me.
Preview of a column that may never be written: I have some thoughts on the NFL’s national anthem controversy. To the legions (supposedly) of football fans who feel that players kneeling in silent, non-disruptive protest during the anthem are disrespecting the flag, the military, and our country, I ask this: What are you doing to the flag, the military, and our country when you’re sitting at home and sucking on a cheap beer while the anthem is being played on TV?
Now, and please don’t get me started here, I have my own complaints with the First Amendment expressions enjoyed by certain players — specifically those who have to raise their hands to the heavens every time they catch a pass or score a touchdown. My beef is that they don’t raise their hands when the opponent breaks up a play or stops a touchdown drive. Fellows, trust me on this: God can’t always be on your side. She just doesn’t work that way.
But, upsetting as this is to me, I offer a solution to all those upset by the anthem protests. Just ignore them, watch the game, and make sure you have a refill, or two, for that beer.