Here and there


Dr. Lawrence Susskind of MIT has co-authored a book that goes right to the heart of a current topic-the failings of Congress.

The book, Reinventing Congress for the 21st Century: Beyond Local Representation and the Politics of Exclusion, is described as "a blueprint for change based on the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program."

The program is described as "an internationally known center for action-research, committed to `all-gain' solutions as a standard for public policy making." It has played active roles in complex cases such as balancing the Third World's economic needs with global environmental safeguards and developing a national energy policy for the US.

Dr. Susskind, professor of urban and environmental planning at MIT and director of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes program, wrote the book with Sol Erdman, who chairs strategic planning at Search for Common Ground, an organization that builds consensus on seemingly intractable public policy issues in the US and abroad.

The book is summed up by the publisher, Frontier Press, this way: "With the Cold War won, the economy strong, and democracy triumphant, the United States should be enjoying the taste of victory and the fruits of peace. Instead we are politically demoralized. No matter how important an issue Congress confronts, it produces, at best, showpiece legislation of dubious merit. More often, opposing sides simply lock horns and nothing is resolved.

"Despite a rising tide of anti-incumbency, threats of term limits and an unending barrage of public blame, little is destined to improve on Capitol Hill. The structure of Congress, not just its membership, is unequal to the task... The time for major change has again arrived. Reinventing Congress for the 21st Century shows how conflicts between national priorities could be soundly managed at the core of our political system."

Dr. Susskind is the author of Environmental Diplomacy, a step-by-step approach to improving global environmental treaty-making, and co-author of Breaking the Impasse, a blueprint for fashioning consensus in the public sector. He was a founder and first executive director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and he has helped dozens of public agencies and corporations design better internal dispute handling systems.

Add Professor Nicholas Negroponte to the list of MIT faculty members producing new books. Professor Negroponte, Wiesner Professor of Media Technology and director of the Media Lab, has written Being Digital, developed from a selection of the author's monthly column in Wired magazine, according to The New York Times.

Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt notes ironically that Professor Negroponte has chosen a book to write about modes of communication that are alternatives to books.

As the digital future begins to emerge, the author writes, so does curiosity about the author's vision of the role of books and newspapers in that future.

"While Mr. Negroponte is not explicit," Mr. Lehmann-Haupt writes, "he refers several times to what he describes at one point as a `magical, paper-thin, flexible, waterproof, wireless, lightweight bright display' that one will be able to watch or listen to or do all at once as one chooses."

The essence of Being Digital, the reviewer writes, "lies in a precise understanding of its title. The word digital here refers not to fingers, of course, but rather to the system of coding information in numbers or bits." In other words, it is all about the brave new world of communications that Professor Negroponte's Media Lab represents.

As the reviewer reads it, "being digital implies, for one thing, the end of a world in which information is pushed out at consumers by broadcasters and the beginning of one in which it is pulled in by `broadcatchers,' a term coined in 1987 by Stewart Brand in a book about the Media Lab. We will all become broadcatchers, pulling in multimedia in whatever form or mix we like from machines that used to be our television sets but will soon merge with our computers to become like English butlers who unobtrusively understand our every need and wish."
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James D. McLurkin has gotten a lot of mileage out of his tiny robot, Cleo, which has potential applications for colon surgery-but nothing to match his latest offer.

After the News Office put out a release on the UROP project last May, Mr. McLurkin found the media beating a path to his door at the micro-robotics lab-to the point that he has been turning down interviews.

But then came one request he simply couldn't say no to. ZDF, a German public television station, asked him to fly to Germany with Cleo to give a demonstration of the robot on one of its programs.

It's an all-expenses-paid trip, and that was simply too good to turn down.

Cleo, of course, won't be consigned to the cargo hold.

"She goes with me in my carry-on. I have a little case that I put her in," explained Mr. McLurkin, a fifth year senior in electrical engineering with a minor in mechanical engineering.

In fact, Cleo needs to be handy, because Mr. McLurkin may spend some of the time on the plane programming the robot. That should give the person sitting next to him something to think about.
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Three MIT economists will be among those meeting in the spring as members of the Presidential Economic Policy Advisory Board to discuss the nation's economic performance and prospects.

They are Rudiger W. Dornbusch, Ford International Professor of Economics; Paul L. Joskow, Mitsui Professor of Economics and head of the department; and Institute Professor Robert M. Solow, the Nobel laureate in economics in 1987.

The head of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Laura D'Andrea Tyson (MIT PhD in economics, 1974) invited the MIT professors and other distinguished academic economists to serve on the board. The group held its first full session in December.

QUOTES

"When a program has developed a maturity that the AIDS program has, there are a lot of people who are part of the system and who are not going to want to see the system change. But there are times when it is really necessary to shake up a system." -Dr. David Baltimore, Ivan R. Cottrell Professor Molecular Biology and Immunology, commenting in a New York Times article on plans to reassess the research effort in the fight against AIDS.

"I think the MFA needs to do adventurous, bold and imaginative programming, and not follow a path of cautious mediocrity to get through these rocky times. In the long run, caution does nothing to revitalize the health of the institution or the community it depends on."-Katherine G. Kline, director of the List Visual Arts Center, in a Christian Science Monitor story on difficult times facing the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

CLIPS

From the Reading Eagle and Times in Reading, PA, comes a story about an MIT freshman, Erik S. Bailey, who recently returned to his high school with four other MIT students in the brass quintet to demonstrate that music and science are a natural combination.

Erik's father, John T. Bailey, is the Exeter High School band director and, according to the newspaper, "couldn't be more proud" of his son.

Erik and his MIT companions performed at Exeter to carry the message that students don't have to give up their music to pursue demanding academics.

The stop at Exeter High School was one of four the quintet made while on tour to promote the MIT music program.

Joining Erik, who plays the tuba, were two trumpet players, Brian E. Blatnik, a senior in mathematics and management science, and Peter L. Greene, a junior in electrical engineering; French horn player Chadwyck T. Musser, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, and trombonist Andrew D. Garcia, a sophomore in electrical engineering.

Erik told the audiences that MIT has an extensive music curriculum. But even he was somewhat surprised he chose MIT, according to the newspaper.

"I once had thoughts of pursuing a musical career-Dad suggested it-and I was considering a performance degree." Meanwhile, his mother (who also played the tuba when she was in high school) was encouraging him to go into the medical field.

But, Erik said, he always had a keen interest in doing experiments and building things. His career plans include developing new products that use semiconductors, microprocessors and computer chips.

"I've come to love MIT. It's where I belong," he said. He now has a perfect mix, he said, "of challenging study and an excellent music program."

And when he's feeling overwhelmed with school work, he said, "I just pick up the horn and wail away."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 1, 1995.


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