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Michael Eric Dyson on Dr. King, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Barack Obama

 


Michael Eric Dyson:  Right. Well, there’s no question that the negatives associated with Rev. Jesse Jackson, with Rev. Al Sharpton, are so much higher than those associated now with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. but the irony of course is that when he lived the negatives associated with Dr. King were huge. Now he was a foul stench in the nostrils of mainstream America. He was a pariah to mainstream white America but once he was murdered the sweet scent of martyrdom swept away all of the foul smell of Dr. King’s social and moral crusades. So now he’s been elevated and the danger in that of course is that all the stuff that was said about Dr. King that’s negative have- has been airbrushed out of his iconography and what remains is the unblemished portrait of a man who was perfect in all ways. Well, if he’s so perfect and beloved why was he murdered not even 40 years ago and why is it that America continues to fail to both embody his ideals and to employ them and to fulfill the dream he had

about America being fair and equal and just for all people regardless of color or race or skin or national origin and he might have added I think sexual origin, sexual orientation and the like?  So when you think about that and you think about where King is and was and now how he’s being celebrated, you see there’s a lot of manipulation and distortion going on and everything negative that was said about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton was said about Dr. King. Oh, you’re camera hungry. All you’re interested in is seeing your names in light. The younger people in SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, were hard on Dr. King, young black people for the most part, but in a racial coalition of especially blacks and Jews, but the young people were hard on calling him the Lord behind his back. The Lord is here, the Lord, Martin Luther King Jr., yeah. Yeah, he wants all the camera time. We do all the hard work and he comes in and he takes the glory for what we do. King of course was enormously guilty and guilt stricken I should say as a result of being featured as the central leader of African American social quests and black freedom pursuits, but at the same time he was still highly elevated and celebrated and there was a lot of resentment among the rank and file workers who were out there doing a lot of the hard work in SNCC and other places. So all the bad stuff said about Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton was said about King, that he was in it for the money, that he didn’t want human rights, he wanted civil rights, and civil rights were against the best interests of the nation. So all the malarky that is said about Jackson and about Sharpton was certainly said about King and we tend to forget that. So the negatives that King- the negatives--excuse me--that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton now endure must be put in context, and when we do that we’ll see yeah, the same stuff was said about King, the same kind of beliefs people had. If you read the newspapers, before he was martyred and before he was murdered they doubted what Dr. King was doing. They were highly critical of him for his

opposition to the war in Viet Nam. Major papers, the Washington Post, the New York Times, major magazines, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report all were relatively critical of Dr. King and many black leaders turned against him. Roy Wilkins from the NAACP turned against him, criticized Dr. King for his criticism of the war in Viet Nam. So did the National Urban League’s Whitney Young. Many people felt that Dr. King was not on the right path and was doing a great disservice and damage to the black freedom struggle. So when I think about all of that I think that Rev. Jackson and Rev. Sharpton are to be applauded for the durability that they’ve showed and displayed and for working so long. Dr. King had a career- a vocation of about—  What?  Twelve years?  Jesse Jackson’s been on the battlefield so to speak for 40 years. That’s enormously important and striking and we have to give credit where credit is due. Barack Obama is a different kind of figure. Barack Obama is not a prophet but a politician and a presidential candidate so Barack Obama can’t do the same things that Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton does- do. Those gentlemen do different things because they are prophets, what dost sayeth the Lord. They speak out against the inequalities that prevail. Presidential candidates, as Barack Obama himself have said, respond to the demand of agitators for change so the change comes he said from the bottom up, not from the top down. He responded that way when he was asked by a reporter, Wolf Blitzer on CNN, why Martin Luther King Jr. would endorse your candidacy. He said he wouldn’t, Mr. Obama. He said, “Martin Luther King Jr. would get the American people to hold me accountable as President,” and that’s an enormously important thing. So there would be no Barack Obama without a Jesse Jackson. Jesse Jackson had to be rough and brutal, kicking down the door so that Barack Obama could walk through it gracefully, with aplomb and a debonair style and be able to articulate calmly and reasonably what he believes. The reason he’s able to be that calm and reasonable is because Jesse Jackson had to be loud and insistent upon America grappling with some of the serious and systemic social ills that the society had yet to overcome.

 

Recorded on: May 16 2008 

 

Michael Eric Dyson on Dr. King, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Barack Obama

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    Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

    The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

    An odd find

    Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

    Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

    "Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

    Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

    The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

    Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

    "We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

    Why understanding memory matters

    person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

    Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

    "Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

    If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

    Party chat

    Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

    Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

    Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

    spinning 3D model of a brain

    Temporal lobes

    Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

    At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

    Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

    In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

    Seek, find

    Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

    He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

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