Justin Davidson

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For the Love of Teaching

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BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON:

At the age of three, Ernest Kurnow’s father took him to a meeting at Cooper Union. When father and son returned to Brooklyn, the young boy, inspired by his visit, went into the living room, got up on a metal milk crate and pretended to give a lecture to everyone in the room.

“I can’t remember when I didn’t want to teach,” says Kurnow from his cozy apartment in Washington Square Village.

Now 96 years old, the Professor Emeritus of Statistics at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business still does what he loves.

Since he became a full-time teacher at the business school in 1948, Kurnow has brought his passion for statistics and teaching to his classroom. He has little to worry about nowadays, and considers teaching both his career and his hobby. A gifted scholar and compassionate person, the “eternal optimist” has used persistence and dedication to overcome every historical event from the Great Depression to the current recession to accomplish his goals as a teacher and scholar.

Kurnow, 96, talks to his statistics students (courtesy of topics.nytimes.com)

Kurnow, 96, talks to his statistics students (courtesy of topics.nytimes.com)

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1932 and his master’s the following year from City College, or “the poor man’s Harvard,” as the professor says it was called at the time, Kurnow thought that he would teach math right away.  The city, however, stopped giving math certification exams, but knowing that he always wanted to teach, Kurnow obtained a substitute’s license. The Depression, however, forced him to take a job as a shipping clerk after he earned his diploma, though he later taught almost two semesters at a reform school in Harlem with his license. Some good did come out of the Depression, as Kurnow was able to get a Works Progress Administration job teaching remedial reading and arithmetic in 1935. Read the rest of this entry »

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May 10, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Snuggiemania Has Arrived

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The Snuggie: the blanket with sleeves has become part of mainstream American society (taken from 50 pound note via flickr.com)

The Snuggie: the blanket with sleeves has become part of mainstream American society (taken from 50 pound note via flickr.com)

BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON:

On a hot New Jersey day last August, a production crew filmed a group of actors and actresses wearing sleeved blankets as they cheered on a sports team at a local park. At one point in the scene, Jane DeNoble and Dan Kaptein, two of the actors, exchange a high five.

“I improvised the high five and the director loved it,” says DeNoble.

At the time, a passerby may have done a double take. Why was a crew filming a crowd wearing sleeved blankets in 95-degree weather? Simply put, this was the beginning of Snuggiemania.

The Snuggie: the blanket with sleeves, available in sage green, royal blue and burgundy, has evolved into a cultural phenomenon and it all started in August when the commercial was filmed. From Facebook groups, YouTube spoofs and pub crawls, to Oprah and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the Snuggie has found its niche in American society. In a recession, it seems frivolous to spend $14.99 on a backwards robe, but according to a USA Today article, 4 million Americans beg to differ. Through a combination of a funny advertisement, declining ad rates and the comfort and humor associated with the product, the Snuggie has become a hit, and the Snuggie bubble (or Snubble), may be far from bursting.

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Written by justindavidson3

May 10, 2009 at 3:56 pm

An Afternoon with Karen Raffensperger

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Karen Raffensperger is a producer for the Evening News with Katie Couric. She enjoys her job, but admits that recently it has become harder to deliver the news to Americans each night. With a recession, two wars, and an increasingly uncertain relationship with North Korea and Iran, the producers at CBS in recent weeks have aired short stories at the end of the nightly news segments in order to lighten the mood. Karen recently pitched a story idea about an artist who leaves his paintings on the street with notes saying “everything is going to be alright,” in an effort to cheer people up, and promote his artwork.

One of Bataclan's paintings, accompanied with a cheerful message

One of Bataclan's paintings, accompanied with a cheerful message (taken from Lorraine DiSabato via flickr.com)

On Tuesday April 6, I joined Karen and a camera crew as they filmed the artist, Bren Bataclan, as he dropped his paintings around Wall Street. The paintings, which can be seen at www.bataclan.com, depict little colorful creatures with funny faces and smiles. Karen said that Bren picked Wall Street as the location for the story. In a struggling economy, Wall Street seems like a fitting location to drop off lighthearted paintings. After Bren dropped off his paintings, we would keep the camera focused on their location. Karen would keep track of how much time passed before each painting was picked up. A young man from Jersey City picked up the first painting after 6 minutes. Bren admitted that watching people pass by his art was very frustrating. The whole crew was relieved after the painting was picked up. We then rushed across the street to interview the man who picked up the painting. Michelle Miller, the correspondent, asked the man several questions. He said he collects similar forms of art, and that he thought the note was a great idea. Bren would then jump in the scene and would talk with the artist for a few minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by justindavidson3

April 10, 2009 at 9:06 pm

In a Changing Manhattan, the Lower East Side Struggles to Preserve its Identity

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As buildings shoot up in the Lower East Side, so does the cost of living (taken from Joel Raskin via flickr.com)

As buildings shoot up in the Lower East Side, so does the cost of living (taken from Joel Raskin via flickr.com)

BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON:

Julio Huertas migrated to Manhattan’s Lower East Side more than 50 years ago.  He shuffled his family around the neighborhood before deciding that he wanted to move his wife and three children into a better apartment. Huertas applied for several housing co-ops, but realized that his application kept getting lost.

“The reason [the landlords] couldn’t find it was because they were turning it away because I was Puerto Rican,” says Huertas.

Realizing that he was being discriminated against, Huertas and others were involved in a class action lawsuit which they won. The retired community activist and New York City Housing Authority employee has lived in the same co-op on Grand Street since. It was all that he could afford, and a good place to raise his family, despite being in a rough part of town.  In recent years, however, gentrification has swept through, washing away the grit which once defined this man’s neighborhood.
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