Monthly Archives: June 2001

The Minimum Drinking Age

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Americans and alcohol have always made for a volatile mix.

The nineteenth Century witnessed the rise of temperance movements. The twentieth century saw prohibition and its repeal. More recently, in the 1980s, the minimum legal drinking age was raised to twenty-one nationwide, with just a couple of pockets resisting the incentives of federal law. The 21 year old drinking age may be the most widely ignored law in the country, but its advocates say it saves hundreds of lives each year by reducing teenage drunk driving.

Critics of the law say it hasn’t eliminated problem drinking by the young, and it has forced college administrators to tolerate widespread lawbreaking, and even help regulate it. The twenty year old drinking age: Good Social Policy, or a puritanical vestige?
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Susan Foster VP and Director of Policy Research and Analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University

Omer Ismail, President of The Dartmouth

Dr. Ruth Engs, Professor of Applied Health Science at Indiana University

and Thomas Gerety, President of Amherst College.

Natural History Museums

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Come see the pickled head of Peter the Great’s wife’s lover.

Come see the monstrous two-headed chicken, the human skulls that “prove” European brain capacity is superior to the “primitives.” All of these attractions, disgusting to contemporary sensibilities, belong to the curious history of the natural history museum. Once a private domain of the most privileged, those who could afford to collect “cabinets of curiosities,” natural history museums today are filled with boisterous kids on field trips, plunging through interactive exhibits designed to combine serious science with Jurassic Park-style “edu-tainment.”

But maybe today’s exhibits say as much about our culture as phrenology said about our forebears’. Our fascination with abomination, the evolution of natural history museums.
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Stephen T. Asma, author of “Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums”

and Peter Tirrell, associate director, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman, Oklahoma.

Racial Profiling

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“Driving while black” has become a code word in recent years for a crime of innocence and an alleged act of police prejudice.

For decades, widespread anecdotal evidence of racial profiling has filtered through police departments and legislatures. But what has been missing are the numbers. Police departments are now beginning a new “color scan,” training a close eye on the usual suspects, African-American and Latino males, for a new purpose. To beat racial profiling, lawmakers and lawsuits require numbers, hard evidence that racial profiling exists. Armed with studies, surveys, and training programs, police nationwide are already implementing corrective measures to put a screeching stop to the practice, a ragged remnant of the 1980s war on drugs.

But a primary part of the crusade against racial profiling is data collection, cold social science to document the heat of racial problems in America. To test our law enforcers subjective perceptions, in an effort to document real prejudice. Racial profiling, Real or Perceived?
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Jack McDevitt, Associate Dean of Northeastern University’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Center

Ron Davis, Oakland, CA, police captain and Vice President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives

and Heather MacDonald, fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

The Many Faiths of the United States

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If you’re looking for evidence that the religious makeup of the United States has changed, consider this: In Houston, a law firm announced a new policy for holidays.

Everyone gets eight basic holidays, such as New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving. Then, they can choose two more from among: Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese New Year’s Day, the first day of Ramadan, the first day of Kwanzaa, Easter or Yom Kippur. Or, consider that United Airlines announced it’s changing its policy on employee uniforms. It’s now OK, while on the job, to wear religious headgear, such as a Muslim headscarf, a Jewish yarmulke or a Sikh turban.

One nation under god is the motto, but the reality is an ever increasing diversity of faiths.
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Diana Eck, director of The Pluralism Project, Harvard University and author of “A New Religious America”

Salam Al- Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council

Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president, Hindu Temple Society of North America.

The Jeffords Factor

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Today marks the first day of the new Senate, just a week after Vermont’s James Jeffords stunned the nation, not to mention the White House, by jumping from the Republican ship.

It’s a return to divided government, and even though the tax cut is done, there’s plenty up for debate: drilling in ANWAR and off shore, faith-based charity initiatives, judicial nominees, and missile defense to name a few. An increase of the minimum wage may be an issue, along with patient’s rights and prescription drugs. As the Democrats settle back to bigger staffs and chairmanships, rumors of Republican filibusters linger in the air, and everyone’s watching moderates like Chaffee and Snow, and the maverick John McCain to divine the future of the GOP.

With party lines blurring, taking a look at the path ahead on Capitol Hill…
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Mara Liasson, NPR’s Washington correspondent

Senator Charles Grassley (R–Iowa)

Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)

and Robert Dove, Parliamentarian Emeritus, United States Senate, and Professor of Law at Georgetown University.

The Metaphysical Club

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More than a hundred years ago, an idea took hold among a group of American Thinkers, an idea that influenced thought in this country for much of the century to follow.

It was actually an idea about ideas: Pragmatism. Pragmatists like philosopher John Dewey, and before him psychologist William James and the jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, said that we hold to certain beliefs not because they’re true, but because they work, or at least, they’re good bets. They said ideas are the adaptations humans make to the environment.

Pragmatism appealed to a generation exhausted by the Civil War, enchanted by Darwin and apprehensive of passionate people too certain of their beliefs. It declined after World War Two, but Louis Menand, who’s written a book about the founders of pragmatism – says their ideas are in vogue once again.
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Louis Menand, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of “The Metaphysical Club: A story of Ideas in America.”

The Bush Tax Bill

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As Senators struggle to sort out the power shift on Capitol Hill, many Americans are beginning the struggle to decipher the new tax law.

After months of politicking and some capitulation by both parties, the central pledge of the Bush campaign is one signature away from becoming reality. It’s smaller than its original 1.6 trillion dollar incarnation. But the cut fulfills the president’s promise: next year, at least, all Americans will pay less in taxes than they would have under current law.

But to figure out how much less you’ll owe in the coming years – get out your super computer: some of the tax breaks last only four years, most won’t begin for several more. One tax is eliminated, but comes back in ten years. What hath Washington wrought? Making sense of Bush’s tax plan…
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Alan Murray, Washington Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal

Robert Kuttner, Founder and co-editor of The American Prospect

Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), and Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform.

Children's Books

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They show us where the wild things are and where the sidewalk ends.

They tell us why Ramona is a pest, George is curious, and Sheila is great. They reveal why Alexander is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, and why Stanley is flat. They enchant us with little things: pigs, a prince, a mouse, a house on the prairie. And with big: a giant peach, a beanstalk, a red dog named Clifford. And they transport us: with Madeline to Paris, Eloise to the Ritz, the Hardy Boys to the old mill, and Nancy Drew to the Lilac Inn.

They’re children’s books. And from Beatrix Potter to Harry Potter, the great ones stay great. There’s just one catch: Getting your kids to read them. The best books for children are why summer reading is so much more than kids’ stuff.
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Eden Ross Lipson, New York Times Children’s Books Editor

John Scieszka, author of the children’s books “The Stinky Cheese Man” and “Henry P. Baloney”

and Terri Schmitz, owner of the Children’s Book Store in Brookline, Massachusetts.

AIDS Doctors

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The fight against AIDS in America today is an institution.

So many doctors are involved, and so many people have died, that it’s easy to forget how recently the disease was a deadly mystery. Twenty years ago, doctors who thought they could beat any disease suddenly faced a plague beyond their abilities. They confronted the social stigma associated with high rates of infection in gay men, in drug-users, and in the poor. They rejoiced at the discovery of early treatments, and then made death as comfortable as possible for the victims, many their friends, who couldn’t be saved.

Some doctors were crusaders and some were just dealing daily with the inevitable; many were obsessed, and none could have anticipated how the epidemic would change them and their profession forever.

(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Ronald Bayer and Gerald Oppenheimer, professors at Columbia University’s School of Public Health and authors of “Aids Doctors: Voices from the Epidemic;” Dr. Marcus Conant, private practioner in San Francisco

and Dr. Donna Mildvan, Chief of Infectious Disease at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

The Monastic Life

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Globe-trotting for God.

That’s one way to describe William Claassen’s two-year trek through the monasteries of the world. A journalist by training and a nomadic pilgrim by calling, Claassen set out in search of God. What he found was humanity. The humanity of the men and women in cloistered communities from France to India, Italy to Japan, who worship different deities but share a common language: silence. In spite of that quiet, or perhaps because of it, he heard something. About the rigors of monastic life. About dwindling numbers in the ranks.

About the challenges and joys of being alone in community. Christians. Buddhists. Sufis. Hindus. Each religion comes with tradition built in, but here’s Claassen’s greatest discovery of all: They’re all more alike than you’d ever guess.
(Hosted by Alex Beam)


William Claassen, author of “Alone in Community: Journeys into Monastic Life Around the World.”