Monthly Archives: August 2001

Autumn Gardens

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Autumn. It doesn’t officially arrive until next month, but for the seasoned gardener, it’s already here.

Gone now are the hot, hysterical blooming days of summer, and soon to come are crisp nights, balmy temperatures, azure skies, and a cooler calm that takes the place of summer’s fevered pitch. Autumn’s botanical palette is rich; sweet autumn clematis, sumac berries, goldenrod, the salvia, asters, perennial sunflowers, all against the backdrop of birch trees and maples and the glow of a different light.

As autumn sweeps in, so does a particular melancholy, reminding us that death is certain and the chill and bones of winter are ahead. But for the gardener, autumn also brings a sense of accomplishment, and seeds of hope for the coming year.


Allen Lacy, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and author of “The Garden in Autumn”;
Ketzel Levine, NPR’s Doyenne of Dirt and author of “Plant This: Best Bets for Year-Round Gorgeous Gardens.”

Toon Tunes

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From 1936-1958 Carl Stalling composed approximately 600 cartoon scores for Warner Brothers. He was the leader in cartoon soundtrack composition. Drawing from styles ranging from jazz to gospel to opera, Carl used the music of the day to create lush soundtracks replete with musical inside jokes that only the most clever cartoon viewer would catch.

Remember, in Carl’s day, cartoons were more for adults than for kids. Today, composers struggle to live up to his legacy, while facing declining budgets and waning interest in the artistry of cartoon soundtrack composition.


Shirley Walker, composer, orchestrator, and conductor for the animated Batman and Superman series;
Daniel Goldmark, professor of musicology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Oceans: The Final Frontier

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We have surveyed every square inch of the moon and Mars, and we even know about the moons of Jupiter. Yet here on earth, seventy-one percent of the surface is covered by the sea, and scientists have mapped only five percent of it.

Recently scientists have made discoveries that are transforming our understanding of what lies beneath: a frozen lake of methane gas under the Gulf of Mexico, and chemical vents seven miles down where life on earth may have begun.

Meanwhile, humans are busy farming, building, fishing and polluting, and scientists claim the oceans look seriously green around the gills.


Dr. Robert Gagosian, Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution;
Dr. J Frederick Grassle, researcher at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University;
David Helvarg, the author of “Blue Frontier: Saving America’s Living Seas”

Legal Scholar Richard Posner

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We will never know with certainty who won the 2000 presidential election, says Judge Richard Posner in his new book. That’s because it was a statistical tie. Posner, a leading legal scholar and conservative Reagan appointee to the bench, acknowledges the likelihood that more Florida voters than we thought intended to vote for Al Gore.

But he argues that the Supreme Court was right to give the election to Bush, in order to avoid national chaos. Posner’s new book, “Deadlock,” makes a rare attempt to transcend politics in evaluating the legal case that decided a presidential election for the first time in American history. The result is a book that will please no one, but forces the reader to think.


Richard Posner, judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh District, and author of “Breaking the Deadlock” and “The Frontiers of Legal Theory,”;
Alan Dershowitz, professor, Harvard Law School and author of “Supreme Injustice.”

Reparations for Slavery

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The sum of $149,250.50 is what someone has calculated forty acres and a mule would be worth today. In the years after the Civil War, the ‘forty acres’ legislation was enacted as a way to give former slaves a new start as free citizens.

But President Andrew Johnson reversed the provision. African-Americans never got land, mule or an apology for slavery. For years, black nationalists were the only ones who talked about reparations, but now, the idea is being discussed in many quarters, from the NAACP to Harvard Law School.

No one expects, in fact few are demanding, a check in the mail.


Tara Mack, freelance journalist;
Clarence Page, syndicated columnist;
John H. Bracey, professor, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Clarence Walker, history professor, University of California, Davis, author, “We Can’t Go Home Again: An Argument about Afrocentrism.”

Unanswered Questions

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Most people tend to think of science as something that goes on in laboratories: lots of smart people wearing long white coats, sporting big plastic goggles, and spending way too much time with white rats.

Would you believe that some of those big brains in lab coats spend time obsessing about the more mundane questions of everyday life, like why toast usually falls on the buttered side, and why you open your mouth when you put on mascara? Well, they do.


John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American;
Mark Abrahams, editor and co-founder of The Annals of Improbable Research.

Presidential Vacations

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Ronald Reagan tall in the saddle and Herbert Hoover catching fish are some of the lighthearted images from the presidential vacation scrapbook. There are also more sobering memories, including the death of FDR at Warm Springs and Eisenhower’s heart attack in Denver.

Since the Great Depression, when a president goes a vacation, politics follow and it’s no day at the beach. Bill Clinton was persuaded by pollsters to trek to the Grand Tetons to distance himself from the liberal Eastern establishment.

George W. Bush’s month long sojourn, home on the range, is the longest presidential vacation in 32 years. He took a lot of heat for it, until he changed the subject with his stem cell decision.


Stephen Hess, Presidential Historian;
Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government;
Dana Milbank, White House Correspondent for the Washington Post.


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The physics are sensual: a rosined bow purposely glides across a string, easing it into harmonic motion. The vibrating wire sends off a wave that caresses a tympanic membrane. Once the eardrum is stroked, an electrochemical extravaganza ensues. Neurons fire in a symphony of sparks and flashes, endorphins waltz through the bloodstream and pleasure receptors pulse in ecstasy.

Humans are undoubtedly wired for sound, especially music, which can elicit a score of emotions from joy and bliss, to agitation and consternation. Despite music’s power and presence in life, the human affinity for melody remains a mystery to the scientific community. We’re analyzing the links between Bach, the brain, and behavior, trying to resolve the evolutionary tension between biological necessity and sensory stimulation.


Mark Tramo, musician, songwriter, and neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School;
David Huron, musicologist at Ohio State University;
Robert Zatorre, professor of neuroscience at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University.

Fast-Talking Dames

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If you’ve ever stumbled across a fast-talking dame on late night television, you know what it’s like to fall under her spell. And we’re not talking about one of those navel-baring, trash-talking babes slouched on a couch next to David Letterman.

We’re talking Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Irene Dunne and Barbara Stanwyck. That ilk, the women who gave the vigorous verbal twist to the screwball silver screen comedies of the 1930’s and ’40s.

These women are beautiful, but it’s what their lips have to say that makes them linger in the mind. To wit, unlike the perpetually virginal Doris Day types who would succeed them in the 1950s, they are sexually savvy, professionally secure and never, well, almost never, at a loss for words.


Maria DiBattista, professor of English and comparative literature at Princeton University and author of “Fast-Speaking Dames.”

Deconstructing Travel Guides

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Whether you set off with suitcase, backpack, or just a passport in your pocket, chances are you’re carrying a guide. That book is chosen with care, from authoritative directories of high-class hotels to the bibles of budget backpacker freedom.

The variations are endless. A guide to Zimbabwe may offer the history of a native tribe or suggest romantic getaways on the African coast. What we seek and what we find has much to do with the guide we choose.

Dust off your travel books, and reconsider the wisdom of the words you followed through Venice’s canals, Bangkok’s back streets, or the transformed town of your youth.


Pico Iyer, author of numerous travel essays and narratives, including “The Global Soul” ;
Don George, travel editor for Lonely Planet Guides.