Monthly Archives: August 2001

Big Tobacco

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If the war on tobacco were a spaghetti western, the anti-smoking lobby’s good cowboy would run the Marlboro Man out of town, on the back (to be sure) of Joe Camel.

Life in smoke-free Anytown, U.S.A. would resume its happy, healthy pace, and wheezing villains would never be heard from again. Reality, of course, is different. In the United States, recent regulations and lawsuits have helped rein in tobacco companies. The real drama is playing out overseas, where Big Tobacco is set to lasso the lips, lungs and lives of millions in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia.

Poor nations promise greater profits. To the chagrin of the World Health Organization and anti-smoking activists everywhere, Marlboro Country has gone global.


Gordon Fairclough, Wall Street Journal reporter;
Dr. Greg Conolly, Director, Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program;
Dr. Judith Mackay, Director, Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control;
Dave Davies, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Philip Morris International.

The Face of the Book

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If you think words reign supreme, think again. Before we even open a book, we are courted by its cover, beguiled by its blurbs, invited in by the black and white photo of the writer on the back.

A cover can be a window into the book’s soul. Or it can be a tease, a marketing strategy, an artistic flirtation with you, the buyer. Do you like yellow? Word in the marketing department is that jaundiced covers won’t sell. Want to appeal to the supermarket crowd? Embossed lettering spells a quick-read thriller.

And the blurb by that Nobel Prize winner will triple the sales! The arbitrary aesthetics aesthetics of book-bound beauty, and the symbolic language of literary quality are the elements of the art, or artifice, of the cover.


David Drake, publicity manager at Broadway and Doubleday;
Carol Horn, VP and head buyer at the Harvard Book Store;
Chip Kidd, associate art director at Knopf;
Carolyn See, writer and professor of creative writing.

The Power Politics of the Pharmaceutical Industry

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It will take more than a spoonful of sugar to help this medicine go down. At a time when the public is swooning over the high price of prescriptions, drug companies are swimming in profits.

Consumer watchdogs, and even some in Congress, say that the pharmaceutical industry is the most powerful political force in Washington, spending millions on lobbying, campaign contributions, and advertising. The drug makers’ legislative prescription for continued profits is simple: keep patent laws on the shelves and cheaper generic drugs off, and innoculate any new prescription drug benefit against price controls.

But critics say drug prices are already too high, drug companies counter that’s the cost of the cure. The debate is enough to give anyone a headache.


Darrell West, professor of political science at Brown University, and author of “The Sound of Money”;
Peter Stone, staff reporter for The National Journal;
Wayne Pines, Consultant to PhRMA.

Word Court

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There are two kinds of people in the world: those who can distinguish between “persuade” and “convince”, and those who could care less. Or is it couldn’t care less?

There are those who remember sending home letters from college, only to have them come back with the spelling and grammatical errors circled in red. But who (or is it “whom”?) among us appreciates being chastised? When you see someone boldly go where no grammarian has ever trod, can you hold your tongue? Should you? The Bible says, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” But that deprives the word police of the joys of “gotcha!”

Whether you are quibbler or quibblee, these debates come up more often (oftener?) than you might like to admit.


Barbara Wallraff, senior editor, The Atlantic Monthly and author of “Word Court.”

Castes of Mind

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The caste system in India is often considered an anthropological artifact, culturally and religiously sacrosanct and beyond Western censure.

The system is made up of four distinct social classes, Brahmins to Peasants, with a 5th group in the mud: The Dalits, or Untouchables. India’s constitution outlawed the notion of “untouchability” in 1950, but human rights activists say Dalits still suffer caste-related atrocities in the world’s largest democracy.

The United Nations’ World Conference Against Racism looms, and though official India claims that caste doesn’t belong in the discussions, the “Plight of the Dalits,” what some call South Asia’s Hidden Apartheid, is written bold on NGO clipboards.


Smita Narula, Senior Researcher, South Asia, Human Rights Watch;
Professor Nicholas Dirks, professor of history and anthropology at Columbia University and author of the upcoming book, “Castes of Mind.”

The Play Ethic

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“Surplus repression” was how philosopher Herbert Marcuse characterized the fate of humankind under industrialism. The workplace repression of instinctual freedom complemented the psychological repression of infantile sexuality.

Work is an ordeal of alienation. Robots can do it, and soon robots will. A change in human consciousness impends.

Soon, Pat Kane writes, we will need to recover the idea of play. Not play as the industrial leisure of golf, but as the glory extinguished in childhood, the anarchic energy and creativity.


Pat Kane, writer, activist and author of the upcoming “The Play Ethic: Living Creatively in the 21st Century.”

Bush and the Media

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It would take a saint not to laugh at George W. Bush’s verbal surrealism. “A tax cut is really one of the anecdotes to coming out of an economic illness.” “My education message will resignate amongst all parents.” “More and more of our imports come from overseas.” “I will have a foreign-handed foreign policy.”

One media critic argues that Bush may have dyslexia, but it is mild compared to the dyslexia of the media’s talking heads, who are unable or unwilling to distinguish between the president’s unfitness and television’s revelation of it.

So why did television, the medium that should have sunk Bush, elect him, and why aren’t voters more put off by the verbal bumbling of their president?


Mark Crispin Miller, author of “The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder”;

Tod Lindberg, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute and former Editorial Page Editor of the Washington Times.

Southern Writing

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Eudora Welty died last week at the age of 92. A prolific writer of short stories and novels, she was a southern woman who spun commonplace Mississippi into art.

“Passion is the chief ingredient of good fiction,” she once said. “It flames right out of sympathy for the human condition and goes into all great writing.” Welty’s writing has been called mythological, post-modern, timeless, transcendent, rich in region and inseparable from the community she lived in and observed throughout her life.

As the South of sitting on the porch and telling stories disappears, replaced by chain stores and suburban malls, will the themes that resonated through her literature go with it?


Shannon Ravenel, co-founder of Algonquin Books and editor of “New Stories from the South”;
Lee Smith, novelist and short story writer;
Jill McCorkle, novelist and author of the new collection of short stories called “Creatures of Habit.”


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No one, except a duly initiated Mason, is supposed to know what happens when the doors to the Lodge Hall close and the rites and rituals begin. Legend has it that if a Mason reveals the secrets, he (it’s still a men-only organization) is supposed to be cut in half and buried in sand at low tide.

At least that’s what’s been said about the Masons, along with many much more scurrilous things. Until recently, the fraternal order that traces its roots to medieval stone-cutters had a policy of never responding to criticism. But that’s begun to change.

As membership in American Masonic lodges continues to shrink, the Masons are reaching out to tell their story of “making good men better,” of charitable works, of good fellowship.


Mark Tabbert, Curator of Masonic and Fraternal Collections, Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington, MA;
David Gray Hackett, associate professor of religion, University of Florida, Gainesville;
Dan Brown, author of “Angels & Demons,” a novel about the Masons, the Vatican and ancient secret societies.

Nouveau Camp

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There’s a new breed of summer camp vying for your money and your child. Forget the sleep-away adventure for noble savages of sixteen and under, where kids in the woods make friends, pull pranks, and revel in the lack of parental supervision. Say goodbye to the rite of passage and its dizzying mix of hormones and homesickness.

Chances are, you remember well what summer camp used to be: cabins, canoe trips, and hokey plaster artifacts on the family coffee table for years to come. That’s what summer camp still is, in some dark and wooded corners of the world. But at the nouveau camp, overachievers are welcome, and anyone looking for a panty raid need not apply.


Bette Bussel, executive director of the American Camping Association of New England;
Carol Sudduth, camp director, Camp Wyonegonic;
David Wain, co-writer and director of “Wet Hot American Summer”;
Meg Campbell, Harvard University Graduate School of Education.