Monthly Archives: February 2002

Ceasefire in Sri Lanka

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There is a pause in one of the bloodiest civil wars of the last twenty years. A ceasefire in Sri Lanka means that what had seemed an endless and intractable conflict, fought with child soldiers, suicide bombs, and aerial bombardment, has stopped. At least for the moment.

For many in the West, who follow the conflicts in Northern Ireland or the Mideast, the war between the separatist Tamil Tigers and the Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka almost doesn’t register. It’s too confusing, too far away. But in the light of a worldwide war on terrorism, Sri Lanka seems a lot closer to home. Some people compare the island nation to an earring dangling off the tip of India. Others see a teardrop. Beauty or tears: which way for Sri Lanka.


Frances Harrison, BBC correspondent, Colombo, Sri Lanka

David B.S. Jeyaraj, freelance journalist, Toronto, Canada

Chandra de Silva, professor of history, Old Dominion University.

The Legacy of Surrealism

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From the fur-lined teacup of Meret Oppenheim to the hallucinatory dream narratives of Salvador Dali, it is possible that no “ism” of the last century changed our way of looking at the world in quite as dramatic a fashion as Surrealism. The author of its original manifesto fixed upon psychic automatism, the Freudian “unconscious” as a foundation of the art form, but Karl Marx muscles his way in as well with his social revolution against repression.

Still today, the Surrealists have us turning the mind back on itself, clashing disconnected ideas against each other and debating the origins and principles of the movement, and trying to leave a little room for humor as well. A trip into the world of absolute reality – sur-reality.


Mary Ann Caws, professor of comparative literature at the Graduate Center at CUNY and author, most recently, of “Surrealist Love Poems”

Arthur Danto, art critic for The Nation

Goodbye, Superfund?

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The Superfund isn’t looking so “super” these days. Washington’s system of cleaning up industrial messes is starting to look like something of a mess itself. The money from industry is all but gone, and President Bush says he has no intention of asking corporate America to resume paying the tax. So money will have to come from taxpayers, and the number of polluted sites under consideration for cash from Washington is being drastically slashed.

Critics of the Superfund won’t care. They’ve always said it’s a slow and inefficient system of cleaning up the countryside. Trouble is, it IS the system and until there’s something else, a number of industrial sludge sites just got a reprieve.


William Shutkin, MIT Dept. of Urban Studies and planning

Bill Kovaks, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

A Multitude of Sins

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There is a Multitude of Sins in the latest collection of short stories by Richard Ford. They’re the sins that break us, that push us to despair in the lost and confused moments of failing relationships. And although Ford writes about murder and adultery and greed, these aren’t the sins that he looks to enumerate.

He explores instead the seemingly insignificant, the sins of forgetfulness, of selfishness and carelessness. Transgression is more often for him a momentary misplaced hope for something better, or at least different; an instant of misunderstanding that leads his characters to the Maine coast, to seedy desert hotels, and upscale New Orleans apartments, only to end up in the same sad “rag and bone shop of the heart.”


Richard Ford, author of “A Multitude of Sins”

What The Nose Knows

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Ever since sexually – reproducing creatures dragged themselves from the sludge of a burgeoning world, whether as bugs or reptiles, mammals or birds, the boys and the girls have been chasing each other through the jungle.

And yet it’s only recently that scientists have been on the trail of understanding the elusive aromas and undetectable scents that draw males and females together. Even today, the science of pheromones remains a largely unsolved puzzle. It is the world of biopsychology, a place somewhere between the “you and what you are” and the “you and who you think you are,” and much of it is up your nose. It’s a story about old T-shirts and shoeboxes with nose-holes in them, about hamsters and hucksters and sex and, of course, the search for the vomeronasal organ.


Martha McClintock David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor and Chair
Committee on Biopsychology at the University of Chicago.

On The Trail Of Terror Through Asia

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No one in the White House will tell you exactly where in the world Chinese-made weapons are found. An oblique characterization says China “does business” with Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Syria.

Historically that’s been enough of a concern for Washington to impose economic and technological sanctions against China, but in this year of living dangerously, even while the administration calls nations dealing in weapons of mass destruction “evil,” criticism of proliferation is giving way to “shared global interests.” It’s a classic case of back door diplomacy and “constructive engagement” with public statements and closed meetings, and wondering how the administration balances what it thinks, what it says, and what it does.


Thomas Christensen, Professor of Political Science at MIT

All That Jazz

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Branford Marsalis is what you might call a “been there, done that” kind of musician; one of the top jazz sax players of this generation, he’s also played with pop and classical, hip-hop, television talk, film scores and Olympic themes. His is a level of versatility rare in the music business today, and it is the business side of music that’s about to witness the force of Marsalis.

He’s cut his ties at Columbia, teamed up with the Grammy-award winning jazz writer Bob Blumenthal, and the two of them are launching a new jazz label. The problem, as they see it, is that the majors just aren’t listening to the new young talents, simply and cynically because re-issues of Charlie Parker sell better.


Branford Marsalis, musician, and Bob Blumenthal, jazz critic and writer

The Urge to Merge

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Who controls the news? After court rulings this week, doors are wide open for new deals that could make the Rupert Murdock/Sumner Redstone world of media magnates even smaller. With fewer and fewer people deciding what stories get covered on radio and TV and in the papers, some say cross-media monopolies are undermining the market. If the only thing keeping editors honest is competition, what’s to prevent a 500-channel, but one-view world?

Supposedly, the FCC; the organization charged with protecting the public and keeping stories like Citizen Kane from coming true. But the new FCC chairman thinks more free market and less regulation is good for the economy and good for you. The leaner, meaner media, mergers and the FCC


Blair Levin, media analyst with Legg Mason and former chief of staff for the FCC

Mark Cooper, Director of Research, Consumer Federation of America

The Coffee Glut

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Gimme a couple of cappuccinos, one soy, one with an extra shot, ahhhhh 10 bucks. Chances are, what you spend on two cups of frothy coffee is a full week’s wages for the farmer who grows the beans. It’s a market story. There’s a coffee glut. Prices are down. It’s business, dog eat dog. It’s also, not that simple. Some farmers in Colombia and Peru are going back to growing coca, because it pays better. Others are abandoning their farms, and those sticking it out find themselves in deepening debt. High-grade coffee is about the only part of the business where the prices are holding.

So what’s wrong with the business? Fair Trade people say one answer is in cutting out the middlemen, and paying a premium for sustainable growing methods, but that’s not the whole story. Coffee prices, good till the last drop.


Robert Everts, co-director of Equal Exchange

Ted Lingle, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association

Bryan Lewin, an economist in the Rural Development Division of the World Bank

Carlos Vargas, manager of the Coo Cafe, a coffee farmer cooperative in Costa Rica


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Just when smoking seemed to be on the ropes, when public health’s Enemy Number One was reeling from new, effective ads paid for with billions of dollars in tobacco settlement money, anti-smoking efforts appear to be sounding retreat. The Heart and Lung Associations, the Cancer Society, and other health advocates are joining forces to say that the states are welshing on agreements to spend a big chunk of the Big Tobacco settlement fighting against the beast that kills untold thousands each year and saps state budgets through a multitude of illnesses.

Welcome to the new economy. Politicians say they are cutting their anti-smoking campaigns, along with roads, schools and homeless shelters, that it’s all painful but all necessary in a tighter economic scene. Forget big tobacco. Anti-smoking advocates are taking on the states.


Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, commissioner, New York City Health Department

William V. Corr, executive vice president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids