Monthly Archives: February 2002

Confession and Confidentiality

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“Forgive me father, for I have sinned.” With these words, penitents open their hearts to God and their local Catholic priest. In doing so, they take advantage of a special relationship – a special legal privilege – and no matter what they admit to or reveal, be it a little envy or a capitol offense, the secret will be safe. In most states, the sanctity of penitent-clergy privilege is enjoyed by all faiths; tell your minister or rabbi about your troubles, about your crimes, and you can expect he or she won’t drop a dime.

But all this may be changing. New revelations about child sexual abuse by clergy are driving some politicians to question the moral calculus that says keeping confidence is more important than calling in the cops.


Father Ed Vacek, Westin Jesuit School of Theology

Paul Rothstein, Professor of Law, Georgetown University

Martha Coakley, Middlesex County District Attorney

Artificial Intelligence

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The robots are here. Some look like insects, some try to fly like eagles. MIT’s humanoid Kismet can help you find your car keys and he even gets bored. Evolving in a British garage is “Lucy,” the latest member of the cyber tribe. She has a toy orangutan head stuffed with computers, and her cybergod creator hopes someday she’ll reproduce.

Brilliant bots are in our future. They’ll talk to us, eat and sleep and have feelings, so say top minds in the field of Artificial Intelligence. But here’s the catch: we’re going to have to step aside, mentally and spiritually, to let them through. Part of creating new, sentient beings is redefining what it means to be alive, to be intelligent. Demystifying ourselves and letting go of our spiritual pretensions.


Steve Grand, inventor of the computer game Creators, and author of “Creation, Life and How to Make It;” Ann Grand, co-creator of the robot “Lucy;” Rodney Brooks, roboticist, director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, and author of a new book called “Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change us”

The Photovoltaic Future

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Once again, DC is talking “solar” – alternative energy: consuming less fossil fuel, reducing emissions. It’s in President Bush’s new “Clear Skies” plan, but it’s hardly a new idea.

Solar panels were invented in the ’50s, and for decades, politicians have urged, with words, if not policy, moving towards so-called “clean” power. Yet few who got up this morning, showered, made toast and drove to work were any closer than folks 50 years ago to “harnessing the sun.”

Some say entrenched oil interests clog the halls of Congress, that a corporate conspiracy crushes promising new technologies. But photovoltaic panels are getting cheaper, and anyone who watched California struggle through blackouts last year knows there are benefits to getting off the grid.


Dan Reicher, former Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy with the Department of Energy

Steven Strong, founder and president of Solar Design Associates

Marianne Walpert, Director of Projects for Schott Applied Power.

Mad in America

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The mentally ill have been called mad, lunatics, and defectives. They have been treated with everything from Quaker compassion to lobotomies and electro-shock. The history of schizophrenia is a canvas for a grander understanding of what society considers “normal” – and the lengths we will go to – to cure madness in our midst.

A new book, “Mad in America,” argues that today’s pill-obsessed psychiatric efforts continue the dehumanization of the mentally ill; that cutting-edge drugs impose a constructed and twisted “normality” profitable only for the pharmaceutical companies and HMOs. It’s a direct challenge to the prevailing professional opinion – that with careful chemistry, we can finally solve the most complex psychiatric puzzles of our time.


Robert Whitaker, author of “Mad in America”

Stefon Harris Does the Vibes

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“A Cloud of Red Dust.” That’s what the jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris called his first album. At the time he was using red mallets on the instrument’s metal bars, and when a concert was over, he was surrounded by a crimson dust storm. Stefon Harris is an intense player, a man who takes his music and his language seriously. He hates terms like “flat 9th against a major 7th.” He says chords have personality: “That one’s irritating, this one’s sunny, that one’s mellow.”

And he speaks, on his instrument, in sometimes blistering, sometimes cool, always sublime tones. Stefon Harris, age 28, is being mentioned in the same breath as the greats in the small vibes pantheon that includes Lionel Hampton, Gary Burton, Milt Jackson. Stefon Harris and his amazing mallets.


Stefon Harris, jazz musician

Figure Skating Under Fire

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The controversy over the pairs competition has the reputation of Olympic figure skating in a death spiral. That’s sort of like an upside down triple lutz with a double toe loop, only different. After the gold medal went to the Russians and not the Canadians the crowd, along with much of the international skating committee, cried foul. Now with allegations of illegal vote trading swirling in Salt Lake City, once again, figure skating finds itself with high marks for controversy.

People have long argued that figure skating is more spectacle than sport; more about costumes, music, mood, sex and sometimes politics, than about athletic competition. And, that maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t even belong in the Olympics. Aesthetics on ice, sport, and subjectivity.


Suzanne Blake, sports reporter for the CBC

Sally Jenkins, columnist for the Washington Post

and Allan Guttmann, sports historian at Amherst College.

Iran in the Axis

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Last fall, Iran was on board, cooperating in America’s war on terror, and on Afghanistan. It was a curious sidebar: longtime enemy Iran suddenly seeming like a friend, and a tentative rapproachement apparently speeding up.

Then came allegations of secret nuclear weapons programs, of political tampering in Herat, and finally George Bush’s State of the Union. Iran was declared part of a dire triumvirate, the “Axis of Evil.” Iran’s response was angry and swift, denouncing the speech and the US. Earlier this week, millions rallied in Tehran’s Freedom Square and elsewhere, once again calling America the Great Satan, or at least “extremely naughty.” But it’s not quite back to status quo. Reform and retrenchment, behind the rhetoric of the Axis of Evil.


Ali Banuazizi, Professor of History and Cultural Psychology at Boston College

and Azadeh Moaveni, Tehran correspondent for Time magazine.

Fighting Drugs/Fighting Terror

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“Reefer Madness” might be the first American anti-drug commercial. The 1936 movie was meant to warn young people about “a violent narcotic, an unspeakable scourge, The Real Public Enemy Number One!” Whether it ever dissuaded a druggie, it did succeed in provoking generations of pot smokers to hilarity. Today the challenge for parents, teachers, and government officials remains finding effective ways to get across a simple message: “drugs – bad.”

Just last week at the Super Bowl, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy paid millions on a new strategy: linking the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. From “Just say no” through “I learned it from you, Dad” and “I helped kidnap people’s dads,” what works, what doesn’t?


Marcia Rosenbaum, Director of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance

Milosevic at the Hague

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Slobodan Milosevic has been waiting. And the world has been waiting. Ever since the former leader of Yugoslavia entered the international slammer 230 days ago, it’s been a battle of wills, of silence and silencing, refusals to answer, and refusals to listen.

See, Milosevic isn’t talking to the Court, he’s talking to the people, the Serbs and the rest. The trial serves many purposes. It’s a test of the new International Court, an opportunity to legitimize NATO’s war, to let the victims sense justice, to relieve the Serbian people by individualizing. In Chief Prosecutor Carla DelPonte’s words, its individualizing the guilt, putting the top man and not the entire nation on trial. But it just might give President Milosovic a pulpet.


Elizabeth Neuffer, Boston Globe journalist and author of “The Key to My Neighbor’s House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda”

Paul Williams, Professor of Law and International Relations at American University

Dejan Anastasijevic, journalist with Vreme Weekly in Belgrade, Serbia.

Hard Times for Soft Money

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If a phoenix ever rises from the ashes of Enron, it may bear the name “campaign finance reform.” After months of delay, the House begins debate on the issue today. The goal: putting an end to “soft money,” that smooth-spreading, far-reaching form of influence that Enron smeared like butter around Washington. Cash without limits, cash without strings, except when a favor’s needed. A line in new energy legislation, or a loophole in regulation policy, but we’ll get to that later.

The bill in question wouldn’t end the cozy relationship between politicians and lobbyists and corporations and unions. It might, however, be a start. But here’s the trick: Weaning politicians off a soft money habit that in the last election alone totaled a half a billion dollars.


Larry Noble, Center for Responsive Politics

John Bonifaz, National Voting Rights Institute.