Monthly Archives: March 2002

Sacred Steel

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Throughout history, music and religion have lived together. Much of the finest classical music has been composed and performed in worship. The bells, the qawallis, the hallelujahs are the physical expressions of human spirit in religion.

In America, the choir and the organ are central pillars of musical worship. In the House of God Church in Orange New Jersey, however, it’s a custom-made 13-string, pedal steel guitar played by the son of one of the deacons Robert Randolph.

Now Robert didn’t put his hands to the strings and feet to the pedals until just a few years ago, but the faithful who hear him talk about a gift from God. Robert Randolph plays elsewhere too, in clubs, with nationally known rockers, and with his own band.


Robert Randolph, musician

Margaret Thatcher: Britain's "Iron Lady" Retires

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For 11 years she was prime minister of Britain, and in that time, and in the mold of the cast-iron lady, she created a name for an economic movement that has changed our world. It is Thatcherism.

For 11 years after retirement, she was the uncomfortable conscience of the Conservative Party in Britain, damning moves towards Europe and castigating her successors. And now she is silent.

A series of small strokes has ended Margaret Thatcher’s public speaking career. The news is greeted with some relief in Britain, where raising the legacy of Thatcher triggers heated debate over her role in bringing back social inequity on one hand, and clearing the way for dynamic free enterprise on the other.


John O’Sullivan, editor-in-chief of United Press International and former special adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Hugo Young, chief political columnist of The Guardian and author of One of Us, A Biography of Margaret Thatcher

Billy Bragg, singer-songwriter and activist

Student Athletes

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Dwight Stewart, former star forward with the University of Arkansas, said it best. “They recruited me to come play basketball,” he said. “They didn’t recruit me to go to school.” As the fever builds in the final days before the apex of the NCAA’s March Madness, once again the question hangs over the court: are they athletes or students?

The din raised in the cheers for college sports invariably drowns out questions from the academic side. When the coach gets a $15,000 dollar clothing allowance, how much attention will the anthropology prof ever get?

Some insist that the athletic scholarships provide a window in for people who’d otherwise never see the inside of such a school. The problem is they still don’t see the inside of the classroom.


John DiBiaggio, original member of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

Linda Bensel-Meyers, Director of the Drake Groups for College Athletic Reform

Charlie Pierce, writer for Esquire Magazine

and Kenneth Shropshire, Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and sports-industry consultant.

Satellite Radio

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If you listen to the promotions for satellite radio, who would say no? Digital quality tunes and talk, live concerts, hundreds of channels to choose from, no more fiddling with a fading reception in Framingham, no more static in Seattle.

Satellite radio. It’s coming, it’s here, and the stickers on the new cars say they’re already wired to dial-in sounds from the sky. All for just 10 bucks a month.

It’s a mantra of hype for a technology that’s either about to come into its own or that may founder, finding that after all, the weather and the traffic and the friendly local DJs matter to the drive time commuters.

It’s all very big business, with billions invested and the two competing firms needing big customer lists to survive.


Margaret Low Smith, Vice President for Programming at NPR

Lisa Crane, managing partner of Media Venture Advisors, and digital media consultant

Steven Gavenas, Executive Vice President of Programming and Business Development for XM Radio

Joe Capobianco, senior vice president of content for Sirius Radio

The Return of Beauty

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They tell us beauty is back, or maybe it actually never left. It’s just that we lost our ability to see, understand, and talk about it, obsessed as we have been with making our machines run faster, buildings more efficient, and making things for the sake of selling them.

We have not stopped long enough to smell, see, and celebrate the beautiful. While the traditional keepers of the flame in the academy, museums, and studios abandoned beauty for an art of social critique, beauty survived in the marketplace where it has been exploited for its ability to sell cars and condos.

Now, a “back to beauty” revival is brewing. What’s more, there is talk in the academy of a universal language for beauty, a way of understanding and interpreting this value of all values.


Elaine Scarry, Professor of Aesthetics at Harvard University

Moshe Safdie, architect

Bill Beckley, conceptual artist

The Arab Summit

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It was meant to be a historic Arab summit of the top leaders of 22 nations, gathered at a key moment for the Middle East. On the table was what some called the first real plan in years for achieving a stable Palestinian state and real peace. However, the Beirut gathering went bust almost before it began.

Yasser Arafat sits in Ramallah, and only half the countries have sent heads of state. It looms as a failure for the Arab world as they fight the perception that all they contribute is accusation above the table and smuggled arms beneath it.

With American negotiators looking powerless, the Arab League seems to be squandering its opportunity for progress. Meanwhile, the bloodletting continues in the Holy Land. Is Mideast solidarity a bomb in Beirut?


Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent for The Independent

Rami Khouri, former Editor of the Jordan Times

Raghida Dergham, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-Based Al Hayat.

Baba Ram Dass

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Page 22, on the rough brown paper of the 1971 bestseller, “Be Here Now” reads, “What are you doing? Planning for the future? Well, it’s all right now. (But later?) Forget it, baby, that’s later. Now is now. Are you going to be here or not? It’s as simple as that.”

The words of Harvard psychologist turned LSD-traveler turned guru reflect more than the innocence and high spiritual aspiration of the ’60s and ’70s. They’re a way to mark life, and that’s what filmmaker Mickey Lemle has done in his new documentary about the man who wrote “Be Here Now,” Baba Ram Dass.

Those who led the hippy spiritual parade are leaving. Timothy Leary is gone. So is Ken Kesey. At 70, Ram Dass has had a stroke that crippled his body, testing his soul. We are “in the moment.”


Mickey Lemle, producer and director, “Ram Dass Fierce Grace”

Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, Harvard.

Making Latin America Matter

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Imagine: A Peruvian engineer bids on and wins a contract in Kentucky. The walls and fences between the U.S. and Mexico don’t exist. The people of the Americas, North, Central, and South, trade and travel as freely as Europeans going from Dublin to Dansk.

President Bush’s recent swing through Mexico, Peru, and El Salvador might have inspired that vision in some, but the whirlwind tour did more to underscore the economic and developmental differences between the many American nations than it did to unite them.

While government critics want the White House to make good on its promise to reach out and to reach South, Bush’s people are saying wait, we’ve still got a war on here.


Mirko Lauer, journalist and columnist, La Republica newspaper, Lima, Peru

John Coatsworth, Director, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University

Susan Kaufman Purcell, Vice President, the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society

The New Federal Homeless Czar

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If you are old enough to remember when John F. Kennedy was president, you may remember when homeless people were not a common sight, when it was still a shock to see people sleeping in boxes or on heating grates, when you hadn’t grown uncomfortably used to passing the tired, the poor – holding “HOMELESS… HUNGRY… GOD BLESS” signs near traffic lights.

If you remember that era, you may also recall JFK declaring in 1962 that the U.S. would put a man on the moon within the decade. It seemed impossible. Now the Bush administration says one of its goals is to abolish chronic homelessness in the next 10 years. It seems unlikely, but the man assigned to the task says he can do it.


Philip Mangano, HUD, executive director of Inter-agency Homeless Council

Rosanne Haggerty, executive director, Common Ground Community, New York City

Ed O’Neil, director of substance abuse counseling at the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans

Oscars: Straight or With a Twist?

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“History,” said Henry Ford, “is more or less bunk.” The guy who invented the assembly line might have been talking about the Hollywood entertainment mill. Historical inaccuracies, trivial and flagrant, have been a part of movie making for years.

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend!” director John Ford declared. There’s no Oscar for verisimilitude, thank heavens, or “A Beautiful Mind” would be out of luck.

Take a messy life and marriage, delete the illegitimate kid, some ugly racist delusions and gin up an inspiring story about a woman who stands by her mentally ill man, Russell Crowe.

Come on down! That’s what Hollywood is good at! Taking liberties with real lives. Would you want it any other way? Movies, true, false and tittilating.


Charles Taylor, film critic,

Jeanine Basinger, professor of American Studies, Film Studies and Art, Wesleyan University.