Monthly Archives: August 2002

The Goodness of Gossip

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Gather round the water fountain, it’s time to dish the dirt about J. Lo and Ben, Angelina and Billy Bob, and of course, your friends and neighbors. It’s time to gossip. Come on, we know you do it. We all do it. And yet we think we shouldn’t.

All religions warn against it. The Bible lumps gossips in with “the slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty boastful, inventors of evil,” (and the list goes on) who, “though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die.” And yet despite this and a whole host of other admonitions, lips continue to flutter when the subject matter at hand is other people’s lives.

But now some philosophers are arguing that that gossip can make us good, even make us better. Who are they sleeping with?


Emrys Westacott, professor of philosophy, Alfred University

Anne Skleder, professor of psychology, Alvernia College

and Bill Zwecker, gossip columnist, Chicago Sun Times

West Nile in the Wild

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It’s the sequel Hitchcock never made: but this time the birds die. The West Nile Virus has arrived, bringing with it the apocalyptic promise of disease-riddled crows raining down from New York City trees; finches and sparrows dropping dead in suburban back yards.

It might be a summer blockbuster, if two dozen humans weren’t among the death toll. The mosquito-born disease landed in America about three years ago, and despite all the speculation about what it might mean for humans, it has quickly evolved into a wrecking ball of avian devastation, decimating more than 100 species including jays, owls, and eagles.

The biblical imagery of West Nile’s continuing migration isn’t lost on wildlife experts rushing to explain the source of the pestilence, and assessing potential shockwaves up through the food chain. Counting dead crows.


Dr. Kathryn Converse, wildlife disease specialist, National Wildlife Health Center

Ward Stone, state wildlife pathologist, New York Department of Environmental Conservation

Bob McLean, program manager for wildlife diseases at the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado

Vicki Kramer, Chief of Vector-Borne Disease Section, California Department of Health Services

Steps to Water

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Water. It is revered whenever it’s hard to find, in places where the dry and draining heat burns for months on end, where monsoon rains visit only in summer, then vanish. To cope with this parched life, the people of western India more than a 1000 years ago built wells. But not the holes in the ground we know as wells, these were ornate, magnificent, maze-like structures made of stone, some 90 feet deep.

Stepwells; respite from the heat and hallowed receptacle for that essential water. A place to bathe, to drink, and to pray. Morna Livingston’s new book uncovers these little known pieces of architecture and religion.

“Steps to Water; The Ancient Stepwells of India.” A meeting place, deep underground.


Morna Livingston, professor of Vernacular Architecture at Philadelphia University, and author of “Steps to Water, the Ancient Stepwells of India”

War Powers, Congress and the President

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George Bush wants to go to war with Iraq. That seems clear. But the question rises again: Does the President have the power? Article I Section 8 Clause 11 of the Constitution clearly states, Congress has the power to declare war. But for the last 50 years, presidents have sought to bypass Capitol Hill, touting their own constitutional credentials as commanders-in-chief.

Think debates over Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, and other actions in between, it’s two branches of government skirmishing over who sends American soldiers, sailors, and flyers into battle. And now again, a White House says it does not legally need Congress’s clearance before tackling Iraq.

The balance, the tug-of-war, over the power to make war.


Michael Glennon, professor of international law at Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Stuart Gerson, former assistant attorney general for the United States

U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)

The Battle Over Courtroom Doors

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“Democracies die behind closed doors.” That is the blunt language the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati used this week to tell the U.S. Justice Department you cannot hold secret deportation hearings for a man who’s overstayed his visa just because you allege he might have ties to terrorist organizations.

Show us the evidence, the appeals court said, open the courtroom door. This is just one of four recent cases in which judges are challenging the Justice Department policies in the aftermath of September 11. The executive branch of the government says hearings must be secret to protect national security. But the judges have another message: something there is that does not love a closed courtroom door.


Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), brought suit against Justice Department over closed immigration hearings

Michael J. Madigan, senior partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Washington DC

Philip Heymann, professor, Harvard Law School

Hydration, Hype and Public Health

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The more cities and towns work to clean up their water, the less Americans are drinking it. It’s something about taste, something about convenience, but there’s something else too. There’s a moment of hesitation at that innocuous initial cloudiness, or that slight chlorine odor, and it leads to the bigger question. “Is there something in the water?”

Statistics show that 90 percent of communities have had no recent health problems from the water, yet more than 80 percent of the people do worry about what comes out of the tap. American attitudes towards drinking water are changing, the marketplace is changing, sales of bottled water and filters are surging, and it all points to different ideas of consumption and community. Concluding our series on water, turning off the tap.


Stephen R. Kay, Vice President of Communications,
International Bottled Water Association (IBWA)

Lynn Thorp, Clean Water Action/ Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water

Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director, American Water Works Association

The Battle over Blue Gold

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Go ahead, Turn it on. Cold, clear, life-giving water. Perfect and profitable? Maybe. Water, the resource that feeds the soil and the soul is increasingly, a la oil, a la electricity, becoming a commodity.

Looking to deal with aging water systems, tightening EPA standards, and looming shortages, cities and towns across the nation are hiring private companies to maintain their pumps and pipes. It’s an effort to ensure citizens get safe H2O, and if the companies can squeeze out a profit to boot, so be it.

But some say that letting the bears and bulls loose at the watering hole is dangerous policy, that there more than anywhere, the public sector should rule. In the second part of our series, Wall Street and the Water Works, Politics, Profit, and Privatization.


Andrew Seidel, President and CEO of US Filter

Peter Gleick, co-founder and President of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security

Mayor Shirley Franklin, Mayor of Atlanta.

Revisiting Marshall McLuhan

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In the early ’60s an English professor called Marshall McLuhan found he couldn’t communicate with his American students. This, he thought, might have something to do with television, a conclusion that triggered one of the best known explorations of media in this age.

McLuhan became an endless source of metaphors and aphorisms, quoted more than he was read, always in flux, revising his thoughts, theories, and his public image. His words keep circulating now, long after his death, adapted to new forms of media. Wired Magazine adopted him as its patron saint.

Even as dot-gone glory dims and we examine a future of intuitive software, the “new electric information environment ” seems apt. Marshall McLuhan once again in the campfire’s glow of the global village.


Paul Levinson, Professor and Department Chair of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University and the author of “Digital McLuhan”

Derrick de Kerckhove, director of The McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, Toronto University

Kevin Kelly, a founding editor of “Wired Magazine”

Death and Rebirth of the Sarajevo National Library

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The first incendiary shells hit the Sarajevo Library 10 years ago. Fluttering dreadfully from the fire, scorched shreds of pages lit upon cars and streets across the city. People called them black butterflies.

The library was an early target, but the attack numbingly foreshadowed the worst of the ethnic cleansing to come. In languages from Persian to Arabic to Croatian, the multi-ethnic history of Sarajevo and Yugoslavia had been carefully catalogued and stored on the shelves. It was virtually all destroyed.

Since those days in late August of 1992, librarians and philanthropists have worked to restore not just the documents, the manuscripts and the books, but the memory that was attacked at that time. Physically, psychologically and spiritually re-stocking the shelves of Sarajevo.


Enes Kujundzic, director, National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo

Andras Riedlmayer, bibliographer, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University

Azra Alimajstorovic Roberts, Bosnia Desk, Voice of America

Nicholas Basbanes, author of “A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books”