Monthly Archives: February 2003

The Devil that Danced on the Water

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Aminatta Forna saw her father for the last time in the summer of 1974. She was 10 years old. Mohamed Forna was a mild-mannered, British-educated doctor but beyond that, he was a man devoted to the fledgling democracy in his native Sierra Leone, he’d risen to the position of Finance Minister. But one year after his daughter last saw him, he was hanged, executed with seven others, on trumped up charges of treason.

Twenty-five years after his death, Aminatta Forna, as a BBC journalist, returned to the country of her childhood to investigate the circumstances surrounding her father’s life, and the trial that ultimately sealed his fate. Then she wrote a book about it: The Devil that Danced on the Water. Aminatta Forna, and a daughter’s search for truth in Sierra Leone.

Aminatta Forna will be speaking tonight at 6:00 pm:
Harvard Information Center in the Holyoke Center
1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
free and open to public
sponsored by the W. E. B. Du Bois Center at Harvard University & Harvard Bookstore


Aminatta Forna, BBC journalist and author of The Devil that Danced on the Water.

The Foster Care Conundrum

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Children in limbo. Newspaper stories about child abuse usually end at the moment when a child is taken from her dangerous or neglectful parents. Most of us don’t pay much attention to what happens to those half a million children in foster care after they leave their homes. We don’t understand who decides when, and if, a child can ever return to her family again.

Six years ago, Congress passed a law designed to help kids move quickly out of foster care. It created a deadline for parents: clean up your act or lose your parental rights so your children can be adopted by someone else. Some say the law has helped to speed up adoptions, but critics claim that it is creating a whole new class of orphans, orphans whose parents are still alive.


Shay Bilchik, CEO of Child Welfare League of America

Megan Waelvert, former foster child

Kasparov vs. Blue Junior

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I think therefore I am. Descartes motto has long been the key to humanity’s claim to cognitive fame. But what happens when machines start beating humans at their own game?

Take chess, for instance. In the 18th century, promoters took a chess playing box called “the automaton” on a tour of Europe and America, challenging audiences to match wits with the machine. The box did well, almost won a few times, but the jig was up after someone yelled “fire” during a match, and a person jumped out of the box. Then starting around 1948, scientists replaced the human being with a motherboard and started programming. In 1997, a computer named Deep Blue beat chess master Gary Kasparov.

Last week, there was a rematch. Playing to win, chess playing machines and the humans who love to beat them.


Gaby Wood, author of “Edison’s Eve: a Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life”

Maurice Ashley, a chess grandmaster and a commentator for world championship

Dr. Feng-Hsiung Hsu, author of “Behind Deep Blue:Building the Computer
That Defeated the World Chess Champion”

Kurds and Turks

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There are two fundamental debates concerning a war with Iraq. The first deals with the rationale, the justification, the “is it the right thing to do?” The second debate looks beyond the war to what happens afterwards. What does Iraq become? What are the regional implications?

As the Bush administration moves closer to its moment of decision, the quarrel over the control of northern Iraq is fast becoming its next big problem. The Kurds who live there now are armed and ready to assist America. They expect their reward will be a land they can call their own, Kurdistan. The Turks who are currently being wooed to assist America have a different idea. Never, they say, will there be a Kurdistan. America’s caught courting two partners with irreconcilable expectations.


Dr. Najmaldin Karim, President, Washington Kurdish Institute

Bulent Aliriza, Director, The Turkey Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Peter Galbraith, Professor of National Security Studies, National War College.

Extra Chairs at the Table

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The international landscape has changed drastically since 1945, but not the membership of the world’s most elite club. The same five nations hold the same five permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council despite the addition of 140 countries to the original UN rolls.

The General Assembly has long talked about Security Council reform, and now voices around the world are joining the call for change. Germany and Japan have long been considered the most likely pledges to join the fraternity, but now India, the world’s largest democracy, is looking like a top contender. However, Russia, China, France, Britain, and the US still wield the real muscle; the veto, and anyone looking to sit with the grown-ups needs their unanimous sanction.


Sugata Bose, professor of South Asian history, Harvard University

Edward Luck, director of the Center on International Organization at Columbia University

Continuing Crisis in North Korea

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The latest news from the DMZ is far from encouraging. Washington and Pyonyang are racheting up their war talk with threats of preemptive strikes and bombers at the ready and talk of an all-out war, at the same time that diplomatic efforts appear to be flagging.

A South Korean delegation visiting Washington said that if they had to choose, they’d sooner have a nuclear-armed neighbor to the North, than a state in collapse. The United States feels differently. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is said to have seriously set back diplomatic progress, with his latest reference to North Korea as a “terrorist regime”. And recently, the party-run newspaper in North Korea predicted the U.S. would attack soon, and warned the regime would not sit idle waiting on a pre-emptive strike.


Han Park, University Professor of International Affairs and the Director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia, and author of “North Korea: the Politics of Unconventional Wisdom”

Thomas Christensen, Professor of Political Science at MIT

Rob Gifford, NPR reporter currently based in Seoul.

Pedagogy and Patriotism

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Talking with kids about war and peace and patriotism. The countdown to war is now a dominant theme of conversation in America, And not just in office buildings or on shop floors, but also in public schools.

Teachers say that since 9/11 it’s been a lot easier to get kids’ attention on matters of government, the Constitution, and foreign policy. Students actually ask to talk about these issues. But figuring out how to have this conversation isn’t easy. Some argue that this is the perfect time for teachers to tell students about all the things that make America great and to teach patriotism. Others say that times of conflict are best used to promote critical thinking, to talk as well about the failings of the country so students can better grasp its promise.

Lessons in patriotism, on the eve of war.


Peter Gibbon, Harvard educator and author of “A Call to Heroism: Renewing America’s Vision of Greatness”

and Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States.”

No Place Like Home

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Homelessness does have a face and it’s one that most of us think we know. It’s one we’ve been looking at, or looking past, for many years now. It belongs to a man, with a grizzled face, tattered clothes, an obvious drinking or drug problem, perhaps some sort of mental or physical disability. That is the face of homelessness that we know.

But these so-called “chronically” homeless, according to some experts, represent only a small percentage of the people who have no place to call home. The rest are likely to be a mother with one or two small children, a family where Mom or Dad might even have a job. But the wages are so low, and the cost of housing so high that after one big doctor’s bill or a missed paycheck, they’re out in the street. Seeing the new faces of homelessness.


Philip Mangano, executive director, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness

Sister Margaret Leonard, executive director, Project Hope, Dorchester, MA.

Habib Koite

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The West African nation of Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. But what it lacks in material wealth it more than makes up for in musical richness. One of its national treasures is the guitarist Habib Koite, a star in world music circles. Habib was born into a musical caste, an eight hundred year old line of griots, or Malian minstrels.

As a singer and songwriter, he distills his country’s diverse, regional styles, creating a universal Malian music that speaks to and for the entire country. He then takes these traditional sounds and adds modern elements from rock and blues to create his own celebrated sound and style. Habib Koite, Mali’s modern musical ambassador.

Habib will be performing a the Somerville Theater this Sunday, February 9, at 7:00 pm.


Habib Koite, guitarist, singer, songwriter

Mamadou Kone, percussionist

Banning Eyre, author of “In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali.”