Monthly Archives: May 2003

Shoba Narayan's "Monsoon Diaries"

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“A smell can carry a memory, and certain foods can compress the memory of an entire childhood into them.” So writes Shoba Narayan in her new book, “Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes.” Narayan, a food writer for the New York Times, has compressed the smells, the sounds, and the brilliant shades of roasted Indian spices into a lyrical, and often hilarious, tale about growing up in South India.

Narayan’s coming-of-age story paints a richly textured picture of cuisine as culture, of good food and the memories tied to it, and of the ways that food helps us better understand ourselves and those we love.


Shoba Narayan, author of Monsoon Diaries: A Memoir with Recipes

Putin's Potemkin

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St. Petersburg gets a birthday makeover and Russia’s president throws a party. The guest list is impressive, 45 world leaders, and so is the budget: 1.3 billion dollars to ready Russia’s second city for the glare of the international spotlight.

The pomp and the price tag have put off many average Russians, most of whom have been shut out of all the fun. But for President Vladimir Putin, the birthday bash is more than icing on a cake. It’s a chance to showcase his hometown, and raise his profile, on the world stage. The imperial backdrop intended by Peter the Great to be a “window on the West” is inviting the World to take a long, hard look at Russian life and Russian leadership today. Scratching the surface of Putin’s Potemkin.


Lilia Shevtsova, political scholar, Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment

Nikolai Zlobin, director, Russian and Asian Programs, Center for Defense Information Information, and editor-in chief, Washington Profile News Agency

Sergei Khrushchev, senior fellow, Watson Institute for International Studies

Fred Weir, Moscow correspondent, The Christian Science Monitor

Race and DNA

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This week Howard University announced it wants to start collecting the DNA of African Americans. The school claims that such a data base is the best way to improve the health care for black Americans.

For a long time, scientific researchers and the general public have assumed that African Americans must have a genetic predisposition to diseases such as diabetes, asthma and sickle-cell anemia because they suffer from them at a much higher rate than white Americans.

But as more is learned about the human genome, that assumption is being challenged. And that’s where Howard’s plan is causing controversy. Some argue that by collecting the DNA of only African Americans, Howard is wrongfully suggesting there is a racial basis for disease.


Dr. Floyd Malveaux, Dean, Howard University College of Medicine

Dr. Pilar Ossorio, Assistant Professor of Law and Medical Ethics at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison.

Conflict and Character: George W. Bush

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Pundits predicted this would be one of the least eventful presidencies in history. Summertime shark attacks made more headlines than he did. But in the days following September 11, 2001, George W. Bush’s presidency and purpose became clear.

Before a joint session of Congress he announced a war with the enemies of freedom and pursued it with two controversial military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has been criticized for a “shoot from the hip diplomacy,” and for a too-simplistic world view of evil and good. Even so, George W. Bush’s approval ratings are sky high.

Americans, it seems, appreciate a hard line on rogue nations and a staunch defense of national security. Conflict and the character of the Texan Commander in Chief George W. Bush.


Richard Brookhiser, Senior Editor at “National Review,” and author of the forthcoming book, “Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution”

David Gergen, Professor of Public Service, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and former advisor to four Presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

The Military's New Positive Image

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Call it the Top-Gunning of America. Ask any high school student what they think of the military and they’re likely to use words like “strong,” “brave,” and “heroes.” Ask them what they think of other institutions like the Congress, corporations, or churches and you’re likely to hear something less printable.

New research shows that confidence in the military is soaring, especially among high school and college students, while faith in other democratic institutions is down, way down. Some see this change as a natural reflection of the increased power and proficiency of U.S. forces. Others see it as a dangerous transformation in a country that once viewed standing armies with the same kind of skepticism typically reserved for kings and queens. In soldiers we trust.


David King, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Harvard, co-author, “The Generation of Trust: How the U.S. Military Has Regained the Public’s Confidence Since Vietnam’

Andy Bacevich , professor and director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University, and author of “American Empire.”

Calling All Bluffs

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Is it just chance that the winner of this year’s World Series of Poker is named Chris Moneymaker? The annual event at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in the flashy, trashy city of Las Vegas attracts cards of all suits: Amarillo “Slim” Preston, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Huckleberry Seed; along with CEO’s, cowgirls, call girls, mothers, lawyers, and everyone else looking to put on a poker face and go head to head with seasoned pros and bright-eyed amateurs.

It’s high-stakes, no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em poker. Some of the participants get a seat at the table the hard way – by earning it, racking up wins at mini-tournaments. Others just drop ten-thousand dollars for a seat. This year’s winner took home 2.5 million dollars.


James Mcmanus, author of “Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion’s World Series of Poker.”

Jodi Wilgoren, Chicago Bureau Chief for the New York Times.

Roadblocks For The Roadmap

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Roadblocks on the roadmap to peace. Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime MInister Ariel Sharon met with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas. Just before the meeting started, the two men got news of a suicide bombing at a Jewish settlement in Hebron. It was the first of five consecutive attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Remarkably, the meeting between the two leaders, went ahead, as planned. Since then Hamas has announced it is willing to consider a ceasefire.

Many within the Palestinian Authority and in Israel are skeptical. In the first of two programs examining roadblocks on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, today we look at the role that Hamas may play in the peace process, and what the push towards peace means for Palestinian militants.


Ben Lynfield, Reporter for the Christian Science Monitor and The Scotsman, based in Jerusalem

Jonathan Schanzer, a fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in radical Islamic movements

Ismail Abu Shanab, spokesperson for Hamas.

Emerson's America

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Forget America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner, the real red, white and blue theme song, is “I Did It My Way.” Since the days of the revolutionary soldier and the gun-toting cowboy, Americans have worshipped at the altar of rugged individualism.

Today, the mark of the almighty “I” is everywhere, in Hollywood, where the cult of celebrity reigns supreme, to Washington, where what’s in-it-for-me politics rules Congress, to Wall Street, where greed is still good until the SEC finds out. So who’s to blame for all this self-centered celebration of the American trinity of “me myself and I?” Well, on the occasion of his 200th birthday, we’re pointing the finger at one Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Lawrence Buell, author of Emerson and professor of English at Harvard University.

Canada's Mad Cow

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George Gray, acting director of Harvard University’s Center for Risk Analysis

Rod Nickel, Reporter for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Saskatchewan, Canada

Mel McCrea
Cattle rancher, Anchor R Farm, Saskatchewan, Canada

erry Brake Owner of Brake Farm, Wilmont, Minn.

Crisis in the Congo

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The war that is not making the news is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For years now, conflict has ravaged both the land and the people there. Three to five million people are dead. The battle is essentially between two local tribes sparring for control. But they are backed by a wide cast of political manipulators and neighboring militias.

Seven hundred UN peacekeepers were trying to bring order in this isolated area, but they are no match for the thousands of soldiers. They’re barely able to help all the refugees, crowding into their UN compounds. The UN’s Human rights commissioner recently said that although the world’s attention is on Iraq, “Congo is truly the immediate problem. But who is paying attention?” The crisis in Africa and the consequences of doing nothing.


Scott Campbell, Africa Program Consultant to the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington DC

Will Ross, BBC reporter based in Kampala, Uganda

Humuli Kabarhuza Baudoin, Director of the Kinchasa based NGO Cenadep, which focuses on peace and conflict resolution, human rights and democratic development, and community development in the DRC.