Monthly Archives: August 2003

A Polemic Against Love

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Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not even lust in your heart. And, remember kids, marriage isn’t easy. It’s hard work. Well, Laura Kipnis wants to know if we ought even to be calling it love, if it’s also hard work. She’s written a book that questions what she calls one of the last taboo topics in American society: the very suggestion that marriage, or long-term partnerships, can deaden the fire of sexual desire.

She calls her book a polemic. It’s not a balanced approach. She calls it a “thought experiment.” She wants you to share her questions about “that which ought not to be questioned.” It’s partly a tilt against the church and state windmills of marriage. It’s partly a writer asking herself if these questions can even be asked.


Laura Kipnis, Professor of Media Studies, Northwestern University, author, “Against Love: A Polemic.”

The Battle to Breathe

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In 1970, Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar for best picture, The Beatles broke up, U.S. troops invaded Cambodia, and the Clean Air Act was born. The law was designed to ensure that the air breathed by Americans was safe. For the first time, it restricted the amount of airborne pollutants like lead, carbon monoxide, and other nasties, from power plants and oil refineries.

Now, more than 30 years later, the EPA has changed some of its rules. Some say these changes will take a direct toll on the public’s health by allowing these same plants, mostly in the West and Midwest, to pollute more. A coalition of environmentalists and state lawmakers is taking this issue to court, suing the EPA for violating the core of the Clean Air Act.


Hilton Kelley, founder of Community In-Power Development Association in Port Arthur, Texas

Peter Lehner, Chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau in New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office

Scott Segal, director of he Electric Reliability Coordinating Council.

"Our Town" in Compton, California

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Compton, California, is a long way from Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. And not just geographically. Compton is a town of mostly poor blacks and Mexicans, best known for gangsta rap and high crime rates, as captured in movies like “Boyz N the Hood” and “Straight Out of Compton.” It’s not a place many people visit willingly. Grover’s Corners, on the other hand, doesn’t even exist. Yet people constantly revisit the prosperous, Protestant, all-white town that Thornton Wilder created in his play, “Our Town.”

It is still one of the most frequently produced plays in America. But it seemed an odd choice for Dominguez High, the Compton school where there are riots at the senior prom and most students don’t have a father figure in their lives. When Compton becomes “OT: our town.”

For information about showtimes and to buy a DVD, call 866-YES-FILM


Catherine Borek, English teacher, Dominquez High School, Compton, California

Scott Hamilton Kennedy, Producer-Director, “OT: our town”

Ebony Starr Norwood-Brown, who plays the Stage Manager and herself in the documentary “OT: our town.”

Race and Leadership

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Forty years after Martin Luther King spoke of a day when men and women would be judged, not by color, but by their character, Dallas’s first black police chief, was fired. Some are saying Terrell Bolton lost his job because he was black, and fell out of favor with the city’s white power elite. Others say, it was Bolton’s incompetence, not his color, that brought him down.

Much has changed in the years. African Americans hold senior positions in government. They run Fortune 500 companies; in one case, an Ivy League university. So while they’ve moved from the corners of American society, some say black leaders are still judged by separate and unequal standards.


Ellis Cose, Contributing Editor for Newsweek Magazine and author of “The Rage of a Privileged Class”

Edwin Dorn, Dean of the LBJ School of Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin

Jim Schutze, a columnist with the Dallas Observer.

Castles in the Air

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We’re taking a walk on the virtual side, where online gamers roam lands in which real men and women never set foot. In the kingdoms of Norrath, Britannia, and Albion, wired warriors who live as burnt out construction workers or bored secretaries by day, get to fight tigers, lead galactic civil wars, and live in their own castles. But in this virtual existence, the old rules, like the one that says the guy with the most money wins, are starting to take hold.

Some online gamers are paying real money for virtual armaments and objects that improve their position. Some say that’s cheating. Others claim it’s just the old economy conquering and constraining these new worlds.


Julian Dibbel, author, journalist, and trader of virtual goods

Henry Jenkins, director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT

John Dugger, owner of a tower mansion in Britannia, the fictional world of the game Ultima online, and salesman for Wonder Bread.

Red Sky at Night

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The last time Mars passed this close to earth, Neanderthals were chasing down sabertooth tigers for dinner. Sixty-thousand years ago, our Paleolithic predecessors saw the same bright orange beacon that’s currently glowing in our night sky. These days, scientists are wondering if the red planet is where all life, human and otherwise, began.

There is now evidence that microbial life might have existed on Mars, and some argue that those cells could have hopped a meteorite to earth and colonized this, the blue planet. Today those findings are being hotly debated, and a number of spacecraft are now hurtling towards Mars to help answer the question of where life first stirred in our solar system.


Colin Pillinger, Professor of Planetary Science at the Open University in the UK, and lead scientist of the Beagle 2 mission to Mars

Kelly Beatty, Executive Editor of Sky and Telescope Magazine

Les Dalrymple, Contributing Editor to Sky & Telelescope, and guide lecturer at the Sydney Observatory, Sydney Australia.

Argentina's Dirty War

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What Argentina calls its “Dirty War” is an ugly stain on the nation’s history. From 1976 to 1983, a military government systematically tortured, killed, and “disappeared” tens of thousands of people suspected of opposing the government. Many were dragged from their homes in the middle of the night never to be seen again. As part of the price of restoring democracy, Argentina passed laws which gave immunity to those responsible for the killings.

Now, after years of protests, and under the guidance of a new President, Argentina is rolling back those immunity laws, hoping to bring former military officers to trial. Argentina confronts its past.


Alicia Partnoy, former political prisoner during Argentina’s Dirty war, and author of “The Little School: Tales of Disappearance and Survival in Argentina (1999)”

Juan Mendez, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at Notre Dame Law School

Martin Kaste, NPR reporter.

Prison Justice

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John Geoghan was getting what he deserved, 10 years in jail for fondling a little boy. He was also due to be tried for sexually abusing dozens of others. The formal justice system was taking care of the defrocked Boston area priest. But that wasn’t the way other prisoners saw it.

Once behind bars, men like Geoghan are considered the lowest of the low, pedophiles rank just below snitches in the prison hierarchy. So the brutal weekend murder came as a shock to many, but was no surprise to those who’ve worked or done time in a prison. They say Geoghan, a high-profile pedophile, had a big bullseye on his back the day he left the courtroom, and that without extra protection, his murder was just a matter a time.


Roger Thomas, Deputy Warden of Treatments at the York County Prison in York, Pennsylvania

Michael Rezendes, reporter for the Boston Globe Spotlight Unit

Ted Conover, author of “New Jack”

Storing the Self

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Somteime in the future, archaeologists will probably look at America’s self storage units the same way we study Egyptian tombs, as treasures and symbols of our social values. The storage industry got its start back in the 60’s, and for years was used by people in flux, college students and relocating families. But today it is a multi-billion dollar industry, with more than 30 thousand facilities, most of which are rented by people who have a permanent home, but simply have too much stuff, and need a place to put it.

While some say this attachment to things is a natural outgrowth of America’s prosperous and materialistic society, others see signs of an economy on the downslide, and a cultural pathology of stuff. I posses therefore I am. Self storage and self identity in America.


Tom Litton, owner of self storage facilities

Eugene Halton, coauthor of “The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self” and professor of sociology and American Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Tom Friedman

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Tom Friedman is back from Baghdad and what the veteran New York Times columnist has to say may surprise you. Friedman says the recent bombing of the United Nations and the increasing attacks on U.S. soldiers, are not signs that everything is going wrong in Iraq, in fact, just the opposite. He says the terrorists are turning Iraq into a battleground because they understand this war is “The Big One,” they know this is not a war over oil, but instead a fight about ideas and values.

Friedman says the terrorists and most Iraqis understand what’s at stake, the ones who don’t are in the Pentagon and the White House, people who talk the talk about winning the peace, but won’t walk the walk.


Tom Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist and author of the book “Longitudes and Attitudes”