Monthly Archives: August 2003

The Genealogy of Greek Mythology

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It’s not an understatement to say charting the genealogy of Greek Mythology is a Herculean task. You try tracing a family history where the lead character’s wife is also his sister. And that’s just the beginning. Zeus is only one of more than three-thousand gods, goddesses, and mortal characters included in two new books chronicling who’s who on and off Mt. Olympus.

Now this is a mythological universe, so the idea of spending decades mapping historical bloodlines between philandering progenitors, half-horse centaurs and snake haired ladies may seem a bit odd. But the attraction of ordinary humans to the legendary tales of Narcissus, Pandora, and Helen of Troy, remains very much alive. A whole new meaning to family tree, and family affair: The Genealogy of Greek Mythology.


Judge Jon Newman, Federal Appellate judge on The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City, and author of “A Genealogical Chart of Greek Mythology”

Vanessa James, Associate Professor of Theater at Mt. Holyoke College and Chair of the Theater Department and Author of “The Genealogy of Greek Mythology.”

Defending the Patriot Act

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Move over Aerosmith, John Ashcroft’s summer roadshow has just begun. This week the Attorney General launched an eighteen city tour to drum up support for the Patriot Act.

The Act expands the power of government to search and detain terrorism suspects, and allows unprecedented sharing of information between law enforcement agencies. It was passed six weeks after September 11th with near unanimous support from Congress. Since then, Ashcroft says it has helped stop terrorists in their tracks. But in some quarters, the Act is under attack. Last month, members of Congress voted to withhold funds for one of its key measures, and more than 150 communities across the U.S. have passed ordinances condemning it.


Viet Dinh, former Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy at the United States Department of Justice

Hope Marston, director of the Lane County (Oregon) Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Jean Langley, Director of the Northboro Free Library in Northboro, Massachusetts.

Inca String Theory

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We have the alphabet. The Egyptians used hieroglyphics. The ancient Mesopotamians had cuneiform marks that they pressed into bricks. Most civilizations develop a language and find a way of writing it down. Which is why anthropologists have wondered for years about the Incas. The great South American seemed to have everything but writing. They formed a complex government, conquered lands from what is now Colombia to Chile, but left no known record of their achievements. They did have strange things called khipus, made out of string, sort of like a grass skirt with knots.

Now one anthropologist is taking a new look at khipus, arguing that these twisted knots and different colors of string might actually be the first known three-dimensional form of writing.


Gary Urton, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies, Harvard University, author, “Signs of the Inka Khipu: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records.”

Carrie Brezine, works on the khipu database at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.

Operating on Medicare

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Despite the ups and downs of the U.S. economy, one business is booming, health care for the aging. Thanks to the staggering advances in medicine, people are living thirty years longer now than they were at the beginning of the 20th century. But with longer life, comes illness, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, or diabetes, conditions that modern medicine cannot cure, but can manage at great public expense.

Yesterday, Medicare approved a sixty thousand dollar surgical procedure that could alleviate the suffering of those with emphysema. That decision has inflamed the debate over whether spending big bucks to buy an extra year or two of life is taxpayer money well spent.


Dr. Sean Tunis, Chief Medical Officer at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Dr. Gail Wilensky, Senior Fellow at Project Hope and former director of the Medicare and Medicaid programs

Dr. Sherwin Nuland, medical historian, best-selling author, and Clinical Professor of Surgery at Yale School of Medicine.

The Grid That Binds

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The electric grid. We don’t think much about it, until, of course, it fails. And last Thursday it did. A few tremors in the transmission lines in Ohio and zap – 50 million people plunged into darkness, without access to ATMs, email, or the internet. Now that the lights are back on, the lesson is clear: what the grid giveth, the grid taketh away, all in an instant.

The blackout illuminated how connected we are to the system that powers our every plug, and how vulnerable we are to technology that we take for granted but don’t understand. Experts say we can reconfigure the wires and adjust the dials, but that no one safeguard will prevent another blackout. And, that the next one will likely be worse.


Edward Tenner, author of “Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences”;
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame and author of “Linked”;
Jennifer Esser, managing editor of “Wild Earth” journal;

New Targets and Terror in Iraq

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Terror unleashed in Iraq. The names and faces behind yesterday’s attack on the UN’s headquarters in Baghdad are unknown. But coming after the suicide bombing of the Jordanian embassy, and the sabotaging of an oil pipeline 3 days ago, it is clear that Iraqi resistance has entered a new deadlier phase.

Most on the ground agree that die hard Baathists, blamed for many of the earlier attacks on U.S. troops, are getting a lot of help these days, or are now just a sideshow. Militant Shiites, and soldiers on Jihad from Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia all seem to have found their purpose in Iraq. Bringing chaos, death and instability, they are undermining already faltering coalition security efforts, and making Iraq look more like the terrorist state, the war was meant to prevent.


Col. Gary Anderson, USMC (Ret.), urban warfare expert

Magdi Abdul Hadi, Arab affairs editor for the BBC

Michael Ware, Time Magazine correspondent.

The Evolving Climate

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Hot, dry, wet, cold, the weather affects our mood. Just ask the fractious Europeans, or the G-I’s and Iraqis roasting in Baghdad. So consider the impact of violent change, drought and flood, ice ages and yes, global warming.

The prehistoric climatic flip flops shaped our evolution, a dramatic heating of the Earth was the prelude to each Ice Age. Our forebears thrived and multiplied in the hot times, and then were all but wiped out in the freeze. Only the wiliest survived, adaptable, better models, bigger brains. Now the planet’s heating again, thanks to us. Which means the next Ice Age is looming, give or take a few thousand years. We’re at the controls of evolutionary forces, but maybe not smart enough to drive them the right way.


William Calvin, author of “A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change.”

Arms in the "Gray Zone"

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When it comes to making weapons of war you can divide the world, unevenly, in two. There are producers of arms, the United States, Russia, France and China. And there are consumers. That’s just about everyone else.

With $142 billion in weapons sales over the last decade, the United States sits firmly atop the list of arms exporters. But while most of the arms made in the U.S. start out legal, they end up somewhere else; flowing through what one author calls the “gray zone” of arms commerce. This deadly underworld is powered by a volatile combination of failed and failing states, loose borders, an almost complete lack of international oversight, and a few unscrupulous dealers. The global arms trade, a portrait in black, white, and gray.


Lee Wolosky, senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former member of the national security council under president’s Clinton and George W. Bush

Peter Galbraith, is the former U.S. Ambassador to the republic of Croatia and senior policy advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Peter Landesman, journalist who wrote the New York Times Magazine article “Arms and the Man”.

Bollywood Chic

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Welcome to Planet Bollywood. In India, for a 20 cent movie ticket, you can still get the kind of musical extravaganza Hollywood used to be famous for. A massive chorus of dancers, dozens of costume changes, plenty of glitz, one heck of a happy ending, and a guaranteed four hours of performance pyrotechnics. In a cramped theater, or in a tent stretched under the skies, the audience sings and shouts bits of advice as the onscreen characters wrestle with life and death dilemmas. For the locals it all makes sense, the movies are rooted in the ancient Hindu tradition of religious sagas.

But Bollywood is now moving West, showing up everywhere from MTV to Oscar night. There’s even word that the next Bond girl is an Indian movie star. Masala spiced glam, the allure of the biggest dream factory in the world.


Ismael Merchant, filmaker

Jonathan Torgovnik, photographer and author.

Saad Ibrahim

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Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Professor of Sociology, American University in Cairo, founder, Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, human rights activist

Barbara Lethem Ibrahim, regional director for West Asia and North Africa, The Population Council.