Monthly Archives: February 2004

Ellen Goodman's Paper Trail

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Ellen Goodman knows that things and people come and go. For a quarter of a century, she’s made her living observing the vicissitudes of life, and telling people what she thinks about it.

She’s lived through seven presidencies and at least three trials of the century. She’s watched as science, and waistlines, have reached new frontiers. And she’s puzzled over the progress of women in a world where burkas and Bay Watch can co-exist.

In 750-word installments in over 400 newspapers across the country, Goodman mulls over the things that matter to her. And in a media age where the Squawk Box has replaced the Soap Box, Goodman’s personal, unfrenzied approach to opinion making stands apart.


Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist and author of “Paper Trail: Common Sense in Uncommon Times”

Politics, Puppets and Putin

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He’s been called Russia’s most savage political wit. Victor Shenderovich, was one of the creators of “Kukly,” a television puppet show that lampooned Russia’s political elite. The program portrayed Valdimir Putin as a little wimpy czar fearful of his fat bride, Russia, as she called him eagerly to her bridal suite.

The Kremlin was not amused. Over the past few years it has sponsored laws restricting the media. It has watched over the closure of independent TV stations. The puppets have been pulled off the air. TV producers are now unwilling to put Shenderovitch on, so he has turned his attention to radio and a new satire program called “Soft Cheese.” From there, he continues to poke fun at Russia’s leaders, but he worries that it is freedom of speech and democracy that are really under attack.


Victor Shenderovich, Russian political satirist.

Transgenic Art

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From cave walls to canvas to computer screens to the petri dish, today a new strain of artist is blurring the lines between the lab and the Louvre, using genetic material as a medium. It’s not science fiction, it’s called transgenic art and it’s one of the latest movement in galleries around the world.

Throughout history, art has pushed technology, and technology has fueled new art. Breakthroughs in gene splicing and DNA manipulation are allowing artists to take their work in new, and chillingly controversial directions: like glowing green bunnies and packaging a woman’s eggs as human caviar. In an age of cloning and genetically modified foods, their unconventional exhibitions are raising new questions, and more than a few eyebrows.


Joe Davis, bio-artist and research associate at MIT

Ruth West,
lecturer at UCLA Department of Design / Media Art

Robin Held, curator of “Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores
Human Genomics,” an exhibition of genomic art

Fighting World Poverty

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Mark Twain once said “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Saving the world is kind of like that. A lot of people talk about it, but it’s rare that someone comes up with a plan to make it happen. So along comes Mark Malloch Brown, head of the UN Development Programme. He says the time for thinking small is over, and that unless the world community is willing to get serious about slashing poverty by half, reversing the tide of HIV-AIDS, and educating all the world’s children, by the year 2015, they should pack up their aid agencies and go home.

All this won’t come cheap and that’s why he’s asking American voters and their leaders to cut a check for an extra $25 billion dollars each year to make it happen.


Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme

Lant Pritchett, Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Amending Marriage

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Constitutional father James Madison argued that the document must provide an open road to amendment only “for certain great and extraordinary occasions.” As same sex couples exchange vows in San Francisco, President Bush may be arguing that the nation is facing such a great and extraordinary occasion, and that only the Constitution can protect marriage from so-called activist judges and rogue mayors.

But many on both sides of the aisle in Washington have cold feet about taking the amendment vows. Even opponents of gay marriage argue the issue is too divisive and controversial to be permanently woven into the legal fabric of the nation, and the states should retain the right to decide who can wed. Is it true, as our parents told us, that you need a strong constitution, to have a happy marriage?


Sanford Levinson, chair of the University of Texas Law School, Austin, Texas, and visiting professor, Harvard Law School

Rick Duncan, professor of law at university of Nebraska College of Law

Dr. Billy McCormack, founding board member of the Christian Coalition

Gary Daffin, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus

Peter Ragone, Communications director for the city of San Francisco

Suicide in Uniform: The Invisible Injury

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Five hundred forty-five U.S. servicemen and women have died in Iraq since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Some of those deaths, 167 to be exact, are classified as “non-hostile related.” The question some people are asking is how many of those deaths were suicides?

The Pentagon sent a team to investigate but it has not released its findings. The official number of military suicides in Iraq is set at 22; but some veteran advocacy groups charge that the number is much higher and doesn’t include the soldiers who take their lives after returning home. Longer deployments and a controversial war they say, can lead to increased anxiety and depression. But can it also lead to suicide? That’s what some families and veteran advocates want to know.


Steve Robinson, Director of the National Gulf War Resource Center

Captain Jennifer Berg, Chair of Psychiatry at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego

Wayne Smith, advisor to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation

Rena Mathis, mother of Sargeant Joseph Suell, a serviceman who died of a self-inflicted drug overdose in Iraq.

Battling the HMOs

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Chant Yedalian was just 20 years old when his mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer. He was at her side throughout her illness. He was there when Zevart Yedalian got her first wig, and when chemotherapy was ravaging her body. He was there through all the paperwork and the arguments, the hopes and disappointments with the family’s HMO. The end of her fight with the disease marked the beginning of her son’s legal crusade.

Inspired and angered by his mother’s death, he went to law school himself and is now his own lead attorney in a suit against the HMO, insisting that the Kaiser Permanente wrongly denied his mother a life-saving treatment. We look at the human face of medical malpractice, and its implications for managed health care in America.


Chant Yedalian, son of Zevart Yedalian who died of breast cancer

Dr. Marylou Buyse, President of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans.

Aristide's Options

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This is day 19 of a rebellion in Haiti that has the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation stumbling toward political anarchy. Armed thugs are battling other armed thugs, some are defending President Jean-Bertrand Aristide; others are fighting to force him from power. The latter are gaining momentum and numbers.

As Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince, braces for the rebels who are reportedly ready to seize it, diplomats from Washington, France and the Organization of American States are bracing, too, hoping that a proposed power sharing agreement will help slow the violence. They’re also hoping to prevent desperate Haitians from seeking safer ground elsewhere, like Florida. Optimism is in short supply. So are good alternatives. Placing blame, and searching for Plan B in Haiti.


David Rothkopf, deputy undersecretary of Commerce during the Clinton administration and Haiti economic reconstruction coordinator from 1995-96

Timothy Carney, former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti

Paul Knox, Haiti correspondent, The Toronto Globe and Mail

Frandley Denis Julien, coordinator of The Group of 184

Halfway between Harlem and Heaven

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Poet John Donne admonished the Grim Reaper with the words, “death, be not proud.” Funeral cosmetologist Isaiah Owens makes a simpler promise to his clients: Death might be painful, heartbreaking, and awful, but under Owens deft hand, at least it will not be ugly.

For 30 years Owens has owned and operated a funeral home in Harlem that boasts the slogan “where beauty softens your grief.” There he has been transforming the dead, along with their wounded, emaciated, bruised and shrunken bodies, into glowing, smiling and well-dressed testaments to life. He recently teamed up with photographer Elizabeth Heyert and together they are making an historical record of Harlem, by restoring and preserving its departing residents. Going to the party with Isaiah Owens and photographer Elizabeth Heyert.


Isaiah Owens, owner of Isaiah Owens Funeral Service and photographer Elizabeth Heyert

Horserace or Hype

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“Objects in your mirror, are closer than they appear.” Such was the rallying cry of a jubilant John Edwards after placing second in the Wisconsin primary last week. Despite the fact that John Kerry has won 15 of 17 contests to date, Edwards spun that loss to Kerry as a victory; and the press, ever hungry for a horserace, ran with it.

Since last Tuesday, the media have largely ignored Kerry’s commanding lead in convention delegates, and instead have been breathing life into the Edwards challenge, just for the sake of the storyline, some critics contend. And now, consumer advocate Ralph Nader has jumped into the ring, providing new fodder for a hungry and restless media.


Steve Jarding, democratic political strategist, former head of John Edwards PAC, and current fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics

William Powers, Media Critic for the National Journal.