Monthly Archives: April 2004

King of the Beasts

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Fifty years ago, when Eisenhower was in the White House, George Schaller made his first visit to the coastal plain that would become the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Since then, he’s covered a lot of territory tracking some of the world’s most interesting animals, the African gorilla, the Asian tiger and China’s giant pandas. He’s watched their habitats shrink and their numbers dwindle as cities spread out and humans gobble up natural resources.

But George Schaller isn’t throwing himself in front of bulldozers. He’s working with local populations and local governments to try to convince them that conservation is in their best interest. At the same time, he’s trying to convince people in the West that saving the animals is a moral imperative, not a cost-benefit equation. So what’s it worth to you?


Dr. George Schaller, field biologist, naturalist and Vice President of the Wild Life Conservation Society.

Old Europe, New Europe

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Europe formally gets a whole lot bigger tomorrow. Ten new states from Cyprus to Estonia, Hungary to Poland are to be welcomed into the European Union. New members of the club hope for a shift away from old forms of discrimination, a shift from the difference between Eastern and Western Europe, between rich and poor, to what they imagine as a united continent no longer divided by the Cold War.

The older members of Club Europe remain somewhat nonplussed, worried that the carpets in Belgium and Paris will somehow be muddied by the boots of those from the East. It is also a change that the rest of the world needs to take account of. The folding away of the Iron Curtain, will soon enough open a window on an economically powerful new continent; a new Europe.


Phillippe Le Corre, fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University;
Pavel Swieboda, head of European Affairs Department at Poland’s Foreign Office

Dariusz Rosiak, Polish writer and journalist;
Eszter Balazs, reporter for the Budapest Sun;

La Vie En Rose

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It is almost hard to imagine it now. That the death of an American statesman would resonate so loudly in France that the French would grieve as if they had lost one of their own. Writing from her Paris perch 59 years ago this month, Janet Flanner remarked in The New Yorker magazine that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death had sparked a popular sorrow so deep it “seemed like someone’s private unhappiness multiplied by millions.” Times may have changed. A trans-Atlantic tit for tat may have replaced diplomacy in the last year.

But still, it’s true: Paris, the metropolis that Henry James deemed “the most brilliant city in the world,” still rocks ours. And if The New Yorker’s latest wry eye from France is correct, the feeling is more mutual than we know. Paris. Then and now.


Adam Gopnik, editor, “Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology” and staff writer, The New Yorker

The Politics of Vietnam

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With more than 150,000 American troops stationed overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, George Bush and John Kerry are arguing over a war. But they’re still talking about Vietnam.

That conflict, which left 58,000 American soldiers dead, and a public mistrusting its leaders and reluctant to exert American power abroad, is now being used to measure the mettle of the two men vying for the position of Commander in Chief. While the campaigns trade barbs over John Kerry’s tossing of medals, Dick Cheney’s student deferments, and George Bush’s service in the Air National Guard, Vietnam is being used to define character then…and leadership now.


Professor Alexander Bloom, professor of history and American studies at Wheaton College in Norton MA

author of “Takin’ it to the Streets: A Sixties Reader”

Tom Patterson, Ben Bradlee Chair of Political Science at the JFK School of Government.

The Case Against Perfection

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It seems parents today will do anything to give their kids an edge. From enrolling Johnny in a top-ranked nursery school, to arranging SAT tutors for Samantha. Now some parents are contemplating that next step, deciding that giving their kids the best of everything also means giving them the best genes.

Defenders of this kind of genetic enhancement say technology makes it possible to choose the sex, and alter the height — even the personality — of a child, so why not take advantage of it. After all, who wouldn’t want their child to be a little stronger, a little smarter? Critics say the focus on designer children is leading society to the edge of slippery slope called eugenics.


Michael Sandel, Bass Professor of Government at Harvard College and author, “The Case Against Perfection” in The Atlantic Monthly

Dr. Gregory Stock, director, Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at UCLA’s School of Public Heath

Democracy's Discontents

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They are democracy’s new discontents, the more than 225 million people in Latin America who live below the poverty line. The United Nations recently polled nearly 20,000 people in Latin America and found that more than half of them would prefer life under a dictator over democracy, if it meant economic prosperity. This report is a stark wake-up call for a continent just turning the corner on its first generation of democratic rulers.

Strides have been made. Free and fair elections have replaced military and authoritarian regimes in 18 Latin American countries, from Argentina to Venezuela. But many in the region see a troubling divide between the expectations that democracy has raised, and the reality it has delivered. Who gets the fruits of the franchise?


Elena Martinez, director, United Nations Development Program Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean and commissioner of the report “Democracy in Latin America: Towards a Citizens’ Democracy”

Carina Novarese, reporter, Diario El Pais newspaper in Uruguay and fellow, the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University

Roberto Mangabeira Unger, professor of law at Harvard Law School and author, “Democracy Realized: The Progressive Alternative”

Iraqi Security Forces

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The recent wave of insurgent violence has a lot of people wondering whether the Iraqi Security Forces will ever stand and fight with U.S. troops. U.S. Administrator Paul Bremer said “Iraqi forces will not be able, on their own, to deal with these threats by June 30 when an Iraqi government assumes sovereignty.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Over the last few weeks, there’ve been reports of Iraqi forces buckling when the battle heats up. One general claimed that ten percent of the security forces actually turned against coalition troops. It’s even harder for the Iraqi police, who’ve become a favorite target accused of being collaborators. Can Iraqis ever be persuaded to fight for their freedom if it means fighting alongside the occupiers?


Bernard Kerik, Iraq’s interim minister of interior from May-September 2003, former police commissioner of New York City

presently CEO of Guiliani-Kerik Partners

Walter Slocomb, former senior adviser on defence and security at the CPA

Dr. Ali Abdulameer Allawi, Iraq’s Interim minister of defense

Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe reporter based in Baghdad.

Re-Booting the Ballot Box

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the voting booth, along comes, what some people are calling, an even greater threat to democracy than Katherine Harris and her collection of chads. Washington has offered up the Help America Vote Act, with money that’s supposed to help states make the shift to a foolproof and secure world of touch screen voting. But states that have embraced this technology are already in trouble. There are many complaints about electronic malfunctions and even darker accusations of misconduct by one of the nation’s leading voting machine manufacturers. Some voters claim the touch screens are open to manipulation and stolen elections. Never mind the candidates, it’s far from certain that voters will even accept this new voting hardware.


David Dill, Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University and founder of

Doug Chapin, Director of

Dan Tokaji, La w Professor at Ohio State University

Ted Selker, Co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, Professor, MIT Media Lab

Hedging Bets on the U.N.

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Think of it as “Back to the Security Council 2″: The sequel no one thought would happen. But with the war in Iraq still raging and the June 30th handover just weeks away, the U.S. is reaching out to the hand it slapped more than a year ago when it decided to go to war without Security Council approval.

George Bush is now publicly praising the U.N., and the role it could play in shaping Iraq’s political future. Some in the administration are now hinting that would be great to have some of those blue helmets on the ground. But even if the administration plays nice this time around, a new Security Council resolution will be a very tough sell. Others are warning that failure in Iraq is not an option, either for the U.S. or the international community.


Edward Luck, director of the Center on International Organization

Constanze Stelzenmueller, international security and defense editor of Die Zeit

Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani, representative of Singapore to the U.N.

Scott Peterson, reporter based in Fallujah

Fred Weir, reporter based in Moscow.

Beautiful Minds

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They are the world’s finest. And when they converge on the city of Athens this summer, as the very first Olympians did more than a century ago, they will perform feats that leave the rest of us breathless. Bending number theory to suit their will. Summoning imaginary numbers where only Omega will do. Telling jokes with punch lines that go, “One third x cubed. Plus a constant.”

For those of us who count ourselves among math’s lowest common denominator, the very thought of an International Mathematical Olympiad is the stuff of recurring anxiety dreams. But for a very select few kids from all over the world, the annual competition, the toughest of its kind, is the ultimate proof of their prowess. Ladies and gentlemen, sharpen your pencils. Math that will move you.


Steve Olson, author, “Countdown: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Math Competition”

Gabriel Carroll, competitor at the International Mathematical Olympiad in 2001

Melanie Wood, competitor at the International Mathematical Olympiad in 1998 and 1999, and the only girl to represent the United States at an Olympiad