It was the end of an era; a time of rapidly changing population, politics, and cultural norms. Those who had been securely at the top of the economic and social structure were seeing immigrants and lower-class workers upending their time-honored hold on privilege and power. Demographics were shifting. New technology was changing how people lived, traveled, and communicated. Change was everywhere, and accelerating. And people felt a sense of dislocation from all that change.
In the midst of this unsettled pool of shifting tides and times came, also, new ideas. Radical ideas about rights, social obligations, and environmental science. Ideas that sparked great controversy, excitement, and outrage. For some, the new technologies and ideas were the dawn of an exciting new era. For others, they represented an ominous threat to moral living and world order.
But while the parallels are remarkable, the ideas sparking all that controversy weren't about global warming, gay or civil rights, immigration or universal healthcare. And the year wasn't 2009. It was 1859. The Illinois senator who would become President was still a senator, the house was not yet divided, and Queen Victoria was still on the throne. And the big environmental science idea being debated was Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species.
This fall marks the 150th anniversary of Darwin's earth-shattering tome (2009 is also, coincidentally, the 200th anniversary of his birth). So that would be reason enough to pay some extra attention to the matter. But given some of the parallels in terms of the forces and currents at play, a closer look at Darwin's work, the controversy it sparked, and its social, scientific, and long-term impact, could offer some interesting insights on current-day issues and debates, as well. Of course, Darwin's thoughts on evolution themselves are still being debated, 150 years later. So his work is as much current events as it is history.
Such was the thinking of Phil Terry when he set up the Darwin 150 project: a free, multi-part lecture/reading group/social networking event stretching from now until November 24th, the actual anniversary date of Darwin's publication. Terry is the founder of the non-profit organization Reading Odyssey, which has as its goal "getting adults to re-engage their intellectual curiosity through reading and discussion of great books and ideas," according to volunteer coordinator Kendall Crolius. The all-volunteer organization sponsors virtual reading groups of the classics ... which made the Darwin project a natural fit.
Wednesday evening marked the kick-off event for the fall series: a live web-cast/teleconference lecture by Harvard Professor Everett Mendelsohn on "The World Before Darwin." (An audio recording of the lecture is available here, the webcast will be available on the Darwin150 project website within the week.) For 90 minutes, I got to feel like I was back in college again, curiously absorbing new information, presented by a master lecturer. And I learned more than I think I ever knew about Darwin and the world he inherited.
The series includes four more free lecture/discussions by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Weiner, Professor Sean Carroll of the University of Wisconsin, the legendary E.O. Wilson, and a final panel presentation on November 24th by Gerald Edelman, Paul Ekman, and Terrence Deacon. Some of those lectures can be attended in person, as well as via the web or telephone. In addition a virtual reading group led by Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephanie Aktipis will read Darwin's Origin of the Species, starting in early October. And for those looking for something a little lighter, there's also the project's Facebook campaign, which has the goal of gathering 1 million members by the anniversary date.
In an era awash with quick sound bites, flip commentary, and instant reactions, the reasoned, thoughtful discussion about Darwin, his world, and his work was like slipping into a refreshing pool of quiet, measured reflection. It also reminded me that we are not the first, nor will we be the last, to live in controversial, changing, or turbulent times filled with progress, backlash and conflict. Fortunately, it seems we also have amazing survival instincts. Including the ability to evolve and adapt to keep pace with the changing world around us. And that, for sure, is something to celebrate.
(Photo: Flickr User kevindooley and Wikimedia Commons)
A Modest Proposal makes a passing reference to “the famous Psalmanazar, a native of the island Formosa.” This blond, blue-eyed “savage” claimed people ate children in his homeland. “When any young person happened to be put to death,” Jonathan Swift recounted, “the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality as a prime dainty.” George Psalmanazar claimed to be a kidnapping victim who was snatched from Formosa (now known as Taiwan) by a Jesuit named Father de Rode of Avignon. This sinister missionary brought him to Europe and pressured the fair young lad to convert from paganism to Catholicism. He was thrown into prison after resisting their overtures but soon escaped their clutches. Soldiers belonging to the elector of Cologne captured Psalmanazar and shipped him off to another batch of scheming Catholics, but he got away again. Then Dutch soldiers detained him and pushed Calvinism on him, to no avail (he just couldn’t buy into the doctrine of predestination). While in the Netherlands, Psalmanazar crossed paths with an Anglican priest named Alexander Innes, who dazzled him with the Church of England’s teachings. “At my arrival at London,” he later recalled, “Mr. Innes, and some worthy clergymen of his acquaintance, introduced me to the bishop of London, and got soon after a good number of friends among the clergy and laiety.”
Two recent events—the spectacle of Garry Trudeau, the Doonesbury creator, attacking a group of murdered cartoonists for offending his sensibilities, and the protest organized by a group of bien-pensant writers against the PEN American Center for planning to honor those cartoonists tonight in New York—have brought the Charlie Hebdo controversy back to public consciousness. So has the failed attack Sunday in Texas on a group of anti-Islam militants staging a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest, though, unlike Charlie Hebdo, the organization that sponsored the Texas event is run by an actual anti-Muslim extremist who, I'm proud to say, is a personal nemesis of mine.
Much has already been written about both the Trudeau and PEN controversies. I particularly recommend David Frum on Trudeau, and Katha Pollitt and Matt Welch on PEN, as well as this fine op-ed by Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel, the president and executive director, respectively, of the PEN American Center. These represent only a handful of the many dozens of writers who have risen in defense of free speech, and of Charlie Hebdo’s right to lampoon religion.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Last year, as part vanity project, part science experiment, I decided to adopt a new skin-care routine, something that an aging celebrity might use on a daily basis. My goal was to determine whether, in fact, a high-tech routine can make a difference. Are beauty products worth it?
A dermatologist friend introduced me to Marie, who ran a “skin science” clinic next to his office in Calgary, Canada. This was not a medical office, but a clinic that provided cosmetic services and products aimed at helping people enhance the look and condition of their skin. “I am, really, a skin coach,” Marie told me as she showed me around the office. She had a degree in microbiology, was infectiously good-natured, and had absolutely flawless skin.
I recently spoke with Pugh about what this means for American workers, society, and public policy. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Rebecca J. Rosen: A central premise of your research is that work is about more than money—it's also about identity and relationships, particularly within a family. How does work shape us beyond our bank accounts?
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
Expo 2015 officially opened in Milan, Italy, on May 1. As visitors had their first views of pavilions and displays from countries and corporations around the world, thousands of "NoExpo" protesters took to the streets. They voiced anger about a wide range of issues, from the impact of globalization, corporate influence, and austerity measures to expo-related corruption charges, reports of wasted money, and accusations of hypocrisy around an expensive global exposition with the theme "Feeding the Planet." A smaller group of violent demonstrators broke off from the larger demonstration, clashing with police and torching cars and businesses. Gathered here are the two stories - the brief but violent outburst and the exhibits on display inside the newly opened Expo 2015.
BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip—Eight months after last summer’s war between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, Gaza remains in ruins. Drive five minutes into the territory from the crossing point in southwestern Israel and you reach Beit Hanoun, one of the areas hit most severely by land and air during the conflict. Bright blue sky spreads over buildings with big bites taken out of them. Half-eaten bedrooms and kitchens yawn open to reveal tangled wires, broken rock, and household goods: a slipper, a pack of sanitary pads, a ripped-up schoolbook. People peek over mounds of rubble from tents behind their former homes, like aliens come to settle an abandoned planet.
In Gaza City, the flags and slogans of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that governs Gaza, cover the street corners: “Resist, O Palestinian people, your perseverance is our only hope for freedom.” Driving through the city, you see murals of doves and children holding hands, UNRWA cartoons about saving water and picking up trash, and then a stick figure blowing up an Israeli tank. Across the street, someone has scrawled a Star of David on a garbage bin.
In a desert in eastern Sudan, along the banks of the Nile River, lies a collection of nearly 200 ancient pyramids—many of them tombs of the kings and queens of the Meroitic Kingdom which ruled the area for more than 900 years. The Meroë pyramids, smaller than their Egyptian cousins, are considered Nubian pyramids, with narrow bases and steep angles on the sides, built between 2,700 and 2,300 years ago, with decorative elements from the cultures of Pharaonic Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Though the pyramids are one of the main attractions for Sudan's tourists, the local tourism industry has been devastated by a series of economic sanctions imposed by various Western nations throughout the course of the country's civil war and the conflict in Darfur. According to reports, Sudan now receives fewer than 15,000 tourists per year, compared to past estimates of as many as 150,000.
Sullivan: Now we’re getting somewhere. And I’m not just referring to all of the potential wars that so many of our Game of Thrones characters are trying to either stave off or set aflame. We’ll get to those in a moment. No, I’m talking about the long-simmering question that should be on every fan’s mind, the one that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had to answer before George R. R. Martin would hand over his series so they could bring it to television