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Morning Lecture Previews

Interdisciplinary Scholar Imani Perry to Converse with Krista Tippett on Theology and Grace

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Award-winning author Imani Perry will give her lecture in conversation with Krista Tippett at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

Perry is the Hughes-Rogers professor of African American studies at Princeton University, and is also affiliated with the University Center for Human Values, the Program in Law and Public Affairs, gender and sexuality studies and jazz studies.

She is a scholar of cultural studies, legal history and African American studies. Perry is the author of six books, including Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry; Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation and May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem. She was the winner of the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography for Looking for Lorraine, which was also a New York Times Notable Book of 2018.

In 2016, Perry was pulled over by Princeton police for speeding. They found that her license was suspended due to unpaid traffic tickets, which were two to three years old at the time. She was detained for the warrant and handcuffed to a bench during the booking process. Perry posted bail and was released. She later paid a $428 traffic fine. Perry uses her experience to have ongoing conversations about police brutality toward African Americans.

Perry’s books range from exploring African American experiences of injustice and racial inequality in America, to discussing feminism through a literary analysis of cultural artifacts from the Enlightenment to the present. The majority of her books are centered around African American culture and history.

Perry sent Tippett a copy of her forthcoming book, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, and said that her ideas for the book started to form during the pair’s last conversation at Chautauqua in 2014.

“It’s a very different cultural moment (than 2014), and I think it’s a much more painful and problematic topic now, openly for all of us, but also it’s a reckoning that we’re openly doing it,” said Tippett, American journalist, author and public radio host of “On Being.”

Tippett said she knew Perry would be a perfect fit for Week Seven at Chautauqua because of what Perry brings to the conversation on grace.

“She has a really interesting theological tradition, and approaches the language of grace and the language of theology in a way that I think might surprise people,” Tippett said. “She’s not someone who is known as a religious thinker, or even a religious person, but it floats all the way through this wiring, so I just knew as we started talking — literally the book was in my hands — as we were thinking, who do we want to have in Chautauqua? And I said, ‘Well, I think we have to have Imani.’ ”

Staff writer Eleanor Bishop contributed to this report.

People’s Supper Founders and Krista Tippett to Talk Community

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The Rev. Jennifer Bailey met Lennon Flowers in exactly the kind of place one might expect to meet someone named Lennon Flowers: meditating in the desert.

“I don’t know if I believe in soul mates — but I do believe in soul friends,” Bailey said. “Pretty early on, I knew Lennon was someone I wanted to learn from and be friends with.”

Bailey and Flowers will appear in conversation with Krista Tippett at 10:45 a.m. Monday, August 5 in the Amphitheater. Their talk will kick off Week Seven, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts — A Week in Partnership with Krista Tippett and ‘On Being.’ ”

Tippett is a journalist, author and the host of “On Being with Krista Tippett” a Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. She curated the morning lecture lineup and will appear in conversation with all of Week Seven’s Amp speakers.

“The (speakers) are interesting, and people who I think are having a nourishing force in the work they do,” Tippett said. “I’ve been following (Bailey and Flowers’) work for a really long time, separately and together. They, for me, represent the way new generations are bringing up conversations and coming at some old things in very fresh ways. … They are just really wonderful social creatives and I can’t wait to talk to them about the subject of grace and how that illuminates what they’re doing.”

Bailey and Flowers met while attending a meditation retreat led by Fr. Richard Rohr OFM, an author and Franciscn friar who served as Chautauqua’s chaplain for Week Four. They immediately connected over shared experiences with grief and loss; Bailey had recently lost her mother to cancer, and since 2014, Flowers has been the co-founder and executive director of The Dinner Party, a nonprofit organization that brings together 20- to 30-year-olds mourning the loss of a loved one.

“(Flowers) had a really serious loss in her early life, and at some point started realizing that so many people she knew (also) had some kind of tragic loss,” Tippett said. “She realized that they hadn’t really been given the space to let that be part of their experience and what forms them.”

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Bailey noticed the same grief she had personally struggled with reflected across the nation.

“Not just (grief over) the outcome of the election, because that almost seemed secondary in some ways,” Bailey said. “But there were people whose votes were motivated by grief, whether that was the loss of a particular way of life they thought they would have … or folks who were grieving the real vitriol and hatred that we saw vocalized in that election cycle.”

As the founder and executive director of the Faith Matters Network, an organization that provides support for the mental and spiritual well-being of faith leaders, community organizers and activists, Bailey isn’t one to sit idly by. She immediately began looking for solutions.

“My first instinct was to call the person I knew that had a lot of experience dealing with grief and loss,” Bailey said. “And that was Lennon.”

During a six-hour drive from Nashville to Little Rock, Arkansas, Bailey called Lennon, and the two brainstormed ideas for what would become The People’s Supper, an organization that uses shared meals and gatherings to cultivate community and trust among groups with diverse identities and perspectives.

“The intersection between my and Jen’s (work) is very much rooted in our capacity to witness and be witnessed by one another,” Flowers said, “to hold each other through struggle and suffering, and find healing through company and accompaniment.”

The original iteration of The People’s Supper was the hashtag #100Days100Dinners, a project where Bailey, Flowers and their co-founder Emily May organized 100 dinners with strangers in the first 100 days of the Donald Trump presidency to facilitate conversation and healing.

“We did that, and lo and behold, the problem was not solved at the end of those 100 days,” Flowers said, “nor was the appetite to continue gathering.”

In less than three years, those first 100 dinners blossomed into 15,000, in more than 120 communities nationwide.

As the project continued, Flowers said it became clear that the healing they sought to spread would require more than a single dinner.

“We realized this can’t actually be done just by gathering with strangers one night at a time,” she said. “If the problem is a relationship problem, … relationships require time.”

The People’s Supper now focuses on cultivating long-term change by organizing multiple gatherings within the same communities.

“(We ask), ‘What are the elephants in the room that have been allowed to run rampant?’ ” Flowers said. “What are the conversations that are longing to be had that are sometimes hard? And how do we begin to forge … the trust and relationships necessary to actually tackle all of these hard challenges facing our lives, locally and on a national scale?”

Flowers said the aim of these dinners is never to debate ideologies or win some kind of argument — they’re merely to facilitate relationships.

“When you look at the science of how we make decisions — we like to believe that we’re rational creatures who look at the evidence presented and make a decision — but that’s not actually true,” she said. “We intuit and then we reason backwards, so the thing that actually does change minds is encounters with another.”

Flowers said that approaching others through the lens of grace is central to their mission.

“For me, grace is the capacity to be with each other in our full humanity,” she said. “(It’s) such a gift that we can grant to one another in an age (where) we’re deeply inclined toward perfectionism. What does it look like to see the beauty in our vulnerability and our struggles?”

Bailey agreed. As an ordained minister, she said she has “a little insight” into the definition of grace.

“In our society, we place such a high premium on the value of things that are earned,” she said. “In that way for me, notions of grace are actually counter-cultural. It has embedded in it a sense of radical, redemptive hope that speaks to a large vision of the world in which we can and ought to be in right relationships and love with one another.”

Bailey hopes that Chautauquans will leave the Amp asking the question, “Who will we be to one another?”

“How can we envision what it means to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy in the United States?” she said. “If we don’t get the answer to that right, … I can only see that leading to more violence, death and destruction.”

Lewis Black and David Steinberg to Discuss Legacy of Late Comic Genius Robin Williams

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The lights of the Metropolitan Opera House gleamed as the golden curtains parted, and comedian Robin Williams leaped across the stage.

Williams was recording his third official album live at the Met, which went on to win the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. For Williams’ manager David Steinberg, “Robin Williams: An Evening at the Met” was one of the comedian’s greatest moments.

“I was proud of that because putting him on stage at the Met was really interesting to do — no comedian had ever done that before,” Steinberg said. 

Steinberg said they spent time working on the show together, but Williams truly wrote on the stage, in the moment.

“Robin truly was a genius,” Steinberg said. “When he was on stage, that’s where he felt the safest because it was his world.”

At 10:45 a.m. Thursday, August 1 in the Amphitheater, Steinberg will be joined by Williams’ close friend, comedian Lewis Black, as they discuss Williams’ legacy, in “Managing Genius: 43 years with Robin Williams.” The two will be interviewed by radio personality and comedian Ron Bennington.

Steinberg met Williams when he began as a talent manager. In his career, he has managed stars like Sammy Davis Jr. and Billy Crystal, and became close friends with Williams over the 40 years that they worked together.

Throughout his career, and even after his death in 2014, Williams has been known as a comic genius. After dropping out of Claremont Men’s College to pursue acting, he studied theater for three years at a community college in Kentfield, California.

In 1973, Williams obtained a full scholarship to the Juilliard School. During his junior year, he left after a professor told him there was nothing more the school could teach him.

Steinberg said Williams was intelligent, constantly reading books and conversing with people about a variety of different subjects.

“Robin was a very concerned human being,” Steinberg said. “He loved to read — he was an information junkie.” 

In the mid-1970s, after he left Juilliard, Williams performed stand-up shows in San Francisco. After moving to Los Angeles, he continued to perform stand-up and made his television debut on the revival of the NBC sketch comedy show “Laugh-In.”

One year later, in 1978, Williams was cast as alien Mork in an episode of the ABC series “Happy Days.” His appearance was so popular that ABC decided to create the spin-off, “Mork & Mindy.”   

“It taped on Monday nights,” Steinberg said. “And it was the place to be — everyone wanted to get into ‘Mork’ because the script was just an idea, and he would just go off of it and everyone just had to follow — he wasn’t controlled by the words.”

In 1980, Williams had his first big performance in the movie “Popeye,” playing the title role. And as Williams entered the film industry, Steinberg said the comic “never lost that spark of wanting to do bits out of his head and off the page.”

In 2000, Williams made an appearance on the ABC improvisational comedy show “Whose Line Is It Anyways?” The show was like a heavenly playground, Steinberg said.

“He loved that show,” Steinberg said. “He loved those guys and he used to say, ‘I just want to play with them,’ and it was an incredible experience.”

His comedy was different, according to Black, who met Williams during an HBO Comic Relief show with Billy Crystal.

“There were very few comics that were that fast and able to change directions, dialects and characters like he could,” Black said. “No one could free associate on the level that he could — it was like watching fireworks, if fireworks were funny.”

Black and Williams became close friends throughout their comedy careers. For Black, working with Williams was a confidence boost, but it was even more meaningful to become his friend.

“Even as long as I’ve been doing comedy, at that point, it was a huge confidence builder,” Black said. “When I was doing Comic Relief, I was just coming onto the scene, but Robin paid attention.”

Both Steinberg and Black mentioned the power of Williams’ USO tours. Williams made six USO tours throughout his career, and Black said when they got off the helicopter or the transport at the venue, Williams would greet the troops with unbounded energy. He said the interaction between the troops and Williams was very special.

“It was special because of the love that he had for them,” Black said. “And the love they had for him — the troops were grateful that he showed up.”

To the world, Williams seemed to be always quick on his feet and exuding hilariousness.

“Everybody always thought he was on,” Black said. “And the Robin I knew was not always on — there was another side to Robin Williams, and it was a very thoughtful, kind man.”

Williams and Black worked together on the 2006 movie “Man of The Year.”

“When I was doing a scene with him, we would talk about what he would do,” Black said. “Sometimes we would just shoot the scene with just improv.”

In his career, Williams played everything from a nanny and a doctor, to a genie and a radio personality. His comedy styles have inspired many, including Jim Carrey, to create with more spontaneity and try new things on stage. Steinberg said he’s spent many moments in his life admiring and contemplating Williams’ comedy.

“There were hundreds of special moments when I thought ‘Where in the heck does this ability come from?’ ” he said. 

After decades of a successful comedy career, Williams died by suicide in 2014. The world paid tribute to the comic genius on social media and in numerous TV show episodes dedicated to Williams.

In 2018, HBO released the documentary “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” — produced by Steinberg, offering another look into the comic’s life. William’s legacy continues to be felt in comedy and show business, something that Steinberg said he wants Chautauquans to honor.

“I just want people to know Robin and know what he did,” Steinberg said. “Whether they agree with him politically or not, I want them to witness the genius and the courage that he showed his entire career.”

Smothers Brothers Reunite on 50th Anniversary Firing from CBS

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Make no mistake, it was not the original Smothers Brothers who appeared at Chautauqua Institution Monday — that Dick and Tom died in 1969, along with their beloved show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

Now, 50 years later, there seem to be no hard feelings.

“I’m still pissed off,” Tom Smothers said.

Opening Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center,” Tom and Dick Smothers were joined by David Bianculli, television critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air” and author of Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater, for “The Smothers Brothers Reunited: Comedy and Censorship on the 50th Anniversary of their Network TV Firing.” Journey Gunderson, executive director of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, announced at the beginning of the lecture that the Smothers Brothers will be donating their career archives to the National Comedy Center.

Banter ensued between the brothers without any help from Bianculli’s questions. As Tom Smothers explained that he met his brother in Buffalo so the two could arrive in Chautauqua together, he claimed he flew the plane from Wisconsin himself. Apparently, Tom Smothers has been a “pilot for 35 years.”

“That’s not true, you don’t fly planes” Dick Smothers said. “You’re not a pilot, so what are you talking about? We are going to keep this very brief; you fly as a passenger, a frequent flyer, and guess what? No matter how many miles you accumulate, they never upgrade you to pilot. Why make it up?”

“It didn’t take any effort,” Tom Smothers said.

“What possessed you to come out here and say you’re a pilot?” Dick Smothers said.

“I just didn’t recall that I’m not a pilot,” Tom said.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Dick said. “You forgot you’re not a pilot? Why did you come out here and lie about it?”

“National policy,” Tom said.

Bianculli watched as the audience erupted in laughter and realized, maybe too late, that he had no idea what he got himself into when he agreed to moderate the discussion.

“I have no idea if this is going to be the easiest or hardest interview I have ever done,” Bianculli said.

To open the discussion, Bianculli said despite the controversial history, “The Smothers Brothers Show” originally tried to “please everyone” when it aired in 1965.

“We wanted a universal show,” Tom Smothers said. “We’re entertainers, we’re here to entertain.”

Slowly but surely, CBS’ leadership became more “oppressive” with the show’s content. According to Dick Smothers, saying anything with “substance,” such as tackling sex education or the fact that “Ronald Reagan is a known heterosexual,” became a constant battle for the brothers.

“The ’60s were happening with or without us, and we just happened to be ready, at CBS, to be the last victim to go against ‘Bonanza,’ ” Dick Smothers said. “We were instantly viewed as the show America was ready for. There was no political nature for the first part of it, so everyone wanted to get their foot in the door and be on the show.”

As the problems of the ’60s grew, so did the amount of political content in the show.

“Things happened with the president, the White House, the war in Vietnam, drugs, civil rights — all that was happening at that moment and we just happened to be put in a little crack of television programming that allowed us in,” Dick Smothers said. “We were the only ones standing up and we didn’t know we were standing up.”

Dick Smothers said for the first, and only, season of “The Smothers Brothers Show,” they had a “sitcom before they became irrelevant.” There was no music and no live audience, a mistake he said they would never make again.

“We learned from that sitcom, just the season before, what we didn’t want to have happen to us again,” Dick Smothers said. “If we ever had the chance to be offered a show, we came in armed with what we didn’t want. That’s why sometimes a negative in your life is the strongest positive you could ever hope for.”

In 1967, the pair got its second chance to get it right with “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” Even with all the bells and whistles attached, Tom Smothers said he lost sight of what they set out to do by the third season. 

“Near the end of that three-year run we had, I was starting to lose my sense of humor and became a little shrill,” he said. “I lost where the joke was and where the humor is, and part of sharing ideas sometimes counts as the humor we see more than the truth of it.”

Because of that, Tom Smothers said he sees the end of their show in 1969 as an unexpected “gift.”

“I started becoming uptight and that firing, in retrospect, was a gift in disguise and gave us an opportunity to breathe, to not be constantly trying to achieve something and fight the censors all the time,” he said.

Bianculli played their “Where’s my Bass?” skit, in which Tom argues with Dick about whether he borrowed or stole his missing bass. Alongside the audience, the brothers laughed as if it was the first time they had ever seen it. But the skit brought up a less humorous point — the brothers have argued like that their entire lives.

“We’ve been brothers all our lives, and we worked 52 years together professionally, but we argued and had a difference of opinion all our lives,” Tom Smothers said. “There were times I wished a truck would hit him, but we worked it out. It is like a marriage, a lot of fighting and no sex.”

Bianculli said at one point, the brothers went to couples therapy.

“It made a big difference,” Tom Smothers said. “After a while, you build up a prejudicial view of the other person, then you learn more and more and you think ‘I hate that part of him.’ But (therapy) loosened us up so much, made us a better comedy team and we actually started to like each other.”

“You want the best for the partnership, for the union and for the future,” Dick Smothers said.

Bianculli, who wanted just one insight out of the lecture, found it.

“Your comedy depended upon listening to each other on stage, your relationship depends on you listening to each other off stage,” Bianculli said.

Bianculli then played their “I Wish I Wuz in Peoria,” skit, just one example of the brothers’ quick, back-and-forth dynamic.

“I find myself laughing, and I’m in it,” Tom Smothers said. “We can’t do that stuff anymore.”

Shortly after that skit aired, CBS fired the brothers, claiming they had violated the terms of their contract by not delivering tapes of their shows in time for affiliates to preview them. Under those circumstances, CBS got them off the air — fired, not canceled, as Bianculli clarified multiple times throughout the lecture.

In 1973, in the case of Tom Smothers et al. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., the U.S. District Court in California ruled that CBS, not the Smothers Brothers, was the party in violation. By then, the duo’s prime-time platform was nonexistent, and these days, they certainly wouldn’t want it back.

As the Smothers Brothers watched the older clips and relived the best and the worst of their television career, they both agreed that even if they came back to television now, they still wouldn’t be able to get away with some of their controversial humor.

“When I look at today, I don’t know how anybody does it,” Tom Smothers said. “Everybody talks at the same time, how can you have a conversation? You can’t talk and listen. There is no conversation that Dicky and I know how to do that would make a dent, because everything has been said to the point where it’s darn unlistenable. The abuse we throw at each other and the lack of listening is even worse than it was in the ’60s.”

As the middle child, Dick Smothers said he knows the difference between yelling and listening very well.

“You don’t hear anything when you’re yelling,” he said. “Being on the liberal side of things, I tend to think that we do listen and we hear both sides and we don’t like to call names to people. Today, it is a different game, but that doesn’t mean we have to be any different. I like to hear different things. I think we grow with that.”

Bianculli played one last skit, “Big Time Crime,” a song they performed in 1974, after they were fired by CBS. The song took hits at Watergate, foreign relations and Wall Street corruption.

“You never could have guessed it would come to this, but what is there left to believe in?” the brothers sing in the video. “Washington fools are making all of the rules, and honesty isn’t in season, so we’re going into big-time crime. Car tap, forgery, hand grenades and TNT, we’re into running guns for liberty and the payoff is in bribery …”

Bianculli said it was “disturbing” how much of what the two sang about is echoed in present-day America. Although he tried to finish the conversation with that, Tom Smothers took it upon himself to finish the lecture in the way only the Smothers Brothers could: an impromptu yo-yo show — music, dancing, the whole nine yards.

“I still don’t know whether this is the easiest interview or the hardest, but at the end of it, I am convinced it is the strangest and most enjoyable,” Bianculli said.

Director Frank Oz to Recount Film Career in Talk With Stephen J. Morrison

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The title of Frank Oz’s morning lecture — the second of Week Six’s “What’s Funny?” programming — is “I Don’t Know Anything About Comedy.”

“It’s true,” Oz said. “It’s absolutely true.”

It’s a dubious claim from the man whose expansive career includes puppeteering Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Grover and Cookie Monster; performing Jedi Master Yoda in four “Star Wars” films; and directing “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “In & Out” and the 2007 “Death at a Funeral.” Armed with such a resume — he’s also won two George Foster Peabody awards, the American Comedy Awards’ Creative Achievement Award and the Art Directors Guild award —  Oz still professes he isn’t the one to ask about comedy. But he does know what makes him laugh.

“Things that are honest (make me laugh),” he said. “It could be from a movie by Steve Martin or a puppy dog.”

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In a brief break from current projects, Oz will appear in conversation with Stephen J. Morrison, Emmy-nominated executive producer and showrunner of the CNN documentary series “The History of Comedy,” at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, July 30 in the Amphitheater. Morrison is also the executive producer of exhibit media for more than 50 interactive and personalized exhibits in the National Comedy Center, Chautauqua Institution’s partner for Week Six.

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said he was “struck” by a theory from a Smithsonian Magazine article by Patrick Sauer, in which Sauer posits that “more people on Earth have borne witness to Frank Oz’s characters, be it puppet or person, than any other artist in recorded human history.” After all, as Sauer points out, “Oz has had a part of three of the biggest entertainment juggernauts of the last-half century”: The Muppets, the “Star Wars” franchise and “Sesame Street.”

“Welcoming Frank Oz to Chautauqua’s Amphitheater provides the opportunity for us to hear from an artist whose work has touched the lives of millions, across generations, but just as importantly, to go well beyond the frequently asked questions and dig into the broader theme of the week,” Ewalt said. “His filmography as a director and writer is astonishing, cutting across genres of comedy, musicals and fantasy with such classics as ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ ‘What About Bob?’ and ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.’ ” 

For Oz, the classic 1980 parody disaster film “Airplane” remains one of his gold standards in a contemporary industry that is tilting, on average, toward “manufactured comedy,” and away from honesty. This is in part, he said, because corporations own the studios, creating a culture obsessed with the bottom line and forcing directors to work faster, with less capital and more constraints.

“There’s less subtlety,” Oz said. “I’m a huge fan of ‘Airplane,’ which is not very subtle — it’s very broad — but it is honest.”

He remembers many characters of his own filmography fondly, including “Bowfinger” ’s oblivious but kind Jiff Ramsey, played by Eddie Murphy, and the wide-eyed American heiress, played by Glenne Headly, of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” And of course, there are the Muppets — Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, Dr. Teeth — puppets who originated with another actor, but who still occupy a special place in Oz’s heart. 

“They’re not mine, but I love them,” he said.

Although being a good father and “bringing moments to life on theater and screen,” are, according to Oz, the two most significant aspects of his legacy, he finds it difficult to specify exactly what inspires him.

“It’s unknowable,” he said. “If I knew what it was, I would latch onto it and create. Creativity in every sense is quicksilver. It’s hard to catch. I’d probably bottle it if I knew it. All these things come from a very flawed human place. It’s not something you can package.”

Reunited: Smothers Brothers to be Interviewed by David Bianculli on Amp Stage

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“This is a singing mosquito, and it’s going to sing the ‘12th Street Rag,’ ” Tom Smothers told his brother, Dick. “I know everybody kills mosquitoes. That’s why not very many of them make it in show business.”

Tom Smothers then opened a glass vial and released the singing mosquito, which he described as “a show business first.” After a few lines of “12th Street Rag,” applause filled the studio and small television screens nationwide. After joining in the applause, Dick Smothers opened his hands — he had squashed the imaginary singing mosquito.

The bit opened the fifth episode of the first season of Emmy Award-winning “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” in 1967. After three seasons on CBS, filling the same time slot as NBC’s “Bonanza,” and later “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” the CBS network canceled the folk-singing comedy act in 1969, claiming the Smothers Brothers violated their show’s contract with the network. Thus, the wildly popular sibling duo was squashed — but not for long.

April marked the 50th anniversary of the cancellation that launched popular television audiences and media professionals into a decades-long, ongoing reevaluation of free speech and political satire.

Opening Week Six, “What’s Funny? In Partnership with the National Comedy Center,” Tom and Dick Smothers, who over the years have performed at Chautauqua and the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in Jamestown, will be joined by David Bianculli at 10:45 a.m. today, July 29, in the Amphitheater. Bianculli, television critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air” and author of Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” will interview the Smothers Brothers in a special presentation, “The Smothers Brothers Reunited: Comedy and Censorship on the 50th Anniversary of their Network TV Firing.”

“This year marks 50 years after CBS fired the Smothers Brothers, bringing their variety show to an end — a show that, through satire, protested the war, combated racism and mocked the president,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “There was intense political pressure to shut them down and a push to gain stronger governmental control over broadcast media. We’re honored to have the Smothers Brothers back at Chautauqua to mark this moment, reflect on the role of satire in our culture and democracy, and to spark a larger conversation on these grounds about free speech and speaking truth to power.” 

After being canceled, which Tom Smothers later described as being “fired,” the Smothers Brothers filed a suit against CBS in the U.S. District Court in California — Tom Smothers et al. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. The court found CBS to be in violation of its contract with the Smothers Brothers — not the other way around. In a counter suit, CBS claimed “the entertainers had violated their contracts when they did not deliver programs that conformed to CBS practices and standards,” The New York Times reported on April 7, 1973.

“By becoming unexpected martyrs to the cause of free speech, the Smothers Brothers lost their most influential national TV platform just when that freedom mattered the most,”  Bianculli wrote in Dangerously Funny.

Born on Governors Island, New York, in 1937 and 1939, respectively, Tom and Dick Smothers moved to California with their family, where they graduated high school and attended San Jose State College. They began their comedy careers on the Purple Onion stage in San Francisco, singing folk songs — Tom on guitar and Dick on stand-up bass — and telling sibling jokes.

But their professional routines evolved, and they eventually appeared on late night programs and their famed “Comedy Hour,” satirizing the U.S. government in protest of the Vietnam War, and, as Bianculli puts it, as a way of engaging “the generational, artistic, and moral duels being fought in the ’60s.” After the show’s cancellation, the Smothers Brothers performed across the country, at festivals and on Broadway, until they announced their public performance retirement in 2010.

“Year to year, the shows said it all: Tom and Dick Smothers looked different, acted differently, and protested more brazenly and passionately,” Bianculli wrote in Dangerously Funny. “What they managed to say and do was important, and what they were prevented from saying and doing was no less meaningful.”

J. Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier to Talk Importance of Language and Culture

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When J. Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier was growing up, her grandmother gave her a gift she would treasure for the rest of her life. Years later, Kaniaupio-Crozier is taking that gift — her native language — and sharing it with the world.

In keeping with the Week Five theme, “The Life of the Spoken Word,” Kaniaupio-Crozier, a Hawaiian language expert who works with the Kamehameha Schools as a Learning Designer and Facilitator, will talk about the cultural importance of language and how technology can help in preserving it during the 10:45 a.m. lecture Thursday, July 25 in the Amphitheater.

“As we looked at various ways to explore the larger theme of ‘Life of the Spoken Word,’ we learned of Ekela’s decades-long work of making ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i more accessible, now with the added tool of technology,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

Kaniaupio-Crozier has spent the last 40 years working to make Hawaiian language and culture reach beyond her home state.

“Language is such a driver for people to recognize the heart of a culture; they begin to have an empathy for our people, just because the language has been shared,” said Kaniaupio-Crozier, who helped the language learning app and website Duolingo develop its ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i curriculum. “The more and more we share on whatever platform, more opportunity we have to share our culture.”

Kaniaupio-Crozier believes that with technology comes a promise of wider reach and an opportunity to influence the world.

“This is a story of keeping spoken language alive, language that’s use was banned in public schools by the U.S. government and, if not for the commitment of Ekela and many others, may otherwise have vanished altogether,” Ewalt said.

The mandated use of English language that came with the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii by the U.S. government at the end of the 19th century, pushed the native Hawaiian language to the point of extinction. For Kaniaupio-Crozier, this knowledge came packed in stories that her grandmother relayed from her experiences.

“She told me about being beaten in school for speaking Hawaiian,” she said.

The language, as it is known today, rose out of the Hawaiian Renaissance, a cultural movement inspired by the Civil Rights Movement that swept through the state in the 1960s. The Hawaiian Renaissance was an organized effort by teachers and community leaders who mobilized community elders to pour in their knowledge to rebuild the Hawaiian vocabulary, which was further strengthened by old newspapers and written records.

According to UNESCO, the Hawaiian language is still critically endangered, but it has risen from the ashes to become a living and thriving language. The growing number of Hawaiian language education options at primary and secondary school levels, in college, and the motivation to speak it at home, is giving rise to a generation of second-language speakers.

The Duolingo curriculum that Kaniaupio-Crozier helped design is a step closer to the goal of keeping the Hawaiian language alive by making it accessible to whoever wants to learn and use it. To her, preserving a language “preserves who we are.”

“I didn’t choose it, it chose me,” she said about her connection to the Hawaiian language.

That connection, Kaniaupio-Crozier, said, has been instilled in her own children, who she described as having a “different world view” in that they are more aware of people’s differences and similarities, and have a sense of respect for everyone’s beliefs.

“(The Hawaiian language instills in us) a deep seated Aloha for the land that others may not understand,” she said.

Hillsdale President Larry P. Arnn to Tackle Reasoning and Free Speech

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Larry P. Arnn

Hillsdale College houses statues of many great minds from the 19th and 20th centuries on its “Liberty Walk”: Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher, C.S. Lewis, Frederick Douglass and Ronald Reagan. Larry P. Arnn has studied them all.

Arnn — the 12th president of Hillsdale and professor of politics and history, teaching courses on Aristotle, Winston Churchill and the U.S. Constitution — will deliver the morning lecture at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, July 23 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Five’s theme, “The Life of the Spoken Word.”

“As Aristotle observes, man is a rational animal — it is his capacity for reason that separates him from the beasts,” Arnn said. “Because he has reason, he can deliberate upon what is just and unjust, what is good and evil. Further, reason makes him capable of speech, through which he deliberates on these same questions with his fellow men.”

Hillsdale is a traditionally conservative institution in southern Michigan that “believes an educated citizenry can be a powerful force for honoring, understanding and defending America’s founding principles,” according to the college’s website. It was founded by abolitionists in the Civil War era, and was progressive for its time, opening its doors to women and black students in the mid-1800s.

Hillsdale forgoes federal or state funding, and is — as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas described it — a “shining city on a hill” for conservatives. Thomas gave Hillsdale’s 2016 commencement address; Vice President Mike Pence delivered the 2018 address.

“It is through reasoned argument and learning that the student discovers what is good and true and rises to virtue and self-government,” Arnn said. “The turmoil seen on college campuses over the past decade indicates that this purpose is nearly forgotten. Colleges and students alike have stifled free speech and deliberation for the sake of ideology or security, and they have often done so violently. This is dangerous, both to the student and to the nation.”

Arnn made national headlines in 2016 when he publicly endorsed then-presidential candidate Donald Trump; Arnn was later considered for Trump’s secretary of education, but he was ultimately passed over for Betsy DeVos. 

“People said to me, ‘You love Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, how can you support Trump?’ I said, ‘I didn’t know they were in the race,’ ” Arnn said in a 2017 interview with The New York Times.

In his capacity as president, Arnn has launched several new initiatives at Hillsdale and brought in leading scholars and public figures through a distinguished visiting fellowship program.

Prior to Hillsdale, Arnn was president of the Claremont Institute, a conversative think tank, and currently serves on the Heritage Foundation’s board of directors. He also lived and studied in England, working as the director of research for the late official biographer of Churchill, Sir Martin Gilbert.

Arnn is the editor of The Churchill Documents, a sub-series of Churchill’s official biography; under Arnn’s direction it will grow to a total of 31 volumes. He has authored three books.

Year in Space: Astronaut Scott Kelly to Talk ‘Twin Study’

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Fifty years ago, nearly to the day, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to step foot on the moon. In the decades since, humanity has set its sights on even greater heights — and today, retired astronaut and U.S. Navy Captain Scott Kelly will talk about how his work has brought our species closer to achieving those lofty dreams.

At 10:45 a.m. Friday, July 19 in the Amphitheater, Kelly, who spent almost a full year in space during his last mission aboard the International Space Station, will speak on his time orbiting Earth and how it affected his body and mind as a conclusion to Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with Stanford Center on Longevity.”

“We close the week on longevity — identified as both one of our greatest achievements and one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century — with an exploration of humanity’s future,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “We’ve asked Scott Kelly to share insights into his year-long mission in space and how the mission helps us better understand space travel’s effects on the human body. How do the risks to human health and performance inform our journeys into the cosmos, from near-future missions to the moon and Mars, to our missions well beyond?”

Kelly will begin the lecture by discussing, with photo and video accompaniment, his journey and story as an astronaut. He will share stories from his time in space — 520 days in total, including nearly a full year spent on the ISS, from March 27, 2015, to March 2, 2016.

In his 2017 memoir Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, Kelly wrote extensively about his year-long mission, the challenges that came with it and the unique perspective of living in space.

“It’s hard to describe the experience of looking down at the planet,” he wrote in his memoir. “I feel as though I know the Earth in an intimate way most people don’t — the coastline, terrain, mountains, and rivers. … Sometimes when I’m looking out the window it occurs to me that everything that matters to me, every person who has ever lived and died (besides the six of us) is down there.”

There are many things Kelly experienced that can’t be found on Earth, including spacewalks, where his spacesuit was the only thing separating him from the cold vacuum of space; moments spent observing storms, air pollution and auroras from above the atmosphere; and the smell of space — “slightly burned and slightly metallic,” he wrote.

After Kelly’s presentation, he will sit down for an armchair discussion about what he and NASA learned from the research conducted on the ISS and on his own body.

As part of the mission, Kelly participated in the “Twin Study” with his identical twin brother, Mark, who is also a retired astronaut. Mark remained on Earth while Scott went to space, and the differences in their bodies upon Scott’s return helped increase understanding of what space travel does to the human body.

The study, which was published in April, reported that Kelly experienced a shift in fluids in his upper body, some structural changes to his vision, minor genetic changes and DNA damage and thickening of his carotid artery wall. These changes, along with the parts of his body and physiology that remained the same compared to his brother’s, are helping scientists understand how the body is affected in space and, just as important, in what ways it is unaffected.

“Results and scientific papers will continue to emerge over years and decades, based on the four hundred experiments we conducted over the year,” Kelly wrote in Endurance. “We need to see many more astronauts stay in space for longer periods of time before we can draw conclusions about what we experienced.”

Kelly will also discuss the physical and mental challenges of living in space for a year. During that time, Kelly only saw 14 other human beings in person. In Endurance, he wrote that he sometimes felt disconnected from his family on Earth; he missed nature and being submerged in water, he missed gravity and grocery stores, he missed the colors of clouds and doors, he missed rain and many other Earthly comforts.

In the future, there will be a word for the specific kind of nostalgia we feel for living things,” he wrote.

Still, living in space was an adventure few other humans get to experience, and Kelly wrote that he would miss the thrill of surviving, “the sense that life-threatening challenges could come along and that I will rise to meet them, that every single thing I do is important, that every day could be my last.”

Though Kelly’s time in space is over and the “Twin Study” has been published, he will continue to be a resource of scientific study for the rest of his life, as scientists observe any long-term effects of his stay among the stars.

As the 50th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon approaches — on Saturday — Kelly will also discuss the impact of his work on future generations of astronauts and how humanity might someday take its first steps on Mars.

If we want to go to Mars, it will be very, very difficult, it will cost a great deal of money, and it may cost human lives,” Kelly wrote in Endurance. “But I know now that if we decide to do it, we can.”

Linda P. Fried to Discuss Benefits and Challenges of Increased Life Spans

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When Linda P. Fried earned her Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University in 1984, she didn’t expect to enter the emerging field of geriatric medicine. A fellow doctor recommended she look into the topic, and she did — more out of respect than interest.

Thirty-six hours later, she had decided to change the course of her career.

The data were overwhelming,” she said. “We had added all these years to the length of our lives, but we were forecasting all this gloom and doom about what it meant. … I thought, ‘You know, there are other questions we should be asking and answering first, before we decide this is a disaster,’ … and I’ve been trying to figure it out ever since.”

Fried is the dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

She will speak at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, July 17 in the Amphitheater as part of Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with Stanford Center on Longevity.”

Fried said that in the last century, humans have added 30 years to the average life expectancy.

“Through intentional societal investment, we have created a whole new stage of human life,” she said. “This is unprecedented in the history of the world.”

She has spent decades studying the science of healthy aging. Among her accomplishments, she developed an assessment tool to test for frailty in the elderly, helping to define what was a formerly ambiguous medical term.

Fried believes that restructuring society to make room for this new stage of life has the potential to benefit everyone.

I think there is more to say about how (longer lives) could change the world, than how they are already changing the world,” she said, “but we have unprecedented and unique human capital that older people bring, and we are learning a lot about the assets that people bring in older age, and how actually to invest in that so people are healthy in older age and can do the things that would matter to them and the world around them.

In her talk, Fried will discuss some of the programs that already exist, and more that she believes should be created, to adapt the world to increased human longevity.

Although her field of study is geriatric medicine, Fried doesn’t want younger Chautauquans to think this topic is not relevant to their lives.

“I think the people who have the most to gain are actually younger people,” she said. “By the time we accomplish (societal change) they’re going to be ready to use it. It takes 40 years to build the next stage of a society, and by that time 25-year-olds will be 65.”

Fried said that besides climate change, addressing increased human longevity is one of the most critical issues facing the world today.

If we do it well, everybody of every age will be better off,” she said, “And if we don’t, … everyone will lose.”

Stanford Researcher Laura Carstensen to Explore ‘New Map of Life’

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Life expectancy has met an all-time high — but how can culture accommodate it? Laura Carstensen has some ideas.

Carstensen, Stanford University professor and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, leads the “New Map of Life” project, a study of the new directions people can take as they age. She will open Week Four with a lecture at 10:45 a.m. Monday, July 15 in the Amphitheater.

“What most excited us about the collaboration is Stanford Center on Longevity’s comprehensive approach to longevity, with a ‘New Map of Life’ project that challenges our assumptions and identifies interdisciplinary collaboration and public engagement as key to having the greatest impact and finding solutions to the problems — and opportunities — that longer lives present us with,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “In other words, the work of the Chautauqua community this week, and beyond, will inform and provide some direction for the ‘New Map of Life’ project.”

The National Institute on Aging has supported Carstensen’s work for over 25 years. She has received prestigious awards for her work and has published several academic articles.

In a Chicago Ideas Week talk, Carstensen said the new landscape of aging has received lots of attention.

People are living longer, and societies are getting greyer. … You read about it in newspapers, we see it on television,” Carstensen said in her Ideas Week talk. “Sometimes I worry that we hear about aging so much, so often, that we’ve come to accept it with a kind of complacency.”

Humanity has new odds at survival, Carstensen said. Better nutrition, public health, education and medical care in many countries has led to a huge, sudden growth in human life expectancy. In the 20th century, human life expectancy grew more in years than it had in all past millennia combined. Carstensen said today’s lifespans are unprecedented.

“In historical terms, in a blink of an eye, we nearly doubled the length of the lives that we’re living,” Carstensen said in her talk.

In the early days of humanity, Carstensen said, life expectancy was estimated at 18 to 20 years. That grew to about 35 in the mid-19th century in the United States, to 79 years in the present day. And it is still growing.

On the other side of the coin, Carstensen said, fertility rates have dropped. Over the course of the 20th century, fertility rates fell by half.

So we have people growing older, and fewer children being born,” Carstensen said in her talk. “Those two phenomena together lead to an aging society.”

This aging society comes with new demographics. By 2030, Carstensen said, approximately 20% of Americans will be over 65. Proportions abroad are also changing; in that same year, approximately 28% of Japanese citizens will be over 65.

Carstensen said these new demographics mean a new society — one where multiple generations can live together.

“We are at a point in human history where four, five, and conceivably six generations will be alive at the same time,” Carstensen said in her talk. “(This is) a stunning accomplishment of culture.”

But not everyone is celebrating this new era.

“We’ve got more time to spend with the people we love and to realize our goals and to pursue our dreams,” Carstensen said in her talk. “But that’s not the response that we’re hearing today. Instead, individuals are worried. They’re worried about their own aging, their own futures, their bodies, their minds, their financial security. Policymakers are worried about the sustainability of social programs.”

Carstensen attributed these anxieties to humans’ reliance on cultural norms — many of which are changing in the new demographics.

“We look to culture to tell us when to get an education, when to marry, when to start families, when to work, and when to retire,” Carstensen said in her talk. “And life expectancy increased so fast that culture hasn’t caught up.”

This culture, Carstensen said, is designed by and for young people: flights of stairs, miles-wide airports, medical research that focuses on acute diseases and injuries rather than the chronic ones associated with age.

Carstensen’s research focuses on the cultural changes associated with an aging culture: medical research, social support systems, accessible infrastructure. A society that supports older people, Carstensen said, will lead to an unprecedented social resource: experience.

We need to do this because, if we build a culture that supports long life, top-heavy with experienced older citizens, we will have a resource never before available in human history,” she said in her talk. “We will have millions of older citizens with deep knowledge about practical matters of life, interested in younger generations and motivated to make a difference.”

Rae Wynn-Grant Emphasizes Importance of Preservation Over Extinction

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Having grown up in cities, Rae Wynn-Grant attributes her career interests in wildlife to the television shows she watched as a child.

Although she steered away from her dreams of hosting a National Geographic nature show, Wynn-Grant still found a way to make a difference for wildlife, particularly in areas where carnivores and people engage one another.

Wynn-Grant, carnivore ecologist and National Geographic fellow, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, July 10 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Three, “A Planet in Balance: A Week in Partnership with National Geographic Society.”

The interesting thing to me about nature shows was that it was pure entertainment,” Wynn-Grant said. “It was just a joyous experience to watch them. What I didn’t realize was that I was being introduced to science. I was watching science, in action, on the screen.”

Because Wynn-Grant had no first-hand experience in nature, she initially found herself uninterested in her environmental science major. To give it another chance, Wynn-Grant chose the most environmentally based study abroad program her school offered: a semester camping in Kenya.

“There I went from the urban space in Atlanta, all the way to southern Kenya where I was able to pitch my first tent, take my first hike and see my first wild animal,” she said. “That moment, at 20 years old, completely changed my life.”

During her semester abroad, Wynn-Grant was assigned a male lion, the head of a local pride, to follow for the entirety of her stay.

“I learned firsthand its predation patterns, what it eats and where,” she said. “I got to learn how much lions sleep. I got to learn about the different female lions he interacted with, the cubs in the pride, absolutely everything.”

Near the pride’s usual residence was a group of Mossi people, an “iconic” East African tribal group. The Mossi herded cattle, and therefore frequently came into conflict with the wildlife. This created what ecologists call a human-wildland interface, a space where people and animals begin to overlap.

That was fascinating to me because it wasn’t necessarily a danger zone, but there was a lot of potential for human wildlife conflict there,” she said. “It was in that moment, in East Africa, that I developed my expertise.”

 

Thinking her career path was set, Wynn-Grant returned to Africa during her graduate program to study female lions. However, her doctorate advisers sent her in a different direction.

In ecology, scientists are supposed to spend an extended period of time studying one animal without any conservation intervention, so studying an endangered species, like lions, was too risky.

Enter the black bear. Wynn-Grant began studying black bears in western Nevada, a state that had only recently accumulated a black bear population.

“There are bears all over the place,” she said. “There are bears probably a few miles from where we are sitting today, but the state of Nevada is very unique in that throughout the history of this continent, there has never been a black bear population (there) until about five or 10 years ago. It’s brand new.”

Climate change brought the bears into Nevada. In its neighboring state of California, there are roughly 40,000 black bears, many of them living in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. During climate-induced drought years when it didn’t snow and the peaks weren’t icy, black bears went over the mountains and started colonizing.

The bears became so abundant in Nevada that a big portion of Wynn-Grant’s work was going into communities, sedating the bears and taking them back into forests.

Just like working in East Africa with Mossi tribal people, working in Nevada, I was living with very, very local people living off the land,” she said. “There is a tremendous community aspect to doing wildlife ecology there. So often, I was working with homeowners and with police.

After a few years of working with black bears, Wynn-Grant started tracking female bears using satellite collars. According to her, knowing where a female hibernates is vital because female bears give birth during hibernation.

“These young ladies are not eating anything for about six months, they’re not drinking any water for that time, they recycle their own waste within their body, they don’t urinate or defecate throughout the entire winter and they have to nurse cubs from six inches long into full size cubs that can leave the den and experience the forest,” she said.

Along with measuring the growth of the cubs, tracking the hibernation locations also impacts local development projects.

“There is always a highway to be built or a resort area to be built or a ski lodge to be constructed in the forest,” Wynn-Grant said. “If I am able to advise developers as to where there is important female den-site habitat versus where is not important den-site habitat, we can make decisions about developing landscape that protect people, but also protect sleeping mother bears.”

After 10 years of studying ecology, Wynn-Grant was ready to challenge herself — and National Geographic Society offered an opportunity to study biodiversity in an unexplored rainforest in Madagascar.

Wynn-Grant agreed and was tasked with looking for ring-tailed lemurs, seemingly impossible because the species had only been found in dry places with low elevation and fruit-bearing trees.

But Wynn-Grant was in an area with high elevation, a tropical forest and very few fruit-bearing trees. Somehow, it also had ring-tailed lemurs.

I realized what I was doing was broadening my science,” she said. “It was tremendous and it resulted in, I’m happy to say, a very high-level scientific discovery because me and my team found a population of ring-tailed lemurs in this tropical rainforest that was unknown to exist to science.

After five weeks studying ring-tailed lemurs, Wynn-Grant was still struggling to balance ecology and conservation work in a time when “everything was feeling urgent.”

“Studying lions was urgent, studying lemurs was urgent, even studying black bears in the Western United States felt like there was an urgency because there wasn’t enough space for them,” she said.

Wynn-Grant realized she wanted to stop focusing on the extinction crisis and bringing back what isn’t there. Instead, she wanted to work on preserving what already exists. National Geographic Society’s Last Wild Places does just that.

“There are tremendous expanses of land — whether it is grassland, forestland, ocean habitats — that are huge, they are unfragmented, they are intact and they have tremendous promise — that if we keep protecting them starting today, in 50 years, 100 years, 200 years into the future, we’re still going to have them around,” she said. “We won’t be finding an extinction crisis in these places.”

Another National Geographic project is Pristine Seas, which aims to designate protected areas in the ocean.

Marine protected areas are a beautiful way to set boundaries in the ocean where no one is going to go and make sure the aquatic life is healthy,” she said. “It is an awesome way to ensure the future of our planet’s survival.”

As a fellow with National Geographic Society, Wynn-Grant has partnered with a Last Wild Places project in eastern Montana called the American Prairie Reserve, the largest nature reserve in the continental United States.

Montana is currently populated by more cows than people, but before American farms took over the Great Plains, the grassland was filled with bison, wolves, mountain lions, coyotes and more wildlife. According to Wynn-Grant, those species are now returning.

“All of those wolves, black bears and mountain lions are moving out of Yellowstone and they’re trying to recolonize historic habitat,” she said. “I like to say that they’re coming home.”

The American Prairie Reserve aims to be the biggest and only place in North America, outside of national parks, with healthy populations of all native species. But there’s an obstacle in the way of that goal. The reserve is in a triangle between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, and hundreds of cattle ranches are standing in their way.

The danger to the wildlife is not the cows, but the culture that created the ranches they live on. Wynn-Grant said the cattle ranchers’ ancestors were responsible for grizzly bears going extinct in Montana and therefore, they feel it’s a sign of disrespect to them to bring the species back.

The culture of cattle ranching is not necessarily wildlife-friendly,” Wynn-Grant said. “It’s changing; there are a lot of groups that are changing it and there are a lot of cowboys themselves that are changing that mindset, but historically and traditionally, it’s very anti-wildlife.”

Therefore, the solutions start with open-minded cattle ranchers. Wynn-Grant works one-on-one with ranchers to discuss alternatives that benefit people and wildlife.

For instance, when ranches go up for sale, National Geographic Society will bid on the land. If they win, National Geographic will allow the ranchers to continue living there under certain conditions.

The main condition is that they have to carry out the wildlife-friendly practices provided by National Geographic on a seven-step scale. The scale stipulates: no tilling; allow for an abundance of herbivores on the land, including deer and antelope; use only rain water and natural streams to hydrate the land; don’t disrupt the landscape with things like fencing; don’t harm bears; try not to deter species of conservation concern; and be mindful of ranch size, as the larger a ranch is, the more wildlife-friendly it is. 

“National Geographic Society and the Prairie Reserve will pay ranchers depending on what level of the scale they are on,” she said. “They are making money by continuing to have their cattle, along with doing this wildlife-friendly ranching.”

Camera traps capturing mountain lions, bison and other wildlife around the Great Plains prove that the conditions are working. The American Prairie reserve now serves as a model for conservation around the world, and although there are no black bears or lions in sight, Wynn-Grant said America’s prairies are where she’ll continue to be found.

It has helped me discover my place in this work,” she said. “Instead of the race to end the extinction crisis and reverse it, I found that my place is to preserve those areas that are in the best shape, to protect them, to do lots of long-term studies and to feed the world the science about it moving forward.”

Photographer Steve Winter to Talk Big Cats and Work in Small Communities

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Steve Winter

Mountain lions and tigers and cougars, oh my.

National Geographic wildlife photographer Steve Winter will discuss his work in the field with big cats and small communities during his lecture at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, July 9 in the Amphitheater, as part of Week Three, “A Planet in Balance: A Week in Partnership with National Geographic Society.”

Much of Winter’s work for National Geographic has revolved around endangered species of big cats like tigers, jaguars and cougars. One of his most iconic images, the Hollywood Cougar, sparked the creation of the largest wildlife overpass in the world, located in Los Angeles.

It’s a singular animal, but it has become a spokesperson for cougars and mountain lions, primarily in the LA area, but (also) animals all over that area,” he said. “So photography has immense power.”

Winter has photographed big cats all over the world, and has seen firsthand how people often misunderstand the importance of their relationship with these predators.

For example, when Winter was photographing jaguars in Argentina, he witnessed how local ranchers were killing the jaguars because they believed the cats were responsible for the deaths of their cattle. However, Winter said, when local scientists researched the issue, they found that only 1% of cattle deaths were due to the jaguars. Armed with this knowledge, the ranchers changed their attitudes and actions toward the predators.

With proper information, they could change that behavior by their cowboys, but they would need to know the facts,” Winter said. “And it turned out, the facts were vitally important.”

This is one of many experiences Winter has had concerning changing attitudes toward predators, especially in parts of the world where poaching for medicinal purposes, or wealth and status, occurs because of cultural and economic norms.

“There has to be a different way to look at this and a different way to approach the problem,” Winter said.

Working so much with big cats has made Winter an advocate for the protection of wildlife and the natural world. Putting political and religious differences aside, Winter said, humans are animals like any other, and the only ones intelligent enough to both cause and prevent their own destruction.

We are creatures that exist only because we live in a perfect world naturally,” Winter said. “Without the forces that give us oxygen, and the oceans — without the grasslands, mountains and forests that provide 75% of fresh water, we would not exist. We exist because of the planet in which we live, so that means we’re all in this together.”

Winter’s stories of big cats are the perfect example of how humans can find balance with wildlife, since big cats often live in populated areas as well as forested ones. Winter will talk about Siberian tigers, North American cougars, South American jaguars and other big cats.

Environmental issues often seem too big for any one person to face head-on, so Winter said his lecture will focus on the ability of the individual to connect with nature on a smaller level every day.

Because I work with big cats, I say if we can help save big cats, we can help save ourselves,” Winter said. “But you need to understand the importance of the natural world to our everyday lives.”

Winter would like his Chautauqua audience to consider the first time they went to a national park, or a time they took a walk through the woods on a day off, and the way being in nature made them feel and how it affected them on the most personal level. Protecting nature, he said, starts on a local scale.

“If I show a small village that can find an answer … then we can find that on a larger scale,” Winter said.

Despite the doom and gloom of much environmental news, Winter remains optimistic about humanity’s ability to fix environmental problems and said his talk “has plenty of laughs.”

The change is there already,” Winter said. “We have the technology, but there are roadblocks in the way, which are economies based on an old-fashioned way of powering the industries, our homes, and things like that. … We do have to realize that there is hope — and move towards that hope — and stay positive, because negativity does nothing but tear us apart. It does nothing.”

NatGeo Fellow Corey Jaskolski to Speak on Capturing World Through Technology

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Corey Jaskolski

Corey Jaskolski captures beauty, history and humanity through technology.

The National Geographic fellow, inventor, photographer, explorer and tech developer will open Week Three’s morning lecture platform — themed “A Planet in Balance: A Week in Partnership with National Geographic Society” — at 10:45 a.m. Monday, July 8 in the Amphitheater.

Jaskolski’s background is in technology; he specializes in creating devices — archaeology search drones, robotic underwater cameras, color night vision platforms, 3D scanning camera traps and underwater laser scanners — for researching the world’s most challenging environments, like deep-ocean ridges, dense jungles and arid deserts. He holds multiple patents for his inventions.

I’m an engineer primarily, and all of my work is focused on helping people see the world in a new light,” he said at the 2012 National Geographic Explorers Festival. “By that I mean developing technologies to help us peer into the world in a way we haven’t been able to before.”

His company, Hydro Technologies, builds sensing and imaging solutions for NASA and departments in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Special Forces. Additionally, Jaskolski co-founded Virtual Wonders, a company focused on capturing and sharing the world through 3D scanning. These efforts aim to make extraordinary images accessible and engaging to the masses.

“We’re so inundated by images,” Jaskolski said in a 2013 interview with MIT Technology Review. “What used to be so compelling in photography 30 years ago, these days people look at for only a quarter of a second on a mobile device.”

Moreover, Jaskolski’s imaging solutions aim to capture animals and places before the effects of climate change and human encroachment become irreversible. Jaskolski founded the nonprofit Digital Preservation Project, focused on preserving threatened archaeology through 3D scanning.

We really are at a tipping point; a lot of these things that are beautiful and important to us right now are going to cease to exist in our lifetimes and our children’s lifetimes — whether it’s archaeology sites being destroyed or looted, or whether it’s animals going extinct,” he said at the 2012 National Geographic Explorers Festival.

Technology can also “stand where we can’t stand.” Jaskolski’s work has taken him into Antarctica’s frigid water, the reported tomb of Jesus, the Titanic wreckage, King Tut’s tomb, Chichen Itza and underwater caves containing the remains of Mayan human sacrifice victims — explorations made possible because of technology.

“What’s sitting 20 or 30,000 feet down there in places we haven’t been?” he said. “How many new species are down there to discover — ones that will rewrite our understanding of biology?”

Jaskolski’s work has appeared in National Geographic, on PBS and National Geographic TV channels, as well as in scientific journals; he serves on the Milwaukee Public Museum’s board of directors and holds degrees in physics, mathematics, electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Jaskolski is one of six National Geographic Explorers on the morning lecture platform this week. National Geographic last partnered with the Institution for a week on “The Human Journey: Origins, Explorations and Preservation” in 2017.

National Geographic is thrilled to once again partner with Chautauqua Institution to host a week of National Geographic programming,” said Glynnis Breen, National Geographic Society vice president of marketing and engagement. “We look forward to another week together dedicated to pursuing knowledge, instilling curiosity and encouraging thoughtful conservations to better understand our world.”

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg to Discuss Need for Shared and Community-Building Spaces

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Eric Klinenberg

During a brutal heatwave in Chicago in July 1995, which killed 739 people, some areas of the city fared better than others.

In Englewood and Auburn Gresham, two neighborhoods that border each other in Chicago’s South Side, the number of people who died in the heat wave varied drastically, despite the fact that both neighborhoods had high rates of poverty, unemployment and crime.

In Englewood, there were 33 deaths out of 100,000 residents. In Auburn Greshman, there were just three deaths out of every 100,000 residents.

In his book, Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, published last year, sociologist Eric Klinenberg argues that the dramatic difference in the death rate in these two seemingly similar places can be attributed to the presence or lack of social infrastructure in the community — places like libraries, playgrounds and coffee shops.

Klinenberg will discuss the effect of social infrastructure on communities at the 10:45 a.m. lecture Friday, July 5 in the Amphitheater, closing out Week Two, “Uncommon Ground: Communities Working Toward Solutions.”

People forge bonds in places that have healthy social infrastructures — not because they set out to build community, but because when people engage in sustained, recurrent interaction, particularly while doing things they enjoy, relationships inevitably grow,” Klinenberg wrote in Palaces for the People.

These relationships are incredibly helpful in disaster situations, such as the 1995 Chicago heat wave. When people feel more connected to their communities, they are more likely to check in on each other. This is especially helpful when it comes to residents who are elderly, sick or live alone, and might be in need of help.

“During the heat wave, the people of Englewood were vulnerable not just because they were black and poor, but also because their neighborhood had been abandoned,” Klinenberg wrote. “The residential blocks looked and felt ‘bombed out,’ and the social infrastructure that had once supported collective life had deteriorated.”

Klinenberg is a professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. His research focuses on cities, climate change, culture, politics, media technology and social policy. He has published work in a number of journals, and his writing has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Before Palaces for the People, Klinenberg authored Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone; Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media; and Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago.

Klinenberg argues that there are myriad benefits of people living in more interconnected communities.

While social infrastructure alone isn’t sufficient to unite polarized societies, protect vulnerable communities or connect alienated individuals, we can’t address these challenges without it,” he wrote.

Rev. Jeffrey Brown to Share Boston Success Story of Reduced Youth Violence

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Rev. Jeffrey Brown

The Rev. Jeffrey Brown has said he learned some of his most important life lessons, not in the “hallowed halls of a seminary,” but from drug dealers, prostitutes and gang members.

Continuing Week Two’s theme, “Uncommon Ground: Communities Working Toward Solutions,” Brown, a pastor and co-founder of Boston TenPoint Coalition, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, July 2 in the Amphitheater.

Brown’s work, along with others, led to what The New York Times coined the “Boston Miracle,” a 79% decline in violent crimes involving youths from 1990 to 1999, and a 29-month streak of zero youth homicides.

He now serves as president of RECAP — Rebuilding Every Community Around Peace — working with faith groups and city officials to end gang violence. Additionally, Brown is the co-founder of My City at Peace, where he collaborates with housing authorities to rebuild distressed communities.     

For his efforts, Brown was named the 2016-17 Brandeis University Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life, citing his “model of social responsibility” which “(ensures) the right of every young person to live in an urban community without violence.”

“As we approached the broader theme of communities working across difference toward solutions to our most-pressing problems, we felt it important to highlight notable case studies, providing those gathered in the Amphitheater with lessons that meaningful change through community building is possible,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “Brown has not only done so through his efforts in the ‘Boston Miracle’ but also in his working with communities through the U.S. on building partnerships between neighborhoods and police departments to end violence and strengthen communities.”

In his 2015 TED Talk, which garnered over 1 million views, Brown said the catalyst for his community work was the murder of Jesse McKie, a 21-year-old student who was attacked by six young men blocks from Brown’s parish.

“There were young people who were killing each other for reasons that I thought were very trivial, like bumping into someone in a high school hallway, and then after school, shooting the person,” he said in his TED Talk. “It got to the point where it started to change the character of the city.”

From there, Brown volunteered at a high school, but quickly realized he wasn’t targeting at-risk youths. Instead, he and a group of clergymen began walking through notoriously dangerous neighborhoods at night, interacting with drug dealers and gang members.

“One of the biggest myths was that these kids were cold and heartless and uncharacteristically bold in their violence,” he said. “What we found out was the exact opposite: Most of the young people who were out there on the streets are just trying to make it on the streets. We stopped looking at them as the problem to be solved, and we started looking at them as partners, as assets, as co-laborers in the struggle to reduce violence in the community.”

The “Boston Miracle” approach has since been replicated in cities across the world, including Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee; Rio de Janeiro; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Johannesburg.

“I believe that we can end the era of violence in our cities. I believe that it is possible and that people are doing it even now,” Brown said, concluding his TED Talk. “It can’t just come from folks who are burning themselves out in the community. They need support. Because the old adage that comes from Burundi is right: ‘That you do for me, without me, you do to me.’ ”

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