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Morning Lecture Recaps

Julie Washington Calls for Prioritization of Reading and Linguistics in Schools

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Professor and chair of the Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders at Georgia State University, Julie Washington, speaks during her lecture “The Power of Spoken Word,” about the effect of different dialects within the english language, on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in the Amphitheater. MHARI SHAW/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

According to Julie Washington, the only thing more powerful than language is access to language itself. 

Washington, professor and chair of the Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders at Georgia State University, gave her lecture “The Power of the Spoken Word” at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, July 24 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Five, “The Life of the Spoken Word.”

Language is a “rule-governed and symbol system,” where words are put together to make meaning and represent actions, objects and ideas. It’s also an innate, human skill.

“Language is learned in speech communities the way we use it, but we come into the world wired to use language,” said Washington, who specializes in understanding cultural dialect use in young African American children, with an emphasis on language assessment, literacy attainment and academic performance. “Unlike reading, which is a learned skill and something that is imposed on the brain, most children come into the world wired to use language.”

Every language has dialects, or subsystems of a particular language. For example, American English has dialects such as Appalachian English, Southern English and Midwestern English.

More than anything, language is power.

“When you have the ability to communicate and use language well, it helps you to propel yourself forward — in your career, in your life, in education,” Washington said. “The ability to communicate to others in a way that many people can understand is powerful.”

Language is powerful, but only with access. In the case of children growing up in poverty, Washington said access is their main limitation.

“It’s not about just not having any language at all, but having a language system that allows you to have access to education, to have access to jobs, to have access to a larger, more prosperous society,” she said.

But what happens when the language of one’s community impedes their access? Washington said this question characterizes the way language affects literacy, particularly with African American children who grow up in poverty. Washington was introduced to the concept as a faculty member at the University of Michigan, when she was asked to go into the local school district and discuss ways to close the achievement gap between minorities and their white and Asian counterparts. There she saw the overrepresentation of African Americans in special education programs.

“Many of those kids were qualified as speech and language impaired, so I knew whatever was going on, we were contributing to the problem,” she said.

Washington said the biggest problem facing those “speech and language impaired” students was that their schools were failing to teach the fundamentals of reading by the time they reached third grade.

“That’s how I got interested in reading and the relationship between reading and language, how language propels reading, how important reading is for language and how important language is for reading,” she said.

The majority of African American fourth graders — 80% — read at a basic level or below. Only 18% are considered proficient readers, but proficient only means they can read at grade-level. Those statistics are now being considered a “high impact public health concern.”

“In almost everything that you do, it requires you to be able to read and write,” Washington said. “The inability to do so really hampers individuals and puts a ceiling on the success that they can have. At this point, the failure with children is less about skills and abilities or achievement, and more about access.”

As a result of limited access, the problem is also being referred to as a “health disparity,” “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.” Washington said the most important word in that definition is “preventable.”

“There are some things that are malleable and preventable that we can do something about, and then there are things that we can’t — this is not one of those things that we can’t do something about,” Washington said.

In one of the poorest communities in Atlanta, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons, was built in 2018. As a way to provide employment opportunities in the area, the stadium’s development team decided to hire construction workers directly from the community. One of the hiring requirements was reading at a third-grade level. What percentage of applicants were able to read at that level? Zero.

“When you think about the reading problems in this country, many of us who are well-educated are reading at high levels, but we’re in a rarefied group in the United States,” she said.

In Washington’s research, she found that a lot of students’ literacy progress halted between second and third grade, the years where students are supposed to learn to switch from learning to read, to reading to learn.

“So many students, even if they have mastered the basic, foundational components of reading, are not able to put those things together to create meaning,” she said. “Unless you can extract meaning from what you read, you are not a reader.”

To understand the role of language in health disparities, Washington studied African American English. In the past, the dialect was referred to as black English, Nonstandard Negro English and Ebonics. Washington mentioned the controversial “Ebonics” term to acknowledge that she is talking about the same system, just not in the same way.

“I’m not talking about all of the political and social baggage that is attached to this system,” she said. “That has consequences for kids. It has real consequences.”

Dialects are divided by low prestige — dialects with a negative connotation — and high prestige — dialects with a positive connotation. According to Washington, British English is the highest prestige dialect.

“When you hear somebody with a British accent, who is using British English, you think they’re high class, they’re related to the Queen and they’re educated and smart,” she said.

In the United States, Bostonian English is considered high prestige and Southern English is considered low prestige.

“Speaking a low-prestige variety has consequences,” she said. “It has consequences for you in your life because you’re always trying to prove yourself, or because people automatically think these negative things about you and you may not be able to prove yourself.”

To avoid the negative effects of speaking low-prestige dialects, people learn to code-switch. Washington was introduced to code-switching while working on a literacy project where students had to retell stories after hearing it read aloud. Washington read Are you My Mother? — a children’s book where a baby bird goes on a journey trying to find his mother. Many times throughout the book, the bird asks “Are you my mother?” and characters reply “I am not your mother.” When the little girl retold the story, she said “Is you my mama?” and “I ain’t none a yo’ mama.” In witnessing her code-switch, Washington had an epiphany.

“I thought about how much work she had to do in order to retell that story,” Washington said. “She had to listen to it in a language system that wasn’t being used in her home, recode it, hang on to the sequence and the vocabulary and tell me the story again.”

The ability to code-switch based on the environment one is in is a powerful skill, but unfortunately, only two-thirds of children who need to learn the skill will acquire it in school. In Washington’s research, she found that if students don’t learn how to code-switch by third grade, they never will.

“The ability to code-switch is actually critical, but these high-dialect users are the kids we are focused on now,” she said. “This is not just that if you speak dialect, you will not be able to read; what we have learned is if you speak a lot of dialect, you’re going to struggle to read because you have so much work to do to get to the Are you my Mother? text.”

But if it has been proven that code-switching is critical for learning, why isn’t it taught in schools? Washington said that doesn’t work because teachers use contrasting oral and written languages to teach code-switching, and by the time a student is old enough to write, they are most likely “already failing at reading.”

A more concrete solution is to prioritize reading in schools — if one can read, they have access to text, which facilitates code-switching.

While teaching code-switching and reading are both important, Washington thinks too much emphasis is placed on changing the children, instead of the models they learn from.

“Our failure to teach them to read has contributed to the failure to learn to code-switch,” she said. “We have to be able to do both. One way to do that is to teach code-switching, the other way is to make sure teachers are actually using the language of the classroom.”

Washington said people also need to start respecting students’ home languages.

“The same is true for the school language; if we want kids to learn it, we have to recognize that valuing and respecting it impacts the way it is taught,” she said. “What we are trying to do with (home language) is eradicate it — stop that. If we were allowing it to be something else, then we might be able to bridge what kids currently know with what we want them to know.”

As she talks to more people about the problems facing low-income students, Washington said she has become increasingly frustrated with the narrow path ahead. Thus, she concluded her lecture with a call to action, hoping increased awareness will lead to a more hopeful future — a future with answers.

“We need some solutions to this; it’s a long-standing issue,” Washington said. “These kids have been having trouble with reading for as long as we have been measuring it. We are losing generations and generations of kids who aren’t learning to read and, therefore, don’t have access or a way to get out of the cycle that they’re in and aspire to something higher than that.”

Larry Arnn Emphasizes the Importance of Free Speech on College Campuses

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Larry Arnn

Larry Arnn said college campuses in September and October are as “happy as Disneyland,” but by late March and April, they’re “madder than Hell.” Given those seasonal extremes, Arnn said there is no better time than summer to discuss the purpose of free speech, and the threat it’s under, both on and off college campuses.

Arnn, the 12th president of Hillsdale College and professor of politics and history, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Five, “The Life of the Spoken Word.”

“If you were to ask a college president what they think of freedom of speech on, let’s say, April 10, the answer is ‘tell them to shut up,’ ” he said. “Now, the nearest thing to quiet at a college comes in the month of July, so I feel better about it all right now.”

Speech, derived from the Greek word logos, is a fundamental word, as Arnn explained by paraphrasing Aristotle’s Politics.

“Speech, logos, served to reveal the advantageous and the harmful, and hints also at the just and the unjust,” he said. “For it is peculiar to man, compared to other animals, that he alone has a perception of good and bad, of just and unjust and the other things of this sort. Community in these things is what makes a household and a city.”

Aristotle’s claim is that human beings are defined by their ability to talk. Arnn cited an example from his own family, where they have raised children and boxer dogs. For the first two years of the children and the dogs’ lives, Arnn said the two are very alike.

“They don’t know much, they live on the floor, they eat each others’ food and, interestingly enough, they hear all the same things,” he said.

At about age 2, the children start talking, but the dogs never do. After about six months of talking, Arnn said children seem to “know everything.”

“How did they learn those things?” he said. “It’s a kind of magic that happens in the soul. No dog has ever started talking and no child has ever been taught to talk because there isn’t anywhere to start. They have to understand something just to get started.”

How do humans learn speech all on their own? Aristotle said that it’s an ability to use a certain kind of word that only humans can. Arnn used two examples: a tissue box and a “speaker box” — the dais he was standing on. Children are not able to use a reference, like a vocabulary card, to learn “box” because the two boxes look very different.

“We use common nouns, and all speech is made possible by that,” Arnn said.

If Arnn were to rip the tissue box to pieces, he said the box would “lose its goodness.”

“Aristotle says at the same time and in the same motion, it loses the being of the box,” he said. “That means that our understanding of ‘kinds of things’ is written in this perception of the essence, or good, or being of each thing before us, and that’s how we think of things being just or unjust because each individual is different.”

Once one understands there is a unique meaning and being to things such as man and dog, that lays the groundwork for knowing no two things can be treated the same. Arnn said Thomas Jefferson proposed this concept in the Declaration of Independence, when he wrote, “The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”

The same point has been made at various times in history. In a Lincoln-Douglas debate, Stephen Douglas asked why the federal government did not protect his slave the way it protects the rest of his property, to which Abraham Lincoln replied that Douglas did in fact know the difference between a human being and inanimate objects.

“If you read a lot of Aristotle, it will teach you to think like that, because he claims that the good is undeniable, even if it is ignored or willfully denied,” Arnn said.

Ultimately, Arnn said humans are identified by their ability to speak, thus restricting that ability would be the same as telling “dolphins they can’t swim.”

College is derived from the Latin word collegium, meaning partnership.

“It means it’s something to do together and remember, the ground has been laid for us to do things together most radically in speech because what speech means is whatever we can think, we can say,” Arnn said. “When we are talking, we are just thinking out loud, and when we are thinking, we are just talking to ourselves.”

In the minds of classic thinkers, Arnn said the political community is the highest and closest form of community — except for the community of friendship, which is formed around “the contemplation of the ultimate things.”

According to Arnn, that is what a majority of colleges in America were founded on, as seen in the mission statements of schools like Hillsdale.

“(At Hillsdale) we love freedom, we love independence, we love equality and we love learning,” he said. “A community of learning needs to be close.”

Because of the commitment to partnership in learning, Arnn said there are rules in place at  Hillsdale to uphold those standards.

For example, discussions at Hillsdale require continuity. When professors ask students what a certain thing is, they are not allowed to answer with phrases like “To me it means …”

“If you try to set up, what does it actually mean, what does it in fact mean, it’s harder now,” Arnn said. “One of Socrates’ favorite questions is, ‘What is it for a thing to be good?,’ and that’s not simple, it’s just sublime. To seek it, there is no higher activity, no more joyous activity and it’s to be done together.’ ”

Aristotle has a list of intellectual virtues, and the highest virtue of knowledge is contemplation, the immediate beholding of “ultimate beautiful things.” According to Arnn, that is what a college curriculum is all about.

“Aristotle said some kinds of things are good for their own sake, and then there are some that produce a product,” he said.

Arnn ran through a list of things: bottle-making, bottle, drinking, health.

“When you get to health, you get to something everybody needs and then if you put victory, health, and intelligence and sufficient together in a list, then you realize that you can have all of those things, that they are good for their own sake and that means that they stand at a higher dignity than the lower things that produce them,” he said.

On the other hand, one could have all of those things and still be “miserable.”

“The point is, what would you add to those things that would make you completely what you are, and therefore possible to be happy?” Arnn said. “That’s the subject of Aristotle’s ethics, and that’s also the subject of college — it’s to find out the things that are beautiful to know for their own sake.”

Once people behold “high and beautiful things,” they are able to draw conclusions about those things, what Aristotle considers wisdom.

“Wisdom takes time, which means when you’re young it’s hard to be wise,” Arnn said.

But in college, freshmen are thrown into a population of professors and students wiser than they are. Arnn personally interviews every professor before they get hired at Hillsdale and said they are all used to being the smartest person they know, so Arnn said they are making a “crazy choice.”

“They are going into a line of work where they’ll never get rich and they’ve got a mountain to climb,” he said. “It will take them their whole lives and they won’t get to the top, and they want that.”

Professors lead the academic community with knowledge, experience and ability that students are unable to possess that early in their lives, the main reason “colleges need to go on for a long time.”

College also produces a pathway to God. Aristotle described the idea of God as a perfect being that can “see everything at once.” Moving from one thing to the next would imply imperfection. Thinking about one thing and then another would imply dissent. Therefore, the only thing God really thinks about is himself.

Arnn said that concept applies to everyday life in the way people deal with trials in their personal lives. For example, Arnn said by spending time at Chautauqua Institution, people are putting their focus on themselves, giving them an opportunity to work through their struggles.

“That is longing for God,” he said. “College is reaching God as he can be known, both in reason and in faith.”

College also produces friendship, what Arnn considers “utility, pleasure and the contemplation of the highest things together.” The only speech rule at Hillsdale is one can say anything they want to if they can say it in a “civil and academic manner.”

“(That rule is) because we are here to be friends and to figure things out together,” he said.

Arnn said what he sees on college campuses now is a “staggering and dangerous thing,” far from the original intentions of speech and college.

Speech can be lethal, even if no harm is intended, and even if someone outside of one’s community cannot perceive the harm in it. According to the current claim at Williams College in Massachusetts, one can be “ignorant of harm if they’re guilty of whiteness,” Arnn said.

“They have repudiated everything that has gone on, but the students claiming these things can’t possibly know much about that because it takes a while to learn,” he said.

Arnn said this ignorance is apparent even at Hillsdale, where even though students believe being conservative means they’ll be accepted into the school, they are always unable to tell Arnn what it means to really be a conservative. To those students, Arnn said, “cut it out.”

“You’re supposed to get an education now,” he said. “You’re going to read these books, you’re going to listen, you’re going to formulate your own arguments, you’re going to try to argue and you’re going to step right outside these opinions that you have because philosophy, according to the classics, is the refining of opinion into truth. That’s the work of a college.”

Arnn finished with a quote from Darel Paul, professor of political science at Williams College. The quote is from Paul’s essay in Areo Magazine, “Listening to the Great Awokening.” 

“In ages past, administrators and academics believed the mission of higher education to be the pursuit of knowledge (University of Chicago: ‘Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched’; University of Cambridge: ‘Hinc lucem et pocula sacra’) or even truth (Harvard University: ‘Veritas’; Yale University: ‘Lux et Veritas’),” Paul wrote. “Today, they pursue Social Justice. Under that banner, anti-racist activists hope to do to higher education what Soviet communism did to fine art, literature and music.”

Paul went on to discuss Trofim Lysenko, a Russian critic of genetics and science-based agriculture. Lysenko tested two generations of crops around his theories and both failed, but at the time, criticizing him was illegal and led to the death penalty. As a result of his agricultural failures and the state’s death penalty, Arnn said around 20 million people died.

“Without a comparison of views around people willing and able, two qualifications to do any difficult thing, willing and able, and without that friendship, the crops are going to fail and no one is going to know what’s good,” Arnn said.

Arnn bets Paul is a “modern academic liberal.” Although Arnn said that is a much better thing to be than someone like Lysenko, he still disagrees with a vast majority of Paul’s claims.

“If you read through that article, you can see there is a rejection of human reason in these claims that are being shouted on college campuses today,” Arnn said. “If you think about it for a minute, that is utter and complete foolishness. If you say reasoning matters not at all, that is a rational assertion — reason being all we’ve got. Somehow, they’ve done something worse than lose their mission, they have moved in final opposition to that mission and that’s why I think civilization is at stake.”

As for what to do going forward, Arnn said the solution is simple.

“You should learn to talk in an academic and civil way with others, whatever they think,” he said.

Trevor Cox Explores Science and Overall Evolution of Sound and Human Voice

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Inventions like sound recording and the synthesized voice have changed human communication forever, and while advances in artificial intelligence are hinting toward an even greater transformation, Trevor Cox can’t help but notice the consequences of hearing more, amplified.   

Cox, author and professor of acoustic engineering at Salford University, gave his lecture, “Now You’re Talking,” at 10:45 a.m. Monday, July 22 in the Amphitheater, opening Week Five, “The Life of the Spoken Word.”

Cox started with a demonstration of how the human voice works. To begin, he had the audience put their hands on their throats and make two sounds: an “E” and an “S” sound. The “E” caused vibration, where the “S” did not. This is because with vowels, sound elongates in the larynx with one’s vocal folds.

“When you make the ‘E’ sound, you push air out of your lungs, and then you break that air up with the movement of the vocal folds,” Cox said. “That gives you variation and little pulses of pressure, and that’s what a sound wave is.”

Vocal folds can open and close up to 100 times a second.

“One of the remarkable things about the human voice is how robust it is,” he said. “Because we really hammer it, (the folds) have to be moving fast all the time.”

Vocal folds also determine pitch — the longer they are, the higher the pitch of sound. Lighter sounds have higher frequencies, so when a sound changes the length of the vocal folds, it is actually changing how much mass is moving.

However, on their own, the only sound vocal folds make is an incoherent, buzzing noise. Cox showed a video of the throat of an opera singer, observed with an MRI scanner, to stress the importance of other throat and mouth muscles, like the tongue, in making sound and forming diction.

“If I was to show you an MRI scan of you talking, you would look really similar,” he said. “You have the same amazing flexibility in your system.”

But when did humans evolve to have the ability to speak? Cox believes it began with Neanderthals, though it’s an assumption that is impossible to prove. Archaeology, which heavily relies on fossils, is not a resource for his research because the soft tissue in vocal anatomy doesn’t fossilize.

In an attempt to narrow down when speech began, Cox compared a chimpanzee, an animal that can’t speak, to humans — animals that can. In recent years, people have tried to teach chimpanzees to speak, but in the end, found that chimps could only use gestures to communicate.

What is stopping them? Cox said it is the anatomy of the larynx. In humans, the larynx sits lower than it does in chimpanzees.

“There is a lot of discussion around why it’s lower, but speaking fluidly is one reason why,” Cox said. “You saw that flexibility of the tongue. By moving the larynx out of the way, the tongue has a much greater ability to change the shape of the throat and the mouth and to speak more rapidly.”

William Fitch, an evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist at the University of Vienna, studied chimpanzees and determined that the animals actually could speak if their brains could control their vocal anatomy.

“The conclusion of this paper is that probably, chimpanzees could speak; the vocal anatomy is not what’s limiting, it’s the brain that’s limiting,” Cox said.

Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t fossilize either, so Fitch’s findings don’t transfer to Neanderthals. Cox said the only other resource is symbolic thought. For Neanderthals, symbolic thought was displayed through cave paintings.

“It seems that Neanderthals were making art, which means they were doing things beyond just surviving, which means they were thinking beyond just surviving, and that makes it more likely that Neanderthals talked,” he said.

Ancient acoustics were prevalent in monuments as well, such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.

“If you think of any human ceremony you’ve been involved with, it involves singing, talking, music — it involves sound,” Cox said. “Therefore, the acoustics of old spaces would have been important to how they were used.”

Studying sound in Stonehenge was difficult because so many of the original stones are missing. To replicate how it used to sound, Cox created a computer model and a scale model of its earliest design. The scale model was tested two weeks ago, and Cox played two videos to show the difference in sound quality. The first video was an orchestral piece without any stones and the second was the same piece, with the stones. When the stones were added, the sound became “deeper and richer.”

Throughout history, Cox said the greatest developments in voice have coincided with developments in technology.

“Inventions like the phonograph, the microphone and the telephone changed our relationship to the voice and changed the human voice,” he said.

To convey the importance of the microphone, Cox played an example of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé singing “Barcelona.” Caballé was a professional opera singer trained to amplify her own sound with vocal techniques, where Mercury had always performed with the help of a microphone, making him far easier to be heard in larger venues.

“The reason we have such diverse, modern singing styles is because to sing to a large arena now, all you need to do is sing into a microphone (close) to your mouth, and the sounds can be amplified,” Cox said. “This means that Freddie Mercury can whisper, he can shout, or even talk-sing and all of that works. You can’t do that as an opera singer.”

Voices primarily change with age. Cox played an example of Queen Elizabeth II, comparing her first Christmas message in 1957 to her Christmas message in 2017. The recordings proved that her voice is now noticeably lower.

“That’s a natural aging process,” he said. “As females get older, their voices tend to slowly go down in pitch.”

Cox said deeper tones in females can also be due to cultural changes. In a study comparing the voices of women in the 1940s to women’s voices now, researchers concluded that women’s voices are deeper than they were before. Cox said this is because more women are in their “rightful leadership roles.”

“As they assume more leadership roles, their pitch is lowered and this is the sad thing: They have lowered their pitch to sound more like a man,” he said. “It’s sad because it’s basically based off the fact that your brain makes suggestions about who is likely to be a leader, and because we still have a bad gender imbalance, your brain guesses a man is more likely to be a leader.”

Cox used an example of Kim Kardashian, who speaks with vocal fry, the lowest register of one’s voice. Cox said Kardashian’s vocal fry annoys listeners, where the vocal fry of actor Vin Diesel does not.

“It’s an interesting and sexist way we respond to voices,” he said.

Although the voice is flexible and constantly changing, accents have remained the same through generations. Cox recalled a study in England which proved there is a north-south divide in the way people pronounce certain words. In the south, bath is pronounced “bah-th,” where in the north, it is pronounced “bath.” Cox said accents haven’t changed because they are “a part of identity.”

Cox concluded his lecture with a story of a woman named Eugenia whose husband passed away in a car accident. Eugenia uploaded their text messages into an artificial intelligence engine and made a “chat bot” so she could talk to him again. Cox finds this concept fascinating and a little “creepy,” but said it leads into his next point: Voice identity is under threat. Current artificial intelligence technology can use speech synthesis systems to mimic individual voices. According to Cox, this will be used to both “comic and ill effect.”

“We’ve all had emails pretending to be from a loved one who is lost and needs money transferred to a bank account and all that; we are going to start getting voice messages doing exactly the same,” he said. “Unfortunately, with all of these technologies, they get used for ill.”

But there is an advantage to the developing technology. For people who want to speak in their natural voice, but can’t due to medical reasons, speech synthesis provides sufficient personalization of artificial language.

“I can’t imagine anything more important than being able to say to your wife, your husband or your children that you love them, in your own voice,” Cox said.

Astronaut Scott Kelly Discusses Lessons Learned in Year-Long Space Mission

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Over time, Scott Kelly has become “smarter and more handsome” than his identical twin brother, Mark. What’s his secret? A year in space.

With one brother on Earth and the other 254 miles above it, researchers had the unprecedented opportunity to monitor the effects of space on the human body. Now, those results are being used to determine what boundaries exist in the future of human-space exploration — because if the sky is no longer the limit, what is?

Kelly, an engineer, retired astronaut and U.S. Navy Captain, addressed that question at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Friday in the Amphitheater, closing Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity.” Kelly spent the second half of his lecture in conversation with Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

Kelly grew up in New Jersey, where his mother, a former secretary and waitress, became their town’s first female police officer. In her determination, Kelly saw what it took to achieve any dream.

“This was the first time in my life that I saw the power of having this goal you think you can’t achieve, a plan to get there and working really, really hard at something,” Kelly said.

The problem was, he didn’t have any specific dreams in mind. However, after reading Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, a story documenting the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program, Kelly realized he had some out-of-orbit aspirations to consider.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I had to take a bad student and turn myself into a good student, but, eventually, I found my way and I got commissioned into the United States Navy, became a fighter pilot, a test pilot and later, a NASA astronaut.”

Almost 18 years, to the day, after reading The Right Stuff for the first time, Kelly took his first trip into space, a trip to repair NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1999. On his second mission, he crossed the threshold of the International Space Station for the first time as commander of space shuttle Endeavour. He returned to the station for a six-month stay in 2010, commanding Expedition 26.

When he returned home from his third trip safely, NASA proposed sending two astronauts for an entire year.

“Somehow they came up with me, this kid from New Jersey who couldn’t do his homework, and a guy I now refer to as my Russian brother from another mother, Mikhail Kornienko,” Kelly said.

To some, a year might seem extreme, but Kelly said the intensity of the experiment was for the sake of the future. If people should venture to Mars, a planet on the other side of the sun, the trip will take more than three years to complete.

“Going to Mars is going to be hard; it’s not going to be an easy thing to do,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of risk for the crew members, it’s going to take risk of the program and risk in investment, but this is something I am convinced we absolutely have to do if we are going to continue as a species.”

In March 2015, Kelly launched into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, at 17,500 mph, never once looking out the window.

“It was only because I was focusing on the things I could control — the procedures, the systems, my job — and ignoring everything I couldn’t,” he said.

After six hours, he docked at the International Space Station, a solar-powered station in Earth’s low orbit. According to Kelly, life on the station is challenging, but during the year it served as his home, he found ways to improve his surroundings.

“You always have to question, ‘Why are we doing this thing this way?’ ” he said. “Why can’t we just make this system, this procedure, this operation, just a little bit better? In my experience, spending all this time in space, if we’re not always trying to make things at least just a little bit better, questioning and testing the status quo, things are absolutely going to get worse.”

The space station was Kelly’s office, too. There he conducted research utilizing a combination of biology, chemistry and physics.

“(We are) studying these things that happen to us in space that are very similar to what happens to us as we age,” he said.

In addition to using the sciences to study space, Kelly also collected data about his health to compare it to Mark Kelly’s on Earth. Ten science teams in NASA’s Twin Study examined the brothers’ bodily functions, both physically and cognitively.

“It was a genetic study about understanding our physiology and how this environment affects us at a genetic level,” he said.

Regardless of where the trip leads, any time in space damages the human body.

“It’s almost like we are aging at a very, very accelerated rate,” Kelly said.

In space, humans lose 1% of bone and muscle mass a month.

“If you didn’t do anything to prevent that, after 100 months, you would have no skeleton left,” he said. “(That has) effects on our immune system, our vision and our physiology.”

With that in mind, Kelly said the results of the Twin Study were unexpected. In terms of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that shorten and fray with age, Kelly’s hypothesis was that his would get shorter. As it turns out, his telomeres grew. In addition to his telomeres, scientists found that 7% of his gene expression changed over the course of his mission.

Cognitively, Kelly improved while being tested in space. However, after returning home, he was slower and less accurate on short-term memory and logic tests.

Along with being a scientist and a commander, Kelly wore many helmets in space. As the station’s only residents, Kelly’s team had to take care of general maintenance for the station, the shuttle and each other.

“You’re not only the scientist and the engineer and maybe the commander of the mission, you’re the electrician, the IT person, the plumber, the doctor and the dentist,” he said.

Because “all good things must come to an end,” Kelly returned to Earth on March 2, 2016. When he returned to his home in Houston, Kelly jumped in his swimming pool, had a beer and a piece of apple pie sent from the White House, and took his first shower in a year.

“All of those things were great, but the best part about coming home after being in space for a year was that I knew I had just done one of the hardest things I will ever have to do in my entire life,” he said.

Although he felt accomplished mentally, Kelly wasn’t doing well physically; he had trouble standing up, he was stiff, sore, nauseous and dizzy, and developed rashes and hives when his skin touched any surface.

All of those ailments went away with time, but what he learned in space has always stayed with him.

First, Kelly learned the value of teamwork.

“When we’re trying to do anything that’s challenging or difficult, you’ve got to do it as part of a team,” Kelly said. “I say space flight is the biggest team sport there is.”

Second, he learned about the importance of diversity in those team activities.

“It wasn’t until I got to NASA that I saw the power of having a group of people working together that come from different places, different experiences, different cultures and different ways of looking at things,” he said. “When you have people who look at things differently, they have different solutions to problems, and that’s what our job is, to solve problems.”

Third, he gained a new perspective on Earth’s environmental issues. From space, Kelly can see that certain areas in Asia and Central America are covered by air pollution. Between his space missions in 1999 and 2016, he also noticed a vast difference in the size of rainforests around the globe.

Kelly said there is a misconception that moving to another planet is a solution to Earth’s problems.

“We are not all going to Mars, I hate to tell you,” he said. “It will always be easier to live here, no matter how bad we destroy this planet, than it will be turning Mars into another Earth.” 

The space station, where Kelly has spent over 500 days of his life, is a 1 million-pound, football field-sized structure that was created by people all over the world. By its very existence, Kelly learned that anything is possible.

“After spending a year in space, I was absolutely inspired that if we can dream it, we can do it,” Kelly said. “(We can do it) if we focus on the things we can control and ignore the things we can’t, if we test the status quo, and of course, if we work together as a team. Teamwork makes the dream work. We can choose to do the hard things and if we do that, the sky is definitely not the limit.”

Panelists Kate de Medeiros and Ron Cole-Turner Explore Culture’s Influence on Age Perception

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From left, Professor of Theology and Ethics, Ron Cole-Turner, and O’Toole Family Professor at Miami University of Ohio’s Department of Sociology and Gerontology, Kate de Medeiros, speak on the negative connotations that surround the ideas of aging in society, during the 10:45 a.m. Morning Lecture on Thursday, July 18, 2019 in the Amphitheater.
MHARI SHAW/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Science has provided strong insights into the aging process, but Kate de Medeiros and Ron Cole-Turner are challenging the data, using culture to make the statistics less about numbers and more about the people they represent.

De Medeiros, the O’Toole Family Professor in Miami University of Ohio’s Department of Sociology and Gerontology, and Cole-Turner, the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, joined Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt in conversation at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity.” The two served as replacements for Joseph F. Coughlin, director of MIT’s AgeLab, who canceled due to health reasons.

We can certainly look to literature, to mythology and to other things to give us clues into areas that science is now kind of taking up again,” de Medeiros said. “It’s exciting to be able to have data to pair with a lot of these ideas, but we inherit a very rich cultural history that helps us shed light into this meaning of growing older.”

With backgrounds in sociology and theology, respectively, de Medeiros and Cole-Turner provided insight into “The New Map of Life” by discussing longevity with respect to expectations of aging, age-shaming and wisdom.

Two central metaphors, “old age as childlike” and “pushing one’s limits,” can lead to misleading portrayals of older generations.

“That leads to things like elderspeak or treating older persons in an infantile way, or somehow devaluing the contributions an older person makes,” de Medeiros said. “We need to challenge some of the ways that aging is portrayed and the way that, because of that, it shapes our own experiences of growing older and our expectations.”

Those expectations, along with other aging misconceptions, drive people’s fears of getting older.

Cole-Turner and de Medeiros agreed that older generations are often mischaracterized as dependent. To Cole-Turner, people — no matter the age — are not independent to begin with.

“Recognizing that we are all, always, dependent upon the natural world, upon the human community, upon the work of others, upon commerce,” he said. “We are all always mutually interdependent and to let go of control, let go of the illusion that I am independent, that I not only did it my way, I went right to the very end doing it my way — let go of that.”

This idea of dependency in old age is particularly relevant to the idea of “age-shaming,” which de Medeiros said is so embedded in American culture that people engage in it without even realizing — in fact, most people do it to themselves.

We might say, ‘Pardon me, I’m just old,’ or ‘I’m having a senior moment’ or, ‘What do you expect from an older person like me?’ ” she said. “I hear this a lot from other professors on campus, and what that does is reinforce that aging is bad.”

De Medeiros said older generations are not the only people engaging with age-shaming narratives. Children have also been exposed to age-shaming culturally — particularly through literature, film and television.

“If you look at children’s books, if older characters are present, they are either inconsequential or portrayed as incompetent,” she said. “If you look at Disney and you look at older characters, with some exceptions, older women are often these terrible witches that are trying to steal the youth to stay young.”

De Medeiros recently saw “Today Show” hosts use the new FaceApp to age their faces, something she struggles to find humorous.

“The app could also change your gender, but they would not dare do that because that would be offensive,” she said. “It begs the question, ‘Why is that funny?’ And why do we not do something about that?”

Technology presents a variety of problems and opportunities in aging. In regards to transhumanism, Cole-Turner said human beings should be able to use technology and resources that push them “beyond human limits,” such as using artificial intelligence to make up for the cognitive limits humans develop in old age.

However, in some cases, Cole-Turner said technology is damaging to the aging process, as people are driven to live longer in hopes that more inventions will continue to pile on extra years.

It’s almost like I want to last long enough to benefit from the future goodies that technology offers,” Cole-Turner said. “If there ever is a pill to make us smarter, some sort of brain interface or some sort of cognitive enhancement that we can take successfully, I want to be around when it’s available. It’s almost a fear of missing out on the technological future that drives some of them.”

Cole-Turner said the problem of technology was most recently apparent in “Snapchat dysmorphia,” a phenomenon where plastic surgeons experienced a rise in patients wanting to look like their edited selfies.

“How do we make sense of that?” Cole-Turner said. “How do we make sense of this waiting period, waiting for that? How does that create a dysmorphia in our life map, not just in our understanding of our face, but in our life map? (We are) waiting for technology to become our savior, our deliverer from that fear, which are these images of aging that are not always too flattering.”

While the age-shaming narratives are wholly negative, “wisdom” has traditionally been a largely positive characteristic of older generations. But Cole-Turner said the concept of wisdom is not always fully understood, as wisdom must come from experiences — even those that are different from your own.

“I am wondering if we are missing wisdom because we are looking in only perhaps one place,” he said. “There is a wisdom that comes from experience that may be different from our own: Experiences of suffering, experiences of surviving in a racist culture, experiences of being marginalized and pushed to the side.”

Cole-Turner said a fuller wisdom requires transcending the mind, stretching the limits of empathy, unity and connectedness.

That, to me, is the wisdom that pays these social benefits in terms of being slower to provoke, slower to react, slower to think badly of other people, more willing to say ‘I don’t agree with that, but that comes from a different perspective and I want to understand,’ ” Cole-Turner said.

De Medeiros said there are two sides to the coin of wisdom, as some people argue that wisdom warrants the dismissal of other people’s feelings.

“Some people argue that wisdom actually robs people of the power of being angry, because to be wise you are contemplative, you’ve come to terms with things, you’re not angry and you’re not demanding,” she said.

Going forward, de Medeiros said there are opportunities for society to change the conversation about aging. It starts with one word: inclusion.

“We see very few examples of older people being represented in positive ways and certainly even when so, it is such a small percentage of things,” she said. “We see older characters in movies, in television shows as being silly. We don’t have that kind of inclusion.”

In order for that inclusion to drive a more positive narrative, de Medeiros said people need to take the word “elderly” out of their vernacular.

“The term ‘elderly’ is a term that we don’t use in gerontology because it stereotypes a group of people based on age in generally negative ways,” she said. “It’s never used as a word of empowerment, it is always used to victimize, to draw pity or to draw ire.”

For Cole-Turner, changing the way the world views aging starts by claiming the course of one’s own life.

However old or young you are, narrate your own life and recognize that whatever exactly is going on demographically, whatever exactly is going on technologically, it presents unique challenges,” Cole-Turner said. “But it presents unique opportunities for you to live into that uncharted future, in which you will only at the end discover who you are really meant to be.

Linda P. Fried Proposes ‘Grand Act of Imagination’ to Design Better Future

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Geriatrician and epidemiologist, Linda P. Fried, dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health speaks about the challenges of increased life spans Wednesday, July 17, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

 

Though life span increases bring improved medical care and advanced social systems, gaps and disparities still plague the human population. By looking at the history and science of longevity, Linda P. Fried dispelled several old-age myths that hold society back from tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues — including health care inequalities and climate change.

Fried, dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, spoke at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Wednesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity.”

Fried began thinking about longevity in 1986. She was working as a physician intern at The John Hopkins Hospital when the new chief of geriatric medicine asked if she would join his department. That night, Fried started looking at the data backing geriatric advancements and said what she found “blew her away.”

The data showed an increase in life expectancy over time. In the beginning of human existence, life expectancy ranged from 18 to 25 years. By 1900, it had increased to 47 years. By 1960, it was 70. Now, it is 79. Throughout all of those increases, African Americans had shorter life expectancies than any other group.

There has been a huge improvement, but huge gaps still, in race differences, in opportunities for longer lives,” Fried said.

Now, there are more people over the age of 65 in the world than there have been at any point in  human history, combined.

“This year we are at a crossing point, both in the U.S. and in the world, that we are about to have as many older adults in our country as we have children,” she said. “What a shift — we have never seen this before.”

The day after reviewing the data, Fried committed to becoming a geriatrician. Throughout her career, she has come to understand that life expectancy did not increase by chance.

“It wasn’t by chance, it was intentional,” she said. “(It was through) society-scaled investments in the things that create opportunity, ideally for everybody, that raise both the floor and the ceiling of health, access to education, access to opportunity, and have extended our lives.”

As a result of those investments, Fried said society is seeing a “dramatic transformation.”

In 1900, only 4% of the U.S. population was over the age of 65. Now, 17% is over 65 and by 2050, that age group is projected to make up 25% of the population.

The age structure transformation matters, but Fried said the progressions it took to get there are more important.

The progression was the first demographic dividend, which is what happens when countries shift from having high mortality rates to low mortality rates.

As children began to survive their entire childhoods, every country experienced a second demographic dividend, which is when the labor supply of young, capable people became the economic powerhouse for a whole society.

Countries flourish as they have more workers than dependents,” Fried said. “Even the size of the number of children in the population relative to the number of people working is lower. As this age structure changes, as young people move into adulthood and succeed, countries are really fueled economically and have an opportunity to flourish.”

But older people play an economic role in society as well. Societies where people live longer are wealthier societies.

As societies continued to improve, Fried said the news coverage stopped lining up.

“If you look at the headlines in the papers, the dominant picture is that population aging is a big, big problem,” she said. “We seem to be anticipating that this immense, unprecedented success is a big disaster.”

Fried said the common perception is that older people have too many needs and are not contributing enough to society. That perception is reflected at a policy level with the “old-age dependency ratio” — the number of people in the United States who are 65 years or older, over the number of productive, working-age people, mainly 18 to 64 years old.

“How we can afford more older people, or not, is being boiled into an old-age dependency ratio with the implication that every person 65 or older has deep personal care needs, none of them work for pay, none of them contribute anything to society, their families, their grandchildren or the betterment of their communities,” Fried said. “There are a lot of questions there.”

As society is structured now, Fried said older adults contribute a “huge amount.”

“If you add up what we know how to count, which is the hours of volunteering by older people and informal caregiving for loved ones, it adds up to $160 billion a year in contributions in the United States by older people, which is the dollar equivalent of what the U.S. spends on long term care,” she said.

On a personal level, there are a lot of fears about aging. People assume they won’t have enough money when they grow old, that they will lose their role in society or that they will be ill and without the care they need.

There are also a lot of myths, such as the misconception that older people are financially dependent.

The data shows that financial transfers go more from old to young than young to old,” Fried said. “Big time.”

Another myth is that jobs for old people take jobs away from young people.

“That’s called the ‘lump of labor fallacy,’ and it is not true,” she said. “Older people who are economically productive create jobs for younger people.”

When Fried was training to become a geriatrician, she said the “question of the time” was whether certain diseases and disabilities could be prevented in older people. Would doctors even prescribe what is needed for prevention if they could?

“Fast forward 25 years, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ on all counts,” Fried said. “We know now that half  of all chronic diseases are preventable, such as heart disease, stroke and cancers. We don’t do it, but we know it.”

Fried said it is also apparent that healthy environments matter as people get older. The fourth leading cause of death is air pollution, a problem the United States has just started to control.

“Many of the cities where your kids couldn’t go out and play in the morning because it was too polluted are no longer like that,” she said. “These things matter in terms of whether we age healthy.”

What the U.S. has yet to solve are the racial disparities in life expectancy.

Too many people, who are not receiving the benefit of this kind of prevention, are arriving at old age sick, if they’re lucky, and are tracked to get sicker,” she said.

Fried recalled a study that showed that older black people in the City of St. Louis, who were not beneficiaries of prevention assets, developed multiple diseases and became disabled at least 10 years earlier than white people and black people in St. Louis suburbs.

“We have not solved the inequality issue, but if we do, we will have the opportunity to get everybody to arrive at old age healthy and be tracked to stay healthy,” she said. “That will be a game changer for our country if we think about the opportunities it helps unlock. It will be a game changer for all of us if we think about the health care costs that could be lowered as a result.”

Where does all of this leave society? Fried isn’t sure yet. Is the future going to be a disaster? Could it be great? How does a society plan for children who will live to be 120?

“If this is about people we love, if this is about a future we care about, let’s think about what’s possible,” she said. “We have created a new stage of life — we added 30 years — but what do we do with it? Are there any opportunities here?”

Young people are already living with the expectation of a longer life, but Fried said society has not adapted to their expectations because people get hung up on the challenge of an “either-or mentality.”

There are so many needs in the world,” she said. “Oh my god, how could we deal with them? If we think about inequities, if we think about job loss, if we think about urbanization and globalization, if we think about climate change, if we think about people in poverty and poor education, how do we factor old people into that?”

The answer to that question is the “design opportunity of the 21st century.”

To consider what that design might look like, Fried asked the audience to consider Nelson Mandela’s work in The Elders, an international, non-governmental organization for esteemed elders working together for peace and human rights.

“The Elders see it as their mission to work every single day of their lives, together, to tackle the issues that threaten our future and lay the groundwork using what they know, their skills, their connections, their network and their presence on the global stage to craft a better future,” Fried said.

Fried said this organization sets the stage to commit a “grand act of imagination” that will build a better society.

To begin, Fried said the design needs the basics: Social protections and health programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, which act as models for the future.

“(The models) offer what we’ve learned, which is if we design the institutions and systems of our world for the length of life we now have, they turn out to be better for everybody else,” she said. “It’s true for how we design age-friendly cities, it’s true for how we design age-friendly health systems and it’s true even for whether we make stop lights last long enough to get across the street for everyone.”

As people age, Fried said they gain wisdom and unique knowledge, but are not using it to leave the world “better than they found it.”

It is really important to successful aging to know that your time on this Earth matters — the things we do will endure beyond us,” Fried said.

One of the issues older people need to act on is climate change, she said. 

“The Elders said there is no question that the existential crisis of our future is climate change,” Fried said. “They said a global solution to the climate crisis requires the direct participation of the people who are most affected by it. Older people are most affected and young people are the ones most likely to die from massive heat waves, hurricanes and flooding.”

Fried proposed that Chautauqua become a model for how older adults can become the “pay it forward” generation on climate change and other pressing issues of the future.

Every 20-year-old here will be 60 when we have solved these problems, when we have built a society for the opportunities of longer lives, when every age group benefits,” Fried said. “It’s going to require our collective grand act of imagination for an uncrafted future that is possible.”

Amani Allen Outlines How Racism and Stressors Promote Early Aging Among Minorities

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University of California Berkely Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Community Health Sciences Amani Allen talks about the effects of socioeconomics and race on health quality of life and life expectency, and what people can do to change the narrative during her lecture titled, “Why Some Groups Live Sicker and Die Sooner than Others,” on July 16, 2019. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

There are a number of stressors that impact people on an everyday basis, but according to Amani Allen, none of them compare to the racially-fueled stressors minorities face — which, quite literally, get under one’s skin.

Allen, a social epidemiologist and professor of community health sciences and epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, spoke at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Tuesday, July 16 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with Stanford Center on Longevity.”

As a social epidemiologist, Allen studies the social determinants of health.

“By that I am referring to the conditions in which we are all born, in which we all grow, in which we all live, work and play and in which we age,” Allen said.

That definition also includes the broad social systems that determine the day-to-day conditions of one’s life, as well as their life chances and opportunities.

“There are social norms and institutional policies and practices that confer advantages to some and disadvantages to others,” she said.

Allen examines how those life opportunities and chances vary for different groups of people and how, in turn, those differences affect mental and physical health and overall longevity. Specifically, her work focuses on one question: Why do some groups live sicker and die sooner than others?

For example, research has shown that lower socioeconomic groups do “live sicker and die sooner.”

It’s not just that those at the bottom of the socioeconomic gradient do worse than those at the top, but those almost at the top do worse than those at the very top,” she said.

In epidemiologist Michael Marmot’s Whitehall Study, he put forth a social gradient measuring mortality rates. The study showed that those in the lowest occupational grade have the highest mortality rates and that those in the highest occupational grade have the lowest mortality rates.

Allen said this pattern, a “global phenomenon,” is seen in terms of income, education, occupation and wealth.

“This gradient tells us that health and longevity is about more than having just enough subsistence to take care of our basic needs,” Allen said. “Otherwise, we would only expect to see higher mortality rates in only the lowest socioeconomic category, but that’s not what we see.”

Allen said some argue that the social gradient is “psychosocial in nature,” meaning it is related to one’s subjective experience of their social status.

“In other words, there is something about our social position relative to others that matters for health, or that causes us psychosocial stress,” she said.

Others argue that social position not only determines whether one has access to health resources such as housing, food and access to quality health care, but also determines their level of access to those resources, which then determines their ability to avoid health risks and maximize well-being.

In terms of race, Allen said there is substantial evidence to prove that African Americans live sicker and die sooner than any other demographic. That pattern is seen among a majority of the leading causes of death: cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and various cancers. But the pattern is not just apparent at the end of life —  it is also seen in early life with premature birth and low birth weight, which sets the stage for health problems over a life span.

When explaining these persistent racial disparities, Allen turns to the “usual suspects.” At the top of that list is socioeconomic status.

Given the socioeconomic differences between black people and white people, many scientists have examined whether racial health disparities are really a question of socioeconomic differences between groups.

However, despite the very powerful and persistent role of socioeconomic status in predicting health, as we just saw with the social gradient, it falls far short in explaining racial disparities in health,” Allen said. “Racial disparities exist despite socioeconomic status.”

Allen said there is something unique about the “experience of race” in the United States that impacts health. Although socioeconomic status, genes, access to health care and behavior matter in improving health, they don’t adequately explain health disparities.

But it doesn’t end with race, either. Allen can predict a person’s life expectancy using their zip code. Allen was born and raised in Washington D.C., where there is an eight-year difference in life expectancy depending on where in the city someone lives. Those disparities extend globally, as well. For example, black men in Harlem have a shorter life expectancy than black men in Bangladesh.

“A startling statistic, but a true one,” she said. “The United States is the richest of all industrialized nations and spends the most per capita on health care globally. So why are there places in the United States, such as some of our southeastern states, where maternal death rates exceed those of sub-Saharan Africa? We should not see such dire health outcomes in the wealthiest nation in the world, not for any group.”

When considering the differences between white people and black people, there is also a long-standing disparity in infant mortality. Allen said some would argue it is due to socioeconomic status, but college-educated black women have higher rates of infant mortality than white high school dropouts.

“For a long time, the focus on race, socioeconomic and gender differences in health focused on documenting differences in life expectancy or mortality rates, which somewhat prove the very sensitive and powerful predictors of population health,” she said.

The majority of this research Allen is referring to focused on binary disparities: men versus women or black people versus white people. One common observation was what scholars call “the gender and health paradox.”

That (paradox) is that women live longer than men, and they have a longer life expectancy and lower mortality rates,” she said. “However, they also lived sicker lives. So when life expectancy was the primary indicator used to assess population health, the narrative was that women are doing better than men, that we don’t have to worry about women.”

That assessment was called into question when scientists started to look at measures of morbidity such as quality of life, functional limitations, disabilities and chronic diseases. Another common observation was that across almost all indicators of health, black people fared worse than white people. These findings portray what scholars call “weathering,” or the “premature aging and earlier health decline experienced among blacks.”

Allen showed a graph supporting her claim that the decline in health accumulates over the entire life span as a consequence of “persistent psychosocial and environmental stress associated with a marginalized social status in society.”

“This concept of weathering is really about how these conditions determine life chances and opportunities and structures differently for different groups, and how those differences become embodied, how they get under our skin to impact differences in health and longevity,” she said.

When thinking about the totality of one’s life experiences, Allen said it becomes clear that a person is more than just their race, gender or socioeconomic status.

“We are each our race and our gender and our socioeconomic position and our age and so on,” she said.

Allen, for example, is an African American woman with a high level of education, who lives in a racially integrated, middle-class neighborhood and works in a primarily white, male-dominated environment — all factors that impact her day-to-day experiences.

In some spaces, like work, Allen’s race, profession, education and gender are visible. But in her community, only her race and gender are visible. 

That matters in terms of how I am viewed in society, and how I am viewed determines my day-to-day social experiences,” Allen said. “It determines how I am perceived by others and importantly, how I am treated by others by society, by institutions, etc., which all have an impact on my mental and physical health. It does for all of us, whether we realize it or not.”

Scholars and scientists started to use “an intersectional lens” to examine health disparities. So instead of examining one aspect of social identity, they examined how multiple aspects impact socialization and health.

Because humans are social creatures, Allen said binary comparisons can mask the true nature of social disparities. Allen recalled an example of mortality rates declining among black people in recent years. But what researchers didn’t see was that mortality rates were increasing for white women at the same time.

Many scholars are now examining the “biology of disadvantage,” or how aging disparities are attributed to persistent psychosocial and environmental stress. The stress associated with disadvantaged social status has the ability to disrupt physiological systems in ways that damage health over time.

“Numerous studies, including my own, have shown a relationship between social stress and dysregulation of biological systems responsible for maintaining optimal physical functioning, such as our cardiovascular system, our metabolic system and our immune system,” she said.

Allen’s research specifically focuses on how the stress from racism plays a role in weathering among African American women. In a survey, Allen found that African American women report racial discrimination as a “particularly salient form of stress.” They also described racism as a persistent stressor, with many of their first encounters with racism taking place in early childhood.

Allen recalled her first encounter with racial discrimination. In kindergarten, she was approached by a white girl who tried to rub the “dirt” off her skin. Although Allen realized the girl did not intend to hurt her, she doesn’t want people to dismiss the girl’s ignorance.

Let’s not make a mistake that ignorance about the impact … excuses the impact that it has on people,” she said.

In response, Allen’s mother enrolled her and her sister into an African charter school in D.C. where she developed a sense of pride in herself and in her African American heritage.

“Despite that, throughout my life, the sense of pride that I had about who I am and where I come from has always existed alongside, or perhaps under, a mantle of marginalized status in society, in classrooms, in colleges, at work, in restaurants, in shopping malls and even when trying to hail a cab,” Allen said.

Allen has heard similar stories from women all over the world. Women tend to report more psychological stress due to racial discrimination based on their own experiences and the experiences of those around them.

Although it is certain that African American women are experiencing premature aging, it has not yet been proved that racial discrimination is the key factor. That’s where Allen’s work comes in. Allen runs the Health Effects Associated with Racism Threats research group at the University of California, Berkeley. HEARTS investigates racism as a social threat and how that threat affects the body.

In addition, Allen and her students have been studying the effects of weathering in two ways. 

First, Allen’s team studied allostatic load, the measure of cumulative biological dysregulation as a result of chronic stress.

We are talking about the dysregulation across multiple systems of the body that leaves us more at risk for a variety of health outcomes regardless of whether it’s heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer. Allostatic load has been linked to all of it,” she said.

Regardless of gender, black people have a higher percentage of allostatic load than white people. Regardless of race, women also have a higher percentage of allostatic load, but there is a greater disparity among black people than white people than there is between men and women.

Second, Allen’s team studied telomeres, protein complexes that prevent the instability and degradation of cells. Generally, the longer the telomere, the healthier a person is.

“There is research showing that African American women experience an accelerated rate of decline or shortening of their telomeres over their life span,” she said.

Through a partnership with the HER Lab in San Francisco, Allen’s research group found that racial discrimination was associated with allostatic load, telomere length and hypertension among African American women. They also discovered that racial discrimination in adolescence may be more impactful than experiences later in life.

Although Allen recognizes there is much more research to be conducted, she said there is more than enough to know that when it comes to health and longevity, vast disparities exist between social groups.

Ultimately, Allen said the public health industry has put too much emphasis on fixing people.

“That’s what we like to do in public health, we like to tell people how to eat better, how to exercise; we like to tell them what to do as if they don’t already know,” she said. “But when we think about our neighborhoods, our work environments, etc., it is important to think about how the environment in which we live, work and play, constrains our opportunity to engage in healthy behavior.”

As public health focuses on fixing people, Allen believes officials need to remember that for every person they fix, there is a new person entering the population, which is why there is an unchanged rate of disease.

It is only going to be by addressing groups or fundamental causes of health, which are not people, but the structures in which people live, work and play, that we will be able to identify the most promising strategies for addressing health equity,” Allen said.

Laura L. Carstensen Explores Opportunities Facing an Aging World

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Stanford University professor and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura Carstensen, speaks about aging societies during the Morning Lecture on Monday, July 15, 2019 in the Ampitheater. MHARI SHAW/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In the 20th century, the average life expectancy increased by more than ever before; more than all life expectancy increases over the course of human evolution, combined. This gives Laura L. Carstensen good reason to assume that much of the current population, young and old alike, will live to see their 100s.

But an uncertainty still lingers: What’s the best use of all this time?

Carstensen, Stanford University professor and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, discussed SCL’s new and improved map of life at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Monday, July 15 in the Amphitheater, opening Week Four, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World — In Collaboration with Stanford Center on Longevity.”

Life has been short throughout the course of human evolution. In the beginning of human existence, the average life expectancy was 18 years. By in the late 1800s, life expectancy had increased to 47. Throughout the 20th century, it made its most dramatic increase to 77. Now, it is 79.

The speed with which these changes took place, my colleagues and I maintain, is the reason that aging feels so tense for many of us — that it feels different and awkward and frightening,” Carstensen said. “It’s brand new. In an evolutionary sense, this happened in the blink of an eye.”

As life expectancy increased over the last century, fertility rates dropped by half. The decreased fertility rates created aging societies — societies where there are more older people than younger people. In 1900, about 4% of the global population was over 65. By 2030, over 20% of the population is projected to be over 65.

“These are game changers,” Carstensen said. “These numbers will change every aspect of life as we know it.”

The story of longevity doesn’t start with the elderly; it actually begins with babies.

In 1900, 25% of children born in the United States died before they reached 5 years old. During that time period, population graphs were pyramid shaped because the age distribution got smaller at the top, which represented people who made it to old age. In the 20th century, those pyramids began to reshape into rectangles.

What this means is we have created a world where the vast majority of little ones are going to have the opportunity to live their entire lives,” Carstensen said. “This is an extraordinary cultural achievement.

Culture changed as the world was redesigned to support young life. Carstensen said past generations deemed the high infant death rates unacceptable, and in response, they invested in science and technology to understand ways to improve children’s chances of survival.

Those previous generations studied medical science to understand how diseases spread and  created vaccinations to prevent young people from ever having to experience certain diseases. In addition to medical science, culture changed — not in the sense of languages and food, but social norms and practices.

“There are some historians about this era who write that you have your garbage collectors to thank as much as your physicians for longer lives,” Carstensen said. “Improved sanitation greatly contributed.”

As sanitation improved, other aspects of life did too. Milk was pasteurized, water was disinfected. Electricity was distributed, and along came refrigeration.

“We came to understand nutritional needs and built nutrients into food fortification programs that virtually eradicated nutritional disorders like gout,” Carstensen said. “We didn’t ask every parent to change their practices. We made this an institutional practice; we built this into the food supply. The water became safer, and food was preserved as it should be.”

A society that recognized it had fewer children decided to invest in those children. Thus, public education became accessible in every state.

Education is a better predictor of life expectancy than age,” she said. “It is an extraordinarily potent contributor to life expectancy.”

Longevity is also a story of cooperation, Carsetensen said.

“These changes, this effort to work together to improve the entire population, has resulted in a point in history where for the first time, five, and conceivably six generations, will be alive at the same time,” she said. “A 20-year-old male today has a better chance of having a living grandmother than a 20-year-old male in 1900 had of having a living mother. These are game changers.”

The prospect of more time doesn’t make humans as excited as Carstensen once thought. People are worried, but their worry is based on assumptions of very different times than their own. Aging used to be synonymous with deficits, but that downward trajectory is no longer apparent in current generations.

“There are many assumptions we have made about aging that are wrong,” she said. “There are some aspects of life that improve: emotional wellbeing gets better as people get older, our stores of knowledge go up and in the last 50 years, every birth cohort that has arrived at 65, has been healthier than the one before it.”

The number of diseases among older people are increasing; however, they’re mostly chronic diseases like arthritis because they take longer to develop.

Regardless of those diseases, older people are functioning better than ever before. Carstensen said people need to start thinking of aging as an increase in variability and heterogeneity.

Additionally, people are functioning better cognitively as they get older.

People today in their 80s are testing like people in prior generations tested at 65,” Carstensen said. “People are doing better.”

Dementia rates have been falling since 1977. Between 2000 and 2012, incidents of dementia fell by 24% in the United States. Yet again, rates of dementia decreased among those with higher education, which is providing a buffer against brain disease.

Older people are also happier than younger people. They are slower to anger, they can regulate emotions better, they know how to solve emotionally charged conflict better, and are more grateful and likely to forgive.

“I want you to begin to imagine with me what a society might do with a growing number of people who are knowledgeable, functionally healthy and emotionally stable,” Carstensen said.

As people become healthier, fitter and more knowledgeable, they are also more likely to keep working. Carstensen said an aging workforce is not the biggest change in society. Instead, it’s age diversification in the workforce, as six birth cohorts are currently working at the same time.

“It looks like mixed-age workforces may be more productive than anything we’ve ever seen in the past,” she said.

Besides the advancements that have already been made, there is promise of further improvements in the 21st century.

Carstensen showed a cover photo of TIME magazine with the headline “Can Google solve death?” Some scientists have argued that immortality is possible, according to Carstensen, but for her, the goal is not to stop aging — the goal is to slow it down.

We are beginning to understand what aging is in a biological level, and then we can affect it,” she said. “Techniques like parabiosis and senolytics are really encouraging.”

Senolytics focuses on the destruction of senescent, or aged, cells. As one ages, senescent cells stop dividing and secrete inflammatory proteins that destroy or impair the function of healthy cells around them. New research proposes the removal of some of those senescent cells to promote healthy longevity.

In terms of technology, Carstensen is excited about flexible polymer tattoos that may replace Fitbits and Apple watches. Connected by bluetooth, the tattoos can monitor respiration, glucose, heart rate and temperature, and warn the user of potential health problems.

An extraordinary amount of evidence shows that the best thing one can do for aging is to keep moving. Carstensen said if the effects of exercise could be bottled, it would be the most prescribed and expensive drug on the market.

“When you exercise, it improves mood, it improves bone strength, it improves your heart and lowers your risk of cardiovascular diseases,” she said. “Exercise. This is it. What we need to do in the meantime, while we wait for scientists to figure out what to do about some of this aging stuff, is keep moving.”

Carstensen doesn’t lose a minute of sleep over the prospect of living forever; what keeps her up at night is the potential cost of these medical and technological advancements and how broadly they will be distributed in society.

“I do think that, to an extent, if we find ways for the top 10% of people in the world — the most educated and affluent — if we find ways for us essentially to live better and we live better and we leave the rest of the population in the dust, we will have inequities and disadvantaged differences that would make today’s experience hell by comparison,” she said.

The SCL is working toward a “New Map of Life” to prevent those drastic inequities. Carstensen said the first step to their design was asking people to envision what a high quality, satisfying, century-long life could look like.

You cannot achieve what you cannot envision,” she said. “Today, we are not doing a good job of envisioning century-long lives as lives that are flourishing.”

Carstensen hosted a meeting of 50 experts, including academics, architects, climate scientists, educators and pediatricians, who collaborated to envision the possibilities that might come with longer lives.

They started by mapping the basic stepping stones of life, such as school, marriage and retirement. The team noticed there was a huge blank spot for the 30 years after retirement. As Carstensen asked people what they would do with those 30 extra years, no one said they would want to use them at the end of their lives. Instead, people said they would add them to the years they raised kids or to time spent in high school. Some said the years belonged in early childhood, others said they would work multiple jobs or take multiple sabbaticals throughout their careers.

Castensen said there are no right answers to her question, but there is a clarification: Younger generations have just as much to do with longevity as older generations.

“Find ways to use this growing population of even-handed people who can address some of the greatest problems facing the world today,” she said. “We need to find ways that having more older people makes life better for the youngest among us.”

The next time someone sees kids playing outside at their local preschool, Carstensen hopes they will not only view them as kids, but as the first centenarians of the 22nd century. More importantly, she wants people to realize it is their job — now — to build a world that will support those kids “all the way through.”

This is hard,” Carstensen said. “It is going to be hard. But I assure you, the greatest risk of failure is setting the bar too low.”

Heather Koldewey & Lillygol Sedaghat Emphasize Interconnectedness of World’s Waste

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On Friday morning, Heather Koldewey shared with her audience a photo she described as fragile, extraordinary and strangely beautiful.

It was a seahorse clutching a cotton swab with its tail — an image that’s remarkable, but also “very, very wrong.”

Koldewey, the Zoological Society of London’s senior technical adviser and National Geographic Fellow, and Lillygol Sedaghat, multimedia journalist and National Geographic Explorer, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater, closing Week Three, “A Planet in Balance: A Week in Partnership with National Geographic Society.”

Koldewey has studied seahorses for more than 20 years and said the species is “on the frontlines” of a planet in balance because millions of seahorses, like many other species, are captured for trade, aquariums and modern medicine every year.

“As fishing increases and the fish decrease, the amount of nets people are using to catch those fish also increases,” Koldewey said. “We are seeing a real spiral of declining fish for people to eat and increasing nets, which are essentially plastic.”

All over the world, 640,000 metric tons of fishing nets are discarded into the ocean annually. The nets are made of plastic and take at least 650 years to break down.

Koldewey has studied the impact of fishing nets in the Philippines, a center of biodiversity where the human population, living in extreme poverty, is entirely dependent on the ocean to survive.

But it’s not just nets that are a problem. The Philippine islands also lack a waste management system.

“There is no garbage truck that turns up to take the waste away,” she said. “So, what I have been seeing in my 20-plus years working there, are these becoming, slowly but surely, islands of waste.”

Seeing the accumulating waste in person gave life to a daunting statistic: By 2025, there is projected to be 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish.

However, because one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, Koldewey said there is hope on the horizon. Through her award-winning program, Net-Works, the plastic fish netting is being recycled into nylon yarn that can be used for carpet tiles and clothing.

“We see the visual change,” she said. “Because we are science-based, we’ve been monitoring the beaches, the environment and seeing a dramatic transition as the waste nets now have somewhere to go. They now no longer get left anywhere because there’s value in the system and a supply chain to ship them.”

Since starting the Net-Works project in 2016, more than 224 metric tons of netting have been recycled, enough to go around the world five times.

The interconnectedness of oceans makes it hard to consider the improvement in the Philippines a dent in the plastic epidemic. Koldewey visited British-Indian territory made up of 55 uninhabited islands. Even though no one lived there, she picked up 334 single-use plastic water bottles in 20 minutes.

“This really summarized, to me, the fact that there is no ‘away’ for our waste,” she said. “What we do, what we choose to buy and how we choose to dispose of it has a huge impact on our planet, and particularly, on our ocean.”

Koldewey looked to London, where on average, every adult uses 175 single-use plastic water bottles a year. To understand the system that makes that possible, she studied human behavior, business, infrastructure, design, policy framework and how to normalize “green” behavior.

As a result of her research, water bottle refill centers were placed around the city. She also worked with sports centers, schools and businesses to reduce plastic waste.

Her children’s school is now plastic free and a refillable water bottle is part of their school uniform.

“We are looking at change happening across our community,” Koldewey said. “The future can look different.”

Through all of Koldewey’s case studies, Sedaghat said she noticed one similarity: “Change starts with ourselves.”

“The most powerful way to change something, to believe in an idea that you, in your own life, are willing to make a difference that inspires others, comes from a place of love,” Sedaghat said.

Sedaghat’s journey with plastic started with her Taiwanese milk tea obsession. Growing up, she always went to the same California tea shop, ordering drinks in single-use plastic cups, until she realized the consequences of her decisions.

“I realized that every single time I drink the drink that I love, I’m harming the environment that I love,” she said.

To better understand the plastic supply chain, Sedaghat went on a National Geographic trip to Taiwan, one of the world’s “geniuses in waste disposal” due to 148 circular economy initiatives and a 55% recycling rate.

In Taiwan, people separate their waste into recyclables, compost and trash. To dispose of trash, citizens are required to buy government-mandated trash bags and pay by weight, whereas composting and recycling are free.

The entire system was created by a group of housewives in 1987, when Taiwan transitioned into a democracy. At the same time, Taiwan had created a strong petrochemical plastics industry, but the byproduct of their economic growth was waste.

“That love for their family, for their community, that created nature as an extension of their whole family model, moved on to creating and piloting the first composting program,” Sedaghat said. “They completely banned Styrofoam from the food and beverage industry in Taiwan, … and then they also banned single-use disposable plastics from public offices and from schools. This group of women. Mothers. Love.”

In June 2018, National Geographic released an “iconic” issue: “Planet or Plastic?” Koldewey contributed to the magazine and the initiative with her study of plastic in rivers around the world.

“Rivers around the world are basically transporting waste through communities, through towns, through cities and ending up delivering plastic into the ocean,” Koldewey said.

Two months ago, Koldewey, along with an all-female team, went to the Ganges River in Bangladesh to design rapid assessment methodology to understand the source, flow and amount of plastic entering rivers. The team took samples from water and sediment; studied wildlife and how plastic affects the fish sold in markets; documented waste in communities; and hired a drone pilot to map the river bank and locate plastic entry points.

“But data is no good if you can’t use it, if you can’t take it and apply it to make change,” Koldewey said.

Sedaghat agreed, noting that impact only happens when data can be “humanized.”

Sedaghat went on an expedition to a basin located near the Ganges River and the Bay of Bengal, a region with the third-largest water disposal and the second-largest sediment load of all of the rivers in the world. She explored the region on a small wooden boat that gave her the proximity to understand the river’s role in the communities it flowed through.

“Being on a boat and understanding intimately, physically, what the river does to people — what it means to be entirely dependent and reliant on a source out of your control — helped us understand the plastics issue in the riverways with the communities and the livelihoods of the people there,” she said.

Along the river, Sedaghat met a community of people whose homes and land had washed away from river flooding in the monsoon season. Through that experience, she came to understand how the river is both loved and hated.

“It was appreciated and became an economic lifeline for thousands of people who relied on it for fishing, but it was also something that took — so intimately — directly from people’s lives,” she said. “At the same time, those people are just like us. They adapt to resources that are around them because what is most important is the love that they have for their children and for their families.”

It was during that trip that Sedaghat realized her choices and consumerist behavior in the United States affected millions of people, thousands of miles away. As she changed her habits, she came to understand the difference between having the capacity to change, and having the willpower to change.

“People had reached a certain socioeconomic level, a certain threshold of living where they no longer had to think about reusing, remaking, repairing certain materials,” she said. “You could just buy something new. That was a luxury that had come with coming into this next socioeconomic status and level.”

To conclude the lecture, Sedaghat offered localized solutions for communities that want to reduce waste.

First, one needs to understand the waste management system in their community.

“In your neighborhood, your school, your place of work — where does your trash go?” she asked. “What can and can’t be recycled? Who operates that system? Most of us put blind faith into a recycling bin without realizing how to recycle properly.”

Second, one must understand that recycling is a market, and they need to wash materials before recycling.

“The products that we put into that recycling bin have to compete with virgin materials in the market,” she said. “If they are contaminated by food waste, their quality is lower.”

Third, changing day-to-day decisions gives one the capacity to make a difference.

“That means, perhaps, bringing your own water bottle, bringing your own bamboo utensils, bringing your own straw, or a towel or a little bowl to carry with you,” she said. “Similar to the way that you would leave your home with your keys and your ID, why not make this a part of your day-to-day habits as well? Little choices make a huge impact.”

Fourth, think differently.

“We live and operate in a linear, industrial model where we take things from the Earth, we make them into something, we use them for one thing and then we throw them away,” Sedaghat said. “But what we need to really have a planet in balance is a circular way of thinking. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Where do these materials come from? Where do they go? Can I reuse them in any sort of way?’ ”

Although change starts with one person, worldwide change will come from a collective effort, Sedaghat said.

“Realizing that we are connected in our decisions here in the United States, with children thousands of miles away in Bangladesh, makes us feel that we are a part of something and that we can do something — starting today,” she said.

Astrobiologist Kevin Hand Explores Possibility of Life in Solar System

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Kevin Hand zoomed out and put planet Earth in cosmic context to tackle one of the universe’s oldest and most profound questions: Is anybody out there?

Hand, astrobiologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer, addressed that question at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Three, “A Planet in Balance: A Week in Partnership with National Geographic Society.”

Hand found his place in the stars as a child. While growing up under the constellations in the Vermont sky, he realized the search for life beyond Earth is guided by the understanding of life on Earth.

Planet Earth is teeming with life,” Hand said. “North, south, east, west, high, low, hot, cold — wherever you find liquid water on planet Earth, you generally find life.

Various space missions have given scientists good reason to predict that vast, global liquid-water oceans exist beyond Earth. Those oceans are trapped beneath icy shells of moons orbiting planets like Jupiter, Venus and Saturn, and are changing the idea of what it takes for a world to be habitable.

In the early days of astronomy and planetary science, the idea was that in order for a planet to be habitable, it had to be at the right distance from its parent star for liquid water and oceans to exist on the surface.

“If you are too close, like Venus, you were too hot and you boiled off any water that you once had,” Hand said. “If you are too far away, like Mars, you were cold and you froze out or lost any water to space. There was this kind of Goldilocks scenario: You had to be just the right sun- and Earth-distance, so as to have a liquid ocean on the surface that could sustain life.”

Hand calls that scenario the “old Goldilocks.” The “new Goldilocks” describes habitability in terms of tidal energy, or the tug and pull that moons experience as they orbit planets.

The best example of the “tug and pull” can be seen on the moons of Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Liquid water is not a possibility on Callisto and Io, but Hand believes Europa has the perfect combination of tidal energy dissipation to sustain life and a surface-level ocean.

Again, one of the key aspects of these oceans is that by merit of having liquid water, we think that they could harbor life,” Hand said. “If we have learned anything from life on Earth, it’s that where you find liquid water, you generally find life.”

However, the diversity of life on Earth depends on both liquid water and biochemistry.

“All life on Earth is connected by the same tree of life,” Hand said. “What I’m curious about is whether or not there are other trees of life, separate origins of life on worlds beyond Earth, worlds like Europa, worlds like these ocean worlds or possibly even on planets beyond our solar system. Is the origin of life easy or hard? Does life arise wherever the conditions are right? Do we live in a universe that is teeming with life?”

Hand said life itself has three components: liquid water; periodic elements; and energy, the most important of the three.

“Even though (some moons) have liquid water, they don’t necessarily have sunlight that can help power the food chain,” he said. “When we look around the surface of our planet, the energy from the sun not only contains liquid water, it also powers photosynthesis, helping to serve as the base of the food chain.”

To prove that oceans do exist on other planets, Hand referenced evidence from Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. Using pictures from NASA’s Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, Hand discovered that the north side of the moon’s icy shell was covered with craters — a sign of impact and age on a moon’s surface.

Alternatively, there are cracks instead of craters on the south side of the shell. Scientists discovered that water was jetting out and fracturing the ice.

The ice of Enceladus is maybe 10 or so miles in thickness, but the tidal tug and pull that Enceladus feels as it orbits Saturn causes that ocean to be contained,” he said. “But it also fractures the ice shell and those cracks allow water to seep on up and essentially boil off into space and jet into space.”

Europa has no signs of liquid water due to its average temperature of minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit, but there is evidence of salt and a fractured ice shell. Scientists believe Europa, similar to Earth, has an iron core and a rocky mantle, but the ocean underneath is estimated to be 60 miles deep.

“It’s a global ocean and if you do the math, it turns out that the volume of liquid water within Europa’s ocean is about two to three times the volume of all the liquid water found in Earth’s oceans,” he said. 

Since Hand is unable to explore extreme conditions on moons throughout the universe, he looks to Earth’s extreme conditions in northern Alaska. For more than a decade, Hand and a team of scientists have studied microbe survival and the methane gas that is seeping out of Alaska’s permafrost.

“In the summer, the lakes are open to the atmosphere and photosynthesis can occur, but during the winter, the lakes freeze over and the sun goes away because it’s too far north,” he said. “The microbial ecology takes over, and the microbes that are generating methane start to do their job.”

Hand only studies in Alaska for a few days each fall and spring, but he is working with a team of engineers to create a robot that can stay in the water all winter. Hand is working on a submersible rover that would roll upside down under the ice for increased mobility.

Exploring Alaska helped Hand imagine conditions on Europa, but the water was not deep or representative enough to make any direct comparisons. To experiment with another extreme environment, Hand explored hydrothermal vents, or hot springs, at the bottom of the ocean.

What was astonishing was back in 1977, when these were first discovered, geologists were anticipating finding active regions that were perhaps chemically interesting, but they did not expect to find the biology that was there,” he said.

Around the vents, scientists found microbes that were feeding off the chemical energy and minerals from the hot water.

“It’s super heated, but the chemically rich composition of it allows microbes to eat it and then the crabs, the shrimp and the other creatures that we see are able to use those microbes as the base of the food chain,” Hand said.

To understand the pressure of Europa’s ocean, Hand attended a National Geographic trip to the Challenger Deep, the deepest known point in the Earth’s seabed hydrosphere. In addition to a human-occupied submersible, the team released robots that could remain underwater for long periods of time, meaning the team could attach bait to the robots and see what they attracted. 

“In the deepest, darkest, most extreme environment in our planet’s ocean, we see life not just seeking out a living, we see life thriving,” he said. “What you are seeing are hundreds to thousands of little shrimp-like creatures called arthropods that came out of the darkness to feed on a fish head in a trap that we set up.”

The exploration of Europa is Hand’s “dream of dreams” mission. Once a spacecraft enters the ice-ocean interface and makes contact with life, Hand said the understanding of life beyond Earth will “change forever.”

Hand closed his lecture by sharing a 400-year-old sketch by Galileo, what he calls his “favorite image of the universe.”

At the center of the sketch is Jupiter.

Galileo turned his telescope to the night sky, pointed it at Jupiter and he saw not just Jupiter, but these four little points of light around Jupiter,” he said. “Those four little points of light, he initially thought were just stars.”

Galileo quickly realized the lights couldn’t be stars because their positions constantly changed. According to Hand, by discovering the moons of Jupiter, Galileo helped put the “final nail in the coffin of Aristotelian cosmology.” 

“With the idea that the Earth is at the center of the universe and everything revolves around the Earth, (Galileo) really opened the doorways for the Copernican Revolution, which set the stage for the Earth going around the sun, our sun being a star, the stars that we see being suns in their own right and potentially being host to planets of their own,” he said.

In the decades that followed Galileo’s lifetime, Hand said humans would come to appreciate that the laws of physics, geology and chemistry work beyond Earth. The role of the fourth major science on other planets — biology — is still unknown.

“We don’t yet know whether the science of us —  whether life — exists beyond Earth,” Hand said. “Does biology work beyond Earth, or is life on Earth the only singularity for biology in this universe?”

According to Hand, there is no better time than now to add biology to the list.

We can send out the robotic spacecraft, do the experiments, search for signs of life and see whether or not we are alone,” he said. “In doing so, we can potentially bring the universe to life.

Eric Klinenberg Lauds Value of Libraries as Social Infrastructure

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Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, speaks Friday, July 5, 2019 in the Amphitheter. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Eric Klinenberg believes the key to a more equitable society lies in shared spaces — specifically, in libraries.

Klinenberg, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University, and author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, spoke at 10:45 a.m. Friday, July 5 in the Amphitheater, closing Week Two’s theme, “Uncommon Ground:  Communities Working Toward Solutions.”

Klinenberg tried to impart the importance of libraries to his daughter through a social experiment. The plan was to take her to the new Amazon 4-Star store in SoHo, and refrain from buying anything. Next, he was going to take her to the Seward Park Library and let her check out anything she asked for.

However, his plan fell apart when the library was closed. Klinenberg forgot libraries closed on Sundays.

Not long ago, Sundays were actually the busiest day in the New York Public Library system because on Sundays, what you want is to go be with your family in a place that’s generous, and to be with your neighbors, and just to have that time,” Klinenberg said.

According to Klinenberg, the experiment was a “powerful experience” that taught him the vital role of social infrastructures.

“When I say ‘social infrastructure,’ what I mean is that in the same way we have a lower-level infrastructure that supports things like water, power, transit —  things we take for granted — there is a set of physical places and organizations that shapes our capacity to participate in social life,” he said.

Klinenberg was first introduced to social infrastructure as a graduate student. The first project he completed for his program was about the 1995 Chicago heat wave.

In 1995, the temperature in Chicago hit 106 degrees, but “felt like 126 degrees.” Over the course of five days, thousands of residents were hospitalized and 739 died.

I got really curious about what happened,” Klinenberg said. “I wanted to understand who died and why they died and where they died.”

The first thing Klinenberg did was draw maps of the mortality patterns. One thing jumped out right away: Chicago is a “famously segregated and unequal city.”

“The parts of Chicago that were most likely to suffer, that had the most deaths, were the neighborhoods on the South Side and the West Side where there is concentrated African American poverty,” he said.

Klinenberg said he doubts anyone would be surprised to learn that poor communities were hit the hardest.

“Is there a single person in this room who is surprised by the fact that when this heat wave came, this natural disaster came, that the poorest and most vulnerable areas were hit the hardest?” he said. “I don’t think so. That’s what we expect. That’s why that concept of ‘natural disaster’ is ridiculous. There is nothing ‘natural’ about that disaster.”

But when he looked closer, he saw something everyone else missed.

“The really amazing thing about what happened in Chicago, the real moment where social science helps us understand something we couldn’t otherwise see, is that there was also a set of neighborhoods in Chicago that looked, on paper, demographically like they should have fared catastrophically during this event,” he said. “But in fact, they proved to be some of the safest neighborhoods in Chicago, safer than the very affluent neighborhoods on the North Side.”

The neighborhoods of Englewood and Auburn Gresham border each other in Chicago’s South Side, but the impact the heat wave had on each of them could not have been more different.

According to Klinenberg, Englewood had suffered for decades before the heat wave hit. Factories had closed down, jobs disappeared and in response, thousands of people left.

It feels bombed out,” he said. “It’s not just that there’s segregation and poverty over here, it’s that the social infrastructure is bombed out.”

In order to survive in Englewood, Klinenberg said people made their homes as nice as they could. They hunkered down and avoided socializing.

“What happens is if you live over here, you don’t ordinarily go out and talk to your neighbors and get to know people, like you do in Chautauqua, or even on the other side of the street,” he said. “That’s fine most of the time, but when a heat wave comes and your survival strategy is to stay indoors, you cook.”

Auburn Gresham looked the exact same on paper. The data on poverty levels and segregation was identical, except that the neighborhood didn’t experience the same cycle of depopulation.

There are no abandoned lots or abandoned houses,” he said. “You still have retail infrastructure, you keep the sidewalks together, you’ve got local churches, you’ve got nonprofit community organizations. So what happens is you talk to each other.”

The socialization in Auburn Greshman made people more likely to check in on each other and help when needed.

“It’s not that in Englewood you don’t care, it’s just that you don’t know each other that well,” he said. “The death rate here in Auburn Gresham is 10 times lower than it is in Englewood. But here’s the really crazy thing: The life expectancy, no matter what the weather is, is five years longer. That’s social infrastructure.”

In September 2012, Klinenberg was teaching at NYU when he announced the university would begin working to rebuild New York City for “a new era.” That work was quickly brought to a halt a month later when Hurricane Sandy hit.

“Sandy was really hard,” he said. “I realized that in New York City even, there’s not really an institution that stands up and helps the city process what happens during a major event like this. I wanted the university to step up and play that role.”

In addition to planning city events focused on hurricane recovery, climate change and the future of New York City, Klinenberg started writing articles about social infrastructure. His work got the attention of the Obama administration.

They saw this work; they were interested in social infrastructure and they said ‘Look, we are going to have this international design competition to try to generate innovative ideas for how to build infrastructure and structures to help the United States get into the 21st century,’ ” he said.

The competition was called “Rebuild by Design.” Klinenberg was recruited to be the research director and show design teams the “needs, vulnerabilities and possibilities” for the region, post-hurricane.

The teams didn’t come in with a proposal; they came in with a mission statement, and they would shape their proposal in the context of the competition. Klinenberg said bringing in outside perspectives was important, because a lot of leading engineers and policy officials suggested the city build a wall.

“This isn’t really a Republican thing, by the way,” Klinenberg said. “There is a long-standing American history of being confronted with a problem, like say, racial integration, and saying ‘Oh, the solution to this is to build a wall.’ They didn’t invent this, guys; we own it.”

But a wall wouldn’t work to protect Manhattan. The first reason is because the Hudson River’s ecosystem is too fragile to block the flow of water. The second reason is because New Jersey is on the other side.

If you build a wall to protect Manhattan from a massive climate event, the water and the sediment that was surging in, it doesn’t just evaporate; it goes to New Jersey,” Klinenberg said.

The pattern continues from one state to the next; the question becomes: Where would the wall stop?

“Let’s be honest, we have to ask that question everywhere,” Klinenberg said. “Whether it’s inside the City of Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Chicago or Detroit or New York City, or whether it’s the southern border, where do we stop building the wall? The thing about a wall is, at best, it protects the people who are on the right side and says to everybody else ‘To hell with you, figure it out for yourself.’ And as it happens, a wall works just about as well for water as it does for people, which is not too well.”

Klinenberg was walking a design team around Brooklyn when they pitched him an idea called a “resilience center.” The building was supposed to act as a home away from home. There would be programs geared toward children and the elderly, with activities such as craft classes, book clubs and film screenings. There would also be free Wi-Fi, comfortable seating and coffee.

Klinenberg told the team they just described a library.

It was weird because they basically just spent months reinventing the wheel,” he said. “I got frustrated about that because I love libraries, but the truth is that we live in a moment where a lot of people do take them for granted, and fail to recognize that we do have these things called libraries.”

Klinenberg recalled an article in Forbes magazine in which a columnist wrote: “A library as an institution is obsolete.” The columnist went on to propose that libraries across the country should get knocked down and replaced with Amazon stores.

Then, an “incredible” thing happened. Librarians united and posted testimonies about the power of libraries on social media.

“They said things about how libraries remain the place where more Americans get early literacy and exposed to books than any other institution,” he said. “The library does more English-as-a-second-language training than any institution. It does more citizenship courses, it provides companionship for older people, it has after-school programming for young people — the same young people we are always telling to get off the streets.”

Along with the resources libraries can provide, Klinenberg said a common theme on social media was how library cards serve as a right of passage.

For many of us, it’s the first time in our lives that we get officially recognized by the government and by the community as a participant, as a member,” he said.

In response, Forbes took the article down. Klinenberg said he considers it “the only good thing that’s ever happened on Twitter.” However, it worries him that there are still people who think libraries are irrelevant.

“There are people who think if we are going to solve a big problem, we better get an app, we better have a market-based solution to make it sustainable,” he said.

Klinenberg asked the audience to forget that libraries exist, and to imagine pitching the idea of a library to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Albany. Every aspect of the pitch would be appealing, until someone suggests that everything in the building should be free and operate on a system of trust.

“I am almost willing to guess that the idea that I just pitched to you, this idea of these public libraries, might be one of the most radical ideas ever to be pitched here on the stage of Chautauqua,” he said. “It’s a radical idea, but here’s the crazy thing: We have it. It’s real.”

The “radical” presence of libraries raises a question: “How did that happen?”

What happened, that we have libraries in every town, in every neighborhood, that welcome us all in, that operate as the best social infrastructure you can get?” he said.

Klinenberg said libraries came to life because of the values of people who lived generations ago.

“People just like us, sat in a place just like this and said ‘I want to live in a society that’s a good society, where everyone has an opportunity, where people do well and live well, but not so outrageously well that it comes at the expense of the well-being of the people around me,’ ” he said.

Libraries were also the result of a government that invested in public good.

“They said ‘We are not just going to say this rhetorically, we are going to put our money there,’ ” he said. “ ‘We are going to invest our tax dollars, we will pay more money. I might have a little bit less, but in the big picture I am going to have a lot more.’ Generations before us said that. That’s why the (Smith Memorial Library) is right there.”

In order to progress as a society and create new, worthwhile social infrastructures, Klinenberg said the current generation needs to start prioritizing the “people coming next.”

We have to rebuild,” Klinenberg said. “We have to build bridges. We need to reanimate our social life, our civic life and we need to do it now. If we try to do it by building a wall, we’re doomed. But you know how else we’re doomed? If we try to do it on our phones. No two people will argue faster in any form than Twitter if that’s where they meet. You know where we are going to do it? You know where we are going to rebuild? Smith Library over there, and in places like Chautauqua.

Panel Discussion Details Flint’s Resilience Beyond Water Crisis

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  • Panelists from left, Lev Hunter, Jiquanda Johnson, and Anna Clark speak on the revitalization effort in Flint on Wednesday, July 3, 2019 in the Ampitheatre. Each panelist is either self elmployed or started their own business, the independence shows the strength of individuals in Flint. MHARI SHAW/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Anna Clark believes Flint, Michigan, was harmed by the “danger of the single story.” As the chronicle of its water crisis was told again and again, she said the community was reduced being portrayed as “nothing but a basket case.”

To expand on the city beyond the crisis, Clark, journalist and author of The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy, moderated the Week Two panel on “Uncommon Ground: Communities Working Toward Solutions” with journalist Jiquanda Johnson and entrepreneur Lev Hunter at the morning lecture Wednesday in the Amphitheater.

“It is not that this story is necessarily untrue, but it isn’t complete,” Clark said. “That causes actual harm to people. I think this is acutely relevant in Flint, Michigan, the City of Detroit, where I live, and in disinvested communities all over the country where there is the familiar story of what these places have lost over many, many years. In Flint’s case, I would venture that its single story actively contributed to the harm done of its extraordinary water crisis.”

Clark turned the conversation over to Johnson, founder and publisher of the hyper-local online newspaper, Flint Beat, and Hunter, creator of the shop and podcast “The Daily Brew,” asking how their Flint-centered careers originated.

Johnson started her journalism career at The Flint Journal. Born and raised in Flint, she knew there was more to the community than what the paper was reporting.

At the time, we were saturated with crime, sports and the Flint water crisis,” she said.

Johnson took matters into her own hands and created Flint Beat to fill in the gaps of Flint’s untold stories.

“I really jumped out there on journalistic faith and I launched Flint Beat,” Johnson said. “I was thinking about it as a journalist and the impact I am going to make on my community, so I just stepped out there and started covering it in a way I felt it needed to be covered, and in a way that the community had asked me to cover it.”

Hunter is also a lifelong resident of Flint. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, he knew a business was the platform he wanted to use to make a difference. In 2018, Hunter launched The Daily Brew, an online coffee shop that “brews java and conversation.”

When Hunter was hesitant to take the first step, his pastor told him the best times to start a business are either when the community “is in a turnaround, or when there are issues or trouble.”

During this time in Flint is probably the best time to start a business, because if you can be resilient in this, when the glory days come, this is going to be such a downhill, easy street to go,” Hunter said.

The Daily Brew’s business motto is “coffee brews conversation.” Hunter thinks conversation in Flint is critical to improve morale.

“So, when you have a water crisis, the only conversation people are having is ‘How bad is it?’ or ‘Woe is me,’ and I think sometimes if you can bring people together to have meaningful, intentional conversations, then you’ll start seeing a community change,” he said.

Clark asked Johnson and Hunter what they had to “keep and let go of” from the beginning of their careers in order to embark on their own journeys.

Coming from a traditional journalism background, Johnson felt she needed to get out of the “business of being in a hamster wheel.”

I had to learn that’s not necessarily how I am going to make a real impact,” she said. “I need to start paying attention more to my sources, digging deeper for stories and not necessarily reaching for the low-hanging fruit.”

Johnson found that being her own boss has led to more success.

“Sometimes I sit on stories a little longer, sometimes I reach out to a few more people before we publish,” she said. “My one friend said ‘We got it first, but you got it right.’ ”

According to Hunter, the key is “using what you have.”

“It’s 2019, and business today is totally different than what it was for my father and my grandfather,” he said. “It’s this thing called the internet — I don’t know if you guys have heard of it. When you’re in a place like Flint, Michigan, you know, everybody is not well off, everybody’s not well-to-do, so you use what you have.”

With all Flint has lost in the water crisis, Clark asked why it was worth it to not only stay as residents, but to “grow new structures.”

Hunter said the people of Flint keep him inspired.

I love Flint,” he said. “There is no other place in this world quite like Flint, and what makes that true is the people there. You have so many resilient people.

In addition to his coffee business, Hunter also sees resilience through his job working with victims of violent crime.

“I am the ambulance at the bottom of a hill that someone has jumped off of,” Hunter said. “To be in that role with people, at their lowest moment, and they still have a will to want more or to want better, that’s remarkable. To have a water crisis, to have a job lost, to have violence, to have all of those things that have happened, you still have a core group of people that want to see (Flint) rise back to its glory days. I don’t know where you see an American story in our country like that.”

At one point, Johnson tried to leave Flint. After moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, she immediately wanted to go home.

“I just knew that I saw some wonderful things going on in Charlotte that could happen at home, so I was called back home,” she said. “I haven’t missed a beat. … It’s that love and that passion that keeps us where we are because I’ve had other opportunities. It’s also wanting to make a difference and being part of something that nobody knows what it’s going to bring, but we know it’s going to be great.”

Clark then directed the conversation to youth involvement, something Johnson has experience with in Flint.

Johnson said the kids in Flint were aware of the crisis, but didn’t know they could be a part of the reporting. In response, Johnson launched a youth journalism program in 2018 to implement new voices for Flint Beat.

These young people, they are the today,” Johnson said. “But they also, in Flint in particular, need people who are going to invest in them, people who are going to listen to them and position them in places they need to be in order for them to also have an impact and make change. In Flint, doors are closed on these young people so often. I’m 43, doors are closed on me all the time in Flint. I am just one of those people who wants to be a vehicle for them so they can make change.

Clark asked Johnson and Hunter why they focus on generating “alternative sources of power” in their community.

Hunter said the question reminded him of one of the “greatest presidents,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his efforts in the New Deal.

“He talked about the New Deal and getting people back to work and really getting this country together to bring prosperity, and that’s what we are doing in Flint,” Hunter said. “We are looking for those opportunities — that are unconventional — to bring jobs or sometimes just a smile. We use what I call the ‘New Deal 2.0,’ and it’s really going to come from people investing back into places like Flint.”

When it comes to investing, Clark asked if there were any public policies that could help Hunter and Johnson do their jobs and make the necessary changes for Flint’s longevity.

As a journalist, Johnson tries to separate herself from policy. However, she thinks it’s important for people to understand that Flint is serving as a “sustainability model.”

(Flint Beat) is being now looked at nationally (for how we can) sustain journalism in underserved communities,” she said. “When we speak to the underserved, it’s not just predominantly black communities, we are talking about poor communities or rural communities. What do we need to be able to support this kind of news? Because it’s needed.”

Hunter believes there is a lot of “distrust” in the government in Flint, so he’s putting his trust in the hands of the people.

“At the end of the day, I would probably like to bet more on people helping better than government helping people,” he said. “It’s people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, but learning how to craft the bootstrap, how to sell the bootstrap. I don’t know if policy is the key, it’s people. People help people.”

Clark recognized that Hunter and Johnson can’t do their jobs alone, and asked what help they have accepted along the way.

Hunter recalled an opportunity in Flint to receive a Per Capita loan. From what he had been told, Hunter did not meet the necessary criteria to apply. When he met one of the lenders, he was told the information he had wasn’t true. He wasn’t alone; it was why no one in Flint had applied for the loan in the past year.

It is so disheartening when you go to the places in your town that are supposed to help you and they put barriers in front of you,” Hunter said. “It seems as if there is a checkbox that they check to say ‘Hey, we did all of these things, now give us more money,’ to continue to be gatekeepers to money.

Johnson said she agreed with Hunter “150%” and has her own set of issues with philanthropic foundations acting as gatekeepers.

“What I’m suggesting to them is let’s take that (barrier) down,” she said. “Let’s go directly to me. Give me the money so I can put it where I need it to be, instead of giving these foundations money where they’re building capacity to tell me where they think I need it.”

Outside of funding, Clark asked what the two have learned from other organizations that have aided them in their work.

Johnson said she learned that she couldn’t be successful by herself.

If you do this by yourself, if you try, you’ll probably fail,” she said. “You need a team, you need a partner, you need some support. It’s not always about funding; it’s us being resourceful.”

For Hunter, it’s all about building the right relationships. Hunter said he has gained a lot of opportunities through other entrepreneurs.

“Like (Johnson) said, it’s not all about funding,” he said. “Sometimes that’s just the engine in the car. It’s all about if you don’t have the engine running, can you ask two or three people to help you push?”

To conclude the conversation, Clark asked what Flint can teach communities beyond its city limits.

For both Hunter and Johnson, it all goes back to resilience.

You find out you’re resilient when you are forced into a situation,” Johnson said. “The water crisis was not a happy thing, and through it some people found out they could endure a lot more than they thought they could. It is because of that Flint will survive. It’s because of resilience that we will rebuild, we will move forward and there will be a better day.”

Rev. Jeffrey Brown Shares Journey of Boston’s Decline in Youth Violence

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The Rev. Jeffrey Brown shares stories of his time as s pastor in the Boston community which caused him to become the co-founder of Boston TenPoint Coalition. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Hailed as a hero in the “Boston Miracle,” the Rev. Jeffrey Brown helped launch a movement that decreased youth crime rates in Boston by 79%. The way he did it was radical at the time — he went straight to the source.

To share his experiences, Brown, pastor and co-founder of Boston TenPoint Coalition, spoke at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Tuesday, July 2 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Two’s theme, “Uncommon Ground: Communities Working Toward Solutions.”

When Brown first became a pastor, he wanted to serve in a megachurch.

“I wanted a 15 to 20,000-member church,” Brown said. “I wanted my own television ministry. I wanted my own clothing line. I wanted to be a long-distance carrier. You know, the whole nine yards.

After a year, his church only grew by 20 members, and he realized his dream was farther away than he anticipated. In the meantime, Brown simply wanted to be a “good pastor.”

“I wanted to be with people through all of the passages of life,” he said. “The birth of children, who grow, go to school. To be with families through all of the crises of life; when someone gets sick, to go to a hospital and to visit them and to be there for the final transitions when the matriarchs and the patriarchs pass on, and you gather a family together to remember a life well lived.”

As Brown was embarking on the path “God called him to,” the homicide rates in his Boston community increased dramatically.

“There were young people who were shooting and killing each other for reasons I thought were very trivial,” he said. “Someone stepping on someone’s sneaker in a high school hallway and after school, instead of fisticuffs, someone would get shot.”

It occurred to Brown that he had a congregation at his disposal. He started to preach against the violence and began developing programs in the church he hoped would bring in at-risk youth. At the same time, he was encouraging other pastors to do the same.

I thought, ‘this is our contribution to the problem, and if we have enough people to do it for long enough, then perhaps we will stem the tide of violence,’ ” Brown said.

But Brown’s efforts fell short, and the violence started to “spiral out of control.”

“The city of Boston experienced, out of 700,000, 152 homicides and 1,100 gun shootings that year,” he said. “Which means the violence was not just focused on those who were out on the streets, but also on folks who had absolutely nothing to do with the violence.”

The violence was so bad that it started to change the character of the city. Gunfire rang like fireworks every night and consequently, hospitals filled with victims of the crimes. Brown realized he was aiding families in the passages of life like he had always dreamed, but not for the matriarchs and patriarchs he had envisioned.

“I was also doing funerals of 18-year olds, 17-year olds and 16-year olds,” he said. “I was standing at the pulpit of a church or a funeral home, struggling to say something that would make a difference.”

Then came the moment Brown said he “will never forget.” At a community meeting about the violence, a woman stood up and said it was caused by a “lost generation.”

Her solution was this: We need to take the time, talent and resources and plow them into the generation coming up, because this generation that is experiencing this violence is a lost generation,” Brown said.

When Brown left the meeting, two problems occurred to him: First, how can a community survive without an entire generation? Second, even if the community decides to take its time, talent and resources and concentrate them on youth, a generation was still being lost.

“I realized that (her solution) wasn’t the answer,” he said. “So the question was, ‘what is the answer?’ ”

Brown recalled a story of a boy named Jessie. Jessie had bought a brand new leather jacket and when two boys tried to take it, Jessie resisted. They killed him. As Jessie was running away, an eyewitness said he was running toward Brown’s church and died 150 yards in front of the building.

“Not to say he was trying to get to the church, but if he would have gotten to the church, it wouldn’t have made any difference because the lights were out and nobody was home,” Brown said. “When I got there later on and they told me the circumstances of what happened, it was an image that I could not get out of mind. The young man in desperate need of help, but the church would not have been there to help him because there was nobody there.”

A few days later, police caught some of the people involved in the murder, and Brown was shocked to find out they were only a few years younger than him.

These young men who had done this deed were part of my own generation, but I knew nothing of the world they lived in,” he said.

As Brown contemplated what had happened in his city, a “funny kind of paradox” started to emerge. The paradox was that Brown’s definition of community was excluding the people committing the crimes.

“If I really wanted the community that I was seeking and praying for, I needed to redefine my sense of community and reach out and embrace those I had cut out of that definition,” Brown said.

Brown said that meant not only creating programming for at-risk youth, but engaging those who were committing the acts of violence. However, as soon as he came to that conclusion, another question occurred: “Why me?”

“As soon as that question came up, the answer came back just as quickly,” he said. “Why me? Because I’m the one who can’t sleep at night. Because I’m the one looking around saying, ‘Somebody needs to do something about this,’ and I’m starting to realize that someone is me.”

Just as Brown was finding his individual purpose, an incident occurred that brought the entire community together. Brown called this moment “the morning star.”

During a funeral at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Boston, a young man entered the room. A gang across the street from the church knew him as a member of a rival gang and they ran in after him. The gang started shooting and stabbing the boy in front of the altar.

The pastor at the funeral went on the radio that night and said a line had been crossed, and that the community of faith in Boston needed to come together.

More than 350 clergy members came from around Boston to meet with the pastor. They gave “eloquent speeches” and decided to meet the next Tuesday to talk about what actions could be taken. They did that again and again until nine Tuesdays had passed; only seven clergy members were showing up and zero action had been taken.

At the last meeting, it was recommended that the clergy members break off into committees. Realizing the answers did not lie within the four walls of his sanctuary, Brown made the decision to “meet the youth where they were at,” on the streets. Thus, a street committee formed.

The street committee met in Four Corners, the most violent neighborhood in Boston. Every night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., the committee would walk the streets, observing the activity around them. At first, Brown said people just stared at them, but eventually, they started to approach the group.

Then we did an amazing thing as preachers,” he said. “We decided to listen and not preach.”

As Brown listened, he realized he had many misconceptions about the youth in his community.

“What we discovered was our perception was being colored by the 11 o’clock news or by the popular culture of the day, the music, the movies,” he said. “The reality was very, very different.”

The first misconception was that the youth were materialistic.

“We thought these kids were completely materialistic and that all they wanted was clothing and jewelry, ‘the bling,’ as they would call it,” he said. “But we found out that these kids were no more, no less bitten by the consumer bug than we are.”

The second misconception was that the kids would never want to talk about faith. 

“I have had some of my most profound theological discussions, not in the hallowed halls of a seminary, but on a street corner at 1 a.m.,” he said.

Brown recalled a story in Four Corners when the committee tried to get people to stop selling drugs in a local park. There was a fence that separated the park from the street and there was always a boy at the door of the fence to let the pastors in and out. He never spoke, until one day he asked to speak to Brown’s friend, Bob.

At the end of the night, everyone asked Bob what the boy said.

The boy told Bob that out of all the things he had done in his life, he seemed to have lost his conscience and needed help getting it back.

“Imagine walking out with your friend, late at night, shots ringing out, a boy gets hit, you watch the life drain out of his body and you’ve got questions,” Brown said. “Where is he going? What are we doing in all of this? Can we ever get out?”

According to Brown, that is where the movement began — when he saw that people could find common ground through dialogue. Realizing he needed more than the help of other clergy members, Brown created a partnership with the Boston Police Department.

If you know anything about the City of Boston and its history of race relations, you should know it is no small thing that you have black and Latino pastors coming together with white, Irish, Catholic police officers.”

Brown said the partnership started with the gang unit officers patrolling the streets. The officers started reaching out to clergy members to hear their perspective on the community.

“We started to talk to them about the work that we were doing with these gang members, and they realized that they had community leaders who understood what they had to deal with on a nightly basis,” he said.

The youth in the community agreed to let the clergy be a liaison between them and the police.

“We had this role between the police and the youth as these honest brokers, trying to find a way to make this whole thing work and make the community safer,” Brown said.

Soon enough, probation officers and city officials got involved, and Brown saw a transformation in his city.

In the beginning, most of the homicides were juvenile related; either a juvenile was being killed or involved in a shooting,” he said. “We went from 152 (homicides) to a 29-month period in which we had zero juvenile homicide.”

“It’s not so much that the youth decided not to shoot, but it was the adults being able to come together and check their egos at the door,” he said.

Although the journey had its ups and downs, Brown has seen stability in his work. To him, the future is not only about making sure the rates of violence stay down, it’s about ending the “dominance and era of violence.”

“You might say ‘Well that’s a tall order,’ ” he said. “Well, I believe in a God that relishes tall orders, who takes the impossible and brings it into the realm of possibility. Even in the midst of our struggle and all the things we are dealing with today, I still believe we are at a moment in which we can come together, even in the midst of our divisiveness, to actually be the community that God means for us to be. I may  just be a believer, but I know I’m not the only one.”

John Kasich Opens Week Lauding Individual Impact in Communities

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Former Ohio governor, John Kasich, opens week two of the morning lecture series, designed around the theme of ‘Uncommon Ground: Communities Working Toward Solutions’, on Monday, July 1, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

As a first-semester freshman at Ohio State University, John Kasich talked his way into the Oval Office. Coming up short in two presidential elections since then, Kasich would say he peaked at 18.

Kasich, former Ohio governor and current CNN political commentator, spoke at the 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Monday in the Amphitheater, opening Week Two, “Uncommon Ground: Communities Working Toward Solutions.”

Kasich grew up in Mckees Rocks, Pennsylvania, a town he called “rough and blue collar.” His father was a mailman, and his grandfather was a coal miner. His mother was a smart, but “undereducated woman” and his grandmother could barely speak English.

It was the kind of  place, for those of you who know Mckees Rocks and blue collar towns, if the wind blew the wrong way, people found themselves out of work,” Kasich said.

To break the cycle he watched growing up, Kasich made the decision to move away for college and ventured to Ohio State University in Columbus.

Right off the bat, Kasich said there were a number of things he did not approve of in his dorm building. Taking his uncle’s advice, “If you want to get somewhere, start at the top,” he called the president of the university and asked for a meeting.

After a lot of back-and-forth with the woman at the front desk, he eventually got in.

Kasich was impressed with the OSU president and his office. After expressing his concerns about campus residence halls, Kasich continued talking with the president to learn more about his job. The OSU president explained his day-to-day responsibilities, and mentioned an upcoming trip to see President Richard Nixon in Washington D.C.

I said, ‘Sir, there are a number of things I’d like to talk to (Nixon) about also, could I come with you?’ ” he said.

OSU’s president said no, but agreed to let Kasich write a letter to pass along to Nixon. A couple weeks later, Kasich received a letter inviting him to the Oval Office. After convincing his parents the letter was legitimate, he flew to D.C.

Upon arriving at the White House, a man told Kasich he would have five minutes with Nixon.

“Let me tell you what I’m thinking: new jacket, new shirt, new tie, new pants — I didn’t come here for five lousy minutes,” Kasich said.

And he didn’t. Kasich spent 20 minutes with Nixon in the Oval Office.

If you add up all of the time I’ve spent in the Oval Office as a nine-term congressman, I peaked out at the age of 18,” he said.

Despite this achievement early in his college career, Kasich ended up graduating without any connections for a job. Out of desperation, he inquired at the Ohio Statehouse and was offered an internship.

His boss was close with Ronald Reagan, who was just starting his campaign for president. During a convention in Kansas City, Kasich’s boss called and asked him to fly down and help. When he showed up, he was informed that the person who was supposed to run five states for Reagan didn’t show up and Kasich needed to take the position.

I had no idea what that meant, and I said ‘No doubt about it, I can do it,’ ” he said.

Kasich went on to become the youngest state senator in Ohio’s history, served in Congress for 18 years and served two terms as Ohio’s governor.

Throughout his career, Kasich said he saw a shift in the way people express their political beliefs.   

“We were in a place in this country where we were just fighting with one another about politics,” he said. “Now we are at the point where we just don’t want to bring it up; we’re walking on eggshells.”

When Kasich looks at the way people have been divided over political ideologies, he said he finds it “crazy,” because power comes from the people.

It’s kind of crazy to me because frankly, power doesn’t flow from the top, down,” Kasich said. “Power in America flows from the bottom, up.”

Kasich often hears people refer to each congressional and presidential election as “the most important election we’ve ever had in our history.” Although he recognizes that the stakes are higher in presidential elections, he doesn’t agree with that mentality in either case.

“I maintain that on a day-to-day basis, I’m not affected much by that,” he said. “I’m not. I would make an argument that most of you are the same way.”

Instead of Washington politics, Kasich said what affects the lives of everyday Americans is what happens in their towns, with their neighbors, their families and schools.

Those are things that affect us so much more than (national) politicians,” he said.

To emphasize the importance of individual efforts, Kasich called on an audience member in the front row and told her “there has never been anyone like you.”

“I want you to internalize that because you were made for a purpose,” Kasich said. “You were made for a legacy. Understand that we are all part of a mosaic.”

Comparing the concept to a puzzle with a missing piece, Kasich said people neglecting their purpose and special gifts leads to the mosaic being incomplete.

The broader topic encompassed in the mosaic is “figuring out the meaning of life.”

While people explore the art, music, culture and conversations Chautauqua has to offer, Kasich believes their time on the grounds is about something more.

You know what it’s really about?” he said. “ ‘Who am I? What am I? What am I supposed to do?’ This isn’t some canned speech or canned lecture, this is why the Lord lets me do this, I believe.

While exploring the meaning of life, Kasich said he is frustrated by people resisting getting older.

“This whole business about getting old? Get over it,” he said. “God doesn’t have a retirement plan for us. It’s not like we get to a certain point and we are supposed to stop. Are you kidding me? People, when they get older, have greater wisdom, can give better direction to people and we have to use it.”

Whether people derive life’s meaning from the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas or John Locke, Kasich said they all agreed on one thing: “None of us are getting out of this place alive.”

We are not here forever, so realizing that we have a gift, realizing that we have a responsibility to find those gifts and to use them in whatever way we can, means that we have a purpose and that we have to establish a legacy and we should not wait until the end,” he said.

Comparing the course of life to a touchdown in the last minute of a football game, Kasich said people often wonder what the players are waiting for the whole game.

“Let me ask you a question: Do you want to live a life where you are waiting for the last three minutes?” he said. “Why not get started today? Why not get rolling today? To lead an impactful life, to score some touchdowns and move the ball up and down the field?”

Meeting thousands of people in his political career, Kasich had numerous examples of ordinary citizens who didn’t wait.

He started with a story of a shoe shiner named Albert. One day, Albert heard an opportunity on the radio to help at a local children’s hospital. He took his life savings of $800 and donated it. Along with taking his donation, the hospital offered him a job shining shoes a couple days a week. Albert would put his shoe shining money in one pocket and his tip money in the other pocket to donate.

Over the course of his service at the children’s hospital, he donated over $200,000 for a fund to help mothers and fathers pay the bills of their kids,” Kasich said. “Did Albert change the world? Yes, he did. Wouldn’t we all like to be Albert today?

When Kasich was governor, he would give out courage awards to honor someone “who did something special.” His youngest honoree was a 9-year-old boy. The boy had grown up in homeless shelters until he moved in with his grandmother. She knew he wanted an Xbox and decided to tell him he would be getting one for Christmas. Instead of agreeing to accept it, he asked that she use the money to buy blankets for people living in homeless shelters.

“They bought the blankets, and people from all over were sending blankets to the homeless shelter,” he said. “What a kid, huh?”

Kasich said everyone he used as an example shared the knowledge that there was more to the world than just them.

None of them were victims, none of them were ever bitter, and they knew they could overcome the obstacles in their way to achieve something,” he said. “Well, what they were really doing, is they were living a life a little bigger than ourselves.

To broaden their perspectives on the world they are trying to change, Kasich said people need to make the effort.

“I have people say to me ‘I don’t even know what to believe,’ ” he said. “It’s not that hard. Research, do a little work. When you go to buy a car, you don’t look in the parking lot and say ‘OK, what do you have here?’ and the guy says ‘This is the greatest car ever’ and so you go and buy it?”

Kasich said rather than buying a car on the spot, one shops around first.

“So why don’t we shop around for what we believe?” Kasich asked.

People also need to stop refusing to consider other points of view, according to Kasich.

You don’t have to agree with it, but stop walking away from it,” he said.

Attempting to make change, Kasich said, is often “walking a lonely road.”

“Martin Luther King — how do you think it went for him?” he said. “We all know Martin Luther King, but at that time, no one knew him, he was just some preacher down south. It killed him. They assassinated him for what he thought.”

Additional examples ranging from Rosa Parks, to Fannie Hamer, to the Parkland students and Greta Thunberg, Kasich proved his point that being disparaged can come with the territory of standing up for what one believes. Although it makes him angry, he believes it is important to consider the “misguided nature of the people who are doing the attacking.”

“One of the things I have found in my lifetime is if I can put myself in other people’s shoes, there are times when I can soften my opinion or soften my judgment,” he said. “But there are times when I’m just flat-out angry.

Knowing polarization will rise again with the 2020 election, Kasich encouraged the audience to focus on what they can do in their communities to make a difference.

“I am going to wring my hands a little bit, but then I am going to try to figure out what I can do to be as impactful as I can be in my day-to-day life,” he said. “You see, in the great effort to repel the negativity and the division, power comes from the bottom, up. I mean think about it: the Civil Rights Movement didn’t come from the top, down. John Kennedy wanted nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement.”

To conclude his lecture, Kasich said if only a few people heard his message and chose to make a difference in their minds, hearts or communities, it would have been worth it.

We are so good as a people,” he said, “if we just open our hearts and touch one another and remember in this country, the people rule. Bottom, up. It takes time, it takes patience, but at the end, that is how we will renew America. Let’s try it together. God bless you.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous: “Religion is the Oxygen that Gives Us Fuel to Breathe”

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When our lives are shaken, “we have a physical and spiritual shortness of breath,” Rabbi Sharon Brous told the congregation at the 9:15 a.m. Ecumenical Worship service Friday in the Amphiteather. “The question at the heart of our spiritual and political lives is: How do we get our breath back?”

Rabbi Sharon Brous

Her sermon title was “I Need You to Breathe,” and the scripture text was Exodus 6:1-9. Brous said that when Moses told the people of Israel that God was ready to free them from bondage, they were too breathless from hard work to hear him. After 400 years of slavery, they could not fathom release.

Religion suffers in the modern world. First it suffers from religious terrorism, from those who wave the banner of religion in an obscene way that makes a mockery of what religion stands for. Second, it suffers from empty religiosity that is barren of life. Both of these sufferings, Brous said, are alienating a generation that defines itself as spiritual but not religious. The third way religion suffers is through religious escapism — religion as a pacifier.

“This is ‘our thoughts and prayers are with you’ religion,” she said. “We send thoughts and prayers to victims of hurricanes but will not deal with the climate change that is causing them. We send thoughts and prayers to the victims of shootings, but let’s not talk about gun control because that will politicize the tragedy.”

Religion is our oxygen, Brous said, “it is our fuel to breathe in a breathless time.” Brous asked why God had chosen Abraham to be the father of the faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

“What was so special about him?” she asked. “Well, every superhero has an origin story.”

To illustrate her answer, she told the story of a traveler who saw a palace consumed by flames. The traveler asked “Who is the caretaker?” The owner poked his head through a window and said, “I am the owner.” Abraham, Brous said, saw the world on fire and asked who the caretaker was, and God said, “I am the owner.”

Brous said she loved everything about this story. The traveler was a person on the go who looked up from his cell phone and saw the palace on fire. As a person just passing through, he would have plausible deniability to say it was not his problem and keep going.

But the traveler stopped “and demanded to know who the caretaker was, who was responsible,” she said. “The man in the palace said ‘I am the owner. You, who noticed the fire, are the caretaker. Now it is your problem.’ ”

The descendents of Abraham must be awake in the world. There have always been palaces on fire, but we have to see, to notice, to be wakeful and respond with willful opposition, Brous said.

“We have to show up as pursuers of righteousness and justice in defiance of unjust power structures, to challenge God and man,” she said.

There is an ambiguity in this story, she said. Was the palace burning down, or was it radiant with light? The traveler might have stopped and asked “Who is responsible for this beauty?” The owner might say, “Thank you. Let’s work together.”

Abraham might have seen a world radiant with light and stopped in wonder. The Irish poet John O’Donohue said that we have a “huge interiority within us,” she told the congregation.

“What is going on in this sacred place, where people eat on their porches, invite neighbors in for a drink, go to the ballet and symphony, helps us remember our huge interiority,” she said. “It is impossible not to be swept up in what is breath-giving.”

When the heart is constricted, “awe” stretches the heart back out. There is a sense of wonder in the presence of altruism and compassion, and when we suffer from shortness of breath and spirit, we can’t hold onto beauty and ecstasy, she told the congregation.

“Is the palace burning down, or is it radiant with light? It is clearly both,” Brous said. “If all we see are the fires, we need to rediscover the beauty. If we only see the beauty, we need to be reminded of the brokenness that needs fixing.”

In our hour, she told the congregation, we need prophetic resistance to hold together the wonder and heartache, grief and grandeur.

“This is not an escape,” she said. “It is to be awake to the brokenness, and breathe life back into the world to usher in the world that could be.”

The work of Chautauqua begins when people leave “to bring ‘awe’ back into the world,” she said. “I beg you to remember there is beauty everywhere and you cannot forget to see it. Our culture trains us to see what went wrong, but we also have to train ourselves to see what is beautiful.”

Brous said she re-reads Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning every year. A survivor of Auschwitz, Frankl wrote that to live is to suffer but that “in some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” Frankl told a story that one night he was already in his hut with other prisoners, and a fellow prisoner came in and told them to run to the assembly ground to see the sunset. When they got there the sky was full of clouds that kept changing colors from steely blue to brilliant red. Those colors were reflected in the puddles on the ground with the gray huts as a backdrop.

One by one the prisoners said, “How beautiful this world could be.” Brous said, “And this, from Auschwitz.”

Brous then asked, what is the good news?  It is knowing where to find a patch of blue in the sky when there are clouds.

“Faith is not about being content, it is rebelling against the world as it is to help it become the world it can be, the world we want our children to inherit.”

“We need to find our breath,” she said, and then read a poem by the Rev. Lynn Ungar, “I Need You To Breathe.”

Breathe, said the wind./ How can I breathe at a time like this,/ when the air is full of the smoke/ of burning tires, burning lives?/ Just breathe, the wind insisted./ Easy for you to say, if the weight of/ injustice is not wrapped around your throat,/ cutting off all air./ I need you to breathe./ I need you to breathe./ Don’t tell me to be calm/ when there are so many reasons/ to be angry, so much cause for despair!/ I didn’t say to be calm, said the wind,/ I said to breathe./ We’re going to need a lot of air/ to make this hurricane together.

“We don’t need to escape,” Brous said. “We need to remember how to breathe. We are created to love and be loved. That is the good news.” The congregation, once again, gave her a standing ovation.

Dan Egan Discusses the Past, Present and Future of the Great Lakes

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  • Journalist and Author Dan Egan, speaks about his research on the evironmental conditions of the great lakes during a conversation with Vice President of Marketing and Communications Emily Morris, June 26, 2019 at the Amp. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Inthe seemingly clear waters of the five Great Lakes, Dan Egan proved that looks can be deceiving.

Utilizing a combination of journalism, history and science, Egan painted a portrait of one of America’s most pressing ecological catastrophes, while outlining the ways to preserve the lakes for generations to come.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Death and Life of The Great Lakes, Egan discussed the past and future of the lakes in a conversation with Emily Morris, Chautauqua’s vice president of marketing and communications and chief brand officer, Wednesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week One’s theme “Moments That Changed the World.” This lecture also served as the first Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Author Presentation of the summer.

In 1991, Egan started his newspaper reporting career in Idaho. Without any formal training in journalism, he said he felt “thrown” into the profession.

“As it happened, I was thrown into it in a place that had a lot of ecological issues that were really national issues at the time,” Egan said.

Reporting in central Idaho, the ecological issues he wrote about included topics such as salmon restoration and grizzly bear recovery.

“These were things that I wasn’t trained to do but I was immediately drawn to,” he said. “Not just the biology, but the tension between human wants and needs and these critters —humans and nature.”

Egan spent the next 10 years in Idaho and Utah covering various natural resource issues. In 2002, he moved to Wisconsin and started reporting for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He was hired as a “super-general-assignment feature writer,” meaning he could write long-form pieces on any subject. Egan found he was immediately drawn to the Great Lakes.

“I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I had been out west for a decade, literally in the desert, and then you come back and you see a body of water the size of what you see with the Chautauqua Lake out there, let alone Lake Michigan,” he said. “So, I was just sucked in to do stories, whether it was about ecological history of the waves, or the economy, or features about people who live on the lakes and have lived on the lakes for generations.”

About a year later, his managing editor suggested he turn the Great Lakes into a beat. Egan agreed.

“What followed was another 10 years of Great Lakes reporting,” Egan said. “That is where I got most of the material for this book. A lot of people say, ‘How long did it take you to write the book?’ The honest answer is more than 10 years because I got a running start with the newspaper.”

The idea to write a book originated in 2011 when he started a master’s and fellowship program at Columbia University in New York City.

“My goal, at the time, was just to take a break from the daily newspaper grind and to show my kids a little bit more of the world than suburban Milwaukee,” he said. “I thought it would be a time to recharge, and it was a time to be drained. It was a very intense program.”

Part of the program included a book-writing seminar where students had to put a book proposal together. Egan felt his reports over the years “stacked up like chapters,” making him more than prepared for the assignment.

“At this point, I wasn’t excited about the idea that I had a book-writing seminar and writing a book proposal, and that maybe someday this would become a book,” he said. “I was just trying to pass the class.”

Even if granted the time to complete such a large project, Egan said he felt too detached from the information to believe it would make any impact. 

“I got numb to all of this material that I had been reporting because I got so close to it, and I was writing for Milwaukeeans and Wisconsinites,” he said. “I had an assumption that a lot of people understood some of the basic history of the Great Lakes.”

Egan found that assumption to be untrue when his peers at Columbia were shocked by the stories he told of the lakes’ decline. While that response was encouraging, he still took a regional approach to the book in his proposal, an approach agents told him wouldn’t be enough. 

“It was really pressed upon me that I was writing too regional and that this is a national story,” Egan said. “I didn’t really believe them, but I do now because here I am.”

The story in his book starts by explaining why the five Great Lakes were originally isolated from the rest of the aquatic world.

“That’s because nothing could swim up from the Atlantic,” he said. “First of all, you have the St. Lawrence River, which in its natural state was a heck of a torrent. There was no way stuff was going to migrate up from Montreal. Even if something could make it across Lake Ontario, you’re going to hit a wall, and that wall is Niagara Falls. That’s how these lakes and their fish were isolated on the East Coast.”

In The Death and Life, Egan refers to the East Coast as the “front door.” The “back door” is the subcontinental divide, a ridge that separates the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.

The “death” of the lakes started with the “front door.” Canals were built to link the eastern seaboard to the lakes for “obvious economic reasons,” Egan said.

“But we didn’t just get the cargo coming in that they were expecting, we got species that we weren’t ready for and never even pondered,” he said.

The same thing happened on the western side of the lakes with the construction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900, a canal designed to reroute Chicago’s sewage away from Lake Michigan because it was infiltrating drinking water supplies.

“It made sense to flush it away from their drinking water intakes in Lake Michigan and put it into the Mississippi River basin, but that created a corridor, too, for all manner of species to come into the lakes,” he said. “So, we had this pristine, well-functioning, exquisitely balanced system, that got shredded in a matter of decades.”

The first thing Egan said “did a number on the lakes” was sea lamprey, a parasitic lamprey native to the Eastern Hemisphere. Egan believes the lamprey entered the lakes through the Erie or Welland Canal.

“The lamprey, they’re fish, but they look like a snake or an eel, and they’re hundreds of millions of years old,” he said. “They are good at what they do, and what they do is they suck the life out of big fish, and so when these canals opened, the lampreys slithered in and they just did a number on the lake trout.”

At the time, lake trout were the “wolves” of the lakes. 

“They controlled the flow of energy in the system,” he said. “In a matter of decades, they knocked it out and with no wolf in control, everything underneath it exploded.”

Behind the lamprey came an invasion of alewives and ocean herrings. Egan said at one point, the alewives made up 90% of the fish in Lake Michigan. However, they began dying at an alarming rate.

“They were dying because they weren’t natural born, freshwater species,” he said. “They spent some of their life in freshwater, but most of it was out in the ocean. So, their kidneys were constantly in distress, which made them vulnerable to all manners of die-offs and they were dying by the billions.”

To start fixing the disrupted balance, Egan said scientists developed “lampricide,” a poison that killed only lamprey.

“We started dosing the streams with lampricide and we knocked out the lamprey,” he said. “It’s a program that’s still going on today and it costs about $25 million a year, and it’s been going on since the 1950s, so you’re looking at something up into the billions of dollars that this has cost. Not to eradicate it, but to control it.”

Once the lampreys were taken care of, scientists needed to find something to eat the alewives because the lake trout were almost gone. Though the alewife population in the Great Lakes experienced die-offs, those die-off events happened seasonally; thus alewives were still an ongoing issue for lake trout.

“We could have brought back lake trout exclusively to the Great Lakes, but there was this idea that we could bring in something sexier, something more fun,” he said.

Pacific coho, a type of salmon, was brought in to try to restore the balance, but scientists were skeptical that the new fish would survive. Although they did, Egan calls this victory an “artificial balance” because canals were still allowing invasions.

However, the second round of invasions was not caused by fish swimming in, but rather by organisms that stuck to boats sailing up the Welland Canal.

Egan said this type of invasion was prevalent in the St. Lawrence Seaway, a series of canals in Canada and the United States, that connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.

“On a map, it made a lot of sense, but nobody was pondering what this could mean to open it to, not just barges coming in, but big ocean freighters,” Egan said. “These freighters need balance water, which helps them sail safely, but that water isn’t dead weight, it’s anything but.”

Since the seaway opened in 1959, that “dead weight” has added more than 60 non-native species. According to Egan, quagga mussels did the most damage out of all of them.

“They are remarkable,” he said. “They are only the size of a fingernail, but you can’t think of them as one organism, you have to think of them as cancer cells in a bloodstream, it’s part of a larger, little organism. By large, I mean the bottom of Lake Michigan is almost 100% covered with these mussels, clustering in densities of 100,000 per square meter. Each one of them can filter a liter of water a day, so they are literally sucking the life out of the lakes.”

Because the quagga mussels filter-feed so much plankton, which exist near the bottom of the food chain, the food web of the lakes was changed.

Even with restoration efforts, Egan said the opening of the “front and back doors” permanently altered the lakes.

“The doors that we opened with the best of intentions — they were good ideas at the time, but a good idea for this time is to close them,” he said. “And they can be closed. We have technologies that we didn’t have in 1959 that we are not fully using.”

According to Egan, the suffering these issues cause reaches far beyond the U.S. and Canadian residents inside the basin.

“It is because these doors, particularly the East Coast, the front door, is really a door to the continent,” he said. “You would not have zebra mussels here if you did not have boats sailing on the St. Lawrence Seaway from the other side of the ocean. They can’t swim, they needed a ride, and so we open these doors and we don’t just suffer on the shores of the Great Lakes, we suffer across the country.”

Egan recognizes that although the lakes will never be what they were, the future isn’t “all doom and gloom.” It’s fragile, but a new balance is returning to the lakes. To continue fostering the new order among species, Egan said people have to find a way to limit entry points into the lakes.

No legislative action has been taken to work toward limiting access into the waters, but according to Egan, that wouldn’t make the necessary difference. Instead, the future of the lakes depends on individual action.

“This isn’t going to happen with one magic signature,” he said. “The water isn’t going to take care of itself, and it’s easy to say that you value freshwater, but you have to get educated about it and then you have to be committed to doing something to protect it. The business interests are interested in their business, as they should be, but the public should be interested in the public’s resource. These lakes don’t belong to the farms, or to the shippers. They belong to everybody.”
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