W 2019

Classic Japanese Film: Tradition and Transition (10 Weeks)

Tuesday Jan 15 to Mar 19 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Judith Taylor
Co-coordinator: Tom Loo

Samurais, courtesans, actors, ghosts!  The 1950s-1960s saw the rise of great Japanese filmmakers who made some of cinema's crowning achievements: Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi and Mikio Naruse.  When Kurosawa’s Rashomon (starring Toshiro Mifune) was released in 1950, it marked the entrance of Japanese film onto the world stage. These artists questioned power, hierarchy, and the glorification of war by using Japan’s historical past, sometimes employing the supernatural as well as kabuki and noh theater.  These films look at the meaning and continuance of traditional Japanese culture in a post-war world, and the family's role in that world. Many of the films deal with the situation of women past and present in  male-dominated hierarchical society.

We’ll cover theme, historical background, cultural context, and, foremost, how the art of film—narrative, mise-en-scene, cinematography, music, sound, editing, acting--expresses each director’s vision.  We begin and end the course with ghostly film tales.   All but one of the films are different from the ones covered in Japan’s Golden Age of Film given in Winter 2016.

This course requires computer literacy and working with DVDs. 

War on Peace The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence (2nd 7 Weeks)

Thursday Feb 28 to Apr 11 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Sheri Ross
Co-coordinator: Diane Brookes

The diplomat was not always an endangered species. Those who hold the profession in reverence point out that it once flourished, upheld by larger-than-life, world-striding figures whose accomplishments still form the bedrock of the modern international order. Stories of diplomacy are a part of the American creation myth. Without Benjamin Franklin’s negotiations with the French, there would have been no Treaty of Alliance and no naval support to secure American independence. Without Franklin, John Adams and John Jay brokering the Treaty of Paris, there would have been no formal end to war with the British. The list goes on.. until Henry Kissinger to Hillary Clinton. Diplomacy has declined after decades of political cowardice, shortsightedness, and outright malice.  Join us to learn the hows and whys of the decline as well as if diplomacy may now offer America a way out of wars.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Thursday Jan 10 to Apr 11 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Victor Weingarten
Co-coordinator: Joyce Campbell

Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? Humans have been asking these questions from time immemorial. Every generation needs a new answer, because what we know and what we don't know keeps changing. Given everything we know and don't know about science, about God, about politics, and about religion, what is the best answer we can give today. These topics will be explored among many other topics we will discuss  in this S/DG.


This S/DG will use Yuval Noah Harari's  "21 Lessons in the 21st Century" as our core book. In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari explored our past; in Homo Deus he speculated about our future. Now, the bestselling author and one of the most innovative thinkers on the international stage turns to the present, helping us make sense of the most pressing issues facing humankind today.

Religion, terrorism, war, politics, fake news, human migration, the environment, nationalism are topics that will be discussed in this S/DG. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is a probing investigation into the big subjects that we are confronting on a daily basis in the media and in our lives, and the issues of crucial importance to understand as we move into the uncharted territory of the future. As technology advances faster than our understanding of it, hacking becomes a tactic of war, terrorism and fundamentalism rise, and the world feels more polarized than ever. Harari makes sense of it all and raises the important questions we need to ask ourselves if we are to survive. In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century the questions Harari raises are both provocative and profound. Harari provides advice on how to think about these topics and how to act in order to prepare for a future unlike anything we can dream of. This S/DG course should be of interest to all PLATO members interested in how to navigate the world they live in today.

Image result for 21 lessons for the 21st century by yuval noah harari

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday Jan 9 to Apr 10 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Larry Ceplair
Co-coordinator: Christine Holmgren

Leo Tolstoy’s novel, published in 1877, is perhaps the greatest ever written.  It beautifully examines the world of upper-class Russians through the stories of Anna, who renounces respectability for love, and Levin, who seeks love and the simple life.  The characters are brilliantly drawn, and their fates and interactions are subtly limned.  Written at about the time Tolstoy began his conversion to nonviolence and primitive Christianity, it is also a meditation on worldly and spiritual values, including the ideal of the family. 

Astroparticle Physics

Tuesday Jan 8 to Apr 9 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Larry Bloxham

This SDG will investigate processes in the universe accessible using the methods of particle physics. We will study the basics of elementary particles, their interactions, and the relevant detection techniques. We will establish an orientation to the field of astroparticle physics suitable to beginners with some background in basic physics. Exposure to mathematics through calculus will be beneficial, but  is not a prerequisite. The physics issues are developed with as little mathematics as possible, and the results are illuminated by many diagrams. This SDG is a chance to enter this field of astrophysics with a book that closes the gap between the expert and popular level.

British Invasion to Garage Rock: Influential Artists

Monday Jan 7 to Apr 8 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Fred Reimer
Co-coordinator: Alan Krechman

It must have been quite something to be a teenage pop fan in the mid-1960s, to hear new singles by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan every week, and to realise that your own personal obsession, once dismissed as childish and ephemeral, was now the most revolutionary art form in the world. ...
Nicholas Barber, BBC

By late 1962, British beat groups like The Beatles were drawing on a wide range of American influences including soul music, rhythm and blues and surf music.  Initially, they reinterpreted standard American tunes, playing for dancers doing the twist, for example. These groups eventually infused their original compositions with increasingly complex musical ideas and a distinctive sound.  During 1963, The Beatles and other beat groups, such as The Searchers and The Hollies, achieved popularity and commercial success in Britain.

British rock broke through to mainstream popularity in the United States in January 1964 with the success of the Beatles.  The Beatles went on to become the biggest selling rock band of all time.  They were followed by numerous British bands, particularly those influenced by blues music including The Rolling Stones, The Animals, the Who and The Yardbirds.  The British Invasion arguably spelled the end of instrumental surf music, vocal girl groups and (for a time) the teen idols that had dominated the American charts in the late 1950s and early 60s.  It dented the careers of established R&B acts like Fats Domino and Chubby Checker, and even temporarily derailed the chart success of surviving rock and roll acts, including Elvis.

The British Invasion also played a major part in the rise of a distinct genre of Rock music, and cemented the primacy of the rock group, based on guitars and drums, and producing their own material as singer-songwriters.  And then came a whole assortment of styles and performers:  Folk rock, Psychedelic rock, Southern rock, Heavy metal, Punk rock, New wave, Grunge, Rap rock ...  The likes of Cream, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones.  Punk made its mark in the '70s with Patti Smith's Horses and the Clash's London Calling. In the '80s Michael Jackson's blockbuster LP, Thriller became the best-selling record of all time.  And we cannot forget Soul...and its myriad incarnations and derivatives.

By the early 2000s, a new group of bands, that played a stripped-down and back-to-basics version of guitar rock, emerged into the mainstream. They were variously characterised as part of a Garage rock, Post-punk or New Wave revival.  There had been attempts to revive Garage rock and elements of Punk in the 1980s and 1990s, and by 2000 several local scenes had grown up in the US.  The commercial breakthrough from these scenes was led by bands including The Strokes, who emerged from the New York club scene with their début album Is This It (2001) and The White Stripes, from Detroit, with their third album White Blood Cells (2001).  They were christened by the media as "The" bands, and dubbed "The saviours of rock 'n' roll", leading to accusations of hype.  A second wave of bands that managed to gain international recognition as a result of the movement included Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Killers, Interpol and Kings of Leon from the US.

Studying Rock
Given the long complex history outlined above, studying Rock will be different... .  Though the media catering to general interest listeners (and fans!) can provide useful information, a more studied approach to Rock is desirable here.  As music fans tend to ignore artists they do not like; a more balanced approach also is required.  The "Ups and Downs" of Chart Positions:  Charts such as those published in Billboard offer information about how popular a record was at the time of its release and listeners’ tastes over time, but they do not definitively reflect a record’s popularity, sales, or influence.  We will consider a wider range of artists than most media treatments, and employ descriptive information and historical context from our Core Book (What's That Sound?An Introduction to Rock and Its History by Covach and Flory) to promote informed (and lively) discussions.    

Four important themes will be stressed during the SDG.  Each of these themes is an important part of Rock’s development in music and in popular culture:
    1. Social, political, and cultural issues
    2. Issues of race, class, and gender
    3. The development of the music business
    4. The development of technology

Given the large number of Rock artists from the time of “The British Invasion,” and the usual SDG time constraints (viz, fourteen 2-hour sessions), this S/DG will take a very broad—rather than a very deep—look at the artists identified in our Core Book  as “important” and/or “influential”.   The classic recordings called out in our Core Book reflect—and sometimes changed—the political, social, and economic culture of their eras.  At the end of the semester, one desired outcome is to understand better the lives, times and works of the artists, and the evolved styles and realizations of their music.

Each week will use a different chapter from What's That Sound?.  Weekly artist selections will allow the contrasting styles and subject matter of the different artists within each time period to be heard and discussed.  SDG participants will be asked to listen to the songs at home, and then we will discuss the selected artists and songs in the weekly sessions.  Each weekly discussion leader will pick the songs that will be discussed that week from the Core Book's Listening Guides.  Leaders also may include some personal preferences;  and since it is "Rock 'n 'Roll", their selections may include some rarely-heard tunes or lost classics.

Almost all the songs from these popular artists are available on Itunes or YouTube—or other Internet sources.    The new PLATO A/V system and Wi-Fi mesh will enable us to play songs, music videos, interviews, etc. during the sessions as well.

Buddhism In Our Time

Wednesday Jan 9 to Apr 10 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Madge Weiss
Co-coordinator: Marvin Derezin

Buddhism is a widespread Eastern tradition that has increasingly attracted the attention of the Western world.  What exactly is it? Is it a religion, a practice, a philosophy?  What is the attraction and why do westerners who are practitioners of other traditional religions or none at all, pursue the study and practices of Buddhism?  This SDG is designed to provide some insight into this phenomenon, both from the historical perspective and what it provides in today’s world.  

Challenge, Confrontation and Change: The Radical Left in American History

Tuesday Jan 8 to Apr 9 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Judith Glass
Co-coordinator: Ed Keane

What exactly do you know about the left in America?  Certainly its music!  You may also know about the violent, bloody history of labor organizing in the US, the scapegoating of “reds” since the earliest days of the Bolshevik Revolution to the Hollywood 10, and the bombing of the LA Times.

 But do you know who was Joe Hill?  Who led the Lawrence Textile Strike (that inspired the writing of “Bread and Roses”)?  What event in American history led to the celebration of May Day around the world, but not here?

This SDG will answer those questions while considering three themes in our history—race, economic inequality and women’s rights—and the radical left thinkers and activists that pushed and prodded the country to expand democracy and confront inequality…from abolition to the 20th century achievement of Civil Rights and Voting Rights (unbelievably under attack in the 21st century); from women’s struggles for suffrage to the all-out assault on sexism and the debate between equality and liberation;  from the Whiskey Rebellion and utopian socialist communities to the occupation of Wall Street—the continuous confrontation of economic liberty and inequality.

To help us in our explorations we will utilize not only our core book (see below), but a primary source reader, your research, and the schema developed by Michael Walzer in his book Exodus and Revolution, which claims that the Exodus experience described in the Hebrew Bible is the prototype for ever y revolution that has occurred since. 

What, exactly, did and does the left stand for?   Who, and what succeeded?  Failed? Who went to jail?  What does the future bode?  Lots of stimulating discussion.  Join us.


Evicted: Poverty and Profit in American Cities (2nd 7 Weeks)

Thursday Feb 28 to Apr 11 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Tom Jacobson
Co-coordinator: David Roloff


A stable place to call home is one of the best predictors of success. Yet, each year more than 2.3 million Americans, most of them low-income renters, face eviction. While it used to be rare even in the poorest neighborhoods, forcible removal has become ordinary, with families facing eviction from the most squalid, barely inhabitable apartments.  


What if the dominant discourse on poverty is just wrong? What if the problem isn’t that poor people have bad morals – that they’re lazy and impulsive and irresponsible and have no family values – or that they lack the skills and smarts to fit in with our shiny 21st-century economy? What if the problem is that poverty is profitable? These are the questions at the heart of this SDG using Matthew Desmond’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted as the basis for discussion.

Fiction/Nonfiction: Susan Sontag

Tuesday Jan 8 to Apr 9 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Doug Green
Co-coordinator: Frances Ehrmann

Susan Sontag was America’s leading Public Intellectual in the second half of the 20th Century.   She was known rightly for her many seminal essays, including Notes on Camp, On Photography, and Illness as a Metaphor. Yet, as important, as prescient, as praised, as were these essays, Sontag was an excellent writer of fiction for which she was less well known.


In this SDG, of course we discuss her essays, but we also have the pleasure of reading Sontag’s captivating fiction.  Among her short stories is the 1986 riveting The Way We Live Now, the first fiction about the AIDS crisis. Her novel In America won the National Book Award.   We read The Volcano Lover, an engaging account of the infamous Mrs. Hamilton and her affair with Lord Nelson during the time of the Napoleonic wars.  The early novel Death Kit is a tour de force, a fascinating experimental novel of ideas and drama.


Upon reading her fiction and nonfiction, we will enjoy the depth of knowledge, empathy and  artistry of Susan Sontag.

In Search of Marcel Proust

Tuesday Jan 8 to Apr 9 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Armen Markarian
Co-coordinator: Joan Barton


           Everyone knows that Proust is one of those literary mountains we want to climb, but do we have the stamina? We know it’s a semi autobiographical story of  childhood , youth and the  maturation of an artist --narrated as a recollection. One of the great literary evocations of love, desire and loss. Thus the title In Search of Lost Time .  But  in six  volumes: who has the time? Those long spiraling sentences  that feel like paragraphs!  The cast of hundreds! The dense cultural context of  belle epoque France!  Philosophical resonances on the nature of memory, the power of music and art, the paradoxes  of erotic desire! Nothing is linear, but thematically it is  seamlessly  orchestrated.

          We will read Swann’s Way  (which includes the childhood recollections of the village “Combray” and the portrait of the older family friend in “Swann in Love.”)  Swann’s Way works as overture to the multivolume whole, but it also stands alone. Reading takes some getting used to, but once you are hooked, it is addictive!



John Marshall, The Forgotten Founding Father (1st 7 Weeks)

Thursday Jan 10 to Feb 21 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Sheri Ross
Co-coordinator: Larry Jay

Asked who the most influential Founding Father was, many younger Americans, still in the flush of "Hamilton"-mania, might nominate their new hero, rap lyrics and all. An older generation might stick with the steady stand-by, George Washington. A certain brainy subset – its standard-bearers being the unlikely duo of John F. Kennedy and Christopher Hitchens – would put forward Thomas Jefferson. And yet for two centuries, American historians and constitutional scholars have championed Jefferson's cousin, John Marshall, whose term as the country's fourth Chief Justice lasted from 1801 to 1835 and revolutionized the role and status of the nation's highest court. Much of Marshall's story heretofore has focused on abstruse issues in constitutional law, but using Joel Paul's "Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times" as our foundation this potential problem is overcome by emphasizing the politics and personal stories underlying the court's landmark cases.  In other words you need not be a lawyer to enjoy learning about John Marshall from a biographical perspective.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets (1st 7 weeks)

Monday Jan 7 to Feb 18 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Rob Thais
Co-coordinator: Dianne Hantos

Secondhand Time is the most recent work by Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian writer who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. Over the course of several years Alexievich conversed with hundreds of ordinary Russians who lived through the fall of the Soviet Union. Some were old enough to remember the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, others young enough that they remembered little about the Soviet era. Alexievich arranged the material into what she calls “a history of emotions.” Secondhand Time fuses reportage, history, sociology, politics, and philosophy. Yet each account retains the intimacy and immediacy of its source—a life story told over tea in a Russian kitchen. The Wall Street Journal calls Secondhand Time, “in its scope and wisdom, comparable to War and Peace.”

During the century described by the combined voices in Secondhand Time, other writers were toiling with similar material in a more polished, but equally intimate, genre—the lyric poem.  As a balance and complement to the vast prose canvas of Secondhand Time, we will also read a selection of relevant Russian poetry from 1917 through the twenty-first century, including both famous poets like Pasternak and Akhmatova and poets more recent and lesser known.

 Our two-genre view should enrich our understanding of a country that remains alien and antagonistic to us. We’ll also discuss the art of the lyric poets and of Svetlana Alexievich. How has her acquisition, editing, and structuring of her material created a book with such overwhelming impact and depth? Has she, as some say, invented a new—and necessary—genre?

Social Democracy’s Nordic Roots: Scandinavia in History

Wednesday Jan 9 to Apr 10 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Ruhama Goldman
Co-coordinator: Zane Lang

Scandinavia is well known as having been a progressive force in the twentieth and twenty-first century in matters related to economic equality, political democracy, gender equality and compassion towards displaced refugees.  A central question of this SDG is as follows: Is Scandinavian social democracy a model for our times or not? Is it a product of Scandinavia’s unique set of historical circumstances and hence not applicable to the rest of the developed world?


In the first nine weeks we will survey Scandinavia’s history from the Vikings forward to our own times. We will analyze the roots of Scandinavian social democracy and the issue of “Scandinavian exceptionalism.” We will study Scandinavian nations’ battles for independence (from other nations and each other) and contributions to modern European culture.


Each of last five sessions will focus on contemporary life in one of the five nations of the North (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland). Each session will be split between discussion of the core book readings and discussion of the assigned nation’s 20th and 21st century history, emphasizing politics, economic life, and roles in the international community. The coordinator will provide a template for these sessions with a list of suggested topics for discussion.


The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right

Monday Jan 7 to Apr 8 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Stanton Zarrow
Co-coordinator: Bud Shapiro

That the Supreme Court has become more conservative over the last 50 years has been recognized by constitutional scholars. A recently published book (2016) by Michael Graetz and Linda Greenhouse (professor at Columbia Law School and former Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times and currently lecturer in law at Yale, respectively) contends that the seeds of this rightward movement were planted and nourished during the Chief Justiceship of Warren E. Burger. Using that book as our core reading, this SDG will assess the legitimacy of the authors' conclusion by examining the myriad issues the Supreme Court dealt with during Burger's tenure. These issues range from the protection of money in politics to the protection of a woman's right to choose an abortion; from the decision that brought about the termination of Nixon's presidency to the termination of the death penalty and its subsequent resuscitation; and from the role of affirmative action in education and in the workplace to the role of the state as the sexual revolution was taking place.

The House of Morgan

Tuesday Jan 8 to Apr 9 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Jim Kohn
Co-coordinator: Tony Stern

All of us know that the modern American economy began in the second half of the 19th century and that J.P. Morgan is one of the mythical names associated with that period.   The purpose of this SDG is to study the rise and influence of the House of Morgan, and J.P. Morgan himself, in context, as a way of understanding that seminal period.  It will be based on the core book “The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance” by Ron Chernow (author of the current best seller on the life of Alexander Hamilton).  The Morgan book won the National Book Award in 1990. 

Using the Chernow book as a guide, we will study American finance before Morgan, the rise of the House of Morgan and its influence in America, how “new banking” facilitated the rapid development of American industrialization in the latter 19th century, his fostering of railroad expansion and creation of U. S. Steel and how he and his bank affected worldwide finance and promoted American influence.  At the same time, we will focus on Morgan himself, his philanthropy and his family, and the choices made by three generations of his successors in the 20th century, including reactions to Roosevelt’s New Deal, Glass Steagall, the involvement of Morgan entities in creating the 2008 recession and the activities of current firms bearing the Morgan name.  In short, we will see how the House of Morgan played a major role in forming our world and how its influence still resonates, as well as considering contemporary and current criticism of such influence.

The last of the 14 weeks will specifically address the pluses and minuses of the House of Morgan over the years, but the discussions each week will also focus on the advantages and drawbacks of the House of Morgan actions under discussion that week.  The intent is that the discussions be both historical and evaluative.  

The New and the Cool: Short Fiction of Recent Decades (10 weeks)

Wednesday Jan 9 to Mar 13 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Juanita Davis
Co-coordinator: Anne Mellor

. We will read contemporary stories from a wide-ranging anthology of "The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction:50 North American Stories since 1970". All the stories are eye-openers by such highly regarded and culturally diverse writers  as Junot Diaz,  Anthony Doerr, Richard Ford, George Saunders, Jamaica Kinkaid, Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Walker, Bharati Mukherjee, Tim O'Brien, and Amy Tan to name just a few.      These brilliant stories focus on the critical issues of our lifetime  This SDG will run for ten weeks; about 50 pages of reading  per week.

The Victorious Century: Great Britain 1800 - 1906

Monday Jan 7 to Apr 8 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Alice Lewis
Co-coordinator: Teri Ponchick

Imagine you are in Britain sometime in the 19th century. You are experiencing the greatest changes in human social organization since perhaps the advent of agriculture thousands of years earlier. You may have made the transition from agricultural or artisan life to working in a factory, where you have to learn to live by "clock time" rather than "sun time". You have never traveled faster than the speed of horse, or a carriage drawn by horses. Then, one day, you step into something brand new: a railway car, and all of sudden you are "flying" at 45 mph. Letters now arrive within a day of being mailed anywhere within Britain, and suddenly your family members living in Canada are only a telegraph away.

In 1851, you visit the some of the 14,000 exhibits from around the world in the Crystal Palace and marvel at the technological developments on display. By the end of the "long 19th century", you may have electric lights and a telephone in your home. You read about adventures in the far-flung British Empire, the largest in human history, and, if you a young man, you may seek service in the Empire to "make your mark". You witness the opening of the first department store in London, where women, in particular, can stroll and shop from an array of products unimaginable at the beginning of the century. There is more time for leisure, and you can go to a music hall or a theater, being able to find entertainment whether you are rich or poor. 

Nineteenth-century Britons had few doubts about the march of progress, and they viewed themselves as living in the most developed and civilized country in the world. Unlike the rest of Europe, England experienced no waves of revolutionary action during the century, and this stability allowed the development of a robust global economy that left Britain the richest country in the world by 1900. From our vantage point, we know it would not last, but people at the time entertained few doubts. A steady evolution of democratic values and labor changes assured citizens that life would continue improving. 

There was, of course, a dark underside of all of this development, including cities choking in smoke and rivers filled with filth.  Labor was hard and dangerous; children were worked for 12 or more hours a day, and the slums in major cites were a disgrace. In the first half of the century, cholera and typhoid epidemics were common, until in the second half of the century, clean water became more available. Women were always at risk of dying in childbirth, and the childhood death rate had not yet starting fallen as it would in the 20th century.

Meanwhile British colonial power disrupted indigenous societies and cultures and destroyed local industries to British advantage. 

We will explore this British "victorious century" beginning with the Industrial Revolution and the Act of Union in 1800. We will end our SDG with election of 1906, which witnessed a landslide Liberal victory that was the last great triumph of nineteenth-century progressive politics, but which also brought to power the first great reforming government of the twentieth century. We will conclude in 1914 "when the lights went out over all Europe". 

The War of 1812: The Most Important Forgotten War in American History

Monday Jan 7 to Apr 8 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Sam Pryor
Co-coordinator: Paul Markowitz

The War of 1812 has been called “the forgotten war” of American history because many see it only as a historical footnote, one principally memorable for the Star Spangled Banner, the burning of the White House and, perhaps, the Battle of New Orleans.  But this least studied American war has also been called the War that Ended the American Revolution, America’s Second War of Independence, and a war “that forged the destiny of the continent for 200 years to come.’  But even historians have viewed this conflict differently over the years. 

Some historians view the War of 1812 as centrally connected to events in Europe, namely the Napoleonic wars, which left America, a neutral nation, drawn into the conflict between France and England. Others see it largely in terms of the infighting between Republicans and Federalists.

 In his revisionist history of this war, the eminent historian Alan Taylor (the author of the core books in two previous SDGs, The American Colonies and the American Revolutions)  views the war as a continuation of the unresolved conflicts that began during the American Revolution, including conflicts between First Nations and American settlers in the western interior, between Federalists and Republicans, between American “patriots” and loyalists on both sides of the border, between the competing visions of America and of British Canada, and between the British and Americans over the ultimate control of North America.

         Unlike most historians, Taylor examines how the War pitted new American migrants to Upper Canada against their recent neighbors, replicated the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and pitted some Iroquois against their own family members.  Most importantly it exposed the fractures in both British North America and the United States that have since been minimized in the nationalist histories that have emerged on both sides of the border over the past two hundred years.

A study of this war and the events surrounding it, including the American invasion of Canada, gives us important insights into America’s early struggle to become a unified functioning government able to survive amid economic and political turmoil at home and in its foreign affairs. We will consider the causes of the war as well as its consequences for America’s politics and its economy, including the ways the war helped contribute to America’s industrial revolution and banking system. This SDG will also consider the War of 1812 in a global context but also how the conflict—and the leaders who emerged from it—promoted American nationalism, encouraged America’s Manifest Destiny, forged an American navy, enhanced American prestige, and shaped America’s foreign relations in the years before the Civil War.

         In addition to Taylor’s work, we will use Hickey’s classic, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict to give us a more conventional, linear view of the war. The bibliography includes several other well-regarded books about the War of 1812.  Each discussion leader will decide whether any material in addition to Taylor’s and Hickey’s, including videos available on internet, should be recommended as additional material. 

    Paul Markowitz and Sam Pryor will jointly coordinate this SDG. 

Time and Your Brain (12 weeks)

Wednesday Jan 9 to Mar 13 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Lee Molho
Co-coordinator: Mike Skolnick

What is time itself?  Is it possible to answer that question without considering the human brain?  Think about it.  To every person alive, time seems to flow continuously.  The present is what we see in front of us.  Or we think we see it, because our brain preprocesses every sensory input before we consciously apprehend it.  And what exactly is consciousness?

We will explore what modern neuroscience has to say about how time works inside your brain, and what modern physics can--and cannot--tell us about what time, itself, is.  This is a fascinating subject with plenty to explore and discuss, as you can see below from the topics we will cover.

Our core book was written for general readers; its explanations are clear, complete, and nonmathematical*.  We will follow it closely.  For anyone who wishes to dig deeper, it includes notes and extensive references.  

*Well, there's one equation, but there are plenty of sketches.

Welcome to the Universe -- An Astrophysical tour by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Thursday Jan 10 to Apr 11 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Anand Maniktala
Co-coordinator: Lou Dachs

Welcome to the Universe is a personal guided tour of the cosmos,  using as  a core, the book by that title,  by three of today’s leading astrophysicists.

This SDG,  and our core book was Inspired by the enormously popular introductory astronomy course that the authors: Neil DEGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richard Gott, taught together at Princeton. 

This SDG covers it all—from planets, stars, and galaxies to black holes, wormholes, the big bang, search for life in the universe,  cosmic inflation,  and much more.

 Describing the latest discoveries in astrophysics, the informative and entertaining core book propels us from our home solar system to the outermost frontiers of space. How do stars live and die? What are the prospects of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? How did the universe begin? Why is it expanding and why is its expansion accelerating? Is our universe alone or part of an infinite multiverse?

Answering these and many other questions, the authors open our eyes to the wonders of the cosmos, sharing their knowledge of how the universe works.

Breathtaking in scope and stunningly illustrated throughout, our core book  (and this SDG) which includes the latest discoveries of Astronomy about the Universe    is for those who hunger for insights into our evolving universe that only world-class astrophysicists can provide.

This SDG is suitable for those with and without a science background.

Join us in exploring this most fascinating journey into the stars, or galaxy and beyond.



Why Medicine Now Works the Pioneers Who Made It Happen

Monday Jan 7 to Apr 8 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Jerry Hershman
Co-coordinator: Stanley Rubin

For most of human history there was no anesthesia. Death in childbirth was common. Smallpox, polio and tuberculosis regularly killed millions. Danger lurked with every drink of water.  There was constant danger of  dying of a minor cut or sore throat because antibiotics did not exist. The world of microorganisms was unimagined as a cause of infectious disease. And the purpose of the heart and circulation of blood was a mystery.

This SDG describes the medical discoveries and techniques  that have saved the lives of billions and changed the face of the world into the world we live in today-- along with the fascinating story of the people who made these discoveries   and the conflicts, and struggles which often ensued before their ideas were accepted. 

Stories like: How in 1675, an unlearned clothing merchant from Delft, in 1675 placed a drop of rainwater under his homemade microscope and detected a previously unknown and unimagined world of thousands of tiny animals – only to be accused by those who couldn't duplicate his methods, of having drunk too many spirits. 

Or how two hundred years later,  the terrified  wife of a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Wurzburg  exclaimed in terror: : I have seen my own death.after  her husband surprised her by placing her  hand on an unexposed photographic plate and turned  on an electric current,revealing   the bones in her hand,   

Or the  fact that DNA was actually described as early as  the 1700’s.

Included among much more, are  also :the stories  of the discovery of germs, vaccination, surgical anesthesia, diagnostic x-rays, antibiotics, genetic engineering, designer drugs and more.

Reviewers have raved about our two core books:

    * "a gripping read.”—Aaron Klug, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1982

    * “It is simply a joy to read Oncology Times."

    * "a highly readable and occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny. . rich with human elements.” 

Both of our core books are available in inexpensive used editions, and  are available for less than $10 each (including shipping)-- as well as via Kindle.  


Authors of our core books are, two distinguished physicians and teachers, who have drawn on their many years of experience as medical school professors and as collectors of old medical publications, to describe these medical breakthroughs-- bringing to life the scientific pioneers responsible for them and the excitement, frustrations, and controversies that surrounded their  achievements.  We'll supplement these books as needed to bring things up to date  with materials from the web.


Most of us are alive today because of the pioneers described in this book.  Come join us for this fun and fascinating SDG. 

Writers From the Other Europe

Wednesday Jan 9 to Apr 10 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Karen Fishel
Co-coordinator: Lynne Bronner

Philip Roth traveled to Prague in 1973 to experience Kafka’s home city.  Inspired by his meetings with Central European writers, he developed a paperback series of outstanding and influential works of fiction of Central European writers.  Although well known in their own countries, they were unknown in the West.  Roth wished to introduce what he called “the other Europe”.  In our SDG we will read the first four novels in the series which are available in one boxed set, two additional novels By Kundera and Schulz and Prague Orgy by Philip Roth.  We will supplement these novels with writings by Philip Roth that relate to our authors.

Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State (10 weeks)

Friday Jan 11 to Mar 15 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Agnes Lin
Co-coordinator: Steven Chasen

    We are witnessing the dawn of a New Era in China.       

    Xi Jinping's China is significantly different from that of his predecessors:  the extraordinary centralization of authority under his personal leadership; the intensified penetration of society by the state; the creation of a virtual wall of regulations and restrictions that more tightly controls the flow of ideas, culture, and capital into and out of the country; and the significant projection of Chinese power internationally.  It represents a reassertion of the state in Chinese political and economic life at home, and a more expansive role for China abroad.  In other words, the Chinese leadership is reversing the trends that had been put in motion by Deng Xiaoping thirty years earlier.

       In the late 1970s and early 1980s, China transitioned out of the totalitarian Maoist Era (1949-1978).  Decades of elite political instability, stagnant economic growth, and radical ideological fervor were left behind.  In their place: relatively stable and more institutionalize Communist Party rule, supercharged economic growth, and an openness to the outside world -- the trifecta of factors that characterized the decades-long Reform Era (1978-2012).  These are now ending.

       China is in a new era.  The ultimate objective of this New Era is Xi Jinping's Chinese Dream -- the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation.

       What is the nature and magnitude of this New Era?  What is its strategic trajectory?  And what are the implications for the U.S.?

        To address these questions, this SDG will use:  1) Two newly released 2018 publications as core books;  one by an eminent China scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, Elizabeth C. Economy, entitled The Third Revolution, and the other, by an expert in Chinese law and governance at Fordham University Law School, entitled End of an Era.  Both books are not only well-researched, but also engaging, well written and clear.  Together, they present insightful, timely, and balanced perspectives on the current changes in China; and  2)  Topical materials from news media and think tanks, for example, The New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and  publications from Council on Foreign Relations, Rand Corporation, UN Reports, etc.