S 2018

Being Mortal (10 weeks)

Wednesday May 9 to Jul 18 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Dan Gornel
Co-coordinator: Lee Molho

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming the dangers of childbirth, injury, and disease from harrowing to manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should.  This is not a book about dying; it is a book about living at the end of life and what the American health care system needs to do to improve end of life care for seniors: what can be done, what has been done, and what is needed to do it better.

Dr. Gawande, a Harvard surgeon, is a master reviewer of a number of health care problems including articles in the New Yorker about variable costs of health care in different sections of the country, and other best sellers such as The Checkpoint Manifesto.  Being Mortal was on the New York Times non-fiction best seller list for over 70 weeks, many of them as #1.

As a retired geriatrician, I consider Being Mortal to be one of the most important books on health care for seniors to be published in the last decades.

Changing Cities: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood (Second 7 weeks) Jun 20-Aug. 1

Wednesday Jun 20 to Aug 1 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: David Roloff
Co-coordinator: Barbara Klein

“Gentrification” of our cities has been occurring across the US for the last 20 years, intensifying over time. Some see this development as a revitalization of cities and urban spaces, while others argue that it is displacing people and communities, destroying the fabric of civil society in those neighborhoods.

In this SDG, we will look at what gentrification means and what impact it has.  Using Peter Moskowitz's How to Kill a City (2017) as our core book, supplemented by a number of articles, we will try to understand this process from various points of view.  We will analyze the forces behind gentrification in a number of specific cities and consider how the question of who can and cannot afford to pay rent affects inequality and racial justice. 

Europe from Napoleon to World War I: 1815-1914

Monday Apr 30 to Jul 30 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Alice Lewis and Sam Pryor

NOTE:  Sam Pryor and Alice Lewis are coordinating this SDG together.

By 1815 Europe was reverberating from the aftermath of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, events that had not only challenged  the feudal, monarchical landscape of Europe but had engulfed virtually all of Europe in conflict. In that year, the great European powers met in Vienna with the goal of assuring that no one power could again threaten the security of the continent as had Napoleonic France, and guaranteeing this by restoring monarchies in France and elsewhere. This system, the Concert of Europe, held for most of the 19th century, which saw far fewer wars and less bloodshed than in any of the preceding four centuries. By 1914, this system had broken down, and Europe was again at  the brink of war -- this time the threat came from the newly formed German Empire, and industrialization ensured that the coming war would be far deadlier than anything seen before.  

In the years between the Napoleonic Wars and the outbreak of World War I, Europe experienced transformative political, economic, scientific and economic changes that created the modern world. Following the 1815 Congress of Vienna, Europe grappled with forces of political reaction, revolution and liberalism; growing nationalism; accelerating industrialization and its resulting social changes;  global expansionism and imperialism; new political alignments and philosophies such as Socialism, Marxism, and Anarchism; and a technological revolution that included the railway, the telegraph, the steamship and others. The changes in 19th century Europe were not just political, social and economic but included a series of shocks in the arts from Romanticism to Impressionism to “The Rites of Spring.”  

Based on the highly acclaimed book, The Pursuit of Power, Europe 1815-1914 by Richard J. Evans, this SDG will illuminate the incredible changes that took place across Europe from Russia in the east to Britain in the west. While the changes were not uniform across Europe, no part was left unchanged. In this SDG, we meet political leaders from Metternich to Bismarck, from Mazzini to Tsar Alexander III; social philosophers from Owen to Marx, from Bakunin to the Webbs; authors from Dickens to Tolstoy to Proust; and music composers and artists who revolutionized the arts. Join us for this discovery of Europe and the creation of the modern world.

History's Greatest Speeches

Tuesday ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Victor Weingarten
Co-coordinator: Joyce Campbell

History’s Greatest Speeches


“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. When Abraham Lincoln said these words at Gettysburg, Virginia on a cold November day in 1863, the introduction to his Gettysburg Address, he had no way of knowing that his speech would define an entire period of American history forever. Defining a nation’s struggle for equality, democracy and unity.

There is nothing that can capture the mood, feeling, and excitement you get from a great speech. With this in mind the speeches that we will discuss in this S/DG represent centuries of oration as well as the most fascinating and important moments in history. From Pericles’s “Funeral Oration” during the Peloponnesian War to Winston Churchill’s declaration that “We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches” at the beginning of World War II, some of the speeches we will be discussing show how leaders of great nations inspired their countrymen during the darkest days of battle. Through the speeches and words of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama will illustrate how some of history’s most courageous activists spoke truth to power in their efforts to remake the world.

Our core book is “Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History” edited by William Safire. Each week two speeches will be selected and analyzed from the 200 speeches in the core book. The speech or part of the speech will be read in class. The historical and political background for making the speech will also be discussed.

We will discuss why these great speeches affected people in critical times in history. You should also enjoy reading the great speeches in class and discussing how the speech affected you. This should be an exciting S/DG discussing history from Pericles Greece to the present through the uses of great speeches. If you are tired of present day politicians not being able to solve our problems then find out, by taking this S/DG, how great men of the past addressed their problems.

How Climate Change Affected the Course of History

Thursday May 3 to Aug 2 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Ruhama Goldman
Co-coordinator: Linda Pomerantz-Zhang

What is the role of climate in human affairs? ? How did human societies cope with climate change?

Historians have rarely paid attention to climate change, but it turns out that a few more, or a few less inches of rain, a change in one or two degrees, can make a difference in how human events unfold.  Often disregarded, climate change was a contributing factor to numerous historical developments, but it was far from being determinative. How humans coped with factors that were beyond their control determined the course of history.


The course will cover the effects of climate change on human history and the various ways humans responded to changes in their environment. It will cover a period of about 20,000 years, from 18,000 BCE to 1850 CE.  The course is not Eurocentric; it covers the effects of climate change on many diverse cultures located all around the world.


Three books authored by Brian Fagan are our core books:

1.              The Long Summer, How Climate Changed Civilization

2.              The Great Warming, Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

3.              Little Ice Age, How Climate Made History


            The course will provide an additional tool for the understanding of historical events.




Paris Peace Conference of 1919: Who Got What and Why

Tuesday May 1 to Jul 31 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Jim Kohn
Co-coordinator: Toni Schuman

              One of the favorite indoor sports of historians is taking potshots at the statesmen who made the decisions at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.  How could they have been so stupid on such issues as German reparations, claims of the nationalities and arranging borders in the Middle East?  However, all of these issues seem much simpler in retrospect than they did to the decision makers at the time.

              We have had SDGs on World War I and the Paris Peace Conference. This proposed SDG is somewhat different.  Rather than the usual presentation and discussion of each set of issues, the idea here is for the weekly presenter to argue the case of a nationality or country and for the SDG members to put themselves in the position of the three principal decision makers at the Conference-- Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau-- and to discuss and debate with the presenter the merits of the claims advanced by the presenter and what would be a reasonable result.  In this way, we should be better able to experience the difficulties and pressures felt by all of the Conference participants.

              The defeat of Germany, the Austrian Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire meant that the winners’ decision makers had to listen to the requests and claims of many countries and ethnic groups (including allies) as they reconfigured Europe and the Middle East.  Many of these claims conflicted with each other and with the objectives of the winners, even claims of the winners were sometimes not merited by the claimant’s contribution to the War effort, and others rested on historical and ethnic grounds which were questionable, murky and/or not well understood by the decision makers.  Another major set of conflicts requiring resolution was the extent to which ideas of punishment of the defeated countries should be controlling and, more particularly, what to do about Germany.   Despite the difficulties, decisions had to be made, and they were.

              The first sessions of the SDG will necessarily set the scene, with information and discussion about the makeup of Europe and European possessions before the War and the condition of Europe at the start of the War.  We will also consider the backgrounds of and pressures on the three decision makers and selection of the format for the Conference.  The balance of the weekly sessions will be devoted to the type of dialogue and debate indicated above, including consideration of whether responsibility for the War rested exclusively with Germany.

The discussion of each claim will include the following: the justice of the claim; the politics of the claimant’s region; the emotions, politics and objectives of the winning countries; the anticipated results of alternative possible decisions; the fear of Bolshevism; the ways in which facts on the ground were changing as the Conference proceeded; and the particular reactions and actions of the three decision makers.  Each discussion will also include an evaluation of the wisdom of the decision made, both then and in the years which were to come.


Reel Meanings: Movies Worth Contemplating

Tuesday May 1 to Jul 31 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Jack Samet
Co-coordinator: Beverly Grabell

This SDG was jointly created by Jack Samet and Beverly Grabell. The entertainment value in an audience's cinematic experience often  lies in the plot, acting, music and/or other aspects of a film as it is observed and presented on the screen.  Some movies, intentionally or otherwise, however  arouse more and a viewer can't help thinking about them well after he/she has left the theater.  These movies engage  a viewer's intellectual appetite for contemplating questions concerning self, relationships, values and strategies, political and social issues, which may or may not be  "resolved"  in the presentation on screen. We  will examine 14 such films and try to identify, explore and address the broader and enduring questions they raise,  subliminally or openly. In addition, we  will explore whether the film can lead its audience to similar views of the questions raised or  if audience opinions on the meaning and resolution of the questions perceived to be raised are highly individual. We will keep our eyes wide open as we examine "Eyes Wide Shut", we will be present when we try to understand the value of "Being There"  and we will behold, with an appreciative eye, "American Beauty" among others. Our discussion will consist of more than "13 Conversations About One Thing" , we won't overlook "Her" , and though we may or may not be "Ordinary People" we will engage these films without disregarding a "Notebook". 

Searing Portraits: The Vietnam War as Films Saw It (First 7 Weeks)

Thursday May 3 to Jun 14 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Fred Reimer
Co-coordinator: David Roloff

    The Vietnam War was not only waged by soldiers on the battlefield. Long after the fall of Saigon in 1975, the traumas of war continued in the intimate memories and scarred bodies of those who fought, and in the nightmares of civilians whose lives were destroyed or irrevocably changed. The Vietnam War has also had an enduring and contentious national legacy, which still shapes military policy, political debates, and the way war is portrayed in journalism, literature, and film.  We will explore the creative outpouring of responses to the Vietnam War in film. We will ask how filmmakers represented the experience of those on the battlefield and the home front; how they fought symbolic battles over the interpretation and memory of the war; and what legacy they created for future generations. 
    Michael Cimino’s death in 2016 brought back memories of The Deer Hunter and other impactful Vietnam War films.  It wasn’t until after Saigon’s fall that Cimino and other directors began grappling with the conflict.  Right from the start, Hollywood struggled with the Vietnam War, a conflict that deeply divided public opinion and defied easy representation onscreen.  The 1968 John Wayne film The Green Berets, released at the height of the conflict, was an old-fashioned war drama and ignored the moral gray areas of the increasingly confused war effort.  Other movies dealt with the issues only indirectly or focused on the state side anti-war counter culture that was growing parallel to the conflict. It wasn’t until well after the last chopper left Saigon in 1975 that Hollywood attempted more in-depth and nuanced looks at the conflict, with Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter leading the way.  Things came full circle in January 2014 with Last Days In Vietnam, an American documentary film written, produced and directed by Rory Kennedy—about forty years after Saigon fell.

    Our selected films will be viewed “at home” (using Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or a similar service), and then discussed in class.  Discussion topics for each film will include:

  • How our filmmakers represented the experience of those on the battlefield and the home front
  • How they fought symbolic battles over the interpretation and memory of the war
  • What legacy they created for future generations. 
  • Place within the overall “world of film” and among Vietnam War films
  • Time and place, setting of the film, plot summary, the cast, etc.
  • The film’s unique characteristics, techniques, technology or breakthroughs
  • Key themes, characters, events, symbology, imagery, etc.
  • Messages, political or social commentary, and interpretative frameworks
  • Mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing/montage and music/score
  • Critics’ reviews and commentaries on the film (as available)
  • Important scene viewing from the DVD (Optional—as time allows)

Given the usual S/DG time constraints, this S/DG will take a broad—rather than an overly deep—look at these often challenging films.  At the end of the semester, the desired outcome is to understand better these overall works, within both historical and film studies contexts.

The Arabian Peninsula NOW

Monday Apr 30 to Jul 30 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Linda Rice
Co-coordinator: Doug Green

The Arabian Peninsula is located at the cross-roads of the Middle East.  It is the birthplace of Mohammed and the heart of Islam.  It’s a hot spot, sometimes the hottest.   Other SDGs have examined the peninsula along with neighboring Arab and Muslim countries, using core books.   The problem with core books: current events make core books obsolete before the SDG starts.  This SDG is different.

After some historical review, we examine current status.  There has been peninsula oil wealth, but what about now?  Saudi’s are at the top of Arab heap, aren’t they?  Yemen’s failure is due to the Saudi’s aggressions or due to Iran's interference or…?  What’s going on with Bahrain, with the UAE, with the boycott of Qatar?   What will happen to them all in the future?  The religious and political challenges are so great that these countries risk internal turmoil and even collapse.  What will happen with regards to religion, human rights, women, and economies? 

To find out, we read the latest on-line references, including: The Economist, Al-Monitor.com, Haaretz.com, Geolpoliticalfutures.com, NYTimes.com, Aljazera.com, foreignpolicy.com.  For those of you unaccustomed to finding references on-line, the coordinator and co-coordinator will show you how.

Our discussions will also include substantive underlying issues in the peninsula which contribute to these current challenges and potentials.  We will know what’s going on right now in the Arabian Peninsula, and endeavor to understand why.

The Brain: The Story of You

Monday Apr 30 to Jul 30 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Hal Slavkin
Co-coordinator: Warren Fish

Your brain shapes your life and your life shapes your brain.  Your genes (genotype) and microenvironment (epigenetic) control the structure and function of your neurons, neuronal synapses, and brain size and shape. Using neuroscientist David Eagleman’s The Brain: The Story of You (2015), this SDG will explore the wonders of the human brain to discover the ultimate story of us, namely how and why we feel and think the way we do. It has been stated that "Eagelman wants to make us more conscious..." (NY Times) We will consider questions such as why our brains need other people, how we make decisions, and how technology is changing what it means to be human.  We will learn how genes regulate brain expression and beyond. We will explore how identical twins (monozygotic twins) present profoundly different neurodegenerative diseases and disorders.  Eagleman's book is the companion book for a PBS series of the same name (aired in 2015). This course is designed to appeal to scientists and curious non-scientists alike.  

The Comedians

Wednesday May 2 to Aug 1 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Stephen Breuer
Co-coordinator: Linda Kelemer

The role of the comedian has changed over the years in America.  Starting as performers filling in between more substantial acts, comics have evolved into central roles on stage, film, radio and television.  More than mere joke tellers, they have depicted the foibles of our society and today are influential commentators and activists in the society.  From tellers of jokes and performers in skits, some former stand-uo comedians are hosts to our most influential shows:  Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Joan Rivers, John Stewart, and Ellen DeGeneris, for example.

In his new book, The Comedians Kliph Nesteroff, chronicles this evolution.  Using and expanding on his excellent work, we shall attempt to better understand  who and why we have enjoyed so much over the years.

The Invention of Science - From Superstition and Dogma to Truth and Reality (10 weeks)

Thursday May 3 to Jul 5 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Dave Pierce
Co-coordinator: George Lauer

Human activity just 600 years ago was vastly different from what we do today.  Such basics as food, clothing, transportation, medicine, speech, weapons, and the ways we study nature are all very different today.  These changes are all due to science.  Since we live in a scientific society, it behooves us to understand how these remarkable changes came about and how they affect us today.

In this 10-week SDG we will consider the following areas of science.  Each member will select one of the areas below and discuss important milestones in the history and development of that science.  This SDG is non-mathematical.

1.  What is science?  Astronomy: understanding the universe.

2.  Physics: how things work.

3.  Geology: motion, evolution of understanding our planet, plate tectonics, whatever happened to the poor dinosaurs?

4.  Chemistry: discovery of the elements and how they react.

5.  Medicine: understanding and repairing the human body.

6.  Evolution: Darwin, Wallace, Bates.  Human evolution, anthropology, archaeology.

7.  More Physics: understanding light and other forms of radiation.

8.  Relativity, the atomic age.

9.  Biology: cells, genetics, CRISPR.

10.  Summary of the invention and evolution of science.

Course Questions

For each of the ten discussions, we will want to address some or many of the following questions:

What is science?  How did science, as a way of discovering how the world works, evolve from superstition and dogma to experiment and reasoning?

Why did science begin with astronomy?

How has your “your” science evolved over the centuries?

How was the scientific method applicable to your science, or not?

How does your science relate to other sciences?

What role has technology played in the development of your science?

What is/was the funding source for your science?

What has been the role of your science in important world events, like the Industrial Revolution, the cures of fatal illnesses, the atomic age?

How does your science use or rely on mathematics, or not?

What hinders scientific progress?

What is the role of science today?

What would a world without science be like?

How do scientific discoveries affect the future?

The Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 (10 weeks)

Monday Apr 30 to Jul 2 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Paul Markowitz
Co-coordinator: Teri Ponchick

At the close of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied eight countries in Eastern Europe, the countries the West came to view as the "Eastern Bloc". During the period of Communist domination, these countries shared a common fate and appeared to be an ideologically and politically homogenous region. In and of itself, this is remarkable; these countries had little in common prior to 1945, and since 1989, they have moved in separate directions.

Between 1945 and 1953, the Soviet Union successfully "sovietized" these countries, effectively creating totalitarian regimes from the Baltic to the Adriatic. This did not happen overnight but it did follow a well-planned blueprint.  How did this happen and what did it involve?  Using Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 (2012),we will see how the Soviet Union deliberately destroyed civil society and how individuals living in these countries survived. Applebaum's book is based on extensive research in the archives, opened after 1991, in the former Soviet Union and in each of the countries that formed the Eastern Bloc.  In understanding how the Soviet Union succeeded in their quest to create ideological and political homogeneity, we will better understand what a totalitarian society is for the people living in it and how it comes into existence.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (Second 7 weeks)

Tuesday Jun 19 to Jul 31 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Larry Ceplair
Co-coordinator: Christine Holmgren

Woland (the devil) and his minions have arrived in Soviet Moscow in the 1930s.  And the city and its denizens will never be the same.  Mikhail Bulgakov's (1891-1940) brilliant satire takes the form of a novel within a novel.  The exterior novel is a refashioning of the Faust/Mephistopheles legend; the interior novel is a reworking of the Jesus/Pontius Pilate story.  The two are brilliantly intertwined to  dramatize the fate of artists living under oppressive regimes.  But the book contains much more than that – it poses a number of interesting philosophical and cosmological questions about reality, faith, love, truth, the supernatural, and the power of ideas and prejudices.  It is one of the greatest novels, in any language, written during the twentieth century.  For obvious reasons, it was not published during Bulgakov's lifetime.  An incomplete version of the manuscript was published in English translation in 1967 and more complete translated versions in 1973 and 1989.  There are six translations currently available.  We will use the one by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor (Vintage International).

The Multitudes of Microbes Within Us, A Grander View of Life: We are All Ecosystems (Second 7 weeks)

Wednesday Jun 20 to Aug 1 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Paul Sailer
Co-coordinator: Geralin Clark

The Multitudes of Microbes within Us, A Grander View of Life: We are All Ecosystems

The Amazing, And Only Recently Discovered Story:  How the Microbes Living in and on Us Shape the Development, Growth, and Survival of All the Plants and Animals  on the Planet

For most of human history the existence of microbes was unknown.  When they finally surfaced in biological studies, they were cast as disease causing rogues.  Only recently have the study of microbes moved from the neglected fringes of biology to its center.  Even today many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated.  But those that live within us and on us--- our microbiome --- are invaluable and necessary parts of our lives.

Our core book and this SDG lets us peer into this world, allowing us to see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are to us, and every other organism on the planet.    How   they sculpt our organs; defend us from disease, break down our food, educate our immune systems, guide our behavior, bombard our genomes with their genes, and grant us many of our abilities.  While much of the prevailing discussion around the microbiome has focused on its implications for human health, our core book and this SDG,  broadens this focus to describe how microbes effect the entire animal kingdom—how each animal is an integrated  traveling ecosystem onto itself -- giving us a much grander view of life.

Almost all of this information is new to science, so any microbiologists among us will also have much to learn. 

Among the many  amazing tidbits we’ll uncover, are:  the fact that every single  individual is a complete and totally unique ecosystem of bacteria different from that of  every other individual;  that the number  of bacteria in 1 gram of our dental plaque is greater than the number of humans that ever lived, how within us there are 500 times more bacterial genes  than human genes, how the microbes on our left palm differ from those on our right palm, and those in our left armpit differ from those in our right; that bacteria are necessary for many  higher organisms to develop proper bodies;  that much of  the content of human breast milk is not digestible by the human  infant but instead sustain bacteria necessary for the infant’s digestive system; that bacteria constitute most of the mass of living organisms on the planet; and that 99.999 % of them are totally unknown to biologists. 

Our readable core book by a distinguished micro biologist,  reads almost like a detective story.  And we’ll supplement it with relevant videos. 

So come join us in a fascinating 7 week exploration of the amazing world of microorganisms, that shows us how  every larger organism is a complete ecosystem, and the new perspective this can give us on our lives and the lives of every creature on the planet.  And  bring your microbiome along for the ride.

After this SDG you’ll never again see yourself as an isolated individual, instead recognizing that we and all the other humans and animals are all colonies:  walking islands of interconnected life.


Topics Include:

Overview of the incredible universe that exists within the bodies of all living creatures:  our microbiome.  How microbes became visible in the 17th century by the invention of the microscope by Antony van Leeuwenhoek, master lens maker. How other investigators who followed focused on the role of microbes in disease-- but the bigger, more common story is one of symbiosis between microbe and host. 

 How symbiotic bacteria can play an important role in animal development and sculpt animal bodies.  That  microbes are beneficial to us, but they are still their own entities.  They can be our partners, but they are not necessarily  our friends.

The Origins of the relationships between microbes and their hosts. Disrupting those relationships.   Consequences of the intimate partnerships between microbes and their hosts for the fates of entire species.   How bacteria, unlike higher animals,  can carry  out horizontal gene transfers from one individual to another.

How even buildings develop a microbiome as its occupants give off microbes with every breath, every touch.  How buildings can be intentionally manipulated to benefit  beneficial bacteria.

The New World of Hacking

Wednesday May 2 to Aug 1 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Leo Roos
Co-coordinator: Peter Hantos

"Nothing is safe. Not your email, your personal information, your photos, your files, If it is stored on line, it's theoretically accessible to anyone with the skills and wherewithal to grab it" (1)

The skill to get the wherewithal to grab it is called hacking, the art of creative problem solving, whether that means finding an unconventional solution to a difficult problem or exploiting holes in sloppy programming. 

Hacking in the age of the Internet can be broken down into three distinct categories: Personal (hacking of your home computer for nefarious reasons, mostly financial but also setting up botnets), secondly, hacking of commercial entities (mostly for financial gain and information or intimidation, for example utilities) and thirdly, hacking of government entities. (military or government agencies, mostly to influence national policy). Although these are distinct categories, they overlap in many cases. For instances, using personal computers via botnets to Distributed Denial of Service (DDos) that in theory could shut down worlds stock markets with horrific financial consequences. In case of military use, Stuxnet is a malicious computer worm believed to be a jointly built American-Israeli cyberweapon that shut down Iranian centrifuges. Benign hacking has been used show weaknesses in the computerized instrumentation in cars, hospital equipment, planes and normal household items. For instance the Nest thermostat. These weaknesses can be triggered not only by hackers but also stray EMF radiation. 

Hacking in the area of Computer Software has existed since the first DOS Program was written.  It has given resulted in numerous text books and actual classes for the “White Hat” hackers and numerous articles but few books regarding the Black Hat Hackers.

In this SD/G we will try to answer the question of what hacking really means in our daily lives and how our entire privacy has become non-existent as well as it can now affect our health, privacy, personal finances and safety.

(1) Data downer: Hackers will grow increasingly bold in 2017. David Lazarus, LA times, Friday, December 30, 2016 

The Rise and Fall of American Growth

Tuesday May 1 to Jul 31 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Bob Glasser
Co-coordinator: Ed Keane

    I read The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon last after reading an extremely favorable review of the book in The New Review of Books (August 18, 2016).  Two sentences from the last paragraph of the review, written by William Nordhaus, are. "To summarize, Rise and Fall is a magnificent book on American economic history of the last century and a half. . . . If you want to understand our history and the economic dilemmas faced by the nation today, you can spend many a fruitful hour reading Gordon's landmark study."

    If we discount some of the flowery language, I believe the publishers blurb on the inside of the paper cover of the hardcover edition fairly summarizes the book:

     "In the century after the Civil War, an economic revolution improved the American standard of living in ways previously unimaginable. Electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, and television transformed households and workplaces.  With medical advances, life expectancy grew from forty-five to seventy-two years between 1870 and 1970.  Weaving together a vivid narrative, historical anecdotes, and economic analysis, The Rise and Fall of American Growth provides an in-depth account of this momentous era.  But has the era of unprecedented growth come to an end?

    "Gordon challenges the view that economic growth can or will continue unabated, and he demonstrates that the life-altering scale of innovation between 1870 and 1970 can't be repeated.  He contends that the nation's productivity growth, which has already slowed to a crawl, will be further held back by the vexing headwinds of rising inequality, stagnating education, an aging population, and the rising debt of college students and the federal government.  Gordon warns that the younger generation may be the first in American history that fails to exceed their parents' standard of living, and that rather than depend on the great advances of the past, we must find new solutions to overcome the challenges facing us." 


The Role of a Lifetime: The Presidency of Ronald Reagan

Tuesday May 1 to Jul 31 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Stanton Zarrow
Co-coordinator: Elliot Goldman

Government is not the solution, it is the problem; stimulate the economy by cutting taxes on the wealthy; increase freedom by reducing the size of the federal government and its role in the lives of Americans; and characterize America's adversary, the Soviet Union, as the Evil Empire. These were the slogans and sound bites of the Reagan presidency.But taxes were raised, the federal government grew larger, arms treaties were concluded with the Soviets and the "Cold War" ended. 

These contradictions and achievements were all part of the iconic presidency of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States. Characterized both as an 'amiable dunce' and as a transformative president, this SDG, by examining the events during Reagan's presidency, will try to determine his proper role in the pantheon of American presidents.         

The Thucydides Trap: Are America and China Destined for War? (10 Weeks)

Thursday May 3 to Jul 5 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Sheri Ross
Co-coordinator: Barry Mc Grath

"It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable." Thucydides.

One view is that a perilous historical pattern exists whenever a rising power challenges one that has been dominant.  In that vein, we will analyze instances of analogous challenges in world history, most of which resulted in war between the rising and established powers e.g. Athens vs. Sparta and Germany vs. Britain. In "Destined for War" by Harvard professor and defense analyst Graham Allison, he seeks to understand the distinct characteristics of China and of the US and the flashpoints that might lead to conflict. 

A second view is that China's growth actually enhances Western commercial supremacy. By seeking to realize its dream of modernization by integrating itself into the Western economic order, China is playing by our rules, reinforcing the dominance of our companies and regulatory institutions. In ‘Playing Our Game: Why China's Rise Doesn't Threaten the West” by Edward S. Steinfeld,  the author asserts that China has in many ways handed over--outsourced--the remaking of its domestic economy and domestic institutions to foreign companies and foreign rule-making authorities and China's economic emergence is good for America.

We wise PLATO members will analyze both views, debate the pros and cons and arrive at a sound conclusion to advise our government on how to proceed in this SDG.


The Upper middle class and the American Dream (7 weeks beginning May 9)

Wednesday May 9 to Jun 20 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Susana Schuarzberg
Co-coordinator: Ros Wolf

Following the excellent book by Richard V. Reeves, we will analyze the reasons why it is the upper middle class, not the 1%, who are the main beneficiaries -and the principal cause - of inequality in America. There are certain characteristics in the group defined as "upper middle class " that insures that their children will continue to thrive in the same way and enjoy the advantages that class assigns to them. We will discuss the main explicit and implicit ways in which America's richest 20% having grabbed their piece of prosperity are fighting like hell to keep it. This is what Mr. Reeves defines as "dream hoarders". Also, we will focus our attention into possible areas of improvement in order to turn around the vicious circle of poverty.


Women Photographers (10 Weeks)

Monday May 7 to Jul 16 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Judith Taylor
Co-coordinator: Tom Loo

Since the inception of photography nearly 200 years ago, women have played an important role in its development, often pushing boundaries and defying social convention. These great women photographers stood their ground in a man’s world to establish reputations as photojournalists and fine art photographers.  They paved the way for succeeding generations of women who today play major roles in the profession. Our course begins in the 19th century and moves through the 20th to the present.  Some of the artists we will study: Julia Margaret Cameron, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Daine Arbus, Vivien Maier, Cindy Sherman.

 Our primary focus is to look closely at the photographs themselves—to analyze their formal characteristics (light, composition, line, etc.) as well as subject matter. To ask: Why is this photograph effective?  How does it make us feel?  What does it want us to see?    We also want to understand each artist's place in the history of photography and in the context of her times.  And to ponder:  Are there "woman's' subjects?" Do women photograph women differently than men?  In individual cases, were these women helped or hindered by the man around them?  And, of course, there are the ever-evolving issues on the nature of photography as medium and art.