Archive for July, 2019

History of Marriage Historian Stephanie Coontz – a closer look

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

Happy Wednesday! This week, we are going to take a closer look at Dr. Stephanie Coontz, an historian who is one of America’s leading authorities on the history of the institution of marriage. Her views are insightful, provocative, and based on years of solid academic scholarship.

You may say to yourself “but marriage has been the same since Biblical times!” You may say that, but of course you would be very wrong. Ignoring the Bible’s many mentions of multiple wives, infidelity, children born ‘out of wedlock’, etc., marriages in America look much different than they did 150 years ago. Women were considered property of their fathers until ‘given away’ to her future husband. Women did not vote, could not own property, could not even apply for a loan without their husband’s permission (this last bit persisted into the 1970’s, by the way).

In a quote about her book — “The Way We Never Were, acclaimed historian Stephanie Coontz provides a myth-shattering examination of two centuries of the American family, sweeping away misconceptions about the past that cloud current debates about domestic life. The 1950s do not present a workable model of how to conduct our personal lives today, Coontz argues, and neither does any other era from our cultural past.”

In her follow up work The Way We Really Are, Dr. Coontz turns her attention to the mythology that surrounds today’s family—the demonizing of “untraditional” family forms and marriage and parenting issues. She argues that while it’s not crazy to miss the more hopeful economic trends of the 1950s and 1960s, few would want to go back to the gender roles and race relations of those years.

And in her book Marriage, a History, Dr. Coontz takes readers from the marital intrigues of ancient Babylon to the torments of Victorian lovers to demonstrate how recent the idea of marrying for love is—and how absurd it would have seemed to most of our ancestors. It was when marriage moved into the emotional sphere in the nineteenth century, she argues, that it suffered as an institution just as it began to thrive as a personal relationship.


Please contact us if you’d like more information about bringing Stephanie Coontz to speak to your institution, conference, or corporation!


And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!


Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ‘Open Letter to NASA’

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

Happy Wednesday ! This week, in a departure from form, we’re re-printed Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s open letter to NASA:

An Open Letter To NASA
Neil deGrasse Tyson·Sunday, July 21, 2019·Reading time: 5 minutes

Dear NASA,
Perhaps you didn’t know, but we’re the same age. In the first week of October 1958, you were born of the National Aeronautics and Space Act as a civilian space agency, while I was born of my mother in the East Bronx. So the yearlong celebration of our shared sixtieth anniversary, provides me a unique occasion to reflect on our past, present and future.
I was three years old when John Glenn first orbited Earth. I was seven when you lost astronauts Grissom, Chaffee, and White in that tragic fire of their Apollo 1 capsule on the launch pad. I was ten when you sent Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins to the Moon. And I was fourteen when you stopped going to the Moon altogether. Over that time I was excited for you and for America. But the vicarious thrill of the journey, so prevalent in the hearts and minds of others, was absent from my emotions. I was obviously too young to be an astronaut. But I also knew that my skin color was much too dark for you to picture me as part of this epic adventure. Not only that, even though you are a civilian agency, your most celebrated astronauts were military pilots, at a time when war was becoming less and less popular.
During the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement was more real to me than it surely was to you. In fact it took a directive from Vice President Johnson in 1963 to force you to hire Black engineers at your prestigious Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I found the correspondence in your archives. Do you remember? James Webb, then head of NASA, wrote to German rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, who headed the Center and who was the chief engineer of the entire manned space program. The letter boldly and bluntly directs von Braun to address the “lack of equal employment opportunity for Negroes” in the region, and to collaborate with the area colleges Alabama A&M and Tuskegee Institute to identify, train, and recruit qualified Negro engineers into the NASA Huntsville family.
In 1964, you and I had not yet turned six when I saw picketers outside the newly built apartment complex of our choice, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. They were protesting to prevent Negro families, mine included, from moving there. I’m glad their efforts failed. These buildings were called, perhaps prophetically, the “Skyview Apartments” on whose roof, 22-stories over the Bronx, I would later train my telescope on the universe.
My father was active in the Civil Rights movement, working under New York City’s Mayor Lindsay to create job opportunities for youth in the ghetto — as the “inner city” was called back then. Year after year, the forces operating against this effort were huge: poor schools, bad teachers, meager resources, abject racism, and assassinated leaders. So while you were celebrating your monthly advances in space exploration from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo, I was watching America do all it could to marginalize who I was and what I wanted to become in life.
I looked to you for guidance, for a vision statement that I could adopt that would fuel my ambitions. But you weren’t there for me. Of course, I shouldn’t blame you for society’s woes. Your conduct was a symptom of America’s habits not a cause. I knew this. But you should nonetheless know that among my colleagues, I am the rare few in my generation who became an astrophysicist in spite of your achievements in space rather than because of them. For my inspiration, I instead turned to libraries, remaindered books on the cosmos from bookstores, my rooftop telescope, and the Hayden Planetarium. After some fits and starts through my years in school, where my ambitions seemed at times to be the path of most resistance through an unwelcoming society, I became a professional scientist. I became an astrophysicist.
Over the decades that followed you’ve come a long way. Whoever does not yet recognize the value of this adventure to our Nation’s future, soon will, as the rest of the developed and developing world seeks to pass us by in every measure of technological and economic strength. Not only that, these days you look much more like America — from your senior-level managers to your most decorated astronauts. Congratulations. You now belong to the entire citizenry.
I had even joined the ranks of your most trusted, as I served dutifully on your prestigious Advisory Council. I came to recognize that when you’re at your best, nothing in this world can inspire the dreams of a nation the way you can — dreams fueled by a pipeline of ambitious students, eager to become scientists, engineers, and technologists in the service of the greatest quest there ever was. You have come to represent a fundamental part of America’s identity, not only to itself but to the world.
So as we continue our sixty-first trip around the Sun, I want you to know that I feel your pains and share your joys. And I look forward to seeing you back on the Moon. But don’t stop there. Mars beckons, as do destinations beyond.
Space buddy, even if I have not always been, I am now and evermore your humble servant.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
New York City
Adapted from the forthcoming book:
Letters From An Astrophysicist
(W. W. Norton, Fall 2019)



Economic Activist Chuck Collins – a closer look

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

Happy Wednesday! This week, we’re going to take a closer look at philanthropist/inequality scholar Chuck Collins!


He is a storyteller and organizer known for his efforts to bridge the national debate about wealth inequality and taxes as well; examining how to build community resilience and make a healthy transition to a sustainable new economy.


Chuck was, as he would be the first to tell you, born with the figurative silver spoon in his mouth. Or, to quote the title of one of his books, “Born on Third Base”. But growing up, he quickly learned he hadn’t hit a triple!


The great-grandson of Oscar Mayer (yes, that Oscar Mayer) grew up in privilege in suburban Detroit and attended the prestigious Cranbrook School. The 1967 riots in Detroit made young Chuck aware of inequality – racial, economic, etc. As an adolescent, he raised money for guide dogs, got involved in the first Earth Day in 1970, and began trying to make a difference in the world around him.


At 26, Chuck did more than talk the talk – he walked the walk, giving away his inheritance to charity.  When his conservative father asked him if he was a Marxist, Chuck replied that he’d rather be though of as a “Gandhian or Christian”.

Chuck has worked at the Institute for Community Economics, co-founded United for a Fair Economy, and is currently a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies.


He is co-author of several books, including, with Bill Gates Sr., Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes, and with Mary Wright, The Moral Measure of the Economy.  His most recent book is 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It.



—And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!



Dr. Edith Widder – a closer look

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Happy Wednesday! This week, we’re going to take a closer look at ocean biological researcher Dr. Edith Widder! She’s been back in the news recently because of the recent rare photographs of a giant squid, taken of the coast of the US. She was quoted as saying it was “one of the more amazing days at sea I’ve ever had.”


Dr. Edith Widder established the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) to lead the effort of translating complex scientific issues into technological solutions, and to foster greater understanding of ocean life as a means to better, more informed stewardship. “Our focus is on reversing the trend of oceanic and near-shore marine ecosystem degradation using the scientific integrity of a research institute,” said Dr. Widder.

Dr. Widder is uniquely suited to apply scientific methods to furthering marine conservation efforts. Her research involving submersibles has been featured in BBC, PBS, Discovery Channel and National Geographic television productions.


A specialist in bioluminescence (the light chemically produced by many ocean organisms), Dr. Widder has been a leader in helping to design and invent new submersible instrumentation, and equipment to enable unobtrusive deep-sea observations. Working with engineers, she has conceived of and built several unique devices that enable humans to see beneath the waves in new ways, including HIDEX, a bathyphotometer which is the U.S. Navy standard for measuring bioluminescence in the ocean; important information for keeping submarines hidden from above. Dr. Widder also built LoLAR, an ultrasensitive deep-sea light meter that measures light in the deep ocean, both dim down-welling sunlight and bioluminescence – both important determinants of animal distribution patterns.

Dr. Widder also created a remotely operated deep-sea camera system, known as ORCA’s Eye-in-the-Sea (EITS). When deployed on the sea floor, automatically detects and measures the bioluminescence of nearby organisms. EITS has produced footage of rare sharks, jellyfish, and discovered a new species of large squid (over six feet in length), all in their natural habitats. Dr. Widder and her unobtrusive camera system were featured on the Discovery Channel series Midwater Mysteries and PBS’s NOVA ScienceNOW.


Dr. Widder  was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In 2010 Dr. Widder was invited to participate in the prestigious Ted Mission Blue Voyage to the Galapagos Islands along with other leading thinkers and advocates of ocean conservation including Sylvia Earle, Barbara Block, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Mike deGruy, Callum Roberts and Enric Sala to name a few. Dr. Widder’s TED presentation, recorded from the deck of the ship Endeavour.​

In the summer of 2012 Dr. Widder, along with several other scientists, filmed the giant squid in its natural habitat for the first time ever. The historic footage aired on Curiosity on the Discovery Channel in January of 2013. Her innovative work earned her the 2018 Explorers Club Citation of Merit; she became one of just six women to earn this honor.


Let us know if you’d like to bring Dr. Edith Widder to speak to your organization, campus, or conference!


—And that is the story for this week! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest from all of our speakers, scientists and change makers!