Jeanne Sakata was so moved by the documentary “A Personal Matter,” about the life of the civil rights icon Gordon Hirabayashi, she wrote her first play, “Hold These Truths,” about him. “This wasn’t just a story for Japanese-Americans, this was a story for all Americans to hear and be inspired by,” said Sakata, at an event sponsored by the CUNY Asian American/Asian Research Institute. Hirabayashi, who as a college student was known for his legal battles against the U.S. government for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously, in the spring of 2012.
For over three decades, investigative reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele have chronicled the decline of the American middle class, earning two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Magazine Awards. In their latest book, The Betrayal of the American Dream, they sharpen their analysis of the causes of the economic crisis, including the years of mistaken trade and tax policy, as well as a disregard for existing laws. “It wasn’t just a hurricane that blew through the economy, but rather a deregulation of public policies and issues of taxes and trade that caused these problems,” said Steele at an event at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.
Defending her goal of transforming car-clogged streets into pedestrian plazas, the city’s transportation chief says her initiatives have boosted the number of visitors and, in the case of Times Square, have also been a boon for local businesses. “More people are spending time — eating, taking pictures and hanging out,” says Janette Sadik-Khan, who has served as commissioner of the Department of Transportation for the past five years. Sadik-Khan, in a speech, “It’s Not Impossible to Change a City,” at the 8th annual Lewis Mumford Lecture on Urbanism at City College, discussed initiatives that improve public safety and ease mobility. “Times Square was named one of the top 10 retail locations in the world — this certainly would not have been the case years ago,” says Sadik-Khan.
Along with nosy food bloggers and pesky health inspectors, New York City’s restaurateurs find that they have something else to deal with — social media. “Within seconds, a chef’s new idea is on Twitter,” says Danny Meyer, head of the Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes, along with other restaurants, Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and the Shake Shack chain. “That’s the shelf life of innovation — two seconds.” At an event sponsored by the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, one of the trade tips of his that Meyer served up that wasn’t about recipes: “It’s how you make your customers feel that will set you apart.”
Dolphins may look like big fish, but with large and complex brains the marine mammals’ behavior is more like primates and elephants, according to Diana Reiss, professor of psychology at Hunter College. “We used to think that many of our cognitive and communicative abilities were uniquely human,” says Reiss, who co-chaired the first annual CUNY Animal Behavior Initiative Conference at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, “but now we’re discovering that many of the abilities we possess — like the ability to recognize ourselves in a mirror — are found in other animals.” Reiss, who also serves as director of dolphin research at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, spoke at the all-day conference of panelists from around the country sharing their work in animal behavior.
Award-winning Broadway producer Roger Berlind credits legendary composer Richard Rodgers for encouraging him to follow his own theatrical path. “He was my idol,” says Berlind, who traveled with Rodgers as an assistant producer before striking out on his own in a career spanning more than 30 years. Berlind, whose current production of “The Book of Mormon” is his 15th Tony award winner, appeared at “On Producing: Broadway’s Roger Berlind,” an event moderated by Mara Isaacs and sponsored by the Segal Center at the Graduate Center.
When it comes to reducing gang-related crime violence, ethics can often be a more effective tool than traditional law enforcement, according to criminologist David Kennedy. “In a place where people don’t believe in the law, calling something ‘wrong’ is much more powerful than calling it illegal,” says Kennedy, who directs the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College. As part of the Symposium Series at the college, Kennedy, in a lecture “Gangs and Crime: Reduction Strategies,” discusses his groundbreaking work that brings gang members together with community members, social services representatives and law enforcement officials, to help bring “domestic tranquility” to high-crime communities.
In the early 1970s, as the number of heroin addicts in New York City started to explode, the Long Island newspaper Newsday sent a team of investigative reporters to find the source of the scourge. “That’s how journalism works,” says Les Payne, about his work on “The Heroin Trail,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning series that uncovered an international ring of heroin smugglers. You find a problem, see no quick answers, so you begin to investigate, says Payne, who wrote a column for Newsday until retiring in 2008. Payne spoke with students at LaGuardia Community College about the invaluable role that investigative reporting plays in a healthy democracy.
“An embarrassment and an affront to the American people,” is how Time political correspondent Joe Klein describes the field of Republican candidates in the 2012 presidential primary race. Longtime Washington and New York journalist and author of the novel Primary Colors, Klein joined Ben Smith of Politico and Peter Beinart of CUNY Graduate School of Journalism to discuss perspectives on the 2012 election.
Well-known for his best-selling works, often described as historical fiction, the author of Ragtime and Billy Bathgate resists the labeling of his writing. “There is something diminishing about the word ‘historical’ as applied to a novel,” says E.L. Doctorow, who spoke at the fourth annual Leon Levy Conference at the Graduate Center. “A work relegated to a genre, somehow feels less relevant than the here and now,” says Doctorow, the award-winning author of 11 novels, who delivered the conference lecture, “Biography in Fiction.”