Monthly Archives: November 2015

No Meekness Here: Meet Rosa Parks, ‘Lifelong Freedom Fighter’


Rosa Parks joins in a march at the South African Embassy in Washington, Dec. 10, 1984, protesting that country's racial policies. She's famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, sparking the Montgomery boycotts — but her activism spanned her entire life.i

Rosa Parks joins in a march at the South African Embassy in Washington, Dec. 10, 1984, protesting that country’s racial policies. She’s famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, sparking the Montgomery boycotts — but her activism spanned her entire life.

AP


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Rosa Parks joins in a march at the South African Embassy in Washington, Dec. 10, 1984, protesting that country's racial policies. She's famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, sparking the Montgomery boycotts — but her activism spanned her entire life.

Rosa Parks joins in a march at the South African Embassy in Washington, Dec. 10, 1984, protesting that country’s racial policies. She’s famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, sparking the Montgomery boycotts — but her activism spanned her entire life.

AP

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on bus in Montgomery, Ala. — and changed the course of history.

Her action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which would eventually lead to the end of legally segregated public transportation.

And for many Americans, Parks is the civil rights icon they love to love: the unassuming seamstress who, supposedly, just got tired one day and unwittingly launched the modern civil rights movement.

But as author Jeanne Theoharis explains in her book, The Rebellious Life Of Mrs. Rosa Parks, there was much more to Parks than this simple narrative. She spoke about this with Michel Martin, weekend host of All Things Considered.

Click on the audio link above to hear the interview as it aired, or see below for excerpts from the full, original interview.

Interview Highlights

On the biggest misconception about Rosa Parks

I think we reduce her to the one day on the bus … and in fact, she is a lifelong freedom fighter, and what it took to do what she did across her life and on that December day was deeply courageous, deeply difficult. And we see that beginning decades before her stand and continuing for decades after.

On how, in addition to civil rights and voting rights, Parks was also an anti-rape activist

Rosa Parks, like many black women, was doing domestic work in her late teens. She’s working for a white couple and a white neighbor of theirs is let in the house, gets a drink, puts his hand on her waist. She gets terrified. He’s big. He’s burly.

She’s small, but she resolves to resist. She basically tells him “you can rape my dead body.” And we’ll see the same kind of resolve in the 1940s. Then she will … try to bring cases where other black women have been victims of sexual violence or rape.

On what it cost the Parks family to maintain the boycott

She loses her job; her husband loses his job. They never find steady work in Montgomery ever again. So the whole boycott, they are in deep economic trouble. They’re getting constant death threats … Their steady income goes away.

They’re never well-off. I think we also have this myth that she’s middle-class. They’re not middle class. They’re living in the Cleveland Courts projects when she makes her bus stand. Their income is cut in half. In fact, it takes 11 years for the Parks to post an annual income equal to what they’re making in 1955. They will move to Detroit in 1957 because things are so tough in Montgomery.

On why many of the details of Parks’ real story are so little known

The story we’re told is a feel-good story: “It was bad, but then people organized, and look how far we’ve come, look how good we are.” It’s a story that puts the problem deeply in the past.

And I think what having to see what it took, having to see Rosa Parks and many other people continue for decades … I mean, Rosa Parks will continue to the end of her life fighting for racial justice, fighting for criminal justice, fighting for a more just foreign policy, fighting for real school desegregation, real change in the curriculum. All these things continue on. But the story that we’re told is a happy ending story. It’s a story that makes us feel good about how far we’ve come.

If we want to think about the way it portrays Rosa Parks, it traps her on the bus. It makes her meek … and we miss the fierceness of Rosa Parks. We miss the perseverance … We miss who she was and what it took, and what she’s asking of us today.

All Things Considered weekend host Michel Martin heads to Montgomery on Dec. 1 to look back on the city’s historic bus boycott on its 60th anniversary. The live storytelling event is a part of Martin’s Going There series. For more information, visit www.nprpresents.org.

A Star-Crossed ‘Scientific Fact': The Story Of Vulcan, Planet That Never Was


The Hunt for Vulcan

And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe

by Thomas Levenson

Hardcover, 229 pages |

purchase

There’s a common misconception that science is purely about cold, hard facts — concrete evidence, mathematical models and replicable experiments to explain the world around us.

It’s easy to forget that there are people behind the data and equations. And when people are involved, there is always room for human error.

In The Hunt For Vulcan, author Thomas Levenson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explores one glaring error that was taken as fact for more than 50 years: the belief that there was another planet in our solar system that we couldn’t see behind the sun.

The mistake started with good science, Levenson says: the observation of something odd, and the development of a reasonable hypothesis to explain it.

“In the mid-19th century, an extremely talented astronomer — a really, really top-flight guy — was studying the orbit of the planet Mercury, and he found that there was a wobble in it. There was an unexplained extra residue of motion,” Levenson tells NPR’s Michel Martin.

And, Levenson says that according to the prevailing science of the time, there was a clear explanation for that: “another planet that we hadn’t yet discovered, inside the orbit of Mercury, that could tug it just slightly off its expected course.”

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.i

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images


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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

After the theory was announced, both amateur and professional astronomers reported that they’d actually spotted the planet. The planet was named Vulcan, and its orbit was calculated. It all appeared quite cut and dry.

Then Albert Einstein came along.

Interview Highlights

On Einstein’s role in debunking Vulcan’s existence

Albert Einstein had a problem in the first decade of the 20th century. In 1905, he invented the special theory of relativity, which explained motion in all kinds of circumstances but one — which was motion under the influence of gravity.

And so, from about 1907 on, he started trying to reconcile the fact that his special theory of relativity and Newton’s laws of motion — Newton’s ideas about gravitation — were incompatible, they clashed. He spent 8 years on the problem, completed 100 years ago this month. He showed that it was the actual shape and space of time that produces this visible wobble in [Mercury’s] orbit that requires no extra explanation for it. It’s just that’s the way the shape of space is where it happens to be.

On Einstein’s reaction to this conclusion

He kind of lost his mind for a little bit. He did the calculation to see … if his theory produced an account of Mercury that behaved as the real Mercury does. He was working through the calculation, and there are a bunch of steps, and he got to the end. And he got the number, and he looked at the number and he looked at the table of what astronomers had observed and he saw that they matched. He said he had palpitations, I mean his heart was literally shuddering in his chest. I just have this vision — it’s completely made up — but I have this vision of Einstein, sockless, dancing at his desk when he got that number.

On why the story of Vulcan isn’t better known

We don’t teach the history of science by the things that people messed up on; we teach the history of science — we teach all of history — by the things that worked. You know, the transcontinental railroad goes through, and you drive the golden spike and there it is. You don’t talk about all the railroad companies that went bankrupt somewhere in the Great Plains, right? And in science, you don’t dwell on the blind alleys.

But the blind alleys are most of what science actually does. You have to go down the blind alley, you bang your head against that blank wall at the end of it, come back out again and try something else. And that’s the real experience! And that’s why Vulcan is so wonderful. It shows how you do that and ultimately how you get out of that.

On the ideas we believe today that may turn out to be ridiculous

I’d bet real money on this: that 100 years from now, somebody’s going to look back on things we believe about who knows what, our current theories of the brain or consciousness, some of the deep ideas of the people working in physics, ways that social relations are presumed to work. You name it, there’s something out there. We have an assumption, we have a mental model, we have a theory that just isn’t right.

And 100 years from now somebody’s going to look at them and say, “Wasn’t that ridiculous? How could they get it so wrong? Isn’t it obvious?”

I mean, yeah — human beings don’t get things right all at once. It takes us a lot of time, we make a lot of mistakes, we have category mistakes. And it takes a great leap of the imagination to get from what you really know you know to the wacky thing that turns out to be more true than your remembered but erroneous past.

Customization Is Key: ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’ Makes Space For Gamers Of All Stripes


In Star Wars: Battlefront, gamers can take their pick of customization options for the characters they play. i

In Star Wars: Battlefront, gamers can take their pick of customization options for the characters they play.

Courtesy of EA


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Courtesy of EA

In Star Wars: Battlefront, gamers can take their pick of customization options for the characters they play.

In Star Wars: Battlefront, gamers can take their pick of customization options for the characters they play.

Courtesy of EA

Still several weeks out, the hype is already hitting enormous heights for the new Star Wars installment. The Force Awakens has sold more than $50 million in tickets — and the movie doesn’t even open until Dec. 18.

But fans of the film franchise do have an outlet for their excitement available right now, and it offers an opportunity the movie doesn’t: The video game Star Wars: Battlefront allows players to customize their characters with a tremendous diversity of characteristics — white, black, young, old, male, female, human or, well, distinctly unhuman.

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, a senior producer at DICE, the Stockholm-based team that developed the game, says all that customization wasn’t just a secondary feature. It was a priority.

“For us, now that we are rebooting the franchise and looking forward, it was important to take notice of the fact that gamers are of both genders, young and old, of every race,” Ingvarsdottir tells NPR’s Michel Martin.

“We wanted to make sure that from the get-go we were designing the franchise to be inclusive for everyone.”

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, senior producer at DICE.i

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, senior producer at DICE.

Courtesy of Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir


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Courtesy of Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, senior producer at DICE.

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, senior producer at DICE.

Courtesy of Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir

Interview Highlights

On how customization came to be such an emphasis

I think that you could have an easy assumption that [customization] is because of me, but it isn’t really — although I strongly support it. My design director of the game, for him it was always a given that you’d be able to play people of both genders. And, you know, we didn’t specify races in the beginning, but that was the next step.

The way that we do it is we use a technique that’s called photogrammetry. So, the characters in the game and that you can select from — these are actual actors. When we did that casting for it, we decided to make sure that they were as diverse and as different as possible.

On the most fun part of the process

I think for me being able to go to the Lucasfilm archives at Skywalker Ranch. There’s a treasure trove of Star Wars props and costumes and models that have been used in the original trilogy of movies.

One of the things that I had never thought about was how the vision for the universe is creating the unfamiliar out of the eminently familiar. And I think the technology of a lightsaber as an example. What they did was they took pieces of camera equipment from the ’60s and put them together to create these hilts for lightsabers. I think it’s really the key to making the universe of Star Wars so believable and so enchanting.

On whether their achievements in this game will help improve the social dynamics of the gaming industry

I’ve been in the industry now for nine years, and I can see more prominent women through different gaming companies reaching higher levels. I can see games starting to feel more diverse, in both their subject matters as well as character creation. It feels like it is changing in a more positive way. Not very quickly, but I feel pretty hopeful.

I don’t think, you know — although it would be nice to feel like my game is a big contributor to that — but I think it’s more emblematic of a bigger change.

‘Not Without My Daughter’ Subject Grows Up, Tells Her Own Story




RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It’s been almost 25 years since a film called “Not Without My Daughter” captured the world’s attention and thrust a Michigan mother and her child into the international spotlight. The movie starred Sally Field and was based on a memoir written by Betty Mahmoody. It’s the true life tale of how Betty agreed to leave the U.S. with her Iranian husband and their daughter to visit his family in Tehran. She thought it was for a short visit, but when they arrived, Betty realized he was never going to let her and her daughter, Mahtob, return to America.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER”)

ALFRED MOLINA: (As Moody) I know it seems harsh but it’s the best thing for all of us. Mahtob could learn real values here.

SALLY FIELDS: (As Betty Mahmoody) No, I won’t stay here. You can’t keep me.

MOLINA: (As Moody) Now you listen to me. You’re in my country now. You’re my wife. You do as I say, you understand me?

MARTIN: After more than a year in Iran, Betty and Mahtob did escape. And they carved out a new life for themselves back in the U.S. Mahtob has now written her own reflections of that harrowing experience. Her new memoir is called “My Name Is Mahtob.” She joins me from member station WGVU in Grand Rapids, Mich. Thanks so much for being with us.

BETTY MAHMOODY: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.

MARTIN: Let’s go back, if we could, to where this story began, the day that you left the U.S. with your parents to go to a Iran. It was 1984. You were 4 years old at the time. The Iranian Revolution had happened just a few years prior and your dad had been swept up in this movement, even though he was living far away from his homeland – he was here in the states with you and your mom. How did he convince you and your mother to come with him? Because it wasn’t exactly a stable time to travel to Iran with a young child.

MAHMOODY: No, not at all, not at all. I was 4 years old. I didn’t really have much of a say in the matter (laughter).

MARTIN: Right.

MAHMOODY: My mom was very much apprehensive about going. But she was also afraid that if she didn’t go, my dad would kidnap me and take me. And then she would have no way to get me back.

MARTIN: What happened when you did arrive?

MAHMOODY: Well, at first, it was a two-week vacation. So there was a lot of family and there was (laughter) – it wasn’t entirely seamless. But it was very much a celebration. They were very happy to have us there. They treated us very well.

MARTIN: When did it start to dawn on you that you were not going home?

MAHMOODY: So it was the night before we were to leave to return to America. Mom was packing. And there had been talk about our passports and our papers weren’t in order and, you know, there were issues. But everything was going to work out. It was going to be all right. And then the night before we were to leave, we were in the bedroom. Mom was packing. And my dad came in and said that’s it. We weren’t leaving. We were in Iran until we died. And we were in his country. We had to abide by his rules. And from then on, he was a completely different person. To me, that’s when my daddy died. You know, he was, from that moment on, completely changed.

MARTIN: He was violent. And from time to time, he physically attacked your mom. You described one gripping scene in the book near the beginning of your time in Tehran. And he’s having this violent episode. You – this very young child – you jumped in to try to separate them. That’s a horrible thing for a child to have to witness.

MAHMOODY: It is. It’s wrong on so many levels but, you know, it was. That was the reality of the situation. And it was worse for me to see my dad beating my mom than for him to hit me, and he did that too. I mean – but I would rather he hit me or he throw me across the room than to see him hit her.

MARTIN: The escape story is amazing. I’ll summarize it. The two of you pretended to be on an errand outside of the house. And a string of couriers, essentially, put you in one car, then another car and they drive you to the border. You were smuggled outside of Iran through a perilous journey through the mountains. Eventually, you make your way to Turkey. And from there, the Embassy – the U.S. Embassy – helps you get back to the states. I wonder – I mean, it’s a long, complicated, emotional journey. But can you recall a couple of details that you could share, either moments or emotions, people?

MAHMOODY: Sure, it was very, very cold. The man who helped us – I remember he had a sofa table with little figurines on it. I remember playing with them and listening to him and my mom talking. And I remember being so sad to leave him because this was a symbol of security to me. This was someone safe, someone loving and kind.

MARTIN: You got home. When did you finally stop looking over your shoulder, living with the fear that someone working for your dad or your dad would come to get you?

MAHMOODY: For the first few years after I escaped, I had terrible nightmares. And I felt like he was chasing me in life and he was chasing me in my dreams. There was no peace. But Mom enrolled me in a small parochial school. And there, I learned the lessons of God’s grace and God’s love. And that – they helped me learn to forgive my dad. At the same time, Mom was working really tired hard to help me let go of the hatred that had taken hold of me and help me to love my dad again and remember that he had loved me.

MARTIN: Your father has since passed away. And there was an opportunity you had to see him. You chose not to do that. Why?

MAHMOODY: Well, I think there’s a big difference between forgiveness and trust. You know, I forgave my father very early on, within the first year or two after our escape. And then every time he would reappear in my life, I would have to work through those emotions and, you know, forgive him all over again. And Mom always made sure that I knew that if I wanted to communicate with my father, it was always my decision. She actually really thought it would be good for me. If nothing else, to learn about my family’s health history (laughter). But I didn’t trust him. I know how dangerous he could be when he was provoked. And I knew he would never get from me what he wanted. And it would be torture for him and it would be dangerous for me and for Mom. So really I thought it would do more harm than good.

MARTIN: Mahtob Mahmoody, her new book is called “My Name Is Mahtob.” Thank you so much for talking with us.

MAHMOODY: Thank you. It was an absolute pleasure.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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Barcelona’s Women Make ‘The Whispering City’ Shine


What do you get when two academics from Frankfurt collaborate on a mystery novel set in mid-20th century Spain?

You might think the answer is “one snoozer of a read,” but you’d be dead wrong (apologies; it is a mystery, though). The Whispering City: Barcelona 1952, written under the pen name Sara Moliner, depicts a time and place so perfectly that the central mystery of who killed socialite Mariona Sobrerroca almost seems beside the point.

Rosa Ribas, who teaches at Frankfurt University and has published six novels in her native Spain, wrote The Whispering City with her former university colleague Sabine Hofmann, a philologist. Early on in the story, it was easy to tell that Ribas was probably responsible for the chapters featuring young journalist Ana Martí Noguer and Hofmann for those focused on Ana’s older cousin Beatriz, a professor whose career has been stalled due to her leftist associations — the alternating chapters have different tones and pacing. However, as the women’s stories intersect and intertwine, the writing grows tighter and more seamless.

Knowing about how the novel reads means something because once you’ve managed to map all of the characters and their complicated, gorgeous Catalan names (“Oleguer Pons,” “Jaime Pla,” and “Conchita Comamala,” to list just a few), you’ll be drawn into their rigid, Generalissimo Francisco Franco-led universe. The mental sepia tones evoked (and used on the cover — good job, Pegasus designers!) aren’t just those of vintage photographs, but those of a city blanched of its color and vivacity by a right-wing regime.

Ana (or Aneta, as Beatriz and other family members call her) works at La Vanguardia, a newspaper valiantly attempting to stay one step within the limits the authorities impose. When her editor Mateo Sanvisens assigns her the task of investigating Sobrerroca’s death, he’s just trying to appease those authorities — the prosecutor hopes an article will reflect well on “the forces of order.”

Unfortunately for him and happily for the reader, Ana smells a rat — literally, at the murder scene, and figuratively, in the person of nasty Inspector Isidro Castro of the Criminal Investigation Brigade. As she realizes that she needs help deciphering a piece of evidence, she happens to attend a family funeral and meet her cousin. The two women join forces and enlist Beatriz’s brother Pablo to help them as well.

However, what gives this historical gem its shine is Ribas and Hofmann’s quiet but insistent focus on the women of Barcelona, of every age and type. One of the most vibrant characters is Encarni (short for “Encarnacion”), Beatriz’s loyal, stubborn housekeeper, who lives in hope of winning an electric refrigerator to replace the apartment’s leaking wooden icebox. Ana and Beatriz’s fervor to find the dead woman’s killer is kept lit by an internal recognition of their cultural fate. When Ana’s boss tells her, at one point during the investigation, “We aren’t in a position to negotiate,” she knows she isn’t: “A woman, and a rookie. As soon as she was married, if she married, her husband could forbid her from working. No, she wasn’t in a position to demand, or expect, anything. So she just asked ‘What now?'”

Fortunately for demanding mystery readers, we can expect another Barcelona 1952 novel sometime in the next year or two. Will it feature Ana and Beatriz again? You’ll have to finish The Whispering City in order to hazard a guess.

No Meekness Here: Meet Rosa Parks, ‘Lifelong Freedom Fighter’


Rosa Parks joins in a march at the South African Embassy in Washington, Dec. 10, 1984, protesting that country's racial policies. She's famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, sparking the Montgomery boycotts — but her activism spanned her entire life.i

Rosa Parks joins in a march at the South African Embassy in Washington, Dec. 10, 1984, protesting that country’s racial policies. She’s famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, sparking the Montgomery boycotts — but her activism spanned her entire life.

AP


hide caption

toggle caption

AP

Rosa Parks joins in a march at the South African Embassy in Washington, Dec. 10, 1984, protesting that country's racial policies. She's famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, sparking the Montgomery boycotts — but her activism spanned her entire life.

Rosa Parks joins in a march at the South African Embassy in Washington, Dec. 10, 1984, protesting that country’s racial policies. She’s famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, sparking the Montgomery boycotts — but her activism spanned her entire life.

AP

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on bus in Montgomery, Ala. — and changed the course of history.

Her action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which would eventually lead to the end of legally segregated public transportation.

And for many Americans, Parks is the civil rights icon they love to love: the unassuming seamstress who, supposedly, just got tired one day and unwittingly launched the modern civil rights movement.

But as author Jeanne Theoharis explains in her book, The Rebellious Life Of Mrs. Rosa Parks, there was much more to Parks than this simple narrative. She spoke about this with Michel Martin, weekend host of All Things Considered.

Click on the audio link above to hear the interview as it aired, or see below for excerpts from the full, original interview.

Interview Highlights

On the biggest misconception about Rosa Parks

I think we reduce her to the one day on the bus … and in fact, she is a lifelong freedom fighter, and what it took to do what she did across her life and on that December day was deeply courageous, deeply difficult. And we see that beginning decades before her stand and continuing for decades after.

On how, in addition to civil rights and voting rights, Parks was also an anti-rape activist

Rosa Parks, like many black women, was doing domestic work in her late teens. She’s working for a white couple and a white neighbor of theirs is let in the house, gets a drink, puts his hand on her waist. She gets terrified. He’s big. He’s burly.

She’s small, but she resolves to resist. She basically tells him “you can rape my dead body.” And we’ll see the same kind of resolve in the 1940s. Then she will … try to bring cases where other black women have been victims of sexual violence or rape.

On what it cost the Parks family to maintain the boycott

She loses her job; her husband loses his job. They never find steady work in Montgomery ever again. So the whole boycott, they are in deep economic trouble. They’re getting constant death threats … Their steady income goes away.

They’re never well-off. I think we also have this myth that she’s middle-class. They’re not middle class. They’re living in the Cleveland Courts projects when she makes her bus stand. Their income is cut in half. In fact, it takes 11 years for the Parks to post an annual income equal to what they’re making in 1955. They will move to Detroit in 1957 because things are so tough in Montgomery.

On why many of the details of Parks’ real story are so little known

The story we’re told is a feel-good story: “It was bad, but then people organized, and look how far we’ve come, look how good we are.” It’s a story that puts the problem deeply in the past.

And I think what having to see what it took, having to see Rosa Parks and many other people continue for decades … I mean, Rosa Parks will continue to the end of her life fighting for racial justice, fighting for criminal justice, fighting for a more just foreign policy, fighting for real school desegregation, real change in the curriculum. All these things continue on. But the story that we’re told is a happy ending story. It’s a story that makes us feel good about how far we’ve come.

If we want to think about the way it portrays Rosa Parks, it traps her on the bus. It makes her meek … and we miss the fierceness of Rosa Parks. We miss the perseverance … We miss who she was and what it took, and what she’s asking of us today.

All Things Considered weekend host Michel Martin heads to Montgomery on Dec. 1 to look back on the city’s historic bus boycott on its 60th anniversary. The live storytelling event is a part of Martin’s Going There series. For more information, visit www.nprpresents.org.

A Star-Crossed ‘Scientific Fact': The Story Of Vulcan, Planet That Never Was


The Hunt for Vulcan

And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe

by Thomas Levenson

Hardcover, 229 pages |

purchase

There’s a common misconception that science is purely about cold, hard facts — concrete evidence, mathematical models and replicable experiments to explain the world around us.

It’s easy to forget that there are people behind the data and equations. And when people are involved, there is always room for human error.

In The Hunt For Vulcan, author Thomas Levenson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explores one glaring error that was taken as fact for more than 50 years: the belief that there was another planet in our solar system that we couldn’t see behind the sun.

The mistake started with good science, Levenson says: the observation of something odd, and the development of a reasonable hypothesis to explain it.

“In the mid-19th century, an extremely talented astronomer — a really, really top-flight guy — was studying the orbit of the planet Mercury, and he found that there was a wobble in it. There was an unexplained extra residue of motion,” Levenson tells NPR’s Michel Martin.

And, Levenson says that according to the prevailing science of the time, there was a clear explanation for that: “another planet that we hadn’t yet discovered, inside the orbit of Mercury, that could tug it just slightly off its expected course.”

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.i

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Professor Thomas Levenson, during the History Channel 2008 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

After the theory was announced, both amateur and professional astronomers reported that they’d actually spotted the planet. The planet was named Vulcan, and its orbit was calculated. It all appeared quite cut and dry.

Then Albert Einstein came along.

Interview Highlights

On Einstein’s role in debunking Vulcan’s existence

Albert Einstein had a problem in the first decade of the 20th century. In 1905, he invented the special theory of relativity, which explained motion in all kinds of circumstances but one — which was motion under the influence of gravity.

And so, from about 1907 on, he started trying to reconcile the fact that his special theory of relativity and Newton’s laws of motion — Newton’s ideas about gravitation — were incompatible, they clashed. He spent 8 years on the problem, completed 100 years ago this month. He showed that it was the actual shape and space of time that produces this visible wobble in [Mercury’s] orbit that requires no extra explanation for it. It’s just that’s the way the shape of space is where it happens to be.

On Einstein’s reaction to this conclusion

He kind of lost his mind for a little bit. He did the calculation to see … if his theory produced an account of Mercury that behaved as the real Mercury does. He was working through the calculation, and there are a bunch of steps, and he got to the end. And he got the number, and he looked at the number and he looked at the table of what astronomers had observed and he saw that they matched. He said he had palpitations, I mean his heart was literally shuddering in his chest. I just have this vision — it’s completely made up — but I have this vision of Einstein, sockless, dancing at his desk when he got that number.

On why the story of Vulcan isn’t better known

We don’t teach the history of science by the things that people messed up on; we teach the history of science — we teach all of history — by the things that worked. You know, the transcontinental railroad goes through, and you drive the golden spike and there it is. You don’t talk about all the railroad companies that went bankrupt somewhere in the Great Plains, right? And in science, you don’t dwell on the blind alleys.

But the blind alleys are most of what science actually does. You have to go down the blind alley, you bang your head against that blank wall at the end of it, come back out again and try something else. And that’s the real experience! And that’s why Vulcan is so wonderful. It shows how you do that and ultimately how you get out of that.

On the ideas we believe today that may turn out to be ridiculous

I’d bet real money on this: that 100 years from now, somebody’s going to look back on things we believe about who knows what, our current theories of the brain or consciousness, some of the deep ideas of the people working in physics, ways that social relations are presumed to work. You name it, there’s something out there. We have an assumption, we have a mental model, we have a theory that just isn’t right.

And 100 years from now somebody’s going to look at them and say, “Wasn’t that ridiculous? How could they get it so wrong? Isn’t it obvious?”

I mean, yeah — human beings don’t get things right all at once. It takes us a lot of time, we make a lot of mistakes, we have category mistakes. And it takes a great leap of the imagination to get from what you really know you know to the wacky thing that turns out to be more true than your remembered but erroneous past.

Customization Is Key: ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’ Makes Space For Gamers Of All Stripes


In Star Wars: Battlefront, gamers can take their pick of customization options for the characters they play. i

In Star Wars: Battlefront, gamers can take their pick of customization options for the characters they play.

Courtesy of EA


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Courtesy of EA

In Star Wars: Battlefront, gamers can take their pick of customization options for the characters they play.

In Star Wars: Battlefront, gamers can take their pick of customization options for the characters they play.

Courtesy of EA

Still several weeks out, the hype is already hitting enormous heights for the new Star Wars installment. The Force Awakens has sold more than $50 million in tickets — and the movie doesn’t even open until Dec. 18.

But fans of the film franchise do have an outlet for their excitement available right now, and it offers an opportunity the movie doesn’t: The video game Star Wars: Battlefront allows players to customize their characters with a tremendous diversity of characteristics — white, black, young, old, male, female, human or, well, distinctly unhuman.

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, a senior producer at DICE, the Stockholm-based team that developed the game, says all that customization wasn’t just a secondary feature. It was a priority.

“For us, now that we are rebooting the franchise and looking forward, it was important to take notice of the fact that gamers are of both genders, young and old, of every race,” Ingvarsdottir tells NPR’s Michel Martin.

“We wanted to make sure that from the get-go we were designing the franchise to be inclusive for everyone.”

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, senior producer at DICE.i

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, senior producer at DICE.

Courtesy of Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir


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Courtesy of Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, senior producer at DICE.

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, senior producer at DICE.

Courtesy of Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir

Interview Highlights

On how customization came to be such an emphasis

I think that you could have an easy assumption that [customization] is because of me, but it isn’t really — although I strongly support it. My design director of the game, for him it was always a given that you’d be able to play people of both genders. And, you know, we didn’t specify races in the beginning, but that was the next step.

The way that we do it is we use a technique that’s called photogrammetry. So, the characters in the game and that you can select from — these are actual actors. When we did that casting for it, we decided to make sure that they were as diverse and as different as possible.

On the most fun part of the process

I think for me being able to go to the Lucasfilm archives at Skywalker Ranch. There’s a treasure trove of Star Wars props and costumes and models that have been used in the original trilogy of movies.

One of the things that I had never thought about was how the vision for the universe is creating the unfamiliar out of the eminently familiar. And I think the technology of a lightsaber as an example. What they did was they took pieces of camera equipment from the ’60s and put them together to create these hilts for lightsabers. I think it’s really the key to making the universe of Star Wars so believable and so enchanting.

On whether their achievements in this game will help improve the social dynamics of the gaming industry

I’ve been in the industry now for nine years, and I can see more prominent women through different gaming companies reaching higher levels. I can see games starting to feel more diverse, in both their subject matters as well as character creation. It feels like it is changing in a more positive way. Not very quickly, but I feel pretty hopeful.

I don’t think, you know — although it would be nice to feel like my game is a big contributor to that — but I think it’s more emblematic of a bigger change.

‘Not Without My Daughter’ Subject Grows Up, Tells Her Own Story




RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It’s been almost 25 years since a film called “Not Without My Daughter” captured the world’s attention and thrust a Michigan mother and her child into the international spotlight. The movie starred Sally Field and was based on a memoir written by Betty Mahmoody. It’s the true life tale of how Betty agreed to leave the U.S. with her Iranian husband and their daughter to visit his family in Tehran. She thought it was for a short visit, but when they arrived, Betty realized he was never going to let her and her daughter, Mahtob, return to America.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER”)

ALFRED MOLINA: (As Moody) I know it seems harsh but it’s the best thing for all of us. Mahtob could learn real values here.

SALLY FIELDS: (As Betty Mahmoody) No, I won’t stay here. You can’t keep me.

MOLINA: (As Moody) Now you listen to me. You’re in my country now. You’re my wife. You do as I say, you understand me?

MARTIN: After more than a year in Iran, Betty and Mahtob did escape. And they carved out a new life for themselves back in the U.S. Mahtob has now written her own reflections of that harrowing experience. Her new memoir is called “My Name Is Mahtob.” She joins me from member station WGVU in Grand Rapids, Mich. Thanks so much for being with us.

BETTY MAHMOODY: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.

MARTIN: Let’s go back, if we could, to where this story began, the day that you left the U.S. with your parents to go to a Iran. It was 1984. You were 4 years old at the time. The Iranian Revolution had happened just a few years prior and your dad had been swept up in this movement, even though he was living far away from his homeland – he was here in the states with you and your mom. How did he convince you and your mother to come with him? Because it wasn’t exactly a stable time to travel to Iran with a young child.

MAHMOODY: No, not at all, not at all. I was 4 years old. I didn’t really have much of a say in the matter (laughter).

MARTIN: Right.

MAHMOODY: My mom was very much apprehensive about going. But she was also afraid that if she didn’t go, my dad would kidnap me and take me. And then she would have no way to get me back.

MARTIN: What happened when you did arrive?

MAHMOODY: Well, at first, it was a two-week vacation. So there was a lot of family and there was (laughter) – it wasn’t entirely seamless. But it was very much a celebration. They were very happy to have us there. They treated us very well.

MARTIN: When did it start to dawn on you that you were not going home?

MAHMOODY: So it was the night before we were to leave to return to America. Mom was packing. And there had been talk about our passports and our papers weren’t in order and, you know, there were issues. But everything was going to work out. It was going to be all right. And then the night before we were to leave, we were in the bedroom. Mom was packing. And my dad came in and said that’s it. We weren’t leaving. We were in Iran until we died. And we were in his country. We had to abide by his rules. And from then on, he was a completely different person. To me, that’s when my daddy died. You know, he was, from that moment on, completely changed.

MARTIN: He was violent. And from time to time, he physically attacked your mom. You described one gripping scene in the book near the beginning of your time in Tehran. And he’s having this violent episode. You – this very young child – you jumped in to try to separate them. That’s a horrible thing for a child to have to witness.

MAHMOODY: It is. It’s wrong on so many levels but, you know, it was. That was the reality of the situation. And it was worse for me to see my dad beating my mom than for him to hit me, and he did that too. I mean – but I would rather he hit me or he throw me across the room than to see him hit her.

MARTIN: The escape story is amazing. I’ll summarize it. The two of you pretended to be on an errand outside of the house. And a string of couriers, essentially, put you in one car, then another car and they drive you to the border. You were smuggled outside of Iran through a perilous journey through the mountains. Eventually, you make your way to Turkey. And from there, the Embassy – the U.S. Embassy – helps you get back to the states. I wonder – I mean, it’s a long, complicated, emotional journey. But can you recall a couple of details that you could share, either moments or emotions, people?

MAHMOODY: Sure, it was very, very cold. The man who helped us – I remember he had a sofa table with little figurines on it. I remember playing with them and listening to him and my mom talking. And I remember being so sad to leave him because this was a symbol of security to me. This was someone safe, someone loving and kind.

MARTIN: You got home. When did you finally stop looking over your shoulder, living with the fear that someone working for your dad or your dad would come to get you?

MAHMOODY: For the first few years after I escaped, I had terrible nightmares. And I felt like he was chasing me in life and he was chasing me in my dreams. There was no peace. But Mom enrolled me in a small parochial school. And there, I learned the lessons of God’s grace and God’s love. And that – they helped me learn to forgive my dad. At the same time, Mom was working really tired hard to help me let go of the hatred that had taken hold of me and help me to love my dad again and remember that he had loved me.

MARTIN: Your father has since passed away. And there was an opportunity you had to see him. You chose not to do that. Why?

MAHMOODY: Well, I think there’s a big difference between forgiveness and trust. You know, I forgave my father very early on, within the first year or two after our escape. And then every time he would reappear in my life, I would have to work through those emotions and, you know, forgive him all over again. And Mom always made sure that I knew that if I wanted to communicate with my father, it was always my decision. She actually really thought it would be good for me. If nothing else, to learn about my family’s health history (laughter). But I didn’t trust him. I know how dangerous he could be when he was provoked. And I knew he would never get from me what he wanted. And it would be torture for him and it would be dangerous for me and for Mom. So really I thought it would do more harm than good.

MARTIN: Mahtob Mahmoody, her new book is called “My Name Is Mahtob.” Thank you so much for talking with us.

MAHMOODY: Thank you. It was an absolute pleasure.

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Barcelona’s Women Make ‘The Whispering City’ Shine


What do you get when two academics from Frankfurt collaborate on a mystery novel set in mid-20th century Spain?

You might think the answer is “one snoozer of a read,” but you’d be dead wrong (apologies; it is a mystery, though). The Whispering City: Barcelona 1952, written under the pen name Sara Moliner, depicts a time and place so perfectly that the central mystery of who killed socialite Mariona Sobrerroca almost seems beside the point.

Rosa Ribas, who teaches at Frankfurt University and has published six novels in her native Spain, wrote The Whispering City with her former university colleague Sabine Hofmann, a philologist. Early on in the story, it was easy to tell that Ribas was probably responsible for the chapters featuring young journalist Ana Martí Noguer and Hofmann for those focused on Ana’s older cousin Beatriz, a professor whose career has been stalled due to her leftist associations — the alternating chapters have different tones and pacing. However, as the women’s stories intersect and intertwine, the writing grows tighter and more seamless.

Knowing about how the novel reads means something because once you’ve managed to map all of the characters and their complicated, gorgeous Catalan names (“Oleguer Pons,” “Jaime Pla,” and “Conchita Comamala,” to list just a few), you’ll be drawn into their rigid, Generalissimo Francisco Franco-led universe. The mental sepia tones evoked (and used on the cover — good job, Pegasus designers!) aren’t just those of vintage photographs, but those of a city blanched of its color and vivacity by a right-wing regime.

Ana (or Aneta, as Beatriz and other family members call her) works at La Vanguardia, a newspaper valiantly attempting to stay one step within the limits the authorities impose. When her editor Mateo Sanvisens assigns her the task of investigating Sobrerroca’s death, he’s just trying to appease those authorities — the prosecutor hopes an article will reflect well on “the forces of order.”

Unfortunately for him and happily for the reader, Ana smells a rat — literally, at the murder scene, and figuratively, in the person of nasty Inspector Isidro Castro of the Criminal Investigation Brigade. As she realizes that she needs help deciphering a piece of evidence, she happens to attend a family funeral and meet her cousin. The two women join forces and enlist Beatriz’s brother Pablo to help them as well.

However, what gives this historical gem its shine is Ribas and Hofmann’s quiet but insistent focus on the women of Barcelona, of every age and type. One of the most vibrant characters is Encarni (short for “Encarnacion”), Beatriz’s loyal, stubborn housekeeper, who lives in hope of winning an electric refrigerator to replace the apartment’s leaking wooden icebox. Ana and Beatriz’s fervor to find the dead woman’s killer is kept lit by an internal recognition of their cultural fate. When Ana’s boss tells her, at one point during the investigation, “We aren’t in a position to negotiate,” she knows she isn’t: “A woman, and a rookie. As soon as she was married, if she married, her husband could forbid her from working. No, she wasn’t in a position to demand, or expect, anything. So she just asked ‘What now?'”

Fortunately for demanding mystery readers, we can expect another Barcelona 1952 novel sometime in the next year or two. Will it feature Ana and Beatriz again? You’ll have to finish The Whispering City in order to hazard a guess.