Serious and not-so-serious punditry abounds on the Fall Assembly Series schedule

Programs include election issues such as the economy, environment, and government ethics

Politics is on everyone’s mind these days, especially as Washington University in St. Louis prepares to host the Vice Presidential Debate this fall. Befittingly, the Assembly Series offers programs highlighting some of the central issues of the day: issues such as the environment, the economy, and government ethics.

The programs are free and open to the public, with most scheduled for Wednesdays at 4 p.m. in Graham Chapel. For information and updates, check the Web site at, or call (314) 935-5285.

But first, a little levity. Opening the season will be political satirist Mo Rocca, whose mix of clever insights and silly opinions puts the fun in “fundit.” The event will be on Wednesday, September 10 at 4 p.m. in Graham Chapel. Seating will be limited for the public; doors open at 3 p.m.

His television appearances, beginning in 1998 on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” established his credentials as a bona fide “fake” correspondent, a persona he embraced. He soon attracted interest from the real media, notably Larry King, with whom he worked as on-floor correspondent at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In addition, he has worked as a writer and producer for children’s television shows, including “Wishbone” and the “Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss,” although he became better known as a media gadfly on VHI’s low-brow series, “I Love the 80s.”

Rocca’s career continues to be varied and unpredictable. He keeps busy as a recurring contributor for NBC’s “Tonight Show” and CBS’s “Sunday Morning”; he’s a regular panelist on NPR’s news quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me;” and he blogs at “Mo Rocca 180” (Only Half as Tedious as the Regular Media!). His Broadway debut as the vice principal in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was both a critical and popular hit.

Returning to more serious concerns, veteran New Yorker journalist Elizabeth Kolbert will take the Chapel stage at 4 p.m. Wednesday, September 17. Kolbert’s book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change, was chosen as this year’s book for incoming students to read and as such, will be the subject of many group discussions throughout the fall semester. Written much in the same manner as Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s ground breaking 1962 expose about the harm of pesticides to the environment, Kolbert’s story is a sobering look at the damage being done to the planet by global warming.

The American economy is on everyone’s minds these days, not only regarding what’s happening now but how we got here. WUSTL economist Steven Fazzari will offer his perspective at 4 p.m. Wednesday, September 24, in Graham Chapel. Fazzari, who is a professor of economics in Arts & Sciences and associate director of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government and Public Policy, believes that the past two decades of remarkable American consumption growth created a shopping spree that strengthened the economy as long as it could be financed, but the associated explosion of household debt culminated in our current troubles.

Due to the Vice Presidential Debate being held on Thursday, October 2, there will be no Assembly Series programs scheduled for the week of September 29 – October 3. There will, however, be a number of activities covering a variety of topics related to the election and the debate throughout the week. A list of these programs can be found on the WUSTL debate site:

What distinguishes human beings from all other species? Daniel Levitin, whose program will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, October 8 in Graham Chapel, thinks it is the impulse toward artistic expression. Drawing from his research as a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist as well as from his experience as a musician and record producer for such rock legends as Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder, Levitin has written two books advancing his theory: This Is your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, and the newly released, The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.”

Change the world and make a profit doing it — it’s an appealing idea with growing interest to young Americans who would like to put their business acumen to use as change agents. Washington University alumnus Jay Swoboda has successfully synthesized his talents and is making a change here in St. Louis in the affordable housing sector. His talk will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, October 15, in the Danforth University Center.

Peggy Orenstein’s books concentrate on the special issues facing women in contemporary society. From the 1994 Schoolgirls to Flux, and most recently Waiting for Daisy, she writes candidly about the challenges inherent in the lives of girls, women, and mothers in a world that is neither completely liberated nor entirely restricted. Orenstein’s presentation will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday, October 21 in Graham Chapel.

Carl Bernstein achieved fame early in his career as a reporter for the Washington Post. Together with Bob Woodward, they broke the Watergate scandal and brought down the Nixon presidency. In the past three decades, Bernstein has published several books, including the most recent one, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Bernstein will give a talk at 4 p.m. Thursday, October 23 in Graham Chapel.

Liz Lerman has devoted her career as a dancer, choreographer and educator to creating art that is truly egalitarian. The MacArthur “genius” grant recipient will spend a two-week residency in WUSTL’s Performing Arts Dept. and recruit people of all ages to perform one of her most acclaimed pieces, “Still Crossing.” On October 30 at 4 p.m. she will join other panelists to discuss how art can build communities and express identities. The event will be held in the Women’s Building Lounge.

Culture, history, race and politics have all played a significant hand in creating the uneven health care system America has today. Health policy historian Keith Wailoo, who runs the Center for Race and Ethnicity at Rutgers University, will share his insights at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 11 in a location to be determined.

Among the compelling memoirs of Holocaust survivors, “The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million” stands out as an extraordinary story of Daniel Mendelsohn’s search to find out what happened to six of his family members who perished. At the annual Holocaust Memorial Lecture at 4 p.m. Wednesday, November 12 in Graham Chapel, he will discuss the ways and the need to tell these stories after the survivors have gone.