Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Life After Prison

One of the consequences of the vast numbers of men we incarcerate in America, is that over 700,000 people each year are being released from prisons. Many have served long sentences and are woefully unprepared to integrate back into society. Especially a society that has little willingness to receive them.

As changes in society come more rapidly, its harder and harder for these individuals to adjust. The result is often increased rates of recidivism, and a revolving door into the prison/industrial complex.

Sabine Heinlein has taken both a micro and macro look the public policy consequences of this behavior. Her new book is Among Murderers: Life after Prison

My conversation with Sabine Heinlein:

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One Photo. Endless Possibility.

When we look at a photograph or a piece of art there are usually two imaginations at work. The artist or photographer, and the viewer whose interpretation gives the work life, energy and meaning.

Author and filmmaker Marisa Silver has taken a single, iconic photograph, the “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange, as her inspiration for her own story and her own reinterpretation. It now allows all of us, to bring our own imagination and understanding to her novel, Mary Coin

My conversation with Marisa Silver:

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Monday, April 29, 2013

The Rebirth of a Great American School System

There is an apocryphal story about the state of education, which tells the tale of a man who falls asleep, ala Rip Van Winkle, 100 years ago. He wakes up today and is totally disoriented. Everything is new and different. Transportation, technology, design, fashion, entertainment....then he stumbles into a school, into a 21st century classroom and suddenly he feels calm, at home....because, well because almost nothing has changed.

Some would argue that this is part of the problem of education today. Others would argue for the value of those fundamentals; that we’ve long had many of the right ideas, but that we just needed to execute them

This is where we join the conversation with UC Berkley Professor and education expert, David Kirp and his latest work Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools

My conversation with David Kirp:

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Death on the Border

In the world of extreme right wing rhetoric, particularly on the subject of immigration, it often seems that the practitioners are always upping the ante in order to get attention. Listen to any hour of talk radio and you get the idea. However, what happens when that rhetoric gets out of control. When the listeners, particularly those that are scared, marginalized or worse yet, psychotic, become easy pray to act on that rhetoric and take matters into their own hands?

Over the years we’ve seen many examples of this, and unfortunately a lot of them, for various reasons, seem to take place in Arizona.

Dave Neiwert, the founding editor of the blog Crooks and Liars, takes us inside one such group of extremists in And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border For them, killing women and children in cold blood, is just the start.

My conversation with Dave Neiwert:

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We are all citizens of Hollywood

Wherever we live, we all, to some extent live in Hollywood. We are shaped and influenced by its messages, its ideas and by connection, to it’s people. Perhaps by having a better understanding of the people that populate and drive that community, we might better understand our culture.

A good place to start that process is a new novel by Matthew Specktor entitled American Dream Machine

My conversation with Matthew Specktor:

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Overcoming Addiction

Back in 2008, David Sheff wrote a memoir that has become became a landmark in our understanding of addiction. Beautiful Boy was his powerful and personal story of the battle he fought alongside his son Nic, who was addicted to alcohol and various drugs.

The book catapulted David Sheff into becoming one of the country's most prominent and sane voices on addiction — not as a doctor, an addict or an academic, but as a father with real world experience. Now he takes a broader view of what we, as a society, are doing right and wrong in dealing with the still growing rates of addiction in this country.  His new book is Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy.

My conversation with David Sheff

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The Age of the Image

Every hour, 72 more hours of video are uploaded onto YouTube. The moving image has become the literature of our time. Perhaps not since the development of moveable type has the context of our world and our understanding of it, changed so dramatically.

But what do we really know and understand about the “grammar” and the structure of visual communication?  How are stories and our appreciation of them, different when we watch them, as opposed to reading them?

How will this new realm of visual literacy shape our children and how they see and set out to change the world?

These are some of the issues examined by Stephen Apkon, the Founder and Executive Director of The Jacob Burns Film Center, in his book The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens;

My conversation with Stephen Apkon:

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Long Walk

Some of our soldiers have come back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan missing arms and legs. We’ve heard about the phantom pain that often accompanies those losses. The feeling of pain in a limb that is no longer there. In many ways the same is true for mental anguish. For the mind also feels pain. Where once normal life occupied a space, now for many who have long since left the war zone, the psychological pain is all consuming and fills that once peaceful space.

This is part of the story of Brian Castner. Brian Castner served three tours of duty in the Middle East, two of them in Iraq as the head of the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit. He’s written about his difficult experiences returning home, in his book The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows My conversation with Brian Castner:

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Children Having Children

We baby boomers are aging. With all the talk about health care and retirement and 401k's and endless mail from the AARP, the one subject that seems to get skipped, is what it will be like being a grandparent.

We’ve spent so many years doting on and protecting and encouraging our own children, we almost forget that we get to do it again, sort of, with our grandkids.

Fortunately for those of us that do forget, we have Anne Lamott to remind us. Always a powerful and soothing voice for her generation, Anne Lamott, in her new book Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son, takes us on the new and unexpected chapter in her life, her own grandmotherhood.

My conversation with Anne Lamott:

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Central Park Five

1989 New York was a time in which social systems were breaking down. The crime rate was peaking, crack was a serious epidemic, racial animus was strong and it was safer for black and latino teenagers to hang out in Central Park, than to hang out on the mean streets of their own neighborhoods.

Amidst this atmosphere, the body of a white woman was found in the park; beaten, raped and left for dead.

This is the backdrop for what would become one of New York and the country's most infamous crimes; what was dubbed at the time as the Central Park jogger.  Sarah Burns has written The Central Park Five: The Untold Story Behind One of New York City's Most Infamous Crimes.

Tonight her documentary, produced with her father Ken Burn, airs on PBS.

My conversation with Sarah Burns, from last April:

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Jacob Barnett explains it all to us.

One of all the many problems with education today is its relentless focus on what kids can’t do, as opposed to what they do well. This is particularly profound when it comes to children with special needs.

If we need evidence of this, we need look no further than the story of Kristine Barnett and her son Jacob. At age two experts said Jacob would never be able to tie his shoes. Today at 14 he’s pursuing a PhD in physics.

Unfortunately, changing the system is not enough. It takes a mother deeply committed, not only to her son, but to turning the old paradigms on their head, and not caring whose proverbial apple cart she turns over. She tells her story and Jacob’s story in The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius

My conversation with Kristine Barnett:

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What 4th Graders Teach Us About World Peace

Amidst all the talk about the importance of education, and all the endless debates about public policy, we often forget that at the heart of the debate, is what it means to be a teacher and the awesome power and responsibility that comes with that job.

Imagine a teacher who does not lecture, but leads; who teaches world peace by studying war; who respects students enough to instill in them the confidence to make the world anew...even while still in the 4th grade.

This has been the work of John Hunter. John is a teacher and musician and the inventor of the World Peace Game. He is the star of the new documentary and author of the new book World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements

My conversation with John Hunter:

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Nice Guys who Give and Take, Finish First..

The legendary Baseball player and coach Leo Durocher said that “nice guys finish last.” In our often cynical age, that’s become a kind of template for personal and corporate behavior. When someone acts differently, we consider that the anomaly

Today though, we are coming to understand that the opposite may be true. That altruistic behavior, quiet confidence and paying it forward, are not only good manners, it’s good business. Leading our understanding of this idea is Wharton Professor Adam Grant. He is the youngest full professor and single highest-rated teacher at Wharton Business School, and the author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

My conversation with Adam Grant:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright

Today the digital revolution has ushered in a whole new set of concerns with respect to piracy, copying and the very definition of who owns certain intellectual property. In fact, music copying and piracy is as old as recorded music itself.   Moreover today, it’s the desire to share, that has created the world of social media, the very existence of which grows from this idea of sharing and repurposing copyrighted material.

If we understand this, if our legislators understand this, then perhaps we can undertake to redefine modern copyright and envision useful legislation and protection for the 21st Century.

Alex Sayf Cummings, at Georgia Sate University, has been looking at this issues and examines its past, present and future in Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century.

My conversation with Alex Sayf Cummings:

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Murder, Money and Mystery in China

In November of 2011, a British businessman by the name of Neil Heywood was found dead in a hotel room in China. The reverberations of that death would reveal both deep and systemic corruption as well as surprising layers of conflict within the Chinese Communist Party.

It’s a human story of lust and greed, that also gives us some unique insights into a society and a political system, often cloaked in enigma and mystery.

Chinese writer, journalist and translator Wenguang Huang, in his book A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China, takes us deep inside a system we hardly understand, but one that still shapes our world and in turn, our lives.

My conversation with Wenguang Huang:

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Between Man and Beast

Just as the politics our our time often makes it difficult for science to find its way, so too was this the case in Victorian times. No where is this more in evidence than in the adventurers of a young man who would emerge from the jungles of Africa with evidence of great mysteries. Mysteries that would be co opted by one of the greatest scientific debates of the time; the arguments about evolution.

This the the story that former Washington Post reporter Monte Reel lays out in Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm.

My conversation with Monte Reel:

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Secrets and Lies

The great French novelist Andre Malraux once wrote that “man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.” Certainly the secrets we all keep as individuals and as families place a heavy burden on us. Too often we think we are keeping secrets, when all we really are doing is hiding truth them from ourselves.

For a long time this was Michael Hainey story, as he knew that someday he had to find out what really happened with respect to his fathers death. He was only six at the time, by years later he would know that something was not right about what he had been told. As he approached his fathers age, when he died, he would work hard to uncover that secret and in so doing free himself, his mother and his brother.  He lays out his story in this memoir After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story.

My conversation with Michael Hainey:

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Friday, April 5, 2013


Back in the 1940’s theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the serenity prayer. You all know it. It tells us to accept those things that we can’t change and the courage to change those we can and the wisdom to know the difference. Over the years it’s been adopted by AA and various other groups. But it might also be the coda for Cheryl Strayed fantastically successful book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

The story of her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, it’s also the story of coming of age and Cheryl's journey out of her own heart of darkness.

My conversation with Cheryl Strayed:

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