“Salvation somehow seemed closer — yet we also knew that we could be killed at any moment. The goal was to hang on a little longer. … The fury of the Haitian earthquake, which has taken more than 200,000 lives, teaches us how cruel nature can be to man. The Holocaust, which destroyed a people, teaches us that nature, even in its cruelest moments, is benign in comparison with man when he loses his moral compass and his reason.”—
“…unfortunately, society does not generally invest enough in innovation—especially in areas where it would help the poor (who aren’t an attractive market) and where there isn’t an agreed-upon measure of excellence. In the U.S., that means we have not invested nearly what we should in innovation for education.”—
This brief commentary by Bill Gates’ nicely accentuates a point made by Jacqueline Novogratz for our show to be released this Thursday (via podcast). She sees an opportunity for social investors to take risks in these unattractive markets abroad that actually might serve as new models for how we operate here in the States.
Perhaps this experimental work is going on now in more places than many of us realize. It’s just not funded properly or recognized. More directly, I’m thinking of two recent conversations we’ve had with Adele Diamond and Mike Rose. Both are challenging the stagnation in the U.S. education system that Gates’ later mentions — Diamond couples scientific knowledge of the brain with observations of children in classroom settings; Rose pairs his decades of teaching and education at all levels with his conversations with folks in all parts of the country.
Are we really listening and paying attention to what’s going on in our backyard (including Canada)? And, how are we willing to give those ideas a fighting chance of going mainstream?
"Nou Met Led Me Nou La!" (We May Be Ugly, But We Are Here!)
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, whom we first interviewed for our program "Living Vodou," grew up in Haiti, a member of the country’s aristocratic elite of African descent. He studied political science in the U.S. and earned his Ph.D. in International Relations from American University. Unlike his well-known grandfather, Dantès Bellegarde, Patrick Bellegarde-Smith was first drawn to his homeland’s indigenous religion as a way to understand his cultural identity, and later became a oungan.
The professor of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee responds to our questions about Haiti’s history, the mass media’s reporting, and Vodou’s role in recovery:
I find myself wanting to hear about the context and perspective that only you can bring to the way Haiti is being viewed and discussed while the earthquake spotlight is on it. What are your thoughts?
I am running on adrenaline at this moment, often unthinking, unfeeling, “zombie-like.” I didn’t sleep for the first several days. A Haitian baby girl, 15 days old, was found alive and well after seven days. Half her life! What stamina shown by the buried, the undead, after one week after the cataclysm.
The UN says that it is the worst disaster it has faced, presumably in terms of actual death and refugees in a single country. It is the worst earthquake in Haitian history, in a country and in a geographic/geologic area that was literally created from fault lines and tectonic plates and volcanoes. When earthquakes occurred in the 19th century, Haiti picked itself up and rebuilt itself, without assistance from the outside world. We do acknowledge that we need it this time, and hope that Haiti will rebuild based on Haitian models, at the direction of Haitian governments, with all that Haiti has in terms of a reservoir of talent both inside and outside the country.
When you say that you hope Haiti will rebuild based on Haitian models, what do you mean? Are there certain examples you’re thinking of?
Haitian models abound in all fields, areas, and systems of life. The culture provides with indigenous models of development, as well as indigenous patterns of housing development, some predating European colonization of the island of Haiti (Hispaniola), e.g. Amerindian sources. The “Miami model” now found throughout the Caribbean insists on low houses, flat cement cement roofs, and the like, which do not accord with the environment.
Other more “settled cultures” have improvised upon their legacy, while Haiti has opted for a pale imitation of American standards all too often. In the same way that our art is distinctive and derived from our religion, our housing and our cities can also be creative and innovative within our own traditions and foundations. Hence, my call for all architects and engineers to come together to rebuild Port-au-Prince.
Port-au-Prince had eathquakes in the 1860s and 1950s. It was rebuilt. The second city of 500,000 inhabitants, Cap-Haïtien, was destroyed in 1842. It was rebuilt.
There’s been so much non-stop coverage of Haiti since the first earthquake devastated the country where you grew up. I saw a series of reports on one news channel and its website that featured a reporter standing outside of a Catholic church…
Haiti has always been “defined” as 60 percent Catholic, 40 percent Protestant, but 100 percent Vodou. This recognizes that the national religion is part of a worldview that belongs to all Haitians, and for which all Haitians should be proud. Typically, we can and do worship in churches, temples, and ounfos, realizing that it’s all about “spirit” and that all spiritual disciplines have access to the spiritual world.
Vodou is merely the culturally Haitian form of such worship. Haitian music, painting, oral literature — all systems inherently found in all cultures — have a Vodou foundation at its base. Much the same as the Judeo-Christian ethos suffuses all that is American, even those millions of Americans who are atheists.
…and the report would cut away to shots of Haitians worshiping while the correspondent continued to talk somewhat off-the-cuff. I thought, “Why aren’t they speaking to more people and featuring their voices on camera — even if they need interpreters?” What’s been missed in U.S. coverage of Haiti and its cultural/religious/spiritual moorings?
Much is missing from the American reportage by media. American media, all together now, refuse to mention that the first responders were more than 400 Cuban doctors doing good work in Haiti for several years. American media are not reporting that Venezuelan and Cuban help is being resisted by the U.S. when Cuba and Venezuela are very significant allies of Haiti for the past 200 years — for the past 100 years, depending on when these countries achieved independence.
The emphasis was not on water or food, but on landing 12,000 American soldiers in Haiti. Why so many soldiers? Please explain. Haitians are refusing to oblige American reporters who insist that Haiti will have “riots” and that Haitians “loot.” Is it because Haitians are black? The same arguments were made about New Orleans during Katrina. Racism always remains true to itself. When will that stop, coming from people who are genuine in their desire to help, but remain racist nonetheless. Please stop!
As someone whose personal history represents the many layers of Haitian cultural, political, and religious identity, how are these events impacting you personally?
I have lost nine members of my extended family. Cousins of my generation have all survived, but their five homes have collapsed. One cousin in her mid-60s is sleeping in her car with her gravely ill husband. I have yet, as of today, been unable to call. News is intermittent. I am distressed and distraught.
I remember Port-au-Prince in the late 1940s and 1950s — une ville jardin, a garden city with abundant greenery and water, a small population of 150,000. I am well-born and come from a well-connected family whose story parallels Haitian history over the last two centuries. Every corpse is mine; every body is mine. Their spirit fuses with mine and that of all Haitians. Spirits live beyond death — and before birth. The dead are not dead, but alive in new dimensions. I gain solace from that ancestral thought.
That sentiment — “the dead are not dead” — reminds me of a line from Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti: “The future stems from the past, so life and death become one in the same.” Could you say more about the Vodou understanding of spirit and energy and not wasting the wisdom of one’s ancestors? And how might this Vodou worldview inform a Haitian approach to rebuilding the country?
The Gede family of spirits protect the cemetery, and also protect new life in a never-ending chain. The Gede love children, reminiscent of the relationship one often finds between grandparents and grandchildren. One’s past predicts tendencies for certain outcomes, yet, through the exercise of free will, one can transcend one’s limits.
In traditional African thought, as in most spiritual systems, reincarnation is taken for granted, though attenuated in Haiti by the impact of Christianity. Hence the lack of a heaven and a hell, yet alone a purgatory or, in pre-John Paul II times, a limbo. Souls are nearer than we realize, and their interaction with the “living,” generally beneficent. No energy goes a-wasting in a close universe!
The way one interacts with fellow beings on the planet is far more significant (and rewarding) than the way one might interact with the spirit world or with God for that matter. At critical points in our lives’ journeys, God shall not ask about our beliefs or treatment of “It,” but how we have managed our relationships with humans and other facets of nature alike.
In what ways are you seeing your local community and, perhaps, larger Haitian-American community coming together during these times?
Haiti was in the process of reinventing itself politically, socially, culturally. Now Haiti has to reinvent itself physically as well. Out of tremendous pain, rays of hope. We rebuilt after past earthquakes, after hurricanes. We are spared the scourge of volcanic eruptions; our sister English and French colonies in the Caribbean, Monserrat and Martinique, did not escape volcanoes that are at the foundations of our countries.
The Haitian diaspora, more than a million strong, will come to the rescue. This signal event forces us to come into action. “L’Union Fait la Force" ("Union Makes Strength"), the national motto of Haiti must be practiced or else the international community will dictate the terms of Haiti’s "recovery." And worse will follow!
As a Vodou priest, how has the spirit world been present during the aftermath?
Haiti needs all its ancestral spirits, now more than ever. Praise the Lwa.
You began this interview by sharing the remarkable story of a 15-day-old baby surviving the quake. How do stories like this inform your notions of the human spirit? Of what Haiti’s future might hold and look like?
Her spirit is strong, and I would hope that she was spared to produce great things in her lifetime. This is one of many miracles we have been fortunate to witness over the last 12 days! That girl, name unknown, has proven as resilient as Haiti herself.
Who might have predicted that Haiti would have survived 206 years when faced by the opprobrium of the Western powers? In defiance, we cry out, “nou met led me nou la (we may be ugly, but we are here)!”
I’m not a narcissist. But Clay Shirky thinks I should be.
The media critic recently posted a controversy-mongering blog titled “A Rant About Women,” the premise being that women would do well to act more like men — stand up for themselves more and do what it takes to get ahead, even if it means being a “pompous blowhard”:
[Women] are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.
Reading Shirky’s rant certainly doesn’t surprise from a gender standpoint. Most women have heard it our whole lives: Be more like men, even if said men are glorifying and rewarding reprehensible behavior.
What gives me pause is that Shirky, like so many of our “thought leaders,” isn’t leading at all, rather, willingly following the cultural trend of less substance and more self-aggrandizement, less selflessness and more LOOK AT ME HEY OVER HERE. So because that’s the way our culture is heading, we should equip ourselves to be better narcissists? As if we needed any help in that arena.
I see this less as a gender issue, though that is undoubtedly a factor, and more as a dangerous societal shift. We should be challenging a system that exalts arrogant self-promotion and “being discovered” over the actual work of making things better. Instead, Shirky critiques the behavior of people (not just women) who refuse to kowtow to this path of least resistance. Anna North at Jezebelsaid it well:
Shirky writes, “in an ideal future, self-promotion will be a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well. This isn’t because of oppression, it’s because of freedom.” Shirky has an idealistic view of self-promotion — he also thinks it’s a marker of a variety of other skills, about which I’m very skeptical (see above). Others take a dimmer view: it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and women had better transform themselves into better dog-eaters. This “change-yourself-to-fit-in” advice has been given to pretty much every marginalized group over the years …
Those who are marginalized by a system are often those best able to see its flaws, and teaching those people just to work around their marginalization is a great way to keep them quiet, and to keep anything from ever changing. Let’s not fall for it.
This “self promotion equals greater rewards” system is not a future we should embrace willingly. In fact, it’s a pretty dismal picture of humanity where navel gazing and notoriety inform our fundamental identities.
To Shirky’s credit, I think it’s a fair point that we need to stand up for our work and make our voices heard (not just women, but especially women). But I think it’s unproductive, not to mention morally suspect, to do so because we hope to “get famous five years from now.” And I can’t believe that the loudest blowhards in the room are the ones doing the real work of changing the world. They’re too busy talking about the work — or themselves — to actually get down to doing it. Why should we emulate their behavior?
As North said in her response: “’The squeaky wheel gets the grease’ is a s**tty way to run a world.”
She’s right. So how do we cut through the clamor of self-promotion and elevate the people and voices that are doing the often-thankless work of making the world better?
Ms. Hinck is a multimedia journalist and editor living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. You can read her blog Brain Popcorn and follow her on Twitter.
Reconciling "Intrusive Paternalism" and "Soft Power"
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
"This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story."
Last Friday, Krista sent around David Brooks’ recent editorial on the disaster in Haiti. As the quote above suggests, he discusses the connection between the scale of damage in Haiti and the nation’s “poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services.”
One of the many questions the situation in Haiti raises is how those in wealthier nations can help prevent this sort of catastrophe in the future. Brooks provides his own diagnosis on effective foreign aid, based on a few domestic examples:
In [the U.S.], we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.
These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.
It’s time to take that approach abroad, too. It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.
As I read this, I couldn’t help but hear Binyavanga Wainaina’s voice in the back of my mind, whom Krista spoke to in our program "The Ethics of Aid: One Kenyan’s Perspective." Wainaina is a Kenyan writer who has often been a vocal critic of foreign aid:
A lot of people arrive in Africa to assume that it’s a blank empty space and their goodwill and desire and guilt will fix it. And that to me is not any different from the first people who arrived and colonized us. This power, this power to help, is just about as dangerous as hard power, because very often it arrives with a kind of zeal that is assuming ‘I will do it. I will solve it for you. I will fix it for you,’ and it rides roughshod over your own best efforts.
I find Brooks’ call for “intrusive paternalism” hard to reconcile with Wainaina’s warnings about the “soft power” of foreign aid. But, the question still remains — what can we do to help prevent another Haiti?
One possible answer to that question comes from next week’s guest, Jacqueline Novogratz, who speaks of an approach to foreign aid that uses “a hard head and a soft heart.” She’s the CEO and founder of the Acumen Fund, which aims to combine the economic accountability of venture capital with the human-centric concerns of traditional philanthropy — an approach that is innovative, but also comes with its own questions.
“…I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”—
—from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (translation by M.D. Herter Norton), which was cited by Jacqueline Novogratz in her interview with Krista for next week’s program, “A Different Kind of Capitalism.”
The vital work of our talented colleagues at American RadioWorks (ARW) is on my mind for a number of reasons. It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I’m reminded of their 2008 documentary, "King’s Last March." I thought I knew a lot about the celebrated civil rights leader, but this program offers insight into his person that I haven’t heard elsewhere. It explores why a more pessimistic King chose a path of “deeper difficulty and greater risk” in his last year of life, and includes both familiar and lesser-known archival audio (check out Trent’s reflection from a few years ago for an audio example). There are many ways to reflect on the legacy of King. For me, one way is to have a better understanding of who he really was at various points in his life. This doc does that very well.
Also, as we continue to receive many thoughtful stories in response to our show with Mike Rose about the meaning of intelligence, I’m reminded of ARW’s more recent offering "Workplace U." It’s not a university but a movement to merge workplace and classroom that may offer low-income workers more opportunity for success than traditional educational models. There’s some real-world examples here that compliment Mike Rose’s perspective.
I know I sound overly promotional here, but I would not mention these programs if I didn’t think you would find them compelling, meaningful, and complementary to some of the topics we’ve presented in the past year. They are part of the best of documentary journalism.
Brazil army officials issued a statement saying many followers of the Voodoo religion would not accept the dead being touched until all of their rituals were concluded. Some experts on the faith validated the claim while others rejected it.
Voodoo, a mix of African religions and Roman Catholicism, is central to Haitian life and is widely observed in some form. The religion often has been wrongly associated with black magic or sorcery, leaving a lingering stereotype against its followers.
But suggestions that survivors are stacking corpses outside Port-au-Prince hospitals because they are waiting for a Voodoo ceremony is inaccurate, said Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, an expert on Haitian Voodoo, also spelled Vodou, in the department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"None of what the Brazilian authorities say makes any sense," Bellegarde-Smith said in a Thursday e-mail. "They are absolutely wrong! Most Haitians, though they believe in Vodou, are devoted Catholics or Protestants."
Ms. Tippett: When something like that happens that was so catastrophic, so many people died, you know, this question is raised of this magnitude of suffering and this “where is God?” question. And somehow this Jelle de Boer, he talked about how with a long view of time and nature, that plate tectonics are what restore life over time. He said life is directly dependent on these geological processes, that we don’t know that other planets have this type of plate tectonics or these extensive oceans and that’s probably why there may not be life there. He said here we are, lucky. “We’re lucky because of these processes where the plates separate and crack and where they run over each and crack and as a consequence of that magmas form at deep levels in the earth. They are brought to the surface and they bring not only nutrients but also water and that is the essence of life.” I mean, it’s this long view of life.
Mr. Le Pichon: Yes. This is perfectly true, but if, for example, I look at controversy between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire immediately after the Lisbon earthquake. Voltaire said, “How can that be a good God that is letting these hundreds of thousands of people being killed by the earthquake?” and so on. And the answer of Rousseau was, “Look, God created them as people living in the forest and so on and if they had still been living in the forest instead of building huge buildings in which they lived, there would have been barely anybody killed.”
Ms. Tippett: Right.
Mr. Le Pichon: So it’s the way man has chosen to live that is creating that. At the present time we have, for example, half of the mega-poles, there’s more than 10 million people who are close to plate boundaries. And we have chosen to put them there. When I was an associate professor in Tokyo University, it was at the time of the Kobe earthquake. They had a big discussion about should we move Tokyo? You know, it’s a very dangerous place.
Ms. Tippett: Right.
Mr. Le Pichon: It was a very serious discussion. Should we move it to the west? It’s true, they put it in one of the most dangerous places that is. That is the challenge of humanity. We are now 6 billion and a half people, and clearly without science and technology we cannot live anymore. I mean, science and technology is essential. But at the same time, we have chosen certain ways of life in which we did not have time yet to test our reaction to the environment, and we have this problem to deal with — how are we going to tackle the problem of completely new implementations which are not environment tested? That’s one of the big challenges of the future.
No one has ever accused me of being fashion-forward. Neither will I ever willingly join a conversation on the relative merits of mascara brands. Nonetheless, I was completely entertained by Courtney Wilder's essay on Sightings about a blog that enjoins women clergy to navigate the occasionally fine line between professional dress and excessive *hot-ness* as church leaders.
A couple years back I got a letter from an apparently very attractive aspirant to the ministry who raved on and on about how she was just TOO PRETTY to be accepted as a clergyperson and that was why she had failed in her various attempts to achieve ordained status.
At the time I thought to myself, “Chickie here has a lot of serious issues, and being ‘too pretty’ may indeed be one of them, but let’s file this thought away for further reflection until I hear from a more grounded person about the reality of being too beautiful for ministry.”
And lo, that time has come, pigeons. While I know of several movie-star handsome men in the clergy whose Hotness does not seem to prevent them from being taken seriously, I have now collected several stories of female clergy being taken aside by male superiors and told that their beauty or sexiness is “distracting” and a serious problem.
What shall we call this? Sexism. Plain and simple. If a man is distracted by his completely appropriately-dressed female minister’s beauty and sexiness, that’s his gadnapped problem. The Biblical name for that problem is lust, I do believe. The cultural name for it is objectification. I say “Work on it with your spiritual director, Senior Pastor Horndog.”
As I’ve listened to all the noise around intelligence- gathering and airport security in response to the attempted Christmas Day terrorist act, Ed Husain’s voice has been ringing in my ears. Not that we don’t need to think about intelligence and security — we do — but do we spend a corresponding amount of energy and planning on how to prevent a viral terrorist mindset that is a feature of our time?
That’s the world Ed Husain knows, and narrowly escaped from. Al Qaeda, he says, is not the real enemy the West and most Muslims in the world have in common. Here’s what he means by that:
"… It must be said that al-Qaeda is just a name. It’s really a mindset that we must be tackling — a literalist, rejectionist, Islamist worldview. And not necessarily al-Qaeda as an organization because that can become defunct, but those ideas still remain. So it’s not a war on terror as the American government has gone out of its way to suggest, but it’s actually a battle of ideas."
We’re putting Ed Husain’s introduction to that battle of ideas on the air again this week. His insights have never felt more relevant, illuminating, and prescient.
Manifestations of the Living Earth Trent Gilliss, online editor
"Why, then, turn to a God who seems to be absent at best and vindictive at worst? Haitians don’t have other options. The country has a long legacy of repression and exploitation; international peacekeepers come and go; the earth no longer provides food; jobs almost don’t exist. Perhaps a God who hides is better than nothing."
The closing paragraph from Pooja Bhatia’s op-ed in today’s NYT courses with the pain of helplessness and suffering brought about by the recent earthquake that decimated this small island country. Bhatia’s questioning of God’s possible vindictive participation, or His absence, in nature’s destruction of human lives is a classic theological question.
Displaced Haitians gather on Place Boyer in Petion-Ville to spend the night. (photo: Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images)
Five years ago, the massive tsunamis that killed thousands of people, and displaced thousands more living in the low-lying areas of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans had struck. This question of “Where was God?” was being asked by many. We attempted to get at this issue with our show on the morality of nature — by looking at the history of seismic activity and its impacts through the field of Earth Sciences.
To this day, Jelle de Boer’s account of the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 sticks with me, particularly his assessment of the aftereffects of the event and the musical tradition of fado. You can hear the show in the audio player above (or download here). Obviously, we can’t answer the theodicy question. But, hopefully, these scientific perspectives can both challenge and illuminate such religious questions as you read the latest news in Haiti.
Wonderful reactions to our show on the meaning of intelligence with Mike Rose. Here’s a line from his book Why School?, which didn’t make it into my interview or the script, but that I love:
We are driven — as surely as we are driven to survive — to find meaning in our lives, to interpret what befalls us, the events that swirl around us, the people who cross our paths, the objects and rhythms of the natural world. We do this instinctively; it is essential to being human. So we do it with or without education. But we are getting educated all the time, of course: by family, community, teachers, pals, bullies, and saints.
I’ve been on a bit of a trajectory of realization about that process — of being educated in not-so-obvious places — through my conversation this past fall with Adele Diamond, and now Mike Rose. They’ve given me a whole new appreciation for aspects of my experience that I had always characterized as on the sidelines of my education — debate teams and theater productions and choirs that kept me thinking and creative even as I was woefully under-challenged by schools in a small town in Oklahoma where advanced classes in everything were cut to keep up the football budget.
I’ve told myself that I had a failed primary and secondary educational experience. Now I can glorify joyful and energizing possibilities that did come my way with the word “education.” Adele Diamond even gives me scientific language to explain the fact that debate and drama quite legitimately gave me the tools to “learn how to learn” and to use what I learn into the present.
I’m also watching my children’s education with new eyes in ways that surprise me. I’m grasping why my daughter’s two years in a Waldorf School were so fundamentally transformative. Waldorf’s focus on storytelling, drama, handiwork, and music could come prescribed from the new science that Adele is part of. But I’m even appreciating my son’s touch football games where so much negotiation and strategizing goes on alongside the physical.
Kindred Spirits: Studs Terkel and Mike Rose Colleen Scheck, senior producer
In our program with Mike Rose, we are asking you to share your memories of school — moments when your mind came to life in a new way and shaped who you are in terms of becoming, longing, hope, and possibility. One of the memories that came up for me as we produced this program was reading Studs Terkel’s American Dreams: Lost and Found in a college sociology class.
That book inspired me, in the same way I feel inspired by Mike Rose, to consider the meaning of intelligence, to look below the radar and across lines of race, class, and occupation for what’s real, and to grasp how the reality of American lives often defies stereotypes I may attach to them. It also influenced my a love of storytelling, of oral history — Studs style — and an appreciation for the beauty that can be found in matters and people our culture often considers “average.”
So, it was fun for me to discover an interview that Studs Terkel did with Mike Rose in 1996 for Studs’ radio program out of Chicago. It’s classic Studs — filled with curiosity, passion, and his signature chatter. They wander through Rose’s book, Possible Lives, highlighting the public school teachers that Rose chronicled in four years traveling across the U.S. There’s a kindred spirit in their work, and even though it’s over a decade old, I found their conversation about imaginative educators defying the odds still very inspiring for today.
A dear friend of mine has been suffering serious depression for several weeks, and I’ve been struggling with feelings of powerlessness over her pain. Mental illness, of which I have had my own personal experience, still comes with stigma, and creates fear.
My friend seems to be getting better and today I sent her this poem by Galway Kinnell, which has given me much solace over the years. “Wait, for now.” the poem instructs us. “Distrust everything if you have to./ But trust the hours. Haven’t they/ carried you everywhere up until now?”
As we listened to the rough version of this week’s show with Mike Rose, the idea came up to drop one of the readings, which describes working in a restaurant from the server’s point of view and what it takes to be a good waitress. Sure, the reading was evocative, but we realized that since Mike spoke with such detail in our interview about his mother’s waitressing career, we might have the makings for a little sound montage. What would happen if we cut his descriptions up a bit and added some found sound of a working diner to layer in?
Fortunately for us, our studios are located two blocks from a classic American diner: Mickey’s Dining Car. A last-minute lunch was arranged and we were off to get chocolate malts and collect sounds.
When I am out looking for ambient sound for a piece, I try to think in layers, much in the same way a composer would approach a blank sheet of staff paper, and I get as many elements as possible. I know I’m going to need a foundation, something to provide continuity and serve as a base on which to add accents.
In this case, it was simply burgers frying and the din of (hopefully) unintelligible conversations. Short sections of this audio were looped to establish a steady, continuous sense of the location. With that layer in place, I added our interview clips and searched for accents from the location recording that could help support his points — things our waitress said, plates clattering, or the the ringing of the old-time cash register.
All of this seemed to work fairly well, but we also needed a bridge to take us in and out of that location. The solution came from my music choice for the original reading — the fifth movement from Bach’s Partita No. 5. Weaving in this music helped create the sense of a dance and melded well with Mike Rose’s descriptions, which, to me, really illustrated the marriage of precision and creativity that is present in those who excel at restaurant service.
+ LISTEN (here is a bit of the raw audio I recorded at Mickey’s Diner) + LISTEN (and here is the finished piece from the show).
This week’s program "Approaching Prayer" is on my list of SOF classics. It’s a busy program: three interviews, readings and poetry, chants and music, biblical stories and Rilke quotes.
I love Anoushka Shankar’s description of Hinduism’s connection to nature and how prayer is about sound as much as words. I appreciate Stephen Mitchell’s story of how encountering the Book of Job was a “spiritual riddle” for him — a form of prayer. And I’m drawn to Roberta Bondi’s generous philosophy of prayer: "However we are, however we think we ought to be in prayer, the fact is we just need to show up and do the best we can do. It’s like being in a family."
This program always makes me reflect on what I consider prayer to be in my life. I’m reminded this time of the pocket prayers I keep in my wallet — the Irish Blessing (my heritage) and the Serenity Prayer (authored by Niebuhr, popularized in addiction recovery programs, cherished by me for its simple, versatile message to consider what is and isn’t in my control on a daily basis):
My guess is many of you have pocket “prayers” that you keep with you — hanging on a wall, stapled in a hall; tattooed on your chest, knitted within a crest; stuck to the bumper of a car, in restroom of a bar; on a church, or a yurt; whatever shape to which it may convert.
We’d love to see them and know how they reflect creative and generous approaches to prayer. You can submit your images a couple of ways:
Saw this over the weekend in the London Times and thought it was worth sharing for those of you who missed it.
Quite some time ago, we chose Marc Chagall's "La Crucifixion Blanche" (1938) as the lead image for our program, “The Jewish Roots of the Christian Story” with our guest, Joel Marcus. “White Crucifixion” is the first in a series of Chagall’s major crucifixion paintings in which he focused on the persecution of his fellow Jews by Hitler and the Nazis through depictions of Jesus dying on the cross and his essential Jewish nature. (Ziva Amishai-Maisels’ exploration of Chagall’s painting is a good starting point for better understanding the nuanced detail and subtle narrative devices used in “White Crucifixion.”)
Chagall’s series has been pretty thoroughly documented and well-catalogued — until October of last year.
A previously unknown 1945 gouache painted by the French-Russian artist while living in New York surfaced in a recent auction in Paris. Keeping it on the down-low, the London Jewish Museum of Art purchased “Apocalypse in Lilac, Capriccio” for the relatively paltry sum of 30,000 euros, about $43,000. The small museum kept it quiet so that major museums and other collectors wouldn’t bid up the price.
And, now, after all these years in hiding, the painting will be displayed in London this coming week. What a treasure for the public to behold.
(“White Crucifixion” courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago, a gift of Alfred S. Alschuler)
“All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul without a home…Such a home is prayer. Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes. For the soul, home is where prayer is…How marvelous is my home. I enter as a supplicant and emerge as a witness; I enter as a stranger and emerge as next of kin. I may enter spiritually shapeless, inwardly disfigured, and emerge wholly changed.”—
— from the essay “On Prayer” by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Joseph Coen, a listener in Valley Stream, New York, wrote to us with a similar version of this Heschel quote. Coen first encountered Heschel’s words on a prayer card he received at a retreat, and they continue to speak to him years later. For me, Heschel’s reflections on prayer resonated with our New Year’s weekend broadcast, "Approaching Prayer" featuring musician Anoushka Shankar, writer/translator Stephen Mitchell, and religion scholar Roberta Bondi.
Tony Blair, David Harris, and Rick Warren at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2008.
We’ve all read the stories about how the economic collapse has left no institution or business untouched. Rick Warren, a close friend of business management and leadership guru Peter Drucker, and his Saddleback Church of 22,000 members are no exception.
A couple of days before the end of 2009, Warren sent an "urgent letter" to his church members trying to raise $900,000 before the end of the calendar year:
"With 10% of our church family out of work due to the recession, our expenses in caring for our community in 2009 rose dramatically while our income stagnated. Still, with wise management, we’ve stayed close to our budget all year. Then… this last weekend the bottom dropped out.
On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive - leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year, unless you help make up the difference today and tomorrow.”
I rather enjoyed this observation and the additive notion of our brains growing older and not just simply deteriorating. And, by regularly jarring our brains with a “disorienting dilemma” (which I hope we accomplish with the many voices on SOF), we can probe and add to that depth and interconnectedness of knowledge.
“I saw it as a sign from God that this was the right thing to do.”— —Urban Meyer, head coach of the University of Florida football team, on his 18-year-old daughter’s jubilant reaction (“I get my daddy back!”) when he told their family on Christmas day that he is stepping down from his position.
My father has Alzheimer’s disease. I am losing him in inches and pieces. It hurts. He is my hero and my mentor, and now I help him remember how to put on his clothes every morning.
My father has Alzheimer’s disease. There is a powerful genetic component to the disease, and I share a lot of my father’s risk factors, including bad triglycerides, a viral infection, and elevated cholesterol unaffected by diet. The odds are frighteningly high that I will someday get Alzheimer’s too. In 25 or 30 years, when it comes for me, maybe there will be a cure — but I can’t count on that.
My dad taught me how to learn from everything I see, no matter how hard it was. He was a professor of Human Anatomy and Physiology, and told me once that he was present when his mother died. He held her hand and told her how much he loved her. As she died, he catalogued her body’s shutdown, comparing it to what he’d read — because he was a scientist.
And so, now, I am learning from my father. It’s what he taught me to do. And what he’s teaching me now — his last lesson for me — is what it means to live with Alzheimer’s, and by extension, what I can do to get ready.
First, I am getting new hobbies. My dad is an intellectual. All his hobbies were brain hobbies — reading, chess, poker, bridge. Now he can’t follow them. He recognizes his beloved chess pieces, but he doesn’t remember how to play. Reading is too slow and too hard to be enjoyable, and he can’t play cards at all. He has no way to keep busy. So I’m learning hobbies that use my hands. I spend more time drawing, and I’m learning to knit. I want to teach my hands, so that when my mind can’t do it, my fingers still can.
Second, I’m living my life as fully as possible. Dad got knocked out of his game too soon, but he had achieved enough for a long, long life. The work he loved, and the impact he had on his students — it was more than most people do in their lives. His contribution to our world does not fall short, even if he ran out of time. I am trying to do the same thing — to give as much as I can to the people around me, to work and think and create and contribute as much as I possibly can, in case my time ends early.
The most important thing I’ve learned from my father: love. My father built his life around the people he cared about. Me, my mom, and my brother were the center of his world. For his birthday, he’d tell us to get things for ourselves because he liked seeing us happy — and he actually meant it. But we weren’t the only ones he loved. He loved the students he taught, he loved his friends, and he loved our extended family — both his own and my mother’s.
Now, with so little left of him, my father still has his love. Seeing his wife, his children, and his grandson brings him joy. He can sit just watching my son read a book. Simply living with his family, my dad can find happiness.
The people he cared about through his life still remember my father. We get postcards, letters, the occasional package. And he is still finding new people to care about; he hasn’t lost his love for people. He likes it when we have guests over. He still flirts with all my female friends. He loves his aide and the omelets she makes him every morning.
I have never loved people like my dad did. He had patience and affection for everyone — for people who told boring stories repeatedly, for people I thought were stupid, for people who were afraid of everything, for people totally full of themselves or so shy they could hardly talk. Dad loved people I could barely stand to talk to. He used to ask me to show patience, tolerance, compassion — and I’d promise to try — with no real sincerity.
So now I am trying to learn my biggest lesson from my dad, the lesson I am trying to live every single day. I’m finding people to love; I’m finding things to love in people. I am trying to love people like my dad always did. I am building my capacity for love now, so it can sustain me later.
And if, in the end, like my father, there is nothing left of me but my love, that won’t be a tragedy. It will be my victory.
We’re nearing the finish line of a new show: "Reimagining Sitting Bull, Tatanka Iyotake” (that’s Sitting Bull’s name in Lakota). This program has been a year-and-a-half in the making, and we’re eager to put it out in the world. Kate, our managing producer, has said she’s always known a show about Sitting Bull would create unchartered challenges for us practically and editorially. As a team of wasicu (i.e. non-Native) producers, we’ve been engaged in new levels of intercultural communication that’s stretched us all.
The learning curve has been steep. As we’ve sifted through all the information gathered, sometimes it’s been confusing to do the best we can to ensure that what Krista says on the radio is journalistically accurate. The historical narrative is complicated, and along the way we’ve had to make judgment calls, recognizing that sometimes there’s no singular, discernible truth.
And yet, as we’ve verified our facts, we’ve had to remember that we’re neither historians nor documentarians. Our job as producers of a weekly radio program is to offer our audience engaging, illuminating — and yes — accurate audio and multimedia storytelling. One of our goals with this show is to explore a dimension of Sitting Bull that doesn’t get talked about that much — namely his spiritual legacy and connection to the Sun Dance. We’ve tried mightily to stay focused on this aim and keep the script from devolving into an unwieldy history lesson that’s difficult for listeners to digest. Let us know if we’ve hit the mark.
Here are a few “before-and-afters” that reveal how we’ve been refining the script as we’ve gone along. You can see in the photo above that my desk is cluttered with multiple versions of the script as it has progressed.
First script draft: Not until 1978 did the American Indian Religious Freedom Act make it legal for the Lakota and other tribes to worship through ceremonies and traditional rites.
Second script draft: Not until 1978 did the American Indian Religious Freedom Act guarantee the right of the Lakota and other tribes to perform their sacred rituals and ceremonies.
The first draft version suggests that up until 1978, it was “illegal” for Lakota and other tribes to take part in traditional spiritual ceremonies. As I’ve come to understand it, there was a period from 1883–1934 when the government passed laws to suppress Native spiritual practices and promote assimilationist Christianization policies. The 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRF) provided legal protection under the First Amendment’s establishment clause for Lakota and other Native Americans to worship without interference from the federal government. We changed the script language to more accurately reflect the nature of the AIRF legislation.
First script draft: The Indian Offenses Act of 1883 decreed their social and religious customs to be “barbarous and demoralizing.”
Second script draft: U.S. officials deemed native customs and rituals “barbarous” and “demoralizing” and passed the Indian Offenses Act in 1883 which banned participation in ceremonial dances, including the Sun Dance.
Third script draft: [We cut the sentence].
Fourth script draft: U.S. officials deemed native customs “barbarous” and “demoralizing” and passed the Indian Offenses Act of 1883.
This article includes references to government officials using the words “barbarous” and “demoralizing” in published reports so we adapted the script accordingly and provided a little more information about the Indian Offenses Act itself and the Code of Offenses it defined. By the third draft, we cut this sentence from the script for time because the show was running long. Then at the last minute, Krista shortened the sentence and added it back in.
First script draft: For Sitting Bull’s legacy also embodies divisions that arose with the Lakota people as part of their encounter with the Wasicu, or White, encroachment on their traditional lands as the Western frontier was settled.
Second script draft: For Sitting Bull’s legacy also embodies divisions that arose among the Lakota as part of their encounter with the wasicu, or non-natives, as the Western frontier was settled.
Wasicu is a Lakota word that translates roughly as “those who take the fat” and you’ll see it used by Lakota to refer to non-Native Americans. Carole Barrett, a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Mary in North Dakota wrote to us that, linguistically, the term has nothing to do with skin color. It’s used to describe a greedy person who takes the all the buffalo fat, “a choice part of the buffalo that was generally shared with others,” according to Barrett.
As you can see, some language we tweaked while other sentences landed on the cutting room floor. We’re curious if you have more knowledge and insight to add to the mix? Are there facts we got wrong or may have misunderstood? Please let us know your input.
While preparing for this week’s show on Tatanka Iyotake, Sitting Bull, we hoped to find audio recordings of this legendary Lakota leader talking or singing. We reached out to historian Bill Yenne and Alexandra Shadid, an archivist at the University of Oklahoma’s Western History Collections, which houses the papers of Walter Stanley Campbell — better known by his pen name, Stanley Vestal, one of the earliest biographers of Sitting Bull whose source material is the foundation for much of the current research being published on Sitting Bull.
Sitting Bull’s signature from a pictograph he drew in 1882. (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)
Both scholars informed us that they weren’t aware of any audio recordings in Sitting Bull’s own voice, but Ms. Shadid did offer up the transcripts of Vestal’s interviews and songs by Sitting Bull. She also referred us to a recording housed at the Minnesota Historical Society, just a five-minute walk from our offices in downtown Saint Paul. Here, on Christmas day 1946, Mary P. Hunt tells the story of living in Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation (in what was the Dakota Territory) and her encounter with Sitting Bull, who was, in her words, being held prisoner with members of other tribes. She recounts how she sat with him for a couple of days teaching him how to sign his name in English script, which he then sold in exchange for a 50-cent piece.
I’m not entirely sure of the veracity of Ms. Hunt’s story; Bill Yenne writes about Sitting Bull’s time at Fort Randall as such:
"Sitting Bull submitted quietly, albeit not happily, to his life at the post. He certainly knew that things could have been worse. The Fort Randall complex — more a campus than a stockade — was his forced residence, but ironically it gave him his first ever-known, fixed address. Because of this, Sitting Bull suddenly started receiving fan mail. Bags of it began arriving from all over the world. Having learned to write his name in wasichu script, he relished signing autographs for people who wrote to him, or who made their way up the Missouri to visit him."
Nevertheless, delightful anecdotes like Ms. Hunt’s are some of the gems that we’ve stumbled upon time and again while doing this work. Unfortunately, most people will never get to hear all this wonderful archival material that is part of the oral lore of a legendary figure, which only adds to the complexity of verifying what’s fact and fiction, and somewhere in between. I’m glad we could give her story a stage.
“I feel more of these questions have been answered by being able to listen to people living life instead of reading from a book.”— —Abigail Mente, who submitted this reflection after listening to the Muslim voices featured in our programs “Revealing Ramadan” and “Living Islam.”
For a few weeks I’ve been tracking scanty headlines out of Viet Nam about the harassment of followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk whom we interviewed in 2003. He was forced out of his native country decades ago because of his opposition to the Vietnamese War and lived in exile, primarily in France. A few years ago, he was allowed to return on a visit and told authorities at that time they should end state control of religion. Apparently his point of view angered some officials.
Now, his followers are being chased around, and the government, which only permits state-approved religious practice, appears to be cracking down.
The European Union is investigating but the most consistent news on this is coming from Thich Nhat Hahn’s Twitter feed. Perhaps the Western press will pick it up.
Last night was the first night of Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of lights. I’ve been so busy burning the midnight oil (that’s a Hanukkah joke, by the way) for next week’s show on Sitting Bull, I haven’t made any formal plans to celebrate. Last December, a friend organized a Hanukkah throw-down replete with piles of steaming latkes and homemade brisket. But the fried smell of latkes lingered in her home a little too long for her liking, so there won’t be any Hanukkah party reprise this year.
As a child, Hanukkah was a way to get in on the Christmas dazzle of presents, lights, and treats; but there was always a feeling of somehow missing out on the magic of Rudolph and opening presents beneath a tree. My parents would not allow a "Hanukkah bush" (the Jewish imitation version of a Christmas tree), although one year they did let me hang a stocking under the fireplace — actually it was more like a stringy sock from my drawer. Fortunately, I grew out of those Christmas longings and came to appreciate Hanukkah for what it is rather than as a proxy for something better I could never have.
Now that I live half a coast a way from family and friends, I realize I need to be more intentional about observing the Jewish holidays on my own. This may mean buying a menorah for the very first time. Maybe I’ll even pick up some latke fixings or listen to our show on Hanukkah with Scott-Martin Kosofsky later this weekend. Somehow I’ll find a way to light the shammas candle and say a little prayer.
The image to the right (larger version) is a scan of one of the pages from our script that I marked up during our last editorial listen for "The Moral Math of Climate Change." It may not seem like it, but one of the very interesting aspects of working as a producer is fact-checking scripts and interviews to ensure that what we present to our audience is accurate and credible. This felt like a somewhat daunting task for this week’s program with Bill McKibben.
Climate change is a very broad topic, heavily covered, with many details, points of debate, and advocates from all directions. For example, a good start is simply clarifying the use of the phrase "climate change" versus "global warming" — phrases that are sometimes used interchangeably though they have distinct meanings.
For me, the most important aspect of this task is making sure Krista’s script is accurate, and that’s why I value our highly collaborative process of multiple reviews and refining. It starts with simple points, such as the use of quoted material:
First script draft: He’s currently focused his energy on 350.org, an international campaign that he founded, with a mission to build a movement that can quote “unite the world around solutions to climate change that both science and justice demand” unquote.
Second script draft (after reviewing the mission statement posted on 350.org): He’s currently focused his energy on 350.org, an international campaign that he founded, with a mission to build a movement that can quote “unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis — the solutions that science and justice demand” unquote.
But also often includes more nuanced points:
First script draft: This became personal for Bill McKibben in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2007 when he caught Dengue fever — one of several mosquito-borne diseases that are rapidly spreading in Asia as a direct result of a warmer planet.
Second script draft: This became personal for Bill McKibben in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2007 when he caught Dengue fever — one of several mosquito-borne diseases that are spreading to new areas of the world in part as a result of rising temperatures.
That evolution happened after one of our listen sessions where the phrase “direct result of a warmer planet” was questioned (Is the correlation that direct? And exclusively the result of a warmer planet? Is “warmer planet” an accurate phrase to use in this case?). Further research (such as articles like this from the Natural Resources Defense Council) yielded better language.
Beyond our script, there’s considering the accuracy of statements of the guest. Here we are careful to respect the guest’s authority, expertise, and personal experience while at the same time seeking clarity about the information they share in an interview. A good example this time was Bill McKibben’s "90-second course in climate science” (actually closer to four minutes).
We were all impressed by his succinct explanation of the history of global climate change, so much so that we’ve isolated it and invited you to share it with others. But we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t ask “Does he get it all right?” We put that question to our colleague Ben Adair, the editorial director of sustainability and global climate change coverage for American Public Media, who has been steeped in the details of climate change for a few years. Though McKibben’s information is accurate, Ben responded, it is incomplete in that it is focused primarily on the history of how the target figure of 350 parts per million came to be. There’s much more to tell, but what McKibben shares is very compelling and a reflection of his own focus and intersection with the issue.
Finally, there are things discussed in an interview that just make you want to know more. Our fascination with this was borne out for a while in the “Particulars” section we produced for each program. Unfortunately, we eliminated that section due to time constraints, its labor-intensive nature, and changes in the focus of our work. Every now and then, though, we hear a program that begs for particulars (such as next week’s production on Sitting Bull), and this is one of them.
There are many fascinating points to explore, including:
October 24 and the story of Noah: McKibben mentions that he was pleased to note the Torah reading for October 24, 2009, the global day of action organized by 350.org, was the story of Noah. It’s true that the Torah portion for that day is Parashat Noach, readings from Genesis 6:9-11:32. Indeed the biblical flood story is a powerful metaphor for climate change. If you consider the triennial cycle observed by some synagogues, however, then the Torah portion for October 24 is not about the flood itself, but the final third of Parashat Noach that begins with the Tower of Babel. It’s a story of God’s contempt for human pride, and also a story of the division of nations and languages, both interesting metaphors for climate change.
Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gita: McKibben also mentions that J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted from the Bhagavad Gita when he watched the first test detonation of the atomic bomb. Video of his quote is online: ”Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds” Like all scripture, the Gita is subject to translation and interpretation. One translation online has the quote as: “Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds, and I have come here to destroy all people.”
In the end, there’s never enough time to dig in as deep we would like to, and so we do our due diligence and move on to the next topic. But that’s where we enjoy hearing from you. We’d like you to contribute your own knowledge and experience with this vast topic. Are there sources of information on climate change that you’ve found credible and helpful as you consider this issue on different levels both practical and moral? What did we get wrong? What could we have phrased better for the tight format of the radio? Even, what did we do right?
Today, we will be releasing our latest show called “The Moral Math of Climate Change” with Bill McKibben. He’s an environmentalist who has been studying and writing about issues of global warming and sustainability for more than 20 years. Most recently he founded 350.org, aimed at raising awareness about climate change and ground-up solutions around the world.
During Krista’s interview with McKibben, she asked if he could give her a better understanding of the history of climate change and how climate scientists have arrived at their conclusions. I wasn’t able to listen to the conversation while it was happening, but the first thing Krista mentioned when she emerged from the studio was how helpful his “four-minute” explanation was.
Although McKibben’s explanation isn’t a complete, comprehensive history, he provides a good overview and a basis for discussion. And, he leaves a lot of space for asking more questions.
I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply invested in this topic, and many others who are struggling to understand and better talk about sustainability issues in moral and spiritual terms. Perhaps this is a place to continue this discussion, this exploration and what it means to move forward conscientiously and culturally. Or, share this mp3 with your friends, family, and neighbors. I’d love to hear where you take this dialogue.
As the Copenhagen conference takes place and then recedes — and with it the news coverage, to a degree — that’s when we here at SOF would like to pick up our coverage and extend this conversation by recording and retelling your stories for others to hear:
What would it feel like to live in a world that — spiritually, psychologically, philosophically — meant something different?
How has climate change affected your “moral imagination?” And, in turn, how has it also changed the way you live your life on a day-to-day basis?
Do your family, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds factor into this understanding?
These are some of the questions were asking. Perhaps you have others that you’ve explored and thought about. Share your thoughts with us using our traditional form; and, we’re experimenting with our Google Voice number and widget to capture more audio, more voices of those who are actually thinking about the story. Click the widget below and talk to us using your phone.