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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
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“It immediately looked right.”

It’s been 60 years since the double helix structure of DNA, the key to life itself, was first revealed to the world. The BBC’s “Science in Action” walks the listener along the journey of this discovery with some of the scientific giants of the time. The delight is still there in those voices. So wonderful.

Also clears up some of the debate over the credit of Crick and Watson. Their approaches to modeling and sense of beauty moved the idea forward… through actual base pairing cut-outs!

(h/t Krista Tippett)

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If you’re a production junkie like me and often wonder how programs wrangle their material and then get it to air, this short film about PRI’s The World will tickle your fancy. The part about how the BBC correspondents shape the agenda is intriguing:

A behind-the-scenes look at how PRI’s global news program, The World, is produced for broadcast. Video journalist and freelance producer Marcus Wraight created this piece.

We are in awe of the talent at The World!

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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From Zone 8 to Cell Block to Urban Network Bookstore

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"My mama became my hero and my father became my mentor."
Yusef Shakur

Yusef Shakur and sonHunkered down in a WDET motor city hoodie and a down sleeping bag listening to KAXE in northern Minnesota, I caught the first episode of The Listening Post, a documentary series from the BBC that “invites close, unhurried listening to the stories of individuals.” And wouldn’t you know it, the first profile tells the story of a Detroit native.

Yusef Shakur, who now runs a bookstore and community center in Zone 8, grew up in the same neighborhood and became a gangster as a teenager. At the age of 19 in 1992, he began serving a nine-year prison sentence. While there, he reaches out to his father who’s also serving time — a man he’s never met and considers “a sperm donor.” His father’s reply changes the course of his life:

"Son, let your past mistakes become your teacher because your mistakes can become our greatest education. … You must use this time to prepare yourself to leave better than what you came in as. Turn your cell into a university by rebuilding yourself from the inside out. … P.S. You misspelled knowledge, religion, envelope, address, message and religious. If you don’t have a dictionary, you need to get one. Words are powerful because they convey who we are. Use your mind to free yourself or somebody will use your mind to keep you a slave."

It’s a story about the power of a lost father’s love, hope and resurrection, and a tale of the meaning of time and attention in the most dire of circumstances.

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Tuesday Evening Melody: “Wasted Years” by Ryan Adams

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Back from vacation, I just realized I left you all hanging on this week’s Tuesday evening melody. Better a couple days late rather nothing at all, right?

And what better to send you off into the Labor Day weekend than with Ryan Adams’ acoustic cover of an Iron Maiden classic he performed for BBC Radio 2 on, yes, this past Tuesday.

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Bob Dylan, Musical Prophet: BBC Documentary Traces Singer/Songwriter’s Spiritual Journey on His 70th Birthday

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

'Bob Dylan, Rossilli Bay' by Peter RossPainting of ‘Bob Dylan, Rossilli’ by Peter Ross. (photo: Martin Beek/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

The BBC has released Blowing in the Wind: Dylan’s Spiritual Journey in celebration of the singer/songwriter’s 70th birthday. The radio documentary traces Dylan’s path from a Jewish boy bar mitzvahed in Minnesota through and beyond his conversion to evangelical Christianity in the late 1970s. Even if you’re not a die-hard Dylan fan, it’s well worth 30 minutes of your listening time.

The panoply of voices includes Bishop Nick Baines. A long-time Dylan fan, Baines likens the musician to a modern-day Old Testament prophet, someone who uses poetry to speak truth to power:

"He questions why it is the good people who get it right who end up strung up. … If you go back to the Hebrew scriptures that he grew up with, they’re riddled with these complaints, laments, and this question: ‘Why do the wicked prosper?’ But he comes from a tradition that does that. The Jewish community is very good at questions and Dylan gets it.

Bishop Baines and others point out that religious allusions and imagery are recurring in Dylan’s cannon. “Bob Dylan is very much drawing on ancient texts and integrating them into contemporary concerns,” says author Seth Rogovy. Selected lyrics from "Blowing in the Wind" such as “How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?” echo specific passages from Isaiah and Ezekiel, says Rogovy.

Dylan’s musical and spiritual path have led him to explore Jerusalem’s Old City and the baptismal waters of Malibu. For Bishop Baines, the theological thread unifying Dylan’s life and work is his ongoing creative wrestling with the human condition:

"He’s constantly looking at human experience and his experience and the way the world is against this backdrop of God and his understanding of the scriptures. And my guess is if he lives to 100 he still will be doing the same thing. … What Dylan gets is the fact that spirituality isn’t divorced from reality. So Dylan moves through loneliness, love, sex, God, meaning, all of that. It’s all in there."
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What about having a new law that made all Cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate, or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home?
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In black and white not princely purpleArchbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams

On BBC Radio 4 Today program’s "Thought for the Day" segment, the leader of the Anglican Church, as The Telegraph reports, “called for  a return to the medieval tradition when monarchs ritually washed the feet of the poor would serve to remind politicians and bankers what should be the purpose of their wealth and power.”

(photo: Steve Punter/Flickr, CC by 2.0)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor


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"My Life, My Death, My Choice"

by Andy Dayton, associate web producer

In December 2007, British fantasy writer Sir Terry Pratchett publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Primarily known for his best-selling Discworld series of fantasy novels, he has now become a vocal advocate for the right to “early death.”

The video above is from Pratchett’s speech, "Shaking Hands with Death," for the BBC’s annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture. Early on in the speech — delivered by actor Tony Robinson due to Pratchett’s condition — he tells the story of his father’s death from pancreatic cancer:

"On the day he was diagnosed my ­father told me, ‘If you ever see me in a hospital bed, full of tubes and pipes and no good to anybody, tell them to switch me off.’ In fact, it took something under a fortnight in the hospice for him to die as a kind of collateral damage in the war between his cancer and the morphine. And in that time he stopped being him and started becoming a corpse, albeit one that moved ever so slightly from time to time."

In the clip above, Pratchett addresses what he calls “the God argument” and identifies himself as a humanist who “would rather believe that we were a rising ape, not a falling angel.” He finishes with this thought:

"It’s that much-heralded thing called the quality of life that’s important. How you live your life, what you get out of it, what you put into it, and what you leave behind after it. We should aim for a good and rich life well-lived. And at the end of it, in the comfort of our own home, in the company of those who love us, have a death worth dying for."

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Poetry Gone Video Viral
Trent Gilliss, online editor

Poetry. What can I say. Verse slakes our audiences’ thirst; many of us imbibe poetry in binges. Yet, most people — well, I — don’t regularly take the time to sit down and read a chapbook, much less a poem these days. These cinematic tableaux (embedded above and below) commissioned by BBC’s Poetry Season rekindle that flame and force me to reconsider my lethargic attitude.

Perhaps it’s remembering the shared commonality of a poem, the power of it being read aloud and its reminder to us that people living several hundred years ago weren’t so different from us. We, too often, internalize poetry and disconnect ourselves from the communal act. The human condition speaks to the lonely wanderer in a crowded room as much as on a wayward street.

My hope is that projects like this, and even our own efforts as part of the Poetry Radio Project, can reclaim this pop heritage. Poems can elevate the understanding and relevance of complex topics like Alzheimer’s and memory, Argentina’s disappeared, and a geologist’s view of human fragility through more than the intellect.

To be frank, I played rock-paper-scissors with myself and let Blake’s poem "Jerusalem" take the lead. But the slow-motion video of Brit punk rocker Itch of The King Blues reading Byron’s "So We’ll Go No More a Roving" was impossible to ignore.

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The Arts Drive It Home for Me

Krista Tippett, host

One hangover from living for a time in England is that I am a devotee of BBC radio plays. Thanks to the wonderful world of the Internet, I can continue to listen. I’ll often put a play on in the background as I fold laundry or pay bills or even do busy work in the office.

This week, while we’ve been producing a program on the new science of “neuroeconomics” — exploring the physiology of trust and virtue in economic life — I stumbled on a series in this week’s BBC 4 “Afternoon Plays.” They deal with the human dynamics behind the Enron collapse — a subject on which our neuroeconomist guest Paul Zak has done extensive research.

The Arts Drive It Home for MeThese two plays were written by a noted British economics correspondent. The first, "Power Play," includes tapes from Senate hearings and the voice of figures like Enron’s CEO Kenneth Lay. The second, "Wilful Blindness," revolves around imagined discussions between Kenneth Lay and a former employee who turns up as his gardener in his Aspen home after this conviction.

I found intriguing echoes here with some of the insights not only of Paul Zak but also of Darius Rejali. A discussion between the gardener and the CEO about how good people are drawn into doing bad things is a wonderful example of how the arts can drive home big ideas as well as any erudite analysis — or illustrate them so that we can truly grasp them.

But, you better listen fast. The material goes offline in a few days!

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Spiritualism: A Radio Documentary

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Early this morning, the BBC World Service rebroadcast this CBC documentary about the uniquely American religion of Spiritualism. Lily Dale, a small town in southwestern New York state, was founded by a socially progressive group of Spiritualists in 1879 and is the epicenter for its practitioners.

Wondering what is a Spiritualist? Here’s the town’s definition:

One who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the continuity of life and in individual responsibility. Some, but not all, Spiritualists are Mediums and/or Healers. Spiritualists endeavor to find the truth in all things and to live their lives in accordance therewith.

To expand on that definition, Spiritualists believe in a divine power and the afterlife. The dead can be contacted through mediums, individuals given the gift of channeling and contacting these spirits. These spirits are in a state of evolution, and by contacting them, embodied people can gain greater understanding about moral and ethical issues.

If you’ve got 30 minutes, Frank Falk’s doc is worth a listen.

(photo: srinehuls/Flickr)

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Speaking of Faith Wins a Webby! Trent Gilliss, Online EditorJust as we were getting used to our Peabody success, we learned we won a Webby Award — yes, the “Oscars of the Internet” — for our site. Our fellow nominees included some heavyweights we think highly of: BBC Religion & Ethics, NPR’s This I Believe, Beliefnet, and Faith & Values Media’s Youthroots (our former underwriter). There’s electricity in the air and Kate won’t stop buying food, everything from bagels and five tubs of cream cheese to yogurt-covered pretzels and cinnamon gummy sombreros. She said she would eat her hat if we won both awards in the same year… and so she did. ;) In 2005, we were the first public radio program to win a Webby. Back then, it was more of a one-man show trying to create and expand an online identity for a burgeoning radio program with unbelievable content and an unrepresentative site: small images, swooping lines, baroque hues of gold and red with a visiomaticized (great term from Tufte) navigation scheme (Would you like to see a snapshot?). My intent was to defy those uninformed stereotypes, break the rules on image size and quality, bring a human perspective, and create content that paralleled the depth people were hearing on the radio.In 2008, we have a different story to tell. The staff mindset has shifted and stepped up in unbelievable ways and contributed significantly to the effort — through blog posts, writing particulars, producing multimedia elements, etc. — a true group effort:Krista writes a weekly essay exclusively for online use and even blogs on occasion. (I’m working on this busy professional to post more with less, but she always has so much to say that’s worthwhile.)Kate is a blogging wunderkind who’s armed with an iPhone. She’s got the camera mastered. Now we need to put her vocabulary arsenal and vivacious sass to work and begin “tweeting/twittering” (look for that later this year *fingers crossed*).Mitch, well, this guy does it all: accommodates my video requests, blogs, creates best-of playlists, produces narrated slideshows, you name it.Colleen does more quietly and thinks in online ways from the get-go. Her interview with a choral director for a multimedia piece on the marginalia on Bach’s Bible is fascinating, along with her putting John O’Donohue’s reading of a poem to pictures. She blogs from the inside and from the outside (see post about her doggy Oban). The list goes on…Shiraz and Rob are relatively new staff members, but these young whippersnappers (How old am I?) have already posted some incredible material. Shiraz blogs the news, religious conventions, and sci-fi like nobody’s business — not to mention recently producing a wonderful audio slideshow of black belts mastering acts of kindness in the ultimate test of skill. Rob is the Cliff Clavin of SOF. He has an uncanny ability to take disparate facts and little-known trivia and weave meaningful blog posts (cue entries on Mr. Rogers and the personality of numbers) and interesting anecdotes in each week’s annotated guide to the program.Andy, the latest staffing addition. He’s only been on staff six weeks but has had a major impact in subtle and dramatic ways. He’s finally got our free transcripts to print within the margins — important indeed — and coded a dynamic mapping application that gives voice to hundreds of Catholic stories that would have otherwise been silenced in a database. It continues to grow. And, even our interns have stepped up: Anna was the first production intern to contribute, and Alda has become a blogging regular, as well as a compiler of links and resources for each week’s program. Honestly, we didn’t think we would win. We appreciate that our graphic design and navigation paired with our content was recognized as something special. Hoka-hey!*UPDATE: Seki reminded me in the comments section about an idea we had. The beauty of the Webby Awards is that each winner can give a speech no longer than five words. I botched it last time, so I’m counting on you to make us look good, clever, intelligent… Add a comment to this post and the staff will select one of your suggestions to be spoken loud and proud at the Webby Gala on June 10 in NYC. This should be good.
Speaking of Faith Wins a Webby! Trent Gilliss, Online EditorJust as we were getting used to our Peabody success, we learned we won a Webby Award — yes, the “Oscars of the Internet” — for our site. Our fellow nominees included some heavyweights we think highly of: BBC Religion & Ethics, NPR’s This I Believe, Beliefnet, and Faith & Values Media’s Youthroots (our former underwriter). There’s electricity in the air and Kate won’t stop buying food, everything from bagels and five tubs of cream cheese to yogurt-covered pretzels and cinnamon gummy sombreros. She said she would eat her hat if we won both awards in the same year… and so she did. ;) In 2005, we were the first public radio program to win a Webby. Back then, it was more of a one-man show trying to create and expand an online identity for a burgeoning radio program with unbelievable content and an unrepresentative site: small images, swooping lines, baroque hues of gold and red with a visiomaticized (great term from Tufte) navigation scheme (Would you like to see a snapshot?). My intent was to defy those uninformed stereotypes, break the rules on image size and quality, bring a human perspective, and create content that paralleled the depth people were hearing on the radio.In 2008, we have a different story to tell. The staff mindset has shifted and stepped up in unbelievable ways and contributed significantly to the effort — through blog posts, writing particulars, producing multimedia elements, etc. — a true group effort:Krista writes a weekly essay exclusively for online use and even blogs on occasion. (I’m working on this busy professional to post more with less, but she always has so much to say that’s worthwhile.)Kate is a blogging wunderkind who’s armed with an iPhone. She’s got the camera mastered. Now we need to put her vocabulary arsenal and vivacious sass to work and begin “tweeting/twittering” (look for that later this year *fingers crossed*).Mitch, well, this guy does it all: accommodates my video requests, blogs, creates best-of playlists, produces narrated slideshows, you name it.Colleen does more quietly and thinks in online ways from the get-go. Her interview with a choral director for a multimedia piece on the marginalia on Bach’s Bible is fascinating, along with her putting John O’Donohue’s reading of a poem to pictures. She blogs from the inside and from the outside (see post about her doggy Oban). The list goes on…Shiraz and Rob are relatively new staff members, but these young whippersnappers (How old am I?) have already posted some incredible material. Shiraz blogs the news, religious conventions, and sci-fi like nobody’s business — not to mention recently producing a wonderful audio slideshow of black belts mastering acts of kindness in the ultimate test of skill. Rob is the Cliff Clavin of SOF. He has an uncanny ability to take disparate facts and little-known trivia and weave meaningful blog posts (cue entries on Mr. Rogers and the personality of numbers) and interesting anecdotes in each week’s annotated guide to the program.Andy, the latest staffing addition. He’s only been on staff six weeks but has had a major impact in subtle and dramatic ways. He’s finally got our free transcripts to print within the margins — important indeed — and coded a dynamic mapping application that gives voice to hundreds of Catholic stories that would have otherwise been silenced in a database. It continues to grow. And, even our interns have stepped up: Anna was the first production intern to contribute, and Alda has become a blogging regular, as well as a compiler of links and resources for each week’s program. Honestly, we didn’t think we would win. We appreciate that our graphic design and navigation paired with our content was recognized as something special. Hoka-hey!*UPDATE: Seki reminded me in the comments section about an idea we had. The beauty of the Webby Awards is that each winner can give a speech no longer than five words. I botched it last time, so I’m counting on you to make us look good, clever, intelligent… Add a comment to this post and the staff will select one of your suggestions to be spoken loud and proud at the Webby Gala on June 10 in NYC. This should be good.

Speaking of Faith Wins a Webby!
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Just as we were getting used to our Peabody success, we learned we won a Webby Award — yes, the “Oscars of the Internet” — for our site. Our fellow nominees included some heavyweights we think highly of: BBC Religion & Ethics, NPR’s This I Believe, Beliefnet, and Faith & Values Media’s Youthroots (our former underwriter).

There’s electricity in the air and Kate won’t stop buying food, everything from bagels and five tubs of cream cheese to yogurt-covered pretzels and cinnamon gummy sombreros. She said she would eat her hat if we won both awards in the same year… and so she did. ;)

In 2005, we were the first public radio program to win a Webby. Back then, it was more of a one-man show trying to create and expand an online identity for a burgeoning radio program with unbelievable content and an unrepresentative site: small images, swooping lines, baroque hues of gold and red with a visiomaticized (great term from Tufte) navigation scheme (Would you like to see a snapshot?). My intent was to defy those uninformed stereotypes, break the rules on image size and quality, bring a human perspective, and create content that paralleled the depth people were hearing on the radio.

In 2008, we have a different story to tell. The staff mindset has shifted and stepped up in unbelievable ways and contributed significantly to the effort — through blog posts, writing particulars, producing multimedia elements, etc. — a true group effort:

  • Krista writes a weekly essay exclusively for online use and even blogs on occasion. (I’m working on this busy professional to post more with less, but she always has so much to say that’s worthwhile.)
  • Kate is a blogging wunderkind who’s armed with an iPhone. She’s got the camera mastered. Now we need to put her vocabulary arsenal and vivacious sass to work and begin “tweeting/twittering” (look for that later this year *fingers crossed*).
  • Mitch, well, this guy does it all: accommodates my video requests, blogs, creates best-of playlists, produces narrated slideshows, you name it.
  • Colleen does more quietly and thinks in online ways from the get-go. Her interview with a choral director for a multimedia piece on the marginalia on Bach’s Bible is fascinating, along with her putting John O’Donohue’s reading of a poem to pictures. She blogs from the inside and from the outside (see post about her doggy Oban). The list goes on…
  • Shiraz and Rob are relatively new staff members, but these young whippersnappers (How old am I?) have already posted some incredible material. Shiraz blogs the news, religious conventions, and sci-fi like nobody’s business — not to mention recently producing a wonderful audio slideshow of black belts mastering acts of kindness in the ultimate test of skill. Rob is the Cliff Clavin of SOF. He has an uncanny ability to take disparate facts and little-known trivia and weave meaningful blog posts (cue entries on Mr. Rogers and the personality of numbers) and interesting anecdotes in each week’s annotated guide to the program.
  • Andy, the latest staffing addition. He’s only been on staff six weeks but has had a major impact in subtle and dramatic ways. He’s finally got our free transcripts to print within the margins — important indeed — and coded a dynamic mapping application that gives voice to hundreds of Catholic stories that would have otherwise been silenced in a database. It continues to grow.
  • And, even our interns have stepped up: Anna was the first production intern to contribute, and Alda has become a blogging regular, as well as a compiler of links and resources for each week’s program.

Honestly, we didn’t think we would win. We appreciate that our graphic design and navigation paired with our content was recognized as something special. Hoka-hey!

*UPDATE: Seki reminded me in the comments section about an idea we had. The beauty of the Webby Awards is that each winner can give a speech no longer than five words. I botched it last time, so I’m counting on you to make us look good, clever, intelligent… Add a comment to this post and the staff will select one of your suggestions to be spoken loud and proud at the Webby Gala on June 10 in NYC. This should be good.

Comments