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December 2009



Tuesday, December 1, 2009   

Ever the Englishman, writer, actor, and comedian Stephen Fry traveled across the United States in a black London cab, visiting all 50 states to experience first-hand what makes America unique.  Fry stopped in Georgia for Thanksgiving, marched in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, learned how to pick a banjo with hillbillies, and palled around with Ted Turner on his Montana ranch.  Fry’s book is appropriately titled, Stephen Fry in America: Fifty States and the Man Who Set Out to See Them All.  Then, in November of 1943, U.S. Marines landed on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands and met a Japanese force of 4,500 who fought nearly to the last man.   Nearly two thousand Marines and Navy personnel were killed. Leon Cooper was one of the Navy officers who landed Marines on the island and never forgot the carnage he witnessed.   Along with documentary filmmaker Steve Barber, Cooper returned to the island in February, 2008 to check out reports that garbage littered the battlefield.   While there, he learned that hundreds of American dead remain on the island in graves that receive no care.   The film, Return to Tarawa: The Leon Cooper Story, is part of an effort to give proper respect to the fallen heroes of World War II.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In Hollowing Out The Middle, authors Patrick Carr and Maria Keflas examine the exodus from America’s small towns.  To do this, the two moved to a small town in Iowa where they conducted over a hundred interviews and ultimately traveled to fifteen Midwestern states.  Bob talks with Carr about his new book.  Then, contemporary master of the epic historical novel, Edward Rutherford turns his attention from his native England to The United States’ largest metropolis.  New York: The Novel begins in a small fishing village on the island of Mannahata and follows the settlers and their ancestors for four centuries, as the fishing village grows into America’s most important city.


Thursday, December 3, 2009 

President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Frances Beinecke, discusses the climate change legislation making its way through the Senate, the role the United States will have at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December, and why our national security depends on our ability to curb carbon emissions.  She’s also the author of a new book - Clean Energy Common Sense: An American Call to Action on Global Climate Change.  Then, growing up on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, Paul Nicklin started off as a biologist who liked to take pictures.  Eventually he realized that photography was the best way to get his message of wildlife appreciation and conservation to the public. His new book of photography is called Polar Obsession and it’s published by National Geographic.


Friday, December 4, 2009

David Broder of The Washington Post joins Bob to talk politics.  Next, guitarist and singer Chuck Prophet, discusses recording his latest CD in Mexico City — during the height of the Swine Flu hysteria. The record is called Let Freedom Ring and Prophet will also perform a few tracks in our studio. Then, in this week’s installment of our ongoing series This I Believe, Bob talks with executive director Dan Gediman about the essay from Oscar and Esther Hirschmann.  They lived in New York City, where Oscar was a poet writing under the pen name of Oliver Hale. Their essay was the only statement on the original This I Believe series to be delivered by two people.


Monday, December 7, 2009

We commemorate the anniversary of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by dipping into our archives to bring back Bob’s interview with Eugene Jarecki, director of the documentary Why We Fight.  Inspired by the U.S. government-funded propaganda films of Frank Capra during World War Two, Jarecki updates the reasons why the United States goes to war and strips away the pro-government biases of Capra’s work. 


Tuesday, December 8, 2009   

Before penning some of country and folk music’s most famous songs (Me & Bobby McGee, Help Me Make it Through the Night), Kris Kristofferson was sweeping floors at a Nashville recording studio trying to get noticed.  When that didn’t work, he landed a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s lawn. Cash responded by buying Kristofferson’s tune, Sunday Morning Coming Down. Soon, the former Rhodes Scholar was not just a respected song-writer but a performer in his own right. Bob talks with the now 73-year-old singer-songwriter about his new music, his old music and his acting career.  Kristofferson’s newest album is called Closer to the Bone.  Then, Carly Simon is the first person and the only woman to have won a Golden Globe, an Oscar and a Grammy for writing, composing and performing the same song.  “Let the River Run” is one of the 12 hits Simon reinvents on her new album, Never Been Gone.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Justin Townes Earle is the son of acclaimed singer & songwriter Steve Earle, but he’s quickly establishing his own name in the music business.  He’s released his second album called Midnight at the Movies and last month he won the Americana Music Association’s award for New & Emerging Artist of the Year.


Thursday, December 10, 2009 

Sean Lennon recently released a new CD, a soundtrack for a low-budget vampire flick. He composed the moody, instrumental score on his home computer. And Lennon runs Chimera Records out of his kitchen. Lennon is the only child of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and he talks with Bob about vampires, music, working with his mom, memories of his father and being the famous son of uber-famous parents.


Friday, December 11, 2009

David Broder of The Washington Post joins Bob to talk politics.  Next, in The End of Poverty?, documentary filmmaker Philippe Diaz explains how the free market system, which was created during colonial times, can be blamed for the worst global recession in decades.  Through interviews with economists, authors, and government leaders, Diaz describes how the free trade policies, resource monopolies and programs by the World Bank, the IMF and other international financial institutions have created the current imbalance of wealth around the world. Then, in this week’s installment of our ongoing series This I Believe, Bob talks with executive director Dan Gediman about the essay from Norman Cousins. He was editor of The Saturday Review for 35 years. A noted author, he detailed his fight against two life-threatening diseases in Anatomy of An Illness and The Healing Heart. In addition to his literary career, he was an ardent critic of the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War.


Monday, December 14, 2009  

Bob’s 2008 conversation with journalist Steve Coll about his book The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century. Mohamed Bin Laden went from illiterate Yemeni bricklayer to a private-jet-traveling, multi-millionaire and patriarch of one of the world’s most infamous families.  Steve Coll previously won the Pulitzer for Ghost Wars, his book about the origins of Al Qaeda. 


Tuesday, December 15, 2009 

Bourbon historian Susan Reigler talks about one of Kentucky’s most famous exports on location at the Bourbon Bistro which offers more than 130 bourbons. Then, Rey Fresco is a new band made up of old high school friends from southern California. Bob talks to the members about their multicultural backgrounds, their catchy sound and their unusual instrumentation. The band’s lead instrument is a 36-string harp played by an ethnomusicologist, while the drummer taught himself to play AND to make his own drums from surfboard fiberglass. Rey Fresco’s debut CD is called The People and it features ska, reggae, pop, country, Cuban, Latin and soul influences


Wednesday, December 16, 2009  

The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition famously honors the world’s finest pianists every four years.  Less well-known, but just as important to its participants is the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, wherein excellent musicians who left the piano to pursue other careers have the opportunity to show off their talents before judges.  Director Alex Rotaru and producer Lori Miller filmed these musicians’ struggles and hopes for their documentary They Came to Play. Then, Bob talks with sculptor Ed Hamilton in his Louisville studio about his newest projects.


Thursday, December 17, 2009 

David Kirby believes it’s time for a reassessment of Little Richard’s career.   In Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Kirby argues our most popular musical genre began with the song Tutti Fruiti.  As a poet, a Florida State University English professor, and the author of 30 books, Kirby can give proper literary attention to Little Richard’s opening salutation: “A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-, a-lop-bam-boom.”


Friday, December 18, 2009  

David Broder of The Washington Post joins Bob to talk politics.  Next, Terry Gilliam’s new movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, is a fantastical morality tale set in the present-day. The film stars Christopher Plummer as the title character, musician Tom Waits as the devil, and Heath Ledger as a mysterious stranger.  Ledger died during filming but Gilliam decided to have three other actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law & Colin Farrell) fill in, sharing the role. Gilliam is one of the founding members of Monty Python, the comedy troupe that celebrated their 40th anniversary in October. Then, in this week’s installment of our ongoing series This I Believe, Bob talks with executive director Dan Gediman about the essay from stage, film and radio actor Lionel Barrymore.  He won an Academy Award for best actor for “A Free Soul” (1931). He appeared in more than 200 movies, including starring as Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life and Disko in Captains Courageous. Barrymore was also an accomplished author, composer, artist and director.


Monday, December 21, 2009  

Each Monday this month, we’re examining America and war. Today, we bring back Bob’s 2005 conversation with Paul Dickson and Thomas Allen, authors of The Bonus Army: An American Epic. It tells the story of 50,000 World War One veterans who descended on Washington, DC in the long hot summer of 1932 to demand payment of a cash bonus promised to them years earlier. For two months the veterans camped out on the National Mall until Douglas MacArthur sent in tanks to clear them away.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009  

According to the FBI, Latinos are the most targeted ethnic group of violent attacks. Since 2003, the number has increased so that 64 percent of all ethnically motivated attacks are against Hispanics. In the worst of those crimes, three Latino men on Long Island were brutally murdered simply based on how they looked.  However, authorities believe that many attacks go unreported because the victims are either afraid of local police or simply because they have come to accept the attacks and humiliation as a cost of living here in the United States. But that price is just too much to bear for the families of Marcelo Lucero, Luis Ramirez, and Jose Sucuzhanay – the three men who were killed.  For the full hour, Hating Marcelo: America’s Growing Rage Against Latinos – a look at why Hispanics are hated and what that hate does to a community.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Twenty years ago this month, Nicolae and Elena Ceau┼čescu were executed marking the end of more than forty years of Communist totalitarianism in Romania. When Americans think of Romania, dracula, orphans and dictatorship are what generally come to mind. But in a new book Sheliah Kast and Jim Rosapepe reevaluate the country’s past and present. Their book is titled Dracula is Dead: How Romanians Survived Communism, Ended It, and Emerged since 1989 as the New Italy.  Then, Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac comprise the Canadian folk duo Madison Violet. The ladies take a break from their tour to join Bob in the studio and perform a few tracks from their new album, No Fool for Trying.


Thursday, December 24, 2009  

Today we take a look back at 2009.  First, David Broder of The Washington Post talks about the year in politics. Next, Sophie Delaunay, Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders talks about her organization’s annual list of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, many of which have gone underreported or unknown. Then we hear from Edge of Sports host Dave Zirin about the biggest sports stories of the year. And finally Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtisoffers his personal list of 2009’s top ten CDs.


Friday, December 25, 2009 

On this Christmas Day, we bring back Bob’s interview with Karen Armstrong, one of the world’s most highly regarded authors on religion about her book The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions. Then, in this week’s installment of our ongoing series This I BelieveBob talks with executive director Dan Gediman about the essay from Susan Parker Cobbs.  She was a teacher of Latin and Greek as well as and Dean of Women at Swarthmore College. A native of Anniston, Alabama, Cobbs studied the classics at New York University and the University of Chicago. She taught at Swarthmore for nearly a quarter century.


Monday, December 28, 2009 

This week, we’re playing some of the best of Bob’s interviews and documentaries from 2009. We start with one of the most popular interviews Bob has ever done, Carol Kaye. Kaye was THE session bassist of the 1960s and 70s, playing on dozens and dozens of hits for the likes of The Beach Boys, Ritchie Valens, Simon & Garfunkel, The Supremes, Ray Charles and the Monkees. It’s estimated that Kaye has been involved with more than ten-thousand recording sessions in her career. Kaye and her bass are also responsible for the distinctive bass notes of the Mission Impossible theme and for the theme song of The Cosby Show.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009 

Best of Bob week continues and today it’s writer Luis Alberto Urrea. His latest novel, Into The Beautiful North, tells the epic journey of 19 year old Nayeli, as she sets out from her native Mexico to find her own “Magnificent Seven” to save her village from the drug dealers who have taken over the town.  ThenKurt Vonnegut is gone but not forgotten. His works are celebrated for their satirical humor and a startling creativity that experimented with traditional narratives. A new book collects some of Vonnegut’s previously unpublished short stories. It’s called, Look at the Birdie. Vonnegut’s longtime friend Sidney Offit wrote the forward, and he joins Bob to reminisce about Vonnegut’s early career and the heyday of magazine fiction.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Today, an encore presentation of our visit to the Army’s billion-dollar National Training Center where we met some of the people who help prepare our troops for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Covering more than a thousand square miles of California’s Mojave Desert, Ft. Irwin and the NTC includes realistic mock villages populated by role playing Iraqi nationals and military wives who aim to give the soldiers a taste of what’s to come overseas.  We also witness a group of Army reservists training in a “trauma lane.”  Amid IED blasts and sniper fire, the untested medics have to deal with role players pretending to be the enemy, frightened villagers demanding their attention and actual amputees who act like they just lost their legs in the explosion.  Their commander, Sergeant First Class Bertran Schultz, describes the action and gives a blow by blow account of what his soldiers are getting right and wrong.


Thursday, December 31, 2009 

Today, two of our listener’s favorites from 2009. Beginning in the late 1960s, Charles Kuralt headed out with a small crew to document unusual and overlooked stories from America’s back roads.  Logging more than a million miles and going through several motor homes, the resulting vignettes became On the Road, and dozens of those segments are now available on DVD for the first time.  Isadore (Izzy) Bleckman was Kuralt’s cameraman for most of those 25 years, and he shares his stories from the road. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of Sandra Cisneros’ seminal work The House on Mango Street. This slim book of vignettes about a young Latina girl is considered to be one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed books of the 20th century.


Friday, January 1, 2010

We start the new year with one of Bob’s favorites from 2009, author Patrick Radden Keefe. Cheng Chui Ping, also known as Sister Ping, was one of the criminal world’s most unlikely leaders, and yet for almost 20 years she headed a vast Chinese-American criminal underworld who dealt primarily in smuggling people. Patrick Radden Keefe charts Sister Ping’s rise and fall, and chronicles the violent world she commanded in The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream.  And in our latest installment of This I Believe, curator Dan Gediman shares the essay of John Davis Drummey. “Jack” Drummey had a long career in advertising and public relations despite being a disabled veteran of World War II. He was also a cartoonist for several publications, and wrote “The Observant Bostonian” column for Boston magazine for many years.