Monthly Archives: June 2005

The Book That Changed My Life: Part Four

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It might seem a natural that Richard Ford would chose Walker Percy’s novel “The Moviegoer” as the book that changed his life. Both men were born in the South — Ford in Jackson, Mississippi, Percy in Birmingham, Alabama. And they both lived in New Orleans, where “The Moviegoer” is set. But there’s a twist to this tale. Ford says Percy’s book liberated him because while it was set in the South — it didn’t stay there.

The novel is about an ordinary man’s search for meaning in life and could have just as easily taken place in Cleveland, or St. Louis, or Iowa City. Ford says the universality of this story gave him permission to write beyond the particulars of his birthplace and classic Southern themes and instead take on the human condition unbound by geography.


Richard Ford, Pulitzer Prize winning writer, and author of numerous short story collections and books including, “The Sportswriter,” “Independence Day,” and the forthcoming, “The Lay of the Land.”

Who's Responsible for Health Care?

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As if Wal-Mart didn’t have enough trouble, it’s now being targeted for not providing employees with health care. In states across the country, politicians are trying to get Wal-Mart to “play or pay” — that means either cover their employees or pay money directly to the state to cover the cost of enrolling these people in Medicaid.

Yesterday, the issue was brought to Capitol Hill by Senator Ted Kennedy and others, who announced a bill targeting Wal-Mart on this issue. The fight is part of a larger question about just how much companies should be required to do when it comes to health care.

Many people think the companies should be doing a lot more. But with health care costs rising 10 percent a year, employers say they simply can’t keep up and to stay in business.


Karen Davis, President of The Commonwealth Fund, formely head of Health Policy for the Department of Health and Human Services under President Carter

Kate Sullivan Hare, Executive Director of Health-Care Policy at the US Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC

and TBA.

The Book That Changed My Life: Part Three

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Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” didn’t just arrive — it burst onto the American poetry scene almost 50 years ago. The poem was included in a pocket sized book that cost just 75 cents. It immediately caught the attention of poets with its dazzling energy, and it’s repetitious, chant-like phrases.

“Howl” became something of an anthem for the Beat generation. Its sexually explicit language challenged the literary and social mores of the day, and critics tried to censor it. But in the end, the literary critic Helen Vendler said the writer Alan Ginsberg was, “responsible for loosening the breath of American poetry.”

For Mark Doty and Jason Shinder, the two poets who join me this hour “Howl” also loosened the breath of politics, homosexuality, drugs and America itself.


Mark Doty, author of numerous books of poetry including “Source” and “My Alexandria” as well as the memoir, “Heaven’s Gate.” He teaches Literature at the University of Houston.

Jason Shinder, editor of the forthcoming book, “Howl: Fifty Years Later,” founder of the YMCA National Writer’s Voice, and author of numerous books including “Among Women.”

Racial Profiling in the Doctor's Office

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Here’s a troubling scientific fact — black Americans suffer more from heart disease than white Americans. No one really knows why. It could be differences in education, income, rates of incarceration or something else.

Regardless of the reason, the FDA is set to approve a drug called BiDil to specifically treat African Americans for heart disease. If it goes through it will mark the first time a medication was approved for a specific racial group.

Some are welcoming the new treatment, saying it will help patients and remove some of the health disparities that exist between blacks and whites. Others fear that it will foster the idea that race is a biological, not a social construct and reinforce old notions of what makes people different. Race based medicine, what color is your pill?


Joseph Graves, Professor of Biological Sciences at Farleigh-Dickenson University and author of “The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millenium”

Keith Ferdinand, Medical Director of the HeartBeats Life Center in New Orleans and member of the steering committee investigating the drug BiDil.

The Book That Changed My Life: Part Two

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J.M. Coetzee’s novel “Disgrace” is about a white man living South Africa, after apartheid, at a time when none of the old rules apply. David Lurie is a 52-year-old professor who has, as Coetzee writes in the first sentence of the book, “solved the problem of sex rather well.” That is, until he has an affair with a colored student, and his life begins to unravel.

The book takes place just as white rule has been abolished and neither whites nor blacks know how they are supposed to live together.

The novelist Sheila Kohler grew up in South Africa, and left because she wanted to get away from the injustice of apartheid. But Coetzee’s novel, Kohler says, brought back all the old questions about race and redemption and allowed her to see her country, and her choices, in a different way.


Sheila Kohler, Faculty member of the MFA Writing Seminars at Bennington College, and author of numerous books including “Cracks,” “One Girl,” and “Crossways.”

Wangari Maathai

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“In the course of history there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness.” These are the words of Wangari Maathai when she received her Nobel Peace Prize. She went on to say that there comes a time “when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. And that time,” she concluded, “is now.”

Wangari Maathai was trained as a scientist at universities in Kansas, Pittsburgh and Nairobi. When she heard rural women in her native Kenya worry about the lack of fresh water, and troubles with the land, she started planting trees.

Over the past 30 years her organization, Green Belt Movement, has planted over 30 million trees. It is the connection between the value of the land, and the dignity of people that best marks the work of Wangari Maathai.


Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Book That Changed My Life: Part One

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Take the story of a young boy, and a one legged pirate, a blind man called Pew, a mutiny and lots of rum. And you have one of the finest adventure stories ever written.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “Treasure Island” for his stepson in the late 1800s, saying, “If this don’t fetch the kids, why, they have gone rotten since my day.” What he couldn’t know then is that his seafaring yarn would remain a favorite to this day, and not just for children.

Paul Muldoon is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. He says reading “Treasure Island” as a young man changed his life and helped him set course as a writer. In the first of our five-part, The Book That Changed My Life, we talk with the Irish born poet, on the Scottish writer, together on Spy Glass Hill.


Paul Muldoon, poet and author of “Moy Sand and Gravel,” for which he won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, Howard G. B. Clark Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University.

Finding the Exit

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The Bush Administration is launching a major PR offensive designed to convince people that America is winning the war in Iraq. The White House is now hearing rumblings from the halls of Congress that started last week when two Democrats and two Republicans called on the Administration to come up with a strategy by the end of this year, for withdrawing U.S. troops.

It was an about face for Republicans who have stood solidly behind President Bush in this fight, but beyond the halls of Congress, polls show that public patience with the war is wearing thin.

With over 1700 American soldiers now killed, and an insurgency that every day claims the lives of Iraqi security forces and civilians, many in this country are wondering — how does it end? And wondering when that will become part of this President’s calculation.


Congressman Marty Meehan, Democratic Representative from the 5th Distric of Massachusetts

Christopher Gelpi, Member of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies

Celeste Zappala, Mother of Sgt. Sherwood Baker, National Guard reservist killed in Iraq

Straight Talk About Abstinence

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One of the most interesting stories in the debate over sex education came from a classroom writing assignment. A group of girls living in Mission Texas were asked to write about an important problem in their community. Mission has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country — and so they chose to write about that.

Their script was turned into an award winning short film called “Toothpaste.” It was controversial because it talked about condoms, a forbidden subject as far as Texas’ abstinence-only sex ed curriculum is concerned. But they went before their conservative school board and managed to convince it to air the film in classrooms across the state.

This hour, we have a conversation with those students and other teens about how they see the debate over abstinence.


Laura Coria and Amanda Ramirez, screenwriters of the film “Toothpaste,” which addresses teen pregnancy issues and won a annual contest by Scenarios USA

Sean Keough, in-school teen abstinence advocate.

The Nuclear Option in Tehran

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Results from today’s presidential election in Iran are expected to be close, and for many people there, not very important.

A number of citizens there aren’t bothering to vote. They say the clerical hardliners still make all the important decisions, and reform is not happening. Others insist that casting a vote is the only way to send a message to the mullahs that people want more democracy.

Some social restrictions have been eased. Candidates have been allowed to hold rallies in public spaces, and play music and enlist girls on roller skates in the effort to distribute their message. But the campaign has also been marred by violence and street protests. Regardless of who wins, observers say one of the key issues at stake is Iran’s nuclear future.


Muhammad Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Southern California

Dilip Hiro, author, journalist and commentator on the Middle East

Scott Peterson, reporter for the Christian Science Monitor

Karim Sadjadpour, International Crisis Center.