Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dec 24-28 Programs

Dear Friends,

I hope you enjoyed our week of holiday programming as much as we enjoyed producing it. As one faithful listener pointed out, last Friday's program about Primo Levi (Last Christmas of the War) - which left everybody in tears including gentilissimo Ernesto Livorni, my guest who actually slapped himself when he started to cry – was reminiscent of the Thanksgiving Day programs I used to do with Connie Kilmark when we asked listeners to tell us about the best gift they ever gave, or received. Powerful stuff. My favorite kind of radio.

Anyway, because we had such a favorable response to The Christmas Package (Dec. 15), we've decided to repeat it on Christmas Day. We're also repeating our program about the Evolution of Santa Claus (Dec. 18) on Christmas Eve. So here's how the week looks on paper:

Monday: The Evolution of Santa Claus, from his origins in ancient Turkey to Jolly Old St. Nick

Tuesday: The Christmas Package: an unforgettable story told by an Italian Jew who gets a Christmas package from home delivered to him in Auschwitza month before the end of the war.

Wednesday: Back to the Bonobos with the great Swiss biologist Frans De Waal, author of The Inner Ape, who insists we got it all wrong by claiming chimpanzees as our evolutionary ancestors instead of the peace-loving bonobos, the hippies primates who make love instead of war.

Thursday: In 1969, young Kirin Narayan's older brother, Rahoul, announced that he was quitting school and leaving home to seek enlightenment with a guru. Another familiar motif from the sixties, and a link to our evolutionary past, explored with Indian anthropologist, Kirin Narayan, author of the memoir, My Family and Other Saints.

Friday: Just when you're sick of the whole idea of food: delicious and healthful slimming secrets from the author of Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat.

Merry Christmas! And to all a Good Night!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Jean in The Big Apple

Friday, December 21, 2007

I can't let this year slide away without giving an account of my magical four days in The Big Apple. On Tuesday night, December 11, I gave a reading from my memoir, I Hear Voices, at the Borders bookstore on Park Ave. and 57th Street. For those of you who may not know New York, that's considered a pretty swanky part of town, right next to Bloomingdale's in the heart of the toney upper eastside. It's also a part of the city that holds special resonance for me since my Uncle Dominick's office used to be just off 58th St., and my great-grandfather actually helped build the German section of the city known as Yorktown. What a thrill - to find my book displayed in the window facing 57th St.!

Anyway, in spite of all my apprehensions and actual nightmares that nobody would show up, over 100 people were there! - quadruple the crowd that the store usually draws. Borders had to keep adding more and more chairs and finally put a second sound system in the back of the room so that everybody could hear.

Much like the launch of the book back in October at our own Borders on University Ave. in Madison, I felt once again, looking out at the crowd and recognizing so many people from so many different decades and sectors of my life, that I had died and gone to heaven. Stomping around in my new boots and embroidered black velveteen coat that my husband says makes me look like one of the founding fathers (not exactly the look I was striving for!), I read for over an hour and had to be cut off by the management when the Q@A went on a little too long.

I spotted old friends in the crowd: Mariana, my Cuban roommate from college in the crowd; Mara, my best friend from fifth grade, and new friends too, like Annie Lanzillotto. Jacki Lyden was there, all the way in the back, looking exceedingly glamorous in a sweater with a full yoke of white fur; Diane Ackerman came too, all the way from Ithaca. My friend Melanie's father was among the first to arrive, displaying his birth certificate to prove that he really is 96 years old; my son Giancarlo sent four of his friends; my husband made sure there were a few scientists in the crowd, and Dominick, my son, the artist, looking lushly Byronic in a black velvet jacket, leaned back in his chair in the front row, his eyes closed, drinking in my words. I tell you, it was the thrill of a lifetime. And we sold a lot of books too.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dec 17-21 Programs

Dear Friends,

We've decided to go for broke this week and test your tolerance by lining up a whole week's worth of Christmas programming! Don't touch that dial! We have a hunch you're really going to like it.

Monday: Navan, the singular a cappella group starring the polyglotton-ous Sheila Shigley, joins us to celebrate Celtic songs of the season: (sung in the original languages) mostly hair-raising, sometimes jazzy, mysterious songs that give fascinating insights into the pagan underpinnings of Yuletide.

Tuesday: The evolution of the modern-day Santa from its origins in Turkey (!), to Holland where Santa arrives with a boatload of Negroes who beat you up with sticks if you're bad (and nobody thinks it's racist), to The Miracle on Forty-Second Street. Now how could you not like a program like that?

Wednesday: Theologians John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg have teamed up again to give us a brand new and controversial interpretation of The First Christmas.

Thursday: Get ready for the Winter Solstice Poetry Circle of the Air with Molly Peacock. Molly has chosen a set of sonnets poet Marilyn Hacker wrote while undergoing surgery for breast cancer during the holidays, an irony all too commonplace. Look for the poems on our website and bring a solstice poem of your own choosing to the circle.

Friday: Wisconsin-born/Paris-based chef Patricia Wells joins us to give a French twist to the Christmas feast.

Have a great weekend. I'm outa here.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Dec 10-14 Programs

Hi Folks,

I'm headed for The Big Apple this week to give a reading from I Hear Voices at the Border's on 57th St. in mid-town Manhattan on Tuesday. Whoop-de-doo! Hopefully, more than five people will show up. I've worked so hard to drum up a crowd, I've even invited my best friend's brother from high school!. In my absence, Lori Skelton will be hosting the show to kick off the week and she's come up with a couple of dandy topics:

Monday: Lori Skelton talks with James Devita, APT actor and author of the recent novel "The Silenced," and Deborah Ellis, award-winning author of children's books, about contemporary literary role models for young girls and the challenge of crafting an identity when the world around you is far from stable.

Tuesday: Lori Skelton and guests discuss Winter Solstice celebrations, through time and across cultures.

Wednesday: Curious about what international students think of America? We'll talk with four winners of a UW international student essay contest representing four continents.

Thursday: The Paradox of the Ganga: India's Most Sacred River and its Pollutants, a journey narrated by a British documentarian.

Friday: (My Pick of the Week) The great Italian humanist, Primo Levi, much to his surprise, received a package of goodies for Christmas while he was in Auschwitz. Poet Ernesto Livorni of the Italian Department, UW-Madison, reads and discusses Levi's essay, "Christmas in Auschwitz." You'll love it!

Wish me luck!


Friday, November 30, 2007

Dec 3-7 Programs

Dear Friends,

We have an unusually political line-up to kick off the month of December:

Monday: The UN gets a report card on its Declaration of Human Rights created in 1948, almost 60 years ago. We'll talk with members of Wisconsin's Governor's Commission on the UN, the only body of its kind in the US.

Tuesday: Do scientists play God? Turns out, that depends on your religion. We'll talk with Lee Silver, the author of Challenging Nature: The Clash Between Biotechnology and Spirituality, About the East/West Scientific Divide..

Wednesday: Beyond Caudillo: How Michelle Bachelet is changing the legacy of August Pinochet in Chile.

Thursday: At long last, we catch up with Jonathan Groubert and his new program from Radio Netherlands. This week's edition is, appropriately enough, about Overconsumption.

Friday: Spice: Want to know what it took to get those pumpkin pie spices into your Thanksgiving feast? Join us with the author of The Taste of Conquest: The Three Legendary Cities: Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam: how their single-minded pursuit of spice helped create the Western diet and set in motion the first great wave of globalization.

Hope you'll be listening and calling!


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nov 26-30 Programs

Hi Here-on-Earthians,

Question of the Week: Have we dropped the ball in Afghanistan? (See Wednesday's program with former NPR foreign correspondent Sarah Chayes).

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and here's what we have to look forward to when we groan our way back to work on Monday:

Monday: How do you measure the distance from an African village to an American city?: We'll talk with Anne Makepeace, the maker of Rain in a Dry Land, a POV documentary about the challenges faced by Somali refugees confronting racism, poverty, and 21st century culture shock.

Tuesday: Beyond Caudillo: We're working on a program about Chile's woman president, Michelle Bachelet, who is taking her country beyond the legacy of Pinochet.

Wednesday: Once again, we catch up with our gal in Afghanistan, the redoubtable Sarah Chayes who has been helping Afghani entrepreneurs to develop a soap and body-oil business while they all dodge the Taliban's bullets. Have we dropped the ball in Afghanistan? Let us know what you think by sending a message to and posting it on my blog at

Thursday: The Seed Bank: It's a project ongoing in Norway to preserve all the seeds on earth in case of catastrophe.

: Space Food: in the future we may all be eating what the astronauts eat. God forbid.

I hope you can join us, and I mean that in more ways than one. We are in the process of developing a more interactive production process, hoping to solicit your input on issues we tackle in advance of the broadcast so you can play a more active role in helping to shape the program. The first step is in introducing The Question of the Week. See Sarah Chayes' article, “Scents and Sensibility,” in the November issue of Atlantic Monthly for more background on what's going on in Afghanistan.

Enjoy your turkey!



Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nov 19-23 Programs

Hello Everyone!

This will be a short week for us since the crew is taking off for a long Thanksgiving weekend.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday: Words Without Borders, the online magazine for literature in translation, is hosting a big event in Soho called "Tales from the Global Village." We'll talk with some of the featured writers from the University of Iowa's International Writing Program.

Tuesday: Radio wizard David Isay, the creator of StoryCorps, joins us to talk about Listening as an Act of Love, and to share his favorite StoryCorps moments.

Wednesday: It's the season of charitable giving, but with so many choices and so many worthy causes, how do you decide which one to pick? For the Charity Navigator and the Alternative Gift Guru, join us for this program on Internet Philanthropy.


Friday, November 16, 2007

So What Did You Think of Annie?

Friday, November 16, 2007

I met Annie Lanzillotto in Denver a few weeks ago at the AIHA Conference- the American Italian Historical Association. Like Robert DiNero, Al Pacino, Jake La Motta and Anne Bancroft (who grew up on her block), she's a pure child of the Italian-American Bronx. Raw and red-blooded, Annie has the courage and the heart of a lion. And she looks like one too. She wears a long tan leather coat and an Artful Dodger hat. She sometimes goes by the name of Rachele Coraggio. She even had a dream recently in which her father appeared to her and told her that the 'L' in Lanzillotto is for 'lion."

She was sitting in the front row, her big frame slouched in the seat right in front of me, at one of the panels. Then when she got up, turned around and started performing her monologues with names like " The Abandoned Lasagne," "Saving My Grandmother's Leg," "How to Cook a Heart," and " The Iceman Cometh," I knew right away that here was my blood sister, my grandmother, Commara Celestina, my mother, and my brother Stephen all rolled into one. Annie's tongue is bathed in red wine; her heart is full of Barese viagra, and she has the sweet smug smile of a lioness. She's pure gold. I love her.

Now, tell me. Because I need to know. Do you love her too? If you didn't hear the Food Friday program today, listen tonight at 9:00, or listen to the archived program when it gets posted in a few days. I need to know!


Friday, November 09, 2007

Nov 12-16 Programs

Wow! Will Shortz, Leonard Nimoy, and a radioactive food fighter from the Bronx. Brace yourselves for a banner week on Here on Earth!

Monday: Suduko: It's a cross-number puzzle from Japan that's conquered the world. Never heard of it? Neither had I. But not to worry -- Will Shortz will set us straight.

Tuesday: Cuba Confidential

Wednesday: Leonard Nimoy, a.k.a. Mr. Spock from Star Trek, is actually an accomplished photographer who's turned his considerable talent to an unusual topic – Fat Babes!

Thursday: How is the 2008 presidential race stacking up in the eyes of the rest of the world? Can we shake the Cowboy image? Is there a post-militant America in our future? John Nichols weighs in.

Friday: Don't miss this show! I was in Denver last weekend at the American Italian Historical Association's conference where I met Annie Rachele Lanzillotto – I call her Lancelot. Annie is a brilliant, incredibly funny performance artist who does side-splitting monologues about growing up Italian-American in the Bronx. The focus, of course, is on food: Join us for "The Abandoned Lasagne," "Never Leave Home Without a Frittata," and "How to Cook a Heart."

Gotta go.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Hello Friend,

Here’s what’s in store for Here on Earth listening the first week in November:

Monday: one of the most powerful activist voices of the 20th century: Francis Moore Lappe gives us a sneak preview of her Monday night presentation at the Barrymore Theater in Madison when she’ll be talking about her visionary new blueprint for how to revitalize our democracy: Getting a Grip.

Tuesday: Is a solar house in your future? We talk with the leaders of two of America's most innovative solar housing programs, and with an engineer from Montreal, all of whom took part in the Solar Decathlon, a worldwide contest to find the best new solar housing designs. Guests: (1)Stephen Lee, Carnegie Mellon University; (2)Pliny Fisk, Texas A & M University; (3)Nicolas Fiolin, Bell Canada

Wednesday: We read about an 84 year old anthropologist in Egypt who’s been making great strides in ending the practice of FGM: female genital mutilation, which is so widespread it’s almost universal among Egyptian women. Our redoubtable Chinese producer, Lisa Bu, persisted until she made contact and talked her into doing a show with us.

Thursday: A new look at an ancient practice: Green Funerals. The green funeral movement started in Europe, and now it's taking root in the U.S. Since January, six "green burial grounds," natural areas reserved for burials in simple coffins, without embalming, have opened in the U.S., as more and more people opt for a more natural, and less expensive, burial ritual. Guests: (1) Joe Sehee, director, Green Burial Council; (2) Mark Harris, Author, "Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry"

Food Friday: When The Cheese Stands Alone: find out how to navigate a European-style cheese counter with confidence and learn about fascinating new "live" cheeses and exciting artisanal offerings. Guests: (1) Laura Werlin, author of "Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials" (2) TBA from Fromagination (

I’ll be spending this weekend in Denver as a participant in the American Italian Historical Association’s meeting, reading from I Hear Voices.

Thanks for listening!


Monday, October 29, 2007

Oct 29 - Nov 2 Programs

Dear Friends,

Here’s what’s coming up for the week of Oct. 29 on Here on Earth:

Monday: I’m betting that you’re going to love this program about the Monks of Taize, an ecumenical community of over a hundred brothers living in Burgundy, France, both Catholics and Protestants, from 25 nations. We’ll talk with Brother John, an American, and find out what gives Taize its youth appeal.

Tuesday: An update on the American debate on torture with Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Wednesday: Frankenstein! Frankenstein! Frankenstein!

Thursday: We’ll talk to Matt Frei, the anchor of the all-new BBC World News America – which, in this case, means North and South!

Food Friday: A very groovy program with the author of a most unusual memoir about food. It’s called Eating As I Go: Scenes From America and Abroad by world traveler and scholar Doris Friedensohn.

Much to chew on!


Friday, October 26, 2007

On Launching a Book

Friday, Oct. 23, 2007

Reaping the whirlwind: I Hear Voices became officially available on Sept. 24; the launch was Oct. 4; ever since it's been non-stop radio interviews, newspaper interviews, readings, postings, emails, and travel - this weekend to Door County, next weekend to Denver for the American Italian Historical Association's conference meeting; after that it's San Diego, then the McMillan Library in Wisconsin Rapids, and then the 57th St. Borders in New York City on December11! No wonder I lost my voice in mid-sentence this week. A wild roller-coaster ride - exhilaration one minute; disappointment the next.

The readings have been great - energizing and gratifying. The radio interviews vary - sometimes they miss the name of my program - one guy called it "On Earth" - other times they don't even get the name of the book straight. My favorite interview was with Joy Cardin on the first day of our Pledge Drive - she hit all the hot spots and best of all, let me read lots of passages from the book. Much as I appreciate the wonderful reception the book has been getting here at home, my great hope for it is that it will go national. (Just like my great hope for Here on Earth, come to think of it). I guess I have an "I coulda been a contendah" complex - remember what Marlon Brando mumbled to his brother in On the Waterfront just before Charlie ended up on a meat hook - "Charlie, I coulda been a contendah.."

Attza me!

I'll post some responses next week.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Oct 22-26 Programs

Hi Guys,

We have some old friends coming up this week:

Monday: Those of you who remember Conversations with Jean Feraca, my mid-morning talk show, will doubtless recall Dawna Markova, psychologist and educator, author of How Your Child Is Smart, who used to cast her radio spell quite regularly on our airwaves. She's coming to Madison to give a workshop on Secrets of My Russian Grandmother next weekend and we'll get a preview this coming Monday.

Tuesday: Every once in a while a new voice emerges with the power to change the world. Women for Women International Founder and President Zainab Salbi is such a voice. She joins us on the eve of United Nations Day to share her personal experience as a survivor of war and her dedication to rebuilding communities ravished by war, one woman at a time.

Wednesday: Everybody's worried about Iran. Is war with Iraq's neighbor inevitable? Who better to ask than Gary Sick, principal White House aide during the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the U.S. hostage crisis. He'll be giving his talk, "Is a U.S. Strike on Iran Inevitable?" on Thursday, October 25, at 8 p.m. in Grainger Hall's Morgridge Auditorium, 975 University Ave. The event is free and open to the public.

Thursday: Languages are disappearing from the earth as rapidly as animal species. Who cares? What difference does it make?

Friday: Patrick O'Halloran, (better known as O-all-orino), the Irish chef at Lombardino's in Madison who is doing his utmost to make up for his Irish culinary deficiencies, has just returned from yet another tour of Italy -- this time all by himself to little known villages where he ate regional delicacies you and I would probably never touch.

Thanks for hanging in there with us during pledge drive and for all your support now and throughout the year.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Oct 15-19 Programs

Dear Here-on-Earthians.

As you know, we are now well-launched into our October pledge drive and I have to say, so far, it’s been a lot of fun. I hope you were listening to Joy Cardin’s 8:00am program when yours truly was the guest, and my new book, I Hear Voices, was the topic. We raised almost $13,000 in one hour, thanks to all of you who called in! And John Nichols did a spectacular job on my program this afternoon, culling 60 pledges, almost half of which were from new members. How wonderful! Almost as heartening as watching the Pete Seeger documentary.

Well, we try hard extra hard to keep you entertained, informed, and amused during these pledge drives because we know all too well how easy it is to tune out. So here’s what’s coming up:

Monday: The Impact of Podcasting: Join me with New York Times multimedia producer Amy O’Leary to find out how podcasting is changing the broadcasting industry. You’ll also meet some Here on Earth podcasters and get a chance to win an eight gigabyte iPod Nano. (whatever that is – for me , this is a steep learning curve).

Tuesday: We found a way to revisit one of our favorite programs from my old talk show: Every Thanksgiving financial counselor Connie Kilmark used to join us to host a program on The Best Gift You Ever Gave, or Received. This year we’re re-introducing it with a Here on Earth twist, Connie and all.

Wednesday: Terry Gross! Terry Gross! Terry Gross! This is your chance to interact with one of NPR’s stars, the veteran host of Fresh Air, and cast your pledge to win a ticket to her presentation at UW Whitewater on Oct. 30.

Thursday: Every once in a while I fall in love with a book. My latest affair is with Sustenance & Desire, a perfectly beautiful book that features all the things I love best in this world: poetry, food, art, all deliciously packaged in a book you’ll want to take to bed. Trust me, you’ll love it too when you meet its creator, an artist who goes by the intriguing name of Bascove. One word.

Friday: Patricia Wells graduated from the University of Wisconsin before taking off for Paris where she has now become a well-known food aficionado. She joins us from Paris with stories, tips and recipes from her latest cookbook.

You see how hard we’ve worked to please you? Won’t you help us to make this pledge drive not only successful, but fun – a real celebration of a invisible community – a great and magical karrass, to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, "with a Chinese doctor, and a British queen," and You!


Friday, September 28, 2007

Talking to Pete Seeger

Friday, September 25, 2007

If you need a lift, by all means see the new documentary Pete Seeger: The Power of Song which is touring the country and is now showing at Westgate in Madison for another week. Short of that, listen to my program with him which aired last Tuesday.

The man is 88 years old and he's still chopping wood! That's the first shot of him that we're treated to in the film: he's there in the woods, chopping wood in front of the log cabin that he built himself many years ago.

But what really impressed me, apart from the fact that his whole life rings true, is that he's so oriented toward the future. He drives an electric car; he hangs out with kids; he's optimistic about the changes we're likely to see in next few decades; he's out there protesting the School of the Americas; he still finds reason to love his country; his only regret is in not having supported his beloved's wife Toshi's artistic development. Most old people look backwards; only a very few, most of them visionaries, look forward. What a guy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I Hear Voices!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A few weeks ago a box appeared on my doorstep. I opened it and, much to my surprise, inside were 15 copies of my new book, I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Life, Death, and the Radio, all wrapped in plastic. Mind you, I knew the book was coming out, but the official date that I had been given by UW Press was September 24, so I wasn't quite prepared for the shock.

All the books are still sitting in the box in my front hall, still wrapped in plastic, except for one which went to my son when he was home for a visit last weekend. The books, I am told, are already available on Amazon, which bothers me a little bit. I've been instructed not to talk about it in public until bookstores have had a chance to order copies. The lag time is about three weeks -hence the Sept. 24 launch date. So I find myself in a strange sort of time warp. It's a little like being about to deliver a baby - the waters have broken, but the labor pains haven't started yet.

Meanwhile, I've had a nightmare. I show up at Borders in Madison on the day of the launch - Oct. 4 - and I open up a box, expecting that there will be books inside, but instead, what I find is sandwiches - seven submarine sandwiches, one for each chapter, all neatly wrapped and separated by waxy green florist's paper. Did I say 'launch,' or was that 'lunch'?

Anyway, I hope to see you there. Here are the dates:

Border's West in Madison: Thursday, Oct. 4 at 7:00pm
Overture Center, Madison, noon on Sunday, Oct. 14 (as part of the Wisconsin Book Festival)
Harry Schwartz' Bookstore at Shorewood, Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 7:00pm in Milwaukee.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Meeting Aracelis Girmay

Friday, August 10, 2007

It's been a long time since I've been excited by a book of poetry. The first time I opened Aracelis Girmay's Teeth, I knew I was in the presence of a real poet. Right away I called Sandy Taylor, her publisher at Curbstone, and asked to book her on Here on Earth, but he did one better. He arranged for a reading for her at Rainbow Bookstore in Madison so she could be right here in our studios for our program last Tuesday.

In "Arroz Poetica," the first poem in Teeth, she writes...

You name, I will have noticed
on a list collected bya Iraqi census of the dead,
because your name is the name of my own brother
because my students are 12, because I remember
when my sisters were 12. & I will not
have ever seen your eyes, & you wll not
have ever seen my eyes
or the eyes of the ones who dropped the missiles.
or the eyes of the ones who ordered the missiles,
& the missiles haveno eyes.

She is Etritrean on her father's side, Puerto Rican and African-American on her mother's side, and I ask myself, is that what it takes to be able to feel for the Iraqi civilians who are dying every day in this war? Do you have to be a "woman of color" who writes only in red? What can we say about a country whose people are forbidden to mourn even their own dead? Who are not even allowed to see their coffins, let alone their eyes? It's our Refusal to Mourn that may be the greatest hole in the heart of this country the greatest blow to our humanity. Thank God for poets like Aracelis, young as she is (29!) who have the power to unstop our throats and loosen the words and the tears that should be falling from our eyes, even as they fall from their eyes, every day of this Endless War.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Talking to the South Pole

Friday, July 27, 2007

It's good to think about ice in the middle of July. Nothing but ice, wind, the startling crunch of boots on snow in -60 degrees, and not one, but three south poles to contemplate, encircled by the flags of many nations - the only spots of color in a landscape of oblivion.

What I love most about being human is the connection I feel in the place where science, art, and religion all come together. Yesterday's program about Project Ice Cube brought me into that place of rare convergence and left me there to contemplate the sublime folly of such projects, both grandiose and preposterous. Will they succeed in capturing neutrinos, those ghostly particles more fictional than fact? Do neutrinos really hold the key to our understanding of dark energy, the Big Bang, and why our universe is expanding so rapidly? Nobody knows.
To do something for its own sake rather than to reach a goal strikes me as the highest form of human endeavor.

After the program was over, the physicists actually admitted that what they most hope to find is nothing at all. That would rule out all the current theories and force them to start all over again. As my husband is so found of saying, "The Messiah must never come."

Friday, July 20, 2007

My Atheist Scientist Husband Chats with Francis Collins

Friday, July 27, 2007

Last Tuesday, Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, was a guest on Here on Earth, talking about his bestselling book, The Language of God. My husband, who listened to the program, had this email exchange with him the day after the program. They each gave their permission to share this exchange with you:

Dear Dr. Collins,
My wife, Jean Feraca, just interviewed you on Wisconsin Public Radio. She is a religious person. I'm a non-believer/scientist. We have endless conversations about science and religion. I could not resist sharing with you two reactions to your comments.
There were two surprises for me in your comments.
First, you describe God in very anthropomorphic terms. After you said "God wants ..." or "God planned ..." I realized that you were describing a god who is a reflection of yourself; i.e. a god who really loves science and nature and thus laid down a world that a scientist would really enjoy exploring. There is so little ambiguity and wonder in this god; it seems to me a surprisingly limited (and excessively self-oriented) concept for such a big idea as a god. I CERTAINLY ADMIT THAT IF GOD IS REAL, THERE IS NO WAY OUR PUNY MINDS CAN ACCURATELY ENVISION WHAT HE IS LIKE. I THINK OF GOD AS AN UNIMAGINABLY AWESOME INTELLIGENCE, AN UNFATHOMABLY PROFOUND MIND, A PURE AND HOLY TRANSCENDENCE. IF I SOUNDED ANTHROPOMORPHIC IN THE INTERVIEW, THAT WAS NOT MY INTENTION. I CERTAINLY DON'T THINK OF GOD AS A GUY WITH A WHITE BEARD UP IN THE SKY. I THINK YOUR WIFE WANTED TO ASK ME THIS SAME QUESTION AT THE END OF THE FIRST SEGMENT (MAYBE AFTER HER DISCUSSIONS WITH YOU?) BUT THE STATION BREAK GOT IN THE WAY.
Second, you mentioned that the "evidence" that you find compelling for the resurrection is that so many people believed it and wrote it down. I'm amazed that you would consider this any kind of evidence for anything at all. Millions of people believe and write down all kinds of things that you would agree are not at all credible. THAT'S CERTAINLY TRUE. BUT THE PRESENCE OF LOTS OF MYTHS DOWN THROUGH HISTORY DOESN'T PROVE THAT THIS ONE IS TOO. EVEN MANY ATHEISTS ADMIT THAT THE EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION IS SURPRISINGLY GOOD -- HAVE A LOOK AT "THE RESURRECTION OF THE SON OF GOD", BY N.T. WRIGHT, IF YOU WANT TO LOOK AT THAT EVIDENCE. But, following on Jean's question about compartmentalization, I just don't understand how the scientist in you is silent on this point. For you to believe in a resurrection, you have to abandon nearly all the scientifically-supported ideas you have about nature. It seems like your god would one day flip a switch and turn off natural processes, let this one event get through the door, and then flip the switch again. How does the scientist in you allow the other side of your brain to believe that? A FAIR QUESTION. BUT THE REAL QUESTION IS WHETHER OR NOT TO BELIEVE IN GOD. IF ONE MAKES THAT LEAP (AND IT IS INDEED A LEAP, NO QUESTION), AND ACKNOWLEDGES THAT GOD IS THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE AND ALL OF ITS NATURAL LAWS, THEN IT IS ONLY A VERY SHORT STEP TO ACCEPT THE POSSIBILITY THAT GOD MIGHT OCCASIONALLY AT MOMENTS OF GREAT SIGNIFICANCE CHOSEN TO INVADE NATURE AND VIOLATE THOSE LAWS. THAT HAPPENED MOST DRAMATICALLY IN THE PERSON OF CHRIST. AT THE SAME TIME, THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT I THINK MIRACLES ARE REGULAR EVENTS -- I'VE NEVER SEEN ONE AND I DON'T EXPECT TO.
Alan Attie

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lisa Bu in China

Lisa Bu, our intrepid and magnificent Here on Earth web producer, was invited by her alma mater, the UW Madison Business School, to guide a group of MBA students on a seven day tour of China last month. She came back with the following report:

"I spent a week in Beijing as translator/guide for a UW-Madison MBA class. The trip is an eye-opening experience for many students and even me, a native Chinese. This is my first real visit of the city since I was five. I know from media that the city has changed tremendously, but seeing it with my own eyes is different. The sheer scale and speed of the development takes my breath away. At the same time it concerns us when we see how serious the pollution is. The sky is almost never blue but gray and fuzzy, even in the mountain area where the Great Wall is. Safe drinking water is another issue. We had to be very careful only to drink bottled water, and buy water from trusted vendors. I joked that bottled water had become my new security blanket -- can't go anywhere without it.

Another unexpected experience I have is how proud I felt being a Chinese when visiting the Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall for the first time. Much larger and taller than seen on TV or photos, they stood in front of me like a magnificent but silent giant. I was in awe, as if having just witnessed the emergence of an ancient hero from a storybook picture to a live figure with flesh and blood. The giant looked so familiar yet so new at the same time. Through my life, I have seen its pictures and read its stories thousands of times. Yet touching its wood and stones and taking in its air and smell, I felt as if I was making acquaintance with this magnificent giant for the very first time. Although it can't speak, it's living and breathing. History has never been so vivid and direct. I could hear its heartbeat. And I knew that's the heartbeat of my ancestors, that's the heartbeat I'm carrying in my body. I felt so proud. "

Lisa and a UW Business School student shopping for clean bottled water in Beijing where the temperature was typically near 100 degrees. Lisa said water became her "security blanket."

After Beijing, Lisa went to visit her family in her hometown of Changsha, a city of 6 million in Hunan Province. Here you can see a remnant of the old city side by side with the ever-present evidence of construction that is so typical of the new China.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Celebrating the Fourth

Friday, July 6, 2007

So we did something pretty gutsy this week, I thought, doing a program on the CIA's "Family Jewels" on the Fourth of July. We worried a lot about it beforehand and went back and forth about whether it was appropriate or not. In the end, we decided to go ahead because, after all, what's more American than the right to dissent, even though it's easy to duck and self-censor in this period in our history when our leaders are trying to label dissent as un-patriotic.

So Patrick Paczerski, our crackshot intern who produced the program, lined up a set of three interesting guests: a Latin American historian who recited a lintany of our transgressions south of the border, veteran newsman Daniel Shorr who reported on the CIA's misdeeds back in the 70's and took a heavy hit as one of the reporters on Nixon's hit list, and a British political philosopher who reminded us that love of country means warts and all. Just as we had anticipated, we got a call from someone who chided us for doing a program critical of America on the Fourth of July. We should have been talking about our war heroes instead, he said. I wanted to say in response that Daniel Shorr is one of my war heroes. But Dan spoke so well for himself. When I asked him how he, as an American who had once been threatened with jail for his investigative journalism, was celebrating the Fourth of July, he said, " ...Just like every other good American!"

Here on Earth began its first broadcast on the Fourth of July weekend four years ago. Happy Birthday, America. Happy Birthday, Here on Earth. May you both live up to your greatest promise. I'm proud to be an American.

Friday, June 22, 2007

AOL Instant Messaging

Friday, June 22, 2007

You may have noticed that a few weeks ago, in addition to giving out the toll-free call-in number and the email address during the program, we began mentioning that listeners can also chat with us on AOL Instant Messenger. Now, mind you, I've never done such a thing myself, and I confused it with text messaging. This was an idea that was brought to us by one of Here on Earth's bright young student producers, Dan Rosinsky-Larrson, and frankly, I didn't hold out much hope for it.

And then, lo and behold, during yesterday's Poetry Circle of the Air, Barbara contributed a poem sent to us from Michigan by IM (- that's shorthand for Instant Messenger in case, like me, you didn't know that.) And today, during the Raw Milk Wars program, we received another IM from Andy. It's exciting! A whole new way to interact with the program. Joe tells me it's easier, more direct, and takes less time than email, and that appeals to folks who may be listening while they're at work. For the benefit of those of you who are new to this and might like to try it out, I've asked Joe to write up a brief explanation of what it is and how to use it. Look for it in my next posting.

And by the way, Sardinia was spectacular. Postcards and photos to follow.


When Phil Corriveau

Friday, June 08, 2007

Off to Sardinia!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Just a quick note to let you know I'll be gone for a week - off to Sardinia with my husband to eat sardines and squishy squid ink pasta and hang out with reformed brigands who now operate B&B's. Sardinia has 7000 nuroghe- mysterious towers that are believed to have been built by Neanderthals. It's Bronze Age all over, with villages where all the men dress up in shaggy sheepskins and don wooden masks once a year to impersonate wooly mammoths that are driven out of town in a spring fertility rite. How could you not love a place like that? I'll be back with a report on June 18th, and an interview with Al Gore about his new book, Assault on Reason. Very cool guy.

Keep listening!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Exploding the Amish Myth

June 1, 2007

Well, guys, I really didn't expect that I would come away from The Branding of the Amish, today's food Friday program with food historian William Woys Weaver never being able to think about the Amish in the same way again. A post for their buggies outside Walmart? Feeding pizza to their wives and horses? Crisco and confectioner's sugar for icing? Where will I buy my chickens now?

Seriously, there must be some purity somewhere. Where?

Have a great weekend, and keep those cards and letters coming!


Friday, May 25, 2007

Here on Earth Combats Illiteracy in Liberia

Friday, May 25, 2007

It's almost 6:00pm on a holiday weekend and I'm dying to get out of here, but I don't want to leave without sharing the great news of the week with you: Juli Endee called from Liberia late on Wednesday to tell me that the woman from Bopalu who spoke on behalf of her Muslim sisters the day I visited the village with Swanee Hunt's delegation, asking to learn how to read and write, (her photograph appears in an earlier entry) has been found. The literacy program will begin this week! Juli has arranged for teacher training with teachers from the Ministry of Education. But here's the best part: there will be not one women's literacy program, but six!

When Juli got off the plane in Monrovia, she was met with a queen's reception - traditional dancers and singers performing in her honor - she gave a press conference on the spot and announced that Jean Feraca and her radio show Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders was starting a literacy program for the women of Bopalu. Well, word spread, of course, and before you know it, there were six programs in six different venues. The American Embassy is thrilled and has asked me to send six packets of ABC's! And now there's a song about us!

Happy Memorial Day!

Friday, May 18, 2007

After the Open Line

May 25, 2007

As most of you know, I hosted an open line a few weeks ago on May 2. It was the first open line we had done since starting Here on Earth four years ago. Even though many of you were very positive in your comments, the ones I took to heart were critical. I was discouraged at first, and then I started thinking. Why not try to recapture some of the magic of the old program? So, with Carmen Jackson's help, that's what we tried to do this past week - successfully, I think. But I'll let you be the judge.

This was the line-up: Comedy From the Axis of Evil, a program about circuses and elephants, Paul Davies on the new cosmology, a conversation with a Canadian poet who recreated the journey of Huishen, a 5th century Buddhist monk, and a side trip into Cajun country. God, I had fun. How about you?

Keep those cards and letters coming. You're really helping me re-shape the program without losing its core values. Sort of Cajun, come to think of it!

I love having you guys as real partners.



Friday, May 11, 2007

Hell Without Joe

May 11, 2007

Well, it's been a hell of a week. Those of you who are curious about what goes on behind the scenes in radio will enjoy my tale of the Week From Radio Hell. Joe Hardtke, our wiz-kid TD (that's jargon for technical director), got married last week (through no fault of his own) in an outdoor prairie setting with the wind blowing so hard it erased the minister's words and practically lifted the bride, veil and all, right off the ground. Or was that the groom. His obvious joy was contagious, as was his invitation to get all of us up on our feet on the dance floor, jumping up and down with him while we all screamed like three year olds,"I'm so hap-py, I'm so hap-py!"

Alas, that was the end of my happiness. All week long in Joe's absence we have been plagued by all manner of technical evils. The monitor in my studio started flashing like a strobe, I couldn't hear anything in my headphones, the guests were nowhere to be found, the music for the billboard was lost, the CD wasn't burned on time, and today, instead of a nice Italian version of Mama to roll meatballs by, we got heavy metal instead! or some scary thing I had to shout over in order to be heard at all! Joe, for God's sake, .....come home!!!! I promise I won't make obscene gestures at you for at least another week!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Yanamono Clinic - A Great Radio Story

May 4, 2007

Yesterday I had Linnea Smith on the program for the first time in years, a wild woman who when she isn't riding her motorcycle around Wisconsin's backroads, is treating snakebites and malaria and machete cuts at her clinic in the Peruvian rainforest - Yanamono Clinic, designed and built on the banks of the Amazon by Rotarians from Duluth, Minnesota, in response to my first interview with her in 1990.

It's such a great story, and one I never tire of telling. It says so much about the power of radio to connect people across the great divides - be they national, cultural, or racial. I got to spend a week in the Amazon some years ago, checking out the clinic in the company of a group of pharmacologists, many of whom went down there clutching well-worn copies of The Celestine Prophecy. I almost lost my mind that week. As much as I loved the idea of the clinic, I kept wrestling with the question, Was it really a good idea to build a western-style medical clinic in the heart of the Amazon? especially since I met several native healers and shamans while I was in the jungle. I have written at length about all this in the chapter called "A North American in the Amazon" in my forthcoming book. The last words in the chapter are "here on earth." And yes, that is a double plug.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Easter Feast

April 16, 2007

When I was hosting "All About Food" in the old days, I often found that my cooking was subtly influenced by the program. I began adapting my heretofore highly orthodox, and some would say downright dogmatic Italian cooking style, experimenting with new ingredients, new spices, even new ways of thinking about food, usually with happy results.

On Good Friday we did a program in celebration of the Easter Feast based on the unusual congruence of Passover and Easter all ocurring in the same week this year, and Greek Orthodox Easter coninciding on the same day with the Roman Catholic observance, something that happens only in a blue moon, a blue Passover moon, that is. One of the things I learned in doing that show was that Passover and Pasqua derive from the same root. Well, duh.

My Greek friend Voula (and she is my dear friend and Mediterranean sould-mate sister), had ended up crying on the phone to each other on Friday morning, both of us yearning for the communal observances that used to characterize Holy Week when Voula was growing up in Thessaloniky, and I was growing up in New York. Doing the program together was a way of - forgive me - getting our Easter rocks off.

But it was also a truly Here -on-Earth inspiration for me. Yes, I made my traditional Italian Easter dinner - a gorgeous platter of antipasto to start with followed by my grandmother's homemade manicotti and roast leg of lamb with green beans and mushrooms. But this year something was different. We had a lit minora on the table, Jews, Catholics, atheists, and Greeks sitting down together, Voula's bowl of dyed red eggs, and her wonderful ricotta and philo pastry made with vanlla from Madagascar for dessert. "Christos Aneste!" "Happy Pesach" "Happy Easter."

None of that would have happened had it not been for my program.


Monday, April 09, 2007

A Shorter Version of the Podcast?

April 9, 2007

At today's Here on Earth editorial meeting, we discussed the idea of sending out a second, shorter version of our podcast which would end by the first break - i.e. at twenty minutes into the program. Apparently, most podcasts are far shorter than one hour, and, according to podcast listening patterns, young people especially are far more likely to listen to something that's hit and run. The good news is that, providing they like it, they will want to listen to the whole thing. Any disclaimers? We'd especially like some feedback from our podcast crew, and by the way, what should we call the thing? Here on Earth: R2D2? Here on Earth to Go? The Here on Earth Podcast Digest? Please help if you're so inclined. We need you!


Friday, March 23, 2007

The Muslim Women of Bopalu, Liberia

March 23, 2007

When I conceived "Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders," I imagined not just a radio program, but a vehicle for possible global social transformation. "Words tenderize the heart; they lead to deeds," as St. Teresa of Avila said.

At the end of my week in Liberia, our delegation flew by helicopter (there being no roads to speak of) to the little village of Bopaulu, the first Liberian village to boast a woman mayor.
We descended in the belly of a huge white UN helicopter to be greeted by the entire village, with all of the children lined up outside their schoolhouse to meet us. I was embarrassed. Such an honoring! So much expectation!

The Muslim women were waiting patiently for us. After we had arrived and were seated, this woman stood up to speak on behalf of her community. She was strikingly beautiful, with regal bearing, and she spoke eloquently in her native Kpele language. The women wanted a Women's Center, she told us, where they could gather. They wanted to learn how to read and write. Listening, my heart went out to her. Why should I be able to read and write, I asked myself, and not this beautiful woman?

Soon after leaving Bopalu, our delegation returned home. I couldn't stop thinking about the Muslim women of Bopalu and their eloquent spokeswoman, especially after my husband made these prints for me. The opportunity to make a difference in their lives came when Juli Endee, Liberia's Cultural Ambassador, paid me a visit last week. Juli is Kpele; her organization, as it turns out, Crusaders for Peace Village, has an office in Bopalu. Together we worked up a little budget: $300 for a press to make mud bricks, another $300 to pay the men to build it, $300 for 3o chairs, x amount for pads, pencils, a blackboard and books, a modest stipend for two teachers, and before you know it, we had raised enough money to launch The Bopalu Muslim Women's Literacy Project. I am so happy.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Visit From an African Queen

March 22, 2007

I met Juli Endee in Monrovia,Liberia, at the Mamba Point Hotel where I was a member of Swanee Hunt's delegation in December. Juli showed up at the leadership training workshop that was conducted by Swanee and her staff, but Juli could have given a workshop on leadership herself. That night, she rounded up the Crusaders for Peace, her band and cultural troupe, and entertained us royally. Besides being Liberia's Cultural Ambassador, Juli is a traditional African queen, so designated by the members of her Kpele tribe, and boy, can she shake it.

When I found out she was planning to be on tour in the US in February, I made sure she knew I wanted her to be a guest on Here on Earth, but she did me one better. She came to Madison and stayed with me as a guest in my home for a whole week. Now I can give a workshop on the care and feeding of queens!

Juli is a magnificent woman. While she was here she gave a master class in Chris Walker's African dance class at the UW that was so well received, the chairman of the department invited her to return with her troup in June to be a part of the World Dance Festival. But that's not all. The primary purpose of her visit to the US is to raise money and support for the Crusaders for Peace Children's Village she is building for women and children (primarily girls) who have survived Liberia's civil war. Juli used her music as a tool in helping to bring about an end to the war. As a matter of fact, as she mentioned on the air, the first soldier to lay down his arms surrendered to her. What she didn't tell us was that he first held a gun to her head.

On the last morning she was here, the two of us launched the Bopalu Muslim Women's Literacy Project which I will explain in my next posting.

Happy Spring, Everyone! Let me know what you thought of our Poetry Circle of the Air today, and how we can get more of you to call in.


Friday, February 16, 2007

A Caller From Melbourne

Friday, February 16

Gung Hay Fa Choy! That's Happy New Year in Chinese. I just learned that from today's program with famous Chinese chef (Yan Can Cook) Martin Yan. I co-hosted the program with our own Lisa Bu who comes from Hunan Province - Martin is from Guangzhou (formerly Canton) - both in the south. It was a delightful experience and I learned a lot about the place of food in Chinese culture.

Yesterday was a banner day. John Nichols was in studio, commenting on the fracas that went on all week between Australian prime minister John Howard and Barak Obama. Toward the end of the program we actually got a caller from Melbourne, an Aussie named Noel Knoll who told us he's a regular listener. When it's 3:00pm in the Midwest, it's 10:00 tomorrow morning in Australia. What a thrill to think we're actually growing a global public radio community. That was my dream in starting Here on Earth. Thank you, Noel! I hope we'll be hearing more from you.

On another note, next Wednesday I'll be giving a presentation on my trip to Liberia at the Center for African Studies in Ingraham Hall, UW-Madison campus. It'll be a brown bag at noon and I'll be showing slides, some of them my own, some that Swanee Hunt took herself. It's free and open to the public so I'm looking forward to seeing some of you there.

Have a great weekend.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Remedy for the Winter Blues

Thursday, February 8, 2007

I don't usually get this personal on this blog, but I wanted to share my remedy for the winter blues with you. Yesterday I went home with a killer headache which lasted all night and kept me home all morning. About mid-morning, I started to feel better and started thinking about cooking. I rummaged in the freezer and discovered a turkey neck and innards left from last Thanksgiving. Ah hah! I thought - I can make soup. Soup turned into gumbo, but the real remedy was what I did with the turkey liver. When I was a child, my grandmother used to make a chicken liver oer'd'oeurve (she called them hors-de-vores, which drove my mother, the French teacher, crazy) which I loved. It was incredibly simple and incredibly delicious. All she did was sautee a diced onion in butter in a little frying pan to which she added the chicken livers, cut up very small, and allowed them to cook very slowly in the butter and the onion, adding just a bit of salt and pepper. This she served on Ritz crackers as the first course in a special holiday meal. So that's what I did with the turkey liver. And it made me feel better. Try it and think of my grandmother. Her name was Jenny.

Here's to daffodills and all the little yellows that are on their way!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Some Days Just Suck

February 1, 2007

Some days just suck. We've had some really wonderful programs lately - Parker Palmer on Thomas Merton's birthday yesterday was one of them; discovering Satish Kumar last week, the man who walked from Delhi to Washington D.C., was another. I had great expectations heading into today's program with Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize for putting Kenya's rural women to work planting trees. The more I read about her the more impressed I was. Carmen and I have been chasing this woman unsuccessfully for years and then, suddenly, she lands. But on a cell phone! The connection was awful. The publicist had promised she'd be on a land line. She wasn't. She couldn't even be located at first. Then, whack, that lousy phone. Two things can ruin a radio program: a bad guest and a bad phone. And then, to top things off, she had to cut out early. Sorry folks. We'll try harder next time. And for those of you who hung in there, thanks. The good thing about live radio is that when it flops, there's always tomorrow. Let's see what "California's Second Gold Rush" - brings.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

About Apocalypto

January 10, 2007

Okay, guys, let me get this off my chest. It's a terrible movie; don't bother going to see it. What induced me to want to do a program about it was Craig Childs' provocative op ed piece which appeared in the New York Times last week. (There's a link to it on our website today). I found a lot of outright denial in the reviews I read concerning whether the Mayans practiced human sacrifice. They did. To deny the truth of the past, however painful, is to leave it open to distortion. In our political correctness, we mince around what makes us sqirm, apply platitudes and euphemisms, point to our own shortcomings and bloodlettings as if that justifies it, and in the end do nothing to clear up the mess. What I liked about Mel Gibson's horrible movie which he made, I believe, primarily to serve his own religious and political agenda, is that it gave us the opporunity to have an honest conversation about what really went on in Mesoamerica prior to the arrival of Columbus. Noble savages? No. Hideous heathens? Again, no. Real people? Yes. Just like us? Again, yes.

Thanks for the ride.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Liberia Continued

January 4, Independence Day in Burma

I'd love to get your feedback on the program we did today featuring Burma's Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. Without intending it, it reinforced the theme we seem to be following lately of women waging peace around the world.

I met many of them while I was in Liberia. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia's president and the first woman to lead an African nation, actually waited tables and mopped the floors at Rehnebohm's while she was in Madison many years ago working on a degree in business. It seems that it was a wonderful preparation for cleaning up a corrupt and totally trashed country following a fifteen year civil war. And it was the women of Liberia - the illiterate market women - who were primarily responsible for bringing her to power. They also forced a negotiated peace by locking the men up until they agreed to sign the peace treaty. Now what can we learn from their example?

I, for one, will be following their progress with great interest. Are they up to the challenge? Can they really do a better job in occupying the leadership vacuum left by Charles Taylor and so many dead men?

In Rwanda the women occupy 49% of the seats in Parliament -greater than any other nation in the world! And they are busily transforming their country, finding homes for the war orphans, establishing health centers, and bringing the ex-combatants to trial using a traditional system of justice. Truly inspiring. I'm hoping to feature them in a future Here on Earth program. Please let me know what you think of this programming stream.

I'm off to spend some quality time in the Anza-Borrego desert for a long weekend with some dear friends. I'm hoping for some comments from you when I return.

Oh, and by the way, I'll have some great photographs from Liberia to post when I get back.

Thanks for keeping in touch,