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Entries in #NPR (4)


CSI: Ancient Rome

They found some ancient bodies, most likely casualties of the Justinian plague, and extracted DNA from a tooth that was actually analyzable. Turns out it wasn't quite the same as the medieval Black Death. So cool. Because I am that person who, on my honeymoon in Rome, bought (and read) a book about Justin and the plague that thwarted him. 



From the most recent To the Best of Our Knowledge podcast comes Aaron James, who, while talking about the subject of his recent book, made one of the more profound statements about artists and the larger world that I've heard (any transcription errors are mine):

Often the big mistake [artists make] is not realizing how grateful they should be to larger society for giving them the gift of creative opportunity, without which they would have never achieved or been successful. I mean, artists who have to fend for food all the time, or fend off foreign armies, or whatever, aren't going to get a lot of art done. But many of them, when they are successful and produce great artworks, everyone's very grateful for that, and then they sort of just take credit for it, you know, I did it. And then they think even more should be coming to them, or something like that, [in addition to] the great benefits that they've already got.

I usually do feel pretty grateful to get to do what I do in the way that I do it, but after this gentle reminder I'm overflowing--thank you to everyone, especially the people whom I don't usually think to thank, from the road builders to the pilots to the food safety inspectors to the nice people who remove our trash. It also makes me think of Obama's much-maligned comment about the collective power of community--and the need to appreciate every level of specialization that makes our world, and our own individual endeavors, possible.

I won't argue that it's the best of all worlds in which we live; I've read too much Voltaire for that. But in the spirit of gratitude, I appreciate a whole lot of people these days, people whom, whether they realize it or not, allow me to carry on with my peculiar obsession. I hope to be able to pay it back, or forward, one of these days.


One More for the Road

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Robert Frost's death, links to a few of his best-known works that you may not have read in years:

"The Road Not Taken," 1922

"After Apple Picking," 1915

"Mending Wall," 1915

The NPR story that drew this anniversary to my attention begins with the line "Next, we'll recall a poet of the modern era who didn't seem modern at all." I was listening to this piece on my headphones while making soup, and I immediately exclaimed, "Frost!" 

My husband, watching a basketball game in the other room, was a little confused, especially as it was above freezing today.

But in all seriousness, during my junior year of college I took a modern poetry survey course that began with Frost, whom I knew as I knew of other canonical poets. But there was so much I'd never even considered--that the paths in "The Road Not Taken" actually look pretty damn similar, if you examine the text closely. Might it be an old man justifying his choices to himself? The oft-seriously-quoted "good fences make good neighbors" line from "Mending Wall" is very clearly not intended to be read literally. Why people don't quote the opening lines more often is beyond me:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.


Frost's poems begin so simply, follow what we all assume is the intended, rhyming and rhythmic, trajectory of poetry that it is all too easy to simply give them a surface-level read. Many, lulled perhaps by the mastery of the aural qualities and the easily-snipped-out lines, do. But they are even more beautiful, and subversive, when you look just a little bit closer. And Frost himself, as you will hear if you listen to the Morning Edition NPR story, valued his privacy in his personal life as well.

(All of this--the deceptively straight-forward statements, the quiet, deep calm, the fondness for rural northern settings--makes me suspect that he must go over well with the Swedes.)

This time around, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" resonates with me most, for reasons that are probably both obvious and well-illustrated by this blog of late. In particular, I find myself reciting the last stanza, over and over. So here it is, in honor of the master:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,  
And miles to go before I sleep.

This American Life's retraction and the question that actually matters

I’m not a fan of This American Life. This will come as a shock to anyone (or any robot) crawling through this site gathering demographic information, because I fit the listener profile to a T: well-educated in the humanities, a writer, a liberal, a youngish white woman who listens to NPR almost constantly the rest of the time.

But the show just doesn’t do it for me. It’s a combination of things, I think. They tell a very structurally-specific type of story, one which, as they say on their website, centers around characters, conflict, and a universal takeaway. Clearly, I do love stories with characters and conflicts, but I find the ever-present universal takeaway on this show a bit too easy, something that allows listeners to feel as though they’re participating in the world simply by joining in the larger feelings-session. (More on this, specifically, later.) Also, I just don’t like Ira Glass’s delivery.

So when I realized last weekend that I was likely to be driving a uhaul truck over the Sunol grade from noon to one pm, smack in the middle of the This American Life broadcast on KQED, I was all set to bring my ipod and listen to another podcast. That is, I was going to listen to something else until I remembered that this weekend was Retraction Weekend, a one-hour show about a January episode entitled “Mr. Daisy Goes to the Apple Factory.” As I’m sure you’ve heard, Mr. Daisy was less than truthful about what he found in Shenzhen, and This American Life was retracting his piece and spending an hour talking about how and why this had happened. So I tuned in.

This piece encapsulates my impression of the general fact-checking failure; to put it briefly, Daisy told Glass that his translator, Cathy, could no longer be reached. That was that, until holes started showing after the original piece aired back in January. When Glass and his team started looking into things, Daisy said that, actually, her name was Anna, not Cathy, and he didn’t think she’d like to be contacted as she hadn’t known she was in a story at all.

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