I'm pretty sure that in the summer of 1992, somebody tried to tell me about Monty Python's Flying Circus. I didn't get it, and there weren't that many chances to break in as a Python fan. Their actual television show didn't begin airing on public TV in America until October of 1974. Then, in the space of about two years, they changed the face of American comedy.
It's that time of year when nine people who were never elected decide all manner of questions about how we live. Monday marked the last round of Supreme Court decisions. By now, you probably know that in a five-four decision, they sided with Hobby Lobby in affirming the rights of employers to invoke their religious principles to opt out of the requirement to provide certain contraceptives otherwise mandated by Obamacare.
On Monday, we do The Scramble. And on the Scramble, we always start with a SuperGuest, which means that in defiance of public radio logic, we pick the person first and then figure out what the topics will be.
This week we started with June Thomas, one of my favorite Slate.com writers and talkers, and someone I assumed would want to riff at least a little bit about pop culture. Instead, her top two choices are Gay Pride month and dentistry.
Henry Alford is a very funny writer. I've been laughing at his writing since about 1990, when he erupted in Spy Magazine, with hilarious speculative pieces like, "What If The Pope Were A Dog?"
Not long ago, he was asked to review a collection by another funny writer, Garrison Keillor. He did it, keenly aware that many people who find him funny are the kinds of people who find Keillor tiresome. And, maybe a bigger problem, Keillor had written some columns about gays and atheists that riled up not just Alford's fans, but people he knows pretty well. So what's a critic to do? Alford actually admired some things about the book, and said so. There was pushback. We'll talk about that today on The Scramble.
Freakonomics god Stephen Dubner is our SuperGuest for today's Scramble, and he talks about how to think more rationally and creatively, the upside of quitting, and the latest studies on happiness. Then, we chat with sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, and WNPR's capital region reporter Jeff Cohen, on the value of publicly-funded sports arenas. What's the status on the possible building of a baseball stadium in Hartford? Is it a done deal? What else have we learned and expect to understand about what a business like that may do to the city?
Is college worth it? The news about higher education is mostly bad. Student loan debt is now $1 trillion and climbing. Underpaid, demoralized, and harassed adjunct faculty are taking on more and more of the teaching load. By many measures, college isn't doing its most important job: providing a ladder that young people with fewer advantages can climb.
College right now seems to be reinforcing class structure rather than loosening it up.
Into all of the above steps an optimist: Wesleyan president Michael Roth, who doesn't deny the problems, but insists that a liberal education is essential, and worth it. Despite the shift towards specialized courses of study, a liberal arts education is more important than ever.
We start today's show with Eric Deggans, NPR's first full-time TV critic. Eric and I have talked before about the issue of diversity in late night comedy programming and lo and behold, the very intriguing Larry Wilmore has been given his own show. So, we talk about that but Eric's main focus right now is a kind of television agrarian ritual, the unveiling of this year's crop of network shows, most of them to be harvested in the fall. A short description if you've been missing Matthew Perry, Patricia Arquette, Scott Bakula, Tea Leone and Katherine McPhee, just watch CBS.
This hour on The Scramble our superguest is David Folkenflik. I don't have to tell you who David Folkenflik is, do I? I mean, you're public radio listeners. The superguest always sets the agenda, and David wants to talk about new journalism start-ups like Vox, Five-Thirty Eight, First Look, and about what middle-aged digital brand names like Slate are doing to survive.
Dave Daley sees Sterling and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as part of a pattern. I don't. Not exactly, anyway. Dave also talks about Thomas Piketty, the first rock star economist in, well, a really long time.
The more I read about The Dallas Buyers Club, the less I like it, which is too bad because I really like that movie.
First, I read the that film's portrayal of Ron Woodruff, the hard-bitten homophobe who gradually softens is wrong. Woodruff was, according to friends and family, comfortably bisexual. He never had to go through the transition you see in the film.
Our SuperGuest on today's Scramble is Jen Doll, who has three topics that she wants to discuss:
The first is the return of "Mad Men," a show in its final season and perhaps more than any other TV show, a driver of the phenomenon that utilizes the talents of many, many cultural commentators to analyze and debate the underlying themes in each episode. If you visited a site like Slate or Salon on certain Monday mornings, you might make the mistake of thinking this was a publication mainly, or entirely about, "Mad Men."
Today on The Scramble, one of our favorite writers, A.J. Jacobs takes us deep inside the world of modern ancestry research where websites are all too happy to tell you that you're distantly related to Gwynyth Paltrow, Michael Bloomberg, Quincy Jones, and King David. Those are all actual examples of people A.J. was told are his relatives.
There's something exciting about a critic who challenges your perceptions in a compelling way. I love the movie American Hustle but when I read Willa Paskin's take-down of it in Slate, she really got me thinking.
We're starting out today with a segment about "Generation-Like," the media term media theorist Douglas Rushkoff uses for the generation of Millennials who live huge chunks of their lives on social media where they subsist on a form of metered approval.
While visitors watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, enjoy spectacular feats of athletic ability from the world's most accomplished athletes, those in Russia's LGBT community anticipate laws that punish Russians for even suggesting that it's okay to be gay, let alone live openly as a gay adult.
On Sunday, two people named Dylan made news. So much so that you had to be careful on Twitter. If you tweeted "Dylan sold out" about Bob Dylan's Super Bowl commercials, you might offend people who thought you meant Dylan Farrow who broke 20 years of silence to talk about her memory of childhood molestation by Woody Allen.
It's Monday. That means our show is The Scramble, where we make a lot of decisions on a last minute basis. We asked our super guest, Marc Tracy of The New Republic, to pick three topics about which Colin would quickly get up to speed.
Today is Monday. That's when we do the show on the fly. We call it The Scramble and one of the twists we're trying is the reverse of ordinary public radio guest booking. Usually, we start with a topic and try to find the best possible guests. But, for one segment of The Scramble each week, we pick a guest we want to talk to and then ask him or her what the topic should be. The idea is to pick an interesting person and then find out what's on that person's mind right now.
Today on The Scramble we lead off with some reporting that will be featured this week on a PBS' "Frontline" story, To Catch a Trader. It's the story of a federal probe into insider trading and the specific role of Connecticut's Steve Cohen, and his SAC hedge fund.
A couple of weeks ago, we did a whole show about blood pressure only to have an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association blow a lot of the current thinking about blood pressure right out of the water. We talk to UConn's hypertension expert, Dr. Billy White, about new guidelines saying people over 60 may not need to keep their blood pressure as low as previously thought.
This is the Monday Scramble, the show we assemble on very short notice to challenge ourselves and keep things fresh.
Two film icons died over the weekend, Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine. Attention gravitated to O'Toole because of his larger than life roles and his larger than life off-screen behavior. We'll be talking about O'Toole with one of his co-stars and with a director but we didn't want to ignore Fontaine, famous for her Oscar-winning role and for her decades-long feud with her sister, Olivia DeHaviland.
Kurt Weill is a German composer who emigrated to the United States in 1935, at the age of 35, to escape persecution in Nazi-led Germany. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century.