Fresh Air

A Kind of Antenna for Other People

A Kind of Antenna for Other People

"I think one of my gifts is also one of my weaknesses. Which is, I have a kind of antenna for other people. My friends and my producers might disagree with me about this, but I think an antenna that picks up on what other people are feeling. But there's something good and bad about that."

~ Terry Gross

Guide Her, Protect Her

A Mother’s Prayer for Its Child
by Tina Fey, from Bossypants

tina_fey First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, may she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels. What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen.Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, that she may be spared themisspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.


Listen to Tina Fey read from this essay on Fresh Air (April 13, 2011).

Through a Prism of Comedy

Jon Stewart, in conversation with Terry Gross, from “Jon Stewart: The Most Trusted Name In Fake News,” Fresh Air from WHYY, October 4, 2010:

Jon StewartThere was a congressional bill where they were going to get money for first responders for 9/11 for chronic health issues. And I mean, its a no-brainer. The people that went into the Towers—or were down there searching—to have their health bills taken care of and legislative maneuvering—the Democrats wouldn’t bring an up or down vote because if they did that the Republicans would be allowed to insert amendments. And one of the amendments that they could insert was that you could give any of the money to illegal aliens.

And so the Democrats were afraid that they would have a commercial that would be made that would say, you voted to give money to—so rather than standing up and being moral for the people that risked everything for us down there, they decided to try a legislative maneuver that made it so that two-thirds had to pass the bill, so that no amendments could be put in it. Well, the Republicans obviously, you know, shot it down—their own moral failing.

So we did a segment on the show called "I Give Up.”

And the ability to articulate our sense of just absolute sadness, but through a prism of comedy—like, we came in that morning just really despairing as we watched this go down. And we walked out that night feeling like we had yelled and felt, you know, we had put it through the prism and the synthesis and the digestive process that we put it through and we made ourselves feel better.

And we didn’t make ourselves feel better by ignoring it, by dismissing it, by not dealing with it. We made ourselves feel better by expressing our utter rage at the ineptness and lack of courage from our legislators and we walked out of there that night feeling like, you know, what, (bleep) good day's work. That was it.

Listen to the whole conversation here…

Digesting Technology

"It's an onslaught of information coming in today. At one time a screen meant maybe something in your living room. But now it's something in your pocket so it goes everywhere — it can be behind the wheel, it can be at the dinner table, it can be in the bathroom. We see it everywhere today."

brussels_sprouts“Just as food nourishes us and we need it for life, so too — in the 21st century and the modern age — we need technology. You cannot survive without the communication tools; the productivity tools are essential. And yet, food has pros and cons to it. We  know that some food is Twinkies and some food is Brussels sprouts. And we know that if we overeat, it causes problems. Similarly, after 20 years of twinkiesglorifying technology as if all computers were good and all use of it was good, science is beginning to embrace the idea that some technology is Twinkies and some technology is Brussels sprouts. And if we consume too much technology, just like we consume too much food, it can have ill effects. That is the moment we find ourselves in with this series, with the way we’re digesting, if you will, technology all over the place today."

~ Matt Richtel, from “Digital Overload: Your Brain On Gadgets,” in discussion with Terry Gross, Fresh Air, August 24, 2010

See also:

An Endless Stream

"Sometimes technology outpaces humanity's ability to process it. I think that's where we are right now. My mind has been sliced and diced in so many ways. There's so many packets of information coming at me... It's just shocking: how is literature supposed to survive when our brain has been pummeled with information all day long at work — if we're white collar workers. When we go home, are we really going to open a thick text with 350 pages and try to waddle through it?…Here's the thing with this new technology. I think it's incredibly effective. I just don't think it's made anyone much happier. If anything, we are now always connected but we don't know what we're connected to. It's just an endless stream of information."

~ Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story, talking to Terry Gross on Fresh Air (August 2, 2010).

Something More than Mere Survival

Judith Shulevitz, from “Making Room For The Sabbath,” a conversation with Terry Gross about her book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time:

The Sabbath World I was fascinated by rules. I sensed that one of the things about my life that I didn't like is that I was a kind of knee-jerk libertarian. Nobody could tell me what to do. But that's not how life works in a society. Societies have rules and we keep them. We don't object to the ones we all keep because we all keep them together. We object to the new ones that don't seem familiar to us. And I wanted to get familiar with these rules because it seemed to me that rules are how society passes on from one generation to the next moral behavior and moral activity and its idea of how life should be shaped and life should be led. And I wanted to get to know what these rules had to say to me...

The basic principle uniting all these rules is that you as a human being should not be exerting mastery over the world. For one day a week, let the world be as it is and you be in it and you're not trying to dominate it. That's the basic principle. Now the form that the rules took when they were first thought up was agricultural because they were conceived of in an agricultural society. And there's something to me very beautiful about this because not only were they conceived in an agricultural society, they were conceived of in a mainly subsistence farming society. So people were being asked not to bring in the crops. They were being asked not to do basic labors which would have helped them survive and they had to transfer that work of surviving to six days a week. And it had to have been very, very hard because we know how hard it is to survive when you're living off the land. And that to me gives me a sense of the seriousness with which it was taken and the beauty of the idea. Imagine telling people who are struggling to barely survive that one day a week they must give themselves over to something more than mere survival -- and they have the right to even if circumstances dictate otherwise. Those two things are very beautiful to me...

The thing that was most intriguing to me when I was working on the book and remains most intriguing to me, is as a fundamental political idea. And it's an idea that we've really lost in America today, though I think we've had it in the history and, indeed, I try to make the case that we were really one of the most Sabbatarian nations when we were founded by the Puritans. (Sabbatarian meaning keeping the Sabbath.) But this is an idea that we have really moved radically away from. And the idea is this: that as a society we have the right to collectively regulate our time and that everyone has the right not to work at least one day a week. You have to imagine a world in which this idea was conceived of and codified. This had never been said before.

[Thanks Tammy!]

Overwhelming the Prefrontal Cortex

Jonah Lehrer discussing his book, How We Decide, which is now out in paperback, “The Paralysis Of Analysis,” Fresh Air (January 22, 2010):

First chapter and New York Times review. One of the studies I talk about in the book concerns a study done by Stanford psychologists. They had two groups of people. One group they had memorize a two-digit number. The other group they had memorize a seven-digit number. Then they marched these two groups down the hall and gave them a choice between two snacks.

One snack was a rich, gooey slice of chocolate cake. The other snack was a responsible fruit salad. The people who memorized a two-digit number were twice as likely to choose the fruit salad as the people who memorized the seven-digit number, who were twice as likely to choose the chocolate cake. And the reason is that those extra five digits — doesn't seem like very much information at all, just five extra numbers — so overwhelmed the prefrontal cortex that there wasn't enough processing power left over to exert self-control.

So that gives us a sense of just how limited in capacity our brain actually is and, I think, points to the fact that we should absolutely be aware of these limitations.

We Bring the Sentience

Here is an excerpt from a fascinating, two-part conversation with Nova Spivak, CEO and Founder of, on the Buddhist Geeks podcast:

Researchers such as Ray Kurzweil, who's a big thinker, [and] Vernor Vinge, who's a science fiction author, have been talking about a concept called the singularity. Basically, if you plot the increase in computing power, you can see that it's increasing exponentially while the cost is decreasing exponentially.


So by the year 2029, according to their projections, the computing power necessary to simulate a human brain will cost about one dollar. That's pretty amazing. Even if they're a little aggressive and it's 2040, that's amazing.

They're actually projecting that in 2040, artificial intelligence or computer intelligence will be a billion times more powerful than all human intelligence combined. So, we're entering a world which is going to be quite different from the world we're in.

The notion of the singularity is, when this happens, when we reach this point where essentially computing power becomes infinite or essentially infinite, or it's infinitely affordable, at least, we can't predict what's going to happen next. Now these guys, because they don't believe in anything beyond the scientific material worldview, their vision of what happens after the singularity is that machines become intelligent and sentient and they're the next step in evolution and they replace humans.

I think that's wrong. What's much more likely is a form of symbiosis, where humans and machines merge such that the machines really amplify us and we amplify the machines. We bring the sentience, the machines bring this vast computational capability, and essentially the web becomes and extension of our brain.

That doesn't help us become enlightened. That makes our delusion more functional.

I Accepted Monsters In My Heart

Guillermo del Toro discussing his film, Pan's Labyrinth with Terry Gross (Fresh Air, 1/24/07):

When I was a kid I used to spend a lot of time in my grandmother’s garden, and I would actually do insane stuff. Like I would spend hours watching an ant hill. And I would try and recognize the ants from one another every day. And of course the garden was full of insects and I would name them and I admired them. I think they’re present in most of my movies because I have such admiration and fear of them. And I always thought, listening to Bible tales, I don’t know why, I always thought that archangels should look like insects, because archangels were sort of the tough guys of God’s army and I always imagined them looking like this. Shelled, armored creatures.

And I believe that the girl’s reality in the movie, you should be able to read it as existing in her mind or as being a really raggedy, left-out-in-the-rain kind of magical world because she has been gone from it for so long. So the movie allows you to interpret it both ways. For me, funny enough, to me what she see is a fully blown reality--a spiritual reality. But I believe her tale not to be just a reflection of the world around her, but to me she really turns into the princess of the underworld.
I think that there is a point in our life when we’re kids when literature and magic and fantasy has a strong presence in our soul as religion would have in later days. I think that it’s a spiritual reality as strong as when people say, “I accept Jesus in my heart.” Well, at a certain age, I accepted monsters in my heart. The girl is basically sort of autobiographical for me.
I think that the entire world we live in is fabricated. So when I think about, you know Republican, Democrat, left, right, morning, night, geography borders, all these things are conceits. Borders are not visible from a satellite picture. The fact that you can have a civil war where two sides kill each other and essentially from afar they look exactly the same. They are both the same human beings. They share the same taste for food. They sing the same songs and so on and so forth. This imagined conceit can create such horrors. And I think when people talk about fantasy and they demean it, like “Oh, fantasy is such a low concern,” well, I think politics, religion, are equal inventions for me at least.
The Pale Man is, in function, a prototypical ogre in the fairy tale—a devourer of children. But in appearance I wanted it to look like essentially a monster a child could imagine. A monster from the id.

What I noticed early on is I ordered first the make effects company to create sort of an old guy that had been very fat and had shrunken so the skin was loose and hanging, and at the same time, I asked them to remove the face. Because I remember manta rays upside down they have this thin mouth and the little nostril-like openings and they have a very disturbing neutrality to them.

And then one of the things I remember as a kid is one of the first things you do is you draw your own hand, you trace it, and you put an eye or a mouth or a face. And it is very often that child psychologists find that one of the first things a kid does in inventing a monster is displacing the mouth or displacing the eyes. And I came up with the idea since the character had stigmata, I said Let’s put the eyes in there. And what came out instinctively was an incredibly brutal incredibly Freudian or Jungian creature.