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Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 12.30.56 AMA little bit of everything in this week’s all-star line-up– grifters, gold-diggers, and Kool and the Gang. As usual, full reviews at The Daily Beast.  Bonus: Hear Hisham Aidi talking about Rebel Music (and take a listen to some of the music he describes) over at The Takeaway.

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Picture 2The big think author panels The Takeaway did at the Miami Book Fair on death and love finally aired on Thursday and Friday and are now all online. At http://www.thetakeaway.org/loveanddeath/ there’s a neat little interactive with short bios with mini audio clips for everyone.

From top left to right: Benjamin Busch (Dust to Dust), Carol Blue (the afterward to Mortality), Deni Bechard (Cures for Hunger), Judy Goldman (Losing My Sister) and Susannah Cahalan (Brain on Fire) talked about death.

In the bottom row, left to right: Chris Beha (What Happened to Sophie Wilder), Jami Attenberg (The Middlesteins), Nina Revoyr (Wingshooter), Robert Goolrick (Heading Out to Wonderful) and Scott Hutchins (A Working Theory of Love) came together for a conversation about love.

Three days, fourteen authors.  That’s the rough itinerary for this weekend in Miami, where it’s 70 degrees and sunny and I have a suitcase full of books.  Takeaway host John Hockenberry and I flew into town for the Miami Book Fair International yesterday; we leave tomorrow. Yesterday, John spoke with New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik about what makes a family dinner table come alive; tomorrow, he’ll be talking to graphic novelist Derf Backderf on what it was like to be high school classmates with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.  All of those conversations — as well as two “big-think” author discussions on love and death — will be airing the week after next (about the time when it dawns on me once again just how cold New York winters really are).

A round-up of some of the segments I’ve particularly enjoyed working on for The Takeaway recently:

Listeners Respond: Things You Would Have Said  A funny thing happens when you call up strangers and tell them you’re a public radio producer: They tell you things, personal things. After doing a short interview with Jackie Hooper, the author of The Things You Would Have Said, we were flooded with listener comments about things they wished they’d said to people in their past.  I had the task of calling up a handful of listeners for longer phone interviews. We finally aired the stories of three listeners.

An Argument Against Happiness  Last month the United Nations took up the topic of moving beyond conventional economic measures in a session called “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” As a follow-up to our segment on this move, we invited Wake Forest University English Professor Eric Wilson, author of Against Happiness, onto the program.  He argued the virtues of melancholy. “In America there is a sense that we can have all up with no down and all light with no dark — that we can be happy all the time,” he said.  “I’m in favor of honestly facing the world as it is and trying to make the best of it.”

March Heat Breaks Records Across the Country According to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 15,000 weather records were set in the United States this March.  John Harold, a farmer in Olathe, Colorado described the dilemmas the unseasonably warm weather had presented on his farm.  Andrew Revkin of The New York Times’ “Dot Earth” blog summed things up this way: “Expect more of the same as the climate warms.”

Walmart’s Mexican Bribery Scandal Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect joined the program from his home in Mexico City to provide some perspective on reports of widespread bribery in Walmart’s Mexican operations.  When Fishman was working on his book years before, he’d been struck by how rigidly ethical the company’s practices were in the US. “What’s interesting is instead of Walmart changing the culture of Mexico, Mexico changed the culture of Walmart,” Fishman said.

Baby Boomers Squeeze Savings to Support Parents and Children  According to a new survey from Ameriprise Financial, more than half of baby boomers help their parents pay for groceries, medical expenses, or utilities. What’s more, a stunning 93% provide their adult children with financial support too. “Boomers’ attitudes about spending and saving have changed dramatically,” Suzanna de Baca of Ameriprise Financial explained. Boomer Mark Niedt in Denver described his own predicament. “While I’d love to be socking away some money for my own retirement, I’m really forced to derail that and give some assistance when I can,” he said.

Men — You Talk Too Much  Yale organizational behavior professor Tori Brescoll shared her fascinating research about just how much powerful men and women talk in the workplace. “Give men power and they’ll talk a lot — but that wasn’t really the case for women,” Brescoll found.  What’s more, women who were particularly outspoken paid a price: They were perceived as incompetent and unlikeable. “Indeed what I found is that whether it was politics or business, really talkative women were really slammed,” she said.

A Sign of the Times: Underearners Anonymous  Genevieve Smith‘s cover story in the latest issue of Harper’s magazine describes her experiences in “Underearner’s Anonymous,” a 12-step program for the chronically underpaid.  She explained how following the country’s economic recovery had made her a “connoisseur of financial pessimism” and why she was drawn to the program.

Behind the Scenes Diplomacy for Chen Guangcheng NYU Law Professor Jerome Cohen has maintained a friendship with Chinese dissedent Chen Guangcheng for more than a decade and remained in touch with him as he tried to navigate between US and Chinese officials in the days following his daring escape from house arrest.  “He was confronted by two unattractive opportunities,” Cohen explained.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.  At least that’s the feeling I’ve been getting reading through some of John Kennedy Toole’s fifty-plus-year-old writings in Butterfly in the Typewriter, a new biography of the writer that recently landed on my desk.

Entertainingly, many of Toole’s observations on New York still seem fresh all these years later.  For example, Toole describes — with a certain grim glee — “the masochism of living in New York, which has become the Inferno of America” (that is to say, it typifies “the American Dream as Apocalypse”).  But I was especially struck by this response to an exam question Toole wrote in 1955: 

Our government tells us we are equal, even though we enjoy economic freedom.  There are, of course, many citizens who believe wholeheartedly that this is true.  It is taught to all school children as the catechism of our government, as dogma.

But when these children are faced with the stark reality that school is over, that they are no longer “actives” in their fraternity, that they have their degree in Business Administration and that the regular checks from home are no longer forthcoming, the dogma which they so firmly believed explodes in their faces.

I was immediately reminded of a recent college graduate who joined The Takeaway a few months ago.  “We also were told a narrative our whole lives that if we did well in school and attended college, you know, there’d be good middle class jobs waiting for us,”  Chris Galloway said.  As he explained on the show, when Chris finished his degree and found himself jobless — and tens of thousands of dollars in debt — his perspective changed dramatically.

One could argue that the factors Toole observed exploding “the catechism of our government” half a century ago were in many ways different from the factors Galloway and other young graduates experience today.  But the tension between that “dogma” and the reality — the tension between a promising young graduate’s expectations, aspirations, and prospects — seems pretty much the same.

(For more on Toole, check out Cory McLachlan’s wonderful essay in The Millions about the process of researching Butterfly in the Typewriter).

To get a little perspective on Greg Smith’s “I quit” letter to Goldman Sachs while brainstorming at work today, I decided to call up Evan Harris.  Back in 1995 she was pretty much the poster-child for quitting.  She quit her job, boyfriend, and city, and started a zine called Quitters Quarterly.  She was featured in an episode of This American Life, and she wrote a book called The Quit.  Seventeen years later? She’s married with kids, back in her hometown. Here’s what she told me.

Here are just some of the segments I’ve recently worked on for The Takeaway:

A New Legal Challenge to Affirmative Action “Since George Washington, universities have been thought of as places where the American melting-pot idea could be realized, in part,” Columbia University President Lee Bollinger told The Takeaway.  Nearly a decade ago, Bollinger was part of two landmark Supreme Court Cases on affirmative action, Gratz vs. Bollinger and Grutter vs. Bollinger.  He weighed in on how the new challenge to affirmative action posed by the Fisher vs. Texas case could change the face of the student body of universities of the future.

NYPD Surveillance Program Monitored Muslim Students at 13 Colleges A recently leaked New York Police Department report provides a startling picture of just how far the NYPD’s intelligence division went in a surveillance program targeting monitoring Muslims students at 13 colleges in the northeast. CUNY student Jawad Rasul told The Takeaway he was shocked to find out he’d given an undercover agent a ride to a student whitewater rafting trip. “These things come out which really are kind of a slap in the face to the people who are trying to assimilate into the country and lose our foreign identity to become American,” he said. (More on this story from the WNYC Newsroom.)

Electoral Demographics and the History of Presidential Primaries  Ken C. Davis, author of Don’t Much About History joined the show to help  fact-check some claims made by writer Timothy Egan in a recent New York Times op-ed.  “There is no other way to put this without resorting to demographic bluntness: the small fraction of Americans who are trying to pick the Republican nominee are old, white, uniformly Christian and unrepresentative of the nation at large,” Egan claimed.  Davis explained why that comparison is somewhat — but not entirely — accurate.

60 Lives Connected in the Largest Chain of Kidney Transplants  Candice and Michael Ryan, a husband and wife kidney recipient and donor shared their moving experience as part of the largest-ever chain of kidney transplants.  “It’s life-changing,” an emotional Candice Ryan told The Takeaway.  Check out The New York Times’ incredible multimedia coverage of this story here.

Chinese Vice-President Xi Jingping Visits The US  The Atlantic Monthly’s James Fallows explained how the Communist Party’s role in business has evolved in China.  Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association also joined the show to discuss how Vice-President Xi’s visit to the state would reinforce a multi-billion dollar trade partnership.

California’s Ban on Gay Marriage Struck Down  “You cannot give a right to marry and then take it away solely on the ground that the individuals that you are taking it away from are a despised or disfavored group,” explained NYU law professor Kenji Yoshino.  While working on this segment, I also recorded a short audio interview with John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, a phenomenal couple.  Read more about them here or listen to a longer interview with them from 2010 here.

Tebow Bill May Allow Home-Schoolers to Play on High School Teams  Homeschooler Patrick Foss is a talented soccer player heading to University of Virginia in the fall to play college soccer. He told The Takeaway he wished he’d been able to play soccer on the local high school team. “My parents are taxpayers just like next door neighbors, just like the person two doors down who is the starting point-guard at our high school,” he said.