My Favorite This American Life episode

This American LifeI am a proud National Public Radio junkie listener, and one of my favorite programs is This American Life. If you’ve never listened to the show, you need to stop right now and check it out. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I don’t usually listen to any shows live, instead I download podcasts and play them when I have a chance. It really makes grocery shopping, doing dishes, or long drives MUCH more enjoyable to listen to Ira Glass rather than my own children.


This past week, in celebration of their 500th episode, the good folks at This American Life showcased the favorite or memorable episodes of many of their producers. It was a great hour of radio because it both reminded me of wonderful TAL moments from my past and introduced me to a few I’d never heard before. And, it inspired me to share my favorite clip from my favorite episode of This American Life.

It may help to explain up-front that what I love most about the show is when I get to experience another person’s perspective and understand how differently they see the world. This clip comes from a recent episode–it aired on March 22 of this year–in which Chana Joffe-Walt visited one of the rural communities in the US where disability claims have reached epic levels. In Hale County, Alabama nearly 25% of working-age adults are on federal disability. Joffe-Walt put together a fantastic set of visuals to accompany the article and I recommend checking it out.


The most startling moment in the story comes when Joffe-Walt is trying to figure out why so many adults in this community who seem healthy other than chronic back pain, and who are eager to earn more money than disability checks provide, are choosing to sit out of the workforce. You can hear the exchange between Joffe-Walt and a local woman on disability at the 15:33 point in this clip. Here is what Joffe-Walt says after hearing the woman, Ethel Thomas, say that her dream job would be to work for the Social Security Disability Claims office:

“At first, I thought Ethel’s dream job was to be the lady at Social Security, because she thought she’d be good at weeding out the cheaters. But no. After a confusing back and forth, it turned out Ethel wanted this woman’s job because she gets to sit. That’s it. And when I asked her, OK, but why that lady? Why not any other job where you get to sit? Ethel said she could not think of a single other job where you get to sit all day. She said she’d never seen one.” [emphasis mine]

This was that point in the story where I had to pause the podcast. I had to sit back and just consider what that meant. That there were people who didn’t just think “sit down” jobs were beyond their expertise–they couldn’t even picture one. This life experience was so different from my own that I was shocked. And sad. And grateful that my own perspective was widened.

And, it’s this widening of perspective that makes us all more global citizens and more tolerant neighbors.  We are better teachers when we see world through our students’ eyes, and we are better policy makers when we consider the desperate conditions that surround so many of the “stakeholders” affected by our decisions.

And that is the power of This American Life. What’s your favorite episode?

Humor, Technology

The Winding Path from RSS to OK Go

Hi, my name is Paul, and I am a news junkie.

While some of my fellow bloggers admit to vices that range from reality TV to quilting, my fix is an order of magnitude more boring.  I just love learning about the major news stories of the day.  I have no real fascination with weather or sports, but national and international news bits are like candy to me.  That’s one reason why I’ve written on several previous occasions about the ways I use RSS (and Google Reader/Reeder on my iPhone) to “feed the beast”.

My nearly insatiable desire for more news led me to NPR as my primary daily source.  I find its reporting to be both more informed and more unbiased than most.  They don’t get dragged into sensationalism, and they treat their audience like the educated and rational folks that we mainly are.  In short, I respect them because they respect me.  And, through my avid public radio listening I was introduced to the Planet Money podcast.

I’m not an economist and I don’t have the money skills to ever invest wisely, but I thoroughly enjoy the writing and style of the show.  I listen every week while I plan my lessons.  Now, I can make sense of the seemingly endless flow of bad news from the media about the financial situation we find ourselves in.

And, so it was that I recently heard an episode of Planet Money in which the economics of the music industry was discussed.  One of the people interviewed was Damian Kulash, lead singer of the alternative band OK Go.  To learn more about the band, I highly recommend this bio written by Ira Glass.

Thus, in one of the strangest lines of reasoning and coincidence ever, we get from a news addiction to one of my favorite bands.  If none of this has made any sense to you, I would like to blame it on blogger fatigue and simply leave you with this, a great example of OK Go’s fun and entertaining music videos.

OK Go – This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.