Wealth and Water

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Monday, January 03, 2011

On today’s show: R. Christopher Whelan explains what has happened historically when Americans have spent beyond their means. Then, Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin discusses his life as one of the nation’s most respected and well known poets and his efforts as a conservationist in Hawaii. Also, Simon Winchester discusses his biography of a gargantuan subject: the Atlantic Ocean. Plus, we’ll look at the best New York stories that the now-defunct City section of the New York Times published in its 16 year history.

Money and Debt in America

R. Christopher Whalen discusses the American tendency to overspend in order to sustain a lifestyle that is beyond their means. In Inflated: How Money and Debt Built the American Dream, talks about why inflation and public debt are enduring (and perhaps endearing) features of American life—from get-rich-quick schemes from the Gold Rush of the 1840s to the real estate bubble of the early 21st Century.

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W. S. Merwin on Poetry

Poet W. S. Merwin talks about his collection of poems, The Shadow of Sirius, which earned him his second Pulitzer Prize. The poems focus on subjects from childhood and memory to age and, of course, dogs.

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The Atlantic Ocean

Simon Winchester gives an account of the history, geography, science, and cultural influence of the Atlantic Ocean.  Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean tells the story of this great body of water and it’s connection to the Vikings, the Irish, the Chinese, Christopher Columbus, the Portuguese and Spanish.

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More New York Stories

Former New York Times City section editor Constance Rosenblum talks about the local news and idiosyncratic, personal stories that appeared in the now defunct section of the Times. She gathered 50 of the section’s best pieces into More New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of The New York Times. She’s joined by two of the book’s contributors John Freeman Gill, Ben Gibberd and Saki Knafo.

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A Picture of Jerry Brown

Jerry Brown was sworn in today as Governor of California for a third time, making him the first governor in the Golden State’s history to hold non-consecutive terms. He was last in office from 1975 to 1983 and his official gubernatorial portrait from that period is unconventional to say the least. I grew up outside of Sacramento and I recall always stopping in front of this picture any time my school would take a tour of the Capitol building. So I asked Leonard, a painter in his own right, what his take on this unusual (and somewhat controversial) portrait is. Here’s his response:

I think Jerry Brown can be commended for commissioning Dan Bachardy to paint something out of the norm for his official portrait. Most politicians (including almost every President) have had their portraits done by hack painters…the kinds of artists who make their livings glorifying the CEOs of major corporations. That said, this painting is not all that inspiring either. So, although I used to be a painter, and wouldn’t want to see any artist denied a chance to make some money, I wonder whether politicians wouldn’t be better served being photographed by a fine photographer (someone other than the Karsh types who were the photographic equivalents of the hack portraitists).

What painter would you like to see commissioned to paint political portraits? Leave your answer in the comments section below!


Guest Picks: W. S. Merwin

Read more to find out some of W. S. Merwin's favorite poetry, authors and what he is listening to right now.

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