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The Leonard Lopate Show

Make Carla Bruni Your Ringtone

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

That’s what Andy Borowitz is doing after interviewing the singer, songwriter and former first lady of France about her latest album, “Little French Songs.” Bruni plays Thursday night at New York’s Town Hall. 

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The Takeaway

This Is Where: Deep in The Woods of East Texas

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Around the country, Takeaway listeners have been submitting their own poems about places that carry meaning, and among the memorable poems was this one from a listener from Palestine, Texas.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Kevin Spacey on Richard III and Francis Underwood

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kevin Spacey discusses collaborating with director Sam Mendes and the Bridge Project Company to document their staging of Shakespeare's "Richard III" across three continents and in over 200 performances. He also talks about playing Frank Underwood in "House of Cards."

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Idina Menzel Returns to Broadway

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

With the hit song "Let It Go" from "Frozen" topping the charts and a new friend named John Travolta, Idina Menzel is back on Broadway in a new musical called "If/Then," about the choices we make. 

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Studio 360

Jay Z vs. Drake: The NBA Playoffs Fuel a Rap Beef

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

As the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors meet in the NBA playoffs tonight, their most famous fans are in a battle of their own that could take hip-hop to a new level.

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Studio 360

Will Coachella's Cameos Ruin Music Festivals?

Monday, April 21, 2014

The sheer number of headline-worthy surprises at this year's Coachella music festival sets an ugly precedent.

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The World

Will Mount Everest expeditions go on this year?

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Mount Everest avalanche accident has stunned the Sherpa community and stopped all Everest expeditions in their tracks. Depending on how long the stoppage goes on, expesditions could be delayed, or even canceled.

"After losing so many of our brothers and friends, it is just not possible for many of them to continue,'' said Pasang Sherpa, who wasn't near the avalanche. "So many of us are scared, our family members are scared and asking us to return.'' 

At least 13 Sherpas are dead and a handful are still missing. The surving Sherpas said in a statement that a Nepali government offer of $400 in compensation for the families of the deceased was not sufficient. With an average income of between $3000 and $5000 per climbing season, Sherpas say the government's offer doesn't go far enough. The Sherpas are also calling for better rescue and treatment facilities, threatening a work stoppage if they're not better compensated.

Peter Hansen is the author of The Summits of Modern Man, a book that examines the controversies over "who was first" to reach the world's highest peaks, as well as the emergence of modern mountaineering. He visited Everest Base Camp last week and was hiking back to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital of Khumbu region, when he heard about the avalanche. He talked with one Sherpa who was on the way to tell a family that their loved one had died on the mountain.

"It was devastating. You could see it in his face, and in the reaction of the Sherpa that was with me," he said.

Later that day, the bodies of three victims were brought to Namche by military helicopter. "You could see it in everyone's face and it was all people talked about," Hansen said. "Climbers were upset, everybody was upset. For so many it was the worst news possible."

Hansen says anger and frustration has built up over recent years, directed mostly at the Nepali government. "They want better compensation, better protections, and more of the income that right now is going to the Nepali state that instead should be going into a fund to support Sherpas who are in distress or have been killed," Hansen said. "The Sherpas aren't so much angry at the Western climbers as they are at the whole system in which they see the Nepali government as the barrier to a fairer treatment."

In short, Hanson says there's frustration with years of undertaking severe risk for small rewards.

"It's the gulf between how the Sherpas get treated when they're killed versus how other people seem to be treated in the Nepali government that's upsetting," he said.

In other words, the Sherpas want a bigger share of the rewards the expeditions generate, in exchange for the sacrifices they make day-in and day-out during the climbing season.

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The World

Henry Liu is a musket-carrying member of the Lexington Minute Men. He's also Chinese American.

Monday, April 21, 2014

My first job ever, at age 14, was working as a waitress at a Colonial-themed restaurant called “The Pewter Pot.” I served tourists Patriot Fries and Franklin Burgers, occasionally in a bonnet and some kind of scratchy frock.

It sounds weird, but in my town — Lexington, Massachusetts — this was considered normal. Known  as “the birthplace of American Liberty,” Lexington is a tourist town — only instead of black-sand beaches we have, you know, the chair George Washington sat on when he visited Monroe Tavern in 1789.

The real draw, though, takes place every year on what’s called “Patriot's Day,” when thousands flood the Lexington Green to see the first battle of the Revolutionary War brought to life.

When I was in high school, a lot of my friends’ dads took part in the reenactment. But even though my parents have lived in Lexington for over 35 years, we came there as immigrants, and I could never imagine my Dad as a Lexington Minute Man. With their antique guns and tricorn hats, I just assumed the Minute Men were some kind of WASPY, blue-blood, old-boys-club — you know, carrying on the time-honored tradition of keeping outsiders … out.

That’s why I was surprised when I learned about Henry Liu. Henry’s parents were both born in China, but he was born in Massachusetts and has lived in Lexington almost his entire life. For the past 24 years, he’s also been a musket-carrying member of the Lexington Minute Men.

“I remember going to the reenactments,” he tells me. “I’ve gone through photo albums and seen pictures of myself dressed as a young Minute Man.”

Despite being a massive history buff, Henry’s decision to actually join the Minute Men had more to do with his wife. Her brother, her step-father and step-brother were all members of the Minute Men.

“So, the greeting when we got together for family things was always, ‘Oh Hi Linda, how are you? And Henry, when are you joining?’ And I’d always chuckle and say, ‘Oh yeah, right, you really want a Chinese Minute Man in the ranks,’" Henry says.

It turns out that, yeah, they did.

“You know, it is kind of funny, because, you know, a lot of people ask me, they thought you had to be a descendant or a Son of the American Revolution to be a member and it couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Still, given Henry’s initial reservations, it would have been easy to take a backstage role. Out of over 100 members, only 77 Minute Men get onto the field, and a lot of those spend the battle face down, eating grass. Instead, Henry decided to own it. As he explains:

“From 2004 to 2006, I portrayed Captain Parker. And I’ve met people who’ve been to that reenactment, and they would always look at me and go, you were Captain Parker back then? And I’m like, Yeah! That’s somebody who’s standing in front of the company, telling the men what to do. Standing out in front, you know, you’re very visible,” Henry says.

“We’re standing on the ground where the battle actually happened, representing those actual people who were there. And I think the clock turns back, and people don’t see Asians or Blacks or anything. They see people in uniform, in militia outfits and they’re there to reenact history.”

The weird thing actually isn’t that Lexington has a Chinese-American Minute Man, but that there aren’t more of them. Since I graduated high school, the Asian-American population in Lexington has doubled, to 20%.

Henry has noticed the shift, as well.

“Actually, when I walk down the street in my Colonial clothes, and I see an Asian family kind of looking at me, I’m kinda hoping somebody would say, ‘Wait a minute — you don’t have to be, you know, a Son of the American Revolution to join? You can be Chinese and be in this company?’ And sort of spark that conversation.”

In the meantime, Henry’s maintaining the tradition of recruiting from within  — his son is already a member of the Fife and Drum Corps, with dreams of portraying William Diamond on the battlefield one day.

I was right about one thing, though — the Minute Men are an old-boys’ club. Or at least a boys’ club. You can be an Asian-American Captain Parker, but you still have to be a US citizen. And you have to be a guy.

When I asked Henry if a woman had ever tried to join the Minute Men, he said no. Well, maybe as this story proves, there’s a first time for everything.

As for my own history, when I visit my parents in Lexington, I still go to The Pewter Pot — only it’s a Thai restaurant now, called Lemon Grass.

And trust me — that’s definitely a sign of progress.

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The World

Beijing's thriving graffiti culture may surprise you

Monday, April 21, 2014

Here in the US, we tend to think of graffiti as an illegal activity carried out by kids at night. But in China, the street art scene is quite different. 

Lance Crayon, a Texas native who has been living in China since 2009, made a documentary on graffiti artists in Beijing and found just how different the tagging culture is there.

"It's really a middle class and up endeavor, simply based on the money factor," he says, "For a 19-year-old or even a 25-year-old to have something known as disposable income, that's a pretty new thing in China. And you've got to ask yourself, do I want to spend 500 kuài — which is roughly $82 — on throwing up a piece that could easily be covered in a few days, or at some point."

This leaves Beijing with only a small number of graffiti artists — no more than 25 by Crayon's estimate. 

For his film "Spray Paint Beijing: Graffiti in the Capital of China," Crayon interviewed several graffiti artists about their work and lifestlye and even filmed them while they tag. He says taggers in Beijing often work in broad daylight and don't usually run into any trouble with police. 

"As long as you stay away from anything political or anything too sensitive, from painting on temples or anything sacred and government buildings, things like that, you're not going to have a problem," Crayon says. "And that's what they do. I mean there is so much concrete in Beijing, that when these guys paint on walls that aren't designated by the government, the citizens think they are making this city look prettier — and indeed they are."

Crayon says he even has footage of a police officer walking up to a tagger and telling him it's okay to keep painting. 

In terms of graffiti culture, Beijing is "safe and open, and that was the most surprising thing about this film," Crayon says. 

"I couldn’t have made this film in America — where I’m using a tripod and setting up shots and filming graffiti artists — without having to look over my shoulder," Crayon says. "It took about six or seven months to relax while I was filming, because I was always so nervous thinking 'we’re going to get caught and I’ll be deported or they’re going to smash my camera and throw us in jail and that’s it.' None of that happened. Not even close."

Taggers can be punished with fines by authorities in China, but in Crayon's experience they rarely are. Foreign graffiti artists have been flocking to Beijing as word spreads about how lax the city's policy towards tagging is.

Beijing's acceptance of graffiti is in stark contrast to America's negative perception of it, Crayon suggests. 

"I'm a middle class kid, I come from the suburbs. I didn't know what graffiti was growing up and when I lived in New York and I lived in Los Angeles, I always liked it," Crayon says. "But I didn't really know anything about it. More importantly I wasn't given a chance to like it. We're — growing up and it's still the same case now — we're bombarded with how it's against the law, it's illegal, it's ugly, it's dirty, it's disgusting, you can go down the list."

"Growing up, also we're told that China is a totalitarian police state, where no one has any freedoms at all, but for graffiti to thrive the way it is — it's unbelievable. I'm still blown away by it."

"Spray Paint Beijing" has been screened in China and the UK, but Crayon is still working on a distribution deal for the film in the US.

He has had some trouble entering the film into festivals. He believes it's because "flim festivals in general want their China stories about one thing and one thing only."

Crayon says he's seen many great documentaries on China, but reports "they are all very gut-wrenching and very serious, sad, and heavy, heavy topics — and very necessary films, don't get me wrong. But there are other things happening in China that do not concern sensitive issues and politics and human rights violations."

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Studio 360

Ken Burns, Word Nerd

Friday, April 18, 2014

A few weeks ago, we asked you to create new collective nouns for modern types of people — conceptual artists, Trekkies, yoga instructors, and more. The submissions are rolling in from listeners across the country, including one Ken Burns from New Hampshire. Yes, that Ken Burns ...

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Studio 360

Nerding Out with Ken Burns & Rebranding Marijuana

Friday, April 18, 2014

This week, Kurt Andersen calls a listener named Ken in New Hampshire who turns out to be Ken Burns, the filmmaker. Burns has a few good words for our latest listener challenge, like "a reel of documentary filmmakers" and "a scratch of DJs." We ask what a rebranding of marijuana ...

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Studio 360

Marijuana Goes Mainstream

Friday, April 18, 2014

Studio 360 has asked designers to come up with new concepts for the gay pride flag, Monopoly, and even Christmas, and we came up this design challenge: rebrand marijuana for mainstream culture. The Original Champions of Design (OCD), a branding firm, took on the challenge ...

Slideshow: Redesigning Marijuana

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The World

Next time you're at a Saudi wedding, don't be surprised if you're asked to do the penguin dance

Friday, April 18, 2014

It goes something like this: Sidekick. Sidekick. Bunny-hop forward. Bunny-hop back. Three bunny-hops forward.

Repeat.

This dance, called the "penguin dance" or "raqsat al-batriq" in Arabic, is a hit in Saudi Arabia. Families do it at home, at gatherings and at weddings.

Several YouTube videos have appeared online, in which Saudis are doing the penguin dance.

One includes a father in his traditional attire standing next to his daughter and they hop back and forth together in the living room. That video has received close to 2 million views so far.

It's not clear how the dance became popular in Saudi Arabia, but Ellen Knickmeyer, reporter for the Wall Street Journal thinks the Internet has played some part.

"Saudis spend a lot of time online, watching videos," she says. "They're one of the world's biggest consumers of YouTube and there are dances that show variations of the penguin dance and Saudis say they saw these videos, and once it hit Saudi, it just spread."

Given that many other diversions are banned in Saudi Arabia, the dance has become something that families can do together.

"Movie theaters in Saudi Arabia are banned and a lot of public entertainment places that the rest of the world has are banned too," Knickmeyer says.

Meanwhile some conservative Saudis aren't seeing this as a fun, family activity.

"There are some people who are expressing the view that this is something that's a foreign import and it's not something that Muslims or Saudis should do," she says.

Knickmeyer says she has seen tweets calling the penguin dance a Zionist plot or an attempt to convert Saudis to Christianity.

But so far, she says, there hasn't been a major attempt by the government to ban the dance. Most pressure has come from the families themselves.

Knickmeyer spoke to some teenagers who wanted to do the dance, but their families told them it's not something for men to do.

For now though, some Saudis are just having fun with the dance.

"The fact that they're willing to show the lighter side of things...it's a way for [them] to show that they're real people and they enjoy having fun."

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The World

Gabriel García Márquez influenced writers and readers all over the world

Friday, April 18, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez, a Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer best known for his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, saw himself as a journalist first and a novelist second. And as a realist above all.

He died Thursday in Mexico City.

Because of his writing style, he's often credited as a pioneer of the magic realism literary genre.

"I invent nothing," he once told the BBC about his literary style. "People always praise my imagination, but I believe I am a terrible realist. Everything I invent was already there in reality."

Many in Latin America agree that there's nothing magical about the way García Márquez described people and places, even if his characters were visited by ghosts, or floated impossibly far above the ground.

Writer Daniel Alarcón, a frequent contributor to The World and co-founder of Radio Ambulante, says García Márquez's writing came from a rich tradition of storytelling and oral history.

"I remember, a couple years ago when I was in Cartagena [Colombia] and I was in a cab and the cabbie was like, 'This is Gabo's house,' and he says, 'Here in the Caribbean we all have great stories, he's just a good typist,'" Alarcón recalls.

Alarcón wouldn't use the label "magical realism" to describe García Márquez's work, though. Instead, he believes García Márquez depicted a certain kind of reality — the kind found in Macondo, the fictional town in One Hundred Years of Solitude

"I'll give you an example," Alarcón says. "There's a bus company in Peru, in Lima. Turns out there's a bunch of fake buses that have painted their buses exactly the same and are running the same route and they are not a part of the company, but everyone thinks they are. And they are stealing passengers from the real company. You know that's 'Macondiano.' You realize you are in a world with its own logic."

García Márquez also influenced writers beyond Latin America. Hamid Ismailova novelist from Uzbekistan (and the BBC's official writer-in-residence) says he began writing in the Soviet Union around the time of García Márquez's first literary breakthroughs.  

Ismailov says Márquez's work had a huge impact on writers, like himself, from small villages. 

"His One Hundred Years of Solitude was completely different to everything we were reading about at that time," Ismailov says. "It was neither the Soviet literature nor the American or the Western literature. It was the third-world literature. And it made us look at our own roots and all of a sudden to remember how magical our literary tradition is. For example, One Thousand and One Nights is in our literature. It helped us to rediscover ourselves." 

García Márquez also wasn't seen as a threatening, anti-Soviet writer, and his work became wildly popular in the USSR.  

"Then other books of Márquez appeared, like Autumn of the Patriarch or No One Writes to the Colonel, which were absolutely, in a sense, anti-Soviet ones. But the floodgate was already open," Ismailov says. 

So readers and writers alike read García Márquez and were shaped by him. 

"He helped to create the talent of Fazil Iskander, an Abkhaz writer who famously wrote Sandro from Chegem. Once again, the village in the middle of nowhere was taken as the center of the world. And everything was happening somewhere — but not in Moscow, for example, or not in St. Petersburg or not in New York or Washington. So, little by little, the value of the ordinary life was creeping in with the help of Márquez's books," Ismailov recalls.

Ismailov describes it like this: "Storytelling is such an important part of human being and with every story it is human nature to add something sort of magic, something kind of hyperbolic. When you are telling stories, you are sometimes hyperbolizing. And that was the essence of the technique of Márquez and he released this technique for the whole world."

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Studio 360

Your Brain on Drugs: Creative?

Friday, April 18, 2014

The association of art with altered states of consciousness goes back a long way. Archeological evidence of fermented beverages and some of the oldest musical instruments were found at the same 9,000-year-old site in China. Do alcohol and marijuana improve creativity?

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Studio 360

Live In-Studio: Vijay Iyer, Jazz’s Incredible Hulk

Friday, April 18, 2014

The pianist and MacArthur genius Vijay Iyer is one of the great living jazz musicians, although a lot of his music isn't what you'd recognize as jazz. In addition to leading a trio and playing duets with a saxophonist, Iyer programs laptops, and writes chamber music. The heart of Iyer’s ...

 

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Studio 360

Pulitzers: Making Up for a Sexist Past?

Friday, April 18, 2014

The winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize were announced this week, acknowledging the best in journalism as well as the arts. Donna Tartt won the prize for fiction for her third novel, The Goldfinch. The 784-page bestseller, which took Tartt eleven years to finish, is a Dickensian tale ...

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The Leonard Lopate Show

How Iris Barry Saw Film as Art

Friday, April 18, 2014

Iris Barry was one of the first intellectuals to treat film as an art form, appreciating its far-reaching, transformative power. She founded the Museum of Modern Arts’ film department and became its first curator. In Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film, Robert Sitton writes about her life and her lasting legacy.

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Studio 360

Sunday Morning's Family Circus Meets Sunday Night's True Detective in 'Time Is A Flat Circus'

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Never before has Sunday morning entertainment played so well with Sunday night entertainment.

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The World

These homoerotic stamps celebrate the work of Tom of Finland

Thursday, April 17, 2014

He was born Touko Laaksonen.

But as an artist, he was known as Tom of Finland.

He died in 1991.

During his life, he sketched homoerotic images of young men with bulging muscles, mostly dressed in tight leather, or not dressed at all. 

His style was always provocative. And like his friend Robert Mapplethorpe, Laaksonen's work had a huge influence on gay culture.

He depicted men dressed as soldiers, bikers, lumberjacks, construction workers. Tom of Finland's style influenced artists like the Village People and Freddie Mercury of Queen.

“I don't think anyone since the Greco-Roman times really adulated and adored the male form like Tom did. He gave us godlike creatures but they had a strong humanity to them. They were fantasy but they were also our friends,” said S.R. Sharp, Vice-President and curator of the Tom of Finland Foundation.

Sharp says that Laaksonen's work played a crucial role in changing the way gay men in the mid-20th century saw themselves.

“We were very limited in our imagery before Tom of Finland. We were depicted as sissies or poofs or pansies, fairies, often feminized and made lesser than. Tom sort of turned it around and made us more than.”

The images the Foundation chose for the stamps don't represent the most graphic of Tom of Finland's work. But one of the three designs shows a man's naked backside with a face peering between the legs.

There are a number of countries around the world where a stamp with a man's buttocks on it would not be well-received - like Saudi Arabia or Nigeria where homosexuality is illegalAnd it's not unprecedented for a country to bar mail because of an offensive stamp, according to the American Philatelic Society’s Ken Martin. 

“The most famous, I think was what was probably the first nude on a postage stamp, Spain in 1930 issued a series with a painting by Goya of a nude which attracted a lot of attention," Martin says. "As best as I can determine, it appears the United States postal service rejected and returned mail bearing those stamps in the 1930's.”

The Tom of Finland stamps are not the first to celebrate gay culture. In 2010, Austria issued a stamp celebrating the 15th anniversary of Vienna's Rainbow Parade. And next month the US Postal Service will issue a stamp with the image of American gay rights advocate Harvey Milk.

Tom of Finland stamps will be released in September in conjunction with a retrospective exhibit of his life and work.

* Updated: A previous version of this story said that S.R. Sharp was co-founder. He is the Vice President and curator.

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