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Interviews

Monday, January 11, 2010
An Interview With Dr. Barry Sears

imageDr. Barry Sears‘, creator of The Zone diet, explains in his newest book, Toxic Fat, why America is in the midst of a “Perfect Nutritional Storm” and its implications on any envisioned savings coming from the current health-care reform debate.

We asked Dr. Sears some questions about these topics over email. The Q&A is below:

What is “toxic fat” and how can we avoid it?

The scientific name for “toxic fat” is arachidonic acid. This natural fatty acid is the building block for a wide variety of very powerful inflammatory hormones. You need some toxic fat to be able to mount an inflammatory response to microbial invasion, but too much toxic fat causes the body to begin attacking itself. In other words, you have to keep toxic fat in a zone that is not too high, but not too low.  There is no drug that can reduce toxic fat levels, but recent changes in the American diet have caused a significant increase of its levels. I term these dietary changes as the Perfect Nutritional Storm.  With this increased toxic fat has come a corresponding increase in inflammation that is the underlying cause of the development of chronic diseases, including obesity. 

More...



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Tuesday, December 08, 2009
92Y Video: Mayor Cory Booker and Budd Mishkin


Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker was at the 92nd Street Y last Thursday, interviewed by NY1’s Budd Mishkin. Highlights in the video above include Mayor Booker discussing Newark’s relationship to New York City, the importance of participating in your community, and why Carter Godwin Woodson’s book The Mis-Education of the Negro was so important to him.

At the 2:15 mark in the video, Booker relates a story about a man his staff discovered mowing an unruly, empty lot and the street median on Elizabeth Ave, where the resident lives. His staff asked him if he was a city worker. “No,” he told them. He just did not like what he saw looking out his window. These are the people that define a community, Booker declared.

“...the people that just get up everyday, and do those small acts of kindness, of decency, of love. Above and beyond what is expected of them, those are the people over their lifetimes who sustain neighborhoods, drive change, and create strong cities. And that’s what we need. We don’t need to wait for the next, ‘Oh..., Barack Obama is gonna save us, and save our country."’

Explaining why he decided not to accept an offered job in the Obama administration, Booker told Mishkin: “I’m really in this for a purpose, not a position...I’m in the right job at the right time.”

This Thu, Dec 10, we will be honoring a public servant often hailed as an example for others, at: A Special Celebration of the Life of Senator Edward M. Kennedy with Vicki Reggie Kennedy and Ted Kennedy Jr. Use code SK11 at check out for 30% of the ticket price.

Coming up on Dec 17, Budd Mishkin will interview Morely Safer.

View all upcoming Lectures and Conversations in Politics and Current Events.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009
92Y Video: Share Your Story: Martha

Continuing the Share Your Story video series, we caught Martha at the 92Y Street Fest for a quick chat.

Martha is a 78-year-old native New Yorker, who “happens to have a handsome husband at home.” They have lived in the Mill Rock apartments on the Upper East Side for 32 years. She tells us that rent was once $450.00 a month and is now $1,300.00+. She has seven children, fourteen grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. Watch the whole video above.

As part of the 92Y Street Fest, we offered a coupon good for a 10% discount on classes and events. We would like to extend that offer to our blog readers through Oct 30, 2009. Use discount code FALL when ordering event tickets online or by phone. Please note: When purchasing classes, you must order by phone: 212.415.5500, to utilize the discount code. We can not accept the discount code for classes online.

Regular prices vary. Discount cannot be combined with any other offers and does not apply to prior sales. Not Applicable toward Health & Fitness memberships. Restrictions apply. Offer valid through 10.30.09. Discount is valid for first time enrollment only for the following 92nd Street Y programs: Noar Afterschool, Connect Jewish Afterschool, Private Music Instruction, 60+ membership or Parent Center Membership.

Offer is not valid for subscription tickets nor is it valid for Summer Camp, Flying Dolphins Swim Team or Gymnastics Team registrations.

10% discount not valid for online class registrations.

View all our classes and events.

[92Y Share Your Story]




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Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Learning Continues for Life at the 92nd Street Y

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An article in the Associated Press by Ann Levin explores the subject of adult learning, by “so called life-learners.” The U.S. Department of Education estimates that about 20% of adults takes classes taught at colleges, community centers, libraries and other venues, such as here at the 92nd Street Y. Adults such as Kumar Shah who has taken writing classes at 92Y since semi-retiring from his career in corporate finance, where he earned a reputation for a “pretty decent way with words.”

92Y the AP notes, has: ”more than 4,000 classes, some taught by leading scholars and writers such as Frank McCourt and Margaret Atwood.”

Indeed, at 92Y School of Music, you can take private piano lessons with acclaimed pianist Jenny Lin. In our craft studios featured on PBS, you can take jewelry classes with Klaus Bürgel, as seen in this video. With over 4000 classes, there are far too many to feature here, though we would like nothing more then to do so. Dance classes at Harkness Dance Center where Paul Taylor and others got their start, writing classes at Unterberg Poetry Center, where Kurt Vonnegut famously read from Breakfast of Champions, three years before it was published.

The AP continued:

“You get a lot of value in taking a course,” said Sean Gallagher, program director and senior analyst at Eduventures, a higher education research and consulting firm. “If you take a course for $200 and it meets weekly for eight weeks, that’s a lot of value compared to some other activities.”

Browse all the classes 92Y has to offer




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Thursday, June 25, 2009
Tony Blair in Conversation with Matthew Bishop

Tony Blair, Britain’s former Prime Minister and current Special Envoy to the Middle East, was at 92Y on Monday evening for The Business of Giving with Matthew Bishop, New York bureau chief for The Economist. The two spoke about Iran, Iraq, global warming, the Middle East, Africa, and much more. “Charming to a tee,” said blogger The Brooklyn Socialite.

The Jewish Week covered Blair’s frank comments on Israel and Palestine. “The Arab world today actually wants the issue [the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] resolved,” he said. “That gives us an opportunity.”

According to the Times of London, Blair thought “that it was impossible to predict the outcome of protests in Iran over the landslide presidential election victory claimed by the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” Since then, the government of Iran has made their intentions more clear, with the LA Times reporting that that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be sworn in for a second term by mid-August.

Blair’s most interesting remarks might have been on Globalization and America’s place in it. Vikie Karp at True/Slant wrote:

In his introductory remarks about the future of globalization and achieving justice and equality for all on an international scale, Blair said “We are a global community. And its chief attribute is that no one nation, not even this great nation of America, can do it on its own. In any case, power is shifting East and it is shifting quickly. Countries like India and China will take their rightful place. And it’s galvanizing people, too. Look at Iran today. So that’s my theory, and if I’m right, the countries of the global community must work in alliance with each other, and with equality, and it will work only if there is a feeling of obligation beyond their borders and a real belief that they can share values. If it’s simply a battle of interests, we will fail and the failure will be ugly.

Upcoming events:
  • Jazz in July Summer Festival: July 20-30
  • How to Change the World with Howard Gardner and Guests: Jane Goodall: Sep 2

  • And dont forget about all our summer classes...




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    Friday, June 19, 2009
    Shuffling the Deck of Middle East Policy Experts

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    Les Gelb and David Makovsky

    The New York Times is reporting that Dennis B. Ross, the Obama administration’s senior Iran policy maker, is moving on up to the White House, only three months into his job at the State Department.

    Wondering why, they ask: “is Mr. Ross going to assume more of a role in Mr. Obama’s evolving Middle East policy, particularly in relations with Israel?” David Makovsky, Mr. Ross’s co-author in the just-published book Myths, Illusions & Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, offered a different possible reason: “Dennis Ross is the Lebron James of Middle East diplomacy.”

    The New York Times couldn’t have asked a more knowledgeable person for comment. Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Director of their Project on the Middle East Peace Process, is a seasoned expert on Middle East Policy. He is a frequent Op-Ed contributor on the topic at such outlets as the Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post.

    This Sunday on Jun 21, Makovsky will join Les Gelb, former editor and columnist for the New York Times and President Emeritus and Fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations for the talk, Puncturing Middle East Mythologies—focusing on a variety of mythologies that have become obstacles to reshaping foreign policy in the region.

    Interestingly, it’s not just the White House that is shuffling around people on their Middle East policy. Dennis Ross was originally scheduled to be with us on Sunday night with his co-author David Makovsky. Now it’s Makovsky and Les Gelb.

    Upcoming events:

  • Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in Conversation with Daniel Goleman: Jun 22
  • Tony Blair in Conversation with Matthew Bishop: Jun 22
  • A Reel Pieces Special: Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg: Jun 25
  • How to Change the World with Howard Gardner and Guests: Jane Goodall: Sep 2




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    Thursday, June 18, 2009
    92Y News Flash: A Few Tickets Made Available for Tony Blair in Conversation with Matthew Bishop

    imageFormer British Prime Minister Tony Blair is currently working in the Middle East as Quartet Representative, helping the Palestinians to prepare for statehood as part of the international community’s effort to secure peace. He has launched the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to promote respect and understanding between the major religions and to make the case for faith as a force for good in the modern world.

    Blair will be at the 92nd Street Y on Jun 22 with Matthew Bishop for our signature series, The Business of Giving. Bishop, American Business Editor and New York Bureau Chief of The Economist, will conduct a rare one on one discussion with former Tony Blair about his range of philanthropic work and commitments. Past guests in this series have included President Clinton, Vartan Gregorian and Eli Broad.

    We have just released a few tickets for the event. Please note that tickets are available only via phone at 1.212.415.5500 or in person at the 92Y Box Office. All tickets will be held at will call for security reasons and must be picked up that night with photo ID for everyone in the party. Tickets will not be mailed and cannot be picked up at any point prior to the event. Please have the first and last names of everyone in your party available at time of purchase.




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    Thursday, June 11, 2009
    92Y Video: Dollars and Sense: What’s Next for the Financial Sector and Economy?

    On June 1, Nobel Prize winner in economics Joseph E. Stiglitz, and portfolio manager John Paulson with moderator Matthew Bishop of The Economist discuss how they navigated the recent financial and economic crisis. There was talk about what they may have anticipated that others did not, and their insights into the current situation. Questions raised included “Is there an upside in this downturn for the individual investor?” “How can we as a community find our way towards a more sustainable future?” and “What’s next for the financial sector and the economy?”

    Upcoming talks:

  • Les Gelb and David Makovsky: Puncturing Middle East Mythologies: Jun 2
  • Jack and Suzy Welch: Decision Making the Welch Way: Jun 18
  • Tony Blair in Conversation with Matthew Bishop: Jun 22




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    Wednesday, June 03, 2009
    92Y Video: Bill Scheft in Conversation with Susie Essman


    On May 20, Bill Scheft was here with Susie Essman as part of our Funny People series to talk about his past career as the head monologue writer for The Late Show with David Letterman, his new book Everything Hurts, Richard Simmons, the difference between his mother and father, and more. Bill took to his blog to write about the appearance:

    You know, when everyone tells you it couldn’t have gone any better, when your agent (who reps among others, the great Michael Chabon) tells you she doesn’t remember a better book event, when someone leaves a message and says she wishes the interview had been three hours rather than an hour and a half, even the self-loathingest alternator in your hard-wiring has to admit that things went okay. And by “you,” I mean Jay McInerney…

    It was indeed a great event, and the video above features a few stories that Bill did not include in his recap. One was about an appearance Richard Simmons made on The Late Show with David Letterman, with Richard coming out on stage all oiled up, in his normal outfit of boas around his neck and little shorts on. This was back when Dave still smoked cigars, and Simmons asked in his flirtatious ways, “David, will you teach me how to smoke a cigar?” Skip to 3:50 in the video to hear the punchline that had everybody in stitches.

    Next up in our Funny People series is Kate Clinton on Jun 11, when she will be here with Randy Cohen, better known as the writer of The Ethicist column at the New York Times.

    Upcoming events:

  • David Brooks in Conversation with Jon Meacham: Jun 9
  • Battlestar Galactica: Cyborgs On The Horizon: Jun 12. Read more on the 92Y blog
  • Jack and Suzy Welch: Decision Making the Welch Way: Jun 18
  • Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in Conversation with Daniel Goleman : Jun 22




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    Thursday, February 19, 2009
    Q&A with Inventing Niagara author Ginger Strand

    Video: Ginger Strand, Authors@Google in New York, May 2008

    Ginger Strand, a former fellow at the Behrman Center for the Humanities at Princeton, is the author of the novel Flight and the non-fiction work Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies. Her essays and fiction have appeared in Harper’s, The Believer (“Selling Sex in Honeymoon Heaven”), The Iowa Review and Orion, where she is a contributing editor. We recently spoke with Strand about the writing life and her upcoming non-fiction workshop at the Y, Place and Prose: Writing Nature, Writing Culture (beginning March 8).

    When, and how, did you start writing?
    Like a lot of writers, I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing--keeping journals, starting novels, scribbling reams of (bad) poetry . . . I began to take my writing seriously when, because of the work I was doing at the time, I stopped doing it. The unhappiness that resulted told me something about myself. I re-organized my life so I could write, began taking evening classes, and started to take myself seriously as a writer. 

    What is your writing routine? Do you write every day?
    I do write every day, but that doesn’t always mean taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard.) It can also mean traveling somewhere to attend a conference, conducting interviews by phone or in person, or doing research at an archive. Sometimes it means rambling around the city and just thinking hard about something. 

    When, and how, did you become interested in the environment, and in the idea of “place” in writing?
    I have always been passionate about the environment--even though I’m not much of a nature girl. And place has always affected me strongly; my first book, a novel, was a portrait of place as well as of people.  But I didn’t think of myself as an environmental writer, really, until Orion magazine called me up and asked if I would write for them. I said “I’m not a nature writer,” and they said “Yeah, but you’re an environmental writer.” I thought “Hmmmm, I guess they’re right!”

    What made you want to offer a nonfiction writing workshop on place and prose? What can students expect from the workshop?
    Just about any piece of writing is in part about place. And yet, I think we so often relegate place to the role of window-dressing--it’s the setting where the characters live and the action happens. To me, place is also a character. It’s part of the human characters and it’s part of the action. So any piece of writing can benefit from having the writer think hard about place, so she can bring it to life with just as much passion as she uses bringing characters to life. I thought it would be fun to try to work together to do that. I like to look at examples of really good writing—work by John McPhee, Annie Dillard and Mike Davis, for example--but in the end, it’s workshopping student work that’s the most helpful thing. To take a piece of writing and say “Okay, this is what the author is trying to do. Let’s see if we can help make it even better.”




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    Friday, November 07, 2008
    92Y Q&A with Pianist Garrick Ohlsson

    On Saturday, November 15, at 8 pm, the 92nd Street Y will present Garrick Ohlsson in a recital devoted entirely to the works of the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), as part of the Y’s Masters of the Keyboard and Russian Evolutions series. In this conversation with the 92nd Street Y, Mr. Ohlsson explains his connections with Scriabin, his attraction to the composer’s music and how he designed the program.

    Garrick, you have appeared on the great stages of the world giving recitals of all-Chopin, all-Beethoven, all-Schubert—the great masters of the canon. But all-Scriabin?  Many audience members barely know who he is. Why are you devoting a full evening to his music?
    First of all, for me, Alexander Scriabin is one of the great composers. He is indeed part of the Western canon, even if he isn’t played as often as he should be. I certainly have played lots of Scriabin in my life. What’s more, when I was a boy in White Plains, I came into Manhattan to hear the greatest pianists of the century in recital, and virtually all of them played Scriabin–Horowitz, Rubinstein, Gilels, Richter, Ashkenazy. It never occurred to me that Scriabin was something one would not do. Yet, you’re right, he’s become a hard sell now – composers can fall in and out of fashion.

    So how did the idea for this recital come about?
    Through two people, really. First, while I was at Ravinia, I talked with its President Welz Kaufman about possible projects, and we discussed Scriabin. Then [the 92nd Street Y’s director of music and literary programming] Hanna Arie-Gaifman began enticing me to come back to the Y. I hadn’t been here since 2000, and in our conversations, she mentioned her plans for a focus on Russian culture of 1900.  A Scriabin recital would fit perfectly, so we made plans. Eventually I developed a 2008 recital program with Scriabin plus Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff (for the marquee value), but for the Y, I’m giving a full evening of Scriabin. I think New York audiences are sophisticated enough to handle it.

    At the beginning of his career, Scriabin was called the “Russian Chopin.” Why is that, and are those similarities partly why he so appeals to you, as one of today’s definitive interpreters of Chopin?
    First, of all, like Chopin, Scriabin wrote almost exclusively for the piano. There are a few orchestra works, Poem of Ecstasy being perhaps the most well known, but virtually his entire output was for the keyboard, which also helps to explain his relative obscurity. He also continually used the same forms as Chopin, such as the sonata, prelude and etude. Definitely in the first period of his career, Scriabin was a classicist like Chopin.  Like Chopin he kept tight control of the structures of his works.  Even the musical language he used was very Chopin-esque.

    So I take it something changed in the second period?
    Yes, indeed. Scriabin kept his structures but began to fill them with perfume and moonlight. His music became magical, even mystical. He became a pioneer in pulling away from traditional tonalities, and his music started to explode in color. It became more and more emotional and exciting – hair-raisingly exciting. As we’ve noted, Scriabin can be a hard sell, and concert sponsors have been wary of programming him.  Yet whenever I include a set of Scriabin works, almost always that set becomes the hit of the night because it is precisely so unexpectedly exciting.

    Sounds like a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. Why then isn’t he the success story that his contemporaries Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev are?
    For one thing, over time his music became hyper-exciting, hyper-intense, hyper-emotional, some would say hyper-neurotic. That can be thrilling for some, but too much for others. He’s definitely foie gras in a generally meat-and-potatoes world.

    His mystical philosophies definitely make some people uncomfortable. His art became increasingly visionary, if not grandiose.  Over time he saw himself as a savior and believed his final work, Mysterium, which was to be performed in the Himalayas, would transform music, if not the entire world. There is also such a dramatic change in his musical language. As I said, he started Chopin-esque, but by the end he was atonal – not along the lines of Schoenberg, but closer to Debussy, Bartók or Stravinsky. So with Scriabin you can never be sure what you’re going to get.

    There’s one more reason why his music isn’t performed more often – it’s hideously difficult. Of course, other composers are exceptionally challenging too, even peers like Rachmaninoff. Yet Scriabin requires a particularly exceptional level of pianistic ability, because with Scriabin, you can’t reach the beauty of his music until you’ve gotten past its difficulty. Only after you’ve met the technical challenges can you find the perfume and poetry.

    With such a creative range and with so many different works to draw from, how did you decide on the selections for your Y recital program?
    I talked with Hanna about this, and we both agreed not to take the scholarly approach, like putting everything in chronological order or outlining Scriabin’s musical development. Instead, I’ve tried to weave a carpet that invites people to discover the language, the poetry and the flavor of his music.

    For example, the program will open with a grouping of early works – they’re miniatures, a little brooding, very Chopin-esque, and include the particularly beautiful Second Sonata that I think will draw the audience in. Once I have them, I’ll go right to some of his late works, including Desir.

    The key is keeping the flow smooth and interesting. To do that I’ll alternate moods, keys, textures and characters. Sometimes it’s just pure intuition—an indefinable sense of what pieces sound good next to each other. It’s the same care I take with my Chopin cycles:  vary the sound to keep the palate as fresh as possible.

    You’ve chosen twelve works. Do you have a particular favorite we should listen for?
    Yes, Sonata No. 5, which ends the concert. It’s Scriabin at his purest. No piece is more hair-raisingly exciting for me. Once I get started, the music starts playing me instead of me playing the music.  While you look at me onstage, you may think I’m in control, but inside I’m careening through the music, wondering if I can hang on to the end. That’s why I love Scriabin so much.

    [Garrick Ohlsson, piano: 11/15/08]




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    Friday, October 31, 2008
    Lawrence Lessig Q&A

    imageLawrence Lessig, the reigning authority on intellectual property in the Internet age, spotlights copyright laws and the newest culture war affecting users of new technologies. In his latest book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, Lessig outlines plans for a “read-write culture,” which allows its users to create art as readily as they consume it. Lessig is a professor at Stanford Law School and founder of the school’s Center for Internet and Society. He is the author of Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, and a columnist at Wired. He’ll be speaking at the Y on November 17 to share his thoughts on “Art and Ideas in the Internet Age.” Here’s a quick Q&A with him to get the conversation started.

    Can you define what a remix is, in the context of your new book, Remix? Is it the multiple-creator model of Wikipedia? GPS on cameras that pinpoint photo locations on Google maps? The jackalope?
    All of these are remix, as all of them take as their challenge how to engage with the creativity or innovation of others, and add something useful and new to it. Remix is to culture what web 2.0 is to the Internet: a practice of building upon what others have built, with minimized control over how others interact. 

    While copyright laws might be hampering creativity and the formation of new technologies, mash-ups and remixes are still abundant, especially online. Why aren’t people frightened about breaking the law?
    “People” aren’t frightened because individuals are unlikely targets for prosecution in this environment (such prosecution is limited to filesharers just now). But institutions are fundamentally frightened. How many lawyers advising high schools would permit them to run “creative filmmaking” classes, which encourage kids to remix movies with their own creativity? I know the answer to that: Zero.

    Although Disney appropriated works that were in the public domain for its movies, the company, arguably, only achieved massive success by copyrighting these creations. Would global and cultural success like Disney’s be achievable under a more open Creative Commons copyright scheme?
    Everyone should be free to copyright the creativity they add. But copyright shouldn’t stop follow-on creators from adding more. For some business models of creativity, that means expressly enabling followon creativity, through licenses such as Creative Commons licenses — science, and education are good examples here. For other business models of creativity, such express freedoms may not be useful initially. But there needs to be limits to the power of the past to control the future.

    At Netroots Nation 2008, you said that “every ten years I am going to throw away all of my intellectual capital and work on something new.” Does Change Congress, your movement to end corruption in the U.S. Congress, have a decade expiration date? What would you concentrate on next?
    Yes. And stay tuned.

    The Bible is a remix of sorts, with people adding and subtracting and changing text, and that’s created quite a bit of confusion. Maybe the leap here is too big, but is that what we’re in for if we adopt a remix culture?
    It is, and it is unavoidable. Authoritarian control has never quashed controversy. It has only ever pushed it underground.

    [Lawrence Lessig: Art and Ideas in the Internet Age: 11/17/08]




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    Wednesday, October 15, 2008
    Q&A with Daniel Radosh and A.J. Jacobs: Christian Pop Culture and Sarah Palin

    Earlier this year, Rapture Ready! author Daniel Radosh interviewed The Year of Living Biblically author A.J. Jacobs for Jewcy.com in advance of a talk that Jacobs gave at the Y. Now that they’re both set for a joint appearance at the Y on Oct 19 to discuss their experiences as secular Jews investigating America’s most deeply religious societies with humorist David Rakoff (no stranger to the Y either), we’ve flipped the Q&A table. Here’s Jacobs interviewing Radosh.

    I noticed a lot of Christian bloggers loved your book, even though you’re a secular Jew writing a humorous study of evangelical culture. Were you surprised by the positive reaction from the evangelical community?
    Sometimes, sure. Like when a radio host told me that God may actually have used me as a vehicle to give Christians a message they weren’t hearing from inside the church. Needless to say, I’m uncomfortable with being cast in the role of prophet — not least because I worry that the Almighty is going to claim a cut of my royalty checks. But in the course of the year I spent researching Rapture Ready! I met enough Christians who harbored their own skepticism of Christian culture to know that there was at least a potential audience for my book among committed evangelicals. What’s really gratifying to me is that a number of Christians who disagreed with my conclusions at least recognized that I came to them legitimately and expressed them respectfully. And they appreciated that I was willing to acknowledge that Christian pop culture isn’t all bad. I even still listen to some Christian rock. For fun.

    What are the best Christian bands?
    The ones that don’t get played on either mainstream or Christian radio. Actually, the first Christian rocker, Larry Norman, was pretty incredible. His late 60s and early 70s albums have a visionary artistic integrity that holds up quite well. The problem is that for most people, Christian music is still defined by the era of bland, imitative, corporate crap that came next — the Stryper and Amy Grant and dc Talk years of the 80s and 90s. You still hear that on Christian radio today, but there are also a lot of indie Christian bands that reject the notion that Christian music is supposed to be all about either spreading the gospel or providing a safe alternative for church kids. Artists like mewithoutYou, the Myriad, Over the Rhine, Jonathan Rundman, Pedro the Lion, and Derek Webb, to name just a few, write really compelling and enjoyable music that challenges stereotypes about Christian rock in ways that befuddles non-Christians and freaks out other Christians.

    What’s the best joke you heard from a Christian standup comic?
    There’s a comedian who goes by the name Nazareth who talks about his infant daughter sleeps all day and cries all night. “I’m pro-life,” he growls, “but not at two in the morning.” Actually when I heard him tell that joke in a church full of Christians, I think I was the only person who laughed.

    I noticed that certain branches of evangelical Christian have, in their own way, started to embrace certain aspects of Judaism. Including the blowing shofars. Did you get any insight into what is happening there?
    There’s definitely a lot of fascination with the *trappings* of Judaism. I went to a Christian theme park in Arkansas where an actor in priestly vestments blew the shofar to announce that one of the rides was starting. There’s a movement among Christians to explore what they see as their Hebrew heritage, and a few savvy Judaica salesmen have capitalized on this by hawking their wares in Christian retail channels, where they have a bigger market and less competition than their peers who foolishly persist in selling Judaica only to Jews.

    If this led to genuine cross-cultural understanding I’d be all for it. Unfortunately most Christians still see Judaism through a Christian filter, rather than trying to understand it on its own terms. The fact that Judaism is a living and evolving culture is sometimes lost on them. They’re enthralled by the ancient Hebrews of the Bible and by the role that Jews will supposedly play in the End of Days. They’re less conscious of the 2,000 years in between.

    Have you considered writing a follow up book about Jewish pop culture?
    Jews always point out to me that we have our own equivalent of what Christians call “Jesus junk.” Not for nothing is shlock a Jewish word. But as much as it might be fun to write about dreidels that play Elvis music when you spin them (that’s a real thing; I actually have one), I don’t think Jewish pop culture is quite as infused with what it means to be an American Jew as Christian pop culture is with American Christianity. Besides, if there is a book to be written on this subject, it’s only fair that I let an evangelical do it.

    My final question is: Sarah Palin. Discuss.
    Sarah Palin is “Becky.” That’s the industry term for the typical Christian radio listener —the churchgoing working mom who doesn’t want to think too hard about anything. She wants programming that affirms what she already believes and that’s safe for the kids in the backseat. Nothing makes it on to the airwaves if it’s going to upset or confuse Becky.

    Becky likes to say things like, “God has a plan for your life” and “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Usually I have no problem with anyone who wants to believe that, because if it helps them keep going when they lose their job or get a serious illness, more power to them. My concern about Sarah Palin is that she really thinks God thinks she’s ready to be vice president, otherwise why would he have put that on John McCain’s heart (to use the Christianese). A more contemplative Christian might have prayed about this situation and been forced to admit that she wasn’t really ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. When Becky prays, she almost always hears the response she wanted in the first place.

    [Strangers in a Strange Land: David Rakoff, Daniel Radosh and A.J. Jacobs]




    Posted in Humanities Jewish Life Interviews at 10:45am | Link to this item | Email this item to a friend. Email This to a Friend |



    Tuesday, August 19, 2008
    92Y Q&A with Poet Laureate Kay Ryan

    imageIn July, we mentioned that poet Kay Ryan was named the country’s 16th poet laureate and will return to the Poetry Center to host this season’s The Tenth Muse in February. The 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s Tenth Muse series began in April of 1989; on more than twenty evenings since then, a distinguished poet has presented readings by three poets at different stages in their careers. Over the years, Tenth Muse curators have included such celebrated poets as Lucille Clifton, Billy Collins, Robert Creeley, Jorie Graham and Charles Wright. The Tenth Muse series has provided a forum for the voices of Charles Bernstein, Anne Carson, Cornelius Eady, Marie Howe and Susan Wheeler, among many others. Ms. Ryan will present readings by Sarah Lindsay, who has published three books of poetry, including Twigs and Knucklebones; Kevin McFadden, whose first collection, Hardscrabble, was recently awarded the 2008 Fellowship of Southern Writers’ New Writing Award for Poetry; and Atsuro Riley, whose first book is forthcoming. The Poetry Center recently had a chance to ask Kay Ryan a few questions about her own work.

    Where do you typically find the germ for a poem?
    The world doesn’t fit me right, so now and then I have to push a new bulge into it or tighten it up someplace. I do this with poems, which can actually create or absorb space.

    You are perhaps best known for compact, decisive lyrics. What are your thoughts about longer poems and sequences?
    Actually I’m in the process of writing a long poem, or a sequence; I don’t distinguish between the two. It will be made up of all my short poems.

    Some of your poems are quite funny. How, if at all, do you think about your audience’s potential reaction when you write a poem?
    When one is writing a poem it isn’t the kind of condition in which it’s possible to think about an “audience’s potential reaction.” Later one does, of course, and one thinks, “That’s so funny; I wonder if anyone else will think so?”

    What advice would you give to a young writer seeking to establish herself as a poet?
    I would advise the young writer to get enough education so that she can secure a job that pays enough so that she only ever has to work part time if she’s careful with money.

    [View all Reading Series at the Y]




    Posted in The Arts Interviews at 4:30pm | Link to this item | Email this item to a friend. Email This to a Friend |



    Monday, October 15, 2007
    92YQ: Joseph Berger of the New York Times

    Joseph Berger, longtime reporter and editor with The New York Times, wrote the acclaimed memoir Displaced Persons: Growing Up American After the Holocaust about his family’s experience as immigrants in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. He has a new book out, The World in a City: Traveling the Globe Through the Neighborhoods of the New New York that he will be discussing with Ari L. Goldman, former Times reporter and current journalism professor at Columbia University, at the Y on October 16. Berger is also the moderator of our Breaking News in the Jewish World and Beyond series. He’s the perfect subject for our New York-focused Q&A feature.

    How many years, apartments and what neighborhoods have you lived in NYC?
    I first came to Manhattan in 1950 as a five-year-old immigrant and we lived on 102nd Street near Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side. Of course, my parents brought me and my brother, Josh, 3, was there too. In 1955, Robert Moses needed to tear down our building, so we left for the Bronx and settled in a plain brick building on the Grand Concourse, six blocks north of Yankee Stadium, where my sister Evelyn was born. After a few years we were able to exchange a rear apartment for a front one and after about 10 we moved to one of the Concourse’s art-deco gems on 165th Street, sunken living room and all. I moved out in 1967 when I was 22 and returned to Manhattan, spending one year near the Y at 89th Street then moving to the West Side where I as a bachelor in three different apartments (there was also a detour to an apartment in Inwood but it only lasted two years). In 1979, newly married, I moved with my wife to 104th Street and Riverside to an apartment with river views. But in 1991, the city was at its nadir and with a 4-year-old daughter, my wife and I thought it would be prudent to escape to the suburbs. We guessed wrong about the fate of NYC, but like our new town anyway (and it’s only five miles north of the Bronx.)

    What era, day or event in New York’s history would you like to relive?
    When I was 8 years old my friend, Maury, my brother Josh and I walked from our homes on 102nd Street down to Chinatown and back north to the UN. I’d like to relive the sheer wonder, novelty and innocence of that encounter with New York. I had that feeling many times in visiting some of the changed neighborhoods of New York, but it never quite matched that first sense of childish wonder, something like what Scott Fitzgerald describes in that famous ending of Gatsby where he talks about the feeling the first explorers must have had encountering the New World.

    What’s your New York motto?
    Never let down your guard. I did recently and got my bike stolen.

    Describe that low, low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
    I did leave New York in 1991. There were 2300 murders the year before, my car had been broken into three times, and three guests had their cars broken into. There was a terrible sense that no one in the city administration could grapple with the problems of drugs, graffiti, homelessness and other city ills. Finally, there were the repeated frustrations when having to take my daughter to preschools on two West Side buses while carrying a stroller, a briefcase and on a rainy day an umbrella. Of course, we did not envision that the city would turn around. Getting my daughter to school in the suburbs with a car was definitely easier, but I do miss the daily electricity and street theater of the city, though working in the city provides a good dose.

    Who do you consider to be the greatest New Yorker of all time?
    Saul Bellow. He was born in Chicago and died in Vermont, but in a few years in New York and in novels like “Seize the Day” and “Herzog” he captured the frantic zaniness of the city and the way it worms itself into every soul.

    What was your best dining experience in NYC?
    An anniversary meal at the first Bouley in Tribeca or any meal at the Second Avenue Deli that included the pitcha.

    Of all the movies made about or highly associated with New York, what role would you have liked to be cast in?
    The part of Rod Steiger in “On the Waterfront.” Like many New Yorkers, his soft heart betrayed his hard shell.

    If you could change one thing about New York, what would it be?
    I’d like the new Euro-chic Madison Avenue to be more like what Lexington Avenue is today--idiosyncratic and unpredictable and not dominated by swaggering international brands. But as a suburbanite who sometimes drives in, I also wouldn’t mind building some more underground garages and lowering the parking price.

  • A World in a City: New York’s Changing Immigrant Population: 10/16/07
  • Breaking News In The Jewish World And Beyond with Jeffrey Toobin and Joe Berger: 10/22/07
  • Breaking News In The Jewish World And Beyond with Daphne Merkin and Joe Berger: 3/18/08




  • Posted in Humanities Jewish Life Interviews at 4:05pm | Link to this item | Email this item to a friend. Email This to a Friend |



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