What People Do

brendanhoward

A moment to savor intelligent conversation about ONE THING someone else is deeply invested in. read less

S4, E3: Deana Weibel, PhD, studies space and religion
Jan 10 2023
S4, E3: Deana Weibel, PhD, studies space and religion
Two things everywhere around us: Religion. Space. But most people don’t bring them together. Scientists unhappy with religion shake their head at our species’ small-minded tribal violence that bubbles up in religious conflict or old-fashioned “sky daddy” thinking. Religionists unhappy with science shake their head at scientism’s obsessive materialism and lack of answers and responses to our very human needs to understand, to be comforted, to be awed. Now that the two strawmen/women are out of the way, most of us can acknowledge religion doesn’t end at the atmosphere, and space is as even more of a wild testimony to the universe’s wonder and the necessity of the “why?” questions that, sometimes, are best discussed and studied in the social sciences.  Blah blah blah, from me. Let’s talk Deana Weibel, PhD (DEE-nuh WHY-bull). She’s a professor in both the Anthropology and Religious Studies departments at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. She studies sacred spaces, including sacred spaces and people’s relationships to those places. She came up to me at Spaceport America as a visiting anthropologist observing and asking questions of folks like me there, who were waiting to see if their friends’ and family members’ remains would go up on a rocket. They didn’t. She wanted to ask me a few questions about Judaism and space (I didn’t have good answers). But I snuck her my card to interview her for my podcast, because when you’re confronted with an anthropologist who studies religion and space, you want to know more.  Cool claim to fame: Dr. Weibel wrote a paper about what she calls the ultraview effect. The Overview Effect is one name for what astronauts say they experience when they look out at Earth from above and get a new, powerful perspective on humanity and our small planet. Weibel heard another astronaut talk about an experience of fear and awe that came with looking out at the stars in the other direction, causing “a transformative sense of incomprehension and a feeling or shrinking or self-diminution.” Anyway, the Brit-rock band Kasabian recorded a song called “T.U.E. (The Ultraview Effect),” which appears on their 2022 album. And the lyrics do talk about perspective, so it sounds like song and idea are intertwined. We get into the ultraview effect, but not the song, in this podcast.  So, settle back and let’s study the stars … or strap in, we’re going for a rocket ride … whatever metaphor you like … where does religious yearning meet with space exploration … ?  P.S. There’s a tinny vibration in some of the audio here. Apologies. Don’t hate me. I can’t afford this genius for every podcast, alright?
S4, E1: Joel Schlosser on how Herodotus can help us today (and other lessons from the ancient Greek historian)
Nov 17 2022
S4, E1: Joel Schlosser on how Herodotus can help us today (and other lessons from the ancient Greek historian)
I have started reading a new set of old excerpted classics, this one gathering writers’ bits and baubles into generally geographic volumes: Greece, Rome, the British Isles, etc. I also write about them. (I write about another set here.) The first selection in the first volume comes from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. (You can read my thoughts here.)  Much sharper than my own thoughts, however, are the thoughts of political theorist and Bryn Mawr professor Joel Schlosser, writer of Herodotus in the Anthropocene (The University of Chicago Press, 2020). Schlosser explores exactly what I felt reading Herodotus and what I hope anyone exploring the ancients today wants: something relevant to them now.  In our chat, Joel answers burning questions I had about Herodotus, his own personal experience discovering the ancient historian, and, most important, what we can learn right now about how we think about the world and our place in it.  Herodotus tried to figure out how the ancient Egyptians dug canals, built great buildings, and won and lost wars. And, most of all, why his Greek world was the way it was after the great battles between Persians and Greeks. Be just as curious as Herodotus! Listen ...  P.S. If you’re taken by Schlosser’s observations, buy his book and enjoy, also, a few of his blog posts from the past few years as he worked on it:  “While I imagined myself in conversation with Herodotus, wondering what he’d make of the anarchists’ message of radical equality – was it an update of Herodotean isêgoria, the equal voice he viewed as central to Athens’ flourishing? – I gazed upon the Acropolis with humbled amazement.” (link) “Herodotus writes for an audience. He wants us to lose ourselves in the story and then to its comedy.” (link) “Herodotus talks of the phoenix, which immolates itself only to be reborn from its ashes, as well as crocodiles and the special burials Egyptians give to their victims.” (link) “Herodotus exemplified a form of inquiry that was broad-minded and imaginative in ways Thucydides simply wasn’t.” (link)
S3, E8: Hannah Emery was a bookstore manager
May 24 2022
S3, E8: Hannah Emery was a bookstore manager
When I spoke to her, Hannah was a manager at The Dusty Bookshelf in Manhattan, Kan., home of Kansas State University. Her location—there’s another in Lawrence, home to University of Kansas—sells new books, used books, gifts and other sundries and, yes, coffee. Hannah liked the coffee side of things so much, the hustle and bustle, helping folks fast and efficiently, that she was about to run off on a new adventure to manage a coffee shop in downtown Chicago. That’s a big leap for a young lady who grew up a “townie” in the college town, loves the small town, but, yeah, wanted to try something different.  So, the best part for me is, I also got to ask Hannah all about how she was planning to make the big move into a new apartment, a new city, a new-ish life of more opportunities to do more cool cultural stuff.  This podcast, then, is a two-fer: Bookstore managing! Making the big jump!  Big thanks to Hannah, to, who was the only manager, worker or owner at used bookstores nationwide who responded to my weird, cold-calling email request to answer my questions about life in bookstores. So, either I’m bad at asking folks for interviews, or bookstore owners, by nature, don’t want to be interviewed for stories, preferring the life behind the counter and between the pages to being a voice on the internet.  This was going to be part of a series, but, hey, until I grab half-a-dozen interviewees, let’s just say Hannah Emery is the best, most bad-ass bookstore manager I’ve ever interviewed … they broke the mold when they made her … and she’ll get to stand, at the end of this phase of her book-selling career, as a solitary statue of wisdom for us to enjoy ...
S3, E7: Jeffery D. Long on Hinduism, religious nonviolence
May 10 2022
S3, E7: Jeffery D. Long on Hinduism, religious nonviolence
Jainism, birthed out of the rich religions of India, asks practitioners to be as careful as they can in not hurting a single thing. They step carefully on the ground and wear masks to avoid inhaling and accidentally killing the little things we thoughtlessly murder. Now, that, but writ large: Gandhi, and the nonviolent movement that sought Indian independence from British rule.  Well, we don’t talk about any of that, because as a fellow religious convert, I much more wanted to discuss Jeffery D. Long’s switch from small-town Missouri Catholicism to Hinduism over the decades. It turns out, the tale started when he was very young, but then culminated when he was much older: a seeking that finally a home in a newly embraced religion, but also an over-arching belief in the ability of man and man’s systems to change to embrace more peace, less war and violence.  Dive a lot into Long the main, some into his newly co-edited (and contributed) book, Nonviolence in the World’s Religions: A Concise Introduction (Routledge, 2022), and some more into his wanting to highlight the peace at the heart of some of the world’s religions at a time when the world is increasingly critical of the violence that bubbles up from religion’s adherents.  And, bonus, listeners! Long recommended books at the end of our recording session for beginners curious about Hinduism or other strands of Eastern religion he’s explored through the years. This is not an exhaustive list. Email him and I bet he’ll pony up with one.  A Survey of Hinduism, 3rd edition by Klaus K. Klostermaier (from SUNY Press, from Half Price Books online)   Vedanta: A Simple Introduction by Pravrajika Vrajaprana (from Vedanta Press) Jainism: An Introduction by Jeffery D. Long (from I.B. Tauris)  Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Carrithers (one of a long, lovely series on everything from Oxford)   What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula (a marvelous one I read a year or so ago, from Grove Press in its most recent edition, with many older editions everywhere in the used-book market)  What the Buddha Thought by Richard Gombrich (from Equinox Publishing) Empty, Empty. Happy, Happy. by Tyler Lewke (Redwood Publishing, 2019, on Amazon) Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (from the Self-Realization Fellowship, whose wide publishing has made this book a mainstay in used bookstores for decades)  Editor’s note: This interview is the second of a three-part series on Nation-Building, War and, right here, Peace. (Also in the works is a series on Birth, Adolescence and Old Age.)
Season 3, Episode 5: Tania Rodriguez, Leah Ferguson study how to improve learning in older adults
Mar 29 2022
Season 3, Episode 5: Tania Rodriguez, Leah Ferguson study how to improve learning in older adults
How do you keep learning when you get old? Keep learning when you get old. It’s not a riddle, say Tania Rodriguez and Leah Ferguson (with the red streaks on the left, if you see the thumbnail) working at the Calla Lab at UC Riverside with their inspiring leader, Rachel Wu, PhD. (Stay to the end to hear how awesome Wu is.)  Rodriguez is a first-year PhD student in the psychology program studying low-income minority older adults helping them to increase cognitive function and stave off cognitive decline in their later years. Ideally, she’d like her research to help us understand how older people can learn new skills and keep their brains healthier later in life. When you’re old and you want to learn something, you can, she argues.  Ferguson is another first-year student in the program, and she’s studying “learning based off of necessity” to help other underserved communities, like people with disabilities or citizens returning to society after being institutionalized in prison.  Our conversation rolls through neuroscience, how experiments are conducted (Calla Lab looks at brain waves and neuroscience evidence of learning, too), what learning looks like for older folks in tougher circumstances (like marginalized communities and people post-prison), and how they plant the question in everyone, even their own relatives: Why do you think you can’t learn things you want to learn when you’re old?   Can an old dog learn new tricks? Rodriguez and Ferguson say, heck yeah (not literally). Let them sell you on it!  This is the second in a three-part series on childhood, adolescence, and old age. Catch the adolescence episode here.  Editor’s note: I had to frantically buy premium Zoom while this conversation went on because, with two awesome guests, free Zoom was going to boot me after 40 minutes. If you can’t tell when I had to mute my mic and frantically enter credit card data, praying my guests wouldn’t stop or ask me a question, I did my job. Why, Zoom? Why?
Season 3, Episode 2: Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson studies adolescence
Feb 15 2022
Season 3, Episode 2: Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson studies adolescence
I throw inflammatory questions and opinions about teenagers at Washington State University sociology professor Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson, and she handles them with aplomb. Teenagers have a rough time, and different teenagers have different rough times depending on who they are, where they live, what their parents are like, and how much money they've got. Most interesting, and sounding right, Monica discusses the "package" we're born with: Our rough or easy teenage transition as a life stage usually has to do with more than one factor ... here and abroad. Let's talk adolescents ... Want to read more? Monica recommends two "easily accessible" books (not overly mathematical) and one a little denser: Not Quite Adults: Why 20-somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It's Good for Everyone by Richard Settersten and Barbara E. Ray The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition by Katherine S. Newman, with a less U.S.-centric takeNot Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex by Amy T. Schalet, which compares U.S. views on adolescent sexuality to Dutch teens and parents. Sneak peek? She's also working with another academic on learning how people are reacting to each other, masked or unmasked, in this pandemic. Got to have her back to talk about THAT! My own sneak peek? Monica's great interview is the first in a three-part series about childhood, adolescence, and old age. More to come there! PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels
Season 3, Episode 1: Jeremy Black studies war (and talks academia)
Feb 1 2022
Season 3, Episode 1: Jeremy Black studies war (and talks academia)
Jeremy Black spoke to me Jan. 1, 2022, so he seems the perfect guest to share first in this new season.  He talks about one of the most emotionally fraught issues of human civilization, War and Violence(TM), with a historian's pragmatism and a respect for those affected by the war, especially the dead.  I start off on some rant here about war being "bad," and he adds nuance and refuses to be baited into black-and-white thinking. One of his most recent books, A Short History of War (2021, Yale University Press), succinctly presents a complicated view of war that belies our current take that war is always and mostly caused by modern nations and politics: "Bellicosity in the shape of the will and readiness to fight leads to war, rather than war arising because misunderstandings produce inaccurate calculations of interest and response." The best bonus, for me, turned out to be his rearview mirror picture of academia as Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Exeter. He's also excited for you to read A History of the Second World War in 100 Maps (2020, University of Chicago Press), if you're interested enough in learning some of the geographical facts and realities that affected the biggest multi-country conflagration in the 20th century. And a little teaser? He's not just a prolific writer, but he's clearly an avid reader, and he's working on books on Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. I've never been much for mysteries, but I might be enticed into exploring these classic writers in a deeper way. Jeremy Black's interview is the first of a three-part series I hope to do on Nation-Building, War and Peace. (Also in the works is a series on Birth, Adolescence and Old Age.) Enjoy. And happy (belated) new year ...