May 12, 2018

Michelle Wolf: Raw

Here is Michelle Wolf’s entire performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.  Most people have only heard clips.  Here is all of it – 19 minutes and roughly 50 jokes – unedited.  This is the beginning of a broader mission on Wavemaker: exploring the deeper significance of comedy – from ancient Greece to the 2018 mid-term elections and beyond.  What’s funny?  Why?  Can comedy enable Americans of divergent political perspectives to laugh – together?  Should that even be its goal?  Those are just a few of the questions I’ll be pursuing with future guests (one of whom you’ll get to sample at the end of this episode) from my perspective as both a journalist and the son of a standup comic.  Warning: the language in this routine gets very explicit.

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There’s a new surge of military veterans running for Congress.  And they’re split about evenly between Democrats and Republicans.  Do veterans have a competitive edge over those who have not served in the military?  Are they better equipped for the job?  Can they help bridge the hyper-partisan divide?  This Wavemaker episode begins looking for answers with Jeremy Teigen, veteran, professor, and author of the new book Why Veterans Run: Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789-2016.

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Some people recognize potential threats to our democracy before others.  My guest, Barbara Simons, is one of those people.  15 years ago, not long after the infamous “hanging chads” threw the Bush v Gore vote count into turmoil and computerized voting became the new rage, Simons, a computer scientist, and some of her colleagues, concluded that in order to protect the integrity of the vote count, we would have to move to paper ballots – everywhere.  Simons became a co-founder of VerifiedVoting.Org, which is racing to inoculate America’s voting systems against hackers.  In the beginning, Simons got nowhere.  But she persisted.  With 228 days until the mid-term elections, her voice and message need to be urgently spread.  And for those of you who may not find your calling early in life, Simons will share her journey from college dropout to Ph.D.

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Introducing former Army Sergeant Matt Martin, author of “I’ve Been Shot In Combat.  And As A Veteran, I’m Telling You: Allowing Teachers To Be Armed Is An Asinine Idea.”   Since writing it two weeks ago for his new hometown’s website, CharlotteFive.com, Martin’s story has been viewed more than 2-million times on Facebook. “When I saw the news flash of another school shooting,” he said of the Parkland massacre, “I couldn’t help but think of the firefights I had been involved in and how these students and teachers just encountered their own version of Afghanistan.”  Listen to Matt Martin share the insights he drew from those firefights in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and why he believes they’re so relevant as Americans assess how to move forward after Parkland, Florida.    

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Introducing Saru Jayaraman.  Millions of Americans caught a glimpse of her at this year’s Golden Globes, where she was Amy Poehler’s guest – recognized for her role in the battle against sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.  Jayaraman, who was accepted to Harvard at the age of 16 and said no thanks, is the co-founder and President of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.  Her organization's extensive research into the restaurant industry has documented pervasive sexual harassment.   It often begins with managers insisting waitresses show more cleavage.  As you’ll hear, it often does not end there.  Saru’s solution?  Listen on.

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Lois Jenson is a historic figure in the battle against sexual harassment – the lead plaintiff in the field’s first class action lawsuit.  As one of the first four women miners in a northern Minnesota mine, Jenson shares what one judge called the “record of human indecency” that she and the other female miners endured for many years – extreme harassment, including one miner grabbing her crotch while other miners watched and laughed.  As you’ll hear, it would get even worse than that.  The company failed to act.  Jenson decided it had to stop, so she took it to court.  The years of harassment and seemingly endless legal battles left Jenson physically ill and suffering from PTSD.  Yet, still, she recalls the good guys, who, she says, outnumbered the bad.  How she regained her health is an inspiring story near the end of our conversation that can inspire so many others who are suffering.

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Astrophysicist Sara Seager joins me for a conversation about her leading role in the search for earth-like planets outside our solar system.  When she began her search as a graduate student – not just for any “exoplanets” as they’re called, but planets that may have just the right atmosphere to support life – she was greeted with plenty of “no’s.”  Not anymore.  Our conversation about her search led to insights on creativity, resilience, parenting, and the importance of sleep and free time doing nothing as key ingredients of success.  Seager, a Professor of Planetary Science and Physics at MIT and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, also shares the details of a side project that could, one day, change the nature of space exploration: mining asteroids for precious metals.  Her thrilling journey began as a child, when she noticed something in the night sky for the first time and asked herself: “Why hadn’t anyone told me about this?”

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Mary Koss has been on a 40-year quest for justice – “to understand why women are hurt and how we can stop it.” As a young professor, with a PhD in clinical psychology, Koss was asked by a more senior male colleague to join him on a study that proposed “to have women that he employed sit and wear different sizes of padded bras, while they interacted with male college students.”  What that colleague proposed to do afterwards, which you’ll hear at the beginning of this episode, would have made some women run in the other direction.  Not Mary Koss.  Koss has never run from controversy.  That helps explain why, during her own personal battle against sexual harassment, which she shares in this episode, she was willing to withstand “an entire year when no one spoke to me.”  And it helps explain why this University of Arizona Professor is pursuing a mission to spread an approach to justice that, instead of fighting in the criminal court system, has victim and perpetrator come to an understanding about the wrong that has occurred and the appropriate consequences.

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Professor Louise Fitzgerald is a pioneer in sexual harassment research. At this moment, when women who have broken their silence have led to the downfall of so many prominent men, I speak with Fitzgerald about how to assess the continuum of acts – ranging from bad to horrific – that have made the headlines. She also shares stories of harassment happening under the radar, including the extreme vulnerability of women in low-income housing to predatory landlords, and a case she is working on in which every new woman hired to work in a particular factory was greeted by chants of “fresh meat.” And, as usual on Wavemaker Conversations, we’ll hear our guest’s personal journey to success – which, for Fitzgerald, meant transforming from a college dropout with a 1.2 GPA to a university professor with a PhD. This is the first in a series of reports from the front lines of sexual harassment and assault – stories that don’t make the headlines.

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This conversation will help make your children (and you, too) better writers. Last time Jack Gantos was on Wavemaker Conversations, he shared his unforgettable journey to a terrifying prison sentence in a federal penitentiary and then to a prolific writing career. Now, with his new book, Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories, his goal is to help young writers who find the blank page terrifying. The book is written for 3rd grade and up. That includes all of us. All you need to begin is a blank journal, 15 minutes a day, and the willingness to “dump” some lines on a page. It’s that easy to start. The structure will come. How? Allow this Newbery Award-winning master raconteur to be your guide. And make sure to stick around for the end – when his mom realized he was hanging out with the wrong kids after discovering chicken-wire-shaped burn marks on the seat of his white underwear.

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