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The Soul of California

Let them share.....That's the goal. Let the leading thinkers, writers, academics, artists and activists talk about their work and the influence of California on that work. In these podcasts, I hope to bring out the myth and the ethos that is not only a leading administrative entity in the United States, but also the world. No commercials, just content. Feed your soul. Keep listening.
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The Soul of California
2018
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2017
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2016
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2015
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Jul 24, 2018

In this 39-minute podcast, Obi Kaufmann takes us on a big picture ride of the system, indeed the organism, that is California. Fresh off the surprise hit of his California Field Atlas, Kaufman recounts his beginnings as a painter, respect for the environment verging on the spiritual and his hope about the “wild reimagining” of the Golden State.  

Obi discusses the process of putting together the book (min. 12), his surprise at the extent of the knowledge available (min.18), the coming of the post-carbon economy (min. 24) and the possible “undoing” of projects this century. He then moves on to his feelings about the book’s reception (min. 31), its educational potential (min. 34) and closes off with his favorite place. It’s not a “where” question, but a “when” question. Get your pencil ready....

All through it, Obi remains philosophical, cheerful and moved by the Golden State’s natural beauty and makes the case that we all should be more geographically literate to protect it. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Jul 13, 2018

Politician, icon, myth, Jerry Brown leaves an impression on everyone. Love him or loath him, he is the governor of the 5th largest global economy, with the (moral) authority resembling that of a head of state. 

In this 55-minute podcast, journalist Narda Zacchino shares with us the background to Brown's 1970s revolution as the State's youngest governor, who is now closing out his long career with his fourth term in that office. 

Narda discusses the influence of his father, his messaging in the early days (min. 3), Brown's "canoe politics", and his love of policy (min. 14). She then reflects on his time as Oakland's mayor (min. 16), the eternal rivalry with Texas (min. 20) and "typical" Jerry moments (min. 26). Turning to impact, Narda recounts the good and the work left behind (min. 32) and for the last 15 minutes turns to her own experience as a journalist, the influence of California on the global stage, NorCal vs. SoCal, analog vs. digital and (very likely) California's next Governor.

Next time: Obi Kaufman - the poetry of watercolors, serving as a teaching tool. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

Jun 19, 2018

In this 52-minute podcast, author Deborah Miranda discusses the plight of Native Americans in California, who underwent near genocide over the course of two centuries with the Spanish, the Mexicans and then the Americans all but ensuring their extinction. 

Deborah begins with the historical context and the role of the church, the defamation of Native Americans during the Gold Rush (so-called “diggers” and bounties, min. 8), the continuing stereotypes through the Mission Project (min. 13) and developing family trees through cassette tapes (min. 21). 

She continues in discussing language challenges (min. 28), writing and a certain footlocker (min. 31), the hopeful future for Native Americans (min. 36) and closes out with hearing her poem at a graduation and an exhaustive list of established and up-and-coming Native American authors. 

Bonus - Deborah reads two poems at the end! Content meets delivery, making it a great listen. 

Feed your Soul. Keep listening. 

May 16, 2018

In this 52-minute podcast, Richard Walker, author of Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity, discusses the negatives impacts that the Tech Boom has had in the analog world - housing, sprawl, labor, you name it....

Richard talks about the origins of the book, then moves on to  inequality (min. 6), why we hate the word "class" (min. 11) and then discusses the culture of commuting and the tech buses (min. 13).

He then highlights regulation challenges (min. 25), the push-pull of private vs. public services (min. 33), tax optimization and whether sustained regulatory chance is possible (min. 40). 

POST-INTERVIEW BONUS: Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Pictures of the Gone World, no. 11 - Closing out his first century, the eternal poet reads the poem that fits so frighteningly well with the Bay Area's Tech Boom and its impacts, despite being written in 1955 (min. 53). Special thanks to City Lights Books for their kind permission.  

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

May 4, 2018

In this 29-minute podcast, Viet Nguyen discusses The Sympathizer, which takes aim at the Vietnam genre, particularly Coppela’s Apocalypse Now, and how it is ripe for parody. He then moves into the impact of literature vs. film (min. 5) and the duality of 30 April - the day in 1975 when Saigon fell (min. 9).

Viet shares with listeners the body of literature and other perspectives coming from Vietnam (min. 10) and recounts his own harrowing early life as a refugee in America and the friendly competition with his brother (min. 14). He then closes with how he writes (min. 18) and his teaching (min. 24). 

Next up:  UC Berkeley's Richard Walker on the Dark Side of Tech - wealth creation at the pinnacle, life altering challenges for the majority. Timely, to say the least.....

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Apr 27, 2018

In this 49-minute discussion, the Godfather of Multiculturalism Ishmael Reed discusses his writing (min. 7), his love of contagions and his just released book Conjugating Hindi (min. 10) and critical acclaim outside of the US (min. 17). He then continues regarding the establishment and the “space” for minority viewpoints, his thoughts on teaching (min. 35) relaxing (min. 39) and oral histories.  

Now entering his ninth decade without one hint of slowing down, Reed remains relevant across a number of art forms. 

BONUS POETRY READING: Ishmael reads three of his poems at the end of the interview - not to be missed! 

Next up: Pulitzer Prize Winner Viet Thanh Nguyen on another perspective of war.  

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Apr 16, 2018

In this 21-minute episode, Kristine Poggioli, co-author with Carolyn Eidson of Walking San Francisco's 49 Mile Scenic Drive, discusses how Carolyn and her implemented a new year's resolution, walking what was originally created to be enjoyed behind the wheel. 

Kristine tells about the drive's origins and then talks about some of her favourite walks, the best views and monuments, the most strenuous and the actual vantage point of walking as opposed to being in a car. 

Putting a new twist on an old concept and for a new generation of those dedicated to healthy living, the 49 mile WALK, turns 80 this year, and is fast becoming a part of the city's bucket list.....

Next up: Ishmael Reed, The Godfather of Multiculturalism. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Mar 17, 2018

In this 33-minute podcast, Susan Anderson of the African American Museum and Library (AAMLO) in Oakland provides the history and context of AAMLO, describes some of its archives and recent events. Shell equally reflects on who writes which narrative, with California not being part of the usual US narrative. 

Susan also touches on the digital/analog aspects that archival institutions face, reaching out to students and some of her favorite archives (even though she wouldn't dare take them to a desert island!). She closes up with overview of her book, which is currently in the works. 

Next up: California's 49 mile scenic drive/walk. 

Feed you soul. Keep listening. 

Feb 22, 2018

Novelist. Law Professor. Art Critic. Yxta Maya Murray juggles her life between the three.

In this 37-minute interview, Whiting Award winner Yxta discusses how listening to defendants tell their story inspired her to come up with 26 lines of text per day. She then continues with  how she juggled writing and a legal career (min. 6), treasures from Latin America in American museums, changing education in the digital age (min. 15), gentrification’s very negative impacts (min.18), how law resembles fiction (min. 25), and how it has been changing in the last few years (min. 32), her latest piece on non-disclosure agreements, and closes with which literature she would take on a desert island. Finally, a bit of  advice to her students. 

All through it, Yxta shows her firm grasp on a broad palette of contemporary issues and challenges, remaining throughout the discussion very accessible. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Jan 25, 2018

In this 29-minute episode, David Laws recounts the history and background of the "Fairchild Eight" and their Notebooks, what makes them so special technologically and the personalities of each one (min. 6). David then talks about the equivalent today (min. 14), its complete analog beginnings and the memory challenge (min. 16) and closes with how the Computer History Museum acquired the notebooks. 

Although not household names, the work of Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and the other six continues to have an enormous impact on all of us every day. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.

Jan 9, 2018

The brainchild of the Packard family and built out of the enormous success that has been the Monterey Bay Aquarium, MBARI is a global leader in oceanography, with an extensive array of equipment and the leadership and R&D to back it up.

In this 35-minute podcast, Judith Connor discusses MBARI's origins and mission, the specificities and advantages of Monterey Canyon,  technological advances allowing autonomous and remote research (min. 5), climate change impacts (min. 8), international cooperation (min. 16), communicating the importance of oceans to the general public (min. 18), two of her most challenging dives (min. 26), her getaway island and descending a 20-foot ice shaft in Antartica. 

Throughout it, Judith shows both her love and respect for the ocean and demonstrates the key role that it plays, either directly or indirectly, in our lives. 

Next up - The Fairchild Notebooks with David Laws of the Computer History Museum. Those notebooks changed everything....   

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Dec 11, 2017

The Best of 2017 - 26 minutes of snippets of some of the policies, persons and personalities that defined the Soul of California this year. In the following order: 

  • UCLA's Donald Shoup on why company parking is massively unjust: 
  • Bassist Nathan East on picking up a guitar for the first time;
  • Secretary Norman Mineta on being a “non-alien” of Japanese ancestry during WWII; 
  • Mural Queen Judy Baca on “getting caught” painting on her boss’s wall with gang members; 
  • Rocker Chuck Prophet on Bobby Fuller’s legacy and California Noir; 
  • Stanford's Clayborne Carson on Martin Luther King, Jr’s most memorable speech; 
  • Betty Reid Soskin and the reaction that her park ranger uniform evokes;
  • Literary statesman T.C. Boyle on human nature and the dying off of a species; 
  • Jim Harris on the mythic ending of Route 66; 
  • Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez on what he would tell himself as a teen-ager; 
  • UC Berkeley’s Michael Dear on why walls don’t work; 
  • Biographer Earle Labor on Jack London’s farcical struggles with immediate and ultimate happiness; 
  • Writer Steven Provost on James Dean’s last meal (and speeding ticket);
  • Novelist Dana Johnson on how well-told accomplishments and not-so-well-told accomplishments make some immortal and some (undeservedly) forgotten.     

Thanks for listening to the show this year. Please don’t forget to share. After all, it’s the holiday season. Grab a cup of something hot and strong and hit the play button….

Have a good holiday and a great new year. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Nov 20, 2017

In this 38-minute podcast, Joe Lewis shares with listeners Noah Purifoy (1917-2004) the man, the social worker, the Director of the Watts Towers and pioneering arts advocate and activist. Known for his work with the vernacular, read “junk”, which started in 1965 using debris leftover from the Watts Rebellion, Purifoy worked steadily out of Los Angeles, spending the last 15 years of his life in Joshua Tree. Purifoy took debris, mixed it with the vernacular and social issues, and created unique and powerful works, reverberating far beyond the desert. 

Lewis describes the influence that the Watts Rebellion had on Purifoy (min. 2), his standout pieces (min. 4), starting of the Foundation and his “studio” (min. 9) and the role of the natural elements in composing (and decomposing) his work. Joe then continues with how it worked in a “proper” museum, surround by white walls (min. 18), special memories (min. 22), his need to go out to Joshua Tree (min. 29) and how the Foundation deals with the elements to preserve his work and legacy. 

Feted by the art world, including at LACMA, Purifoy’s art transcends what has been termed “Junk Dada” - there is something intensely relevant in our times about inequality, mass consumption and polarization.

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Nov 10, 2017

Dana Johnson talks about a different side of Los Angeles, one that is under the radar and usually on the other side of the tracks. In this 38-minute podcast, Johnson discusses the changing nature of LA and the suburbs of West Covina where she grew up, the portrayal of a different LA in film (min. 10), her writing style and schedule (min. 12), how she teaches (min. 19), her first job (min. 22), white-dominated pop culture (min. 23), who writes history and the wonderfully moving history on one Biddy Mason (min. 29). Dana closes it out with her top three picks on an island or having a coffee....

Throughout our chat, Dana challenges the status quo in the perception of minorities and provokes us to think about what white-dominated culture means to minorities, who writes it and to whom does it really belong. Class is also part of the equation - just look at the Dodgers of 1980....Garvey, Smith, Sutton, and Baker. 

Next up: Junk Dada in Joshua Tree - Noah Purifoy’s Legacy with Joe Lewis

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

Oct 26, 2017

In this 39-minute podcast, Stephen Provost (pronounced Provo), author of  Highway 99 - California’s Main Street, takes listeners down one of American's first highways. 

Stephen starts out with how California led the way in highway building and the adaption of signs and traffic safety and then moves on to the construction of the mythic Grapevine and the Ridge Route and its dangerous driving conditions, After discussing the influence of William Mulholland on California’s water (min. 8), we then cover the burgeoning roadside vernacular and its culture impact, from gas stations, to “auto courts” and to restaurants (min. 15). 

After discussing the influence of the cruising culture around Modesto, where George Lucas and Harrison Ford got their start (min. 15), we move onto street signs and arches (min. 20) and its legacy, being forced for compete with California’s other (more scenic) highways (min. 25). We close discussing the financial impact that being bypassed left (min. 29), its demographic (min. 31), as well as Stephen’s recommendations to visit places along Highway 99 (min. 34).  

Next time: Award winning novelist Dana Johnson. 

Feed you soul. Keep listening. 

 

 

 

Oct 18, 2017

In this 43-minute podcast, Earle Labor gives an extensive overview of Jack London, starting with his two mothers and two fathers and the hard life that he had as a kid (“poverty made me hustle”). Earle then discusses ultimate vs. immediate happiness and the havoc that it wreaked on his life (min. 4) and also argues that London had a substantial “seeking” drive, which took him to the ends of the earth and to the extreme (min. 10). 

We then examine his writing methods (1,000 words a day regardless), his relationship with Sinclair Lewis for plots and the influence of Carl Jung on his “primal” work. After discussing London's health and how his lifestyle impacted it (min. 25), Earle recounts the process of writing the author's biography (min.28) and the shock of opening up a safe on a cold January day in 1975 to see a neat stack of Charmian London’s diaries - all 60 of them. We then close with his reflections on the JL Scholar community (min. 36), Earle’s desert island three and whether film versions come close to the original writing (min. 38). 

All through it, Earle demonstrates his nearly 60 years of love for his career as a Jack London scholar, as a great storyteller, and comes off as one hell of a Southern gentleman.

Cast of Characters 

Parents - William Chaney - likely his biological father; John London - the "father" who reared him; Flora Wellman, his biological mother;  Flora Prentiss - the one who reared him, an African American and a former slave. 

Family - Bessie London - Jack London's first wife, with two daughters, Becky and Joan. Charmian London - Jack London's second wife. Anna Strunsky - his true love, who he did not marry.  

Next up:  Highway 99 - California’s Main Street 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

Sep 3, 2017

In this 37-minute episode, Michael Dear, author of Why Walls won’t Work, takes us through the evolution of the US-Mexico border from quaint and lacklustre demarcations to its current full-fledged military industrialisation. 

Michael talks about the rise of borderland mentalities (min. 4) slowly etched into those living in that region, the intertwined economies along the border (min. 10), its militarisation after 9/11 (min. 11), just how ineffective walls are (min. 17) and the “portfolio” of options.

We then continue discussing not only the supply of drugs, but the slow change in US government thinking that indeed there is a demand challenge (min. 23).

As part of the LA School in urban planning, Michael shares his views about the 2024 LA Olympics (min. 26), the city’s challenges around traffic (min. 28), but also that given all of those, it still works relatively well. He closes up with his favourite places in the Golden State (min. 35).

Feed you soul. Keep listening. 

 

Aug 17, 2017

In this 65-minute interview, writer Luis Rodriguez discusses his nine lives, going from being a barely pubescent gang member in East LA and the San Gabriel Valley, to being shot at, doped up and finding redemption through the arts, literature and his own writing. After all this, he sets an example to others facing the same temptations and challenges that he faced. 

Our discussion touches on how the arts saved his life and the cultural starvation facing many inner city communities (min. 2), the influence of black awareness on his thinking (min. 7), whether politicians really understand urban challenges (min. 18), decriminalisation (min. 24), and his prison experience (in a cell next to Charles Manson, min. 24). 

We then continue with how Luis became interested in writing and his own approach (min. 34), including his reading of two poems (about his mother and a sonnet about our country) from his 2016 poetry book Borrowed Bones (min. 40). He then recounts receiving the title of Poet Laureate at the Central Library in Downtown LA, which served as a refuge during his teen-age years. Luis closes with the two things that he would have told himself as a teen-ager with the benefit of 45 more years of experience (min. 56). 

From the initial question of whether he is surprised to be alive, Luis shows honesty, humility and insight, with a touch of humor.

Next up - UC Berkeley’s Michael Dear on why walls don’t work. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Jul 27, 2017

In this 39-minute podcast, Jim Harris of the Santa Monica Pier Corporation provides listeners an insight into the history and ongoings at one of the US’s most iconic structures. 

After touching on its original purpose (treating sewage), Jim and I discuss the true and not to true stories such as the Route 66 and the origins of Popeye (min. 7), and city politics and gambling ships (min. 18). We then change tack and touch on its considerable star power in troubled financial times (min.23), the tug-of-war with mulitnationals on the pier (min. 26) and weathering financial storms, 2008 and in the future. 

Next up: Luis Rodriguez - the Poet Laureate's nine lives

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Jul 14, 2017

In this episode, TC Boyle discusses the impact that humans have on their environment, citing the Channel Islands, the Galapagos of North America. We then take a tour d’horizon covering writing (min. 12), his historical fiction (min. 20), the disappointment of Hollywood for writers and his tenure as a professor (min. 22). 

We continue, referring to humans as species with The Tortilla Curtain as an example  (min. 34), grandiose huis clos experiments (min. 36) and close it up with books and technology (min. 39), escaping to a desert island, his advice to himself as a 20 year old (which he didn't follow) and his favourite place in California.

Coming up - the Santa Monica Pier, LA’s Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez, and UC Berkeley's Michael Dear on why walls don’t work. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

May 2, 2017

94 years young - Betty Reid Soskin sparkles with insight, humility and at times giddiness as to what she has been able to experience.

In this 40-minute podcast, Betty discusses moving to Oakland when Calvin Coolidge (!) was US President and tells life as she experienced it - the unpleasantness of racism in her community (including death threats) and the eventual change in her neighbourhood’s attitude. She grins with pride in recounting her work as a National Park Ranger and what she has been able to witness over the course of her long life. She equally discusses some of her most intimate moments when asked about her uniform. 

The subject of two documentary films and with a book being released next year, Betty is keeping very busy and is a role model and an inspiration to us all. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

Apr 3, 2017

As a 19-year old, Clayborne Carson went to the March on Washington, which some in the civil rights struggle deemed a  “picnic”. That aside, the March dramatically affected him, turning Clayborne into an activist, based out of Los Angeles. 

Moving from activist/journalist to a Stanford professor, Clayborne went on to publish the papers of Martin Luther King. In this 43-minute podcast, he discusses MLK’s most precious speech in his opinion and how the papers are released. Clayborne covers the struggle in the 1960s, various styles and the importance of rhetoric, but also potentially more important organization skills. He also reflects on the Black Panther movement (Huey Newton’s archives are also at Stanford) and the applicability of the 1960s struggle with Black Lives Matter.

Throughout the podcast, Clayborne is reflective, humble and dauntingly knowledgeable about the last 50 years in the struggle of African Americans.

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

 

Mar 14, 2017

Chuck Prophet’s new album “Bobby Fuller died for your sins” was just released to very solid reviews. In this 30-minute podcast, Chuck describes the album as California Noir, and discusses a few of the album’s standout tracks. He then touches upon his recording and writing style and his collaboration with the poet klipschutz and many others. 

Chuck also lays out the cultural tapestry that is San Francisco and how that culture shaped him in his formative years. Finally, he offers advice to himself as a teen-ager and closes with his desert island five (okay, three, one of which is depressingly brilliant and the other he characterises as a gateway drug, upon which the floodgates open to about 20) and wraps it up with the importance of staycations.

Honest, humble and grateful to his cohorts, Chuck Prophet delivers.

Next time: Clayborne Carson of Stanford's Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute.  

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

Mar 1, 2017

Judy Baca shares a life in the arts that began when Spanish-only speaking Baca drew and painted as a way to communicate. In the early 1970s, she worked in LA's parks with rival gangs, spearheading the first wave of mural painters in the 1970s. Since then, her work and influence went viral - inner cities awash in murals, leading to more engaged youth and offering them an alternative in the face of life's challenges. 

In this 52-minute podcast, Judy also discusses the wall project that she painted with her colleagues in a flood control channel and how the idea grew to draw far wider international acclaim. Judy also examines the role that alternative (minority) histories can play in setting the record straight and empowering those who feel marginalised. She closes with what she has learned over the years and what the Judy Baca of today would say to the Judy Baca just starting out in her professional life and her two favourite murals. 

Next episodes: SF rocker Chuck Prophet and Clayborne Carson of Stanford's MLK Research Centre. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening.  

 

 

Feb 17, 2017

In this 36-minute podcast, former Secretary of Transport Norman Mineta recounts his response to the 9/11 attacks. 

His day started innocuously enough in a meeting with the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and finished in a bunker, deep below an empty White House. It was there that he gave the orders to ground the more than 4,600 planes at that time in US airspace.    

Secretary Mineta continues with the policy changes after 9/11, particularly the role of the government in regulating security at US airports (previously in private hands) and also the role that the private sector made, whether it was GE in mass producing scanning equipment, Disney for dealing with long lines or Marriot for its hospitality. 

Upcoming podcasts include LA muralist Judy Baca, Clayborne Carson of Stanford's Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute and rocker Chuck Prophet, who just released his new album 'Bobby Fuller died for your sins'. 

Feed your soul. Keep listening. 

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