John O'Brien

Producer, Speakers Forum

John O’Brien produces Speakers Forum at KUOW. He learned to love radio as a child waking up one summer morning to the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel.

As a teenager, he would drive the back roads of Indiana and Michigan late at night listening to vintage radio theater. The question of whether or not he had the legal right to drive then remains a mystery. Only The Shadow knows.

Inspired by a chance meeting with Noah Adams, he learned to make radio as an intern on KUOW’s The Conversation with Ross Reynolds.

John has been recording talks for Speakers Forum since 2007. Early on he learned Seattle is a Mecca for any touring speaker because Seattleites read so much, support a wide variety of venues and ask smart questions. He says that makes his job easy and always interesting.

John is a graduate of St. Johns College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ways To Connect

Michael Fertik at the 2011 World Economic Forum
Flickr Photo/World Economic Forum (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

For centuries great thinkers have tried to make sense of how to judge human character. Socrates, for instance, famously said, “The way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” The internet age throws a wicked curve ball at that seemingly simple advice.

Our speaker this week seeks to shed some light on the complex reality of the modern reputation. He compares our society to the early days of primitive humans, when everyone knew everyone else’s stories and secrets, and people lived and died according to their community standing.

Scholar Amy Kittelstrom argues that being liberal doesn't mean not being religious or spiritual.q
Flickr Photo/Madison (CC BY NC 2.0)

When we call someone liberal, do we imply that they are not religious or spiritual? Today’s speaker says we shouldn’t.

In her new book “The Religion of Democracy,” scholar Amy Kittelstrom chronicles seven liberals who influenced early American democracy and helped guide its progress -- and did so with their religious values firmly in tow.

Seattle sunrise.
Flickr Photo/Michael B. (CC BY NC ND)

It’s fair to say that dire warnings about climate change have become the new normal. Consider these recent headlines from NASA’s Climate Change Blog: "Turkish Glaciers Shrink By Half," "A Third Of Big Groundwater Basins In Distress," "It's The Final Act For Larsen B Ice Shelf," and "Longer Melt Season A Game Changer For Arctic Mammals."

So we shouldn’t expect a great punch line when our bar scenario takes place, as it did recently at Columbia City’s Royal Room. 

Former Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson, Jr. speaks during the U.S. Naval War College 2015 Current Strategy Forum in Newport, Rhode Island on June 17.
Flickr Photo/U.S. Naval War College (CC BY 2.0)

People tend to have strong opinions about Henry “Hank” Paulson. Depending on your point of view, he either saved the U.S. economy as we know it or allowed it to be brought to its knees in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

David Brooks at the 2011 TED Conference in Long Beach, California.
Flickr Photo/Vasudev Bhandarkar

Author and journalist David Brooks says that he gets paid to be a “narcissistic blowhard” and that he has to work harder than most people “to avoid a life of smug superficiality.”

As far as blowhards go, he seems fairly humble. He told NPR “the turning point in a life toward maturity is looking inside yourself and saying, 'What's the weakness that I have that leads to behavior that I'm not proud of?”

Judy Blume (right) speaks with Nancy Pearl at Town Hall Seattle in June 2015.
Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

Certain people tend to “erupt into squeals” at the prospect of an appearance by author Judy Blume. For the uninitiated, Blume’s books are among the top bestselling children’s books ever published. She has sold over 80 million books for children and young adults.

Chris Hedges at the 2012 Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia, PA
Flickr Photo/Steve Rhodes (CC-BY-NC-ND)

During his career as a journalist, Chris Hedges has seen first-hand the workings of revolution around the world. On a recent sweltering night at Town Hall Seattle he talked about the prospects for social upheaval right here in the United States.

Hedges’ latest book is “Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt.” In it he tells stories of rebels throughout history, and what it takes to stand up to powerful forces of injustice and oppression.  

Bikesharing had a big impact when it was introduced in New York City. Now that it's in Seattle, will it change transportation in the city?
Flickr Photo/Tony Webster (CC BY 2.0)

Janette Sadik-Khan is an internationally-acclaimed transportation expert. She was widely heralded for the innovations she brought to New York City when she served as its transportation commissioner.

In her quest to improve mass transit, make the city more walkable and increase bike ridership she realized “people are not going to walk or bike if they don't feel safe doing so.”

Left to right: Donald Watts and Professor Eric Davis at Naked City Brewery
Photo credit: Matt Owens

Amateur and professional sports bring out the fan, and sometimes the fanatic, in people worldwide. Athletes are modern-day gladiators. So it shouldn’t surprise us when Bellevue College professor Eric Davis says that “sports is essentially a reflection of the best of who we are and the worst of who we are.”

The StoryCorps "Finding Our Way" Event at The Gates Foundations, Seattle
KUOW Photo/Caroline Dodge

Since 2003, the StoryCorps organization has been recording and archiving conversations. Their mission is “to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives.”

Each interview is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. If you’ve heard even one of the stories, you’ve likely experienced how carefully they get to the heart of the matter.

Terrance Hayes won the National Book Award for Poetry for his volume “Lighthead” and in 2014 won a "genius grant" from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (CC-BY)

Seattle Arts & Lectures finished its most recent poetry series with a visit from multiple award-winning poet Terrance Hayes.

Fellow poet Cornelius Eady said of Hayes' work: “First you’ll marvel at his skill, his near-perfect pitch, his disarming humor, his brilliant turns of phrase. Then you’ll notice the grace, the tenderness, the unblinking truth-telling just beneath his lines, the open and generous way he takes in our world.” 

Aneesh Sheth speaks at KUOW's Storywallahs event in early May at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

The South Asian community in the United States has roots in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The community represents one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country. From 2000 to 2010 their population grew by 81 percent nationally, in Seattle the increase was 173 percent.

Flickr Photo/Seattle.roamer (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Mycologist Paul Stamets calls fungi “the soil magicians of nature.” He says they were the first organisms to come to land 1.3 billion years ago.

Stamets has spent his career searching for ways to learn from nature’s secrets to heal humans and the planet. One focus of his research is Northwest mycelium. 

Joe Wenke is a writer, activist and the founder of Trans Über, a publishing company that promotes LGBTQI community rights.

His most recent book is “The Human Agenda: Conversations about Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity.” In it Wenke and his guests tell stories of the search for shared humanity in an increasingly polarized world. Wenke argues there is no homosexual agenda, or transgender agenda, there is just the human agenda, summed up by the concept of our common and unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct sends cars streaming past Seattle's waterfront.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

Visionaries conceive of a future most of us can’t imagine. And when it comes to transportation in one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., vision is crucial.

Beyond the annoyance factors we all face as we navigate our region, there are serious questions to address. How can we plan for a sustainable transit future? What is the impact of infrastructure spending, or the lack thereof? What national and international best practices can we look to? Will technology help solve our transportation problems? And how does the way we commute affect our health and happiness?

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