John O'Brien | KUOW News and Information

John O'Brien

Producer, Speakers Forum

Year started with KUOW: 2006

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

technology computer keyboard
Flicker Photo/Leslee Lazar (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Here in the internet age we might wonder, are democratic ideals and technological innovations compatible?

Most of us leave a wide digital trail in the wake of our day to day activities. Organizations and governmental agencies have a keen interest in following where that trail leads.

This episode of Speakers Forum explores how surveillance and newly-emerging technologies affect our civil liberties and shape our lives.

Jimmy Hoff and Robert 'Bobby' Kennedy.
Wikipedia

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, labor leader Jimmy Hoffa was heard to say, “Bobby Kennedy is just another lawyer now.”

The animosity between Hoffa and the Kennedys dated to a famous 1957 Senate investigation, the so-called Rackets Committee, led by Robert Kennedy. That very public hearing began a lifelong feud between two powerful and dedicated adversaries.

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 Foundation, 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?

Poet Claudia Rankine (center) speaks with moderator Eric Liu (left) and playwright, Robert Schenkkan at the Citizen University National Confernence at the Seattle Center in March.
Alabastro Photography

What do you do in moments when race enters the room? That's just one of the topics that poet Claudia Rankine delved into during the annual Citizen University National Conference. 

The conference brings together community leaders, artists and activists to discuss the art and practice of citizenship. The organization's motto is “Let’s Do Democracy!”

Labor organizer Ai-Jen Poo says the U.S. doesn't have a plan for its elderly.
Flickr Photo/Elliot Margolies (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The annual Citizen University conference brings together community leaders, artists and activists to discuss the art and practice of citizenship. Their motto is “Let’s Do Democracy!”

The gathering evolved out of the work of the Guiding Lights Network, founded by author and educator Eric Liu in 2005. The theme this year was Citizen Power Now. To that end, participants focused on best practices for problem solving in a climate of political polarization.

Labor organizer Ai-jen Poo gave the keynote address, “The Future of Elder Care.”

An Orca performs at a SeaWorld location in 2008.
Flickr Photo/Jeff Kraus (CC-BY-NC-ND)

John Hargrove was an orca trainer for 14 years, mainly at SeaWorld. Shortly after quitting the company he gained attention for his part in the documentary "Blackfish." The film chronicles conditions at SeaWorld theme parks and the death of Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer killed by an orca in 2010.

Dr. Jill Tarter, 2009 TED prizewinner, at the Allen Telescope Array
Flickr Photo/TED Conference (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Recent astronomical discoveries make this an especially exciting time to ponder the potential for life on other planets. Throughout her career Dr. Jill Cornell Tarter has sought to illuminate that inquiry.

Tarter is an American astronomer and the former director of the Center for SETI  Research in Mountain View, California. SETI refers to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. 

Patton Oswalt
Flickr Photo/Jason Carlin (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Patton Oswalt is an American writer, actor and comedian. You may have read one of his books, seen him on film or television, heard him as the voice of Remy in the movie "Ratatouille" or become one of his millions of followers on Twitter. The L.A. Times called him “the dean of nerd comics.”

On this episode of Speakers Forum, Oswalt reads from his new book "Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film." He calls it “the dorkiest addiction memoir ever.” 

Seattle Arts and Lectures presented this event featuring Oswalt at Town Hall Seattle on Jan. 31. He was joined on stage by George Meyer, a producer and writer for The Simpsons. Thanks to Jennie Cecil Moore for this recording. 

Author Bruce Schneier.
Flickr Photo/Berkman Center for Internet & Society (CC-BY-NC-ND)

We live in a brave new digital world, and there’s much to appreciate about that. It’s efficient. It’s fun. It’s convenient. But what are we giving up when corporations and governments follow our whereabouts, buying habits, interests and orientations? What privacies do we trade away for the convenience of having a phone, a computer and a credit card?

Bruce Schneier is a cryptographer, privacy specialist and the author of “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.”

He spoke about his book and his views on what he calls “the golden age of surveillance” at Town Hall Seattle on March 9. Thanks to Anna Tatistcheff for our recording. 

Emcee Scott Berkun at Ignite 26 on Feb. 18, 2015, at Seattle's Town Hall.
Flickr Photo/Randy Stewart (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The Ignite series started here in Seattle in 2006, but has expanded to over 100 countries. Each Ignite event gives you the chance to talk about something that inspires you.

What’s the catch? You have to do it in five minutes on the stage at a packed Town Hall. Their motto is: “Enlighten us, but make it quick!”

Musician Kim Gordon at La Route du Rock 2007
Flickr Photo/Guillaume (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Seattleites turned out in force recently to hear from and ask questions of alt-rock deity Kim Gordon. Gordon is a musician, artist, record producer and one of the founders of the band Sonic Youth.

Inspired by post-punk, avant-garde and no wave bands of the 1970s, Sonic Youth created an unconventional sound marked by dissonance, feedback and alternate tunings that helped change how rock was defined.

Our guest on this episode of Speakers Forum is David J. Morris, a war correspondent, former Marine and PTSD sufferer.

Morris served as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps in the 1990s, but did not see combat then. He went on to work as an embedded journalist in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004 he was nearly killed when a Humvee he was riding in hit an IED.

The cast of "Letters to the Editor": Shellie Shulkin, David Bestock, Molli Corcoran, Andrew Litzky, Laura Ferri and Carl  Shutoff.
KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

The Jewish Transcript newspaper, now known as The Jewish Sound, first went to print in Seattle in March 1924. Its founder, Herman Horowitz, said he felt a duty to the Jewish community of the Northwest to provide a forum for “their ideas, aspirations and principles." 

To mark the publication’s 90th anniversary, the editors of The Jewish Sound approached Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre about a collaboration. 

Dr. Atul Gawande
Flickr Photo/Center for American Progress (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The United States is experiencing a pendulum swing in end-of-life care.

In 1945 the average American died at home. By the late 1990s, 83 percent were dying in institutions. Now in recent years, 45 percent are dying with hospice care.

Left to right: Bob Ferguson, Pete Holmes, Joni Balter and Larry Hubbell at a marijuana forum at Seattle University.
Courtesy of Danielle Potter

In 2012 Washington voters’ approved Initiative 502. Passage of the measure set in place a licensing and regulation scheme and rescinded state laws criminalizing recreational marijuana use and possession. It legalized the production, sale and taxation of small amounts of marijuana-related products for adults 21 and over.

Islamic scholar David Fenner, Zaki Abdelhamid of Humanities Washington and editorial cartoonist Milt Priggee at a Think & Drink discussion concerning the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January.
Courtesy of David Haldeman

Just over a month ago, on the morning of Jan. 7, two men stormed the offices of the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people.

In quick response, much of the world condemned the attack as a senseless act of terrorism. Within a day the slogan "Je Suis Charlie" became a widespread symbol of freedom of expression against radical extremism.

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