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

Pacific Ocean from across the straights.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

In 1520, explorer Ferdinand Magellan called it “peaceful.” At more than 60 million square miles, the Pacific Ocean covers 30 percent of the earth’s surface -- an area larger than the landmass of all the continents combined. It is our planet’s largest and deepest ocean basin, and it has stories to tell. So, where to begin?

Author Simon Winchester sees many good starting points. His new book is “Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers.”

Professor Robert Reich at Town Hall Seattle on Oct. 19, 2015.
Flickr Photo/Al Garman (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1TeSMCu

Robert Reich says he’s often stopped by strangers at airports. People walk right up to him, forego any niceties, and get straight to the question: “What are we going to do?”

Reich says that makes him optimistic, because it’s not just liberals asking.

Gloria Steinem and Cheryl Strayed at Benaroya Hall on Nov. 8.
Courtesy of Bre LeBeuf

Gloria Steinem doesn’t like being called an icon. She sees herself as one in a tide of women who made and make change, so she doesn’t want to be put up on a pedestal.

But she is called an icon, and has come to represent the modern struggle for women’s rights and equality.

Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon, 1784, by Thomas Prichard Rossiter and Louis Rémy Mignot.
Public Domain

In 1777 Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette was a French aristocrat looking for military glory. Since the French weren’t at war, the 19-year-old crossed the Atlantic to join George Washington and other American revolutionaries in their fight with the British.

That’s where Sarah Vowell comes in.

Courtesy of Dean Forbes, Seattle University

Legendary science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin visited Seattle University recently to meet with students and read from her novel "The Lathe of Heaven." The work was chosen as the common text reading for SU freshman and transfer students this year.

Prison jail bars
Flickr Photo/Thomas Hawk (CC BY NC 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1MLz2Y5

The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world. But that’s a relatively recent development. Over the last three decades rates of incarceration in the U.S. have increased five-fold.

Currently there are about 2.2 million U.S. citizens behind bars. Race and class are major factors in who goes to prison. If current trends continue, 1 in 3 young black men will spend time behind bars. The projected rate for young white men is 1 in 22.

Courtesy of Sandbox Radio/Truman Buffett and Joe Iano
Courtesy of Sandbox Radio/Truman Buffett and Joe Iano

This week on Speakers Forum we’re presenting a chill-worthy (and very funny) episode from Sandbox Radio. It’s a first for us, and just in time for Halloween.

The Stranger calls their work “fresh, joyful and awesome.” But given the season, they’ve added a touch of “creepy” to the mix.

Richard Dawkins illustrated with Dr. Spock.
Flickr Photo/Surian Soosay (CC BY 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1PJnmEH

Richard Dawkins is a prolific author, scholar and evolutionary biologist. His most recent book,“Brief Candle In The Dark,” is a follow-up to his earlier memoir, “An Appetite For Wonder.”

In it he chronicles the second half of his life, from his Oxford days through his brilliant and controversial career.

On stage at Ignite Seattle 27
Flickr Photo/Randy Stewart (CC BY-SA 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1Pk4YSB

The Ignite series started here in Seattle in 2006 and has expanded to over 100 countries. Each Ignite event gives you the chance to talk about something that inspires you. The thing is, you only have 5 minutes to do it on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers at Town Hall Seattle.

Their motto is “enlighten us, but make it quick!”

Blaise Agüera y Arcas at The Cloud Room.
Courtesy of The Goodship Academy of Higher Education/Eileen Namanny

Seattle is a great city for lectures, and now there’s a new series to cater to “high minded” individuals who want to combine an interesting talk with a little marijuana.

Jody Hall, founder of Cupcake Royale and producer of marijuana edibles with The Goodship Company, believes our society is starving for human connection. She promotes the responsible use of marijuana as a conduit to community building.

Mona Eltahawy speaking at the Personal Democracy Forum in 2011.
Flickr Photo/personaldemocracy (CC BY SA 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1LQz9v4

Author and journalist Mona Eltahawy learned harrowing lessons about the role of women in revolution during the Arab Spring uprisings. She was physically and sexually assaulted by Egyptian riot police.

Eltahawy says she became “a proud, angry woman” because injustice demanded that of her. She calls herself an anarchist of the Emma Goldman School. She believes that shock and provocation are necessary to bring about change.

File photo: diver swimming with dolphins
Flickr Photo/Steve Jurvetson (CC BY 2.0) bit.ly/1MhxdP5

Bestselling author Susan Casey was a former competitive swimmer with extensive experience in ocean swimming. So it surprised her when she realized she had never swum with dolphins.

That changed when she unexpectedly encountered a pod of Spinner dolphins during a solo swim off Maui. Casey was so affected by the experience that she spent the next few years researching dolphins around the world. The result is her latest book, “Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins.”    

'Gassed' by American painter John Singer Sargent.
Public Domain

How can we make sense of the staggering history of loss -- loss of reason, life, and hope for the future -- represented by World War I?

In 2014 University of Washington professor Robin McCabe launched a three-part series of concerts with accompanying lectures to explore that question through music. The theme, inspired by the centenary of the start of World War I, was “Music From The War To End All Wars.” Speakers Forum aired Part I, featuring a talk by UW dean Robert Stacey, this past January.

Lady Justice, law, court
Flickr Photo/Mark Treble (CC BY NC 2.0)

"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Thomas Paine in 1789.

That sentiment begs the question: Would Jefferson recognize the United States justice system today?

Ninety-seven percent of criminal cases in the U.S. result in plea bargains that do not determine guilt or innocence. Only 3 percent go to trial by jury. 

In this Nov. 20, 2008, file photo, the execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary is shown with the witness gallery behind glass at right, in Walla Walla, Wash.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Since 1976, 1,413 people have been executed in the United States. That number rose steadily through 1999, when 98 people were executed. Last year, 35 people were put to death.

Can there be justice in the imposition of capital punishment? Humanities Washington hosted a deeper discussion of issues surrounding the death penalty at The Royal Room in Columbia City on May 27, 2015.

Penguin Random House

It's the time of year when many of us look to relax with a good book in a pleasant spot, away from the usual chatter of life, a time when Town Hall takes a month off for goodness sake, for a well-earned break and to avoid overheating its guests. It's usually not a time we're thinking about death.

Todd Quinn carries one of his surviving goats Saturday after a wildfire swept through his ranch the night before.
The Seattle Times/Sy Bean

Sy Bean is a 23-year-old photojournalist working as an intern for The Seattle Times. Some of his recent photos of the fires in Washington have been featured on the front page. One in particular, of Chelan-area resident Todd Quinn, stood out to him. Sy shared this story of how it came about.

Lovincer from Uganda works managing her fresh banana business to support her family.
Facebook Photo/Kiva

Jessica Jackley was a liberal arts major who stumbled her way into the Stanford MBA program.

Philosophy and business came together for her in 2005 when she helped start Kiva, the world’s first person- to-person microlending website. Kiva facilitates lending to poor and underserved entrepreneurs and students in 83 countries.

Bernie Sanders supporters packed UW's Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015 to hear him speak.
Flickr Photo/Hollywata (CC BY ND 2.0)

Senator Bernie Sanders has been storming the country to raise interest in his populist-themed presidential campaign.

He hit a potential hurdle in Seattle when Black Lives Matter activists blocked him from speaking at a rally in Westlake Park, but later that same day Sanders appeared before the largest crowd he had yet addressed of approximately 15,000 people at the University of Washington. 

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.”

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