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

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 Passage of the measure set in place a licensing and regulation scheme and rescinded state laws criminalizing recreational marijuana use and possession.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.

A panel discussion on regional sex trafficking featuring (left to right): Zan Brookshire, Peter Qualliotine, Dan Satterberg, Robert Beiser, David Arkless, Mar Brettman, Pete Holmes, Noel Gomez and Valiant Richey.
KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

King County and Seattle are looked to as leaders in the effort to prevent sex trafficking. But according to Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg the county has over 100 websites facilitating the sale of sex.

A recent Seattle research survey conducted over a 24-hour period counted 8,700 online postings and responses concerning men seeking commercial sex. 

Author Wes Moore takes questions at an event with the American Library Association in January 2014.
Flickr Photo/ALA (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Troubled youth to Rhodes Scholar.

U.S. Army paratrooper to White House fellow.

Wall Street banker to author and television host.

That’s a brief synopsis of the life path of Wes Moore, so far. He came to fame in 2010 when his first book “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” became a New York Times best seller. 

In the post-WWII period, 40 percent of Americans were private sector union members. That number is now below 7 percent.

The reasons behind this drastic decline are hotly disputed. Union supporters say greedy corporations, helped by politicians, have worked systematically to bust the movement. Detractors say leadership corruption, improved labor laws and global competition served to make unions less relevant over time.  

American soldiers in presence of gas, 42nd division. Essey, France. September 20, 1918.
Flickr Photo/Otis Historical Archives (CC-BY-NC-ND)

To mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, University of Washington professor Robin McCabe planned a series she calls “Music from the War to End All Wars.”

The debut event includes professor Robert Stacey’s talk ,“A Gathering Storm? Artistic Crisis and the Coming of the First World War.” 

Musician and author James McBride.
Flickr Photo/American Library Association (CC-BY-NC-ND)

As you listen to this episode of Speakers Forum, keep in mind that author James McBride gave this talk without any notes. In it he riffs on his family, career, books and life in America with thoughtful, humorous and inspiring improvisation.

Walter Benjamin in 1928.
Wikimedia Commons

Walter Benjamin was a radical German philosopher and critic. In the 1920s and 30s his fascination with new technology lead him to create a series of radio broadcasts. No recordings of those broadcasts remain. We don’t even know what Benjamin sounded like, though it has been said he was a talented performer. Benjamin, who was Jewish, committed suicide in 1940 when he became trapped in his attempt to escape the Nazis.

Flickr Photo/nwlynch (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Did you know E.B. White was fired by the Seattle Times in 1923? You’ll learn about that and other curiosities in this Yuletide episode of Speakers Forum.

It features stories by White, John Updike, Ken Kesey, Vladimir Nabokov and a spoof on Clement Clark Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

Our faithful rogues included Paul Dorpat, Jean Sherrard, Randy Hoffmeyer, Marianne Owen, David Skovar and Seattle indie American band Pineola.

Timothy Clemans (left) and Seattle Police COO Mike Wagers at the hackathon, Friday, December 19, 2014.
KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

The Seattle Police Department took an unusual step Friday to address issues surrounding the release of police video recordings: They invited area tech experts to the department’s first ever hackathon.

In a 48-hour period this past October the number of states that allow same-sex marriage nearly doubled. As of this writing, thirty-five states allow same-sex couples to marry legally. Courts made that decision in twenty-four states. Legislatures made the call in another eight. And in three states, including Washington, the decision went to voters.

Marc Solomon has an extensive background in advocacy and public policy, but he wasn’t a natural pick to help lead the campaign to make same-sex marriage a reality. In his book, “Winning Marriage,” he tells the story of how a seemingly impossible goal — to win the freedom to marry for all Americans — came near reality in such a short period of time.

Protestors rally Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014 to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by police in Ferguson, Mo.Protestors rally Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014 to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by police in Ferguson, Mo.
AP Photo/Sid Hastings

Seattle attorney Jeff Robinson recently addressed a gathering at the University Of Washington School Of Law. It had been just over a week since a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

Robinson titled his talk "You Can Observe a Lot Just by Watching: The Killing of Michael Brown and the Transparent Grand Jury Investigation." 

Seattle Public Schools superintendent Larry Nyland.
Courtesy of Seattle Public Schools

The Seattle School Board voted five to two Wednesday night to clear the way for Dr. Larry Nyland to become the city’s permanent schools superintendent. Nyland grew up in Seattle and graduated from Roosevelt High School. He came out of retirement last July to serve as interim schools chief.

Just before Thanksgiving the board made public their intention to forgo a national search and offer Nyland the post. That decision has been controversial.

In June, KUOW Speakers Forum featured an event titled, “Exposing the Truth of U.S. Torture,” during which Brigadier General David R. Irvine lambasted U.S. torture practices abroad.

“If these kinds of practices were used by another nation on American serviceman, who were captives, who were prisoners of war, we as a nation would not tolerate it,” he said.

Author Ruth Ozeki.
Flickr Photo/Kris Krug (CC-BY-NC-ND)

If you’re driving a car or operating other heavy machinery when you listen to this Speakers Forum podcast, we hope you’ll pull over for the guided meditation portion. But don’t be alarmed. This talk is more likely to invigorate and inspire you than put you under a spell. And it may change forever how you react when your smart phone vibrates with some bit of news.

Thomas Jefferson memorial in Washington, D.C.
Flickr Photo/Wally Gobetz (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Time travel is a perennial fascination. Where would you go? Who would you meet? The website Ranker places Thomas Jefferson in the top ten of popular figures, just behind Winston Churchill and ahead of John Kennedy. 

Our guest in this episode of Speakers Forum is adept at a kind of time travel. Clay Jenkinson inhabited the role of President Thomas Jefferson at Town Hall Seattle on November 22. He was joined by the Saint Michael Trio for a performance of chamber music popular during Jefferson’s lifetime, including works by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, who were Jefferson’s contemporaries.

Dr. Cornel West.
Flickr Photo/J&R Music World (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Are you caught in an egocentric predicament? You’ll be asked to consider such a question in this episode of Speakers Forum.

Dr. Cornel West speaks forcefully on a wide range of subjects including the struggle for truth and justice; political discourse and dysfunction; African American religious, cultural and music history; and the impact of the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

Flickr Photo/Pedro Moura Pinheiro

A literary festival and a pub crawl combined? We have the audio to prove it. We bolted from space to space during this year’s Lit Crawl Seattle to gather as many readings as we could. 

Facebook Photo/Lit Crawl Seattle

So a poet walks into a noisy bar, starts reading her poems, and everyone falls silent and listens.

Lit Crawl Seattle was inspired by Litquake, San Francisco’s Literary Festival. The now yearly event is a one night mash-up of a literary festival and a pub crawl. Over 60 authors do their best to silence you, or rile you up, as you make your way from space to space.

Flickr Photo/Randy Stewart (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Since 2006, Ignite Seattle has given Puget Sounders the opportunity to share their insights into a topic they’re passionate about. It’s the prototype for what has become an international event.

The concept is simple. Have a great idea? Share it. The only catch? You have to do it in front of a packed auditorium, in five minutes. 

mars hill church
Flickr Photo/Mars Hill Church (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Seattle’s Mars Hill Church announced Friday that it will disband its network of churches. According to its website, each location will now become independent or close all together.

Robert Reich at the University of Iowa, Sep. 7, 2011
Wikipedia Photo

Former Clinton-era Labor Secretary Robert Reich visited Seattle recently to encourage supporters of the 15Now campaign and to try to win over skeptics.

A gun violence prevention meeting took place at Seattle City Hall on Wednesday. The event had been planned long in advance, but the recent shooting deaths at Marysville-Pilchuck High School highlight its significance. KUOW’s John O’Brien reports.

Two IAEA experts examine recovery work on top of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in April 2013.
Flickr Photo/IAEA Imagebank (CC-BY-NC-ND)

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami crippled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Physician and anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott calls into question reporting about that event and its aftermath. Her frank assessment of the people who control nuclear power: “Don’t believe anything the nuclear industry says, because they lie.”

What are the effects of the Fukushima meltdowns? In 2013, in response to concerns that media and policy makers were ignoring the impacts, a panel of scientists, engineers and policy experts met in New York to review the aftermath of the disaster. 

Public Domain

Americans honor the memory of Reverend Martin Luther King with street, school and place names, a national holiday, and a national monument.

Tavis Smiley appreciates that, but he also knows that many, if not most, Americans can’t quote more than King’s most famous line from his “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Seattle Town Hall's Facebook page

Today on Speakers Forum: poetic inspiration from your friends, neighbors and other notables.

When Town Hall Seattle opened its doors in March of 1999 ,the first gathering was a celebration of Seattle’s Favorite Poems. The event was part of a national project created and hosted by then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. 

Sean Davis' book "The Wax Bullet War."

When Sean Davis graduated from Oregon’s Sweet Home High School in 1991 he wanted to see the world. He considered joining the Peace Corps, but with no plans for college he wasn't eligible. Unhappy with his grocery store job, Davis finally did what he’d determined not to do: He joined the Army.

For eight years Davis served as an infantryman and military policeman. He traveled the world relatively unscathed and left the Army in 1999. Back home he pursued an interest in painting and tried art school for a year before dropping out. 

robot, machine, artificial intelligence, technology
Flickr Photo/Chris Devers (CC-BY-NC-ND)

On the road to a future which promises steady advances in artificial intelligence, what should we expect? What should we be wary of, or hopeful about?

Our guide this week for those questions is Blaise Agüera y Arcas, a software designer currently working on machine intelligence for Google. In his previous work as an engineer at Microsoft his focus included augmented reality, Bing Maps and Bing Mobile, wearable computing and natural user interfaces. As you’ll hear, Agüera y Arcas is insightful and philosophical about the cross sections of science and human culture in our past and future. 

Seattle's Pike Place Market.
Flickr Photo/girl_onthe_les (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Here in the Northwest we take pride in our regional seafood industry, but details about the big picture of seafood distribution may surprise or appall you. Our guest this week on Speakers Forum is Paul Greenberg, author of the book “American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.”

The U.S., which controls more ocean than any other nation, imports 91 percent of its seafood.

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