What People Do

A moment to savor intelligent conversation about ONE THING someone else is deeply invested in.

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Tuesday Jan 24, 2023

Recently retired history professor Jeremy Black was very gracious in allowing me to interview a while back about something I was curious about: war. Black has written many, many books, and a darn big pile of them specifically about military conflicts. His historic perspective—looking at how many common narratives about why wars start and how they’re won are often wrong—was amazingly refreshing, but … we’re not here to talk war. 
We’re here to talk morality. Religion. And detective fiction. 
Black has just published two new books on Sherlock Holmes (The Game Is Afoot: The Enduring World of Sherlock Holmes; Rowman & Littlefield, 2022) and Agatha Christie (The Importance of Being Poirot; St. Augustine's Press, 2022). Any fan of either, or detective fiction in general, surely will delight in the perspective of a history-trained literary appreciator (is that a word?) of the books. I’ve read a little Arthur Conan Doyle and none at all of Christie, but talking to him for a little while inspired me to do more of both and to take seriously the visions of society, morality and theology inside the works and, for sure, inside the writers’ own intentions and lives. 

Tuesday Jan 10, 2023

Two things everywhere around us: Religion. Space.
But most people don’t bring them together.
Scientists unhappy with religion shake their head at our species’ small-minded tribal violence that bubbles up in religious conflict or old-fashioned “sky daddy” thinking. Religionists unhappy with science shake their head at scientism’s obsessive materialism and lack of answers and responses to our very human needs to understand, to be comforted, to be awed.
Now that the two strawmen/women are out of the way, most of us can acknowledge religion doesn’t end at the atmosphere, and space is as even more of a wild testimony to the universe’s wonder and the necessity of the “why?” questions that, sometimes, are best discussed and studied in the social sciences. 
Blah blah blah, from me. Let’s talk Deana Weibel, PhD (DEE-nuh WHY-bull). She’s a professor in both the Anthropology and Religious Studies departments at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. She studies sacred spaces, including sacred spaces and people’s relationships to those places. She came up to me at Spaceport America as a visiting anthropologist observing and asking questions of folks like me there, who were waiting to see if their friends’ and family members’ remains would go up on a rocket. They didn’t. She wanted to ask me a few questions about Judaism and space (I didn’t have good answers). But I snuck her my card to interview her for my podcast, because when you’re confronted with an anthropologist who studies religion and space, you want to know more. 
Cool claim to fame: Dr. Weibel wrote a paper about what she calls the ultraview effect. The Overview Effect is one name for what astronauts say they experience when they look out at Earth from above and get a new, powerful perspective on humanity and our small planet. Weibel heard another astronaut talk about an experience of fear and awe that came with looking out at the stars in the other direction, causing “a transformative sense of incomprehension and a feeling or shrinking or self-diminution.” Anyway, the Brit-rock band Kasabian recorded a song called “T.U.E. (The Ultraview Effect),” which appears on their 2022 album. And the lyrics do talk about perspective, so it sounds like song and idea are intertwined. We get into the ultraview effect, but not the song, in this podcast. 
So, settle back and let’s study the stars … or strap in, we’re going for a rocket ride … whatever metaphor you like … where does religious yearning meet with space exploration … ? 
P.S. There’s a tinny vibration in some of the audio here. Apologies. Don’t hate me. I can’t afford this genius for every podcast, alright? 

Tuesday Dec 13, 2022

Last month, we heard from academic Joel Schlosser on Herodotus, inspired by my own blog on some excerpts.
Now, a nice Redditor, Georgios from Greece who's read all of Thucydides agreed to discuss the ancient historian with me. We wander close to Thucydides and far afield, but most of all his enthusiasm, enjoyment and sense of humor about the principal characters and events from these old battles and political intrigues made our chat sparkle.
Interested in slowly reading ancient works with Georgios? Check out his Aristotle Study Group here.

Thursday Nov 17, 2022

I have started reading a new set of old excerpted classics, this one gathering writers’ bits and baubles into generally geographic volumes: Greece, Rome, the British Isles, etc. I also write about them. (I write about another set here.)
The first selection in the first volume comes from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. (You can read my thoughts here.) 
Much sharper than my own thoughts, however, are the thoughts of political theorist and Bryn Mawr professor Joel Schlosser, writer of Herodotus in the Anthropocene (The University of Chicago Press, 2020). Schlosser explores exactly what I felt reading Herodotus and what I hope anyone exploring the ancients today wants: something relevant to them now. 
In our chat, Joel answers burning questions I had about Herodotus, his own personal experience discovering the ancient historian, and, most important, what we can learn right now about how we think about the world and our place in it. 
Herodotus tried to figure out how the ancient Egyptians dug canals, built great buildings, and won and lost wars. And, most of all, why his Greek world was the way it was after the great battles between Persians and Greeks. Be just as curious as Herodotus! Listen ... 
P.S. If you’re taken by Schlosser’s observations, buy his book and enjoy, also, a few of his blog posts from the past few years as he worked on it: 
“While I imagined myself in conversation with Herodotus, wondering what he’d make of the anarchists’ message of radical equality – was it an update of Herodotean isêgoria, the equal voice he viewed as central to Athens’ flourishing? – I gazed upon the Acropolis with humbled amazement.” (link) 
“Herodotus writes for an audience. He wants us to lose ourselves in the story and then to its comedy.” (link) 
“Herodotus talks of the phoenix, which immolates itself only to be reborn from its ashes, as well as crocodiles and the special burials Egyptians give to their victims.” (link) 
“Herodotus exemplified a form of inquiry that was broad-minded and imaginative in ways Thucydides simply wasn’t.” (link) 

Tuesday Aug 30, 2022

Kit Smith is one of the most confident, stable and exuberant kindergarten teachers I've had the pleasure to work with. (We cross paths in a local synagogue's Sunday School).
She's now eyeing a well-deserved retirement from decades of educational work at a private school and her regular Sunday School gig with me.
I absolutely needed to talk to her about how she became a teacher, what teaching means to her, what her teaching philosophy is, what is most exhilarating about working with small children, and what has been the toughest part (hint: not the kids).
If you're interested in education and little kids, this is a must-listen.

Tuesday Aug 16, 2022

She’s an awesome veterinary practice manager and management consultant in her day job, but Tracy Sheffield moonlights doing local theater and getting called in for small parts that are just perfect for a horse-smart extra. 
Find out about her latest gig in an upcoming episode of Walker (find out where to watch it here), how she got started, years ago, watching Animal House get made at her mom’s workplace, and, last but not least, how she helps race horses who can’t race anymore (more about the Roses to Ribbons Old Fashioned Horse Fair). 
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Tuesday Aug 02, 2022

University of Omaha at Omaha’s Heike Langdon explains what goes into an Urban Studies concentration, what she likes best about nonprofit work, and why she was attracted to a field that touches on serious societal problems today and historically.  
She’s focused, especially, on redlining in a few large American cities as her degree’s final project. What’s red-lining? Glad you asked. And she’s studying this while she’s working at this cool place on campus that brings together multiple nonprofits under one roof. 
Let’s get learning …  

Tuesday Jul 19, 2022

Louis teaches “Industrial Tech” at North Kansas City High School. That’s exciting enough. But one of his classes—and a ton of his extracurricular student assistance—is building robots with kids there. 
The team competes under the international umbrella of the FIRST Robotics Competition. 
Louis switched from his engineering degree to a new world of teaching skills like that to kids. 
Here’s Louis’ adventure in teaching and how his kids’ robots are the same, and different, from those cool BattleBots on TV …  

Tuesday Jul 05, 2022

"If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.” Maybe that line wouldn’t work on you, but what about somebody who says they’ve found gold, uranium, oil somewhere in them thar hills? 
Retired geologist Dan Plazak (pronounced “PLAZ-ick,” not “PLAY-zack” as I figured) wrote a book on it: A Hole in the Ground With a Liar at the Top: Fraud and Deceit in the Golden Age of American Mining, an easy-to-pick up collection of swindle stories published in 2006 by University of Utah Press. 
I talk to him about his childhood interest in geology that blossomed into a career, details on some seedy tales from the book and his research, his take on fracking, and his digging into doodlebugs. Don’t know what a doodlebug is? You will when you read the next book he’s working on, but he’ll tell you in this podcast, too. (And here in the January 2021 issue of the Geophysical Society of Houston Journal on page 31.) Listen on ... 
P.S. Because of some audio problems, I had to rely only on Dan’s side of the audio, so mine is a little rough. But who cares what I say anyway? 

Tuesday Jun 21, 2022

I’ve known Hilal Dogan for years now. She first came onto my radar when I worked for a veterinary publishing and CE conference company, and she was rocking The Veterinary Confessionals Project. She was a veterinarian by this time, although she put the project together during her time in veterinary school (hear more). 
But that’s not my favorite thing about Hilal. My favorite thing about Hilal is she is a driven, goal-oriented free spirit. She is a paradox, and I love it. 
Her latest goal, just achieved? Yoga teacher certification at this Denver studio. She jumped right into it during the pandemic the instant they opened their doors, and she adjusted her life of locum tenens (fancy word for part-time) veterinarian work around this new passion. 
I love talking to Hilal. Now you get to enjoy it, too. Also, I left in our stumbling start, because I think it’s funny. 
Learn about yoga. Learn about Hilal. Think about life with us …  


What People Do: Interviews of Discovery

When COVID happened, I started talking to friends, family and acquaintances about something they did. The topics, personalities, and conversational directions go many different ways, but the important thing remains the same: We are all worth the time it takes to sit down and talk a while to each other. What would you learn if you slowed down, asked more questions, and delved into something interesting to ... someone else?

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