Blog: Dogs Are Just Kids With Four Legs

Last week was a lesson in child rearing. No, I did not give birth or adopt a slew of children from a Africa. My husband and I simply looked after a friend's dog.

Normally, our mid-sized mutt is pretty low key. He doesn't care if you pet him or even look in his direction. As long as you feed him, he's happy. Our friend's dog is a terrier who loves people. He wanted to spend the entire week in our lap, on our bed, or just jumping up on our knees.

Suddenly, our normally aloof dog wanted all the attention. He was constantly giving me a look that I hadn't seen since my babysitting days. It was that pleading, whiny, "It's not fair!" glare that I thought only children could muster.

Enter Friederike Range, a researcher at the University of Vienna in Austria. She recently published a study confirming that dogs really do understand fairness. Apparently, if you ask two dogs to do a trick and only reward one of them, the other feels slighted. The treat-less dog will give a cold stare, ignore you, and finally refuse to obey commands, just because they think the other dog is getting a better deal. Dogs are just like kids!

Okay, the study didn't prove that last point, but a full week of watching the dogs fight over who gets our love and attention (not to mention the 6am wake up calls) is proof enough in my book.

Listen to the NPR story here

Photo of Kudzu (our dog) and Crash Dog (our friend's terrier) racing by rorris

Redux: Loving Jon Scieszka (Rhymes with Fresca)

I used to collect children's books, back when I thought I'd go into book publishing. So on my book shelf are all the classics - Peter Rabbit, Make Way for Ducklings, Encyclopedia Brown, and collections by Richard Scarry. But alongside those classics are books by Jon Scieszka with titles like The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and Squids Will Be Squids.

I discovered Scieszka through Lane Smith (one of the best illustrators around). There is something special about Scieszka's work, which anyone -- young or old -- can tell you. He is imaginative and funny and never talks down to his audience. And for those parents or aunts or babysitters out there, his books are great for reading and rereading and rereading.

In this short piece we hear from him and others why it's no surprise that he was appointed by the Library of Congress the first National Ambassador of Young People's Literature. (And, as a side note can I say that I love that one of two selection criteria is the candidate's ability to relate to children - you go, LOC.)

From Scieszka's website:
One of the best parts of the job so far has been collecting great suggestions about what kind of Ambassador STUFF I should be getting.

Here is the list, so far:

laurel wreath/crown
bejewelled goblet
those little flags for my car
guards for my embassy
an Apache attack helicopter (my idea)
instant restaurant reservations anywhere, anytime
a fancy uniform
a Captain Crunch style admiral's hat (Dave Shannon's suggestion)
Secret Service Franking privileges (mine also)
lifetime diplomatic immunity, for anything (ditto)
a million dollars (surprisingly not mine, but very nice)
official seal
diplomatic pouch
rank above TSA officials
Ambassador underwear
championship wrestling style belt
require everyone to address me as "Your Excellency" or "Your Eminence"

Redux: Elvis Wouldn't Recognize This Las Vegas

(skip to 12:55)

Some radio pieces simply float the listener along, offering good natured insight and a nice interview or two. Others grab you by the shoulders and drag you into a world you never knew existed.

Adam Burke's "Sucked Into the Tunnels Beneath Las Vegas" is a "grabber." First, the Las Vegas we know: the whirling casino sounds and dizzying penthouse suites. Then suddenly, we're plunged into the depths of Las Vegas' underground tunnel system. Beneath storm drains and manhole covers live an unknown number of Nevada's homeless population.

There are so many creepy sonic moments in this piece - from the drip, drip of water to the echo of interviews conducted deep underground. But what makes this piece really sing is Burke's writing. Through detailed description and verbs that pull us through the piece, Burke has made radio that truly takes us somewhere and leaves us thinking when we finally resurface.

Blog: "After The Forgetting"

Dementia is one of those baffling diseases that usually involve pamphlets filled with totally unhelpful illustrations. Grandma doesn't know who you are? Open a photo album and smile. Everything will be okay.'s newest offering After The Forgetting by independent radio producer Erica Heilman goes beyond the saccharin to document what caring for someone with dementia is really like.

This piece is honest and heartbreaking, with just enough joy to keep you listening. Without any narration or sweeping generalizations, it makes the point that dementia isn't about loosing your memories or your personality, just boiling them down to their essentials.

Redux: What about the dealers?

900 auto dealerships are expected to close this year, and for everyone who hates giant gorilla balloons, that might sound like good news. It's easy to think, "Oh, there are just too many dealerships in this country." That's probably true. But what about the families that have owned dealerships for generations? What will their employees do now?

NPR takes us inside some of those dealerships to meet a few struggling owners. It's a nice piece with some interesting perspectives, but if you really want to know how it feels to lose a family auto business, dig back into The Story's archives to hear why Joseph Pfeffer's 66-year-old car dealership closed this fall.

Pfeffer's story and unfalteringly positive attitude take the credit crisis out of the realm of economic theory and into the lives of average people. It's heartbreaking and honest radio - a perfect example of how a simple, personal story can put a human face on a sweeping national problem.

Redux: Take a Bath, Wash Yourself

What would Rob do to shield his daughter from naughty song lyrics? Make up new ones, much to the dismay of former Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale. Gavin says kids deserve the real thing, but Rob is skeptical - and a little desperate to escape the cloying grip of kiddie tunes. I'm not sure Bob Marley is the answer, but anything is better than The Wiggles on repeat, right?

Blog: "A Gentleman Rambo"

When in doubt, poke some fun at yourself. And if you can incorporate some spot-on scoring and sound effects into the mix, all the better.

If you haven't checked out Phonography yet, you owe yourself some mid-day procrastination. Phonography is the brain child of independent producer and former Radio Lab intern Ryan Scammell. His most recent audio essay examines into the deep, dank world of "manly men." Don't worry, this is no Women's Studies 101 critique of masculinity. Instead Ryan delves into the personal, recalling a Thanksgiving excursion with his father and their attempt to chop down trees with manly abandon. Dressed in chinos with nary a hatchet between them, Ryan and his father aren't exactly the "gentlemen Rambo" types. Hilarity ensues.

Other Phonography highlights include the step-by-step dissection of a friend's failed relationship and a meditation on how to defy gravity with a slightly drunken Rabbi. These pieces are layered, complex and beautifully produced. You'll be glad you took the time to listen.

Redux: "No Praise, No Blame, Just So"

When independent producer Jessica Alpert arrived at the Salt Institute, she knew she wanted to do a story about contemplative sisters. She searched all over the state of Maine to find them. And what she eventually found -- and what is featured about 12:30 minutes into this episode of Day to Day -- is an unbelievably powerful story about an order in Waterville, Maine who experienced a brutal crime in 1996 and yet were still able, remarkably, to forgive the man who was responsible.

It's clear from listening that the nuns trust Jessica and completely open up about what must be difficult for them to recount. So I asked Jessica to tell me a little bit about her process for producing this story. Here is what she said:

i also made no mystery of the fact that i wanted to talk about the murders. she replied that they were indeed "a traumatized community" and that asking about the murders may limit my interview pool. i was willing to take the chance. we talked for nearly an hour and i instantly liked her. she was straightforward, gentle, calm. she told me that the community would have to discuss my proposal; they would have an answer in a few days.

when the sisters agreed, i was pretty shocked. i thought access would be quite difficult to attain. that first meeting with sister mary catherine was key. i clearly outlined my goals and explained my interest. i didn't pretend that we would avoid conflict in the interviews. five sisters ended up speaking with me.

Blog: Pull Up a Chair and Open Those Ears

This Friday, November 28, 2008, after you've eaten your turkey sandwich and put away the leftover pie, pull up a chair, set aside an hour, and talk to the people who surround you. And I mean *really* talk to them. About their lives, their past loves, their hopes and regrets. Because Friday is the first annual National Day of Listening, organized by StoryCorps along with NPR and the Library of Congress.

They've made it really easy for you, so there should be no excuses! Need help coming up with good interview questions? Check out their Great Questions List. And if you have no idea how to get started on the recording front, be sure to check out their DIY recording guide, available for download on their site.

And remember... the whole point is to have fun, to really listen without distraction, and to connect with the people you love. Spread the word!

Redux: Help Wanted: Human Disco Ball

(skip to 36:30)

Slap on some sparkles and spend a night with Jessie Sorrentos as she hangs from the ceiling, twisting and twirling for the entertainment of nightclub patrons in Portland, Maine.

Reporter Lauren Kirby brings us inside Stixx Nightclub to reveal both the artistry and the mundane reality of life as a human disco ball. This is what makes Weekend America's Weekend Shift series work so well. These intimate portraits of mail carriers, taxi drivers, and puppy photographers let us peer into the lives of ordinary people with unique outlooks on life and work.

Marketplace's Day In The Work Life series is equally entertaining. If you want to know what it's like to be a Projectionist, Opera Star, or Pro Wrestler, look for it each weekend.

Photo via flickr by ShutterBugStudio