The Spiritual Music of Hawaii

Even given its colonial past and present day kitsch, Hawaii remains both an earthly paradise and a place of natural numinous power.  This is evident in its variety of spiritual musical idioms. Here is a taste of some of them,culled from a Smithsonian Festival a few years back.  Aloha!


Posted in Americana, Arts, History, Immigrants and Ethnic Life, Music, Religion, Spirituality

Profile: Jules Feiffer

From his “Sick, Sick, Sick” book to the Village Voice, the Phantom Tollbooth, biting political satire  and beyond, Jules Feiffer is known for his beautiful simple lines that bring often neurotic characters to life in both funny and heartbreakingly human ways. Here we get a taste of this American treasure in his own words, and learn just who that dancer girl is/was in real life.  (I know I certainly had a crush on her, and I’m sure I was not alone.)


Posted in Americana, Arts, New York, Profile

The Genocidal Mentality: Why Good People Do Horrible Things

Not everyone who participates in genocide is a through-and-through evil person.  Yet there is something in us, which, given the right circumstances and psychological wounds, can erupt into murderousness on a vast social scale. Such was the case in Nazi Germany, for example, and such was certainly the case in Rwanda in 1994, when over a million Hutus rose up and murdered their countrymen.  How can someone order people to be burned alive in ovens, then go home and water his flowers and tell bedtime stories to his children?  This long form doc examines the psychology of the genocidal mentality through the eyes of psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton (author of the “The Nazi Doctors”) and others.


Posted in Uncategorized

Grieving Vets Remember Their War

For many Americans, Veterans Day means merely a long weekend of relaxation or a parade of patriotic display and brouhaha.   But for many of the veterans who fought and killed in war, the psychological wounds engendered by the carnage continues long after the guns have gone silent. I asked a group of everyday vets, many homeless, most with PTSD, to remember their war experiences, and to talk honestly about the toll war continues to take on them and those around them.

Elsewhere on this blog, see also my Memorial Day story in which veterans remember the fallen comrades in arms in all their human particularity.


Posted in Americana, History, Holidays-Season Specific, Oral History-oid

The Status of Women in Israel

Due to religion, socialism, the Zionist ideal, the militarization of the society, Western feminism, Arab culture and many other factors, Israeli women have complex competing factors that inform their self-image and their social roles.  This is a half hour documentary I did for National Public Radio back in the 1990s that is still relevant today.


Posted in History, Immigrants and Ethnic Life, Long form docs (15" and up), Religion, Spirituality, Travel outside the USA, Women

Gary, West Virginia: A Coal Town Flickers Out

At its peak, the town of Gary was completely alive with the sound of coal mining, lunchtime whistles, and the ethnic music that its immigrant laborers made during their rare off hours.  US Steel had built the town, and the workers were proud to be there, albeit under very difficult, even backbreaking and dangerous conditions. All that changed in the late 1980s, when the company closed the mines because Central American coal was cheaper to mine and ship. When I visited the town, there was 95 percent unemployment and wolves were roaming the streets because the town could no longer afford the streetlight electricity.

This is the first piece I did for “All Things Considered” and I was very proud when it was broadcast.

See also my story about Gary’s early 20th century ethnic life, and my many other stories about Appalachian mountain culture.


Posted in Americana, Health, History

Karme Choling Tibetan Buddhist Community in Vermont

Tibetan Buddhism has changed and blossomed in the American context.  Nowhere has it taken deeper root than in the Karme Choling (Tail of the Tiger) center in Barnet Vermont, in the heart of the Green Mountains. This is not a monastery; men and women live together, cook together, make drama together and walk a path toward enlightenment together.  This long form doc explores this community and the Buddhist and all-to-human-experience this pressure cooker brings alive.


Posted in Americana, Buddhism, Long form docs (15" and up), Religion, Spirituality

The Doo Wop Revival

Oyez oyez ooh bop she-bop ooh bop she BAM! Doo wop was a great musical form that teens loved and parents often detested. In any case. its melodiousness has resurfaced big time on the revival circuit. This story here is one from one I attended at a cheesy (grand) venue in Atlantic City.


Posted in Americana, History, Music, New York

“All-Seeing Eye of God” Goes from Blue to Brown

The Eye is also in the eye of the beholder. When Saint Jerome’s, a church in the South Bronx, was constructed at the turn of the 20th century, it was built by immigrant artisans, mostly from Ireland and Italy, where the human eyes were often blue. So of course, they imagined the All-Seeing Eye of God as blue also, and that’s just how they painted the giant Eye-of-God mural on their church ceiling. Now the neighborhood has changed, and almost all the services are in Spanish for the brown-eyed Mexicans who now live there. It came to be time to restore the mural, and so now God’s Eye is brown. This is the story.


Posted in Immigrants and Ethnic Life, Religion, Spirituality

Black Mountain Kentucky and Mountaintop Strip Mining

The Kentucky coal region is a tough area with its own culture, its own natural beauty, and its endless seams of coal, many of which lie underneath the ground on mountains, rather than below ground.  Many mining companies have taken to shaving off the top of the mountains, but the slag and the unsightliness and pollution caused by the work.  On the other hand, the mountains of Appalachia are both remote and impoverished, and this strip mining produces a lot of jobs.  In this story (which actually won a prize) examines the conflict in the abstract, but always lets the emotion and the human reality of the ongoing difficulties tell the tale.


Posted in Uncategorized
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