Tag Archives: “This American Life”

Racism and School Discipline

The most recent episode of the popular This American Life discussed racism in school discipline as well as rethinking school discipline generally. This story is one of the most interesting podcast I have heard in quite some time.

Here is a description from the This American Life website:

Stories of schools struggling with what to do with misbehaving kids. There’s no general agreement about what teachers should do to discipline kids. And there’s evidence that some of the most popular punishments actually may harm kids.

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This American Life: Inside the New York Fed

The most recent episode of This American Life provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the New York Federal Reserve.

Here is a description of the podcast from the TAL website:

An unprecedented look inside one of the most powerful, secretive institutions in the country. The NY Federal Reserve is supposed to monitor big banks. But when Carmen Segarra was hired, what she witnessed inside the Fed was so alarming that she got a tiny recorder and started secretly taping. ProPublica’s print version.

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PA Natural Gas and the Fracking Debate

I was reminded recently of an episode of This American Life about Pennsylvania natural gas, the hydrofracturing debate, and two PA professors’ predictions abut natural gas.  

Here is a description of the episode: 

A professor in Pennsylvania makes a calculation, to discover that his state is sitting atop a massive reserve of natural gas—enough to revolutionize how America gets its energy. But another professor in Pennsylvania does a different calculation and reaches a troubling conclusion: that getting natural gas out of the ground poses a risk to public health. Two men, two calculations, and two very different consequences. (Transcript)

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April 26, 2014 · 8:16 pm

Pedophile Support Group

This weekend, the popular This American Life podcast aired an episode entitled “Tarred and Feathered.”  It featured stories of public shame.  Particularly interesting was a story titled “Help Wanted,” which discusses a young man’s struggle with pedophilia and child pornography.  

Here is a description of the story:

 There’s one group of people that is universally tarred and feathered in the United States and most of the world. We never hear from them, because they can’t identify themselves without putting their livelihoods and reputations at risk. That group is pedophiles. It turns out lots of them desperately want help, but because it’s so hard to talk about their situation it’s almost impossible for them to find it. Reporter Luke Malone spent a year and a half talking to people in this situation, and he has this story about one of them. More of Luke Malone’s reporting on this topic will appear next month on Medium.com. (27 minutes)

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April 15, 2014 · 2:45 pm

Boston Bombing, Orlando Shootout

This American Life investigated the mysterious death of Ibragim Todashev, someone “loosely linked to the Boston Marathon bombing.”  Todashev was shot seven times by the FBI in his Florida apartment.  Allegedly, confessed to a triple, execution-style homicide and then went ballistic, requiring the FBI shoot and kill him.  Even more odd than this, the FBI has remained silent about what occurred.

Here is a description of the fascinating podcast from the This American Life podcast:

Last May, a weird story made the news: the FBI killed a guy in Florida who was loosely linked to the Boston Marathon bombings. He was shot seven times in his living room by a federal agent. What really happened? Why was the FBI even in that room with him? A reporter spent six months looking into it, and she found that the FBI was doing a bunch of things that never made the news. HerBoston Magazine story.

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March 24, 2014 · 11:32 pm

Give Directly: Evidence and Poverty Alleviation

I first heard about GiveDirectly, a charity that simply gives money to people in extremely poor villages in Africa, on an episode of This American Life several months back. GiveDirectly has challenged other charities to show that their donors that are getting their bang for their buck. 

Here is a description of that story, cleverly titled “Money for Nothing and Your Cows for Free”:

Planet Money reporters David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein went to Kenya to see the work of a charity called GiveDirectly in action. Instead of funding schools or wells or livestock, GiveDirectly has decided to just give money directly to the poor people who need it, and let them decide how to spend it. David and Jacob explain whether this method of charity works, and why some people think it’s a terrible idea. (28 minutes)  


More recently, the Freakonomics Radio Podcast discussed some of the data coming in on GiveDirectly as well as poverty alleviation more broadly.  

Here is a description of the Freakonomics show, entitled “Fighting Poverty With Actual Evidence”:

But one case study can’t definitively answer the larger question: what’s the best way to help poor people stop being poor? That’s the question we address in this new podcast. If features a discussion that Stephen Dubner recently moderated in New York City with Richard Thalerand Dean Karlan. Thaler is an economist at the University of Chicago, and a co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. (Both the British and U.S. governments now have “nudge” units, focused on using behavioral economics for policy improvements.) Karlan is a professor of economics at Yale and founder of the nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), which hosted the New York event. IPA, which Karlan founded, is trying to figure out how to best alleviate poverty. The answer, as you might expect, isn’t so simple. 


In some situations, giving money directly to poor people works well; in others, less so. IPA studied the efficacy of a cash-transfer experiment in Kenya run by the nonprofit GiveDirectly. For background, you might want to see how The Economist described the experiment, and also what NPR’s Planet Money had to say.

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December 12, 2013 · 1:36 am

The Fair Housing Act: Then and Now

Last weekend, This American Life ran a fascinating episode on housing discrimination and the history of the Fair Housing Act. 

The “Prologue” talks about the impact where children lives on their education. Here is a description: 

Ira talks to 15 year old Jada who, when she was in third grade, moved from Akron Public Schools in Ohio, to the nearby Copley-Fairlawn schools in the suburbs. After two years, Jada was kicked out by administrators who discovered that her mother was using Jada’s grandfather’s address in Copley, instead of her own in Akron. Jada says that while the schools are only a few miles apart, the difference in education was astounding.
For more information about Jada and her mother, Kelley Williams Bolar, who spent 10 days in jail because she falsified documents so she could enroll Jada and her sister in the Copley-Fairlawn schools, you can go here. (5 minutes)

Both Acts One and Two discuss the history of the Fair Housing Act and housing discrimination in New York City today. 

Act One, “Rental Gymnastics” is described as follows: 

Reporter Nancy Updike talks to a group of New York City residents about their frustrating attempts to rent an apartment. With hidden microphones, we hear landlords and supers tell the apartment hunters that there’s nothing available. But that’s not necessarily true. Forty-five years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, ProPublica reporter Nikole Hannah-Jonestalks to Nancy about the history of racial housing discrimination in the United States and what has been done — and hasn’t been done — to rectify it. (31 minutes)

Here is a description of Act II, “The Missionary“:

Once the Fair Housing Act became law in 1968, there was some question about how to implement it and enforce it. George Romney, the former Republican Governor of Michigan and newly-appointed Secretary of HUD, was a true believer in the need to make the Fair Housing Law a powerful one — a robust attempt to change the course of the nation’s racial segregation. Only problem was: President Richard Nixon didn’t necessarily see it that way. With Nikole Hannah-Jones, Nancy Updike continues the story. (16 minutes)

Nikole Hannah-Jones’s investigative series on the history and enforcement of the Fair Housing laws — with more stories, research and interviews —is here.


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November 29, 2013 · 12:45 pm

Enforcing the ADA Through Lawsuits

Recently, I was reminded of a segment on This American Life about how California enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  In California, you can sue businesses that do not comply with the ADA requirement of minimum levels of accessibility in public places. 

Here is a description of the segment, titled “The Squeaky Wheelchair Gets the Grease”: 

In California, a kind of crybaby cottage industry has popped up around, of all things, the Americans with Disabilities Act—the federal law that requires all public places to meet a minimum level of accessibility. Some people make a living by suing business owners for not being up to code. Alex MacInnis hung out with one of them. (16 minutes)

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November 21, 2013 · 5:26 pm

Confession Obsession

Last week, This American Life ran a riveting episode about confessions. The story exemplifies how cops and jurors are obsessed (to the point of irrationality) with confessions.

In the introduction, Ira interviews  Father Thomas Santa about scrupulosity—a psychological disorder similar to OCD where people obsessively confess, even things that are not immoral or sinful.

Act I (“Kim Possible”) is described as follows:

Former DC police detective Jim Trainum tells reporter Saul Elbein about how his first murder investigation went horribly wrong. He and his colleagues pinned the crime on the wrong woman, and it took 10 years and a revisit to her videotaped confession to realize how much, unbeknownst to Jim at the time, he was one of the main orchestrators of the botched confession. (28 minutes)

Here is a description of Act II (“You Don’t Say”):

A person is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. But in this story there is no false confession. Jeffrey Womack spent most of his adult life as a suspect in one of Nashville’s most notorious crimes. And for all that time — until another man was convicted of the crime — Jeffrey refused to be questioned about it. Producer Lisa Pollak tells the story. (14 minutes)

Demetria Kalodimos’ documentary Indelible: The Case Against Jeffrey Womack can be seen here.

Jeffrey Womack and his attorney John Hollins Sr. have told their story in a book called The Suspect: A Memoir. It was ghostwritten by Nashville journalist E. Thomas Wood.

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October 19, 2013 · 7:27 pm

Mendocino County Marijuana Regulation v. Federal Prohibition


A recent episode of This American Life discussed the interaction between federal law, which prohibits marijuana growing; California law, which permits it in limited circumstances; and a Mendocino County regulation that attempted to reconcile the two. 


Here is a description of the story: 


Under California law, it’s legal to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes if you have a doctor’s recommendation. A few years ago, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman was trying to find a way to deal with the proliferation of marijuana in his county. Allman wanted to spend less time dealing with growers who were growing small, legal amounts, so he could focus on other problems — including criminals who run massive marijuana farms in the Mendocino National Forest. So he came up with a plan to allow the small farmers to grow, if they registered with his office. Growers would pay for little zip-ties they could put around the base of their marijuana plants, and the cops would know to leave them alone. It saved time and generated revenue. Reporter Mary Cuddehe tells the story of how the county and the nation responded to the sheriff’s plan. (18 minutes)


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August 26, 2013 · 10:04 pm