Episode Eighteen: Coming of Age in Postwar California

Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

This summer I finally had the opportunity to sit down with my dad, Jim Parsons, to record some of the stories he’s been enchanting me with since I was a kid. Born in 1944 in San Francisco, his life story parallels the postwar transition in California, from a largely rural landscape to the more advanced technological frontier it is today. From the personal impact of the Korean and Vietnam Wars to the American Graffiti-style hot-rod cruising of the 1950s, his stories create a dreamlike picture of California during an explosive period of cultural transformation.


Episode Seventeen: Syria, Snowden, and de Blasio

Bill de Blasio, Dante de Blasio

Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

Returning from summer hiatus, the podcast picks up where we left off:  in the midst of war and political chaos. Luckily, Justin Rogers-Cooper joins me to help us understand what it all might mean. We attempt to make sense of recent posturing from the Obama administration toward Syria, and speculate about the possible motivations underlying this somewhat baffling behavior. We also try to contextualize this summer’s revelations regarding the NSA from former employee and growing folk hero Edward Snowden, before wrapping up with an update on the recent primary election in New York City and what it may signal for the post-Bloomberg era.

Episode Sixteen: Post-1970s New York City


Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

Was New York City in the 1970s and 1980s really as seedy and dangerous as the rest of America was led to believe? On this episode, we continue our exploration into New York City’s recent past, sitting down with Carlos Hiraldo and Claudia Moreno Pisano, both native New Yorkers with powerful memories and opinions about this transitional, turbulent era. Getting underneath the stereotypical media image of crack cocaine, gang violence, and graffiti-covered subways, this conversation provides a local perspective on an important, often misunderstood, time in the history of the city.

Episode Fifteen: World War II

Cobra Commander

Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

Are we still living in the shadow of the twentieth century’s Mega Event? World War II is the backdrop for a wide-ranging, often surreal, conversation about generational experiences of war, the European economy of the 1920s and, of course, Cobra Commander and Wario.  My guests, economics professor Andrew Bossie and filmmaker Robin Blotnick, share their thoughts on issues that include the legacy of World War II, the politics of playing (and loving) Call of Duty, and the future of American warfare.

Episode Fourteen: The War on Drugs

War on Drugs

Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

Since its dramatic acceleration in the 1970s, the American War on Drugs has succeeded in creating a “prison-industrial complex” that trumps some of the most brutal totalitarian systems of the twentieth century in both scope and scale. How did this happen?  How did drug policy evolve into such a potent tool for social control and mass incarceration? Justin Rogers-Cooper sits down to talk about the historical development of the modern drug war, how it has always been fought along racial and class lines, its larger context of deindustrialization and the decline of unions, and what we can expect from a system whose very existence challenges the idea of the United States as a “free and tolerant” society.

Episode Thirteen: AmericanMD


Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

In this episode, teacher and writer Hillary Miller joins me to talk about art, politics, and growing up in Brooklyn.  One of Hillary’s latest projects is the web series AmericanMD, a comedy about the American health care system, which she writes and co-produces along with a talented independent team of actors and crew. Hillary talks about her development as a writer, the challenges of independent film production, and the *almost* immediate gratification of producing art for consumption on the web.

Episode Twelve: The Sopranos and Moby Dick

Sopranos I get it

Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

What is Tony Soprano?  Who is Ahab and what’s with the whale?  And what do these cultural characters have to do with the American subconscious, the loss of direct spiritual experience, the genocide of Native Americans, and the war in Iraq?  My guest this week, literature professor Jeremey Cagle, has done a lot of thinking about these subjects, and joins me for a fascinating discussion that attempts to locate The Sopranos in relation to another towering work of American artistic weirdness, Moby Dick, and to explore how each of these works can function as mystical gateways into the psychology of a nation in constant (perhaps, epic) flux.

Episode Eleven: May Day is Labor Day

hot and crusty

Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

On a special May Day episode, I’m joined by filmmakers Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, whose latest work, The Hand That Feeds, is a documentary that showcases the extraordinary victory won by undocumented immigrant workers at the “Hot and Crusty” chain of restaurants in New York City. Our conversation touches on Rachel and Robin’s experiences at Occupy Wall Street, their development as filmmakers and activists, and the sometimes harrowing but altogether inspiring production of The Hand That Feeds.  Here’s a trailer for the film:

Episode Ten: Hipsters and Gentrification


Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

What is a hipster?  What is gentrification?  I’ll give you a hint:  only one of them is real.  In this episode, Justin Rogers-Cooper and I talk about the “hipster” stereotype as it relates to the larger social, economic, and political shifts taking place rapidly in New York City. From skinny jeans and organic food to the underlying political ugliness of Portlandia, we try to imagine a hip politics that engages across communities rather than reinforcing the uglier aspects of urban re-colonization.

Episode Nine: New York vs. Los Angeles, Round One

ny vs la

Right-click here to download an MP3 file of this episode.

A classic rivalry gets the nerd treatment as Claudia Moreno Pisano joins me to talk about the respective “fantasy spaces” of New York City and Los Angeles.  Since I was raised around L.A. and Claudia raised in Brooklyn, our earliest imaginative impressions of these cities were informed mainly by media during the 1980s, setting us up for many surprises, disappointments, and feelings of cognitive dissonance when we finally actually set foot in these cities later in life. In our first episode on this topic, we try to get to the bottom of our weird, conflicted, sometimes contentious feelings about two towering fixtures of the American imagination.