Fresh Air

Weekdays 3-4 p.m., rebroadcast 9-10 p.m.
  • Hosted by Terry Gross

Fresh Air opens the window on contemporary arts and issues with guests from worlds as diverse as literature and economics. Terry Gross hosts this multi-award-winning daily interview and features program. The veteran public radio interviewer is known for her extraordinary ability to engage guests of all dispositions. Every weekday she delights intelligent and curious listeners with revelations on contemporary societal concerns.

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Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

If the detective was the defining pop hero of the 20th century, in the 21st, it's the hacker. From The Matrix to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — not to mention Julian Assange and Edward Snowden — hackers have become inescapable.

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My grandmother worked all her life cleaning houses and offices, so it's hard for me to resist a short story collection called A Manual for Cleaning Women. Cleaning ladies are rare characters in literary fiction; so, too, are clerical workers, hospital staff and switchboard operators, but they populate Lucia Berlin's stories because Berlin herself held those kinds of jobs. In addition, she was a divorced mother of four and an alcoholic. Unlike cleaning ladies, divorcees and alcoholics are a dime a dozen in fiction, but Berlin puts her own jagged imprint on their tales.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

The documentary Meru charts the attempts of a trio of American climbers to be the first to scale Meru Peak, a 21,000-foot Himalayan mountain that begins near the headwaters of the Ganges River in India.

It's the sort of movie that's frequently called "inspiring" for its depiction of humans testing themselves physically, emotionally and perhaps even spiritually against the elements, and I get that. But I wasn't inspired. I was nearly out of my mind with terror.

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This is FRESH AIR. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has reviews of two very different new TV projects, IFC's "Documentary Now!" which premieres tonight, and AMC's "Fear The Walking Dead," which begins Sunday.

From Rosie, the Jetsons' robot maid, to Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg in The Terminator, popular culture has frequently conceived of robots as having a humanlike form, complete with "eyes" and mechanical limbs. But tech reporter John Markoff says that robots don't always have a physical presence.

"I have a very broad definition of what a robot is," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "A robot can be ... a machine that can walk around, or it can be software that is a personal assistant, something like Siri or Cortana or Google Now."

Though Larry Wilmore had always hoped to be a performer, his early career was as a comedy writer. He wrote for shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Color, and he created The Bernie Mac Show. He moved in front of the camera as The Daily Show's "senior black correspondent" in 2006. So when Stephen Colbert ended The Colbert Report last year, Comedy Central tapped Wilmore to host the replacement show.

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The star of the film Grandma and the Netflix series Grace and Frankie married her partner of 42 years, Jane Wagner, in 2013. She spoke with Fresh Air about being more open about her sexuality.

"I've been out for ... 10 or 11 or 12 years or something. I mean, finally somebody printed it. ... [If asked about her sexuality during a 1989 interview with Terry Gross] I probably would have said something like, um ... 'yes, I am.' I couldn't have lied — it would have been too diminishing to lie."

After the Republicans held their lively first debate, you heard people saying what they always say nowadays — that our media-driven political discourse has become shallow and petty, even clownish. Hearing this, an innocent young person might believe that, not so long ago, America was a latter-day Athens in which political arguments were magnificent in their purity and eloquence.

Since coming out as a lesbian in 1980 at the age of 19, graphic novelist Alison Bechdel has made it a point to be open about her sexuality. It was a decision she made consciously as a reaction to her father, who was gay and closeted, and who died four months after Bechdel came out.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

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By now, viewers know what to expect from a David Simon drama. You expect an intense study of a precise location, as with Baltimore in The Wire and New Orleans in Treme. You expect flawed, fascinating and unforgettable characters — like Omar in The Wire, just to name one. And you expect the story to raise issues, especially about race and politics, that are unfortunately relevant to today.

Graphic artist and professor Phoebe Gloeckner had an unconventional upbringing. When she was 15, she lost her virginity to an older man — who also happened to be her mother's boyfriend. Gloeckner chronicled the experience in her teenage diaries, which she put aside and then revisited when she found them decades later.

"I remember I opened the box with the diaries and I was just stunned to start reading," Gloeckner tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "To hear this child's voice, kind of, talking to me as an adult, it felt like it was crying out to be heard."

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL")

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Some 30,000 African elephants die each year as a result of poaching, and many of their ivory tusks wind up hundreds or thousands of miles away. Investigative journalist Bryan Christy wanted to track the route of the poached tusks, so he commissioned a taxidermist to create two fake ivory tusks, which he embedded with specially designed tracking devices.

"These tusks ... operate really like additional investigators, like members of our team, and almost like a robocop," Christy tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Lots of us are afraid to confront the things lurking in our basements. In mine, it's the spider crickets; in Denise Inge's, it was the bones, piles of human bones that reached almost to the ceiling of the stone cellar beneath her house.

With almost all the music you'd ever want to listen to available online digitally, the obsessive hunt for scratchy, fragile 78 RPM records may seem anachronistic. But author Amanda Petrusich says that those early records, which hold between two and three minutes of music per side, showcase the sound and spontaneity of a time before second takes were common in record studios.

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Fifty years ago, the Voting Rights Act outlawed literacy tests and other measures that had prevented African-Americans from voting. After its passage, Congress amended the act four times to increase its scope.

But in 2013, a Supreme Court decision blocked the act's enforcement provision, which opened the door for states to pass new voting restrictions. Journalist Ari Berman says that many of the new restrictions discriminate against poor people, young people and people of color.

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