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Category archive for: Interviews

Are All Museums Sex Museums?

Tour a museum with a mathematician, and she’ll point out the angles built into the artwork, the proportions of the figures. Tour one with a painter, and she’ll fixate on techniques, brushstrokes, and palettes. No surprise, then, that when I toured the Santa Barbara Museum of Art last week with a feminist studies professor and former bondage museum curator, well, the whole place smacked of sex.
Thought museums were sedate and sterile, did you? Take the arm of Jennifer Tyburczy, assistant UCSB professor and author of the new book Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display, and you’ll discover they’re actually dirty dens of debauchery — in, like, the really good way.
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Voice to Voice with Sarah Koenig of ‘Serial’

If I had to pick five words to explain the astounding appeal of the Serial podcast and its beloved host Sarah Koenig, it would be these, uttered by Koenig earlier this season:
“That’s me, calling the Taliban.”
The most popular podcast of all time, Serial dives deep into a dramatic true story each season, untangling clues and cover-ups almost in real time, week by week. Last season, which was downloaded over 100 million times and earned a Peabody Award, was about the murder of a high school girl whose ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of the crime. This season centers on Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier who walked off his Afghanistan base in 2009 and spent five years in a Taliban prison.
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Few Smiles in ‘I Smile Back’

It’s the kind of performance you’re dying to see — but can’t bring yourself to watch.
Comedian Sarah Silverman takes a dramatic-as-a-heart-attack turn as a wealthy suburban mom devastated by anxiety and addiction in the new feel-bad movie of the season, I Smile Back.

The role’s got Oscar nod written all over it: See the actress grind on a teddy bear, sleep with strangers, snort cocaine off a bathroom floor, lie right to the face of her saintly husband — and ache with excruciating, visceral love for her still-perfect children. Silverman is 100 percent committed and compelling as Laney, the Shakespearean-tragedy-of-a-mommy so terrified of being abandoned by the people she loves that she systematically, almost willfully, destroys any reason for them to stay.
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Girl to Girl with Piper Kerman, Ex-Con

One of my Top Ten Rules for Remaining Alive is to never interrupt an ex-con mid-sentence. But damn it, I couldn’t help it. You see, after spending 13 months in federal prison for drug trafficking, Piper Kerman wrote her memoir Orange Is the New Black to expose the nation’s overcrowded and under-effective correctional system as the hot cinder-block mess that it is. And since her 2005 release, she’s been an outspoken advocate for prison reform. Frankly, who could blame her?
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A Woman Unglued

There’s a delicious moment in Sandra Tsing Loh’s new menopausal memoir when she sinks into a hot bath to read Anna Quindlen’s menopausal memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. For an instant, I believe that two of my favorite nonfiction writers are going to melt together into a smart, steamy, sisterhoody, say-what-we’re-all-thinking sort of soup.

But the soak only made Loh — divorced, sleepless, bloated, and at the frayed, thready end of her tightly wound rope — feel like “a hideous monster failure” compared to the “warm, sensible” and alcohol-abstaining Quindlen, who is still married to her high school sweetheart.

And what Loh wrote next was even better than sassy-scribe stew: “Anna Quindlen is a judgmental beeyotch masquerading as a nice person, and I hate her. I realize this puts me in the can’t-win position of attacking a clearly very nice and successful person … But if only we could see women crash around a bit more, particularly in middle age.”

Plenty of such crashing can be seen in Loh’s new book, The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones, a startlingly, refreshingly honest account of life as a modern woman being dragged — writhing and wailing — out of her forties. A writer and radio commentator who is coming to UCSB’s Campbell Hall in May, Loh describes her imperfect relationships with her lover, ailing father, adolescent daughters, and irritating therapist and her failure to cope gracefully with the weight gain, hot flashes, forgetfulness, and panic attacks of perimenopause.

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I Am Not Making This Up: I Interviewed Dave Barry

Here’s how life works: On the day you’re scheduled to interview your idol, you wake up with acute laryngitis. I mean bad. You can’t speak above a guttural whisper and the occasional deep, booming croak.

Fortunately, Dave Barry’s got enough voice for the both of us.

Perhaps the best-known columnist in America, Barry wrote a humor column for the Miami Herald for more than 20 years. It was syndicated to more than 500 newspapers and earned him a Pulitzer Prize — which is a really serious award to give a man who once wrote a column titled “Decaf Poopacino” and for whom exploding Pop-Tarts is a well-trod motif.

Known for the catchphrases “I am not making this up” and “… which is a really good name for a rock band,” Barry has an unmistakable voice; his style is recognizable even before you see the byline. When I tell him this — rather, when I squawk it at him, sounding like a phone-sex operator who is gagging on a small toad — he agrees that it’s easy to spot his work “because it has the word booger in it somewhere.”

Barry, who comes to town in January, is more than a columnist; he’s written more than 30 books, including the new novel Insane City. He’s responsible for popularizing International Talk Like a Pirate Day. And he plays guitar in a rock band with authors Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Mitch Albom — which makes him, like, the Bono of the publishing universe.

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After-School Gospel

I have a severe allergy to evangelism. Shiver-me-creepies, the very word sends me into spasms of fretful swatting punctuated by explosive shrieks of “Get ’em off me! Get ’em off!” I dislike religions that dole out piety points for saving souls, or make it their mission to convince me that I’ll wind up Satan’s scullery maid without their handy pamphlets.

Imagine my anxiety when I learned that a Christian evangelism group was recruiting young souls in our public schools. Thanks to a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, the Good News Club is allowed to operate after-school Bible study classes on tax-supported campuses in order to carry out its self-stated mission of reaching “unchurched kids” and “establishing them in Bible-believing churches.” The club operates at more than 3,500 public schools across America, including 10 in Santa Barbara.

I first learned of them in 2009 when my journalist friend Katherine Stewart noticed the club at her child’s school and wrote a cover story for The Santa Barbara Independent about the infighting its presence caused among students, parents, and school administrators. “I started getting email from parents across the country saying, ‘This came to our community, and it blew us apart,'” she told me.

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Chasing the Empty 'A'

Take out a pencil. This is a test.

Which of the following best describes parents who pick up their children from school and ask,

“Hey, how’d you do on that math test?”

  • Attentive
  • Supportive
  • Involved
  • Contributing to a high-pressure academic culture that’s hurting our kids’ health without actually helping their intellect.

Yeah, take your time on this one. It’s tricky.

I thought I knew the answer. I thought I understood how to squeeze my kids through the narrow, competitive tube of American academics. But a challenging new documentary called my assumptions into question.

Created by a frustrated mother of three, Race to Nowhere aims its cameras at our pressure-cooker of a school system, where college hopefuls scramble to build dazzling transcripts only to graduate high school burned out and, ironically, unprepared.

With a sold-out screening at the Arlington Theatre on January 9, the film is getting nationwide attention. Filmmaker Vicki Abeles, a former corporate attorney on Wall Street, made the film after her seventh grade daughter was diagnosed with school-induced stress.

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Ana Marie Cox Waxes Wonky

She’s informed. She’s omnipresent. And she once called Ann Coulter a “horse-faced tranny” on MSNBC.

“Now I kind of wish I’d said something worse,” jokes Ana Marie Cox, the Washington journalist who serves up politics with liberal seasoning and a side of snark.

The founding editor of political satire blog Wonkette, Cox now waxes wonky as a correspondent for GQ, a frequent guest on The Rachel Maddow Show, and a hardcore tweeter. A self-described nerd, Cox entertains her million-plus Twitter followers with confessions of bad ’80s hair, shout-outs to beloved indie rock bands, and links to cool politi-stuff — like her recent interview with Gov. Schwarzenegger (Ahnuld Sez Gerrymandering Is for Girly Men).

On October 15, Cox comes to town to speak at Politics, Sex & Cocktails, a benefit for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties (tickets and information).

But first, she spoke to slightly starstruck me…

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