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What on Earth is Going on?

News & Politics Podcasts

Your weekly podcast for a world in flux. Globalization and climate change. The rise of social media and the decline and fall of Blockbuster Video. AI and VR. Donald Trump and Flat Earthers. The world is changing so fast that we can't get a grip on how we got here, let alone where we're headed. Join Ben Charland as he peels back the headlines to ask, what are the events, characters, forces and ideas that shape the human story today? Have things always been this nuts, or are they getting crazier by the day? Who were those barbarians that took down the Blockbuster Empire? Just what on Earth is going on?




Your weekly podcast for a world in flux. Globalization and climate change. The rise of social media and the decline and fall of Blockbuster Video. AI and VR. Donald Trump and Flat Earthers. The world is changing so fast that we can't get a grip on how we got here, let alone where we're headed. Join Ben Charland as he peels back the headlines to ask, what are the events, characters, forces and ideas that shape the human story today? Have things always been this nuts, or are they getting crazier by the day? Who were those barbarians that took down the Blockbuster Empire? Just what on Earth is going on?








...with the new novel, Seven by Farzana Doctor (Ep. 101)

Farzana Doctor's new novel, Seven, juggles family, history, culture, and the incredible weight of those forces on women today. It's a detective story and travel novel, and a powerful insight into a woman struggling with sex, identity, her past, and her vast network of relatives. But the overarching issue throughout the book is female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice still common around the world. Farzana joins Ben to talk about the book, FGM, her writing process, and much more. About the Guest Farzana Doctor is a writer, activist, and psychotherapist. Her ancestry is Indian, and she was born in Zambia while her family was based there for five years, before immigrating to Canada in 1971. She became interested in community organizing as a teen (primarily environmental issues, gender violence and LGBTTTIQ rights). From 2009-18, she curated the Brockton Writers Series and has been a volunteer with The Writers’ Union of Canada and the Writers’ Trust. She currently volunteers with WeSpeakOut, a global group that is working to ban female genital cutting in her Dawoodi Bohra community. She studied social work in the early nineties and has been a social worker ever since. She worked in a variety of community agencies and a hospital before starting part-time private practice, where she sees individuals and couples. She has been writing all of her life but it became a more regular practice around 2000, when she began writing her first novel, Stealing Nasreen, which was published by Inanna in 2007. Her second novel, Six Metres of Pavement, won a 2012 Lambda Literary Award and was short-listed for the 2012 Toronto Book Award. In 2017 it was voted the One Book One Brampton 2017 winner. Her third novel, All Inclusive was a Kobo 2015 and National Post Best Book of the Year. While all her books are distinct from one another, some common themes include loss, relationships, community, healing, racism, LGBT rights, diasporic identity and feminism. She seamlessly blends strong stories with social justice issues. Her genre so far has been contemporary literary fiction, but here is usually a hint of magic realism in her stories. She's just completed a novel, Seven (August 2020, Dundurn), and a poetry collection. You Still Look the Same. She is currently at work on a YA novel. Farzana was recently named one of CBC Books’ “100 Writers in Canada You Need To Know Now". She is represented by Rachel Letofsky of CookeMcDermid. She’s an amateur Tarot card reader and has a love of spirituality, energy psychology, hypnosis and neuroscience. She lives with her partner and dog near the lake in Etobicoke, the traditional territory of the Haudenosauneega, Anishinabek and Huron-Wendat peoples. Mentioned in this Episode Read this WHO fact sheetDawoodi Bohra communityDear MaasiHussonally Abdoolally Nasirudin DholkawallaMullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Daudi BohrasMeghan Markle Escaping the Crown The Quote of the Week We are human beings. We make the traditions so we should have the right to change those traditions. - Malala Yousafzai


...after 99 Episodes (Ep. 100)

It's been over two years since host Ben Charland kicked off this podcast in a basement in Kingston, Ontario. After nearly 100 fascinating conversations about everything from the mafia to the water supply, from science to philosophy, we're revisiting some of the best moments. Author, science broadcaster and previous guest Ziya Tong (Episode 85) interviews Ben with questions from listeners about what on earth is going on behind the scenes. Enjoy this very special centennial episode! About the Guest Host Award-winning host Ziya Tong has been sharing her passion for science, nature and technology for almost two decades. Best known as the co-host of Daily Planet, Discovery Canada’s flagship science program, she brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm to the stage. Tong speaks on leadership, how to shift perspective, and the role of science and technology in society in her riveting and eye-opening talks. Before co-hosting Daily Planet, Tong served as host and field producer for PBS’ national primetime series, Wired Science, produced in conjunction with Wired magazine. In Canada, Tong hosted CBC’s Emmy-nominated series ZeD, a pioneer of open source television, for which she was nominated for a Gemini Viewer’s Choice Award. Tong also served as host, writer, and director for the Canadian science series, The Leading Edge and as a correspondent for NOVA scienceNOW alongside Neil deGrasse Tyson on PBS. In the spring of 2019, she participated in CBC’s annual “battle of the books.” After a national four-day debate, she won Canada Reads. In May 2019, Tong released her bestselling book The Reality Bubble. Called “ground-breaking” and “wonder-filled”, the book has been compared to The Matrix. It takes readers on a journey through the hidden things that shape our lives in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways. Tong received her Masters degree in communications from McGill University, where she graduated on the Dean’s Honour List. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the World Wildlife Fund and is the founder of Black Sheep. Learn more about Ziya or follow her on Twitter (@ziyatong). Mentioned in this Conversation Episode 85: The Reality Bubble with Ziya TongEpisode 1: Populism with Keith BantingEpisode 52: Science with Bob McDonaldEpisode 56: Men and Gender Equality with Michael KaufmanEpisode 38: The Mafia with Antonio NicasoEpisode 93: Politics and its Future with Kent HehrEpisode 2: The Digital Age with Carlos PradoEpisode 25: Water with Pascale ChampagneEpisode 52: Science with Bob McDonaldEpisode 42: Live Performance in the Digital Age with Colleen Renihan, Craig Walker and Michael WheelerEpisode 66: Acting and Storytelling with Andy CurtisJake AdelsteinEric HobsbawmThe Ezra Klein ShowIn Our Time


...with Changing Cities (Ep. 99)

The one thing that doesn't change about cities is the fact that they are constantly changing. Most people now live in cities, transforming them with their consumer behaviour, their culture, their ideas and their advocacy. City planners have to balance the natural development of these vast social organisms with complex, long-term plans. How do they do it? Ben chats with veteran urban planner Teresa Goldstein. . Follow Teresa on Twitter (@teresagoldstein). Mentioned in this Episode The People's Republic of Walmart: How the World's Biggest Corporations are Laying the Foundation for SocialismEpisode 45 of this podcastWhere Libraries are the Tourist AttractionsNew York TimesArticle in the Guardian The Quote of the Week By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities. - Socrates


...with Creativity, Music and Politics during COVID-19 (Ep. 98)

The coronavirus pandemic is altering our lives in ways we cannot yet comprehend, and in decades we will marvel at this transformative time. COVID-19 is not just accelerating trends that were in place beforehand, but it is creating new realities. How are artists coping? How about our politics and ideologies? Alex Green's podcast, Stereo Embers, addresses the current creative moment of the artist. He joins Ben remotely from San Francisco for a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation. About the Guest A native of California, Alex Green is the author of four books: The Heart Goes Boom (Wrecking Ball, UK), Emergency Anthems (Brooklyn Arts Press), Let The West Coast Be Settled (Tall Lighthouse) and The Stone Roses (Bloomsbury Academic). Alex is a known live moderator, interviewing authors, musicians and artists for the Bay Area Book Festival, LitQuake, A Great Good Place For Books and Green Apple Books. Over the course of his career, he's interviewed David Bowie, Maira Kalman, R.E.M., Kristin Hersh, Joshua Mohr, Stephan Pastis, Sherman Alexie, Janice Cooke Newman, and Alison Moyet. ​ He's the host of Stereo Embers: The Podcast, a weekly long-form interview program that focuses on the creative life and the artist's commitment to their craft. The program is already one of the fastest growing podcasts on iTunes. ​ Alex is also the host of the weekly radio show "The Heart Goes Boom," which focuses on new music coming out of the UK and beyond. ​ Alex is the Editor of the daily entertainment site Stereo Embers Magazine (www.stereoembersmagazine.com) and he currently teaches in the English Department at St. Mary's College of California. Learn more about Alex or follow him on Twitter (@EMBERSEDITOR). Mentioned in this Conversation Whiskey Sour Happy Hour featuring Ed HelmsFor Emma, Forever AgoStudio Notes on Your Rom-Com, for the Coronavirus EraNew YorkerDuneThe Coddling of the American MindGuyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become MenEpisode 26 of this podcastAmerican Idiot The Quote of the Week "He was trapped in a haircut he no longer believed in." - Billy Bragg


...with Kingston WritersFest (Ep. 97)

What makes a book interesting? Beautiful? Provocative? Necessary? Is reading still the best way to get a message across and tell a good story, and how is it changing in our world today? The Kingston WritersFest is one of Canada's premiere literary events, drawing headline international authors as well as big crowds from the bookish Ontario city. Ben chats with the festival's artistic director and alumnus of the podcast, Barbara Bell, about writing, reading, and what goes on in between. About the Guest Barbara Bell is the Artistic Director of Kingston WritersFest. She has extensive experience in programming, management, and event planning and production, including several years as Events Coordinator with Chapters Bookstore. She has produced numerous stage plays, several independent short films, including the award-winning Digging Up Plato, and a feature film. Barbara is also an award-winning actor and playwright and a freelance editor, and for two seasons programmed, produced, and hosted a monthly television book club – Page Turners – for TVCogeco in Kingston. Barbara sits on the Community Arts Advisory Committee for the City of Kingston, as well as on the Arts Advocacy Committee of Kingston Arts Council. Learn more about Barbara. Mentioned in this Episode William CliffordProtestant ReformationThirty Years WarThomas EdisonSmall Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun ClubThe DifferenceTragedy of the CommonsGreta ThunbergThe Lymond ChroniclesA Song of Ice and FireGame of Thrones My Year of Living Spiritually: One Woman’s Secular Search for a More Soulful LifeEnder's GameEurope: A HistoryThe BorrowersThe Chronicles of Narnia The Lord of the Rings Harry the Dirty Dog Enid Blyton The Quote of the Week “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” George R.R. Martin


...with Disability (Ep. 96)

We will all encounter disability in our lives, either ourselves or someone we know and love. What is our responsibility when that happens? What role should the greater community play to provide care and support? What about government, public policy, and spending? What's changing when it comes to disability and how we care for those who truly need it, and why is this important? Ben has an enlightening conversation with Helen Ries, an Ottawa-based advocate with a powerful story of her and her brother Paul. About the Guest Helen is a strategic thinker and analyst with expertise in stakeholder engagement, planning and program evaluation. Helen uses research to explore issues, develop practices and make changes in a way that is systematic and evidence-based. Helen has a special interest in working with people, groups and organizations who are helping to improve the well-being of under-represented, excluded or vulnerable populations. Helen has been in the non-profit and public sector since 2003 creating and evaluating programs, establishing performance measures, creating plans and strategy, analyzing and revising policy, and supporting people and organizations to build their capacity and effectiveness for better outcomes. Learn more about Helen and follow her on Twitter (@helenries). Mentioned in this Episode Episode 46 of this podcastOttawa Adult Autism InitiativeWhat I Never Knew About My MotherThe Sibling CollaborativeDisability, Poverty and #MeTooMemory, Witness and HopePeople First of Ontario The Quote of the Week When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. - Helen Keller


...with Rebuilding Democracy (Ep. 95)

What if being a Member of Parliament or Congress had nothing to do with an election, but rather worked like jury duty? What if our officials were seated randomly in a legislature? What if we innovated the very idea of government itself? Dave Meslin says our politics is broken, but instead of repeating this from the sidelines, he's got 100 common-sense fixes. They are all detailed in his fascinating and provocative book, Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up. Ben chats with Dave in Toronto. About the Guest Multi-partisan and fiercely optimistic, Meslin’s presentations focuses on how we can overcome cynicism and create a culture of participation. His unassuming presence, creativity and sense of humour keep audiences enthralled. Meslin encourages those present to find what was important to them and become engaged in the process of promoting change by creative participation. The Toronto Star has described him as “mad scientist”, “a start-up genius” and “a peripatetic public convener”. The Globe and Mail simply calls him a “persuasive rabble rouser”. Dancing between the worlds of mainstream politics and grassroots activism, Meslin has found positive ways to bring them both together and turn energy into action. His TED talk “The Antidote to Apathy” has been viewed over 1.7 million times and translated into 37 languages. A CBC appearance in 2015, involving towers of colourful LEGO, has been watched 2.5 million times on Facebook. Meslin’s resume of non-profit start-ups also includes the Toronto Public Space Committee, the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, City Idol, Spacing Magazine, Unlock Democracy Canada, the Downtown De-Fence Project, Dazzling Notice Awards, and DandyHorse Magazine. While he feels most comfortable working with small grassroots non-profits, Meslin has also donned a suit and tie and worked as an Executive Assistant at both City Hall and Queen’s Park. Meslin is currently crowd-sourcing 100 Remedies for a Broken Democracy for his next book. Learn more about Dave or follow him on Twitter (@meslin). Mentioned in this Conversation Episode 1 of this podcastCitizens' Assembly on Electoral ReformData collected by the Inter-Parliamentary Union The Quote of the Week Democracy is never a thing done. Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing. - Archibald MacLeish


...with Writing Biography (Ep. 94)

Rosemary Sullivan is an acclaimed Canadian poet and biographer. She has written definitive biographies about Elizabeth Smart and Gwendolyn MacEwen as well as a book about the early life of Margaret Atwood. In 2015, Rosemary published Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva to widespread praise. Ben sits down with Rosemary in Toronto to talk about what goes into making a biography (such as calling the CIA first), how she wrote Stalin's Daughter, and much more. About the Guest Biographer and poet Rosemary Sullivan is a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. Her 14 books include the critically acclaimed Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape and a House in Marseille and Labyrinth of Desire: Women, Passion and Romantic Obsession. Shadow Maker, her biography of Gwendolyn MacEwen, won the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction. She has been the recipient of Guggenheim, Trudeau, and Jackman Fellowships and was awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal by the Royal Society for her contributions to Literature and Culture. In 2012 she became an Officer of the Order of Canada. Learn more about Rosemary. Mentioned in this Episode Video of Christopher HitchensEpisode 78 of this podcastNaomi KleinOscar WildeWriters' Trust Rising StarsThe Long War Against SlaveryVideo of Howard SternThe FamilyVarian's WarThe Death of Stalin The Quote of the Week Almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection. He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders. - Virginia Woolf


...with Politics and its Future (Ep. 93)

Kent Hehr is a former federal Liberal cabinet minister and member of parliament for Calgary Centre. As a so-called "recovering politician" with careers on both the federal and provincial levels, Kent has a lot to say about what on earth is going on -- but he’s also got an incredible story. In October 1991 he was with some friends in Calgary when someone in another car opened fire. The bullet went into Kent’s spine, and just like that, he was paralyzed from the chest down as a C5 quadriplegic. About the Guest As a former cabinet minister, Kent has been at the table when big decisions are made. His understanding of how government works and what decision makers are looking for is invaluable for businesses and not-for-profit organizations looking for results. He recently started his own firm with two other partners, Jessie Chahal and Robbie Schuett: HSC and Associates. Kent has over 20 years of comprehensive experience in civic, provincial and federal government work. Kent has an extensive background in dealing with complex problems, systems, and policies. He has a proven track record of managing divergent stakeholders’ interests, collaborating with federal government departments, intergovernmental relations, and chairing committees. Prior to his entry into public service, Kent was a practising lawyer with the prestigious national law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain (now Dentons). Kent has a long history of serving on not-for-profit boards. He is currently on the board of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Alberta. He is married to Deanna Holt. Mentioned in this Episode discovery of oil in Turner Valley, AlbertaBlackRockMad Money with Jim CramerSTEM and STEAM education programsThank You For Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of AccelerationsCheck out Episode 60 of this podcastHeritage Savings Trust Fundsovereign wealth fund The Quote of the Week Excellence is not a gift, but a skill that takes practice. We do not act ‘rightly’ because we are ‘excellent’, we achieve ‘excellence’ by acting ‘rightly.’ - Plato


...with Acting, Gaming and Creativity (Ep. 92)

Aurora Browne is one of Canada's national treasures. Best known as one of the cast members of the Baroness von Sketch Show and as co-host of the Great Canadian Baking Show, Aurora has been creating daring, funny and original work for theatre, television and film for many years. Ben catches up with Aurora in Toronto to discuss her career as an actor and comedian, as well as her fascinating with the oceans, video games, clowning, and Dungeons & Dragons. Don't miss this wide-ranging conversation! About the Guest Aurora Browne is proud to be one of the co-creators, writers, executive producers and stars of CBC’s sketch comedy series, Baroness von Sketch Show. Browne graduated from York University's theatre program with a BFA in Acting, and has been honing her sketch chops since 2000 when she was hired by Toronto’s Second City Troupe. Since then she has appeared on Comedy Inc, The Gavin Crawford Show, Comedy Now, The Ron James Show, InSecurity, Corner Gas and many others. She recently co-created and starred in Newborn Moms, a web series about new motherhood on ABC Digital. She is also currently in development for season 2 of The Writer’s Block with Frantic Films. Browne has been nominated for numerous Canadian Comedy Awards for her work in Toronto’s red hot live sketch and improv scene, and in 2008 won the CCA for Best Female Improviser. She was also a nominee for the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award. Her son thinks she is hilarious. Learn more about Aurora or follow her on Twitter (@aurorabrowne). Mentioned in this Episode Dungeons & DragonsManitoulin Conservatory for Creation and PerformanceMump & SmootNewborn MomsSuccession, ChernobylZootopiaCome on EileenThe Long DarkHinterland GamesHow Sid Meier Almost Made Civilization a Real-Time Strategy GameCivilizationStarcraftFallout 3The Lord of the RingsThey Shall Not Grow OldTolkienSapiens Homo Deus The Quote of the Week Creativity is intelligence having fun. - Albert Einstein


...with the Writing Process, Genre, and the Rise of Stupid (Ep. 91)

What does it take to write a novel? What about genre? How does marketing define the books we read before we even open the first page? What does it mean to find a space that isn't programmed? And is the old right-left divide being replaced by a new one: the axis of smart-stupid? Ben is in Toronto to chat with award-winning novelist Andrew Pyper about his work, his writing process, and his take on what on earth is going on today. About the Guest Andrew Pyper was born in Stratford, Ontario, in 1968. He received a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from McGill University, as well as a law degree from the University of Toronto. Although called to the bar in 1996, he has never practiced. His most recent novels include The Homecoming (2019), The Only Child (2017), and The Damned (2015). His 2013 novel, The Demonologist, won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel, and was a #1 bestseller in Canada and Brazil. A number of Pyper’s works have been acquired for TV or feature film. The Homecoming is being developed by eOne with Andrew acting as Co-Creator and Executive Producer. Other active projects have not yet been announced. Among the earlier novels, The Guardians was published in Canada (Doubleday Canada) in January 2011, the U.K. (Orion) in February 2011, and following this internationally in various territories. It was selected a Globe and Mail 100 Best Books of the Year. The Killing Circle, Andrew’s fourth novel, was a national bestseller in Canada, and has been published in the U.K. (HarperCollins) and U.S. (St. Martin’s/Minotaur). Translation rights have been sold in Holland, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Japan. Kiss Me, a collection of short stories, was published to acclaim in 1996. Following its publication, Mr. Pyper acted as Writer-in-Residence at Berton House, Dawson City, Yukon, as well as at Champlain College, Trent University. His first novel, Lost Girls, was a national bestseller in Canada and a Globe and Mail Notable Book selection in 1999 as well as a Notable Book selection in the New York Times Book Review (2000) and the London Evening Standard (2000). The novel won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel and is an Otto Penzler pick on Amazon.com. Lost Girls has been published in the U.S. (Delacorte Press) and U.K. (Macmillan) in 2000, and has also been translated into Italian, Dutch, German and Japanese. Andrew’s second novel, The Trade Mission, was published in Canada, the U.K., U.S., the Netherlands and Germany. It was selected by The Toronto Star as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year. Andrew’s third novel, The Wildfire Season, was a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year and has been published to acclaim in the U.K., Canada, U.S. and Holland. Andrew’s creative writing teaching experience includes terms at Trent University, the University of Toronto, and, currently, Colorado College. He lives in Toronto. Learn more about Andrew and follow him on Twitter (@andrewpyper). Mentioned in this Episode The Paris ReviewHenrik IbsenThis is Horror Podcast episode 38Gustav Mahlerdefinition of the word "catholic"The Invasion of the Body Snatchers The Quote of the Week Sometimes people close a door because they’re trying to figure out a way to get you to knock. - From The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper


...with Writing Novels (Ep. 90)

Elizabeth Hay is a Giller Prize-winning author of novels such as Late Nights on Air, His Whole Life, and Alone in the Classroom. Most recently, she published a memoir about her parents' final years in Ottawa: All Things Consoled. She has been writing since she was fifteen, and also spent ten years working as a radio broadcaster, living in Yellowknife, Winnipeg, Toronto and Latin America. Ben sits down with Elizabeth in her Ottawa home to talk about her books, her writing process, and much more. About the Guest I was born in 1951 in a beautiful part of the world. Owen Sound, Ontario, is on the southern shores of Georgian Bay. When I was five, we moved about twenty miles north to Wiarton on the Bruce Peninsula, a small town defined by limestone cliffs, icy water, poison ivy and an abundance of colourful characters. I roamed as freely around Wiarton as I did through books. My otherwise strict parents let me read whatever I wanted to. With Eric Friesen at The Lodge on Amherst Island, April 2008. My father was the high-school principal. My mother painted in her spare time, not that she had much time, since I was one of four children. The public library was almost a second home, a place in which I didn’t have to set the table or do the dishes or cope with being teased. I read good and bad alike. We had no television until I was nine, when we inherited my grandmother’s television set and were allowed to watch it for two hours a week. It stopped working after a few years and was never replaced. Then when I was almost ten, we moved inland and about a hundred miles south to another small town, this one on the edge of Alice Munro country. My five years in flat, agricultural Mitchell were probably the worst in my life—the years of puberty, unpopularity, self-consciousness. When I was fourteen, everything changed. Out of the blue my father moved us to London, England for a year and the world opened up in a thrilling way. I saw places every reader dreams about—the British countryside and famous cities—and I went to plays, ballet, art galleries, to Covent Garden as it used to be. That year I attended Camden School for Girls, where by accident (a random English assignment) I discovered that I could write poetry of a sort. A year later we came back to Canada, settling in Guelph, Ontario, where I finished high school. My years at the University of Toronto convinced me that what I needed was not academia but the real world. At the end of second year, I hitchhiked to Newfoundland, and at the beginning of third year I dropped out for a year and took the train to the west coast, eventually making my way to the Queen Charlotte Islands, now Haida Gwaii. I returned to university at the end of August and completed my third year, but went no further in school. After that, I moved west again, then north to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories to join the man who would be my first husband, Craig McInnes. The northern photographs on the website are his. In Yellowknife I began to work in radio. During the ten years I was a broadcaster, I was a writer with a split personality, writing to a formula for radio and writing privately in the notebooks I began to keep. It took me a long time to see that the clarity and economy and directness required to tell a story to a radio audience would serve me well in whatever I wrote. After Yellowknife, I moved to Winnipeg, then Toronto, and then I freelanced in Latin America for a time, basing myself in Mexico. While in Mexico I met Mark Fried and we have been together ever since. We have two children, a daughter and a son. For six years we lived in New York City, where I put together my first books, Crossing the Snow Line and The Only Snow in Havana, and gathered the experiences that I used in Captivity Tales: Canadians in New York. Finally, my homesickness became intolerable and I dragged everyone to Ottawa, where we’ve been since 1992. Small Change, the collection of stories about friendships gone wrong,...


...with Generations and the Ethical Choice to Have Children (Ep. 89)

Is dividing people up by their generation (Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, etc.) unhelpful and even harmful? Is it a form of ageism, along the same lines as racism or sexism? What is the coming crisis of our time, and have we already arrived? And is it ethically justified to have children in this world in flux? Ben is in Kingston for a fascinating conversation about all this and more with philosopher Christine Overall of Queen's University. About the Guest Christine Overall's teaching, supervision, research, and publications are in the areas of feminist philosophy, applied ethics (including bioethics), philosophy of religion, and philosophy of education. She is the editor of four books and the author of six. Her book, Aging, Death, and Human Longevity: A Philosophical Inquiry (University of California Press, 2003), won both the Canadian Philosophical Association’s Book Prize and the Royal Society of Canada’s Abbyann Lynch Medal in Bioethics. Her book, Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate, was published by MIT Press in 2012. She also recently edited Dying in Public: Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer, by Sue Hendler (Michael Grass House, 2012). Dr. Overall was a weekly columnist for the Kingston Whig-Standard from 1993 to 2006, and also wrote a column for University Affairs/Affaires universitaires from 2008 to 2011. Mentioned in this Episode A quick guidePax AmericanaThe Greatest GenerationWill turning your phone to greyscale really do wonders for your attention?Samuel BeckettWaiting for GodotSophoclesOedipus RexThe Ethics of BeliefCui bonoThe Story of the WWI Christmas TruceThe Prisoner's DilemmaThe Case for Not Being BornThe New YorkerBetter Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into ExistencePhilosopher's IndexTurtles all the way downAristotle The Quote of the Week "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." - William Clifford (1845-79), mathematician


...with Polling in Politics (Ep. 88)

One of the key features of the democratic process is opinion polling, whether it is leader likability or attitudes on various issues. But do these snapshots of the horserace have an impact on the race itself? How has scientific polling and statistical analysis changed? How will it change in the years to come? And, what happens when the data shows us that the story we think is happening is not the one actually playing out? Ben joins writer and political analyst Eric Grenier at his CBC office in Ottawa. About the Guest Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité. Mentioned in this Episode FiveThirtyEightOutliers: The Story of SuccessThe Polls Are All RightEpisode 3 of Bob Rae's Political Stripes podcast The Quote of the Week "One of the pervasive risks that we face in the information age, as I wrote in the introduction, is that even if the amount of knowledge in the world is increasing, the gap between what we know and what we think we know may be widening." - From The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail (2012) by Nate Silver


...with the Power of Names (Ep. 87)

Do our names shape our destiny? What does it mean to live life as Don as opposed to Donald or Donnie? What prejudices do we carry with our names and the names of others, and what about those who change theirs? When we name our children, are we projecting our own battles and biases onto them before they even know the value of a name? Ben is in Toronto to sit down with Mavis Himes, a psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist who wrote The Power of Names: Uncovering the Mystery of What We Are Called. About the Guest Mavis Himes is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst with a full-time private practice in Toronto, Canada. She is also clinical consultant at Wellspring, a cancer centre for patients and their families. Himes received her doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of Toronto (OISE) and completed her analytic formation in Lacanian psychoanalysis at Apres-Coup Psychoanalytic Association in New York City. She is a member of Apres-Coup Psychoanalytic Association and a guest member of the Toronto Psychoanalytic Society. With over thirty-five years of experience, Himes began her career in child psychology, working in a variety of children’s mental health clinics until she opened her private practice in 1988. Gradually, she shifted the population of her practice from that of children and adolescents to mainly that of adults. Even during the time of her work with children, she pursued her analytic interests and studies, always working with an appreciation of the effect of unconscious processes in the human psyche. During her years of work with children, Himes became involved with Bereaved Families of Ontario (BFO) where she ran the children’s program and was a member of the Professional Advisory Committee. Subsequently Himes became clinical director of Wellspring for a two-year period, developing and running a number of group programs. Now she offers short-term counseling at Wellspring Westerkirk House on Sunnybrook campus. Since 2003, Mavis Himes has been the director of Speaking of Lacan (SOL), a Toronto-based forum dedicated to the study of Lacanian psychoanalysis. SOL has hosted a speakers series and interdisciplinary colloquia on topics related to psychoanalytic thought, in addition to running seminars and reading groups (www.speakingoflacan.com). As part of this work, Himes has organized a series of lectures entitled Psychoanalysis and the Arts: In Conversation that provides an opportunity to explore and exchange commonalities and differences between psychoanalysis and the arts. In this series, she has been in dialogue with a number of prominent dancers, musicians and actors. As a writer, Himes is the author of the current book The Power of Names: Uncovering the Mystery of What We are Called published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016. The Sacred Body: A Therapist’s Journey, a book about her work with cancer patients, was previously published by Stoddart in 2002. She is also the author of numerous psychoanalytic articles and book chapters that have been published in a variety of journals both in North America and abroad. She has given numerous presentations on psychoanalysis to a variety of audiences. Mentioned in this Episode Jacques LacanVideoSigmund FreudKing Learbiography of herSelfieEpisode 11 of this podcast The Quote of the Week "I wish my name was Brian because maybe sometimes people would misspell my name and call me Brain. That's like a free compliment and you don't even gotta be smart to notice it." - Mitch Hedberg, US comedian (1968-2005)


...with Political Philosophy (Ep. 86)

Humans are living longer, delaying disease and decay later and later. It's conceivable that we could eradicate the big killers and attain a certain kind of infinite postponement of death. But what would this mean for our humanity? What does philosophy have to say about this, and about the state of our ongoing social experiment with democracy? Ben sits down to chat about all this and much more with Queen's University political philosopher and National Scholar, Colin Farrelly. About the Guest Colin received his PhD from the University of Bristol in England in 1999. Over his 20 year academic career he has held academic appointments in 10 different departments in Political Science, Philosophy and Public Policy in England, Scotland, the United States and Canada. Previous appointments include Visiting Professor in UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at the University of Manoa in Hawaii, Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University, Visitor in Oxford’s Program on Ethics and the New Biosciences, as well as permanent academic appointments at Waterloo University, Manchester University and the University of Birmingham. For the past 5 years Colin has been involved in teaching philosophy to male inmates. The author and editor of 6 books and approximately 50 journal articles, Colin’s publications include articles in journals in political science, philosophy, feminism, law, science and medicine. He has published on a diverse array of topics, including the health challenges posed by population aging, the creation and evolution of patriarchy, virtue ethics, virtue epistemology, virtue jurisprudence, play and politics, freedom of expression, judicial review, non-ideal theory, gene patents, deliberative democracy, nanotechnology, sex selection, toleration, a citizen’s basic income, enhancing soldiers and economic incentives. Colin’s next major research project explores the idea of the “playful” society as a realistic utopia and draws on empirical insights from evolutionary biology and positive psychology. Learn more about Colin, watch his TED Talk and check out his blog, In Search of Enlightenment. Mentioned in this Episode TEDxQueensu Talk on global aging and longevity sciencearticle by ColinHomo Deus: A Brief History of TomorrowThomas HobbesLeviathanEpistemic virtuesJohn DeweySapiens: A Brief History of Humankind The Quote of the Week "Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question." - Yuval Noah Harari


...with The Reality Bubble (Ep. 85)

Ziya Tong is "one of the world's most engaging science journalists" and after co-hosting Discovery Canada's Daily Planet television program for ten years, she wrote her first book, The Reality Bubble. It's a veil-removing tour-de-force, filled with wonder, rigour and a powerful thesis about our role in the world and how we are often blinded, sometimes by our own choice, from what on earth is really going on. Ben is in Toronto to chat with Ziya about The Reality Bubble and so much more. About the Guest Award-winning host Ziya Tong has been sharing her passion for science, nature and technology for almost two decades. Best known as the co-host of Daily Planet, Discovery Canada’s flagship science program, she brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm to the stage. Tong speaks on leadership, how to shift perspective, and the role of science and technology in society in her riveting and eye-opening talks. Before co-hosting Daily Planet, Tong served as host and field producer for PBS’ national primetime series, Wired Science, produced in conjunction with Wired magazine. In Canada, Tong hosted CBC’s Emmy-nominated series ZeD, a pioneer of open source television, for which she was nominated for a Gemini Viewer’s Choice Award. Tong also served as host, writer, and director for the Canadian science series, The Leading Edge and as a correspondent for NOVA scienceNOW alongside Neil deGrasse Tyson on PBS. In the spring of 2019, she participated in CBC’s annual “battle of the books.” After a national four-day debate, she won Canada Reads. In May 2019, Tong released her bestselling book The Reality Bubble. Called “ground-breaking” and “wonder-filled”, the book has been compared to The Matrix. It takes readers on a journey through the hidden things that shape our lives in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways. Tong received her Masters degree in communications from McGill University, where she graduated on the Dean’s Honour List. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the World Wildlife Fund and is the founder of Black Sheep. Learn more about Ziya or follow her on Twitter (@ziyatong). Mentioned in this Conversation Henrik IbsenLebensweltTom RobbinsExtinction RebellionGreta ThunbergGalileo GalileiYuval Noah HarariThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion The Animal PeopleThe MatrixThe InterpreterThe New York TimesIrony poisoningNav BhatiaBeer SummitSarah BernhardtGhostbustersBertrand Russell The Quote of the Week "We have the technological lenses to see into vast distances of outer space, to see the tiniest microscopic organisms, to see right through the human body, to see the very atoms that make up the material world. But there is one fundamental thing that we do not see. When it comes to how our species survives, we are utterly blind." - From The Reality Bubble by Ziya Tong


...with Guy Gavriel Kay (Ep. 84)

Guy Gavriel Kay is a bestselling, world-renowned author whose works have been translated into over 30 languages. Originally from western Canada, Guy practiced law, developed a radio series with the CBC, and even assisted Christopher Tolkien with the editing of his father JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion, before becoming established as a fantasy writer. Ben is in Toronto to chat with Guy about writing, creativity, the intersection of art and power, and even the vagaries of pricing single malt whiskey. More About the Guest Guy Gavriel Kay is the international bestselling author of many novels and a book of poetry. He has been awarded the International Goliardos Prize for his work in literature of the fantastic and won the World Fantasy Award for Ysabel in 2008. In 2014, Kay was named to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour. His books include Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan, Children of Earth and Sky, and most recently, A Brightness Long Ago. Learn more about Guy and his books, or follow him on Twitter (@guygavrielkay). Mentioned in this Episode San GimignanoAn Interview with John le CarréParis ReviewEdward GreenspanBill HammondMr. Tambourine ManAndy Pattonancient Greek theatreLysistrataThe IrishmanMargaret MeadThe Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think AloneEpisode 24 The Quote of the Week "How we remember changes how we have lived. Time runs both ways. We make stories of our lives." - From Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay


...according to the novel, Ducks, Newburyport (Ep. 83)

Lucy Ellmann's groundbreaking and award-winning novel, "Ducks, Newburyport", consists of a single sentence broken up only by the small bits of a parallel story of a mountain lioness protecting her cubs. It's a powerful, engrossing and genuinely readable piece of literature that challenges how fiction is read as well as our base assumptions of history, women, motherhood and the incredible flux of the 21st century. Ben discusses the book with Barbara Bell, Artistic Director of Kingston WritersFest. About the Book Baking a multitude of tartes tatins for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats and chickens. Also, America’s ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son’s toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing? With a torrent of consciousness and an intoxicating coziness, Ducks, Newburyport lays out a whole world for you to tramp around in, by turns frightening and funny. A heart-rending indictment of America’s barbarity, and a lament for the way we are blundering into environmental disaster, this book is both heresy—and a revolution in the novel. About the Guest Barbara Bell is the Artistic Director of Kingston WritersFest, with which she has been involved since the first meeting in 2009, becoming Artistic Director in 2014. “I love working in the arts,” she says, “and offering writers and readers a place to come together to celebrate literature.” Besides being a brilliant organizer, she is an actor, theatrical and film producer, television host, editor, and writer. Barbara won the Eastern Ontario Drama League’s Award for Best Actress for her ‘courageous’ and ‘riveting’ title role performance in Dacia Maraini’s Mary Stuart. She wrote, produced, and performed the one-woman play, Dreams and Desires in Kingston and at fringe festivals across the western provinces. She co-produced: a 28-minute film, Pretty Pieces, which screened at the Reel Heart International Film Festival, among others; several shorts including the award-winning Digging Up Plato; and a feature — Fault — which debuted at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival. A second feature is in post-production. Barbara co-produced and hosted TVCogeco’s Pageturners: Kingston’s Book Club, sparking lively conversations with local authors. Barbara is past-chair of the City of Kingston’s Arts Advisory Committee, sat on the inaugural Mayor’s Arts Awards Nominations Working Group, and also sat on Kingston Arts Council’s Arts Advocacy Committee and the Kingston Writers’ Refugee Committee. Mentioned in this Episode Mrs. Dalloway,Gnadenhutten massacreDucks, NewburyportJames JoyceThe Infinity of ListsLolitaA People's History of the United StatesA clip of featuring comedian Louis CKMichel Foucault The Quote of the Week "...the fact that we all go on pretending things are fine, hoping everything’s a-okay, even though everything is nowhere near okay and we all know it, no matter how many candlelit vigils you hold..." - From Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann


...with Rebalancing Society (Ep. 82)

Do the problems we face today -- political gridlock, climate change, social upheaval, accelerating economic inequality -- stem from fundamental imbalances in our society and thinking? What role might the plural (or civil) sector play in rejigging our systems? And why should we be ditching 30-year plans to focus on ones just a few weeks out? Ben sits down with world-renowned scholar of management, Henry Mintzberg, about these questions and many others. About the Guest Henry is a writer and educator, mostly about managing originations, developing managers, and rebalancing societies (where his attention is currently focused), also an outdoorsman and collector of beaver sculptures. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from McGill University in Montreal (1961), working in Operational Research for the Canadian National Railways (1961-1963), and doing his masters and PhD at the MIT Sloan School of Management (1965 and 1968), Henry has made his professional home in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill. He sits in the Cleghorn Chair of Management Studies (half-time since the mid-1980s), and has had extensive visiting professorships at INSEAD in France and the London Business School in England. Henry has authored 20 books, including Managers not MBAs, Simply Managing, Rebalancing Society and Managing the Myths of Health Care, also 180 articles plus numerous commentaries and videos. He now publishes a regular TWOG (TWeet 2 blOG), as “provocative fun in a page or 2 beyond pithy pronouncements in a line or 2” (@mintzberg141 to mintzberg.org/blog). A new collection is being published: Bedtime Stories for Managers. I co-founded and remain active in the International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org) and the International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org) as well as a venture CoachingOurselves.com, all novel initiatives for managers to learn together from their own experience, the last in their own workplace. Some consequences of all this have been election to the Order of Canada and l’Ordre national du Quebec as well as to the Royal Society of Canada (the first from a management faculty), two prize- winning Harvard Business Review articles, and twenty honorary degrees from universities around the world. I may spend my professional life dealing with organizations, but I continue to spend my private life escaping from them, especially in the Laurentian wilderness of Canada, usually with my partner and sometimes with my two daughters and three grandchildren. Learn more about Henry and follow him on Twitter (@Mintzberg141). Mentioned in this Episode Democracy in AmericaEpisode 35 of this podcastCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission The End of History and the Last ManThere is no Nobel Prize in Economics...and why that mattersYellow Vest (gilets jaunes) movement in FranceNew Deal The Quote of the Week The capitalist credo is: “greed is good, markets are sufficient, property is sacred, and governments are suspect.” Henry Mintzberg