Virginia Prescott

Host, Word of Mouth

Virginia Prescott invites listeners to take a break from breaking news and explore a world of under-reported stories on New Hampshire Public Radio as the host of Word of Mouth, a daily radio program and podcast. Prior to joining NHPR, she was editor, producer, and director for NPR programs On Point and Here & Now, and directed interactive media for New York Public Radio.

Throughout her radio career, Virginia has worked to build sustainable independent radio in the developing world and has trained journalists in post-conflict zones from Sierra Leone to the Balkans. She has been honored for her contributions with a Gracie award for her work on Word of Mouth, a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University, and was a member of the Peabody Award-winning production team for Jazz from Lincoln Center with Ed Bradley. Virginia loves working in public radio, but regrets that so many good outfits go unnoticed.

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Jen Goellnitz via flickr Creative Commons

While an increasing number of states and retailers are looking to pass GMO labeling laws, planting genetically modified corn, soybeans, and cotton remains the norm among North American farmers.  Seed makers claim that of modified – or treated – crops resist pests and disease, reducing the need for expensive herbicides and pesticides. In pockets across the nation, however, farmers who once championed GMO seeds are complaining that they no longer deliver on those claims. Some are reverting back to conventional seeds for their commodities crops.  Elizabeth Royte is a contributor for Fern, The Food and Environment Reporting Network.  Her article, “The Post GMO-Economy” is featured in the winter issue of Modern Farmer.

Corie Howell via Flickr Creative Commons

Sebastian Thrun, the man behind perhaps the most disruptive idea to hit higher education -- massive open online courses or more commonly... MOOCs -- has decided to pack it in. While some traditional educators might be saying “I told you so”, proponents of online education are worried about what this shift means for its future. Rebecca Schuman is education columnist for Slate and adjunct professor at the University of Missouri. She wrote about Sebastian Thrun -- the acknowledged godfather of MOOC’s -- and his pivot away from them.

David Grove via flickr Creative Commons

In 1984 Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act to address the nation’s critical organ donation shortage and improve the organ matching and placement process. The act made it illegal for anyone to give or acquire an organ for material gain. Now, almost three decades later, the act is making headlines again but this time in response to the push to rescind a ruling by the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit. The court ruled that certain types of bone marrow donors could be compensated. Now the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is attempting to overturn the decision, arguing that bone-marrow is subject to the 1984 act and as such, may not be compensated.

Dr. Sally Satel is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and a practicing psychiatrist and lecturer at the Yale University School of Medicine; she examines mental health policy as well as political trends. She wrote the article “Why It’s Okay To Pay Bone-Marrow Donors” for Bloomberg.com.

In early September, 1965 a UFO sighting was reported near Exeter, New Hampshire.  Air force investigators were sent to question several eye witnesses who reported a “big orange ball” and a “huge dark object as big as a barn with flashing red lights” in the sky.  They dismissed the sighting as “nothing more than stars and planets twinkling…owing to a temperature inversion.” The incident is one of the best documented accounts of an alleged close encounter with the paranormal.  New Hampshire’s brush with paranormal fame makes it the perfect setting for a new compilation of short stories called Live Free or Sci-Fi. The book features stories that bend science and reality together into hair raising tales of speculative fiction.

Rick Broussard is the editor of Live Free or Sci-Fi and creator of the New Hampshire pulp fiction series. He is also the editor of New Hampshire Magazine.

Iqbal Osman via Flickr Creative Commons

In the new movie “Delivery Man,” Vince Vaughn discovers that his “donation” has been used hundreds of times without his knowledge. Far-fetched plot? Maybe not. The United States does not track sperm donations. We have no idea how many there are, how often they're donated, nor how many children are born from those donations. Rene Almeling is an assistant professor of sociology at Yale. She wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about “The Unregulated Sperm Industry.”

Sustainable Sanitation via Flickr Creative Commons

More than a third of the world’s population don’t have access to clean, safe toilets. It’s a humanitarian and global health hazard, that the world bank drains $260 billion off the global economy each year. The Gates Foundation challenged engineers to develop commodes that are clean, cheap, and don’t require electricity, a sewage system, or even water. But as with and new product, you have to test it. That’s where John Koeller comes in. He’s principal engineer at Maximum Performance, a company who tests toilet efficiency, using its own – ahem—patented material.

©Diane Cook and Len Jenshel/National Geographic

Tumbleweeds rolling? Must be a western. The cinematic signal of high plains desolation has an even more pernicious side: it’s an invasive species known as Russian Thistle, and it’s wreaking havoc across the United States. George Johnson is a writer based in Santa Fe, and a regular contributor to National Geographic, where he wrote about fighting the tumbleweed menace in his own backyard. To see more photos click here.

Arnett Gill via Flickr Creative Commons

We all know laughter can be contagious. But can it be a good workout?  A form of therapy?  Even a skill?  Many happy devotees think, yes. Inspired in part by the growing popularity of laughter yoga, filmmaker and journalist Albert Nerenberg hosted the first official laughing contest in Montreal back in 2011. He’s also the director of the 2009 documentary, Laughology.

Rafael Viana Araujo via Flickr Creative Commons

You may be familiar with the ordeal of introducing children to broccoli and spinach.  Two new studies suggest that finicky eaters might have picked up their discriminating habit in the womb. Forget genetics, personal responsibility, and discipline. Your taste for junk food and soda may have a lot to do with how your mother satisfied her cravings.

Kristin Wartman, is a food, politics and health journalist. She recently wrote about the new science of food choices for the New York Times.

Logan Shannon / NHPR

The Word of Mouth Saturday show is like a big bowl of hearty soup on a blustery day. It warms you up, has all the ingredients you love, and is the right combination of healthy and indulgent. We pack our Saturday show with the good stuff, interesting and fulfilling stories, you can always feel free to have an extra helping. On this weeks show:

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin joined Word of Mouth’s Virginia Prescott at the Music Hall in Portsmouth for Writers on a New England Stage. Goodwin was there Wednesday to talk about her best-selling book, “The Bully Pulpit: Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism.”

But the first question for the famously rabid baseball fan was what she made of Red Sox centerfielder and lead-off hitter Jacoby Ellsbury jumping to the New York Yankees. The author of “Wait Till Next Year” and “Team of Rivals” said that, in light of the team's championship run in 2013, she's not willing to second guess the decision to let him go.

Leo Reynolds via flickr Creative Commons

On today's show:

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“The Kid”, “The Splendid Splinter”, “Teddy Ballgame”; Ted Williams went by a few nicknames while playing for the Boston Red Sox.  Maybe none so fitting as: “The Greatest Hitter That Ever Lived.”  Williams was the last player in the major leagues to achieve a batting average over .400--which he did in 1941–in his third season in the majors. Ted Williams was obsessed with hitting, taking meticulous care of his bats, and was often observed swinging or posing for a pitch, whether he had a bat in his hands or not.

Off the field, the measure of Ted Williams is not so easy to follow. A private and mercurial man, he was moody and prone to bouts of rage. He would blow up at the press, his teammates, and his family. Williams married three times and had three children, but struck out as a father or husband. Ben Bradlee Jr., former editor and reporter for the Boston Globe, spent ten years trying to find out exactly why Ted Williams was the way he was. He interviewed more than six hundred people who knew “The Kid” going all the way back to his childhood. Ben Bradlee Jr.’s new book is called “The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams.”

Janet Ramsden via flickr Creative Commons

For a long time, the study of dreams was marred in mysticism and pseudo science to warrant academic respect. But in the 1970’s, a man named Stephen LaBerge gained a measure of credibility for his research into the phenomenon called “lucid dreaming”, but he ultimately remained on the fringes of mainstream science.  In more recent years, films like Inception and The Matrix have been increasing public interest into the mysteries of the dream-state. Mirroring this rise in pop culture appeal, lucid dream research is beginning to move out of the fringes and into the scientific mainstream. Dorian Rolston is a freelance writer covering cognitive science, mental health, and the mind. His article on the work of Stephen LaBerge, and new efforts to understand lucid dreaming appeared in the online publication, Matter.

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Billions of dollars are spent each year to prevent death. We invest in research and treatment of disease; in improving safety; and in educating people to live healthier, longer lives. Yet with all of technological and scientific capability, what do we know of what happens after death? John Martin Fischer is professor of philosophy at University of California at Riverside. He was awarded a 5 million dollar grant to study the afterlife. He’s launched “The Immortality Project." The money will go towards sponsoring conferences and scientific, philosophical, and theological research that advances understanding of immortality and belief in immortality.

via PatriciaCornwell.com

NHPR and The Music Hall present Writers on a New England Stage with Patricia Cornwell. Her best-selling Kay Scarpetta crime fiction series introduced millions of readers to forensic pathology – and inspired popular TV shows from CSI to Dexter. After her 21st Scarpetta novel, Patricia Cornwell reflects on the process of turning grisly real-world crimes into absorbing fiction.

Tom Magliery via flickr Creative Commons

A montage of new ideas, picked fresh from the Word of Mouth vault:

  • Abolishing tips:  usually, the debate around gratuity revolves around whether to leave 15 or 20 %.... Head of the Sustainable Restaurant Project at the University of Guelph , Bruce McAdams,  is in favor of getting rid of tips altogether.
  • Balloon Brigade: the career aptitude test video game.  A new startup designs mobile games that could help match fresh grads with job opportunities. 
  • The science behind the buzz: journalist and science writer Joseph Stromberg explains caffeine addiction.

Hane C. Lee via flickr Creative Commons

This year the overlap of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving introduces a whole new element to what's on this year's Thanksgiving menu. While we've heard plenty about how "Thanksgiv-ukkah" could change our Thanksgiving eating habits, for millions of Americans, a hybrid holiday meal is their tradition. Food writer, chef, and public radio personality, Kathy Gunst has been reaching out to friends, chefs, and food writers from across the country who incorporate foods and habits from their original lands in to the great American Thanksgiving meal.

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I was once invited to Thanksgiving dinner by a friend who warned me that her family was “Not a Real Norman Rockwell Kinda Bunch”. We know that image: brightly scrubbed faces hover in smiling anticipation over sparkling china as Ma sets the turkey in front of the family patriarch ready to be carved. That painting is titled Freedom From Want and it’s one of those homespun scenes that only happens in what author Deborah Solomon calls “Rockwell Land” -- a magical reflection of American life as it should be. Solomon’s new biography of the illustrator, beloved by the masses and dismissed as corn ball by the art world, reveals a complicated, neurotic, and repressed man who lived very far from the America he invented.

Deborah Solomon is author of American Mirror: The Life and Times of Norman Rockwell

kbrookes via flickr Creative Commons

Thanksgiving is no time to be a food killjoy. We’re not going there. Instead, how about considering our food behavior, especially when it comes to shopping for it, serving it, and opening a fridge full of leftovers? You won’t get any lectures from Kusum Ailawadi, who spoke at the recent Ted-X Amoskeag Millyard. She’s professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and has done a lot of research on what goes in people’s grocery carts using the real-life laboratory of the American supermarket. She and her team captured data from thousands of shopping trips across the country over a four year period. She’s sharing some practical knowledge from her findings before we dig in this Thursday.

Star Trek's seemingly miraculous 'tricorder' is a device which can measure anything from a patient's vital signs to geological activity with the push of a button. Now, a company called Scanadu has developed a device called the 'Scout,' which they hope can be as useful for the health industry as tricorders were on the Enterprise. We talked with the company's co-founder to learn more. 

From the early days of the 2012 primary, influential liberals referred to Jon Hunstman, U.S. Ambassador to China, and Singapore before that, as “the sane Republican”.  Huntsman’s foreign policy chops and statesmen-like manner were frequently cited during his brief run, often by the candidate himself.  

Diettogo1 via Flickr Creative Commons

Admitting to eating a bowl of cereal for dinner is like disclosing that you are lonely, lazy, or waaay to busy. Similarly, not having the whole family sitting around the table for a hot dinner of protein, a vegetable, and dessert feels like some kind of failure. When did how and what we eat become codified as right, proper, and essentially American?  How did factory work, television and advertising shape the varied diets carried by centuries of immigrants into the breakfast, lunch and dinner most of us eat today?

Abigail Carroll is a food historian and author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, which explores the history of America’s eating from the Colonial era to the present.

puzzler4879 via flickr Creative Commons

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and every year around this time, our thoughts and stomachs go out to food. Long before deep fried turkeys, gelatinized cranberry sauce, and boxed stuffing there was the inaugural Thanksgiving feast at the Plymouth plantation. So what was on the table that day? Abigail Carroll might have an idea. She’s a food historian and author who has studied the Colonial and Native American diet extensively. We spoke with her earlier this month about her new book,Three Squares: The Invention of The American Meal.

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The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets and a certain level of self-absorption have led to a number of apps and programs that track sleep, diet, heart rate, baby weight, twitter use, mood, sweat, caffeine, memories and bowel movements. Welcome to the age of the quantified self, but with a thousand ways to keep tabs on your own life, how then, do you keep track of all the trackers?

Sarah Kessler is associate editor for Fast Company. She wrote about how developers creating tracking apps that track other tracking apps.

James A. Perkins via hepcni.net

Although new cases of Hepatitis-C have drastically decreased in the United States since peaking in the 1980’s, the blood-borne disease which primarily attacks and destroys the liver, kills more Americans annually than AIDS.

Andrew Pollack covers business and biotechnology for the New York Times. We read his article “Hepatitis-C, a Silent Killer, Meets Its Match,” in which Pollack describes a new series of treatments about to enter the market that could effectively do the impossible: wipe out Hep C.

Taylor Quimby

Word of Mouth Saturday is like a really good smoothie: It's good for you,  filling, you can enjoy it in the car, and it doesn't leave you with a heaping pile of dishes to clean.  Every week we handpick a selection of ingredients designed to educate and entertain - basically,  a careful mix of audio vegetables and  fruits, blended evenly into a mouth-watering hour of delicious radio.  

Courtesy Addie Gann

On September 15th, 2008, the financial services firm Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11.  The subprime mortgage crisis had been percolating for months by then, as had a global economic decline – but the bankruptcy of the nation’s fourth largest investment bank panicked Wall Street, evaporating liquidity markets, sending the economy sharply downward, and sparking the worst global recession since World War II – a crisis from which the world’s economy is still recovering.

We've come to know President John F. Kennedy through a very narrow lens, that of so-called "old media." From vintage newspapers and television reporting that maintained now-anachronistic reverence for the private lives of our leaders to the oft-analyzed Zapruder film, our contemporary relationship with J.F.K. is limited by the time in which he lived. 

millerfarm via Flickr Creative Commons

The relatively unknown song "Daylight" by Brooklyn-based band Matt and Kim was featured in a 2009 Bacardi commercial, and by the following year went gold, selling over 500 thousand copies and sweeping Matt and Kim into the mainstream. Not so long ago, selling your music to ad agencies was considered the lowest form of selling out, a sure-fire way to lose hard-core fans. Today many musicians see it as the only way to make a living. And fans, for the most part, seem to be turning a blind eye. 

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