Midday Podcast | WYPR

Midday Podcast

photo courtesy Baltimore City Schools.org

On a Midday show back on August 15, 2018, we spoke with three teachers from the Baltimore City Public Schools about their career choices, their experiences in the classroom, and their plans, hopes and aspirations for the coming school year.  

Enrollment in city schools continues to trend down, but graduation rates are up, and hopes are high as the  recommendations of the Kirwan Commission on state education reform begin to get implemented. 

On this edition of Midday on Education, the same teachers are back to talk about how things went this year in their classrooms, and to share their take on what’s ahead for the system, and their students.

Tracy Hall

Today, it's another edition of Midday in the Neighborhood, an occasional series in which we've set out to spotlight the remarkable tapestry of communities that make up  the city of Baltimore.

Tom is joined in Studio A by representatives of three Baltimore neighborhoods: Greenmount West, located just north and east of Penn Station, Ridgely’s Delight, which is that historic little wedge downtown between Camden Yards, the University of Maryland Medical Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.  And Canton, the large waterfront community just east of Fells Point.

NASA photo

It's the Midday News Wrap for Friday, June 21, 2019.  The big news today is the increasing tension between the United States and Iran, following alleged Iranian attacks on foreign oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, and its downing of a US drone aircraft, which Tehran claims was in Iranian airspace. Overnight, President Trump ordered an attack on military targets in Iran, and according to Trump's Friday morning Tweets, after the mission was underway, he changed his mind, and the attack on Iran was called off.

To help put these events into context, Tom talks with two close observers of the long-simmering U.S.-Iran conflict:  David Ignatius is an associate editor and syndicated columnist for the Washington Post.  He joins us on the line from Washington, DC.  And Dan Lamothe is a national security and military affairs reporter for the Post; he joins us from the Pentagon.

THSquared Photography

It's time again for Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck, who  joins us each week with her reviews of Maryland's regional stage. Today her spotlight is on Disaster!,  the 2012 musical comedy created by Seth Rudetsky and Drew Geraci, and co-written by Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick.  The musical made it to Broadway for a brief run in 2016, and it's now getting a new staging at Cockpit in Court Summer Theater, on the campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, in Essex.

Public Affairs

You know the voice of Tom's guest today from his superb reporting for NPR from Great Britain. Before his assignment in London, Frank Langfitt was NPR’s China correspondent for five years. In the late 90s and early aughts, Frank also covered China for the Baltimore Sun

If you listened to Frank’s dispatches from China from 2011-2016, you may recall his occasional series called Streets of Shanghai, in which he introduced us to some of the people he met. The way he devised to meet them is ingenious. In exchange for conversations with everyday Chinese folks, Frank offered them free cab rides, and he has compiled some of the results of these wide-ranging and revelatory conversations in a new book. It’s called The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China.

Frank Langfitt will be discussing his book tonight at 7 pm at The Ivy Bookshop in North Baltimore.  Click here for event details.

We livestreamed this conversation on WYPR's Facebook page.  Click here to watch. 

photo by Heidi Sheppard/WYPR

Today, a special Juneteenth edition of Midday: Live from The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culturein downtown BaltimoreOur topic today: Reparations: Can America Atone for the Sin of Slavery?  

As this program aired, a House Judiciary subcommittee was holding a hearing about HR 40, a bill that would create "a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans."   What would reparations look like?  With 68% of Americans, including more than a third of African Americans, opposing compensation for descendants of slaves, what is the political viability of reparations legislation like HR40?  Can America ever adequately atone for the sin of slavery?

Midday's expert panel today explores the moral, economic and cultural dimensions of reparations. 

As another school year comes to a close, it's a good time to check in again with Baltimore City Public Schools CEO, Dr. Sonja Santelises.

Dr. Santelises has made it a priority to increase the academic performance of city students. There is good news on that front: the high-school graduation rate is up for city kids, and the drop-out rate is down.

But the achievement gap between white students and students of color persists, and the system still faces challenges associated with dropping enrollment and aging infrastructure. 

On today's edition of Midday on EducationDr. Santelises joins Tom in the studio to discuss the progress made, and the work still ahead, in improving the city's public school system, and she addresses listener questions and comments.

This program was livestreamed on WYPR's Facebook page, and you can watch the video here.


On today's Midday on Transit, a check on how well the region is dealing with its transportation challenges, in Baltimore City and beyond. From Governor Hogan's controversial "Traffic Relief Plan" in the Washington suburbs, to a shake-up and critical oversight at the Baltimore Department of Transportation, our focus today is on what's working, and what isn't -- and how we can fix it.

Photo Courtesy AP/ Alex Brandon

On today's News Wrap, Heather Caygle of POLITICO joins us for a look behind some of this week’s national headlines.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that Iran was behind the attacks on two ships in the Gulf of Oman yesterday, and for the second time in his Presidency, Donald Trump hoisted Norway into the spotlight this week. 

Here in MD, Delegate Robbyn Lewis tells us about her experience in the Transit Challenge.  And Justin Fenton talks about his new series in the Baltimore Sun which examines the massive criminal enterprise undertaken by an elite unit of the Baltimore City Police Department. 

Live in Studio A: Rajna Swaminathan & Ganavya Doraiswamy

Jun 14, 2019
Photo Courtesy / Rajna Swaminathan

Today, percussionist Rajna Swaminathan and, vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy  join Tom in Studio A for a live performance. They are members of Rajas, an experimental music ensemble that explores resonances among Indian music, jazz and other improvisational traditions. Rajna and the Rajas are performing at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance this  Sunday at 7:30pm. 

This segment was streamed live on the WYPR Facebook page.  Click here to watch!   

Enoch Pratt Free Library

The official first day of summer - the Summer Solstice -- is June 21, and joining Tom today to help us put our summer reading list together is Heidi Daniel, the President and CEO of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.

She also updates us on the many goings-on at our city’s wonderful library.  Those include the Pratt's new "Wash and Learn Initiative" that's bringing internet access to laundromats around the city; the annual Summer Challenge; the June 29 PrattCon at the SE Anchor Library, the library's version of Comic-Con that will celebrate graphic novels and comic book culture; and the nearly complete renovation of the Central Library.

Also today, Heidi Daniel shares her 2019 summer reading recommendations, which you can check out below...

This program was livestreamed on WYPR's Facebook page, and you can watch the video here.

Photo by Tatiana Nya Ford

It's Thursday, and time for theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck's weekly review of a regional stage production. This week, she joins Tom to talk about the latest offering from Baltimore Rock Opera Society, a kid-friendly musical production called Welcome to Shakesville.

Conceived by Sarah Gorman, with book by Mark Martino and Bobby Harris and music by Trevor Shipley, Welcome to Shakesville tells the tale of a gifted young African American artist named Betty and her  journey toward artistic self-awareness.  As the BROS program puts it, it's a "hip and trippy" journey that's told, and sung, using the pop-culture imagery, puppetry, fantasy and multi-genre music that energized such iconic 60s and 70's TV shows and movies as H.R. Pufnstuf, The Muppet Show, and Yellow Submarine.  The BROS production, directed by Lucia A. Treasure, features lead performances by Jacquan Knox as Betty and Matthew Casella as Jimmy, the puppetry of Tatiana Ford, and the music of  a 10-man band called The Far Outs, under the direction of  bandmember Trevor Shipley.

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society's production of Welcome to Shakesville continues at Zion (Lutheran) Church of the City of Baltimore, located at 400 Lexington Street, through Sunday, June 16.  For showtimes, directions and ticketing information, click here.

Brigitte Lacombe

Tom's guest today is Adam Gopnik, who has been a staff writer for the New Yorker Magazine for the past 33 years.

His new book is called A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism. It is an homage to liberalism, in which he explores its roots in Montaigne and the Enlightenment, and traces its history through the present day.

Gopnik observes that liberalism was preceded by humanism and an affection for, and elevation of, a sense of community forged around shared choices. He calls it a fact-first philosophy with a feelings-first history.

While most people associate liberalism with a left-leaning world view, to Gopnik’s eye, it ends in the center, although it is not to be confused with centrism, and he distinguishes it not just from a conservative orientation on the right, but also from the more radical left. Liberalism favors reform over revolution. And it is premised in love and empathy. He writes that liberalism is “a belief that the sympathy that binds human society together can disconnect us from our clannish and suspicious past.”

Adam Gopnik joined us from the NPR's New York bureau.

Sean Fitzgerald/Courtesy Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center via AP

It's another edition of Midday Culture Connections,  with Dr. Sheri Parks, the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the Maryland Institute College of Art.  Today, our focus is on summer camp, and the significant role camp plays in the lives of so many young Americans. Is there a certain mythology about summer camp, and our notions of what an American summer is all about?  What were your experiences as a child, and what experiences do you seek out for your children? 

For many poor kids, the opportunities and promise of summer are often out of reach. But one group of Baltimore City youth will have the opportunity to learn and explore way beyond the borders of the city. Joining Tom and Dr. Parks in the third segment of the show is Sharayna Christmas.  She is the executive director of Muse 360 Arts and New Generation Scholars, a program that provides Baltimore City youth the opportunity to travel abroad and study the history and culture of the African diaspora. 

This program was livestreamed on WYPR's Facebook page, and you can see the video here.

(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

Today on Midday, an update on what’s going on in Israeli politics, and the status of the stalled Middle East peace process. 

For analysis and context, Tom is joined today by four guests with decades of experience with the protracted pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian accord, and a deep appreciation for the complexity of this seemingly intractable conflict. 

Photo Courtesy AP/ Andrew Harnik

Today, a conversation about the state of women’s reproductive rights in America. Since the beginning of this year, nine states have passed laws that seek to ban access to abortions.  Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Utah.  Are these laws designed to challenge Roe v. Wade? 

Tom speaks with Diana Philip, the Executive Director of NARAL, Pro Choice MD; Steven H.  Aden, the Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel at Americans United for Life; and University of Baltimore professor of law, Kim Wehle.  

Image courtesy imdb.com, Amblin Entertainment

Today, the world marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day -- the massive Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France that began on this day in 1944.  Early this morning, eastern time, Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron of France, and President Donald Trump spoke at a ceremony marking the anniversary, which included more than 60 World War Two veterans, and a large crowd in Normandy, France, near the graves of more than 9,300 Americans killed in the epic battle.  Over the course of three months, a million Allied soldiers joined the battle to turn the tide of the Second World War.  Nazi Germany surrendered less than a year later.

The existential threat to liberal democracies was a preoccupation not only of the political and military leaders of the day, but also of scores of filmmakers – then, and ever since.  Today, we’re going to talk about the movies about and inspired by World War Two; films that were made during and soon after the conflict, and in the decades that followed. 

Joining Tom are Midday's go-to movie mavens: Jed Dietz is the founding director of the Maryland Film Festival;  Ann Hornaday is the film critic for the Washington Post and the author of the book TALKING PICTURES: HOW TO WATCH MOVIES

Listeners are invited to join the conversation. What’s your favorite World War 2 movie?  How do you think movies about that war have helped succeeding generations understand the sacrifices made 75 years ago to defeat fascism in Europe?  

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

It's Thursday, and Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck join us for another of her weekly reviews of the Maryland regional stage.  Today, she tells us about the new touring production of The Play That Goes Wrongon stage now at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre.

The popular British farce -- likened in its program to an illegitimate offspring of Sherlock Holmes and Monty Python -- was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields. Originally produced in 2012 by Mischief Theatre at London's Old Red Lion Theatre, it premiered on Broadway in 2017. It's been performed and licensed for production in more than 20 countries.

This touring production of The Play That Goes Wrong is directed by Matt DiCarlo, based on the Broadway direction by Mark Bell. Among the featured players are Peyton Crim, Brandon J. Ellis, Jamie Ann Romero, Evan Alexander Smith and Yaegel T. Welch.  The show continues at the Hippodrome until Sunday, June 9.  For more information, click here.

Courtesy of the University of Nebraska Press

As the Baltimore Orioles continue the long slog that is “rebuilding,” empty seats abound at Camden Yards. But nothing compares to the attendance figure on Wednesday, April 29, 2015: Zero.

What has come to be known as “The Uprising” had crippled Baltimore two days earlier. And the Orioles and Major League Baseball decided that the game between the Os and the Chicago White Sox would be played that day with no fans seated in the ballpark. It was the only Major League Baseball game ever played without fans.

Kevin Cowherd was a Baltimore Sun sports columnist and features writer for 32 years. His latest book tells the story of that surreal game. It’s called "When the Crowd Didn't Roar: How Baseball's Strangest Game Ever Gave a Broken City Hope.” Cowherd will be reading from the book on June 30 at 2 p.m. at the Rosedale Branch of the Baltimore County Library. Click here for more information about that event. 

Graphic courtesy BSO

As of last Wednesday, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was one of 17 American symphonies who hire their players for a full 52 weeks each year.  As of last Thursday, that is no longer the case. 

After 8 months of negotiations with the players, BSO management has abruptly shortened its season, cutting all of the events they’d announced for this summer. 

Does it matter if the BSO plays for 40 weeks each year instead of 52?  Does a world class orchestra have to be full-time?  How should the BSO balance the aspiration for excellence with the realities of the marketplace for classical music? 

What’s going on with the state’s largest arts organization? 

To find answers to those questions, Tom talks first with Baltimore Symphony Musicians' Players Committee co-chairs Brian Prechtl and Greg Mulligan, and a little later, with the Symphony's President and CEO Peter Kjome. Then, Nicholas Cohen, the Executive Director of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, joins Tom to discuss the BSO funding crisis, the prospects for continued public support for the arts, and plans for this week's first-ever Maryland Arts Summit.

This conversation was livestreamed on WYPR' Facebook page, and you can watch the video here.  You can view the segment with Brian Prechtl and  Greg Mulligan from the beginning to about 19:00 into the feed; Mr.  Kjome's conversation with Tom begins at 21:00 and continues until about 39:30; Mr. Cohen's segment runs from 41:00 until the feed ends at 51:30.

Courtesy of the office of Rep. Raskin

Rep. Jamie Raskin represents Maryland’s 8th District. He is a member of both the House Judiciary Committee and the Oversight and Reform Committee, which is chaired by another Maryland Congressman, Elijah Cummings. 

As President Trump meets with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, Rep. Raskin joins Tom on the line to explain the growing calls for the House to begin an inquiry into impeaching the President  -- calls he says are being fueled by the Special Counsel's report and the intensifying legal clashes between the Trump White House and Congressional Democrats.

Associated Press

Now, we turn to the future of Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes -- the race that is the second jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown. Pimlico opened its doors in 1870, making it the second oldest racetrack in the nation.  And it is now, by all accounts, badly deteriorated.

The Preakness has been run in Baltimore City since 1873.  The question now is: Will next year’s Preakness be its last in Baltimore?  The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, wants to move the Preakness to its more modern facility in Laurel.

Yitzy Schleifer represents the 5th District on the Baltimore City Council. 

Sen. Bill Ferguson represents Maryland’s 46th District in Baltimore City.  

Doug Donovan is an investigative reporter at the Baltimore Sun.

We livestreamed this conversation on the WYPR Facebook page.  Click here to watch the video. 

Photo Courtesy AP/ Patrick Semansky

Last Saturday night, a large group of teenagers gathered together in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.   After a few tense hours, a handful of kids were arrested for charges ranging from assault to disturbing the peace.  The incident was at least the fourth such episode in the Baltimore area since last summer, including disturbances at the White Marsh Mall and Eastpoint Mall in Baltimore County. 

Our panel today: 

Chris Wilson is an artist, an activist and an entrepreneur.  He’s the author of The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of PurposeDr. Kimberly Moffitt is the Associate professor and chair of the Language Literacy and Culture PhD program at UMBC. And D. Watkins is an editor-at-large at Salon and a lecturer at the University of Baltimore’s Klein Family School of Communication Design.  

Our discussion was streamed live on the WYPR FB page. Click here  to watch!

photo courtesy BC Health Dept.

On today's Midday Healthwatch, Tom's guest is Baltimore City’s new Health Commissioner, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa.  She was named to the position in February by then-Mayor Catherine Pugh.  She began serving in March and was officially sworn in on April 16.   She succeeds Dr. Leana Wen, who resigned last fall to become the president of Planned Parenthood

Dr. Dzirasa (pron. jih-RAH-zuh) is the first African American woman to be appointed as Baltimore’s Top Doc.  Baltimore has the nation’s oldest continuously operating health department, a high-profile city agency with an annual budget of 150 million dollars and more than 800 employees. Dr. Dzirasa is a pediatrician who trained at the John Hopkins Medical School.   She has worked in the private sector as the Health Innovation officer at Fearless Solutions, the Baltimore-based digital services company she co-founded with her husband Dilali. From 2013-2016, she was the director of school-based health services at Baltimore Medical System, a non-profit community health services organization.

Dr. Dzirasa is 37 years old.  She lives in Baltimore with her husband, their 2 year-old son and her 17 year-old stepson.

This conversation was live-streamed  on WYPR’s Facebook page; you can see the video here.

Photography by Joshua McKerrow

It's Thursday, and time once again for theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck, who joins us each week with her reviews of the regional stage. Today, she spotlights the new production of the hit 1960 musical, Oliver!  by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

A beloved turn on Charles Dickens' classic novel, Oliver Twist, this Tony Award-winning musical (1963, for Best Original Score in the 1962 Broadway production) follows the adventures of a homeless orphan (Oliver) in Victorian London, who falls in with a gang of street-urchin pickpockets, led by Artful Dodger and the criminal Fagin. 

With Book, Music and Lyrics by Lionel Bart, Oliver! is directed for Annapolis Shakespeare Company by Sally Boyett and Donald Hicken. Ms. Boyett, the company's founding artistic director, also choreographed the production. Marc Irwin is Music Director.

Oliver! continues at Annapolis Shakespeare Company's Main Stage Theatre at 1804 West Street in Annapolis through Sunday, June 9.  For more information about performances and tickets, click here.

Photo Courtesy Flickr

Today, a conversation about the origins of the ransomware virus that has incapacitated the computer system in Baltimore City.   Many City agencies and officials were unable to send or receive emails, or voice mails.  Web sites remained functional, but city employees have only gradually been able to restore ways in which the public can communicate with them. 

The fix for this malicious malware will take a long time, and cost a lot of money.  City Council President Brandon Scott has asked Governor Larry Hogan to request an emergency declaration from the federal government to assist in the slow process of restoring the system so bills can be paid, data bases accessed, documents can be produced, and the city’s business can be accomplished. 

So, what does the attack mean for the city and other public entities, private corporations, and individuals.  Tom is joined by Scott Shane of the New York Times;  and Johns Hopkins University Professor of Computer Science and cyber-security expert Avi Rubin.  

Courtesy Sen. Cardin

Tom’s guest today is U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), who has represented Maryland on Capitol Hill since 1987: first in the House of Representatives, where he represented Maryland’s Third Congressional District. He was elected to the Senate in 2007 and re-elected to a third term last November. Earlier in his career, he was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates for two decades.

Sen. Cardin is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the ranking member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. He is also a member of the Environment & Public Works and Finance committees. 

We livestreamed this conversation on WYPR's Facebook page.  Click here to see the video. 

Public Domain

(This program was originally broadcast on April 17, 2019)

Last month alone, Americans were bothered by more than 5 billion robocalls -- those unwelcome, computer-automated telemarketing or scam calls that are jangling our phones -- and our nerves -- with growing frequency. Is there any way to win the war on robocalls? And what can Congress do to rein in the scammers? Joining us on this archive edition of Midday are Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler, University of Maryland computer science professor Raymond Tu and Consumer Reports policy analyst Maureen Mahoney.

Cover art courtesy Penguin/Random House

(This program was originally broadcast on January 2, 2019)

Today, on this archive edition of Midday, Tom's guest is journalist and attorney Steven Brill.    He’s the founder of Court TV and American Lawyer magazine, and he teaches journalism at Yale University, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.

His latest book is a stunning and disconcerting compendium of some of the central problems facing America: the financialization of what had been a manufacturing based economy; rampant obsession with short term profits in American business, crippling political polarity, and marginalization of the middle class.  He offers a trenchant analysis of why these problems exist, and he shines a light on those people and organizations who are working to address these difficult challenges. 

The book is a New York Times Best-seller called “Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty Year Fall -- and those Fighting to Reverse It.”  

Cover art courtesy The New Press

In 2012, Lawrence Lanahan led a team here at WYPR that explored racial inequity in the Baltimore region in a year-long radio and multi-media series called The Lines Between UsLanahan has just published a book in which he continues his examination of the effects of racial bias in housing, education, and economic opportunity by chronicling the journeys of an African American family who moves from the city to Howard County, and a white family who moves from the suburbs to West Baltimore.  It’s called The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide (published by The New Press).

Lawrence Lanahan joins Tom in Studio A, along with Mark Carter, the Executive Director of the New Song Community Learning Center in Sandtown Winchester.