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Other segments from the episode on June 29, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 29, 2011: Interview with Noah Shachtman; Interview with Nick Paumgarten; Review of "Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Alone in San Francisco."

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U.S. Military Searches For A Device To Stop IEDs

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Noah Shachtman, writes the blog "Danger Room" for Wired magazine,
about national security and new weaponry. He's a contributing editor at Wired
and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Shachtman recently wrote an article called "The Secret History of Iraq's
Invisible War." He says that in the early years of the war, the U.S. military
developed a technology so secret that soldiers would refuse to acknowledge its
existence, and reporters who even mentioned the gear were promptly escorted out
of the country.

But Shachtman was recently invited for a visit by a defense contractor which
made this technology and was ready to discuss its evolution and capabilities.
We're going to talk about what Shachtman learned.

Noah Shachtman, welcome to FRESH AIR. Describe what you mean about Iraq's
invisible war.

Mr. NOAH SHACHTMAN (Contributing Editor, Wired; Nonresident Fellow, Brookings
Institution): You know, we all see this war on television where bombs go off,
and people shoot each other and territories won and territories lost and, you
know, tribes are influenced or not.

But behind the scenes and in the airwaves, there's this invisible war. It's for
control of the electromagnetic spectrum, the control of the airwaves. And
basically what happens is, insurgents use garage-door openers or cell phones to
set off bombs from a safe distance, to remotely trigger them. And the U.S. has
tried all number of different ways to try to block those triggers with
broadcasts of their own.

And so there's this competing battle that's going on, a sort of cat-and-mouse
game, a technological game of chess.

GROSS: So the goal of the jammers, the radio-frequency jammers that the U.S.
military has been designing, is to prevent the insurgents from using the remote
control devices to blow up bombs.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, basically the remote control bomb, for a number of years
in Iraq, was the weapon of choice for the insurgency. It gave them a chance to
attack U.S. troops at a safe distance. And at their peak, these bombs were
wounding 1,000 soldiers a month. And then you think, on top of that, all the
civilians that were hurt, as well. So this was the number one tool of the Iraq
insurgency.

And so the U.S. goal was to get them back to what they call the Wile E. Coyote
level of weaponry. You might remember from those old cartoons, Wile E. Coyote
would push down the plunger, and then the bomb would explode. That's what the
U.S. wanted to have happen here. They wanted to get the insurgents closer to
their weapons so that they might be able to counterattack or interdict them.

GROSS: So you can actually see a target. You can see an insurgent about to blow
something up.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, exactly. And so over a number of years, these jammers got
better and better and better, and sort of cut off that remote control bomb from
the Iraq insurgents and forced them back to Wile E. Coyote levels.

GROSS: But the problem that the American military ended up having, is that
these radio-frequency jamming devices were jamming the military's devices, too.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Right. So these jammers really hadn't been used before in this
context. And so they started out pretty crude, basically just screaming out a
signal, at all times in all directions, you know, as if you and I were having a
conversation, and a third person tried to talk in your ear just so you couldn't
hear what I was saying.

So basically all these jammers were introduced into Iraq one after the other
after the other, and they were all screaming into each other's ear, and they
were all canceling each other out, not to mention all the U.S. radios that were
being used. The jammers were canceling them out, too. And American troops were
also using robots to try to diffuse bombs, and those were remotely operated,
and the jammers would go after them, as well.

GROSS: So how did the military get around that? How were they able to prevent
insurgents from using remote control devices to detonate IEDs while still
allowing the military to communicate through radio frequencies?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Well, one way they did it is something that, you know, we do
instinctually, which is one of us talks, and then the other stops and listens
to what the other has to say. And that's kind of what they kind of designed the
jammers to do. They designed one to sort of radiate a signal and then stop for
a signal and - while the other one did. And so they developed these timing
protocols that allowed them to do that.

They also developed different techniques to jam these bombs. Rather than just
broadcast out a signal, what's called active jamming, they did reactive
jamming, which is they listened for that remote trigger, that cell phone that
would set off a bomb, and they would intercept that signal, and then they would
broadcast out something similar, but kind of confusing, to the receiver,
stopping the bomb from going off.

GROSS: So did the radio-frequency jammers manage to get the insurgents back the
Wile E. Coyote era?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: It took a long time. It took about four years. But eventually it
did happen. Basically, the most sophisticated of these jammers not only could
broadcast on a wide range of frequencies, but it could also spoof the software
connection between one cell phone and another. And once that happened, the
insurgents were pretty much cooked.

And you saw the rate of remote controlled improvised bombs drop dramatically
from, you know, from 1,000 soldiers getting hurt a month to a dozen.

GROSS: So did the insurgents come up with alternate devices?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, so the good news was the insurgents were robbed of their
weapon of choice and basically had to go back to primitive means of fighting
the Americans. The bad news is those primitive means worked pretty darn well,
somewhat in Iraq but especially in Afghanistan.

I was there a couple years ago, in Helmand Province, and what the insurgents
had done was use the terrain to rob the American forces of basically every
high-tech protective mechanism they had developed since 2001.

They planted their bombs in gulleys and on mud paths so that these big, hulking
armored vehicles that American troops would use to protect themselves, they
couldn't go there.

They made their bombs out of wood and fertilizer so they couldn't be detected
by metal detectors. They basically turned them into old-fashioned landmines
that you'd just step on to detonate them. They didn't use these remote control
triggers, and so as a result, the jammers were useless.

GROSS: And you write that a lot of the military equipment that was made for
Iraq's urban warfare, on highways, just didn't work in the fields of
Afghanistan, in places like Helmand.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, so I remember this one foot patrol in a town called Moba
Khan, it was really just a collection of farms and, you know, walking by
several bombs that I just happened not to step on myself and that a Marine
happened to notice before he stepped on. In fact, you know, I was involved in
this - witness to this kind of day-long gun battle between these two compounds
in Moba Khan, and honestly, I mean, I was kind of scared, but eth scariest
moment of all was the walk back from those compounds, about a kilometer along a
road that we knew had bombs planted in it somewhere.

That was probably the most terrifying thing I had to do, putting one foot in
front of the other, and hoping to God that there wasn't a bomb underneath.

GROSS: What were you looking for with each step?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Honestly, what I was looking for was just to put my foot exactly
where the guy before me had gone.

GROSS: But I mean, were you told to look to any particular evidence to indicate
that there was, you know, a mine?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: No, these guys were so tired and so used to it that they didn't
tell me to look for anything. I just tried to put my foot where they put their
feet.

GROSS: Right, right. Well, meanwhile, you think that there was one occasion
when you were in Iraq that one of the radio frequency jammers might have saved
your life, when you were near an IED.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, I was with a bomb squad in 2005, and they were based out
of Baghdad. And they got a call to go pretty much outside the Abu Ghraib
prison, to a place they called the Death X - because it was an intersection of
two highways where people got blown up all the time.

And in the middle of the road was supposed to be a suspicious package, but
instead was just a pair of pants, and I remember them being like: We're got the
Dockers. We've got the Dockers.

But, you know, it was kind of a lighthearted moment, but the kind of creepy
reality underneath was that insurgents would often put these fake packages out
there, these fake bombs out there, as a way of luring out a bomb squad and then
would have a real bomb nearby that they'd try to set off to get the responders.

And sure enough, as we were driving away from the pants, we rolled over an
artillery shell wired up to a long-range cordless telephone, and that was an
improvised bomb.

GROSS: But it didn't detonate?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: But it didn't go off. No, it didn't go off, which was good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHACHTMAN: That was a good thing. And, you know, you can't say for sure why
something doesn't happen. You can't, like, prove a negative. But, you know, I'm
pretty sure it was those jammers blocking the signal to that bomb.

GROSS: How long do you think it will be until jammers, like the ones we're
using, are used against us?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: That's a great question. It's long - it's a hot topic in
military circles because those jammers are pretty easily repurposed to block
GPS signals, and basically everything the military does is dependent on GPS,
from how it directs its bombs from the air to how it communicates to one
another to how it keeps track of where everybody is on the battlefield.

GROSS: The drones.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: The drones, right. That's a big - they're reliant on GPS, as
well. And so that's long been a concern is what happens if the GPS system
starts getting jammed.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Noah Shachtman. He's a
contributing editor at Wired magazine and the editor of its national security
blog "Danger Room." He's also a nonresident fellow at the Brookings
Institution. Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Noah Shachtman. He's a
contributing editor at Wired magazine and the editor of its national security
blog "Danger Room." He's also a nonresident fellow at the Brookings
Institution. He writes about national security and new weapons and new
strategies.

So this radio frequency jamming technology that we've been talking about, that
has helped the U.S. military prevent remote control devices from detonating
IEDs, this was supposed to be not only invisible technology but secret
technology, and even reporters who found out about it were told that they could
not write about it, they could not make it public.

And you know even of one reporter who was - well, what happened to him?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: So my friend and colleague David Axe, in 2006, was doing a
little reporting for a blog of mine at the time, and he casually mentioned in a
blog post that these jammers were, you know, operating in a Humvee convoy that
he was riding in. And the next day, he got a - you know, some guys came into
his tent and basically detained him for 36 hours and then promptly threw him
out of Iraq.

And it took years for him to kind of like repair his reputation with the U.S.
military for even mentioning that these jammers existed.

GROSS: Did you know about these jammers before, and you agreed to keep that
secret?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: I tried to write about jammers but write about them carefully
early on, but that didn't stop an Army colonel in Baghdad from hauling me into
his office, showing me printed-out stacks of my online articles and calling me
a friend to al-Qaeda for mentioning that these jammers existed.

You know, the sort of crazy part about the military and how it keeps its
secrets or not, is in the early days of the Iraq war, companies were issuing
press releases about how they had sold jammers and what these jammers did and
all their various characteristics.

And then the military was like oh, wait, wait, wait, actually all that stuff is
secret. You can't write about it. So I tried to move forward on it but step
carefully.

GROSS: So meanwhile, ITT, which is the contractor that manufactures many of
these radio-frequency jammers, invited you in to talk with you about the
technology and where it's headed. So what changed that now they want to talk
about it, and they're able to talk about, they want you to write about it?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Well, a couple things changed. Number one, the threat of radio
control bombs has subsided a bit. Number two, there's some really fierce
competition for some truly enormous contracts from the military for the next
generation of jammers. And so ITT, like every other business, wants a little
bit of positive press, and so they knew that I had written about the fight
against improvised bombs several times, and they knew a way to - a way of
handling sensitive information. And so they reached out to me.

I was even more surprised when they started talking about the capabilities of
these jammers, and I was completely shocked when they actually invited me to
their lab to see the next generation of jammers.

GROSS: So what did you learn about the next generation of jammers?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: What I learned is that the military has got a lot of ambition
for these devices, much more than just jamming. They want them basically to
become spying devices, to figure out where people are talking on their cell
phones and what they're saying. They want them to be able to block enemy drones
or enemy sensors. They want them to be able to block out GPS, if need be. And
they want them all to be networked together so you only have to operate one,
maybe, in a given convoy instead of having them all sort of blast at the same
time. So it's a real sort of leap ahead.

GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about drones, those remote controlled planes
that can spy or drop bombs. And they really are changing how wars are being
fought by the U.S. military. Do you want to describe some of the ways drones
are changing warfare now?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Well, let's just look at all the different wars that the U.S.
seems to be in at the moment, right. In Pakistan, drones are kind of the weapon
of choice. If you look at Yemen, there's drone operations happening there
pretty regularly, and you look at Libya, NATO's first combat casualty there was
a drone, a drone helicopter.

So really all over the world, the U.S. military is now turning to its flying
robots as its first troops of choice.

GROSS: Do you have an estimate for how many drones are out there now?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: The answer is thousands, but it's kind of a misleading number
because most drones are actually these tiny kind of hand-held model-airplane-
looking things, that there's a lot of them, but they don't necessarily have the
kind of strategic impact that, like, the Predator or Reaper drones do. And
those are the bigger ones that you hear about that are, you know, doing so much
damage in Pakistan.

GROSS: Yeah, I was reading about those new bug-sized drones that are under
development. Maybe some of them are already being used. I was reading about
them in the New York Times. What do you know about those really small drones?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, it's been an area of interest for years at places like
DARPA. That's the Pentagon's kind of way-out, sci-fi research arm. And that
sci-fi is becoming reality.

They've got drones that are, you know, the size of your hand, maybe two hands.
They've got flapping wings like real bugs or birds. And, you know, they've got
prototypes that are flying around.

GROSS: And what are they designed to do? What does the military hope that they
will be able to do?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Spy on people - without them noticing. You know, maybe it'll
just - I mean, this is now I'm projecting forward, okay, like 10, 15, 20 years
in the future, but, you know, it could definitely happen that, you know,
there'll be something flying in the air. You'll just think it's a little bird
hovering around, and instead it'll have a camera, and it'll be watching what
you do and listening to what you say.

GROSS: Now in terms of the Predator drone, which can and does drop bombs, they
are remote controlled from places far away, sometimes as far away as the United
States, where, you know, somebody would be controlling a drone that's in
Pakistan. There are concerns that it's, for the military, like a video game,
you know, where because you are so distant from and detached from the actual
target, that you don't feel the actual human cost of the bomb that is being
dropped, especially if there's collateral damage and people, who are not your
targets, are accidentally killed.

You had the opportunity to actually sit with men who are actually controlling
drones. This was in Vegas, am I right?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, so north of Vegas, pretty far north, you go up past the
city, past the big prison that's out there in the desert, and you keep going
and going and going to this little, you know, sort of one-street town with a
mini-casino off the edge.

And just past the casino, inside the gate, is a pretty nondescript office
building, and inside that office building is basically a series of cockpits.
And each one of those cockpits has guys flying in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And, you know, there's something to be said about the argument that this
removes people from the consequences of warfare. I remember sitting with this
one pilot, and he told me a story about how he dropped his first bomb using a
Reaper drone - that's the Predator's kind of bigger version - and then he went
home afterwards and fed his daughter blueberry pancakes, her favorite. And
that's a pretty odd juxtaposition, to go from bombs to blueberry pancakes.

On the other hand, though, on the other hand, guys like him are very
professionally trained and spend years and years and years rehearsing this
stuff. And, you know, if nothing else, collateral damage is a big professional
mistake and a sign that something went wrong, and these guys do not like to get
things wrong.

GROSS: Noah Shachtman will be back in the second half of the show. He's a
contributing editor at Wired magazine and edits its national security blog
"Danger Room." He's also a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Let's back to our interview with Noah Shachtman. He's a contributing editor at
Wired magazine and edits its national security blog "Danger Room." He's also a
nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution. Shachtman has reported from
Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, the Pentagon, Los Alamos and military bases around
the country.

General Petraeus is likely to become the new CIA director and Leon Panetta,
secretary of Defense. So just looking at General Petraeus, who says he would,
you know, resign from military if he becomes the CIA director, what does it say
to you that a military leader is likely to be heading the CIA?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Well, it's not just Petraeus, right? The director of national
intelligence is a former general, Jim Clapper. The head of the National
Security Agency is a general, Keith Alexander. You know, there's an increasing
fusion of the military world and in the intelligence world. And you see that
with Petraeus going to the CIA and Leon Panetta going to the Pentagon.

What used to be very distinct activities governed by different legal regimes,
reporting to different panels in Congress have increasingly - the lines between
them have gotten increasingly fuzzy.

GROSS: So has the military and the CIA been operating more closely in Iraq,
Afghanistan or Pakistan than in previous wars?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, for sure. You know, you just look at that raid on
Abbottabad on bin Laden's compound. You know, you had the guys from Joint
Special Operations Command working with the CIA kind of hand-in-glove, and that
kind of thing didn't often happen before. But starting in 2001, you know, in
the initial push on Afghanistan and through today, that cooperation has gotten
tighter and tighter and tighter.

GROSS: And has that cooperation, do you know, been welcomed by the CIA and the
military? Or is there more of a turf war between them?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: It's like more and more of this war, this global war that
America has spent $1 trillion on, more and more of it is receding into the
shadows, right? You've got these private contractors who are maybe accountable,
maybe they're not. They're using technologies that are highly classified that
were, you know, the great unwashed aren't allowed to see. A lot of this war is
now being conducted by secretive special operations units and by, you know,
clandestine CIA paramilitary organizations. And there was a time when you could
see the war unfold at least a little bit on TV and that time has kind of
passed.

GROSS: Well, you know, one of the consequences of that is that we lose track
more and more - I think the American public - that we're involved in these
wars. Because we don't see those same - the same number of battles on TV.
They're being, some of its remote controlled, some of it is so secretive. So I
think Americans are growing increasingly detached.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah. And I think because it's very difficult to tell, you know,
those secret warriors' stories, it's hard to keep support for the wars up too,
right? I mean at least in Iraq even when things were going to hell, at least
you could hear from those individual soldiers. Now, you know, if it's all being
done, you know, under the cover of night, it's pretty tough to get them to talk
and you can't really hear what it's really like. And I think that that is one
of many reasons why, you know, war fatigue seems to have set in so greatly.

GROSS: So in your reporting, you know, understanding the military's need to
keep some operations and technology a secret and at the same time as a
journalist wanting to report on things and uncover things, how do you try to
maintain a balance between secrecy and uncovering? And how often have you been
given guidelines by the military?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: It's a difficult and it's a fine line to walk. But it's one that
if you apply a little common sense, you know, I don't think it's that hard to
figure out what's really secret and what's just stamped secret by some, you
know, government bureaucrat.

You know, the fact that the U.S. military has jammers and that they block
certain kinds of remote-controlled bombs, you know, that's not such a big
secret. What frequencies they use particularly, you know, what their exact
ranges is, OK, that's a legitimate secret. That's something that could threaten
the lives of soldiers on the battlefield and that I choose not to report.

You know, similarly, there are things that I, you know, I've seen in Iraq and
Afghanistan that are secret, I'm not even sure why. You know, it's like a
particular mapping technology or something that I mean honestly like Google
Earth is cooler and better.

Here's a great example. The military has a base in quote/unquote "Southwest
Asia," where they run the air war from, where they run the air war in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and you are totally not allowed to say where that base is or what
its name is. That being said, you can find it on Google, right? So a lot of
what the military says is secret really isn't that secret.

So I guess the test I use is: is it really going to threaten anybody's life in
a place like Iraq or Afghanistan? Am I really going to put a soldier in
jeopardy? If that's the case, then no way am I going to report on it. I'm not
going to jeopardize one of those guys. But if it's just one of these kind of
secrets of convenience, then forget about it.

GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Oh, it's my pleasure.

GROSS: Noah Shachtman is a contributing editor at Wired magazine and edits its
national security blog "Danger Room." He's also a nonresident fellow at the
Brookings Institution. You'll find links to his recent articles on our website,
freshair.npr.org.

Coming up, online dating. We talk with Nick Paumgarten about his article in the
current New Yorker about how online dating sites make their matches.

This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
137475124
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20110629
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Matchmaker, Matchmaker ... Run Your Algorithm

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Lots of people have given up trying to find a partner through parties, bars,
dates, work, neighbors, friends, laundromats, bus stops, coffee shops and
they've turned to online dating sites where there's lots of choices and where
they'll maybe, maybe not, find a good match.

Online dating sites and how they make their matches is the subject of the
article "Looking for Someone" in the current edition of The New Yorker by my
guest Nick Paumgarten. If you're wondering if he looked for his match online,
the answer is no. He's only been on two dates in his life and on the second, he
met the woman who became his wife. They've been together 23 years.

Nick Paumgarten, welcome to FRESH AIR.

So you have an image I really like. You basically say that online dating is
serving the function for middle-class adults that college serves for younger
people, because when you're in college you have a really large pool of single
people...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NICK PAUMGARTEN (Journalist, New Yorker): Right. Right.

GROSS: ...that you can meet. And then after college, that pool keeps getting
smaller and smaller as your circle of friends shrinks and as many of them get
coupled off.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Yeah, you run out of friends of friends, and then you run out
of friends of friends of friends. And, you know, what Internet dating provides
is a much bigger pool, and with that pool, you know, theoretically, you have a
better chance of meeting someone better. It also means that it takes a lot of
work, you know, to sort through all the possible mates that are there for you.

GROSS: And it means you're making choices based on information as opposed to
making choices meeting somebody and having a feeling about them.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Right. It's not just the look or even that one thing that
someone says or a feeling that you have in that moment. It's, you know, a
written and curated presentation, you know, the dating profile, you know, that
tends to favor someone who might write well or be clever. But I guess the idea
is that you are reverting in a way back to an older way of dating or of getting
to know people, which is you get to know a little bit about them before you
meet them, which has an almost kind of, you know, 19th century feel to it.

GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about how the online dating services work. They
all have slightly different theories of compatibility. So why don't you choose
one and tell us their theory of compatibility?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: I spent time sort of with three or four sites. One of them is
eHarmony, which is probably the squarest of the bunch. It's the one that is
most overtly committed to finding you a spouse or a partner for life. And their
approach is based some clinical psychological findings that say that, you know,
compatibility is important, that the idea that opposites attract is a bit of a
canard. That opposites attract, well, they also attack. That's the term they
use. So they, what they try to do is they try to identify, you know,
personality features that make people compatible.

GROSS: Now they actually have a relationship lab that you visited.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Yeah.

GROSS: What happens in the relationship lab?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Well, the cool thing about the relationship lab is that it's
run by a husband and wife team, sort of a Nick and Nora of relationship
research. What they do is they have married couples come in periodically and go
through a bunch of tests, you know, little exercises and they observe those
exercises and look for clues to the kinds of things that would indicate that
these are happy marriages or less than happy marriages.

I mean they don't do a lot of judging on scene but they do pick up on little
cues. You know, for example, if a spouse, if a husband rolls his eyes when his
wife says something, that's a sign of contempt and apparently contempt is not a
good emotion to have in a marriage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So in the eHarmony relationship lab they're trying to find successful
couples and figure out what it is about them that makes them a good match?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Right. Right.

GROSS: So that they could duplicate that in people who are looking for a match?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: That's the idea. I mean to a certain extent I sometimes wonder
if there's a little bit of Potemkin in the enterprise, that they want to be
showing you that they're doing this as much as the fact that they are just
doing it. But the idea is that...

GROSS: You need to make it seem more scientific?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Right. I mean, you know, all these sites they all have an
approach that they abide by. Yes. But the approach is also their - sort of
their selling point. But they are trying to figure out, you know, they're
trying to find a secret sauce.

Another site is Chemistry.com and that's owned by Match. And Match started
actually in response to eHarmony. And, you know, they've identified personality
types. They have, you know, four personality types: an explorer, a negotiator,
a builder, director. And these are, you know, these correlate to brain
chemicals, neurochemicals, dopamine, estrogen, serotonin, testosterone. And,
you know, they feel that there are certain compatibilities and there are
matrixes of compatibilities that better indicate which two people might get
along better and have a long and happier life.

GROSS: Did you take the test to find out which type you were?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: I did. I mean it's hard to resist a test. And I found out I was
an explorer-negotiator.

GROSS: And what does that mean? What does that mean?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: I think it means that, you know, I'm daring but I am, you know,
I'm willing to take on all kinds of crazy ventures. But at the same time I'm
very respectful of others. I think these are all flattering categories, by the
way. It's sort of like your horoscope. It's always telling you things that you
want to hear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: But the funny thing is that I took the test and then I had my
wife take the test just for fun. And it turned out that I was one of the, you
know, the 10 people that was recommended for her, so I'm one of her matches on
Chemistry.com.

GROSS: You mean of all the people...

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: She didn't come up...

GROSS: She didn't ask for you. She just put her personality in and you came up?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Right. And it wasn't even my real name because, you know, I
didn't feel comfortable going on with a real name.

GROSS: So there's hope for your marriage after more than 20 years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Yeah. But she didn't come up as one of my 10, though. That's,
you know.

GROSS: Oh, she didn't?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: No. I came up as one of her 10.

GROSS: Oh, you came back as one of hers but she didn't come up as one of yours.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don't know how that - maybe that's because
I'm an explorer, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right. OK. So Chemistry.com is owned by Match.com, and Match.com is one
of the big ones.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You said that Match.com takes stock of your stated and revealed
preferences. What does that mean? What is the equation that they're doing?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Well, most sites begin with a questionnaire. Match is no
different. You answer a bunch of questions describing who you are and
describing what you think you're looking for. But what they found and what
other people have found on these sites is that your behavior online, who you
click on, who you receive messages from, says more about you often than your
own answers.

And what they do is they figure out that there's sort of a disconnect, a
dissonance between your stated preference and your revealed preference. And
they sort of - they plug both of those into, you know, their computers and the
algorithms figure out what it is that you really want and how the distance
between those two things is indicative of a certain type of person who wants
certain things and they go from there and figure out exactly who your perfect
match is.

GROSS: Can you give us a sense of what the questions are?

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Well, the questions are all over the place. I mean some of them
are pretty basic. You know, the questions about yourself, obviously you
describe yourself, you describe what you do, what your values are, what your
religious beliefs are, you know, all that kind of stuff. And then
correspondingly what you're looking for.

This other site, OkCupid has - their questions are basically provided by the
users. And what they have is they have questions that seem totally nuts, but
they found that there are correlations between seemingly mundane questions and
deeper, more important and revealing tendencies.

For example, they found that the question of whether you'll sleep with someone
on the first date, right? That's not a question you're going to ask someone if
you're about to go on a first date. But apparently, the question of whether you
sleep with someone or not on the first date, the answers to that question
correlate perfectly or nearly perfectly to the question: do you like the taste
of beer? So apparently if you say you like the taste of beer, you are also the
kind of person who says yes, I will sleep with someone on the first date.

Another question they found...

GROSS: That makes no sense to me.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Because most people like the taste of beer but a lot of people wouldn't
sleep with somebody on the first date.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: I was surprised. I thought - yeah I didn't. I thought that
maybe people are more honest about the taste of beer in the questionnaire. I
mean I don't know. But another one, another good one is do you like horror
movies? Apparently if a couple - if two people both feel the same way about
that they have a better chance of getting along. It's a very revealing question
about compatibility. And when you think about it, I don't know, I've sort of
informally done a poll and it seems to bear out anecdotally.

Do you like horror movies?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, I'd have to say which kind? Are you talking about horror movies
from the '80s or classic horror films like "Frankenstein" and "Dracula?" Are
you talking about, you know, Val Lewton movies or splatter films. You know, so
I, if you...

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Oh, you're taking the fun out of it. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: No. No. But that's the thing, I can't do questionnaires because I
always...

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Oh I had the same problem. Yeah.

GROSS: I always do this whole, well, what do you mean by that? You know and I
am paralyzed.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Right. They're really binary.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: They're really binary. And, you know, the political questions
seem sometimes simplistic. The religious questions seem simplistic. You know, I
sometimes felt inspired to write little essays in the box they provide, which
have no bearing.

GROSS: No, exactly. Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: You know, but it's just, and then you come across like a
pedant, you know?

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Oh, I'm agnostic but let me explain that, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: You're not going to get any dates that way.

GROSS: You know, I remember the first time I knew somebody who had looked for a
partner or a date through a personal ad.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And this was, God, really, this was in the '70s. And it was somebody who
did it through the like The New York Review of Books and I thought...

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Right.

GROSS: ...wow, that is just so weird to do a personal ad. And he really I think
loved the person who he met and they were together long-distance on and off for
some time. And it's so common now to meet people that way. And just not
necessarily through The New York Review of Books or through like an ad and hard
copy, but through some kind of service like that. It's just is so interesting
how the landscape has changed and how common it's become.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: If you were to do a, you know, a straight history of Internet
dating, you know, you'd have to go back and look at the New York Review of
Books and their personals as sort of, it's a watershed thing. Because they
made, they took it out of the sort of the back alley and they made it into an
art form: the profile or, you know, the classified ad. And, you know, that
strain sort of continued on in Nerve.com later in the, you know, late '90s and
still going.

You know, the idea of the clever well-curated personal profile, which is very
much a part of it. I mean, you know, Facebook and that kind of thing also
contributes to that. But, you know, those old ads in The New York Review of
Books were important.

GROSS: Well, Nick Paumgarten, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. PAUMGARTEN: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

GROSS: Nick Paumgarten's article about online dating sites is in the current
edition of The New Yorker. You'll find a link to his article on our website,
freshair.npr.org.

Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a newly re-mastered and reissued release of
Thelonious Monk's 1959 solo album "Thelonious Alone in San Francisco."

This is FRESH AIR.
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Thelonious Monk: Making The Piano Hum

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

New York pianist Thelonious Monk spent a month in California in 1959. In Los
Angeles, he played at the Hollywood Bowl and his wife Nellie was hospitalized
with gastrointestinal problems. Monk then traveled alone to San Francisco to
play at the Blackhawk nightclub.

The first night, his musicians arrived late and he had to play two sets by
himself. The next day, he went into a North Beach auditorium to begin work on a
solo album, appropriately called "Thelonious Alone in San Francisco." It's just
been reissued.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.

(Soundbite of song, "Everything Happens To Me")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Thelonious Monk on the 1940 chestnut, "Everything Happens To
Me," from 1959's "Thelonious Alone in San Francisco." The third of his four
solo albums, and maybe the most obscure, it's now back out on OJC. Monk did
like to dig out old tunes: That same album includes Irving Berlin's "Remember"
from 1925, and a couple of all-but-forgotten songs, "You Took the Words Right
Out of My Heart" and "There's Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie."

(Soundbite of song, "There's Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie")

WHITEHEAD: On one level, Monk was a far-out pianist, with his brittle discords,
homemade keyboard technique and unnerving hesitations and silences. But he was
always drawing on the past. That's why both jazz avant-gardists and
traditionalists revere him. He attacked the keys with a peculiar, flat-fingered
approach that let every note ring out. It slowed him down a little, but he can
surprise listeners who think he always took his time.

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Monk")

WHITEHEAD: Monk got part of his training from the old stride pianists who'd
dominated New York in the '20s, like James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion"
Smith. Monk's sound was always chunkier and more deliberate, but they did teach
him tricky left-hand stride patterns. On "Blue Monk," he sneaks up on them.
There's no gimmickry to it - no showboating.

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Monk")

WHITEHEAD: He's almost overreaching there at the end. Other solo jazz pianists
like Art Tatum showed off their virtuosity, but Monk's solos were more about
the compositions, and making the piano hum. In that way, these pieces recall
Jelly Roll Morton's 1920s solos on tunes he'd been writing for decades that
sketch the very emergence of jazz, with his expressive piano painting in the
details. And Morton was clunking on adjacent keys like Monk by 1923.

Monk's biographer, Robin Kelley, connects one new blues here, "Bluehawk," to a
record Monk had been given by percussionist Guy Warren from Ghana. Listen to
Warren's talking drum part here.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: And compare that to the riff monk uses to jumpstart "Bluehawk."

(Soundbite of song, "Bluehawk")

WHITEHEAD: On "Thelonious Alone in San Francisco," Monk also plays three of his
own classic ballads with minimal improvising, illustrating a few ways of
framing the melody and his carefully worked-out disharmony. Monk could
seemingly bend notes on piano, by striking two adjacent keys and quickly
releasing one. The short note seems to slide into the held one. On
"Reflections," he's very particular to bend one note in the melody every time
it comes around. It's one aspect of his art in microcosm: a tiny reminder that,
for all his looking back, he found new things the piano could do.

(Soundbite of song, "Reflections")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for eMusic.com. He's also the author
of the new book "Why Jazz: A Concise Guide." He reviewed "Thelonious Alone in
San Francisco" on the OJC label.

You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.

I'm Terry Gross.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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