Skip to main content

Enjoy the Latest Episode of "NYPD Blue" Is Must See TV -- For Real

TV critic David Bianculli reviews the final "NYPD Blue" episode featuring actor Jimmy Smits.

05:16

Other segments from the episode on November 24, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 24, 1998: Interview with Tandaswa Ndita; Interview with George Hudler; Review of the television show "NYPD Blue."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 24, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 112401np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Interview with Tandaswa Ndita
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

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

As a black woman magistrate or judge in South Africa, Tandaswa Ndita has good news to share with women: They are granted equal rights under South Africa's new Constitution. Ndita is one of the women profiled in a new documentary called "A Woman's Place" which premieres on public television Friday night.

Since 1986, she's worked in a poor rural area called Mount Frare (ph) which is very similar to where she grew up in the Transky Township (ph). Many people in the rural areas haven't even heard of the new constitution, and many of the men, including some of the chiefs, don't want to grant women equality. They prefer to uphold the customary laws which say that women are perpetual legal minors, and can't hold property or inherit property.

Tandaswa Ndita's early life were shaped by these laws. Her father died when she was just a few months old. I asked what happened to her mother after his death.

TANDASWA NDITA, SOUTH AFRICAN JUDGE: After the death of my father my mother had to leave the homestead because she did not have a male descendant. That is, she only had daughters -- four daughters at home.

Some male relative had to be appointed to head the household, and that male relative, in turn, had a concomitant duty of support toward my mother which he failed to perform and, rather, chased her out of the house because she had no heir to the estate.

So, she had to go back to her home, try and build a new house, and try and earn a living. She had no profession, she to earn a living by performing odd jobs like making braids for sale, working in a hotel, doing this and that and that to make ends meet for her four children.

She had to put them through education. She had no money, she had nothing, but she did her best by doing all those odd jobs and managed to put all three -- three of those daughters through college.

GROSS: So, she lost all of the family possessions because women aren't allowed to inherit?

NDITA: She lost all of her family possessions because she did not have an heir. That is, she did not give birth to a son, and because some male who was irresponsible was appointed to manage the estate, because she, as a woman, had no right to the estate.

GROSS: Did she think that there are was something wrong with the law?

NDITA: She felt bitter. She felt that something was very, very wrong because she never viewed herself as like being less than a man, she always instilled it in us that -- Look, you are just people, that's all you are. There is no one superior to the other, you are just people; you're equal.

GROSS: Now, in the village that you're working in, which is far away from the city and there's really very little in the way of automobiles or any kind of real connection to the world beyond the village, a lot of people there have never even heard of the constitution, and yet your job there is to teach them about it and to uphold it.

What does the tribal law that the people have been living under say about women?

NDITA: The tribal law governing the rights to women is that women are perpetual minors. It is the same administration as, in fact, that governs the rest of the Transky (ph) -- the Black Administration Act of 1927 --which is codified customary law. And also, customary law which is not codified. That means in terms of custom, women are regarded as minors.

They are subject to the marital power of the husband. They have no local (ph) standing in law; there is no place in law; they cannot stand in law on their own. Like, if you are a woman and you want to sue someone, it has to be coded that (unintelligible) duly assisted by her husband, so on an so on (ph).

GROSS: So, you can only go to court if your husband is assisting you. What if your husband is the cause of your problem?

NDITA: You must be duly assisted by another male descended from the same family.

GROSS: Oh.

NDITA: Ridiculous.

GROSS: Yeah, that makes it very difficult, doesn't it? What are some of the typical arguments that you have been getting from men who think that this new constitution and the quality that it offers women is ridiculous, is an insult to them?

NDITA: Most men feel that the constitution is here to take away our cultural rights. It is in our culture that women are subjects to the marital power of men. And it's no good, is how they feel. It's no good; we don't need it. We want our culture to remain as it is.

But in some areas, most chiefs are quite progressive. They already know that the law itself is made of social rules, and therefore, social rules change with the times. So there's no reason why the custom should not change. There's no reason why the laws should not change.

So, they have already -- like profiled in the movie is another chief who has already, in his area, implemented changes like the rights to land. He gives women the right to own land. It means that on his own he has realized that there is a need to change the rules of custom, because I have not even been to him before he -- when he implemented the changes.

On his own accord he realized that women need to be recognized as people in terms of the law. So, you sort of get a mixed reaction, like some say: Look here, who is she to come and tell us about our rights? I mean, she doesn't know a thing. The custom has long been with those, and this constitution is relatively new; it is here (ph).

Like, they feel, like: Oh, the colonialists again are here to take away something from us. So, it's threatening -- sort of. I understand the anger directed towards the new constitution, but there is a need to educate the people that it is not here to threaten their rights, their cultures. In fact, it is there to protect the same cultures and rights, only to uplift the standard of women.

GROSS: How do you explain to the people who want to uphold tradition that this new constitution is not the work of colonialists, it's the work of the new South African government? Nelson Mandela is one of the people behind it.

NDITA: That's a very hard one. You have to start from scratch because the colonialists first codified customary law which was not codified. Now, that means that it entrenched rules that would be difficult to change; it would be difficult to change the law -- an act of parliament.

Whereas custom, which is not codified, can't be changed; it is governed by the rules that govern society at that particular point in time. Now, you have to start by saying that you know the history of South Africa, you know where we're coming from, you know when the colonialists took the land from you the African National Congress had to be formed; many of our political organizations also came up. This was all fighting the rule of the colonialists.

You have to tell them that we are where we are today because men like Nelson Mandela went to prison so that you can be free. Your freedom is the constitution that we now have, because without it, there would be no rights guaranteed in the country.

So, it's a whole thing like -- what do you know, what do you know? I mean, you are a woman, you can't tell us about our history. We were here, we know better. So, you just have to have some patience, you have to persevere and come up with the story and somehow convince the people that the constitution is the best thing that ever happened to South Africa.

GROSS: I can see how it would get difficult and even confusing for some people. After all, you want to uphold respect for elders and respect for tribal traditions, but on the other hand, some of those traditions are very unfair. So, is it -- can you talk with the people about distinguishing between traditions that are fair and traditions that are outdated and are unfair -- that are hurtful?

NDITA: Really, tradition is really belief. Belief depends on what prevails at that particular point in time. Like what actually took away women's rights was the entrenchment of the codified customary law because, customarily, men do sit around, drink with women. They mingle with women, they smoke with them. I mean, culturally, you don't see any real difference between men and women that is with people on the ground. They are equal, they go to the chief's court, they have been attending the chief's court, it's just that there are separate places to sit.

Like men will sit on the other side, and women on the other side. They have a right to speak in the chief's court, they can bring action in the chief's court not assisted by anyone. It is only in the magistrates court that they have to be assisted by any male member in the family.

I don't know if I'm answering your question properly. There are just too many issues here. I'm grappling with all of them at the same time.

GROSS: No, I understand, but I think it's very interesting that there's a difference in women's rights in the chief's court and in the, you know, official court of the country -- in the magistrates court. Yeah, so I think I see your point there that in 1927 when the colonialists codified traditional law, they kind of set in to stone things that would have kind of naturally evolved if left on their own.

NDITA: Oh, yes, that's what I'm saying exactly.

GROSS: And do you think that some of the rules that make men superior to women would have kind of naturally evolved if the law was allowed to naturally evolve?

NDITA: Those rules would have long evolved naturally if the law had evolved. Look where we are now. We have -- we still have the Black Administration Act of 1927 operating, and its 1998 and we have a new constitution. We still have a gray area, because that Black Administration Act has not been repealed.

So, that means that it's sort of -- it puts us at a disadvantage that customary law was codified by the colonialists. In fact, they did it to have control over the natives.

GROSS: Well, it's a real topsy-turvy position, though, it seems to me, because the chiefs are upholding laws that were upheld by the colonizers that were poured into -- you know, written into stone by the colonizers, and you, now, a representative of the government, is really representing the force for change -- the force of equality.

NDITA: That is true, but if we take the history back a little, you would realize that even those chiefs were British (ph) imposters. They were put there by the colonialists for their own purposes. They got renumeration for being chiefs. Traditionally, there is no renumeration for being a chief.

GROSS: So, even the chiefs were a sign of the colonial government?

NDITA: Oh, yes. Even the chiefs were a sign of colonial government.

GROSS: My guest is Tandaswa Ndita. She's a judge in rural South Africa. More after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tandaswa Ndita, and she is a South African judge who works in a rural village upholding the new constitution which grants equality to women and prohibits gender discrimination. She is one of the women profiled in a new documentary called "A Woman's Place" which premieres November 27th on public television.

Now, in the TV documentary, you seem very good-natured when you're arguing with men who disagree -- men who believe that women should not have equal rights, that men are superior and men need to have control. Is that something that you feel is important to do to keep being good humored in these discussions as opposed to getting very angry with them?

NDITA: Naturally, you have to be good-natured when you deal with these issues, otherwise, you could get emotionally drained. You know, you need to laugh at them; you need to laugh with them. That's usually my attitude when it comes to dealing with matters of gender with the males.

What I usually do, I usually ask an appointment with the chief of that particular area. I think here you call him a tribesman. I first sort of try and conquer the chief to be on my side so that he introduces me to his constituency. And by the time I get there, I have him on my side.

And it's not like it's just some heavy talk about women's rights. No, it's just a light conversation which is eventually going to get them the way I really want them to get -- like recognizing that women are just people, they have rights like they all have (ph).

Besides, I have another added advantage. You see, I'm a magistrate in the area, so that means I'm deeply respected by the community. Now, usually in communities of a place like Mount Frare (ph) a magistrate is sort of like a demigod, you know, and stays next to the courthouse sort of secluded, because you'll recall that it -- most of the time there had only been white magistrates, and it's only about the last 17 or 18 years that they've had a black magistrate -- and a woman, for that matter. So they hold me in very high esteem. So that's another advantage when talking to the community of Mount Frare (ph).

I've stayed with them for a number of years, and -- so that sort of adds some spice to their edge (ph). Like, they react automatically to me, they trust me, they know that I wouldn't introduce anything that would take away their rights and their beliefs.

GROSS: Now, I'm surprised, in a way, that you do get such respect. I thought that perhaps some of the men wouldn't respect a woman judge because it would be so unusual for them to see a woman with that kind of power -- power over them. Power over the men.

NDITA: You see, after 13 years with a woman judge, you have no option but to respect her.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Well, did you get the respect early on?

NDITA: Oh, no. The reaction was pretty hostile. You know, it would be like -- (unintelligible) she's not even married, you know? Even my colleagues, you know, say, "Miss," just to make a point that would put you in your place, you know that?

It's just that in life you just prove your point. I have been with that community, and they have seen how I deal with their problems. So they have no reason not to respect me. They are somewhat compelled to respect me.

GROSS: What are some of the typical cases that women bring to you now?

NDITA: I deal with a number of cases ranging from criminal cases, civil cases, domestic violence and inheritance inquiries. Oh, anything that you can ever think of is dealt with by me.

GROSS: Do you deal with a lot of women who are in the same situation that your mother was in when your father died -- where the woman is being denied the right to inherit her husband's property, even though the new constitution says that a woman should be allowed to inherit her husband's property?

NDITA: On a daily basis there will always be a woman who is accompanied by a man saying that -- He wants to take all the money. He says that he's going to maintain (ph) it (ph). It's his duty and custom. It's on a daily basis that I get such inquiries.

GROSS: Do you ever bring in your own experiences -- growing up under those circumstances?

NDITA: All through my inquiries I try to be as impersonal as possible.

GROSS: Yes.

NDITA: It sometimes happens that you can sort of get carried away, you know? Like when I really want to advise the woman to fight for their rights, I will say that -- Look here, this is what happened to my family. You have the constitution to protect you, so why don't you use the constitution?

Sometimes I do, I get carried away and think that -- Oh, no, she's not doing enough. Let me just nudge her to do.

GROSS: Now, when you rule in favor of a woman and against the man who says, no this woman is a woman, she can't inherit her husband's property, what do you have to do to make sure that the decision is upheld? I mean, do the -- does the man automatically respect your decision?

NDITA: So far I have not had any appeals. If they don't feel comfortable with my decision -- that is, the man -- then they would have to appeal to the high court and say that -- No, the magistrate erred in holding that the woman had rights -- through an attorney, of course.

But so far I have not had any appeal from my decisions. I think it is largely because, before I give any decision on the matter, I handle it traditionally like -- we sit in a roundtable and a very informal inquiry. We talk and talk. The man is allowed to vent what he wants to vent. We talk and talk about the constitution until such time that by the time we reach a decision, we are agreeable about almost all the issues.

GROSS: Do you think that the people in the South African government realize how disconnected the people in the rural areas are from the new constitution; how difficult it is to bring the new constitution to the rural areas?

NDITA: Oh, the government does realize that there are problems with people on the ground. They know that they don't have enough public education. They know that they have not sold the constitution to the people on the ground. So, there are projects with the Department of Justice that are designed to work hand-in-hand with NGOs so that the constitution is brought to the people.

But it is taking quite a long time, though. And I always believed that we have a good constitution, but what good is that constitution if it does not reach the people of South Africa? It's as good as if it exists in a vacuum, because no one will enforce the rights enshrined in the constitution if people are not aware of the constitution.

I appreciate the work done by the Department of Justice, like public education, but it is just not enough. On the operational level, they need to get to those rural areas and educate the people about the processes of the law.

GROSS: South African judge Tandaswa Ndita. She'll be back in the second half of the show. She's one of the women profiled in the documentary "A Woman's Place" which will be shown on many public TV stations Friday night.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

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

Back with Tandaswa Ndita. She's a magistrate, or judge, in rural South Africa. Her mission is to educate the people in her community about the new constitution. It grants women equality, but many of the men prefer to live by customary law which gives women the perpetual status of legal minors and prohibits them from owning or inheriting property.

Ndita is one of the women profiled in the new documentary "A Woman's Place" which will be shown on many public TV stations Friday night.

Now, you have three daughters.

NDITA: I have.

GROSS: But you're not married now.

NDITA: I'm not, yeah.

GROSS: Are you looked at as being very strange in the community where you work?

NDITA: In one way, you could say that. You know, when I handle these domestic violence cases, the men will usually say -- Who is she? What does she know about family matters? I mean, she's not even married, for that matter. Who is she to give orders against us? She knows nothing about married life.

And they will normally say to me -- And, why are you not married and you can handle these things very well? Then marry me if you want to...

LAUGHTER

Yeah, there was that kind of problem like the man having an attitude, but it doesn't get to me because it is my choice that I'm not married. So, I'm not for that. And in fact, it is to make a statement that I don't need to get married so that I can be recognized by society. I don't like -- I don't need to be in the sort of conventional family setting to be recognized by the society, I just need to be me and that's it.

GROSS: Now, if you don't mind my asking. were you ever married? And if so, did you have problems keeping what was yours when you separated because of the law?

NDITA: No, ma'am. I was never married.

GROSS: So, you never had to face what your mother faced.

NDITA: I think that's one of the reasons why I never got married. You know, it could be -- it could be. I was too conscious of the history repeating itself. It could be I was trying to avoid the situation where my mother got involved into by getting married.

GROSS: By getting married and then losing everything when her husband died.

NDITA: Yeah. That could be one more reason why I'm not married.

GROSS: You have two sisters, and I'm wondering if they also got an education and became supporters on the new constitution?

NDITA: I have three, in fact.

GROSS: Oh, you have three sisters?

NDITA: Yeah. The first born child also has a teaching degree and an honors degree. She is not bothered with the new constitution. The second born child is a business person. She is very much aware of her rights, she is very much aware that -- she is in an abusive marriage, I must say. So, she keeps on the phone with me. She wants to know her rights, she wants to read every material there is to know about her rights.

She is in touch, just generally, in touch with the law. So, she knows the constitution pretty well. And then the other one is working as a physiotherapist in a hospital in Dofi Barber (ph). That is my hometown. She is also very much aware of her rights.

I think the eldest -- the eldest sister sort of closed herself from anything. I think since she was the eldest when this all happened, she just decided that the law was no good. She doesn't want anything to do with the law.

When the property was taken away, she was there, she could witness it. In fact, I was yelled at because those are stories I heard because I was only about six months. So, she was like -- No, no, no. I don't need the law to protect me, I don't have to know the law. She doesn't want anything to do with the law.

GROSS: Because she thinks of the law as a bad thing.

NDITA: She thinks of the law as a bad thing, educated as she is. She doesn't like the law. She says, like, we had to go through so much suffering because of the law. So, I just don't want to bother with the law.

GROSS: Well, I can really understand that, not only because of things like the inheritance law, but also just apartheid in general was the law.

NDITA: I think in general, yes; apartheid in general. You see, for us blacks -- you see, a lot of radicalism because the law has never been anything for us other than oppression. It was an instrument used by the colonialists to oppress us. That is why today you find that there is very little respect for the law amongst the youth of South Africa.

GROSS: Now, what kind of position does that put you in?

NDITA: It put me in a very difficult position because I have sort of deviated -- in handling the criminal cases I daily handle, I have to go in-depth, I have to try and educate, I have to try and make the youth understand that -- Look, we are here now. The past doesn't matter. We need to do what's best for our country.

I have a program I call "Juvenile Justice" where we go to schools, we teach children about the processes of the law. But there's not much time, you realize, because I have other matters to attend to like the criminal court, the civil court and the inheritance. So, there's not much time for public education.

But, I work with -- I work with social workers; I work with correctional services; I work with the SAPS (ph) in their community policing. Now, that's where we get the youth of the district, and we want them to realize what we have achieved and what we had hoped to achieve as a nation. Now, let's respect that.

That is the message we're trying to get across so that the youths of South Africa can stop being (unintelligible), and stop being radical, and stop being reactive toward the law. They can just grow with the constitution.

GROSS: May I ask if your mother is still alive?

NDITA: No, she is not. She died in 1993.

GROSS: So -- but she was alive when you became a judge?

NDITA: She was alive when I became a judge, yes.

GROSS: And she must have been thrilled by that.

NDITA: Thrilled is an understatement.

LAUGHTER

I don't know how to put it. She was overwhelmed, like she wouldn't believe it. And when I bought my first car, she just wouldn't believe it. You must realize that this is a woman who was very, very poor.

I mean, there is something unique in history in South Africa: We all grew up poor. I mean, us blacks, we all grew up poor. It's no big deal, we're used to that situation. But in her case, she wouldn't believe that, I mean, one of her daughters would get to be a magistrate.

It just kind of -- I was afraid she was going to just die when I delivered the news. She fainted, and just like -- No, it just can't be true. It was so exciting for the whole family.

GROSS: That must have made you feel very good.

NDITA: It did. It did. I must admit it did. It made me feel very good about myself. It made me more confident that -- Look, whatever happened to my mother, I would not let it happen to any other woman.

GROSS: I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

NDITA: Thank you.

GROSS: Tandaswa Ndita is a judge in rural South Africa. She is one of the women profiled in the new documentary "A Woman's Place" that will be shown on many public TV stations Friday night.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Tandaswa Ndita
High: South African Judge TANDASWA NDITA (TAHN-dahs-whah n-DITA).
Her focus is family law. She's been educating rural
communities about the new constitution and the new rights
accorded to women. For the first time under the law, women
are no longer considered household property, and have been
given the status of personhood. The Judge can also be seen
in the new documentary "A Women's Place" which premieres
nationwide on PBS, November 27th.
Spec: Women; Justice; South Africa

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Interview with Tandaswa Ndita
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 24, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 112402np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Interview with George Hudler
Sect: News; Science
Time: 12:43

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Mushrooms are very strange. Portabellos are so tasty and so large they are now sometimes served as the main course. On the other hand, some mushrooms are toxic enough to kill you. Others bring hallucinogenic visions. Three mushrooms once grew on my kitchen ceiling, but we'll get to that in a minute.

My guest, George Hudler, is the author of the new book "Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds" about the fungus kingdom and its impact on our lives. Hudler is a professor of plant pathology at Cornell University.

Before we get to the mushrooms place in the fungus world, let's see what makes a fungus a fungus.

GEORGE HUDLER, PROFESSOR OF PLANT PATHOLOGY, CORNELL UNIVERSITY: First of all, is that the fungi don't have any chlorophyll so that they have no way to make their own food. They need complex organic molecules as sources of food. They can't do that themselves. That's what makes them different from plants.

Secondly, is that they have a relatively simple structure. There are no root stems, leaves, brains, legs, arms. The fungi are quite simple. There is a little bit of specialization, but it's not a tremendous amount.

Then the third feature to separate fungi from some smaller microbes is that they do -- they are comprised of cells; the cells do have cell walls, which is different, actually, from animals. But the cell also has a nucleus, and that's what makes the fungus different from a bacterium.

And then, finally, the fact that fungi do reproduce by way of spores, and that's -- there are other organisms that do that, but that feature taken together with no chlorophyll, simplified structure, and just the general nature of their growth habit makes them unique as a kingdom.

GROSS: I confess that one of the reasons why I wanted to do this interview is that one day when I was renting an apartment -- this was several years ago -- I looked up at the ceiling of my apartment to find three mushrooms growing on it, and I was just appalled. I thought this is a dream and I'm going to wake up because mushrooms don't grow on the ceilings of apartments.

What were those mushrooms doing on my ceiling? I should say that I did have a leak.

HUDLER: Well, that's exactly why they were growing. They were mushrooms -- fruit bodies, that is, of fungi that decay wood. And, if you had a leak, that's all it takes. As soon as wood gets wet it is subject to decay by a wide array of fungi, and that's what you were seeing in your apartment.

And, in fact, that's one reason why building contractors go out of their way to try to ensure that water does not get into houses. That's why we replace roofs; that's why we have eaves; that's why we have gutters --it's all in an effort to try to prevent water from getting into the wood that we want to shelter us.

GROSS: How do mushroom spores get into an apartment? I mean, I could understand it when mushrooms grow on rotting wood in a forest, but in your apartment?

HUDLER: Well, actually it's possible that those spores were actually there way back when the house was constructed and that they just lay dormant until they were moistened and were able to germinate and begin decay.

It's also possible -- I don't know how old your apartment might have been -- perhaps it was constructed with wood that hadn't been properly dried. And so, the fungus in the wood may -- may have been there from the time it was sawn into lumber, but not dried properly. not completely killed, and, again, able to just lie there in a dormant state.

Another -- a third possibility is that one way or another insects happened to carry the spores in. And of course, insects pickup fungus spores in all kinds of ways -- often inadvertently -- but they can then carry them and drop them off somewhere along the line.

GROSS: Now, you're really making my day.

LAUGHTER

George Hudler is my guest. He is a professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, and author of the new book "Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds."

Now, you write in your book that mushrooms used to be viewed as the work of evil spirits. Why?

HUDLER: Oh, just because they showed up so quickly; they came up from underground; they oftentimes had a phallic appearance to them. But probably as much as anything, just the suddeness with which they emerged. Literally, overnight you went from nothing to rather -- sometimes rather sizable appearances of these bodies.

GROSS: It is pretty amazing. How do they do that?

HUDLER: Well, actually much of the body of the mushroom is preformed in a relatively small conglomeration of cells, and what happens is that when they are moistened then they just expand very rapidly -- a little bit like maybe a sponge that's been squeezed together -- kind of like the thing you might buy in a gelatin capsule for a kid's bath, and then you put it in and the cells expand when they get wet.

GROSS: It's really amazing that, you know, some mushrooms are so delicious and others will kill you. Are there any guidelines for recognizing poisonous mushrooms?

HUDLER: Well, there are some general guidelines. I must tell you that I'm a very conservative mushroom hunter myself. And we generally encourage people to stay away from mushrooms that have rings around the stem, and white spores, and a cup at the base.

And it's that last feature that people often times overlook because the cup is actually, more often than not, underground. But that's probably -- those characteristics: the whites spores, the ring and the base at the bottom -- or the cup at the bottom -- are probably the three features that I preach about most often as things that you absolutely must avoid because those mushrooms are deadly poisonous. Beyond that, though, I try to encourage people to learn to identify the ones that we know are edible.

GROSS: Some mushrooms have substances that are hallucinogenic properties. Have you studied that aspect of mushrooms?

HUDLER: I have only studied it in the literature.

GROSS: Now, I'm surprised that you wouldn't be curious enough to try it.

HUDLER: Well, I am as a matter of fact. And the problem is that when you do dabble in the hallucinogenic mushroom business, you run the risk of opening up the recesses of your mind and exposing sensations, memories, episodes that you may just as well have left suppressed.

And I guess at this point in my life I'm not quite ready to take that risk. But there are some other things to be concerned about. For instance, if you're not one hundred percent sure of where the hallucinogenic mushrooms you might be thinking about taking come from, you could end up with a really bad experience.

There are a number of instances where people have gone out onto the street with a pocket full of money to buy mushrooms, and when they bring those back to the lab, a large proportion are not hallucinogenic mushrooms at all, but they're regular old button mushrooms from the store that are dried and soaked in LSD, or PCP, or some other much more dangerous group of chemicals.

And then of course there's also the whole legal aspect of this; the drugs are illegal, and I think for good reason. And so I guess I haven't been so curious yet as to want to dabble in that area.

GROSS: George Hudler is my guest, author of the new book "Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds." It's a book all about the fungus kingdom.

Now, fungi are filled with such paradoxes, because on the one hand they can cause terrible infections; on the other hand, they can cure infections. You know, penicillin comes from a fungus mold. And there's a newer medicine that comes from a fungus that's being used for a lot of the migraine treatments. Tell us a little bit about ergot.

HUDLER: Well, ergot has a long history in human affairs. To begin, ergot is a fungus disease of cereal grains: rye, wheat, barley, and the like. And when that fungus infects a plant it produces a body -- a hard seed-like body - that contains a number of chemicals we call alkaloids.

Some of those alkaloids have very significant effects on mammalian systems. One of them will actually cause a constriction of blood vessels so that a person who eats enough of that material can end up with gangrene. But that same chemical given at a regulated dose, and a relatively small dose, will aid in the treatment of migraine headaches.

Another alkaloid in ergot bodies will induce spontaneous abortions, but if used in a regulated dose can help to induce labor in a difficult pregnancy. And then there are yet others that are -- I think there's one in particular is a precursor to LSD, and these chemicals will induce convulsions, hallucinations and a number of other unpleasant reactions.

GROSS: Now, I'm glad you brought up because you say there's been some speculation that the Salem Witch Trials happened because people, probably inadvertently, had that kind of ergot and ended up having the hallucinations and seizures.

HUDLER: Well, as historians review the history of the Salem Witch Trials and all that went on during that particular period of time, they note several things. First of all, the so-called bewitched people which were young girls, primarily, lived in that part of Salem that was down along the river.

They ate a lot of cereals in their diet, particularly rye. This occurred in a year when weather conditions for plant diseases were particularly good, and it's very likely that a part of their diet may have included some rye that was contaminated with these ergot bodies.

Now, these chemicals are known to have a significantly greater effect on teenage children, and the speculation is that upon eating these ergot bodies, amidst the regular diet -- I mean, they didn't just eat ergot bodies but they were mixed in with what was presumed to be good rye grain -- they get enough of these alkaloids to, in fact, have the hallucinations, have the convulsions, have these other reactions to the alkaloids which were interpreted by people at the time to be caused by a neighboring witch.

And I must emphasize that the role of ergot is still speculative, but I must also say that I'm impressed as historians continue to examine the question that the case gets stronger and stronger for the role of ergot as a significant part of this whole episode.

GROSS: Well, George Hudler I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

HUDLER: Thank you.

GROSS: George Hudler is the author of "Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds." He's a professor of Plant Pathology at Cornell University.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: George Hudler
High: An expert on fungi, GEORGE HUDLER is a professor of Plant
Pathology at Cornell University. He's written a new book
about the existence of fungi in all its forms, "Magical
Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds: The remarkable story of the
fungus kingdom and its impact on human affairs." (Princeton
University Press).
Spec: Mushrooms; Science; Drugs

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Interview with George Hudler
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 24, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 112403np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Review of Farewell Episode for Jimmy Smits on "NYPD Blue"
Sect: News; Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Tonight on ABC, in a special expanded episode of "NYPD Blue," Jimmy Smits plays detective Bobby Simone for the last time before leaving the show as a series regular.

TV critic David Bianculli is here to provide lots of praise, but very few details.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: Don't worry, I'm not going to let out any secrets about whether Bobby Simone lives or dies or any other information about how the show's writers and producers deal with the departure of Jimmy Smits the actor and Bobby Simone the character.

This 90-minute episode of "NYPD Blue" is so good it ought to be enjoyed at full force with all the nuances and surprises intact. What I want to tell you, instead, is to watch it for yourself. Do not miss it under any circumstances. Tonight's "NYPD Blue" is the season's best accomplishment to date. It's "Must See TV" for real, not just as a promotional slogan.

All this couldn't be more different than four years ago, the last time "NYPD Blue" had to deal with the departure of a major star. That was when David Caruso, after one season playing detective John Kelly, decided he wanted to leave the show and pursue a movie career. We all know how that turned out.

After a handful of episodes into the second season Caruso exited, and Jimmy Smits entered. Back then, Caruso's departure, under angry rather than friendly circumstances, painted the show's writers and producers into a corner they appeared to want to get out of as quickly as possible.

In the same farewell episode, Caruso's John Kelly was disgraced; he turned his badge and he walked out the precinct door. By doing so, he left everyone in the squad room out of sight and out of mind, including Andy Sipowicz, his best friend and loyal partner played by Dennis Franz.

This abrupt ending to Kelly's story rang false in several respects, especially in that even if he were to leave the force, his loyal friend Andy would still keep in touch. To have the character of John Kelly disappear like that acknowledging neither his past nor his future was a lazy way out.

And to compound that sin, ABC promoted that farewell episode heavily without providing any preview tapes for critics. The network and Steven Botchco productions wanted all the rubes in the tent, but didn't want anyone out front warning that it wasn't exactly the greatest show on earth.

What's different this time? Everything. In the very first show this season "NYPD Blue" began with a dream sequence that didn't make much sense at the time, featuring Brad Sullivan as Patsy, an old friend of Bobby's who taught him how to raise carrier pigeons. But those dreams, like the storyline about Bobby's progressive illness, have gathered more force and meaning every week leading up to the emotional resolution tonight.

"NYPD Blue," this season, has been like a novel, with a new chapter unfolding each week and with the writers clearly knowing where they wanted to go. Because almost all viewers, by now, know that Smits is leaving the show, there is real jeopardy in Bobby's hospital scenes, and a real anguish not knowing when or whether his condition will improve.

Reacting to all of this, the cast, especially Smits, Franz, and playing Bobby's agonizing wife, Kim Delaney, has never been better. Tonight's episode begins two weeks after Bobby's heart transplant. In this early scene between Smits and Delaney his wife helps him get dressed for visitors.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP OF TELEVISION SHOW -- "NYPD BLUE")

JIMMY SMITS, ACTOR: You done?

KIM DELANEY, ACTOR: Am I hurting you?

SMITS: No. No.

DELANEY: One more. You have like a little drainage, I want it to go slow. Let me remove this bandage.

SMITS: I don't need that now.

DELANEY: All right, you set the schedule, Bobby.

SMITS: I haven't seen this much action in awhile. Is the bandage wet?

DELANEY: No. No. It was a little yellow drainage.

SMITS: Oh, it feels wet.

DELANEY: I wonder where Doctor Swan (ph) is?

SMITS: It's not like we don't have enough time.

DELANEY: Yeah, now we have time.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BIANCULLI: Parris Barkley (ph) directs this send-off episode which was written by Nicholas Wooten (ph) and based on a story by Botchco, David Milch (ph), and Bill Clark (ph). There are no messy theatrics in the 90-minute installment. Instead, the drama is allowed to build almost by the sheer weight of concern about Bobby and his frame of mind; a concern that fills the squad room even after their colleague's bad heart is replaced.

Tonight, "NYPD Blue" reclaims the crown shared last season by "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "The Practice" as the best drama series on TV. Next week, Dennis Franz gets a new partner, former child actor Rick Schroeder.

Life in television goes on. And in this case, it ought to be very interesting to watch. The male bonding aspect of "NYPD Blue," the way Andy relates to his partners in a gruff but very loving way, is about to be tested and explored for a third time.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the "New York Daily News."

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: David Bianculli, Philadelphia, PA
Guest:
High: David Bianculli reviews the farewell episode for actor Jimmy Smits on ABC's "NYPD Blue."
Spec: Television; Entertainment; Police

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Review of Farewell Episode for Jimmy Smits on "NYPD Blue"
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.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

22:30

From 'Designing Women' To 'Hacks', Jean Smart's Career Is Still Going Strong

Smart is nominated for Emmy Awards for her performances Hacks, about a veteran comic working with a Gen-Z comedy writer, and the crime drama Mare Of Easttown. Originally broadcast May 2021.

52:30

'Storm Lake' Documentary Depicts The Triumph And Struggle Of A Local Newspaper

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Art Cullen discusses the battle to keep print news alive in small-town America. Cullen runs Iowa's Storm Lake Times, along with his brother, the paper's publisher.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue