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Open Source with Christopher Lydon

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Arts
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Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics

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Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics

iTunes Ratings

871 Ratings
Average Ratings
515
326
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6
12

Great Radio Program. I love this guy Chris his depth always provocative

By SF CA Lin - Sep 07 2019
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Great radio program - ideas, music, literature, drama, politics !! Thank You Chris Lydon !!!

The best radio/podcast

By goodems - Jun 23 2018
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Christopher Lydon is keeping me sane.

iTunes Ratings

871 Ratings
Average Ratings
515
326
12
6
12

Great Radio Program. I love this guy Chris his depth always provocative

By SF CA Lin - Sep 07 2019
Read more
Great radio program - ideas, music, literature, drama, politics !! Thank You Chris Lydon !!!

The best radio/podcast

By goodems - Jun 23 2018
Read more
Christopher Lydon is keeping me sane.
Cover image of Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Latest release on Jan 24, 2020

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Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics

Rank #1: Billionaire Noir

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The most honored movie of the year looks to be Parasite, from Korea, about the soul-crushing advance of mega-wealth and the heartbreak of poor people with a dream of catching up. From the Pacific Rim, that is, it’s a movie that mirrors us! At the same time, from Hollywood, the hot HBO series is Succession: all about cruelty, greed, and family power-games under a vulgar tycoon who won’t let go of his company.  The family name might have been Murdoch, Corleone, Trump. Alongside our Impeachment drama, it’s pop-culture, screen culture, that’s telling an under-story of concentrated wealth; the lost confidence in middle-class life and a regular people’s democracy.

Bong Joon-ho.

Parasite’s a faraway mirror of what you know instantly is our American condition, too—maybe a universal affliction of yawning gaps in class and wealth and entitlement—in a financial order owned by an almost speechless, maybe clueless one percent. This is, we know, impeachment time in Washington and the news business. We’re picking up instead on the understory told in screen culture: In the case of Parasite, the story’s more interesting for mixing movie genres: this is a social comedy of two families before it turns sour and then sharply into a horror show. The story is told more in sadness than anger, and it leaves viewers with innumerable angles to replay and reflect on for days.

The post Billionaire Noir appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Nov 15 2019

50mins

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Rank #2: Lovecraft Country

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H. P. Lovecraft’s frightful horror fiction—dated between Edgar Allan Poe’s and Stephen King’s—is the weirdest of the weird. Lovecraft found ravenous, man-eating rats in the walls and foundations of our houses, and in our hearts and dreams just as creepily. For Halloween readers, he gave us ocean monsters the size of mountains; also, slippery scaly fish-people, flipping, flopping, and talking their way down the streets of Lovecraft’s favorite coastal towns near witchy Salem and the north of New England. There’s an idea in these stories—about human ignorance in an evil sea of telepathic enemies. There’s an open landscape, too, where horror fiction is growing a new crop.

Our Lovecraftians

Joyce Carol Oates (Credit: Dustin Cohen).

Paul La Farge (Credit: Carol Shadford).

Matt Ruff (Credit: Lisa Gold).

Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Credit: Martin Dee).

If you’re sensing something ancient, cosmically vast, inescapable and frightening this Halloween season, you may be catching a Lovecraftian breeze. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a lonely, near-reclusive child of Providence, Rhode Island, who felt intimations of mind-melting infinity in New England of the twenties and thirties. The coast north of Boston inspired him with Gothic ideas, which he dished out in stories long and short for pulp magazines, thrilling readers who visited his mythical sites like Arkham, Miskatonic University, and Innsmouth—a fictional universe terrorized by creatures like Cthulhu, the ocean monster so complexly described that he cannot be pictured. Lovecraft specialized in such things: colors of no color, minerals not found on earth, languages that can’t be pronounced, and of course an unreadable and uncaring universe, “formed in fright,” as Melville put it speculatively. In Lovecraftian horror, the bleakness is doctrine.

The post Lovecraft Country appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Nov 01 2019

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Rank #3: Tech-Master Disaster: Part One

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The late Jeffrey Epstein stands for at least three levels of mystery: the man himself, a boastful sex offender, convicted of preying on under-age women; second, there’s his money machine and its unsavory connections with celebrity science and the high ground of education; and third, just surfacing: the mindset, the Epstein mentality that fed on fantasies of re-fathering the human race, making himself immortal, defeating death—not so far from the wildest dreams of techno-futurism: extended lifetimes, edited genomes, cryonic resurrections, reincarnation. All of it draws on ancient dreams of humankind but it’s now top-of- the-agenda in the industrial-strength biological, genetic sciences.

There’s trouble in the magic Kingdom of Advanced Computation, and the late Jeffrey Epstein leads us to it. This hour is one man’s critical overview of the kingdom and its landscape. Silicon is its valley, its production center out west.  The Media Lab at MIT has been high ground of ideas on the east coast. WIRED is the magazine of the realm; TED talks are its showcase. It’s a kingdom of masterful men—names like Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates, and Kurzweil. And it has its own code of intelligence, called AI, A for Artificial. It has its high priests like Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Media Lab in 1985 and of WIRED magazine in 1993. Linkages are tight and loyalty is firm to some central ideas, above all that technology is good for everybody. If it can’t fix a problem, it can transform it—even ultimate challenges of life and death. This kingdom of computation has had it rogue financiers, like the late Jeffrey Epstein. And it has its dissenters, too.  Our guest this hour is eminent among those critical insiders: the writer-historian Evgeny Morozov.

The post Tech-Master Disaster: Part One appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Sep 13 2019

50mins

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Rank #4: Impeach This

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The impeachment treatment for Donald Trump looks already an ultimate fighting contest with a nasty guy who makes up his own rules. We’re thinking it through this hour. Do you credit Nancy Pelosi with a leap of faith that there’s a way to rescue dignity, clarity, and a win by taking a clown-circus presidency with a cage brawl? Is there a Colin Powell doctrine for this sort of politics? Doesn’t the impeachment team need a clear, attainable objective in this battle and an exit strategy before it starts? However it ends for the elite political class, what about the people’s worries that run older and deeper than Donald Trump: climate change; social breakdown; worsening inequality; and a lot of bad wars.

The impeachment season has opened, and as we were supposed to know all along, it was never designed as an orderly court battle at law. It’s about politics, survival, and media war, virtually without rules, that takes the slanging tone of Trump up a notch, from a bad circus to mixed martial arts. The Marquis of Queensbury is looking away. President Trump is raising the insult level at what he calls “low life” Democrats and “stone-cold crooked” Bidens, father and son. And he’s raising his bet that he can’t be blamed for digging political dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine; he said out loud he’d do it all again, asking China for dirt to match.

The post Impeach This appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Oct 04 2019

50mins

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Rank #5: Barriers and borders and frontiers (oh my!)

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A conversation with Greg Grandin, Valeria Luiselli, and John Lanchester.

A reckless wall-building era runs round the 21st century globe. Reckless next to the New England farmer in Robert Frost’s famous poem. He’s mending his wall in a spring like this one, well aware of “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.” “Before I built a wall,” he says, “I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence.” Not so along our Southwest border that President Trump wants to fortify. Not so in the intimate geography of Israel-Palestine. Not so in the England of John Lanchester’s nightmare novel, called The Wall, post Brexit. The coastal rim of the sceptered isle is barricaded to the sky to keep nameless Others from vaulting in.

Irresistible force meets immovable object this hour: the argument is that the push outward to the frontier that defined American history and character—self-reliant wagon families heading west, the American knighthood of quiet cowboys, our “empire of freedom,” as Jefferson put it – is crashing on President Trump’s in-blocking Wall along our 2-thousand-mile border with Mexico. At the checkpoints the collision is ugly. In the cruelty to children and families, it’s grotesque. In American politics it’s explosive. But what if it cuts deepest into the ways we Americans see ourselves? On both sides of that un-built Trump border wall this hour we’re getting a miserable migration story with the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli. And we’ll get to the novel that John Lanchester drew out of a bad dream about a sky-high wall encircling what’s left of England. But the American historian Greg Grandin strikes the keynote, from his new book about us, titled The End of The Myth. It’s a modern revision of the idea that the frontier made us who we are.

The post Barriers and borders and frontiers (oh my!) appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Mar 22 2019

50mins

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Rank #6: The CIA’s Covert Chemist

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We’re at home with Stephen Kinzer, the longtime reporter of secret U.S. operations in books like Overthrow and All the Shah’s Men. In a new book, Poisoner in Chief, Kinzer looks at a scientist named Sidney Gottlieb and the notorious “mind control” CIA program he led, MK-ULTRA.

Kinzer’s portrait induces the feeling of a bad trip: We’ve been to a completely different zone we know is there, but we can’t believe. He’s introducing us to the man who brought LSD into this world. Gottlieb’s experiments may have been responsible in part for Billie Holiday’s death, and putting Whitey Bulger on a two-year LSD regimen. At the CIA, Gottlieb was involved with assassination attempts of Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba. There are resonances of James Bond and Doctor Strangelove. Or maybe Josef Mengele.

Stephen Kinzer

“This is the first time I’ve been shocked by something I discovered in writing a book. I’m still getting over my shock from the process of learning who this Sidney Gottlieb was,” Kinzer told us. “I now conclude he was the most powerful unknown American of the twentieth century.”

You can catch our last episode with Kinzer, “America’s Empire State of Mind,” here.

And if you can, give us a tip over on Patreon—and thanks!

Photo illustration by Conor Gillies, photo courtesy of the author.

The post The CIA’s Covert Chemist appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Oct 01 2019

37mins

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Rank #7: Collusion Delusion

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In the annals of public conversation, we seem to have reached toxic meltdown in the close of the mighty Mueller investigation. We’re past the “liar, liar, pants on fire” stage of a race to the bottom. Donald Trump is leading, and winning the race, as usual, but not alone. The collusion that jumps out of the Russia-gate scandal is in the news business. It’s the tight harness that binds Sean Hannity to Donald Trump, and equally: Rachel Maddow and the baying hounds at MSNBC to the Democratic leadership that guessed wrong, yet again, about how to be rid of this President. It isn’t journalism that’s driving this, not people politics either: it’s more like a low-class culture war, a ratings war, no rulebook, no restraint. A race you wouldn’t want any of these players to win.

Russiagate, the political crime story, got to be too juicy for its own good: the fate of a presidency riding on it. Too momentous, too dark and too darkly sourced, too far from the open evidence. Now, suddenly when Robert Mueller has closed his two-year investigation, with no finding of “collusion” and no further indictments, the tellers of the tale can look more damaged than the target of all the sleuthing, Donald Trump. So we look back this hour at the story-telling – which is still being told.

The post Collusion Delusion appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Mar 29 2019

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Rank #8: Russiagate, Unredacted

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A conversation about collusion, obstruction of justice, and the full Mueller Report with Seth Berman, Andy Bacevich, and David Bromwich.

A second chance for Mueller Report to pin a Russian tale on Donald Trump’s election has not changed the score. “Game over,” said Mr. Trump, still president and not about to be indicted for whatever help he got from Russia, or for trying to deep-six the official investigation – largely because the ‘yes’ men on his staff said ‘no’ to his orders to fire the special prosecutor. Call it Trump luck or Democratic fantasy that un-did the Russiagate trap. 2020 reelection politics starts here, and Donald Trump has a stronger narrative than before: he’ll be the guy now who was spied on back in Obama time, and set up for a deep-state coup after election by rogue FBI and CIA, not to mention the failing New York Times, and he beat them.

The hard news of the long-form Mueller Reports seems to be the abundant testimony that Donald Trump ardently and persistently wanted and tried to kill the Russiagate investigation and fire its special prosecutor, but that his henchmen refused to execute the orders that would have turned his wishes into crimes. There would be no “Saturday Night Massacre” this time, said his disobedient White House counsel Don McGahn, referencing the cover-up that killed Richard Nixon’s presidency. And there would be no act of obstruction in the Trump case, so no indictment for it. 448 pages seem to have changed nothing: we have a runaway regime under a triumphant rogue who has slipped the noose yet again. And we still don’t quite know how this “very stable genius,” in his phrase, gets away with it. Or anybody else who could do what he’s doing. The soldier / scholar Andrew Bacevich is here to argue as Pogo did: we have met the enemy and he is us. David Bromwich, the Sterling Professor of English at Yale, is with us to parse language of combat and commentary. But we begin with the lawyer’s lawyer, Seth Berman, with the Boston firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish, sometime Federal prosecutor with the famous Robert Morgenthau in New York, and in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston, too.

What went wrong in the Mueller crusade?

The post Russiagate, Unredacted appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Apr 19 2019

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Rank #9: Tech-Master Disaster: Part Three

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Take a walk through Kendall Square, Cambridge, this hour. It’s the Emerald City of biotechnology—as magical/mysterious as the Land of Oz, but it’s real, too. The new tech of genomic medicine, re-engineering life in wet labs, has brought a new frontier of work and wealth back from suburbia. Kendall Square is an urban ecosystem: pricey new real estate, rising higher every day on the edge of MIT and the Charles River, a mecca for the DNA generation of bio-scientists. It was born of both science and science fiction. Fun fact: novelist Michael Crichton dreamed up his Jurassic Park in Kendall Square in the mid ’80s. Scientists are enacting his fantasy of a re-creation, but they may have forgotten Crichton’s warnings about it.

Richard Attenborough as John Hammond in Jurassic Park.

Kendall Square can be taken as a model of the smart-city boomtown.  The question this hour is: how did it sprout, and what keeps it sprouting? For whom? And how did the Jurassic Park novelist Michael Crichton seem to feel Kendall Square coming, 30 years ago? Wasn’t he warning his readers and moviegoers to beware? Kendall Square is, in effect, a bio-science park: hundreds of companies and labs focused on the future in genomic medicine, meaning healthcare through reading and tweaking your DNA. Just one subway stop from the world-famous Massachusetts General Hospital, Kendall Square models the “entrepreneurial” university with MIT, along with “medical science as business.”

The post Tech-Master Disaster: Part Three appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Sep 27 2019

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Rank #10: Amazing Aretha

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Aretha Franklin made you believe you were hearing both heaven and earth. Her voice was not of this world: it was “a gift of God,” people have said. She was the reason women want to sing, said Mary J. Blige, who covered Aretha hits. James Baldwin said the way Aretha sings is “the way I want to write.” Our guest Ed Pavlić calls her voice a Hubble telescope, taking us back to the origin of time and truth.

She stands in an improvised church in Watts, Los Angeles in the troubled time of 1972, a shy woman with the blessed assurance that her people—which could mean all of us—needed a song, and a singer. Amazing Grace became the album of her lifetime (and the most popular gospel album ever)—reborn this year, on film, in a new documentary.

Aretha Franklin and the Southern California Community Choir. Courtesy of Neon.

Franklin was an institution through five decades, one of that handful of mega-stars we thought we knew. But we were wrong. We knew the rights-minded daughter of the radio preacher from Detroit who walked the fine line between church gospel and secular soul music and had a hundred danceable hits on both sides of the line. She sang opera, too, subbing for Pavarotti, no less, on a moment’s notice. And she sang “My country, ‘tis of thee” at Barack Obama’s inauguration.

But now, in the year after her death, the new movie feels like revelation: it’s Aretha at age 29, live with a church choir, coming home to the songs of her girlhood. But we’re hearing her differently because we can see her: a performing artist looking more like a prophet in her own right.

We’re joined by Reverend William Barber, Shana Redmond, and Wesley Morris.

The post Amazing Aretha appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

May 03 2019

49mins

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Rank #11: Esperanza Spalding: Drawn to Greatness

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Esperanza Spalding’s eyes sparkle when she says she’s “drawn to greatness” in other musicians, greatness meaning the charisma of boldness in the interval between solid tradition and scary experimentalism. Listeners of all sorts can see and hear Esperanza at thirty-four, now coming into her own greatness. She’s a songwriter and singer who also dances, a go-to jazz bass master veering out of jazz, with a voice that embraces three languages and musics (plural) beyond category. There’s laughter and political edge in her conversation. She’s a self-made intellectual who says people should read more than they do, and should think more than they read.

My conversation here with Esperanza is the sort of thing we dream about: You’re on an airplane, just buckled in, and you turn and realize – wow, I’ll be sitting all the way to Chicago with the Mona Lisa, or somebody, and you say: Can we talk? And Esperanza Spalding does talk! With effervescence, about jazz and not-jazz, about sounds that woke her up, from Rimsky-Korsakov and Wayne Shorter and the poems of William Blake; about the Harvard students she’s teaching, the music therapy she’s studying, the love that holds the music together, about mothers who let artistic children happen, not least by standing back. We’re getting to know Esperanza. Fast, riffing, improvising, trying to keep up, dropping names of other prodigies in their early 30s, her age: Marcus Gilmore, the jazz drummer and Cory Henry, the Gospel keyboardist… We met Esperanza (of four Grammy awards so far) not on an airplane but in the lobby of the Berklee Performance Center in Boston on the afternoon of an evening show, and the gab took over, like a song.

Music from the show

“12 Little Spells” by Esperanza Spalding, from the album 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Herbie’s Hand’s Cocked,” Spring Quartet, The Spring Quartet – Jazzwoche Burghausen 2014 (YouTube)*
“To Tide Us Over (mouth,)” Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Little Fly,” Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society (Heads Up/Telarc 2010)
“All Limbs Are,” Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Rest In Pleasure,” Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord 2016)
“The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade Op.35 (Onyx Classics 2014)
“I Got Rhythm,” Don Byas and “Slam” Stewart, live at Town Hall NYC 1945 (Spotify)
“Change Of The Guard,” Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder 2015)
“5 Star,” Lil Wayne ft. Nicki Minaj, Dedication 6 (mixtape 2018)
“What A Friend,” Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society (Heads Up/Telarc 2010)
“Dancing The Animal (mind,)” Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Black Gold,” Esperanza Spalding, Radio Music Society (Heads Up/Concord 2012)
rehearsal excerpt, Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza Spalding’s EXPOSURE (YouTube 2017)*
“Farewell Dolly,” Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord 2016)
“Funk The Fear,” Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord 2016)
“You Have To Dance (feet,)” Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Starry Night – Live In Europe/2011,” Wayne Shorter, Without A Net (Blue Note/EMI 2013)
“The Girl From Ipanema,” Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto (Verve 1964)
“Ponte De Areia,” Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up/Universal 2008)
“If That’s True,” Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up/Universal 2008)
*not available on Spotify

The post Esperanza Spalding: Drawn to Greatness appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Apr 05 2019

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Rank #12: Origin Stories

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Origin stories can be educated guesses, or leaps of collective imagination as to who we are, how we got to this point. The Big Bang is one kind, Adam and Eve make another. 1492 and 1776 are American starting points. The argument gets stickier around 1620, when Mayflower Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock; and 1619, when the first African slaves came ashore in Virginia. Just a year apart, they’re the opening chapters of two very different epics of a single nation: one born in the flight of pious Puritans to freedom, the other born in the theft of people and land to build an empire of cotton and capitalism.

It’s a funny thing about origin stories—who we are, how we got here. We know going in that the stories are made up, one way or another. And we come to find out that a lot of them are just plain wrong. Then what? The Sunday magazine of the New York Times took a bold run this past summer at the year 1620 as the start of the American story— the year, of course, when the Mayflower landed about one hundred dissenting English Puritans, our pilgrims, at Plymouth Rock. But no, the Times argued, our first chapter was dated 1619, a year earlier when a ship bearing some 20 African slaves landed in Point Comfort, Virginia, which was to say the drive to implant a slavocracy in the new world had a step on building a temple of freedom.

We’re talking with Nikole Hannah-Jones, Philip Deloria, and Peter Linebaugh about national origin stories. The thread here is storytelling that explains and often hides what happened.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is the writer and editor who led what the Times called a major initiative at the paper to reframe American history. And she strikes the keynote of this radio hour around slavery at the foundations of U.S. history and in our own origin stories in general.

Peter Linebaugh is a transnational historian of economics and culture. He’s been tracking the privatization of common land in England and the New World. 1792 is his magic start date of what is now the world system.

The historian Philip Deloria—the first tenured professor of Native American history at Harvard—considers the Native American encounters with those colonists in the 1600s.

The post Origin Stories appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Dec 06 2019

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Rank #13: Hong Kong Crackdown

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“May you live in interesting times” was never in fact a Chinese curse. It’s a modern American cliché that could work as a caption on both China and the US as 2019 winds down. We’ve got our impeachment crisis to open a presidential election year, a “surveillance capitalism” crisis that mocks ideals of shared prosperity and privacy. China’s got an even starker “rule of law” crisis. Under Chairman for Life Xi Jinping, autocratic nationalism has taken its mask off in Beijing, and in Hong Kong the police crackdown on a freedom movement in the streets has turned sharply toward lethal force. Over there and here, the toughest question might be: are we looking at the future?

By the end of the police siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, students were crawling through sewers this week, jumping from a bridge and tunneling under barriers to get free. Not to surrender, exactly, or to flee, as one student said; just to get out of a hole getting deeper and more dangerous. The fight for almost six months now has been to preserve a measure of self-rule in the sometime British crown colony that reverted to China two decades ago—under a formula of one country with two systems of governance. But armed battle has pre-empted a political argument: bows and arrows, then fire bombs showed up in the hands of the opposition, facing water cannons and storms of tear gas from the police. No Red Army tanks yet, as in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, but a popular protest movement is on the defensive and “crackdown” is in the air.

The post Hong Kong Crackdown appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Nov 22 2019

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Rank #14: Impeachment Lite

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The impeachment season just opening begins to look like a required scandalous course for citizens on how your government actually works, and as the New York Times noted this week, it will not be pretty. Not President Trump’s strong-arming the government of Ukraine to trash his enemies and get himself reelected in 2020. And not the reckless routines of a surveillance state that bends the rules to spy on people, and apparently the Trump campaign of 2016, then smear them with gossip known to be sketchy. Speaking of un-pretty: there was the Washington Post report this week that the Pentagon knew through our 18-year, two-trillion-dollar war in Afghanistan that the US had no workable strategy, and as a top general put it, “We didn’t know what we were doing.”

Still, finally the impeachment fat is in the fire. It’s a smaller fire than it might have been, a short bill of just two particulars: that President Trump tried to shake down Ukraine for help in Trump’s own reelection campaign in 2020; also that he’d stonewalled Congress’s investigation. It is nothing like a frontal attack on the Trump presidency—on his climate denial, say, or breaking the anti-nuclear deal with Iran, or profiteering on public office, or cruelty to migrants at the border. In the week’s news of the American empire, it could seem a smaller story than the Pentagon’s confession about our losing war in Afghanistan.

The post Impeachment Lite appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Dec 13 2019

50mins

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Rank #15: The Bauhaus in Your House

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A conversation on art, architecture, and design with Tamar Avishai, Peter Chermayeff, Ann Beha, and Sebastian Smee.

Bauhaus was the art school in Germany that created the look of the twentieth century. We just live in it: loving its white-box affordability, or hating its stripped, blank, glass-and-steel uniformity, the world around. It’s the IKEA look in the twenty-first century, the look of Chicago skyscrapers and now Chinese housing towers, the look of American kitchens and probably the typeface on your emails, all derived from the building school in Germany between the world wars. It was the first omni-art school that taught painting and architecture, made new-look tapestries and chairs. It was the less-is-more school that made ornament very nearly a crime. It stood, and stands, for a few big ideas still hotly contested.

Walter Gropius at Harvard

Bauhaus, meaning ‘building house,’ was the name of the most influential art school in the history of the man-made environment. It was born just a hundred years ago in Weimar, Germany’s old-time cultural capital, seat of the shaky Weimar Republic after World War I. Bauhaus, the school, lasted only fourteen years, till Hitler’s Nazis suffocated it in 1933. Yet Bauhaus, the model of design, some would say, has ruled the world for a century now.

To kick off the show, we take a trip to the Gropius House in Lincoln:

Gropius House

We also talked to Boston architect Ann Beha about her work updating Gropius’s US Embassy in Athens, Greece:

We didn’t have time for all the great Bauhaus content we collected during the show, but while you’re here, listen to an OS extra: designer, architect, imagineer Peter Chermayeff explain how he designed the map for the Boston T.

The post The Bauhaus in Your House appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Apr 12 2019

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Rank #16: John Bolton’s War?

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Three guys walk into a bar in the Middle East. A Saudi: bin Salman. An Israeli called Bibi. An American—call him Donald. They all know one thing deeper than deep: they hated that nuclear deal with Iran, and now they’ve trashed it. They didn’t like that Obama guy, either, who sold the deal. It’s Iran that clings to the no-nukes deal, maybe just for the standing that comes with it in Europe and China; maybe it’s Iran’s dignity in the deal that the three guys hate most. None want to own a real war with Iran. But think about it: what might they do in a winking alliance, together? Like: outsource the scary war talk to that fourth guy, with the mustache?

National Security Advisor John Bolton.

We’ve seen a lot of this movie before, have we not? The crackling threats to punish unproven charges: it was weapons of mass destruction the last time; now it’s some unverified damage to tanker traffic, maybe. Again, the case is being made for a war of choice, by a pick-up “coalition of the willing”—this time, it would be an alliance of Sunni Arabs with the US and Israel, against Iran. Out front beating the war drum is the man with the mustache, John Bolton, who’s always loved “regime change” for Iran, who still defends the Iraq War, and who now runs the national security desk for President Trump, dropping phrases like “unrelenting force” against Iran if Iran should threaten or damage us. Part of what’s familiar in the picture is that Congress is largely out of the loop and the sovereign people are not in on the argument. A lot of what you can hear on the news is circus stuff, like the President’s lawyer, the sometime Mayor of America, Rudolph Giuliani, chanting, “Regime change!”

The post John Bolton’s War? appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

May 17 2019

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Rank #17: Toni Morrison

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We’ve been reflecting on Toni Morrison and her legacy, and so we’re thinking of Chris’s interview with her back on The Connection. Here from our archives is that interview, which was occasioned by Morrison’s 1997 novel Paradise. The talk ranged from religion to painting to American language; among many unforgettable moments, there’s Morrison’s description of radio’s influence on her early literary imagination. She describes

“being allowed to imagine, being a radio child, listening to stories in my family, where you have to work, you have to imagine the colors, the sets, the scenes—it was not delivered to you the way it is in movies and television. They insisted that we tell stories as children, so we got into the habit of trying to present and perform them.”

The post Toni Morrison appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Sep 04 2019

49mins

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Rank #18: Tom Reney’s Discs for a Desert Island

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The jazz DJ Tom Reney has been telling people for 40 years about the true American art form. This hour he’s telling people about himself for a change: the inner life of a taste-maker, in the fool-proof form of the BBC’s longest-running radio innovation, Desert Island Discs. The premise is simple enough: that the music you can’t live without is a sort of truth serum: talk about eight tracks of songs or symphonies you’d take to your desert island if you weren’t coming back, and you’ll have told us who you are. Tom Reney, it turns out, is an evangelist on the theme that the vast variety of black music, blues music, out of jazz joints and church is the bright spiritual, awe-inspired thread through his own American life.

Tom Reney, off to his desert island, with Chris.

Tom Reney was supposed to inherit the family civil engineering business, until he found his life in the basement joints of Worcester, Massachusetts, and in blues music at large. The sounds that unlock Tom Reney had hometown names like Boots Mussuli and Jacki Byard, then Muddy Waters and Aretha Franklin. When Duke Ellington, the great orchestrator of the blues, stepped in, playing at a hospital fundraiser near Worcester, there was no going back.

Here’s the full list of Tom Reney’s eight essential discs:

  1. Duke Ellington: Jeep’s Blues

2) Louis Armstrong: Stardust

3) Muddy Waters: Long Distance Call

4) Aretha Franklin: Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)

5) J.S. Bach: Italian Concerto (the link below is just to the third movement)

6) Charles Mingus: Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

7) Dennis Brennan: Feel Like Going Home

8) John Coltrane: Impressions

The post Tom Reney’s Discs for a Desert Island appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Aug 23 2019

49mins

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Rank #19: Tarantino’s 9th

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Spoiler alert! (Really.) The big movie to reckon with this summer may be as much about the mood of 2019 as about the Helter-Skelter 1960s. It’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s ninth big film, with a surprise streak of fantasy and mercy in it. He’s revising the course of events of 50 summers ago, when a revolutionary tension in the Los Angeles dream factory broke, or got broken into, by the murderous Manson family, when the beautiful and pregnant Sharon Tate and four more got slaughtered. Joan Didion in a famous essay at the time marked it the end of the Sixties, the crash of peace and love. Tarantino’s had time to re-imagine it as an actor’s story—many shades of manhood and morality in an air of everyday madness.

Quentin Tarantino.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is many things, but let’s start with two. First, it’s a meticulous reconstruction of Los Angeles in the 1960s—sunlight angling through smog, the game faces of white guys, their lingo, their cars, and car radios, their hair, their self-pity—all at the moment of the Manson murders in Benedict Canyon: August 9, 1969. At the same time the movie’s a flight of fancy into an alternative ending for a horror story, yet another take on violence from the bloody-minded moralist Tarantino. Back in 1969, a “demented and seductive vortex of tension was building” in Hollywood, Didion wrote: “the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full.” And when the shocking news of midnight murder in the hills was confirmed, what she remembered—and wished she didn’t—was that “no one was surprised.” There’s the context of 1969 in which Quentin Tarantino has placed his own invention, a buddy flick with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt cast as a downwardly mobile actor and his stunt-man sidekick. There’s propulsive energy and fun in this movie, and a strange beauty, too.

The post Tarantino’s 9th appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Aug 09 2019

50mins

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Rank #20: Middlemarch at the Beach

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Middlemarch, a novel by the woman who gave herself a man’s by-line, “George Eliot,” may be the most honored masterpiece you’ve been avoiding all your life. Here’s the point: read it this summer. You’re ready to love Middlemarch if you second-guess marriages, like your own; second-marriages, too. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to feel epic striving in a heroine, yearning for nobility of spirit in a pretty ordinary province of England around 1830. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to feel force and beauty in an artist’s process in fiction, step by step, as she writes it. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to test Henry James’s famous premise that the art of the best fiction “makes life, makes interest, makes importance.”

George Eliot.

For high beach-reading season, here’s the one-hour case for Middlemarch – some say the best of all English novels, the furthest from Twitter-speak: as invented a universe as Star Wars, inside a Jane Austen period piece. But Middlemarch becomes a pulsing, bickering, blooming world, and you’ll swear you’re inside it, in real time. It’s an animated tapestry of a smallish English city around 1830; a living web of human foibles, temperaments, longings, and lapses, two strikingly bad marriages before our eyes, and two great ones. Middlemarch is the rare instance of fiction that could improve your life and could frame your own lifetime as a novel. 

The post Middlemarch at the Beach appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jul 19 2019

50mins

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Greta Gerwig Meets Louisa May Alcott

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In the Oscar-excitement around the new Little Women, director Greta Gerwig has a note for all of us: her hero at the party is still the woman who wrote the book a hundred and fifty years ago. Louisa May Alcott was the real thing: a bolder, braver character than the version of herself called Jo. She was the strongest abolitionist in the Alcott family; her precocious writing paid the family bills, as father did not. In book and movie papa Bronson goes South to tend the Civil War wounded and dying, but in life it was Louisa who did that. Back in Concord she got love and respect from the creative giants of the neighborhood—Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne—who found the visionary Bronson a tedious sort of angel. We’re listening for Alcott Family footsteps in their “Orchard House” not far from Boston, in Concord—on Lexington Road. 

Left to right: Jan Turnquist (executive director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House), portrait of Louisa May Alcott by George Healy, and Christopher Lydon.

The writer of Little Women understated her own case. The real Louisa May Alcott had been an abolitionist from the age of three, a boyish girl who didn’t just long to see the horror and heartbreak of the Civil War: she was the one, not her father, who went to the front near Washington and held the hands of dying soldiers.

Painting by May Alcott, sister of Louisa and inspiration for Amy March. Used with permission of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.

In the creative classroom back home, the Alcott sisters’ playspace today is full of their costumes and props, swords and boots of their theatrical charades, along with the classic novels of George Eliot and the Brontë sisters, where the girls really did define themselves by reading.  Their drawings on the door-frames are intact. Oil paintings on the walls remind you of baby sister May’s ambition to be a great painter (John Ruskin, the ultimate critic, judged that she made it).

Pen on Louisa May Alcott’s desk at Orchard House.
The Concord School of Philosophy, the project of Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott. The structure still sits next to the Orchard House in Concord.

The post Greta Gerwig Meets Louisa May Alcott appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jan 24 2020

49mins

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The Costs of War

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A trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there — pretty soon, as the man said, you’re talking real money. But you’re not even close to counting the costs of the US “forever wars” in the Middle East. The numbers are sky high, the questions are profound: more than $6 trillion paid out since 9/11 for missions to Afghanistan, Iraq ,and Pakistan, one trillion of the six just for interest on a borrowed-money war. Who owns that debt, and who will pay it, when? If you can’t think in trillions, try equivalences and opportunities lost: money for 21st century wars could have retired all student debt five times over; could have built thousands of miles of high-speed rail; could have financed Medicare for most of us. The government doesn’t audit its empire, but scholars do.

An old-fashioned war-financing effort.

The hidden costs of the long, losing war in the Middle East can break your heart when you learn the disproportionate deaths of innocents. They could break the bank when the credit card debt on six trillion dollars’ worth of war comes due. We are getting highlights this hour from a remarkable network of auditors, in effect, on the dangerous downside of empire.  About two dozen independent scholars of history, economics, and warfare are linked in a Cost-of-War project to tell us what the government would like us to ignore – starting with that point that our wars since 9/ll have been financed by borrowing, the main reason our debt exceeds our GNP, meaning we owe more than we produce in a year. Just the interest paid in on the credit-card war era is more than a trillion dollars. 

The post The Costs of War appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jan 17 2020

50mins

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2020 Hindsight on Iraq

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We have a formal stand-down, meaning no war this week, between the US and Iran. On the long horizon of empires, rising and falling, it looks like an interval of restraint between hubris and nemesis—the ancient Greek names for defiant pride and its downfall, or undoing. The broken state of Iraq is what stares at us and the world, 17 hellish years after the US invasion and occupation. It’s the multi-trillion-dollar war that brought chaos and regime change that handed control of Iraq to Iran as if on a silver platter. It’s the war that discredited a generation of American party pols who voted for it. It’s the reason most Iraqis and their parliament want the last Americans out of their country. And still, the people that sold that Iraq war have another bigger one in mind if anybody will buy it.

Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney in 2006.

We look ahead in the war-fogged Middle East this hour with some of the people who could have steered a much better path a generation ago. Our guests are a strong sample of an honor roll in commentary on such things.  All told there were 33 specialists in strategy, diplomacy, and Middle East history who paid for op-ed space in the New York Times as President George W. Bush was ginning up war against Saddam Hussein. September, 2002, six months before the war began, the scholars’ warning ran under a headline: WAR WITH IRAQ IS NOT IN AMERICA’S NATIONAL INTEREST. Each one of their six bullet points proved true in the real world: Saddam was in fact a bad old client of the US, and no part of the 9/11 attack. We could win a war in Iraq, these professionals stated, but we’d never get out of the mess we’d made.

The post 2020 Hindsight on Iraq appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jan 10 2020

49mins

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The Inimitable Johnny Hodges

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There’s a big difference between the two greatest jazz stars on the alto horn. Charlie Parker had imitators without number; Johnny Hodges was simply inimitable. Parker, known as Bird, broke frontiers of speed, harmonic invention, and all-round excitement. Hodges, known as Rabbit, or Jeep, is best known for blues feeling, storytelling, and the sheer beauty of his sound and tone, in all the varieties and moods that could come out of an alto saxophone, at different moments lyrical, earthy, elegiac, and sensual. Hodges said he liked the idea of making “alley music,” yet he could sound like a whisper to your heart, as well.  This hour it’s Johnny Hodges’s turn, on the occasion of Con Chapman’s biography of him.

Johnny Hodges, right, plays alongside Al Sears in 1946.

Out of another age in high pop culture, we’re rediscovering songs without words this hour, from an expressionless man—until the moment he picked up his horn. From the 1920s into 1970, four decades, Johnny Hodges was the standby solo star in Duke Ellington’s jazz orchestra. Other bandleaders said Duke could afford not to feature a boy singer or a girl singer, as they were known then, because he had Hodges in his band.

Johnny Hodges’s voice came in three registers: blues, ballads and, a rarity in jazz, the art song. That sound of Johnny Hodges is the thread, the plot of this radio hour: about a forgotten grand master of American music whose biography has finally been written: Rabbit’s Blues from the Oxford University Press, by a Boston lawyer and fellow Hodges cultist, Con Chapman. It’s an overdue account of an artist who barely spoke but stirred hearts his own way, not so unlike Charlie Chaplin or the other silent movie star Buster Keaton, known as “the great stone face”—which described Hodges as well. What Johnny Hodges did was liberate and lift Adolph Sax’s mid-range horn out of the marching-band, into the far upper reaches of solo expression. And he played it with “a tone so beautiful,” Duke Ellington said, “it sometimes brought tears to the eyes.” 

In Boston, Hodges played at venues like the Black and White Club and Hotel Avery.

We’re close-listening to Hodges’s wide range of music—and taking a tour of the neighborhood where he hatched his sound. Long-time community activist and former state representative Byron Rushing is our guide. He’s walking us back into the intellectual and cultural cauldron of Hodges’ youth, a scene that included fellow saxophonist Harry Carney as well as journalist William Monroe Trotter and the painter Allan Crite. We’re joined also by Robin D.G. Kelley, the preeminent historian and biographer of Thelonious Monk.

On Sussex Street in the South End of Boston, Chris meets up with Byron Rushing, who says the small brick houses and apartments in the area here were originally “built for the working class.”

Thank you for listening. The YouTube playlist here and below contains (most of) the Hodges tracks contained in the the program. You can find an excerpt of Chapman’s new book here.

The post The Inimitable Johnny Hodges appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jan 03 2020

50mins

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Ben Lerner’s Literary Charge

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This week we have an Open Source literary treat. It’s our producer Adam Colman in conversation with Ben Lerner, the MacArthur Genius who speaks as a poet, theorist, and storyteller in everything he writes. Ben Lerner’s latest novel, The Topeka School, has been leading lots of 2019 book-of-the-year-lists. It’s the third in a trilogy that includes Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04. Our man Adam Colman is also the author of New Uses for Failure, the only book about Ben Lerner’s fiction not written by Ben Lerner himself. The two of them sat down in Brooklyn to talk about the emotional charge of literature, about auto-fiction (which is not about cars) and about the power of language most particularly in the scenes with of high school debate in The Topeka School, where success goes to the contestants who deploy what’s called “the spread,” a kind of weaponized rapid fire of information.

Adam and Ben.

A note from Adam: At the end of 2019, we’re looking back on a decade of disasters, but over the course of that same decade, Ben Lerner sensed glimmers of a better world. It’s this imaginative attention to our actual world that made me want to write a book about his fiction, which focuses on those glimmers of possibility found through language, through art. As he says in this conversation, he took to writing novels because they “seemed like a place where I could think through the question of the value of a lot of the arts I was engaged in, like poetry or visual art or whatever. And I’d like to dramatize . . . my anxiety about the value of artwork, but also my insistence on the value of artwork. And they could do it in a charged and funny and felt and hopefully entertaining way.” In this conversation, you’ll hear a case for why literary imagination matters—emotionally, politically, intellectually, and immediately.

(Banner photo credit: Catherine Barnett.)

The post Ben Lerner’s Literary Charge appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Dec 26 2019

46mins

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Labour’s Love Lost

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Britain’s long, lurching political campaign of self-discovery, on the eve of ours in 2020, was a shocker. Thunder on the right, collapse on the left, bye-bye to Europe and banging the door on the way out, the British election gave a floundering Tory clown Boris Johnson the fattest right-wing majority since Margaret Thatcher remade the landscape and found her American match on it with Ronald Reagan. That was 40 years ago, and more than ever the American puzzle is these ties that bind the English-speaking world, to the right, then left, in war and peace, and now to the odd pair in blue jackets and yellow hair who talk in Mad Joker slogans and keep winning.

British election returns can land in the US like weather forecasts. Margaret Thatcher in 1979 cued Ronald Reagan in 1980. Bush the first and John Major were a matched pair for the 90s. Then Bill Clinton here and Tony Blair over there steered back toward a new middle or muddle. The Brexit rebellion in 2016 was a foretaste of Donald Trump and America First. And now on the eve of our 2020 campaign comes a Conservative landslide in the UK, and a rich, rebel, right-wing so-called “populist” leading from London with a short list of slogans. It looks and sounds familiar: Boris Johnson as their Trump; the feckless Labor Socialist Jeremy Corbyn as their Bernie Sanders. Clamorous conservatism up, neo-socialism cooked. But does the quick impression survive inspection?

The post Labour’s Love Lost appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Dec 20 2019

50mins

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Impeachment Lite

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The impeachment season just opening begins to look like a required scandalous course for citizens on how your government actually works, and as the New York Times noted this week, it will not be pretty. Not President Trump’s strong-arming the government of Ukraine to trash his enemies and get himself reelected in 2020. And not the reckless routines of a surveillance state that bends the rules to spy on people, and apparently the Trump campaign of 2016, then smear them with gossip known to be sketchy. Speaking of un-pretty: there was the Washington Post report this week that the Pentagon knew through our 18-year, two-trillion-dollar war in Afghanistan that the US had no workable strategy, and as a top general put it, “We didn’t know what we were doing.”

Still, finally the impeachment fat is in the fire. It’s a smaller fire than it might have been, a short bill of just two particulars: that President Trump tried to shake down Ukraine for help in Trump’s own reelection campaign in 2020; also that he’d stonewalled Congress’s investigation. It is nothing like a frontal attack on the Trump presidency—on his climate denial, say, or breaking the anti-nuclear deal with Iran, or profiteering on public office, or cruelty to migrants at the border. In the week’s news of the American empire, it could seem a smaller story than the Pentagon’s confession about our losing war in Afghanistan.

The post Impeachment Lite appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Dec 13 2019

50mins

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Origin Stories

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Origin stories can be educated guesses, or leaps of collective imagination as to who we are, how we got to this point. The Big Bang is one kind, Adam and Eve make another. 1492 and 1776 are American starting points. The argument gets stickier around 1620, when Mayflower Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock; and 1619, when the first African slaves came ashore in Virginia. Just a year apart, they’re the opening chapters of two very different epics of a single nation: one born in the flight of pious Puritans to freedom, the other born in the theft of people and land to build an empire of cotton and capitalism.

It’s a funny thing about origin stories—who we are, how we got here. We know going in that the stories are made up, one way or another. And we come to find out that a lot of them are just plain wrong. Then what? The Sunday magazine of the New York Times took a bold run this past summer at the year 1620 as the start of the American story— the year, of course, when the Mayflower landed about one hundred dissenting English Puritans, our pilgrims, at Plymouth Rock. But no, the Times argued, our first chapter was dated 1619, a year earlier when a ship bearing some 20 African slaves landed in Point Comfort, Virginia, which was to say the drive to implant a slavocracy in the new world had a step on building a temple of freedom.

We’re talking with Nikole Hannah-Jones, Philip Deloria, and Peter Linebaugh about national origin stories. The thread here is storytelling that explains and often hides what happened.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is the writer and editor who led what the Times called a major initiative at the paper to reframe American history. And she strikes the keynote of this radio hour around slavery at the foundations of U.S. history and in our own origin stories in general.

Peter Linebaugh is a transnational historian of economics and culture. He’s been tracking the privatization of common land in England and the New World. 1792 is his magic start date of what is now the world system.

The historian Philip Deloria—the first tenured professor of Native American history at Harvard—considers the Native American encounters with those colonists in the 1600s.

The post Origin Stories appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Dec 06 2019

50mins

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Hong Kong Crackdown

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“May you live in interesting times” was never in fact a Chinese curse. It’s a modern American cliché that could work as a caption on both China and the US as 2019 winds down. We’ve got our impeachment crisis to open a presidential election year, a “surveillance capitalism” crisis that mocks ideals of shared prosperity and privacy. China’s got an even starker “rule of law” crisis. Under Chairman for Life Xi Jinping, autocratic nationalism has taken its mask off in Beijing, and in Hong Kong the police crackdown on a freedom movement in the streets has turned sharply toward lethal force. Over there and here, the toughest question might be: are we looking at the future?

By the end of the police siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, students were crawling through sewers this week, jumping from a bridge and tunneling under barriers to get free. Not to surrender, exactly, or to flee, as one student said; just to get out of a hole getting deeper and more dangerous. The fight for almost six months now has been to preserve a measure of self-rule in the sometime British crown colony that reverted to China two decades ago—under a formula of one country with two systems of governance. But armed battle has pre-empted a political argument: bows and arrows, then fire bombs showed up in the hands of the opposition, facing water cannons and storms of tear gas from the police. No Red Army tanks yet, as in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, but a popular protest movement is on the defensive and “crackdown” is in the air.

The post Hong Kong Crackdown appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Nov 22 2019

50mins

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Billionaire Noir

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The most honored movie of the year looks to be Parasite, from Korea, about the soul-crushing advance of mega-wealth and the heartbreak of poor people with a dream of catching up. From the Pacific Rim, that is, it’s a movie that mirrors us! At the same time, from Hollywood, the hot HBO series is Succession: all about cruelty, greed, and family power-games under a vulgar tycoon who won’t let go of his company.  The family name might have been Murdoch, Corleone, Trump. Alongside our Impeachment drama, it’s pop-culture, screen culture, that’s telling an under-story of concentrated wealth; the lost confidence in middle-class life and a regular people’s democracy.

Bong Joon-ho.

Parasite’s a faraway mirror of what you know instantly is our American condition, too—maybe a universal affliction of yawning gaps in class and wealth and entitlement—in a financial order owned by an almost speechless, maybe clueless one percent. This is, we know, impeachment time in Washington and the news business. We’re picking up instead on the understory told in screen culture: In the case of Parasite, the story’s more interesting for mixing movie genres: this is a social comedy of two families before it turns sour and then sharply into a horror show. The story is told more in sadness than anger, and it leaves viewers with innumerable angles to replay and reflect on for days.

The post Billionaire Noir appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Nov 15 2019

50mins

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In Hoffa’s Shadow

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Jimmy Hoffa will never be found, and won’t be forgotten either. What was it about the Teamster tough guy that’s more compelling 45 years after his perfect-crime murder than in his larger-than-life career? He was a working class hero when a third of American workers belonged to unions, the top of the labor ranks despite his open marriage to the Mob.  Jimmy Hoffa’s place in memory is right out of the movies: out of The Godfather and the golden age of the Mafia; out of Goodfellas when order was breaking down; out of The Sopranos’ modern melancholy for  a lost era—brutal, corrupt, all of it, but connected with a myth of mid-century masculinity. Was it something about a take-charge guy whose orders got followed?

Hoffa, left, and Chuckie O’Brien.

Jimmy Hoffa is a fixture in American mythology by now. The two-fisted Teamsters’ leader who vanished in 1975 in a murder plot that left not a trace of hard evidence. Still a mystery, still mesmerizing, Hoffa’s a story that Martin Scorsese can tell one way this fall in yet another big movie, The Irishman, and that a Harvard law professor out of Hoffa’s extended family can tell very differently. Jack Goldsmith is our source this radio hour: in effect he’s the step-son of Jimmy Hoffa’s step-son—with his own history inside the federal justice machinery that was part of Jimmy Hoffa’s downfall. Jack Goldsmith’s book about his step-father Chuckie O’Brien is In Hoffa’s Shadow. Call it a fathers-and-sons love story inside the Hoffa epic, with a cool hindsight on Mafia power and FBI performance in the story, and second thoughts on the Kennedy brothers’ rough, righteous war on Hoffa the man.

Bonus: Listen here to Jack Goldsmith speaking further about the Department of Justice and surveillance—from the perspective of a DOJ veteran.

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building in Washington D.C.

The post In Hoffa’s Shadow appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Nov 08 2019

50mins

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Lovecraft Country

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H. P. Lovecraft’s frightful horror fiction—dated between Edgar Allan Poe’s and Stephen King’s—is the weirdest of the weird. Lovecraft found ravenous, man-eating rats in the walls and foundations of our houses, and in our hearts and dreams just as creepily. For Halloween readers, he gave us ocean monsters the size of mountains; also, slippery scaly fish-people, flipping, flopping, and talking their way down the streets of Lovecraft’s favorite coastal towns near witchy Salem and the north of New England. There’s an idea in these stories—about human ignorance in an evil sea of telepathic enemies. There’s an open landscape, too, where horror fiction is growing a new crop.

Our Lovecraftians

Joyce Carol Oates (Credit: Dustin Cohen).

Paul La Farge (Credit: Carol Shadford).

Matt Ruff (Credit: Lisa Gold).

Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Credit: Martin Dee).

If you’re sensing something ancient, cosmically vast, inescapable and frightening this Halloween season, you may be catching a Lovecraftian breeze. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a lonely, near-reclusive child of Providence, Rhode Island, who felt intimations of mind-melting infinity in New England of the twenties and thirties. The coast north of Boston inspired him with Gothic ideas, which he dished out in stories long and short for pulp magazines, thrilling readers who visited his mythical sites like Arkham, Miskatonic University, and Innsmouth—a fictional universe terrorized by creatures like Cthulhu, the ocean monster so complexly described that he cannot be pictured. Lovecraft specialized in such things: colors of no color, minerals not found on earth, languages that can’t be pronounced, and of course an unreadable and uncaring universe, “formed in fright,” as Melville put it speculatively. In Lovecraftian horror, the bleakness is doctrine.

The post Lovecraft Country appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Nov 01 2019

50mins

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Monopoly vs. Democracy

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It’s new for most Americans that we’re embarrassed by our democracy. We don’t know where it went wrong, or whether it’ll survive. Matt Stoller explains it this way: we’ve come to do politics the way we do commerce, online and at the mall. Sellers are remote; critical choices are made for us. Our stuff comes from Walmart; our books, groceries, and now everything else from Amazon. Our lines on politics, news, opinion, and gossip come through Facebook. Our lives are designed and run to concentrate power and profit in the hands of a few faraway monopolists. No wonder we’re in a panic! Matt Stoller is here to tell you the fault, dear people, is not in our stars or even our selves but in these overnight monopolies that might just as well own us.

A year out from picking a president, derangement is the label on our dumpster-fire politics. We sorta know who lit the fire, but how did civic life get into the dumpster in the first place? Our conversation this hour is with a maverick young public thinker, Matt Stoller, whose big book is called Goliath, a hundred-year history of monopoly power and democratic populism in a see-saw contest. Very short form: we lost our political edge, our compass, our confidence at the monopoly marketplace. Our helplessness in the voting booth is something we learned in our shopping at the mall and now online. Our community habits of of commerce, conversation, and choice have come apart. And no wonder we’re confused—and angry, in a panic—about our lost sovereignty.

The post Monopoly vs. Democracy appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Oct 25 2019

50mins

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Harold Bloom’s Spark

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Harold Bloom sat for 60 inspired, combative years at the high table of the All-American book group. His passing this week can be said to mark the extinction of a very rare breed. He was the omnivorous, literary gunslinger who had read everything this side of Beowulf and remembered every word of it. Nobody but Google could put more lines of English prose and poetry at your fingertips than Yale’s professor Bloom. His links were memory, passion, imagination. He lived in a web of books that read people. The job of writing was not social work or politics, it was to expand our consciousness and change our lives, with beauty and wisdom. Poetry was the best way to say anything. Reading was a vocation, a love affair, an art in itself.

Shakespeare, according to Bloom, invented what we think of as human.

The literary phenomenon Harold Bloom, who died this week at 89, made a singular career listening for the ecstatic music of the human mind from four centuries of English literature. Compendious and controversial, Harold Bloom is not yet to be measured and maybe never to be explained: the champion reader who at top form could see, absorb, and remember 1,000 pages an hour, who had all of Shakespeare and Milton—Whitman, too—and the American moderns on the tip of his tongue. His three-fold test of greatness in a book was: aesthetic splendor; intellectual depth, and wisdom. You don’t have time for the rest, he would say.

The post Harold Bloom’s Spark appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Oct 18 2019

50mins

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The Neuro-Adventures of Oliver Sacks

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Oliver Sacks was the beloved doctor of strong souls in afflicted bodies. He was a neurologist with an eye for the invisible, the medical detective who found himself addicted to his patients in the back wards and to writing about them. Most famous of all was “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” a classic Sacks title. And now, four year after his death, we have a Sacks saga just as compelling, in what amounts to clinical notes on the man himself. It is Lawrence Weschler’s record of a 30-year friendship that was supposed to produce a giant New Yorker profile but didn’t—a story within the story. Instead we have a portrait of a singular soul’s attachment to science, and music, and being human.

For more than 30 years, Lawrence Weschler of the New Yorker magazine had been filing conversational sketches of his friend Sacks—toward a giant profile. The project ground to a halt when Sacks insisted that his homosexuality was off limits. But after Sacks had told all his own secrets, the doctor insisted that Weschler finally publish his version. Lawrence (known as Ren) Weschler’s title is And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? At the foundation of the book and our conversation is Weschler’s eye on Oliver Sacks in his medical rounds, year after year, back to the early eighties when his first literary masterpiece emerged.

The post The Neuro-Adventures of Oliver Sacks appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Oct 11 2019

50mins

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Impeach This

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The impeachment treatment for Donald Trump looks already an ultimate fighting contest with a nasty guy who makes up his own rules. We’re thinking it through this hour. Do you credit Nancy Pelosi with a leap of faith that there’s a way to rescue dignity, clarity, and a win by taking a clown-circus presidency with a cage brawl? Is there a Colin Powell doctrine for this sort of politics? Doesn’t the impeachment team need a clear, attainable objective in this battle and an exit strategy before it starts? However it ends for the elite political class, what about the people’s worries that run older and deeper than Donald Trump: climate change; social breakdown; worsening inequality; and a lot of bad wars.

The impeachment season has opened, and as we were supposed to know all along, it was never designed as an orderly court battle at law. It’s about politics, survival, and media war, virtually without rules, that takes the slanging tone of Trump up a notch, from a bad circus to mixed martial arts. The Marquis of Queensbury is looking away. President Trump is raising the insult level at what he calls “low life” Democrats and “stone-cold crooked” Bidens, father and son. And he’s raising his bet that he can’t be blamed for digging political dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine; he said out loud he’d do it all again, asking China for dirt to match.

The post Impeach This appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Oct 04 2019

50mins

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The CIA’s Covert Chemist

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We’re at home with Stephen Kinzer, the longtime reporter of secret U.S. operations in books like Overthrow and All the Shah’s Men. In a new book, Poisoner in Chief, Kinzer looks at a scientist named Sidney Gottlieb and the notorious “mind control” CIA program he led, MK-ULTRA.

Kinzer’s portrait induces the feeling of a bad trip: We’ve been to a completely different zone we know is there, but we can’t believe. He’s introducing us to the man who brought LSD into this world. Gottlieb’s experiments may have been responsible in part for Billie Holiday’s death, and putting Whitey Bulger on a two-year LSD regimen. At the CIA, Gottlieb was involved with assassination attempts of Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba. There are resonances of James Bond and Doctor Strangelove. Or maybe Josef Mengele.

Stephen Kinzer

“This is the first time I’ve been shocked by something I discovered in writing a book. I’m still getting over my shock from the process of learning who this Sidney Gottlieb was,” Kinzer told us. “I now conclude he was the most powerful unknown American of the twentieth century.”

You can catch our last episode with Kinzer, “America’s Empire State of Mind,” here.

And if you can, give us a tip over on Patreon—and thanks!

Photo illustration by Conor Gillies, photo courtesy of the author.

The post The CIA’s Covert Chemist appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Oct 01 2019

37mins

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Tech-Master Disaster: Part Three

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Take a walk through Kendall Square, Cambridge, this hour. It’s the Emerald City of biotechnology—as magical/mysterious as the Land of Oz, but it’s real, too. The new tech of genomic medicine, re-engineering life in wet labs, has brought a new frontier of work and wealth back from suburbia. Kendall Square is an urban ecosystem: pricey new real estate, rising higher every day on the edge of MIT and the Charles River, a mecca for the DNA generation of bio-scientists. It was born of both science and science fiction. Fun fact: novelist Michael Crichton dreamed up his Jurassic Park in Kendall Square in the mid ’80s. Scientists are enacting his fantasy of a re-creation, but they may have forgotten Crichton’s warnings about it.

Richard Attenborough as John Hammond in Jurassic Park.

Kendall Square can be taken as a model of the smart-city boomtown.  The question this hour is: how did it sprout, and what keeps it sprouting? For whom? And how did the Jurassic Park novelist Michael Crichton seem to feel Kendall Square coming, 30 years ago? Wasn’t he warning his readers and moviegoers to beware? Kendall Square is, in effect, a bio-science park: hundreds of companies and labs focused on the future in genomic medicine, meaning healthcare through reading and tweaking your DNA. Just one subway stop from the world-famous Massachusetts General Hospital, Kendall Square models the “entrepreneurial” university with MIT, along with “medical science as business.”

The post Tech-Master Disaster: Part Three appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Sep 27 2019

50mins

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Tech-Master Disaster: Part Two

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It took the late, notorious Jeffrey Epstein to force the conversation, but now MIT can’t stop talking about what money is too dirty to take in the cause of “inventing the future,” as the tarnished Media Lab used to say. Is it acceptable that the Koch investments in fossil fuel pollution fund both climate denial and MIT’s cancer research? Does the Saudi autocrat who has a dissenting citizen dismembered and ground up have any place near the forefront of life sciences? And didn’t the official welcome to the sex trafficker Epstein deliver a frightful message to women making their way as MIT students and teachers?

The MIT Media Lab.

What haunts MIT as the Jeffrey Epstein scandal sinks in is that the predatory sexual license he gave himself, his  futurism, his fascination with famous scientists and their fascination with his money was all of a piece. Last year’s faculty chairman at MIT makes the point bluntly with her own anthropological twist: “If you live in a culture,” as Susan Silbey put the question to her colleagues in a stormy faculty meeting this week, “where the saying is ‘move fast and break things,’ where disruptive entrepreneurship becomes the purpose of education, you really can’t be surprised that a registered sex offender is celebrated for his philanthropy, imagination, and creativity.” MIT’s president Rafael Reif, his own job on the line, said he was humbled by a “cascade of misjudgments” that have brought most particularly women on his campus to “a last straw moment.”

The post Tech-Master Disaster: Part Two appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Sep 20 2019

49mins

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Tech-Master Disaster: Part One

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The late Jeffrey Epstein stands for at least three levels of mystery: the man himself, a boastful sex offender, convicted of preying on under-age women; second, there’s his money machine and its unsavory connections with celebrity science and the high ground of education; and third, just surfacing: the mindset, the Epstein mentality that fed on fantasies of re-fathering the human race, making himself immortal, defeating death—not so far from the wildest dreams of techno-futurism: extended lifetimes, edited genomes, cryonic resurrections, reincarnation. All of it draws on ancient dreams of humankind but it’s now top-of- the-agenda in the industrial-strength biological, genetic sciences.

There’s trouble in the magic Kingdom of Advanced Computation, and the late Jeffrey Epstein leads us to it. This hour is one man’s critical overview of the kingdom and its landscape. Silicon is its valley, its production center out west.  The Media Lab at MIT has been high ground of ideas on the east coast. WIRED is the magazine of the realm; TED talks are its showcase. It’s a kingdom of masterful men—names like Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates, and Kurzweil. And it has its own code of intelligence, called AI, A for Artificial. It has its high priests like Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Media Lab in 1985 and of WIRED magazine in 1993. Linkages are tight and loyalty is firm to some central ideas, above all that technology is good for everybody. If it can’t fix a problem, it can transform it—even ultimate challenges of life and death. This kingdom of computation has had it rogue financiers, like the late Jeffrey Epstein. And it has its dissenters, too.  Our guest this hour is eminent among those critical insiders: the writer-historian Evgeny Morozov.

The post Tech-Master Disaster: Part One appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Sep 13 2019

50mins

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Great Radio Program. I love this guy Chris his depth always provocative

By SF CA Lin - Sep 07 2019
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Great radio program - ideas, music, literature, drama, politics !! Thank You Chris Lydon !!!

The best radio/podcast

By goodems - Jun 23 2018
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Christopher Lydon is keeping me sane.