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Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Updated 6 days ago

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

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859 Ratings
Average Ratings
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325
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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.

iTunes Ratings

859 Ratings
Average Ratings
505
325
12
5
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.

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Cover image of Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Updated 6 days ago

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Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics

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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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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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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On Becoming Who You Are

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A conversation with John Kaag and Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen on Nietzsche, philosophy, and life.

The news about Nietzsche, as you may have heard, is that the nastiest old name in German philosophy doesn’t scare us anymore. His most famous shout, that “God is dead,” reads now like showmanship from a minister’s kid. God, in any event, had the last word at Nietzsche’s madhouse death in the year 1900. Nietzsche had lived in Bismarck’s Germany, when Hitler was unimaginable. Even then he’d been an anti-nationalist, an enemy of anti-Semitism. Nietzsche had the aphoristic wit of Oscar Wilde, but said his soul-mate among thinkers was the self-reliant American sage Ralph Waldo Emerson.

We are back to college this hour with the late lunatic, ever the scariest iconoclast on campus, the now detoxified German philosopher with the bird’s-nest mustache, Friedrich Nietzsche.  Among thinkers he was an incomparable phrase-maker, who declared the death of God, the eternal return and the Will to Power. The job in life, he thought, was to add style to one’s character, and he did it: the trick was “to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book—what everyone else does not say in a book,” and he mastered it.  We feel several impulses here: One, to hear what draws college students to philosophy in the anxious atmosphere of 2019; Two, we wanted to hike through the Alps with Nietzsche alongside John Kaag, the American philosopher who took us through our own Emerson and Thoreau trails not so long ago. And Three, we were drawn by the fresh attention to Friedrich Nietzsche, who used to seem too cool for school, too funny, reckless, outrageous for polite company.

The post On Becoming Who You Are appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Mar 08 2019

49mins

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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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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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Under Surveillance: Capitalism in the Digital Age

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Yes, Virginia, the world did change direction in the late summer of 2001, and it’s been changing us ever since. 9/11 had everything to do it, but it was also the panicky season of the dot.com bust, when little Google, in fear of death, morphed from search service to data mining from its users. Our government, post 9/11, was ready to compromise privacy and underwrite a new science of surveillance—the object was to know everything about everybody. And here we are, not two decades later: Google is a trillion-dollar company, in an industry that knows more than we know about ourselves, and sells it. Omni-analyst Shoshana Zuboff argues we are being re-purposed for a new age of mankind.

Shoshana Zuboff

Shoshana Zuboff is a business school professor and scholar with a Theory of Pretty Much Everything about our American condition in 2019. Unlike most theories of everything, this one is simple enough to remember. It’s also complex and researched enough to feel critically intelligent, not to say: plausible. The theory, in two words, is Surveillance Capitalism, the big business of social-network companies (think: Google, Facebook, Apple) who sift the signals from your phones and laptops to know, moment to moment, your heart’s desire and then sell it to you. Add a fashionable ideology of markets, a culture of consumer comfort, and the force of wealth—and the rest is details. Our disquieting modern condition is not in your mind. It’s in our lopsided landscape, as our guest Shoshana Zuboff maps it in stunning big book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

The post Under Surveillance: Capitalism in the Digital Age appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jan 25 2019

49mins

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Is the Green New Deal For Real?

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A conversation about the “Green New Deal” with Bill McKibben, Naomi Oreskes, and Daniel Schrag.

The mission, as it turned out, was to transform the American economy and save the country, no less, over twelve years. Franklin Roosevelt called it his New Deal, starting in 1933. New-breed Democrats in Congress today are talking about a Green New Deal, starting now, deep into the crisis of a changing climate that goes way beyond the weather. FDR had a working class revolt driving him forward, and later he had a Nazi threat and a world war to focus every fiber of mind and muscle on a reinvention. Which may be what the climate is demanding. Here’s one test: at mention of an all-new renewable energy system, is your first thought Costs? Savings? Or Survival? Getting real about the Green New Deal, this week on Open Source.

Naomi Oreskes, Bill McKibben, and Daniel Schrag

Three words and one picture sum up the new scene in Washington—and the relief, for starters, from a two-year fixation on President You-Know-Who. The picture is of the so-called Sunrise Movement siege of Nancy Pelosi’s office from last November, and of the rapturous, insurgent Congressperson from the Bronx, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sweeping up the moment and putting its three little words—Green New Deal—at the top of the evolving agenda in D.C. It’s as slippery a promise as universal health care, but here’s our first crack at what it could mean: a resurrection of spirit, perhaps, at the bold Rooseveltian scale, after 75 years? A reset in relations with work, among workers, which Roosevelt’s New Deal was? We’ll see. Does it mean a war for clean, renewable energy, against the embedded power of fossil-fuels? Unavoidably. A “system upgrade” for the power grid and the whole economy? About time, you say! But can it be done?

The post Is the Green New Deal For Real? appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jan 11 2019

50mins

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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

50mins

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The New Normal

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A conversation with Stephen Walt and Fintan O’Toole on the state of the world at the beginning of 2019.

At the start of a new year, count the new normals in a changed world: new normals marking the points where the unheard-of, the unimaginable, comes to be the standard, and the pendulum won’t swing back. The trillion-dollar corporation sounds like a new normal, after Apple and Amazon broke the barrier last year. California’s record wildfires are a new normal, the governor said: eight thousand fires last year on almost two million acres. International migration, meantime, reached a quarter-billion people now, and it’s rising. In politics worldwide, the new normal is angry nationalism, facing a new-normal breakdown among the ‘grown-up’ class of rich nations: Brexit Britain, Trump’s America, France, Italy and now Brazil, losing their dignity, and their grip. Find the pattern here: extreme weather, extreme wealth, extreme politics.

We take stock at the new year: it’s 2019, but where’s our country, what’s our mood? Who would you trust to tell you about the real world out there when all we talk about is Donald Trump? We trust Steve Walt, because he holds himself to an independent “realist” standard in foreign affairs: what’s urgent, what’s possible, what’s ours to do, and he keeps score, as a lot of pundits don’t, by results, not intentions. We start small, just on the wreckage known as Syria. It was a classic instance of Trump-being-Trump at the end of the year, the I-alone president declared: we’re outa there, and Afghanistan, too, one of these days. The Beltway and legacy media rose up in shock and fury. General Mattis resigned. Trump bent to the storm. But Steve Walt wrote that getting out was the right idea all along, and so said others we read and respect, like Jeff Sachs and Steve Kinzer, and then Elizabeth Warren, running for president. What should this teach people?

The post The New Normal appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jan 04 2019

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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

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Why We’re Addicted to Facebook

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Could it possibly be that Stanford’s great humanist Robert Pogue Harrison invented René Girard out of sheer longing for an omni-theorist of our interlocking social and spiritual trials?

Harrison presented Girard in a striking piece in the New York Review of Books, “The Prophet of Envy,” last December as “the last of that race of Titans” in the “human sciences” of the 19th and 20th centuries — as far-reaching as Marx or Freud, and shockingly alert to the distresses in Trump time. “The explosion of social media, the resurgence of populism, and the increasing virulence of reciprocal violence all suggest that the contemporary world is becoming more and more recognizably ‘Girardian’ in its behavior,” Harrison wrote.

I recognized Girard (1923–2015) as a total stranger, but Harrison makes his late Stanford colleague vivid and vital: a thoroughly French mind and eye (think de Toqueville) who found his great assignment in America; a thinker challengingly avant-garde and also Christian; a legendary teacher himself who is remembered by Peter Thiel, no less, as a formative influence in realms of innovation and investment.

I’ve read a lot of Girard by now and Cynthia Haven’s friendly biography, and I can’t think of a figure more obscure who feels more relevant, and vice versa. My conversation with Pogue Harrison — at root a Dante scholar, by now a prolific podcaster in the wide realm of ideas — turns eventually to the biological sciences today at the advent of CRISPR gene-editing technology. We are experimenting here with a coast-to-coast podcast conversation on almost anything.

You can find Harrison’s podcast, Entitled Opinions, here.

The post Why We’re Addicted to Facebook appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Mar 04 2019

42mins

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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

50mins

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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

50mins

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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

50mins

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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

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All in Favor…

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A conversation about Astra Taylor’s new documentary What Is Democracy? with Astra Taylor, David Runciman, and Kali Akuno.

We used to know what we liked about that word ‘democracy,’ and we were ready to fight for it. Democracy meant “the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time,” as E. B. White put it during World War II. In Civil Rights time, Malcolm X rubbed in the rhyme with hypocrisy: a real democracy would never short-change so many people of justice, freedom, the dignity of equality. In our time it’s money that seems to have bound and gagged democracy. And it’s social media that has wired a sort of zombie democracy into world-wide waves of anger, and the values of circus entertainment.

Astra Taylor and Silvia Federici in “What Is Democracy?”

What can we say about our democracy when a Princeton study finds that the political preferences of the average American have “only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact” on public policy? The filmmaker Astra Taylor took the cue to write one more “death of democracy” book and to make a movie about her own global search for democracy over the ages.

The post All in Favor… appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Feb 01 2019

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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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Real Education About Artificial Intelligence

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Siri: what is ‘artificial intelligence’? In computer science, she says, AI can refer to any device that senses its environment and responds to reach a goal. A simple translation of A. I. as, say, ‘robotic thinking’ might have sounded hostile. But then, if she’s said: A.I. stands for the galloping advance in computing capacity beyond human sense and sensitivity, we’d have said: Siri, you’re boasting again. So what is it, really? Who’s pushing it? And why? They used to say A.I. would write music like Mozart’s, which it hasn’t. But could it do your job? Faster, better and cheaper than you do it? And is that why big science and big money seem to love A.I.? But what about those scientists who see an apocalypse in it, humanity’s last stand? Native intelligence takes on the artificial kind.

c/o Kimberly Barzola

Behind what amounts to an informal news blackout, MIT is in a moral dither over AI – artificial intelligence, a giant hot potato in higher education. So we peek this hour into MIT science, philosophy, governance. Ironies abound: MIT is famous as a real-brain bee-hive in a high-IQ zip code next to Harvard, but it’s in a swivet about advanced computing that can whip human thinking in test after test. To sense the power stakes and the moral questions: all you had to see really was the parade of dubious characters in and around the dedication last week of a new billion-dollar MIT College of Computing: Henry Kissinger, the 93-year-old Vietnam warlord on stage with Tom Friedman, the New York Times salesman for the Iraq War; the finance mogul Stephen Schwarzman who’ll endow the new school and put his name on it; and lurking at MIT in the recent past, Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, a Schwarzman business partner, and by now the notorious MbS for the gruesome murder of the writer Jamal Khashoggi, a thorn in the Saudis’ side. Suddenly students are getting an introduction to politics, and the Institute is putting a shiny face on its version of things…

c/o Kimberly Barzola

The post Real Education About Artificial Intelligence appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Mar 15 2019

49mins

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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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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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Pick Your Populism

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Mark Blyth is that noisy wise-guy on speed in our portable Glasgow pub, and he’s locating our anxieties about a world at sea. Where we’re at, he is sputtering loud and clear, is between populisms right and left, both in a rage around the same sinking center. We’re ten years late in letting go of a failed order of money, power, and privilege. The crisis, led by the climate breakdown, is ten years ahead of our readiness to fix it. But count on Mark Blyth for positive thinking, too. We’d be awash in next-generation jobs, he says, if we went all-out for clean energy. And we could pay for a whole new power grid with government credit—remember? The same way George Bush paid for his awful war in Iraq.

Blyth is the butcher’s kid from Dundee who became a famous professor in the US, hung onto his Scots accent and his working-class biases. He drops back into the pub now and then to explain world history unfolding before us. If you don’t believe Mark Blyth has all the answers, just ask him: he saw the Brexit revolt coming, and the Trump hostile takeover, because (he says) he’d seen a collapse of faith in the dying political order that had just delivered the War in Iraq and the Wall Street breakdown of ’08. Mark Blyth is an acquired taste who becomes habit for a lot of us, a required 50-thousand mile checkup. He re-enters this time, talking, of course, a mile a minute, about a choice or a deadlock of populisms, plural, about the odds of a recession, and what coulda/shoulda happened ten years ago.

The post Pick Your Populism appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Sep 06 2019

50mins

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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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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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Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!

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Herman Melville, at his 200th birthday, is the American Shakespeare if only for his epic prose poem Moby Dick, or The Whale. That’s Maximum Melville; we’re celebrating, instead, his short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” It’s the perfect miniature of the same genius: the story of a rebel clerk on Wall Street. It opens with hints of comedy; it ends in tragedy and still today, it’s a mystery. “I would prefer not to” is Bartleby’s signature line, turning down office assignments. It’s almost all he can say, but where are those five words of refusal coming from? And for whom is this Bartleby speaking?

Herman Melville.

“I would prefer not to” is Bartleby’s slogan—as familiar on Herman Melville T-shirts as the words that open Melville’s Moby-Dick: “Call me Ishmael.” But how different is the short story, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” from the great American novel—except that they’re both perfect Melville, in his 200th-birthday season. Bartleby appeared two years after Moby-Dick, in 1853, from Melville, who was still young at 34. It’s 30 pages instead of 600, far removed from the high seas, and more nearly manageable in one radio hour. Bartleby is a cadaverous and solitary young copyist (pre-Xerox machines) in a claustrophobic Wall Street law office. He’s the white-collar drone who opts out, refusing orders. Meaning what? Do we take him as a victim of class oppression, or a figure of extreme and individual depression? We’re open to the argument this hour that Bartleby stands for black America in the nineteenth century, and also he’s modeling a way out of social media and the commercial capture of our attention, and also that he spoke for Melville himself, a prophetic artist facing the futility of his writing vocation which would bring him almost nothing in the way of money, praise, or readership in his lifetime.

The post Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity! appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Aug 16 2019

50mins

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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

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A Politics of Love

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It’s been Marianne Williamson’s week in the presidential campaign, by the new metrics of Tweets (running less and less snarky), and Google searches asking who is this ageless New Ager, this fount of love and toughness, with the fey voice that can whisper and roar about reparations for slavery, for instance, and about the “insane” (her word) talk of war with Iran. Who she is, not least, is a cultural wave splashing down on parched political ground: an All-American mix of un-churched religion, self-help for healing, mind-over-matter spirituality, the cadences of afternoon television, and especially Oprah Winfrey’s soulful conversations that made Williamson a best-seller 25 years ago. 

Marianne Williamson, on the Colbert late-night comedy show, went dead-serious at the professional Democrats who take her for an amateur at what they do. “I’m sorry, Stephen,” she said. “They’re an amateur at what I can do.” Which is to say: to speak plain and eloquent American language about the miserable public mood we’re all in.

The post A Politics of Love appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Aug 02 2019

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Fuhgedaboutit

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“You must remember this,” the songwriter said, but is it ever that simple? Same for all the admonitions: never to forget. Really, never? Lewis Hyde is back, the wisdom-writer and provocateur, to wonder if we’ve missed the point about memory and forgetting. They’re not opposites, after all, but powers of mind that work in combination, around Civil War history or a failed marriage. Peace of mind comes when people remember the past so carefully they can forget about it. “Unforgotten,” often as not, describes wounds, unpaid bills, grievances crying out to be squared, then let go. “Getting past the past,” Lewis Hyde says, begins with Truth: knowing what happened. Then Justice, meaning right punishment—reparations, if possible. Then Apology, and Forgiveness.

A Brewer, Maine, monument to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Union officer in the Civil War and a governor of Maine).

Irish Alzheimer’s, in the old joke, is ascribed to people who can’t remember anything but their grudges. It’s a sort of kernel of Lewis Hyde’s new and ecstatic survey of our ancient fascination with memory and forgetting. The new book from this prized writer is A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past. Memory and Forgetting are a fluid pair, it turns out, twin capacities, not opposites, and usually not a contradiction. [The aphorism that leads Lewis Hyde’s long list is this: “Every act of memory is an act of forgetting.”] The issue between the two is when to let go. Some parts of our past—individual and communal—need to be remembered so they can be forgotten. Others need to be forgotten so they can reappear, unbidden, whole and possibly healed. This bears on the scars of childhood trauma and on what to do with all those statues of Confederate generals standing tall across the American South. Lewis Hyde composed this book from years of notes, as a thought experiment. He wanted to nominate places where forgetting is better than remembering.

The post Fuhgedaboutit appeared first on Open Source with Christopher Lydon.

Jul 26 2019

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