Rank #1: Under Surveillance: Capitalism in the Digital Age
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 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.
Jan 25 2019
Rank #2: On Becoming Who You Are
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.
Mar 08 2019
Rank #3: The CIA’s Covert Chemist
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.
“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.”
And if you can, give us a tip over on Patreon—and thanks!
Photo illustration by Conor Gillies, photo courtesy of the author.
Oct 01 2019
Rank #4: The New Normal
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?
Jan 04 2019
Rank #5: Impeach This
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.
Oct 04 2019
Rank #6: Tech-Master Disaster: Part Three
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.”
Sep 27 2019
Rank #7: The Bauhaus in Your House
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:
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.
Apr 12 2019
Rank #8: Tech-Master Disaster: Part One
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.
Sep 13 2019
Rank #9: Lenny at 100
A tribute to Leonard Bernstein with Nigel Simeone, Jamie Bernstein, and Augusta Read Thomas.
Leonard Bernstein, the multi-musician, did it all in his lifetime. At his 100th anniversary this year, the only question people still ask about the man is an odd one: did he do enough? Did he leave the message he came to deliver? And did we get it? In all his careers, he was in the top rank: the world’s celebrity Beethoven conductor who rediscovered Mahler and Shostakovich. He composed a light Candide and a serious Mass. He was a crackling pianist, a songwriter in the Gershwin league. Master of Broadway and Hollywood, too, for On the Waterfront. And, no doubt, television’s greatest presenter of classical music for kids of all ages. But our takeaway Lenny for all time? West Side Story.
In any argument about who was The Most American Musician of the shape-shifting 20th Century—Gershwin, Ellington, Copland, Miles, Sinatra, John Cage, maybe Elvis—there’s no getting away from Leonard Bernstein, a giant figure, at the very center of it all. Early-mid 1950s, Charlie Parker has died young. Miles and Coltrane are about to record Kind of Blue. Duke Ellington is making the best-selling album of his lifetime at the Newport Jazz Festival. Leonard Bernstein, not yet 40, has composed ballets, show songs and two symphonies; he’s conducting Beethoven at Carnegie Hall and opera with Maria Callas in Milan, and in 1955 he is sweating through the birthing of something strange for Broadway: a Romeo and Juliet story out of Shakespeare, about gangs in New York. Dancers enact the warfare, to Jazz harmonies, Cuban rhythms. The show, of course, is West Side Story. Just as the tryout performances begin, Bernstein jumps to another of his many tracks and signs on to be conductor of the New York Philharmonic, which had been Mahler’s orchestra, and Toscanini’s. These are the multiple Lenny Bernsteins remembered on his 100th anniversary this year. We are focusing this hour on one chapter of the life, West Side Story.
Dec 21 2018
Rank #10: Why We’re Addicted to Facebook
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.
Mar 04 2019
Rank #11: Collusion Delusion
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.
Mar 29 2019
Rank #12: Intelligent Redesign?
A conversation with George Church and Antonio Regalado about gene editing and the future of biotech.
Ready or not, we are at the gateway into CRISPR world and CRISPR think: CRISPR the acronym for biology’s longest leap. It’s the gene-editing tool that can tweak the inherited DNA code of your being, and mine. We heard this winter about the Chinese doctor who applied CRISPR science to the embryos of twins–to make them HIV proof, he said. After that, the CRISPR story is mostly riddles: is it about curing disease, or adapting the human species for a back-up planet? Is it about genius in science, or hubris? Is it ripe for investment? Safe for mankind? Is the race over CRISPR between Boston and Berkeley, California? Or between the US and China?
We have tip-toed into the cave of CRISPR this hour, to listen closely on and between the lines to Dr. George Church at the Harvard Medical School. He’s the nearest thing to a voice of CRISPR, the revolutionary science of our time. For courage and professional company, I have Antonio Regalado at my side. He is the relentless beat reporter and bio-science editor at MIT’s Tech Review, and he went with me recently to George Church’s lab. Quick history: CRISPR is Step 3 in a revolution most of us slept through in the science of reproduction: first, 1953, the circular-staircase of a double-helix let us visualize the genetic molecule, DNA; then 2003, fifty years later, the whole map came clear: of DNA’s web in every human cell; now comes the trick of reading, writing and editing that DNA, like a book. No matter that no one’s quite seen or heard the language of it, though Dr. Church is getting closer than anyone else we know.
Mar 01 2019
Rank #13: John Bolton’s War?
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!”
May 17 2019
Rank #14: Real Education About Artificial Intelligence
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
Mar 15 2019
Rank #15: Second Guessing the Oscars
A conversation about the movies with A. S. Hamrah, Beth Gilligan, Katherine Irving.
We’ve reached that odd ritual of cultural reckoning. Between the Super Bowl and Opening Day of the national pastime, Hollywood holds up its scorecard on the Dream Factory, and our dreams. There’s no host on the Oscars show this year—no Billy Crystal, much less Bob Hope—betokening cultural confusion. We’re in Trump time, after all, under the cloud of a hurting climate, waiting for “That’s all, folks” from Porky Pig. Turns out Hollywood, as work space for the imagination, was also epicenter of predatory sex, trigger of #MeToo outrage. Netflix is the new super-studio; home screens are the new multiplex. But nothing’s coming to an end here: black talent made the ultimate blockbuster in Wakanda, and little off-the-grid indies, like Leave No Trace, left some of the deepest impressions in 2018.
It’s Oscars week in Hollywood and the hearts of wannabe auteurs all over. We’re all end-of-February cinephiles, just for the the contrasts we saw in the cinematic reading of the social-cultural-political maelstrom of 2018. The Oscar nominees are the face that Hollywood wants us to see. We’re just as intrigued this time by the near-misses, like Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, and Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. We’re looking into many mirrors of us this hour with movie buffs we cherish.
Lydon’s Oscar picks:
- Black Panther
- Never Look Away
And favorite un-nominated classics:
- Sorry to Bother You
- First Reformed
- Leave No Trace
Feb 22 2019
Rank #16: Amazing Aretha
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.
May 03 2019
Rank #17: Esperanza Spalding: Drawn to Greatness
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
Apr 05 2019
Rank #18: Gandhi and “The Years That Changed the World”
Mahatma Gandhi led the liberation of India from British rule in the first half of the 20th Century, by massive and peaceful resistance. He is said to be out of political fashion in India these days; he was not a man of fashion. He is thrillingly, dauntingly alive again in a grand biography, the project of decades by India’s leading popular scholar, Ramchandra Guha, visiting us in Boston.
It’s good to be remembering that odd Man of the Century: living with him through 900 pages, his family, his fights, 70 years later, on a different planet. My feet are tired—he never stops walking. But the mind charges us in all directions. The daring of the man, his unshakable conviction about resistance in peace, the instant rapport with children, workers, poor people, the world, the amazing consistency of the way puffed up power—the British viceroys in India, Winston Church over many years—dismissed him as a fakir, a freak, a pain in the neck.
George Orwell reflected on Gandhi at his death began by noting that “Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent,” and he ended with a great line Guha quotes: “compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind.”
Feb 14 2019
Rank #19: The Tower and the Square
A conversation about Brexit, yellow vests, and the state of the European Union with Arthur Goldhammer, Vanessa Bee, Julian Bourg, and Alan Rusbridger.
A nasty winter of discontent is in the air, blowing around old towers of power: Paris, London and of course Washington. Like everything else in the Digital Age, fear, anger and disruption travel together through an invisible network—from left-out villages to posh precincts in shiny rich capitals of France, Britain, the US. It’s the ruling class of nations that are the new parade grounds of instability—not just governments hanging on by a thread. It’s unions and right-left political parties getting pushed aside; established media unable to catch the wave or explain what’s driving it. Is it pinched pocket books? Climate anxiety? China rising? Some lost sense of well-being?
In Paris, London, Washington—the old seats of empire—established power seems to hang by a thread. Theresa May puts an end date on her fumbling prime-ministership in Brexit time. Emmanuel Macron holds on as president of France but no longer as designated savior of capital banking. President Trump stands all but indicted for sins public and private. Each national crisis has its distinctive style, and history, and still the shudder in Western democracy is collective. Most fascinating perhaps is that this revolt of late 2018 still has no name, no leader, no movement goals. Short of a nervous breakdown, it feels like a popular tantrum that refuses to stop, a sense that “the system” we’ve known, that we stand for, is off track.
Dec 14 2018
Rank #20: Russiagate, Unredacted
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?
Apr 19 2019