March 13, 2014

Will We Ever Get Over 9/11?

Are we getting over 9.11? What is it doing to our character, our culture, our Constitution? We’ve been through the flags-everywhere stage, the foreign invasion response, the big build-up of surveillance and eavesdropping, interrogation, with torture – all in the name of security, but do we have a word for the fear we sense inside the new Security State?
The Armor You Have
Pico Iyer: An Empire in Isolation

Mayor Bloomberg Visits Lower Manhattan Security Initiative With Police Chief Ray Kelly

Guest List

Here’s an awkward question that may be urgent: Are we getting over 9.11?  Will we ever? Do we want to?  Is it a scar by now, or a wound still bleeding? Is it a post-traumatic-stress disorder?  What is it doing to our character, our culture, our Constitution?  After a monstrous attack on the American superpower, is there anything like those five stages of individual grief — some version of the famous Kubler-Ross steps: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance?  We’ve been through the flags-everywhere stage, the foreign invasion response, the big build-up of surveillance and eavesdropping, interrogation, with torture – all in the name of security, but do we have a word for the fear we sense inside the new Security State?  Do we have a word for the anxiety that a War on Terror can feed on itself forever? A decade and a half out, are we a different country?

We’re imagining this as an ongoing series, with conversations and podcasts to be added as we go. Have you any suggestions for people we should speak with? Writers? Historians? Critics? Your next-door neighbor?

Reading List

Osama expected to die by violence, as he did.  Sadly, he probably died a satisfied man.  In addition to alienating Muslims and the West from each other, as was his aim, he achieved so many other transformations of the order he sought to overthrow… He catalyzed two wars.  He bears responsibility for the death of thousands in the West and hundreds of thousands in this region.  The unfunded financial burden of the conflicts he ignited has come close to bankrupting the United States.  Indirectly, it is upending the international monetary system.  It has produced recession in the West.  Osama will have been pleased.

February 28, 2014

The Syria Test

Guest List Stephen Walt, Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University, author of the bombshell book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, and a columnist at Foreign Policy. Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, a Pakistani academic, a commentator at Pulse, and author of the forthcoming The Road to Iraq: The Making ...
Nasser Rabbat: Life and Death in Syria
Palestinians waiting for food at the Yarmouk camp in Damascus a month ago -- in a photo released yesterday by United Nations.

Palestinians waiting for food at the Yarmouk camp in Damascus a month ago — in a photo released yesterday by United Nations and printed on page A7 of the New York Times today. (UNRWA Photo)

Guest List

Stephen Walt, Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University, author of the bombshell book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, and a columnist at Foreign Policy.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, a Pakistani academic, a commentator at Pulse, and author of the forthcoming The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War.
Dr. Laurence Ronan, a staff physician at Mass General Hospital, director of the Thomas S. Durant, M.D., Fellowship in Refugee Medicine, and medical director for the Boston Red Sox, calling in from spring training.
Nabih Bulos, professional violinist and war correspondent, born in Jordan to Palestinian parents, who returned from a trip to Damascus two weeks ago.

With Iraq and Afghanistan bleeding in our rear-view mirror, is there a case still to be made for American intervention with anything more than words in Syria’s miserable meltdown? The news and pictures from Syria are perfectly awful – sarin gas against civilians succeeded by barrel bombs on Aleppo, millions of Syrians on the run, all varieties of torture, targeting of children and doctors, a death toll in two-and-a-half years of warfare approaching 150,000, and no end in sight. But is there anything like a constructive case for American intervention?

Our guest Steve Walt from Harvard was a leader of the “realist” school of American strategy before it was fashionable. He warned all along that war with Iraq would undermine the US interest; today he’s saying we should be fighting the temptation to commit American power in Syria. Our guest from London, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, is the historian of folly in Iraq, the “Neoconservative War,” he calls it. But he’s telling us that Syria is different – a murderous tyranny that only the threat of American force can check. And Nabih Bulos, the Los Angeles Times journalist, is just back from Damascus and a tour of the besieged city of Homs and Yarmouk refugee camp inside the city.

What should we have done, what can we still do, and is it too late to pass the test in Syria?

Reading List

February 20, 2014

Rites of Passage: Docs and Nurses in the Developing World

A new rite of passage is taking hold among ambitious young doctors entering modern practice in a new century. It can take a year or two after medical school: working far corners of the poor world, and sometimes later years split back and forth between ...

Ophelia Dahl - Vogue

A new rite of passage is taking hold among ambitious young doctors entering modern practice in a new century. It can take a year or two after medical school: working far corners of the poor world, and sometimes later years split back and forth between a community clinic in rural Malawi and a neurology fellowship at Mass General in Boston. The trend is striking: of the new medical doctors coming out of US medical schools in the mid-80s, one in twenty had spent some real time abroad in healthcare.  Ten years ago it was one in 5. Last year it was one in 3.  So more and more doctors, yours and mine, acting locally, will be thinking globally, with many implications.

Our radio conversation is about the lessons that flow both ways.  Some have to do with technology and drugs, but many more with building ground support in community clinics; also with the training of nurses, even with refining the bedside manner and hands-on, make-do skills of American doctors who arrive, as they say, with “sandals on the ground.”  They come back “thinking different” about who needs what kind of doctoring in the States. Consider this, for example: Bill Gates’s foundation report this winter predicts there will be no more poor countries by 2035, that’s two decades out; we’ll just have an awful lot of poor people in middle-income countries.   We know that problem in the US, and we haven’t turned it around.  But there are clues out there in the developing world and lessons coming home with the young doctors: lessons in community care outside the big hospital ERs; lessons in “accompanying” care, lessons in prevention, in doing more with less and getting sharply better outcomes, also in putting moral urgency behind more effective care for everybody.

Guests

  • Ophelia Dahl is the executive director and a co-founder (with Paul Farmer, Jim Kim, the late Tom White, and others) of Partners in Health, the Boston-based non-profit that has taken as its mission to bring great health care to the world’s poorest people and “to serve as an antidote to despair”.
  • Dr. Daniel Palazuelos is PIH’s chief strategist at its site in Chiapas, Mexico, and directs their efforts to ensure the success of their community-health workers, who are charged with the “accompaniment” of patients.
  • Pat Daoust is the chief nursing officer at SEED Global Health, an organization dedicated to training a new generation of health professionals for work in the developing world. Daoust has served as one of the leading figures in HIV/AIDS nursing for decades, first with the AIDS Action Committee, then with the Harvard AIDS Initiative in Botswana and Ethiopia.

Reading List

  • In “Partners in Help,” Paul Farmer gives an ethos of “accompaniment” to those working with the poor and the ill — work tirelessly, with an open mind, and until you’re no longer needed:

There’s an element of mystery, of openness, of trust, in accompaniment. The companion, the accompagnateur, says: “I’ll go with you and support you on your journey wherever it leads; I’ll share your fate for a while. And by ‘a while,’ I don’t mean a little while.” Accompaniment is about sticking with a task until it’s deemed completed, not by the accompagnateur but by the person being accompanied.

  • Slow Ideas,” Atul Gawande’s latest essay in The New Yorker, tells us that the important changes in medicine will depend not on easy technological fixes, but on big and sometimes grueling social change.
  • In “From Haiti to Harvard,” on WBUR’s own Commonhealth blog, Rachel Zimmerman tells of the difficulties that community health workers in Boston face every day — and of the promise they represent for the American medical establishment.
  • Our guest, Dr. Daniel Palazuelos, wrote a short piece about the myths and realities surrounding community health workers abroad.
  • And the 2014 annual letter of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation looks forward to the hoped-for end of global poverty as we know it.

February 13, 2014

Boston Noir

Noir heroes tend not to be gangsters of Whitey Bulger’s grandeur; not tough cops either: they’re punched-out boxers and junkies, little perps, prisoners, victims reduced to victimizing each other and themselves.
Nick Flynn Reads "Embrace Noir"
Nick Flynn: The Day Lou Reed Died
Howie Winter, Whitey Bulger's rival inside the Winter Hill King, kissing criminal-turned-actor Alex Rocco, with Robert Mitchum in the front at left. (Photo courtesy Howie Carr/Emily Sweeney.)

Howie Winter, Whitey Bulger’s rival inside the Winter Hill King, kissing criminal-turned-actor Alex Rocco, with Robert Mitchum in the front at left. (Photo courtesy Howie Carr/Emily Sweeney.)

Boston noir is an art of darkness, under an overcast sky and fishy salt-air smell of the  waterfront. It’s now a sort of signature of our city, in novels that became movies, like The Town, The Departed, and The Fighter. You can hear a lot of it  in the broken voice of Robert Mitchum, playing the title character in the movie, The Friends of Eddie Coyle.  He’s in a breakfast joint with a rookie gun dealer, warning him that there’s a price to be paid for screwing up, as he did in a botched gun sale, earning a new set of knuckles:

They just come up to you and say, “Look. You made somebody mad. You made a big mistake and now there’s somebody doing time for it. There’s nothing personal in it, you understand, it just has to be done. Now get your hand out there.” You think about not doing it, you know. When I was a kid in Sunday school, this nun, she used to say, “Stick your hand out. ” I stick my hand out. Whap! She’d knock me across the knuckles with a steel-edge ruler. So one day I says, when she told me, “Stick your hand out” I says, “No. ” She whapped me right across the face with the ruler. Same thing. They put your hand in a drawer. Somebody kicks the drawer shut. Ever hear bones breaking? Just like a man snapping a shingle. Hurts like a bastard.

Dennis Lehane, who wrote Mystic River, says noir is working-class tragedy — different from other kinds. “In Shakespeare,” Lehane puts it, “tragic heroes fall from mountaintops; in noir, they fall from curbs.”  Noir heroes tend not to be gangsters of Whitey Bulger’s grandeur; not tough cops either: they’re punched-out boxers and junkies, little perps, prisoners, victims reduced to victimizing each other and themselves.  Noir is the bottom of underground capitalism, talking to itself.  It’s bad things happening to bad guys, giving and getting the punishment they think they deserve.

Guests

Rick Marinick, author of Boyos and In for a Pound, the state trooper turned gangster who served 18 years in prison for multiple armored-car robbery convictions;

Nick Flynn, a playwright, poet, and memoirist born and raised in Scituate, son of an alcoholic bank-robber, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and The Reenactments; and

Anna Mundow, author of the “Crime and Punishment” column in the Barnes and Noble Review, contributor to The Boston Globe and longtime correspondent for The Irish Times.

Reading List

  • Two noir manifestoes, one old and one new. The first is Raymond Chandler’s essay “The Simple Art of Murder“, with its classic vision of the heroic detective:

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid…

More noir images from camera of Leslie Jones, preserved on the Boston Public Library’s Flickr page. Use arrows to navigate, and see more here.

February 6, 2014

A Flailing State: Daron Acemoglu and Matt Taibbi on Economic Inequality

We’re somewhere between the legend and the facts of the U.S. economy. The legend, still in our heads, is it’s a rough-and-tumble democracy and a classless society.  Facts are: the top of the heap owns almost all the wealth and most of the politicians, and ...

2719296767_margaret_bourke_white_depression_food_line

We’re somewhere between the legend and the facts of the U.S. economy. The legend, still in our heads, is it’s a rough-and-tumble democracy and a classless society.  Facts are: the top of the heap owns almost all the wealth and most of the politicians, and the top of the top – one percent – takes more and more of the income: almost 25 percent of the whole pot in Obama-time – it was less than ten percent in the seventies. Legend is Americans don’t much like redistribution of income.  Facts say there’s been a steady upward redistribution of wealth and income over 40 years now.   Legend is we’re in a slow recovery from the Great Recession of ’08.  Facts say it’s the high end getting the growth: “inequality has deepened,” the President said the other night: “upward mobility has stalled.” 

We’re in the studio with Daron Acemoglu, the MIT economist and the co-author of Why Nations Fail. His argument is that the problem goes beyond soaring income inequality — to the eclipse of the myth that Average Joes rule our politics. Well into President Obama’s second term, deep in the doldrums of the status quo, he says the state of the union is “dangerous.”  Matt Taibbi from Rolling Stone joins us on the phone. He is by now a Diogenes on Wall Street. What I didn’t know was that he trained for his critical role in a ten-year stint in Yeltsin’s Russia, a world of back-room deals and a burgeoning oligarchy. He tells us, “A lot of things that I saw in the former Soviet Union, we’re starting to see here.”

Guests:

Daron AcemogluMIT economist, winner of the 2005 John Bates Clarks Medal, and author of the acclaimed book, Why Nations Fail.

Matt Taibbiauthor and contributing editor for Rolling Stone, author of The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap and Griftopia.

A reading list (when an hour of radio just isn’t enough):

January 23, 2014

Activism in Memory of Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz, before he became the first saint of the Internet age, seemed the perfect boy-child of the Internet, the algorithm made flesh, a human embodiment of the Internet’s voraciousness and connectivity, its head-spinning drive toward an open banquet of knowledge. The inventor of the ...

AARON_2450501k

Aaron Swartz, before he became the first saint of the Internet age, seemed the perfect boy-child of the Internet, the algorithm made flesh, a human embodiment of the Internet’s voraciousness and connectivity, its head-spinning drive toward an open banquet of knowledge. The inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, pictured Aaron Swartz “blazing across the dark sky of ordinary people, broken systems, a shining force for good.” And then in Aaron Swartz’s death by suicide, at age 26, one year ago, it seemed a promise had been crushed — the machinery of surveillance, censorship, and control had won the day. A year later the invitation is to see deeper into a vision of technology but also of culture and humanity, and to recover something of Aaron Swartz’s ambition, as he put it shyly, “to save the world.”

Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor and for a decade Aaron Swartz’s closest grown-up friend, leads us this hour from the cold, snowy trek he calls the the New Hampshire Rebellion. It’s a mission to save a corrupted Republic, to ransom the Congress of the United States, to smash the money shackles on our politics. It is part of the project to renew Swartz’s spirit. Lessig may be the preeminent legal advocate before the Supreme Court and elsewhere of the free Internet – free as in freedom, not as in ‘free lunch’, as the saying goes. He is the author of Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It.

We’re trying also to locate Aaron Swartz as a landmark in the culture and the age. Matt Stoller, an incisive, sometimes scathing blogger on politics and money, was Swartz’s close friend and contemporary inside politics. The author Maria Bustillos corresponded with Aaron Swartz and has written wonderfully on his literary appetite and his own writing. He’d commented after his arrest two years ago that he read Kafka differently: The Trial, he realized, was not fiction but meticulous documentary coverage. And finally: nothing engages me more about Aaron Swartz than the news (to me, anyway) that he was an astute reader and commentator on David Foster Wallace and his mad epic Infinite Jest. On his blog Swartz had “solved” the mysterious ending of Wallace’s novel. It is as if he were trying to deduce the algorithm in Wallace’s head that produced the book. I am feeling tremors of a convergence here of iconic figures — two geniuses, two suicides and perhaps two parallel visions of an American apocalypse.

A reading list, for those interested.

A year ago Professor Lessig gave a TED talk about campaign finance reform, and how he sees the issue:

[ted id=1702]

 

This Week's Show • June 26, 2014

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Boston

Here’s how to read David Foster Wallace’s thousand-page door stop and masterpiece Infinite Jest: it’s a Boston novel the way Ulysses is a Dublin novel, as Les Miserables is a Paris novel. Infinite Jest is a novel about Wallace’s alcohol addiction and recovery on a route through Boston we all walk and drive and manage not to see into.
Sven Birkerts: Present at the Creation of "Infinite Jest"
The Infinite Boston Tour
D.T. Max on David Foster Wallace's Boston

dfw2

 Here’s how to read David Foster Wallace’s thousand-page door stop and masterpiece Infinite Jest: it’s a Boston novel the way Ulysses is a Dublin novel, as Les Miserables is a Paris novel. Infinite Jest is a novel about Wallace’s alcohol addiction and recovery on a route through Boston we all walk and drive and manage not to see into: the “clot and snarl of Prospect St in Cambridge,” those “Live” and “Fresh Killed” poultry signs in Inman Square, the clang and squeak of the B-Line trolleys along Comm Ave, Brighton past the halfway houses on the hill for catatonics and drunks where Wallace’s life turned around. Maybe it helps to read Infinite Jest as a tour of one man’s battlefield.  Re-enactments every day.  We’re talking a walk through DFW’s Infinite Boston this hour.

We got 200-and-some contributions for this conversation posted on Reddit so far.  IJ, as they say, is about addiction, entertainment, compulsive consumption, emotional isolation, TV, the Internet, anxiety, panic attacks,  – and loneliness throughout.  One of the Reddit writers said: “Infinite Jest, it’s still where I go to understand the queer sadnesses of 21st-century life.”

Guest List

Reading List

  • An Interval,” an excerpt from Infinite Jest that was published in The New Yorker in January 1995, including a description of Ennet House director Pat Montesian, the character based on our guest, Deb Larson-Venable,
  • Deb’s Story,” a partial autobiography by Deb Larson-Venable herself, on the Granada House website, and “An Ex-Resident’s Story“, an anonymous article (credited to Wallace) about Granada House, the Brighton halfway house that became Ennet House in Infinite Jest,
  • The Unfinished,” the article by D.T. Max about Wallace’s biography and career that spawned his book,  Every Love Story is a Ghost Story,
  • The Map and the Territory,” an excellent article by Adam Kelly on Bill Lattanzi’s Infinite Jest tour,
  • Infinite Boston, designer William Beutler’s amazing record of his own whirlwind tour of Wallace’s Boston,

Thanks also to Nick Maniatis, founder of Howling Fantods, who sent us an eloquent audio love letter to DFW (mp3), and Christopher Boucher, the writer and editor teaching his students to walk Infinite Jest at B.C.
Image credit: Janette Beckman/Redferns

January 16, 2014

The Rise of Modern Medicine

In the annals of Boston medicine two historic chapters in the last 50 years were the near conquest of sudden death by heart attack and (not unrelated) the rise of corporate, cathedral hospitals around the practice of heroic scientific medicine with a big arsenal of new drugs, surgical measures, bypasses, catheters and stents. Perhaps the core question is: where’s the better medicine that would make all of us all healthier, even without miracle surgery?
Eugene Braunwald: Heart to Heart

braunwaldIn the annals of Boston medicine two historic chapters in the last 50 years were the near conquest of sudden death by heart attack and (not unrelated) the rise of corporate, cathedral hospitals around the practice of heroic scientific medicine with a big arsenal of new drugs, surgical measures, bypasses, catheters and stents.

All this is the stuff of our guest Dr. Tom Lee’s biography of a giant cardiologist and an expanding industry in Boston. His book is Eugene Braunwald and the Rise of Modern Medicine, a complex and fascinating tale. Don Berwick – a doctor who’s running for governor — is covering the downsides all around this story: overtreatment for some, undertreatment for many, intrusions of finance and breakdowns in the humanity of doctoring, and of course gigantic expense.

We’re talking this hour about Boston’s bluest of blue-chip industries, medicine, in a prosperous maybe triumphant time that may also be the moment for rethinking and reform. Dr. Braunwald and Nobel Prize winner Bernard Lown make cameo appearances — drawn from longer podcast visits with each of them. Perhaps the core question is: where’s the better medicine that would make all of us all healthier, even without miracle surgery?

January 9, 2014

The Pope Francis Phenomenon

Pope Francis wants a church that’s “bruised, hurting and dirty” – his words -- in the streets with real people, not confined or clinging to its own security. He had the audacity as no Pope before him to choose the beloved name Francis for the saint of birds and nature, the saint marked hand and foot with the wounds of Jesus.
Mary Gordon on Pope Francis: Hope for Grown-Ups
Peter Manseau on Growing Up Catholic in Boston as the Son of a Priest and a Nun
Pope-Francis-GETTY

Photo by Getty Images

We’re searching the Pope Francis Phenomenon in this radio hour: the man from Argentina and his many messages from Rome, his body language, feet-washings, mob scenes in Vatican Square. He “even uses words” now and then, as the 13th Century Saint Francis urged back in the day. Pope Francis wants a church that’s “bruised, hurting and dirty” – his words — in the streets with real people, not confined or clinging to its own security. He had the audacity as no Pope before him to choose the beloved name Francis for the saint of birds and nature, the saint marked hand and foot with the wounds of Jesus. As the votes were being cast to elect him last Spring, the name “entered my heart,” he said. “Francis of Assissi; for me he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects others.” We have to search his past, his plans for a faith and an institution that seemed to be limping. We want to search ourselves too: what is the human hunger Pope Francis has confirmed – not just Catholic or churchy — all across the world. What is the wave-length on which so many non-religious people “get” him? Why TIME magazine’s hands-down runaway pick for Man of the Year, 2013? And what does the blogger Andrew Sullivan mean when he says “you don’t have to be a believer to recognize a moment of grace…”? Delivering not hope, but “proof that hope is not groundless.”

For people who like homework, this was my essential on-line reading list on Pope Francis:

A Big Heart Open to God: The Pope’s wonderfully expressive, open, personal account of himself in an interview with the Jesuit magazine America.

Who Am I to Judge? A Radical Pope’s First Year : James Carroll’s New Yorker profile.

Untier of Knots: What is the Meaning of Pope Francis? Andrew Sullivan’s richly opinionated take at The Deep Dish.

Is Pope Francis the New Champion of Liberation Theology? Harvey Cox’s vision of a left-wing church, in The Nation:

Our guests in this conversation (9 p.m. Thursday, January 9 on WBUR, Boston at 90.9 FM) include James Carroll, Mary Gordon, Jeff Sharlet, Peter Manseau and Liz Walker.

January 2, 2014

El Sistema: Music Lessons to Rebuild the World

El Sistema is not an instruction method so much as a shared conviction: that every child wants to make music, and can. It has big social implications, too: that a child with an instrument and a teacher is no longer poor or excluded; that a poor family with a child in an orchestra has a path to the future.
Video: El Sistema in Action

lab charter

We’re going back to 4th grade this hour to experience the El Sistema way of learning to make music – as I wish I had! While we’re at it, we’re getting a lesson in how to humanize a school and a community space. At the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, Massachusetts, we’d have started in Pre-K with a paper instrument and a fake bow, but we’d be playing the real thing in a real orchestra by second grade, making music with classmates three and a half hours every school day.

In Venezuela the experiment has enrolled more than a million kids over nearly 40 years. El Sistema is not an instruction method so much as a shared conviction: that every child wants to make music, and can. It has big social implications, too: that a child with an instrument and a teacher is no longer poor or excluded; that a poor family with a child in an orchestra has a path to the future. Simon Rattle, the European conductor, says El Sistema is the best thing happening in music in the world, and some say it’s not just in music.

So we’re catching a global wave in El Sistema, this gift of the Venezuelan economist and maestro Jose Antonio Abreu, this proving ground of the celebrated young conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel. The writer Eric Booth has blogged three sparkling essays on his inspection of El Sistema in Venezuela in 2008, 2010 and 2013. And the two maestros, Abreu and his protégé Dudamel, took the stage at Berkeley a year ago to reflect on their creation.

El Sistema is applied now in a dozen schools in New England, in hundreds around the world. At the public charter school behind St. Columbkille’s Church on Market Street in Brighton, we’ve been hanging out with the most advanced of several orchestras at the Conservatory Lab Charter School. You can hear the violinist and conductor Adrian Anantawan leading 60 children (4th and 5th graders) through rehearsals of John Williams’s movie theme, “Indiana Jones.”

In the studio our guests are Kathleen Jara, violinist and resident El Sistema artist at the Lab Charter School; Lawrence Scripp, co-founder of the school, long an education specialist at the New England Conservatory of Music; and the prolific Harvard Ed School Professor Howard Gardner, best known for his work on “multiple intelligences.”