October 1, 2015

Life After Incarceration

We’re going inside the almost invisible world of American prisons, following President Obama and Pope Francis. This month we met and spoke to four survivors of mass incarceration — Azan Reid, Unique Ismail, Douglas Benton, and ...

We’re going inside the almost invisible world of American prisons, following President Obama and Pope Francis. This month we met and spoke to four survivors of mass incarceration — Azan Reid, Unique Ismail, Douglas Benton, and Marselle Felton — in a church basement in Codman Square, Dorchester. We asked them: what did prison do, or undo, in you? What do you see now that you didn’t see then? And what don’t we know about you?

It’s a story of ambient violence and neglect in Boston’s Mattapan and Dorchester neighborhoods in the 1980s and ’90s. Twenty years on these men are stuck in the fight of their lives — to beat the odds and stay out of the pipeline back to prison. Amid it all there’s anger, regret, and wisdom; they’re panicked and hopeful, too. As a bipartisan group of senators wonder how America might stop being the world’s runaway jailer, we’re looking at hints of an aftermath: what will happen when and if the 2 million Americans presently incarcerated come home?

Pastor Bruce Wall of Global Ministries Christian Church oversaw the discussion and joined us in studio with his impressions.

This Week's Show •

Gridlocked

This week we’re talking about roads, rails and powerlines — and the lives we live with them. Our Boston staff and radio listeners are mostly hearty New Englanders, but this winter of discontent has exposed all kinds ...

This week we’re talking about roads, rails and powerlines — and the lives we live with them. Our Boston staff and radio listeners are mostly hearty New Englanders, but this winter of discontent has exposed all kinds of shortcomings in the underpinnings of our great city.

The roads are a mess, and the MBTA won’t be up and running fully until one month after the last snow. We spoke to commuters on the Charles/MGH platform whose fingers are cold and nerves are shot — and they told us that the T had been mismanaged, the governor needed to step in, and that (finally) we all had to take responsibility for building a tougher, better transit system.

T-platform-backup

Meanwhile, Fred Salvucci and Gov. Michael Dukakis remind us that our hometown’s got a proud tradition of public transporation: from streetcars and smooth-roads legislation to the Tremont Street Subway, the oldest in North America. Boston is a pre-car city wondering how to become a post-car city — in time for the Olympics, if we’re lucky!

But we’re seeing here, as everywhere, how the big American building craze has gotten complicated. As infrastructure improvements shrink in the budgets and the keystone projects of the last century show their age: subways flood, bridges crumble, and highways fall apart. We’re not quite boosters for our own Olympics bid yet — but it would make for a real opportunity to futurize our 400-year-old hometown. And opportunities like that are hard to come by in an moment of debt, climate change and patching up potholes.

How did it get this way? How do we break a cycle of disappointment and decay? And if the state of American infrastructure is an index for the state of American civic life, what does it say when the train breaks down?

The Sound of the Subway

Our producer Conor Gillies spoke with Paul Matisse, grandson to the great painter and draughtsman, poignantly looking on to his installation, The Kendall Band. It’s a now-famous series of swingable chimes hanging between Red Line rails at the Kendall Square stop — and like other parts of the MBTA, it’s broken.

Peeking Over the Snowbanks

Obital solar farm

The geostationary solar farms of Japan’s dreams. Illustration: John MacNeill/IEEE Spectrum

And, if you need something to look forward to, check out Pat Tomaino’s round-up of our favorite infrastructure ideas for a new century — from shovel-ready, to prototypes, to sci-fi. Which ones would get you buying infrastructure bonds?

 

The ‘train schedule from hell’ photo credit goes to Sean Proctor, a Globe staff photographer.

This Week's Show •

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. 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.

Podcast • October 4, 2014

Jeremy Grantham: In a Climate of Risk

Jeremy Grantham is a Boston financier who has found himself in the thick of the fight over climate change for more than twenty years. He’s the founder and chief strategist of Grantham Mayo van Otterloo, or GMO, which manages ...

Jeremy Grantham is a Boston financier who has found himself in the thick of the fight over climate change for more than twenty years. He’s the founder and chief strategist of Grantham Mayo van Otterloo, or GMO, which manages $112 billion in assets.

When we spoke to him in his Rowes Wharf office, overlooking Boston Harbor, Grantham calls himself a “scatterbrained” investor working with a third-rate education. If, after raising the alarm loudly and very early about the catastrophic market bubbles of 1999 and 2008, he’s become one of America’s most prominent financial strategists, it’s a tribute to natural patience and a conservatism that he chalks up to a Yorkshire childhood and a Quaker grandfather. But Grantham’s also glad to carry weight in the world of feverish investment. His quarterly letters have become must-reads, offering a warier look, going deeper into the future, than one usually finds on Wall Street. (His latest is here.)

Grantham discovered the fragility and beauty of the natural world on family trips into old and ravaged forests of the Amazon basin and Borneo. Now his family foundation is engaged in a farsighted effort to fight climate-skeptical “propaganda” with propaganda of its own: funding change-now messages from groups like Bill McKibben’s 350.org, Greenpeace, and the World Wildlife Fund. It’s the “race of our lives”, he wrote: against short-term psychology and an entrenched fossil-fuel economy. Grantham is troubled by the long odds, but still he’s trying to draw money and mass attention to an existential risk — before it’s too late to do anything about it. Call it the biggest short.

Photo credit: Remco Bohle.

June 26, 2014

Revisiting David Foster Wallace’s Boston

The novelist David Foster Wallace has resurfaced on film and in our radio archive, so we’re revisiting one of our favorite shows of the year this week: “Infinite Boston,” a tribute to Wallace's magnum opus "Infinite Jest" and its roots in Cambridge and Brighton. We dug up the famous Connection interview with Wallace from the spring of 1996, in which Wallace spoke about the book, Boston AA meetings, the lonely and lost Generation X, and his place in U.S. literature.

The novelist David Foster Wallace has resurfaced on film and in our radio archive, so we’re revisiting one of our favorite shows of the year this week: “Infinite Boston,” a tribute to Wallace’s magnum opus Infinite Jest and its real-life roots in Cambridge and Brighton.

The actor Jason Segel will don the famous bandana on the big screen later this year for The End of the Tour. A few weeks ago Sotheby’s sold off a small lot of personal and private letters Wallace wrote to his friend J.T. Jackson during the worst years of his life. And, burying the lead, we dug up the famous Connection interview with Wallace from the spring of 1996, when he was back in town on a book tour for Infinite Jest. Wallace talked with Chris about the book, Boston AA meetings, the lonely and lost Generation X, and his place in U.S. literature.

Our show this winter featured an audio tour of Wallace’s Boston with the local raconteur and Wallace expert Bill Lattanzi, interviews with his biographer D. T. Max, the editor and writer Sven Birkerts, and a conversation with Lattanzi and Deb Larson, Wallace’s friend and mentor at the halfway house where Wallace lived during those heartbreaking Boston years.

9157-lot-150-David-Foster-Wallace_2

A sad, sweet postcard from Wallace to J.T. Jackson from 1990. The front showed “A Foggy Day In Boston, Massachusetts”.

Thanks again 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: Richard Burrbridge/Rolling Stone.

Podcast • March 1, 2014

“Street Rounds” with Dr. Jim O’Connell

We’re walking from the Massachusetts General Hospital on a crooked path to South Station, meeting people that our eyes and yours might normally never see. These are Friday morning “outdoor rounds” with Doctor Jim O’Connell of Boston Health Care for the Homeless, an esteemed Boston doc giving every one of his needy patients the same claim on his time and skill, treating, touching, and comforting people that the rest of us can manage not to see at all.
Of these eleven

Ten homeless men in “Mousey Park”  in 2000. Only one of these men is still alive today.

We’re on a short Open Source field trip to someplace between Boston Noir and Boston the medical mecca.  We’re walking from the Massachusetts General Hospital on a crooked path to South Station, meeting people that our eyes and yours might normally never see.  These are Friday morning “outdoor rounds” with Doctor Jim O’Connell of Boston Health Care for the Homeless, whose patients are mostly alcoholic men with other mental and bodily afflictions, very sick people who often say they prefer the street to shelter living.  Jim O’Connell has been at this work for 30 years.  He made a habit early on of washing the feet of his patients – as a gesture of his servant-hood – but also as a sort of diagnostic device: what paths have his patients been on?  When you’re looking for models of the doctor – patient relationship, it’s a pleasure to watch an esteemed Boston doc giving every one of his needy patients the same claim on his time and skill, treating, touching, and comforting people that the rest of us can manage not to see at all.  

 

February 18, 2014

Nick Flynn: The Day Lou Reed Died

Nick Flynn, who blew us away with his take on Boston Noir, wrote his breakthrough memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which became a Robert De Niro film, about a tortured relationship with his vagrant and ...

nick flynn father

Nick Flynn, who blew us away with his take on Boston Noir, wrote his breakthrough memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which became a Robert De Niro film, about a tortured relationship with his vagrant and alcoholic father. Jonathan Flynn died his past October at the age of 84 on the same day as American rocker Lou Reed. Nick read for us the poem he wrote about that day. Kunal Jasty mixed it with an outtake of The Velvet Underground’s “Ride into the Sun.”

THE DAY LOU REED DIED

It’s not like his songs are going to simply
evaporate,

but since the news I can’t stop
listening to him

on endless shuffle—familiar, yes, inside
me, yes, which means

I’m alive, or was, depending on when
you read this. Now

a song called “Sad
Song,” the last one on Berlin,

sung now from the other side, just talk,
really, at the beginning, then

the promise
or threat, I’m gonna stop wasting

my time, but what else
are we made of, especially now? A chorus

sings Sad song sad song sad song sad

song. I
knew him better than I knew my own

father, which means
through these songs, which means

not at all. They died on the same day, O
what a perfect day, maybe

at the same moment, maybe
both their bodies are laid out now in

the freezer, maybe side by side, maybe
holding hands, waiting

for the fire or the earth or the man
or the salt—

if I could I’d let birds devour whatever’s left
& carry them into the sky, but all I can do

it seems
is lie on the couch & shiver, pull a coat

over my body as if it were all I had, as if I
were the one sleeping outside, as if it were my

body something was leaving, rising up
from inside me

& the coat could hold it in
a little longer.

February 15, 2014

Nick Flynn Reads “Embrace Noir”

Nick Flynn — memoirist of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City — gave us this reading of one of his own poems: “Embrace Noir.” It’s a bonus on his appearance on our show about Boston ...

nick-flynnNick Flynn — memoirist of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City — gave us this reading of one of his own poems: “Embrace Noir.” It’s a bonus on his appearance on our show about Boston Noir last week. Kunal Jasty mixed his reading with the John Coltrane classic, “A Love Supreme.” Have a listen, and have a noir week….

 

EMBRACE NOIR

I go back to the scene where the two men embrace
& grapple a handgun at stomach level between them.

They jerk around the apartment like that
holding on to each other, their cheeks

almost touching. One is shirtless, the other
wears a suit, the one in the suit came in through a window

to steal documents or diamonds, it doesn’t matter anymore
which, what’s important is he was found

& someone pulled a gun & now they are holding on,
awkwardly dancing through the room, upending

a table of small framed photographs. A chair
topples, Coltrane’s band punches the air with horns, I

lean forward, into the screen, they are eye-to-eye,
as stiff as my brother & me when we attempt

to hug. Soon, the gun fires & the music
quiets & the camera stops tracking & they

relax—shoulders drop, jaws go slack
& we are all suspended in that perfect moment

when no one knows who took the bullet—
the earth spins below our feet, a murmuration of

starlings changes direction suddenly above us, folding
into the rafters of a barn,

& the two men no longer struggle, they simply
stand in their wreckage, propped

in each other’s arms.

Podcast • February 13, 2014

Dennis Lehane – Between Dorchester Ave and Sunset Boulevard

Dennis Lehane so rules the neighborhood of Noir (“Nwaaah,” as we say in Boston) that he gets street credit for work he didn’t write, like “The Departed” and “The Town.” But does the author of ...

Dennis Lehane so rules the neighborhood of Noir (“Nwaaah,” as we say in Boston) that he gets street credit for work he didn’t write, like “The Departed” and “The Town.” But does the author of “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and the new Moonlight Mile get credit enough for a body of artistic work now far beyond private-eye or “genre” of any kind — way beyond his gift for Boston-accented dialog?

Our conversation is about the murkier depths of his Gothic novel and movie “Shutter Island,” with Leonardo diCaprio as a U.S. Marshall apparently trapped in a Boston Harbor lock-up for the criminally insane in the 1950s. I think it’s Lehane’s version of the War on Terror. He says it’s more nearly his answer to the Patriot Act, his reliving of the Cold War and the repressions it licensed in America. “All past is prologue,” he remarks. “Noir is without a doubt the ultimate genre of ‘you cannot outrun the past’… That’s ‘Mystic River’: you cannot outrun your nature. You cannot escape the past.” “Shutter Island” in that sense turns out to be Dennis Lehane’s recapitulation of McCarthyism (an American Stalinism): those good old days when the CIA experimented with LSD and other psychotropic drugs on Federal prisoners and other unsuspecting guinea pigs. It was a time, he’s saying, that foreshadowed the suspension of habeas corpus and the tortures of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib in the George Bush years.

Dennis Lehane with Chris Lydon at Mother Anna’s restaurant in Boston’s North End.

We are testing a favorite Open Source premise that the most observant anthropologists and historians of our own time may be novelists. In his hometown he is riveted on “how this new Gilded Age is going to fall out. People are being priced out of Charlestown… out of Southie… It’s kind of horrifying… There seem to be only a few people who are worried that we’re selling out the entire country — that everything’s gone; that the America we knew growing up is just vanishing… Isn’t anybody paying attention? There’s no unions left; they destroyed them. They went after the unions and then outsourced everything. So now there’s no jobs left, and they’ve got the people that have lost their jobs, lost their houses, lost everything, believing that the reason they’ve lost it is everything but the real reasons. And everybody just seems to say: fine, as long as I can get this for three bucks a can at Walmart, I’m okay. I think we’re just watching America fiddle as it burns.”

Dennis Lehane is a writer who keeps expanding into new themes and new media, from his original cop stories to historical fiction, The Given Day (“Shades of Doctorow and Dreiser…,” Janet Maslin wrote in the Times), then long-form television in “The Wire,” and back to social realism and the adventures of PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro in Moonlight Mile. He’s been well served along the way by three tough self-inflicted rules. First, take no job that could divert him from his writing ambition; so he’s been a security guard and he’s parked cars, but was never tempted by law school or teaching. Second, sell the work to artists, never to corporations; so he finally yielded the movie rights to “Mystic River” to Clint Eastwood; and “Shutter Island” to Martin Scorsese. And third: undertake only those new projects that “on some level scare the hell out of me. It’s got to be something I’m afraid I can’t do.”

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?