This Week's Show •

The Siberian Candidate

Calling on the spies we know best – all of them fictional – to explain the Helsinki summit: If it was spy-craft in plain sight, what would James Bond or Jason Bourne have seen that we ...

Calling on the spies we know best – all of them fictional – to explain the Helsinki summit: If it was spy-craft in plain sight, what would James Bond or Jason Bourne have seen that we didn’t?  What would George Smiley have been observing – Britain’s shabby, morose Number Two spy in the Cold War novels of the great John LeCarré? The line is out there in a hostile press that Trump and Putin in Helsinki wasn’t a chiefs-of-state summit so much as a huddle in broad daylight of a Russian-intelligence asset and his KGB handler. Outrageous if even remotely true. Without evidence, it’s just political rage talking. But what would those spies, and their authors, know drawing on their experience and their imaginations?

 

The Manchurian Candidate movie script is where the Donald Trump story has been trending for almost two years now: the wild notion in the Hollywood classic from 1962 that US presidential politics could be taken hostage by a brainwashed pawn of Russian spymasters. In the movie, Lawrence Harvey played the shell of a man, Raymond Shaw, who at the sight of a playing card, a Queen of Hearts, will do anything he’s told. Frank Sinatra played his pal from Army days who trying to snap Raymond back to sanity.

From the novelist Richard Condon and screenwriter George Axelrod, The Manchurian Candidate was thriller fiction, obviously. The suspicion after the Helsinki summit – that a “treasonous” Donald Trump is the witting or unwitting stooge of Vladimir Putin – is something else: a reading of circumstances, paranoid politics, perhaps.  But fiction has its own claim on authority: it’s the lie that tells the truth, people have said; it’s the work of art and intuition, and the imagination that gets to the point ahead of the plodding facts.

Robert Baer was a CIA field operative in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly in the Middle East. George Clooney played the rough and tumble Robert Baer role in the hit movie Syriana in 2005, from Baer’s first book: See No Evil — all about the evil underside of oil and arms trafficking, dynasties at risk and drone assassinations in something like the Iraq war.  He made fiction out of facts, Robert Baer, a storyline out of chaos in the news.

The premise is that it takes the mind of fiction, a make-it-up imagination, to see what was going on at the Helsinki so-called summit. Richard Lourie is a Boston-born Russianologist who had the nerve and verve to compose the late dictator Josef Stalin’s autobiography.

Our guest David Filipov came home this year from a long stint as Moscow bureau chief of the Washington Post.  He edits the News at Northeastern University.

Olen Steinhauer joins us from New York.  He’s a rising star in Spy Fi, author of five novels set in Ukraine, decade by decade since the 1940s.  The third season of his video series Berlin Station begins this fall on EPIX cable.

Who’s going to explain how it is we trust the best fiction on this stuff more than we trust the so-called intelligence?

 

 

 

This Week's Show •

Molly Crabapple’s Cosmopolitan Colors

Listen fast, podcast people, because the beloved artist-satirist-global muckraker Molly Crabapple talks fast, the same way she draws and paints a sort of carnival of conflict out there: in Syria, in storm-damaged Puerto Rico, in ...

Listen fast, podcast people, because the beloved artist-satirist-global muckraker Molly Crabapple talks fast, the same way she draws and paints a sort of carnival of conflict out there: in Syria, in storm-damaged Puerto Rico, in New York City.
Molly Crabapple was a naked model and café / cabaret ornament in Lower Manhattan before OCCUPY landed on her doorstep in 2011. In the turmoil she invented a new career that’s made her famous, illustrating rough places in the real world. With her color tubes and razor-sharp pen nibs, Molly finds the trouble and sends back hand-made images for a visual culture that’s overdosed on video.  Her new book, with the writer Marwan Hisham, is Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War.

To block the view of snipers positioned just a few hundred meters away in the neighboring Masharqah, rebels and locals placed charred buses in between buildings in the entrances to the Bustan Al-Qasr battlefronts. Illustration by Molly Crabapple

 

 

The front lines in Bustan Al-Qasr. In the background, regime-held Al-Iza’a neighborhood where snipers from both sides cover the area. Buildings at firing range are still inhabited by civilians. Illustration by Molly Crabapple

 

Molly Crabapple posing with her portrait. photo and illustration by Susan Coyne

 

Illustrated portrait of Molly Crabapple by Susan Coyne

 

This Week's Show •

Our Borderline Disorder

The shock of migrant kids-in-cages on our border with Mexico is surfacing tough questions if you’re willing to look back at our history and ahead to an emerging world disorder. The issues run deep: why ...

The shock of migrant kids-in-cages on our border with Mexico is surfacing tough questions if you’re willing to look back at our history and ahead to an emerging world disorder. The issues run deep: why borders in the first place?  Borders that our investment money and military power fly over anyway, often to extract the resources of poor countries and make sure the poor people stay put? Why is citizenship in country X an inherited privilege that can’t be distributed, in the country a burden that can’t be escaped?  When finance and Facebook, food, trade, disease and the weather are all global systems, who’s ready to say: I’m a citizen, first and last, of the world? Who manufactured the immigration crisis.

East Boston, on the rim of Boston Harbor, is where we take the temperature, check the flavor, of the melting pot: the point where the first Kennedy’s came ashore from Ireland, then Italians from Abruzzo who made Eastie their own, then Central Americans from Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras in the present day. In Trump time, the scare words in East Boston are ‘gentrification’ – meaning displacement by wealth, and ‘immigration,’ meaning: how did you get here, let’s see your papers. 

Patricia Montes – herself from Honduras a decade ago – welcomes the vulnerable at the Centro Presente office on Central Square.  First thing you’d notice: The poster villain on the wall of her office is not Donald Trump. It’s Barack Obama, in a mocking retake of his vintage HOPE image.  The new caption says: 1 million, 600 thousand deportations. Then, all caps: Obama, stop tearing our families apart. What bothers Patricia Montes as much as anything is fact-free sort of fake-innocent ignorance among many of us Americans.

Matthew Cameron, an immigration lawyer who practices on the dock in East Boston, helps us understand the larger political picture. We first learned about his work and his perspective in an essay he wrote for The Baffler last March:

The immigration system I keep hearing about from pundits and politicians (all of whom should know better) is almost entirely unmoored from actual fact. It seems to be a chimerical pastiche of the one we had before Ellis Island closed, the one we had just before the moon landing, and some sort of rosy Tomorrowland fantasy in which visas would be awarded to the undocumented if only they would do it the right way. This is not the system I work with every day.

***

Our other guests—Atossa Araxia Abrahamian and Rana Dasgupta—both have books in progress on the strange ways the world works to serve capital that goes everywhere and people who are supposed to stay home.

Abrahamian is a model of modern mobility: Russian and Armenian family roots, she had addresses growing up in Canada, Iran, Switzerland and now New York.  Her first book, The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen, examined the twin themes of cosmopolitanism and inequality in our global system.

Rana Dasgupta is another widely traveled writer, admired for his novels, like Solo, and his non-fiction anatomy of India’s modern capital, New Delhi. His latest take on our global system–as laid out in his Guardian essay on the “the demise of the nation state”—counters conventional wisdom. Dasgupta believes the nation state’s real power, its tax base and responsiveness have been undone over recent decades by the supremacy of international money which makes its own rules and turns its back on the results, including the migration “crisis” at our Texas border with Mexico.

 

 

This Week's Show •

Two Guys Walk Into a Summit in Singapore

From “fire and fury” to a “terrific relationship” in less than a year sound like a happy turn in the Trump-Kim dance around nukes and North Korea. Better news coming is implied in the Singapore ...

From “fire and fury” to a “terrific relationship” in less than a year sound like a happy turn in the Trump-Kim dance around nukes and North Korea. Better news coming is implied in the Singapore summit: an end of the North-South Korean War after 70 years,  on what could be a nuke-free peninsula. A win for de-proliferation, an end of US war-games in South Korea, developing games for the North instead, all in a deal that great neighbor China like a lot.
Question: why do so many in our opinion class not like it at all: a dictator’s victory, goes the liberal line, a bust for the US. Is that because Trump did it? Or is there a deeper dread out there that as China rises, the American century in the Pacific is coming to an end.

If there were a simple sports score—who won, who lost?—between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, we wouldn’t believe the scorekeepers anyway. Imagine: If it were Barack Obama going face-to-face with Kim Jong-un for a de-nuclearized Korea, would Rachel Maddow not be swooning? The Fox guys would surely be saying: Barack got “snookered.”  But then, if Donald Trump had negotiated the no-nukes-for-Iran nuclear deal, wouldn’t Sean Hannity still be crowing at the sheer mastery of it. When politics gets so personal and so poisonous, the staging so obvious, the words so mechanical and indefinite. It’s Year 72 of the Nuclear Age, in Asia where the first furious mushroom clouds announced a surreal new era. Where are we really?

Our guides this hour are historians of different sorts: the diplomat Chas Freeman lived it, as translator between Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao in the breakthrough talks in 1972.  Jeanne Guilleman—in her Pulitzer-nominated history Hidden Atrocities—has written the germ-warfare horror story from the 1930s which East Asia doesn’t forget. The novelist James Carroll is reimagining our American bomb dilemma since the forties. And Richard Rhodes won all the big prizes for his 3-volume nuclear history.

This Week's Show •

Studs Terkel’s Feeling Tone

The Studs Terkel edge on the radio was, first of all, picking guests who would sound more interesting 50, 60 years later: Mahalia Jackson, Bucky Fuller, Toni Morrison, Bertrand Russell. Simone de Beauvoir on her ...

The Studs Terkel edge on the radio was, first of all, picking guests who would sound more interesting 50, 60 years later: Mahalia Jackson, Bucky Fuller, Toni Morrison, Bertrand Russell. Simone de Beauvoir on her Second Sex. Federico Fellini on La Dolce Vita. David Mamet on his Glengarry, Glen Ross. Aaron Copland, Dizzy Gillespie. James Baldwin from 1961, Woody Allen in his twenties. Janis Joplin, Tennessee Williams. John Cage.  The other great mark of Studs Terkel radio was that these weren’t interviews – except when Marlon Brando wanted a second hour to interview Studs. They were conversations – emphasis not on facts or even opinions but rather “feeling tone,” emotion and experience.

Radio legend Studs Terkel was the all-American listener: ears tuned, mind open, tape recorder always on.  The trick, he said, was something he’d heard – appropriately enough – from one of the uncelebrated citizens he loved interviewing.

Illustrations by Susan Coyne

That “feeling tone” is the thread of this radio hour as much as the late Studs himself.  He was the voice of Chicago between Carl Sandburg a century ago – “hog butcher to the world,” and all that – and Chance the Rapper today.  Studs Terkel compiled a best-selling vernacular oral history of city life — Division Street America — then classic social histories of the Depression and World War 2.  Home base for more than 50 years was his daily radio hour on a privately owned fine-arts station in Chicago, WFMT.  The news of Studs Terkel that we’re happy to share is that 5000 hours of that radio archive are open anew, being digitized and transcribed – an audio event on a par with the opening of King Tut’s tomb.

 

Tony Macaluso manages the Studs collection at WFMT. He led us into the archives this week and guided us through some of his favorite interview with folks like Muhammad AliMahalia Jackson, Bertrand Russel, and Jimmy Baldwin.

Alan Wieder wrote an oral history of how Studs got to be Studs. He helped us understand the roots of Terkel’s “soft socialist” politics through his growing-up years in the Wells-Grand Hotel as well as his early television career in Chicago.

Rick Kogan is a newspaper guy and radio voice in Chicago today.  He grew up modeling himself after his father—the great Chicago journalist Herman Kogan—and his father’s great pal, Uncle Studs:

Sydney Lewis was one of Studs Terkel’s closest collaborators in radio and literary production to the very end. She now works down the road from us at public station WCAI in Falmouth, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. With us, she discusses the joys of working with the man who wrote Working.

Jay Allison produces the NPR story-telling hour known as The Moth, which draws on a certain Studs enthusiasm… and extends it into deep into the digital cosmos: all those individual voices empowered in the podcasting era. He guides us through one of the lesser known parts of Terkel’s audio legacy: the incredible, freeform audio documentary Born to Livewhich won the Prix Italia in 1962 and which was given a second-life online thanks to Allison and the team at transom.org.

This Week's Show •

The Split Screen View in Jerusalem and Gaza

One split screen wasn’t really enough for the asymmetries we’re looking at now, but there it was: Ivanka unveiling the Trump embassy plaque in Jerusalem, and 40 miles away, the massacre at Gaza, Israeli soldiers ...

One split screen wasn’t really enough for the asymmetries we’re looking at now, but there it was: Ivanka unveiling the Trump embassy plaque in Jerusalem, and 40 miles away, the massacre at Gaza, Israeli soldiers killing dozens of Palestinians in unarmed protest. It was a 70-year birthday party on the ground of what the Arabs of Israel call their 70-year-old catastrophe. It would take another split screen to see the pulling apart of the Atlantic alliance, the broken consensus on keeping nuclear arms out of Iran. More split screens would show other breakdowns underway—in the attachment of American Jews to Israel, for example, and a deepening split over the odd couple, Netanyahu, and Trump: in the US, four out of five Republicans love them; three out of four Democrats do not.

This was a juxtaposition of buzzwords and loaded images—realities and truths, as people kept calling them–to challenge and possibly change the grand narrative of where the world is at, and not just in Israel or the Middle East.  So we are listening to this hour for adjustments in storylines among a sampling of interested parties: Jewish, Palestinian, American and more.

This Week's Show •

Trump Goes Rogue In Iran

Dropping out of the Iran nuclear deal has the feel of dropping into the John Bolton phase of the Trump era.  Trump in Full. Trump Extra. The theme is No More Mr. Nice Guy, or ...

Dropping out of the Iran nuclear deal has the feel of dropping into the John Bolton phase of the Trump era.  Trump in Full. Trump Extra. The theme is No More Mr. Nice Guy, or America First, Last and virtually Alone. Multilateral Europe is appalled by Unilateral Trump – he pretends to consult, then ignores the old allies, first on Climate change, then trade barriers, and now Iran.  “We have to stop being wimps,” they are saying out loud. But here comes John Bolton with his broad-brush mustache and the truculent air of Steve Bannon. Except that Bolton is a neo-conservative, a gung-ho regime changer, as Bannon never was. Under Bolton rules, military intervention is in again, with our nukes at the ready.

What we are coming to sense about President Trump is that if he does bring the world down on his head, his last thought will be that there’s a Nobel Peace Prize in the ruins, for him.  Ripple effects and bad reviews run far and wide from Mr. Trump’s unplugging of the world’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Proxy warfare between Israeli and Iranian forces stepped up immediately in Syria. European powers snubbed on the Iran deal sound ready to end a sacred alliance with the US.  Donald Trump is being ridiculed for breaking one nuclear agreement while chasing another one with North Korea. But the president himself thinks his battering of Kim Jong Un is forcing progress, as in the release of prisoners this week.  So Trump crowds are starting to chant ‘Nobel, Nobel.’ And the president affirms them humbly: “The prize I want,” he says, “is victory for the world.”

Steve Walt has the opening round on the wonder and the profound worry at a dicey moment in Trump time.  He is a foreign policy analyst at Harvard, who’s made a trademark of tough-mindedness. We’ll also be looking at the wounded Iran nuclear deal through the Persian end of the telescope.  And trying to “follow the money” through the Trump campaign contributions to see if that’s what drives the President’s course.

Ervand Abrahamian is a prominent historian and teacher of the Iranian perspective on the world around it.  There are at least two views that we probably need to distinguish this week — of the revolutionary Islamic Republic, the mullocracy that’s been in power for nearly 40 years; and the view of ordinary people, many of whom hate their government and would love to resist it.

 

 Eli Clifton published a remarkable piece of research and reporting on-line this week. He made the Trump bailout from the Iran nuclear deal almost simple: it was the handiwork essentially of three multi-billionaires who’d contributed massively to Donald Trump’s campaign and knew what they wanted in return.

 

Podcast • May 8, 2018

Lisa Halliday’s ‘Asymmetry’

This is an unlocked, bonus segment of Open Source. You can hear weekly conversations and extended interviews like this one by subscribing and supporting our work on Patreon. The writer Zadie Smith first clued us ...

This is an unlocked, bonus segment of Open Source. You can hear weekly conversations and extended interviews like this one by subscribing and supporting our work on Patreon.

The writer Zadie Smith first clued us into the work of debut novelist Lisa Halliday, who spoke with us recently about her fantastic new book, and which we present here as a special podcast. Here’s how Chris set the scene of the conversation:

Lisa Halliday has written what feels like something new under the sun of American fiction. You’re going to hear Halliday reading from this nimble, quick, life-like book, titled: Asymmetry.

It’s named for its three mis-matching sections, which come to fit intricately and intimately together. First is a racy tale of an apprenticeship that is also a love affair between an old author (sounds like Philip Roth) and an aspiring young one (sounds like Lisa Halliday—though the names have been changed). Next comes a story that the young woman writes, on assignment almost, outside her comfort zone, about an American Muslim in the Iraq War. The third section circles back to let the old writer present himself anew being interviewed on “Desert Island Discs,” the age-old BBC program that lets guests talk about their favorite music, and digress till they’ve stripped themselves naked. In all three sections of Asymmetry, words move like the wind.

This Week's Show •

Marx at 200

A specter is haunting human affairs these days: it’s the thought that Karl Marx (on his 200th birthday this week) may have been more right than wrong about rich-get-richer bourgeois economics.  He may have been ...

A specter is haunting human affairs these days: it’s the thought that Karl Marx (on his 200th birthday this week) may have been more right than wrong about rich-get-richer bourgeois economics.  He may have been righter still anticipating our anxious digital / global finance capitalism of 2018 than he was at describing his own unruly time in Europe in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s. For advocating communist revolution all his life, Karl Marx became a scarecrow in the garden of money and power.  He was the “best-hated man of his time,” said his friend Engels in a funeral oration. But the Times of London headline in 2008 was “He’s back,” when Wall Street melted down. Marx is back, too, in reading lists on campus and rebel dreams around the world.

“Working men of all countries, unite!” wrote the brash young philosopher/journalist Karl Marx, 29 years old, almost penniless, on the run from German and French police, new to London in 1848.  “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” And so the mythic monster, a man and his ‘ism,’ found first, full voice in a manifesto of aphorisms that can sound Shakespearean to some modern ears, almost scriptural in authority, chilling or challenging to others.


Karl Marx and his daughter Jenny, 1869

Karl Marx’s 200th birthday is the “hook,” as they say in the news game.  What hooks us, though, is the “glaring relevance,” as Luke Menand put it in The New Yorker, of Marx’s working world and our own.  It’s as if, in the din of the industrial revolution in Europe, Marx was noting down the roots of our own digital transformation today: his precarious labor is our full-blown precariat; his maldistribution of goodies is more extreme, and global.  Fragility, uncertainty, arbitrary unfairness are main marks of a genie economy out of the bottle, out of the sorcerer’s control.

Also this hour, we’ll get to Marx the gentle genius at home in a bourgeois family, the obsessive scholar trying to dope out a science of society at the same moment Charles Darwin was mapping a new science of biological nature.  And Marxism today — in the toolkit of black politics and feminism.

The omni-critic Terry Eagleton gets us started. Prolific Englishman with Irish Republican roots, he was shaped by Marxism and Catholicism.  In his politics and his religion, Terry Eagleton says he not vastly different from himself as a 16-year-old altar boy. After the 2008 economic crisis, Terry Eagleton’s book was “Why Marx was Right,” under 10 main headings, like class, violence, and utopia.

At Karl Marx’s two-century mark.  Marxism early on became a cottage industry among white men parsing words and doctrine – no matter that the burden of the system they studying fell on women, and black and brown workers out of all proportion.  The American biographer Mary Gabriel breaks the mold, on an ancient theory that the way to take the measure of a great man is to follow him home. What she found was a trove of family letters about an ostensibly conventional home: wife and daughters who worshipped the obsessive, often contrary man of the house. He makes rich, complex, deeply sad life blighted by two, some-say three suicides among the daughters who would have done anything for him.

Robin D. G. Kelley is an influential cultural historian, based now at UCLA. He’s a student of 20th Century black struggle; a biographer who broke through the mystery of jazz genius Thelonious Monk, and all the while an unorthodox Marxist in motion – in the direction of Surrealism, he says now.  He’s the authority we wanted to hear on why activism of all stripes keeps turning to the peculiar language of Marxism. Great names of black struggle from W. E. B. Dubois to Paul Robeson to Huey Newton and Rap Brown have called themselves Marxists, sometimes Maoists, sometimes Communists.