This Week's Show •

Russiagate, Unredacted

A conversation about collusion, obstruction of justice, and the full Mueller Report with Seth Berman, Andy Bacevich, and David Bromwich. A second chance for Mueller Report to pin a Russian tale on Donald Trump’s election ...
A conversation about collusion, obstruction of justice, and the full Mueller Report with Seth Berman, Andy Bacevich, and David Bromwich.

A second chance for Mueller Report to pin a Russian tale on Donald Trump’s election has not changed the score. “Game over,” said Mr. Trump, still president and not about to be indicted for whatever help he got from Russia, or for trying to deep-six the official investigation – largely because the ‘yes’ men on his staff said ‘no’ to his orders to fire the special prosecutor. Call it Trump luck or Democratic fantasy that un-did the Russiagate trap. 2020 reelection politics starts here, and Donald Trump has a stronger narrative than before: he’ll be the guy now who was spied on back in Obama time, and set up for a deep-state coup after election by rogue FBI and CIA, not to mention the failing New York Times, and he beat them.

The hard news of the long-form Mueller Reports seems to be the abundant testimony that Donald Trump ardently and persistently wanted and tried to kill the Russiagate investigation and fire its special prosecutor, but that his henchmen refused to execute the orders that would have turned his wishes into crimes. There would be no “Saturday Night Massacre” this time, said his disobedient White House counsel Don McGahn, referencing the cover-up that killed Richard Nixon’s presidency. And there would be no act of obstruction in the Trump case, so no indictment for it. 448 pages seem to have changed nothing: we have a runaway regime under a triumphant rogue who has slipped the noose yet again. And we still don’t quite know how this “very stable genius,” in his phrase, gets away with it. Or anybody else who could do what he’s doing. The soldier / scholar Andrew Bacevich is here to argue as Pogo did: we have met the enemy and he is us. David Bromwich, the Sterling Professor of English at Yale, is with us to parse language of combat and commentary. But we begin with the lawyer’s lawyer, Seth Berman, with the Boston firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish, sometime Federal prosecutor with the famous Robert Morgenthau in New York, and in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston, too.

What went wrong in the Mueller crusade?

This Week's Show •

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 ...

A conversation on art, architecture, and design with Tamar Avishai, Peter Chermayeff, Ann Beha, and Sebastian Smee.

Bauhaus was the art school in Germany that created the look of the twentieth century. We just live in it: loving its white-box affordability, or hating its stripped, blank, glass-and-steel uniformity, the world around. It’s the IKEA look in the twenty-first century, the look of Chicago skyscrapers and now Chinese housing towers, the look of American kitchens and probably the typeface on your emails, all derived from the building school in Germany between the world wars. It was the first omni-art school that taught painting and architecture, made new-look tapestries and chairs. It was the less-is-more school that made ornament very nearly a crime. It stood, and stands, for a few big ideas still hotly contested.

Walter Gropius at Harvard

Bauhaus, meaning ‘building house,’ was the name of the most influential art school in the history of the man-made environment. It was born just a hundred years ago in Weimar, Germany’s old-time cultural capital, seat of the shaky Weimar Republic after World War I. Bauhaus, the school, lasted only fourteen years, till Hitler’s Nazis suffocated it in 1933. Yet Bauhaus, the model of design, some would say, has ruled the world for a century now.

To kick off the show, we take a trip to the Gropius House in Lincoln:

 

Gropius House

 

 

We also talked to Boston architect Ann Beha about her work updating Gropius’s US Embassy in Athens, Greece:

We didn’t have time for all the great Bauhaus content we collected during the show, but while you’re here, listen to an OS extra: designer, architect, imagineer Peter Chermayeff explain how he designed the map for the Boston T.

This Week's Show •

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 ...

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)
“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

This Week's Show •

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 ...

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.

 

This Week's Show •

Barriers and borders and frontiers (oh my!)

A conversation with Greg Grandin, Valeria Luiselli, and John Lanchester. A reckless wall-building era runs round the 21st century globe. Reckless next to the New England farmer in Robert Frost’s famous poem. He’s mending his wall in ...

A conversation with Greg Grandin, Valeria Luiselli, and John Lanchester.

A reckless wall-building era runs round the 21st century globe. Reckless next to the New England farmer in Robert Frost’s famous poem. He’s mending his wall in a spring like this one, well aware of “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.” “Before I built a wall,” he says, “I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence.” Not so along our Southwest border that President Trump wants to fortify. Not so in the intimate geography of Israel-Palestine. Not so in the England of John Lanchester’s nightmare novel, called The Wall, post Brexit. The coastal rim of the sceptered isle is barricaded to the sky to keep nameless Others from vaulting in.

Irresistible force meets immovable object this hour: the argument is that the push outward to the frontier that defined American history and character—self-reliant wagon families heading west, the American knighthood of quiet cowboys, our “empire of freedom,” as Jefferson put it – is crashing on President Trump’s in-blocking Wall along our 2-thousand-mile border with Mexico. At the checkpoints the collision is ugly. In the cruelty to children and families, it’s grotesque. In American politics it’s explosive. But what if it cuts deepest into the ways we Americans see ourselves? On both sides of that un-built Trump border wall this hour we’re getting a miserable migration story with the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli. And we’ll get to the novel that John Lanchester drew out of a bad dream about a sky-high wall encircling what’s left of England. But the American historian Greg Grandin strikes the keynote, from his new book about us, titled The End of The Myth. It’s a modern revision of the idea that the frontier made us who we are.

 

This Week's Show •

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 ...

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

This Week's Show •

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. ...

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.

 

 

 

This Week's Show •

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 ...

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.

This Week's Show •

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 ...

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.

This Week's Show •

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 ...

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
  • Roma
  • Never Look Away

And favorite un-nominated classics:

  • Sorry to Bother You
  • First Reformed
  • Leave No Trace