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This show first aired on December 2, 2021. Giant questions this hour, and a slew of fresh answers: Where do we humans come from? Who are we, after all? Where are we going? Was our pre-history a Garden of Eden, or a nasty war of survival, or some of both? Are we human beings good or evil, by the way? Pretty much the same, the world around, or many d…
 
This show originally aired on December 20, 2018. A tribute to Leonard Bernstein with Nigel Simeone, Jamie Bernstein, and Augusta Read Thomas. Leonard Bernstein, the multi-musician, did it all in his lifetime. At his 100th anniversary this year, the only question people still ask about the man is an odd one: did he do enough? Did he leave the messag…
 
This show first aired on March 29, 2018. In the annals of rock music albums, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is one of a kind. In an earthy medium, it’s a masterpiece of abstraction. Indecipherable. Irresistible. Influential. Accidental, it seemed, from the first licks in a Boston studio, in the crisis year of 1968. It comes back 50 years later from an…
 
This show originally aired on July 6, 2017. Henry David Thoreau, our specimen of American genius in nature, wrote famously short, and long. “Simplify,” in a one-word sentence of good advice. But then 2-million words on 7-thousand pages in his quotable lifetime journal. It’s one of many odd points to notice about Thoreau at his 200th birthday: that …
 
This episode was first broadcast on February 18, 2021. The invitation this hour, or maybe the dream, is to learn how to write short stories with the poignancy and power of the old Russian Masters, and how to become better versions of ourselves in the process. Anton Chekhov is our model writer; the modern American master George Saunders is our model…
 
This show first aired on December 17, 2020. Erroll Garner, the jazz pianist, is undergoing an upward revaluation of the sort that artists dream of: a reputational transition forty-some years after he died. In his time, mid-twentieth century, Erroll Garner was a pop star on records and concert stages worldwide. He could make the piano sound like a b…
 
Mark Blyth, the people’s economist, to the rescue. We’ve got tribulations of money and power to be decoded, in what can feel like wartime. Sanctions or penalties for the warfare make economic waves, too. Inflation spiking, recession coming. China rising, as always, and now our mortgage rates heading up sharply; the world economy in complex transiti…
 
Four months into the war in Ukraine, 20 weeks of radio talk about it, feels like time for a deep breath: an hour to look hard at a painful stalemate, a poisonous war that bodes hunger, maybe famine, surely economic wreckage, on top of grotesque pain and death and the smashing of Ukraine itself. “Painful stalemate” can be translated as ripe for reso…
 
Between the US and China, you can feel that the chill is on among the chieftains, spoiling for a fight over Taiwan or trade or just top billing. But what about the people? Two peoples bound by resentments and admiration, both deep-seated and heartfelt, and under it all, some natural affinities in hard work and competitive play – remember: ping-pong…
 
The United States and China are both working on something like a separation agreement. It’s the end of something like a marriage over the last 50 years—it produced vast wealth, but something less than democracy or happiness. Hostility, danger, even something like warfare are in the air. The hardest words are not spoken on the record, but the word “…
 
A moral philosopher and a walking trove of literature’s wisdom walk into a radio conversation together. The question for one hour is the bleak time we’re all living in, this sea of troubles we don’t have a name for. The violence is shocking: the war far away, the shots close to home; the spectacle of kids, like ours, running for their lives. The pa…
 
Memorial Day can feel different every year, bittersweet at its best. It’s been the last Monday in May since 1868, first as Decoration Day, for marking the graves of our Civil War dead—lest Americans forget, it was said, those who had paid the price of a free and undivided republic. Again this year it is a somber day of reflection: 22 years into a y…
 
George Orwell said, “It’s so easy to be witty about the British Empire.” As in the throwaway line that English people had conquered the world in a fit of absentmindedness. No big deal. But that empire was no joke. Boris Johnson, in the Prime Minister’s office today, says he can’t forget that his nation over the last 200 years “has directed the inva…
 
On the famous clock-face of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the time now is 100 seconds before midnight. Meaning: humankind is closer to nuclear doomsday than it’s ever been. But it’s worse than that: those educated alarmists at the Bulletin advanced the second-hand on their clock before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. It’s a fiasco no…
 
It’s Iran, again, at the center of a tricky, dangerous puzzle. Four years after Donald Trump broke out of the nuclear ban agreement, Iran is just days or weeks away from having enough enriched uranium to build a bomb—a bomb it doesn’t seem to want. At the same time the talks in Vienna to restore the ban on Iran’s bomb works are drifting downward, t…
 
Try this, to get a fresh grip on the war in Ukraine, and its effects still to come: we’ve got a food war in the breadbasket of the world, on the vast Eurasian prairie that’s been feeding Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa for ten thousand years. It’s the last in a long line of historic bread wars – remember Marie Antoinette’s quip in the Fre…
 
We are encouraged to believe, we Americans, that if anything good for the world comes out of the war in Ukraine, it will be that “the US is back,” not shooting but supporting, maybe midwifing a new birth of freedom. The indispensable nation again. What does it tell you that most of the world doesn’t see it that way? We like to say that the cause go…
 
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