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84 minutes | Aug 12, 2021
Rebecca Goldstein: the atheist with a soul
Note: this interview was broadcast on WGBH, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture! Rebecca Goldstein’s latest work, called 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, is perhaps best described as a hybrid. It is indeed a novel, with its share of psychology, mathematics and academic politics, but it concludes with an appendix outlining these 36 arguments, as well as their rebuttals, in the language not of fiction, but of philosophy. So, as in many of Goldstein’s earlier novels, this one manages to fold ideas into art. ThoughtCast spoke with Rebecca in her home in the Leather District, in downtown Boston. Click here (28 minutes) to listen. Click here (90 minutes) to listen to a discussion with Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker, sponsored by PEN New England. It’s titled Mind-Body Problems: A Conversation About Science, Fiction and God, and focuses mainly on Rebecca’s latest novel. Rebecca Goldstein received her doctorate in philosophy from Princeton, and went on to teach philosophy before trying her pen at fiction. Her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, was a critical success, and she went on to write 5 other novels, including Properties of Light, Mazel, and The Dark Sister. She has also written non-fiction studies of the mathematician Kurt Gödel, and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. In addition to being Rebecca’s husband, Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and one of the world’s leading authorities on language and the mind. He’s written seven books (so far) including The Blank Slate, How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought. And finally, to listen to this ThoughtCast interview on the WGBH Forum Network, click here! The post Rebecca Goldstein: the atheist with a soul appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
4 minutes | May 17, 2021
The Dan Flavin Art Institute
Back when I worked for WNYC TV, I went to Bridgehampton, Long Island to cover an art opening at the Dan Flavin Art Institute, overseen by Dia Center for the Arts. It’s a haunting place, filled with the florescent tubes that made Flavin famous. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. The post The Dan Flavin Art Institute appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
29 minutes | Mar 3, 2021
The Peabody Sisters – with biographer Megan Marshall
Note: This interview was broadcast on WGBH radio’s “Arts and Ideas.” Author Megan Marshall has written well-received biographies of Elizabeth Bishop and Margaret Fuller. But before these books, she wrote about the three Peabody sisters – Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia – who were key players in the founding of the Transcendentalist movement in the early to mid 19th century. Elizabeth, the oldest, was intellectually precocious, learning Hebrew as a child so she could read the Old Testament. Mary was the middle sister, somewhat subdued by the dominant – and bossy – qualities of Elizabeth, and by the attention paid to the youngest, Sophia, who was practically an invalid. Nonetheless, Mary managed to become a teacher, writer and reformer. Sophia, beset by devastating migraines, spent most of her early years in bed. But when she had the strength, she painted. In an interview with ThoughtCast, Megan Marshall continues the tale… Click here: to listen (28:30 mins). Click here to listen to a lecture by Megan Marshall on the Peabody sisters on the WGBH Forum Network. The post The Peabody Sisters – with biographer Megan Marshall appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
4 minutes | Nov 25, 2020
Dinosaurs on Thoughtcast
Back when I was working as a reporter for WNYC TV, a public TV station in Manhattan, I covered the return of the dinosaurs to the American Museum of Natural History, after a three year absence. The updated exhibition focused on the link between dinosaurs and birds. Though it’s hard to imagine a connection between the tiny city sparrow and the Tyrannosaurus Rex, there apparently is one! The post Dinosaurs on Thoughtcast appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
29 minutes | Aug 22, 2020
Poet Robert Pinsky takes on King David
Note: The WGBH sister stations WCAI and WNAN broadcast this interview, and it also received a 5 star review on PRX! Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky tackles King David of the Bible – the shepherd, poet, warrior and adulterer – in his “Life of David.” Is David a legend? A real, flesh and blood warrior who killed Goliath, and united the 12 Jewish tribes into one nation? Robert Pinsky delves into these questions, and into David’s story, with relish. David’s story has been told many times, and the tale has changed with each telling. There’s the David of the Hebrew Bible, and another version of his life in the Talmud. We know he slept with Bathsheba, but was this a sin? An act of love? Of violence? It depends on whom you ask. David, who lived about 3000 years ago, was beloved of God, and as a result, he got away with more than his share. He was a seductive, wily politician, a doting father, a bitter old man. These contradictions in David’s character spur Pinsky on, and he adds his own twist to the tale, as you will hear, on ThoughtCast! Click here: to listen (28:30 mins). The post Poet Robert Pinsky takes on King David appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
4 minutes | Jul 5, 2020
Words @ Work: The Origins of “Rock”
Note: this piece was broadcast on NJN (New Jersey Public Radio), New Hampshire Public Radio and WMUB, an NPR station in Oxford, Ohio. It was also podcast on KXCI.org, in Tucson. What does the word rock mean? Simple enough question. But how did the term originate? Where — and why? These questions are bit more difficult to answer! Tune in for a quick romp through the origins of the word — with Berklee College of Music professor Ken Zambello. Click here: to listen (3:30 minutes). (And thanks to Pam Scrutton and Planning For Elders for the “Let’s Rock and Roll” illustration!) The post Words @ Work: The Origins of “Rock” appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
0 minutes | Apr 18, 2020
Buffalo Dance: A Poem for NPR’s Poetry Month
hey there! I am a producer with All Things Considered and we'd love to hear you reading your poem if you want to send it in to our team as a voice note! Let me know and I will send on my email. Thanks! — Kira Wakeam (@wakeamkira) March 26, 2020 The post Buffalo Dance: A Poem for NPR’s Poetry Month appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
3 minutes | Mar 13, 2020
Red Hook, Brooklyn, before the Gentrification
On a beautiful spring day in the mid 1990s, I meandered the streets of Red Hook, when it was still a rundown Brooklyn neighborhood. I met its first art gallery owner, and the two longshoremen who ventured inside. This is one of my favorite stories for WNYC TV, the PBS station I worked for in Manhattan. (This station too is now history.) Let me know what you think! Click here (2:30 minutes) to listen! The post Red Hook, Brooklyn, before the Gentrification appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
30 minutes | Feb 1, 2020
Tom Perrotta on Flannery O’Connor — a literary affinity
Note: This interview was broadcast on the WGBH sister stations WCAI/WNAN, and also on KUT, in Austin, Texas! Tom Perrotta, author of the novels Mrs. Fletcher, Little Children, Election, The Abstinence Teacher and The Leftovers, speaks with ThoughtCast about a writer who fascinates, irritates and inspires him: Flannery O’Connor. His relationship with her borders on kinship, and he admires and admonishes her as he would a family member, with whom he shares a bond both genetic and cultural. When asked to choose a specific piece of writing that’s had a significant impact on him, Tom chose O’Connor’s short story Good Country People, but then he threw in two others — Everything that Rises Must Converge and Revelation. As Tom explains, these three stories chart O’Connor’s careful trajectory, her unique vision, and her genius. Click here (30 minutes) to listen! This interview is the second in a new ThoughtCast series which examines a specific piece of writing — be it a poem, play, novel, short story, work of non-fiction or scrap of papyrus — that’s had a significant influence on the interviewee, that’s shaped and moved them. Up next: Harvard Classicist Gregory Nagy on Homer’s Iliad, and the final, fatal battle between Hector and Achilles. The post Tom Perrotta on Flannery O’Connor — a literary affinity appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
29 minutes | Jan 30, 2020
Alan Dershowitz on Preemption and the Hezbollah
Note: this interview was broadcast twice on WGBH radio in Boston. It has also aired on WCAI/WNAN, WNED, KXOT and KYOU. The controversial Harvard Law professor, author and celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz talks with ThoughtCast about his book “Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways”, as well as his views on the Israeli-Palestinian-Hezbollah conflict, torture, human rights and our ‘war on terror.’ His premise: the world has changed, and international law must change with it. We need more tools, he argues, in the fight against terror networks whose recruits hold no fear of death or retribution. Note: Although the subjects we discuss are controversial, my goal is not to argue with Alan, but to find out what he’s thinking. My hope is that our conversation will provoke further discussion on these hot-button issues. Click here: (30 minutes) to listen to the interview. Click here: to listen to the hour-long version. The post Alan Dershowitz on Preemption and the Hezbollah appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
28 minutes | Aug 19, 2019
“Why Does the World Exist?” with Jim Holt
Note: this interview was broadcast on the WGBH public radio affiliate WCAI, on the Cape and Islands! In this ThoughtCast interview, science writer Jim Holt takes us on a jaunty tour of being and nothingness, existence and emptiness, quantum tunneling and the uncertainty principle. The author of Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, Holt lends his wit to a dissection of the puzzle of existence, which happens to be the topic of his book Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story! A frequent contributor to The New York Times and other publications, Holt approaches his subject with a personal, philosophical and scientific point of view. But does he solve the puzzle?… You tell me! Click here to listen (28 minutes.) The post “Why Does the World Exist?” with Jim Holt appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
9 minutes | Apr 27, 2019
KCRW’s Michael Silverblatt at the LA Times Book Festival
KCRW’s Michael Silverblatt, the host of the literary talk show Bookworm, speaks with Jenny Attiyeh at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Silverblatt is the real thing — an authentic, genuinely interested interviewer who reads not only the latest book his guest has come to discuss, but the writer’s entire body of work. Less concerned with wooing an audience than in communing with the author, Silverblatt aims for connection, not ratings. His passion for literature can at times turn his program into an esoteric personal adventure, one which his listeners might at times have difficulty following. But this happens far too rarely on public radio, or in public media of any form, these days. Perhaps you disagree? This interview is the second of three that took place at the Fourth Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in 1999. The third interview, coming soon, is with Arianna Huffington. The first interview, featured in the previous post, is with the comedian and writer Sandra Tsing Loh. For an audio version of this interview with Michael Silverblatt, click here: to listen. The post KCRW’s Michael Silverblatt at the LA Times Book Festival appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
5 minutes | Mar 16, 2019
Chanticleer Backstage on ThoughtCast!
Chanticleer, for those who’ve been lucky enough to attend its concerts already know, is a delightful all-male classical vocal ensemble. It’s sold over a million albums is an audience favorite. Highly versatile, the group performs a diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance music to gospel to new music to jazz. It’s all fabulous, as you will hear. I put it together for WNYC, when the public TV station still existed in NYC in the late 90s. Enjoy! The post Chanticleer Backstage on ThoughtCast! appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
6 minutes | Sep 3, 2018
ThoughtCast Reflects on the Legacy of John McCain
John McCain’s final battle – this time with an aggressive form of brain cancer – is now over, and the debates over his legacy have yet to begin in earnest. Instead, we are awash in adulatory news coverage, which highlights McCain the icon, but obscures the man. Perhaps his performance in a pivotal New Hampshire Presidential Primary Debate, held in January 2000, just weeks before he defeated George W. Bush in that state’s primary – the first in the nation – is worth reviewing. In this excerpt from the hour-long debate, moderated by NBC’s Tim Russert, McCain, the campaign finance reform candidate and rider of the Straight Talk Express, responds to breaking news regarding his lobbying the FCC on behalf of Paxson Communications, a campaign contributor. Let’s not forget that McCain’s reformist tendencies developed after he was criticized for exercising “poor judgment” by the Senate Ethics Committee for his role as one of the Keating Five Senators accused of corruption in 1989. Although my follow-up question was admittedly intended to bridle him, McCain (in my view) comes across as brittle. Where is his famous sense of humor? Where the politician’s gift of deflection? McCain’s “brittle temper” was hardly a secret, but compared to other candidates on that stage, his smile is steely, his manner tense. A self-described maverick and patriot, might McCain have been a touch too proud? Did his confidence in his own integrity, as the New York Times phrased it, “blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest”? McCain of course went on to lose the primary to George W. Bush, and perhaps self-love, rather than love of country, got in the way. The intention here is not to dump on McCain – what would be the point? But — if he had been just a bit less attentive to his own honor, might we have avoided 8 years of George W. Bush? Think about that for a minute. That would indeed have been a legacy. Click here: to listen (6:14 mins). The post ThoughtCast Reflects on the Legacy of John McCain appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
4 minutes | Jul 14, 2018
John McCain’s Last Stand – on ThoughtCast!
John McCain, the maverick Republican Senator from Arizona, was diagnosed with brain cancer a year ago now, so there’s not much time left for this remarkably resilient politician to take a final stand. Will McCain live long enough to vote for — or against — Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee? He did vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch, but will he return to the Capitol to help overthrow Roe V. Wade? Who is McCain really — is he the independent spirit who rode the Straight Talk Express campaign bus during the 1999/2000 Presidential Primary? Or is he the far more conventional conservative who surrendered to the right wing and selected Sarah Palin the second time he ran for the presidency? Clearly, he’s all of the above, which makes it difficult to anticipate his actions. Jenny Attiyeh interviewed McCain during the New Hampshire Presidential Primary in 1999, when he was still the front runner. Back then he was the darling of the media, and was portrayed as a forthright, reformist candidate. He went on to defeat George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary, only to fall victim to a smear campaign in South Carolina — he’d fathered a black child, was a traitor to his country — from which he never recovered. Recently, of course, McCain’s been subjected to the taunts of President Trump. He’s endured far worse — try five years as a prisoner of war, tortured by the North Vietnamese. But now that the end is very nearly here, will he figure out what it is he really stands for? In his latest book, The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations, McCain expresses regret over his VP pick in 2008. Perhaps as the clock ticks out his final hours, he’ll reach beyond words, to something more like action. Or, as this book review states, will he continue to try to have it both ways? The post John McCain’s Last Stand – on ThoughtCast! appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
14 minutes | May 2, 2018
Philip Glass creates an opera – on ThoughtCast!
Note: this mini-documentary, which was broadcast in 1996 on WNYC TV, a public television station in New York City, charts the creation of Les Enfants Terribles, a dance opera by the composer Philip Glass and the choreographer Susan Marshall. Over the course of three months, Jenny Attiyeh saw this work of art, based on the novel by French Surrealist Jean Cocteau, take shape. The story of Les Enfants Terribles, which is also the final part of a Philip Glass trilogy inspired by the work of Cocteau, tells the tale of Paul and Lise, two adolescent siblings who are bound to each other in an unholy mix of love and jealousy. When they come into volatile contact with two other adolescents, the result is indeed terrible. Click here: to listen (14 mins). The post Philip Glass creates an opera – on ThoughtCast! appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
9 minutes | Feb 14, 2018
Lydia Ratcliff: Vermont Farmer, Stubborn Survivor
I’ve decided to re-post this ThoughtCast program from July 1, 2009 because my friend Lydia Ratcliff died yesterday, February 14th, 2018. The New York Times has written an obituary of her that I think is worth reading. She fought COPD for over a decade, so she could remain involved in the life of her Andover farm, her friends, and the ideas and preoccupations which sustained her. Note: this audio program was broadcast on WAMC and WGBH radio in Boston, and the audio program and slideshow were featured on NHPR.org. About 40 years ago, farms were thick on the ground in Andover, a rural town in southern Vermont. Today, 75-year-old Lydia Ratcliff’s Lovejoy Brook Farm is the last working farm still in operation. But can it survive much longer? ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh grew up visiting Lydia each summer, listening to her tales, eating fresh corn and carrots from her garden, and watching the animals give birth, and grow old. On a recent visit to see Lydia, Jenny brought along her microphone … Lydia Ratcliff is a survivor. She’s farmed her 90 acre plot of land in Andover Vermont for 43 years, and though she’s now come down with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, she still climbs on top of that tractor in hay season. Does she offer a lesson for the rest of us? Does she represent the future of farming in Vermont, or is she one of the last of a dying breed? Click here to listen (9 minutes.) The post Lydia Ratcliff: Vermont Farmer, Stubborn Survivor appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
30 minutes | Jan 15, 2018
Samuel Huntington — on Immigration and the American Identity
The remarkable rise of Donald Trump, fueled in large part by his determination to keep immigrants out of his Greatening America, has caused many to re-examine the key concerns of the controversial political scientist Samuel Huntington. His writings on immigration and American national identity seem today to be sad prophecies of what has come to pass. In light of last year’s headlines — extreme vetting for Syrian refugees, Presidential dithering on DACA, white nationalist riots — I decided to re-post my 2005 ThoughtCast interview with Huntington, who died in late December, 2008. Note: This interview was broadcast twice on WGBH in Boston. Sam Huntington The eminent and provocative political scientist and prolific author, talks with ThoughtCast about what he sees as the threat to America’s national identity (and its founding ‘Anglo-Protestant’ culture) posed by large numbers of unassimilated Hispanics, legal or otherwise, living in the United States. His most recent book: “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity” has caused quite a stir. Huntington is also famous for an earlier work called “The Clash of Civilizations.” In this book, he argues that civilizations, not nations or ideologies, form the basic building blocks of future cooperation — and conflict. Huntington, a longtime professor of political science at Harvard, is also a member of the editorial board of a new magazine chaired by Huntington’s former student, Francis Fukuyama, called “The American Interest.” We discuss these topics in a half-hour interview while seated in the back yard of his home on Martha’s Vineyard — hence all those birds chirping away cheerily… Click here: to listen (30 mins). The post Samuel Huntington — on Immigration and the American Identity appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
5 minutes | Nov 23, 2017
Lessons from a Former Failed Bid for the Presidency?
The press barely noticed former New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith’s bid for the presidency in 2000, so entranced were they over the newly candid Arizona Senator John McCain as he crisscrossed Bob Smith’s state in the “Straight Talk Express.” But McCain fever was quickly quenched by the more conventional conservatism of Texas Governor George W. Bush once the race headed south. And what became of the dogged Republican Senator Bob Clinton Smith? Well, he hung onto his seat till 2003, in his own unique, aw shucks fashion. When you watch this ThoughtCast interview, you’ll form your own impression of a candidate who didn’t make it — and you might also come away with some interesting hypotheses on how US Presidential politics has evolved (some would say devolved) since the turn of the century. Click here: to listen (4:43 minutes). The post Lessons from a Former Failed Bid for the Presidency? appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
4 minutes | Aug 6, 2017
Al Gore, Reconsidered
Now that we’re faced with Al Gore’s Inconvenient Sequel, it is tempting to ask, again: What if he’d actually won the Presidential election back in 2000? Remember when the century turned, the chads clung and hung, Florida was in Republican hands, and the Supreme Court ended up deciding the race in favor of the fortunate son of a former president? How many wayward chads would it have taken to give us 4 years of Al Gore, the “beta male” who wore sweaters in heather hues, and spoke calmly about the calamitous state of our global environment? For one thing, I don’t think we’d have pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. But what else might have — or not have happened? I had the chance to interview the Vice President for NHPTV in the autumn of 1999, prior to the New Hampshire Presidential Primary. Little did I know of what was to come, or I might have asked somewhat different questions. I remember it was colder out than it looked, and Gore nursed a cup of coffee throughout the interview, while attempting to come off as well … approachable, like his two chief Republican opponents: the easygoing George W. Bush and the jubilant John McCain, who at the time was touring the state in his Straight Talk Express. More on that in the next post. But in the meantime, let me know what you think of Gore, back in the Twentieth Century, before our continuum got torqued! The post Al Gore, Reconsidered appeared first on ThoughtCast®.
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