The Syria Test

March 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Two weeks back on Radio Open Source I debated Prof. Stephen Walt of Harvard on intervention in Syria. It was 3 am for me, so I wasn’t as coherent or articulate as I’d have liked to be.


With Iraq and Afghanistan bleeding in our rear-view mirror, is there a case still to be made for American intervention with anything more than words in Syria’s miserable meltdown? The news and pictures from Syria are perfectly awful – sarin gas against civilians succeeded by barrel bombs on Aleppo, millions of Syrians on the run, all varieties of torture, targeting of children and doctors, a death toll in two-and-a-half years of warfare approaching 150,000, and no end in sight. But is there anything like a constructive case for American intervention?

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Tennessee, Papa, and the evolving idea of Manhood

March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

Christopher Lydon is the worthiest personality to have graced American radio. His skills as a host are admired by every listener to Radio Open Source. But you’ll have to hear the following conversation to appreciate how even as a guest he has few equals. Our friendship was formed over our shared devotion for ideas of the late Tony Judt. But I’m happy to discover that we also have in common a deep love for Hemingway’s prose. Here is Chris discussing Hemingway and Tennessee Williams on Boston Public Radio with Jim Braude and Margery Egan. Don’t miss it because radio does not get any better than this


Upheaval in Souls, Bodies, Imaginations

February 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Christopher Lydon of the wonderful Radio Open Source interview joins the great Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury for a stimulating discussion on art, politics and literature.


CAIRO — Elias Khoury is the sort of novelist we rely on to tell us what is going on. Himself of Lebanese and Christian antecedents, he wrote Gate of the Sun (1998), a stylized and much-admired fictional account of the Palestinian naqbah or “catastrophe” from 1948 to the infamous Sabra and Shatillah massacres in Lebanon in 1982. Writing, he remarks, is his means of discovering his ignorance and overcoming it.

Gore Vidal on the Republic and its Fall

August 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

The best interview with the late Gore Vidal that I’ve heard so far. Unsurprisingly it comes from the inimitable Christopher Lydon of Radio Open Source.


Having read all the Gore Vidal obits and the many more-and-less grudging encomia, I find the man himself at very near his best in my own conversational files — from an evening at Harvard just before Thanksgiving in 2003, on the occasion of his publishing Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams and Jefferson. He’d walked into the hall slowly, on a cane, that night, but his chatter was was crackling with fresh mimicry and mischief. (Two nights earlier, his reward at a joint reading in Provincetown was discovering that ancient nemesis Norman Mailer was getting around on two canes.) Great entertainer and great complainer, Vidal at 78 came through as passionate historian and erudite old comic who could still fill the house, and whose repartee was not all repertoire.

The Emperor’s New Language

June 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yale’s David Bromwich once again brings his extraordinary powers of observation to bear on the man whom he had once described as ‘The Establishment President’. Christopher Lydon’s Radio Open Source is a thinking man’s discussion forum, and Bromwich is always intellectually stimulating.


David Bromwich is locating our 2012 distress in our language — or lack of it. It is reunion season at Yale, 50 years after President Kennedy addressed my graduating class of 1962 with his tax cut speech and the famous crack about having “the best of both worlds — a Harvard education and a Yale degree.” Four months later, human civilization hung by a thread in the Cuban Missile Crisis. I am trying to count the watersheds crossed in American life.

David Bromwich, the Sterling Professor of English at Yale and for me by now an indispensable public commentator, confirms my sense that the country is starving for want of words. On the brink of post-imperial panic, we don’t know what to call this worse-than-recession, this Euro-charged breakdown of politics and finance. What we do know is that “we are the 99 percent” is the left’s most effective line since the 2008 meltdown, but that the right and the Tea Party have commandeered the public conversation with street language of salt and savor, with vehemence and conviction that the liberal-left seems to scorn.

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Thinking the Twentieth Century

May 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yale historian Timothy Snyder discusses his remarkable collaboration with Tony Judt on Christopher Lydon’s excellent Radio Open Source. The result of Snyder’s extended interviews with Judt was recently published as Thinking the Twentieth Century.


An immeasurable loss

February 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Christopher Lydon of the excellent Radio Open Source pays tribute to Anythony Shadid.


The death of the reporter Anthony Shadid in Syria — apparently of an acute asthma attack — is a tragic blow to our hope of grasping the Arab turmoil, also to the flickering idea of straight journalism. Three dimensions of our loss come immediately to mind. First, Anthony Shadid (with Nir Rosen on my honor roll) was the rarest instance of a mainstream reporter who gave some of his heart to people on the ground suffering through war in Iraq and chaos in North Africa. Second, in Iraq where he’d won two Pulitzers, he framed his work in the understanding that what American force was about was not liberating Iraq, much less democratizing it, but about destroying a country. Third, he had the temerity to speak with us about one further tragedy: that the honored brand of journalism he practiced had shockingly little impact on American consciousness…

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Anatol Lieven: how to end the US dust-up with Pakistan

December 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Anatol Lieven, author of the excellent Pakistan: A Hard Country, on Christopher Lydon’s indispensable Radio Open Source, discussing the recent dust up between Pakistan and the US.


Anatol Lieven is explaining how the so-called allies in the so-called War on Terror have come to pot-shotting each other on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan. In the Financial Times last May (“How American folly could destroy Pakistan“) Lieven was warning of the perverse logic of confrontation in US policy. The killing last weekend of 24 Pakistani soldiersin a NATO air strike for which President Obama is refusing to apologize can be taken as confirmation of the hazard. Ever since the US Navy swoop on OBL early in May, the risk in Lieven’s eyes was that the US would overplay its hand with demands on the thoroughly alienated Pakistani Army. The American demand-too-far (Lieven is saying emphatically today) is that the Pakistani Army go to war on the Taliban home bases in the Pashtun tribal wilderness. That demand cannot, will not, be met: (a) because the Taliban is a big part of the network that Pakistan counts on to protect and project its interest in Afghanistan when the US forces shrivel, then leave; and (b) because the big majority of Pakistanis — army, elite and masses — see the Taliban in Afghanistan as a legitimate resistance force fighting foreign occupation, like the mujahedeen who fought the Soviets, or Communist guerillas who fought Nazis in Europe. When Pakistan under Pres / Gen Musharraf undertook a half-way offensive against the Taliban in the border wilderness, “they set off an Islamist rebellion inside Pakistan which continues to this day… The Pakistanis do have a case: thanks to the U.S., they have a civil war inside Pakistan which has claimed far more Pakistani lives than Americans killed on 9.11. … We keep talking about wanting to support democracy. Well, the democratic majority in Pakistan wants us to go to hell.”

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Obama and the measure of Lincoln

October 19, 2011 § 1 Comment


In yet another insightful interview with Radio Open Source, Yale professor David Bromich analyzes the political failings of the US president Barack Obama. He observes:

David Bromwich

At a time of crisis you hope for something more than proficiency of maneuver. You hope for consistency of explanation and the kind of reassurance that can come to people in a democracy from actually learning from somebody who is leading them where they are headed. … It’s not beyond a capable president actually to give a lesson in history. What real leadership comes from is finding the principle and the action that goes with it on which people could agree though they don’t yet realize that they would agree, what they most care about it even though it hasn’t yet found words, what their longterm interests, not their present opinions are… [Leadership comes from] deciding what the commitments are, standing to them, and then repeating, phrase by phrase and precept by precept, what it is you believe and how B follows A and C follows B.

The Dimensionality of Reading

April 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Arnold Weinstein is one of the greatest teachers of literature, and I owe my own rediscovery of the pleasures of reading in good part to him. He always brings riveting insights to familiar works, but without the tedious blather of theory. Enjoy this fascinating discussion with Weinstein from Brown University’s excellent Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon.


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