Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rebecca Goldstein: Why Plato (and Philosophy) Won’t Go Away.
Show for March 30, 2014

Rebecca Goldstein says some of her best friends are “philosophy jeerers,” convinced that anything philosophers can do, scientists can do better. She begs to differ, and offers the grandaddy of Western philosophy as exhibit A. 21st-century America has a surprising amount in common with Athens c. 400 BCE, Rebecca says, and Plato still has a thing or two to teach us moderns. She shows how well the 2,400-year-old-man has aged by transporting him to our own times in her new book Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t go Away. Rebecca and I talked about the world of the ancient Greeks, the death of Socrates, the relevance of Plato and what philosophy is good for. Also the difference between a toga and a chiton.

Plus a bonus segment: just how timely is Plato? Philosophical rapper Dr. Awkward makes the case in rhymes.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Show for Mr 16, 2014. East-West Spirituality, the Recovery Movement and the Birth of the Psychedelic Age (Rerun).

From 2012: writer Don Lattin discussed the overlapping lives of British writer Aldous Huxley, new age trailblazer Gerald Heard and Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson. Don, a former religion reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, also talked about his own addiction and recovery.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Show for Mr 9, 2014. Physicist Howard Haber on the Higgs Boson.

Among those popping the champagne when the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced in July 2012 was Howard Haber. And deservedly so. He’d been studying and theorizing about the Higgs for decades, long before it became headline fodder, and before a sales-minded book editor gave it its sensationalistic nickname. Howie wrote about the then-notional particle in his 1978 doctoral dissertation and co-authored a definitive text on how to find it, The Higgs Hunter’s Guide, in 1989. Though we’ve touched on the Higgs in previous shows, we’ve never gone into detail on the backstory and theoretical significance. I thought it was high time we did, especially as a new documentary film on the Higgs search – Particle Fever – was about to debut in our area (sponsored by the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, which Howie is affiliated with).


I lifted this slide from a presentation by Howard Haber; I hope he doesn’t mind.

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Bonus audio: Howie discusses the nature of fields, including the Higgs field and quantum vacuum. Click to listen.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Show for Feb 23, 2014: John Beckman on American Fun.

Noah Webster, channeling the prejudices of his time, defined “fun” in his 1828 dictionary as “sport; vulgar merriment; a low word.” But John Beckman says vulgar (of the common people) and low are exactly the point. Home-grown, salt-of-the-earth American fun, John contends, is democracy at its best, a way the plebes and proles throw off their bonds, declare their humanity and épater the overseers, elites and killjoys (like Noah Webster). John traces the history of rebellious fun in America from the Massachusetts colony of Merry Mount in the 1620s to the Merry Pranksters of the 1960s, and from the Sons of Liberty to flappers and jazzmen, b-boys and punks in his new book American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt. 

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Show for Feb 2, 2014. Astronomer and Astrophysicist Sandra Faber.

Sandra Faber loves telescopes. It’s one of the reasons she became an astronomer. And if scopes could speak, I suspect they’d have some loving words for her. She’s helped bring major new telescopes into being, developed instruments that greatly enhance their power and saved one famous scope from an early demise. And she’s put them to good use, too, participating in major astronomical discoveries and contributing to leading cosmological theories, like the cold dark matter theory of galaxy formation.

The thing that pleases her most, though, is being part of the 13.7-billion-year-old cosmic story going back to the big bang. Sandy and I talked about her career and accomplishments, her sense of the universe and our place in space.


Sandra Faber getting the National Medal of Science and and some presidential schmoozing in 2013.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Show for Nov 24, 2013. Literary critic Helene Moglen.

That old 60’s phrase “consciousness raising” may sound quaint and overblown today, but for a generation of progressive intellectuals it wasn’t hyperbole. Feminism, for example, was more than a push for equality and social justice; it was a wholesale re-evaluation of all sorts of unexamined “truths” about the world and the stories we tell.

I think it’s easy to underestimate at our remove how much the ground shifted back then, which is why I wanted to talk to Helene Moglen. She was there for, and part of, the whole shebang. She began her career as a literary scholar in the Madmen-era 1950s, when the utterly apolitical, de-historicized New Criticism was all the rage. She found her voice in the civil rights and women’s movements in the 60’s and made the turn to feminist criticism, working to show how the complexities and contradictions of gender influence so many narratives, literary and otherwise.

In this interview, Helene offered an engrossing look at her life and times, including:

  • Studying at Yale when the New Criticism reigned supreme
  • Getting swept up in the women’s movement, and what those feminist consciousness raisings were really like
  • The work of her TV-producer husband, Sig
  • Her academic career, from NYU and SUNY to UCSC, where she became the first woman dean in the University of California system
  • An intro to feminist criticism, including feminist readings of Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein
  • What happens when feminists have sons

Helene Moglen in her current role as emerita professor literature and feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Show for Nov. 17, 2013. David Harris-Gershon: What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

David Harris-Gershon grew up regarding Palestinians as the enemy: “They were just the latest in a long line of people wanting us dead, lined up throughout history: Arabs, Germans, Russians, Romans, Greeks, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians.” So you might think a Hamas-orchestrated bombing in Jerusalem that left two of his friends dead, his wife badly injured and him with a nasty case of PTSD would only harden those feelings. Instead, it led to a re-evaluation, a visit to the bomber’s family and a more complicated view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. David and I talked about his new memoir and his change of heart.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Show for Sept. 29, 2013. Mike Jay on James Tilly Matthews and Techno-Paranoia.

For everyone who has since had messages beamed at them through their fillings, or their TV sets, or via high-tech surveillance, MI5, Masonic lodges or UFOs, James Tilly Matthews is Patient Zero,” writes Mike Jay. Matthews was an 18th/19th century British merchant who who believed a sinister conspiracy was afoot in London, employing the latest discoveries in gas chemistry and “mesmerism” to manipulate the minds of England’s leaders and plunge the country into war. He was branded a lunatic and locked away in Bethlem Royal Hospital, aka Bedlam.

A century later, visions of technology-assisted thought control were so widespread that Freud contemporary Victor Tausk felt compelled to give the phenomenon a clinical name. He called it the “influencing machine” delusion. Today, Jay says, the influencing machine has become a defining preoccupation of our age: not just the hobgoblin of schizophrenics, conspiracy nuts and sci-fi writers, but a generalized suspicion that invasive technology, unseen puppetmasters and seductive media hold increasing sway over our thoughts, decisions and collective future. 

So was James Tilly Matthews just cuckoo or was he a canary in the coal mine? 


Mike Jay’s book A Visionary Madness: The Case of James Tilly Matthews and the Influencing Machine, forthcoming in Jan. 2014.

 


James Tilly Matthews’s own drawing of the Air Loom, the pneumatic-magnetic contraption he said was controlling thoughts from beneath the streets of London.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Show for Sept 15, 2013. James Dawes on “Evil Men.”

We love monsters and villains – can’t get enough of them – as long as they’re confined to fiction, the page or the screen. But how many of us confront real iniquity in human form? James Dawes has written extensively on atrocity and trauma, but he’d never encountered flesh-and-blood perpetrators until he visited Japan in 2008. He went to interview reformed war criminals from the genocidal Sino-Japanese War of the 1930s and 40s, when Japanese forces raped, tortured and killed millions of Chinese. His meetings with the now-elderly men, and the memories they shared with him, left him unnerved and beset by questions. After some years of processing the experience, he’s written a wide-ranging meditation on the causes and nature of inhumanity, the stories we tell about it and the very complicated business of bearing witness.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

And here’s an extra segment from the interview that didn’t make it into the final edit – further thoughts on the utility of evil as a moral category, on hatred, lifelong culpability and the efficacy of punishment. Click here to listen.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Gypsy Voices": Donald Cohen on Romani Music

I’ve featured Don Cohen on the show previously, discussing two of his favorite musical genres: Portuguese Fado and Argentine Tango. He joins me again with his latest book, Gypsy Voices: Songs from the Romani Soul, which collects Roma songs from the Balkans, Romania, Hungary and other parts of eastern/central Europe. We talked Roma history and music while playing tracks (some classics, some lesser-known tunes) from the book’s companion CD and doing our best not to overuse the term “Gypsy.”

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Show for Aug. 4, 2013. Joshua Oppenheimer and The Act of Killing.

Joshua Oppenheimer isn’t the only documentary filmmaker to aim his lens at the perpetrators of atrocities. But he may be the first to find such willing subjects. In his new film The Act of Killing, former Indonesian death squad members are only too eager to describe their participation in the anti-communist purges of 1965-1966, when they helped butcher anywhere from 500,000 to more than a million people. So enthused were the genocidaires that they took an active role in Oppenheimer’s project, re-enacting their youthful exploits for the camera. As Anwar Congo, the film’s affable central character, proudly avers, “We have to show this is who we are, so in the future people will remember.” Werner Herzog, who served as executive producer with Errol Morris, says, “I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade… it is unprecedented in the history of cinema.”

Joshua Oppenheimer has been interviewed up the wazoo as The Act of Killing debuts across the country, so when I got my chance, I tried to skip some of the compulsories and dig a little deeper into the making the film and the queasy questions it raises.

Find out more about the film and when it opens in your area.

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Show for July 14, 2013. 50 Years of Documentary Filmmaking with David Hoffman.

David Hoffman picked up his first spring-wound Bolex 16mm movie camera in 1963. Over the next five decades he proceeded to make scores of films on a huge range of subjects: profiles of famous and not-so-famous people; music docs (including BB King at Sing-Sing, Earl Scruggs, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez); political, historical and military docs for public television; documentary-style commercials for Mobil Oil and other companies; and one notorious film – King Murray – that challenged the whole documentary form. He’s still at it. 

I first met David when talking to him and filmmaker-friend John Vincent Barrett about their collaboration, Everything Which is … Yes, on the aftermath of a fire that destroyed David’s home and huge multimedia archive. David is a great storyteller, and I wanted to have him back to talk more about his prolific career, his adventures behind the camera and his thoughts on truth and fabrication in documentaries. 

David Hoffman’s 2008 TED Talk on the fire that consumed his home.

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Show for March 10, 2013. Journalist and Ocean Activist David Helvarg

This radio program mostly ignores the large body of water that sits only a short block from our studio. Inexcusable, I know, but it’s not too late to make amends. For a start, I spoke to David Helvarg, marine conservationist and author of The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair with the Sea. We talked about David’s own love affair with the sea as well as his earlier career as a war correspondent in Central America. Also, a history of beachgoing, the popularization of surfing, the future of the California coastline and a defense of the Poriferan lifestyle.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Show for March 3, 2013. Gretel Ehrlich: Facing the Wave

As the second anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami nears, the writer Gretel Ehrlich considers what nature wrought and how humans responded. She made three trips to Japan’s ravaged northeast coast in the months following the quake, trying to fathom the magnitude of what happened. Her new book Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami is part post-disaster travelogue, part meditation on death, life and impermanence.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Show for Feb 10, 2013. Civil rights leader and educator Bob Moses.

In the early 1960’s Bob Moses risked life and limb as a civil rights organizer in the deep south. In recent decades he’s taken up a new cause, promoting math instruction for educationally disadvantaged kids. He believes quality education is a fundamental right, and math skills are a key to economic opportunity. Bob is soft-spoken and not one to play up his accomplishments, but his story is extraordinary, as you’ll hear in this conversation.

 
Bob Moses in Mississippi in the 1960’s; and now.

 Learn more about the Algebra Project, the educational non-profit Bob Moses founded.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)