George W. Bush, Beforehand

I interviewed George W. Bush during his first New Hampshire Presidential Primary, when he was still a newcomer to the country at large, just the free and easy – and sober – Governor of Texas, the oldest son of the former President, George Bush Senior.
Here he is, buoyant, almost boyish, back in January 1999, before he was defeated in the United States’ earliest primary by John McCain on February 1st, 2000.

That was back when we too were innocent of what was to come… before this nation changed irrevocably. I asked “W” about our national interests, and when – if ever – the U.S. should intervene in foreign conflicts.
Let us know what you think of his perspective, and whether it evolved…

Posted on June 28, 2014 in Front Page, Politics
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Cosmic Evolution’s Predilection for Constant Change

Note: an audio version of this interview was broadcast by the WGBH affiliate WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station.

The theory of cosmic evolution is a relatively new addition to the field of cosmology, and attempts to answer the questions of who we are, where we are, and how we came to exist, among others, by taking the long view — from the big bang, to the present day.
Here’s another definition for you: “Cosmic evolution is the study of the many varied changes in the assembly and composition of energy, matter and life in the thinning and cooling Universe.”

This explanation comes from Eric Chaisson, a vigorous champion of the cosmic evolutionary theory. He’s an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and a lecturer at Harvard Extension School, who is also the subject of this Faculty Insight interview, conducted by ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh.
And while it might leave more questions asked than answered, we hope it will give you the chance to stick your toe into deep astrophysic waters, and feel the tug of the cosmic tide…

Note:  Images of galaxies and other cosmic phenomena courtesy of Eric Chaisson. Thank you very much for their use!

Posted on November 7, 2013 in Faculty Insight, Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Science
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The Mau Mau rebellion — a revisionist history

How does history get rewritten? How do victimizers become victims, and the valiant turn into villains? As Harvard history professor Caroline Elkins has learned, this process can be a hazardous one. The Pulitzer prize-winning author of Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya devoted many years to the study of the Mau Mau uprising in the early 1950s, and the British response,  a model of counter-insurgency technique — or so she thought.

The Mau Mau were a group of native Kenyans who turned to violence and terror to drive out their colonial British masters, but as Elkins discovered, they weren’t the only ones to use such tactics.  Now a court case will decide where the truth actually lies, as you will hear in this Faculty Insight interview, produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and  Harvard Extension School.

Posted on November 1, 2011 in Faculty Insight, Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, History
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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, the author of Little Children, Election, The Abstinence Teacher and the upcoming novel The Leftovers, speaks with ThoughtCast about a writer who fascinates, irritates and inspires him: Flannery O’Connor.

Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor in her driveway in 1962 (photo credit: Joe McTyre)

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.

Posted on July 10, 2011 in Front Page, Literature
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Harvard Critic Helen Vendler on Emily Dickinson

Note: This interview was broadcast on the WGBH sister stations WCAI/WNAN, Prairie Public Radio, and on KUT in Austin, Texas.

Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson
When Helen Vendler was only 13, the future poetry critic and Harvard professor memorized several of Emily Dickinson’s more famous poems. They’ve stayed with her over the years, and today, she talks with ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh about one poem in particular that’s haunted her all this time.  It’s called I cannot live with You-
According to Vendler, whose authoritative Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries has recently been published, it’s a heartbreaking poem of an unresolvable dilemma, and ensuing despair.
Click here (18 minutes) to listen!

This interview is the first 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 – esteemed novelist and short story writer Tom Perrotta discusses Good Country People,  a short story by Flannery O’Connor that’s particularly meaningful to him.

Posted on February 3, 2011 in Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, Literature, Poetry
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Rebecca Goldstein: the atheist with a soul

Note: this interview was broadcast on WGBH, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture!

Rebecca Goldstein
Rebecca Goldstein

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.

Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker
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.

Posted on January 30, 2010 in Front Page, Ideas, Literature, Philosophy, Religion
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The New York Review turns 45!

Note: this interview has been picked up by the public radio station WGBH, in Boston, and its sister stations WCAI and WNAN.

Robert Silvers (credit Melanie Flood)

The venerable New York Review of Books was launched amidst a newspaper strike in the winter of 1963, and has continued unabated ever since. Devoted to intensive and nuanced coverage of politics, the arts, literature, science (and now movies and the Internet!), the paper, as it’s called, is considered to be the premiere journal of the American intellectual elite.
Robert Silvers, its longtime editor, who shared the post with Barbara Epstein until her death in 2006, spoke with ThoughtCast in the WNYC studios in New York.

Click here: to listen (40 minutes).

Note: Scott McLemee, who writes the Intellectual Affairs column each week at Inside Higher Ed, contributed an excellent question to the interview – thanks!

Posted on December 9, 2008 in Front Page, History, Ideas, Literature, Politics
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Our American “Empire” with Niall Ferguson

Note: This interview has been picked up by the public radio stations WGBH, in Boston, its affiliates WCAI and WNAN, and WCVE in Richmond, VA.

Niall Ferguson
In some ways, the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson is the Russell Crowe of the academic world: charismatic, unconventional, and definitely controversial. He’s also a big fan of the British Empire — and wants the United States to follow in its footsteps. That means it’s our job to form colonies in hot climates, for years on end.
But are we up for this? While Niall would like that to be the case, he doesn’t really think so, because, he says, we’re an empire “in denial”
Click here: to listen to a 4 minute excerpt.
Click here: to listen to the entire interview (15:30 minutes).

And to listen to an interview with Niall Ferguson on the WGBH Forum Network, click here!

Posted on July 23, 2008 in Economics, Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, History, Politics
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Steve Reich Meets The Borromeo String Quartet!

Note: So far, this piece has been broadcast on the following public radio stations:  New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of MouthWDAV’s Artist Spotlight, Tapestry on 90.3 WBHM in Birmingham Alabama, WRVO in Upstate NY and KUAR, in Little Rock!

Borromeo String Quartet (photo: Christian Steiner)

Steve Reich is perhaps the preeminent composer living today. And one of his most heart-wrenching and affecting works is called Different Trains for String Quartet and Tape. It tells the story of Steve Reich’s early childhood — his train trips between the East and West coasts to visit his separated parents — and also of the train trips Jews were forced to take during the Holocaust.

The piece, commissioned by the Kronos Quartet in 1988, is notoriously difficult to play. But the Borromeo String Quartet has recently taken up the challenge. ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh attended a rehearsal at the New England Conservatory, where the Borromeo is currently in residence.

Click here: to listen — (7 minutes) on ThoughtCast!

Click here: for a shorter version (4:30 mins.)

Posted on February 21, 2008 in Front Page, Music
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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.

Why Not?
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!)

Posted on December 9, 2007 in Front Page, Music, Words@Work
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Alan Dershowitz on Preemption and the Hezbollah

Note: this interview was rebroadcast Jan. 21 at 10 pm on WGBH.
It has also aired on WCAI/WNAN, WNED, KXOT and KYOU. And here are 2 reviews of this interview on PRX.

Alan Dershowitz
The controversial Harvard Law professor, author and celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz talks with ThoughtCast about his latest 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.

And click here to listen to Dershowitz debate Harvey Silverglate on ‘civil liberties’ on the WGBH Forum Network.

Please join the conversation by leaving a comment!

Posted on August 10, 2006 in Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, Politics
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Lisa Randall, Harvard physicist

WGBH broadcast this ThoughtCast interview, and also features it on their “Science Luminaries” series, as part of “WGBH Science City.” It was also broadcast on WCAI/WNAN, public radio stations for the Cape and Islands.

Lisa Randall
Professor Randall is a theoretical particle physicist who sees past the rest of us to a world of extra dimensions and parallel universes. Hers is a world of warped geometry, sink-holes and branes — a world that fills glaring gaps in current thinking, and can finally explain why gravity is so ‘weak’!

Now while this might sound like so much Greek — just wait. Randall’s latest book, written for the layman, is called “Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions” — so she’s had plenty of practice explaining these high-flying ideas to English majors.

Click here: to listen (28:30 mins).

Click here to listen to Lisa Randall’s lecture at IDEAS Boston on the WGBH Forum Network.

Posted on April 11, 2006 in Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, Science
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