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The history and future of the New England Forest

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

The forests of New England are, remarkably, a success story. They’ve recovered from attack after attack. The early settlers hacked them down, by hand, for houses, fences and firewood. Later on, the insatiable sawmills of a more industrial age ate up the lumber needed for our expansion.
Today, the forests contend with acid rain, invasive plants and exotic beetle infestations — evidence of our ever more global economy. And the future of these forests? Going forward, that’s a story that’s largely ours to shape, and narrate.

If only these trees could talk … Well, we have the next best thing – Donald Pfister, the Dean of Harvard Summer School, curator of the Farlow Library and Herbarium, a fungologist (the more erudite word is mycologist), and the Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany at Harvard University.
In this Faculty Insight interview, produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and Harvard Extension School, he tells the tale of the New England forest from as far back as the glacial Pleistocene era.
To help illustrate this tale, we’ve made grateful use of high resolution images of some dramatic landscape dioramas, which are on display at Harvard’s Fisher Museum, in Petersham, Massachusetts.

Posted on September 3, 2012 in Economics, Environment, Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, History, Science
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How to minimize disasters and manage crises – if possible!

This Faculty Insight interview with Arnold Howitt, the executive director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and an instructor at Harvard Extension School, highlights the challenges of disaster management and emergency response.

Howitt teaches Crisis Management and Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief and Recovery at the Extension School, and is also an author and editor of several books, including Managing Crises: Responses to Large-Scale Emergencies. He speaks with Jenny Attiyeh of ThoughtCast about what we’ve learned from large-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and how we can do  better next time!

Posted on July 15, 2012 in Economics, Environment, Faculty Insight, Politics
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Lydia Ratcliff: Vermont Farmer, Stubborn Survivor

Note: this audio program and slideshow have been picked up by New Hampshire Public Radio. The audio program was also broadcast on WAMC and WGBH radio in Boston.

Milking Time
Milking Time at Lovejoy Brook Farm
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 …

Note: this slideshow was commissioned by the BBC program Americana.

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.)

Posted on June 1, 2012 in Economics, Environment, Front Page
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Simon Johnson Takes on Banks Deemed “Too Big to Fail”

Note: This interview was broadcast on WGBH radio, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture, on April 17, 2011!

Simon Johnson, the Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, is an outspoken critic of the US government response to the financial crisis. Now he takes on the “too big to fail” banks which continue to threaten our economy.  In his latest book, called 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, which he co-wrote with James Kwak, Simon argues that if the biggest banks aren’t cut down to size, it’s only a matter of time before we face another financial crisis. And once again, the government – aka the taxpayers – will be obliged to step in and bail out these behemoths…
In Simon’s words, if they’re too big to fail — they’re too big to exist!
Simon Johnson is also a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.  And he’s the co-author, again with James Kwak, of the influential economics blog The Baseline Scenario. Simon spoke with ThoughtCast at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Posted on May 6, 2010 in Economics, MIT, Politics
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Jonah Lehrer on Emotional Hijacking and “How We Decide”

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Talks@Harvard Book Store

Note: this interview was broadcast on WGBH in Boston as well as on the WGBH Cape and Islands affiliate WCAI/WNAN!

Jonah Lehrer
Jonah Lehrer (photo credit: Lori Duff)

Jonah Lehrer, the precocious author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, has come out with a new book called How We Decide. He spoke at the Harvard Book Store, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Click here to listen (28 minutes.)

After his talk, ThoughtCast spoke with Lehrer briefly about the value of emotion in rational decision making, the power of wishful thinking to hijack our reason, and the potential to retrain the brain via the mind. According to Lehrer, we’d generally be better off sticking to our instincts, our initial reaction or impulse, rather than over-think things. Calm, cool deliberation, it turns out, doesn’t always lead to the best results. Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired Magazine, and has written for The New Yorker, Nature, Seed, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.
Click here to listen to this rather noisy interview (8:50 minutes.)

Posted on July 20, 2009 in Economics, Ideas, Philosophy, Psychology, Science
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The Dopamine Economy

Note: this story was picked up by WAMC, Northeast Public Radio, and also broadcast on the WGBH affiliate WCAI/WNAN, on the Cape and Islands!

dopamine brain
dopamine brain
Wall Street on Drugs: What motivated these former masters of the universe? And why did they act like kindergartners? ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh speaks with James Poterba, the Mitsui Professor of Economics at MIT, and Jonah Lehrer, the author of “Proust Was a Neuroscientist” and “How We Decide”, as well as the writer and public intellectual Jim Holt and the Harvard economist Alberto Alesina.
Here’s another question — don’t the continental Europeans like dopamine as much as we do? And — where do we get our fix now??

Click here to listen (3:24 minutes.)

Posted on April 7, 2009 in Economics, MIT, Psychology
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Has the Global Economic Crisis – or GEC – got us?

Eat Lunch or Be Lunch
Eat Lunch or Be Lunch
Calling for Acronyms!
Here’s mine to start off –
The GEC — it sounds like a mix between guck, yuck, ick and eck. Like the noise you make in the back of your throat when you’re about to regurgitate, or cough up spume. And isn’t that what we’re doing now? Out comes the excess… Oh, and what about the Global Economic Meltdown, or “GEM” – with a hard g? Sounds chewy, gooey and horror-movie-ish. The GEM is on the move…
And ThoughtCast wants YOU to contribute an acronym as well!
Might as well get – if not a free lunch, then a free laugh out of all of this…

So, here’s Dale Hobson’s contribution:
“How about GRR–for Great Republican Rip-off or Global Resources Rape.
I don’t want to spit or hurl; I want to bite.” Ouch!
And here’s William’s:
I always thought “The GBR” captured it well. “The Great Brain Robbery”
Leighton says: WODD — world order down the drain
While Lee Goldberg has come up with:
Global Economic Meltdown Offers Rude Awakening – GEMORA – !!!
And Anthea Raymond gives GEC two thumbs up:
GEC works for me quite possibly because of the gagging sound evoked.
We’re in for a long slow retch on this one.”

Meanwhile, Valeria Villarroel suggested Governmental Fail (GF?)
and Barton George followed up with Worldwide Total Fail: WTF
while Helen Tan writes: “GEC sounds like the cracking of an egg!”
Hence: Giant Egg Cracking

Have we covered the whole alphabet yet?
Oh, and that GEC-monster gracing this post?
It’s a sculpture by Juan Cabana, called Stranded
Perhaps he hatched from Helen Tan’s egg!

For more acronyms — Continue Reading →

Posted on March 6, 2009 in Economics, Words@Work
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The Economic Pits with James Poterba

Note: this interview was broadcast on the WGBH public radio affiliate WCAI, on the Cape and Islands!

James Poterba

What is the right expression to describe today’s economic nightmare? I’m sick of “mess” and “crisis” is too bland. What about “cesspool”? Well, I compromised with “pits” — feel free to add your own juicy descriptions in ThoughtCast’s comments section!
Either way, I dived into the “pool” with MIT’s Mitsui Professor of Economics James Poterba, who’s also the head of the National Bureau of Economic Research, the think tank in charge of determining when recessions start … and end. Wouldn’t that be nice? Headlines proclaiming the “end” of this rather inordinate business cycle.
Are these ups and downs indeed just a part of capitalism’s inevitable booms and busts? Ought we to accept them as natural, rather than resist them? Or ought we to scrap the “system” and rebuild? You tell me…
But first, listen to this: (15:30 minutes).

Posted on February 23, 2009 in Economics, MIT, Politics, Psychology
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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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The Future of Europe – with Alberto Alesina

Note: a portion of this interview was broadcast on the WGBH public radio affiliates WCAI/WNAN!

Alberto Alesina
Whither the European Union? This is not a question we (in America) often ask ourselves. But perhaps we should. As we now live in an era of borderless commerce – and threats – it might be wise for us to know a bit more about how our key ally, Europe, is faring. Is the EU more than just a powerful economic bloc? Does it have political clout as well? What about a common foreign policy, and the means to back it up?

Harvard economist Alberto Alesina has devoted himself to these questions. In a book he co-authored with Francesco Giavazzi, he asks: The Future of Europe: Reform or Decline??
Click here: to listen. (27 minutes)

Posted on September 2, 2007 in Economics, Harvard Luminaries, Politics
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Economist Amartya Sen on “Identity and Violence”

Note: this interview was broadcast on WGBH Radio.  And here’s a PRX review of the program!

Amartya Sen
Amartya Sen, the distinguished economist, philosopher, Nobel laureate and Harvard professor, talks with ThoughtCast about “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny.”

This new book examines the unfortunate connection between violence and our tendency to identify with one key trait — our ethnicity, or religion, for example — to the exclusion of all others. Sen argues that we can combat this tendency by rejecting this narrowly defined, limited sense of identity, and embracing a broader, richer and more complex understanding of ourselves.
Amartya Sen was born in West Bengal, India (now Bangladesh) and teaches economics at Harvard University. He is known in the wider world for his work on the causes of famines.
Note: Susan Wennemyr served as associate producer on this program.
Click here: to listen (28:30 minutes).
To listen to a panel on “Combating Global Poverty” that includes Sen, click here to access WGBH’s Forum Network.

Posted on November 19, 2006 in Economics, Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Philosophy
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