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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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New Writing Group Launched on Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill has it all, we like to think. Its own chiropractor, its own pharmacy, its own chocolate shop. And now, it even has its very own writers’ circle.
The brand new Beacon Hill Writing Group held its first-ever meeting this past Wednesday. Its goal is to provide a warm, welcoming environment that will motivate its members to write each week, and to share their work in a safe, non-critical setting.

Beacon Hill Writing Group
Beacon Hill Writing Group

So far, most members are from the neighborhood.
“I’ve lived on Beacon Hill for the past 14 years,” said Jenny Attiyeh, one of the group’s founding members. “I’m a journalist, and I’m happy as a journalist, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer with a capital W. So I thought, why not start a writers’ group? That way, I won’t be all on my own. I’ll have some support and encouragement as I try to do something that’s new and challenging.”
The camaraderie is key. Meetings are planned for Wednesday evenings at members’ homes, and will rotate among those who can accommodate the group.
“There are so many opportunities for writers today with digital media alongside traditional magazines, newspapers and hard copy books,” said Gigi Cockerill, a founding member.
Writing of any kind is an art form that requires practice and skill. Having relationships with other aspiring writers will be a real source of inspiration for me.”

— The Beacon Hill Times, February 18, 2014

Posted on February 18, 2014 in Front Page, Literature, Poetry, Public Media
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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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Black Bear Orphans and the Man who Reads Their Minds

Note: This story was broadcast by the WGBH affiliate WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station. It is also featured on NHPR.org.

You’re about to hear a story about the bear whisperer of Lyme New Hampshire, Ben Kilham, and the abandoned black bear cubs he has rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Some of these cubs have formed such strong bonds with Ben, that even when they’re fully grown, they still treat him as a member of the family, so to speak, and allow him special access to their bear secrets and behavior. And on occasion, if I promise to be quiet, and obey the rules, I get to tag along –

This video of Squirty and Ben in the clearing is a rather noisy appetizer.
Click here: (17 minutes) for the story.

Ben Kilham is one of the foremost black bear researchers and rehabilitators in the country, and here he is, with one of his star bears, Squirty, now 17 years old. He took care of her and her siblings after they were separated from their mother during a logging operation that had disturbed her den. She, along with many other orphaned or abandoned cubs, has taught Ben the characteristics of black bear behavior, which share some surprising similarities to our own species. For one thing, once thought to be solitary, Ben has discovered that they are often quite social!

Photo by Ben Kilham
Ben’s featured in several nature documentaries, and he is also the author of two books — Among the Bears: Raising Orphaned Cubs in the Wild, and Out on a Limb: What Black Bears Have Taught Me About Intelligence and Intuition, with a foreward by Temple Grandin, which was just released this fall. ThoughtCast has also interviewed Ben’s sister and colleague, Phoebe, and the interview, accompanied by a slide show of their bear cubs, was posted on New Hampshire Public Radio’s website this spring, and can be seen here.

Posted on September 17, 2013 in Environment, Front Page, Science
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“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!

Jim Holt (photo: Michael Todd)
Jim Holt (photo: Michael Todd)

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 just-published 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.)

Posted on January 9, 2012 in Front Page, Ideas, Philosophy, Religion, 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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An Afternoon at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic

Note: The interview with Maureen Murray that follows aired on WGBH, while an audio version of the slideshow, below, was broadcast on WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station!

Meet the patient, stoic Blanding’s Turtle, who arrived with a huge hole in her shell, yet managed to lay her eggs! And the red-tailed hawk who’s given a sonogram of its eyeball! Watch the satisfying release of another hawk, after it’s fully healed. And observe the staff of the Tufts University Wildlife Clinic, in Grafton Massachusetts, as they respectfully care for these wild animals.

In addition to the slideshow above, ThoughtCast speaks with staff veterinarian Maureen Murray, who has a special interest in turtle medicine.
Click here (11:30 minutes) to listen.

Posted on June 26, 2011 in Environment, Front Page
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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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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 July 1, 2009 in Economics, Environment, Front Page
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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 programs:  New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of MouthWDAV’s Artist Spotlight, Tapestry from 90.3 WBHM, in Birmingham, Alabama 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) and WMUB, an NPR station in Oxford, Ohio, and 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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The End of Our Universe among other timely topics…

Note: this program was broadcast on WGBH‘s sister stations WCAI & WNAN, on Sept. 9, 2007, and picked up by KPVL, a Pacifica station, on July 2, 2013!

Alex Vilenkin
Want to know how the world is going to end? Just ask Russian cosmologist Alex Vilenkin. If it’s our own universe you’re talking about, well, it’s called the big crunch, and it’s going to be hot hot hot! But if it’s the multiverse, that infinitely expanding, infinitely varied and infinitely populated sea of universes, well, guess what — there is no end. Isn’t that reassuring??
Vilenkin is Professor of Physics and Director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University, and also the author of a new book, called Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes. He’s also a former zookeeper. And – lest I forget – he was blacklisted by the KGB
Click here: to listen. (29:45 minutes)

Posted on July 1, 2007 in Front Page, Science
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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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