Monthly Archives: March 2000

Torture: Unspeakable Acts by Ordinary People

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The broomstick torture of Abner Louima by New York policemen was a rarity in that a court case, a cop’s confession and news coverage forced us to learn all about it.

For the most part we don’t want to know about official torture in the modern world – our world – even when the facts have been established. For example, about electric shock in a Chicago police station to the face and genitals of a murder suspect; or the Israeli military’s bone-breaking assaults on Palestinian men in the early days of the 1980s Intifada; or the British bag-over-the-head beating of Catholic men in Northern Ireland.

The reporter John Conroy, unblinking in the pursuit of the sickening details, finds lots more about torture that we don’t really want to know: he says most of us could be torturers. Most people identify more readily with torturers than with their victims. Most torturers can count on going unpunished.

We’re talking about “Unspeakable Acts” by ordinary people – in this hour.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


John Conroy

The Value of The Connection

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We’re putting a price tag this hour on something of value. But what is value? When there’s a buyer and a seller, the price is right. When there’s a good deal, a bargain, or a steal; that’s value added.

So what’s the value of The Connection? Two hours of conversation, good old fashioned straight talk about anything and everything. It’s free to 90 percent of you listeners – if you believe the consultants’ research.

But what’s it really worth? What would you feel you had to pony up for an interactive forum on the latest news, books, movies, technology, high and low concepts about life, love and learning? Would you pay a buck, 50, a hundred bucks maybe?

Is it worth more or less than a movie for two and a babysitter? Than an hour of therapy, or a week on prozac? As much as a day at the beach or a month in the country? Is it worth as much as a good massage, or a tip on the stockmarket?

It’s completely up to you. The money artist J.S.G. Boggs drew the “50” dollar bill you see on this page with his own hand. The value of any Boggs bill is in the transaction itself – it’s worth whatever you say it’s worth. And so Boggs drew a special Bill for The Connection, for the express purpose of helping us explore the value of our program.

To find out more about J.S.G. Boggs you can listen to our program with him from last May.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


J.S.G. Boggs

Standardized Tests

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The backlash against standardized testing in American schools is growing into a something like a counter movement.

Parents, teachers, principals and students are organizing against what’s suddenly become practically a universally accepted rule in American pedagogy: I took the test therefore I know.

Alfie Kohn wants to lead the counterrevolution. He’s been barnstorming the country warning against the standards and testing plague that’s sweeping the countryside. He says it’s wiping out innovative instruction, beating down some of the best teachers and administrators and undermining the experience of real education.

But it’s not a fact of life, like the weather, Kohn says, it’s a political movement that must be opposed.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Alfie Kohn

Why is the Record Industry So Afraid of Napster?

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Napster is the latest proof that revolutions can come in small packages.

Some say Napster is a dangerous computer program that facilitates piracy and crashes college computer systems across the country, forcing many universities to ban its use.

But this isn’t some malicious virus. To its users Napster’s a way to share music online for free and its use an expression of free speech.

Napster creates a community out of the MP3 music libraries of all its users and cleverly blurs the lines between web-surfer and web-server. And it’s signed up 5 million users since September.

MP3’s better-than-CD quality has already convinced many college-age Americans to put their CD player back in the box and to sell-off old disks – and Napster helps you build an entire MP3 music library on-line and for free.

That’s a lot of people buying a lot fewer CDs. Hundreds of millions of music tracks have been traded – and to the old-label-thinking of the record industry, Napster is point-and-click piracy for the people, plain and simple – and they’ve sued to prove it.

To watchers of the new economy, though, Napster looks like the next big thing – a business model that challenges not only the music industry, but movies, TV, books and art and very notion of intellectual property on the net.

The Napster Revolution – on this hour.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Alec Foege, author of a forthcoming Book about Napster entitled “Record Speed,” and Gian Caterine, Director of Business Development at

Chinese Writer Ha Jin

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Ha Jin’s award winning novel “Waiting” tells what life was all about in Communist China during the 60s and 70s.

It was about waiting. The hero of the novel is an army doctor who has been forced into an arranged marriage to an illiterate peasant. When he falls in love with a young nurse, he spends 17 years suppressing his passion and waiting obediently for his wife to grant him a divorce.

In surrendering to Party rules, the doctor and his girlfriend settle into a life stripped of the love, surprise, and companionship that might have been theirs.

As a writer, Ha Jin isn’t waiting anymore; he has arrived. After 15 years in America, he still struggles to speak English, but his prose on paper is being compared to the best of Henry James.

Ha Jin’s literary inspiration includes Tolstoy and Chekhov, and his own writing evokes their timelessness. The deepest writing, he says, isn’t about pop culture or the moment; it’s about putting the human heart onto paper.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Ha Jin

The US Census

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The Census is coming! And the questions may make you wonder if the Feds confused the survey with a Myers Briggs personality test.

Uncle Sam wants to know if you have any difficulty bathing, or any trouble concentrating, how you got to work last week, and more precisely, what time you left home to get there. Ten years from now will they want to know your golf handicap, your favorite ice cream flavor, and who wants to be a millionaire?

Prominently featured this year are race and ancestry. If you’re Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino, they want to know if you’re Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, or Puerto Rican.

If you’re white, you’re white. But if not, you can choose among African American black, American Indian or Alaska native – Korean, Filipino, Native Hawaiian, Chamorro, or Samoan.

Who are we anyway, and why do they want to know? American identity and the Census – in this hour of The Connection.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Melissa Noble, associate professor of political science at MIT
Mary Waters, professor of sociology at Harvard College and an advisor to the Census Bureau.

The Musical Conversation of Concertos

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The musical concerto-in the Latin and Italian root of the word-has a double meaning: it’s a contest, an uneven contest at that between a soloist and the full force of an orchestra, or between a man and a crowd, one against many.

Tchaikowsky, who wrote some beauties, said the concerto sets the infinitely colorful orchestra against the small but strong-minded adversary voice of one performer with one instrument: piano, violin, cello, clarinet, whatever.

Sometimes it can feel like a life-and-death struggle. Yet the other meaning of concerto implies an arrangement if not agreement in this contest, a conversation and a resolution.

So as a wise elder listener Joseph Kerman writes, we should be listening in concertos for give-and-take that can be playful, antagonistic, teasing or exploiting: about a relationship between lovers, or rivals; between student and teacher, between winner and loser.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Joseph Kerman

Lead Use in Gasoline

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In the early years of the auto industry the du Pont family, flush with gunpowder profits from WW I, took control of General Motors. A decade later, GM began one of the worst polluting practices of the 20th century – adding lead to gasoline.

The lead was meant to stop engine knock and give cars more power, but it wasn’t the only solution available. Ethanol (grain alcohol) would’ve worked just fine and GM knew it.

Ethanol was cheap, and, more important, it wasn’t a known neurotoxin. It also could not be patented, which meant GM and DuPont could make a lot more money off the lead. And, Jamie Lincoln Kitman says, a type corporate cabal was born: GM and DuPont brought in Standard Oil and promoted poison for profit.

They pushed the lead additive over all others – even after the scientist who’d developed the additive nearly died from the process and many workers who manufactured it died from lead poisoning.

A deadly heavy metal corporate conspiracy – in this hour of The Connection.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Lawyer/writer Jamie Lincoln Kitman.

State of the Art World

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The Whitney Biennial art show on Madison Avenue has come to stand for provocative marketing that may or may not be art. An exhibit this spring called “Sanitation” uses garbage cans, marching sounds and quotes by Mayor Rudy Guiliani in a nazi typeface to answer last fall’s “Sensation” show at the Brooklyn Museum.

Marylou Whitney, one of the museum’s chief benefactors, says she is so outraged by the work she’s not making any more donations. This is what gives the art critic Jed Perl the Whitney blahs this time of year: art installed for political shock value and headlines.

All over New York, he says, art glam, art hype, art stars and art multiplexes are snuffing the thrilling real life from the world of serious, contemporary artists. There’s little shelf or gallery space for artistic imagination or the magic/power of seeing a free standing work of art.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Jed Perl

Bio-Protests in Boston

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The street showdown over scientists’ tinkering with nature’s genes turned into a festive sort of street theater in Boston over the weekend: it looked more like a Mardi Gras parade of endangered butterflies than, say, the pitched battles of Seattle over world trade.

From the anti-cloning, “no patents on life” brigades, one man in a Frankenstein costume was handing out “Franken-flakes” from genetically modified corn; another wore a huge red mock killer tomato on his head.

There were police helicopters overhead all day, to protect the biggest convention of the biotech industry from the biggest body of protesters-in the thousands; but on the street the questions were reflective, not combative: what if the problem isn’t the technology but the way the market directs the benefits to rich countries?

Should a bug-resistant tomato be developed ahead of a vaccine against malaria? The biotech argument at street level in this hour of The Connection.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Martha Herbert and Steve Holtzman.