Letter to Christopher Lydon of Radio Open Source Regarding David Wallace

In Open Letter on October 26, 2015 at 2:09 PM

October 26, 2015

Christopher Lydon
WBUR, Radio Open Source
890 Commonwealth Avenue
Third Floor
Boston, MA 02215

Mr. Lydon,

In 2001 on C-SPAN David Wallace and Jacques Barzun, the former Columbia dean, appear to be discussing the concept of a repeat “dark age” at the 1:14 mark (see link below). To my ear, it certainly sounds like David Wallace posing the question at least. And, for what it’s worth, Mr. Barzun, in response, indicates that he is open to the notion applied figuratively, referencing in his opinion a “decay of language” and love of error as commonplace in the U.S., which represents itself a kind of darkness. After having just discovered Jacques Barzun myself, and at the same time having been a long-time Open Source listener, I thought you might find this brief Q&A exchange of interest. Furthermore, I thought your readers may find it interesting to read that Mr. Barzun like you is a parallel admirer of William James.


Below I have suggested, in no particular order, some show ideas for you:

In the time of ISIS cutting people’s heads off in the name of God and with poor communication pervasive on TV, scream radio, virtual reality, with feelings of helplessness that translate into low voter turnout and high “Scandal,” “Walking Dead,” blah-blah-blah TV series viewerships, with the risk of repeat “liar’s loans” or so-called NINJA (no income, no job or assets) recessions, and gerrymandering left ruling states like Georgia, and effectively gerrymandered poor/rich school districts ever-present with unequal funding per student and varying quality of teachers and facilities, I believe it’s time for you to force upon us listeners a “Square Deal” conversation on how religion needs science, and science needs religion, as Mr. Huston Smith would put it. Again the lost concept of enough needs to be taken more seriously, as John Bogle implied on an older episode of yours. Harper Lee, through Atticus Finch, needs to again remind us of the simple, but difficult realization, as Mr. Barzun, Mr. Smith and all good teachers know, do and remind, i.e., “You never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them.” Accordingly, please bring on a serious, heavy-weight to the show, someone equivalent to Huston Smith or the likes of a living Joseph Campbell. The fact that arguably our best TV programming right now is found in a program like NOVA, which is simultaneously funded by a company as serious as Google and a wealthy citizen as highly-criticized for funding “super PACs” and drowning out representative democracy like David Koch, is alone in itself still grounds to be as hopeful as say Mr. Barzun, Mr. Smith or Joseph Campbell. As Rev. Martin King, Jr. would say, “the time is always right” to bring on a serious voice that knows, does and says as Emerson, Jesus, etc. would appreciate. Hence please bring on “The Poet” Mr. Smith for a dialogue. If I was king personally, I would bring back James Tobin to discuss political economy and Mr. Campbell to discuss the decay of ethics all over the place; however, given today there could be no two people more important to bring on regarding these topics then say Ken Arrow, the highly-respected economist/polymath and Mr. Smith, respectively. Beyond that, on politics more narrowly, I’d say you could not bring in two more important figures than the two open source-minded independents U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Angus King.

In an age of digital excess and drift in music and beyond, with random suicides or equivalents from bath tubs in Beverly Hills to wheelchairs in Athens and mass shootings galore and symphonies periodically shuttering doors, a dark age should only expect fewer and fewer Bob Dylans, Michael Stipes and more. As long as “stones rejected” continue to blight “lilacs bloom’d” above the grass, as Isaiah would put it, we should expect lesser Bloomean genius, fewer architects of the likes of say Callimachus. In my opinion, more “STEAM” in the curriculum of arts and sciences, higher appreciation of memory, less sports mania and better city planning could generate improved communication, which from what I have read was John Dewey’s hope for the future against Walter Lippmann and other marketers shared outlooks.

In response I have several more show ideas for you to consider. A show on the history of architecture or marketing could be great. You could bring in Frank Gehry or the head of a large advertising agency and marketing department at a state school. Bring on the best of the old and the best of the new. Adopt a cross-disciplinarian fashion. Maybe bring in Yo-Yo Ma, the retired MIT professor Julian Beinart, and Robert Lucas and William Black, the economists, for a conversation on re-passing the Glass-Steagall Act. Consider bringing together Neil Tyson, Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku for a discussion on why the Large Hadron Collider is not located underground in Texas and why we are stuck just reading about it in “Da Vinci Code” books while we have no Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in America like Carl Sagan endorsed. Ted Turner, Ken Arrow, Mohamed ElBaradei and James Hansen could be brought together to discuss climate change denial. Maybe position Muhammad Yunus and Jimmy Carter in the same room in order to discuss what happens when the majority of a highly-skilled profession like lawyers works for only a small percentage of the people (for example, to me right now it’s interesting how something like 50 percent of Americans poll as independent according to Gallup, yet only less than 1 percent of elected politicians nationally are independent, that is, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Angus King). Ryan Gravel could be showcased in order to discuss the Atlanta Beltline. Julian Beinart, Robert Solow, Michael Graetz and Thomas Piketty could offer an interesting conversation on how we might improve local property taxing authority while reviewing the history of the old laws governing modern requirements of property owners as relates to taxes. Neal Boortz, Arthur Laffer and Bruce Bartlett would also be fun to have on with Michael Graetz over a series of episodes.

Also please consider bringing in the presidents of both Google and the League of Women Voters for discussion on how to break up the debates by eliminating punitive polling requirements and other high barriers to entry that prevent political candidates from easily competing in the all-important “market” for televised president debates. Changing course slightly, a show with Conan O’Brien and Harper Lee would be brilliant and unique for discussing the role of the artist and the place for ethics and virtue in society. Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock would be great on the state of grievance depicted by their medium. And working in Cornel West somewhere in the mix couldn’t hurt the level of discussion on any one of these suggested shows.

As another long-shot idea George Akerlof, the Australian scientist Robert May, the British journalist John Kay and the Americans Mike Patriarca and William Black, both former regulators during the Savings & Loan crisis, and the American judge Jed Rakoff could all jointly illuminate a timely discussion on the importance of enforcing hard rules in banking with proper structure, etc. Brooksley Born paired with Eliot Spitzer would also be effective commentators. Former Georgia U.S. Representative Doug Barnard from my state may also have some interesting feedback on the subject of reinstating the criminal referral process as part of banking regulation, for example (see link below). And to that end please bring on a group of the small minority of U.S. senators and other politicians who wisely voted against repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 for a timely conversation on this subject, e.g., say Richard Shelby, Tom Harkin, Russell Feingold, Byron Dorgan, Bernie Sanders, etc.

For a more heated hour of discussion, invite Jeffrey Sachs and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan on to debate fiscal budget prioritization and climate change. Maybe even more of a reach, try to bring on economics practitioners Greg Mankiw and John Geanakoplos in order to discuss prospects for rewriting an up-to-date economics textbook which accounts for liar lending and what Mr. Geanakoplos refers to as “the leverage cycle.” In the world of psychology, I think it would be insightful also to host Dr. Bruce Alexander the Canadian scientist to discuss the U.S.’s high incarceration rate, the lab experiments serving as the underlying basis for current drug addiction treatment here, the history of psychology from William James to present and the new Stanley Milgram movie “Experimenter.” Judge Rakoff and him could offer a nice discussion.

For a broader discussion on how politics has evolved into a cuss word, former Georgia U.S. Senator Zell Miller, political-science professor Thomas Ferguson and the author/journalist Thomas Frank could offer lively commentary. As one more political recommendation, maybe you could have some fun by bringing on Ralph Nader and California Governor Jerry Brown in order to discuss Gov. Brown’s potential remake of his “Platform in Progress” from 1992, with subtractions and additions to be offered up by anyone by way of Open Source on air in order to hack the document’s planks and improve it, or something akin to it, to withstand the perils of the 21st century.

Bringing in any Germans, Finlanders and Canadians to talk either about the structure of their labor market, education or banking, respectively, could also offer much fruit.

“One upon a time you dressed so fine. Didn’t you?”

Thank you for your pioneering work. Please continue to lead.




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