Whitey, we hardly knew ye!

This week: The Depahted with Howie Carr, David Boeri and Richard Marinick. Listen today at 2pm or anytime on our website.

Illustration by Susan Coyne

This one was mostly for the home team, folks, with three reporters who know the story better than anyone, and who covered it at their peril for decades. As Chris put it:

The Bulger Brothers, Jimmy and Bill, have been the biggest Boston Irish family story since the Kennedys, a sort of nightmare rewriting of Boston politics that made the whole town feel meaner and smaller than it is. From the 1970s through the 90s, William Bulger presided over the State Senate and then the University of Massachusetts; older brother Whitey was the killer boss of drug crime, loan sharking, organized violence in Boston and beyond. And the dreaded power of the Bulgers felt irresistible, mostly unspeakable, still unfathomable. Johnny Powers, who preceded Bill Bulger in South Boston politics and the Senate presidency, and who detested the Bulgers, put it to me once: “it’s as if Al Capone’s brother was president of the Illinois State Senate, and everybody pretended not to notice.” The gruesome assassination this week of Whitey Bulger, in a Federal prison in West Virginia where he’d just taken up residence, marks one more bitter end of a long-gone era.

We got a little heat for putting Howie Carr on the show. His rightwing radio rant isn’t our style, but Howie knows where the bodies are buried, literally, and he was really the only person in Boston, apart from Chris, who linked the brothers and connected the bigger story. Without that, you’re left with the 60 minutes version about a good brother and a bad brother. Howie behaved himself, though, and he gave us some fridge magnets.

From left to right: Billy, Whitey and Jackie

It’s the end of an era, for sure; had Whitey gone into real estate speculation in his old hood instead of organized crime and killing, he’d be a rich, mostly honest man today. He wouldn’t recognize the place now, crawling with millennials and loaded up with unaffordable condos. Chris walked down Broadway with his pal Rick Marinick.

Rick Marinick was a Massachusetts State Trooper before he was locked up on an 18 to 20 year sentence for robbing armored trucks. Chris met him when he taught a writing class at Norfolk Prison, and they’ve been friends ever since. Now that’s a radio voice for the ages! Rick’s written two books, a novel called Boyos, about a crime boss in Boston and a new memoir, Resurrection.

The whole thing made us want to go home and watch The Departed for the 200th time.

From the archives:

We dug up Whitey’s first headshot in the Boston Globe, and their first major profile of him (both photos pre-plastic surgery).

The Globe on White in 1956 (left); The Globe on Whitey in 1999 (right)

Pod-a-rama

Our friend and fellow podcaster Zach Davis put on a fine conference at the Harvard Divinity School this weekend called Sound Education. Zach is interested in the intersection of audio and education and bringing learning out of the classroom and onto the airwaves. He brought together an incredibly rich roster of pros, nerds, newbies, interesting folk and old friends. Chris gave a talk called “The Conversation Cure” in Divinity Hall, the same place, he reminded us, where Ralph Waldo Emerson gave his famous Divinity School Address.

Photo by Gordon Hardy, Harvard Divinity School

Chris quoted RWE as an inspiration for the work we and many hundreds of podcasters do now:

We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had, in the dreary years of routine and of sin, with souls that made our souls wiser; that spoke what we thought; that told us what we knew; that gave us leave to be what we inly were.

Chris Lydon and Dan Carlin, the Hardcore History Podcaster

Another rediscovery this weekend and a reacquaintance is Nate Dimeo, host and creator of The Memory Palace podcast in the Radiotopia family. Nate writes and tells beautiful stories about the past. He told us one about the long distance swimmer Florence Chadwick, which you can hear here. It’s simply great.

Making sense of nonsense

David Bromwich sent us this piece from USA Today: “How a Lie Took Hold and Took Off,” which includes this graph:

David writes: I can’t believe the pace. That speed, with that number of readers, the amount in Malthusian speculation and fear: the internet propagates lies at rates exceeding the resources of civil society.

Making sense of Pittsburgh

Jacobin editor Alex Press writes about her childhood community of Squirrel Hill, and the right way to respond to antisemitism. Bernard Avishai, in The New Yorker, parses the debate over Jewish liberalism that surfaced in response to the presence of Naftali Bennett in Pittsburgh. And Natasha Lennard, over at The Intercept, offers an apt reading of the media’ s coverage of the tragedy:

The response from the New York Times editorial board last weekend offers a case study in false equivalencies and platitudes under the veneer of anti-racism. The board went as far as noting that “hate appears to be on the rise,” in an op-ed which cited statistics showing that anti-Semitic and racist hate not only appears to be but, in fact, is on the rise. The board’s main solution was to call for “more good speech, from more good people.” It was a riff on a quote, also used in the editorial, from none other than Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg, who invoked the need for “good speech” as a response to his website’s failure to police Holocaust denial. The idea that “good speech” is a sufficient weapon against rising fascism — and the desires and collectivities that fuel it — is a misplaced liberal fantasy.

And from everywhere else…

McKinsey, BCG and other US consulting companies till raking it in from Saudi Inc. Josie Duffy Rice on the prosecution of voter fraud as voter intimidation. Eric Foner weighed in on Trump’s promise to end birthright citizenship. Alex Hochuli on fascism in Brazil. Frederic Jameson on the last installment of Knausgaard’s My Struggle.

And speaking of multivolume sagas that pose as meta-commentaries on the autobiographical novel… We’re pumped for the HBO adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, and we were excited to read Merve Emre’s feature on the director’s collaborative process with the anonymous author.

The child and teenage actresses playing Elena and Lila.

Emre, the author of The Personality Brokers, has a stunning reading of what exactly anonymity does in and for Ferrante’s novels:

The theorist Michel Foucault once observed that literary anonymity was nothing more than a puzzle to be solved. But literary anonymity, as Ferrante practices it, is not a puzzle — it is an expressive strategy. It has a style and goals, one of which is to multiply and muddle the distinct egos of the author: Elena as the writer of the Neapolitan novels; Elena as their first-person narrator; Elena as a commentator on the novels she has written. Sometimes the tension that holds these egos in check is precisely calibrated, thrilling to behold. “Elena Ferrante is the author of several novels,” she wrote in an interview with The Guardian, weaving between the first and third person. “There is nothing mysterious about her, given how she manifests herself — perhaps even too much — in her own writing, the place where her creative life transpires in absolute fullness.” The final Neapolitan novel, “The Story of the Lost Child,” ends with Lenù writing a “remarkably successful story” about her and Lila called “A Friendship,” a double of the Neapolitan novels, which are full of ur-texts written by Elena Greco. Shielded by her anonymity, Ferrante has subsumed all traces of her life into an elaborate fiction, and asked us, her readers, to help sustain the enchantment — to dissolve the boundaries between the Elenas until we can no longer disentangle fiction from reality, or identify who among us is responsible for creating this enthralling state of affairs. We are all her collaborators.

That’s all for this week, folks! Like, download, subscribe. And vote!

❤ The OS Mob

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Radio Open Source

An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon. chris@radioopensource.org