A Half-Hour Life

February 1, 2018


Have you ever undertaken to account for your whole life and career in a half hour—and in public? I had that experience the other day with a very genial interviewer whom I was meeting for the first time. The necessary over-generalizations and omissions in such a situation were affected by the fact that, just as we finished the interview, they came out of the control room to tell us that there had been a computer failure and that we had to do the interview all over again. Since both Nicole Millar and I felt awkward going over the same material as though it were a script (complete with her acting surprised by things that she already knew), I said rather different things—though she sometimes prompted me a little with material from the previous go.

Fortunately, viewers sent messages indicating that they found the summary plausible and not uninteresting:



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Bon Nadal! / Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2017

May we all take advantage of the blessings available to us in the celebrations that approach!


The Long Arm of Childhood

December 9, 2017



I don’t know whether you share with me the trait whereby characteristics of your parents increasingly emerge from you unexpectedly and unbidden, but that’s certainly true with me, and I find it endlessly fascinating. This morning, an English acquaintance passed me in a café and asked the routine “How are you?” not expecting, I’m sure, the answer that he got: “Not bad for an old man.”

His eyes expressed surprise, and I didn’t detain him to explain that, from the time when my father was in his forties, perhaps, that was a stock answer of his. I’m sure I have never given it two seconds of conscious thought in my life, and if you had asked me if my father had any habitual answers to such a greeting, I’d have come up with nothing. But there it was on my lips—another person’s voice coming out of my mouth. And this is not just a sentimental invention: my mind’s eye saw him smiling. The subconscious is a marvelous thing, and results of its nurture in the far past can be fascinatingly mysterious.


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, both in the media and in personal comments—always from citizens of a close sister-nation that is often called our mother-country—that “Americans can’t do irony.” That’s meant as a putdown, but it’s actually a compliment that I wish we deserved more than we actually do. Verbal irony is a negative and often cruel thing. It establishes distance from its object and allows us then to tear the object apart from that safe distance. It simultaneously undoes the thing criticized and raises up the one doing the criticizing. I’d say we have more than enough irony and that when we boast about excelling at it we might profit from some self-examination of our motives.


Here’s your link to hear and see the English writer Matthew Tree leading a discussion of civil liberties and their repression, with a Swedish-born environmental sociologist brought up in England, an Irish lawyer, and an American musician—all now living in Catalonia: http://www.elpuntavui.tv/video/244202764.html

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A German, a Catalan, an Englishman, and an American do our best to untangle some of the current Catalan news as it existed today just a couple of hours before the imprisonment by Spain of the Catalan government members that are not in exile.


Today in Catalonia

September 28, 2017

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Some of you can’t help knowing, and some of you tell me that you want to know, about the emergency that we are under at the moment here. In today’s program, the host, Matthew, gives a very good summary update on what has happened since his editorial last Thursday. But we three guests, an Englishman, a German, and an American weren’t exactly shrinking violets (and we did sometimes differ with each other). Obviously, the Spanish Prime Minister’s visit to the American President, a very great disaster for him who spent so many billion euros to get so little, was something that we had to talk about. But the main subject is naturally the suspension of many civil rights here in the run-up to Sunday’s scheduled referendum on independence. The very newsroom on the other side of the studio wall has in fact been visited by the traditionally feared Guardia Civil, and we considered that we might be interrupted (as a meeting that I attended here in Sitges on improved social services was invaded by twelve armed police). But we weren’t one of the media censored so far: