Monthly Archives: September 2013

What’s That (Vowel) Sound?


On-air challenge: Every answer is a made-up, two-word phrase in which each word has two or more syllables. The first vowel sound in the first word is a short “e.” Change that short “e” to a short “a” sound, and phonetically you’ll get the second word of the phrase. For example, given “energetic backwoods father,” you would say “peppy pappy.”

Last week’s challenge from listener David Rosen of Bethesda, Md.: The name of what character, familiar to everyone, contains each of the five vowels (A, E, I, O and U) exactly once? The answer consists of two words — eight letters in the first word, four letters in the second.

Answer: Question mark

Winner: Carla Fink of New Bedford, Mass.

Next week’s challenge: Name something in seven letters that most people keep in their homes. Take the first, third, fourth and seventh letters and rearrange them. The result will be a four-letter word naming something that the seven-letter thing is commonly used for. What is it?

Submit Your Answer

If you know the answer to next week’s challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

How Two Brothers Waged A ‘Secret World War’ In The 1950s


The Brothers

A former longtime New York Times reporter, Stephen Kinzer teaches journalism and foreign policy at Boston University.


Deborah Donnelley/Courtesy of Times Books

A former longtime New York Times reporter, Stephen Kinzer teaches journalism and foreign policy at Boston University.

A former longtime New York Times reporter, Stephen Kinzer teaches journalism and foreign policy at Boston University.

Deborah Donnelley/Courtesy of Times Books

More on Stephen Kinzer

John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles were the forefathers of using covert operations to upset foreign governments — with the aim of overthrow.

They learned the reach of American power abroad when they were partners at an influential New York law firm. Later, with John Foster Dulles serving as secretary of state and Allen Dulles as CIA chief, they shared power in the President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration.

In August, the CIA admitted to its role in ousting the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, back in 1953. That was just the first in a long line of foreign governments toppled by the influential brothers during the Cold War.

In The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, journalist Stephen Kinzer examines their rise to power and how their personal relationship influenced their professional partnership.

“The remarkable thing about the Dulles brothers in power was that they functioned so closely together that no other kinds of consultation were necessary in order to launch these terribly far-reaching operations,” Kinzer tells NPR’s Arun Rath.

Kinzer, formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, focuses six covert operations. He calls those targets the “six monsters” — from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh to Fidel Castro in Cuba.

“Looking back, you can see that the Dulles brothers were waging a constant war during the 1950s, and we’re paying the price of the blowback of that war right now,” he says.

Interview Highlights

On their sibling cooperation

“John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles carried out operations together. It was the only time in American history that siblings controlled the overt and covert sides of American foreign policy. You’d have Foster Dulles setting the diplomatic background for some covert operation, and then Allen Dulles carrying out the operation behind the scenes.”

On how the brothers triggered a six-year occupation of Cuba

“John Foster Dulles was a young associate, still in his 20s at Sullivan and Cromwell, when one of the partners called him in and said, ‘We’ve got problem in Cuba. There’s been an election. And the liberals, who want to limit the power of American companies in Cuba, have won.’

“So John Foster Dulles got on the train. He went to Washington. He went to see his uncle, the secretary of state. And he told his uncle, ‘We need to send two warships to Cuba and land marines in Cuba to force the liberals to call off their revolution demanding that the election be recognized.’

“Those warships were sent. The next day they began a six year occupation of Cuba. That all began because of a threat to American companies that were represented by the Dulles brothers.”

On what’s changed in the American mindset since the Dulles era

“Particularly in the reaction to the Syria bombing, I’m beginning to wonder if something profound isn’t changing in the minds of at least some Americans.

“People are looking at each other and saying, ‘I can’t get a job and my leaders are telling me I should be focusing on fixing Syria.’ I think the disconnect that that represents is slowly dawning on some Americans. Maybe we finally are burying John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles.”

What’s That (Vowel) Sound?


On-air challenge: Every answer is a made-up, two-word phrase in which each word has two or more syllables. The first vowel sound in the first word is a short “e.” Change that short “e” to a short “a” sound, and phonetically you’ll get the second word of the phrase. For example, given “energetic backwoods father,” you would say “peppy pappy.”

Last week’s challenge from listener David Rosen of Bethesda, Md.: The name of what character, familiar to everyone, contains each of the five vowels (A, E, I, O and U) exactly once? The answer consists of two words — eight letters in the first word, four letters in the second.

Answer: Question mark

Winner: Carla Fink of New Bedford, Mass.

Next week’s challenge: Name something in seven letters that most people keep in their homes. Take the first, third, fourth and seventh letters and rearrange them. The result will be a four-letter word naming something that the seven-letter thing is commonly used for. What is it?

Submit Your Answer

If you know the answer to next week’s challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

How Two Brothers Waged A ‘Secret World War’ In The 1950s


The Brothers

A former longtime New York Times reporter, Stephen Kinzer teaches journalism and foreign policy at Boston University.


Deborah Donnelley/Courtesy of Times Books

A former longtime New York Times reporter, Stephen Kinzer teaches journalism and foreign policy at Boston University.

A former longtime New York Times reporter, Stephen Kinzer teaches journalism and foreign policy at Boston University.

Deborah Donnelley/Courtesy of Times Books

More on Stephen Kinzer

John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles were the forefathers of using covert operations to upset foreign governments — with the aim of overthrow.

They learned the reach of American power abroad when they were partners at an influential New York law firm. Later, with John Foster Dulles serving as secretary of state and Allen Dulles as CIA chief, they shared power in the President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration.

In August, the CIA admitted to its role in ousting the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, back in 1953. That was just the first in a long line of foreign governments toppled by the influential brothers during the Cold War.

In The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, journalist Stephen Kinzer examines their rise to power and how their personal relationship influenced their professional partnership.

“The remarkable thing about the Dulles brothers in power was that they functioned so closely together that no other kinds of consultation were necessary in order to launch these terribly far-reaching operations,” Kinzer tells NPR’s Arun Rath.

Kinzer, formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, focuses six covert operations. He calls those targets the “six monsters” — from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh to Fidel Castro in Cuba.

“Looking back, you can see that the Dulles brothers were waging a constant war during the 1950s, and we’re paying the price of the blowback of that war right now,” he says.

Interview Highlights

On their sibling cooperation

“John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles carried out operations together. It was the only time in American history that siblings controlled the overt and covert sides of American foreign policy. You’d have Foster Dulles setting the diplomatic background for some covert operation, and then Allen Dulles carrying out the operation behind the scenes.”

On how the brothers triggered a six-year occupation of Cuba

“John Foster Dulles was a young associate, still in his 20s at Sullivan and Cromwell, when one of the partners called him in and said, ‘We’ve got problem in Cuba. There’s been an election. And the liberals, who want to limit the power of American companies in Cuba, have won.’

“So John Foster Dulles got on the train. He went to Washington. He went to see his uncle, the secretary of state. And he told his uncle, ‘We need to send two warships to Cuba and land marines in Cuba to force the liberals to call off their revolution demanding that the election be recognized.’

“Those warships were sent. The next day they began a six year occupation of Cuba. That all began because of a threat to American companies that were represented by the Dulles brothers.”

On what’s changed in the American mindset since the Dulles era

“Particularly in the reaction to the Syria bombing, I’m beginning to wonder if something profound isn’t changing in the minds of at least some Americans.

“People are looking at each other and saying, ‘I can’t get a job and my leaders are telling me I should be focusing on fixing Syria.’ I think the disconnect that that represents is slowly dawning on some Americans. Maybe we finally are burying John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles.”

What’s That (Vowel) Sound?


On-air challenge: Every answer is a made-up, two-word phrase in which each word has two or more syllables. The first vowel sound in the first word is a short “e.” Change that short “e” to a short “a” sound, and phonetically you’ll get the second word of the phrase. For example, given “energetic backwoods father,” you would say “peppy pappy.”

Last week’s challenge from listener David Rosen of Bethesda, Md.: The name of what character, familiar to everyone, contains each of the five vowels (A, E, I, O and U) exactly once? The answer consists of two words — eight letters in the first word, four letters in the second.

Answer: Question mark

Winner: Carla Fink of New Bedford, Mass.

Next week’s challenge: Name something in seven letters that most people keep in their homes. Take the first, third, fourth and seventh letters and rearrange them. The result will be a four-letter word naming something that the seven-letter thing is commonly used for. What is it?

Submit Your Answer

If you know the answer to next week’s challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

What’s That (Vowel) Sound?


On-air challenge: Every answer is a made-up two-word phrase in which each word has two or more syllables. The first vowel sound in the first word is a short “e.” Change that short “e” to a short “a” sound, and phonetically you’ll get the second word of the phrase. For example, given “energetic backwoods father,” you would say “peppy pappy.”

Last week’s challenge from listener David Rosen of Bethesda, Md.: The name of what character, familiar to everyone, contains each of the five vowels (A, E, I, O and U) exactly once? The answer consists of two words — eight letters in the first word, four letters in the second.

Answer: Question mark

Winner: Carla Fink of New Bedford, Mass.

Next week’s challenge: Name something in seven letters that most people keep in their homes. Take the first, third, fourth and seventh letters and rearrange them. The result will be a four-letter word naming something that the seven-letter thing is commonly used for. What is it?

Submit Your Answer

If you know the answer to next week’s challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

What’s That (Vowel) Sound?


On-air challenge: Every answer is a made-up two-word phrase in which each word has two or more syllables. The first vowel sound in the first word is a short “e.” Change that short “e” to a short “a” sound, and phonetically you’ll get the second word of the phrase. For example, given “energetic backwoods father,” you would say “peppy pappy.”

Last week’s challenge from listener David Rosen of Bethesda, Md.: The name of what character, familiar to everyone, contains each of the five vowels (A, E, I, O and U) exactly once? The answer consists of two words — eight letters in the first word, four letters in the second.

Answer: Question mark

Winner: Carla Fink of New Bedford, Mass.

Next week’s challenge: Name something in seven letters that most people keep in their homes. Take the first, third, fourth and seventh letters and rearrange them. The result will be a four-letter word naming something that the seven-letter thing is commonly used for. What is it?

Submit Your Answer

If you know the answer to next week’s challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, On Life And The Lenses We Look Through


With Don Jon, the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars as the titular porn-addicted Jersey boy, adds writer and director to his resume.


Relativity Media

With Don Jon, the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars as the titular porn-addicted Jersey boy, adds writer and director to his resume.

With Don Jon, the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars as the titular porn-addicted Jersey boy, adds writer and director to his resume.

Relativity Media

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s movie Don Jon is about a young, simple guy with a few basic passions: his body, his pad, his cars, his family, his church, his girls, and his porn.

That’s right: Jon is addicted to pornography. You could say he’s managing that addiction pretty well — until he becomes taken with Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson.

Gordon-Levitt makes his writing and directing debut with the film, out in theaters this past Friday. He’s been in the entertainment business for a while now —he started young, with a long TV career that included the hit comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun, and his adult work has encompassed everything from the indie (500) Days of Summer to Inception to The Dark Knight Risesand he tells NPR’s Rachel Martin that all along the way, he “paid a lot of attention to the way that media influences how we see the world, and especially when it comes to love and sex and relationships.”

“So that’s sort of what Don Jon is about,” he says. “A boyfriend and a girlfriend; he watches too much pornography, and she watches too many romantic Hollywood movies.”

Interview Highlights

On the characters Jon and Barbara

They sort of have these unrealistic expectations for what life can be, based on these two-dimensional images that they’ve gotten from the different kinds of media that they consume. And I think it leads to some hilarity, and then it also leads to a bit of a coming-of-age story — that the protagonist eventually begins to, sort of, break out of this mold and start actually connecting with people, rather than just comparing them to what he’s used to seeing onscreen.

On why he decided to play the lead

I like putting myself in the shoes of somebody who has a different upbringing from me — who has a different perspective from me, who maybe views the world in ways that I would knee-jerk consider wrong — and trying to empathize. You know, my mom and dad brought me up to question dominant cultural gender roles. The character Jon is the opposite of that.

On Esther, the character played by Julianne Moore

Well if Jon and Barbara are sort of all about the front that they put up and all about trying to fit into a mold, Esther is a character who’s present and honest to a fault. She can’t step out of her present, because she’s going through some stuff that makes it too painful for her. So she’s just present; she’s just honest, she’s just on the surface. And when you put a character like that next to a character like Jon, first of all it’s going to be funny. And second of all, you know, they both provide something to the other that they both need.

Yeah, it’s unexpected, but I find that in my life anyway, that’s oftentimes the people I connect with in the most — when I’m honest, the most profound ways — is people I wouldn’t necessarily expect to. If you forget the accoutrements, all the labels, all the like, “Well they have this job, they come from this place, they went to this school, they blah-blah-blah-blah-blah …” If you forget all of that and you’re just paying attention to who’s standing right in front of you and what they’re saying and doing right now, I find oftentimes the people I connect with most are not the people I would expect to.

On the availability of pornography in our culture

Honestly I wouldn’t limit it to pornography. I pay a lot of attention to media in general. And I think I wanted to make pornography sort of central in the movie to compare the rest of our media to it. I think that there’s not a substantial difference between a lot of main-stream culture and pornography. They’re equally simplistic, reductionist.

Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) is as affected by the Hollywood romances she watches as Jon is affected by pornography.


Relativity Media

Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) is as affected by the Hollywood romances she watches as Jon is affected by pornography.

Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) is as affected by the Hollywood romances she watches as Jon is affected by pornography.

Relativity Media

There’s a [sexually explicit] Carl’s Jr. commercial that’s featured in Don Jon, and we play it pretty much in its entirety. … That’s a real commercial. We didn’t change it at all! I think it played on the Super Bowl, if I’m not mistaken.

So that’s what I’m saying. … Whether it’s rated X or “approved by the FCC for general viewing audiences,” the message is the same. We have a tendency in our culture to take people and treat them like things.

I think, though, that everybody experiences this sometimes. I’m sure you’ve experienced it, where you’re, you know, talking to someone but you can kind of tell that they’ve already decided what you are, they’ve put you in a box with a label on it. … And that’s, I guess, what I wanted to bring up and talk about in the movie. And I find that the best way to talk about substantial subject matters, oftentimes, is with humor.

On how the film has affected the way he consumes media

I try to be proactive. I mean, which isn’t to say that I don’t consume media that in certain ways might be unhealthy, or whatever. It’s not like I’m only consuming, you know — I’m not just reading Foucault all day long.

But I think that it’s worth recognizing that the media that we all choose to consume, that actually does make a difference. That is us participating in a larger cultural conversation. You know, I think we all sometimes like to think of whatever we watch as, “Ah, it doesn’t matter what I watch, it’s all just harmless entertainment.” And it’s not entirely true. Especially if you watch it repeatedly. I think that the stuff we watch does matter and it does work its way into the way that we see the world.

The Most Shocking Moments Are True In ‘Masters Of Sex’


Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan play famous sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson in a new series, Masters of Sex.


Craig Blankenhorn/Showtime

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan play famous sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson in a new series, Masters of Sex.

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan play famous sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson in a new series, Masters of Sex.

Craig Blankenhorn/Showtime

The new TV series Masters of Sex is set in the middle of the last century — before the 60’s, before the pill, almost, it seems, before the invention of sex. It’s the story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, pioneering researchers in the field of human sexual response, and it’s based on a 2009 book of the same name, by Thomas Maier.

Masters and Johnson are played on the small screen by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, who joined NPR’s Rachel Martin to talk about the show and the work Masters and Johnson were doing.

“No one had really done it before,” Sheen says. Sexologist Alfred Kinsey had released several reports on his work in the 1940s and 1950s, but they were based on personal interviews, not observation in a laboratory. “So no one had actually studied what happens to the body during sex.”

Interview Highlights

Caplan on Virginia Johnson’s role in the research

I like to think of them as two parts of a whole. Bill [Masters] has very very shoddy people skills, he doesn’t know how to make people feel comfortable in any sort of way, but he had all the scientific expertise and all the prestige. Virginia comes in, and by the strength of her personality, she makes herself this indispensable part of this study.

More Masters and Johnson

On Masters’ real-life propositioning of Johnson

Caplan: The things that are the most shocking in our show are true, which then makes them even more shocking.

Sheen: One of the difficulties of this show is that there’s almost an embarrassment of riches. It’s about choosing what you keep in, as opposed to trying to create content for it. It’s an extraordinary story.

On dealing with the amount of sexual content in the show

Caplan: I giggle every time Michael takes his shirt off. Everybody does.

Sheen: Apart from small children, who start crying and running away.

Caplan: It’s so strange to think about. Plenty of times on set, co-stars don’t get along. And I cannot imagine that. Because when Masters and Johnson start taking on the research together, they do the wired-up version of having sex, meaning we have taped electrodes all over our bodies, and if you cover up in between takes, they all fall off, and it’s an extra 20 minutes. And so we got used to just sort of sitting around in our birthday suits and having conversations about sports.

Brief, Bright And Beautiful: Three Books On Nordic Summer


The view from a Finnish sauna shows the short-lived beauty of summers near the Arctic circle.


wili_hybrid/Flickr

The view from a Finnish sauna shows the short-lived beauty of summers near the Arctic circle.

The view from a Finnish sauna shows the short-lived beauty of summers near the Arctic circle.

wili_hybrid/Flickr

The far north of Europe, where I come from, is supposed to be the Mecca of melancholy. And yet there’s a contradiction to our famous Nordic gloom: the Nordic countries are as much associated with light as with darkness. From our folklore to our folk songs to our literature, the Arctic summer light pierces our darkest tales. The season is almost like a religion to us.

Our summers are as brief as they are beautiful, beginning, peaking and fading away in a few sweet weeks. Up by the polar circle, where the sun never sets all season, summer gets especially intense — like the recollection of our childhood summers, filled with magical ambiance. In these three books, Nordic summers play a starring role: light grants the darkness nuances, just like the darkness gives the light a special luster.

Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses

On the border between Norway and Sweden, the summer of 1948 turns into a rite of passage for two teenagers. Brought into contact with the grown-up world, Jon and Trond lose their boyish innocence in the remote woodlands by the river. I immediately took to the down-to-earth perspective of Trond, as an elderly man, returning to the scene decades later. He tries to reckon with the shadows that darkened the pastoral beauty of his beloved childhood landscape and the friendship between him and Jon. What if the hero of the best time in your life turns out to have been a traitor? The innocent promise of those endless warm days — when there’s the time and the freedom for so much to happen — makes the impact of betrayal all the more stark. “You decide for yourself when it will hurt,” Trond’s father says of hardship, clutching a bunch of stinging nettles. But for Trond, the nettles can’t be cut away from the summer grass.

Wonderful Women by the Sea

Wonderful Women by the Sea

A Novel

Finland, “the country of thousand lakes,” is known for its bathing culture: steaming hot saunas and wintry ice baths. Life by the water plays a big part in Finnish-Swedish author Monika Fagerholm’s novel Wonderful Women by the Sea. During relaxed and sensual days in the archipelago, a realistic drama takes place in triptych form — three summers take us from light into darkness. For as long as these short Arctic summers last, the heroines Bella and Rosa — vaguely resembling Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, with a Finnish twist — live their beach-life as if it would go on forever. Fishing and water-skiing in the perpetual evening twilight, taking the boat to midnight dances on the jetty, they are caught up in that dreamy sleeplessness we call “light insomnia,” when day and night blend into one another and the Arctic night thrums with activity. It’s a friendship built on illusion, since all these women see of each another are their summer personas: they are intoxicated by the intense light and the sudden warmth, by the luxurious freedom of a holiday where the sun never sets and the drinks keep pouring — except the sun is always bound to set eventually, making way for the winter darkness on the opposite horizon.

World Light

World Light

This vivid and beautiful novel by Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness is set on the wild west coast of Iceland, with its fjords and mountains, just under the Arctic circle. World Light is the touching life story of an odd man, Ólafur — in his heart a poet and a dreamer despite the impoverished conditions of his childhood. He is gifted not only with words but also with a special radar for beauty and light, which he finds most abundantly in the summer landscape. For young Ólafur, the arctic summer does not mean leisure, but rather more work, for longer hours, in the fields and at sea. Yet thanks to his susceptibility to the poetry of everyday life, summer is also when he sees beauty manifest itself in everything from the sheep gliding down the hillside to the glitter of terns’ wings reflected in the fjords. As a grown man wandering the earth in search of his destiny, he compares a woman’s skin to the “creaminess of summer growth.” Even in old age he is still in thrall to a memory of “one midsummer night of white mists, beside running water and under a new moon” — the night he fell in love. “All words are dead; you no longer belong to the earth,” Ólafur says of the experience. Maybe so, but Laxness’ language retains its seismological power, forceful and unpredictable as an Icelandic geyser.

Anne Swärd’s latest novel is Breathless.