Episodes

  • Patricia Marx is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and has contributed pieces for thirty years. Still, it might not be too late to try out a new career. “There are some jobs and endeavors that look impossibly hard,” she notes. “But conducting [an orchestra]—I just thought, How hard, really, can it be?”

    Prepared with a little coaching from the real-life conductor Bernard Labadie, and armed with an eight-dollar baton from Amazon, Patty Marx takes a stab at conducting the prestigious Orchestra of St. Luke’s through Hayden’s Symphony No. 45. Marx doesn’t want to do a passable job of conducting the piece; she wants to give it her own unique stamp. With that goal in mind, she devises a set of sui-generis conducting techniques derived from daily activities like hailing a cab, or yoga. “I want to be one of the greats,” Marx says. Plus, the New Yorkers Kelefa Sanneh sings the praises of his favorite Christian rockers.

  • In December of 2015, a video appeared on the Internet that stunned surfers worldwide. Titled “Kelly’s Wave,” it showed Kelly Slater—arguably the best pro surfer in history—unveiling a secret project he had been working on for more than a decade. With the help of engineers and designers, Slater had perfected the first artificial wave, created by machine in a pool, that could rival the best waves found in the ocean. “One could spend years and years surfing in the ocean,” the staff writer William Finnegan, himself a lifelong surfer, notes, “and never get a wave as good as what some people are getting here today. Ever.”

    Finnegan went to visit the Kelly Slater Wave Company’s Surf Ranch—a facility in California’s Central Valley, far from the Coast—to observe a competition and test the wave for himself. (He wrote about the experience in The New Yorker.) Up until now, surfing was defined by its lack of predictability: chasing waves around the world and dealing with disappointment when they do not appear has been integral to the life of a surfer. But, with a mechanically produced, infinitely repeatable, world-class wave, surfing can become like any other sport. The professional World Surf League, which has bought a controlling interest in Slater’s company, sees a bright future.

    But Finnegan wonders what it means to take surfing out of nature. Will kids master riding artificial waves without even learning to swim in the ocean? Finnegan spoke with Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore (the Australian seven-time world champion), and Matt Warshaw (the closest thing surfing has to an official historian). Warshaw, like Finnegan, is skeptical about the advent of mechanical waves. Yet he admits that, when he had the chance to ride it, he didn’t ever want to stop. “It reminded me of 1986,” Warshaw recalls. “The drugs have run out, you already hate yourself—how do we get more?”

    This story originally aired December 14, 2018.

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  • In the classic play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” a romantic with an exceptionally large and ugly nose pines after an unattainable woman. “As a person who looks like me, whenever I would watch a version of ‘Cyrano,’ I would just think, ‘That’s an actor in a fake nose,’ ” says Peter Dinklage. Dinklage, who has dwarfism, plays the character in a New Group adaptation by his wife, Erica Schmidt, with music by the National. But Dinklage avoids wearing a prosthetic, and he tells Michael Schulman that the nose isn’t really the point. The play is about “everyone’s capacity to not feel worthy of love.” To “Game of Thrones” fans who were devastated by the show’s ending, Dinklage has only tough love to offer. “They didn’t want it to end so a lot of people got angry. This happens.” He is not distraught about Daenerys, who turned out to be quite a brutal ruler. “Monsters are created. We vote them into office. . . . Maybe [fans] should have waited for the series finale before you get that tattoo, or name your golden retriever Daenerys. I can’t help you.” Plus, every year, countless poor spellers accidentally address their Santa letters to Satan. Satan—played by Kathleen Turner—always replies.

  • North Carolina is a relatively purple state, where voting between the two major parties tends to be close. That might suggest a place of common ground and compromise, but it’s quite the opposite. “A couple of years before the rest of the country got nasty, we started to get nasty,” a North Carolina political scientist tells Charles Bethea. Not long ago, a veto-override vote devolved into a screaming match on the floor, to which the police were called. Bethea, a longtime political reporter based in Atlanta, went to Raleigh to examine how hyper-partisanship plays out on a state capitol, where everyone knows each other, and the political calculations seem to revolve more on who did what to whom, and when, than on who wants to do what now.

  • Helen Rosner is known for her high degree of resourcefulness in the kitchen: she once broke the Internet with an article about the ingenious use of a hair dryer to help roast a chicken. So the staff of Radio Hour threw down a challenge: we asked Helen to make a meal out of whatever food she could find in The New Yorker’s communal fridge, with whatever cooking equipment she could scare up around the office. The result (spoiler alert): a marinated-vegetable salad with sardines, a whole-grain risotto topped with charred broccoli and chimichurri, a bread pudding with whiskey sauce and ice cream, and a rather unique cocktail—a Bloody Mary made with John McPhee’s vodka and a rim of crushed caterpillar.

  • Lena Waithe is the screenwriter and creator of the Showtime series “The Chi,” about the South Side of Chicago, but she tells Jelani Cobb, “Getting your own TV show is like getting beaten to death by your own dream.” Her first script for a feature film is “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas. It’s about a man and woman who are on a not-great first date, during which they unintentionally kill a police officer at a traffic stop that escalates. “I just wanted to write something about us. But unfortunately, if I’m writing about us, how can I ignore the fact that we’re being hunted?” The film arrives in the aftermath two notorious police killings of black people in their homes—Botham Jean in Dallas and Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth—only the latest in a long line of similar murders. “I do not want that kind of publicity for my film,” Waithe says. “I am like every other black person. . . . Every time these stories hit our phones, a piece of us dies, because we know that we could be next.”

  • Greta Gerwig tells David Remnick that her adaptation of the novel “Little Women” didn’t need much updating for 2019: the world hasn’t changed as much as we might think, she says. Isaac Chotiner talks with Jack Goldsmith, the conservative legal scholar whose new book is a surprising and personal account of a man who was regarded as a suspect in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. And the creator of HBO’s “Watchmen” tells Emily Nussbaum about the uncomfortable process of learning to write about race.

  • Three weeks ago, members of a Chilean feminist collective called Las Tesis put on blindfolds and party dresses and took to the streets. The festive atmosphere put their purpose in stark relief: the song they sang was “Un Violador En Tu Camino” (“A Rapist in Your Path”). It’s a sharp indictment of the Chilean police, against whom a hundred charges of sexual violence have been lodged since the beginning of the anti-government protests in October. The lyrics also target the patriarchy in general. The song might have remained a local phenomenon, but someone put it on Twitter, and, in the span of a few days, it became the anthem of women protesting sexism and violence throughout Latin America. A few days later, the protest was replicated in Paris and Berlin, and, shortly thereafter, in Istanbul, where it was shut down by police. The New Yorker’s Camila Osorio was recently in Chile and recounts the exciting story of the creation of a global movement.

  • It’s been a busy week, and it’s only Tuesday. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee unveiled two articles of impeachment against the President, which are nearly certain to be adopted by the House of Representatives. The same day, Congressional Democrats threw their support behind Trump’s renegotiation of NAFTA.


    Isaac Chotiner, who writes the Q. & A. column, calls the New Yorker’s Washington correspondent Susan Glasser to talk about the reaction in the capital to the fast-moving impeachment process and about the House leadership’s decision to focus on a small number of charges—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress—when so many were potentially on the table. “There’s nothing in there about a violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause,” Glasser says. “And there’s nothing at all about the Mueller report, which found ten alleged acts of obstruction of justice on the part of the President with no other remedy except for Congressional action.” But it is no coincidence that the House Democrats are proceeding impeachment and endorsing one of the President’s signature trade policies on the same day. According to Glasser, it may reflect a political calculation by Speaker Pelosi, aimed at helping Democrats running in districts where Trump won by large margins in 2016.

  • Joshua Yaffa recently profiled a Russian media mogul named Konstantin Ernst. Ernst is the C.E.O. of Russia’s largest state-controlled media network, Channel One, and his personal evolution from idealistic independent journalist to cynical mogul is a cautionary tale for the free press of any nation. Channel One effectively dominates Russia’s news cycle and subtly controls what its viewers believe. Ernst, Yaffa explains, has dispensed with the straight propaganda that was broadcast in Soviet times, in favor of a much slicker approach that’s more like a disinformation campaign. Rather than denying any specific facts or allegations against the regime, its news shows air conspiracy theories, contradictory interpretations of facts, and doctored footage to sow confusion. So, even though Russians have independent media outlets and access to the Internet, Channel One perpetuates a feeling that that the truth can never be known, one interpretation is as good as another, and there is no objective basis to critique what Russia gets from its leaders.

  • Jamie Lee Curtis comes from Hollywood royalty as the daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. She credits her mother’s role in “Psycho” for helping her land her first feature role, as the lead in “Halloween,” in 1978. “I’m never going to pretend I got that all on my own,” she tells The New Yorker’s Rachel Syme. But Curtis says she never intended to act, and never saw herself as a star: “I was not pretty,” she explains; “I was ‘cute.’ ” Eventually, the pressure she felt to conform in order to keep working led to a surgical procedure, which led to an opiate addiction. Curtis talks with Syme about recovery, second chances, and more than forty years of films between “Halloween” and Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out.” Plus, the chef at one of Los Angeles’s best restaurants on how to build a woman-friendly kitchen.

  • The current impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump are only the fourth in American history, and William Cohen has been near the center of power for three of them. First, he was a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, when his vote in favor of articles of impeachment helped end the Presidency of Richard Nixon. Twenty years later, as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, he had to navigate American military policy around the Lewinsky scandal. Cohen is now a Washington power-broker, and he tells The New Yorker’s Michael Luo the story of both sagas and their relation to today’s news. During Watergate, Cohen received death threats for what was perceived as his betrayal of Nixon, and he says that his chances for a Republican leadership position were “finished.” But Cohen implores his G.O.P. successors in Congress to put Constitution above party; otherwise, “this is not going to be a democracy that will be recognizable a few years from now.”

  • Senator Kamala Harris had a lot going for her campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination: national name recognition, strong fund-raising, an association with Barack Obama, and a way of commanding the spotlight both on television and on Twitter. She promised to be the prosecutor who would bring Donald Trump to justice and a candidate who could take him on in the race, a combination that thrilled her supporters. But, on Tuesday, two months before voting begins in Iowa, she ended her campaign. What happened, and what does it reveal about the Presidential race? Eric Lach calls three New Yorker colleagues to debrief: Dana Goodyear, who reflects on her Profile of Harris from the promising early days of her campaign; Jelani Cobb, who talks about Harris’s standing with black voters; and Ben Wallace-Wells, who notes that the gap between the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic Party may have grown too large for any candidate to straddle. Finally, Lach calls a heartbroken campaign volunteer, who estimates that she made thirteen thousand calls on Harris’s behalf.

  • In November, Iran announced new fuel rationing and price hikes, just at a time when U.S. sanctions are crippling the economy and especially the middle class. Protests broke out immediately, and the government responded by shutting down access to the Internet, arresting protesters, and using lethal force: more than two hundred people are said to be dead, according to Amnesty International. The Iranian government has laid blame on the United States, which has a campaign of “maximum pressure” aiming to destabilize the country—and Donald Trump is happy to take credit. But Robin Wright, the author of several books on the Middle East, notes that Iran is also facing opposition from some of its Shiite allies in the Middle East. In Iraq and Lebanon, protests have erupted against Iran’s efforts to increase its influence in the region, and the Iraqi Prime Minister announced his resignation partially because of that unrest. The Iranian regime is in real trouble, Wright believes. As she sees it, the country’s Green Movement of a decade ago, and the Arab Spring in the same period, were not a failure or a blip but the start of a process that may yet reshape democracy in the Middle East.

  • In August, India suspended the autonomy of the state of Kashmir, putting soldiers in its streets and banning foreign journalists from entering. Dexter Filkins, who was working on a story about Narendra Modi, would not be deterred from going. To evade the ban, he sought the help of an Indian journalist, Rana Ayyub. Ayyub had once gone undercover to reveal the ruling party’s ties to sectarian and extrajudicial violence against the Muslim minority. In a conversation recorded last week, Filkins and Ayyub tell the story of how they got into Kashmir and describe the repression and signs of torture that they observed there. Ayyub’s book “Gujarat Files,” about a massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, has made her a target of Hindu nationalists; one of the book’s translators was killed not long ago. She spoke frankly with Filkins about the emotional toll of living in fear of assassination.

  • Billy Porter’s résumé is as impressive as it is difficult to categorize. His performance in the musical “Kinky Boots” won him a Tony Award and a Grammy, and, recently, he won an Emmy for his character on Ryan Murphy’s FX series “Pose.” Take any style award and he probably deserves that as well: at the 2019 Oscars, he showed up in a gender-bending “tuxedo gown.” In the words of the New Yorker fashion columnist Rachel Syme, his “torso looked like it was smoking a cigar with a brandy, while his skirt . . . was ready for a gothic Victorian-era coronation.”

    Porter sat down for a conversation with Syme at The New Yorker Festival, in October. “I grew up in the black church,” he said, which “is a fashion show every time you show up.” Porter spent much of his early career searching for work that represented him—a black, gay man in show business. Such work was dry in those early days, but it’s a problem he’s left behind. Porter’s just signed a book deal for a memoir, he’ll play the role of the Fairy Godmother in the upcoming live-action adaptation of “Cinderella,” and he’s working on a new album. But Porter sees downsides to his success, and describes being mobbed at dance clubs by admirers. “I am a person who is of the people,” he says. “And when you lose your anonymity inside of celebrity—that scares me.”

  • In the winter of 2007, a songwriter by the name of Justin Vernon returned to the Wisconsin woods, not far from where he grew up. Just a few months later, he emerged with “For Emma, Forever Ago”—his first album produced under the name Bon Iver. Since then, Vernon and various bandmates have released three more records, won two Grammys, and collaborated with Kanye West, becoming one of the most celebrated bands in indie music. The music critic Amanda Petrusich spoke with Vernon at The New Yorker Festival, alongside his bandmates Brad Cook and Chris Messina. They discuss using made-up words as lyrics; Vernon’s deep, deep love of “Northern Exposure,”; and how a group like Bon Iver engages with current events in today’s toxic political climate.

    Bon Iver performed “U (Man Like),” “Marion,” and “RABi”; Vernon was accompanied by Sean Carey, Jenn Wasner, and Mike Lewis.

  • Since 2016, Andrew Marantz has been reporting on how the extremist right has harnessed the Internet and social media to gain a startling prominence in American politics. One day, he was contacted by a woman named Samantha, who was in the leadership of the white-nationalist group Identity Evropa. (She asked to be identified only by her first name.) “When I joined, I really thought that it was just going to be a pro-white community, where we could talk to each other about being who we are, and gain confidence, and build a community,” Samantha told him. “I went in because I was insecure and it made me feel good about myself.” Samantha says she wasn’t a racist, but soon after joining the group she found herself rubbing shoulders with the neo-Nazi organizer Richard Spencer, at a party that culminated in a furious chant of “seig heil.” Marantz and the Radio Hour producer Rhiannon Corby dove into Samantha’s story to understand how and why a “normal” person abandoned her values, her friends, and her family for an ideology of racial segregation and eugenics—and then came out again. They found her to be a cautionary tale for a time when facts and truth are under daily attack. “I thought I knew it all,” she told them. “I think it's extremely naive and foolish to think that you are impervious to it. No one is impervious to this.”

    Samantha appears in Andrew Marantz’s new book, “Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation.”

  • Jenny Slate is on tour for her new book “Little Weirds.” It comprises short, strange essays, many of which involve clothing and how we present ourselves to the world. While Slate was in New York, the fashion columnist Rachel Syme paid her a call at her hotel room. Together, they rifle through Slate’s suitcase and analyze what she had packed for her appearances as a début book author, and what those choices said about her. Syme finds Slate to be a kindred spirit: someone for whom getting dressed is a complex but pleasurable business. Sweater vests, top buttons buttoned, and other choices are dissected. “More and more,” Slate says, “I want to turn away from things that are designed for men—or a certain man, I should say, to be fair. ” Her authorial wardrobe, Slate says, expresses a simple credo: “I know who I am, I know what’s going on, I’m not freaked out, and I think I’m allowed to be here.”

  • As he opened public impeachment proceedings last week, Representative Adam Schiff invoked Watergate—which, after all, ended well for Democrats. To understand how that history applies, or doesn’t, to the current proceedings, The New Yorker’s Dorothy Wickenden spoke with Thomas Mallon, the author of the deeply researched “Watergate: A Novel,” and of historical fictions about Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. How would Mallon write the story of the Trump impeachment as a novel? “I would go right inside the heads of Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse, and Mitt Romney,” he tells Wickenden. “A guilty conscience is one of the best springboards for fiction.” Plus, a conversation with Philip Pullman, whose beloved trilogy, “His Dark Materials,” has been adapted for a new HBO series. But he’s already onto a second trilogy about its heroine, Lyra, because he has more to learn about her universe.