Alon Ben-Meir is an extraordinary figure, born in Baghdad in 1937. He is a professor of international relations at New York University. He has long been involved in international negotiations. He knows the Middle East intimately. In this conversation, he and Jay cover a good part of the waterfront (not that there’s much water in the Middle East): Turkey, Syria, the Yazidis, the Arab-Israeli conflict, etc. The conversation is also personal, about Ben-Meir’s life. He has lived in many places and speaks several languages. Does he feel at home everywhere – or nowhere? No one will agree with every word he says, but all can learn from this immensely learned, thoughtful, and experienced man.

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This episode begins with a liturgical piece by James MacMillan—a living composer—and ends with another liturgical piece by Wynton Marsalis—another living composer. In between, you’ve got some Saint-Saëns, some Sibelius, and some other music. Jay says some provocative—possibly offensive—things about a couple of cello concertos. Otherwise, it’s sweetness and light, mainly. A good show.

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That is the title of Becky Powell’s new book. She got the title from a country song, written by Darryl Worley and Harley Allen, and recorded by the former. Becky is a friend of Jay’s. Her book is a memoir. One day, she learned that her husband – and the father of their three children – had killed himself. Then she learned that he was $21 million in debt. He had borrowed the money from 90 people. Becky did not have to pay it back. She was not responsible for the debt. But she felt she had to, for her own dignity, and to set an example for the children. How did she get through it all? That is the topic of her book, and you will enjoy hearing her talk with Jay.

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Jay’s guest is Fred Hiatt, the editorial-page editor of the Washington Post. In addition to being an editor, he is a columnist. He writes a great deal about human rights, and pays particular attention to China. He and Jay begin by talking about the Uyghur people. The Chinese government is doing catastrophic, Nazi-like things to them. (Yes, sometimes the N-word applies.) What can the world at large do to help the Uyghurs? Anything? Jay and his guest also talk about the newspaper business in general. An informative conversation, with a mixture of dark and light.

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Jay’s guest is Alexandra DeSanctis, or Xan (pronounced “Zan”), his colleague at National Review. She is in Washington, Jay in New York. They talk about a range of issues: abortion, impeachment, 2020 politics, baseball, cooking, and more. This conversation is like a busy train line: If you don’t like one issue, another one will be along in just a moment.

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Jay ends with “Rustle of Spring,” the piano piece by Christian Sinding. It used to be universally known. It deserved to be. Jay also plays Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Shostakovich, Amy Beach, Havergal Brian, and Jörg Widmann. He tells some stories, makes some points. A rich and diverse world, music.

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Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 1
Brian, Double Fugue in E flat
Widmann, “Con brio
Brahms, Violin Concerto
Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 (Bernstein, New York Philharmonic)
Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 (Maazel, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
Beach, “Ah, Love, but a Day
Sinding, “Rustle of Spring

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That was the title of a column long ago, and for many years – first written by Drew Pearson, then by Jack Anderson: “The Washington Merry-Go-Round.” Robert Costa is a national political reporter for the Washington Post. He is also the moderator of “Washington Week,” a political analyst for NBC News, etc. He and Jay worked together at National Review. Jay asks him what it’s like to have a front-row reporting seat in these exciting political times (exciting for better or worse). They talk about Tuesday night’s elections; President Trump’s relations with the press; the canniness of Mitch McConnell; the canniness of Nancy Pelosi; the flexible nature of Lindsey Graham; the trajectory of Rudy Giuliani; the consistency of John Bolton; the return of Jeff Sessions; the 2020 Democratic presidential field; and more. Jay enjoyed this discussion with a real reportorial pro, and so will you. 

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Peter Pomerantsev has written a couple of books with very interesting titles. Their subjects are important, too. A few years ago, Pomerantsev published “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible,” about the “surreal heart” of Putin’s Russia. Now he has published “This Is Not Propaganda,” about … well, propaganda, or fake news, or disinformation. It is a worldwide epidemic. Pomerantsev is a Soviet-born British journalist. His parents were well-known dissidents, booted out of the Soviet Union. With Jay, Pomerantsev discusses the “post-truth age,” as some call it. A disturbing subject, but one that must be understood. 

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When Harriet Cohen finishes playing her arrangement of Bach’s “Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier,” Jay says, “Holy stuff.” There is other stuff too in this episode: including “Tain’t What You Do (It’s How You Do It).” There may also be a little Beach Boys, classically performed. Jay likes that opening Bach piece so much, he ends with it, too: in a different version.

Bach-Cohen, “Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier

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Denise Ho is a star in Hong Kong and in the broader Asian world. She is a singer and actress. She is also a democracy leader. She has been in the throes of the protests in her home city. What has her activism done to her artistic career? What are the prospects for the democracy movement in Hong Kong? What do protesters expect of the outside world, if anything? Denise Ho is a wonderful interviewee, in addition to a remarkable person.

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Jonathan V. Last, executive editor of The Bulwark, is known as “JVL.” Jay (S.) Nordlinger is not known as “JSN” – but we will call him that just for the purposes of this episode. Jay and Jonathan worked together at The Weekly Standard many years ago – indeed, in the last century. On this podcast, Jay asks Jonathan the pregnant question: What does the “V” stand for? They go on to Jonathan’s university, Johns Hopkins, which Jonathan excoriates in no uncertain terms. Then they talk about George Will, whom Jonathan first started reading when he was in seventh grade. He grew up to attend a ballgame with Will and, as a bonus, Tony La Russa. At Jay’s prodding, Jonathan further talks about presidential politics, Star Wars, Star Trek, design, presidents, athletes, musicians, novelists, and more. A tour with JVL is a rich and interesting one indeed. Jay calls him one of his favorite journalists and favorite people in America.

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Someone asked Jay to name one composer whose music he would take with him to a desert island. He names him (Bach). He also says farewell to Marcello Giordani, the Italian tenor, and Jessye Norman, the American soprano. We also get an opera overture, a Beethoven overture, some Gershwin—and “Take This Job and Shove It.” Quite a menu, quite a program.

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The baseball master talks to Jay about a slew of issues: How was the 2019 season? What about the (current) playoffs? Who are the future Hall of Famers? Is the Hall selective enough? What reforms of the game would be advisable? What about the relative paucity of black American players? What about the preeminence of Latin American players? What is the role of managers? And of GMs? And of owners?

All this and more – including a blast against the NBA. The master, George Will, is at the top of his game.

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That’s what Jay calls a Bach piece arranged for organ by Jean Guillou: pure joy. There is some more pure joy in this episode too—including the final movement of Brahms’s Horn Trio, which Jay plays to honor Myron Bloom, the great French-horn player who died on September 26. He also honors, at the end, Christopher Rouse, the American composer, who died on September 21. Music, said Rouse, in a statement to be issued after his passing, “has given me life and a reason for living.”

Jay also plays some Ella Fitzgerald, some Leontyne Price, and more. There is also a tale from opera lore: about Rudolf Bing and George Szell, who were too big for the same town.

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Today, Jay turns “Q&A” into an old-fashioned “Need to Know,” with his “friend, colleague, heroine, and podcast partner,” as he puts it: Mona Charen. They talk Trump-Ukraine-impeachment, of course. And then Greta (the teen climate-change activist), China, Turkey, Egypt, etc. A lot of laughs, a little yelling, and some keen analysis.

At the beginning, Jay asks Mona a potentially sensitive question: What is your middle name? He has never known …

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Tanya Chan is a legislator from Hong Kong and a democracy leader. She has just given testimony before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva (as an invitee of UN Watch, a non-governmental organization accredited at the U.N.). Chan talks with Jay about the democracy movement in Hong Kong. What does it want? What is its current mood? Who calls the shots in the city, the local government or the Party rulers in Beijing? What about police brutality? What about American flags in the streets? What about the relationship between Hong Kong and Taiwan? How about Chan personally – does she feel like a Hong Konger, like a Chinese woman, or some combination? Jay asks her all this and more. She is a brave woman, Tanya Chan. Earlier this year, she was sentenced to prison, although this sentence was suspended, owing to health: She was operated for a brain tumor. An interesting, candid, and indeed brave woman, in this “Q&A.”

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Jay does, and you will too. “Who Cares?” is a Gershwin song, which Gershwin arranged for piano (alone). Jay has André Watts play this. He later has Ella Fitzgerald sing the song, accompanied by another André, Previn. In between, he talks about Gabriel Fauré, and plays him. He talks about Arcadi Volodos, than whom there is no better pianist in the world, Jay says. We hear Volodos in Bach—Bach arranged by Samuil Feinberg, an earlier Russian pianist. We hear more Bach, played by Feinberg himself. And some Callas. And some Offenbach. A wonderful menu of music, with tasty comments to go with it.

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At some point in this conversation, the guys get into “The Super Bowl Shuffle” – from the Chicago Bears in the 1980s. That leads to other music associated with particular teams: “Another One Bites the Dust” and the Detroit Lions; “We Are Fam-i-ly” and the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is a sportscast, with David French and Vivek Dave (hosted by Jay). We’ve got college football: Nick Saban and them. We’ve got the NFL: Andrew Luck, Antonio Brown, Tom Brady … We’ve got Major League Baseball, and the Red Sox in particular. And we have tennis – including the wonderful young Canadian woman who, after she had beaten Serena Williams in the U.S. Open, apologized to the crowd. MCTE (Most Canadian Thing Ever). And, oh yes: all of that music, not excluding the shuffle.

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As Jay says in his introduction, John Relyea is a wonderful singer, a wonderful guy – and, it turns out, a wonderful conversationalist. You will enjoy getting to know this Canadian bass-baritone, who has many insights, observations, and stories, related amiably.

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As Jay tells us at the beginning, he has been reviewing from two summer festivals: the Mostly Mozart Festival (New York) and the Salzburg Festival, in Mozart’s hometown. He discusses and plays a variety of music performed at these festivals: Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Enescu – and Mozart, for sure.

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