Category Archives: Commentary

The Future of RFNE

I’ve been thinking a lot about what RFNE is and what I want it to be. It’s been through many iterations in the past 6 years – from interviews and commentary, to just commentary, to guest contributors, back to interviews, and then to a music show.

This thinking started because after having between 15-60 listens for my first seven shows, Episode 8 had four. Four. The problem with that, especially, is that I thought it was a great episode! (Check it out – be number 5 9) The music was good, I made well-researched connections, it was certainly not mailed in. Am I Wolfman Jack or Howard Stern? Absolutely not, but for me, it was one of the better shows. I struggled to figure out what went wrong.

What I gather when I hear from people who listen is that RFNE means different things to each of you. Some prefer the commentary and the philosophical waxing of the audio essays while others like the “selection of music I wouldn’t otherwise listen to.” Still others value it for the artist and song stories – something increasingly rare on radio and almost unheard of in the world of streaming.

To me, RFNE has been all of these things and more. It’s a way for me to explore passions long dormant in my day job, where triage rather than exploration is the dominant theme. Still, I’m weary of the all-things-to-everyone model because it frequently means being unsatisfying to everyone. I could, as I’ve essentially done slowly over the years, let it adapt to my current interests and time constraints.

One thing I’ve done, with a little shame, is to agonize over how to build followers and optimize. That’s meant trying the social media thing, reading pro radio blogs, etc. I have found that neither productive nor “me.” At this time, you can expect that the little social media presence RFNE has had will be going away. Just like some people don’t buy from non-union places, or others from right-wing bakers, I will not continue to even tacitly support Facebook’s algorithms and other platform’s dominance of conversation, the public square, and creator’s minds. I hate listicles, and I bet you do, too. But, I also bet you, like me, have wasted time reading some and working your way through a stream built by someone whose only real goal is to keep you streaming on, not edifying you, or even genuinely entertaining you. I’m not alone in thinking this. Countless articles have been written about social media’s built-in addiction machine and eyes-on end game.

The Future of RFNE

At the end of the day, if four or 4000 people listen to an episode, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve enjoyed making it and the thing to be valued is the community built around shared interests – whether that’s a small or large community is insignificant.

On that basis, from now on, I’m simplifying my RFNE presence. No more chasing followers. I want a digital home – it’s rfne.org – that’s it. Like we do in our physical homes, rfne.org will continue to reflect me – my tastes, what I’m reading, listening to, thinking about right now. Just like we can show our tastes in palette choices, furniture, what books or albums we leave around, you can expect that RFNE will have a smattering of things – links, audio, and video, written blogs/essays, and more.

The web, in the early days of blogging, and into the 2000s, was more conversational, more thoughtful and deeper. People had their own sites. People weren’t writing for google or facebook likes, they were writing for each other and their followers. The same is true of early podcasts. People grabbed mics, did shows and connected with their communities.

Most of what got me started with digital media – blogging and podcasting, both – was this thoughtful, conversational approach. Podcasts like Late Night Live out of Australia, with a thoughtful host who interviews a variety of people and talks about a really wide variety of thoughtful things from science and history to a big picture view of world events. His guests include scientists, politicians, PhDs and journalists, including Bruce Shapiro of the Nation (click here for his author page).

And, of course, as far as written blogging is concerned, who better than Andrew Sullivan and his gang over at The Dish? I’m sure most of you have read Andrew Sullivan. If you haven’t, click the Dish link above. It’s an archive of his former site. Though he stopped his “24/7” blog, he still writes for New York Magazine and is generally a blogger-about-town on news programs, podcasts, and the like.

That’s, truly, what I’ve always been after – an engaged community where we can think together, share ideas, music, articles, and more together. So, here’s how we’ll do this:

  • No more Facebook, etc. It’s too much to keep up, and I do it poorly. I’m not built for social media.
  • Instead, my online home is rfne.org. I’ll post my music shows, podcasts, and blog entries there. It’s best if you bookmark the site, add it to an rss feed, or follow it via email.
  • Since many of you also follow via my email newsletter, that option remains open, too. Newsletters, also, feel more like blogs than Facebook and Twitter. They’re personal, they go to your inbox, and unless you’re still scrolling through emails, it’s distraction free and algorithm free. You can add your email address by clicking here if you want to follow what I’m doing that way.

I want – need – your participation.

Remember how cool it felt to sit around with friends and share ideas – books, essays, great songs? Maybe you had this experience in high school or college, maybe you’re lucky enough to still have it now. RFNE can work like that, too.

So, instead of asking you to post or comment in thirty-million places, let’s simplify: email me at chris@rfne.org or, if you want your voice on the podcast, you get two choices – record a voice memo and email it or call (207) 536-8997 and leave your ideas as a voicemail.

RFNE is BACK


Let’s face it: the world is at a turning point. The United States is putting up with at best, a strange and erratic political scene led by an inept administration, or at worst, a power-hungry megalomaniac who wants to upend politics and replace it with a model more like the Apprentice where he calls all the shots.

Around the world, from Turkey to Russia, from the Alt-Right to ISIS, an anti-democratic mood is on the rise amongst insurgents and the establishment alike.

At times like these, the world would do well to remember Edmund Burke’s admonition from long ago: that evil succeeds when good people do nothing. Those of us who love democracy, love America, love political freedom need to stand up and present the world with a rallying cry. Those who have had little time for politics in the past, now is the time for you to join us to protect what we’ve come to take for granted.

In the coming weeks and months, Radio Free New England will experiment with blogging and podcasting a democratic* revival. I’ll be writing about concepts like individual dignity and human rights, talking with people about the ways they take responsibility in their communities, and featuring inspirational speeches, addresses, essays, and more from some of history’s greatest champions of democracy.

*In my mind, democracy looks like the following: people taking responsibility for their individual lives and communities, and supporting their neighbors (broadly defined) in pursuit of our common goals – life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness (but also health, meaning and morality). Democracy is this sense is “small d.” If you don’t know it already, you will surely figure out that I am a liberal in many ways. To me, that doesn’t matter much in this project. I think liberals and conservatives have a shared interest in preserving our democracy and extending those universal values to as many people as we can. We can save our disagreements over specific policies for the debate in the democratic process itself.

I think liberals and conservatives have a shared interest in preserving our democracy and extending those universal values to as many people as we can. We can save our disagreements over specific policies for the debate in the democratic process itself.

But, to do this, we as Americans, and people at large, need to be tolerant of losing some of those policy battles. One of the main problems with our current political climate is that people on all sides think that if the Other wins even just one battle, Armageddon will come. We’re so entrenched, that it is unlikely any side will be satisfied with any leader other than a Trump-style politician who leans their way. As Patrick Moynihan once put it, that kind of politicking is nothing more than “boob bait.” It applies equally to all sides, and it is a political tone that needs to stop if we’re to preserve our democratic heritage.

RFNE’s purpose, then, is to elevate the beautiful voices of democracy – people like Locke and Burke, Jefferson and Adams, Douglass and Lincoln, JFK and MLK, Havel and Walesa, Tutu and Mandela, and many others who once, and still can, rouse people to return to the “better angels of their nature” (Lincoln) and defend this ideal, this experiment that has lit the world with passion. Let’s not be the generation that lets democracy burn out because we failed to feed the flames.

Atticus I and Atticus II

As an avid fan of To Kill a Mockingbird and Atticus Finch, I put off reading Go Set a Watchman for quite some time. This was, of course, after pre-ordering the book before the reviews came in. In those early days, I was full of excitement over where the story might lead – Atticus once again leading with quiet dignity and ideals as the South burned with competing passions for and against integration.

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NH Primaries and Political Heroes

A week ago, New Hampshire’s voters gave Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders impressive victories. I won’t dwell on what it means, because many news outlets have already done that here, here, and here. With one caucus and one primary under our collective belts, and a slew to come, this seems like a good time to pause and reflect on just what’s happening in 2016. On the one hand, voters have rarely faced such stark contrasts in vision within each primary in the same year. On the Democratic side, voters have a choice between a socialist progressive and a pragmatic progressive. On the Republican side, there’s a libertarian tea party candidate, a neoconservative, and a bombastic, policy-agnostic, personality-driven strong man.

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Brother, Can You Spare Some Time?

If you’re around 30 or if you have a child who is that age, you probably remember the elementary school experience with D.A.R.E. or a similar drug awareness program. We were all told that if we wanted to talk about someone, but didn’t want to reveal confidences, we should say “I know someone who.” Since that practice has fallen out of favor, and using “I know someone who” doesn’t exactly flow across the page, I’m going to talk about an experience a friend had by calling the friend Bud. The antagonists in this tale are Joe Yoga and Mindful Mary, but you can call them Joe and Mary for short.

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The Next American Experiment – The Future of the GOP

On November 18th, the Next American Experiment analyzes the 2012 election and weighs in on the Republican Party. Does the GOP need to change it’s platform to suit Hispanics and Millenials, as some commentators are suggesting?
Add your voice to the discussion by commenting on this post, tweeting @radiofreeneweng or click here to add an audio comment to our dropbox (no set up needed! Just click record and start talking!). We’ll choose the best comments and include them in this week’s Next American Experiment.

A Tale of Two Parties – The Fractious GOP

Thanks to the new material that will be part of the Radio Free New England podcast, my weekly commentaries are moving off air. Today’s commentary will be the last you hear, but I invite you to visit radiofreenewengland.com on Wednesdays where you’ll find a written commentary every week, under the Commentaries page. As always, I look forward to hearing what you think and you can join the discussion in the comments section of the page.

If you had to guess which party was meeting with minorities, women’s groups, immigrants and activists a week after the election, which would you pick? Well, this year it’s the Republicans, searching for answers to their presidential and Senate losses. Already, the commentators have begun laying blame and offering solutions.

An illustrative example of what the future holds for the GOP unfolded on the pages of the Washington Post. In competing columns, Charles Krauthammer and Michael Gerson argued two polar-opposite theses.

Krauthammer contends that the Republican Party is doing just fine and needs one simple tweak: immigration reform. Krauthammer (in hindsight, anyway) argues that Hispanics are natural Republicans and that all that is preventing them from voting for the Grand Old Party is hostility over Republican proposals for voluntary deportations and insensitivity to illegal immigrants already living in the United States.

Gerson, on the other hand, sees a wholesale problem. He writes that Romney lost because his campaign was essentially a technical manual for economic reform rather than a full-throated enunciation of conservative principles. Gerson also discussed the Latino vote, but he wrote about economic opportunity and social mobility instead of merely immigration. He harkened back to English conservative Edmund Burke, who believed in society rather than simply government or markets. Burke, an 18th century Whig, saw people as a tapestry of their time, place, and position. Everyone was molded by the traditions that surrounded them, living conditions, and status. Because Burke had a three dimensional view of people and life, he was not afraid to embrace sensible change. He was the type of person who stood on principle but compromised on the rest.

Gerson and Burke believe we’re not simple machines that react to one stimulus or input. In fact, Burke, if alive today, would be amazed to know that our machines don’t even act that way anymore. So, there’s the divide: Krauthammer’s analysis would fix a single issue, believing that will open up a pathway to Latino votes. Gerson would look at the economic and social needs of Latinos in addition to immigration. Further, Gerson would amend the Republican message to tell a story about conservatism in America.

It will be interesting to see which point of view wins amongst the party elite. We can be sure of three things as we move forward, however.

First, Michael Gerson won’t be the only one to discuss Edmund Burke. Burke is such an effective advocate for moderation and traditional conservatism that many centrists and even some liberals gush over him. We should surrender now and give him his own hashtag. See you at #Burke.

Secondly, I’m shocked at how familiar this all sounds. Some commentators and party leaders say the message is right and all that is needed is a little tweak to “win back” a natural constituency, while others say the party needs a broad change, to be more responsive and to develop a different narrative. Why, that’s exactly what the Democrats were saying in 2010 – same fight, different issues and different voters. The Democrats were looking to win back blue collar whites and some people said it came down to moderating stances on issues, while others said the Dems just needed a better story and to bring back the Old Time Religion.

Third, this has been happening for generations. 2008 saw the rise of the Tea Party who claimed the GOP had abandoned small government values. In 2004, liberals wanted to make Deaniacs out of the Democrats while centrists sought a revamped Clintonism. Each side blamed the other for John Kerry’s personal loss.

The fact is, there is hardly an election that goes by anymore where the losing side shakes the winner’s hand and says “good game” and gets on with trying to come together and govern. But we cannot forget, as citizens and as voters, that we sent them to the State House to govern, not to posture. The Democrats did it in 2010, and the Republicans are doing it now – the same public angst over the direction of the party and an all-too-transparent self-assessment. We should not be fooled. We should look to the record, to the deeds done, and decide for ourselves whether the Republicans are truly the party of Burke, or the party of posture. This session’s debt debate will be a good way to find out.