The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

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Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

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This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


The Philosopher's Comedy Club

Feb 28, 2013
Originally published on July 5, 2013 10:03 am



From NPR and WNYC, this is ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, your host and over the next hour, we are going to try to stump you. That's right listener, smarty pants, I'm talking to you. Get ready to use more than 10 percent of your brain because this is our Really Hard Edition. Joining me in the studio is our occasional puzzle guru and puzzle editor Art Chung.

ART CHUNG: Hey, Ophira.

EISENBERG: Hey, Art. Now, I know I work with you but I actually don't know the answer to this. What do you do, exactly...

CHUNG: What do I do?

EISENBERG: a puzzle editor?

CHUNG: Well, what I do is I lead a team of writers who pitch every game that's on the show and we come up with games that are accessible but challenging. And it's my job to make sure that the questions aren't too hard, aren't too easy, and are really fun.

EISENBERG: And how many games have we played so far?

CHUNG: We've played over 200 almost. Yeah.

EISENBERG: And some of them have been very challenging. Like this first game called the Philosopher's Comedy Club. Which, you know, it sounds hard.

CHUNG: Right. Originally when it was pitched, it was pitched as a superhero's comedy club but we thought that was maybe a little too niche for our audience. So we...

EISENBERG: Not everyone's my husband; is that what you're trying to say?

CHUNG: Not everyone knows the difference between Plastic Man and Elongated Man.


CHUNG: So we decided to make it about philosophers and it turns out we just exchanged a lowbrow difficult game for a highbrow difficult game.

EISENBERG: Right. You made it even harder.

CHUNG: Even harder.

EISENBERG: So what we did is we took, you know, ideology, reason, rationality and imagine them as standup comedy acts. Our puzzle guru John Chaneski led this game, the Philosopher's Comedy Club.

Here are our next two contestants. Stan Lee and Charlie Esser are settling in behind their puzzle podiums. Charlie?


EISENBERG: Have you ever taken any philosophy?


EISENBERG: None at all?

ESSER: Not really, no. No, none at all. I read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

JOHN CHANESKI: There you go.


EISENBERG: And you are joined by Stan Lee, who I just have to point out...


EISENBERG: Welcome. Stan Lee is not the co-creator of Spider-Man. He is a much more important person.

LEE: Actually, that's my secret identity.

EISENBERG: How about you, any philosophy in your background?

LEE: My academic adviser advised me to take intro and call her in the morning, and I majored in it for undergrad.

EISENBERG: Our next game is called The Philosopher's Comedy Club. And as a standup comic myself, just imaging this place sends chills down my spine. I can't imagine, I guess you'd find out what the sound of one hand clapping feels like, and the heckling would be out of control: Not enlightening enough. An unexamined joke is not worth telling. I think, therefore you suck.


EISENBERG: Tell me it's not going to be like that, John.

CHANESKI: No, it's going to be a little worse actually. No. Philosophers get a bad rap for being a bit boring, serious people, but in this game we find out that many of them were originally standup comedians. It's true. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who said, I just flew in from hell, and boy am I tired of other people.


CHANESKI: So, contestants, you have to identify the philosophers who just might have told the following hacky jokes. And please, try the veal. Here we go. A lawyer, a plumber and a used car salesman all die in a plane crash and find themselves at the Pearly Gates, except they don't because God is dead.



LEE: Nietzsche.

CHANESKI: Nietzsche is right, very good.

EISENBERG: There you go.


CHANESKI: Did you ever notice how the end justifies the means? What's the deal with that?


CHANESKI: Charlie?

ESSER: Immanuel Kant.

CHANESKI: Not Kant, no.




LEE: Niccolo Machiavelli.

CHANESKI: Machiavelli is right. Yes, way to go. Good steal.


CHANESKI: Take my wife, or at least the shadow of her that appears on the cave wall to which I spend my life chained, please.


CHANESKI: Charlie?

ESSER: Plato.

CHANESKI: Plato is right.


CHANESKI: What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others in bed.



LEE: That was the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu.

CHANESKI: Not Lao Tzu, no. Charlie, for the steal?


ESSER: That would be Hillel.

CHANESKI: No, not Hillel. Anybody here, anybody else know it?


CHANESKI: Yes, Confucius.

EISENBERG: Confucius.

CHANESKI: Give that lady one point. Very good.


CHANESKI: How many philosophers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one, if he acts according to the maxim whereby he can, at the same time will that it should become a universal law. Besides, it doesn't matter because the light bulb is, in itself, unknowable.


CHANESKI: Charlie?

ESSER: Bacon.

CHANESKI: Not Bacon. Stan?

LEE: Either Immanuel Kant or Ludwig Wittgenstein.

CHANESKI: Pick one.


EISENBERG: I like that idea, though.

LEE: The right one.

CHANESKI: Sorry. Flip a coin if you have to.

LEE: Kant. Kant.

CHANESKI: Kant is right.


CHANESKI: A guy walks into a bar and the bartender says "What can I get you?" the guy says nothing. He who is attached to things will suffer much, according to the Tao.



LEE: Lao Tzu.

CHANESKI: That's Lao Tzu, very good.

EISENBERG: There you go.


CHANESKI: OK. Get ready. So a guy goes to a talent agent and says have I got an act for you. It's a family and the dad realizes that achievement of his own happiness is the only moral purpose of life. And the mom, she rejects ethical altruism. And the son knows that government help is just as dangerous as government persecution. And the agent says, I love it. What's the act called? And the guy says "The Objectivists."




LEE: Ayn Rand.

CHANESKI: Ayn Rand is right.


EISENBERG: Stan, congratulations, you have won this philosophical round. Stan Lee will be continuing to our final round. How about a hand for Charlie, everybody?

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.