Boston Calling - review

A heartfelt plea from the driver’s seat of a New York cab.

New Statesman
Photograph: Getty Images

Boston Calling
BBC World Service

A new weekly show on the World Service (Saturdays, 7.32pm) concentrates entirely on American issues and is unfussy and often droll, covering a lot of ground in 25 minutes. This week, a reporter spoke to various New York cabbies about the traffic near the UN building during the General Assembly.

Each driver independently quoted “35 minutes” as a prospective journey time, in much the same way that every London minicab controller claims your car is circumnavigating Elephant and Castle as they speak – unlikely but comforting. One, the Moroccan Jalal, said he spends the time in jams reading the Huffington Post on his phone, always avoiding news of Syria because he finds the subject horrifying. With a catch in his voice, he urged the UN to address the terror of attacks by unmanned military vehicles.

There then followed a revoltingly illuminating report on drones, now apparently regarded as the face of US military engagement. The drone is the “most largely used and overt of covert things,” said Rosa Brooks from the New America Foundation, pointing out that litigation is currently underway relating to drone strikes that may have been carried out by the CIA. “Because nobody has uttered the magic words, ‘The CIA has a drone programme and this is what it consists of,’” said Brooks, “if there is or isn’t anything that is covert, if it is, it’s there.” (Pick the bones out of that.)

What was striking wasn’t so much the doublespeak or even the information coming at you – the Pentagon recently admitted to providing 66 different countries with drone technology (Pakistani intelligence is especially keen to harness the drone) – or the complexity of a chain of command that is impossible to unscramble (everyone is duplicating and “assisting” one another). No, what was striking was the way in which the programme allowed the one comment by Jalal, with his partially read Huffington Post, to shape what followed. This happens quite a lot on the radio but rarely with such cool ease. There was none of the usual self-congratulatory flummery. Just a straightup- and-down, relatively brief and appropriately sane response to a heartfelt plea from the driver’s seat of a cab.