Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Detroit once symbolized America

Every great city has it’s defining era. Not always good, but certainly one that shapes its fortunes and reinforces its place in the urban pantheon. For New York it was perhaps the 50s, for Paris the mid 1920s, for San Francisco the ‘60s and for Hollywood, certainly the 1930s.

For Detroit, the eighteen months from the fall of 1962, through the spring 1964 marked perhaps the apogee and the beginning of the downward arc of that once great city.

A city that came to personify the American experience in the second half of the 20th century. Detroit at the time was the epicenter of music, racial strife, labor and of a middle class that now seems a bygone dream.

Capturing that moment is Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist, and Washington Post Associate Editor David Maraniss. He captures the essence of this period in Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story.

My conversation with David Maraniss:

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Not So Random Walk Through L.A.

The lyrics say that “nobody walks in L.A.” That certainly has been true, in a city whose inhabitants were long hermetically sealed inside their if in a pneumatic tube shuttling from place to pace. L.A. was for a long time, a place where as John Didion said, “the entire quality of life accentuates it impermanence and unreliability.”

Today’s Los Angeles is a vastly different place. A city of neighborhoods and of Freeways; a city both urban and suburban, a kind of hybrid that sits at the cutting edge America’s movement toward cities, while still trying to hang on to its suburban trappings.

In short, L.A. just might be some kind of cultural or urban capital o
f the 21st century

Few appreciate and understand the city more than former L.A. Times book editor David Ulin. His new book is Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles.

My conversation with David Ulin:

Friday, October 2, 2015

War of the Whales: An environmental adventure story

We all know the old bromide that you can’t fight City Hall. Well imagine how tough it must be to take on the US Navy.  Especially if the cause is about the condition of whales, and those who are fighting are an environmental lawyer and a Navy whistleblower.

Many of you have probably heard parts of this story, in news reports and on 60 Minutes. But now Joshua Horwitz, in his book War of the Whales: A True Story tells the full story of this David vs. Goliath battle, of the military industrial complex vs. environment.

My conversation with Joshua Horwitz:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

This woman changed and defined Hollywood in the 70's

Hollywood is a like sports or politics. Each generation gives us stars and personalities that both reflect the culture and tenor of the times and also transcend it in ways that pave the way for the next generation.

By the 1970’s Hollywood had seen a lot of agents. Names that you’ve seldom hear of. Men like Lew Wasserman, Myron Selznick, Swifty Lazer and Abe Lastfogel shaped the lives and careers of celebrities.

And while by the 70’s woman were emerging in the more cloistered world of New York literary agents, one woman would put her mark on Hollywood in a way that came to define an era. One that combined the glitz and glamor of early Hollywood, with the informality and countercultural fervor of the 70’s.

That woman was Sue Mengers. She the subject of biographer Brian Kellow’s new book Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent.

My conversation with Brian Kellow:

Monday, September 21, 2015

War Correspondent to the World's Women

The world today is a dangerous, unstable and violent place. And while Stephen Pinker tells us that today is less violent than at any other time in human history, images from Africa and the Middle East would seem to belie that.

But when we look at places that have improved, in Africa, in Latin America and even in the West, we see that woman and the empowerment of women have played a key role in the transformation to a more civil world.

What does this mean, why has it happened, and what does it portent for solutions to those places that still seemed mired in hatred and violence. Sally Armstrong has spent her career covering wars and global struggles and now examines this nexus between global progress and the empowerment of woman in Uprising: A New Age Is Dawning for Every Mother's Daughter.

My conversation with Sally Armstrong:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Moral Panic of the 1980's

We see today in the debate regarding immigration, a little bit about the the ways that falsehood and mass hysteria, mixed with doses of fear and change, can create a movement.

Back in the 1980’s a combination of delayed reaction to the 60’s, to the rise of woman, to the offshoots of feminism, coupled with the rise of the Christian Right and the changing American family, gave us a suburban fear that went beyond anything conjured up by Yates or Cheever.

One of the ways that it manifested itself was in what became the longest criminal trial in US history, known as the McMartin preschool case.

Richard Beck takes us back to that time in his new book We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s

My conversation with Richard Beck:

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Making of Asian America

For reasons that are both complicated and simplistic, immigration has become the issues of our time. Fifty years ago the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act put in place the system we have today. That system has helped make us a nation of of immigrants and set the stage for the diverse Asian/American population in the US today.

Erika Lee takes us through the history of that population in The Making of Asian America: A History

My conversation with Erika Lee:

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day for Domestic Workers

Imagine one movement the combines every contemporary progressive social issue; race, immigration, Civil Rights, the labor movement, gender discrimination. It may sound on the surface like the ultimate impossibility. In fact, they all did converge in the movement for the rights of Domestic Workers.

From the 1950’s to today, the movement in support of workers who are the most invisible, whom labor organizations thought could not be organized, is the story of an amazing group of women overcoming unique obstacle in a struggle that had much larger ripples on the social landscape. Premilla Nadasen takes us through the history of an amazing group of African American women who built a movement.  She tells their story in Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement.

My conversation with Premilla Nadasen:

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Is College Football worth the cost?

In spite of a rough stock market and a bumpy economy there is one business, not a tech company, that has grown revenues from $229 million in 1999 to over 800 million today. That is the business that is the ten largest programs in College football. It’s a business where the CEO’s, the coaches, are mostly part of the one percent. They earn millions annually and even worse than most big businesses, their employees work for almost nothing.

The world of College football specifically and College athletics in general, has grown out of all proportion to its real value. This is the world we begin to watch this weekend and the world that Pulitzer Prize winner Gilbert Gaul writes about in Billion-Dollar Ball: A Journey Through the Big-Money Culture of College Football.

My conversation with Gilbert Gaul:

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Gift of Failure

I’ve often told the story of a newly minted teacher considering her first job. She had several offers, but in the end there were two that were intriguing to her. One in a difficult and struggling inner city school district; the other in a very wealthy, upper middle class suburban enclave. She said that she felt like it was a decision between difficult students or difficult parents.

In that choice, we come to understand one of the dilemmas of today's educational system. The extremes between parents who simply don’t have the time or knowledge to engage in their kid's education, or parents like those portrayed as Tiger Moms, or the Upper East Side moms of Primates of Park Avenue, who take helicopter parenting to a new extreme.

Worse yet, it generally reaches its apogee at precisely the time in Middle School when kids could most benefit from personal responsibility, social emotional development and yes, even owning their failure.

This is what NY Times and Atlantic contributor Jessica Lahey writes about in The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.

My conversation with Jessica Lahey:

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Joy of Being Scared - Remembering Wes Craven

Through the efforts of both critics and audiences, we’ve come to understand that “genre films,” are just as significant as mainstream films. Few mastered the genre of horror and suspense to the degree that Wes Craven did. From his first, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) to the 1984 classic NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, Craven infused intelligence into all of his work.

Back in 1999 I spoke to Craven about his work, and the publication of his first novel.

Here is my conversation with Wes Craven:

Oliver Sacks R.I.P

How do we navigate the world in spite of change?  It's one of the central tenants of modern society. Over and over again, Oliver Sacks used the experience and metaphor of debilitating conditions to explain the amazing resilience of the human mind. A resiliency he himself exhibited right up until the end of his life.

I had many chances to talk with Sacks over the years, the last was in November of 2012. It was about his book The Mind's Eye Inspired in part by his own experience with the cancer that would take him from us.

My November 2012 conversation with Oliver Sacks:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The not so perfect storm: Katrina at 10 years

The phrase “The Perfect Storm” has come to mean a lot of things. Most notably the unique and singular coming together of disparate forces to mark a disaster. In that context the City of New Orleans experienced the perfect storm; not just from the meteorological confluence of isobars that would create hurricane Katrina, but in the impact and aftermath of a city torn by racial strife, economic division, identity politics, poor management and even poorer public policy.

It it’s true that one should never let a crisis go to waste, many within New Orleans did not. In Katrina they saw an opportunity to remake the city anew. But in whose image and at the cost of whose future?

This is the New Orleans that Gary Rivlin captures in Katrina: After the Flood

My conversation with Gary Rivlin:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing

When we think about the iconography and the history of contemporary policing and urban criminal justice what comes to mind? Sixty years ago it was Dragnet and Joe Friday. Later, everything from Adam 12 to the work of Joe Wambaugh. Then their was the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots; the OJ trial, helicopters employed by police and chases, both high and slow speed. What they all have in common is the City of Los Angeles. A city that has been on the cutting edge of all that is right and wrong with urban policing.

Long time investigative journalist Joe Domanick writes about this checkered history in Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing

My conversation with Joe Dominick:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Plenty Ladylike

Even today, fifteen months before Election Day, we are in full political campaign season. And while we hear a lot of loose talk about issues, it’s easy to forget that politics is also about both the art of governing, and sometimes doing so in the real world of compromise and possibilities.

Even with all the problems of our healthcare system, Doctors usually go into medicine because that have calling; a desire to help people. While it's’ hard to believe sometimes, many politicians also have a calling and go into it because they have a desire to use the levers of policy to make the world a better place.

For Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, this is true. Since Missouri became state, 194 years ago, she is the first woman to serve as its United States Senator and has just written her memoir Plenty Ladylike.

My conversation with Senator Claire McCaskill:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Beat L.A.

One of the ongoing conundrums in sports is whether it’s about the team or the individual? Back in the early days of the NFL, Pete Rozelle believed passionately, that in a game played only once a week, the team was the key to marketing. In Basketball, former Commissioner David Stern saw the value of individual stars as the draw for fans.

For Baseball it’s been a mixed bag. Even for iconic teams like the Dodgers or the Giants, the question of team vs. the individual is hotly debated.

For the Dodgers, at least the current team and its current ownership group, the answer is clear. With players like Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, stars outshine the team. The individual player is king, second only to the dollars they are being paid.

Looking at this team, a team that was in bankruptcy just three years ago, as a result of a a messy divorce, is my guest sports journalist and former ESPN reporter Molly Knight. She takes a hard look at this team in her new book The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers' Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse

My conversation with Molly Knight:

Why Addiction is Not a Disease - Recovering from Recovery

We have developed what amounts to an addiction/industrial complex. Each year billions are spent, in both public and private dollars, to treat, cure, and mitigate addiction. But is it working? Are today’s so called “best practices,” having measurable, metric driven results? If not, what might we be doing wrong?

Dr. Marc Lewis believes that the current approach of treating addiction as a disease, lies at the heart of our repeated failures and frustrations.

In The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease, he walks us through the lives of five people, who have journeyed in and out of addiction and show what we might do differently.

My conversation with Dr. Marc Lewis:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Life after Nuclear War

As we debate the ins and out of nuclear proliferation, on editorial pages and in the drawing rooms of Georgetown; in the halls of Congress and in the boiler room political operations of AIPAC, it's worth taking note, on this 70th anniversary of the dawn of the nuclear age, of the full impact of what we are actually talking about.

As powerful as the bomb on Hiroshima was, it was the second bomb, three days later, on Nagasaki that was even more devastating.

Today, in the shadow of talks about other nations joining the nuclear club, we both note and remember the voices of atomic bomb survivors.

Susan Southard in Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War describes the events and the aftermath of August 9th, when a nuclear device, detonated over Nagasaki, changed life on Earth forever, even as U.S. policies at the time kept the suffering hidden.

My conversation with Susan Southard:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

From a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League

As we debate immigration, we still always look favorably on the “Dreamers.” The young undocumented students thriving here in America. It’s easy to romanticize that experience and even draw conclusion from the success of individuals.

The greater challenge is to look at those successes and see what real world lessons we might draw that can tell us more about success and failure and social mobility here in the U.S.

Dan-el Padilla Peralta is perhaps the penultimate success story. Raised in New York's shelters, he would ultimately graduate from Princeton, Oxford and Stanford and is currently a Mellon Research Fellow at Columbia.

His memoir is Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League.

My conversation with Dan-el Padilla Peralta:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Eighty Years Ago, Paperback Books Were Considered "Creative Destruction"

Today when we think about the publishing industry, we usually think about the ways that it is changing to accommodate the digital world. E-books, E-readers, cloud storage and white backgrounds dominate the conversation.

But believe it or not, there have been other times when the publishing industry has been rocked by fundamental change and when that change was met with fervent resistance. One of those times was eighty years ago when an executive name Allen Lane, had this idea for something called “paperback books.”

Books that would be more accessible to the masses. Available not just in bookstores, but in train stations, newsstands and and even the corner grocer.

That fundamental idea by Lane, has been a part of all our lives and of our reading and learning experience. It also became the basis for the company that he started, Penguin Books. One of the most iconic names in publishing today. An imprint that today is the flagship of Penguin Random House and on this very day marks its eightieth anniversary.

Looking back and looking forward at the publishing industry is Patrick Nolan, VP, Editor in Chief and Associate Publisher at Penguin Books.

My conversation with Patrick Nolan:

Is Water the Sine Qua Non of "red" and "blue" America?

I’m often the first to criticize the way in which we are too quick to put things in political terms. Too often the rush to label “red” or “blue” America gets us into trouble. But one aspect seems to hold. We are bluer politically as we get closer to water. Look at any map and coastal America seems to have a different mindset.

Perhaps it is because water and proximity to water make a difference. That it impacts us in profound ways that stem from our evolutionary biology and extend to health, happiness and a more holistic view of the world.

Wallace J. Nichols has devoted himself to understand man's connection to the water. He explore it in Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.

My conversation with Wallace J. Nichols:

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Drive around San Francisco, or Los Angeles and the Green Cross is everywhere. Medical marijuana “clinics,” have proliferated beyond even the number of Starbucks.

But does marijuana really have medical value, or is it just a ruse to usher in legalized and recreational use, as in Colorado and Washington?

After all, doctors dispensing prescriptions for joints, via Skype, in a dingy clinic, doesn't seem particularly medicalized.

However, there may be a real value in marijuana, beyond just its known use and value to cancer patients.

Dr. David Casarett, the author of the previous book “Shocked,” looks at this in his new work, Stoned: A Doctor's Case for Medical Marijuana

My conversation with Dr. David Casarett:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Are you ever surprised that you are being lied to?

To about the same degree that Captain Renault was “shocked, just shocked” to find gambling going on Casablanca, that’s how shocked many of us are to find that politicians and business leaders lie to us.

Whether it’s the latest candidate promising to make the world a better place, or Coca Cola offering the Real Thing,  the idea of marketing and even misrepresentation has been around before spin doctors, and long before Don Draper.

From the days on the Savanna when the caveman may have allowed his buddy to be eaten by a lion, because he coveted his woman, to the endless promise of the Apple Watch...we know we are often lied to.

But does matter? Isn’t the idea of a free society the ability to allow us to have the information to be informed, to make our own decisions? And today, with creative destruction everywhere, when buyers know more about the price of a car than the salesman, when transpiration can be ordered and altered with the click of a mouse, aren't we better off?

Talk radio host and author Ethan Bearman, whose new book is Liars & Whores: How Big Government and Big Business Are Working to Save Their Own Assets, Not Yours,
is not so sure.

My conversation with Ethan Bearman:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Big Science and The Launch of the Military Industrial Complex

We all remember Ben Franklin flying his kite, or Alexander Graham Bell calling for Watson, even Jonas Salk working quietly in his laboratory.

Today science, or at least big science, is a global effort. It involves governments, private enterprise, universities and vast institutional support. Think about the International Space Station, the Large Hadron Collider, and even before all of that, the Manhattan Project and even the development of the Internet itself.

All are part of what Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Hiltzik writes about in Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention that Launched the Military-Industrial Complex.

My conversation with Michael Hiltzik:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Baseball's Endless Season - Is it too long?

As we hit the half way mark in the Baseball season, how many players are injured, how many are burnt out already? Are we creating a softer group of players or is 162 games in 180 days, just too many games? Washington Baseball writer Barry Svrluga explores this in The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season.

My conversation with Barry Svrluga:

Friday, July 10, 2015

Primates of Park Avenue

We have always studied other cultures so that perhaps we could better understand our own. The realm of cultural anthropology has provided us keen insights into our evolutionary nature and why we do the strange things we do, as human beings.

Wednesday Martin, has used the tools of cultural anthropology to zero in on one very narrow subgroup. The tiny percentage of the “One Percent” that reside in and around Park Avenue, on the Upper East Side of New York.

Her book Primates of Park Avenue, has gotten a great deal of attention, both for its subject matter, its research and its authenticity. But there is no question that broadly, it accurately reflects a time, a place and a culture that says something about our collective character in 2015.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A kid with a dream - Jerry Weintraub R.I.P.

Jerry Weintraub spent more than five decades in show business. As a promoter, manager, movie and Broadway producer, his success was unparalleled and his judgement uncanny.

With great success, show business autobiographies often come with their need to tell others how to succeed. Jerry Weintraub, in his autobiography, When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man, told us of the people that have taught him. If ever there were a primer on networking, the power of mentors and chutzpa, Jerry Weintraub wrote it.

I had the opportunity to talk to him about his autobiography,  and his career, back in April of 2010.

My conversation with Jerry Weintraub:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight

Listen to any of the Republican candidates and it’s clear that the culture war issues that have driven so much political debates over the past 50+ years, are still going on.

Our political discourse is has polarized as ever. Even to the point where we’ve come to accept that you are never going to change anyones mind about social issues. So when we do talk, when we do try and debate, we simply talk past each other. It’s as if complicated personal issues are being discussed in a boiler factory. For no subject is this more true, than the subject of abortion.

My guest Aspen Baker, thinks there is a better way. A way to discuss perhaps the most contentious of all issues, the the subject of abortion, and use that discussion as a model to discuss other contentious issues. Her organization EXHALE has adopted Pro-Voice as its point of view.

My conversation with Aspen Baker: