Friday, November 20, 2015

Why Lincoln would be appalled by today's income inequality

How many of the candidates that are running for President today, have the depth of character and ideas that, if they were to be elected, we still might be talking about them, studying them and being surprised by them, 150 years after their death? The answer is probably none.

That is certainly not the case with Abraham Lincoln. 150 years after his death, people like esteemed Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer are still plowing the depths of Lincoln's convictions and portraying what he accomplished.

Convictions and ideas that are, in spite of the best efforts of Lincoln’s own party today, still part of the fabric of America. Holzer displays these ideas in A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity

My conversation with Harold Holzer:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How Art Shapes our Nature

We live in this world usually someplace between the mundane and the absurd. But regardless of which, it's one that is probably organized to the Nth degree. Our technology is almost embedded in our personal DNA, in order to keep us on task.

But is all this structure an impediment to creativity? And if so, where might we get back to our youthful sense of play, of wonder and of discovery.

For some, it’s in travel and visiting strange places and the strange surroundings that take us out of ourselves. For others, and often closer to home, it can be found in art; in what Alve Noe refers to as the boredom of art.

Art that unlike so much of culture, goes beyond surface and draws us in, sometimes to see the world in a brush stroke, a dance step, a well crafted sentence, or in a grain of sand.

Alve Noe takes this discussion of art to a new level in his book Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature

My conversation with Alva Noe:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Witchy Woman - Salem 1692

We think we know a lot about American history. About the events that shaped the formation of the republic. And while that knowledge might get you an audition for Jeopardy, at its roots sometimes, it's also true that everything we think we know is wrong.

Essentially what that means, and maybe it's even a factor in what’s gone so wrong today, is that we tend to know only surface. That when we drill down to historical events, only then do we find that the facts, the nuances, the subtlety and the psychology are what really matters. This is what
really makes up the historical ripples we are living with today.

This is the story of the Salem Witch Trials, as told now by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Stacy Schiff.  She won the Pulitzer for her book Cleopatra, and now she pivots to 1692 Salem to bring us The Witches: Salem, 1692

Monday, November 9, 2015

It would be as if Angelina Jolie had invented Google

Back in the 1930's and 40's no one had heard of women engineers. Woman were not trying to "have it all," and the Hollywood women of the day represented the apotheosis of beauty, surfaces and dreams. Yet out this time emerged a woman who not only was considered the "most beautiful woman in the world," but in her spare time, from making hit movies, gave us the technology that we still use today in our cell phones, GPS devices and in Bluetooth. A woman of brains and beauty, Hedy Lamarr was a true Renascence woman. Yet her story has been little know until now when Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Richard Rhodes captures her story in Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr.
My conversation with Richard Rhodes:

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve

It used to be, during the dark days of the Cold War, watching the Kremlin and trying to read meaning into every nuance, tea leaf and coming and going, was elevated to an art form.

Today, it’s the same for the Fed. Every meeting, every utterance of the Fed Chair and Fed Governors is parsed and analyzed and poured over for some hint of what the Fed will do and what it might mean for the markets, for the economy and for the politics of the country.

But it wasn’t always so. In the aftermath of the 1907 financial panic, Congress created the Federal Reserve. They did so for reasons not dissimilar to the state of our transitional economy today. But they did so in a spirit of compromise and national unity that seems a very far cry from anything that might happen today.

Putting all of this in its proper perspective is Roger Lowenstein in his new book America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve

My conversation with Roger Lowenstein:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies: Lessons from San Francisco and Los Angeles.

We’ve seen that different cities often emerge as the the center of their times. This has been true from the Greek city states, through the Roman Empire and right up until the present, here in America. It seems that every major cultural, social and political movement of the modern era seems to be anchored in its own place.

New York became a kind of capital of the 50’s. In the 60’s places like San Francisco and Berkeley were the center of gravity. New York and to a certain extent L.A. seemed to launch the post war economy of the 70’s. Washington seemed to dominate the 80’s and with the decline of New York, it seemed like the 80’s would belong to L.A.

But something happened. Something that moved the locus of the knowledge economy to San Francisco and the Bay Area.

What happened and why is at the core of the years of research done by Michael Storper and his colleagues and put forth in their book The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies: Lessons from San Francisco and Los Angeles.

My conversation with Michael Storper:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Eric Bogosian tells of the plot that avenged the Armenian Genocide

Everything starts somewhere. Even very bad things.

Many of the tremors we face today had their roots in the Ottoman Empire, in the run up to the First World War.  In what’s come to be called the Armenian Genocide.

There we began to see the rise of Muslim extremism, the battle for post WWI borders in the Middle East, the plight of refugees, the competition between national and corporate interests, particularly big oil, the Israeli/Palestinian conundrum, and even acts of heroism in the face of seemingly improbable odds.  All of these things had their roots 100 years ago in the first genocide of the 20th century.

What we have forgotten is that for those that perpetrated it, there was a price to pay.  A small band of brothers set out to avenge the death of the million-plus people killed in that Armenian Genocide.

Now Eric Bogosian captures the essence of the story in Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide.

My conversation with Eric Bogosian:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Can the under two hour marathon be accomplished?

This Sunday over 50,000 people will run in the NYC Marathon. For many participants, part of the appeal is to be part of something larger and more personal than a Facebook group. For others it’s about achieving a personal best. But for a much smaller group of elite marathon runners, it’s about what once seemed the impossible dream...breaking the two hour mark for the 26 miles through the streets of New York.

Why this goal is important, how long has it has hung over the sport and why is it now within reach?  All these questions and more are part of Ed Ceasar’s book Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon.

My conversation with Ed Caesar:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Is Robin Cook afraid to go to the Hospital?

Most of us will go into the hospital at some point. When we do, we might be subject to anesthesia, even for a minor procedures. What goes on while we're asleep is, at least to the patient, a complete mystery.

At the same time, we look to the technology of medicine as the panacea to solve so many of our health problems. Yet when it goes wrong we get angry. Clearly, our emotional nexus with technology is out of balance with our intellectual understanding of it. In medicine, the price we pay, often with the simplest of procedures, is fear, alienation, confusion and a degree of appropriate paranoia.

Few understand this better than bestselling novelist Dr. Robin Cook. He has used this imbalance to scare the bejesus out of us in his book like Cell, Nano, Coma, Cure, and Fever. Now in his latest work, Host, he once again walks us through the cost benefit analysis of medical technology falling into the wrong hands.

My conversation with Robin Cook:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How Frederick Forsyth's real life exceeded his expectations

In the movie Broadcast News, written my James L Brooks, William Hurt asks his colleague, “what do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Aaron Altman, played by Albert Brooks tells him, “keep it to yourself.”

Bestselling author Frederick Forsyth, has had a life that has far exceeded his own expectations. But instead of keeping it to himself, he has used it as the basis for fifteen books that have thrilled us, delighted us and taken us to places and situations that we may only dream about, but that Frederick Forsyth has touched. He tells all in his memoir The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue.

My conversation with Frederick Forsyth:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sanitized Death from Above

In the desire to go to war, there is always the effort to sanitize warfare. Shock and Awe, Death from Above, are all about disconnecting man from the faces on the ground. It’s also about how the decisions are made to go to war. It's always easier when it's less about committing blood and treasure and more about technological prowess.

Drones or Remote Piloted Aircraft are perhaps the ultimate manifestation of this attitude. A kid in Kansas or Nevada sits at controls and drones not only see the world, but have the potential to apply remote control and sanitized devastation.

These drones are here to stay. They are now a key part of the modern military and of counter-terrorism.   Lt. Col. Mark McCurley in Hunter Killer: Inside America's Unmanned Air War,
provides us a unique look at this key elements of military policies that didn't even exist 20 years ago.

My conversation with Mark McCurley:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government

Before Dick Cheney, before Homeland Security, even before the Cold War itself, there existed forces within the US Government bent on shaping their own agenda for personal political gain, financial gain and perhaps worst of all, out of a self serving righteous belief in privilege and its exercise of power.

During the dark days of WWII, Allen Dulles would would begin building, a national security apparatus, which would become centered at the the CIA, and which would grow exponentially during the Cold War and would ultimately expand its tentacle into to almost every aspect of American government. Even if it meant short circuiting the the key instruments of America’s democratic institutions.

Now, with the help of recently released government documents, and personal diaries, investigative journalist David Talbot exposes Dulles and some of the CIA darkest secrets in The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government

My conversation with David Talbot:

Syria Burning

The US seems to be giving up on training Syrian rebels. The Russians continue the bombing of ISIS targets, even while some of their missiles land in Iran. Refugees continue to flee from Syria. All while ISIS continues on the march, Palestinian protests turn more violent. The cauldron that is the Middle East continues to bubble.

For a real and contemporaneous perspective we turn to author, journalist, esteemed Middle East foreign correspondent Charles Glass.

My conversation with Charles Glass:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is the country even worse off than it seems?

As a nation we have often faced existential crisis. The Civil War, the onset of the industrial revolution, the robber barons, the great depression, McCarthyism, the struggle for racial equality, assassination and the changes of the 60’s

Each time, polarization and the depth of the crisis has led many to believe that the country would not survive in it’s current form. And yet it has.

Today we face a similar time. Extremism is rampant, nativism has shown its ugly head, the economic divided threatens a new kind of civil war, racial tensions have flared, law enforcement is often unchecked, faith in the nation's operating system is at an all time low.

Is this time different? Or just another of those crisis which we will come through even stronger. Or, as NY Times columnist David Brooks has said, will the laws of gravity simply return?

My guest Andrew Schmookler believe that many of us do not fully understand nor appreciate or see what we are up against today. He makes his care in his new book What We're Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World - and How We Can Defeat It.

My conversation with Andrew Schmookler:

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: