Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fake Wine is a Real Think

We all know the story of Willie Sutton being asked why he robbed banks, and answering “that’s where the money is.” Today, any thief or con man usually goes where they think they can find the easy dollars or the easy mark.

One of the last places of opportunity for crime might seem like the world of fine wine. Often seen as its own cloistered, rarefied world, you’d think it might be hard for an outsider to penetrate and gain the trust and confidence necessary to pull off a world class con.

Stealing wine, loosing bottles in a fire, insurance fraud, we’ve heard all that. But for Rudy Kurniawan the con was far riskier. Especially when dealing with deep pockets of one of the Koch brothers. That the story that author and journalist Peter Hellman tells in In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire

My conversation with Peter Hellman:

Thursday, October 19, 2017


As divided as we are as a nation, and as divided as we’ve been in times past, one thing seems to be unique and universally embedded within our democracy. It is the carnival that is an American presidential campaign.

Perhaps that’s why chronicles of America's presidential campaigns have been an important staple of political diets. In the modern era, it begins with Teddy White's The Making of the President in 1960, and continues with masterworks like Richard Ben Cramer's What it Takes, Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Camping Trail, Joe McGinnis’ The Selling of the President 1968, Timothy Crouse’s The Boys on the Bus,  and works by Rebecca Traister, Mark Halperin and John Hileman,

There is no question that in the 2016 presidential campaign, Katy Tur's, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History will stand as an equal totem of the 500 days that changed America.

My conversation with Katy Tur:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

An Old Talk with Richard Thaler

All the way back in April of 2009, I had a conversation with University of Chicago Professor  Richard Thaler, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in economics.  We talked about the idea of Nudge.

At the time it was a new approach to public policy. One designed around the odd realities of human behavior and the new behavioral research to help people, as well as government agencies, companies and charities, make better decisions.  It was a look at a new concept called Choice Architecture which was, in part, the basis for his Nobel Prize.

Here is that 2009 conversation with newly minted Nobel laureate Richard Thaler:

America, Uganda and the War on Terror

Almost since the beginning human relations we’ve often been guided by the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

The problem is that in a complex, interconnected world, where the lives of people are at stake, where leaders often manipulate the truth, where fear is often the coin of realm that dictators use to prop themselves up, the consequences can be devastating. Nowhere is this more true today than in Africa. A place where America's so called “war on terror” has been used to support some of the most repressive and evil regimes.

One example is the regime in Uganda.  Helen Epstein explains all of this in her new work Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda, and the War on Terror.

My conversation with Helen Epstein:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How the Right Lost Its Mind

There have been seminal moment in American history when our political parties have realigned. Political parties which, even our founders were suspicious of. But perhaps none of those periods have been as fraught with peril as that which we face today.

Millions of words have been written about the current state of our politics, our country and of our civic discourse, and about the anger that abounds. Every publication, every cable channels, every journalist who covers politics, and many that don’t, have opined on how we got to this fractured state of America.

There are as many theories as there are journalists, pundits, professors and consultants. Yet if you listen to or read all of them, there is at least one thread that connects them over and over and over again. The rise and power of conservative talk radio and the anger that it has captured and fueled. The Economist said last year, that, “to understand the Republican race, get in a car, turn on the radio and drive.”

Few understand all of this better than long time conservative talk radio host, and now MSNBC contributor Charlie Sykes. He takes us through the history in his book How the Right Lost Its Mind

My conversation with Charlie Sykes:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach

If any of you have had the chance to be in a truly modern factory, you know that it's a place that is usually gleaming and immaculate. You could eat off of the floor. Robots are hard at work, integrated with a few humans, all much quieter than you might expect

The antithesis of this, just might be the so called factories that produced the ships and armaments during WWII. In their heyday, places like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, were noisy, boisterous, busy and amazing industrial campuses, that produced the bruising machines of war. These places were the center of the lives of real flesh and blood human beings. People like the characters in Jennifer Egan’s new novel Manhattan Beach.

My conversation with Jennifer Egan:

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Spy Story that Helps Explain Korea

In Kurtz’s monologue in Apocalypse Now, he talks about the real “horror” of war. He tells us that to be a warrior you had to make friends with both horror and moral terror. He talks about the uniqueness the makes the perfect who are moral yet at the same time utilize their primordial instincts to kill or watch killing, without feeling or judging. Kurtz reminds us that “its judgment that defeats us.”

The story that author and journalist Blaine Harden tells, about Korea and Donald Nichols in King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America's Spymaster in Korea is it’s own heart of darkness….one we are still very much living with today.

My conversation with Blaine Harden:

Monday, October 2, 2017

Is Trump Mentally Ill, or is America?

Donald Trump may very well be the worst and most unprepared President that this nation has ever had. His racism, misogyny, and ignorance are, at this point, objective facts.

But oddly enough neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton are to blame. By some societal short circuit, roughly one-half of the country voted for Trump. Sure, folks spend hours parsing the nuance of popular vs. electoral votes, and oh but those 87,000 votes, in three states.

But what’s also true, is that something must have been pretty rotten at the core of the country to create the situation that Trump could exploit.

So perhaps, rather than spending resources analyzing Trumps mental state, best, if we're going to move forward, to understand the mental state of the country that elected him. To do that I joined by a man who knows a lot about mental health

Dr. Allen Frances was the chairman of the DSM-IV Task Force and part of the leadership group for DSM-III and DSM-III-R. He is professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Duke University School of Medicine and the author of Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump

My conversation with Dr. Allen Frances:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Foreign Correspondent

Every day we are inundated with domestic news coverage . Every nuance, every utterance by every political actor is reported and analyzed over and over again. But covering the world is often a different story. It’s hard, often dangerous work.

Being a foreign correspondent is not the glamorous job it’s often portrayed as in TV and in the movies. It's the hard work of understanding locals and local custom, of sometimes taking risks, both personal and professional, and trusting and bonding with locals for what often is a transactional relationship

But what happens when that bond becomes more? How does it impact the reporter and, like the butterfly flapping its wings with the impact felt halfway around the world, what is the lasting impact of the relationship, long after the reporter has left or the story is over.

That's the story that Deborah Campbell tell in A Disappearance in Damascus: Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War.

My conversation with Deborah Campbell:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rethinking Sex, Power and Consent on Campus

The current debate about how we deal with sexual assault on college campuses has been playing out for well over a decade. It is, among other things, redefining a new sexual revolution in America.

By redefining the meaning of consent, assault and rape, we are, weather we like it or not, rethinking issues of gender and power and basic civil rights

The problem is that the debate about these sensitive social, human and almost primal issues has become conflated with our politics, and our higher educational system. People like Betsy DeVos are reminding us that it’s really difficult to fine tune human interactions in the cacophony of a boiler factory.

Vanessa Grigoriadis tries her best, in Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus.

My conversation with Vanessa Grigoriadis:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Vietnam War and Why It Still Matters

For those us that were alive and aware in the 60’s and 70’s there was no greater division than Vietnam. Perhaps, other than the Civil War it was America's greatest division. Isn’t it ironic then that for the past several nights, after folks have been watching Maddow or Hannity, reading Drudge or the New York Times, that we have come together in the unity of watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War

When Burns and Novick set out on this project, they might of had a sense, but certainly could not have know exactly how divided we would become today. And yet his Vietnam documentary might be a kind of shock therapy, as it takes us back to the events that once before, tore us apart.

Thousands of worlds have been written about The Vietnam War, but some of the most profound and wise have come from Alyssa Rosenberg at The Washington Post.
She had access to Burns and Novick in the process of his making the film and has interviewed and written extensively on it.

My conversation with Alyssa Rosenberg:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

How America Went Haywire

Whether you are on the left or the right, I think it's fair to say that you can go through your entire day, week, month and maybe even your entire life, without having to really deal with anyone whose political and social views differ very much from your own.

We have become sliced and diced and siloed. Where once we may have strongly disagreed about solutions, we still got our news and facts form similar newspapers and networks.

Today, all that has changed. Every tribe seems to have it’s own sources and its own facts, and as the divide grows deeper and we go ever deeper down the rabbit hole, there may be no exit.

But even if the America we have known is terminal, it's still worth looking at how we got here and whether the fault lies with media, technology, progressive, conservatives,, television, talk radio or politicians, The fear of course is that, in the end, we may find that, as Ed Morrow once reminded us, “that Cassius was right, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

To better understand those choices, it is important that we read the new work from Kurt Andersen, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.

My conversation with Kurt Andersen:

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The 90's Rise Of The American Libido

It certainly seems that every decade has its own center of gravity. In the post war 50’s, New York, both the city and its suburbs, defined howAmerica lived.

In the 60’s the Bay Area, and San Francisco in particular, became the cultural hub of anti-war free expression.

In the 70’s that creative energy moved down the coast, as Los Angeles became a beacon of post urban America, along with a new wave of Hollywood films that held up a mirror up to the changing social and cultural landscape.

The 80’s gave us Reagan and Thatcher and AIDS, as the locus shifted to a more conservative Washington.

Then the 90’s happened. What Vanity Fair editor and filmmaker David Friend has labeled The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido We had our first Baby Boomer President. Sex and self absorption were everywhere, and they were not just being talked about, but being acted upon. From Wall Street to Washington to California, sex was the coin of the realm. It inflamed the culture wars in ways that are still impacting us today.

My conversation with David Friend:

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Triumph of Fear

The ability to create fear is the most basic, primal and exploitive of the tools for manipulation. From the Garden of Eden, to would be Presidents amplifying the drumbeat that those that are different are rapists and killers, fear is the essential tool of demagogues.

To try and tamp down would be tyrants and exploiters, Roosevelt told us that the only thing we had to fear, was fear itself. Ed Murrow, in talking about Joe McCarthy, reminded us that McCarthy didn't create the situation of fear, “he merely exploited it...and rather successfully.” Today in our siloed, self referential, anti-factual culture, that fear is stronger than ever. Fear of change, fear of the new, fear of the other, fear of the future, are dominant.

Sasha Abramsky, in Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream, looks at where this fear might be taking us.

My conversation with Sasha Abramsky:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Best of Us

We celebrate births and deaths, we mark anniversaries. But what are we really celebrating or marking? Sometimes the real significance lies in events that have long preceded that which we are marking.

When we celebrate a birth or an anniversary, we’re really looking back on the events that lead to it. We’ve gotten better as a society with marking death as a celebration of life. But it’s more than just the life of the one that passed, it's all the people they touched, the ripples of impact that they had, and the way in which their legacy is carried on.

And so with Joyce Maynard's new memoir, The Best of Us, she marks some of these powerful and significant moments in her own life.

My conversation with Joyce Maynard:

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why Meditation May Be Our Best Survival Mechanism

We all know of, or have heard of, Moore's Law. It says that our computing power doubles every year. It’s often the core thesis in discussing how fast technological change is happening. From a practical and emotional sense, it's far faster than any of us can keep up. Faster even than digital natives can keep up with.

From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, which just like evolutionary biology, moves very slowly, the mismatch can be fatal.

What this conflict does is create a kind of cognitive dissonance between the way the world really is and how we, as human beings, weighted down by our evolutionary DNA, sees and experience the world.  In so doing, we each create our own brand of personal "fake news."

Joan Didion said “that we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” But if we found a better way, a more mindful way to tell ourselves those stories, perhaps we would live a better life. That’s part of the idea behind medication, particularly as described by Robert Wright in his new book Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.

My conversation with Robert Wright:

Thursday, September 7, 2017

How Music Shapes Us and How We Shape Music

Old songs like old photographs are the purveyors of a kind of double imagery. They have relevance in the moment, just as they make yesterday's events today's reality. They remind of us of a time, a place, and often of the social construct at the time they were heard or created.

Almost more than any other art form, music both shapes and captures the essence of the time and place it was created.

Perhaps it's the speed at which it’s produced, perhaps it’s the duality of both creation and performance, or perhaps it's something in our DNA and the way we process music itself. Maybe, if we can better understand any of this, we’ll better understand this crazy place we are today.

Helping us to understand this is NPR’s music critic and correspondent Ann Powers in her new book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music.

My conversation with Ann Powers:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

New Research Shows That Alzheimer's is Reversible

In the panoply of diseases that Baby Boomers are facing, perhaps none seems as insidious as Alzheimer's. Cancer we always feel we can battle. Heart disease we can take on with better diets, exercise, drugs and sometimes cutting edge surgery.

But Alzheimer's has been truly like a death sentence. And worse one where the progression is slow, but unrelenting. That’s all changing, thanks to the work of people like Dr. Dale Bredesen.  He takes us to the cutting edge of research in The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline

My conversation with Dr. Dale Bredesen:

Monday, September 4, 2017

American Women's Lives At Work since 1964

It seems that every day we are reliving and relitigating the past sixty years. Nuclear fears, war in Korea, Russia, espionage, the Klan, civil rights, and the rights of women in the workplace.

The past is like a giant wave that catches us and then washes over us. I guess it's the ultimate reminder that if we don’t learn the lessons of history, we truly are condemned to repeat them.

In my recent conversation with ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Gillian Thomas, we focused on the nexus of two areas of this history: The rights of women, particularly in the workplace, and civil rights.  It was the landmark 1964 civil right act that also laid the predicate for the expanded rights of women in the workplace.

Thomas writes about this in Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women's Lives at Work.

My conversation with Gillian Thomas:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The End of White Male Privilege

You know the old adage about a stopped clock being right twice a day? The same is true of Donald Trump. Occasionally, usually by accident, even he can say something or touch on something that makes sense.

One such thing is the degree to which he has tapped into the anger and resentment of a certain class of white males in America. A group that once had untold privilege, and now simmers with grievance, as that singular privilege has to be shared with a more diverse and equally deserving population.

Wrong as it may be, broken down to it’s core ideas, it easy to see why this anger is playing out and how demagogues like Trump can exploit it. To paraphrase Caesar, that fault is not just in our president but in the changes to the broader society.

Steven M. Gillion is a Professor at the University of Oklahoma. His recent op-ed in the Washington Post was entitled Why Are So Many White Men So Angry?”

My conversation with Steven Gillon:

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Civil War History Can Be Factual, but Fluid

Because memory is imperfect, because traditions and stories are often altered as they are passed down from generation to generation, because history is factual, but fluid, we often build statues or preserve buildings as triggers to our remembered past.

Normally this is played out in community battles over preservation vs. progress. But when the subject is the Civil War, everything changes. Perhaps, as it should. The civil war was after all the penultimate flashpoint of America's original sin.

While other wars come and go, often left to cloistered historians to debate, the Civil War, slavery, and fabric of the republic are re litigated over and over and over again. And so it goes today in the battle over statues, that some see as the embodiment of all that went wrong.

To better understand this, I talk to Christy Coleman, the Chief Executive Officer of the American Civil War Museum.

My conversation with Christy Coleman:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

What Could Happen While You Were Totally Off The Grid For A Few Hours?

Think about what touches us every day?Certainly technology in many forms and soon artificial intelligence. We are touched by our consumption of media, the intense partisan divide fueled by tribalism, and the fear and frustration that sometimes makes us want to escape, and be able to look at all of this from 30K feet, so that we can see it's absurdity.

But of course moments later we’re dropped right back into it. So imagine if all of these powerful and metastasizing forces came together in a recipe that multiplies all of them.

What you’d have is Matt Richtel’s prescient new novel Dead on Arrival.

My conversation with Matt Richtel:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Attica 1971: What Lessons Have We Learned?

Certainly with respect to history, it too often seems like everything old is new again. Think about it: Racial conflict, mass incarceration, over aggressive policing, and the police getting off scot free. This is not yesterday’s news. This is the story of an event that took place on September 9, 1971. The uprising at Attica Prison.

In many ways the events of that week set the unfortunate predicate for so much that would happen after. It’s an event from which we’ve learned all the wrong lessons, often, until now, with many of the wrong facts.

Now, Pulitzer Prize winning historian Heather Ann Thompson puts it all in historical context in Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

My conversation with Heather Ann Thompson:

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Natasha - A New Film from Director David Bizmozgis

Everyday Russia is in the news. After being off of our collective radar for so long, suddenly it's a national obsession. Sure, a lot of it is political, but beyond that it makes us aware of another country, another place and and a people whose life and culture just might impact us all.

Today, a new movie appears on the scene, NATASHA, from director David Bizmozgis . It’s a little like taking a walk through a Jewish/Russian neighborhood and listening very carefully. When you get to the end of the neighborhood, you feel you know and understand a lot more about the immigrant experience overall and the Russian immigrant experience, particularly through the eyes of young people.  We’re going to look at NATASHA today with it’s two lead Alex Ozerov and Sasha K Gordon.

My conversation with Alex and Sasha:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Liberal Arts Education Should Matter Now, More Than Ever

If you do a Google search about STEM education,(science technology engineering and math,) you come up with over 69 million entries. It has become the educational mantra of our times.

Yet if one looks at the workforce, looks at the jobs of the future, looks at the needs business have and listen to the CEOs, we find that these STEM skills, while important, have become overrated and out of all proportion to our future.

I suppose everything in cyclical and the liberal arts, which certainly had its day, has gone into remission as the central pursuit of college students. It shouldn't have. Its focus on curiosity, the ongoing pursuit of knowledge, creativity, and what it means to be a good human being, make it essential if any of us are going to survive into the second half of the 21st century and beyond.

Forbes contributor George Anders looks at this in You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a "Useless" Liberal Arts Education.

My conversation with George Anders:

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Chickenshit Club: Or Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.

Years ago you may remember that the Presidential candidate and former US Senator John Edwards spoke of two Americas. One poor and one rich and powerful The same might very well be said for America's justice system.

One which is zealous to the point of recklessness in prosecuting street crime and drug offenses and the other that is benign and feckless in prosecuting the white collar crimes, many of which have deliberately, and criminally wrecked our economy and hurt real people.

But this hasn’t always been the case. Where once, not that long ago, the government prosecuted the likes Michael Milken and the executives of Enron and Adelphia and Worldcom, today executives at Wells Fargo, or Goldman Sachs, or so many that were clearly responsible for the potential criminal acts that caused the 2008/2009 crash, have escaped the long arm of the law.

Why? What happened what's changed . Are the same forces that are giving our economy two Americas also responsible for two justice systems?

This is what Pulitzer Prize winning ProPublica reporter Jesse Eisinger tries to find you in The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Jesse Eisinger: