Friday, April 21, 2017

Marcus du Sautoy and an Appreciation of Science

For all the talk today about science and technology, it seems that sometimes the frontiers of science are simply a new app, a new way to shop or play games. All of which somehow does a disservice to the real value of science to change the world.  It can make us forget the wonder of discovery, and how science has allowed us to know what we know, about the world around around us.

This appreciation for science is at the heart of today marches around the country, and in the work of Oxford Professor Marcus du Sautoy. His latest is The Great Unknown: Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science

My conversation with Marcus du Sautoy:




Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Story of a Deranged Narcissist

Imagine a paranoid narcissist who can read a crowd. One who would invent crises to create apprehension among his followers and immediately strike back at those who opposed him. One who made a pledge to his loyalists that ”they are going to make history.”

If all of that sounds frightening and very familiar, it should. It is the predicate for any deranged individual who thinks that he alone has the answers.

That was the underlying psychosis that drove Jim Jones, of Peoples Temple fame,  and that ultimately lead to his death and the deaths of nine-hundred men, women and children in Guyana, in November of 1978

A story of derangement, of politics and of a unique place and time, it is now brought back to life by award-winning investigative journalist and bestselling author Jeff Guinn in The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.

My conversation with Jeff Guinn:




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Cold War, Psychic Phenomena, Psychokinesis and ESP


It’s a little chilling that there is so much deja vu talk these days about the Cold War and even about Nazis and the Third Reich.

You may recall that the race for space grew out of this period. The German rocket scientists, people like Werner Von Braun, who were responsible for the German V2 rockets, were after the war divided up between the Russians and Americans.

But there was another war that grew out of this period. The war for inner space. It was for drugs and for psychic phenomena that could give one side or the other a competitive advantage in the battlefield of the mind. Whether it was LSD, or the quest for what was called “remote viewing,” it was a serious part of the military's Cold War efforts.  Best selling author Annie Jacobsen takes us back in time in Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis

My conversation with Annie Jacobson:



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How History Has Shaped China's Push for Global Power

Just prior to Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, the then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, was asked how he thought the visit might turn out. He answered “for us, it is all right if the talks succeed, and it is all right if they fail.” A little inscrutable for sure. But also a reflection of a China that was very cautious about it’s place in the world. A nation focused on its own internal issues and that on the global stage, has seen it all.

It’s an almost unspoken sense of history. Of a nation that has seen its fortunes rise and fall. A sense of a scope of time, often unimagined in the West.

But today, that seems to be changing. China, now seems to want its rightful and earned place in the world.  Howard French helps us to understand this in Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power.

My conversation with Howard French:



Monday, April 17, 2017

Why the French Think Differently and Why It Matters?

Right now all eyes are on France. Can they rise above the electoral mistakes we’ve already made?

The French often get a bad rap in American popular and political culture. Even though we seldom realize it, appreciate it, or even acknowledge it, France is a nation and a culture that has given us the foundation of some of our central ideals of citizenship,  progress, social justice and of arts and culture.

It has respected rational thought and has even given us what’s now our obsession of left and right in politics.

Award-winning author and academic Sudhir Hazareesingh talks to me about How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People, and the ideas behind France's political and cultural history.  He tries to answer why this nation, which was once so globally influential, has lost that influence?

My conversation with Sudhir Hazareesingh:




Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Boston Marathon Bombing Cover Up: My WhoWhatWhy Conversation with Michele McPhee

Four years ago, on April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs detonated 12 seconds and 210 yards apart at 2:49 p.m., near the finish line of the annual Boston Marathon.  It killed three people and injured several hundred others, including 16 who lost limbs.

Beyond these facts, the story of the Tsarnaev brothers, and the complex web of events that lead to that day are very much an open question. The official narrative, long touted by authorities, of the the lone wolf Muslim extremists, has long since been discredited.

The story that is emerging of what really might have happened in Boston has some eerie parallels todays headlines. They involve Russia, the FBI, FBI informants, and counter terrorism agents not informing the FBI, etc..

A new book, Maximum Harm: The Tsarnaev Brothers, the FBI, and the Road to the Marathon Bombing, by long time Boston based investigative journalist Michele McPhee, brings new light to the story and reinforces what many have been trying to point out for years.


Click here to listen to my conversation with Michele McPhee on Radio WhoWhatWhy.org 



Friday, April 14, 2017

Imagine Looking Back fondly on Nixon?

44 men have served as President of the United States. Each came to office with unique ambitions, desires, and skills, or lack thereof. Few sought the office as passionately and as desperately and came so far to achieve it as Richard Nixon.

The real tragedy is that in that passion, that desire, that ambition ...coupled with his upbringing and his setbacks along the way, he sowed the seeds of his own destruction.

Perhaps if Nixon had been elected in 1960, both Vietnam and Richard Nixon might have evolved differently, and the world today just might be a different place. Such is the power of character, of the people we place in that office. As the late journalist Richard Ben Cramer explains, what it takes it win has not always given us Presidents we may want to govern us.

This is the story of Richard Nixon. So much has been written about Nixon. Much of it has come in waves. There was the period after his resignation, of the bad Nixon. Then after his death, the better Nixon. Now writers, journalists and historians are trying to tie all the threads together.

Perhaps Bill Clinton put it best in his eulogy for Nixon, when he said that “the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career must come to a close.”

John Farrell gives us that overview in Richard Nixon: The Life

My conversation with John Farrell:




Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jonathan Lethem reminds us why books, literature and art still matter

I know it’s hard to believe in these times, but amidst the low IQ circus parading before us most days, books are still alive and well. Business considerations and disruption aside, great writers are writing, classic writers are being read and literature still seems to be alive.

Doing his part to keep all that in place is bestselling author Jonathan Lethem. His latest is More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers.

My conversation with Jonathan Lethem:



Friday, April 7, 2017

Are You Smarter Than An Algorithm?

Lately there has been lots of talk about artificial intelligence, about the implanting of microprocessors in humans and the essential human/machine interface. While not the stuff of science fiction, we are not quite there yet.

However where we are, is at point that we humans can begin learning from how machines think. More specifically, the programs or algorithms we use.

In the process, we ourselves can make better, faster and more efficient choices. Or so we hope. That’s the idea of Ali Almossawi, a data visualizer at Apple and the author of Bad Choices: How Algorithms Can Help You Think Smarter and Live Happier.

My conversation with Ali Almossawi:



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

There's No Place Like No Place

As nationalism sweeps much of the West, it brings into bold relief the question of what really constitutes a country. Some argue that it’s about borders, language and culture. Others argue that they have to be a defined or sanctioned by the United Nations or some other international authority.

The fact is that there are sovereign nations that don’t meet any of these criteria. Yet they still are countries, at least in the eyes of those that live there.

These unique places on the map are the focus of a new look by my guest Nick Middleton in An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States

My conversation with Nick Middleton:




Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Play Ball....Laboratory Style

We are in the glorious first days of baseball season. And of course we hear the usual debates about tradition vs. the multiple efforts to bring young people into the game…. about the way it used to be, vs. the way it really is for 21st century baseball.

While few games cling to tradition more than baseball, the game IS changing. One of the ways is with respect to the cybermetrics we’ve all heard and read about. Some have embraced and others have pushed back on.

But imagine a living baseball laboratory in which numbers were the ONLY rule. Imagine if a whole team could be constructed not on a fantasy baseball program, but in real life and in real time. That what my guest Sam Miller got to do with a minor league time, the Sonoma Stompers.

He tells his story in The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team



Monday, April 3, 2017

Sometimes Tyrants can be Elected

As we are quickly finding out here in America, having leader who are democratically elected is not a bulwark against authoritarianism. The need for a sense of security, populist anger about dramatic change, and push back against the established order by those left behind, all contribute to an often popular desire for strong authoritarian leaders.

If what we are seeing here in America isn’t example enough, all we need do is look to Turkey and to India to see the impact.

The encouraging thing is that where this move to authoritarianism has been the case, citizens, journalists and political leader have pushed back. Often at great personal cost and sacrifice. This is the world that distinguished journalist Basharat Peer shows us in A Question of Order: India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen

My conversation on WhoWhatWhy.org with Basharat Peer: