Monday, November 18, 2019

Fake is Sometimes Real

Artificial flavors, fake news, authentic copies, and real replicas. They all sound like oxymoronic gibberish at worst, overzealous marketing at best.

And so it is that sometimes the fake is indeed real. Today we can appreciate and even learn or feel something by looking at a replica piece of art or liking an artificial version of our favorite food flavor or enjoying fake meat, But how about owning a Chinese made Louie Vuitton bag, Rolex or Mont Blanc pen?

The danger of course, on every level, is that we may have so blurred the lines between fake and real that virtual reality is no longer something we need glasses to see, it just the world we live in every day. That's the world that Lydia Pyne teaches us about in Genuine Fakes

My conversation with Lydia Pyne:



Monday, November 11, 2019

Only Whistleblowers Can Save Democracy

Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Coleen Rowley, and the whistleblower who let us know about the Ukraine call, are just a few whose actions sparked international dialogue and their names may be universally recognized. But brave though they were, their courage isn’t universally revered.

Back in 2002 TIME magazine named three whistleblowers as people of the year and famed whistleblowers such as Frank Serpico, Jeffrey Wigand, and Karen Silkwood have been the subject of major films. Yet vitriol continues against individuals willing to speak out when they see crimes being committed.

Why are those who dare to expose corruption and worse so frequently ostracized? Why are we so quick to call treason on those who speak truth in the face of power? And what historical and patriotic obligation do we have to support and protect those that speak up? That’s our focus today as I’m joined by Middlebury College professor Allison Stanger to talk about Whistleblowers: Honesty in America from Washington to Trump

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Allison Stanger:




Why is Science Under Assault, and What We Should Do About?

Even when we don’t realize it, science is part of our lives. Physics, chemistry, biology...it’s all essential to our survival. So why is the general subject so confusing these days? Why do laymen think they know better than scientists?

And perhaps more importantly, at a time when everything else is advancing, when the cutting edge of
science impacts us all, how have the methodologies of science kept pace with modernity? Perhaps we’re all too stuck in the mindset of high school science class, and maybe that’s why we can’t progress in our thinking.

James Zimring, Professor of pathology at the University of Virginia, where he pursues basic and translational research in the field of transfusion medicine and blood biology, gives us some insight in What Science Is and How It Really Works

My conversation with James Zimring:



Monday, November 4, 2019

The Battle of Mosul - The Last Great Battle Against Isis

While many of you can recite the great battles of WW I and II and even the Civil War, the more recent battle that have been fought in the Middle East against ISIS are already forgotten. Certainly, the battle for Mosul was one of those

Beyond that, there is the relevance to events taking place today. The battle for Mosul, which helped take down ISIS in 2017, had as a major component, the forces of the autonomous region of Kurdistan. 40,000 Kurds that were part of the joint military effort in a battle every bit as important and as bloody as those of WW II.

Journalist James Verini was embedded with the Iraqi counter-terrorism service during the battle and tells the remarkable story in They Will Have to Die Now: Mosul and the Fall of the Caliphate

My conversation with James Verini:

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

He is a Being Made of Television

There is not a morning that goes by without some story about the impact of social media. The power of Facebook or Twitter, or Instagram. With all of that, it’s easy to forget the power of television. Its impact on our lives growing up, its power today and what it has wrought. It’s given us Ronald Regan, Josiah Bartlet, and Donald Trump.

Howard Beal laid it out for us in Network, but James Poniewozik gives us the contemporary context in his new book Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America

My conversation with James Peniewozik:


Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Science of Kindness Is Real

In many communities you often see people wearing a button that says Be Kind. In an ever competitive
and sometimes selfish world that’s not always easy to do. Our political dialogue makes it even more difficult. Add to that our economic and personal pressures and the acceleration that we all face, and kindness often gets left way behind.

But suppose we found out that kindness is not just something we can do to make us feel better, suppose we discovered that kindness can really help us live longer and healthier lives. Not in some mystical and karmic way, but in a very real, practical and scientifically based context.

Discovering this has been the work of Dr. Kelli Harding. She explains in her book The Rabbit Effect: Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness.

My conversation with Dr. Kelli Harding:


Thursday, October 24, 2019

Why Health Care Is Broken, and How to Fix It...Hint..Medicare for All is Not the Answer

Imagine if you went to buy a car and rather than one price for the car, you had to essentially buy it ala carte. You had to negotiate a separate price for the wheels, for the engine, for the paint, for seats, all separate. All from different suppliers and all with hidden fees. Sound ridiculous? But that is essentially how we pay for health care in America.

It’s no wonder that there is no more polarizing issues than the delivery and the cost of health care. It’s why it’s front and center in our politics, and in all of our lives. It’s a system that alone makes us sick.

It’s amazing how many people say they like their doctors, but hate the system. A system that is broken, has lost public trust and has become a business model in which price gouging is built-in, outcomes are not part of pricing, and it corrupts people who often start out as idealists.

This is the system that Dr. Marty Makary details in The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care--and How to Fix It.

My conversation with Dr. Marty Makary:


Monday, October 21, 2019

Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law: A conversation with James B. Stewart

The world is a complex place. The news comes at us at hyper-speed and 24/7.  All while we have to deal with family, work and life.

Therefore more than ever, it’s critical that there are those among us, journalists mostly, whose job it is to distill and explain events to us. Not to tell us how or what to think, but to present the big stories in-depth and in a narrative that allows us to be smarter about the world, and refine how we are to live in it.

Few do this better than James B. Stewart. He has been doing it for years with books such as Blood Sport, Den of Thieves, and Disney Wars. Now with his latest Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law, he  takes us deep inside what we’ve all lived through for the past three years. The investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails and of Trump, Russia, Comey and the Mueller Report.  All of which has lead us to where we are today.

My conversation with James B. Stewart:


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Harold Bloom 1930 - 2019

Harold Bloom, who died last week at the age of 89, was one of our great teachers and literary critics. Often out of sync with contemporary literary fashion, he defended the “Western canon” and fought against what he called “the School of Resentment,” multiculturalists and those whom he argued betrayed what he saw as literature’s essential purpose.

I had the opportunity to know Professor Bloom as a student, and later in life, I had the opportunity to interview him. Most recently in 2000 upon the publication of his book How to Read and Why

Here is that conversation with Professor Harold Bloom:


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Conversation with the Recipients of This Year's Nobel Prize in economics: Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee

Beyond the common denominator of poverty what are aspects of the poor that we just don't understand?

We've learned that poverty itself creates a different life, a different view of the world. A view that arguably accounts for the fundamental failures of so many well-meaning programs. Why this is, what works and why has it been so hard to find the magic bullet. Trying to answer this has been the work of the winners of this year's Nobel Prize in economics, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee.

My conversation with Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee:



Monday, October 14, 2019

The End of America's Cultural Hegemony

A look at the news any day reminds us that America is no longer the singular dominant power in the world. This is true vis a vis soft power, moral persuasion, and now cultural power.

American movies, music, and art no longer are the single option for global entertainment. Perhaps not since the British invasion of the ‘60s have we seen so much art and entertainment coming from outside of the U.S. This time form India, South Korea, and even Turkey.  This is the world that Fatima Bhutto takes us into in New Kings of the World: Dispatches from Bollywood, Dizi, and K-Pop

My conversation with Fatima Bhutto:



Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Tyranny of Virtue: Political Correctness Run Amuck on Our Campuses

Once upon a time, we didn’t have to think about political correctness. And we survived as a culture! We self-corrected, we became more sensitive to others, we learned to accept and appreciate diversity. It was sometimes difficult, even painful. But a lot of it was organic. Often we slipped up. We fell backward, and sometimes it even took appropriate legislation to provide better guardrails for our behavior. Such was the forward march of mankind.

But today, the bludgeon of political correctness hangs over all of us. And nowhere worse than on our college campuses. The fear of free speech, the absurdity of safe spaces, the desire to silence unpopular ideas and the seeking out of problems and conflicts that don’t really exist, are all hallmarks of where we are today.

But how did we get here, and is there any path out that does not divides us still further, polarize us even more and further enhance the sanctimony of those who consider their ideas singularly virtuous.

Skidmore professor Robert Boyers, the subject of a story in this week’s New Yorker takes us into the belly of the beast of political correctness in his new book The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, the Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies.

My conversation with Robert Boyers:


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Just Who is Brett Kavanaugh?

Most of us remember being transfixed, just one year ago, to the hearings from now Supreme Court Justice Brent Kavanaugh. This week, as the court begins its new term, Justice Kavanaugh will be part of a court deciding on some of the most fundamental cases that affect our politics, our culture, and our freedoms. All in an atmosphere that, if even possible, is even more polarized than it was a year ago.

So who is Brett Kavanaugh? Certainly the one week FBI investigation and the televised circus that was his hearing may not have told the whole story. For that, we must rely on the reporting of Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly in their new book The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation.

My conversation with Robin Pogrebin:


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Why Understanding Silicon Valley History is Necessary To Deal With Today's Tech Issues

So much of what passes for history today is one dimensional. We see the events, the names, the places the timeline and the heroes and the villains. But there is often another dimension. Not so much a secret history, but almost like the moon, it has a dark side, hidden from us. It’s there, we just don’t see it and therefore we don't’ appreciate it and its broader impact.

So it is with Silicon Valley. Literally, millions of words have been written about it. In fact, with the exception of politics and Washington, no place gets more coverage and attention. No accident given their long symbiotic relationship.

Therefore you would think that by now we know it all. But we don't. This is why people still write books and surprise us about our origin story as a nation and about our wars past. And it’s why, particularly at this time when tech is under such scrutiny, we should understand everything we can about its history. That’s what Margaret O’Mara has tried to do in The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America.

My conversation with Margaret O'Mara:


Monday, September 30, 2019

Trump's War on the FBI

Today Trump's war is against Congress and the intelligence community. Previously he went to war with the FBI with the same mob boss approach that resulted in the firing of Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe and the repeated attacks on the integrity of the FBI

What can that recent history tell us about where we are now? About the strength and/or fragility of our fundamental law enforcement and intelligence institutions and the long term consequences to individuals and to the country?

To put it all in some kind of up-close perspective is CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell, in Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Donald Trump's War on the FBI.

My conversation with Josh Campbell:


Thursday, September 26, 2019

We are All Cult Members Now!

As a nation we’ve certainly gone through difficult times, times that as Thomas Paine said, try men’s souls. We’ve been divided as during the Cold War and the Civil War. But rarely have we been as tribal as we are today. Rarely have we been as willing to throw off facts, science, and reality, in the service of a cause. It’s almost like we’ve all joined cults. Little by little we’ve been encouraged to issue our faith in institutions and believe in nothing, which makes us more vulnerable to be made to believe anything.

As we throw off critical thinking, as we look for order out of the chaos of creative destruction, as we deal with the consequences of a rapidly changing and technological world, we exhibit so many of the signs of those that fall into cults. That’s our focus  with Dr. Janja Lalich. She’s a researcher, author and educator specializing in cults and extremist groups with a particular focus on charismatic relationships and political and other social movements.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Dr. Janja Lalich:





Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Is Clothing the New Plastic?

No matter who we are, we are touched by food, shelter, and clothing. Of the three perhaps clothing is one we most take for granted. Unlike our food, we don’t usually think about where it comes from, unlike shelter, it’s in abundance and unlike these other necessities, the price keeps falling while style keeps improving.

It’s almost too good to be true. And maybe it is. Maybe there is a darker side, a steeper price for this proliferation of fashion. Dana Thomas explains this in Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.

My conversation of Dana Thomas:


Sunday, September 22, 2019

The CIA in the Post 9/11 World

Our attention span grows shorter while the events creating a whirlwind around the world, increase. N. Korea, Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, plus domestic turmoil is everywhere. In all of this, it’s easy to forget, just 18 short years after 9/11.

I often wonder how we’ll see this period that we are living through from the perspective of 50 years. But with respect to 9/11, the rearview mirror is starting to come into focus, as the objects are closer than they appear.

How the world and the US intelligence has transformed as a result of those events impacts everything we do today and is worth examining with this renewed hindsight.

In that sense, my guest Philip Mudd was present at the creation. He was in the White House as events of 9/11 unfolded and now he’s writing about them in ways that may inform or future. His recent book is Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World.

My conversation with Philip Mudd:



Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Cokie Roberts

Over the many years of doing this program, I'm sorry to say I only had one opportunity to talk with Cokie Roberts. We talked back in 1998 upon the publication of her book We Are Our Mothers' Daughters  and about the changing role of women. It was a long time before Me Too, but she was prescient about so many of the issues that would evolve over the next 20 years.

I share that 1998 conversation.


She Said

In All the President's Men, as reported by Woodward and Bernstein, Deep Throat says to Woodward, in the bowls of a garage, “it leads everywhere, get your notebook, there’s more.”

And so there was. Just as there was with the story of Harvey Weinstein. But on a larger canvas, it was the story of men behaving badly for a long time and getting away with it.

Fortunately, journalism is more than the first draft of history. Sometimes, facts, especially if they are an agreed-upon set of facts that are exposed, can change the course of history. Woodward and Bernstein are certainly an example. But so is Sy Hersh for reporting on Mai Li, Neil Sheehan on the Pentagon Papers, and Bart Gellman and the Edward Snowden revelations Now.add to this pantheon Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey for their reporting on sexual harassment in the workplace, and ultimately on Harvey Weinstein and the explosion of the “Me-Too” movement.


Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are investigative reporters at the New York Times and the authors of She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement.

My conversation with Megan Twohey:


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Charles and David Koch Are Not Who You Think They Are!

Silent Cal Coolidge is reported to have said “that the business of America is business.” Correct or not, it’s fair to say that by looking at only American business over the past 60 years, we can see the full arc of our contemporary history.

Think of all of the things that have been front and center in our politics and our culture that have sprung from business, going all the way back to the 60’s. Conglomerates, the free movement of money around the world, manufacturing changes, management and blue-collar workers, government control and union membership. Private equity, derivatives, lobbyists, corporate political contributions, climate change, think tanks and branding.

Each and every one of these things have been a part of the empire that is Koch Industries and has been touched and shaped by Charles and David Koch.

Whether you like their particular brand of politics or not, the company and the empire they built have to be respected. Whether Balzac was correct when he said that “behind every great fortune is a great crime,” is a question worth examining in the context the Koch industry.

That’s part of the deep dive into Koch that business journalist Christopher Leonard has given us in his new book Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America.

My conversation with Christopher Leonard:


Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Other Scandal: The College Dropout Scandal

In most places around the country, school is beginning. This includes the nation's colleges and universities where about 2 million high school graduates will soon start college.

Yet 40% of those incoming freshmen will drop out before graduating. Many with debt, limited job prospects, and shattered confidence.

Why is this number so high? Why are some colleges succeeding in keeping kids engaged and others failing so miserably? Are there best practices? Is this simply another reflection of the economic divide in America? Is it happening at elite universities? Can we test for it, and what are the consequences if the problem goes ignored?

All of these questions are part of the new book The College Dropout Scandal by my David Kirp

My conversation with David Kirp:



Tuesday, September 3, 2019

How Women are Changing American Politics

Our founders devised a political system that was inherently difficult to change. They saw almost every aspect of the desire for change as needing to be cooled before even the most white-hot desire for progress could be codified. With respect to race and gender, it’s been even more difficult. Those were the prejudices and stereotypes baked into the founding documents themselves.

This is certainly one of the reasons it has taken so long for people of color and for women to be a full part of the political process.

Hillary Clinton talked about those tens of millions of cracks in the glass ceiling. But the safety glass that is history, made those cracks very hard to break. In fact, perhaps it was only with the elections of 2018 that we have seen some of those cracks become full-blown breaks. Even though women have made political progress, the terms of the debate and the campaigns have been based on the historical precedents set by white men.

All of this is changing as is documented by Caitlin Moscatello in her new book See Jane Win: The Inspiring Story of the Women Changing American Politics.

My conversation with Caitlin Moscatello:



Tuesday, August 13, 2019

To Live and Work In Hollywood

Hollywood is a place where the assets go home each night. Not just the Stars, but the hard-working men and women who make magic happen. Who each play a singular and unique role in telling cinematic stories. Each is a piece of a large puzzle and without each individual piece, the picture never comes together.

Sure Hollywood is a business and billions are dollars are always at stake. But without the experience, the craft and the talents of those behind the camera, none of it happens.

These are the “gig workers” that writer-producer Bruce Ferber gets to open up in The Way We Work: On The Job in Hollywood.

My conversation with Bruce Ferber:



Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The GOP's Strategy To Embrace Racism

Once upon a time the South was a solid Democratic block of votes. Many of those segregationist senators that Joe Biden recently talked about were in fact Democrats. Republicans just didn't get elected from there. And then things changed. The civil rights movement, the voting rights Act, the trailing impact of demographic change from the great migration, and broader cultural changes, including the rise of feminism, all provided an opportunity for Republicans in the South to exploit racial, social and cultural divides.

Today we are living with arguably the apogee that effort.

These divisions have been part of every national election since LBJ vs. Goldwater in 1964 and with each cycle, the divide grows larger. This long effort is the subject of a new work by Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields,  The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics.

My conversation with Angie Maxwell & Todd Shields:


Monday, July 29, 2019

The Most Heinous Serial Killer You've Never Heard Of

I know someone who is absolutely fascinated by true crime stories. She says that Silence of the Lambs is her Star Wars. And why not? Crime stories, especially true crime stories about the likes of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, or Jeffrey Dalmer, fascinate us, as it takes our thinking to the edges of human behavior. Understanding what makes these people tick stretches the human imagination.

That is exactly what investigative journalist Maureen Callahan does for us in her new book American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century In it, she introduces us to a little know serial killer who may very well be one of the most chilling.

My conversation with Maureen Callahan: