Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Microbiome is Revolutionizing Medicine and Yes, Probiotics Matter

Beyond the virus we fear most, we are also surrounded by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. But wait, no need to reach for the Purell every time. In fact, these things represent what is called our microbiome. It accounts for as much as 90% of our cells, and its positive impact on our health is immeasurable.

However, as a result of antibiotics, the food we eat, urbanization and other wonders of modern world, we have done things in the name of “do no harm,” which just might be making us sicker.

Today, it’s as if this long-suffering field of research has suddenly been rediscovered. Back in 2016, when we had a White House that still believed in science, the office of science and technology announced a One Hundred and Twenty-One million dollar initiative for research into the microbiome.

Professor Rodney Dietert, has been doing this research and talking about this for a long time. He details it in The Human Superorganism: How The Microbiome is Revolutionizing The Pursuit of a Healthy Life.

My Conversation with Rodney Dietert:



Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Genetic Superiority of Women

In the current pandemic, we have seen men succumb to COVID 19 at far greater rates than women. A lot of theories have been expounded as to why. And many theories have to do with the disease itself and its inherent impact on the human body.

In fact, the reasons may be much more fundamental. They may be reasons that transcend the disease and may be directly related to deeper biological differences between men and women.

Differences that have applications in the treatment of virtually every disease, from colds to cancer. Clearly differences in chromosome may be the ultimate customization of medicine. Understanding this is the work of Dr. Sharon Moalem. He’s an award-winning scientist and physician whose latest book is The Better Half: On the Genetic Superiority of Women.

My conversation with Dr. Sharon Moalem:


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lincoln Almost Never Made It To The White House

Early in his political career, before he ever became president, Lincoln said referring to America, that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Little did Lincoln know at the time that he would one day stand at the fulcrum of that division. And that he might become crushed by the weight of it. Not only metaphorically, or ultimately in Ford’s Theater, but before he ever became president.

With Americans so angry today, with tempers, and temperatures so high we admirer the great job that the secret service does
of protecting Presidents of both parties.

For Lincoln, the end could have come even before he took office. In a little know footnote of history, Lincoln had to sneak his way into Washington, to prevent an assassination attempt by pro-slavery excrements. That the backbone of historian Brad Meltzer’s new book The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America's 16th President--and Why It Failed

My conversation with Brad Meltzer:




Sunday, June 21, 2020

Maybe There Were Some Smart People in Oklahoma

Along with the ideological divisions that are part of our political and social life today there are also the geographical divisions that essentially, at least as far as conventional wisdom goes, mirror those same divisions.
Those of us on the East and West coast, have a kind of bond that would make you think that the Atlantic and Pacific are one. That the sun rises on one coast and sets on the other and nothing much else seems to matter.

After all, it’s just “flyover country.” It’s all the same, right? Flat, backward, disconnected from the global community and connected only to the drumbeat of Fox News.

But suppose that weren’t true. Suppose there was more vibrancy and wisdom and energy there than we thought. Could a better understanding of history and physical place, perhaps give us a better understating of the lives of the people that inhabit it? That the view of Professor Kristin Hoganson in her new work The Heartland: An American History

My conversation with Kristin Hoganson:



Monday, June 15, 2020

Accepting Science is Actually a Test of Character

It was George Orwell who said that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs constant struggle.”

Sometimes we are all trapped in our inability to see what is in front of us. However in the realm of science sometimes the facts should simply speak for themselves...and yet there have been those through history that have denied science. Mostly because it didn’t comport with their agenda. Sometimes they were blinded by the obvious and sometimes it was antithetical to the false gods of religion for the expediency of politics.

Yet the ability to accept science, almost more than anything else, shows the character of the people and nations, as they either evolve or head back to the primordial stew of ignorance.

This has been an issue from Galileo right up to the onset of COVID 19. To explain how we’re still dealing with the same ignorance I’m joined by Mario Livio, the author of Galileo: And the Science Deniers

My conversation with Mario Livio:


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

It's Economic Dignity, Stupid

I’m sure you all remember when Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992, James Carville’s precinct slogan, “it’s the economy stupid” was a fundamental foundation of the campaign.

It was effective because it captured, in perhaps a more innocent time, the essence of the economy that personally impacted every single American.

Today, almost 30 years and a p
olitical chasm latter it seems there are many economies. The Wall Street economy, the economy of the one-percent, the middle class, those struggling to make ends meet, and those totally left behind. The “economy” is no longer a catchword that is a big tent for all.

Just look at the current situation as 35 million Americans are out of work, lines at food banks stretch for miles, and yet the stock markets are hitting new highs.

Today, the current pandemic and its resultant economic crises are an accelerant to further these divisions. So as we look out amidst massive unemployment and an even greater economic divide and we wonder if there might be a common goal that the economy should represent and strive for?

Former Clinton and Obama economic advisor Gene Sperling things so and he outlines it in Economic Dignity

My conversation with Gene Sperling:



Thursday, June 4, 2020

Not Your Father's CIA

When looking at the world of the CIA, spycraft, and espionage, it fair to say that the images of both WWII and particularly the Cold War, shape our vision.  Unfortunately, it does not always allow us to understand the reinvented world of 21st-century coverts action and government secrecy.

Joining me to explore this, as he has done in his nine previous books about the CIA, is Washington Post global affairs columnist David Ignatius. His new book The Paladin:  he takes us inside today's very different world of spycraft.

My conversation with David Ignatius:



Wednesday, May 27, 2020

It Is A Small World After All

Most of you have heard about the Butterfly Effect. The butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can cause a hurricane in China. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. It’s how the world works today. Except with modern communications, it happens at warp speed. Coronavirus and terrorism are just two of many examples

Even for those that try and eschew globalization, the protest is futile. The world, its peoples, its governments and yes its companies are deeply interwoven and interconnected. It why we do ourselves such a disservice as citizens and as a nation if
we don’t truly understand the world and our place in it.

Few understand this as well as Richard Haass who takes us through it in The World: A Brief Introduction

My conversation with Richard Haass:


Sunday, May 24, 2020

A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History's First Global Manhunt

Who knew that 17th-century pirates were both the original terrorists and the original globalists. We mark seminal events that we are living through and decide which ones are important and which re not. Yet often time and history tell a different story. Sometimes it’s the small events, tiny inflection, or hinge points in history that seep into all the tentacles going out into the future.

Steven Johnson, in his new book Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History's First Global Manhunt finds one of those points and gives us the recipes of how it’s become part of today’s global and cultural diet.

My conversation with Steven Johnson:



Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Where Did 24/7 News Come From?

When we say, almost without much thought today, that we live in an era of 24/7 news and information, we don’t often think about the attribution of this state of affairs. No, it didn’t come from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, or Jack Dorsey and Twitter. In fact, it wasn’t the internet at all. It was Ted Turner, a guy who in the 1970s was hustling billboards and promoting a UHF TV station in Atlanta. Until he went ahead with the crazy idea of launching a 24/7 news channel in the form of CNN and that, as they say, changed everything.

What he created not only impacted television and network news, and gave rise to the likes of MSNBC and Fox, but it changed the entire landscape of the delivery of news. It changed everything from the small-town newspaper to the N.Y. Times and the Washi
ngton Post. It was one of those seminal moments, a hinge point in the history. of television, of news and media as we know it.

It’s the subject of the new book by author and journalist Lisa Napoli, Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News

My conversation with Lisa Napoli:


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Truth About America's "Deep State"

Ever since the post-war years both fear and complexity have increased. Fear of the bomb, of communists, war, political assassination, and 9/11. Fear of technology, of the growth and concentration of business, and the growing increase in the size and power of government. Ideas that are often impossible to get one’s head around and to fully understand.

Much of our division today is about how we have navigated those fears and traumas. What has emerged it seems is two central narratives that have their origins early in the mid 20th century and are still evolving today. One that the blame lies with the military-industrial complex. With shadowy generals and CIA agents and covert operatives.

On the other side, the blame goes to governments. To faceless nameless bureaucrats. Educated elites who think they know better than what Nixon called the silent majority. The group t
hat Reagan wanted to shrink small enough to go down a bathtub drain. This became known as the “deep state.”

The battle between these two world views, one on the left today and one on the right provides much of fuel for our partisanship.

How we got here, and what the deep state really is, or even if there is one, is at the core of two time Pulitzer Prize winner David Rhode's In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America's "Deep State"



Tuesday, May 5, 2020

China and Its Ongoing Industrial Espionage

There are so many stories today about the economic competition between China and the US. Competition in technology, in 5G in AI, and every other trendy high tech endeavor. However, the same competition exists in many other areas of industry, including the staid world of agriculture.

In fact, it is this world of genetically modified agriculture that may, more than the trendy tech, shape the future of the peoples of both China and the US.

It’s no wonder then that industrial espionage is rampant in this area and its national security implications go way behind missiles and planes and communication.

That’s the world that Mara Hvistendahl takes us into in her latest book The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage

My conversation with Mara Hvistendahl:



Tuesday, April 28, 2020

"When Someone Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them"

People often talk about certain groups of immigrants that have come to America and wonder why some groups are so successful.

One of the reasons is that it is a self-selecting population. To escape one’s country, whether it was fleeing Germany in the 1940s or Cambodia or Vietnam in the 1960s or Central America today, takes a remarkable degree of perseverance and courage. It’s often a high-wire act, that requires a do or die mentality.

But it has a dark side. What happens when that same drive is carried too far? When bending the rules to survive becomes bending the rules to succeed. Then it's like that old adage that “behind every great fortune is sometimes a great crime.”

This certainly is true for the Trumps and the Kushners. And we all may be the victims. Andrea Bernstein tells this story in American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power.

My conversation with Andrea Bernstein:


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Our Evolution Is A Graveyard of Ancient Viruses.

Perhaps at no single moment in modern time have we been more self-aware about the human body and human anatomy. I suspect that all of you have a new understanding of how viruses work, how RNA duplicates, how generic material plays a role in the evolution of disease.

Therefore it becomes the perfect time to zoom out from that personal insight to look at the broad evolutionary perspective of how we got here to this time and palace. How did our vulnerable lungs and respiratory systems evolve and what does that evolution t
ell us about life now, our collective future and our own evolution prospects? And most of all in this age of cutting edge biological and genetic science, what control do we have over any of it?

Neil Shubin is the Robert R. Bensley Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. provost of the Field Museum of Natural History and his latest work is Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA

My conversation with Neil Shubin:


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

When We Come Back, Every Business Could Be A Startup: Here Are Some Rules


When we do come back from the current crisis, in some ways every business will be a startup. Sadly, some business will not make it through. Others will struggle to come back. And in some cases innovation will prevail. That is, new problems will result in new business opportunities. Disruption, innovation, and the desire and the will to succeed will drive entrepreneurs to imagine whole new companies and whole new ways of relaunching old ones. And some will be wildly successful and maybe even become household words. 

It makes you wonder, is there a formula for start up success. Are there rules or at least a framework? There is what Jim McKelvey calls The Innovation Stack.


My conversation with Jim McKelvey:

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Look At What Real Leadership Skills Might Look Like

If you go into any bookstore and go to the section with business books, you will find enough books on leadership to fill its own library.

The problem with most of them is that they focus on how to get followers to follow the orders of the leader. To enact in real life, the old kids game of follow-the-leader.

It’s often about trying to get inside the head of followers to understand what makes them tick and how to motivate them. But suppose, the real power of the leader was not to try and motivate followers but to be clear enough about articulating his or her own intent in such a way that it becomes almost axiomatic for others to understand and want to follow. Suppose motivation came from within the leader, not from external forces or orders.

That’s at the heart of the approach to leadership put forth by retired US Navy Captain David Marquet in his new work Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say--and What You Don't.

My conversation with David Marquet:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Can Journalism Be Saved: A Conversation with Nicholas Lemann

One of the seemingly consistent things about creative destruction, particularly as a result of technology, is that we have a short memory for what came before the change. We remember just immediately preceding a dramatic shift in some vital element of our lives, but we forget what came before. It has the patina of making us nostalgic for the remembered past, even though we forget the long history.

This certainly seems to be true of journalism. We look at the landscape of what venture capitalist Jason Calacanis calls “late-stage journalism” and we see a world that is certainly far from what folks once though was the Golden Age of journalism in the 60s, 70s, and 80 and ’90s. But as a part of broader history, the picture is different. And perhaps it is only in seeing that difference, that we can adapt to the economic, political and socials needs of journalism today.

To talk about this, I'm joined by the journalist and Dean Emeritus of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Nicholas Lemann.  His story, Can Journalism be Saved, appears in the most recent issue of the The New York Review of Books.  

My conversation with Nicholas Lemann:



Wednesday, March 18, 2020

David Plouffe on Beating Donald Trump


Even if you are not a political junkie, even if you only pay attention occasionally, the one thing you should have learned is that campaigns matters. And while this is true at the most local level, it is true in bold relief in our national presidential campaigns.

It seems that in the modern political era, presidential cycles each layer on new accessories to the campaign process.

In 1960 it was the televised debate. In l964 it was an insurgent winning primaries and the nomination. In 1968, it was the beginning of the politics of division and the Southern Strategy. In 1976, we saw the full flowering of the power of primaries and people over back rooms. In 1980 we saw the consolidation of personality over politics. In 1992 the coming together of personality and the emerge of modern campaign techniques. And in 2008 the first full emergence of GOTV efforts, digital media, more sophisticated polling combined with old school grassroots politics.

It didn’t hurt that in Barak Obama there was also a great candidate with finely tuned political instincts and a brilliant campaign lead by a man steeped in the history of campaigns. That was David Plouffe. He continues his political wisdom in his new work A Citizen's Guide to Beating Donald Trump.

My conversation with David Plouffe:



Monday, March 9, 2020

A Bank Behind Every Crime: Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction

Usually attributed to Balzac is the observation that behind every great fortune is a great crime. In this day and age, It might be paraphrased as that behind every great financial crime is a great bank.

In the case of many such crimes in the 20th and 21st century lies Deutsche Bank. In its efforts to
grow it did away with all traditional ideas of risk management. In its pursuit of fees and earnings, bank executives got into business with some of the world’s most shady and financially needy characters. Russian oligarchs, the Trumps, the Kushners, the Mercers, Vladimir Putin, and many other key Russiagate figures were among their customers.

It got involved with other banks in Germany, Moscow, Cyprus, and Moldavia; money laundering; real estate deals; hedge funds; indictments; bankruptcies; and a cast of characters orbiting it that feels more like the bar scene in the original Star Wars.

Trying to tie all of this together into one overarching narrative is David Enrich in his book Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction

My conversation with David Enrich:


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

When Will The Boomers Leave the Stage?


We are living through what is perhaps the last hurrah of boomer leaders. It’s hard to believe that it was only 28 years ago that we elected, in Bill Clinton, the first of only three boomer presidents, after having eight presidents, from Ike to George H.W. Bush, who represented the Greatest Generation.

Today we have a cadre of boomers, all septuagenarians, trying to make one last attempt in a world moving and changing faster than ever, trying to keep alive the aging boomer legacy.

As they do, a whole new generation is waiting in the wings. Soon, in the words of JFK, the torch will be passed to a new generation of Americans. Millennials shaped not by JFK, as so many boomers were, by their memories of 9/11, endless war and the financial crisis.

Capturing the political zeitgeist of these millennials at this moment is Charlotte Alter, in her new book The Ones We've Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America

My conversation with Charlotte Alter:



Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Hong Kong on the Brink

Trade Wars, intellectual property, public health, the global economy and democracy vs. authoritarianism. All are major parts of our public dialogues and all pertain to the state of China today. No other nation on the planet presents such an enormous footprint of the future. Perhaps even more so than the US.

That’s why the protests and events of the past year or so in Hong Kong are so important. Not just to the people of Hong Kong, but as a symbol of the face that China decides it’s comfortable putting forth to the world.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor of History at UC Irvine brings this into the focus in his new book Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink.

My conversation with Jeffrey Wasserstrom


Monday, February 24, 2020

You Say You Want A Revolution

We look at our political and cultural divide today and think that it can’t get much worse. What we forget is that it has been worse. Not just when policy matters were settled by a duel or literally pitted brother against brother, but even in the 1960s and 1970s  when students where shot at Kent State. Law enforcement was murdered in politically motivated robberies, and even the bombing of the US Capitol was part of our contemporary political history and division.

A powerful example of this period is a group of left wing women fresh from their time in the Weather Underground. They got together in the early 1980s in the first blush of the Reagan years to become essentially domestic terrorists bent on opposing the political, corporate, and government ideologies of the time.

William Rosenau, takes us back to that time in his recent book Tonight We Bombed the U.S. Capitol: The Explosive Story of M19, America's First Female Terrorist Group.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with William Rosenau:




Thursday, February 13, 2020

Nicholas Kristoff & Sheryl WuDunn: Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope

Back in 1962, sociologist and political activist Michael Harrington published a book entitled The Other America. In it, he argued that a full twenty-five percent of Americans were living in poverty. The book had a profound impact on both Jack and Bobby Kennedy and some said it was responsible for Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Forty-one years later in 2003, John Edwards spoke of “two Americas.” A nation divided by race, and by poverty.

And today, a full 58 years after Harrington’s look at poverty, the homeless crises is worse than ever, the streets of cities, large and small, are living evidence. The opiate and drug crises have hollowed out a large part of the country and the latest proposed federal budget reaches new heights in cutting social safety net programs.

It’s hard to think there is hope...for the country or for those left behind.

This is the world that Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn look at though a very personal lens in their book Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.

My conversation with Nicholas Kristoff & Sheryl WuDunn:



Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Can We Distance Ourselves From the Sins of Our Parents? A Conversation with the Daughter of George Wallace

It’s hard to make the point in our 24/7 information-saturated culture, but all of us, politicians included, are a lot more than the worst or even the best thing that we have ever done.

Couple that with the fact that times change so quickly, values change, norms change and what might have been acceptable in 1962 certainly would get you fired today. This is perhaps most true with respect to the subject of race, the singular stain of our founders that we have worked 240 + years to try and redress.

The story of race is a long complicated one and former Alabama Governor George Wallace was a part of it. Today, his daughter Peggy Wallace Kennedy tries to put her fathers life in perspective. People like the great John Lewis and Congresswoman Barbara Lee have lent their hands to help her in that effort. All while our current president tries to rekindle the hatred she has worked hard to try and extinguish.

Peggy Wallace Kennedy talks to me about her memoir The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter’s Journey to Reconciliation and about her recollection of her father.

My conversation with Peggy Wallace Kennedy:



Friday, January 31, 2020

How Can We Avoid A New Generation of Brett Kavanaughs and Harvey Weinsteins

When an event truly captivates the nation, it’s usually because it touches on something that we’re not very good at talking about. Such was the case with the Brett Kavanaugh hearing.

Reactions to Christine Blasey Ford personified a complex contradiction in our society. While many, particularly some men, respected her appearance and professionalism, they were way too quick to identify with and accept Brett Kavanaugh’s college sexual entitlement as some kind of norm. In doing that one wonders what message we are sending to boys and young men.

This disconnect between changing culture and stunted sexuality seems to lie at the heart of confusion that boys are experiencing today as they try to come to grips with intimacy and sexuality in a changing world while most are still stuck with sexuality in a 1955 time warp

It’s no wonder that people like Jordan Peterson tells his audience of angry young men to “look back to the 1950’s”

That's the world that best selling author and journalist Peggy Orenstein examines in Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity

My conversation with Peggy Orenstein:



Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Australia's Climate Apocalypse: Up Close and Personal

By now, we’ve all seen the pictures and footage of Australia-on-fire. In many ways it’s equivalent to those Rover pictures of Mars. They make us sit up and take notice, but we have no real feel for what it’s like and how life can survive, or even if it can. For that we can only appreciate firsthand accounts of what may very well be the first great climate apocalypse of the 21st century.

Some of you may have read Judith Crispin’s harrowing account of the fires in a recent story in WhoWhatWhy. Now amidst the fire and devastation, it is an honor to talk with Judith Crispin

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Judith Crispin: 









Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Silicon Valley and the Quest for Immortality

The not so subtle joke has always been that the two things that are inevitable are death and taxes. And while efforts are always front and center to conquer disease and extend our life span, the inevitability of death has always loomed large.

Even efforts to regenerate life and the fascination with cryogenics still acknowledged death.

Now a whole new group of scientists are trying to defy the evolutionary idea of death. The funny thing is it’s not happening in the great halls of medicine. Not at NIH or Cleveland or Mayo Clinic or at our other great research hospitals, but in Silicon Valley. There, a group of wealthy boomers, not unlike aging politicians I guess, will do anything to avoid stepping aside. This is the world that Chip Walter takes us into in Immortality, Inc.: Renegade Science, Silicon Valley Billions, and the Quest to Live Forever

My conversation with Chip Walter: