Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thank You

Since January of 2009 It has been my singular pleasure to put 262 posts up on this site. Interviews and conversations and links covering every aspect of this momentous year.  From the inauguration of our 44th President, to issues of politics, economics, pop culture, the environment, the arts, technology and so much more.  I have tried to make the interviews I have done a sort of drift net for catching ideas and knowledge and stretching it out through time and space in ever-widening spools.  The fact that just about everything else swims into the net, legal questions and sartorial questions and culinary questions and agricultural questions and calendrical questions and epistemological questions, is all part of the excitement and entertainment of the process of dialog.

It’s easy to see that our ideas of community, culture, perhaps even our notions of what constitutes a country, not to mention how we communicate, do business, read, think and see, are being transformed by the vast networks of ideas and information that are cascading in upon us.

E.O. Wilson coined the term “consilience.” Wilson believed that "a balanced perspective cannot be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces, but through the pursuit of the consilience among them."  This is the dream that everything we are leaning will fit together into a single overarching vision.  That it will enable us to comprehend all of our ancient, modern and post modern philosophies, all our arts and sciences, all our experiments, and all of our innermost feelings that drive us to try to look ahead. It’s the guiding principal of the work I've tried to do. To enable each listener to act as a mirror, each with a unique angle of vision to catch the narrative and creative energy from the pull of what is said.

Particularly with respect to journalism, "the power of the spoken word still exists as a medium of revelation.  Long after the burning bush burned out and the pillar of smoke dispersed, words were still the messengers."  Today, these spoken words are like the stars in the sky. You are never sure if their sources are still on fire somewhere far away or have gone cold long ago.

My goal continues to make sure that the cacophony of these selected voices continues to be heard….that the fire never grows cold and that the effort to find ourselves inside a sea of competing voices goes on and on and on....

I thank all of you who have listened to and shared these conversations. Your support has been both comforting and inspiring.  As we enter this new year, this new decade, I'd love to hear more feedback from all of you as to what you like, what you'd like to hear and see more of and how I can better improve this experience.

Thanks and have a great New Year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The unbalanced work/life balance

Imagine how different so many aspects of our society and our economy would be if the whole idea of retirement and a "life plan" were ripped asunder. Timothy Ferriss argues that there is a new way to live, one more suitable for unpredictable economic times and one that provides for present-tense, day by day "luxury lifestyle design." Timothy Ferriss, one of Fast Company's "Most Innovate Business People," lays out the predicate for  The 4-Hour Workweek.

My conversation with Timothy Ferriss:

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

and Polar Bears....oh my

As the world dithers and debates what to do about climate change, polar bears have become the poster children for all aspect of the debate. Recently, the Interior Department made a controversial proposal to designate more than 200,000 square miles of land in Alaska as critical habitat for polar bears, while still allowing oil and gas exploration to continue in the region.  In his new book On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear, marine conservationist and the foremost painter of marine animals in the world, Richard Ellis steps up to offer an impassioned and moving statement on behalf of polar bears, their habitat and all they stand for.  Ellis maintains that the extinction of the polar bear is not inevitable, but that in oder to save them, we need to take critical action to prevent their habitat form melting away.

My conversation with Richard Ellis.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

A Fiery Peace

Neil Sheehan is the embodiment of why good journalism is both necessary and relevant. In his new book A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon, he shows us once again, as he did in A Bright Shining Lie, that the great movements of history turn on the character and actions of individuals. He tells us a story of how we avoided Armageddon during the Cold War and in so doing he helps to instruct us in the importance of appreciating the military and some of its best and brightest, while making sure that we are not overtaken by an overzealous military juggernaut. With balance, insight and an appreciation for history, Sheehan tells us a vivid story for our times and for all times.

My conversation with Neil Sheehan:

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Naked City

While those that love cities often claim to love their authenticity,  we still want them to have the latest trendy cafe, boutiques, and galleries that are often at odds with the very authenticity we claim to want.  How do we reconcile this desire for convenience and modernity with diversity, quirkiness and and a genuine urban landscape? This is what Sharon Zukin shows us in Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places.   She looks at what gives neighborhoods a sense of place, but also why that very sense often prices them out of the market for all but the elite. How does authenticity become exclusivity?

My conversation with Sharon Zukin:

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Monday, December 14, 2009


According to the Center for Disease control, we are in the midst of an Influenza pandemic that begin in April of this year.  Flu activity is now widespread in 48 states Perhaps this is a good time to look at the last great Influenza pandemic in 1918 that took a global death toll of 21 million people.  The disease was all the more horrifying because it attacked not just he very young and very old, but also healthy young adults. It was also an pandemic which changed the face of modern American medicine. John Barry tells the story in is book The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history.

My conversation with John Barry:

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

I'm from the government and I'm here to help.....

As government attempts huge undertakings in healthcare, the environment, and the economy, how can we make sure that these often exciting plans will be followed through with effective execution.  We have landed men on the moon, administered the Marshall Plan, created the Interstate Highway System and achieved victory in World War II.  Yet today we look at government through the lens of Vietnam, The Iraq war,  Hurricane Katrina and Challenger.  What happened?  How has government lost it's mojo? William Eggers, Global Director for Deloitte's public sector industry research program looks at this dilemma in his new work If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government.

My conversation with William Eggers:

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why we need a new Enlightenment

More than at any other time since the Enlightenment, we fear science as much as we embrace it. Our technical and scientific capabilities have brought the world to a turning point, in which accomplishments clash with expectations, resulting in a kind of cultural schizophrenia.  We expect miracles, but have lost faith in the scientists, doctors and other experts capable of producing them.  From this contradiction emerges what New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter has written about in his book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives. The rejection of reality in favor of a more easily acceptable lie.  It  is a dangerous phenomenon, a contagious one, one fueled by the fear of change.  Where we once celebrated scientific achievement, we now live in a world where denialists wage a war against progress.

My conversation with Michael Specter:

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Understanding Obama

Many biographers have told and retold Barack Obama's story.  Yet we are still left wondering what makes Obama tick.  What accounts for his remarkable poise, self confidence, his sense of narrative and of his long view of history?  How as he developed a governing style that is both radical and at the same time classically conservative?  How can we separate the natural political mythology that must surround anyone who would be President, from the psychological reality that defines that President.  Award winning journalist Sasha Abramsky interviewed close to one hundred of Obama's current and former friends, colleagues, classmates, teachers, staff, mentors, sports buddies, fellow Chicago activists, media consultants, editors and even his next-door neighbors. Each has filled in a piece of the mosaic to creates Abmsky's whole picture Inside Obama's Brain.

My conversation with Sasha Abramsky:

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Goeffrey Canada does "Whatever it takes"

As you might have seen on 60 minutes, this past Sunday night, educational visionary Geoffrey Canada asked what it would take to change the lives of poor children--not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles, but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide? The question led him to create the Harlem Children's Zone, a ninety-seven-block laboratory in central Harlem where he is testing new and sometimes controversial ideas about poverty in America. His conclusion: if you want poor kids to be able to compete with their middle-class peers, you need to change everything in their lives--their schools, their neighborhoods, even the child-rearing practices of their parents.  In his book Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, New York Times Magazine contributing editor Paul Tough gives us an inspired portrait not only of Geoffrey Canada but also of the parents and children in Harlem who are struggling to better their lives, often against great odds to create one of the most daring and potentially transformative social experiment of our time.

My conversation with Paul Tough:

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Vietnam still matters

Be it in Bosnia, Iraq or Afghanistan, whenever there is a US military commitment, the specter of Vietnam still haunts us.  As the President set about determining his Afghan policy, books about Vietnam were flying off the selves in Washington.  The long national nightmare of Vietnam still influences Americas policy makers.  Thirty-four years after the fall, we still seek to understand what really happened in Vietnam, what were the military and political mistakes and even successes, and what are the real as opposed to the perceived lessons.  Lewis Sorley, former soldier, third generation West Point graduate and confidante of Gen. Patraeus, in his new book A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam, gives us a very revisionist view of that war and how it ended.

My conversation with Lewis Sorley:
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fundamentally wrong.

Religion, more specifically faith has, like almost everything else in our society has become polarized.  The irony is that the very discussion about things which should define tolerance, has become itself intolerant.  How do we reconcile this and how can faith, doubt and even uncertainty become mainstream again. How can we push back against the forces of religious and political extremism in a way that renews individual freedom.  Frank Schaeffer is a man who has seen these issues from all sides. From the evangelical extremes of his father, one of the founders of the religious right, as well as from the vantage point of his owns doubts and questioning.

My conversation with Frank Schaeffer about his new book Patience with God: Faith for People Who Dont Like Religion (or Atheism)

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Are sports the only way out?

Now a hit motion picture, Michael Lewis's the The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game takes us inside the heart and soul of football and enables us to have a kind of understanding that goes far beyond Friday night lights.  Just as Lewis has taken us behind the scenes and into he worlds of baseball (Moneyball), finance (Liars' Poker), the silicon valley (The New, New Thing), he now reveals another side of football, in  the story of Michael Oher. Oher, a  homeless and athletically gifted Memphis ghetto kid, is taken in by a rich white Southern family who turns his life around through football and Oher's unique ability to play a very special position.  In so doing Lewis also reopens the old nature vs. nurture debate, as it sharpens our understanding and appreciation of athletic talent and the extreme rewards of Americas game.

My conversation with Michale Lewis:

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Is this China's Century?

For over two hundred years we've lived in a Western centric world.  Modernity and progress have been defined as being Western.  Today China stands astride the world and the question is whether China becomes subsumed in Western hegemony or will the west bend to a new way, a new approach, a new paradigm of politics, business, culture and innovation?  These are just some of the questions raised by China expert and journalist Martin Jacques in his book When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order.

My Conversation with Martins Jacques:

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Biden v. Cheney

For better or worse, Dick Cheney redefined the role of the modern Vice President.  By creating his own executive branch inside the Bush White House, he wielded power and influence that often usurped the President he served.  Today Joe Biden inherits that office and himself has extraordinary power and influence, but he achieves it in a wholly different way; by partnering rather than competing with his President.  His influence in the area of US foreign policy is profound and might be felt in the President's Af/Pack speech tomorrow night.  The idea of Joe Biden as "the second most powerful Vice President in history" is the cover story of this week's New York Times Magazine by contributing editor James Traub.

My conversation with James Traub:

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Rainbow in the Night

As we Americans celebrate a small group of European settlers who landed on our shores, it's worthwhile to stop and look at the impact of another group of settlers who landed on the the cape that is now South Africa in 1652.  They were noble in their mission, but within decades a small group that broke off set in motion centuries of conquest, war and oppression.  The Dutch settlers of South Africa convinced themselves that whey were God's chosen people, destined to rule over the masses of the continent.  By 1948, the Purified National Party came to control the South African government and Apartheid came into being.  It was a system of segregation marked by horrors second only to those of Hitler's Germany.  This system became the law of the land.  Now humanitarian and historian Dominique Lapierre in his book A Rainbow in the Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa tells the story of this violent history and the heroes that changed it.  If only such heroes existed today in the Middle East.

My conversation with Dominque Lapierre:
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fourty-Six years and we still are seeking the truth

Forty-six years after the murder of John F. Kennedy new information continues to come to light.  The link between a secret coup planned by JFK and Robert Kennedy against Cuba and their personal war against Mafia all culminated in a perfect storm, as Kennedy's Cuban exile aid, who would go on to become one the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker, sells out the JFK coup plan to long-time mob bosses Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello.

If it sounds hard to believe, historian Lamar Waldron lays it all out in 944 pages of painstaking detail in his book Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination.

My two part conversation with Lamar Waldron:

Part One:

Part Two:
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Tales from a Rock 'n' Roll Life

In a business as transient a journalism it is remarkable that Robert Hilburn was the pop music critic for the Los Angels Times for 35 years! During that time he witnessed most of rock 'n' roll's seminal moments and interviewed virtually every major pop figure of the period. In his new memoir Corn Flakes with John Lennon: And Other Tales from a Rock 'n' Roll Life, he gives us a totally unique account of the symbiotic relationship between critic and artist and reflects on the ways in which he has changed and been changed by the subjects he's covered.

My conversation with Robert Hilburn:
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Literary Catholics

We've had two guests recently whose conversion to Catholicism is both surprising and literary.  Both came to their faith late in life, yet from very different places.

First Anne Rice who, long before "Twilight" introduced us to vampires, now turns her attention to Angel Time as the "personification" of her new found faith.

Next, Mary Karr, who jump started a renaissance in memoir with "The Liars' Club" and then "Cherry" talks in her latest memoir Lit, about her apocalyptic childhood and outlaw adolescence and how she overcame her feral upbringing to become an esteemed poet and professor and found the Catholic faith.

My conversation with Anne Rice:
My conversation with Mary Karr:
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why we miss Molly Ivins

As a journalist she was ahead of her time.  As a columnist she was the last of a dying breed.  She was one of the most provocative, courageous and influential journalists in American history.  Presidents and senators called her for advice; her column ran in 400 newspapers; her books were bestsellers. Yet, despite her fame, few people really knew Molly Ivins. Now Bill Minutaglio, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas,  gives us the comprehensive and definitive biography of Molly in his book Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life

My conversation with Bill Minutaglio:

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Tear Down this Country.......

While Mad Men and even Barack Obama remind us of the idealism of the 60's, it is in fact the 80's, the Reagan years, that shape most of what we are struggling with today.  From our post cold war diplomacy, the state of the Republican Party and the very heart of our culture wars, Ronald Reagan and the 80's shaped American life for the past 30 years. Historian and McGill University Profession Gil Troy in his two new works Living in the Eighties and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction tells the story of the Reagan era in our politics, religion, crime, music, the city and the free market.

My conversation with Gil Troy:

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Tear Down This Wall....

Regardless of the scope of their contribution, many iconic leaders are often reduced to a single sound byte or single speech: "We have nothing to fer but fear itself", "Ask not what your country can do for you...", and for Ronald Reagan "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"  This November marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Cold War.  In his new book X, Time magazine deputy managing editor Romesh Ratnesar deconsturcts the speech and the remarkable events that brought it about. 

Ultimately, Ratnesar argues that Reagan's speech offers lessons for the political problems of today.  That it should reminds us that historically, thing that once seemed immutable DO change.

My conversation with Romesh Ratnesar:

Friday, November 13, 2009

And the Plane he rode in on...

Ten months ago, when "Sully" Sullenberger landed his plan on the chilly waters of the Hudson River, we celebrated his cool, his skill as a pilot as well as the coordination of the flight crew and the rescuers. But there was another character in this story. That is the A320 Airbus that Sullenbuerger flew and the advanced generation of aircraft that it represented. Taking a look at this aircraft, the job of piloting and of the totality of what happened that day is one of our most distinguished journalists, William Langewiesche, in his new book Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson.

My conversation with William Langewiesche:

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