Sunday, August 30, 2009

The first casualty of war

If truth really is the first casualty of war, how do we know if any war is truly worth the cost in lives and treasure? Be it by lies, propaganda or by legitimate means, we are always led to believe that our country's military efforts are positive; that we are fighting the good war, and that the enemy must be demonized. The history of American war propaganda is told in Susan A. Brewer's Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq.

My conversation with Susan Brewer:

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New must reads

Some new "must reads"
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Empire of Illusion

When he ran for President in 2004, John Edwards talked of "two Americas."  Today the gap between those two Americas is even wider. Separated now, not just by economics, but by a culture that has become detached from intellectualism.  Instead, more than half the country relies on spectacle, false idols and snake oil salesman to distract it from the economic, moral and political decay that is abound. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chis Hedges, in his new book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle argues that a culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies and that we are dying now.  He argues that America is divided against itself, split between a minority that lives and functions in a  literate world and is able to discern deception from truth, and a majority that is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and cliches and is thrown by nuance, complexity and hard realities.  

My conversation with Chris Hedges.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The poetry of farming

Called by The New Times "a poet of farming," David Mas Masumoto, the author of  Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies from the Land, has been on the cutting edge our new found appreciation of the relationship between food and farming.  By linking the humanity and hard work of farming  to the larger themes of life, death and renewal he has been a key player in making farming cool.  In so doing, he has helped influence a new generation to the realities of the agricultural marketplace.

My conversation with David Mas Masumoto:

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Today's must reads

Ted Kennedy

For those of us that grew up in the 60’s, the Kennedy's will always be a part of our consciousness. Whether you were a Republican or a Democrat, whether you were for Nixon or Kennedy in 1960, the Kennedy's, the Kennedy brothers will be with us forever. They are woven in the very fabric of the nation and certainly the DNA of the ‘60’s.

The death of Ted Kennedy somehow brings that era to some kind of closure. As Ted Kennedy passed the torch to a new generation, with his support for Barack Obama, that same generation must now go forth on its own.

Embodied in the Kennedy's was all that was good and all that went wrong in the ‘60’s. From expanded freedom and civil rights, to the war in Vietnam, to the social divisions that we still struggle with today.

The death of Ted Kennedy somehow leaves us adrift, without our living anchor to that past. In some ways it’s like the death of a parent. For baby boomers, for those that grew up in that time, Camelot is now officially over..

There are two audio clips of Ted Kennedy’s I want to include here. First, his eulogy for his brother Bobby, at his funeral in 1968. It is a powerful speech that could certainly be made today to reflect Ted Kennedy’s life. And also the final paragraphs of Ted Kennedy’s speech at the Democratic Convention in 1980, where he ended his Presidential aspirations and committed to the work that would become his life.

That speech, written in large part by the political consultant Bob Schrum, would, for generations, define political oratory.

Let’s listen to both.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Why we do what we do?

We spend most of our waking lives at work.  And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our occupations mean to us.  Alain De Botton (The Architecture of Happiness, How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel) in his new book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work explores the joys and perils of the modern workplace, evoking what other people wake up to do each day—and night—to make the frenzied contemporary world function. With a philosophical eye and his signature combination of wit and wisdom, Alain De Botton leads us on a journey around a deliberately eclectic range of occupations, from rocket science to biscuit manufacture, accountancy to art—in search of what make jobs either fulfilling or soul-destroying.  Along the way he tries to answer some of the most urgent questions we can ask about work: Why do we do it? What makes it pleasurable? What is its meaning? And why do we daily exhaust not only ourselves but also the planet?

My conversation with Alain De Botton:

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Catch a falling star

Shooting stars have captivated us for centuries.  They continue to do so, as meteorite hunters are now hot on there trail.   Through millennia of folk tales, mad dreamers, science fiction fantasy, profiteers and modern scientists, we've come to understand meteorites as both life giving and perhaps life ending. Christopher Cokinos, in his thrilling new book The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars gives us the ultimate historical account.

My conversation with Christopher Cokinos:

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Monday 8/24 Daily Reads

Here are some more must reads. Not all from today, as we're still catching up.

Daily must reads

In addition to continuing to post my interviews, today I begin a new feature on this site. During the course of each day, both in preparation for my interviews and in preparation for my afternoon show on KVON, I have the opportunity to read significant amounts of material: Newspapers, blogs, trade publications and links of some of the best and the brightest. I've always felt that I should, at the very least, share some of this with you.

So beginning today, I will post a once daily list of some of what I think are the more interesting and informative pieces I've read and would like to pass one. I hope you enjoy these and I would of course love to have your feedback.

To begin, let me highlight the following from last week:
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Artifice of Art

How is the value of art determined? Is the value of art driven by intrinsic values, or artificially inflated by dealers, museums and hucksters? Never have these questions been brought into more bold relief, then in the face of a decade-long art scam that sullied the integrity of museum archives and experts alike. Investigative reporter Laney Salisbury in her new book Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art tells the extraordinary narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate deceptions in art history.

My conversation with Laney Salisbury:

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Philosophical Baby

When George Bernard Shaw said that "some men see things as they are and ask why, others dream things that have never been and ask why not" little did he know he could have been talking about the development of babies.

New research shows that babies are aware of much more and with much much greater intensity than we have thought.  Alison Gopnik in her new book The Philosophical Baby: What Children?s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life explains that consciousness, contractual thinking and imaginative play all allow babies to explore alternative worlds and to see the world as it could be and to make plans to create that world. 

My conversation with Alison Gopnik:

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Paul Theroux's Ghost Train

In the early 1970s, a young author named Paul Theroux embarked on an adventurous voyage. After rambling across much of Asia and Russia via local trains, Theroux penned a book about his travels, The Great Railway Bazaar. It assured Theroux's literary reputation and cemented his commercial appeal.

The bestselling book set a new standard in travel writing, an antidote to mass consumption of newly cheap, anonymous airline travel. Now a grand old man with over 40 books to his credit, Theroux resolved to revisit the path he followed in that first groundbreaking book. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar isn't an exact replication (Theroux skips Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran this time around.)

He visits call centers in the formerly sleepy, now rapidly metastasizing Indian city of Bangalore. He considers the human rights abuses — past and present — in Cambodia, Myanmar and what we in the U.S. sometimes refer to as the "'stans" of central Asia. He glories in Istanbul: "A city with the soul of a village." And he immerses himself in conversation with tea sellers, Nobel prize winners, monks, businessmen and rickshaw drivers. Theroux also indulges in a fair amount of soul searching.

My conversation with Paul Theroux:

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Robin Cook talks about health care

Dr. Robin Cook, with his first book "Coma" gave birth to the genre of "medical thriller." Since then, he has written twenty-seven NY Times bestsellers, translated into forty languages. And in this time when medicine is perhaps to thrilling, he's not afraid to use his medical knowledge and public awareness to plunge into our most important debates in his new book Intervention.

My conversation with Robin Cook

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

How to get out of GITMO

President Obama promised that he would close the US Detention Center at Guantanamo. The reality of the legal and physical disposition of the detainees has proven to be a far bigger problem than anticipated. Glenn Sulmasy, a judge advocate and an expert on national security law explains in his new book The National Security Court System: A Natural Evolution of Justice in an Age of Terror  how the Obama administration can adopt a new approach to the military court system that will solve the GITMO mess. 

 My conversation with Glenn Sulmasy:

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Making it Legal

As the same-sex marriage and domestic partnership landscape changes almost daily, it has ushered in a whole new complex area of the law. The disparity between the states, the impact of DOMA on state law and even some federal agencies is inconsistent and dynamic. Frederick Hertz, the author of Making it Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnership & Civil Unions, lays out the complexities of the issues and exposes a whole new area of legal practice as well as a rocky road for those seeking simple legal rights

My conversation with Fred Hertz:

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Can we really rethink civilization

Al Gore, in An Inconvenient Truth, warned us of a "planetary emergency" as a worst case scenario. According to Dianne Dumanoski, award winning author and long time environmental journalist, ecological catastrophe is no longer a worst case scenario--it is inevitable. In her environmental history, The End of the Long Summer: Why We Must Remake Our Civilization to Survive on a Volatile Earth, Dumanoski provides a dismal forecast for the future based on vast quantities of scientific data, which indicates that the ideal climate which has allowed life to flourish on earth for thousands of years is overdue for a seismic change, with or without the help of humanity. Combine this startling fact with the appalling ecological abuse which people have wrought in the last century and it might seem that our days are numbered.

Dumanoski's view of the current crisis delivers an urgent warning that our civilization must prepare for a future of radical uncertainty. She argues that we must rethink the fundamental doctrines of our current culture: growth, progress, and the control of nature. Beyond the buzzwords and hype of "sustainability" or "clean energy," we must learn how to survive Nature's return by nurturing self-sufficiency, flexibility, community, and diversity. All probably good ideas, regardless of our fear of climate change.

My conversation with Diane Dumanoski:

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

The French Helath Care Model - Why it Matters

The World Health Organization has named the French health care system the best in the world. (The U.S. ranked 37th). It's physician-rich, boasting one doctor for approximately every 430 people, compared with a doctor for every1,230 residents in the U.S. (and French docs tend to charge significantly less). The average life expectancy is two years longer than the U.S. And while the system is one of the most expensive in the world, costing $3,500 per person, it's far less than the $6,100 spend per capita in the U.S.

In Differential Diagnoses: A Comparative History of Health Care Problems and Solutions in the United States and France, Paul V. Dutton Associate Professor of History at Northern Arizona University and a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, debunks a common misconception among Americans that European health care systems are essentially similar to each other and vastly different from U.S. health care. In fact, the Americans and the French both distrust “socialized medicine.” Both peoples cherish patient choice, independent physicians, medical practice freedoms, and private insurers in a qualitatively different way than the Canadians, the British, and many others.

My conversation with Paul Dutton.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Julia Child - November, 2001

With the opening, this weekend, of the movie Julie & Julia, attention turns to the late Julia Child and her contribution to food, cooking and simply the culinary life of America.  Michael Pollan captured much of the impact of that contribution in his recent N.Y. Times Magazine article. 

Back in November 2001, shortly before she would turn 90 years old and two years before her death, I had the chance to host a frail Julia Child in my studio, in connection with the opening of COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts.  Even with the advance of age, her voice was as strong as ever and her ideas and views lucid and honest as always.  

To mark this attention focused on Julia this week, my conversation with her, from November, 2001.      Powered by

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

St. Helena...again & again

As I've said once before, I know this blog is usually reserved for loftier discussions, but the St. Helena, CA. School Board recall is once again front and center. Jim Haslip, former school board member, who resigned rather than support the conflict of interest he saw taking place around him, spoke last week with St. Helena Councilman Eric Sklar. I was away last week and Council member Sklar was kind enough to fill-in and have Mr. Haslip on as a guest.

Carolyn Martini, a school board member and one of the subjects of the recall, wanted to answer Haslip's comments and I gave her an opportunity. 

Here is Eric's conversation with Jim Haslip:

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Here is my conversation with Carolyn Martini:
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