Friday, September 30, 2011

Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words

In an age of memoir, blogs and Facebook, where we seemingly have the compulsion to document every aspect of our lives, perhaps it's important to ask ourselves whether it's the moments we remember, or the ones we forget that are really important.

Nothing brings this into bold relief more than dealing with Alzheimer's. Kate Whouley had to confront this idea with her mother and it's given her a whole new perspective on life, family and what living in the moment is really about.

My conversation with Kate Whouley about her memoir Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words: Travels with Mom in the Land of Dementia.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

This is real infrastructure improvement

Joan Didion once referred to the freeways as the only secular communion that what we have. Certainly the freeway, more specifically our Interstate Highway System, is the concrete fabric that may be the only thing holding our nation together. But how did this system, the largest public works project in history, ever get done? Certainly, it could never be accomplished today!

Today, when we pay lip service to improving our infrastructure, and then doing nothing about, its a particularly good time to go back and look at the creation of that Interstate Highway System and the vision and courage it took to get it done. Journalist and author Earl Swift explains it all in The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways.

My conversation with Earl Swift:

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The 9/11 Oral History Project

A couple of weeks ago we marked the events of 9/11. But what were we really marking? What did we celebrate? More than the physical landscape of Ground Zero and the 2755 who perished, it’s important that we also remember those that gave the last full measure of their devotion in the efforts to rescue those inside the building. The first responders and those engaged in the clean up, often mark 9/11 not as an ending, but as the beginning of the physical and emotional problems that still scar them to this day.

But what about their story? Their names are not etched in the granite of Ground Zero, but Dr. Benjamin Luft did find a way for their stories to be equally enduring. He created the 9/11 Oral History Project. It's part of his book We're Not Leaving: 9/11 Responders Tell Their Stories of Courage, Sacrifice, and Renewal.

My conversation with Dr. Benjamin Luft:

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Take the Lead

It used to be that the military style of leadership, top down command and control, was how the world operated. Today, in the military as well as business and life, leadership is about how we connect with each other. How we inspire others, how we collaborate effectively, how we incorporate the new values of our time into entrepreneurship and leadership. Few understand these concepts better than Betsy Meyers. She has been Executive Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the Director of the Office of Women's Business Ownership at the US Small Business Administration. She served as a COO and senior adviser to Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign and was a senior official in the Clinton Administration. She distills her wisdom in her new book Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You.

My conversation with Betsy Myers:

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Wendy and the Lost Boys

Many novelists and playwrights are simply keen observes of the world around them. They watch, they feel, they think and they create and aggregate wonderful stories. But for some, (think Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Tom Wolfe) they themselves embody their work and their time. There is a kind of almost impenetrable membrane between them and the stories and characters they create. Wendy Wasserstein, author of such plays as The Heidi Chronicles and The Sisters Rosensweig, was such a writer. She was a true baby boomer, who captured the essence of the post feminist angst of the 80's and gave voice to so many woman who felt as if she knew them personally. Her death at the age of 55, shorted circuited a truly creative life.  Journalist and former WSJ film critic Julie Salamon captures all of  Wasserstein in Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein

My conversation with Julie Salamon:

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My conversation with Wendy Wasserstein, from June 2001,  on the publication of her book Shiksa Goddess: (Or, How I Spent My Forties) Essays

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The interrogator who understood al Qaeda

In the ten years since 9/11/2001, it's amazing how many things we've gotten wrong and still had success in the war on terror and against al Qaeda. In the aftermath we were told by the President that people in the region hated our values and what we stood for. Yet hundred of thousands have marched this Spring, for freedom dignity and the expansion of "our values." We are still told by the former Vice President that torture and so called "enhanced interrogation" works. Yet our greatest success in the battle against al Qaeda comes from understanding our opponents and using cleverness, wisdom and outsmarting, not our brutalizing them.

Through all of this, through the additions of layers and layers of top secret bureaucracy, one mans efforts have truly made a difference. That man is Ali Soufan, a former FBI Supervisory Special Agent. He takes us through his journey in his new book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda.

My conversation with Ali Soufan:

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda

We talked last week with The Washington Post's William Arkin about the overgrown military/intelligence complex that has grown so large since 9/11, that it may actually be putting America at greater security risk. The other side of this same coin is that the bureaucracy is so large and it’s need to self sustain so great, that maybe it cannot allow itself to see success or even something akin to victory in the war on terror.

Fawaz Gerges Director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, argues in his new book The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda that even before the killing of Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda had lost much of it’s viability. Rather than getting stronger, it seems that Al-Qaeda peaked with the events of 9/11 and that the current winds sweeping the Middle East, have left little room for Al-Qaeda.

My conversation with Fawaz Gerges:

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Why The New Deal still matters

We study history not only to tell us what we should do, but also what we should avoid. For it is the task of succeeding generation to escape history, to escape its repetition, that is to avoid the mistakes of other times. The problem is that too often the history we study and try and learn from is seeped in mythology and falsehood.

Today as we continue to face the most severe and complex financial crises since the Great Depression, we look back at Roosevelt's New Deal for guidance and answers. The problem is, often the rehorthic and reality of that time are at odds. That's why Pulitzer Prize winner and LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik's new book The New Deal: A Modern History is so important. He gives us not the FDR iconography and myth, but the flesh and blood story of human beings doing their best, often by trial and error, to right the nation at one of its great historical inflection points.

My conversation with Michael Hiltzig:

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Intelligence run amuck

After 9/11 we thought we did everything to protect ourselves from another terrorist attack. In fact, we may have done too much. We created multiple security programs, hired hundreds of thousand of people, all with top secret clearances and in so doing, may have created an intelligence bureaucracy, the size, scope and duplication of which has put us at even greater risk.

So argues Washington Post journalist William Arkin who, along with multi Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dana Priest, examines all of this in their new book Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State.

My conversation with William Arkin:

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Scientology revealed

Scientology has been one of the worlds fastest growing "religions." It's the chosen faith of many celebrities and high profile figures. It's considered a cult by some, yet has massive financial holdings in the billions. As you will hear Bill Marr explain, its creation myth is based on aliens and nuclear volcanos trillions of years ago......Rolling Stone contributing Editor Janet Reitman delves deep and objectively Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion.

My conversation with Janet Reitman:

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11, The Oil Kings and the Balance of Power in the Middle East

The events we marked on 9/11 were not isolated. They have their roots deep in the history of American foreign policy. At the heart of that policy lies our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, the economic crises we faced as a result in the 1970's, our support of the Shah and decisions made by Presidents' Nixon, Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. To better understand this lineage, we need to look closely at the history altering chain of events that saw its apogee on 9/11 and from which we've unfortunately learned very little. Andrew Scott Cooper lays it all out for us in his new work The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East.

My conversation with Andrew Scott Copper:

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Monday, September 12, 2011


In her time she was the most powerful woman in the Western World. She was not afraid to use her feminine powers in ways that today, would be considered politically incorrect. She was highly educated and sophisticated, the richest woman of her time and her story wold be the subject of propaganda and revisionism. She was Cleopatra and although her story takes place over two thousand years ago, many of her life themes are as contemporary as today’s headlines.  Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Stacy Schiff's best selling biography Cleopatra: A Life captures it all as if she were there.

My conversation with Stacy Schiff:

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Autism Speaks

The statistics are powerful. Today, one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined. Statistics further suggest that the rate of autism is increasing 10-17 percent annually. Studies suggest boys are more likely than girls to develop autism and receive the diagnosis. Yet we still don't know the cause or causes, but research is making great progress. On the forefront of that research is Dr. Clara Lajonchere, currently serves as VP of Clinical Programs at Autism Speaks.

My recent conversation with Dr. Clara Lajonchere:

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The First Big Box

American have a schizophrenic relationship with retail. On the one hand we want choice. We feel we are entitled to boundless choices and variety. We also want low prices, particularly in these tough economic times. Yet we hold out a soft spot for the little guy, the mom and pop retailer fighting against the big box behemoth. While this may sound like a conflict taken from today's headlines, its roots go back to the l920's, when the Greater Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, A & P, took on the small town grocer. In almost 100 years we have still not reconciled this dichotomy. In fact, the romanticism for those small mom and pops has become even stronger.  Marc Levinson takes us through this history in The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America.

My conversation with Marc Levinson:

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Last Day of the Soviet Union

In their new book about the state of America today, Thom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum talk of the end of the Cold War as perhaps the seminal event that reshaped the America we have today. Suddenly without an enemy, we had to redefine who we were and what we represented as a nation. Yet as important as that event was, we know little about what really went on inside the former Soviet Union that precipitated its breakup, or it’s real impact inside Russia today. Conor O'Clery lived and reported from the former Soviet Union in it's final days, up to and including Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union.

My conversation with Conor O'Clery:

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Friday, September 2, 2011

The Boy Who Loved BATMAN

Suppose you had a youthful passion. Over the years you nurtured that passion, believed in it and even convinced your parents that there might be value in collecting tens of thousands of comic books. Your dad even lets you take over the garage for your comics. At five years old, you fall in love with Batman, and somehow know it might be your future. Over the years you keep that passion as your focus. You become a lawyer as a the only way you know to get into the creative side of show business, and then you parlay that into ownership of the rights to make Batman into a movie. Then, after all of that, you finally get to begin the decade long process to convince someone, in a position of power in Hollywood, to share or even understand your vision for Batman.

In the process you create one of the most successful series in the history of movies. And maybe, just maybe, you keep your sanity while it sometimes seems that those around you are loosing theirs. The man who did of this is Michael Uslan. He shares his story in him new memoir  The Boy Who Loved Batman.

My conversation with Michael Uslan:

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Understanding Afghanistan & why it matters

It has been said that Afghanistan has been the graveyard of empires. Certainly, in modern times, the Soviet Union paid a heavy price for it’s adventurism in Afghanistan. More recently American lives and billions dollars have been shed in the service of what may really be local, provincial political interests, inside that country.

Today, ten years after 9/11, what do we really know about this country, its real link to international terror, and its role in the larger regional and geopolitical issues shaping this volatile region. For thirty years few have know this place better than journalist Edward Girardet. Now he has distilled and shared much of that knowledge into his new work Killing the Cranes: A Reporter's Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan.

My conversation with Edward Girardet:

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