Friday, November 29, 2013

Sex and the Genome

We’ve all heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. The notion that men and woman are different, is deeply inculcated in our culture. Yet today science, our growing understanding of the human genome and the interaction of culture and genetics, are giving us a far greater understanding of those differences.

Harvard Professor of the History of Science and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Sarah Richardson, in Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome, offers a compelling argument for the importance of an ongoing critical dialogue on how cultural gender conceptions influence the genetic science of sex.

Yet, like almost everything else in the realm of modern scientific discovery, different groups are happy and unhappy with the results of the science.

My conversation with Sarah Richardson:

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James Wolcott and Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs

Let's face it, our attention spans have been decapitated by modernity. Our knowledge, criticism and even entertainment now comes to us in 140 neat characters. We ourselves can be critics, just by clicking on a “thumbs up.”

Today, serious commentary and serious criticism is in short supply. It's not gone..but it's in remission. One place it still survives is in the presence of James Wolcott and and his work, primarily today, on the pages of Vanity Fair.

His just published collection of work and essays Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs, reminds us of what it was like, not that long ago, when ideas seemed to matter. When we thought as well at felt, and when the moral power of language made us sit up and take notice.

My conversation with James Wolcott:

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vampires and Angels and Werewolves, oh my!

For over thirty years, and through over thirty books Anne Rice has captivated us with her imaginative fiction. She has become one of the most beloved novelists of our time. With each new book or series, she not only reinvents herself, but reinvents whole new arenas of fiction. From the Vampire Chronicles, to her Christ the Lord books, to the world of angels.

Now she continues her move into the realm of werewolves. Where she still brings her own quite unique perspective. During a time of when we all face real dangers each day, she gives us a reason to escape into another world, but at the same time stay connected to our own. The Wolves of Midwinter: The Wolf Gift Chronicles is her latest.

My conversation with Anne Rice:

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Monday, November 25, 2013

How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

When Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992, and came in second in the New Hampshire primary, he dubbed himself “the comeback kid.” The idea being that , Americans loved and admired the story of resurgence. The ability and the character to come back from seeming defeat. Perhaps no President's story embodies that more than FDR.

Struck down with polio at age thirty-eight, his polio not only further shaped his character, and honed what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “his first class temperament.” but perhaps it also taught him skills that he would need as he taught the nation to deal with and recover from the twin crises of war and depression.

James Tobin captures this essence of Roosevelt in The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

My conversation with James Tobin:

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Smartest Kids in the World

Like almost everything else in our globalized world, education is now competitive. We are long past the time when American kids could stand on the ramparts and look down at the rest of the world. Even some of our most prestigious and wealthiest communities can’t compete with the “average” kids in places like Korea or Finland or Poland.

As is normal when we are under attack, our knee jerk reaction is to come up with excuses. We are more diverse, we are larger, we focus on different things and different values. Problem is, they are excuses. When the pencils are down, we fail. We fall far, far behind. But why? We often ask what we are doing wrong, but instead, Atlantic and Time journalist Amanda Ripley, asks and explores what are others are doing right.

That is the core of her reporting in The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way
Amanda Ripley spent one year following American teenagers living in Finland, South Korea and Poland. Her stories, reveal startling transformation. These countries got smarter not by spending more money or creating more tests, and they are not like Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.

My conversation with Amanda Ripley:

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Does America Still Have A Future?

This year's National Book Award winner, George Packer deconstructs the past thirty years of "progress" in America.

In The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America Packer brilliantly gives narrative drive to the changes in almost every aspect of American life. You come a way with the realization that we are no longer held together by trusted institutions, but by individual brands, all competing in a crowded and noisy marketplace. The questions is, is this any way to run a Democracy?

My conversation with George Packer:

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oswald acted alone...

If the assassination of a President took place today, we’d all know about it in a matter of seconds. Alerts, tweets, the Internet. We’d all have the same facts, literally in an instant. In a way that microsecond information impacts the way we process the news itself.

50 years ago, upon the assassination of JFK, this was not the case. The information came out slowly. Even on the streets of Dallas, news traveled by word of mouth, from person to person.

Bit by bit, drop by drop we lived the story over four remarkable days. The events, the images, the sounds had time to be absorbed into our pores, in a way that made it a part of our fabric, part of the DNA of the American experience.

Perhaps that’s why those events, 50 years ago, still resonate so powerfully today. Now bestselling author James Swanson turns a laser like focus on the minute by minute events of the final days of our 35th president in End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.

My conversation with James Swanson:

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It was the Mafia....

Fifty years ago this week, the nation experienced one of the seminal moments of the 20th century. Along with two World Wars, the dawning of the nuclear age, and the landing of men on the moon, the assassination of JFK was one of the century’s tent poles.

As such, it never ceases to fascinate us. What other event of the 20th century still conjures up as many unanswered questions? Is there anyone who still believes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that the Warren Commission is accurate? I’d say probably the same number that believes Elvis is still alive.

Author and legal analyst Mark Shaw postulates a new theory of case. One that has as it progenitor, the callus and politically expedient actions of the Kennedy patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy. He makes his case in The Poison Patriarch: How the Betrayals of Joseph P. Kennedy Caused the Assassination of JFK.

My conversation with Mark Shaw:

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An American Family in Iran

Thirty-four years ago the Iran hostage crisis forever transformed our view of that nation. For many of us, our memories of and attitude towards Iran and the Middle East, were frozen in place at that moment in time. Until recently very little has happened to change those views. In fact, the hard line views of the former Iranian President Ahmadinejad, only further reinforced them.

Today as change seems to be in the air, as a new regime takes over in Iran, as new overtures are made, Iran is still, as Winston Churchill once described the former Soviet Union, " a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

Few understand this dynamic better than Hooman Majd. Born in Iran, educated in the US, he was an American music executive before becoming a journalist. In 2008 he was the formal translator at the UN, for a speech given by former Iranian president Ahmadinejad.

Hooman Majd has now written about taking his family for a year of living differently,  in The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran

My conversation with Hooman Majd:

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dallas 1963 = America 2013

We have this very understandable habit of always thinking our era is unique. Even that our current period of political extremism is unparalleled. We think that the Tea Party rallies that called for the impeachment of the President, that engaged in racial animus, and accused the President of foreign allegiance and treason are unique events. They are not.

In the early 1960’s Dallas, Texas was a seething cauldron of similar feelings about another President, who came to office promising change and hope. It was another time when the world seemed to be shifting on its axis. It reached its apogee 50 years ago with the assassination of John Kennedy.

Regardless of where you stand on the theories about the assassination, there is no questions that Dallas was a character in the story. It was ground zero for the perfect storm of rage that Kennedy knew he was walking into.  Longtime Dallas based journalist and author Bill Minutaglio captures it all in Dallas 1963

My conversation with Bill Minutaglio

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Amsterdam: The World's Most Liberal City

With the election of Bill de Blasio as its Mayor, New York seems to want to recapture its Liberal roots. For some that may mean simply thinking about some of the last Democratic Mayors.

In fact those Liberal roots go much, much deeper. They go all the way back to the Dutch founding and Dutch influence on New York. All of which has its antecedents in the birth of Amsterdam itself, and the way in which the evolution of that city, particularly in the seventeenth century, would come to define the very ideas of classical Liberalism.

That idea of Liberalism is deeply entwined with the city of Amsterdam. Not just its permissive culture, about which we are familiar. But as a city that defines the most fundamental ideas of individual freedom.

Russell Shorto has looked as this from many angles. From the New York perspective, in his wonderful book, The Island at the Center of the World, and from a philosophical perspective in Descartes Bones. Now he goes into the belly of the beast to give us Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City

My conversation with Russell Shorto:

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crime and Funishment

To date, Patricia Cornwell’s books have sold some 100 million copies in thirty-six languages in over 120 countries.  She’s authored twenty-six New York Times best sellers. She has just published her 21st Kay Scarpetta book, Dust 

However those numbers only tell a part of the story. Because if you had lived in a bubble for the past 23 years and only read Kay Scarpetta books, you would be completely up date on the state of law enforcement technology, and the changing mores and language of the time. In short, Patricia Cornwell's books are a kind of contemporary time machine from which we can have the pleasure of transporting ourselves to another world and at the same time stay grounded in the every changing world around us. A kind of crime and funisment.

My conversation with Patricia Cornwell:

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Moral Tribes: The Gap Between Us and Them

There is a current fad in the diet world known as the paleo diet. The idea is that we should eat what paleolithic man ate, in order to be protected from the scourge of modern processed food. While harkening back to our hunter gather ancestors may be good nutrition, it’s not necessarily good thinking.

Harvard cognitive neuroscientist and philosophy Professor Joshua Greene argues, in Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them that some our biggest problems, arise from our habit of using paleolithic moral thinking to the problems of 21st Century life.

Our moral instincts, he argues, turn Me into Us, but then turns Us against Them. The only way to do better, is to get beyond how our brains have evolved by using both efficient, “point and shoot” gut reactions, side by side with our “manual mode” reasoning, to solve the modern moral problems that divide Us v. Them.

My conversation with Joshua Greene:

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Last Word on the 2012 Campaign

Ever since 1960, the campaign memoir has become almost a genre unto itself.  Over the years many of these books have shaped our view of politics. Theodore White’s, Making of the President, F. Clifton White’s Suite 3505, Joe McGinniss’ Selling of the President 1968, Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the 1972 Campaign and Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes.

In each of these stories men have competed for the Presidency with the strongest of passions, with the proverbial fire in the belly. In many cases that ambition drove the narrative.

Now Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reprise their 2008 campaign memoir Game Change with their 2012 account Double Down.   Except, they faced a unique aspect to this story….two contenders, one the President of the United States, both of whom seemed almost ambivalent and reluctant to take on the fight.  This was a major game change along with the changing face of the electorate and of the country.

My conversation with Mark Halperin:

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Murdoch's World

Just as Charles Foster Kane, thought it would be fun to run a newspaper, and was always torn between being rich, a pillar of the establishment, and being the owner of a populist , anti elitist, publication, so to his real life scion Rupert Murdoch.

It's a complicated story as Murdoch begins, from his father's modest company in Australia, to build a business spanning 50 countries, a powerhouse of influential TV and movie production companies, newspapers and book publishers. Now it all could come chasing down in a London courtroom. Admired, loathed and feared, Murdoch is hard to size up neatly.

But NPR media reporter David Folkenflick takes on the job in Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires.

My conversation with David Folkenflick:

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East

35 years ago we witnessed the Iran Hostage crisis. Israel was at war with all of its neighbors in the region and fundamentalist revolutions were rampant.

For many of us, our images of and attitude towards the Middle East, were frozen in place at that moment in time. The events of 9/11 and the wars that followed, further hardened those preconceived views.

But since 1978 a whole new generation has grown up in the region. Tahrir square was merely the most outward personification of that. These young people want to solve problems, they want technology and they want a better life. And like the forward march of creative destruction everywhere on the planet, the Middle East is no exception.

The world of startups and brain power in the Middle East is not limited to Israel. In fact, the whole of the Middle East has the potential to be as powerful a force as Silicon Valley.  So says venture capitalist and entrepreneur Christopher Schroeder in Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East.

My conversation with Chris Schroeder:

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Monday, November 11, 2013

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

For those of us that grew up in the 60’s, space was the final frontier. It was the most future oriented thing one could do. JFK found no better way to project into the future than to promise to put men on the Moon by the end of the decade.

Today, as a society, we seem to have lost that wonder. Instead, the future consists of the latest social media; Twitter, Facebook, youtube. Perhaps they all portend to a future we can’t yet imagine?

Few people have understood or been part of both of these worlds...The world of space travel and all that it represents, and the contemporary world of social media.

Veteran astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield has straddled both.  And he’s done it in ways that inspire all of us to fearlessly grasp the future.

My conversation with Col. Chris Hadfield about his memoir An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything.

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