Friday, February 27, 2015

Chuck Todd captures the Catch 22 of the Obama Presidency

Fifty-five years ago Joseph Heller gave us the paradox of Catch 22. It came to mean a set of contradictory ideas and rules that conflicted with themselves. And while Catch 22 remains a cornerstone of American literature, it also just might be a cornerstone of the Obama Presidency.

Barack Obama came to office on a wave of hope and change. He came to Washington to change it. Only to realize, that if you want to get stuff done to change Washington, you can’t change it, unless you work within it.

It is n that paradox. in that Catch 22, through which we can perhaps best understand the past six years of the Obama presidency.

Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, as captured the essence of this dilemma in his examination of the first six year of the Obama presidency in The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House.

My conversation with Chuck Todd:

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Can Boomers afford to age with dignity?

It’s been said that if you live to an old age, you give give up all the things that make you want to live to an old age. At a time when 10,000 boomers a day are reaching retirement age, when the generation that sought to change the world, is being changed by the ravages of age, when the cost of care for this huge generation of seniors could bankrupt us personally and as a nation, it’s time for a frank conversation to examine, if there is a better way forward.

MacArthur “genius” grant recipient Ai Jen Poo plunges into the heart of this discussion, in her new book The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America.

My conversation with Ai-Jen Poo:

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Filmmaking that truly stands the test of time

Can you imagine if immediately after 9/11, filmmakers like Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola, Fincher or Apatow would enlist in the military to make films about the war on terror? Films that would show America at war against its Taliban and Middle East enemies. Well with the exception of Clint Eastwood, that's pretty hard to imagine.

Yet in WWII, that's exactly what happened. Filmmakers John Ford, William Wyler, Frank Capra, John Houston, and George Stevens would in various ways, join with the military in the war effort.

The work that they did, the impact it had on them personally and on the country, would forever change the workings of Hollywood. It would emphasize the importance of film as entertainment and as an art form,  as well as how Americans viewed war. In that sense, those images still shape our perceptions today as they are a part of our cultural and political DNA.

Mark Harris takes us though the war work of these great Directors in Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War

My conversation with Mark Harris:

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Tales from Both Sides of the Brain

How many times have you heard someone say that they were of two minds on a particular subject? What they were in fact reflecting and acknowledging, is the idea that we are literally of two minds. That the left and right hemispheres of the brain represent different and sometimes independent parts of the whole. Discovering this, understanding the foundations of cognitive neuroscience, how the brain works and how the two hemispheres communicate with each other, has been the work and crowning achievement of Michael Gazzaniga.

Often call “the father of Cognitive Neuroscience,” Gazzaniga has written his memoir Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience.

My conversation with Michael Gazzaniga:

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Friday, February 20, 2015

The Man Who Couldn't Stop......The Man Who Couldn't Stop......

How many of you have ever left the house, gotten half way to your destination and were convinced that you had left the oven on, or left the door open, even though the rational side of you knew you had not? The more you tried to think about it, the more you became obsessed. Until you had no choice but to turn back, go home and find that yes, the oven was off, or the door was closed.

Then imagine this kind of obsession impacting every aspect of your life. Turned on 24/7, often about the same issues. That gives you just a glimpse into the life of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD.)

Science journalist, David Adam has been dealing with OCD, our fourth most common mental disorder, since he was a young student.

In his book The Man Who Couldn't Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought, he
gives us a glimpse of the illness, its causes and treatments.

My conversation with David Adams:

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Science behind Touch, Pleasure and Pain

For the ten million or so people that saw Fifty Shades of Grey this past weekend, or the many more millions who read the books, in a way what they were doing is trying to understand touch. The complex ways in which our bodies and our brains process pleasure and pain. Why childhood development is so crucial to that process and the ways in which touch shapes our sexuality, our cooperation, our well being and our own internal interaction between the physical and emotional world.

Professor of neuroscience David Linden, examines this interface in his new book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind.

My conversation with David J. Linden:

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Lynsey Addario: A Photographer's Life of Love and War

There is a principle in physics known as the uncertainty principle. the idea simplified is that it’s impossible to observe or measure certain phenomenon without having an impact on that which is being observed or measured.

In many ways we might look for the same impacts among those that give us the images of war and disaster. What do these images tell us about sufferings of people in faraway places? Images that do more than report, that can inspire dissent, foster violence, or create sympathy or apathy. They often tell us about the nature of war and the obligations of conscience. Sometimes they even make us think or feel about a reality far beyond what any picture can convey?

Few understand this better than Lynsey Addario. One of the greatest photo journalists of our time, her work has appeared regularly in the New York Times. She is recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant and the Pulitzer Prize. Her memoir is It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War

My conversation with Lynsey Addario:

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Has Italy always been falling apart?

Back in the early 1960’s, in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, the world took note of the decadence of life in the Italian capital of Rome. Inspired by two major political/sex scandals of the era, the film which would win the 1960 Palme d'or in Cannes, depicted a Rome that was ultra sophisticated, ultra modern, ultra decadent and ultra cool.

Fifty plus years later, Rome is kind of antidote to America. There is less sexuality, less modernity, less sophistication and less decadence.

However there is more chaos, corruption and insecurity. How did a nation that was so desired for so long, come to its current fate?  John Hooper tries to give us some answers in The Italians.

My conversation with John Hooper:

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Miranda July

Short Stories, films, novels and performance art. Over the years we’ve spoken to many guests that do some of these things, and do them at the top of their game. Miranda July has done them All. And done all of them exceedingly well

Her collection of short stories, NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU won numerous awards and has been published in 23 countries. Her film,  ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, was a winner of Camera d'or at the Cannes Film Festival and a special Jury prize at Sundance.

If there truly is such thing as a renaissance woman, it is Miranda July. Her debut novel is The First Bad Man.

My conversation with Miranda July:

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Just how dangerous is Vladimir Putin? Ask Bill Browder!

We often throw terms around in our political and geopolitical debates like capitalist, and communist, and oligarch, and class divide. But very few who use these hot button terms truly understand the deep essence of what they really mean.

One of those that does understand is Bill Browder. He rebelled against communism as a teenager, became of capitalist and then made millions in Putin’s Russia. What he didn’t know was just what kind of price he would pay for getting involved in the ever entangling web of Putin, oligarchs and a system 180 degrees from our own, a system of men and not of laws.

The result was the brutal death of Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky and Browder’s still ongoing quest for justice.

The story is all told in his new book, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice.

My conversation with Bill Browder:

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Marriage today is not your parents marriage...but it just might be your grandparents

It was Woody Allen who said that “marriage was the end of hope.” We know from the behavior of millennials today that while they strongly favor equality of marriage, they are not to keen on the institution for themselves.

Arguably marriage today, like so much in our society, is undergoing a transition and even disruption. Marriage today is certainly not your parents marriage….but is it maybe your grandparents.

Suppose we skip back not one, but two generations and look at marriage. Can we learn anything that is at all relevant to our 24/7 tech driven culture today?

Karl Pillemer thinks so. He has taken the time to talk to hundreds of older retirees about their relationships and their marriages, in the hope that age might provide a little wisdom on one of the oldest subjects. The results are in 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage.

My conversation with Karl Pillemer:

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Is the perfect Battery the holy grail of the electronic age?

If any one issue has dominated both our international and domestic dialogue, it is the subject of energy. A developed and developing world, with ever increasing energy needs and, in spite of the current glut, not an endless supply of oil.

Enter alternative energy...wind, solar and the battery. If only we could prefect the later. With range anxiety for electric cars, computer anxiety on long flights, the need for a better battery might very well be the holy grail of the electronic and digital age.

Steve Levine, who’s written about and covered the energy sector for years, now in The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World, turns his attention to the struggle to build that perfect battery

My conversation with Steve Levine:

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fear, Hope and Dread

It is often said that to name something is to understand it. If that’s true, than Scott Stossel has a greater understanding of anxiety than anyone else. In his book, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind, he takes us through the litany of his multiple anxieties and treatments. In so doing, we come away with a far greater understanding of and sympathy for the anxieties, that for Scott and many others, (far more than we know) plaque everyday life.

In a more connected, complex, speeded up world, are these individual anxieties worse, and do they in fact create a kind of feedback loop into our collective and societal anxiety? A society in which we have the unique ability to turn even good news, into something to worry about.

My conversation with Scott Stossel:

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Is Vietnam the "original sin" of American foreign policy?

Look around the political and social landscape today. The polarizing debates about who we are, what we stand for as a nation and as a people, are all issues that seem to be re-litigated over and over again, particularly since and in the context of the 60’s.

It was Fifty years ago this month that LBJ began the escalation of the Vietnam War. And in many ways that war has become the “original sin” of the theology of America. If slavery was the “original sin” that still haunts our domestic politics, Vietnam is the “original sin” that still haunts the conduct of our foreign policy and America's place in the world.

The world may little note nor long remember what went on in the killing fields of Vietnam, but for American, it’s very much a part of who we are. And to fully understand it, may be the key to finally moving beyond it.

Christian Appy takes us back to this unique time in American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity

My conversation with Christian Appy:

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America

Why is it that certain cultural and/or ethnic groups tend to have successes, far in excess of their percentage of the population? Jews, Indians, Iranians, Chinese, Mormons, and a few others.

These groups are simply more financially and academically successful than others in the US. And while hearing this, often sends powerful signals to our racial antenna, the fact is that if we can answer the question of why, then perhaps we can find a formula to lift up others. To truly find the holy grail of personal, economic and cultural fulfillment.

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld have been on this search. And while what they found makes a lot of people uncomfortable, the fact is The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America,may be a key to rebirthing the spirit that made America great.

My conversation with Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld:

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Thursday, February 5, 2015


Today we have talking heads and pundits. But back in second half of the 20th century we had writers and public intellectuals, whose ideas, attitudes and personalities became a part of our public discourse.

Gore Vidal was one of those. He wrote about history, about sex, about politics and sometimes all at once. He wrote non-fiction, novels, movies, and was the guest you wanted to have at a dinner party.

But he was also one of the bad boys of American letter. His rapier wit and insults pushed away as many people as admired him. But like most complex figures, the public surfaces were only part of the story.

To get deeper we have the work of my guest Michael Mewshaw . A long time friend of Vidal, he's just written Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal.

My conversation with Michael Mewshaw:

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The paid dogs of war

The world is a dangerous place. We no longer have the moral clarity and security of the cold war, or of earlier wars where we knew precisely who our enemy were. Today, as non state actors battle nations and each other, the asymmetry of conflict has created new opportunities for paid armies, and for mercenaries on all sides.

Just as we outsource call centers and the delivery of packages, today we outsource war. From the protection of the high seas to making our own national interests more palatable

But at what cost, and what might be the human and global consequence of unleashing the paid dogs of war.

This is the world that Sean McFate knows well and writes about in The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order.

My conversation with Sean McFate:

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Alexandra Fuller

It is one of the tragic ironies of the psychoanalytic age that we are attracted to people, particularly our partners, who often turn out to be the very ones that begin to repel us later in life.

At first, its those once endearing and now annoying habits. And then, it becomes annoyance at their larger world view.

Perhaps it's because in partnering, we seek to make up for those things that we are lacking. Perhaps its because we buy into to the old adage that opposites attract. Even though, contemporary research shows us that that is simply not true, that partners that are similar tend to do better.

Today we seek and talk of authenticity, but is it possible to be authentic, while trying to compromise with anyone that is the opposite from who we are at core?

Those are some of the central ideas running through Alexandra Fuller's memoir, Leaving Before the Rains Come.

My conversation with Alexandra Fuller:

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