Monday, March 30, 2015

Editing life code

Conventional wisdom has long held that evolution is something that takes place slowly and over centuries. Concurrently we know that technological changes, and changes in the human condition have speeded up at a hyper multiple pace. We have often thought that much of our anxiety and even some fundamental social problems stem from that dissonance, from that disconnect between our external and our internal change.

However, what if we ourselves, as a species, as generic templates, were really changing at the same time, in real time. Imagine that all the plates are spinning at rapid speed and in different directions. It’s not surprising then that they may crash into each other, some may shatter, and some will survive even stronger and sturdier.

In this way, we are rewriting life code. We are, according to Juan EnriquezEvolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth.

My conversation with Juan Enriquez:

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The Myth of America as a "Christian Nation"

It was Churchill who reminded us that history is written by the victors. Well this is as true of religious history as it is of military, political and geopolitical history.

We’ve all been been told since childhood of the Christian foundation of America. That the history of America is John Winthrop's "Shining City on a Hill."  That the Christian Village Green represented the apotheosis of America.

The fact is, since before the time of Columbus, America has been a pluralistic society. An idea that Jefferson had to battle to prove, just as President Obama has in his recent speeches about religion.

At a time when technology and globalization continue to draw us all closer together, we have a choice. We can either channel our heritage and embrace that religious diversity or pull up the proverbial drawbridge and defend the mythology.

This is the world that Peter Manseau looks at in his new book One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History.

My conversation with Peter Manseau:

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Going Clear

The idea of a new, "modern" religion is a little confusing on its face. Especially one that claims millions of converts each year and that has focused its attention on money and Hollywood.

Today, Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize winning author of THE LOOMING TOWER, about the history of al-qaida, takes a fresh look at another religion, gone off the rails in Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief 

My conversation with Lawrence Wright

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Boston's other unsolved crime

Art theft is always a funny thing. The public is usually fascinated by the story, but can seldom feel the kind of empathy with the theft, they feel if their neighbors car were broken into.

Art theft, at the highest level is a very special an almost elite kind of crime. Like reading the pages of Rob Report, it fascinates, but never engages.

Perhaps that's why so many art thefts are never solved. Including the recent grandaddy of them all, the the theft of priceless painting from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, 25 years ago. Award winning Boston Globe journalist Stephen Kurkjian takes us inside Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist.

My conversation with Stephen Kurkjian:

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Eating Viet Nam

Historians and journalists have devoted millions of pages to trying to understand the world. In fact, it may be a lot simpler than that. Just maybe it can be done by eating.

We’ve all seen politicians in America, campaigning by eating the local foods and imitating local eating customs. Why isn’t the same true for geopolitics?

If we can understand the culture of another country through its food, perhaps we’d better understand its people, its culture and its ideas. In so doing, the world just might be a happier, and more satisfied place.

That’s what Graham Holliday has done in trying to appreciate first south Korea and then Viet Nam. A place that he takes us to in Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table.

My conversation with Graham Holliday:

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Space is a family business

Even back in the tumultuous 60’s we were enamored with the space program. The idea of man “slipping the surly bonds of earth,” captured the nation's attention at a time when so much other news was negative. Kids everywhere wanted to be astronaut. There even was an airline at the time that referred to itself as “the wings of man.”

Our landing on the moon, in 1969, instead of being the beginning of a renewed interest to take us to the planets and beyond, was simply the capstone of our national interest in space. The Shuttle program and the International Space Station, never had the same kind of magnetic pull or a national obsession.

However for the twin brothers, Scott and Mark Kelly, growing up in New Jersey, the pull never stopped.

Mark Kelly, is a distinguished naval aviator, and astronaut who has flown four shuttle missions. He has logged almost one-hundred million miles and circled the plant almost a 1000 times.

His brother Scott, also an astronaut, is embarking on man’s longest stay aboard the space station.
And Mark is married to former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords,

Mark is committed to instilling in young people a renewed interest in space and he’s written Astrotwins -- Project Blastoff

My conversation with Mark Kelly:

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Gary Wills on The Future of the Catholic Church

If there is a single point of cognitive dissonance in our world today, it revolves around change. We love change. We think we like to embrace the new, and yet we fear change. We hang on to a the past, forgetting that the past, that feels oh so comfortable, is but a floating endpoint of much previous change.

So to the Catholic Church. For the Church, constant change has been one of its most basic things. Most everything catholics think about dogma and doctrine in the church today, was once revolutionary.

Clearly Pope Francis understands this, with his admonition that grace must overtake laws. That’s what distinguished historian Garry Wills writes about in The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis

My conversation with Gary Wills:

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

The End of College

Our College and University system in America grew up in opposition to the old European model. Americans didn’t want to be locked in to specific training or apprenticeships. We believed that the goal of education was to engage the mind in the realities of the world and so liberal arts education grew up. It emphasized writing and speaking and creative endeavors in the pursuit of interests beyond the classroom.

Out of this came our great research Universities and things like the California Master Plan for education became the model.

Today, that process is about tests and admissions and loans and student aid and transfers and an insanely complex and arcane process that benefits the Sherpas that have to navigate us through it, but do little for the value of that education.

Just has technology has disrupted so much else, it is now reaching deep into higher education. What it means is an open question, which we are now coming to grips with.

Kevin Carey looks deeply into this moment, in his new book The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.
My conversation with Kevin Carey:

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Suicide is not Painless

Most of us remember the theme song from Mash, “Suicide is Painless:”

Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…

Philip Connors, through the suicide of his brother, would come to see many things. About his brother, about his own life and about the pain of loneliness and of childhood trauma. And most of all, about the need to connect with each other and the lifetime power of those connections.

Philip Connors, the acclaimed author of Fire Season, shares his pain and guilt in All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found

My conversation with Philip Connors:

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How the Constitution Invented Hollywood and Silicon Valley

Few classes in law school are drier and more arcane than courses on patents and copyrights. And while the debate about intellectual property includes the worlds of entertainment, literature and technology, we don’t often make the connections between those arcane laws, the Constitution that laid down their predicate and the creativity that they seek to protect.  But that is exactly what Elizabeth Wurtzel does in her new book Creatocracy: How the Constitution Invented Hollywood.

My conversation with Elizabeth Wurtzel:

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Friday, March 6, 2015

LBJ, Selma and the Great Society

Our mission statement as a country tells us we are a government of laws, and not of men. Yet without great men, including Adams, who said this, we would not have the laws that have provided the framework for our greatness.

Today, the laws that shape our contemporary society, civil rights, the environment, the social safety net, head start, and college loans, were in large measure the result of the Great Society and Lyndon Johnson.

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about Johnson. Recently the movie Selma reignited the debate about Johnson’s role in Civil Rights legislation.

But Johnson, like all Presidents, was a flesh and blood human being. While we may understand and/or debate the history of his Presidency, Joseph Califano Jr. in his book The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years, gives us a look inside the man himself.

My conversation with Joseph Califano:

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lies, Damned Lies and Love

As novels and movies have repeatedly shown us, when both partners in a relationship tell the story of that relationship, the images, the memories, the experience is generally profoundly different.

Even in good or strong relationships, the perception is shaped by the stories and yes, even the lies we tell each other and ourselves, as a kind of lubrication for intimate interaction.

Over time, the stories and lies build up, until truth is almost indistinguishable, from perception.

Even the most innocent things, like appearance, cosmetics, clothing, and even pharmaceuticals, are there to mask our true selves,in the effort to make us taller, smarter, younger, or just happier.

Clancy Martin takes on the story of these lies in Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love.

My conversation with Clancy Martin:

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Federalist Society and the conservative Revolution

As we watch presidential candidates, on both sides, putting together their respective teams for 2016, it reminds us that politics and public policy is indeed a team sport.

Both sides draw from a deep bench of those that served in previous administrations and also bring up young and upcoming rookies, that then go on, if they win, to be the future veterans.

Just as it’s true in campaigns and policy, it’s equally true in the legal world. Both parties have their farm teams from which to draw legal policy ideas and judges.

On the left, it’s always been a kind of informal network of professors and legal scholars in our most elite universities and law schools. On the right, the Federalist Society has become both the back office and the bench for the conservative movement. Amanda Hollis-Brusky takes us inside the Federalist Society in Ideas with Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution.  She examines how this is shaping our courts and our country.

My conversation with Amanda Hollis-Brusky:

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

This is your Brain on Food

We’ve all heard the expression, “you are what you eat.” Yet when we think about some of the things we consume, the fast food, the junk food, the endless meals out, assembled with unknown ingredients, perhaps it’s no surprise that we have an obesity epidemic and that so many public health issues can be traced back to what we eat.

On the other side of the table is a vast food/industrial complex, that understands food addiction, the impact of sugars and fats, and spends billions of dollars each years trying to get us hooked.

But the news isn’t all bad. There are also foods that protect us from disease and really do improve our health.

What all of this tells us, is that beyond that simple nutrition class you might have taken, a lesson in biology and chemistry might also be helpful. Or we can learn from our guest Dr. Gary Wenk and his new book Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings

My conversation with Gary Wenk:

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Monday, March 2, 2015

What we don't see about the Middle East

To the extent that we are all the sum total of our wider experience and our private moments, imagine how that might be magnified amidst the terror, turmoil, and violence of Middle East.

A place where even the quiet moments of love, life and even pain are amplified by events in the present and memories of the past.

Mai Al-Nakib’s stories in her collection The Hidden Light of Objects, takes us into the lives of people in the crucible of conflict who hang on to extraordinary memories.

My conversation with Mai Al-Nakib:

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lemony Snicket vs. The Pirates

It was Thoreau who said that “the masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The characters at the center of Daniel Handler’s new adult novel We Are Pirates want very badly to avoid that fate.  And yet, they find that sometimes the alternative is even more desperation.

My conversation with Daniel Handler:

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