Monday, October 23, 2017

Joan Didion: The Center Cannot Hold

There are many writers that reflect a particular time, place and style. Tom Wolfe, Faulkner, Norman Mailer, to name a few. Each conjures up a specific time and place.

It’s very rare that a great writer spans both places and decades. Joan Didion is that rare exception. Be it New York or California; the upheaval of the 60’s, or the aging baby boomers of the present, who must deal with death and grief. Joan Didion has captured it all with precision, insight and the poet's gift for defining the world in a grain of sand.

Never before has there been a documentary about Joan...until now. Until Griffin and Annabelle Dunne have given us The Center Cannot Hold.  It comes to Netflix on October 27th.

My conversation with Griffin Dunne:

Fake Wine Is A Real Thing

We all know the story of Willie Sutton being asked why he robbed banks, and answering “that’s where the money is.” Today, any thief or con man usually goes where they think they can find the easy dollars or the easy mark.

One of the last places of opportunity for crime might seem like the world of fine wine. Often seen as its own cloistered, rarefied world, you’d think it might be hard for an outsider to penetrate and gain the trust and confidence necessary to pull off a world class con.

Stealing wine, loosing bottles in a fire, insurance fraud, we’ve heard all that. But for Rudy Kurniawan the con was far riskier. Especially when dealing with deep pockets of one of the Koch brothers. That the story that author and journalist Peter Hellman tells in In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire

My conversation with Peter Hellman:

Thursday, October 19, 2017


As divided as we are as a nation, and as divided as we’ve been in times past, one thing seems to be unique and universally embedded within our democracy. It is the carnival that is an American presidential campaign.

Perhaps that’s why chronicles of America's presidential campaigns have been an important staple of political diets. In the modern era, it begins with Teddy White's The Making of the President in 1960, and continues with masterworks like Richard Ben Cramer's What it Takes, Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Camping Trail, Joe McGinnis’ The Selling of the President 1968, Timothy Crouse’s The Boys on the Bus,  and works by Rebecca Traister, Mark Halperin and John Hileman,

There is no question that in the 2016 presidential campaign, Katy Tur's, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History will stand as an equal totem of the 500 days that changed America.

My conversation with Katy Tur:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

An Old Talk with Richard Thaler

All the way back in April of 2009, I had a conversation with University of Chicago Professor  Richard Thaler, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in economics.  We talked about the idea of Nudge.

At the time it was a new approach to public policy. One designed around the odd realities of human behavior and the new behavioral research to help people, as well as government agencies, companies and charities, make better decisions.  It was a look at a new concept called Choice Architecture which was, in part, the basis for his Nobel Prize.

Here is that 2009 conversation with newly minted Nobel laureate Richard Thaler:

America, Uganda and the War on Terror

Almost since the beginning human relations we’ve often been guided by the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

The problem is that in a complex, interconnected world, where the lives of people are at stake, where leaders often manipulate the truth, where fear is often the coin of realm that dictators use to prop themselves up, the consequences can be devastating. Nowhere is this more true today than in Africa. A place where America's so called “war on terror” has been used to support some of the most repressive and evil regimes.

One example is the regime in Uganda.  Helen Epstein explains all of this in her new work Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda, and the War on Terror.

My conversation with Helen Epstein:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Is the Keyboard The New F15?

You may remember that during the cold war, particularly during the Vietnam conflict, we were told that the battle was for the “hearts and minds” of the enemy. We understood that in conflict, propaganda, particularly as told through narrative, was an important tool of warfare.

Narrative, if successful, was there to reinforce the battle. The ultimate expression of this was the phrase, sometimes attributed to both John Wayne and Chuck Colson, that “if you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

Today, in our 24/7 always on, social media saturated world, the objective has changed. Now, the battle through social media and television, for the proverbial hearts and minds, is sometime the goal, in and of itself.

As we’ve seen with Russia in both the Ukraine, and in it’s new cold war with the US, sometimes control of the Twitter and Facebook narrative is enough to create disruption, to change the terms of the conflict itself and ultimately to win. Suddenly, in cold war 2.0, a keyboard has as much power as an F15. That's the reality that David Patrikarakos lays bear in War in 140 Characters: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century.

My conversation with David Patrikarakos:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How the Right Lost Its Mind

There have been seminal moment in American history when our political parties have realigned. Political parties which, even our founders were suspicious of. But perhaps none of those periods have been as fraught with peril as that which we face today.

Millions of words have been written about the current state of our politics, our country and of our civic discourse, and about the anger that abounds. Every publication, every cable channels, every journalist who covers politics, and many that don’t, have opined on how we got to this fractured state of America.

There are as many theories as there are journalists, pundits, professors and consultants. Yet if you listen to or read all of them, there is at least one thread that connects them over and over and over again. The rise and power of conservative talk radio and the anger that it has captured and fueled. The Economist said last year, that, “to understand the Republican race, get in a car, turn on the radio and drive.”

Few understand all of this better than long time conservative talk radio host, and now MSNBC contributor Charlie Sykes. He takes us through the history in his book How the Right Lost Its Mind

My conversation with Charlie Sykes:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach

If any of you have had the chance to be in a truly modern factory, you know that it's a place that is usually gleaming and immaculate. You could eat off of the floor. Robots are hard at work, integrated with a few humans, all much quieter than you might expect

The antithesis of this, just might be the so called factories that produced the ships and armaments during WWII. In their heyday, places like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, were noisy, boisterous, busy and amazing industrial campuses, that produced the bruising machines of war. These places were the center of the lives of real flesh and blood human beings. People like the characters in Jennifer Egan’s new novel Manhattan Beach.

My conversation with Jennifer Egan:

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Spy Story that Helps Explain Korea

In Kurtz’s monologue in Apocalypse Now, he talks about the real “horror” of war. He tells us that to be a warrior you had to make friends with both horror and moral terror. He talks about the uniqueness the makes the perfect who are moral yet at the same time utilize their primordial instincts to kill or watch killing, without feeling or judging. Kurtz reminds us that “its judgment that defeats us.”

The story that author and journalist Blaine Harden tells, about Korea and Donald Nichols in King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America's Spymaster in Korea is it’s own heart of darkness….one we are still very much living with today.

My conversation with Blaine Harden:

Monday, October 2, 2017

Is Trump Mentally Ill, or is America?

Donald Trump may very well be the worst and most unprepared President that this nation has ever had. His racism, misogyny, and ignorance are, at this point, objective facts.

But oddly enough neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton are to blame. By some societal short circuit, roughly one-half of the country voted for Trump. Sure, folks spend hours parsing the nuance of popular vs. electoral votes, and oh but those 87,000 votes, in three states.

But what’s also true, is that something must have been pretty rotten at the core of the country to create the situation that Trump could exploit.

So perhaps, rather than spending resources analyzing Trumps mental state, best, if we're going to move forward, to understand the mental state of the country that elected him. To do that I joined by a man who knows a lot about mental health

Dr. Allen Frances was the chairman of the DSM-IV Task Force and part of the leadership group for DSM-III and DSM-III-R. He is professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Duke University School of Medicine and the author of Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump

My conversation with Dr. Allen Frances: