“Priest, Author, Scholar, Scold.”

May 31st, 2013

The New York Times in their obituary called him a "Priest, Author, Scholar, Scold." Andrew Greeley was all of these. “A Roman Catholic priest and writer whose outpouring of sociological research, contemporary theology, sexually frank novels and newspaper columns challenged reigning assumptions about American Catholicism.”

He was a true maverick who was willing take on all sides in any debate. He was not a fan of what the institutional Catholic Church had become, but was just as harsh on what he saw as "secular intellectuals."

I had the chance to speak with him, just once, back in 1999 on the publication of the second volume of his memoirs Furthermore! Memories of a Parish Priest. So much of what he said thirteen years ago still has relevance, and yet he was so wrong about the pace of progress in the Vatican, and in Latin America.

Here is that conversation.

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Dan Savage on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics

May 30th, 2013

Few controversial issues in contemporary American life have seen the kind of rapid sea change in public opinion that we’ve witnessed on the subject of gay marriage. In fact, recent polls show almost 60% of the American public, in support or acceptance of same-sex marriage. Even members of the GOP, like Sen Rob Portman and numerous party operatives, have expressed support.

The gay magazine The Advocate had a recent cover saying that “gay is the new black.” But is this debate really similar to race, or does the issue have its own politics, tied to broader themes of sexuality? And if so, how will this current debate impact these broader issues of sex and sexuality and might it perhaps move us beyond American puritanism.

Standing for years on the ramparts of all of these issues is prominent sex advice columnist Dan Savage, most recently the American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics.
author of

My conversation with Dan Savage:

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Confessions of a Sociopath

May 29th, 2013

Imagine if you could say things and interact with people unrestricted by conscience. If you had an unfettered capacity for risk, engaged in irresponsible behavior, and felt it unnecessary to conform to social norms. For this to happen one of two things is usually true, either you are a politician a or a sociopath....or maybe even a trial lawyer.

And then imagine if these things could be combined? Then you would have M.E. Thomas. She’s a trial lawyer, a law professor and an admitted sociopath.

In her just published memoir Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight, she shows us that all sociopaths are not Hannibal Lecter, but they do have many of the same traits.

My conversation with M.E. Thomas

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How the Green Generation came of age

May 29th, 2013

Even amidst all of the domestic and international policy issues that come and go with each administration, perhaps the one that has the greatest staying power, is the environment. The roots and reasons go back almost thirty-five years.

Originally conceived in September of 1969 as a nationwide environmental teach-in, the first Earth Day was a call to action that inspired thousands of events across the country.

Becoming larger than the biggest civil rights and anti war demonstrations of the 60’s, roughly 1,500 colleges and 10,000 schools held teach-ins. Activities that took place in hundreds of churches and temples, in city parks and commercial and government buildings, it created a lasting “eco infrastructure.” And that first Earth Day in 1970 would give rise to the first green generation.

University of Delaware Professor Adam Rome looks back in his book The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation.

My conversation with Adam Rome:

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Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know

May 28th, 2013

It’s hard to imagine that for young people growing up today, seeing the Middle East as the center of American military and foreign policy concerns, that for over fifty years and eight Presidents, Cuba had been at the center of American concerns.

Ninety miles off America's shores, for the entirety of the cold war, it represented the penultimate point where Americans and Soviets were eyeball to eyeball.

Today when celebrities travel to Cuba and some try to make an issue of it, most people wonder what all the fuss is about? Is that progress, has Cuba really changed or is it a kind of collective Cuba fatigue or amnesia?

Julia Sweig is one of our nations reigning experts on Cuba and has just completed her second edition of Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know.

My conversation with Julia Sweig:

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The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert

May 27th, 2013

Look around at our culture today. Oddity is all around us. Reality television takes us to the fringes of human behavior. The Supermarket tabloids provide a freak show we secretly devour, while waiting in line. We seem to seek comfort, or perhaps reinforce our own sense of normalcy, by seeing the extremes of others.

Perhaps the first to understand this was not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but a man named Robert Ripley. We know him as the man who created Ripley’s Believe It or Not. In fact, in understanding Ripley, we understand a little bit more about America.

Acclaimed biographer Neal Thompson, has written a compelling biography A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley.

My conversation with Neal Thompson:

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The Making of America’s First Muslim College

May 23rd, 2013

The recent events in Boston once again raise questions about the place of Islam in modern American society. The impacts for muslims trying to live and practice their faith in the US, is that they often run headlong into popular misconceptions about the faith.

One of the places taking on this challenge is Zaytuna College, the first Muslim four year undergraduate liberal arts college founded in Berkeley in 2008

Scott Korb, who teaches writing at New York University and the New School, spent time with the College's inaugural class and writes about the first year of Zaytuna College in his new book Light without Fire: The Making of America's First Muslim College. My conversation with Scott Korb:

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In search of moral behavior

May 23rd, 2013

One of the central tenants in the debate about religion, is that some claim it provides the only construct for understanding moral behavior. In fact, science, research and even our own pets should tell us clearly that empathy, cooperation, fairness and reciprocity are all traits we see in animal behavior. This is particularly true of the primates.

And just as the monstrous instinct exists in all of us, including animals, so to do the traits of social cooperation. It’s simply the other side of the same coin.

No one has done a better job of explaining this than Frans De Waal in his new work The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates.

My conversation with Frans De Waal:

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Finding Your Story

May 22nd, 2013

We would all like the ability to see the future. Unfortunately, few of us have the appropriate psychic powers. What we can do however, is invent the future, at least our own. For we each have our own unique path, our own unique story that is evolving right here and right now, even as we listen to this.

Unfortunately, too often we lose our place in that story. We’re told, often as young people, to abandon it in favor of some standardized norm of education, business and career.

The fact is that conformity does not work. It’s the enemy not only of creativity, but of an authentic life. Trying once again to find our place in our own story is what best selling author and thought leader, Sir Ken Robinson is trying to teach us in Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life.

My conversation with Sir Ken Robinson:

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Acting White

May 20th, 2013

Many of us would like to think we live in a post-racial society. And while we may be post-racial, when it comes simply to skin color, as the election and reelection of Barack Obama bears out, we are not post-racial when it comes to racial character and the perceptions and expectations of racial stereotypes.

Today, even younger generations seem inculcated with certain racial ideas; for which their experience and encounters either run consistent with or counter to their racials perceptions. These perceptions often seem to be hardwired into us, or at the very least reinforced by popular culture. UCLA law professor Devon Carbado examines this notion of racial character in his new book Acting White?: Rethinking Race in Post-Racial America.

My conversation with Professor Devon Carbado:

The New Reality of Adoption

May 17th, 2013

Adoption today is a far cry from the idyllic portral we imagined and maybe have even witnessed, years ago. It has become engaged in international politics, domestic politics, and the abortion debate. Add to this, the current complexity of the process, the expanding landscape of open adoptions and you have a space that is no longer just about the love of a child, but an emotional minefield that prospective parents have to learn how to navigate.

That’s the backdrop for The Mothers,a new novel that provides a powerful portrayal of modern adoption by Jennifer Gilmore.

My conversation with Jennifer Gilmore:

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The New Gospel of Adoption

May 14th, 2013

In the world of international adoption, market forces have always played a key role. The issues of supply and demand impact both policy and outcomes. But the adoption business, which has long been the province of religious and secular agencies, has lately been overtaken by evangelical advocacy.

Evangelical organizations and churches, which have been build upon the cultural practices which they oppose, like abortion and gay marriage, now seem to have found a cause they can champion....but what are its consequences for the children?

Kathryn Joyce had plowed deep into this world in The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.My conversation with Kathryn Joyce:

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The Plateau Effect

May 14th, 2013

Often it seems as if there is a hopelessness with respect to personal progress. That it is our ultimate destiny not to go forever forward, but at some points to be pushed back or stuck in our past.

It would seem that this is almost a part of our DNA as a species,  or at least as Americans.

But does it have to be so?  Investigative journalist Bob Sullivan thinks not. He believes we can overcome what he calls The Plateau Effect.

My conversation with Bob Sullivan:

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The Philadelphia Chromosome

May 13th, 2013

Someday, perhaps 20 or 30 years from now, or maybe even sooner, we will look back at the way we treat most cancers today and be shocked at the barbarism of it all. The surgery, the killer chemicals of chemo, all will be looked at the way we view the leaching of the middle ages.

At the forefront of this transition is a discovery made in 1959. A chromosomal mutation dubbed the Philadelphia Chromosome, that caused a deadly form of leukemia. Ultimately a drug would be developed that stopped the cancer at it’s source.

Science journalist Jessica Wapner has written The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic Level.  It is both the story of 50 years of the march of science on cancer and also a mystery thriller that lifts the veil on how drugs get developed and make it to the marketplace. My conversation with Jessica Wapner:

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How Nonotechnology Will Change Civilization

May 11th, 2013

We face a vast array of global problems. Not the least of which is our environment and the way in which the expanding western industrial model of abundance, seems certain to geometrically grow these problems.

Many think that somewhere, in some abstract way, technology will help of solve these problems. But perhaps the same industrial system that created the problems, is not the place to start looking for solutions. In short, it seems we can’t fix the problems of industrial technology with the same tools that created them.

That’s where the work of K. Eric Drexler comes in. In his new book Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization, he shows us how the world of nanotechnology and Atomic Precise Manufacturing may hold the answers.
My conversation with K. Eric Drexler:

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The Last Men on Top

May 9th, 2013

On the surface, it seems that the men of Mad Men have it all. Great jobs, lots of money, smart attractives wives and families, even more attractive mistresses and, as long as the paychecks keep coming, unlimited freedom.

But is it possible these men represented the one percent of their day? And that the paradigm and expectations they set up, men with power and money, created a set of responsibilities that made it hard for other men to live up to? And how did this play out against the rising tide of 60’s feminism? Was the landscape for men portrayed by Matthew Weiner and Richard Yates and Cheever and Updike, one that, in the long run, had a very negative impact on the men of the Greatest Generation?

These are just some of the questions and ideas taken up by author and cultural seer Susan Jacoby. The author of The Age of American Unreason, Freethinkers as well as books about Alger Hiss and Robert Ingersoll, she has now written a new ebook entitled The Last Men on Top.

My conversation with Susan Jacoby:

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The Interestings

May 7th, 2013

How many of us think about what you wanted to be as a child? A time when the world was filled with possibility. When your parents told you that you could do or be anything. When you would sit with your friends for hours, talking about what kind of glamours life you were going to have. Sometimes those youthful ambitions would come to define us for the rest of our lives, both in terms of what we achieved and what we didn't achieve.

I knew a woman once who was a world renowned ballerina. I once asked her how she achieved that. She said she just did what every little girl does, she dressed up, and got her mom to take her to ballet classes; except , she said, that she never stopped going. How much of her success was family, luck or talent? Who knows?

These are just some of the ideas inside Meg Wolitzer sweeping new novel The Interestings. The story of six teenagers coming of age in the 70’s and the 40 years that would follow.

My conversation with Meg Wolitzer:

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If you are caught or captured the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions…..

May 6th, 2013

We all grew up with our own impressions of what covert actions were all about. John le Carre talked about the moral twilight in which these activities operated. But never has that line between military, espionage and covert actions been more blurred than it is today. From 9/11 to the bin Laden raid, the CIA has been front and center as the agency of first resort, to carry out difficult and controversial missions.

Now Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Mark Mazzetti lays bear much of this activity in The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth.My conversation with Mark Mazzetti:

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Bunker Hill

May 5th, 2013

For the past several week all eyes have been on Boston. In some ways it’s a good reminder of the important role that city has played in our nation's history. Boston is the fulcrum from which the revolution was launched.

Now, bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In The Heart of the Sea and Mayflower, tells the story of Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution.

My conversation with Nathaniel Philbrick:

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Humanity Beyond Our Differences

May 2nd, 2013

Suppose we found out that most of what we know about history and what shapes it, is wrong. That the traditional manichean world view, that history only marched forward on the feet of soldiers, is not the whole story.

In fact we didn’t get to our globalized, 21st century world via the battlefield, but through cooperation and a sense of our shared humanity. This is the view of distinguished historian David Cannadine, as laid out in his new work, The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences.

My conversation with David Cannadine:

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