Will the Rocky Mountain high be spreading?

December 31st, 2013

Recently reports proliferated that in the House of Representatives, during the government shutdown, while meeting late into the night, the smell of booze was rampant.  Perhaps if they had been smoking pot, instead of drinking alcohol, the government would never have been shut down and there might be a whiff more bipartisanship.

Sound ridiculous? Well if it had been the Colorado or Washington legislature, it might very well be the case.  In fact the legalization of marijuana seems to be an idea whose time has come. Recent votes in Colorado and Washington, coupled with the twenty states already allowing medical marijuana, and the decision by the Justice Department to rescind prosecutions, are all key sign posts along the way.

A key player in this effort, who was also instrumental in Colorado's recent decision to legalize even recreational use, is Paul Armentano.  He's the co-author of Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?
My conversation with Paul Armentano:
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A Novel way to end the year

December 30th, 2013
Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said. The new research, carried out at Emory University found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

Over this past year we've spoken with a wide array of novelists.  Some of the conversations we've posted during the year include  Jeannette Walls, Marisa Silver, Adam Mansbach, Manil Suri, Edwidge Danticat, Jesmyn Ward, Meg Wolitzer, Kris Jansma and many many more. 

However, we weren't able to put every conversation with every novelist, up on the site.  So as a year end effort, here are a few more of my conversations about books that might trigger those "measurable changes in the brain."

My conversation with Paul Harding about Enon:


My conversation with Jonathan Lethem about Dissident Gardens


My conversation with Jo Baker about Longbourn


My conversation with Meg Clayton about The Wednesday Daughters


My conversation with Joyce Maynard about After Her


My conversation with Susan Choi about My Education


My conversation with Fred Waitzken about The Dream Merchant




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Do statins do more harm than good?

December 28th, 2013
Recently you’ve probably heard that the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association are seeking to expand the use of statins.  Cholesterol lowering drugs, that some have said should be put in our water supply.  But really how safe are these drugs? Are their benefits all they are cracked up to be and what’s the nexus with the fact that they also happen to be the worlds best selling drug and the biggest tool in enhancing big pharma's profits?

Why have doctors, even those that don’t stand to benefit from those profits, been so smitten with this class of drugs; drugs that have been linked to severe muscle pain, neuropathy, diabetes, memory loss, sexual dysfunction and even Lou Gehrig's disease?

Dr. Barbara Roberts, an associate clinical professor at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University,  has been trying to put put her finger in the dam of big pharma and trying and bring some reason to the debate.  She does so in her book The Truth About Statins: Risks and Alternatives to Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs.

My conversation with Dr. Barbara Roberts:
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It is more dangerous than ever to be a war corespondent. That never bothered Marie Colvin

December 27th, 2013
We often hear career counselors and teachers talking to young people about following their passion. Obviously good advice. But for some, that passion comes with a price.  For esteemed war correspondent Marie Colvin, that passion, her desire to bear witness to the horrors of war would cost her her life.  The same is true for British reporter and photographer Paul Conroy.  He was with Colvin in Syria in early 2012 when they would come under fire in the city of Homs

A rocket would kill Colvin and seriously wound Conroy.  As Syrian ground forces closed in on his position, Conroy was forced to make a terrifying last-ditch attempt to escape from a regime that appeared determined to murder him. He did escape, and has written  Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Final Assignment.

My conversation with Paul Conroy:
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Why are we so Social?

December 26th, 2013
Why is it that the pain of rejection in High School often stays with us for life?  Not being asked to the prom, not making the team, or that first broken heart. All seem to imprint us in ways that scar us for life.  

And what is the connection between those experiences and our seeming insatiable appetite for social networks?  As we look at the evolution of technology, from cave paintings to the printing press to the telephone to Facebook and Twitter, all are advancing the effort to connect.  

Maybe, we need to reassess  Maslow's hierarchy of needs, in a way that makes social connection as important to our well being as food, clothing and shelter?

Neuroscientist Matthew Liberman has been studying this and in Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect has come to some very powerful conclusions.

My conversation with Matthew Liberman:
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What the very tough taskmaster can still teach us

December 23rd, 2013
Today it seems that every piece of evidence supports kinder and gentler parenting, a more cooperative workplace and a stress free education that supports deeper learning.  Tiger moms, and Tiger teachers and the excessively tough boss seem to be interesting, but outliers.

But are we missing something?  Does it have to be a zero sum game? Can the tough taskmaster, the dispenser of tough love teach out something about persistence, character, and resiliency that will serve us well later in life?

Joanne Lipman thinks so.  The former editor and chief of Portfolio Magazine, and former Deputy Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal, is the co-author of Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations.

My conversation with Joanne Lipman: 
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Can anyone be a Superhero?

December 22nd, 2013
Audiences flock to see them.  What’s the appeal?  When we hear about real life heroes like Sully Sullenberger, or Wesley Autrey, who who jumped onto NY subway tracks to save man from an oncoming train, we are captivated.

Perhaps our fascination is because we can’t ever imagine ourselves exercising such a degree of selflessness.  We might fantasize about being hero, but don't think we have the right stuff.

Today science, genetics, and social psychology tells us we all, under the right circumstances and with the right experience, have what it takes. 

Elizabeth Svoboda, in What Makes a Hero?: The Surprising Science of Selflessness, examines how biology, upbringing and external influences all converge to produce altruistic and heroic behavior.

My conversation with Elizabeth Svoboda: 
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Unemployment - is it personal or systemic?

December 20th, 2013
The unemployment rate still sits at a around 7%.  Million of Americans, blue and white collar workers, have experienced long term unemployment.  But the 2008/2009 recession didn’t just impact the US.  Unemployment in many other Western nations is even higher.  

What’s different, is how unemployment and job seeking varies from country to country.  Who the unemployed blame for their problems, the self help industry that continues to grow and a different approach by employers, are all areas of extreme differences around the world.  

MIT sociologist Ofer Sharone, in his new book Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences, looks at the personal impacts of these different approaches to unemployment and to job hunting.

My conversation with Ofer Sharone:
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Mitch Albom’s “The First Phone Call from Heaven”

December 18th, 2013
Each day life gets more complex. There are more pressures on our time, we are pulled in more and more directions.  To ground us, we look for the universal in everyday life.  Those things that create  order out of the chaos and cynicism of daily existence.   

We seek comfort in the memories of loved ones, in routines we used to appreciate, like that regular weekly phone call, perhaps from a child away at school or to an aging parent.   Often, even if we are not at all religious, we look for a a belief in something that transcends us.

These are some of themes in Mitch Albom’s newest book, The First Phone Call from HeavenThe author of Tuesdays with Morrie, explores the search for human connection and for something larger than ourselves and even how technologies may be getting in the way.

My conversation with Mitch Albom:
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Peter Max

December 17th, 2013
There is an old saying about popular culture, that if it’s popular, it can be good. This philosophy has at various times permeated music, film, literature, and especially the world of art.  Sometimes it's no doubt true.  But there are also profound exceptions.  

In the world of art, maybe the most unique exception is the work of Peter Max.  Few artists can be considered more American than Max.  His work, often referred to a pop or psychedelic art, has come be respected for its optimism, its boldness of color and celebration of the icons of success in all aspect of American life.  A story that parallels Peter Max's own success story

Peter Max, now at the age of 76 is out with his own multimedia autobiography entitled  The Universe of Peter Max.

My conversation with Peter Max:
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North Korea has long been an outlaw nation

December 16th, 2013
With the execution of an uncle of Kim Jong Un, we saw another example of the brutality of the North Korean regime.  Perhaps more than any other nation, North Korea is disconnected from the norms of civilization.

This has been the case for some time, and it’s why most efforts to bridge the divide have failed.  This was the case all the way back in 1968 when the USS Pueblo, a rag tag American spy ship set out to find radar stations along the coast of North Korea.  

On a January morning the Pueblo was attacked and its crew shot at and captured. The incident remains one of the seminal dramas of American foreign policy in the 60’s, of the cold war, and once again of the efforts of an American President to avert war on the Korean peninsula. Long time Los Angeles Times political reporter Jack Cheevers takes us back to this Act of War.

My conversation with Jack Cheevers:
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American Healthcare: Spending more is getting us less

December 13th, 2013

It’s amazing sometimes how simple ideas get lost in the big picture.  Back in 1923, President Warren Harding proposed a federal department to look after the nation's health, education and welfare.  The department was finally created by Eisenhower in 1953.  In 1979, Education was spun off and we created the department of Health AND Human Services.

Clearly as a nation, we’ve long understood the connection between health and human services.  Yet the way our health care system has evolved, preventive care, and human services have been almost abandoned as part of the health care enterprise.

Today we spend more money, per capita, on health care than any other nation.  Yet our outcomes, are near the bottom.  How did this happen, especially when we seemed to understand all along that there was a connection?

Is the fault in our government, our doctors, in our philosophy or in ourselves?  Elizabeth Bradley and Lauren Taylor set out to try and find out.  The result is their book The American Health Care Paradox: Why Spending More is Getting Us Less

My conversation with Elizabeth Bradley and Lauren Taylor: 
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The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

December 11th, 2013
Even looking at the broad sweep and scope of history and change in the 20th century, it’s arguable that the dynamics of Israel, its relationship to its neighbors and the meaning of the Zionist project remain one of the most vexing and truly complex issues of our time.

For events that began at the end of the 19th Century, clearly and directly link to the issues being talked about and dealt with this very day in Tel Aviv, Tehran and Washington.

But how did it all get this way?  How did the desire for a homeland, a base for the Jewish diaspora, become so complex and lead to a statistically improbable number of foreign policy mistakes, on all sides?

And finally, can this huge ship, carrying the burdens of this history, be turned around in time to avoid crashing into the rocks ahead.

Israeli Journalist Ari Shavit has written what has been called the least tendentious book about Israel.  A non doctrinaire examination of Israel’s past, present and future, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, is a book we’ve all need for quite some time.

My conversation with Ari Shavit:  
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Why low income equals low trust

December 10th, 2013
Back in 1996 welfare as we knew it was forever changed by President Clinton.  But while public policy can address issues like food stamps, child care, Medicaid, and many other aspects, it can never address issues of trust.  We know from Civil Rights legislation that no matter what the policy prescriptions, you can’t address what’s in the human heart.

In the panoply of issues surrounding welfare you might not think that trust was paramount.  In fact, Temple University Professor Judith Levine, in Ain't No Trust: How Bosses, Boyfriends, and Bureaucrats Fail Low-Income Mothers and Why It Matters, finds that it is one of the defining issues for low income women.  That it has an ongoing corrosive and paralyzing effect in the lives of these women and that even public policy cannot fully address it.

My conversation with Judith Levine: 
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To Sell is Human

December 9th, 2013
Perhaps it's our popular culture, but the business of selling has gotten a terrible reputation.  Whether it’s Willy Loman trying to be “well liked,” or Harold Hill hoodwinking people from town to town, or Alec Baldwin's character of Blake in David Mamet's’ Glengarry Glen Ross, we've seen selling portrayed as as one of the least trustworthy endeavors. Even lower on the scale than members of congress. 

Selling in the 21st century is very different.  No longer is it about sleaze and closing.  Today it’s about science, persuasion and information. Selling is something we all do in our personal lives, and in our professional lives; even if we are not in the business of sales. Best selling author Daniel Pink, takes us inside this reality in To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.

My conversation with Daniel Pink: 
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Angry White Men

December 8th, 2013
The number of angry white men in America is on the decline, just as talk radio, that panders to and inspires them, is also aging and declining. Yet their continued presence tells us a lot about change in America and the divides that separate race, gender and class.

Perhaps it all started back in 1969 when Richard Nixon tried to obscure the difference between working class and affluent voters, particular men, by portraying them all as a part of a silent majority.  He portrayed them as both heroes and victims of the tumultuousness of the period.   Reagan continued  with similar themes to capture what came to be called “Reagan Democrats.”  

All of this was before and really a precursor to the profound impacts of  feminism, civil rights, gay rights, globalization, growing income disparity, more women in the workplace, the loss of manufacturing, Sex in the City, outsourcing, the technological revolution, the US attacked on 9/11, the great recession, legalized marijuana, same sex marriage and the election of a black President.

It’s enough to disorient anyone.  But most notably its greatest  impact was on those most threatened; the standard bearers of the old status quo, white men.  Men who had stood on the wall  trying to defend an old way of life, a cultural paradigm that was crumbling beneath their feet. Stony Brook University Professor Michael Kimmel examines this phenomenon in Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era.

My conversation with Michael Kimmel: 
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After Mandela

December 6th, 2013
Nelson Mandela stands as one of our greatest symbols of the struggle for freedom.  His shadow will always infuse the politics and culture of South Africa.  Yet almost one half the county is under 25 and doesn’t know or remember their nation in anything but it’s post apartheid period.  

How does and will this disconnect shape the future of the country?  How can it deal with its historical context and at the same time, the seemingly mundane issues health, welfare, justice and jobs.

Douglas Foster, a long time South Africa watcher, former head of the Journalism School at U.C. Berkley and currently Professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism writes about After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa.
My conversation with Douglas Foster:
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Glamour

December 4th, 2013
Most of us, over a certain age, remember when getting on a transcontinental or international flight was glamorous.  We dressed to travel.  Strong pilots and beautiful stewardess framed the wonders of the journey.  The glamour of air travel imbued us with a sense of freedom and possibility. 

How many women were inspired by the glamour of the Charlie Girl commercial to believe that having it all was possible and the holy grail?

During the depression and war years, the glamour of Joan Crawford inspired a generation to believe in social mobility.

And of course, as we just re experienced, the glamour of the Kennedy’s and Camelot, has remained frozen in time, in our collective consciousness. 

All are examples of the power of glamour to shape society, define the culture and motivate each of us.
Virginia Postrel in The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, goes to the core value of glamour as a powerful aspirational force and a very real part of our our social language.

My conversation with Virginia Postrel:
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Can an artist be true to his work and still do good in the world?

December 3rd, 2013
Whenever we see or hear great art, we are usually inclined to wonder about the forces that created it.  What constitutes the artistic life?  What influences, combined with what DNA creates the perfect storm of artistic temperament, vision and creation?

Long time music critic and editor for the LA Times, Robert Hilburn, has made trying to understand this, his life's work.  He has reported extensively about many of pop music’s legends, including Dylan, Springsteen, U2, Elton John and John Lennon.

Now he turns to the life and legend of Johnny Cash.  Cash spent a good part of his career fighting both his own demons and walking the line between being a credible artists and trying do good in the world 
Hilburn capture his essence in Johnny Cash: The Life

My conversation with Robert Hilburn:
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Terrorism’s new future

December 1st, 2013
Five years ago, on the evening of Nov. 26, 2008, heavily armed Pakistani terrorists raced to infiltrate the five-star Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.  At the same time, as part of a coordinated attack, other tourist sites in Mumbai were also attacked.

Throughout Mumbai more than 160 people were killed in the two day siege.  The Indian commission charged with studying what happened and why, did a remarkably poor job of gathering and reporting the facts. Now we have perhaps the best and most official account yet in The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel.  A new book by two British journalists, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark.

What's particularly significant about this story, is that when we look at the trajectory of more recent terrorist attacks, including the mall in Kenya, we see this attack on the Taj, as representing the beginning of a new wave in the future of terrorism.  

My conversation with Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark:
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