A Conversation with Chris Matthews:

June 18th, 2021
this-country-9781982134846_hr.jpegI think we can all stipulate that we are at a precarious moment in the relatively short history of American democracy. Even among those not following it on an hour by hour basis via an addiction to cable news, people are anxious.  So many, on both the left and the right, are using millions of words to comment on the moment.

But perhaps the only way to really understand it is through the sharp lens of contemporary American political history. Particularly the years since the end of WWII.

Our divisions no matter how profound and how powerful, do not stand alone. They exist as a link in the broad scope of our contemporary political story.  Without grasping that history, this moment is just noise.

Sure we can study history. Many great books have been written about these times. But those that have lived through all of it, who have paid attention to both the players and the events of this 75 year period are best qualified to try and figure out where we are today. Chris Matthews is certainly on of these.  He writes about it in his new book This Country: My Life in Politics and History.

 
My conversation with Chris Matthews: 

The Secret Service and its Time of Reckoning: A conversation with Carol Leonnig

June 8th, 2021

51xiTW4P1wS.jpegThink of all the things you have believed in that have recently been shattered. That the government might protect us from a pandemic. That Congress and our democracy were secure. That COVID came from a wet market in Wuhan, and that Bill Gates was a paragon of business and virtue. Now add to this growing list, the belief in quality and ethics of the United States Secret Service.
With respect to the secret service, albeit some of our view comes from Hollywood. But surprise, not all secret service agents are Clint Eastwood, or Gerard Butler, or Nicholas Cage.

Now, as a result of the great investigative reporting of three time Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Leonnig we have a look inside the reality of life in the secret service.

While the service lived by the shibboleth of Zero Fail, today that goal exists inside a nation more divided than ever, more armed and angry than ever before, and a Secret Service that’s overworked, overtasked and even sometimes incompetent. It all part of Carol Leonnig's new book Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service

 
My conversation with Carol Leonnig:

What Happened In Wuhan? Why the Lab Leak Theory Has Gained Traction

June 7th, 2021
Researchers_Wuhan_Institute_of_Virology_3x2-700x470.jpegFifteen months ago most of us knew very little about viruses. Today, spike proteins, mRNA, and monoclonal antibodies are household words. 
 
Perhaps it’s this new knowledge that has forced science and the media to confront the reality, long ignored or covered up, that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Our new knowledge and vocabulary are now liberating tools.

Investigative science journalist Nicholas Wade helped to turn the tide. His massive, in-depth article in Medium and in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists opened the floodgates on the discussion. Wade joins me on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast. 

 
My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Nicholas Wade:

 

 

Campaigns Matter: A conversation with Edward-Isaac Dovere

June 4th, 2021
book_cover_battle-for-the-soul.jpegEver since 1960, the campaign memoir has become almost a genre unto itself. Over the years many of these books have shaped our view of politics. 
 
In each of these stories men and even some women have competed for the presidency with the strongest of passion, with the proverbial fire in the belly. In many cases that ambition and their foibles have driven the country's narrative. 
 
As divided as we are as a nation, one thing that seems to be unique and universally embedded within our democracy, is the carnival that is American presidential campaign. 2020 was no exception. Chronicling this campaign, or at least the Democratic side of it, is the Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere. His campaign memoir is Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats' Campaigns to Defeat Trump 
 
My conversation with Edward-Isaac Dovere:

With The American Experiment on the Precipice, It’s Good To Know Our Shared Origin Story: A Conversation with Historian Patrick O’Donnell

May 29th, 2021
Screen%2BShot%2B2021-05-29%2Bat%2B3.09.41%2BPM.pngAs divided as we are today about the state of our current politics and the debate about facts, it seems that at least we should be able to agree about our shared history. And yet even that is debated today. 
When did America begin? Who gets credit, and how did it shape us? 
 
Patrick O’Donnell is one of our most distinguished military historians and he always trying to answer these questions.  He is author of twelve books, including The Unknowns and Washington’s Immortals. and served as a combat historian in a Marine rifle platoon during the Battle of Fallujah and has dedicated himself to understanding the truth about our history, particularly our military history, and it’s importance in helping us better understand who we really are and where we come from. His latest is The Indispensables: The Diverse Soldier-Mariners Who Shaped the Country, Formed the Navy, and Rowed Washington Across the Delaware 
 
My conversation with Patrick O'Donnell:

Why New York is New York

May 24th, 2021
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Many of our great cities are known for one or two things. Detroit certainly for the auto industry, San Francisco for the 60s and Tech. Houston for the oil industry, and Los Angeles for Hollywood. New York in so many ways transcends that. Sure it’s the home of Wall Street and the capital of finance, but without putting down any other cities, New York stands alone as a pantheon to the very ideas of cities themselves and all that they represent.

The great chronicler of cites Jane Jacobs said “that by its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling; namely, the strange.”

Very few cities, other than New York offer that strangeness.The ability to round the corner and be surprised,

Craig Taylor get to the heart of this in New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time 

 
My conversation with Craig Taylor.

The Notorious Maxwells

May 16th, 2021

 

p0965g1c.jpegWe have a fascination with scoundrels. Especially if they are public figures. We love to build them up, to celebrate their success and then when they make mistakes, and disappoint our false expectations, we love to tear them down. It’s a cycle we see repeat itself over and over again.
And this is not just an American phenomenon, it’s a global one

The publisher Robert Maxwell is a keen example. Once celebrated for the publication of science knowledge around the world, for buying and rescuing the NY Daily News, for serving the good deeds of British Intelligence, he would turn out to be a common thief who who ripped off working men and women, and who mysteriously disappeared on his yacht…..And then there is his daughter Ghislaine.

It’s a story, like many that my guest John Preston tells, worthy of cinematic treatment. For the moment John tells the story in his new book Fall: The Mysterious Life and Death of Robert Maxwell, Britain's Most Notorious Media Baron.

 
My conversation with John Preston: 

We Need Uniters, Not Dividers: A Conversation with Tim Shriver

May 6th, 2021
Screen%2BShot%2B2021-05-06%2Bat%2B9.58.05%2BPM.pngOne year ago fear stalked the world. That fear created a common bond. We celebrated those on the front lines who walked into danger, we worried about our neighbors and felt kinship without those suffering halfway around the world.

And yet, a year later we celebrate a return to normal, and yet our divisions have intensified. Normal is now represented by a mass shooting every week, and even wearing a mask in the name of health, safety and science divides us.

Twenty years ago 9/11 united us for a brief and shining moment. A year ago, it seemed that the pandemic, like war and depressions before, would positively imprint and unite us.

And yet in some ways it doesn't seem like we’ve learned very much. However, there are those that see hope, who see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Tim Shriver knows a lot about hope and perseverance, as the long time chairman of the Special Olympics. Now he has coedited a new volume entitled The Call to Unite: Voices of Hope and Awakening.

 
My conversation with Tim Shriver:

How the Rich Really Live and Why We All Should Care

April 29th, 2021
Screen%2BShot%2B2021-04-29%2Bat%2B10.06.21%2BPM.pngAlmost as wide as the wealth gap in America is the gap in the way we view wealth. We look at it as a monolithic thing. Yet part of the country demonizes it, part covets it and part of the country manages.

The same is true for kinds of wealth. Those that inherit it are different from those that win it, or those that start from nothing and create it for them and for others. All wealth is not the same

The bitch goddess success, William James said, demands strange sacrifices from those that worship her. Some people are willing to make those sacrifice and other are not

All of this speaks to the varieties of wealth in America. But are there similarities, are there patterns and behaviors of the wealthy, both good and bad, that we can understand? And if so, what does that knowledge do for us?

That’s what Michael Mechanic, a senior editor at Mother Jones, looks at in Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live—and How Their Wealth Harms Us All

 
My conversation with Michael Mechanic:

A Time When Oscar Winning Movies Really Mattered: The Making of Midnight Cowboy

April 25th, 2021
Screen%2BShot%2B2021-04-25%2Bat%2B1.05.31%2BPM.pngGreat art, particularly movies at their best, reflect the times in which they were created. In 1968 political assination paralyzed the nation. In 1969 we were mired in Vietnam, New York City, was in decay and getting worse, The Stonewall Riots were energizing gay people, generational warfare, race riots were the norm, Woodstock reshaped and energized music and Richard Nixon was a year into his presidency.

Is it any wonder that the most important film of that year would be a dark, bleak film that pushed the limits of sexuality on screen and would go on to be the first X-rated film to win an Academy Award. The film was Midnight Cowboy.

My guest Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel defines the terms and history of the film in Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic

My conversation with Glenn Frankel: 

The Founding Mothers of NPR

April 21st, 2021
Screen%2BShot%2B2021-04-21%2Bat%2B12.53.18%2BPM.pngOrigin stories are usually part myth, part apocryphal and they often come to define the culture and sometimes the products of the companies themselves. What they always do is to reflect the dreams and perceptions of the founder.

The business of news and media is no different. The founders of our great news brands all have a story to tell.

Such a powerful origin story is the founding visions of National Public Radio and the extraordinary women who gave it life. These women didn't invent NPR, anymore than many tech found invented their technology. What they did do is give it shape, life and a reason for being, and in so doing assured its growth and survival. These women, Susan Stamberg, Linda Worthhieer, Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts are the subject of new joint biography by Lisa Napoli entitled Susan, Linda, Nina, and Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR 

 
 My conversation with Lisa Napoli:

Toxic Masculinity In An Oil Boomtown

April 19th, 2021
Screen%2BShot%2B2021-04-19%2Bat%2B2.05.28%2BPM.pngThe nature of work in America has changed. Good paying jobs in the manufacturing sector have been diluted, the service sector has exploded, and the gig economy is not just about Uber and Postmates. Today, even hard, brutal work in the oil fields has been gigafide.

For the men caught up in this change the price is high, but so are the lessons and yes, even the rewards.

Michael Patrick F. Smith is a folk singer and playwright who made the dramatic move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the booming oil fields of Williston North Dakota in order to participate in what he thought would be a modern day gold rush.

What he learned tells us a lot about work, men, and America today. He writes about it in The Good Hand: A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown  

 
 My conversation with Michael Patrick F. Smith:

Elon Musk IS Leading Us Into The Future

April 7th, 2021
603d695087d37600190d0875.jpegSomeone once said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. In many ways that’s been the story of scientific progress. It seems there is always someone that leads us into the future. Someone whose vision and entrepreneurship and obsessive drive combine to turn the next big idea into the next big thing.

This has been true from Franklin, to Edison, from Henry Ford to Thomas Watson, from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs, and today Elon Musk is the inheritor of that mantel.

Electric cars, commercial space travel, high speed transportation and even new forms of education are all part of the vision that Musk sees, and his vision may be on its way to become our reality.

As we all know Musk disruption of the automotive industry is full blown. What we may not fully understand is the way in which Musk, though Space X, is disrupting the aerospace industry, how we talk about space exploration, space travel and simply what a rocket is and does.

Aerospace journalist Eric Berger captures Musk's look into the future in Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX 

 
My conversation with Eric Berger:

Imagining the Next World War : 2034

April 2nd, 2021
2103_WTL_Stavridis.jpegThere was once a time when we didn’t think a global pandemic was possible in the 21st century. The events of 9/11 took us by surprise as they did at Pearl Harbor and Midway.

Yet all of these tragic events were imaginable and some aspects of them even made their way into fiction, long before they happened.

They remind us that events like a pandemic or a world war are mostly at core, a failure of human imagination. Imagination which should be our first line of defense in preparing for our eventual future.

That is what distinguished Admiral James Stavridis and former Marine and award winning author Elliot Ackerman have given us in 2034: A Novel of the Next World War 

My conversation with Admiral James Stavridis and Elliot Ackerman: 

Come Fly With Me: The World of The Pan Am Stewardess Before “Me Too”

March 29th, 2021
39680170-0-image-a-49_1614109395518.jpegThose of you that are old enough, will remember when people got dressed up to fly. When having a meal onboard, especially on a transcontinental flight was like dining in a fine restaurant. When inflight service was more than peanuts and admonitions about the size of carry on bags.

It was also a time when those that provided that inflight serve, were a different breed than Cassie Bowden in The Flight Attendant. It was an era when air travel was awash in glamor not the horrors of today.

The flight attendants or stewardess, as they were known, were a select breed. Especially for global airlines like Pan Am. They had to have the right look, the right BMI, the right education, speak more than one language and abide by a strict dress code. By today's standards the requirement would probably generate a class action discrimination or “me too” lawsuit that would put the airline out of business.

This is the retro world that Julia Cooke takes us into in Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am My conversation with Julia Cooke:

The Royals Have Outlived Their Value: Gilded Lives at the Expense of the British People

March 22nd, 2021
Queen_Elizabeth_II_Coach_3x2-700x470.jpegIt’s been a while since the British monarchy was so front and center in our consciousness. The Crown, on Netflix, and Meghan and Harry have pulled back the curtain on the sometimes romantic notion of royalty. But more importantly, it’s also given us a look into what’s been called The Firm or The Institution, the British monarchy and its wider political economies of wealth and power. Because behind the scenes is simply a corporation, engaged in capital accumulation, profit extraction, labor relations, national and international finance arrangements, and a network of legal status, all of which converge with, and impact on, contemporary Britain.

Prince Philip, the husband of the Queen, and the Duke of Edinburgh, is quoted to saying back in 1969 that “It’s a misconception to imagine that the monarchy exists in the interests of the Monarch. It doesn’t.”, he said “It exists in the interest of the people.” In fact, history tells us that nothing could be further from the truth. The monarchy is more precisely, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “What you get when you found a political system on the family values of Henry VIII.”

To bring all of this in perspective, I’m joined by the right honorable Norman Baker. Norman Baker was a Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2015, and established a reputation as one of the most persistent parliamentary interrogators in the modern House of Commons. 

 
His most recent book about the British monarchy entitled ...And What Do You Do?: What the royal family don’t want you to know In his spare time, he’s also an established singer-songwriter and has released three albums.
 
My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with the Right Honorable Norman Baker:
 
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Frida Kahlo and the Timelessness of Her Work and Her Ideas

March 18th, 2021
Screen%2BShot%2B2021-03-18%2Bat%2B3.01.13%2BPM.pngRacial identity, socialism, the role of art in society, the responsibilities of artists and the position of the artist in popular culture. These subjects which sound like they are taken from today's headlines are also part of the life of Frida Kahlo.
 
They are all a part of new biography of Kahlo by Celia Stahr that looks at Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist.
 

My conversation with Celia Stahr:

Coffee, Globalization and and Why We Care About A Hill of Beans

March 11th, 2021
Screen%2BShot%2B2021-03-11%2Bat%2B11.40.49%2BAM.pngWhile the world has changed in so many ways lately and turned most of our routines upside down, the one constant I suspect for many is their ritualistic morning coffee. For the moment it may not be in your favorite coffee shop, but nonetheless, the magic elixir helps start each day and power it along with consistency as the uncertain future unfolds.
 

But how did Coffee of all things become not just our universal drug of choice, but an essential lubricant in connecting us to each other and to the world?

It’s a story that begins in the volcanic highland of El Salvador and is often as complex as the taste of your hand-selected organically grown coffee beans. This is the story that Augustine Sedgewick tells in Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug.

My conversation with Augustine Sedgewick:

Rethink Everything You Know About Policing

March 1st, 2021

Screen%2BShot%2B2021-03-01%2Bat%2B11.20.36%2BAM.pngGeorgetown law professor Rosa Brooks was working at the Pentagon when she heard about the D.C. Metropolitan police corp program. Intrigued, much to the consternation of friends and family she joined up. Suddenly she had a badge, a gun, a uniform and a whole lot of academic ideas about cops, criminal justice, law enforcement and what it means to protect and to serve. 

Suddenly she was over and inside the blue wall. It was as if she was going into another country. She had to learn a new culture, a new language, and even her family feared not only for her safety, but that she’d be somehow co opted by the journey. 

What she found should radically change how we think about police and policing in America. Hint, it’s not anything that is part of our current rhetoric. She spells it all out in Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City 

My conversation with Rosa Brooks:

Where Is The Information We Have Lost In Data

February 19th, 2021
81ub8IxiVeL.jpgDuring the past year, perhaps a year like no other year, we have been bombarded with statistics. Covid cases, numbers of deaths, positivity rates and flattening the curve. Add to this an election and polling data that drowned us in information. 
 
On top of all of this is disinformation and the traditional ways in which numbers and statistics can be used to deceive us. 
 
And then just this week, statistics about stocks, and all manner of economic information. Data is everywhere. Every publication of note, now has whole departments devoted to data visualization.
 
One wonders though, where is the information we’ve lost in all that data. If you are good or bad at math, there is a lot to take in, to process and to try and understand.\
 
Tim Harford just might be able to help us with that with his new work The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics.
 
My conversation with Tim Harford:  
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