The first casualty of war

August 28th, 2009

If truth really is the first casualty of war, how do we know if any war is truly worth the cost in lives and treasure?  Be it by lies, propaganda or by legitimate means, we are always led to believe that our country's military efforts are positive; that we are fighting the good war, and that the other side must be demonized.  This history of American war propaganda is told in Susan A. Brewer's Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq. My conversation with Susan Brewer.

Empire of Illusion

August 28th, 2009

When he ran for President in 2004, John Edwards spoke of "two Americas."  Today the gap between those two Americas is even wider.  Separated now, not just by economics, but by a culture that has become detached from intellectualism.  Instead, more than half the country relies on spectacle, false idols and snake oil salesman to distract it from the economic, moral and political decay that is abound. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chis Hedges, in his new book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle argues that a culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies and that we are dying now.  He argues that America is divided against itself, split between a minority that lives and functions in a  literate world and is able to discern deception from truth, and a majority that is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and cliches and is thrown by nuance, complexity and hard realities.    My conversation with Chris Hedges.

The poetry of farming

August 27th, 2009

Called by The New Times "a poet of farming," David Mas Masumoto, the author of  Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies from the Land, has been on the cutting edge our new found appreciation of the relationship between food and farming.  By linking the humanity and hard work of farming  to the larger themes of life, death and renewal he has been a key player in making farming cool.  In so doing, he has helped influence a new generation to the realities of the agricultural marketplace. My conversation with David Mas Masumoto.

Ted Kennedy

August 26th, 2009

For those of us that grew up in the 60’s, the Kennedy's will always be a part of our consciousness. Whether you were a Republican or a Democrat, whether you were for Nixon or Kennedy in 1960, the Kennedy's, the Kennedy brothers will be with us forever. They are woven in the very fabric of the nation and certainly the DNA of the ‘60’s.

The death of Ted Kennedy somehow brings that era to some kind of closure. As Ted Kennedy passed the torch to a new generation, with his support for Barack Obama, that same generation must now go forth on its own.

Embodied in the Kennedy's was all that was good and all that went wrong in the ‘60’s. From expanded freedom and civil rights, to the war in Vietnam, to the social divisions that we still struggle with today.

The death of Ted Kennedy somehow leaves us adrift without our living anchor to that past. In some ways it’s like the death of a parent. For baby boomers, for those that grew up in that time, we are now truly on our own..

There are two audio clips of Ted Kennedy’s I want to include here. First, his eulogy for his brother Bobby, at his funeral in 1968. It is a powerful speech that could certainly be made today to reflect Ted Kennedy’s life. And also the final paragraphs of Ted Kennedy’s speech at the Democratic Convention in 1980, where he ended his Presidential aspirations and committed to the work that would become his life.

That speech, written in large part by the political consultant Bob Schrum, would, for generations, define political oratory.

Let’s listen to both.

Why do we do what we do?

August 24th, 2009

We spend most of our waking lives at work.  And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our occupations mean to us.  Alain De Botton (The Architecture of Happiness, How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel) in his new book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work explores the joys and perils of the modern workplace, evoking what other people wake up to do each day—and night—to make the frenzied contemporary world function. With a philosophical eye and his signature combination of wit and wisdom, Alain de Botton leads us on a journey around a deliberately eclectic range of occupations, from rocket science to biscuit manufacture, accountancy to art—in search of what make jobs either fulfilling or soul-destroying.  Along the way he tries to answer some of the most urgent questions we can ask about work: Why do we do it? What makes it pleasurable? What is its meaning? And why do we daily exhaust not only ourselves but also the planet?

Catch a falling star

August 24th, 2009

Shooting stars have captivated us for centuries.  They continue to do so, as meteorite hunters are now hot on there trail.   Through millennia of folk tales, mad dreamers, science fiction fantasy, profiteers and modern scientists, we've come to understand meteorites as both life giving and perhaps life ending.  Christopher Cokinos, in his thrilling new book The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars gives us the ultimate historical account.

The artifice of art

August 22nd, 2009

How is the value of art determined? Is the value of art driven by intrinsic values, or artificially inflated by dealers, museums and hucksters? Never have these questions been brought into such bold relief than in the face of a decade-long art scam that sullied the integrity of museum archives and experts alike. Investigative reporter Laney Salisbury in her new book Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art tells the extraordinary narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate deceptions in art history.

The Philosophical Baby

August 19th, 2009

New research shows that babies are aware of much more and with much much greater intensity than we have thought.  Alison Gopnik in her new book The Philosophical Baby: What Children?s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life explains that consciousness, counterfactual thinking and imaginative play all allow babies to explore alternative worlds and to see the world as it could be and to make plans to create that world.

The Philosophical Baby

August 19th, 2009

New research shows that babies are aware of much more and with much much greater intensity than we have thought.  Alison Gopnik in her new book The Philosophical Baby: What Children?s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life explains that consciousness, counterfactual thinking and imaginative play all allow babies to explore alternative worlds and to see the world as it could be and to make plans to create that world.

Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train

August 17th, 2009

In the early 1970s, a young author named Paul Theroux embarked on an adventurous voyage. After rambling across much of Asia and Russia via local trains, Theroux penned a book about his travels, The Great Railway Bazaar. It assured Theroux's literary reputation and cemented his commercial appeal.

The bestselling book set a new standard in travel writing, an antidote to mass consumption of newly cheap, anonymous airline travel.  Now a grand old man with over 40 books to his credit, Theroux resolved to revisit the path he followed in that first groundbreaking book. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar isn't an exact replication (Theroux skips Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran this time around.)

My conversation with Paul Theroux:

Robin Cook talks about medicine today

August 14th, 2009

Dr. Robin Cook, with his first book "Coma"  gave birth to the genre of "medical thriller."  Since then, he has written twenty-seven NY Times bestsellers, translated into forty languages.  And in this time when medicine is perhaps to thrilling, he's not afraid to use his medical knowledge and public awareness to plunge into our most important debates in his new book Intervention. My conversation with Robin Cook:

How do we get out of GITMO

August 13th, 2009

President Obama promised that he would close the US Detention Center at Guantanamo.  The reality of the legal and physical disposition of the detainees has proven to larger  problem than was initially anticipated.  Glenn Sulmasy, a judge advocate and an expert on national security law explains in his new book The National Security Court System: A Natural Evolution of Justice in an Age of Terror. My conversation with Sulmasy:

The legal issues around same-sex marriage

August 13th, 2009

Lawyer Frederick Hertz, author of Making it Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnership & Civil Unions explains the very complex legal landscape surrounding same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships and civil unions.

St. Helena - still more….

August 13th, 2009

More on the St. Helena CA. School Board Recall

Can we rethink civilization

August 11th, 2009

In An Inconvenient Truth, warned us of a "planetary emergency" as a worst case scenario.   According to Dianne Dumanoski, award winning author and long time environmental journalist, ecological catastrophe is no longer a worst case scenario--it is inevitable.  In her environmental history, The End of the Long Summer: Why We Must Remake Our Civilization to Survive on a Volatile Earth, Dumanoski provides a dismal forecast for the future based on vast quantities of scientific data, which indicates that the ideal climate which has allowed life to flourish on earth for thousands of years is overdue for a seismic change, with or without the help of humanity.

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Julia Child

August 7th, 2009

My conversation, from November 2001, with Julia Child.

St. Helena… Again

August 6th, 2009

More talk about the St. Helena School Board recall.  St Helena Councilman Eric Sklar fills in for me and talks with former school board member Jim Haslip.

Why we need to look at the French helath care system

August 6th, 2009

In Differential Diagnoses, Paul V. Dutton Associate Professor of History at Northern Arizona University and a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, debunks a common misconception among Americans that European health care systems are essentially similar to each other and vastly different from U.S. health care. In fact, the Americans and the French both distrust "socialized medicine." Both peoples cherish patient choice, independent physicians, medical practice freedoms, and private insurers in a qualitatively different way than the Canadians, the British, and many others.  My conversation with Paul Dutton.

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