Smoke Signals

August 30th, 2012

The culture wars in America have resulted in a war on women, a war on science and a ridiculous war on drugs. Many of these strains come together in the debate over cannabis.

While marijuana still remains illegal under federal law, more than half of all Americans have used it, it is a cash crop generating tens of billions in untaxed revenue and the majority of the public supports its legalization. Significant numbers of states have already made it legal, even in violation of federal law.

It remains steeped in myth, and ideology, but it has proven to help people over and over again

Martin Lee takes us on a journey through the great American pot story in Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana - Medical, Recreational and Scientific. My conversation with Martin Lee:

Ascent of the A-Word

August 29th, 2012

People are often shocked by profanity, but after all, that’s the point. Profanity is a kind of social punctuation that we use when we need to shock, or describe in ways that other words just may not suffice. Perhaps few profanities today are as common or more attuned to our celebrity culture than the A-Word. A word that linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, in his new work Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years , ties to the sense of entitlement that permeates so much of our culture.

My conversation with Geoffrey Nunberg:

What’s a young activist to do?

August 28th, 2012

The spirit that infused young people in the 1960’s may be a distant memory, but today a new generation lives in hope of making the world a better place. Whether they have the political skills, the commitment, or the clarity to succeed is still an open question.

Certainly if we look around the world, the Arab Spring proves that protest, as a political force, is still very much alive and can tear down walls and topple dictators. But here in America the forces allied against change and hope and progress may simply be too strong. So what’s a young activist to do? One of the generations most influential advocates for social and political change, Todd Gitlin, lays out what it takes in Letters to a Young ActivistMy conversation with Todd Gitlin:


August 17th, 2012

I’ve often quoted the former head of Sun Microsystems, Scott McNeally who once said, almost a decade ago that, “there is no privacy, get over it.” And that was before Facebook, apps, Foursquare, location based retail, etc.

To a large extent this raises the issue of a generational divide regarding our attitudes about privacy. But what we don’t often think about is whether or not our attitudes about privacy are shaped by culture, economics and class. Harper's contribing editor Garret Keizer offers an interesting new anaylsis in his new book Privacy. My conversation with Garret Keizer:


August 7th, 2012

50 years ago this week, the world awoke to the death of Marilyn Monroe. At her death she was already one of the most well known Americans of the twentieth century. In death she would become even more famous. Steeped in mythology and contradiction, she would become a symbol of her times; the lens of her own dysfunction giving her a unique ken on post-war America.

Now historian Lois Banner, in her new biography Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, that Maureen Dowd talked about this past Sunday, gives us a deep and complicated woman, whose life would reflect many aspect of our society back upon us. My conversation with Lois Banner:

Who Gets What When Tragedy Strikes

August 6th, 2012

When disaster strikes and loss happens, both human loss and economic loss, people look to be both assured first and then compensated.   The assurance is often the job of government, of social institutions and of friends, neighbors and family.   When people look to be compensated for a disaster, the process is often a lot more complicated. Who pays, what’s the loss worth and and how emotion enters into the economic algorithm are all relevant issues. Few understand this equation better than Kenneth Feinberg.

Feinberg ran the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, was the “Pay Czar,” for the TARP bailout and was in charge of disbursing all claims in the BP oil spill. He talks about all of this in his book Who Gets What: Fair Compensation after Tragedy and Financial Upheaval

My conversation with Ken Feinberg:


August 2nd, 2012

The Hawaiian monk seal ranks as the most endangered marine mammals in American waters. Also one of the cutest! Only about 1,100 of these seals are in the sea surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. When a two day old seal pup is attacked and abandoned, environmental officials have to intervene. Thus begins the remarkable journey of Kauai Pup 2.

Dr. Terrie Williams is the director of the Marine Mammal Physiology Project at U.C. Santa Cruz and she tells the story of the seal pup in The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species.

My conversation with Terrie Williams:

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