Sex and the Genome

November 29th, 2013
We’ve all heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  The notion that men and woman are different is deeply inculcated in our culture. Yet today science, our growing understanding of the human genome and the interaction of culture and genetics, are giving us a far greater understanding of those differences. 

Harvard Professor of the History of Science and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Sarah Richardson, in Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome, offers a compelling argument for the importance of an ongoing critical dialogue on how cultural conceptions both pre-judge, but also shape o
ur evolving gender roles.

Yet, like almost everything else in the realm of modern scientific discovery, different groups are happy and unhappy with the results of the science.

My conversation with Sarah Richardson:

James Wolcott and Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs

November 29th, 2013
Let's face it, our attention spans have been decapitated by modernity.  Our knowledge, criticism and even entertainment now comes to us in 140 neat characters.  We ourselves can be critics, just by clicking on a “thumbs up.”  

Today, serious commentary and serious criticism is in short supply.  It's not gone..but it's in remission.  One place it still survives is in the presence of James Wolcott and and his work, primarily today, on the pages of Vanity Fair.

His just published collection of work and essays Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs, reminds us of what it was like, not that long ago, when ideas seemed to matter. When we thought as well at felt, and when the moral power of language made us sit up and take notice.

My conversation with James Wolcott:

Vampires and Angles and Werewolves, oh my!

November 27th, 2013
For over thirty years, and through over thirty books Anne Rice has captivated us with her imaginative fiction. She has become one of the most beloved novelists of our time. With each new book or series, she not only reinvents herself, but reinvents whole new arenas of fiction. From the Vampire Chronicles, to her Christ the Lord books, to the world of angels.

Now she continues her move into the realm of werewolves.  Where she still brings her own quite unique perspective. During a time of when we all face real dangers each day, she gives us a reason to escape into another world, but at the same time stay connected to our own. The Wolves of Midwinter: The Wolf Gift Chronicles is her latest.

My conversation with Anne Rice:

How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

November 25th, 2013
When Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992, and came in second in the New Hampshire primary, he dubbed himself “the comeback kid.”  The idea being that , Americans loved and admired the story of resurgence. The ability and the character to come back from seeming defeat.  Perhaps no President's story embodies that more than FDR.  

Struck down with polio at age thirty-eight, his polio not only further shaped his character, and honed what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “his first class temperament.” but perhaps it also taught him skills that he would need as he taught the nation to deal with and recover from the twin crises of war and depression.

James Tobin captures this essence of Roosevelt in The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

My conversation with James Tobin: 

The Smartest Kids in the World

November 23rd, 2013
Like almost everything else in our globalized world, education is now competitive.  We are long past the time when American kids could stand on the ramparts and look down at the rest of the world.  Even some of our most prestigious and wealthiest communities can’t compete with the “average” kids in places like Korea or Finland or Poland.

As is normal when we are under attack, our knee jerk reaction is to come up with excuses.  We are more diverse, we are larger, we focus on different things and different values.  Problem is, they are excuses.  When the pencils are down, we fail.  We fall far, far behind.  But why?  We often ask what we are doing wrong, but instead, Atlantic and Time journalist Amanda Ripley, asks and explores what are others are doing right.

That is the core of her reporting in The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way
Amanda Ripley spent one year following American teenagers living in Finland, South Korea and Poland.   Her stories, reveal startling transformation. These countries got smarter not by spending more money or creating more tests, and they are not like Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.  

My Conversation with Amanda Ripley: 

Oswald acted alone…

November 21st, 2013
If the assassination of a President took place today, we’d all know about it in a matter of seconds.  Alerts, tweets, the Internet.  We’d all have the same facts, literally in an instant.  In a way that microsecond information impacts the way we process the news itself.

50 years ago, upon the assassination of JFK, this was not the case.  The information came out slowly.  Even on the streets of Dallas, news traveled by word of mouth, from person to person.  
Bit by bit, drop by drop we lived the story over four remarkable days.  The events, the images, the sounds had time to be absorbed into our pores, in a way that made it a part of our fabric, of the DNA of the American experience.

Perhaps that’s why those events, 50 years ago, still resonate so powerfully today. Now bestselling author James Swanson turns a laser like focus on the minute by minute events of the final days of our 35th president in End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

My conversation with James Swanson:

It was the Mafia….

November 21st, 2013
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Fifty years ago this week, the nation experienced one of the seminal moments of the 20th century.  Along with two world wars, the dawning of the nuclear age, and the landing of men on the moon, the assassination of JFK was one of the century’s tentpoles.  

As such, it never ceases to fascinate us.  What other event of the 20th century still conjures up as many unanswered questions?  Is there anyone who still believes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that the Warren Commission is accurate?  I’d say probably the same number that believes Elvis is still alive.  

Author and legal analyst Mark Shaw postulates a new theory of case. One that has as it progenitor the callus and politically expedient actions of the Kennedy patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy. He makes his case in The Poison Patriarch: How the Betrayals of Joseph P. Kennedy Caused the Assassination of JFK.

My conversation with Mark Shaw: 

The Generals - American Military Command from WWII to Today

November 10th, 2013
In the private sector, when corporations get into trouble they replace the CEO.  When sports teams repeatedly have a losing season, invariably they replace the coach.  If sales are down, managers are replaced.  Yet in the military today, it's very rare that generals are replaced.  Even in the wake of catastrophic failure.

Esteemed military journalist Thomas Ricks argues in The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, that failures in America's recent wars can be directly traced to failures of those in command. Ricks examines U.S. military leadership from World War Two to the present day, and concludes that the mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan can be traced to the Army's inability to come to terms with all the lessons of Vietnam and how that continued lack of accountability has shaped the military.

My conversation with Tom Ricks:

The resilience of the human spirit

November 10th, 2013
Woody Allen, in Annie Hall, said that he felt that life was divided into the horrible and the miserable. The horrible he thought were terminal cases, and blind people, and those with severe disabilities. He said, “I don't know how they get through life.” 

Yet many don't have that choice. Particularly for parents of children with severe disabilities. It appears on the surface that horrible is what they have to deal with every day.  However for many of them, it’s not horrible at all. It is difficult, it’s often painful, but it’s also a powerful lesson about unconditional love, about finding strength in broken places and about redefining one's identity. Often by entering an alien world, that sometimes turns out to be a place of love, and safety and enrichment.

This is the world that National Book Award winner Andrew Solomon lays out for us in Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.

My conversation with Andrew Solomon:

# Tweet, Tweet

November 9th, 2013
For years people have referred to Hollywood as being like High school with money.  Well, Hollywood has matured a lot. But today the same might be said about the tech world.  

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the story of the rise and rise of Twitter.  Started by four young guys looking to change the world, the drama of their story would rival anything in the world of high school mean girls.

Now, coinciding with the Twitter IPO, NY Times reporter Nick Bilton gives us Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal.  It takes us inside the remarkable story of the company and the four men who stated it. It’s a story of money, loneliness, bitterness, technology and personal growth; all driven by a grand vision to change how we communicate.

My conversation with Nick Bilton:

The Psychopath Inside

November 7th, 2013
Even if you are not a football fan, you’ve all seen the diagrams of plays with all those X’s and O’s.  It makes you think, and even sometimes makes the players and coaches think, that they have it all figured out.  If you just follow the pattern, you will have success and that it will be a winning play.

Problem is, it’s not true. There are dozens of factors that enter into the equation.  The weather, the turf, memory, mental ability, the agility to pull it off and of course the plans and mindset of the opposing team.

In many ways the same is true for the human brain and human behavior.  We might have brain patterns, genetics and chemistry that tells us that we should or will develop a certain way.  The problem is there is also environment, parents, and many other factors that make us who we are.

That's the backdrop for neuroscientist Dr. James Fallon’s look at psychopathology in his book The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain

My conversation with James Fallon: 

One family’s life defines the 20th Century

November 5th, 2013
When we look at the emergence of the diaspora of any ethnic group, we realize how important immigration is. To the Jews of the 20th century it was everything.  Some would migrate to America and become pillars of both capitalism and communism.  Some would migrate to Palestine and birth the state of Israel out of the desert.  Others would be left behind in Europe and suffer the last full measures of the holocaust.  They to would impact history, both by their courage and even by what they might have accomplished.

David Laskin, has written The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century. It's
about his own family, but it's also a history that incorporate all the strands of this journey and the history of the Jewish diaspora in the 20th Century.

My conversation with David Laskin:

What it means to be human

November 4th, 2013
We know that genes help make us what and who we are. But, of the 25,000 genes we possess, a relatively few are significantly different from person to person.  Some of those genes are often referred to as the Compatibility Genes. Genes that both impact our relationships and determine how we responded to infection and disease.

Daniel Davis, in his new book, The Compatibility Gene: How Our Bodies Fight Disease, Attract Others, and Define Our Selves, cuts through the complexities of modern genetics to reveal much about the most important selection of genes, the ones that define what it means to be human.

My conversation with Daniel Davis:

Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn from Them

November 3rd, 2013
Imagine if decisions in Washington, or at any level of government for that matter, were really made on the basis of policy.  If careful analysis could win out over politics.  Certainly the current health care debate would be very different.  But so would our discussions about economic policy.  If our discussion of the 2008 financial meltdown had been about analysis of what happened, as opposed to who's to blame, perhaps we’ve have learned a lot more from it.  

Wesleyan Professor of Economics, Richard Grossman takes a long view of  several economic crises and what we got WRONG: Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn from Them.

My conversation with Richard Grossman:

A beacon of democracy or an apartheid state?

November 2nd, 2013
If I said that this conversation was about authoritarian politics, the religious right,  the rise of Christianist fundamentalism, a demographic crisis facing one political party, and the continued rise of military power, you would easily assume we would be talking about the US.  In fact, these same forces are at play in greater Israel, and they are constantly reinforced here, by perhaps the most powerful political lobby in the United States.

The complexity of Israeli politics, its relationship with the US, and its impact on our own politics are all issues that exist not just in the abstract world of policy wonks.  Each and every day they impact the lives of thousands of people on the ground in Israel, Gaza and the Middle East.

Max Blumenthal takes a brave and controversial look at this in Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

My conversation with Max Blumenthal: 
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