Humans at Our Best and Worst

May 29th, 2018

robertsapolsky_may25.jpgIn trying to understand what makes us tick, people still debate the old nature vs. nurture argument. Yet modern science, medicine, psychology and biology all tell us it’s far more complex.

In fact it’s a little like a variation of the uncertainty principle in physics. The very act of trying to understand our behaviors or the behavior of others, tell us more about the observers and sometimes the way in which the observer is even influenced by others behavior

This complexity is what Robert Sapolsky examines in Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.

My conversation with Robert Sopolsky:

Railroads and Highways and Ports, Oh My

May 23rd, 2018

image2-19-700x470.jpgWe hear over and over in our domestic political debates about the need to improve America’s infrastructure, that to do so is good for business and in the big picture, good for the economy and a projection of America as a global leader. Certainly, LaGuardia Airport and the 45 years it took to build the Second Avenue Subway in New York are not good indications.

On the other side of the world, few countries have repeatedly taken on infrastructure projects as big as those taken on by China. From the movement of water to the transportation of people, the Chinese have seen infrastructure not only as good for its internal economy, but as a true projection of pride and power. Now, these projects have pierced the Chinese border in the form of China’s One Belt, One Road project. The question is, has China gone a railroad bridge too far?

This is the among the questions that Will Doig asks in his book High-Speed Empire: Chinese Expansion and the Future of Southeast Asia.

My conversation with Will Doig:



May 23rd, 2018

636612852095520813-ROBIN-cover.jpgSomeone once said of actors that they have their emotions much closer to the surface than the rest of us, in order to make them more easily accessible. If this is true, than it might be said that for some comedians their emotions are not just close to the surface, but raw and fully exposed.

In the case of Robin Williams this certainly seems to have been the case. With Williams you always had the feeling that the more he exposed about himself and about the human condition, the more he made us see it and laugh about it, the more it took him to deep and dark places to find it.

With comedians it's often a question as to whether they are just reflective of the culture and the time they work in, or perhaps the way Lenny Bruce did, they actually help shape that culture.

For Williams the jury is still out. That’s why Dave Itzkoff’s new biography of Williams, Robin, is so important.

My conversation with Dave Itzkoff:

We Think It’s Stormy Now…..1968 Was Far Worse….And We Survived

May 17th, 2018

51f3vTCx%252BAL._SX326_BO1%252C204%252C2Historians have long written about inflection points in history. In American history, events surrounding the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War & Reconstruction, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and WWII, are all such points.

It’s arguable that we may very well be living though another one right now. But clearly the last great historical inflection point came exactly fifty years ago, and reached its apogee in the year of 1968. Lyndon Johnson was President, and a series of events led us to believe like Yeats, “that the center cannot hold, and that mere anarchy was loose upon the land.”

The Tet Offensive, MLK and RFK assassinations, the Praque Spring, racial conflicts, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Lyndon Johnson's decision not to seek reelection and the election of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, made 1968 quite a year.

Lyndon Johnson presided over it all and that's the story that historian Kyle Longley tells in LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval

My conversation with Kyle Longley:

If Gina Haspel is confirmed, will CIA torture begin anew?

May 16th, 2018

image2-15-700x470.jpgThe debate over Gina Haspel running the CIA has, like most things, devolved into a partisan political debate: The usual tribes, the usual sides, and the usual arguments. But if we can only step back a bit, we see that it’s so much more. It goes to the heart of who we are as a nation, as a moral society, and whether we can ever again be that shining city on a hill.

As the nomination becomes closer to a vote in the Senate, we’re going to talk about it with John Kiriakou, who was the first member of the intelligence community to expose the CIA’s use of torture, and as a result, became one of the very few Americans ever prosecuted under the Espionage Act, for which he served 23 months in federal prison.

My conversation with John Kiriakou.


The Moral Horror of Our Times

May 16th, 2018

51zs3EUzJUL.jpgLook at any days news output, and its getting harder and harder to separate fact from fiction. Not because of fake news, but because the real news and the actions of so many cross the bounds of credible behavior.

As someone recently pointed out, after a few recent days of the usual craziness, if someone had submitted the days real events has a script or story idea for West Wing, or Homeland or even House of Cards, , it would have been rejected as too absurd.

The sad truth is that it’s really happening. This is why it’s sometimes necessary to look at it all in the realm of fiction or specifically a kind of meta fiction. This is what Laurie Calhoun does in her novel You Can Leave.

My conversation with Laurie Calhoun:

Moore’s Law Does Not Apply To Relationships

May 15th, 2018

jc.pngIt’s become a cliche, but the fact is that in just the past 10 years, almost everything we do has changed. From the way we drive, take pictures, communicate, shop, to the way we seek relationships.

What hasn’t changed is the fundamental underlying idea of human relationships. Connecting, relating and maybe even falling in love. It’s probably a good thing that evolutionary biology is not subject to Moore's Law.

So how do we reconcile the two? How does Tinder or Match or Bumble sync up with our human needs, which have not really changed  all that much in thousands of years? Trying to tie these threads together is Joanna Coles in her new book Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in a Digital World

My conversation with Joanna Coles:

Globalization and its Discontents

May 12th, 2018

image2-11-700x470.jpgTrump, Brexit, and the worldwide populist revolution are not causes, but symptoms. Symptoms of a wider systemic plague of fear of change, anxiety, and a feeling by people of being part of a world they no longer can control or even understand.

Technology today, rather than being a cause, is merely the host that carries the fear. Not unlike the Industrial Revolution a century ago, disruptive change takes its toll. The difference now is that it all happens at hyper speed, and in full view 24/7. How we deal with it, whether we put those that have been left behind in Hillary Clinton’s basket of deplorables, or find leadership that will lift up entire countries may very well determine the fate of the world.

Ian Bremmer, the president and founder of Eurasia Group is more on point than most in understanding all this is going on. He explains a big part of it in Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism.

My conversation with Ian Bremmer:


Freedom, Liberty & America…A Look Back

May 8th, 2018

Ricks.jpgIn his book Profiles in Courage, JFK writes that courage exists “when a man does what he must — in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers, and pressures — and that is the basis of all human morality.”

It’s hard to even think about this in the realm of pubic life in 2018. A time when courage is in short supply, reality is subjective and facts are not the “stubborn things” that John Adams said they were, but merely fungible talking points to gin up the base.

It’s sad then that we have to rely almost solely on history to find examples of this courage and morality. That’s where multiple Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Ricks tanks us in his joint biography Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom

My conversation with Thomas Ricks:

Dear Madam President

May 3rd, 2018

hrcpalmieri111478465111.jpgThere is a line from the 1973 movie The Way We Were, where Katie Morosky, played by Barbra Streisand, talks about Hubbell Gardner, played by Robert Redford. She says of Gardner/Redford, “In a way he was like the country he lived in; everything came too easily to him.”

And that has been a narrative, albeit, often a false one, of ease and grace that the public often seeks to buy into with respect to its leaders. Certainly Kennedy successfully exploited it, maybe even laid the political predicate for it, in his race against Nixon in 1960. In a way it was even a part of the Obama narrative.

On the flip side, it may have very well worked against Hillary Clinton in 2016. It seems that for Hillary Clinton, nothing came easily. Everything she had ever achieved was, or appeared to be, a struggle. One that played out on the public stage for more than 40 years.

Jennifer Palmieri got to see this up close and personal as Hillary Clinton’s Communications Director, and herself a veteran of many years in politics and in the White House. She brings it all into focus in her new book Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World

My conversation with Jennifer Palmieri:

The Fragility of Hope

May 3rd, 2018

9780399575259.jpegWoody Allen once said that the world was divided into the horrible and the miserable. The horrible he thought were people with terminal cases, blind people, and the crippled. “I don't know how they get through life,” he said. “It's amazing to me.”

To answer Woody Allen's existential question, it is usually hope that carries the day. But the form that that hope takes can vary widely. Sometimes, it grows out of faith, sometimes out of denial and sometimes out of science. This is often true for both real cutting edge science, or the placebo that is most Western medicine.

Author and journalist Richard M. Cohen, has long lived with conditions Woody Allen would call horrible. Yet though his writings and his voice, he has not only defined his hope, he has given it to others. He does so once again in his look at stem cell research in Chasing Hope: A Patient's Deep Dive into Stem Cells, Faith, and the Future.

My conversation with Richard M. Cohen:

Why We Have More Time to Have No Time

May 3rd, 2018

event-image-edward-tenner.pngIsn’t it interesting that the more we have technology to save us time, the more we complain about not having enough time. Before the digital revolution we never heard as much talk about everyone not having enough time.

Just think about how much time we spend setting up our CRM and To do list apps, when a simple list in a notebook might have actually been faster.

And while the technology of everything from dating apps to GPS, may make things more efficient, do they actually limit our ability to see the wider world, and in so doing make us cogs in a wheel that sacrifice our humanity and our sense of wonder. That what author and distinguished scholar Edward Tenner looks at in The Efficiency Paradox: What Big Data Can't Do

My conversation with Edward Tenner:

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