News Items Podcast with John Ellis
Steve Coll on the Taliban’s Return to Power
John interviews Steve Coll, a staff writer at The New Yorker, the dean of the Columbia Journalism School, the author of eight books, and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Between 1989 and 1992, he worked as The Washington Post's South Asia bureau chief. That experience ultimately led him to write two books on Afghanistan and Pakistan (with a third on the way).
The first, “Ghost Wars,” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005. It chronicles the C.I.A.'s secret wars in Afghanistan and how these fueled the founding of Al Qaeda. The second, “Directorate S,” focuses on the Pentagon and C.I.A.’s struggles with the eponymous, secretive branch of the Pakistani intelligence service that supported the Afghan Taliban.
John and Steve discuss both books and the intense research they required; the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan; and Steve’s plans for a third book on the subject.
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‘So Close to the Edge’: Adam Tooze on the Pandemic Economy42:47John interviews Adam Tooze, a historian, the author of five books on economic history, and a professor at Columbia University, where he is the director of the interdisciplinary European Institute. Adam also writes a newsletter, “Chartbook,” which in its own words, reports on "economic data, images, stories that matter."Adam’s two latest books deal with the major economic crises of the past two decades. “Crashed” looks back at the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, and explains both its causes and the rescue plan that got us out of it – though not without eroding democracies around the world. The newly-released “Shutdown” analyzes the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the world economy.John and Adam talk about both crises, their differences, and the mystical workings of the repo market.
From Kabul to Oregon: Jeffrey Stern on Reporting the World21:50John interviews Jeffrey Stern. An award-winning journalist and the author of three books, Jeffrey originally started his career as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan. In 2018, his book “The 15:17 to Paris” was adapted into a film by Clint Eastwood, and in 2019, he won the Overseas Press Club award for best human rights reporting in any medium and Amnesty International’s USA Media Award in the international news category.John talks to Jeffrey about how he became a writer; his first book, “The Last Thousand,” which tells the story of a school in the slums of Kabul that has sent kids to Ivy League universities; and how he came to co-write “The 15:17 to Paris.”
Why Spy Novels Matter, with Joseph Kanon27:25John interviews Joseph Kanon, a former publishing executive who became a bestselling author in his 50s. Joseph’s spy novels take place in the aftermath of World War II and the Cold War that followed. He published his debut novel, “Los Alamos,” in 1997, and the story of a murder set against the backdrop of the Manhattan Project won the Edgar Award for best first novel. His third novel, “The Good German,” was adapted to the big screen by director Steven Soderbergh and starred George Clooney and Cate Blanchett.Joseph’s stories are told through characters navigating ethically fraught terrain. “There was a reviewer who said at one point that my books were novels of moral intrigue,” Joseph said. “And I thought it was a perfect description that I hadn't thought of, or otherwise I would have told it to the publisher, to put it on the jacket.”John and Joseph talk about his midlife career change; his tenth novel, “The Berlin Exchange,” which comes out in January; and what he’s writing next.
How A.I. Can Help Us Fight Climate Change22:39John interviews Priya Donti, a Ph.D. student in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. She is also the co-founder and chair of Climate Change A.I., an organization working at the intersection of climate science and machine learning.Priya’s goal is to use machine learning to analyze, slow, and adapt to climate change. This could include optimizing pollutive supply chains, improving climate models, and helping researchers create next-generation batteries.John and Priya talk about these applications; machine learning’s relevance for insurance companies; and why A.I. isn’t a silver bullet for this era’s most prominent environmental challenge.
Why Big Tech Won’t Get Into the News Business, with Josh Tyrangiel23:28John interviews journalist Josh Tyrangiel. After quickly rising through the ranks at Time Magazine, Josh became the editor of Bloomberg Businessweek and then the executive vice president of news at Vice Media. There, he launched the Peabody Award and Emmy Award-winning “Vice News Tonight.” Last year, Josh joined Eden Productions, as a development executive in charge of documentaries.John talks to Josh about his career, the future of the news business, and what makes for a good podcast.
‘Like Cellophane on Fire’: Joe Klein on the Fall of Afghanistan44:46John interviews Joe Klein, an award-winning journalist who wrote for Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, and New York Magazine, among others, and the author of seven books, including the bestselling “Primary Colors.” John and Joe discuss Afghanistan’s fate; radical centrism; how the news media has changed; and With Honor, a political organization Joe works with to help elect military veterans to Congress.
How Neural Networks Changed the Face of A.I.27:29John interviews Cade Metz, a technology correspondent at The New York Times and the author of “Genius Makers,” a book on artificial intelligence. The book focuses on neural networks, an approach whereby, given enough data, A.I. can get better at specific tasks — like recognizing speech or images — all on its own. The idea behind neural networks dates to the ‘40s and ‘50s, but it was largely abandoned for decades. Today, a few dogged researchers, along with the tech giants that act as the field’s biggest players, have made it ubiquitous. “This is the technology we now use today when we speak commands into our cell phones,” Cade says. “This is what allows self-driving cars.”John asks Cade about the earliest days of artificial intelligence; how the international nature of A.I.'s brightest teams complicates the technology’s geopolitical stakes; and why we should all start paying attention to proteomics.
M.L.B. Chief Rob Manfred on What’s Next for Baseball24:53John interviews Major League Baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred. Before joining the MLB in 1998, in part to oversee labor relations, Rob worked for the league as a lawyer at the firm Morgan Lewis. “I was lucky enough literally to get assigned to Major League Baseball work,” Rob says. “I caught a real break there.” In 2014 the league’s 30 owners elected him to lead the MLB as the tenth commissioner in its history. John and Rob talk about the MLB’s efforts to reach younger, cable-cutting fans; its relationship with leagues in Latin America and Asia; and the advantage that comes from streaming 2,430 regular season games a year.