News & Updates

Dept. of (my) History: The Last Lecture

I don’t usually write in memoir, but my dad’s retirement, at the age of 88, made me think about how the generations look differently at the concept, and whether it’s okay to retire 30 years before your father. Here, then, is a conversation full of questions and received wisdom, with thanks to Sari Bottom of Oldster Magazine for the venue…

The Fast-Talking Billionaire

It’s not surprising that Greg Lindberg has his eyes on longevity. Accused of pilfering $2 billion from his insurance companies and attempting to bribe North Carolina’s top regulator, the billionaire faces the prospect of being in jail until he’s 90. But neither that nor getting swept up in an FBI sting operation that already landed him behind bars once is dimming his enthusiasm for his latest venture: Selling himself as an anti-aging guru.

I’ve spent decades writing about anti-aging. But I’ve never met anyone like this fast-talking billionaire who believes he’s found the secret to immortality. This profile was written for The Assembly NC.

Coronation Day: Macy’s Meets Oasis

LONDON, May 6 – It’s a rainy spring morning. And around the cobbled streets of Marylebone, I haven’t found a single person who seems invested, much less excited, about the UK’s first coronation in seventy years. The stores catering to the mega-rich seem to be conspicuously ignoring it, as if afraid of cheapening their allure. Pub crawlers and cab drivers want to talk about The Donald more than The King.

In many ways, it’s a consequence of the monarchy’s decision to scale back the event in light of the economic malaise everyone feels. Inflation is rampant — food prices up 33%; heating bills through the roof — and you see an alarming number of stores with bullet holes in their front windows, not top mention shattered glass.

Patrician culture is still alive and well in the UK. But its stewards are feeling the pinch. The website for tickets to Kensington Palace asks if you want to add a ten percent donation to your $25 admission. At the restored home of a revered Victorian-era painter, you’re asked to contribute to a fund to purchase one of his works from Christie’s.

The BBC is doing its best to gin up enthusiasm. Experts with “sources in the palace” keep popping up on The Beeb to parrot the Royal Talking Points: Camilla’s newfound favorability and how relaxed Charles’ seems to be. But it all seems a bit strained, especially when the occasional dissenting voice creeps in to talk about patrician billionaires siphoning public dollars for their own narcissistic spectacle.

Watching the coronation is a little like watching the Macy’s Day Parade, if it was hosted by the Church of England. No one is lip syncing Frozen. But still feels over the top in a geriatric, cruise ship kind of way. Just 31% of those younger than 35 say they intend to watch the event, as an increasing number of young Britons express their indifference to or dislike for an institution they say has no relevance in their lives.

Fortunately, the feud between Harry and William is providing a little edge. William has been out there, steady and stoic in public, pouring pints in a pub and working the rope lines. But Harry upended his family, again, by talking a commercial flight from L.A. to London. They’re the Liam and Noel Galligher of Buckingham Palace — with William playing Noel’s solo part at MTV Unplugged.

There are big screens broadcasting the event all over town. But we’re going small, watching on TV before we go to Madam Tussaud’s to see more waxy royals. It’s an event being here. But one best enjoyed in private, so one one sees you actually enjoying yourself.

The Botanist Is A Plant Podcast

Looking for a good 18th Century spy story? The wonderful folks at BYU’s Constant Wonder podcast (@cw_byu) gave me a half-hour to weave together the story of the legendary French naturalist Andre Michaux, who would have beaten Lewis & Clark to the Pacific if not for some amazing political intrigue involving Thomas Jefferson and a who’s who of quarrelsome Founding Fathers.

The podcast is adapted from my story in the new issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

Listen to “The botanist is a plant” here.

Cardinals Have No Teeth — and other things you learn birdwatching online

I have to change my browser preferences so Google News isn’t the first thing that pops up when I open Safari. 

But what to fill it with? This morning, I chose the Audubon Society’s “Get to know These 15 Common Birds.” And after a day of having no idea about what’s going on in Washington, I can tell you this…

* The Rock Pigeon, better known as the city pigeon, mates for life. In courtship, the male puffs out its chest, and struts in circles around the female. This is often mistaken for being threatening. Really, pigeons are quite sentimental.

* The Northern Cardinal is the most popular state bird. It’s also the subject of a common misconception, especially among sports teams (see University of Louisville), that it has teeth. Please write this down: Cardinals do not have teeth.

* The crow family is confusing. Between the American Crow, Fish Crow and Northwestern Crow, no one has any idea what they’re seeing. And this doesn’t even account for the Hawaiian Crow or Tamaulipas Crow. I’ve read this column on telling them apart ten times today, and will no doubt read it countless more.

* My new favorite bird is the European Starling. Or, more precisely, my new favorite birder is Eugene Schieffelin, who in 1890 is said to have introduced it to our shores because he thought that America should have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare.

* If I was a bird… I’d be an American Coot. “Coots are tough, adaptable. Although they are related to the secretive rails, they swim in the open like ducks and walk about on shore, making themselves at home on golf courses and city park ponds. Usually in flocks, they are aggressive and noisy, making a wide variety of calls by day or night. They have strong legs and big feet with lobed toes, and coots fighting over territorial boundaries will rear up and attack each other with their feet. In taking flight they must patter across the water, flapping their wings furiously, before becoming airborne.”

Tomorrow’s website is going to be Stargazing Basics from

Take that Google News!

New: Why Can’t We All Be Friends?

The Mother Jones Podcast

What the Hell Is “Truth and Reconciliation,” Anyway‪?‬

House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin delivered a speech during Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in which he made a direct appeal to reality: “Democracy needs a ground to stand upon,” he said. “And that ground is the truth.”

There’s a lot of demand for reckoning in America right now. Cities around the country are debating and in some cases instituting some forms of reparations for Black residents. Last June, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to establish a “United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation,” which has gained 169 co-sponsors. In December, even anchor Chuck Todd asked his guests on “Meet the Press” about the political prospects for a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

The calls for a rigorous public accounting of Trump-era misdeeds reached a crescendo in the aftermath of the violent attack on the Capitol in January: the impeachment proceedings against the former president became, all of a sudden, the de facto court for establishing the reality of the 2020 election results, even as Republican lawmakers voted to acquit.

It raised the fundamental question: How do we establish the truth, amid a war on truth itself?

On today’s episode of the Mother Jones Podcast, journalists Shaun Assael and Peter Keating share their deep reporting into the history of the “truth and reconciliation” movement, here and abroad, and what we can learn from its promises and pitfalls—presenting a realistic view of their effectiveness as building blocks for reality, rather than magic bullets. “There can be no reconciliation before justice,” Keating says.