"The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life" by David Quammen

Humans have about 8% virus DNA in our bodies. Who knew.

It might be time to rethink our notion of the evolutionary tree of life. Turns out that life on earth isn't simply the development of simple to more complex organisms. It is that, but it is something else too.

Humans are related to viruses and bacteria as well as chimps and other sapiens.  All along the path of evolution, DNA from one species is able to move over to another.

Horizontal gene transfer might sound like something done in a laboratory, like putting a squid gene in a rabbit so it might glow.  Weird as that sounds, it has been done.  But It turns out it is more normal than was once understood.  Sharing DNA between species has been a part of evolution since life began.

Science writer David Quammen says perhaps a better metaphor than a tree might be an elaborate topiary.  The Tangled tree: A Radical New History of Life,”  explores the new scientific understanding that tangles up the "tree of life" metaphor.    

I spoke with Quammen a few weeks before his September 10, 2018 talk about his new book for Town Hall at Pigott Auditorium on the Seattle University campus.



Our Towns: A 10,000-Mile Journey Into The Heart of America

James and Deborah Fallows spent the last five years piloting their small plane across America. They visited small cities where citizens are working together to build communities where opportunity and connection matter. Their book, “Our Towns: A 10,000 Mile Journey Into the Heart of America,” can be read as a tonic to our toxic national politics.

Read More

"I Like it Live": Feliks Banel and the Allure of Live Broadcasting

From the 1920’s until television permanently settled into our living rooms in the late 1950’s, radio blasted out comedies, variety shows, adventures and dramas to waiting listeners. Radio launched performers like Jack Benny and Fred Allen into stardom. It offered established stars like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Jimmy Stewart and Frank Sinatra an audience during lulls in their film careers.  Radio became a second platform for Hollywood screenplays like “The Bishops’ Wife,” a 1947 holiday movie starring David Niven, Cary Grant and Loretta Young that resurfaced with a different cast on the Lux Radio Theater in 1949.


Feliks Banel is a local historian, writer and radio producer.  He has been producing a live holiday radio broadcast for the past few years.  This year he is again bringing “The Bishop’s Wife,” starring familiar voices from KIRO radio to a Town Hall stage. KIRO’s Dave Ross leads the cast at University Temple Church Friday December 8th, 2017 at 8 pm,


Feliks joined me for a long talk about the future of radio and the qualities of recorded and live performances in the age of the independent podcaster.


Dan Ariely Has A Few Rules To Help You Think About Money

At Length features interviews by Steve Scher with artists, authors and scholars visting Town Hall Seattle

Our irrational behavior interferes with our best efforts to curb spending and increase saving. Dan Ariely has come up with some rules of thumb that can help us make better decisions.

Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter is co-written with lawyer and comedian Jeff Kreisler. Dan Ariely is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He is the author of research articles and books, including Predictably Irrational, and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.

Ariely’s insights go beyond budgets and spending. Ariely studied philosophy before turning to psychology. His research extends into exploring the reasons people behave in ways that are counter to their own interests and to the maintenance a strong civil society. 


What Russia's Return To Totalitarianism Might Teach America

At Length is a podcast featuring interview with visiting scholar and authors to Town Hall Seattle.

How far removed is Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, from the Czars of old and the Soviet Premiers of the past century?

What is the source of his grip power in Russia? What happened along the path to democracy envisioned after the end of the Soviet Union?  What does the resurgence of this totalitarian state, adept in the use of modern digital tools of political warfare, tell us about status of democracy in the US?

"The Future is History" by journalist Masha Gessen is a journey thru Russia’s recent political changes. The book follows 4 young Russians who were born in 80’s. Their lives mirror the ups and downs most Russians experienced as the country opened ever so briefly and then closed around itself again.

Masha Gessen is a Russian-American writer. She is the author of 9 books including a highly regarded biography of Vladimir Putin. Her work appears regularly in the New York Review of Books, as well as Slate, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and a Carnegie Fellowship. 

Toure on Trump, Demolition Derbies and Being Who You Are

What are the norms for public and private behavior in these modern times? Well, different norms for different occasions, sure. Different norms for different people too, of course. And too often different norms depending on the color of our skin.

That last notion, pointing to the prejudice we carry around inside ourselves, is the most insidious and the most necessary to overcome. Otherwise, rather than seeing the individual, we only see our own bigotry reflecting back on us.

Toure Neblett, who goes professionally by his first name, is a political commentator, journalist, TV personality and cultural commentator. He often explores the norms often set for black, brown and white Americans in public settings and their private consequences.  He writes that many people, African-Americans and other minorities in America, need to develop a teflon shield against the barbs and darts that could bring about a kind of spiritual death in the face of white supremacist attitudes. 

He was in Seattle to speak at the University of Washington on Microaggression: Power, Privilege, and Everyday Life”


This interview contains a few explicit words, so be forewarned.



Toure is the author of 5 books, a father, husband, and an occasional presence on your TV. His last book is "I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became An Icon." A previous book, "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means To Be Black Now" (2011)  was a named a notable book by the NYT and the Washington Post.

Toure was a long-time contributing editor to Rolling Stone. His articles have appeared in Time, Washington Post, Ebony, NYT.

He was a host on MSNBC’s “The Cycle.” He also hosted a show called, “I’ll Try Anything Once.”  


He writes for Vice, and is working on more books and an upcoming podcast series.

Doing Race Better: Race and the Reform of Urban Schools

School reform could succeed in the U.S. if the cultural paradigm is flipped and urban schools led by strong leadership among principals, community activists and students are acknowledged as leaders in promoting quality education. 

University of Chicago scholar Dr. Charles M. Payne talks with Steve Scher about real reform.

Dr.  Payne spoke in Seattle February 23rd, as part of the UW's campus-wide Race and Equity Initiative. His talk was titled “Doing Race Better: Race and the Reform of Urban Schools

Dr. Charles M. Payne

Dr. Charles M. Payne

America continues to grapple providing quality education for every child. There are great schools. There are failing schools. There are successful teachers and not so successful ones. There are effective principals, community activists, students and some that are not so effective. The United States spends millions on schools, invests millions of hours in efforts at school reform, all in search of some universal formula.

Since The Supreme court ruled in Brown vs. The Board of Education, the race of students and communities has gradually become secondary in these discussions of reform.  Instead, the focus has shifted broader social, economic and, political factors. But perhaps, scholar Charles M. Payne argues, the realities of race should return to the forefront of this discussion- not to be seen as a problem to overcome, but as a dynamic for empowerment.

Professor Payne spoke with me before his  talk

Dr. Charles M. Payne studies the failures and sometimes the successes of reform efforts in schools. One of his recent books, “So Much Reform, So Little Change,” looked at the history of American education reform efforts, arguing that policy rarely reflects the real attitudes of people in urban school districts.

Charles M. Payne is the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, where he is also an affiliate of the Urban Education Institute.

His other books include “I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.”  That book has won awards from the Southern Regional Council, Choice Magazine, the Simon Wisenthal Center and the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America


His upcoming book is “Schooling the Ghetto: Fifty Years of ‘Reforming’ Urban Schools.”


Professor Payne is among the founders of the Education for Liberation Network, encouraging young people to think critically about social issues and their capacity for addressing them.

Dr. Payne's  Seattle talk was sponsored by the UW Graduate School, the University Alumni Association, as well as a number of other departments and programs at the UW. 

The next talk in the Equity and Difference Public Lecture Series will be in Seattle April 5 at Kane Hall on the UW campus. Registration is open.

Toure is a Journalist and culture critic.  He is a contributor to Vice.  His book, “ Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now” was a 2011 Most notable book by the New York Times and the Washington Post.  He is working on books with the artists Nas & with Rakim. He also wrote “I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became An Icon.”

 His talk will be about “Microaggression: Power Privilege and Everyday Life.”  Our conversation will also be available soon after his talk


Find this podcast at our homepage, Itunes, Stitcher and other networks. Search for At Length with Steve Scher.  Share your thoughts, comments, reactions with me.  atlengthwithstevescher@gmail.com Thank you for listening.  

Why Isn't the U.S. Listening To Indian Country with K. Tsianina Lomawaima

Why aren't Indians often heard in mainstream America? Scholar K. Tsianina Lomawaima says it’s because of the simple but challenging reality that this country is built on Native lands.

The  recipient of the UW Distinguished Teaching Award talks to Steve Scher about American Indians, citizenship, identity and strength. 

Professor K. Tsianina Lomawaima spoke February 10th as Mary Ann and John D. Mangels Lecturer, Equity and Difference Series Speaker. Her UW Public Lecture was titled “More Than Mascots! Less Than Citizens? American Indians Talk: Why Isn’t the U.S. Listening?”


She is professor, Justice and Social Inquiry, Distinguished Scholar of Indigenous Education, Center for Indian Education, School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University.

She is author of “They Called It Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School,” which received the North American Indian Prose Award and the American Educational Association Critics’ Choice Award.  She is also author of “To Remain an Indian: Lessons for Democracy from a Century of Native American Education (co-authored with Teresa L. McCarty) and  “Away From Home, American Indian Boarding School Experiences” (co-author and co-editor with Margaret Archuleta and Brenda Child) 

Ralina Joseph "What's the Difference with 'Difference'"

Welcome to At Length, our second season of conversations where we take a little more time and delve a little deeper into the profound issues of our era.


As part of the UW Graduate School’s Equity and Difference Series, Associate Professor Ralina Joseph has a public lecture, “What’s the Difference with ‘Difference’?”

Her talk is about the power of language to open or close doors to equity and opportunity.

On the mission statement page of the website of the Center For Communication Difference and Equity is a quote from American scholar and poet Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”  Professor Joseph and I took that as the starting point of our conversation.


You can find out more about the work of the Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity at their website.  Professor Joseph is working on her second book, Speaking Back to Screens: How Black Women on Television Resist PostIdentity Culture, an examination of African American women in modern television. For more about the work Professor Ralina Joseph is doing, go to her website.


Our next interview, scheduled to coincide another upcoming lecture that is part of the UW’ Equity and Difference Series, will be with Professor Mehnaz Afridi of Manhattan College. She will be talking about Freedom, Religion and Racism in Jewish-Muslim Encounters.


Hope you attend the lecture on February 4th and listen to our podcast



Kathy Najimy on Women and Body Image

Steve Scher talks to producer, actor and activist Kathy Najimy about women and body image.

Powerful forces are at work shaping our body image.  Self-esteem, family norms, peer group pressures and the media all influence our feelings about our own bodies.


Actor, activist and producer Kathy Najimy wrapped up the UW’s Weight and Wellness lecture series with a talk on “Women and Body Image,” based on her personal story and her years working in Hollywood.


Named one of Ms. Magazine's 'Women of the Year’ in 2004, she is producing a new HBO series based on Ms. Magazine and the work of Gloria Steinem and the feminists of the 70’s.


In the 80’s, she co-wrote and co-starred with Mo Gaffney in the Obie award winning feminist comedy hit, “The Kathy and Mo Show.”  Two productions were later broadcast on HBO.


Kathy Najimy’s breakthrough role was as Sister Mary Patrick in the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film, “Sister Act.”  She has gone on to a highly successful career on stage, screen and television in a wide variety of roles.  For 14 seasons she was the voice of Peggy Hill on the award winning animated series “King of The Hill.”  She co-starred with her idol Bette Midler in the movie “Hocus Pocus.”  She was back on the New York stage in 2014 with her one-woman show, “Lift Up Your Skirt.”  She is currently on HBO's "Veep," and has been cast in a new TV series as a police chief. 


She has spoken around the world on issues affecting girls, women, LGBTQ, as well as animal rights and AIDS prevention.  She has won numerous awards and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.  She earned some of the money as a formidable TV game show player and as a poker champion.



Support for the lecture series comes from the University of Washington Alumni Association, The Graduate School of Public Health,

Support for At Length with Steve Scher comes from the UWAA.



Are Human-made Chemicals in the Environment A Cause of Obesity? Part 2


We swim in a sea of chemicals. Some of them are harming our environment, some are harming us.

In part two of Steve Scher's conversation with scientist Bruce Blumberg, we hear more about the science of hormone disrupting chemicals, what action the regulatory agencies are taking and whether an approach called green chemistry could keep suspect chemicals from ever entering the environment.


Professor Bruce Blumberg spoke at the University of Washington in May 2015, part of the Weight and Wellness series at the UW.

Find more interviews on iTunes and Stitcher and at here too.

Support for At Length with Steve Scher comes from the University of Washington Alumni Association. and the UW Graduate School.

Are Human-made Chemicals in the Environment A Cause of Obesity? Part 1

Steve Scher talks with Professor Bruce Blumberg about obesogens, hormone disrupting chemicals that seem to change human metabolism. 


We eat too much.  We eat too much processed foods high in calories. We don’t exercise enough. It is being called an obesity epidemic, and it is putting more and more people at risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other conditions at ever greater numbers around the world. But something more than our own actions seems to be at work resetting our bodies systems that regulate weight gain and loss.

Bruce Blumberg, a developmental biologist and a molecular endocrinologist, coined the term 'obesogens' in 2006 after he discovered that exposing pregnant mice to a chemical compound call Tributyltin made their offspring heavier than those not exposed-- even when they are on a normal diet. His lab is at the University of California, Irvine.

Scientists now know that fat tissue acts as an endocrine organ, releasing hormones related to appetite and metabolism. A rising number of manufactured chemicals bind to the same receptors as the hormones and either prevent proper actions by hormones or activate them in the wrong place and the wrong time.

These Chemical “obesogens” may alter human metabolism and predispose some people to gain weight.  

Studies show that obesity is strongly linked to exposures to risk factors, such as hormone distrupting chemicals, during fetal and infant development. Blumberg found that exposure to tributyltin predisposes lab animals to make more and bigger fat cells.  The insidious thing, Blumberg says is that animals exposed in utero to TBT are permanently affected 


Professor Bruce Blumberg spoke at the University of Washington in May 2015, part of the Weight and Wellness series at the UW.


Find more interviews on iTunes and Stitcher and at here too.


Support for At Length with Steve Scher comes from the University of Washington Alumni Association. and the UW Graduate School.