Howard Bragman on Success Stories

Question: Which celebrities have managed their image the best? Bragman: I think George Clooney is like the gold standard for class and dignity and he gets it. He once said, “My fame is my currency,” and he uses that for causes that are important to him. I think Brad and Angelina are pretty remarkable in the way they’ve managed their family, their public image. To me, Madonna is just amazing in her ability to remain relevant for a very long time. You know, I look at celebrities, having been in Hollywood more than 20 years and following it, a lot of people are famous for their moment, but people who are still relevant 20 years later, to me, that’s pretty darn impressive. Question: And corporate types? Bragman: I think a lot of these corporate CEOs live in a different world. They live in a world of multimillion dollar bonuses. They live in a world of private jets and that’s the milieu they live in. And I think the auto companies got it. They had a misstep. They got it. They drove back to Washington the second time, and look at what happened? They got a deal out of it. So I think there’s a lot of… they require people and people like me, just because somebody’s the CEO of a company, I need to tell him the truth. I need to say, “You’re not playing this right,” or, “This isn’t going to work right now for these reasons.” And whether they choose to listen or not, I look at it as a responsibility of mine to deal in reality, because if I don’t tell them and they go out, they’re going to say, “Why didn’t you tell me?” If I do tell them and they still choose to do it, maybe they’ll listen next time. There are people who don’t care about the rules. I used the example of former Vice President Dick Cheney. He knows people don’t really like him out there, his poll numbers are down, but he figures, “Screw you. I was the Vice-President of the United States. I had all the power I wanted and I’m beyond caring about what my public image is,” and he’s somebody who transcended that. We look at somebody like Ann Coulter, the political pundit, and she likes to be intentionally provocative. She likes to say words that will upset and shock people, the N word and the F word, and get the press and then doesn’t care because she believes that all press is good press, which is not something I necessarily believe. In fact, that’s one of my core beliefs, that no, not all press is good press. But most people who are in the public eye, they have earned it. Maybe Yoko Ono’s tired of it after all these years, but, again, unless she does something pretty significant or makes an appearance, you’re not going to see about her, so people have to do a little something to keep their interest going in their image.

Howard Bragman on why Dick Cheney likes playing the villain

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Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

(Getty Images)
Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
  • The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.