Thursday, January 22, 2015

Personality and temperament determine everything!

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, defines personality as “an unbroken series of successful gestures.” Certainly that is the outer manifestation. But science, brain research and cutting edge psychology tells us that it's all part of a much more complex overall system. A system that shapes our lives, our identities and our emotions.  It's a system that determines that the way in which we understand ourselves and our own personalities, shapes how we view and interact with others.

This is the work of John D. Mayer the renowned psychologist who co-developed the groundbreaking theory of emotional intelligence, and now looks even deeper into personality, in Personal Intelligence: The Power of Personality and How It Shapes Our Lives.

My conversation with John D. Mayer:

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Congress then and now....Lyndon Johnson and the Battle for the Great Socieity

American political history is a complex and dynamic process. In that process, there have been periods of entropy and period of great progress and imagination. Both have been a function of a political system designed by our founders.

But also, the temper and tenor of the times and the degree to which individual leaders have known how to work those levers of power has also shaped our political destiny.

The period of the Johnson Presidency, post 1964, is one of those period. The Great Society, The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, medicare and medicare, are all just a part of an agenda that reshaped America

Today as we face congressional gridlock, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the apogee of the civil right movement, and as the president goes before Congress tonight. As we reassess our politics and institutions, its well worth the time to look at that unique and politically bountiful period of the Johnson Presidency.

That is what historian Julian Zelizer does in his new book The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society.

My conversation with Julian Zelizer:

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Friday, January 16, 2015

The media history that must be the context for the Net Neutrality debate

So many of the weaknesses of our media today are blamed on the digital revolution. Certainly the transition to digital has rendered change. But to a large extent those changes only magnify some of the fundamental flaws that have afflicted American media as it evolved in the 20th century

The weakening of regulation, the increased power of the free market to shape coverage of news and the increasing conflating of news and entertainment, ALL added to the mix. Today, those forces, combined with the impact of technology has, for better or worse, created a landscape that some would argue, is antithetical to even the minimal requirements of a democratic society.

This is the landscape that Professor Victor Pickard explores in America's Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform.

My conversation with Victor Pickard:

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Bush Dynasty, America's Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years

Our nation was founded in opposition to dynasty.

From the push back to George III, to our concerns about another Bush/Clinton Presidential race, Americans have always been suspicious of the dynastic impulse.

Yet today, we seem to be smothered in a dynasty of the elites. Even while the politics of the fringes gets all the media attention, the centers of power in both political parties seem fixed to support candidates and policies that further the social and economic interest of the "one percent."

Sitting astride this tendency for over fifty years has been the Bush family. The degree to which their influence and power has shaped events, is the subject of Russ Baker's book, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America's Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years

My conversation with Russ Baker:

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Could anybody save Yahoo?

Just as we demand a lot from our political leaders today, we also demand a lot from CEOs. Even if they are not founders, they need to be telegenic, charismatic, visionary, have a detailed plan, and adept at working the politics of the boardroom. They need to be comfortable in being a part of the one percent, have media coaches and PR people and be on a short leash from quarter to quarter.

Today, the CEOs that rise to that definition are few: Jamie Dimon, Tim Cook, Alan Mulally, Jeffrey Immelt and Marissa Mayer. Perhaps of all of these, Marissa Mayer came to her job with the least preparation and some of the highest expectations. Perhaps that is why, large parts of the public are fascinated by her every move, from fighting insurgent Yahoo shareholders, to gracing the pages of Vogue.

Nicholas Carlson, chief correspondent for Business Insider has written Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo. The first in depth look at Mayer and her rise from the nerdy girl at science camp, to the CEO of a 30 billion company, by age 38.

My conversation with Nicholas Carlson:

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The Political Classroom OR can we ever teach citizenship again?

We live in an age in which everything has become politicized. The coffee we drink, the food we eat, the shows and movies we watch, and the cars we buy,
all seem to convey some kind of political message.

Where once these things represented class, or taste, or education, today it’s all about politics. Even in non-partisan races, political ideology becomes the central issue.

So what impact does this have on our ability to teach politics, or citizenship or democracy or even science in the classroom? Paula McAvoy examines not only the impact, but a way into this discussion that can perhaps transcend or even co-opt our partisan divide. She details it in The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education.

My conversation with Paula McAvoy:

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Friday, January 9, 2015

The Internet is Not the Answer

The industrial revolution changed the world. It changed the nature of work, it displaced workers, it ushered in the Gilded Age and created more inequality. It shrank the world, drove consumerism, and reshaped political ideology.

The Internet revolution, 150 years later, has had startling similar effects. We worship at the altar of creative destruction, we fetishize technology and the freedom and democratization that the Internet had promised. But at what price?

Simply, can the same technology and companies that fractured and reshaped the world, now be what we need to put it back together again?

Andrew Keen, argues that The Internet Is Not the Answer.

My conversation with Andrew Keen:

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Killing of the Creative Class

Long before radio, I spent years in Hollywood. This was just as the Word Processor and the high volume copy machine were taking hold. When those things came along, everyone joked that screenwriting software and easy access to copying machines would lower the quality of screenplays. Little did those jokesters know, that was just the beginning.

Not only did the medium become the message, it subsumed the message. The medium, the technology, the process in fact became the creative endeavor. Today it’s Apps and coding and creative destruction.

And yes, technology makes life better, cheaper, faster and sometimes does allow more time for creativity. But is there something we have lost in the process?

Without getting stuck in the tired morass of, "the old days were better," is there some objective thing we have lost in our culture, in our selves or in our intellectual DNA?

Former LA Times arts and culture reporter Scott Timberg takes up these issues and more in Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class.

My conversation with Scott Timberg:

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Close Encounters of the mystical kind

It was Churchill who said that when the present sits in judgment of the past, we loose the future. Obviously not the attitude of memoirists.

But also not the attitude of someone who looks back on the totality of one's life and tries to understand who they are and where they came from.

Barbara Ehrenreich discovered, late in life, a journal she had kept during her tumultuous adolescence. She writes about a mystical experience, that to her rational and atheist self today, was nothing less than shattering. In Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything, she reconstructs her childhood, beginning with the perspective of a young girls obsession with important questions.

My conversation with Barbara Ehrenreich:

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Medicalization of Ordinary Life

When something goes wrong with a car or an appliance, or even the human body, the “instructions” for repair are often clear. However my guest argues that the manual that tries to define the parameters and terms of mental illness, is without that kind of scientific basis. He says that even an auto repair manual, much less a biology textbook, has more science than the DMS 5

Yet with the fifth volume of the DSM, and the concurrent explosion in psychotropic drugs, Doctors are relying on it, more than ever. In fact, it may actually be detrimental to taking care of our mental health.

Leading the criticism of DSM 5, is Dr. Allen Francis, a man who was one of the purveyors of the previous DSM 4. Part of his criticism is that we are over diagnosing and sometimes making normal into something that needs to be treated.

His book, recently out in paperback is Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life.

My conversation, from earlier this year, with Dr. Allen Francis:

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sit right down and write myself a letter

What might our knowledge of history be like if snapchat had been around in earlier centuries?

The good news is that it wasn’t. In a time when people wrote letters, not texts or emails, those letters got saved and later curated. Letters that give us little glimpses into personalities, history and the human condition at another time, in another place.

Shawn Usher, has devoted himself to being a curator of many such letters. He is the founder of the blog, Letters of Note and now that’s been turned into the book Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What caring and service really means

What would it take for you to give up your Western lifestyle, move to Ghana, live in a mud hut and commit yourself to helping thousands of lost children?

You would think that this kind of thing only happens in the movies, or in literature. That real lives are generally not a kind of fairy tail.

Not true. Lisa Lovatt-Smith did exactly that. She traded in her glamorous life in Paris and a glamorous life at Vogue for the experience of moving with her daughter to Ghana and trying to change the world.

She’s shares her story in Who Knows Tomorrow: A Memoir of Finding Family among the Lost Children of Africa.

My conversation with Lisa Lovatt-Smith:

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Language is Culture, Culture is Language

To achieve proficiency in a new language late in life is near impossible. But suppose you didn’t just want to learn the language, you wanted total immersion. You wanted to learn the culture, the origins of the language, to become one with the language. That’s what my guest William Alexander set out to do with French.

He wanted to be French and language was simply the vessel. But even with that kind of commitment, the effort almost broke his heart. He tells of that effort in Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart.

My conversation with William Alexander:

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Why Learning Beats Knowing

It used to be that the classroom prepared you for a career. Today your lifetime career is a classroom, where you must be continuously learning. In doing so, the horizons open up and opportunities abound.

The traditional straightjacket of education and career have been, like most things, disrupted. In it’s place, possibility and creative destruction..

Along with this comes a whole new way of doing business. A place, not unlike sports, where the newcomer, the rookie has an important role to play. Without Joe Panik, the SF Giants don’t win a world series.

In today business world, information isn’t siloed or hidden. It’s available for all, and it gives the rookie a more level playing field in which to work, bring new ideas and new ways of looking at the world.

This is the back drop for Liz Wiseman's look at Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.

My conversation with Liz Wiseman:

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

We may be an insignificant and fleeting moment in time...and we know it

Conventional wisdom has long held that we live in a vast and indeed expanding universe, in which we humans are but a seemingly small and insignificant part.

But in that classic view, are we not giving ourselves enough credit? Perhaps we are more unique than we think. Perhaps we are not all that ordinary, on a not so ordinary rock in the vast cosmos.

Just maybe, that classic view, needs to be reexamined? That is what Caleb Scharf has done in his new book The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities.

My conversation with Caleb Scharf:

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Why Dreamers matter!

How often does a story leap off the pages of a magazine, to become a book, a documentary and a major motion picture? Very rarely. And when it does, it’s clear that the story it tells has touched a powerful nerve among readers and viewers.

Such is the story that Wired Contributing Editor Joshua Davis tells, of four underdogs from the streets of Phoenix, who, using Spare Parts would take on the best High School and College students in the country, including MIT with the resources of Exxon/Mobil.

My conversation with Joshua Davis:

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Friday, December 12, 2014

The best places to work

We’ve recently seen year end lists of the best places to work. Free food, massage, pets, and a beautiful campus are all contributing factors. However, research, behavioral analysis and science can also tell us what make a workplace effective, productive, and more innovative.

The famed management consultant Peter Drucker said that “culture eats strategy for lunch.” Affirming a long held conviction that the culture of a company, even more than its smarts or its products, drive its success or failure.
Part of that culture, built into the DNA of every company, it the work environments it provides its people.

That where my gust Social Psychologist Ron Friedman picks up the story in The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

The healing power of our pets

While the origins of the quote are sketchy, Harry Truman, frustrated by the problems he faced in the White House, is reported to have said that “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

Today the same might be said of our pets in general, or in the politically correct parlance of the day, our companion animals. Be they dogs, or cats.

With all the talk about the amount of money spend on our pets, it’s easy to lose sight of the real power of our relationships with them. Sometimes exalted, sometimes mocked, the fact is that in a society where alienation is common, where complexity often rules, where self absorption defines a whole generation, those human/animal connections can be transcendent.

That’s the personal story and the connection that Lissa Warren writes about in The Good Luck Cat: How a Cat Saved a Family, and a Family Saved a Cat.

My conversation with Lissa Warren:

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