Friday, December 2, 2016

We'll always have sex?

It seems as if creative destruction and technology are changing everything...even sex.

This may be problematic given the degree to which sex is connected to everything else; marketing, relationships, essentially all forms of human interaction. As Emily Witt says, “we organize our society around the way we define our sexual relationships.”

The inflection point at which all these forces are coming together, is in part what Emily Witt writes about in her new book Future Sex: A New Kind of Free Love.  Yet even in that future, as Woody Allen so aptly said..."we all need the eggs."

My conversation with Emily Witt:



Thursday, December 1, 2016

Imagine If Wonder Could Replace Fear

“Children's playthings are not sports and should be deemed their most serious actions," Montaigne wrote.

Freud regarded play as the means by which the child accomplishes his first great cultural and psychological achievements; through play he expresses himself. This is true, Freud thought, even for an infant whose play consists of nothing more than smiling at his mother, as she smiles at him. He noted how much and how well children express their thoughts and feelings through play.

Why then should we assume that we outgrow the value of play? The wonder of seeing the world through joy, rather than fear. Think about all that you’ve read about the creativity of silicon valley...the atmosphere of fun that entrepreneurs try to create.

Today even education is being built around the idea of projects, of teams, of fun and of wonder.

This is the world that best selling author Steven Johnson explores in Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World.

My conversation with Steven Johnson:



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advertising Today May Be Harder To Find Than The Real Don Draper

Every aspect of our media landscape is changing. As newspapers are having to move online, they have to find new ways to engage an audience. Television is now on demand and personal and has lost its immediacy and its mandate for news and information. The long tail of blogs and specialty news sites reinforces confirmation bias.

All of this creates new problems and challenges not just for content providers, but also for the advertisers that have been the traditional supporters of traditional media.

So what’s an advertiser to do? Of late, the answer has been new efforts like native advertising, content marketing and sponsored advertising. But do these efforts have unintended consequences for the news product itself. That's what Mara Einstein looks at in Black Ops Advertising: Native Ads, Content Marketing and the Covert World of the Digital Sell.

My conversation with Mara Einstein:



Monday, November 28, 2016

In The Cloud, No One Can Hear You Think

Not a day goes by that you don’t pick up your smartphone to access a piece of information. Every dinner party or get together has the scene where everyone races to their phones to look up a fact or prove a point.

It’s so easy….so easy in fact that we often think, certainly our kids think, that they don’t need a large basic body of knowledge. Why memorize anything when you can just look it up..it’s all there in the cloud...right?

Well it is. But fundamental knowledge does matter. What we know, not what Siri knows, can truly impact and shape the lives we lead, the work we do, the friends we have and really defines our place in the world. We have just witnessed what happens when large groups of people don’t have that basic
knowledge.

This is the reality that William Poundstone examines in Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up.

My conversation with William Poundstone:



Sunday, November 27, 2016

Can Entrepreneurship Save the World?

A not terribly successful American President was right when he said that “the business of America is business.” In fact, today it would be safer to say that the business of the world is business.

Whether through globalization, or just through the individual entrepreneurship of citizen in the developing world, business is the one force that seems to counter unrest, instability, joblessness, and even extremism.

Wisdom and experience tells us we will not stop extremism in the Middle East, or other violent region, with just guns, drones and military force. But it just may be that fostering entrepreneurship and job creation may be one answer.

Leading this school of thought is former State Department official Steven Koltai.  Koltai is also the author of Peace Through Entrepreneurship: Investing in a Startup Culture for Security and Development.

My conversation with Steven Koltai:



Some of Us Want To Go To Canada...Elon Musk Wants To Go To Mars

Fifty four years ago JFK, at the height of the Cold War, set us on a path to the moon.

Today, absent the Cold War and in a world where a new photo or dating app becomes a billion dollar effort, it’s hard to think in terms of such massive, global and societal undertaking.

Yet one man does. Be it electric cars, solar powering the nation, or going to Mars, Elon Musk thinks differently than everyone else...but he does want all of us to join him in that effort. The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach has written the cover story for National Geographic's special Mars Issue


My conversation with Joel Achenbach:


Friday, November 25, 2016

Why Presidential Appointees Matter

Back in 1992 the mantra of the Bill Clinton campaign was that “it's the economy stupid.” Surprising, since the majority of American campaigns for President have always been about the economy.

However since the 1970’s that economy has been changing dramatically and rapidly. It was only as far back as the Nixon administration that we were still on the gold standard. Things like derivatives didn’t exist. Subprime lending, globalization of money and creative destruction in the economy had not yet set up a paradigm for collapse.

Presiding over so much of this change, watching all of it and dire
cting some of it, was Alan Greenspan.  Towering over the Federal Reserve for 18 years and serving five Presidents, no one knew more about the inner and outer working of the American economy than Greenspan.

Now we get the first full scale economic and person biography of Greenspan in Sebastian Mallaby's The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan.

My conversation with Sebastian Mallaby:



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Using Design Thinking for Life

Look around your home or office, or even your car. Everything there was designed. Albeit not always well. Sometimes with an eye towards function, sometimes looking at form and sometimes with thought into the human interface. Wouldn't it be great if everything was designed with equal parts engineering, aesthetics and a real understand of how human beings will interface with whatever it is?

That methodology, that combination of humanity and art and engineering is what’s now called Design Thinking. It’s an important part of Silicon Valley’s disruption and progress

But imagine if the same concepts could apply not just to computers or to a mouse or a phone, but to your entire life?

In many schools today these idea of Design Thinking are combining with project based curriculum and human centered collaborating and producing the future leaders of the 21st Century.

Two of the leader in all of this are Stanford’s Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. They are the authors of Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.

My conversation with Bill Burnett and Dave Evans:



Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why the Growing Gap Between Business and the Public Hurts Both

Herbert Hoover said that “the business of America is business.” If he were around today, in the age of globalization, he might have referred to the business of the world.

Yet as our current election shows, as the recent Brexit votes showed, the connection between people and business has never been more tattered and frayed.

Globalization itself, disruption, dislocation, the obsession with short term profits and shareholder value, coupled with the free flow of goods and money and jobs around the world, has created a chasm between the world’s businesses and ordinary citizens.

At a time when technology has made it easier for citizens to actually come together and be engaged, business has too often retreated to its C Suites in the hopes that the storm would pass.
But the clouds are getting darker. With more automation and AI, now reaching virtually every sector of work.

With worker and public anger reaching toxic levels, business can no longer hide, it must be, in the words of former BP Chief Executive John Browne, more willing to Connect.

My conversation with Lord John Browne:


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Scenes from a McMarriage

Think about those things that are usually the most personal, the most intimate and complex.

A few of them are what goes on inside a marriage, why and how people give away money (there is a reason many do it anonymously) and the degree to which the business of America is business. These are the elements that make up the story of Ray and Joan Kroc.

A story that is part Edward Albee, part Fortune magazine and part political, in the sense that the personal is indeed political.

Ray Kroc was the driving and force that made McDonald's bloom throughout the world and Joan Kroc was one of our most liberal and generous philanthropists of our times.

An unlikely combination, and an unlikely but compelling story told by Lisa Napoli in Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald's Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away.

My conversation with Lisa Napoli:



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What We Can Learn From Looking At Economic Interests That Crossed the Battle Lines During the Last Civil War

It’s always so interesting all the assumptions we make about history. They tell us something about the assumptions we might be making about our divide today.

When we think about the Civil War era, for example, we think in clear lines...the North vs. the South. Yet in families, in communities and in the states themselves, many were conflicted. Then as now, there were personal and economic interests that crossed over both sides.

Nowhere was this more the case than in the city of New York. While seemingly a part of the North, its economic interests in cotton, shipping and even the slave trade made New York what it has always been. A capital of commerce, whose interests in the context of the war were conflicted. A cautionary tale about our divide today.

This is the story that my guest John Strausbaugh tells in City of Sedition: The History of New York City during the Civil War

My conversation with John Strausbaugh:



Sunday, November 6, 2016

Why the Isis rhetoric to restore the Caliphate is exactly like Trump wanting to Make America Great Again.

It's hard to imagine today, but the East, what we refer to now as the Middle East, was once a pinnacle of civilization. Like all great civilizations, it struggled with conflict between personal values and its laws, about succession and tribalism and security. It evolved a form of rule in the Islamic world that lasted for almost 1300 years..by any account a pretty good run.

Today that rule, what was once called the Caliphate, has been morphed into something far removed from it’s original meaning. As such, it has become a word that embodies the worst, not the best of civilization.  Esteemed historian Hugh Kennedy puts all of this in perspective in Caliphate: The History of an Idea.

My conversation with Hugh Kennedy:



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Every Single Aspect of Today's Immigration Debate, We've Heard Before

We are a nation of immigrants. For 240 years we have opened our arms to those seeking to come to America and for many of those years New York has been ground zero. But the immigrant story, even in, or especially in New York, has not been one of ease. The process and pain of assimilation, the fear of the other, the competition for resources have always created wedges between immigrant groups and so called nativists.

So why is it that these issues seem to repeat themselves over and over, like a kind of Groundhog Day. The issues are the same, only the ethnic roots change...yet we never seem to learn the lessons.

George Washington University historian Tyler Anbinder looks at this history in City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York

My conversation with Tyler Anbinder:

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Why aren't we having this conversation about Medicare and Healthcare?


Medicare has often been referred to as the third rail of American politics. Because it has become so woven into the fabric of American life, so necessary and vital for seniors, , both politicians and those that have legitimate interest in improving public policy, are afraid to touch it. It’s as if the admonition to "do no harm" is first and foremost about medicare.

Yet it is a program that at fifty-one, is showing signs of old age. It’s solvency in question, its operational model, post ACA, is in question and its relevance within the context of 21st century medicine and medical practice is in need of reassessment. 

My conversation with Dr. Andy Lazris

Friday, October 28, 2016

What Can History Teach Us About Our Current Political Climate

How many times have we heard that this election is like no other? That this is an extinction level event, threatening the very fabric of the republic. And yet history tells us that we’ve survived far worse. Be it the civil war, McCarthyism, violent labor strife at the turn of the last century, political assassination and of course, the chaos of the 1960’s

To try and put all of this in context, in the home stretch of this political season, I spoke with Julian Zelizer. He is a Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton and the author, most recently of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society.

My conversation with Professor Julian Zelizer:


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Inequality....the great American Divide

More than race and more than gender, class and wealth are the great divide in America today. There was a time when those with wealth represented a kind of noblesse oblige. They had sense of obligation to the larger society that had allowed them the opportunity to succeed.

Today something is different. Something that goes far beyond reaction to the "greed is good" utterances of Gordon Gekko. There is, at the heart of today's class divide, an anger at the wealth pooling at the very top. It’s fueled further by the complexity of our economic systems, the power of money to shape policy, the rural/urban divide and role of education for successful jobs.

So how did we get here and what can we really do about it. Understanding this has been the life's work of Chuck Collins. He bring in his own personal experience in his new book Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good

My conversation with Chuck Collins:


Monday, October 24, 2016

A Contrarian View of Inequality

If there is a central political principle that organizes what little policy debate there is in this election it seems to be centered around the idea of “income inequality.” From the embrace of Bernie Sanders by millennials, to boomers and traditional Democrats embracing of Clinton, right on through the angry, populist rage that makes up the core of the Trump supporters.

So if this is the core idea embedded deep in the national psyche and we agree in a modern sense that crowdsourcing matters, then how could it be wrong?

Bain Capital co-founder and former Mitt Romney adviser Edward Conard thinks it’s all wrong. He argues that it’s the one-percent that’s keeping our economy moving forward. In his book The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class, he makes the case that it’s not a zero sum game and that the the success of the one-percent is not what’s holding back the economic growth of the middle class.

My conversation with Ed Conard:


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tom Hayden RIP


A year ago, on Radio WhoWhatWhy, I spoke with Tom Hayden about his passion and excitement at the opening up of Cuba.  This was the last time we spoke, after many years of conversations.

It has been sixty-two years since the Cuban Revolution began. Fifty-four years since the Bay of Pigs invasion. Fifty-three years since the Cuban missile crisis. Twenty-six years since the end of the Cold War, and fifteen years since the Elian Gonzalez incident. And it is just now that we are beginning a new relationships with our neighbor 90 miles away.

A significant part of our population has come of age with absolutely no knowledge of the history of the US / Cuba relationship, what the revolution was about, or what all the hostility has been about. And yet the history of that relationship with Cuba has been a kind of Rosetta Stone for understating the bias, the mistakes and domestic politics behind so much of American foreign policy from the mid 20th century until today.

Few have had the access to Cuba to provide the kind of clear and present perspective that Tom Hayden has he writes about that in Listen, Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters

My conversation with Tom Hayden:




Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Desert and the Cities Sing

Looking at the broad sweep of history and change in the 20th and 21st Century, it’s arguable that the dynamics of Israel, its relationship to its neighbors and the meaning of the Zionist project, remain one of the most complex, historic and creative endeavors of our time.

But how did it all get this way and what can the world learn from all the good that’s come out of Israel?  How did the desire for a homeland, a base for the Jewish diaspora, become so complex and lead to a statistically improbable amount of business and artistic success. And perhaps most importantly, can all of this power through the burdens of history.

Nowhere is this shown in a more dramatic and beautiful fashion than in the work of Lin Arison, Diana Stoll and Neil Folberg in  The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today's Israel: A Treasure Box.

My conversation with Lin Arison and Diana Stoll:


Monday, October 17, 2016

Are the Mexican Drug Wars a Kind of Disneyland for Teenage Boys?

Part mythology and part the result of the current Presidential campaign, we have this image of the US/Mexican border as divided territory. We hear folks talking about it as if at one time north was north and south was south and never the twain would meet.

The truth is that this has never been the case. The border has almost always been a porous membrane through which people, drugs, money, and crime could easily pass.

The border is the kind of place that for poor teenage boys, was a kind of Disneyland. This is the world that Dan Slater takes us to in Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel.



Friday, October 14, 2016

Greil Marcus explains Bob Dylan

For any music to be successful, there must be that special bond between performer and listener. Perhaps nowhere has that bond been stronger then in the unique relationship between Bob Dylan and music critic extraordinaire Greil Marcus.

Marcus explasins how for over forty years Dylan has drawn upon and reinvented the landscape of traditional American music, its myths, heroes and villains. Throughout all of it, Greil Marcus has been there to be our ears, to be a unique listener of an unparalleled singer and now Nobel Prize winner

Marcus' forty years of writing on Dylan has been compiled into a new volume. Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010.

To really understand Dylan, listen to my conversation with Greil Marcus from 2010




Thursday, October 13, 2016

How Nice This Would Be Today!

Back in 1960, in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, the world took note of the decadence of life in the Italian capital of Rome. Inspired by two major political/sex scandals of the era, the film, which would win the 1960 Palme d'or in Cannes, depicted a Rome that was ultra sophisticated, ultra modern, ultra decadent and ultra cool.

This was a sensual world that was a far cry from the overt decadence and sexuality of America today. How have the tables switched so dramatically and what does it say about the state of love, sex and popular culture in the 21st century. And for those of us that weren’t there, what did we miss in this magical time and place.

Shawn Levy takes us there in Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome.

My conversation with Shawn Levy:



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why Presidential Staff Matter

Becuase we are in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, we know that much coverage goes to the people around the candidate. We want to know who will be the advisors. Who gets to whisper in the ear of the President and who might have the last word before important decisions are made.

During the Presidency of FDR, one of the most influential of those closest to the President was Missy LeHand. A little known or understood figure, who functioned as FDR’s de facto Chief of Staff.

While Eleanor Roosevelt was often referred to as the President's legs, LeHand was was his right hand.  Giving us the first full scale biography of this important historical figure is Kathryn Smith in The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency.

My conversation with Kathryn Smith:


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

When Good People Get Caught Up in Racial Cleansing

It is the original sin of America. 240 years later the issue of race still animates a significant portion of political and social discourse in this country.

A nation founded on the idea of all men being created equal, has at its corresponding co-founding principle slavery, racial violence and inequality.

The symbols, even today, are everywhere; Birmingham, Selma, Ferguson and even Los Angeles. They’ve all become whistle stops on the road to more violence and inequality. Add to this Forsyth County Georgia in 1912.

This is where Guggenheim and NEA Fellow Patrick Phillips takes us in his Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America.

My conversation with Patrick Phillips:



Monday, October 3, 2016

Why Acceleration Equals Anger

We throw around a lot of words and ideas about technology, about disruption, about progress and about the impact of technology in speeding up our lives.

The fact is the speed up is more than just technology. As we move to cities at increasing rates, as the workplace demands greater productivity, as global competition abounds, the pressures to speed up are everywhere.

But how fast is fast? How fast exceeds our evolutionary and biological ability to cope? And what happens to the the anger of those left behind in the cloud of dust from creative destruction.

These are just a few of the issues taken up by Robert Colvile in The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster.




Friday, September 30, 2016

I Wonder Who's Kissinger Now?

Few modern day political figures have had more written about them than Henry Kissinger. From his own three volume, almost 4000 page memoir, to scores of books and articles. So why another we might ask historian Niall Ferguson.

Partly because beyond the policy and papers, in Ferguson's view Kissinger personified that George Bernard Shaw quote,  “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”

That vision, that idealism, is hard to imagine in someone so vilified by contemporary history. Still, Niall Ferguson tries to square this circle in the first volume of his biography Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist

My conversation with Niall Ferguson:



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How Well Do We Really Know Our Parents?

No matter how close or estranged any of us may be for our parents, there always linger the questions of how well do we know them...that is really know who they are. Think about the questions kids wonder about, what their parents really do a work, their sex lives, the conversations that go on after they go to bed.

And as kids become adults they often still wonder...and sometimes they even transfer those very same questions in trying t understand their partners, or their spouses and ultimately themselves.

Because we are the sum total of the answers to so many of these questions. We keep seeking answers, aware of it or not, since it is a large swath of who we are. This intimate search for identity is at the heart of Susan Faludi’s new work In the Darkroom.

My conversation with Susan Faludi: