Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation

We throw around the word globalization without really thinking about all of its impacts. The instant and free flow of goods around the corner and around the world comes with a cost. The iPhone delivered overnight from China, the speciality coffee from around the world, the stores filled with goods from hundreds of countries.

Rarely do we stop to think how all of this gets to us. Sure we see or even complain about all the trucks on the road. But that’s only the end of the journey, sometimes the last mile. Many of items of daily life travel hundreds of thousands of miles to reach us. Think about all those container ships at every major port in the world.

Beyond this, the story of traffic and of our cars, only compounds the problem. What successful community is not dealing with the scourge of traffic?

That’s the hidden story that Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ed Humes tells in his new book Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation.

My conversation with Ed Humes:

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Susan Cain and The Secret Strengths of Introverts

We live in a world of bombast and noise. Sometimes it seems the volume is turned up full blast, all the time. A quick look at our Presidential campaigns is ample evidence.

We forget that for leaders, or just average folks, sometimes quiet can have amazing power. The power of thoughtfulness, of creativity and competence

For young people, trying to find their place in the world, sometimes growing up amidst this cacophony of a boiler factory is not the healthiest thing.

This is the world that Susan Cain took us into in her bestselling book QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN’T STOP TALKING.

Now she looks specifically at young people in Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts

My conversation with Susan Cain:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Surfing Life as Art

The poet William Blake talked about art as “seeing the world in a grain of sand.” I suppose that what he also meant was the ability to move in so tightly on something, that inside of it, we could construct an almost fourth dimension, through which to view the world and our experiences in it.

In a way that’s what New Yorker Staff writer, author and Pulitzer Prize winner William Finnegan has done with surfing.

Living the surfing life alongside the literary life, Finnegan has reached the apex of that duality in his autobiography Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

My conversation with William Finnegan:


Monday, May 16, 2016

Are Riots and Insurrection on the Horizon?


Not since the 1960’s have we lived in a time of more public anger. Today, issues of race, economic disparity, power imbalance and distrust of traditional institutions, have all conflated to bring us to what some believe is the brink of insurrection.

But should we be surprised? Insurrection, riots, strikes have long been an instrument of policy for the disaffected. It was a central form of protest in the 17th and 18th centuries and we saw our own examples in the 1970’s

But given the anger, given technology, given the immediacy of communication, what might riots look like today and are they on the horizon.

Joshua Clover, a professor of critical theory at UC Davis, thinks they are. He looks at the history in Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings.

My conversation with Joshua Clover:


Friday, May 13, 2016

Why Physics Matters! - Part II

A Scottish writer, back in 1915, coined the phrase “think globally, but act locally.” While it was about grassroots movements, it could just as easily have been about our understanding of the universe.

The fundamental laws of physics which govern the workings of the cosmos, are not some abstract untethered set of rules. They have a direct impact on how we live and on the very meaning of human existence. It has to. After all, it’s the only way we can look out on the vastness of space and time, and ask ourselves what’s it's all about, and what's my place in it.

Few ask these questions and find answers as well as Sean Carroll, a renowned physicist at Cal Tech and the author of The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.

My conversation with Sean Carroll:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Why Physics Matters!

For better or worse, particularly for those of us here in the Bay Area, we have come to think of science in rather utilitarian terms. A better phone, a better app, or a better car.

In fact science, especially theoretical physics, is or should be the real lens through which we see the world. It is our understanding of the larger universe that shapes how we see our place in it and that more than the latest gadget, shapes our times.

It’s why we need to understand that world and why we need guides along the way like Stephen Hawking and Christophe Galfard. Galfard, a protege of Hawking and has just published The Universe in Your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond.

My conversation with Christophe Galfard:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Even Burglar's Prefer the City

Think about our built environment and how much of it is designed around safety and security. The gated communities, the numbers on top of office buildings, the entrances and exits, garages and elevators. eyes on the street.

Now imagine seeing our daily landscape through the eyes of someone that wanted to break into our homes and our offices. Suddenly architecture takes on a whole new dimension. One that my guest Geoff Manaugh conveys in his new book A Burglar's Guide to the City.

My conversation with Geoff Manaugh:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Silicon Valley Business Model, Circa 1920

Ask any of the 20 and 30 somethings working in tech in San Francisco and Silicon Valley and I assure they think they are inventing the world. But the fact is that most, including some that have become household names, are merely leaving footprints in the shadow of David Sarnoff.

David Sarnoff born in 1891, had a visionary understanding of everything from the telegraph to the future of the internet. And just as Steve Jobs had Wozniak, Sarnoff had Edwin Armstrong. Not surprisingly, that relationship ended in an even worse way.

That story, the idea of everything old being new again and that history does repeat itself, is at the heart of .The Network: The Battle for the Airwaves and the Birth of the Communications Age, by Scott Woolley

My conversation with Scott Woolley:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Can You Remember When Bipartisan Public Policy Once Mattered?

It’s hard to believe from the rhetoric coming from both sides of the campaign trail this year, but there once was a time when policy mattered. When candidates on both sides talked about programs and public policy.

Perhaps it was Reagan wanting to shrink the size of government and drown it in a bathtub, or Bill Clinton declaring that the era of big government is over. The fact is we have stopped looking to government as an institution of proactive change. While it still may have a role in crisis, as we saw in 2008 and 2009, its larger role, to shape the betterment of life in America, has long ago reached a kind of perigee.

Perhaps the last time policy mattered was during the time of LBJ and the Great Society. A time when bipartisan politics really worked. This is the era that Randall Wood takes us into in Prisoners of Hope: Lyndon B. Johnson, the Great Society, and the Limits of Liberalism.

My conversation with Randall Woods:


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How Family Trauma is Carried in Our Genes

How many times have you experienced an even mild form of depression, or anxiety or obsessive fear and wondered “how you got this way.” It turns out the answer may have as much to do with your ancestry as with your circumstances.

While today with things like 23andme and the vast array of genetic testing and sequencing we can do, we look for every clue to our health. What diseases we may carry and what medical dangers we may face. However, we are yet to fully understand how family trauma, the trauma of distant ancestors, might actually impact our genetics in a ways that affect our mental health.  This is the world that Mark Wolynn reveals to us in It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.

My conversation with Mark Wolynn:

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Patient Zero and the Dawn of Genomic Medicine

We hear it in all the loose talk about health care. About the wonders of medicine, about how we are living longer and about the advances of our doctors. The fact is we are mostly still in the dark ages. The standard treatment for cancer today, poisoning the body, is a little like how we once viewed leaching.

As for diagnostics, a huge percentage of today's sickest patient go through a multi year odyssey, just to discover what’s wrong with them… and that’s if they are at a world class medical facility.

But all of this is changing. We are on the cusp of the brave new world of genomic medicine. A time when treatment will be personalized, when the brutality of some treatments will be vastly refined and when medicine really will be worthy of the 21st Century and all the highfalutin rhetoric we hear

Nowhere is this more clear than in the story that Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Mark Johnson and Kathleen Gallagher tell in One in a Billion: The Story of Nic Volker and the Dawn of Genomic Medicine.

My conversation with Mark Johnson & Kathleen Gallagher:


Thursday, April 28, 2016

One Upon A Time, Clean Air and Clean Water Were A Bipartisan Desire

There is seemingly nothing in our society today that has not become politicized. From what bathrooms we use to the soda we drink, to the food we eat. Sometimes if feels as if common sense and good judgment have gone out the window.

We forget there are some absolutes. There are some facts that are irrefutable. Sometimes to ignore this, is to do irreparable damage. One of the areas where this is certainly true is with respect to the environment.

Where once protecting the natural environment was a conservative value, today for conservatives attacking those that seek to protect the environment has become an applause line.

For environmental activists, their extreme views, their disregard for business and property rights have helped to push the reaction on the other side.

In short there is plenty of blame to go around. However renowned lawyer Frederic Rich doesn't assess blame.  Instead, in his book Getting to Green: Saving Nature, he looks for a bipartisan answer.

My conversation with Frederic Rich:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Is American Unity Still Possible?

American history shows us that amidst election season we are often divided. That partisan rancor is often high and it is a healthy part of the passion of democracy. But today we seem to have something worse. While we’ve been here before as a county, we are at one of those historical inflection points where the bitterness spills over into every aspect of life.

And while history shows us other bitter splits, today, the long tail of the Internet and technology has made us more tribal. More prone to confirmation bias and only associating with our own tribe. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said we are all entitled to our opinions, but not our own facts. Today, the proliferation of information, has made everyone feel empowered by their own facts, true or false.

We live in a world that William Butler Yeats writes about when he said that “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The best lack all conviction and worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Mark Gerzon, like Barack Obama thinks he can change that.  He outlines his plans in The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide.

My conversation with Mark Gerzon:

Friday, April 22, 2016

Girls & Sex

As they have done in so many other areas, the millennial generation has picked and chosen which parts of their social and sexual legacy they want to inherit. Particularly for millennial girls who were handed a legacy of sexual revolution, increased efforts to promote self esteem, Title 9, several waves of feminism and the ability to Lean In, they have made some interesting choices and compromises for themselves.

Nowhere is this more profound and more complicated than in their navigation of their own sexuality. How this plays out in our culture, how it impacts our daughters and what is says for the future of men women and sex is at the heart of Peggy Orenstein's new book Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape.

My conversation with Peggy Orenstein:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The House That Jack Buiit

If I gave you all a quiz and asked you to name five tech visionaries and entrepreneurs in the US, you’d all pass. If I asked you to name even one visionary entrepreneur in China, the world's largest market, you’d probably come up empty. If you didn't, you’d probably name Jack Ma, the founder and leader of Alibaba.

The company recently went public in the largest IPO in history. It’s the largest virtual shopping mall in the world and it’s impact not just in China, but in the developing world, is profound and impactful both economically and politically.

Longtime businessman and journalist Duncan Clark takes us up close and person with Jack Ma in Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built.

My conversation with Duncan Clark:


Sunday, April 17, 2016

When Revolutionary Violence Was Commonplace

It’s funny how history often pokes its head out in the framework of contemporary events. Remember during the government shutdown a few years ago, commentators said that the radical elements of the GOP were acting like terrorists from the 60’s and 70’s? We heard similar criticism of occupy Wall Street years ago. And who can forget the President being accused of paling around with terrorist because of an acquaintance with Bill Ayers.

That fact is that the idea of direct action, grassroots support and commitment to ideas of social change, no matter how flawed, were an essential part of America in the 70’s

Inspired by the communist revolutions in Cuba and China and Vietnam, by the actions of the Nixon administration and the war in Vietnam, a radical group of revolutionaries sought to launch what they believed to be a 2nd American Revolution.

Today, to look back upon it, is to be shocked by the level of violence that the public came of accept as commonplace and how the efforts of law enforcement to stop it, were almost keystone cops like.

Taking us back to this bizarre time in modern American history is award winning author and journalist Bryan Burrough, in his book Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence

My conversation with Bryan Burrough:

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Liberty vs. The Common Good

The debate that raged between Apple and the Federal Government was on the surface about security, privacy and encryption. However, in a larger sense it’s about the balance between our liberty and right to privacy vs. what some perceive as the greater good of the nation.

When we put up with the indignities of the TSA, we are agreeing that the greater good of security, check makes certain individual liberties. When we pass laws about personal vices, about speed limits or about guns or fundamental civil rights, the framework is the same.

In fact, when we look at the history of America, right on through our present day polarization, we see this struggle between individual liberty and the common good as a fundamental debate that links us directly with our founders.

This is the tension that Colin Woodard writes about in American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good.

My conversation with Colin Woodard:

Friday, April 8, 2016

How enlightenment remakes us

For most of us, the pressures of daily life in the 21st Century are intense. Emails, calls, social media, commutes, ever changing technology, all on 24/7.

Regardless of the economic and social discussion from all of this, there is the question of the impact it’s all having on our bodies and on our psyche. Given how slow evolution moves, can human psychobiology cope with all of this?

That’s why some people practice things like meditation and mindfulness. But how does that really help? Dr. Andrew Newberg, has spent his career studying the impact of religion, spirituality and enlightenment on our physical and mental health. In his latest work How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Science of Transformation, he looks at the power of what he defines as enlightenment to truly remodel who we are.

My conversation with Andrew Newberg:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

We know more and understand less than every before

T.S. Eliot wrote, in 1934. “Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” He might have written those words yesterday.

Certainly we’ve never had more knowledge, more information and seemingly less wisdom than we do today. What is the connection? How is it, that the more we know, the less we seem to understand and the less we seem to able to clearly and logically process it?

Does the fault lie in the technology, the speed at which information comes at us, or an evolutionary limitation to process information that has not yet caught up with technology? Or is it simply fear of the new, and fear of the future.

This is what Michael Patrick Lynch addresses in The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data

Saturday, April 2, 2016

What's The Matter With Democrats?

When we examine the roots of today’s chaos in the Republican party, we see that much of it has been caused by the party using and manipulating social issues to hold together Red State voters, while ignoring and even acting counter to their real economic concerns. This was the premise of one of the seminal books of our modern political age, What’s the Matter with Kansas, by Thomas Frank.

Today, Frank argues that the Democratic party is facing a similar situation and is ignoring a whole swath of it’s traditional working class base voters.

He argues in his new book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People that the traditional working class Democratic voters, the ones that drove the Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson coalitions, have been ignored. That the traditional Democratic Dunkin Donuts/ Walmart voter has been replaced by the Starbucks/Whole Foods voter.  And that o
once again, even in the Democratic party, social issues have been used to transcended the real economic needs and distress of Americans.

To some extent this has given rise to the Bernie Sanders movement. But more specifically it’s left the door open for a populist demagogue like Donald Trump, to take advantage of this openings on both side of the political equation.

My conversation with Thomas Frank:

Monday, March 28, 2016

Anne Garrels' reports from Putin Country

A popular desire for authoritarian rule in the face of a changing and sometimes shaky economy. A overheated sense of nationalism, to cover up uncertainty about the future. Scapegoating and military adventurism as a salve for a lack of purpose and policy, a dislike of outsiders and a desire to crackdown on journalists to cover up anger about the changing nature of employment. Sounds like a certain candidate running for President of the US. In fact, it is a picture of the rise of Vladimir Putin and Russia, as Russia still comes to grips with the change heralded by the Soviet collapse.

But to fully understand Putin and Russia, it's important to look beyond Moscow, just as it’s necessary to look past Manhattan or San Francisco to try and understand America.

Long time NPR foreign correspondent Anne Garrels has spent decades exploring the Russia that’s far from Moscow, in what some might call the Russian heartland.

Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russiais her story of twenty plus years of reporting from a town on the southern edge of the Ural Mountains. She reveals a Russia that today embraces a unique combination of Western goods, inherent corruption, and authoritarian rule

My conversation with Anne Garrels:

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Industries of the Future

Just for fun, pull out or get a copy of the originally published version of the best seller What Color Is Your Parachute. Originally published in 1970, virtually no job that it listed that even touches technology, is even close to the same today. Remember that came out 46 years ago, just as the boomers were going into the workforce.

Today’s changes, human, technological and social, are happening at a geometrically much faster pace. Imagine then what the workplace will look like 46 years from now.

Children entering school today will work in a world that has almost no relationship to today's world. The jobs, the skills, the workplace and the products will be vastly different.

Given this, how do we plan? How to we teach our kids, shape public policy and prepare for a fourth industrial revolution that will happen, even if we do nothing to get ahead of it.

Alec Ross, one of America’s leading experts on innovation, served as Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He’s the author of The Industries of the Future.

My conversation with Alex Ross:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Can We Thrive At Midlife?

We've all heard it before. Sixty is the new fifty, fifty is the new forty, etc.

It's all in the service our fear, or dread of aging; of death and the lost endless possibilities of youth. We believed that as we turned the corner onto the proverbial back nine, that a kind of midlife crisis would overtake us.

For a generation of narcissistic baby boomers, it seemed like the logical step. But a surprising thing happened along the way. Many of those same baby boomers began to appreciate age and its companions of wisdom and calmness

Some boomers actually began to thrive in midlife and that's the story that Barbara Bradley Hagerty tells in Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife

My conversation with Barbara Bradley Hagerty:



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Andy Grove R.I.P. - Our conversation from 1996

Andy Grove, perhaps more than anyone other than Steve Jobs transformed technology, drove the growth of Silicon Valley and shaped the views of so many of the people that run tech companies today. To say that he was the Godfather of Silicon Valley would not be an understatement.

Andy Grove, who passed away yesterday,  was one of the founders and CEO of Intel Corporation, where he transformed the role of semiconductors from an obscure part of tech, to almost a consumer product.

He was also at the cutting edge of the computer and Internet revolution. Back in 1996, twenty years ago, Grove wrote a book entitled Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company.  It's still widely read and respected.

Upon the publication of that book in 1996, I had the chance to speak with Andy Grove.

At the time, WiFi didn’t exist, Hi Speed Internet was still a dream, and networks were reserved only for the biggest of corporations. But Grove saw that key inflection points were coming. He foresaw the change they would bring about the creative destruction that would result in the change that has swept the world today.

Here is a little of that 1996 conversation with Andy Grove:

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Math Myth

If we examine why so many students don’t graduate High School, we find that failure to succeed at High School math is often at the core of the problem. Yet we are told almost every day that STEM and that math are the keys to the kingdom of success in the 21st Century.

The fact is that most jobs, even very good ones, don't require the geometry, the algebra, the trigonometry that we are forced to lean in High School. What they do require is a hi
gh degree of numeric literacy, critical and quantitative thinking and the ability to fully understand computation.

That’s not what we are teaching. Math Professor Andrew Hacker, took on this subject back in 2012 in a NY Times op ed pieces and the controversy hasn’t stopped.

Now he’s out with a book entitled The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions.

My conversation with Andrew Hacker

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic

For years we’ve had just one image of the drug wars. Images conjured up from movies like the Godfather or Scarface, or reading about LA battles between the Bloods and the Crips.

But drugs, like everything else, are subject to the pressures and demands of the free market. And creative destruction in the drug business has meant a drug dealer that is kinder and gentler. A dealer that appreciates the value of customer service, that understands that many drug users, particularly of painkillers and heroin, are respectable middle class citizens.

According to the CDC, everyday 44 people in the United States die from an overdose of prescription painkillers, with many more addicts being created everyday. Together the unlikely combination of Doctors, all to eager and willing to prescribe and the boys of Xalisco, Mexico have created a perfect storm of addiction. Sam Quinones takes us to an Ohio town that is ground zero for the new heroin addiction, in Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic.

My conversation with Sam Quinones: