Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The 90's Rise Of The American Libido

It certainly seems that every decade has its own center of gravity. In the post war 50’s, New York, both the city and its suburbs, defined howAmerica lived.

In the 60’s the Bay Area, and San Francisco in particular, became the cultural hub of anti-war free expression.

In the 70’s that creative energy moved down the coast, as Los Angeles became a beacon of post urban America, along with a new wave of Hollywood films that held up a mirror up to the changing social and cultural landscape.

The 80’s gave us Reagan and Thatcher and AIDS, as the locus shifted to a more conservative Washington.

Then the 90’s happened. What Vanity Fair editor and filmmaker David Friend has labeled The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido We had our first Baby Boomer President. Sex and self absorption were everywhere, and they were not just being talked about, but being acted upon. From Wall Street to Washington to California, sex was the coin of the realm. It inflamed the culture wars in ways that are still impacting us today.

My conversation with David Friend:




Monday, September 18, 2017

The Triumph of Fear

The ability to create fear is the most basic, primal and exploitive of the tools for manipulation. From the Garden of Eden, to would be Presidents amplifying the drumbeat that those that are different are rapists and killers, fear is the essential tool of demagogues.

To try and tamp down would be tyrants and exploiters, Roosevelt told us that the only thing we had to fear, was fear itself. Ed Murrow, in talking about Joe McCarthy, reminded us that McCarthy didn't create the situation of fear, “he merely exploited it...and rather successfully.” Today in our siloed, self referential, anti-factual culture, that fear is stronger than ever. Fear of change, fear of the new, fear of the other, fear of the future, are dominant.

Sasha Abramsky, in Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream, looks at where this fear might be taking us.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Sasha Abramsky:






Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Best of Us

We celebrate births and deaths, we mark anniversaries. But what are we really celebrating or marking? Sometimes the real significance lies in events that have long preceded that which we are marking.

When we celebrate a birth or an anniversary, we’re really looking back on the events that lead to it. We’ve gotten better as a society with marking death as a celebration of life. But it’s more than just the life of the one that passed, it's all the people they touched, the ripples of impact that they had, and the way in which their legacy is carried on.

And so with Joyce Maynard's new memoir, The Best of Us, she marks some of these powerful and significant moments in her own life.

My conversation with Joyce Maynard:




Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why Meditation May Be Our Best Survival Mechanism

We all know of, or have heard of, Moore's Law. It says that our computing power doubles every year. It’s often the core thesis in discussing how fast technological change is happening. From a practical and emotional sense, it's far faster than any of us can keep up. Faster even than digital natives can keep up with.

From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, which just like evolutionary biology, moves very slowly, the mismatch can be fatal.

What this conflict does is create a kind of cognitive dissonance between the way the world really is and how we, as human beings, weighted down by our evolutionary DNA, sees and experience the world.  In so doing, we each create our own brand of personal "fake news."

Joan Didion said “that we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” But if we found a better way, a more mindful way to tell ourselves those stories, perhaps we would live a better life. That’s part of the idea behind medication, particularly as described by Robert Wright in his new book Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.

My conversation with Robert Wright:



Thursday, September 7, 2017

How Music Shapes Us and How We Shape Music

Old songs like old photographs are the purveyors of a kind of double imagery. They have relevance in the moment, just as they make yesterday's events today's reality. They remind of us of a time, a place, and often of the social construct at the time they were heard or created.

Almost more than any other art form, music both shapes and captures the essence of the time and place it was created.

Perhaps it's the speed at which it’s produced, perhaps it’s the duality of both creation and performance, or perhaps it's something in our DNA and the way we process music itself. Maybe, if we can better understand any of this, we’ll better understand this crazy place we are today.

Helping us to understand this is NPR’s music critic and correspondent Ann Powers in her new book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music.

My conversation with Ann Powers:




Wednesday, September 6, 2017

New Research Shows That Alzheimer's is Reversible

In the panoply of diseases that Baby Boomers are facing, perhaps none seems as insidious as Alzheimer's. Cancer we always feel we can battle. Heart disease we can take on with better diets, exercise, drugs and sometimes cutting edge surgery.

But Alzheimer's has been truly like a death sentence. And worse one where the progression is slow, but unrelenting. That’s all changing, thanks to the work of people like Dr. Dale Bredesen.  He takes us to the cutting edge of research in The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline

My conversation with Dr. Dale Bredesen:



Monday, September 4, 2017

American Women's Lives At Work since 1964

It seems that every day we are reliving and relitigating the past sixty years. Nuclear fears, war in Korea, Russia, espionage, the Klan, civil rights, and the rights of women in the workplace.

The past is like a giant wave that catches us and then washes over us. I guess it's the ultimate reminder that if we don’t learn the lessons of history, we truly are condemned to repeat them.

In my recent conversation with ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Gillian Thomas, we focused on the nexus of two areas of this history: The rights of women, particularly in the workplace, and civil rights.  It was the landmark 1964 civil right act that also laid the predicate for the expanded rights of women in the workplace.

Thomas writes about this in Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women's Lives at Work.

My conversation with Gillian Thomas:



Thursday, August 31, 2017

The End of White Male Privilege

You know the old adage about a stopped clock being right twice a day? The same is true of Donald Trump. Occasionally, usually by accident, even he can say something or touch on something that makes sense.

One such thing is the degree to which he has tapped into the anger and resentment of a certain class of white males in America. A group that once had untold privilege, and now simmers with grievance, as that singular privilege has to be shared with a more diverse and equally deserving population.

Wrong as it may be, broken down to it’s core ideas, it easy to see why this anger is playing out and how demagogues like Trump can exploit it. To paraphrase Caesar, that fault is not just in our president but in the changes to the broader society.

Steven M. Gillion is a Professor at the University of Oklahoma. His recent op-ed in the Washington Post was entitled Why Are So Many White Men So Angry?”

My conversation with Steven Gillon:



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Civil War History Can Be Factual, but Fluid

Because memory is imperfect, because traditions and stories are often altered as they are passed down from generation to generation, because history is factual, but fluid, we often build statues or preserve buildings as triggers to our remembered past.

Normally this is played out in community battles over preservation vs. progress. But when the subject is the Civil War, everything changes. Perhaps, as it should. The civil war was after all the penultimate flashpoint of America's original sin.

While other wars come and go, often left to cloistered historians to debate, the Civil War, slavery, and fabric of the republic are re litigated over and over and over again. And so it goes today in the battle over statues, that some see as the embodiment of all that went wrong.

To better understand this, I talk to Christy Coleman, the Chief Executive Officer of the American Civil War Museum.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Christy Coleman:





Saturday, August 26, 2017

What Could Happen While You Were Totally Off The Grid For A Few Hours?

Think about what touches us every day?Certainly technology in many forms and soon artificial intelligence. We are touched by our consumption of media, the intense partisan divide fueled by tribalism, and the fear and frustration that sometimes makes us want to escape, and be able to look at all of this from 30K feet, so that we can see it's absurdity.

But of course moments later we’re dropped right back into it. So imagine if all of these powerful and metastasizing forces came together in a recipe that multiplies all of them.

What you’d have is Matt Richtel’s prescient new novel Dead on Arrival.

My conversation with Matt Richtel:



Thursday, August 24, 2017

Attica 1971: What Lessons Have We Learned?

Certainly with respect to history, it too often seems like everything old is new again. Think about it: Racial conflict, mass incarceration, over aggressive policing, and the police getting off scot free. This is not yesterday’s news. This is the story of an event that took place on September 9, 1971. The uprising at Attica Prison.

In many ways the events of that week set the unfortunate predicate for so much that would happen after. It’s an event from which we’ve learned all the wrong lessons, often, until now, with many of the wrong facts.

Now, Pulitzer Prize winning historian Heather Ann Thompson puts it all in historical context in Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

My conversation with Heather Ann Thompson:



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Natasha - A New Film from Director David Bizmozgis

Everyday Russia is in the news. After being off of our collective radar for so long, suddenly it's a national obsession. Sure, a lot of it is political, but beyond that it makes us aware of another country, another place and and a people whose life and culture just might impact us all.

Today, a new movie appears on the scene, NATASHA, from director David Bizmozgis . It’s a little like taking a walk through a Jewish/Russian neighborhood and listening very carefully. When you get to the end of the neighborhood, you feel you know and understand a lot more about the immigrant experience overall and the Russian immigrant experience, particularly through the eyes of young people.  We’re going to look at NATASHA today with it’s two lead Alex Ozerov and Sasha K Gordon.

My conversation with Alex and Sasha:



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Liberal Arts Education Should Matter Now, More Than Ever

If you do a Google search about STEM education,(science technology engineering and math,) you come up with over 69 million entries. It has become the educational mantra of our times.

Yet if one looks at the workforce, looks at the jobs of the future, looks at the needs business have and listen to the CEOs, we find that these STEM skills, while important, have become overrated and out of all proportion to our future.

I suppose everything in cyclical and the liberal arts, which certainly had its day, has gone into remission as the central pursuit of college students. It shouldn't have. Its focus on curiosity, the ongoing pursuit of knowledge, creativity, and what it means to be a good human being, make it essential if any of us are going to survive into the second half of the 21st century and beyond.

Forbes contributor George Anders looks at this in You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a "Useless" Liberal Arts Education.

My conversation with George Anders:



Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Chickenshit Club: Or Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.

Years ago you may remember that the Presidential candidate and former US Senator John Edwards spoke of two Americas. One poor and one rich and powerful The same might very well be said for America's justice system.

One which is zealous to the point of recklessness in prosecuting street crime and drug offenses and the other that is benign and feckless in prosecuting the white collar crimes, many of which have deliberately, and criminally wrecked our economy and hurt real people.

But this hasn’t always been the case. Where once, not that long ago, the government prosecuted the likes Michael Milken and the executives of Enron and Adelphia and Worldcom, today executives at Wells Fargo, or Goldman Sachs, or so many that were clearly responsible for the potential criminal acts that caused the 2008/2009 crash, have escaped the long arm of the law.

Why? What happened what's changed . Are the same forces that are giving our economy two Americas also responsible for two justice systems?

This is what Pulitzer Prize winning ProPublica reporter Jesse Eisinger tries to find you in The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Jesse Eisinger:





Monday, August 14, 2017

China's Stranglehold on Our Technology

Most of you woke up this morning hearing bellicose talk about the possibility of a trade war with China. What we don’t hear is that virtually all of the technology we depend on, from the phones in our pockets to the fighters, carriers and missiles that keep us safe, are all totally dependent on what's called rare earth minerals. Without them we become technologically paralyzed. And the funny thing is, that right now, we have no other alternative other than to get them from China.

How did this happen? Does it matter, and are we going to do anything about it? Geologist and journalist Victoria Bruce explains in Sellout: How Washington Gave Away America's Technological Soul, and One Man's Fight to Bring It Home.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Victoria Bruce:




Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why Are We Looking Back at Vietnam?

Coming up next month, Ken Burns’ powerful documentary about the Vietnam war will be in living rooms across America. It makes you wonder why now, 42 years after the fall of Saigon, we are once again looking back at the tragedy that was the Vietnam war.

As part of this look back, it’s imperative to look at one of the seminal works of that war, A Rumor of War: By Philip Caputo. Upon its original publication in 1977, it gave Americans its first and perhaps deepest insight into what it was like for young men to fight in that war. It also helped us to understand, as much as we could at the time, the war itself.

Many have argued that the Vietnam war, more than any other modern event, shattered the innocence of America. Philip Caputo’s book, A Rumor of War, just republished in The Classic Vietnam Memoir (40th Anniversary Edition), showed us how it also shattered the innocence of those that fought in it.

My conversation with Philip Caputo:



Friday, July 28, 2017

Is the American Experiment in Self Government at an End

There was the belief at the end of the Cold War, and the fall of the Soviet Union, that the West had triumphed. That liberal democracy, that the ideas of the enlightenment, were not only on the march, but were inevitable.

Nothing could have turned out to be more false. Not just for the world, but for America as well. Whether it was merely the cycles of history, the onset of change from from both technology and social structures, or the unintended consequences of perpetual and normal economic cycles, the opposite has happened.

Today liberal democracy, the very cornerstone of western civilization, is under siege. Authoritarianism, ignorance, and nostalgia for a simpler time are on the march. So much so that it's possible that both the American experiment in self government and its tradition as a model to the world, both may be coming to an end.

How we got here, and what lies ahead are at the heart of a new book by Edward Luce, The Retreat of Western Liberalism.

My conversation with Ed Luce:



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Seduced By The Road or Why Boys Like Big Trucks?

It is estimated that there are about 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S.  Yet most of us know very little about the business, the culture, or the world of the long haul trucker.  They see America, not the way most of us see it, from 30K feet, but up close and personal.

We’ve talked to endless to pundits to try and understand what’s going on in America today. Perhaps no one really understands it better than long haul truck driver.

One of the best is Finn Murphy, the author of The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road.

My conversation with Finn Murphy:



Monday, July 24, 2017

Slowing Down to Be Human in the Digital Age

Perhaps never before in human history has so much change so rapidly been foisted on human beings. Sure change is a constant and whether it was the Renaissance, the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution, we have gone through previous periods of dramatic and painful change.

But never has the change come so fast and had the power to produce such dislocation. Today, technology in all of its forms, from smart machines, to robotics, from AI, to how we communicate, to how we will continue to learn, will make sure we are never the same

It's estimated that almost half of the current jobs can be and will be replaced by machines. Eighty million jobs could be gone in our lifetime.

For some, the fear of and resistance to this change will animate their every action. For others, that seek to embrace the change, to excel with it, to live in the real world, the questions will be how best to do it. That’s what Ed Hess talks about in Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age.

My conversation with Ed Hess:



Saturday, July 22, 2017

THE DARKENING WEB: The War for Cyberspace

Companies being hacked. Nations and democracy being hacked. Privacy under siege. The internet was supposed to change the world, create more freedom and break down traditional barriers between nations and people.

The irony is that it may be having the opposite effect. As individuals, nation, and corporations seek to protect themselves, and exploit the internet for greater profit, we could easily loose the very things it created.

After all, with all do respects to Amazon, it was meant for more than just shopping.

So where are we in this battle. For answers we turn to Alexander Klimberg, the author of The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Alexander Klimberg:




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Parenting in the Age of Trump

Recently a candidate for Congress beat up a reporter on the night before the election, and he still won. The echoes of the Access Hollywood tape and the language of Donald Trump, still reverberate. Trump's dark vision of America and of a world in chaos is the underpinning of fear, that is the principal political ingredient in the Trump stew.

Not since the darkest days of McCarthyism and of the duck and cover drills of the Cold War, has so much fear, anxiety, polarization and simple unpleasantness been a part of our cultural and political landscape.  We have succeeded in, to paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, defining decency downward.

So what impact is all of this having our our kids?Dr. Ava Siegler, the author of How Do I Explain This to My Kids?: Parenting in the Age of Trump.
What added responsibilities do parents and teachers have in this? Trying to understand this is

My conversation with Dr. Ava Siegler:




Thursday, July 13, 2017

To Have and To Have Not

In the movie, Wall Street, Oliver Stone, through his character Darien Taylor, played by Daryl Hannah, reminds us that “when you've had money and lost it, it can be much worse than never having had it at all!”

This fundamental principle is true, not just on a grand, Bernie Madoff style scale. It often plays itself out in the lives of people whose fortunes have been subject to the whims of disruption and transformation, even in the most traditional of businesses.

We should remember that when an industry falls, as the auto industry did in Detroit, it often takes with it huge parts of its city and many other business that have grown up alongside.  That’s the story that my guest Frances Stroh tells in her memoir Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss.  It's a look at the Stroh Brewing Company, and the reality and perils of a closely held family business, and the rise and fall of privilege.

My conversation with Frances Stroh:



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Ronald Reagan and Blue-Collar Conservatism

The current Congressional debate about health care, is more than just a policy debate. It it is a kind of tabula rasa for defining the various factions in the Republican party. But while the mainstream talk focuses on terms like “moderates” and “conservatives,” none of that really goes deep into the fissures dividing some of the core difference in the GOP.

In trying to understand that, perhaps there is no better way than to begin with what many perceive to be the party's true north; the ideas and philosophy of Ronald Reagan.

But to what extent has that philosophy become apocryphal over the years, and of what real value does it have in the 21st century? These are some of the issues that Henry Olsen takes up in The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.

My conversation with Henry Olsen:



Sunday, July 2, 2017

After your kid gets into college, how will he/she come out?

Like most of us, I’ve just spent the past few months listening to parents agonize about their their high school graduates and where they were going to college. The college tour, the campus visit, the stress, the applications, the waiting, the status, the acceptance and figuring out the cost and how to pay. These are just a few of the inflection points in getting kids into college today.

However not as much thought or effort goes into to thinking about what the academic experience will be like. No, not the social and emotional experience, but the academic experience. You know, the actually learning that goes on in the classroom. The actual transfer of knowledge that is the cornerstone of education.

It’s interesting that while we are seeing a lot of progress and disruption in K-12 education, including project based learning, collaborative learning, the effective use of online resources and the incorporation of technology, oddly enough we’ve yet to see nearly as much disruption in higher education.

Jacques Berlinerblau, director of the Center for Jewish Civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, gets to the essence of this in his new book Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn't, for Professors, Parents, and Students

My conversation with Jacques Berlinerblau



Thursday, June 29, 2017

Happy 10th Anniversary

The Economist recently said about the iPhone, that “no product in recent history has changed people's lives more . Without the iPhone, ride-hailing, photo-sharing, instant messaging and other essentials of modern life would be less widespread. Without the cumulative sales of 1.2bn devices and revenues of $1trn, Apple would not hold the crown of the world's largest listed company. Thousands of software developers would be poorer, too: the apps they have written for the smartphone make them more than $20bn annually."

Today we mark the 10th anniversary of this device that is both iconic and historic.
The iPhone, like every major technological innovation has its official origin story. However on this anniversary, we are going to go behind the original story and talk about the real story that has delivered a product that has truly changed the world. Brian Merchant tells that story in The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone

My conversation with Brian Merchant: