Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mark Leibovich's portraits of Citizens of the Green Room

Someone once remarked that when they saw a snake and a vulture having sex in Washington, and thought it was just business as usual. Fitzgerald said that he rich were different, because they have more money. Politicians are different, usually because that they have more insecurities

The fact is that most politicians and other high profile inhabitants of our nation's capital are just flesh and blood human beings. And yes, they may be different than you and I, they are certainly more caught up in their unbroken series of successful gestures, but most do care about their work.

In fact, some care too much. As the late, great journalist Richard Ben Cramer once wrote, that feeling you can make a difference is like a drug. Also a great journalist, Mark Leibovich, has been been giving us great insights about the power players in Washington for the NY Times Magazine. Those profiles are part of his new book Citizens of the Green Room: Profiles in Courage and Self-Delusion.

My conversation with Mark Leibovich:




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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Evan Osnos talks about his National Book Award winning, Age of Ambition

Perhaps it’s the idea of 1.3 billion people, or that half a billion have moved out of poverty in such a short time. Perhaps it’s that China has moved so rapidly to become the world's second largest economy. Or perhaps it’s the environmental degradation left in the wake of these accomplishments.

Perhaps it’s all of these things and more, that often block our view of the humanity of China. Yet it is a nation of individuals. Individuals with personal stories, aspirations and ambitions. People who have learned to deal with the contradictions and disconnects, between a vibrant, 21st Century economic system and a backwards, almost 19th century, political system. Ironic, I suppose that it even sounds a little like the US.

In the resolution of that disconnect, may lie the future of China, America and even the world as we know it. That the journey that Evan Osnos takes us on in Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

My conversation with Evan Osnos:




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2014 National Book Award Winner, Jacqueline Woodson

Recently we spoke of the 50 Anniversary of Freedom Summer and the early flowering of the civil rights movement. Much has been written of the historical roots and narrative of those events. But now Jacqueline Woodson tells her personal story and the larger story of the journey of a movement from the Deep South, to urban core of America.

The story of Brown Girl Dreaming is a story made all the more powerful by recent events that bring into focus the arc of that journey. A journey that ended short of its target.

My conversation with Jacqueline Woodson:





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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Language and Cultural Evolution

When we do think about the state or origins of language, we often think about it as something based in the distant past. But language is very much a living thing, with a direct nexus to our cultural evolution. The choices we make about the words we use, reflect both our own place in the culture as well as the state of the culture itself.

This is all part of the unique work of Princeton Professor Daniel Cloud in The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal.

My conversation with Professor Daniel Cloud:



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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Technology will keep us together

As we listened to election results earlier this month, the one thing we heard over and over again is the slicing and dicing of the electorate. Into generations, incomes, ethnicity, etc.

We also hear repeatedly about the complexity and challenges of today's multi-generational workplace.

With all of this talk about division, it's perhaps worth looking at what might actually unite us. There is an answer we might find surprising, and that is technology. To paraphrase the old orange juice commercial; technology, it’s not just for Millennials anymore.

In fact, the use and strategic advantage of technology may be the most unifying forces for all us. That's the conclusion reached by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen in The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business.

My conversation with Thomas Koulopoulos:



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Leading with Intention

In a business environment as data driven as ours is today, it’s not surprising that we don’t view success through the lens that Fitzgerald used to describe Gatsby, who saw his success as “an unbroken series of successful gestures.”

Still success to be sustainable and replicable, both personal and professional, has to be more than habit or behavior, or just data.

In a world in which changes take place so quickly, in which workforce diversity both generational and ethnic, is so varied, the traditional solutions to problems are not always applicable.

As we often hear said about the military, you can’t fight the next war with the lessons learned from the last one

That’s why design and intentions are so important as tools for driving both leaders and their organizations.

That's what Mindy Hall focuses on in Leading with Intention: Every Moment Is a Choice

My conversation with Mindy Hall:



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Friday, November 14, 2014

The Uncensored History of the Food Network

If the past 30 years of television has been about anything, it’s been about specialization. While ESPN was the leader and Granddaddy of specialty television programming, you can now watch nothing but Sci Fi, or old movies, or cartoons, and of course food.

Food programming, like sports has had a cultural impact far beyond the screen. The Food Network, like ESPN, has both shaped our perceptions and married it with our culture in ways that gives us both celebrities and food. What better combination for 21st Century America.

Allen Salkin looks at his history in From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network

My conversation with Allen Salkin:



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Thursday, November 13, 2014

How many scandals can we understand at once?

If you’ve ever borrowed money for anything, from a mortgage to a student loan, you’ve been impacted by LIBOR. The London Interbank Offered Rate. The global standard for interest rates.

The problem is, like so many other recent aspects of our financial markets, we’ve now come to find that it’s been rigged. That a system built on trust, has been anything but trustworthy. That the gentlemanly system of the London bankers has joined the international movement toward greed, and dishonesty, at the expense of average citizens around the world.

This story has been reported extensively by financial reporter Erin Arvedlund. Now she pulls it all together in her new book Open Secret: The Global Banking Conspiracy That Swindled Investors Out of Billions.

My conversation with Erin Arvedlund:



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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rules for Assassins

Throughout history, from Cesar thru Lincoln, from Archduke Ferdinand and Gandhi through the Kennedys and Malcolm X, a bullet has changed the world.

But what’s different when assassination is not a random deranged act, but an instrument of policy. First, it’s the stuff of movies. Think about it;  The Manchurian Candidate, Day of the Jackal, Executive Action, Parallax View, to name a few. Add to this list, Syriana, a story based on the life of former CIA operative Robert Baer.

Baer has now codified his unique line of work in The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins

My conversation with Robert Baer:



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Monday, November 10, 2014

Ratchets, Hatchets & Pivots

We are in the midst of a great migration to cities. The number of farms and people engaged in agriculture continues to decline. Yet human ingenuity has produced abundant resources of food, through innovation and technology.

Historically, when disaster has struck and we have been threatened as a species, we’ve always seemed to find a way out, particularly with respect to our food supply. This has resulted in increases in population, which then takes us to the next crises.

This cycle is replicated throughout history. It is what MacArthur fellow and Columbia Professor, Ruth DeFries calls a cycle of Ratchets, Hatchets and Pivots. She explains in her book The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis.

My conversation with Ruth DeFries:



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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Erik Prince & Blackwater - Mercenaries, Heroes or just a humble contractor?

In the post 9/11 era, the military, industrial, intelligence complex has grown so large, that its basic functions come into question.

In fact, it’s so large, it's hard for many government officials to get their arms around all of it. So, as is normal in these situations, often one element begins to stand out as the kind of poster child for what happened. And good or bad, that focus comes to represent a whole panoply of issues in the public's mind.

Such was the case with Blackwater and its founder Erik Prince. At the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, contractor personnel came to outnumber troops in the theatre of war.

Blackwater, though not even the largest contractor, became the symbol of that situation. Some of the reasons why were justified and some, not so much.

As the wars wind down and we begin the post war assessment of that part of the effort, Erik Prince’s book, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror is a prima facie document in that effort.

My conversation with Erik Prince:




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Why Motivating People Doesn't Work

Todays workplace bears very little resemblance to that of our parents. It’s multi generational nature, its focus on employee empowerment and its reflection of broader changes in society, education and culture, all create a perfect storm that requires whole new skill sets from today’s leaders.

These are the skills that Susan Fowler writes about in Why Motivating People Doesn't Work . . . and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging

My conversation with Susan Fowler




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Friday, November 7, 2014

Love, Sex and Popular Culture in 21st Century America

Back in the early 1960’s the world took note of the decadence of life in the Italian capital of Rome, in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. 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 and ultra decadent.

Fifty plus years later, Prof. Roger Friedland would decide to move to Rome with his wife and adolescent daughters, because he saw Rome as an antidote to America being awash in sexuality, modernity, sophistication and decadence. He writes about his experience in Amore: An American Father's Roman Holiday

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.

My conversation with Roger Friedland:



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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The making of Super Althletes

Almost no aspect of life has not been touched by the forward march of science and technology. The world of sports is no exception. When we watch a game, or even multiple games as in the Olympics, we want to see things we’ve never seen before.

The narrative of human performance drives our love of any sport. And today, science is glad to oblige. As we learn more about the brain, the body, genetics and biological evolution itself, scientists and engineers find news ways to enhance innate athletic ability.

It’s no accident that story abounded recently about how the newly minted World Champion SF Giants, had hired a sleep expert to advise them when it was best to travel.

So what’s going on now, and where will it all lead? That's what Wired editor Mark Mcclusky set out to discover in his new book Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes--and What We Can Learn from Them.

My conversation with Mark McClusky:



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Monday, November 3, 2014

Just how absurd is life on the West Bank?

The Middle East is always ripe with stories. Unfortunately, few get to the heart of the absurdity of the human condition there. In much the way that Catch 22 or Mash did for our wartime military, The Hilltop, a new novel by esteemed Israeli writer Assaf Gavron does for the settlements on the West Bank.

My conversation with Assaf Gavron:




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Sunday, November 2, 2014

By the Book

How many of you have been asked recently to name your favorite or most influential books? It’s a process that has been all the rage on social media. And while such lists have been around for a long time, perhaps what inspired this current flare up is New York Times Book Review Editor Pamela Paul’s weekly Q & A with authors and journalists in the BY THE BOOK feature in Sunday’s New York Times.

The feature is an all access pass into the private world of authors, as they reflect on their work habits, reading preferences, inspirations, and recommendations.

Now she brings together sixty-five of these exchanges, in their uncut and original form in By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review.

My conversation with Pamela Paul:



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The Lessons of 1970's S. Africa


The world of historical fiction always plays an interesting role. On the one hand, it's an entertaining way for us to understand, often from 30K feet, the broad historical sweeps of history. But beyond that, it’s an opportunity for us to see, up close and personal, how conflict, change, stress, fear and intimacy affects the human condition. To see how others act, and to better understand and appreciate the diversity of humanity and even how it impacts our current world.

That's what Mark Fine has done in looking back at apartheid in South Africa in the late 1970's. He tells this story in The Zebra Affaire.

My conversation with Mark Fine:



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