Wednesday, March 22, 2017

We Don't Know What We Think We Know

Imbedded in the cultural DNA of America is the idea of the individual. Whether it’s the Horatio Alger story, or Gary Cooper taking on the bad guys in High Noon or the current President bragging that he alone can fix America's problems.

Nothing can be further from the truth. To carry the movie analogy a step further, Hidden Figures is closer to the real world than Dirty Harry. From the classroom to Silicon Valley we are learning that collaboration and cooperation are what works today.

But there is a reason it’s working. Not just as a trendy social construct, but because we are finding out that knowledge itself is a collaborative process. Not just on the internet or in shared google docs, but because we actually rely on the people around us to know what we think we know.

To expand on this I’m joined by two cognitive scientists who have taken this idea to a new level of understanding. The are Dr. Steven Sloman, a professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences at Brown and Dr. Philip Fernbach, a cognitive scientist and professor of marketing at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. Together they are the authors of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone

My conversation with Philip Fernbach and Steven Sloman:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Can Democracy Survive Social Media?

There are many forces transforming our modern world. Some driven by technology and some by increased knowledge.

On the one had we are relearning the value of collaboration. In classrooms, in Silicon Valley and in successful partnerships of any kind. We are discovering that knowledge and success rely on sharing experiences and shared information.

Concurrently technology and it’s child social media, has given us the world's most powerful tools to communicate and collaborate with each other. It seems like it should be the perfect marriage

Unfortunately in the context of the social and political times we live in, these two forces have come together in an almost perfect storm, to drive a deeper wedge into the way we are divided politically, economically, racially and socially.

The result is devastating for the institutions of democracy. Rather than enhance what the founders gave us, the long tail of the internet has sliced and diced our biases and given us the ultimate tool for self reinforcement. What it means for the future of democracy and of this republic is an open question. One taken up by Harvard law and former Obama administration official Cass Sunstein in his new book #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media.

My conversation with Cass Sunstein:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Silicon Opioids

We check our phones hundreds of times a day. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram images fly by, as were always afraid we’ll miss something “important.” Snap, a company losing tens of millions of dollar a year, is suddenly worth over twenty billion dollars.  It’s betting on our obsession with seeing what others are doing.

Curiosity, envy or addiction? Every generation has its addictions. The invention of radio, television, the long playing record, the walkman, Pac Man, all had their day and their fans. But is there something different, something more addictive about our modern technology?

These are some of the questions asked by Adam Alter, an Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, in his book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

My conversation with Adam Alter:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's High Noon Once Again

We still care what does well at the box office. Yet Oscar ratings have hit a new low. We still go to the movies and gossip magazines still shout out to us from the checkout line. But the influence of movies has waned since the heyday of Hollywood.

Long before the long tail of the internet, before five-hundred channels and social media, movies were once the principal popular entertainment that shaped attitudes, mores, styles and even politics.

Back in the early 50’s, the movies were politics. It was a time when the first stitches were sewn between politics and entertainment. And while the legendary studio boss Samuel Goldwyn is reported to have said to his filmmakers that “if you want a send a message, use Western Union,” many filmmakers of that time had a lot to say.

The country was still coming out of WWII. The Cold War and the Red Scare were were as prominent as news about Russia is today. Filmmakers like John Frankenheimer and writers like Carl Foreman were deeply engaged in the politics of the day.

One of the films that reflected that was the classic legendary High Noon. Released in 1952 it’s a powerful allegory for events then and now. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Glenn Frankel takes us inside the film and the times in High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.

My conversation with Glenn Frankel:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Brief History of Time

As you are reading this, time is going by. Perhaps the degree to which you are engaged, will determine how long that time feels. That is just one aspect of the complexity of our experience of time.

There is a reason there are no clocks in a casinos. That most of us wake up at the same time everyday, whether we set the alarm or not. That time seems to go faster as we age and that our technology seems to get slower as we get accustomed to it.

Time is both a physical, psychological and biological constrict. The way in which they operate in both singular and parallel universes is the stuff that has kept both philosophers and scientists up many a long night.

Pulling all of this together is Alan Burdick in Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation.

My conversation with Alan Burdick:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Did The Boomers Get Us Where We Are Today?

Taking to the streets and traveling to the deep south, the boomer generation once played a major role in advancing civil rights in America

The voices of protest of the boomer generation helped end the Vietnam war and drove Richard Nixon from office.

In music, culture, movies and books, the boomers have made the world a richer place.

The rights of gays, woman and those with disabilities all blossomed under boomer initiatives. Boomers did much to push for improvement of the environment. For boomers inclusion and tolerance have always been a true north

Today, as a retrograde administration seeks to undo so much of that progress, there should be perhaps no better time to pay homage to what the boomers generation has accomplished.

Bruce Gibney sees it differently.

Perhaps he would have been happier if we had frozen in the 1950’s? Perhaps the self absorbed world of Mad Men had more appeal?

Bruce Cannon Gibney is a venture capitalist and writer. He was an early investor in PayPal, and later joined Founders Fund. His new book is A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America

My conversation with Bruce Cannon Gibney

Monday, March 13, 2017

A 2005 Conversation with Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the author of heartbreaking viral “Modern Love” essay that appeared in The New York Times earlier this month, died on Monday. The writer of adult and children’s books, had been battling ovarian cancer since 2015. She was 51.

Rosenthal published more than 30 books throughout her career, including the Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, published in 2005

Back on March 3, 2005 I had the opportunity to talk with Amy about Ordinary Life, and what it meant to live in the moment. It’s a phrase we take for granted now, but Amy was way ahead of the curve in understand what constituted a life well lived. In that book she reminded us that John Lennon was right when he said that "life is what happens while we're busy making other plans."

My 2005 conversation with Amy Krause Rosenthal:

A Real Life Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Every institution of government today is in chaos. Departments are unstaffed, the State Department is hollowed out, cabinet secretaries are either apologizing for themselves or the President, or they are traveling the world trying to reassure allies and adversaries.

But few institutions are in the kind of direct conflict, almost open hospitality, with the administration that the intelligence community and the CIA are. From his botched initial visit to Langley, to six am tweets, not since Kennedy have we had a President in open warfare with his intelligence community

Joining me to talk about all of this is John Kiriakou.

John Kiriakou, was a 15 year CIA veteran, where he rose through the ranks to the very highest levels of the agency. He was the first one in the intelligence community to expose the CIA’s use of torture. As a result he became on of very few American ever prosecuted under the Espionage Act. He was considered a whistleblower and served twenty-three months in federal prison

He is author of three books, his most recent is Doing Time Like A Spy: How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison

My conversation, on Radio WhoWhatWhy, with John Kiriakou:

Friday, March 10, 2017

The First Amendment Is On Life Support

The tensions that exist in this country between government and the press are older than this republic itself. In creating our Constitution, our Founders understood and and took steps to make sure that the tension always erred on the side of a free and unfettered press.

Today we have a particular irony. On the one hand information is more available, more democratized and theoretically more transparent as a result of the digital age. On the other hand, rarely in our history has freedom of the press been under such ongoing assault.

How we square this circle may very well determine the fate of the country and the future of our free press.

Joining me to talk about this is David Snyder, the President of the First Amendment Coalition

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What If Crimes Were No Longer A Matter of Free Will?

Remember the 2002 movie, starring Tom Cruise, entitled Minority Report? Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, it was about a specialized police unit that apprehend criminals based on foreknowledge. In this case, from psychics call Precogs.

Now imagine if cutting edge brain scans and other biometric markers could actually determine if individual criminal behavior was forthcoming.

Or suppose we could literally look into the brains of criminals after they committed a crime, to determine if the cause was biologically determinative as opposed to the actions of free wil.l

Unlike Minority Report, this is not science fiction. This is taking place in courtrooms across America. Journalist Kevin Davis writes about this in The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms.

My conversation with Kevin Davis:

Monday, March 6, 2017

How Well Can We Ever Really Know Our Children? A Conversation with Sue Klebold

In this era of helicopter parenting, when every playdate takes on significance, when our dreams for our children often take on the appearance of strategic action plans, when friendship with our kids is so important, it’s easy to forget that they are individual sentient human beings. And while we think we know them, like our spouses and our closest friends there are always the mysteries of the human heart, mind and soul that we can never really know.

Few understand this better than Sue Klebold. The mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two boys responsible for the Columbine massacre.

In her book A Mother's Reckoning she goes where few mother are willing to go....into the heart of darkness that she did not know or understand about her son Dylan.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Presidential Secrecy Doesn't Work In The Digital Age

One of the most oft used phrases when talking about Presidents or any leader that gets involved in scandal is “what did he know and when did he know it.” Perhaps if the context of that question were reversed and the question was what did the American people know and when did they know it, we’d have less such scandal.

Presidential and executive secrecy has long been a tension in American history. Our founders worried about it. Congress and the executive branch have worried about it, and at various times, the American people have worried about it.

Today as we face these issues on steroids, in the Trump administration, we face a whole new landscape. The digital era creates both challenges and opportunity for the public and for the President.

Mary Graham has authored three books on the politics of information and is the co-founder and co-directs the Transparency Policy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School. Her most recent work is Presidents’ Secrets: The Use and Abuse of Hidden Power.

My conversation with Mary Graham:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

How Many Times Has The Government Spied on You Today?

There is that famous quote from Scott McNealy, founder of Sun Microsystems that "we have no privacy get over it."  Even those concerned about it, think that in this modern era, there is very little we can do about it.

The Snowden revelations, while dramatic and captivating for a few news cycles, did only a little to amp up public concern about surveillance, data collection and privacy.

Why is that? Is it simply that the reality and technology of modern surveillance is so disconnected from antiquated 20th century laws that there is just no logical thru-line with which to address it in ways that the public can understand?

We’re going to look at this today with Jennifer Granick. She is the Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and the author of American Spies: Modern Surveillance, Why You Should Care, and What to Do About It

My conversation on Radio WhoWhatWhy with Jennifer Granick:

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Are We About To Fight a Third American Revolution?

Some of you may be watching the Henry Lewis Gates' PBS series on Africa. It’s a story that is in many ways the start of the civil rights struggle. A struggle that continues to this very day.

Several themes have emerge recently in our national dialogue about race. One looks at the importance of art to both tell a political story and to act as a forum for political action. The other is the role and importance of understanding the broad scope of history, in looking at where we are and where we are headed as a nation.

In 1987, the fourteen part documentary Eyes on the Prize captured the essence of those two ideas.

It begins by reminding us that “in a ten year period, in the 1950's and 1960's, America fought a second revolution. In the south, in the streets, in churches and in make America be America for all it's citizens. These were America's civil rights years.”

These are the opening words of Eyes on the Prize. The documentary, directed by Henry Hampton, had its television premiere on PBS thirty years ago. Jon Else was the series producer and cinematographer and now, in his book True South: Henry Hampton and "Eyes on the Prize," the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement, he takes us back to a time whose legacy is so important today.

My conversation with Jon Else:

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Value of Eastern Philosophy in the Battle Between Nativism and Cosmopolitanism

A wise person once reminded us that “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”  Therefore to begin to change the world, or even better understand our place in it, we need first begin to see ourselves and change ourselves.

But how do we do that when all around us the constraints of convention sometimes reinforce the limits of our perception. The answer in part, according to my guest Harvard Professor Michael Puett, is to turn East and look at the accumulated wisdom of Chinese and Eastern philosophy.

It doing so we broaden our worldview and take a clear stand in what Puett sees as the oncoming battle between nativism and cosmopolitanism.

This approach as made Michael Puett's undergraduate class at Harvard - Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory - the third most popular course on campus.

Professor Puett has now distilled that wisdom in The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life.

My conversation with Michael Puett:

Friday, February 24, 2017

It's All About the Characters - Understanding Writing for Movies and TV

Whether we are appreciating books or movies or television, or just talking to our friends or loved one's, story and characters are what makes the world go round. Joan Didion said, that “we tell each other stories in order to live.” Stories are at the core everything we do.

Few understand more about the art of story than Robert Mckee. He is one of the most sought after experts on the art of story. He’s mentored writers and screenwriters, including literally hundred of Oscar and Emmy winners.

His previous book Story was an international bestseller. And now his latest work is
Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen.

Leonard Pitts Speaks Truth To Power

Millions, maybe billions of words have been written about Donald Trump. Some about policy, about behavior and the context of this unprecedented presidency.

But at a time when so many are at best squeamish about facing or speaking the truth, when NPR refuses to use the word “lie,” it's so refreshing, when someone someone truly speaks truth to power.

Pulitzer Prize winning syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. has never feared that. As a journalist, novelist and columnist he has been unfailingly honest.

My conversation with Leonard Pitts, Jr.:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Can This Man Save Trump? My Conversation with H.R. McMaster from May 1997. It's Hard To Believe That He's Joining the Trump Administration

Donald Trump has picked as his National Security Advisor a man who, at least twenty years ago, believed in the importance of character. Who thinks that presidential advisors should not lie and they by doing so, they can bring about disaster. He believes that the press needs to dig deeper and report more.

In his look at Vietnam, “Dereliction of Duty” H.R. McMaster calls out as virtues all of the things that Trump is not. Don’t engage in small lies. Let’s advisors speak truth to power and value a free press.

My conversation on Radio WhoWhatShy with H.R. McMaster form May 24, 1997 reflects a vision of a man who understands the nature of governing and of war. The problem is it’s 180 degrees from the administration he is about to join.

How McMaster squares this circle may determine the fate of the republic.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Refugee Crisis and the Failure of Humanity

When we talk about the refugee crises in Syria, we are really only talking about a small fraction of the world's refugee crisis. Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world are affected by armed conflict and genocide. Refugee populations come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka and more.

It’s hard for most of us to even imagine the what these people are willing to endure and the grief and trauma they face. In a time of asymmetrical warfare, they are the new face of war.

Kenneth Miller is an international expert on the impact of armed conflict on civilians. He's a psychologist who been working with war affected communities as a researcher, clinician, and filmmaker. He’s a professor of clinical and community psychology and the author of War Torn: Stories of Courage, Love, and Resilience.

My conversation with Kenneth Miller on Radio

Saturday, February 18, 2017

If You've Ever Stood In A TSA Line, You Have to Listen To This

The recent attempts by the Trump administration to put in place a travel ban only reflects a more formal attempt to do what some element in the Department of Homeland security and the TSA have already been doing.

Andrew Rhoades, a senior manager for the Transportation Security Administration at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport says he was told to profile Somalis and other community members in Minnesota.

His response to that request and his refusal to engage in this illegal activity put in place a series of reprisals against him, and has resulted in his testimony before Congress. Rhoades details how this is just a small part of the corrupt TSA activity that makes us all less safe when we fly.

My Radio WhoWhatWhy Interview with Andrew Rhoades:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Is Music Just an Escape or an Inescapable Part of Life?

The only thing that may be more pervasive than talk of Russia today is music. Music is everywhere. It seems no space, public or private, is not in some way filled with music. Even sporting events are now enveloped in music.

 In spite of music having been at the cutting edge of technological creative destruction and in spite of the fact that its business models no longer works, it is still omnipresent. One of the few things that has been with us through the ages and is as strong if not stronger today.

So why is music so much a part our lives and what is the seemingly magical power it has for so many people. John Powell explains in Why You Love Music: From Mozart to Metallica--The Emotional Power of Beautiful Sounds.

My conversation with John Powell:

Monday, February 13, 2017

"Stoking the Star Maker Machinery"

We are in the midst of awards season. The Oscars, the Grammys, the Golden Globes. They are all about both content and popularity. But what is the nexus and separation of the two? To many people, if it’s popular, it can’t be “good.” To others, choosing anything other than the top movies or the top 50 songs on Spotify seems useless.

What this doesn’t tell us is what drives popularity. Can it be manufactured, or is it the proverbial lighting in a bottle? How real or artificial is popularity?

It seem like the perfect time to explore these questions. Senior Editor of The Atlantic, Derek Thompson takes us down this popular road in Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.

My conversation with Derek Thompson:

The Politics of Authoritarianism in the Trump Era

We are all rushing out to buy copies of 1984, It Can’t Happen Here and Hannah Arendt's classic Origins of Totalitarianism. Last week 1984 topped the sales charts on Amazon.

But do these classic, mid century works really give us insight and context into what’s happening in Washington? Are we facing a true existential totalitarian threat, or just the blustering incompetence of a would be tyrant.

Perhaps to the extent we truly understand the history and nexus of fascism, populism and real totalitarian dictatorship, we can answer some key questions.

To help us in that effort, I recently spoke with Indiana University Political Science Professor Jeffrey Isaac.

My conversation on Radio WhoWhatWhy with Jeffrey Isaac:

Friday, February 10, 2017

"And She Persisted "

While there may be 63 million more cracks in the glass ceiling, the recent election brought into bold relief the challenges faced by women in leadership and in the workplace.

While electoral politics is not the perfect hothouse for understanding the issues of women and leadership, it certainly reflects back many of the problems, challenges and even opportunities that women face today.

It’s interesting to look at some of the statistics. Women account for a majority of college graduates, but only about a quarter of full professors and university presidents. Almost half of law school graduates are women, but only 17 percent of the equity partners of major firms. Women constitute a third of MBA graduates, but only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.

So how might this change? Will it be by woman becoming more like men, or will it take a fundamental shift for woman to co-opt the rules and redefine the playing field?  Sallie Krawcheck, one of Wall Street’s most successful women, tells women that what they have to do is Own It:

My conversation with Sallie Krawcheck:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

These are the Guys Who Are Changing the World

It’s kind of amazing that we spent a whole Presidential campaign talking about jobs and outsourcing and immigration, when the fact is that all of that is yesterday’s news.

The real impact on future jobs, income and how we conduct our lives is not coming from Mexico or China, but from Silicon Valley and from that 7 oz rectangular piece of glass in your back pocket.

We’ve already watched the disruption of the music business, the travel business and the retail business. Today disrupters like Brian Chesky and Travis Kalanick have disrupted transportation and hospitality in ways no one could have imagined as recently as just eight years ago.

But disruption has a price; for the disrupter, for society and for those that stand in the way by defending the status quo.

When that happens, it’s always a good story. And that's the story that my guest Brad Stone tells in The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World

My conversation with Brad Stone: