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:



Monday, June 26, 2017

Why 1967 Still Matters

It is indeed a very tired cliche, with apologies to Kierkegaard, to say that “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” The problem is, it’s not always true. Fifty years ago, at the apogee of the summer love and the Vietnam war, those that were there all sensed that they were part of, or at least touching something, unique in the cultural history of America.

We know this today, not just because we remember the songs, or the clothes or where we were, but because the seismic shifts that took place then, are still producing aftershocks. It was a moment, as author Joel Selvin says “that
was a kind of big bang,” when art, politics, morality and culture would join together to create an expanding universe of creative imagination.

Danny Goldberg’s new book In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea almost makes us present at the creation.

My conversation with Danny Goldberg:



Friday, June 23, 2017

The 70% Of The Planet That We Overlook.

When most of us look at a globe or map of the world, our eyes are drawn to some combination of the 196 countries that make up that world. Even when we see earth as a giant blue marble from space, it’s those land masses, the light, or the topography, that attracts our attention.

Admiral James Stavridis sees it differently. He sees the 70% of the globe that most of us miss. That is the part covered by water. The part of our plant that has seen great maritime battles, the part of the plant that allows for 95% of the world's trade, the part of the plant upon which
history has been made and changed, and the part that just might very well be the flashpoints of the future.

I think it's fair to say that unless you’ve personally sailed the world's oceans, after you read James Stavridis’ book Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World's Oceans, you will never look at a world map the same way again.

My conversation with Adm. James Stavridis:



Thursday, June 22, 2017

Shouldn't We Have Objective Standards for Judging Movies?

It used to be said that everyone was in two business, their own and show business. As such, everyone wants to be a critic. It's not surprising then that some movie apps are now crowd sourcing criticism, right alongside Rotten Tomatoes.

So what are people actually seeing? What are they criticizing? Does the public really know good from bad, and is there truth to that old adage that if it’s popular, it can’t be any good?

After all, some movies that have failed at the box office have garnered critical praise, and some with great financial success have been panned.

All of this begs the question, are there objective standards? Are there a set of rules or facts that can define good and bad in filmed entertainment?

Ann Hornaday thinks so. She is the chief film critic for the Washington Post, and the author of Talking Pictures: How to Watch Movies.

My conversation with Ann Hornaday:



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How Did Republicans Get So Mean?

Think about how crazy our politics has become. Representatives from poor and lower middle class districts want to eliminate labor unions, lower the minimum wage, take away health care, privatize social security and eliminate the social safety net. Even public education is under siege.

The president admits that the GOP health care bill is mean and Karen Handel, the newest member of congress from Georgia’s 6th district says that “people have no right to a livable wage.”

This was not always the Republican party. So how did this transformation happen? Some argue that it’s all about the social issues issues. That it's things like abortion, race, LGBTQ rights and religion that has gotten people to vote counter to their economic self interests. That’s the What’s the Matter with Kansas construct. But it’s not entirely true.

There has been a very deliberate plan to undermine liberal democracy, the economy, the constitution and the very role of government. This is about more than just the one-percent wanting to pay less taxes. There is a more fundamental, much more sinister and deliberate aspect to all of this.  That is the story that Nancy MacLean tells in Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America.

My conversation on WhoWhatWhy.org with Nancy MacLean:





Monday, June 19, 2017

Can American Health Care Be Saved:

One thing the health care debate has taught us is that American medicine today is like snowflakes. No two are the same.

From the no wait privileges of concierge medicine, to the ERs and clinics in our poorest urban neighborhood, the medical experience is one of great diversity. Outcomes and wellness care are miles apart. This is unlike any other Western nation.

So what’s it like for a young compassionate doctor venturing into this world, and seeing the suffering, limitations and reality of medicine today?

That’s the story that Dr. Rachael Pearson tells in No Apparent Distress: A Doctor's Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine.

My conversation with Rachel Pearson:



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Video Games Matter

It always interesting how so many aspects of our society reflect the entertainment of the times. Just as the success of Roosevelt reflected the power of radio and the election of Kennedy, the cultural and political power of television, it may be that our current political dislocation reflects the onetime power of reality television.

Someday our broader culture, and maybe even our politics and policy will reflect the power, pervasiveness and art of video games. These games have gone mainstream, and today statistics show that the majority of American households play them. Andrew Ervin gives us a players eye view in Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World.

My conversation with Andrew Ervin:



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Is It Time For an Autopsy on American Democracy?

Last week in a debate between the two candidates running in the special election in Georgia’s 6th district, Karen Handel, the Republican candidate, said quite proudly, “ I do not support a livable wage.” Also last week, the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVoss, said that the department of education has no obligation to protect LGBTQ rights in the classroom

In these comments lies a fundamental divide in American politics. A divide about the role of government, the supremacy of the individual, and role of corporations in the body politics.

It’s important to remember that there is nothing about American democracy that makes it sacrosanct or immortal. That like other democracies before us, our system, our American experiment, can simply vanish or morph into something entirely different.

It seems the fundamental question is, have we changed as a nation? Is the reality of what the founders gave us incompatible with modernity, and/or is there simply something in the DNA of America that makes us not exceptional, as some would have us believe, but the exception in the form of the non democratic democracy that we have today?

Professor Corey Dolgon wonders if it's already too late in Kill It to Save It: An Autopsy of Capitalism's Triumph over Democracy.

My conversation with Corey Dolgon:



Monday, June 12, 2017

UBER'S Wild Ride

There is an ongoing debate in the world of sports, as to whether marketing and success is about the team, or about the celebrity power of individual star athletes. Years ago the NFL made the decision it was about the team. The NBA very consciously made the opposite decision. That individual stars were the key to success.

Without collusion or even a formal meeting, it certainly appears that Silicon Valley, long ago, made the decision that companies often rise or fall on individual celebrities, and their power to sell, market and capture the public imagination.

Steve Jobs of course remains the penultimate example. So to is Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and the founder of Uber, Travis Kalanick. The problem is that in the case of Kalanick, that image is tarnished. This is the world we are going to look at with the executive editor of Fortune, Adam Lashinsky.  He's just written Wild Ride: Inside Uber's Quest for World Domination.

My conversation with Adam Lashinsky:




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Our Complicated Relationship With Money

In the movie, Wall Street, Oliver Stone through his character Darien Taylor, played 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, but it plays itself out in the everyday lives of people whose financial fortunes are constantly subject to economic flux.

There are literally hundred of aphorisms about money and there is a simple reason why. Money, having it or not, and equally important, our relationship to it, is the principal driver of our personal relationships, our self esteem, and frankly how we see the world.

Lee Siegel, dives deep into these ideas as he draws from his own experiences in The Draw: A Memoir.

My conversation with Lee Siegel:




Thursday, June 1, 2017

Is Fascism Already Here?

We are living through complicated political times. It’s a time when ideas like “post truth,” and “alternative facts” are seriously debated on the nightly news. A time when a private bodyguard of the President is sent to fire a member of the government who was confirmed by the US Senate.

A time when the press, the courts and other institutions which support our separation of powers are under siege. But haven't we been here before?

From the earliest alien and sedition acts, through to the modern era and interment, Mccarthyism, and Nixon, we as individuals and our institutions have proven to be resilient.

Sinclair Lewis is reported to have said that “when fascism comes to America it will come wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”

On Wall Street, four of the scariest words you can hear, are “this time it’s different.” We’re going to talk about how scary those four words can be, not on Wall Street, but in in Washington, with Yale history professor Timothy Snyder. He’s the author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Timothy Snyder:





Wednesday, May 31, 2017

We Are What We Read


Lately, in the world of journalism, we are seeing that we truly are the news that we consume. It probably defines our politics, our social strata and our economic place in the world.

But the same is true, in a much more profound way, with respect to the books we read. Many of us love books for just being books. But they also have the power to change us. On one level what we read reflects who we are. As we read more, it also constantly redefines or refines us, and maybe even shapes the future choice of books we seek out.

So imagine if you kept a record of everything you’ve read. If you could chart your life by seeing the books you’ve enjoyed.

This is what the editor of The New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul has done with My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.

My conversation with Pamela Paul:




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Frank Deford was an American treasrue R.I.P.

As a writer, journalist and commentator Frank Deford was a national treasure. He helped us understand so much of what really makes America great.

I had a chance to speak with Deford back in 2002, upon the publication of his novel An American Summer. We talked America in the 50’s, polio, American optimism and the state of baseball at that time. In listening back on the conversation, it seems only baseball has improved.

Here is my conversation with Frank Deford from August of 2002.




Monday, May 29, 2017

"Happy Birthday, Mr. President"

Today we mark the 100th birthday of John F. Kennedy. When we do that, our first instinct is to look for the single achievement that defines the man

In the case of Kennedy, there are many to choose from. But arguably one of the most profound and lasting impacts of JFK is the way in which he changed the culture, structure, technology, and perception of our politics.

In our modern era, there are very few times in which both the candidate, the times and the campaign would come together in ways that resulted in a tectonic shift in the way we do politics.

The 2008 Obama campaign might be such a time. Certainly the 1964 GOP primary campaign, that give us Barry Goldwater, is one.  But first among the modern list is the 1960 campaign
of JFK.

Started as modern campaigns now do, almost five years before the election, is was the prime example and perhaps the pinnacle of what the “best and the brightest” could accomplish. In a way, it may have been that campaign that made us think that anything was possible, in Camelot.

Now Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and Washington columnist for The Boston Globe, Thomas Oliphant takes us back there in The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK's Five-Year Campaign.

My conversation with Thomas Oliphant: