Thursday, April 17, 2014

All the President's Bankers

At this point in our history, it should come as no surprise that the adage “follow the money,” applies not just to tracking down criminal activity, but to virtually every aspect of our economic and political system.

In a world where free markets are expanding, where economic and political stability are closely linked, where nations compete for the free flow of money around the globe, where bankers cozy up to leaders and leader cozy up to bankers, sometimes those relationships can be out of balance.

To understand how, it’s worthwhile to see how we got here and look at the 100+ year relationship between Wall Street and the administrations of 18 Presidents, of all political persuasions.

In her new book, All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power,  financial journalist Nomi Prins explores how a small number of bankers have played critical roles in shaping a century's worth of financial, foreign and domestic policy.  She examines how these relationships have influenced events from the creation of the Federal Reserve, the response to the Great Depression, and the founding of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

My conversation with Nomi Prins:

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How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

When we talk about drugs, or see the myriad array of pharmaceutical ads, we usually hear about a whole range of unique side effects. These are not just side effects, they are real effects with real medical consequences.

This is true not just for the complex, highly marketed drugs, but even from our most basic antibiotics. While we’ve come think of this class of drugs as almost free from consequence, the truth is they may have bigger and more far reaching consequences than the drugs that may cause individual problems. For these drugs, the side effects may be to our whole species and to the ancient human microbiome that makes up a large part of who we are as individuals and as a species. We may be seeing these consequences every day, in the increase in childhood asthma, autism, obesity, and certain types of cancers.

This discovery has been the life's work of Dr. Martin Blaser.  He examines this in Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

My conversation with Dr. Martin Blaser:

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to really create a culture of innovation

In almost every way, today's workplace is very different than the world of Mad Men. Yet one thing seems to be consistent. The nexus between the culture of an organization and its performance, is direct and powerful.

But what constitutes that culture, and how can it be changed? It’s ironic that corporate culture often seems both immutable and fragile. One jerk can seemingly ruin it, and yet CEO’s often spend whole careers trying to change it. How can both be true?

We look inside organizational culture, not in a Dilbertesque way, but through the eyes of dozens of leaders and CEO that have talked with Adam Bryant, the creator of the “Corner Office” feature in The New York Times and the author of Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation.

My conversation with Adam Bryant:

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Class, Cultures and Social Movements

Progressive and social activists are too often portrayed as latte drinking, sushi eating, Volvo driving, arugula eating, white wine sipping, Birkenstock wearing, NPR listening, New York Times reading, tofu eating…etc. You get the idea.

This isn’t just another ordinary line of attack, because what it does, what it means to do, is to drive a wedge between classes. Class groups that often have common goals, shared values, and a true desire to solve real problems.

But the attacks often work because sometimes the leaders of social movements themselves, forget that while goals may be shared, many groups and different classes bring very different experiences and approaches along with different worldviews to solve similar problems.

So how can this circle be squared? How can these groups not work against their self interest in a “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” kind of way? Betsy Leondar-Wright gets to the core of the problem and potential solutions in her new book Missing Class: How Seeing Class Cultures Can Strengthen Social Movement Groups.

My conversation with Betsy Leondar-Wright:

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The making of a monster in wartime: How torturer happens

The task of bearing witness to war and terror, even for a journalist, is not to reduce events to our own understanding, but by acknowledging and reporting them, to serve both the dead and the living. Thierry Cruvellier has done this as one of the only journalists to have attended the trials of all of our contemporary international war crimes tribunals.

Yet few such trials are more powerful than that of a mild mannered math teacher who was one of the principal executioners of the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia in the 70’s.  He tells that story in his new book The Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer.

My conversation with Thierry Cruvellier:

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Money is not what you think it is

Few things are more ubiquitous than money. Yet what seems so simple, can often become so complex. Money is far more than just the notes and coins we carry in our pockets. It’s part of a complex system of debits and credits and clearing. Just look at the workings of Bitcoin and you start to see how those notes and coins are really just tokens and symbols that represent a much larger and more complex world of money.

That's the world that Felix Martin ushers us into in Money: The Unauthorized Biography.

My conversation with Felix Martin:

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Advertising and the Golden Age of Radio OR Everything Old, is New Again

During what was once considered the “golden age of radio," from roughly the late 1920s until the late 1940s, advertising agencies were the most important source of radio entertainment. Most nationally broadcast programs, on network radio, were created, produced, written, and/or managed by advertising agencies.

For those old enough, you might remember something like Kraft Music Hall, or Maxwell House Showboat.

When television came along, again it was the advertising agencies that produced and drove the entertainment decisions and production. If you’ve been watching Mad Men, you’ve seen the evolution of this. It’s funny how today, in some ways, we seem to be coming back full circle, to this old notion of “branded programming.”

Cynthia Meyers, takes us back, to this time gone by, in her new book A Word from Our Sponsor: Admen, Advertising, and the Golden Age of Radio.

My conversation with Cynthia Meyers:

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Jared Diamond on Evolution and the Future of the Human Animal

From High School biology class, to treating the most complex diseases, evolution lies at the core of our existence. Whether we’re trying to figure out world conflict, medical breakthroughs or even what might happen if we encounter alien beings, evolution provides the foundation.

Today, with the world moving so rapidly, with technology so much a part of shaping that world, it seems more important than ever, that we all, especially young people, understand our roots, where we came from and what it might mean for our future. Few do this better than UCLA Professor, and Pulitzer Prize winning author of Gun, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond.

In his latest book, The Third Chimpanzee for Young People: On the Evolution and Future of the Human Animal, he brings young people deeply into the discussion.

My conversation with Jared Diamond

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

All Joy and No Fun

Think for a moment about how much has changed about life, just in our own lifetime. Everyday there are new ideas or new products that disrupt existing paradigms. Is it any wonder then that parenthood today is very different than in our parents or grandparents time?

Where once children were looked at as economic units to the family, today we live in a child centered society, where the rules, the expectations and the impact on parents have all changed.

Are we better off? Are we having more fun, are children more rewarding? The answer is, it depends.

That’s the landscape that Jennifer Senior enters into in her wide ranging looking at parenthood, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.

My conversation with Jennifer Senior:

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Monday, April 7, 2014

How Paris became Paris

Bogie reminded us “that we’ll always have Paris.” Indeed, we will. Paris defines what a city should be. Beyond it’s being a City of Lights, a Moveable Feast, and so many other things, it is a model, the model for what urban life should be. And that’s how it grew up. From a desolate, war torn landscape to one of the first cities to embrace street life, to welcome pedestrians, to be lit at night, to have public gardens and where, as Joni Mitchell said, “they kiss on main street.”

Joan DeJean celebrates this history and explains How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City.

My conversation with Joan DeJean:

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Our quantified self - Or how our own data will make us happier

Today, digital privacy is on everyone's mind. We know that every time we search, use an App, make an online purchase, or even go to the doctor, more and more information is being collected about us.

The degree to which we can do anything about it, or even care in this digital age, is an open question. However, what if we ourselves could access and use this information? Not to make us better consumers, but to actually make us happier. If we understand our digital footprint, will it make us better able to understand ourselves, and would this have value? Can all of this aggregated, quantified information create a kind of digital psychoanalysis, that we can use to improve our lives? That's the premise of John Havens' book Hacking Happiness: Why Your Personal Data Counts and How Tracking it Can Change the World

My conversation with John Havens:

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fear and Loathing in the Atomic Age

From the discovery of x rays at the turn of the century, to the tragedy of Fukushima, we’ve had 120 years of the nuclear age. Yet something that was once so modern, so cutting edge, filled with so much promise, is now viewed as a scourge upon mankind.

While nuclear medicine makes life saving procedures possible, nuclear proliferation still drives international concern. While the physics of the atom tries to give us a better understanding of our past, the fear is still pervasive that the same physics could be the end of that history. The contradictions and emotions of splitting the atom still haunt us.

It's a remarkable and complex history, told by Craig Nelson, in The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era.

My conversation with Craig Nelson:

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon

In Heart of Darkness, Conrad spoke of exploring up river with a “general sense of vague and oppressive wonder. Like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints of nightmare.”

Paul Rosolie made a journey into his own heart of darkness, as he engaged in an extraordinary adventure into the uncharted tributaries of the Western Amazon.

He writes about his experiences in Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon.  Paraphrasing Conrad, Rosolie conveys the life-sensation of his existence--that which gives his story its truth, its meaning--its subtle and penetrating essence.

My conversation with Paul Rololie:

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Self-Help That Actually Works - A True Story

Who among us is not multitasking? The idea of watching or working multiple screens is now a term of art. But are the pressures, demands and distractions producing an anxiety that has some long term consequences?

Simply viewed, has the evolution of our brain and our central nervous system kept pace with our needs, our desires and our technology? For millennials and digital natives, it may be getting closer. For the rest of us, not so much.

So is the answer to seek  digital hibernation, or to find a way to reconcile the competing demands on our time, our brain and our body.

ABC news anchor Dan Harris thinks he has found a way to deal with modernity. He shares it with us in 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story.

My conversation with Dan Harris:

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Monday, March 31, 2014

There is no privacy! Should we just get over it?

Back in 1999, almost fifteen years ago, Sun Microsystems then Gadfly-in-Chief Scott McNealy made his infamous statement that “you have zero privacy anyway, get over, it.” There was a kerfuffle at the time, mostly that he had the nerve to say such a thing. Imagine, someone telling the truth.

The fact is he was right then, and all the debate from time to time, about terms of service for Google or Facebook, has resulted in very little change in the private sector, with respect to online privacy. In the public realm, the Snowden revelations really only confirmed what many have suspected for a long. We have not privacy.

So the question now is, should we just get over it, or actually try to do something about and if so what? Will some people opt to become a digital recluse, or is all of this just the price of progress?

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Julia Angwin looks inside the world of privacy today in Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance.

My conversation with Julia Angwin:

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Road to Global Prosperity

One of the strongest arguments for globalization and free trade, is that nations that do business together don’t go to war. The corollary of that is that continued economic growth depends upon no major wars. In other words, global prosperity depends on politics.

But can the two be separated. Politics impacts economic growth and in many ways, as peoples of the world seek a higher or better standard of living, economics impacts politics. We’ve created a kind of global feedback loop. The result is that the chain of globalized growth and prosperity is only as strong as its weakest link. These ideas are part of The Road to Global Prosperity, a new book by Johns Hopkins University Professor, Michael Mandelbaum.

My conversation with Michael Mandelbaum:

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Why We Make Things and Why It Matters

In the Netflix series House of Cards, Vice President Frank Underwood, a man dealing with and plotting the the fate of of the world, takes time out to work with his hands and craft, lay out and paint Civil War figurines. He says it's a form of relaxation.

For many people, even those in high profile, high stress jobs, working with their hands, doing crafts and even cooking, fulfill a primal and important need. In a world where nothing ever seems to conclude, when the days and responsibilities and the technology seems to be both endless and seamless, the art of craft has, for many a very special place and a powerful fulfillment.

Peter Korn examines this in Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman.

My conversation with Peter Korn:

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