Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Information....adapt or perish


So much of the way our brains and nervous system are hardwired, emerges as man did, from the primordial stew of life. Clearly, modern science tells us we are more suited to be hunter gatherers than we are multitasking and purveyors of Google Glass.

Yet no matter how much some may desire it, we are not going back to a simpler time. Information will continue to pore in on us, multilateral demands on our time will increase, and to succeed at anything, work, play or home, we will have to adapt or perish.

So the question becomes, do we try and shape this brave new world to fit the way we are, or do we move through life, knowing we are on the ramparts of the efforts to change human evolution?

The answer is really both. This is where esteemed neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin takes us in his new book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.

My conversation with Daniel Levitin:




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Monday, August 25, 2014

The Power of Creative Pairs - The Powers of Two

Ginger Roger once said, of her partnership with Fred Astaire, that she did everything he did, “but backwards and in high heels.” In many ways this gets to the heart of partnerships. Two people that have a similar mission, but see it perhaps in opposite and positively reinforcing ways.

The examples are course legend. Jobs and Wozniak, Lennon & McCartney, Parker and Stone, Larry and Sergei, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Crick and Watson, Joel and Ethan Coen, and Hewlett & Packard, to name just a few.

When you look at the list, it becomes clear that there is something special about the power of two. Is it an accident, or something inherent in the creative process? That’s the focus of Joshua Wolf Shenk’s new book, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs.

My conversation with Joshua Wolf Shenk:




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The Real Cost of Fracking

Across the country, fracking—the extraction of natural gas by hydraulic fracturing—is being touted as the nation’s answer to energy independence. Energy companies have repeatedly assured us that the process is safe.

But is there a hidden cost, a hidden danger? What really is the process of fracking and what are its consequence on people, the environment and those that come in contact with it?

Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald, combine their expertise in a new look at how contamination at drilling sites translates into ill health and heartbreak for both families and their pets.

In The Real Cost of Fracking: How America's Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Foodthey give voice to the people at ground zero of the fracking debate. They illustrate what they believe to be the consequences of fracking which, in their view, poses a dire threat to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and even our food supply.

My conversation with Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald:




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Friday, August 22, 2014

Has hyper connectivity lead to The End of Absence?

There once was a time before the internet, before the automobile, before air conditioning, and television and radio and even before the printing press. All these inventions and many others, dramatically transformed the ways in which we live. At the time each was criticized for the ruinous impact it would have. The printing press was thought to be the end of religion, air conditioning would keep us inside, and not allow us to connect with others. The automobile would destroy community and television would pollute our brains.

The fact is that each of these inventions changed us and changed the way we lived. And the result was not good or bad. It was just different. It was all part of the process of human evolution. Ever since man first emerged from the cave, we have been engaged in an ongoing effort to try and shape and define our man made environment, just as it continues to try shape and define us.

Michael Harris thinks we need to reclaim some of that lost world. He details his ideas in The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection.

My conversation with Michael Harris:




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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The fall of Nixon and the rise of Reagan

We often think of the 60’s as a time when the left was in the ascendancy. When great social movements, like the women's movement, the antiwar movement and the civil rights movement were given their birth. In fact, arguably, the most lasting legacy of the 60’s maybe the rise of modern conservatism.

The history of modern conservatism and of the current Republican party has its beginnings in the early 1960’s and continues into the confusion we see in the party today.

Rick Perlstein has been one of our most astute chroniclers of that history, beginning with his examination of Barry Goldwater in Before the Storm, and through his look at the 60’s and 70’s in Nixonland.

Now Pearlstein takes us to the next phase, in his examination of the handoff of the party from Nixon to Reagan in The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.

But more than a political story, it’s the story of the transformation of America. A time when America suffered its first military defeat, was shocked by the oil crisis, the hostage crises, inflation, stagflation, a criminal Presidency, a rogue CIA, and more. But it also became a time when as a solution to our multiple problems, reality gave way to fantasy; when facts gave way to fiction, when like television or the movies, make believe would take us to the place we’d rather be. And leading that transformation was Ronald Reagan.

My conversation with Rick Perlstein:




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Monday, August 18, 2014

Have we reached the end of American community?

The world has changed. We can intimately and immediately know what's taking place in the far reaches of the world, or across America. But we often don’t know what’s going on with our neighbors and in our own community.

Today we are a part of many communities of interest, not necessarily communities of geography. And is it any surprise, really? The natural human tendency is to associate with people like us. But as mobility and tolerance have allowed a diversity of communities, it has, in fact, atomized us in ways that we seek the familiar, no matter where on the planet it might be.

But what is the consequence of this?  We were once a great and vast continental nation, that had to rely on community as a form of safety and self government. Today that’s not the case. The result has impacted our relationships, or politics, and the very way we govern ourselves.

Where it’s going and how we got here is the subject The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Communitya brilliant new book by Marc Dunkelman.

My conversation with Marc Dunkelman:




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Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Police Branch of the US Military

We ask a great deal of our police. On the one hand we want to see more community policing, more interaction with the citizens. At the same time we are training and equipping the police as if they were another branch of the US Military.

Drive into the vehicle section of any police department and you’ll see SWAT equipment and armored carriers that look like they are from a Terminator movie. Think about what Boston looked like after the marathon bombing; an American city in lock-down and an occupying force of police that was the model for police forces around the country.

But how did we get here? Was it the crime waves of the 70’s and 80’s, the drug wars, the post 9/11 fixation with security and politicians that suddenly couldn’t say no to funding police? The answer is that it was all of these and more. They would create the perfect storm for the militarization of America's police forces.

This is the subject of Radley Balko’s new book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces

My conversation with Radley Balko:






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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three Women at Home and at War


Those that have been through it, say that the experience of being in a combat zone is like no other. It is all consuming. In so many ways it eliminates the real world of life and its mundane everyday chores and problems.

Yet the men and women engaged in that effort, bring with them a life experience composed of precisely those problems. Sometimes the military is a means of escape, sometimes a training ground for life, frequently life changing. Yet most soldiers, men and women alike, must return to that real world. And when they do, everything changes once again.

That’s the story that Helen Thorpe tells about three women in Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War.

My conversation with Helen Thorpe:




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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Looking at Feguson through the eyes of the South in 1964

Fifty years ago this summer, Americans, both black and white, gave their last full measure of devotion in an effort to register African American voters in Mississippi.

The violence that resulted, the death of three civil rights workers, the beatings, the church bombings, and effort to prevent Americans from voting is a stain that shall forever be remembered.

For those that have forgotten, or were not alive in that period, A new work by Matt Herron is a powerful reminder. Matt was the progenitor of an effort to chronicle those events and in so doing captured a pivotal moment in American history.  The result, is Mississippi Eyes: The Story and Photography of the Southern Documentary Project

My conversation with Matt Herron:




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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do you believe in magic?

Perhaps it’s the state of the world today, but everywhere fantasy seems to be in ascendancy. The retelling of Narnia, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Lev Grossman’s The Magician series, all speak to what seems to be a compelling need.

Lev Grossman has just published the third and final installment in his series, entitled The Magician's Land.

My conversation with Lev Grossman:




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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Can we ever achieve a shared truth about the legacy of slavery?

When Barack Obama was elected President, we heard lots of loose talk about this being a post racial society.  It was as if a magic pill had taken the issue of race and identity out of our consciousness.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, arguably, we are further behind in erasing our racial legacy than other parts of the world. And part of that reason is that we have yet to achieve a shared truth about the American experience of slavery and bigotry.

While we've done a good job of trying to move beyond that legacy, like a weed, not pulled out from the root, it comes back to haunt us, because of our difficulty in dealing with its true history.

That’s the history that Chris Tomlinson takes on, with respect to his own family, in his book and in the documentary Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families who Share the Tomlinson Name - One White, One Black.

My conversation with Chris Tomlinson:




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Thursday, August 7, 2014

What did he know and when did he know it....is a Nixon defense even possible?

For 40 years, the focus of the conversations about Watergate has been what did the President know and when did he know it. The revelations from the release of and the listening to more and more of the 3700 hours of White House tapes, has pretty much now clarified that issues.

What still remains very murky, perhaps because it exists in both the realms of psychology as well as fact, is why. Why did Nixon insist on the tapes, why didn’t he destroy them, and deeper still, why did a man whose entire life was devoted to the pursuit of the Presidency and his own place in history, destroy himself, by his own hand, his own actions and his own decisions?

Few have gotten closer to answering these questions than John Dean. Nixon’s White House council, the man who first told Nixon that Watergate was a growing “cancer on the Presidency,” who himself has spent 40 years thinking and writing about these issues, now on the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, has written the definitive, The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It.

My conversation with John Dean:




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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Is our long national nightmare over yet?

For journalists, for historians, and for political junkies, Richard Nixon is the gift that keeps on giving. There are over 3700 hours of Nixon tapes and only a portion have been released and deconstructed.

Even as we mark this 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation, most of us have only heard a few minutes here or there. For Luke Nichter, a Professor at A & M University, and one of the preeminent experts on the Nixon tapes, it paints a picture of a cunning and controlling President, and sometimes a country astride the world. But mostly it captures the White House, America and the world, in a particular place and time that bears very little resemblance to the world today.

The latest collection of Nixon tapes, assembled by Luke Nichter and Douglas Brinkley, is The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972.
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My conversation with Luke Nichter:




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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The deep trouble of undersea exploration

From the undersea adventures of Jules Verne, to Peter Benchley’s The Deep to Jim Cameron’s The Abyss, we flock to movies and literature that takes place underwater. We are fascinated by, but know so little about, the undersea world.

In fact, a recent review of  James Nestor’s book, reminds us that if something disappears on Mars or the Moon, we’d have a better chance of finding it, than if it disappeared in the world’s oceans.

This fascination has given rise to whole groups of people that seek to explore in new and different, and sometimes dangerous, ways.

That's the backdrop of James Nestor's Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves.

My conversation with James Nestor:




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The ecological history of greater New York


In communities all across America debates rage about zoning, building, and development. In most cases, however, the debate is around the margins. Most places have long since evolved into what they are. New York City is perhaps the penultimate example.

While arguments still do go on about height limits, shadows and railyards, the city has long since determined its destiny. For New York it has been, at least since the mid 18th century, a forward march to becoming the amazing city it is today.

Ted Steinberg's Gotham Unbound:  The Ecological History of Greater New York, gives us a detailed history of that urban evolution.

My conversation with Ted Steinberg:




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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why Vietnam still matters

Think about the things that shape our world, our perceptions and our culture. For a large part of the population, the experience of America’s mistakes in Vietnam has long shaped our engagement in the world. The country's disrespect, at the time, for the service of those that served in Vietnam, in many ways positively shapes the way we respond to Veterans' needs today.

As leaders today try and juggle the crisis of the world, and play a kind of geopolitical chess, they are always chastened by the scandal that was Iran/Contra,

And as any magazine or look at popular culture today will tell you, we are obsessed with outward appearances, usually at the expense of depth and real understanding. All of these issues and ideas come into play in the life and struggles of Robert Timberg.

Disfigured in a land mine explosion thirteen days before he was to leave Vietnam, his story, his struggles and his recovery in many ways parallels the story of the past half century. It’s what makes him so effective as a journalist and why his story, that he now tells us in his memoir Blue-Eyed Boy, is also a history lesson for us all.

My conversation with Robert Timberg:




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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Parenting 101 - Lead with Acceptance

Every generation of parents wants their children to do better than themselves. It seems though that to accomplish that today, as NY Times columnist Tom Friedman and others have warned, "average is no longer good enough."

So how do we reconcile this with the data that tells us seeing our children for who they are and focusing on their social and emotional needs, is every bit as important as their academic needs.

How do we square that circle of success. Nancy Rose explains in Raise the Child You've Got - Not the One You Want: Why Everyone Thrives When Parents Lead with Acceptance.

My conversation with Nancy Rose:




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