Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The 75-Year-Old Book That Drives Our Politics Today

The legendary studio boss Harry Cohn once said to one of his writers, that if you want to send a political message, use Western Union. The point was that movies were for entertainment. Some have even tried to make that argument with respect to novels, but over the years, this has hardly been the case.

One of the great examples is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Released 75 years ago, this month. This story of ambition, love, and architecture reverberates through our political discourse today, both in middle America and in the halls of Congress. What other 75-year-old novel can spark a heated debate between Paul Ryan and Paul Krugman?

Yaron Brook is an Israeli American entrepreneur and writer. He’s the current chairman of the board of the Ayn Rand Institute where he was its executive director from 2000 to 2017 and is leading the effort to mark the 75th anniversary of The Fountainhead.

My conversation with Yaron Brook:

The Internet Is Killing Democracy Facebook Is the Shiny Object, but the Danger Is Much Larger

Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg understood how to maximize social media to achieve the highest in democratic ends. The Russians and Cambridge Analytica used that same social media to undermine democracy, to spread lies, and to manipulate facts.

Recently we’ve seen Mark Zuckerberg and members of Congress musing about the business model of Facebook and the holy grail of hyper-directed advertising. All of this, good and bad, misses the larger point.

In a world that is totally interconnected, when every aspect of  Internet culture feeds steroids to the human tribal instinct, when information moves at the speed of light, and when there is more of it than we have the evolutionary ability to process, is this technology simply antithetical to traditional ideas of democracy? Particularly to the system that our founders passed down to us.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that as the Internet grows, so to do authoritarian regimes. As tech companies get bigger, democratic institutions become smaller. What is the nexus to all of this and if it’s true, do we have to change tech or change the very idea of democracy?

All of this is at the core of work by Jamie Bartlett in his book The People Vs Tech: How the internet is killing democracy (and how we save it)

My conversation with Jamie Bartlett:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Why Tech May Usher in The Universal Basic Income, and Why It's Really Pro Business

In the movie Jurassic Park, perhaps the most famous line is that “nature will find a way.” It might just as accurately be said today, that technology will find a way.

Think about where we are. Fear of Facebook, the attacks on Amazon, the opioid crisis, and the kind of mini “techlash” we’re going through and the anger of a great many voters in former manufacturing hubs like Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. It all stems from the degree to which technology is displacing almost every aspect of society. And if this is where we are now, just wait until it really kicks in.

Then, maybe the idea of a Universal Basic Income, may finally come into its own. Not as a form of welfare, but as a pro growth, pro business policy.

To help understand this, Andrew Yang spells it all out in The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future.

My conversation with Andrew Yang:

Friday, April 20, 2018

Neuroscience is The New Moneyball

I think it was Howard Cosell who first referred to sports at the “toy department of life.” Oftentimes player performance has been put down as people say that “it’s not rocket science.”

The fact is however, that we now know it is neuroscience, computer science, medical science, AI, and a whole lot more.

We often talk about the game of golf as being so much inside the heads of players. But now, new research show us that this is just as true for football, basketball, and especially baseball.

The metrics that drove Moneyball, have now been amplified to include new arenas of scientific data. This data may be the handicapping tools and tip sheets for the future of sports. Zach Schonbrun takes us inside this new science in The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius.

My conversation with Zach Schonbrun:

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Battle for Beverly Hills: The History of an improbable city and the birth of celebrity politics

There are those places that you just have to say their name and they instantly conjure up images and fantasies. The South of France, Aspen, Venice, Rome, New York City, and Beverly Hills, California.

Beverly Hills is an improbable city. A gilded enclave in the midst of the cacophony of Los Angeles. What’s just as remarkable is that it has preserved its identity, even as LA changed around it.

How this city came to be, and why that history has remained part of its cultural and political DNA, is the story told by Nancie Clare in her book The Battle for Beverly Hills: A City's Independence and the Birth of Celebrity Politics

My conversation with Nancie Clare:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

From The Crusades To The Holocaust: Why History and Love Stories Matter

Religion, violence, anti-semitism, and the fate of the Catholic Church. All subject as contemporary as today’s headlines. To often we see these headlines and think about these issues in the moment, in the now. Yet to really understand any of these issues, begs for a deeper understanding of history.

And what better way to get that history, then in the storytelling of a great novel. That’s what James Carroll has been helping us with for years. Teaching us, while he entertains us.

James Carroll is a distinguished scholar in residence at Suffolk University and a columnist for The Boston Globe. He is the author of ten novels and seven works of nonfiction. He is a winner of the National Book Award, the best selling author of Constantine’s Sword and his latest work is The Cloister

My conversation with James Carroll:

Friday, April 6, 2018

Tribes May Be Killing Our Politics, But They May Be The Cure for Depression

Spend any time watching television and you’ll see the apotheosis of western medicine. There is a drug for everything. We live in a pharmaceutical culture where every pain, ache, and known and unknown disease has its own pill.

The areas of mental health, depression and anxiety have become a kind of hedge fund for the drug companies. And while we see the occasional pushback to this western model of drug care, we don’t see it enough in the world of mental health and depression.

Distinguished journalist Johann Hari thinks there is a better way to treat depression and it’s one that takes into account the reality of the world we live in. He sets out to prove it in is new book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions

My conversation with Johann Hari:

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

What Maxed Out Political Corruption Looks Like

Lately, there have been countless articles about the rise of authoritarian regimes. One aspect of all of these regimes is, even as we’re seeing here in America, the dramatic extremes in corruption. Often fueled by power, money laundering, drugs, and simply all manner of crimes upon the public.

Perhaps nowhere in contemporary times was this worse than in Columbia in the 1990s and 2000s. Amidst a complicated, murky civil war, drug cartels, corruption and unrestrained violence, the country came apart.

What exactly happened, where is it today and what we can learn from it, is the subject a new and powerful book by Peruvian-American activist/writer Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno entitled  There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia.

My conversation with Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It...Or Why Is Everything So Damn Complex?

I don’t think there is anyone that would argue that the world is a far more complex place today. All of the machines and technology that are supposed to make our lives easier have, at times, made it more complicated, more frustrating, and more subject to things going wrong.

Anyone who’s tried to operate the GPS or radio in a new BMW, or even to operate their television knows exactly what I mean.

This is not just about technology and algorithms. It’s also about the systems and organizations that make our world work. We have embraced complexity as an operating system, but we have yet to build into that complexity the fail safe systems that prevent all of it from spiraling out of control.

We seem to be at a critical juncture. We have designed so much that can go wrong, and have yet to design the internal systems that can prevent it. For complexity, it’s both the best and worst of times. Until we figure it all out, a Meltdown is around every corner. That's the title of a new book co-authored by Chris Clearfield.

My conversation with Chris Clearfield:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Israel of 1948 is Over

Back in the 1960s, Richard Nixon would talk and write a lot about the Middle East in general, and about the Israeli situation specifically, and he talked about how it easily could become the flash point of the next world war.

Certainly almost 60 years and many crises later, this is still true. Today, as a second and third generation still hears about settlements and a one and two-state solution, and peace plans are reconstituted over and over again, one wonders, do we even remember how this all got started?

Does the original sin grow out of the post-World War I agreements of 1916, or did something happen after Israel’s success in the Six-Day War, in 1967? Did Israel, to paraphrase our current President, get “tired of winning”?

So one more time, we’re going to go back and look at the past, the present, and the future of the Israeli enterprise. This time, with Avraham Burg.  One time Speaker of the Israeli Knesset. He’s a past leader of the World Zionist Federation and the Jewish Agency for Israel. He served in the Israeli Labor Government of Shimon Peres, and back in 2004, he retired from active involvement in politics and is the author of In Days to Come: A New Hope for Israel.

My conversation with Avraham Burg:

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization

Every so often the media picks up the meme that books and readers are on the decline. That our short attention span, along with our Twitter and Facebook driven culture, has supplanted long form narrative. And it seems that every time those stories circulate, something happens to change or debunk the narrative. Even the national obsession with a book like Fire and Fury, proves something.

Joan Didion said that we tell each other stories in order to live. It’s also those stories, in literature, in popular fiction, or even nonfiction, that still, after all these centuries, shape how the world continues to unfold. That’s the journey that Martin Puchner takes us on in The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization.

My conversation with Martin Puchner:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Why Economic Inequality Can Take Down Our Republic

What is the nexus between our political system and our economic system? Certainly during the Cold War we fought to defend our political system against the economic threat of communism. So, does it work the other way around? Do we now have to defined our republic and our democracy against the threat of a new gilded age, of oligarchs and of deep income inequality? Is the fight for civility and justice, also a fight for economic justice.

In a system designed to be class blind, can the widening economic divide actually bring down the system?

The way in which these political and economic ideas are related, is the basis of Ganesh Sitaraman's new book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic.

My conversation with Ganesh Sitaraman:

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Growing Up Muslim: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys.

Everyday we are reminded how difficult it is growing up, and being a teenger. The work of Jean Twenge and others has shown the impact of technology and social media on our culture. Add to this, the reality of what it’s like growing up black or hispanic in America and the pressure becomes even more intense..

Even tougher, imagine what it must be like growing up in America as a Muslim teenager.. particularly one who cares about their religious practices and so must walk that fine line between wanting to fit in and still trying to maintain their Muslim identity.

John O’Brien, went directly into the heart of a Muslim community to understand what all of this translates to in the everyday lives of these Muslim teenage boys. He shares that journey in Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys.

My conversation with John O'Brien:

Monday, March 19, 2018

Can The Behavior of School Shooters Be Profiled and Shootings Averted?

There is no question that the easy availability of guns, especially assault weapons, has contributed in some way to the rash of school shootings. However, we would be naïve to think that this is the totality of the problem. Beyond guns, the broader questions always should be how these shootings can be averted. How can we understand and interpret the data from so many past events in ways that help us to prevent the next? In a world where big data is becoming the holy grail, can this data be used to keep our students safe?

Jeff Daniels is a Professor of Counseling at West Virginia University and his work in research on averting school shootings is groundbreaking. His recent article in the academic journal The Conversation is entitled “If You Want To Know How To Stop School Shootings, Ask The Secret Service.”

My conversation with Professor Jeff Daniels

Friday, March 16, 2018

Timothy Leary and Richard Nixon, Together Again

Every day the news gets darker. Polarization is increasing, constitutional norms are being overthrown, the social fabric is tearing and as Yeats said, “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Still, as bad as it appears on cable news each night, it’s nothing compared to what was happening in the 60’s and 70’s. Cities were burning, violence was loose upon the land. Nixon was drinking himself to sleep each night, and new villains had to be created to take the heat off Watergate and Vietnam. For Nixon, one of those villains became Timothy Leary.

The story of Leary, the enemy that Nixon created to embody all that he thought wrong with the country, is story that is a little bit Wag the Dog, Keystone Cops and All The President's Men.

The story is that Steven L. Davis and Bill Minutaglio tell in The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD.

My conversation with Steven L. Davis:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

They Once Made America Great...But What Did They Really Represent?

We often hear that we live in a post industrial world. Yet all of those consumer goods we and the rest of the world love so much, are made in factories. Factories that, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, did not always represent the best of working conditions. Today, out of nostalgia, we romanticize them and long for the “big shoulders” of the industrial heartland.

Today things are still produced in factories. However, they are increasingly either located offshore, or are more and more manned by robots. Auto workers from the 50s and 60s would be shocked walking through the factory that turns out Teslas.

Yet in the minds of many, these factories represented something more than just places to make things. They were a symbol of another time and place. But one that we can still learn from, even in the digital age.

Few know more about his, than my guest Joshua Freeman the author of Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World.

My conversation with Joshua Freeman:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

#MeToo in China

We hear over and over again that the future belongs to China. Looking at what the Chinese are accomplishing in both infrastructure and technology, it’s easy to believe it. But what about in human relations and the issues of the gender wars?

As the #MeToo movement reshapes or recalibrates the nature of sex, work and gender relationships in America, it’s worthwhile to look and see how and if these same issues are playing out in China.

In China, an entire cadre of well educated and financially successful woman are taking their place. The result is that the deep, deep traditions of Chinese society are having to change in ways that are even more difficult and upending than all than all the physical changes China has endured.

Taking us through this journey is Economist correspondent Roseann Lake in Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World's Next Superpower.

My conversation with Roseann Lake:

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Maybe You Are Doing Everything Wrong At Work

A couple of weeks ago, The N.Y. Times ran a story about “global nomads.” People whose work allows them to plug-in anywhere in the world. This may not be for everybody. But it’s a reminder that the fundamentals of work are changing.

How do we work today in an always on, 24/7 world. In a world where intellectual capital is increasingly the coin of the realm, we are essentially at work. whenever we are awake. and maybe even as we sleep.

All of this change arguably creates the need for a rebalancing of our relationship to work. Even redefining what the word “work,” really means. Always changing is how we determine priorities, how generational dynamics impact work, and and is the cliche of work/life balance even a thing anymore.

There is no better person to talk to about all of this than author, professor and management guru Morten Hansen.  His latest is Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More.

My conversation with Morten Hansen:

Monday, February 26, 2018

Political Tribes

In the debate about immigration we are reminded of the original notion of America as a melting pot. As a nation that could absorb different cultures, different identities and different ethnic groups.

The trade off was the embrace of an American identity. A kind of super nationalism that would subsume these subgroups and, at its best, world supersede ethnic and religious tribalism, and replace it all with the American brand.

Over the years we’ve seen fissures in this idea. Usually it happens when dramatic change or pressure comes to America. The onset of the industrial revolution and the Cold War against communism are some examples. We’ve always done better when we’ve had common external enemies.

But today, the pressures may be just too great. Globalization and the decline of nation states, greater economic inequality, a 24/7 always connected culture, and the rush of change, both social and technological, and at a dizzying pace, have all stoked fear, uncertainty and insecurity. The result is that it feeds a new kind of tribalism that Americans may never have experienced before.

To help us understand this, as well as the very idea of tribalism I’m joined by best selling author and Yale law professor, Amy Chua to talk about Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations.

My conversation with Amy Chua:

Friday, February 23, 2018

Who Was Edward Lansdale, and Why It Matters

There was a saying during the Vietnam era, the attribution of which is a bit fuzzy, that said “if you grab them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

I suppose this was not inconsistent with another quote of that era that said, “come let us reason together...or we’ll burn down your village.”

Vietnam, like so many counterinsurgency efforts, before and since, was or should have been, about winning those hearts and minds. Unfortunately, the political, foreign policy and military establishment never seemed to get it right.

However, during the Vietnam era, one man did. He was Maj. General Edward Lansdale. He was military and CIA, and in retrospect he maybe the only true wise man of the time.

Now, foreign policy scholar Max Boot gives us The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.  The fist full look at Lansdale and why this obscure figure from the period, should be a household,

My conversation with Max Boot:

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Who Owns Your Thoughts?

Years ago, the great Dorothy Parker said that the movie business was the only business where the assets went home at night….Well that may have had a ring a truth then, but today in a world where intellectual property and human capital are what makes our economy tick, it seems that the assets always go home at night.

And what they do, what they think about, and what they conceive of when they are home, opens a minefield of issues that are legal, cultural and human. Add to these issues the global world where work is 24/7, where nomadic work patterns are the subject of a NY Times Magazine cover story, and where a single idea can be worth billions and can change the world, the consequences of these issues are enormous.

Distinguished law professor Orly Lobel in You Don't Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark Side, tells a story of the toy business that is both compelling in its own right and emblematic of the future of law and work.

My conversation with Orly Lobel:

Friday, February 16, 2018

TRUTH DECAY: The Diminishing Role of Facts in Public Life

Amidst the cacophony of 24/7 news and information that pours in at us every day, we seem to have lost sight of what constitutes truth, facts and actual information. The signal to noise ratio has shifted overwhelming towards noise.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that we got our information from local papers and three television networks. The original Cronkite nightly news was only 15 minutes long. It was a big and controversial deal when it was expanded to a full half hour.

In many ways it feels like we are in a chicken and egg cycle. Technology has helped provide us with endless sources of “information,” and we are also more polarized than ever. Is it the abundance of options that creates the polarization, or is it the polarization that cause us to see or hear only information to support our cognitive bias? All of this is part of what a recent report by the RAND calls Truth Decay

RAND recently released a 300+ page report on the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life. I recently spoke with one of the authors of that report Jennifer Kavanaugh.

My conversation with Jennifer Kavanaugh:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Because Capitalism Works

Think about what we value today. What we give rewards for as a society? Now imagine, if you can, a business tycoon who is modest and filled with generosity. Who could gamble a million dollars on one roll of the dice, but whose story is a true Horatio Alger, rags to riches story. A man whose word is his bond. Who eschews self promotion, yet operated in Las Vegas and Hollywood. A man who saw the importance ot the larger world, and helping others in it, while still appreciating all that is American. A man who knew how to fly, but never flew too close to the sun

This is, in part, the story of Kirk Kerkorian. It's a story told by William Rempel, in The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History.

My conversation with William Rempel:

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Internet Needs To Grow Up: A Conversation with Andrew Keen

At the time of the invention of writing, Socrates worried that it would destroy memory, and undermine the oral tradition. The invention of the printing press worried many. For those old enough you remember, the fear of television was once pervasive. It was the “boob tube,” “the vast wasteland.” We fragmented over other great changes, including the great migration and the move from a rural agrarian culture to an urban industrial revolution.

All of these changes came with great promise and predictive as well as unintended consequences. Why should we think that the Internet, that the digital revolution, would be any different? As someone once said, “history may repeat itself exactly, but it certainly rhymes.”

Andrew Keen has, with an objective eye, been following this history since the dawn of the information age. He wrote about the democratization of information in his book THE CULT OF THE AMATEUR, and he warned us how social media would, rather than brings us together, fragment us and feed into our narcissism.

Now in HOW TO FIX THE FUTURE, he pulls together all of the consequences of tech. He shows us what Joan Didion once said of Southern California, is true of tech, that the dream was teaching the dreamers how to live.

My WhoWhatWhy Conversation with Andrew Keen