Tuesday, August 13, 2019

To Live and Work In Hollywood

Hollywood is a place where the assets go home each night. Not just the Stars, but the hard-working men and women who make magic happen. Who each play a singular and unique role in telling cinematic stories. Each is a piece of a large puzzle and without each individual piece, the picture never comes together.

Sure Hollywood is a business and billions are dollars are always at stake. But without the experience, the craft and the talents of those behind the camera, none of it happens.

These are the “gig workers” that writer-producer Bruce Ferber gets to open up in The Way We Work: On The Job in Hollywood.

My conversation with Bruce Ferber:



Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The GOP's Strategy To Embrace Racism

Once upon a time the South was a solid Democratic block of votes. Many of those segregationist senators that Joe Biden recently talked about were in fact Democrats. Republicans just didn't get elected from there. And then things changed. The civil rights movement, the voting rights Act, the trailing impact of demographic change from the great migration, and broader cultural changes, including the rise of feminism, all provided an opportunity for Republicans in the South to exploit racial, social and cultural divides.

Today we are living with arguably the apogee that effort.

These divisions have been part of every national election since LBJ vs. Goldwater in 1964 and with each cycle, the divide grows larger. This long effort is the subject of a new work by Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields,  The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics.

My conversation with Angie Maxwell & Todd Shields:


Monday, July 29, 2019

The Most Heinous Serial Killer You've Never Heard Of

I know someone who is absolutely fascinated by true crime stories. She says that Silence of the Lambs is her Star Wars. And why not? Crime stories, especially true crime stories about the likes of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, or Jeffrey Dalmer, fascinate us, as it takes our thinking to the edges of human behavior. Understanding what makes these people tick stretches the human imagination.

That is exactly what investigative journalist Maureen Callahan does for us in her new book American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century In it, she introduces us to a little know serial killer who may very well be one of the most chilling.

My conversation with Maureen Callahan:


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

A 2019 Way To Look At and Talk To Kids About Race


It’s clear that like it or not, race will once again be the issue of our time. You’d think by now, we would at least the the language right. But maybe that’s the very problem. We’re still talking about it precisely because we’re having the wrong discussion.

Almost as long as anyone can remember, we’ve sincerely directed our efforts to eradicate racism by talking about a color-blind society. The goal has been to make race and difference disappear essentially to homogenize the culture. When that hasn’t worked, we perceive that we have failed.

The response to that has been a kind of bifurcated multiculturalism and identity politics, that has moved everyone into their own corner. None of that has helped our understanding

An important new work, by Professor Jennifer Harvey,  Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust Americagives us a new way to view race, justice, and culture.

My conversation with Jennifer Harvey:




Tuesday, July 16, 2019

20 Years Ago Today, the Death of JFK, Jr., Extinguished the Last Flames of Camelot

From the moment that Jackie Kennedy branded the Kennedy presidency as Camelot, in an interview with author and historian Theodore White, royalty was suddenly bestowed upon the survivors.

The recoil effect from that simple phrase on Ted and Bobby and the rest of the family was impactful. But at least they were able to understand and process it. For John F. Kennedy Jr. he would immediately become a prince without any say in the matter

As he came of age emotionally, physically and politically, he was permanently marked by the mythology. It shaped every aspect of his public and private life, right up until his untimely death.

Some men and women choose to live in the public eye. Others like royalty, like William and Harry, for example, are just born there and have to come to grips with it.

JFK Jr. was as close as we have gotten to royalty. He was to become an American Prince. How well it served him and his country is still an open question. One explored by Steve Gillon, a historian and long-time friend in his new book America's Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy Jr.

My conversation with Steven Gillon:



Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Welfare Queen and Political Mythology

We all remember that Al Capone was ultimately busted on tax fraud, even though he had a long, violent and ugly criminal career. We see it play out in politics where someone is charged with one crime that the government is able to prove, while it is really reflective of a career of many crimes.

So it is with the mythology of Linda Taylor. Busted in 1974 for welfare fraud, Taylor had a long history of criminal behavior and is even potentially linked to three suspicious deaths in the 70’s and 80’s

But is was ultimately her conviction on welfare fraud, which made her the infamous “welfare queen,” whose myth would shape our policies from her arrest in 1974, her trope elevated by Ronald Reagan and arguably right up to the political debate today. This is the story that Josh Levin tells in The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth.

My conversation with Josh Levin:



Monday, July 1, 2019

The False Mythology of Roger Ailes

Many of you may have started watching the Showtime series, THE LOUDEST VOICE IN THE ROOM, about Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The problem with it is, that with respect to what Ailes did, what he is credited with accomplishing at Fox, very little of it is true.

Sure Ailes understood television and politics. But at core what he did was to take the world of talk radio, combined it with a bit of “blondification” and transferred it to television. When Fox new went on the air in 1996, Limbaugh had already been on the air for almost ten years.

Ailes simply exploited the rise and power of conservative talk radio. The Economist said many months ago that, “to understand the Republican politics, get in a car, turn on the radio and drive.”

Talk radio, is far more than the viewers that watch even the top rated Fox News shows each night. It's the lens through which millions and millions of its hard core listeners view the world.

No one understands this better than the go-to-guy for talk radio, the founder, editor and publisher of Talkers and Talkers.com, Michael Harrison.

Back in July of 2017, upon the death of Ailes, Harrison and I spoke about this mythology.

My conversation with Michael Harrison:




Thursday, June 20, 2019

War Today: We Pay and They Serve

Once upon a time war had structure. There was a kind of narrative arc to war. A beginning, a middle and clear end. In the modern era, certainly since Vietnam, they have become what Clausewitz called “protracted conflict.” Even the efforts to find resolution are nothing more than wars by other means.

Most have heard the biblical quote, that “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but be not alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come.”

With respect to America's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan the end has still not come. Few understand this better than the men and women who served. And few articulate it better than Elliot Ackerman in his new work Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning.

My conversation with Elliot Ackerman:




Monday, June 17, 2019

Cities Represent the Ultimate Achievement of Mankind

Today, more than one-half of the world's population lives in cities. In every corner of the world, people are moving to cities at a rapid and geometric pace. The urban migration taking place today is both historic and inevitable. Our cities represent the ultimate triumph and organizing principle of humanity. They are more than either the concrete jungle portrayed by Billy Wilder in the Lost Weekend, or the human zoo, that Desmond Morris claimed.


The great San Francisco columnist, Herb Caen, one said of cities, “that they should not be judged just by their length and width, but by the broadness of their vision and the height of their dreams.” They are, in some ways, the ultimate achievements of mankind.

Few understand them better than Monica L. Smith, a professor of anthropology and professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the UCLA where she holds a chair in Indian Studies and serves as the director of the South Asian Archeology Laboratory in the Cotsen Institute of Archeology. She is the author, most recently of Cities: The First 6,000 Years

My conversation with Monica Smith:



Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Saving Capitalism

Never before in human history has so much change been so rapidly foisted on human beings. Not during the Renaissance, the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution.

Today, technology in all of its forms; from smart machines to robotics, from AI to VR to 3D manufacturing, to genetic and biomedical engineering, will make sure we are never the same

It's estimated by some that almost eighty million jobs could be gone in our lifetime. Certainly, the psychological and political consequences of this change, as we are already seeing, could be devastating. But so will the economic impact. It’s in this context that we need to reimagine capitalism. Just listen to some of the current candidates for president, and you’ll see that the very capitalist system that has produced this unprecedented change and wealth, is under siege. All of which raises the question, can capitalism itself keep up?  This is the question that author and business professor Ed Hess in a new White Paper in our recent conversation.

My conversation with Ed Hess:




Monday, May 27, 2019

Imagine If We All Could Have Esther Wojcicki As A Parent

The evidence is overwhelming that in our schools today, the successful curriculums are those that are directed toward deeper learning, project-based learning, and social and emotional learning.

Learners that feel empowered and hands-on, that collaborate and learn empathy are the ones who excel academically.

So why shouldn't the same be true of parenting? The recent cheating scandal certainly shows the other extreme. What happens amidst helicopter parenting run amuck, of parents not having faith in the innate abilities and independence of their kids.

Maybe you don’t have to let your 11 or 12-year-old fly off to France and change planes by themselves as my guest did, but giving them responsibly at home from a young age is essential.

Few people understand this better than Esther Wojcicki. Esther understands not in some abstract white paper kind of way, but by having raised three incredibly successful daughters;  Ann, the co-founder of 23 and me, Susan is the CEO of YouTube and Janet is a distinguished doctor and professor of pediatrics.

Esther is in her own right an amazing success story. A formidable voice on behalf of journalism and media literacy, Esther Wojcicki is the founder of the Media Arts programs at Palo Alto High School and serves as vice chair of Creative Commons and was instrumental in the launch of the Google Teacher Academy.  Her new book is How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results.

My conversation with Esther Wojcicki:


Thursday, May 23, 2019

We Are Not Descended From Fearful Men: David Maraniss and "A Good American Family"


Mark Twain is reported to have said that history does not really repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Today we live in a climate, not unlike the late ’40s and early ’50s, where fear is weaponized,  and where suspicion of the other is exploited as a salve for change.

Yet there always seem to be brave men and women trying to rise above. As Ed Murrow said in his takedown of Senator Joe McCarthy,” we were not descended from fearful men. They were not men who feared to write or to speak,” who, again in Murrow’s words, “did not confuse dissent with disloyalty.”

But fear is personal, visceral, and chilling when exploited by the government. It undermines the very foundation of a democratic republic, and sometimes of families. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss makes it as personal as it can be in A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father. The story of his father and his family caught in the maelstrom of the red scare in the 1950s.

My conversation with David Maraniss:


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Multi-Cultural Society, An Elite Senate, Good and Bad Leaders: How It All Went So Wrong

Today as we sometimes contemplate the real possibility of the end of the American experience. We think about its roughly 250-year history, often in the context of the people that have led us, good and bad, and taken us to where we are today.

So perhaps it might be instructive to look at the 500 years history of the Roman Empire, and look at some of its leaders. Some who drove it to great heights and others who were responsible for taking it over the proverbial cliff.

Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell, is a leading expert on ancient military and Roman history. His latest work, Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine, and our recent conversation gives us new insights to where we might be headed.

My conversation with Barry Strauss:


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Democracies Are Not Forever...Is The US Headed Down The Same Path As Rome?

Every day, no matter what the issue — whether it’s election integrity, rule of law, climate change, guns, impeachment, or the Mueller report — what’s at stake is not just daily political wins and losses, but the very survival of the republic.

As was the case at its founding, during the Civil War, and at a select few times in US history, Americans would be making a huge mistake if they took the survival of the nation for granted. History tells us that the Roman Republic had a very good 400-year run, only to have its citizens let it fail.

In this podcast we talk to prize-winning historian, professor, and Rome scholar Edward Watts. He takes us through some of the frightening parallels, which include cults of personality, dramatic wealth creation, the wearing down of critical guardrails and norms, and the willingness of Roman voters to ignore the damage being done as Rome exchanged freedom for autocracy.

Watts explains how, while it may have taken 100 years for the full effects to be felt, violent language, immigration issues, the ginning up of fear, and the violation of conventions in order to implement policy all played important roles. It’s ancient history we should well remember.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Edward Watts:







Monday, May 6, 2019

Outright Lies Are Posing As Today's Conspiracy Theories

Long before the Internet, in the early days of talk radio, the all-night hosts were the progenitors of modern-day conspiracy theory. Hosts spent hours talking about crop circles, animal mutilation, Area 51, the Kennedy assassination and all manner of events and evidence that could be used to construct a hidden narrative.

The idea was that strange things were happening, that evidence in plain sight could be interpreted in ways that evolved to different conclusions. The narrative was always about the interpretation of evidence that was in plain sight. We were told that we just didn’t understand the full impact of what it meant.

Today, all of that has changed. Almost like science, the “conspiracy theories” today from people like Alex Jones, or Donald Trump are not about another way of interpreting the world. It’s all about flat out lies, fabricated rumors and it’s often presented with the only backup being the mantra, “people are saying.”

Laying bear this new look to conspiracies are Harvard Professor Nancy Rosenblum and Dartmouth Professor Russell Muirhead in their book A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

My conversation with Nancy Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead:



Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Klan and White Supremacy...Then and Now

Even though it may not seem like it, domestic terrorism, particularly built around white supremacy, is nothing new. Given that racism is our nation's original sin, it should not be surprising that in the post Civil War period, the historical efforts to deal with the Ku Klux Klan are both instructive in their own right, but at the same time foreshadows the thru lines that lead us to where we are today.

This is the story that the Washington Post’s Charles Lane shares in his book Freedom's Detective: The Secret Service, the Ku Klux Klan and the Man Who Masterminded America’s First War on Terror.

My conversation with Charles Lane:


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

We'll Be OK If We Can Make It to 2040

America has often been a divided nation. Battles at our founding were often settled at 50 paces.The western ethos that is part of half of America fueled many of those divisions. Brother fought against brother
in the civil war. The industrial revolution gave us riots, and death and violence. The cold war and fear of communism gave rise to whole careers and lives ruined just by accusation. The ’60s didn’t just produce great music but led to the death of students on the safety of a college campus.

But, to use the often tired cliche of Wall Street, this time it’s different. Or at least so it seems. The divide today, fueled by social media, by 24/7 news cycles and the decline of faith in our basic institutions and fear of hyper-rapid and deep fundamental change has produced a kind of tribalism that undermines rather than reinforces all the central ideas of democracy and republican government.


Darrell M. West vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution looks at all of this in Divided Politics, Divided Nation: Hyperconflict in the Trump Era.

My conversation with Darrell West:



Monday, April 29, 2019

If Democracy Requires Critical Thinking, Are We Doomed?

Ukraine just elected a comedian as its president. A reality TV character holds the most powerful office on the planet. Talk show hosts are driving the agenda of US policy and not a day goes by that we don’t hear talk about more celebrities running for office

The membrane that separates news, governance, and entertainment has all but disappeared and efforts to raise any conversation above the noise drives our celebrity culture.

The debate about this goes to the core of our democratic system. The question of whether we will have to change our system or our change our culture is a legitimate open question. It’s also one that our framers viewed 140 years ago.

Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein talk to me The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality.
about it and about their book

My conversation with Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein:



Monday, April 22, 2019

According to the World Health Organization, Superbugs are a Greater Health Threat Than Climate Change

Sometimes the personal is professional. It’s not all that common when ones work and one's survival is linked so inexorably together. They are in the story Tom Patterson and Steffanie Strathdee.

Imagine, you're climbing a mountain, you slip and your spouse is the clinging to the rope above you and that’s the only thing keeping you alive. In the story of Tom and Steffanie, it was Steffanie clinging to science, history and medical bravery that Tom would have to hang on to.

They tell their remarkable story in The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir

My conversation with Tom Patterson & Steffanie Strathdee:








Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Remembered Past vs. The Real Past

Old songs, like old memories, are the purveyors of a kind of double imagery. Triggers of thought that somehow short circuit time and make yesterday's events today's reality. So when we write or read about the past, particularly in novels or memoirs, what we are reading, or writing, is not necessarily factual, but represents our remembered past..almost a separate world unto itself.

Award winning novelist Siri Hustvedt looks at this in her latest novel, Memories of the Future

My conversation with Siri Hustvedt:



Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Why Coders Matter and Why They Control Our Future

Think of the millions of hours we spend thinking and talking about technology. About the future, what it all means, and how it impacts us. But before any this happens, before robots or AI, or even making a phone call, someone had to sit down at a screen and create the code to make it possible.

A process that is not just about abstraction, but about both art and craft. Like Chomsky said of language itself, “it etches a groove through which thought flows.” It’s been said that when we study human language, we are approaching what some call the human essence. When we study code and those who create it, arguably we are getting to the singularity of man and machine. This is the state that NY Times journalist Clive Thompson takes us to in Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World.

My conversation with Clive Thompson:



Saturday, March 30, 2019

Who We Connect With Impacts Who We Become, and Who We Become Impacts Who We Connect With

Several years ago, the tech company Cisco ran an ad campaign talking about the “human network.” It tried to humanize their networking products as more than just wires and routers but focused on the human beings at the other end of those wires, and the collective experience of connection.

Social connections that have been with us since man first stepped out of the cave and talked to his neighbor. All of that was before today’s social networks that have been like steroids to the idea of connection.

Today we are part of a networking feedback loop. Who we connect with impacts who we become and who we become impacts who we connect with.  If all of this sound is a bit abstract, Matthew Jackson puts it all into perspective in The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviors.

My conversation with Matthew Jackson




The Brave New World of Immunotherapy

It’s hard to believe today, but leaching was once considered a legitimate and effective medical practice. Years from now, we may look back upon chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer in much the same way we now look upon leaching.

In labs today, all across the world, new forms of treatment for cancer and many other diseases under the general heading of immunotherapy are being discovered. The magic of the body’s own immune system is being brought to the task. However, there is no one size fits all, no silver bullet and such treatments are not a free ride. Either with respect to costs or side effects.

Just as the discovery of penicillin and the class of antibiotics, saved millions and truly changed the world, immunotherapy is on the precipice of doing the same for the 21st century.

However, its complexity, its connection to virtually every other aspect of the human body makes its study and the ability to harness and manipulate it, the medical holy grail of our times. Helping us to understand this is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Matt Richtel in Elegant Defense, An: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives.

My conversation with Matt Richtel:


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Should We Negotiate With Hostage Takers?

In a world that is increasingly more authoritarian, in a political atmosphere that is more and more polarized and tribal everywhere, the threat of global hostage-taking has increased exponentially.

As the murder of Jamal Khashoggi illustrates, this threat has particularly increased for journalists, many of whom are on the front lines of reporting on repression and brutality. A record 262 journalists were jailed around the world at the end of
2018.

All of this raises the far larger question, one that journalists have to think about every day, of how should we deal, as a matter of public policy, with journalists or anyone other citizen that is taken, hostage.

The American policy has been that "we do not negotiate with hostage takers."  This policy is not universal. Many nations, including France, Spain, and others have taken a different view. The answer is not clear cut or obvious. What is clear is that sometimes playing mister tough guy is just plains stupid.

Joel Simon, a long time journalists in California and Latin America, is the Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalist.  His new work is We Want to Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping, Hostages and Ransom.

My conversation with Joel Simon:


Monday, March 25, 2019

Brave, Not Perfect

A couple of years ago, Senator Elizabeth Warren made headlines with the phrase “nevertheless she persisted.” Sheryl Sandberg told women they had to “lean in.” These approaches, while certainly valuable for dealing with the symptoms of the problems that many girls and women face, ignores the core of why these actions might, in fact, be necessary.

Men, for the most part, don't have to make the effort to persist or to lean in, because they are socialized from the beginning to do that. To be fearless, to be disruptive, to be brave.

Reshma Saujani, a graduate of Harvard and Yale law school and former NY City public advocate, is the founder of Girls Who Code. Her organization has made remarkable inroads in bringing more girls and women into STEM and technology.

But even more than just changing the gender make up of tech, she has seen coding as a kind of metaphor for teaching women to be brave.

Her Ted talk on the subject has gotten over 4 million views and now she’s expanded on it in her new book Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder

My conversation with Reshma Saujani:




Thursday, March 21, 2019

How Our Lives Are Being Run By Algorithms: From the 737 to Our Daily Commute

When Hal asked Astronaut David Bowman to “open the pod bay doors,” it was as if our most primal fear of machines came rushing headlong into the 20th century. Today, in our 21st-century world, we understand the artificial intelligence behind HAL.

We see on display every day our reliance on automation and AI and algorithms in flying our planes and soon our self-driving cars.

It’s the full blossoming of the promised brave new world. But is there anything we should or could do about it? Is it out of our control, or do we just need to surrender?

Joining me to talk about this is Kartik Hosangar, the author of A Human's Guide to Machine Intelligence: How Algorithms Are Shaping Our Lives and How We Can Stay in Control.

My conversation with Kartik Hosangar: