Friday, May 17, 2019

Fear, Loathing and Immigration: The Battle Was Once Much Worse

Immigration and the fear of outsiders is a deep strain in the American psyche. It didn’t start with Donald Trump. In fact, it hasn’t even reached its full flowering under this administration. When Trump talked of murderers and rapists coming to the border, of other nations not sending us their best, he was merely echoing a historical context that has actually played out in far worse ways in our history

From the Chinese Exclusion Act through the highly restrictive immigration acts passed in the early 20th century, the white Christians have always felt under siege. To make matters even worse, in the early part of the 20th century the rhetoric and false science of eugenics was weaponized in the immigration battles.

This is the story that my guest Daniel Okrent tell in The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America:

My conversation with Daniel Okrent:



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:



Monday, March 11, 2019

Facebook and Zuckerberg Not Only Screwed Up Reality..They Even Screwed Up Virtual Reality: The Story of Palmer Luckey and Oculus

When we talk about the broad swath of technology and its progenitors in Silicon Valley rarely are we talking about great breakthroughs. A new app for dating or dog walking, the one-hundredth messaging app or new forms of enterprise collaboration are hardly the stuff of Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates or Mitch Kapor or Robert Noyce or Bill Hewlett.

But every once in a while there is a new new thing that really matters. Like the PC or the smartphone or Microsoft Word and Excell.

For years, many thought something called Virtual Reality might be that thing. What was not know is that it would take a 19-year-old dreamer, one of odder character in a world that celebrates oddness, to make it a reality. The fact that Mark Zuckerberg the man that the European Union just called a “technology gangster,” would co-opt it and screw it up, only adds to an important chapter of legends of Silicon Valley.

Like other legends, this one is told by Blake Harris in The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality

My conversation with Blake Harris


Sunday, March 3, 2019

How Our Republic Collapsed and How it Might Be Saved

How many times a day do you hear or read someone opining on what’s wrong with America and American politics? As is too often the case we love to look for the simple solution. The one answer that will explain it all. The unified field theory of American politics.

But unlike physics, the answer to understanding politics, the business and the interaction of people, is more nuanced, more complex and more like evolution than physics.

Layer upon layer of behavior, decisions, and leaders have lead us to where we are today. To a politics not just of polarization, but of pure primal tribalism

Longtime journalists and author Michael Tomasky tries to peel back these layer in is his new book If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How it Might Be Saved.

My conversation with Michael Tomasky:


Friday, March 1, 2019

A Look at Everything that Ivanka Trump Will Never Understand About Working People in America

As underemployment grows and many who once seemed solidly middle-class are losing their economic foothold, the working class is getting larger and more frustrated. Both its size and perspective make the working class more important than ever before. So perhaps, more than ever, Americans across the class spectrum have good reason to try and understand working-class culture and experience.

Millions of words have been written about the economic divide in America. An equally powerful divide is the one between those who make policy and those who live with the consequences of that policy. Even among well-meaning progressives, sometimes the consequences of their efforts are counter to their real objectives

Part of that comes from not really understanding the lives of working people in America. Perceptions of poverty and struggling come from our personal experience and often from popular culture and political rhetoric. That’s why it's so singularly unique and powerful when a voice emerges that can make us see what that world is really like. Today Stephanie Land adds her voice in Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive.

My conversation with Stephanie Land:



Monday, February 25, 2019

The History of our Future: A Conversation with Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

We’ve talked before about those frightening four words heard all too often. “This time it’s different.” Perhaps, besides Wall Street, nowhere else is that said as much as in Silicon Valley and the among the purveyors of every aspect of today technological and digital revolution.

No question that today is different. But it also fits into a pattern of human invention that has been a part of our evolutionary biology. It’s built around our curiosity, and the need to connect and share stories and information.

In examining this, it appears that there have been several inflection points along the way. Former FCC commissioner Tom Wheeler argues in his new book, that they are Gutenberg and the invention of movable type, and the telegraph. Both of which were every bit as profound as today's insanely great products.

To take us both back and forward on this journey I’m joined by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. to talk about From Gutenberg to Google: The History of Our Future.

My conversation with Tom Wheeler:


https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/interviews2019mixdownandregular/Wheeler%2C+Tom+mixdown.mp3

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Future is Asian

The 19th century has often been referred to as the imperial or British century. The period, after WWII was, in words coined by Henry Luce, the American Century.

Today, as we move headlong into the 21st century, we are entering what Parag Khanna sees as the Asian Century.

This dramatic change is not just about China, although China is a big part of it. It’s also about the 40 other countries that make up Asia, that are connecting in a system of trade and engagement that is both ancient and modern. It’s about the greater integration of Europe and Asia,

It’s about a world and a future where history matters, even in the face of cutting edge modernity. It’s a world where politics, economics, geography, and historical context matter. Where any nation not understanding all of these factors will do so at its own peril.

How we got here is important, as is where we are. This is the subject of Parag Khanna’s new book, The Future Is Asian

My conversation with Parag Khanna:



Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Patriarchy in the Me Too Era: A conversation with Carol Gilligan

We live in an age of extremes. We talk about it every day with respect to the economic divide, the political divide, the racial divide, and the gender divide.

Particularly with respect to gender, how can we explain the election of the most patriarchal President ever, in an era of me too? A President whose election was supported by the majority of white women who voted.

Today, in our politics, we devote a great deal of attention to how we can address the economic divide. Think tanks and candidates pursue it endlessly. Pundits and political scientists opine daily, almost hourly, on this socio-political divide. But what is the nexus of all of this to the gender divide? How can we reconcile the seemly successful attacks on patriarchy on the one hand, and it’s powerful persistence on the other?

It's a kind of cognitive dissonance that takes a great thinker about these subjects to try and understand and address. That's what Carol Gilligan does in her new book Why Does Patriarchy Persist?

My conversation with Carol Gilligan:



Monday, February 18, 2019

When Did We Start This "Division Thing?"

We wonder why millennials are different. Imagine growing up in our current highly partisan, polarized political environment, and not knowing anything else. Not knowing an America where compromise is possible, where division within the political parties produced candidates that moved to center. They did not watch Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil work across the aisle, or Lyndon Johnson exhibit political courage by championing civil rights legislation.

Imagine if all you knew politically was Rush, Hannity, and Maddow? For a brief and shining moment, we tried something else. Barack Obama captured it. Rather than being radical or progressive, he really was the person who we looked to make America great, to bring back the better way it used to be.

Instead, the opposite has happened.

It seems that every day we are fighting the same battles. Boomers in a kind of one last hurrah are relitigating the fights of the 60s and ’70s and things only get works, as the center cannot hold. These are the divides examined by Julian Zelizer and Kevin Kruse in Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974

My conversation with Julian Zelizer & Kevin Kruse:



Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What If The Solution to Fix Democracy is Actually Less Democracy

According to a report just released by Freedom House, a watchdog group that advocates for democracy, political rights, and civil liberties became weaker in 68 countries. The report also says the U.S. freedom score has declined by 8 points (from 94 to 86) over the past eight years.

At the same time we know that voters are unhappy, We are told that democracy is collapsing, that fascism is on the rise. We hear particularly from the left about the need for more direct democracy. For greater citizen participation, for more direct referendum and initiatives. One group, on this program recently called for citizen assemblies that would supplant representative government.

Yet it seems the more of this do it yourself politics we have, the more anger there is, the more divided we are.

What if we are going in the wrong direction? What if the answer to democracy’s problems is not more democracy, but more appreciation for the system of parties and representative government that our founders passed down to us.

It seems today that this is a very contrarian view. Perhaps that’s why it just might be correct. It’s put forth by Yale Professor Ian Shapiro in Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy from Itself

My conversation with Ian Shapiro:


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Why We Need Special Prosecutors....It's Not For Harassment

Ken Starr, Archibald Cox, Leon Jaworski, Lawrence Walsh, and Robert Mueller. These names are almost as familiar as the Presidents they investigated. What does that say about the role of Special Prosecutors, the power the have, t
he evolution of their role in history and how we should see them today?

When a lesser know name, John Henderson was the special prosecutor pursuing Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 we didn’t have a 24/7 new cycle, and hundreds of former US Attorneys, commenting on his every move.

So once again, the question has to be asked, does this important safeguard of democracy even work in our current political, media and partisan environment.

Of course the best way to know is to examine the history. That what Andrew Coan does in Prosecuting the President: How Special Prosecutors Hold Presidents Accountable and Protect the Rule of Law

My conversation with Andrew Coan:


Monday, February 4, 2019

Philip Johnson and the Politics of Architecture, the Architecture of Politics

In an era in which everything it politicized, from the TV shows and the movies we watch to the places we shop, it’s not surprising that architecture and design would also be reflective of the politics of the day. This phenomenon is nothing new.

For proof of this, we need to look no further than Philip Johnson. Considered one of the greatest of modern architects, he would spend a good part of his life caught in the vortex between his politics and his art. His art, on the one hand, reflecting who he really was (because art seldom lies,) but also using the scope and causes of that work, to try and escape from who he was and what he believed.

That dilemma lies at the heart of an insightful new biography of Johnson by Mark Lamster, the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News, a professor in the architecture school at the University of Texas at Arlington, a 2017 Loeb Fellow of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the author of The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century.

My conversation with Mark Lamster:



Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Is This The End of Shopping?

All over the world, as populism surges, as creative destruction makes economic change inevitable, the focus on manufacturing and manufacturing jobs is often front and center. Maybe it’s the old romantic of a nation of big shoulders; the factories and machines spinning noisily, providing well-paying jobs.

But the fact is that far more jobs, almost 30 million, exist in the retail sector in the US, and those jobs are in far greater jeopardy than anything in manufacturing.

We see it all around us on empty main streets and in malls. It’s easy and somewhat lazy to blame it all on Amazon, and the internet. The causes go far deeper. Our entire relationship to shopping, to the acquisition of things, and to brands is changing. And millennials are leading the way.

As both millennials and aging, empty nest boomers move to cities, there simply isn't as much space to store all the stuff that we used to buy. Why else has Marie Kondo become an international icon?

So if retail is to survive, a lot has to change according to Mark Pilkington in his book Retail Therapy: Why the Retail Industry is Broken – and What Can Be Done to Fix It.

My conversation with Mark Pilkington: