Thursday, May 17, 2018

We Think It's Stormy Now.....1968 Was Far Worse....And We Survived

Historians have long written about inflection points in history. In American history, events surrounding the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War & Reconstruction, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and WWII, are all such points.

It’s arguable that we may very well be living though another one right now. But clearly the last great historical inflection point came exactly fifty years ago, and reached its apogee in the year of 1968. Lyndon Johnson was President, and a series of events led us to believe like Yeats, “that the center cannot hold, and that mere anarchy was loose upon the land.”

The Tet Offensive, MLK and RFK assassinations, the Praque Spring, racial conflicts, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Lyndon Johnson's decision not to seek reelection and the election of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, made 1968 quite a year.

Lyndon Johnson presided over it all and that's the story that historian Kyle Longley tells in LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval

My conversation with Kyle Longley:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Moral Horror of Our Times

Look at any days news output, and its getting harder and harder to separate fact from fiction. Not because of fake news, but because the real news and the actions of so many cross the bounds of credible behavior.
As someone recently pointed out, after a few recent days of the usual craziness, if someone had submitted the days real events has a script or story idea for West Wing, or Homeland or even House of Cards, , it would have been rejected as too absurd.

The sad truth is that it’s really happening. This is why it’s sometimes necessary to look at it all in the realm of fiction or specifically a kind of meta fiction. This is what Laurie Calhoun does in her novel You Can Leave.

My conversation with Laurie Calhoun:

If Gina Haspel is confirmed, will CIA torture begin anew?

The debate over Gina Haspel running the CIA has, like most things, devolved into a partisan political debate: The usual tribes, the usual sides, and the usual arguments. But if we can only step back a bit, we see that it’s so much more. It goes to the heart of who we are as a nation, as a moral society, and whether we can ever again be that shining city on a hill.

As the nomination becomes closer to a vote in the Senate, we’re going to talk about it with John Kiriakou, who was the first member of the intelligence community to expose the CIA’s use of torture, and as a result, became one of the very few Americans ever prosecuted under the Espionage Act, for which he served 23 months in federal prison.

My conversation with John Kiriakou.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Moore's Law Does Not Apply To Relationships

It’s become a cliche, but the fact is that in just the past 10 years, almost everything we do has changed. From the way we drive, take pictures, communicate, shop, to the way we seek relationships.

What hasn’t changed is the fundamental underlying idea of human relationships. Connecting, relating and maybe even falling in love. It’s probably a good thing that evolutionary biology is not subject to Moore's Law.

So how do we reconcile the two? How does Tinder or Match or Bumble sync up with our human needs, which have not really changed  all that much in thousands of years? Trying to tie these threads together is Joanna Coles in her new book Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in a Digital World

My conversation with Joanna Coles:

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Globalization and its Discontents

Trump, Brexit, and the worldwide populist revolution are not causes, but symptoms. Symptoms of a wider systemic plague of fear of change, anxiety, and a feeling by people of being part of a world they no longer can control or even understand.

Technology today, rather than being a cause, is merely the host that carries the fear. Not unlike the Industrial Revolution a century ago, disruptive change takes its toll. The difference now is that it all happens at hyper speed, and in full view 24/7. How we deal with it, whether we put those that have been left behind in Hillary Clinton’s basket of deplorables, or find leadership that will lift up entire countries may very well determine the fate of the world.

Ian Bremmer, the president and founder of Eurasia Group is more on point than most in understanding all this is going on. He explains a big part of it in Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism.

My conversation with Ian Bremmer:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

How Humans Deal With Change...What We Get Wrong

Think about the things that dominate our world today:

The flow of huge amounts of information and how we use and process that data. The importance of all of this data in feeding the artificial intelligence that will clearly diver our future.

The ongoing creative destruction resulting from both information and technology and the way that is upending so much of what we’ve come to know and expect and be comfortable with.

And overlaying all of this is the very idea of rapid change in every aspect of our lives. We are told over and over again that humans don't do well in adapting to change, especially if it’s coming at us at dizzying pace.

What all of this might tell us, if we listen carefully, is that this brave new world will require whole new ways of thinking in order to survive in it. That just as we have to repriottive our technical still sets, we have to reorder our cognitive still sets to thrive as we move deeper into the 21st century.

This is at the core of a new way of thinking, put forth by Leonard Mlodinow in Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change.

My conversation with Leonard Mlodinow:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Freedom, Liberty & America...A Look Back

In his book Profiles in Courage, JFK writes that courage exists “when a man does what he must — in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers, and pressures — and that is the basis of all human morality.”

It’s hard to even think about this in the realm of pubic life in 2018. A time when courage is in short supply, reality is subjective and facts are not the “stubborn things” that John Adams said they were, but merely fungible talking points to gin up the base.

It’s sad then that we have to rely almost solely on history to find examples of this courage and morality. That’s where multiple Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Ricks tanks us in his joint biography Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom

My conversation with Thomas Ricks:

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Dear Madam President

There is a line from the 1973 movie The Way We Were, where Katie Morosky, played by Barbra Streisand, talks about Hubbell Gardner, played by Robert Redford. She says of Gardner/Redford, “In a way he was like the country he lived in; everything came too easily to him.”

And that has been a narrative, albeit, often a false one, of ease and grace that the public often seeks to buy into with respect to its leaders. Certainly Kennedy successfully exploited it, maybe even laid the political predicate for it, in his race against Nixon in 1960. In a way it was even a part of the Obama narrative.

On the flip side, it may have very well worked against Hillary Clinton in 2016. It seems that for Hillary Clinton, nothing came easily. Everything she had ever achieved was, or appeared to be, a struggle. One that played out on the public stage for more than 40 years.

Jennifer Palmieri got to see this up close and personal as Hillary Clinton’s Communications Director, and herself a veteran of many years in politics and in the White House. She brings it all into focus in her new book Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World

My conversation with Jennifer Palmieri:

Why We Have More Time to Have No Time

Isn’t it interesting that the more we have technology to save us time, the more we complain about not having enough time. Before the digital revolution we never heard as much talk about everyone not having enough time.

Just think about how much time we spend setting up our CRM and To do list apps, when a simple list in a notebook might have actually been faster.

And while the technology of everything from dating apps to GPS, may make things more efficient, do they actually limit our ability to see the wider world, and in so doing make us cogs in a wheel that sacrifice our humanity and our sense of wonder. That what author and distinguished scholar Edward Tenner looks at in The Efficiency Paradox: What Big Data Can't Do

My conversation with Edward Tenner:

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Fragility of Hope

Woody Allen once said that the world was divided into the horrible and the miserable. The horrible he thought were people with terminal cases, blind people, and the crippled. “I don't know how they get through life,” he said. “It's amazing to me.”

To answer Woody Allen's existential question
, it is usually hope that carries the day. But the form that that hope takes can vary widely. Sometimes, it grows out of faith, sometimes out of denial and sometimes out of science. This is often true for both real cutting edge science, or the placebo that is most Western medicine.

Author and journalist Richard M. Cohen, has long lived with conditions Woody Allen would call horrible. Yet though his writings and his voice, he has not only defined his hope, he has given it to others. He does so once again in his look at stem cell research in Chasing Hope: A Patient's Deep Dive into Stem Cells, Faith, and the Future.

My conversation with Richard M. Cohen:

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Immigration and the False Lure of the American Dream

There is not a day that goes by that the subject of immigration is not in some way part of our national discussion. However, even with all the talk, there is little focus on either the large number of immigrants that arrive from China, or on the their immigrant experience.

We think very little about what it must be like leaving one's country, friends, family and culture behind, to begin anew as a stranger in a strange land.

Perhaps if we all understood the commitment, the bravery, the strength it takes to do that, we would be having a very different conversation about immigration.

That experience is the world that Lauren Hilgers gives up a window into in Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown

My conversation with Lauren Hilgers:

Friday, April 27, 2018

An Important Day In The Life of Robert F. Kennedy

In 1964 Lyndon Johnson enacted his war on poverty. Three years later Robert Kennedy knelt in a crumbling shack in Mississippi, watching a toddler pick rice and beans off of a dirt floor. What Robert Kennedy saw on that trip would impact him personally and in part, drive is run for the Presidency one year later.

While Vietnam was the seminal issue of the day, poverty and its nexus with the civil rights movement, were very much on Kennedy’s mind.

Ellen Meacham takes us back to this transformative moment for RFK in Delta Epiphany: Robert F. Kennedy in Mississippi.

My conversation with Ellen Meacham: 

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: