Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Founding Mothers of NPR

Origin stories are usually part myth, part apocryphal and they often come to define the culture and sometimes the products of the companies themselves. What they always do is to reflect the dreams and perceptions of the founder.

The business of news and media is no different. The founders of our great news brands all have a story to tell.

Such a powerful origin story is the founding visions of National Public Radio and the extraordinary women who gave it life. These women didn't invent it, anymore than many tech found invented their technology. What they did do is give it shape, life and a reason for being, and in so doing assured its growth and survival. These women, Susan Stamberg, Linda Worthhieer, Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts are the subject of new joint biography by Lisa Napoli Susan, Linda, Nina, and Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR 

 My conversation with Lisa Napoli:

Monday, April 19, 2021

Toxic Masculinity In An Oil Boomtown

The nature of work in America has changed. Good paying jobs in the manufacturing sector have been diluted, the service sector has exploded, and the gig economy is not just about Uber and Postmates. Today, even hard, brutal work in the oil fields has been gigafide.

For the men caught up in this change the price is high, but so are the lessons and yes, even the rewards.

Michael Patrick F. Smith is a folk singer and playwright who made the dramatic move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the booming oil fields of Williston North Dakota in order to participate in what he thought would be a modern day gold rush.

What he learned tells us a lot about work, men, and America today. He writes about it in The Good Hand: A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown  

 My conversation with Michael Patrick F. Smith:

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Elon Musk IS Leading Us Into The Future

Someone once said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. In many ways that’s been the story of scientific progress. It seems there is always someone that leads us into the future. Someone whose vision and entrepreneurship and obsessive drive combine to turn the next big idea into the next big thing.

This has been true from Franklin, to Edison, from Henry Ford to Thomas Watson, from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs, and today Elon Musk is the inheritor of that mantel.

Electric cars, commercial space travel, high speed transportation and even new forms of education are all part of the vision that Musk sees, and his vision may be on its way to become our reality.

As we all know Musk disruption of the automotive industry is full blown. What we may not fully understand is the way in which Musk, though Space X, is disrupting the aerospace industry, how we talk about space exploration, space travel and simply what a rocket is and does.

Aerospace journalist Eric Berger captures Musk's look into the future in Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX 
 

My conversation with Eric Berger:

Friday, April 2, 2021

Imagining the Next World War : 2034

There was once a time when we didn’t think a global pandemic was possible in the 21st century. The events of 9/11 took us by surprise as they did at Pearl Harbor and Midway.

Yet all of these tragic events were imaginable and some aspects of them even made their way into fiction, long before they happened.

They remind us that events like a pandemic or a world war are mostly at core, a failure of human imagination. Imagination which should be our first line of defense in preparing for our eventual future.

That is what distinguished Admiral James Stavridis and former Marine and award winning author Elliot Ackerman have given us in 2034: A Novel of the Next World War 

My conversation with Admiral James Stavridis and Elliot Ackerman: 

 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Come Fly With Me: The World of The Pan Am Stewardess Before "Me Too"

Those of you that are old enough, will remember when people got dressed up to fly. When having a meal onboard, especially on a transcontinental flight was like dining in a fine restaurant. When inflight service was more than peanuts and admonitions about the size of carry on bags.

It was also a time when those that provided that inflight serve, were a different breed than Cassie Bowden in The Flight Attendant. It was an era when air travel was awash in glamor not the horrors of today.

The flight attendants or stewardess, as they were known, were a select breed. Especially for global airlines like Pan Am. They had to have the right look, the right BMI, the right education, speak more than one language and abide by a strict dress code. By today's standards the requirement would probably generate a class action discrimination or “me too” lawsuit that would put the airline out of business.

This is the retro world that Julia Cooke takes us into in Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am 

My conversation with Julia Cooke:

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Royals Have Outlived Their Value: Gilded Lives at the Expense of the British People

It’s been a while since the British monarchy was so front and center in our consciousness. The Crown, on Netflix, and Meghan and Harry have pulled back the curtain on the sometimes romantic notion of royalty. But more importantly, it’s also given us a look into what’s been called The Firm or The Institution, the British monarchy and its wider political economies of wealth and power. Because behind the scenes is simply a corporation, engaged in capital accumulation, profit extraction, labor relations, national and international finance arrangements, and a network of legal status, all of which converge with, and impact on, contemporary Britain.

Prince Philip, the husband of the Queen, and the Duke of Edinburgh, is quoted to saying back in 1969 that “It’s a misconception to imagine that the monarchy exists in the interests of the Monarch. It doesn’t.”, he said “It exists in the interest of the people.” In fact, history tells us that nothing could be further from the truth. The monarchy is more precisely, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “What you get when you found a political system on the family values of Henry VIII.”

To bring all of this in perspective, I’m joined by the right honorable Norman Baker. Norman Baker was a Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2015, and established a reputation as one of the most persistent parliamentary interrogators in the modern House of Commons. 

His most recent book about the British monarchy entitled ...And What Do You Do?: What the royal family don’t want you to know In his spare time, he’s also an established singer-songwriter and has released three albums.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with the Right Honorable Norman Baker:




Thursday, March 18, 2021

Frida Kahlo and the Timelessness of Her Work and Her Ideas

Racial identity, socialism, the role of art in society, the responsibilities of artists and the position of the artist in popular culture. These subjects which sound like they are taken from today's headlines are also part of the life of Frida Kahlo.

They are all a part of new biography of Kahlo by Celia Stahr, that examines Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist.


My conversation with Celia Stahr:


Coffee, Globalization and and Why We Care About A Hill of Beans

While the world has changed in so many ways lately and turned most of our routines upside down, the one constant I suspect for many is their ritualistic morning coffee. For the moment it may not be in your favorite coffee shop, but nonetheless, the magic elixir helps start each day and power it along with consistency as the uncertain future unfolds.


But how did Coffee of all things become not just our universal drug of choice, but an essential lubricant in connecting us to each other and to the world?


It’s a story that begins in the volcanic highland of El Salvador and is often as complex as the taste of your hand-selected organically grown coffee beans. This is the story that Augustine Sedgewick tells in Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug.


My conversation with Augustine Sedgewick:


Monday, March 1, 2021

Rethink Everything You Know About Policing

Georgetown law professor Rosa Brooks was working at the Pentagon when she heard about the D.C. Metropolitan police corp program. Intrigued, much to the consternation of friends and family she joined up. Suddenly she had a badge, a gun, a uniform and a whole lot of academic ideas about cops, criminal justice, law enforcement and what it means to protect and to serve. 
Suddenly she was over and inside the blue wall. It was as if she was going into another country. She had to learn a new culture, a new language, and even her family feared not only for her safety, but that she’d be somehow co opted by the journey. 

What she found should radically change how we think about police and policing in America. Hint, it’s not anything that is part of our current rhetoric. She spells it all out inTangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City 

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Rosa Brooks:


Monday, February 22, 2021

Where Is The Information We Have Lost In Data

During the past year, perhaps a year like no other year, we have been bombarded with statistics. Covid cases, numbers of deaths, positivity rates and flattening the curve. Add to this an election and polling data that drowned us in information. 
On top of all of this is disinformation and the traditional ways in which numbers and statistics can be used to deceive us. 

And then just this week, statistics about stocks, and all manner of economic information. Data is everywhere. Every publication of note, now has whole departments devoted to data visualization.

One wonders though, where is the information we’ve lost in all that data. If you are good or bad at math, there is a lot to take in, to process and to try and understand.\

Tim Harford just might be able to help us with that with his new work The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics.

My conversation with Tim Harford:


Monday, February 15, 2021

Mike Nichols: A Life

Amidst the cacophony of social and cultural noise that’s all around us, we have too often neglected the role of the arts in shaping who we are and how we might be better, or at least different. 
Like almost everything else, we tend to commodify the arts. Everything from streaming revenue, to box office grosses, to the price of paintings at auction. 

I would argue that what we don’t do enough of is look deep into the artists themselves. Artists who by the very nature of their work, must keep their emotions closer to the surface. And in so doing, we can see how their work reflects the best and worst aspects of our culture. 

Mike Nichols was such an artist. In a multi decade-spanning career, the films and plays he directed have in some ways impacted us all. In the early comedy of Nichols and May, to the social insights of films like The Graduate, Silkwood, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Catch 22, to his plays that reflected who we were in the human comedy, he not only understood his art and craft, but valued other artists; specifically actors and writers as creative tools to help him to help us see the world. 

Mark Harris gives us all of this in his new biography Mike Nichols: A Life 

My conversation with Mark Harris:


Monday, February 8, 2021

Why The Exploration Of Space Should Still Matter

Once it was the moon. Today Mars is the holy grail of space exploration. In the coming months three missions, one from the US, one from Taiwan and one from the UAE will be approaching and/or landing on Mars. Next year Russia, Japan, and India have missions planned. It could get crowded up there! 
And while NASA, the President and Congress may be less enamored by space than by that latest social media site, there is amazing work being done at NASA. Also the private sector, in the form of wayfarers such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson are giving the government some competition. 

All of this is part of the history of space and its future exploration. This includes an amazing mission planned to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter in 2024. 

Giving us a telescopic view of all of this is David W. Brown in his new book The Mission: A True Story

My conversation with David W. Brown:

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Are You A Broker, Expansionist or Convener? It Will Tell How the Pandemic Impacted You

As we work the phones and Zoom calls, it makes you wonder if physical connection is even necessary? Has the pandemic given us a new normal. How has it impacted things like conversation in the hallways or parking lot, a lunch meeting or a discussion over a glass of wine. 
Just like science, when you change the way and the amount of elements you mix together, you get a different result. It’s just chemistry right? So is the same true for real life? Is the chemistry of our connections a static condition or a dynamic process that will be changed forever for the past year?

To understand this we talk with Marissa King, the author of Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection

My conversation with Marissa King:

Monday, January 25, 2021

Armed Members of Congress. Bloodshed in the Capitol. Talk of Secession. We've Seen It Before

For some of us, a sense of history is the only thing that gets us through each day. As divided as we are, as angry as we are, as exhausted as many of us are, history tells us that we’ve been there before. 
And while history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, as Mark Twain says, it often rhymes. To better understand our current moment, the run up to the Civil War gives us clues. 

We were a country going through transformation. Members of congress were armed. One congressman beat up a member of the Senate. Bloodshed was a part of Washington. Succession was on everyone's mind. Lincoln, with all his skills, could not prevent the war. All he could do was try and manage it. 

David Reynolds put all of this in perspective in his new work of history Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times.

My conversation with David Reynolds:

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Hispanic Republican Vote

The great baseball manager Casey Stengel famously said that he never makes predictions, especially about the future. That also might be good advice for political pundits. 

For months in the run-up to the election, we heard pundits talk about the Latino vote, that they were all reachable by Democrats and it was just a matter of Democrats committing more time, more energy, and resources. Latinos were just waiting to be given a reason to vote for Democrats. The problem is the demographics, history, culture, and the hard numbers of the election results themselves tell us that this is simply not true. 

 Since around 1972, Hispanic Republicans have developed their own partisan identities and an actual loyalty to The Republican Party. Even to this day, there were issues that continue to draw Latino voters into The Republican Party. 

Imagine if this took place in the Trump era, what it might mean in the future for Republicans. Clearly, Latinos are not a monolithic group, but rather complicated human beings that are not just pieces to be moved around on a political chess board. Bringing this all into bold relief is Geraldo Cadava. 

Geraldo Cadava is an associate professor of history and Latinx studies at Northwestern University and the author of The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Geraldo Cadava
 








Friday, January 8, 2021

Time for America to create a New Origin Story














If you follow business, you know that part of the lure of every company is its founding story or myth. How the founders came together, overcame objections, and persevered to build their insanely great products. 
Over time the myth takes on a life of its own, as it comes to define the company and its products. In a similar way it’s true of nations, including the United States. 

We were a nation forged from disparate regions. The Northeast, the South, the West, Midwest. Each with different cultures, different philosophies and demographics. And yet we have bought into the myth of one nation, one United States. The proverbial “shining city on the hill.” 

It seems that every few decades the patina wears off. The myth and the differences come to the surface and we struggle to hold it all together. We are living through that now. 

To explain why we need listen to Colin Woodward, author of Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood.

My conversation with Colin Woodard


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Understanding Goodfellas and the Trump Henchman

When we think of the past four years of the Trump administration, the analogies to The Godfather come 
immediately to mind. The reality truly reflects the sometimes magisterial and always violent family saga of the large organized crime family

But what about for the foot soldiers that have been corrupted by Trump? Those who have taken on his imprimatur to lie, steal and cheat. To understand them, we need to go back 30 years and look at Nicholas Pileggi's Wise guys, later to become the movie Goodfellas.

The movie was iconic and perhaps we could have learned form from it. Glenn Kenny digs keep into the movie, and those lessons in his book Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas.

My conversation with Glenn Kenny


Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X

There is no more significant issue than race in America. If perplexed our founders, it flies in the face of the notion of American exceptionalism, it clouds our dealing with the other nations, and it's an underlying current throughout American political history...right up to this very moment.

The Black lives matter movement, profound and successful as it is at this moment, is simply part of the arc of history trying to bend toward justice.

It’s impossible to understand that without understanding the work and the ideas of so many who have shaped the movement. And Malcolm X stands amidst the pantheon of those

Over the years many have tried to understand Malcolm X and his politics, his philosophy, his evolution and his influence on the civil rights movement. Certainly his speeches and autobiography are part of that cannon. But to fully understand the man, we need Les Paynes biography The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X 

Thirty years in the writing, Les Payne died in 2018 and the book was completed by his daughter Tamara Payne who was also it’s co-author and his principal researcher.

It is the winner of this year's National Book Award for Non-Fiction. 

 My conversation with Tamara Payne


Friday, December 18, 2020

The Collapse of America's Founding Mythology

Every company has its foundational myth. From the beginning, it becomes the basis of the company’s culture, its marketing, and really its DNA. The same is true for nations. And perhaps not surprisingly no nation has done a better job of that mythology than the United States.

From the ideas of manifest destiny to John Winthrop's shining city on the hill, from freedom and equality to American exceptionalism, these stories are not only foundational for Americans, but they run in the American bloodstream.

So what happens when it’s discovered that the myth and reality don’t match up? That the emperor has no clothes.

Ultimately, the myth is exposed, the wheels come off, the anger spreads, first internally and then outside and the enterprise usually collapses or morphs.

Arguably that’s what we’ve been living through today. The exposure and crumbling of the American myth. It explains the populist anger that brought Trump to power, as well as the anger on the other side that has fueled Black Lives Matter. When the myth is stripped bare, the company or the nation must be reinvested or die.

These ideas are at the heart of Jared Yates Sexton’s book  American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed Its People.

My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Jared Yates Sexton:




Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Broke is the definition of every aspect of American medicine today

Regardless of whether you are for single-payer health insurance, fee for service, a hybridized French system, or the Affordable Care Act, what’s clear is that most of our health care system is broken. It’s left behind from the world of technology and creative destruction and it’s far too expensive.

It’s a system that is broken, and that increasingly places barriers to entry for those without knowledge of the system or the poor without the financial resources to access it.

But what about the doctors that work in such a system. How does it impact them, many of whom wanted to practice medicine not social work. Dr. Michael Stein looks a this in Broke: Patients Talk about Money with Their Doctor.

My conversation with Dr. Michael Stein

:  

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork

Every company has its foundational myth. Usually carved out of air by its founder. It becomes the basis of its culture, its marketing and its fundraising. However, often, the reality of running a business is much more mundane. It’s often separated from the myth.

Most people, even charismatic founders of companies can understand the difference. It's like what used to be said of political campaigns, that candidates campaigned in poetry and governed in prose. Sometimes though when the myth takes over the reality, trouble is not far behind.

Rarely has the foundational myth and a company's operations become as interconnected as they were with Adam Neumann and WeWork.

That’s the story that Reeves Wiedeman tackles in Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork

My conversation with Reeves Wiedeman
:  

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Saudi Enigma - How Will Biden Deal With It?

There was a time when we looked upon Saudi Arabia as the gas station to the world. Certainly to the US. At the time it generated fear and a lack of understanding. It’s tribal structure, our lack of knowledge about its history and the repeated failures of US policy in the Middle East all placed the kingdom beyond our comprehension.


Its effort today to modernize both its culture and its economy, the US’s own confidence about oil independence and other dramatic geopolitical shifts have caused us to reassess the Saudi role in the world.  At the same time, the murder of Jamal Kashogi and other human rights abuses have not helped.  In short, Saudi Arabia still remains a great enigma. Trying to help us understand it is as a new administration must face another new policy is Saudi expert David Rundell, the author of Vision or Mirage: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads.


My conversation with David Rundell:
   

Monday, November 23, 2020

Does America Need to Find Its First Principles? A conversation with Tom Ricks

The past four years, really right up to this moment, have been a test for the American republic. Over and over we’ve heard it asked, “can our institutions hold, are the ideas and documents of the framers adequate for the modern age?” 


At the same time, we’ve heard over and over again, since Nov. 8, 2016, how did we get here? What has driven us to such political and social division, to our appetite for authoritarianism, the disregard for norms, the rural-urban and educational divide?

What ties all of these questions together is the idea that when faced with a complex sometimes unsolvable problem, it’s best to go back to foundational principles.

To deconstruct the enterprise and strip it to its original foundation to see how all of the problems have been layered on and how we might find meaning and/or solutions.

This is essentially what Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and another Tom Ricks does in his new work First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country

My conversation with Tom Ricks:

   

Monday, November 16, 2020

A Dolly Parton Moment

During our last great cultural and political upheaval in the 60s, music provided the soundtrack. Rock stars
were not in Silicon Valley, but in the recording studios of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Nashville.

Historically, our culture has been shaped by music and music has shaped by our culture. Additionally music, like sports, has been a way out of poverty for many. Few personify this better, particularly for many women, then Dolly Parton, and no one captures this better than Sarah Smarsh in her new work She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs 

My conversation with Sarah Smarsh

 
 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Biden..We Hardly Knew Ye

With the election just hours away, think about how many Presidents we’ve watched grow into the office.
Clinton, Bush and Obama. Earlier JFK and Jimmy Carter also came to the office unseasoned

Compare this to Ike, or Reagan, George HW Bush, or Lyndon Johnson all who arrived, for better or worse as fully formed political and human beings.

In this year’s election, policy aside, Joe Biden comes to us having lived a very long public life during which time he has grown into the person and politician he is today. Arguable, as a man who would become the nation’s oldest president it is fair to say that he is not still becoming.

While our presidential candidates seldom lack for position papers and policies, it’s who they are that ultimately determines if they have what it takes. Our vote for president is essentially a gut check vote about the man and the moment.

And sometimes, not always, but when we are lucky, the man and moment match up.

This is the question much of the nation is asking and answering about Joe Biden. After almost 50 years in the arena, it should be easy to answer. But amid all the clamoring, it takes work like the new book by National Book Award winner Evan Osnos to pull it all together in Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now

My conversation with Evan Osnos

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Is Socialism Coming To America?

Bernie Sanders an avowed Democratic socialist, never a member of the Democratic party, ran two failed presidential campaigns, and yet he has succeeded in moving the Democratic Party to the left.

AOC, is a one-term congresswoman with no previous political experience and yet her Democratic Socialist views have gotten attention on a national scale.

Particularly among young people, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the state of capitalism and free markets today. Even the likes of billionaires such as Chase’s Jamie Diamon and Salesforce’s Mark Benioff have talked about the need for a new more inclusive capitalism.

While this is essentially about the economy, it’s also about shifts in the social, cultural, and political landscape. The coronavirus has laid bare many of the lurking flaws in our system and the politics of the moment magnify everything.

Is this a tectonic shift in the politics of America or a temporary blip in an otherwise centrist nation?

John B. Judis breaks this down in his new work The Socialist Awakening: What's Different Now About the Left.

My conversation with John B. Judis

Friday, October 23, 2020

Are We So Divided that Secession Is The Only Answer?

There was a time when there were things that united us. Through most of the 20th century for example, they were things that had nothing to do with politics. They were movies and TV shows and books and sports and one of the three choices for getting our evening television news. We were for a long time part of a commonweal, a kind of national town square that provided our water cooler conversation around the things we had in common.

Over the past 40 years all that changed. Technology and the proverbial long tail atomized us into our individuals interests. The explosion of thousands of sources of news, entertainment and information satisfied us, satiated us really, but took away our common bonds.

The result is where we are today. On the verge of session. Divided as never before in an environment so fragile that the house divided may not stand.

David French has been thinking and writing and living this experience. He brings it forward in Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation.

My conversation with David French

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Jimmy Carter: A Good and Decent Presidency


Before his massive failure with the Covid crises, someone remarked that Donald Trump may not turn out to be the worst President we ever had, but for sure he will be the worst person ever to be President. In many ways, Jimmy Carter is the opposite. He may not have been a great President, but he may have been one of the best people to ever be President.

It’s hard to say if the problems that Carter faced, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, inflation, unemployment, and the Iranian hostage crisis, might have happened to any President of that period. But history tells us they were the crisis he was dealt. And the nature of them brought out some of Carter's worst, not his best qualities.

It really is a job that’s about the nexus between crisis and character. Sometimes they line up and sometimes they don't. For Carter, it was often out of sync. Jonathan Alter tell the whole story in His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life.

My conversation with Jonathan Alter:

Monday, October 12, 2020

Is White Collar Corruption the New Normal?

Fitzgerald got it right. The rich are different. Even in the way they commit crimes.

Law and order phrases are shouted from rooftops with respect to street crime, as small time criminals are abused by law enforcement and often overcharged. The reality is that crimes of much bigger significance, and many more victims, are committed in and from the boardroom.

While anger is still palpable in many places over those executives not not charged as for their role in the 2008/2009 financial meltdown, many smaller but similar white collar crimes have been committed with no oversight, no punishment and not even any more anger.

Has high end while collar crime simply become an acceptable cost of doing business? Has it become the collateral damage of capitalism that we are willing to accept? This is where Jennifer Taub takes us in Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime.

My conversation with Jennifer Taub: