Friday, January 29, 2010

Make a decision!

What happens in our brain when we try to make decisions? Why is decision making effortless for some and others struggle just to decide what to eat for breakfast?  In his book How We Decide, the brilliant writer and blogger Jonah Lehrer explains that our best decisions don't involve a choice between reason and emotion, but are in fact the perfect blend of both.

My conversation with Jonah Lehrer:

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Monday, January 25, 2010

The Empathic Civilization

The health care debate is but one example of the difficulty of enacting any kind of social or political change.  The Supreme Court saw to it last week that corporate money will continue to define our political agenda.  The only good news was that the outpouring of support and relief for Haiti still shows a deep well of human compassion, in spite of a year in which Ayn Rand was resurrected and selfishness was once again put up as a virtue.

With the institutions of democracy broken, globalization increasing, climate change continuing and increasing energy demands, it seems we need to find whole new ways of addressing critical problems.  Author, scholar and public intellectual Jeremy Rifkin, in his new book The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis contends that we are at a seminal turning point in human history and that the coming decades could well determine our future survival on this planet.

My conversation with Jeremy Rifkin:

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Making decisions in a Dangerous World

Of the twenty most costly catastrophes since 1970, more than half have occurred since 2001.  Is the world simply going to fast and is the rapidity of events the reason for bad decisions?  We live in a time when we have more information when we make decisions. Neuroscience and brain research have given us powerful new tools to help us decide.  The pain of the past eighteen months is said to have given us a kind of reset, to allow us to take more reasoned actions.  Does any of this matter?  Or is there something at the intersection of economics, psychology, public policy and finance that is simply dysfunctional?  Thirty top scholars, innovators and Nobel laureates takes on these issues in a The Irrational Economist: Making Decisions in a Dangerous World edited by Wharton Risk Center Managing Director Erwann Michel-Kerjan.

My conversation with Erwann Michel-Kerjan:

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Globalization of Mental Illness

Just as American culture is homogenizing the world, with respect to everything from movies to junk food, so to is it globalizing the human mind itself. In his new book Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche,science writer Ethan Watters  shows that we are not only changing the way the world understands and treats mental illness, but that we are actually trying to redefine the symptoms of others to fit into our own pharmacologically driven solutions.  Good for big pharma, bad for diversity and human compassion.

My conversation with Ethan Watters:

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Friday, January 15, 2010

The science of compassion

The outpouring of aid and support for Haiti has been overwhelming.  It should make us wonder if we are somehow hardwired to be compassionate, empathic and altruistic. Over the past year, amidst the financial crisis, the ideas of Ayn Rand and the supposed virtues of selfishness have gained new converts.  Yet more and more science tells us that compassion, far from being weak, is the very quality that has enabled the successful evolution of our species and will ultimately determine our fate.

The Greater Good Science Center, led by renown psychologist Dacher Keltner and based at UC Berkley, has been in the vanguard of this movement. The Center has, for the first time, published its writings in a new book entitled The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness.

My conversation with Dacher Keltner:

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

The responsibility of command

In the entire history of the US, only forty-four men have known exactly what it feels like to have the full weight of the nations security on their shoulders. Even fewer have assumed that mantel in a time of war.  As Barack Obama took office, the terrorist threat swirled around him. A year later, the failed Christmas day attack refocused Obama and the country on the threat of domestic terrorism.  Suddenly it wasn't just policy papers or briefings, but lives hung in the balance. N.Y. Times White House correspondent Peter Baker writes about this as the cover story in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

My conversation with Peter Baker:

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A good talk spoiled...

Texting, twittering, email, all have replaced true conversation. Pharmaceuticals have replaced talk therapy, shouting has replaced dialogue in our political discourse and snarkiness has replaced analysis and discussion.  In virtually every area of our culture conversation is under siege.  What is the price we're paying for this shorting of attention span, for the loss of the true exchange of personal narrative?  Do we even still know how to converse? Have we lost the art of conversation. Daniel Menaker's new book A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation gives us cause to worry, but some hope.

My conversation with Daniel Menaker:

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Element of Passion

In an economy where over ten percent of the population is unemployed, it might be easier if people pursued any job. Ken Robinson points out that this is but a short term solution to the individual and to the economy.  In his new book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Robinson explains that it is only by pursuing that which we are passionate about, that we can really change and reshape the fundamentals of work, employment and education in the twenty-first century and truly reap the rewards of building our economy on true human potential.

My conversation with Sir Ken Robinson:
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Globalization = Good

Nothing in the current recession should lead us to think that globalization will be slowing.  In fact, the free flow of money in international markets is as much a cure as a cause of the recent economic crises.  In Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed, Gregg Easterbrook, contributing editor to The Atlantic, thinks we have yet to see the real impact of globalization.  He contends that the world is about to become far more globally linked and that it will lead to great economic prosperity, knowledge and freedom.  However, even Easterbrook acknowledges that these changes will be unsettling, cause dislocation and give everyone one hell of a headache.

My conversation with  Gregg Easterbrook:

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Friday, January 8, 2010

The best and the brightest

Janine Wedel is getting lots of attention for her book Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market. But is the attention justified?  Has she simply taken the fundamental idea that there is a core group of talented and smart people, on both sides of the political equation, that move between government and the private sector and works hard to move their agenda's forward. From Kennedy's Harvard mafia to Reagan's California kitchen cabinet to Clinton's DLC advisor's to Obama's own search for the best and the brightest, there is absolutely nothing new about these practices.  Advisors come and go with Presidents and administrations.  We change administrations and we change advisors and cabinet members.  In turn, the old advisors become a kind of shadow government.  Think of the British system and their permanent shadow government.  We don't have this, we have businesses and think tanks that serve a similar purpose.  Yet Janine Wedel tries hard to make something sinister about this common practice.

My conversation with Jeanie Wedel:

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The price of everything, the value of nothing

Both Oscar Wilde and later Arthur Miller talked about those who knew "the price of everything, and the value of nothing."  In today's technologically driven desire for the "perfect market" this is perhaps more profound than ever.  But is faith in the "perfect market" and in prices a real way of valuing the world? Are we taking into account the real costs of the things we consume? Does the current financial crises indicate that we have to recalibrate the relationship between markets and the underlying economy and do we need a new way to value the world's worth.  These are the ambitious and provocative ideas taken up by activist and academic Raj Patel in his new book The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy.

My conversation with Raj Patel:

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

If you can't solve a problem, there is a lot of money to be made in prolonging it

A new year and a new decade, but many of the same old problems.  In trying to face the complexity of problems and issues facing us in the 21st Century, sometimes we just can't figure out what problem we are solving.  We get so caught up in our assessment or spin on the problem, that we loose site of what we're really trying to accomplish.  Business professor Ian Mitroff, in his book Dirty Rotten Strategies: How We Trick Ourselves and Others into Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely argues that by focusing on the wrong problem, we usually make matters worse.

My conversation with Ian Mitroff:

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