Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How well have we really done against Al Qaeda?

Historians have often said that we always fight new wars with lessons learned from the last one. Ten years ago, after the tragic events of 9/11, we were woefully unprepared for the battle against Al Qaeda. An organization that existed not in the physical space of a nation state, that might be dealt with by brute force, but rather as a 21st century decentralized network, that would require new methods and a new geopolitical mindset. This would be a war requiring intelligence, patience, technology and whole new ways of looking at the world. Long before the death of Bin Laden, US efforts had been effectively shrinking and neutralizing Al Qaeda. How we did this has been a little known story that is now told by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker of the New York Times, in their book Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.

My conversation with Eric Schmitt:

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Monday, August 29, 2011

The fall of the Cali Cartel

Fathom events is re-releasing Scarface for one night only, this Wednesday. It's interesting to look at that movie in light of today's drug war in Mexico. It seems that not a week goes by without another story about the scope of that drug war and the endless killing and corruption that’s destroying much of the social fabric of that country. But this drug war didn’t spring full blown. In many ways it was a direct result of the Colombian drug wars of the 1980's and 1990’s.

While it’s been good for Columbia to shed those wars, it’s certainly been a heavy price for Mexico. What's worth looking at is how did Columbia put an end it’s war, trafficking and the infamous Cali Cartel. Much of the answer lies in the hands of one man...Joge Salcedo. A part time soldier, an engineer, businessman and family man, he risked it all to change the course of Colombian history. William Rempel, in At the Devil's Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel, tells us the full story of Salcedo and the drugs wars.

My conversation with William Rempel:

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Friday, August 26, 2011

The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars

While we sometimes enter wars with the best of intentions, (Libya as a case in point,) the reality is often quite different. In almost all wars the dead are not just enemy soldiers, but hundreds of thousand of innocent civilians whose death, at best, becomes a statistic.

Its hard for us to grasp this reality. Perhaps it's our own myopia, our inability to see or relate to those that might be different than ourselves, or a need to look away for fear of feeling a kind of collective guilt. Whatever the individual reasons, the new reality of high tech warfare is arguably making this increase in civilian causalities all the more a reality. John Tirman, Executive Director of the Center for International Studies at MIT, explains in his new work The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars.

My conversation with John Tirman:

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Media Overload

In Douglas Edwards' new book about the early days of Google, he tells the story about how Larry Page records programs on NPR and then, when he has the opportunity, listens to them back at double speed, so as to save time and use his time more efficiently. For many of us we may not go quite that far, but we do spend a great deal of our time consuming and connected to a lot of different kinds of media.

Is there a problem with this? Is concern about this akin to our Grandparents telling our parents not to spend to much times listening to the radio, or our parents horrified at their kids are plugging in earphone to listen to rock 'n roll. Are those concerned about too much media consumption simply old school, and don’t understand the world that digital natives live in? Or, is there really a price to be paid for too much of a good thing. Tom Cooper of Boston's Emerson College and former assistant to Marshall McLuhan share his ideas in Fast Media, Media Fast: How to Clear Your Mind and Invigorate Your Life In an Age of Media Overload.

My conversation with Tom Cooper:

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011


One of the most cliched expressions on Wall Street is, "this time it's different.” Usually, it’s not. The trouble is, some times it really is different. Arguably the current economic dislocation and deconstruction that we face will alter every aspect of our society. The question is, is the bursting of our economic bubble a direct result of economic fundamentals and of the normal business cycle OR is it the result of broader social, economic, technological and societal changes, that have been building up pressure for years, and the results of which will be with us for years, maybe decades to come. If so, are these the problems of a swift moving , modern, global, economy that we simply may not have tools to adjust?

About a year ago Don Peck an editor at The Atlantic wrote a Cover Story for the Atlantic which kindled a national conversation. That story touched a nerve and has become the core of his new book Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It.

My conversation with Don Peck:

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Making Sense of People

We often ask the question, "what makes us human?" What we're really asking, is what makes up the complexity of the human personality. Historically the best we've been able to do is understand it through art and literature. Today the advances of modern science and psychiatry have added a whole new dimension to understanding who and how we are.

At the forefront of this effort is Dr. Samuel Barondes, Director of the Center for Neurobiology and Psychiatry at USCSF. Trained in psychiatry and neuroscience at Columbia, Harvard and NIH, he is the author of Making Sense of People: Decoding the Mysteries of Personality.

My conversation with Dr. Samuel Barondes:

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011


How many times have you heard an old song that brought you back to a particular place and time. The music acted as a kind of transport device that allowed you to short circuit time and make yesterday's events today's reality. But what happens next, what's the impact on the music and pop culture in general? If the past is what make us comfortable, in music, art and fashion, where will we find the creativity to move us forward? What will inspire the creative destruction for our future art and popular culture if we only hang out in the retro? Music critic Simon Reynolds asks these questions and looks at the state of popular music today in Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past.

My conversation with Simon Reynolds:

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Emperor of All Maladies

Over the years we've engaged in many "wars." The War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, the recent War on Terror and in the early 1970's, Richard Nixon launched a War on Cancer. It was a war that some said would be won by the turn of the last century. Obviously that war is not won and in some respects we are just at the starting gate. New treatments to take advantage of new genetic research is begging to take hold. The old paradigm of poisoning cancer to death, is finally running it course.

Yet cancer today is growing exponentially. It's estimated that one in three will be directly touch by cancer. It's becoming the number one killer in America. But with all we know, we know very little about this history and origins. Like to many war, we are too often fighting against an enemy we do not know or understand. This was the starting point for Pulitzer Prize winner Siddhartha Mukherjee's brilliant The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

My conversation with Siddhartha Mukherjee:

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

China squared

Winston Churchill once referred to the former Soviet Union as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. He was looking for some key to understand that nation. Today, as China rises, we seem to looking for a similar key. A kind of unified filed theory of China that will enable us to better and more simply understand the nation and it’s people. The problem is, it is a nation and a people who thrive on contradiction. A yin and yang that for almost every analysis there seems to be an opposite.  Like the story of the blind man and the elephant, where each part that you touch gives you a different picture of the whole, so to with China, its mammoth scale makes it hard to see the whole.

The China we mostly see and talk about is the urban China; Beijing, Shanghai and dozens of other huge cities. These are critical in showing China to the world, as the Olympics did. But still there is also rural china. A place untouched by China’s progress, Almost another country of a billion people.

Two recent conversations portray both sides of China. First Tom Scocca  gives us the urban view in Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future, and Mike Levy takes us deep insight into rural China in Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China's Other Billion

My conversation with Tom Scocca:

My conversation with Mike Levy:

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Monday, August 8, 2011

As We Speak

It has been accurately reported that one of the greatest fears people have is that of public speaking. This is particularly unfortunate given that the spoken word is how we best communicate our ideas, our passions and how we get others to understand and follow us. If we truly believe in what we have to say, what is it that we are afraid of? Is there a way to assure our success, to make sure that we understand the importance without letting the stakes impact the performance.

This is the work of Peter Meyers detailed in his work and in his book As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and Have It Stick.

My conversation with Peter Meyers:

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Hey, want to buy a painting....

Art theft is one of the most profitable criminal enterprises in the world, exceeding $6 billion in losses to galleries and art collectors annually. Last May, five paintings worth over $125 million were stolen from the Paris Museum of Modern Art. They have not been recovered. Still unsolved is the $500 million robbery of Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Who steals art, why and how do they get rid of it? All are part of the story told by Anthony Amore and Tom Mashberg in their book Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists.

My conversation with Anthony Amore and Tom Mashberg:

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How to predict the future...

It was Casey Stengel who said, "never make predictions, especially about the future."  In this rapidly changing world, it certainly does seem almost impossible to predict the future, or even to invent it. However Daniel Burris has made a career of predicting the future, and he has a pretty good track record. He argues in his book Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible that we all can develop insights about the future by looking at the world in a radically different way.

My conversation with Daniel Burris:

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