Monday, September 30, 2013

The first casualty, of the first war, of the 21st Century.

When we look at a tragedy like 9/11, we think of who and what we lost at that moment. We forget that a future is also lost. That many of those killed that day may have changed and reshaped the future. Certainly Danny Lewin, who was on AA flight 11, the first plane to hit the towers, had the potential to do just that.

During his brief 31 years, Danny was a father, a soldier, a brilliant mathematician and an entrepreneur. Along with his MIT professor, Tom Leighton, he would reshape the Internet into the robust system that was able to withstand the traffic and news of 9/11 itself. What else he might have accomplished in his lifetime, is a loss not just to his family, but to all of us.

Molly Knight Raskin lets us all share Danny's story in No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet.

My conversation with Molly Knight Raskin:

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why has the debate over the Affordable Care Act been so UNPRECEDENTED?

Throughout all of the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, right up until this moment, many have worked hard to institute some measure of affordable health care and health care reform in America. A country that, prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, was the only modern Western nation not to have done so.

It's no wonder that the forces allied against were powerful, well financed and prepared to do anything and say anything.  Those who would attack the law did so in the absence of political success. Instead, they would try and use the courts, the very courts that they always deride as activist. Except now they wanted to actively seek to overturn, by judicial fiat, that which they could not do through political means.

Law Professor Josh Blackman takes a broad look at the Constitutional and legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act and finds the case Unprecedented.

My conversation with Josh Blackman:

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Friday, September 27, 2013

"The Girl" speaks about Roman Polanski and what happened 36 years ago

In 1977, a 13 year old aspiring actress was invited to do a photo-shoot with a famous film director.

What happened that day, still makes headlines around the world: Director Roman Polanski, then 43, gave Samantha Gailey then 13, a hefty helping of Champagne and Quaaludes, then raped her at the home of Jack Nicholson.

After pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, Polanski fled the country before his court date and made a home in France. Samantha Geimer, Now 50, and 36 years after the fact, has written a memoir of her experiences. The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski.

Lawrence Silver was Samantha’s lawyer, from the very beginning and now talks about the case. The facts remain the same, but the context has changed dramatically in the past 36 years.

My conversation with Lawrence Silver:

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thanks to The Billionaire and the Mechanic, the America's Cup will never be the same

This has been an amazing week for sailing, for Oracle team USA, for it’s crew and for Larry Ellison.

In many ways Ellison is the true manifestation of what creative destruction and Silicon Valley is all about….dreams, passion, vision, innovation and the ability to execute on all of it.

Many successful entrepreneurs possess some measure of these qualities. But often the purpose and the playing field is small; an app, a piece of software, a new design. All things of value. But Larry Ellison wanted to play on a much grander scale. He wasn't happy to just nudge the world, he wanted to change it, to shift it on it’s axis...just a bit.

Yesterday’s victory was the culmination of that effort in the world of sailing. It’s a story that is powerful and complex, and involved people like Norbert Bajurin and Jimmy Spithill, who would share and complement and expand on Ellison's vision and passion. It’s a story told with equal passion by Julian Guthrie. Julian’s book The Billionaire and the Mechanic: How Larry Ellison and a Car Mechanic Teamed Up to Win Sailing's Greatest Race, The America's Cup sets the stage for all that came before yesterday’s race.

My conversation with Julian Guthrie:

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"An unbroken series of successful gestures."

Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Gatsby, “that if personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promise of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the 'creative temperament'--it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person.”

What is it that gives someone those qualities? Is it their bearing, their dress, the way they hold their hands or the words they use? Clearly some people have it, and others don’t . But can it be learned?

Matthew Kohut explains how people can find power and influence beyond just their KLOUT score. He argues that we can find that something that makes us into Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential.

My conversation with Matthew Kohut:

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Ecstatic Nation

When we look at the vast expanse of history, we find that there are periods when the world seemingly shifted on its axis: When change is dramatic, when our whole way of looking at and understanding events changes. Perhaps the 60’s was such a period, perhaps we are in such a period today. The impact of technology, globalization, deindustrialization social, cultural and economic change. Only history will be able to give us that answer.

What we are learning though, is that the period of time leading up to the Civil War, the war itself, and the reconstruction that followed, was such a period. It gave rise to events that created tectonic shifts, and was populated by characters whose special quality secures their place in history.

This is the period written about by Brenda Wineapple in Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877.

My conversation with Brenda Wineapple:

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Nuclear Weapons and the Illusion of Safety

Since the dawn of the age of nuclear weapons we have only imagined the complexity of systems that are involved in the use of those weapons. Those of us that grew up during the cold war are all too familiar with the nuclear football that follows the President, launch codes, the hotline, fail safe mechanisms, and even the eccentricity of Col. Jack Ripper.

All have seemingly kept us safe. But today the cold war is over, US and Russian nuclear stockpiles have gone from over 60k weapons to less than 5k. It all sounds pretty good.

But as we worry anew about nuclear proliferation, about weapons in the hands of terrorists, it bring into bold relief that idea that these weapons are among the most complex machines built by man. As such they can fail; accidents can happen, and weapons on a hair trigger alert are subject to technical failure.

Is it pure dumb luck that we have not had an accident involving nuclear weapons? In fact we have had many such accidents, perhaps over 1200 of them… the worst of which happened in Damascus, Arkansas, 33 years ago.

Now investigative reporter Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness, takes us inside our system of Command and Control.

My conversation with Eric Schlosser:

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Do we need a new war on poverty?

It’s been almost 50 years since Lyndon Johnson declared "war on poverty."  It’s been more than 50 years since JFK was moved by the poverty of Appalachia and Bobby Kennedy by the poverty of the South Bronx.

Today's poverty may not be as dark or desperate, but it is more insidious. While we focus on the growing gap between the one percent and the middle class, we often ignore those that have fallen out of the middle class, and sunk below the poverty level. That group is growing exponentially and it’s a blight on our nation. Certainly it’s not a part of the American exceptionalism the President spoke of last week.

Just as the House is voting to drastically cut Food Stamps, journalist Sasha Abramsky delves deep into the issues in The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives.

My conversation with Sasha Abramsky:

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Held hostage for 460 days

Many of us remember the 1978 movie Midnight Express, where Billy Hayes is held and tortured by his Turkish captors, as attempts are made to extract ransom.

Well imagine today, a young woman caught in a similar situation, kidnaped and held by brutal captors, not because of an attempt to smuggle drugs, but because she was trying to tell a story as a young and struggling and aspiring journalist. The location was not Turkey, but Mogadishu, Somalia, considered by some, one of the most dangerous places on earth. What brought Amanda Lindhout to this place, and what in her background gave her the strength and grace to survive a devastating 460 day ordeal? Her story A House in the Sky, tells us a great deal about her, and also about the indomitable resiliency of the human spirit.

My conversation with Amanda Lindhout:

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The reselling of the Presdient 2012

Look at any campaign, for student body President or for President of the United States and we see some key ingredients. The clarity and strength of the message, the quality of the political organization, the discipline of the candidate, the get out the vote effort and the resonance of the broader issues.

As President Obama entered his reelection campaign, a full two years before election day, by any objective standard, these things were in flux and not always for the better.

To paraphrase his opposition, the hope and change thing wasn’t going so well. And yet Obama would become the first president, since Ike, to be re elected with over 50% of the vote. What the campaign did, right and wrong, is the subject of Richard Wolffe’s, 2012 campaign biography The Message: The Reselling of President Obama.

My conversation with Richard Wolffe:

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Brother, My Sister

Even though our culture is dripping with sex, topics of sexuality don’t always come easily to our understanding or to our conversation. It has taken generations for gays and lesbians to begin to achieve their full measure of acceptance, and there is still work to be done. Same sex marriage is finally beginning to gather a majority constituency.

But clearly, the transgender world is yet to achieve anything near equality or understanding.

Yet as we understand more about it, as we begin to see it up close and personal, inside our own families and friends, perhaps the understanding and acceptance will evolve.

There is no more powerful example of this than the story that esteemed film critic Molly Haskell tells about the transformation of her own brother, in her memoir My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation.

My conversation with Molly Haskell:

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why we should welcome adversity

We are all familiar with the words of Nietzsche who said, "that which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger." It has become a kind of mantra for a society in which everyone seems under siege, or faces some kind of adversity. But is it true?

We’re told that we learn from our mistakes, but is there an easier way? Does the willingness to lean into to adversity, make it more likely? Do those who deny adversity’s benefits, have less of it? And how does the value of learning from adversity get weaker, often closed down, by the power of positive thinking which is often so much a part of our happy talk culture?

These are some of the ideas dealt with by Dr. Norman Rosenthal in The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life's Difficulties, Setbacks, and Imperfections.  Rosenthal is a psychiatrist and the scientist who in the 1980s first described winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). He spent 20 years as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) where he studied disorders of mood, sleep, and biological rhythms.

My conversation with Dr. Norman Rosenthal:

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A Better Way of Death

When we speak of death and sickness, it is often as if we are engaged in the language of war. We are battling, fighting, staving off. Perhaps we'd be better to think of it in language from the 17th Century poet John Donne, in “Death Be Not Proud.”

That might help us to understand a different language of death, but it was all before the advent of the medical/industrial complex. The ways in which the forces of medicine stand in the way of a “meaningful death.”

That’s the world that journalist Katie Butler writes about in Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death. Her story, in the NY Times Magazine, about her father's death, was one of the most commented upon articles in the history of the Magazine.

My conversation with Katie Butler:

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11/2012 - Benghazi, Libya...just the facts

On 9/11 of last year the US Mission in Benghazi, Libya, an isolated ad hoc outpost, was attacked. The small security team from the Diplomatic Security Service, was no match for the large numbers of jihadist forces that would attack, in what has been called “a perfect worst case scenario.”

This was the first time that a US diplomat had been killed since 1988, in Pakistan. Perhaps in another time it would have brought respect for the heroics of the men who valiantly fought back to save the mission and the Ambassador. Perhaps it would have brought a legitimate investigation of what happened and how we might learn from such attacks.

Instead, like almost everything else today, it’s simply been a catalyst for bitter partisanship, for political opportunism and the continuing efforts of some, to find anything to attack the President and the administration.

In that haze we’ve lost sight of what really happened and why it still matters. Now, two national security experts, Fred Burton and Samuel Katz, provide the first full scale account in their book Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi.

My conversation with Burton and Katz:

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Masters and Johnson

Today we are a society steeped in Sex. It’s part of almost every aspect of our politics, our culture, and our economy. It’s about selling cars, and also the dispensing of medical care.

But just 60 years ago, it was a subject that was all but taboo. We not only didn’t speak its name in polite company, but we knew very little about it and how it worked, both physiologically and psychologically.

Then William Masters came along and with his partner Virginia Johnson, changed all that. They not only medicalized the discussion and understanding of sex, but unleashed the power of female sexuality in ways that would forever change society.

Few have studied and understood their work better than Thomas Maier. His book Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love has just been
re released and a Showtime original series, based on the book, premiers later this month.

My conversation with Thomas Maier:

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Working Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty

It used to be that we had a somewhat standard expectations as to what it means to be a grown up. It they weren’t norms really, at least they were a general set of expectations: College, marriage, a house, a car, kids...all the accouterments of the American dream.

It’s interesting, that even amid the turmoil and social and cultural transitions of the 60’s and 70’s, these stars remained pretty fixed in our imagination.

Yet the broader economic transitions of globalization, economic disparity and deindustrialization, have had a far greater impact. One that has tilted these expectation off their axis and may be creating a generation where coming of age, where adulthood, means something entirely different. In fact, it may be the entirety of the reason for the stagnation of the middle-class.

Jennifer Silva, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School, take a look at what's happening in Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty.

My conversation with Jennifer Silva:

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