Monday, March 31, 2014

There is no privacy! Should we just get over it?

Back in 1999, almost fifteen years ago, Sun Microsystems then Gadfly-in-Chief Scott McNealy made his infamous statement that “you have zero privacy anyway, get over, it.” There was a kerfuffle at the time, mostly that he had the nerve to say such a thing. Imagine, someone telling the truth.

The fact is he was right then, and all the debate from time to time, about terms of service for Google or Facebook, has resulted in very little change in the private sector, with respect to online privacy. In the public realm, the Snowden revelations really only confirmed what many have suspected for a long. We have not privacy.

So the question now is, should we just get over it, or actually try to do something about and if so what? Will some people opt to become a digital recluse, or is all of this just the price of progress?

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Julia Angwin looks inside the world of privacy today in Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance.

My conversation with Julia Angwin:

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Road to Global Prosperity

One of the strongest arguments for globalization and free trade, is that nations that do business together don’t go to war. The corollary of that is that continued economic growth depends upon no major wars. In other words, global prosperity depends on politics.

But can the two be separated. Politics impacts economic growth and in many ways, as peoples of the world seek a higher or better standard of living, economics impacts politics. We’ve created a kind of global feedback loop. The result is that the chain of globalized growth and prosperity is only as strong as its weakest link. These ideas are part of The Road to Global Prosperity, a new book by Johns Hopkins University Professor, Michael Mandelbaum.

My conversation with Michael Mandelbaum:

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Why We Make Things and Why It Matters

In the Netflix series House of Cards, Vice President Frank Underwood, a man dealing with and plotting the the fate of of the world, takes time out to work with his hands and craft, lay out and paint Civil War figurines. He says it's a form of relaxation.

For many people, even those in high profile, high stress jobs, working with their hands, doing crafts and even cooking, fulfill a primal and important need. In a world where nothing ever seems to conclude, when the days and responsibilities and the technology seems to be both endless and seamless, the art of craft has, for many a very special place and a powerful fulfillment.

Peter Korn examines this in Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman.

My conversation with Peter Korn:

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Changing reality of the Business of Hollywood

When it comes to Hollywood, William Goldman certainly may have been right when he said that, “nobody knows anything.” Certainly the forces that drive Hollywood have always been somewhat mysterious. Why and how pictures get made, why some get to be hits and others misses. How some generate buzz and some actors and movies get hot, all sometimes seems
to be the stuff of movie magic.

And all of this was before the digital age. Before Netflix, and Amazon and Hulu and Pirate Bay and digital prints: Before on demand and binge watching were everyday words.

Today, the nuances of the film “business” are such, that it sometimes stretches the credibility of the word business. Yet even amidst all of these changes, 2012 was a banner year. After two previous declining years, 2012 generated over 11 billion dollars at the box office and even gave us some decent movies like Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty.

What did this year of 2012 mean in the new paradigm of Hollywood? Longtime film journalist Anne Thompson takes us through the year in The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System.

My conversation with Anne Thompson:

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Why "the mall" in Pakistan is too important to ignore

T.S. Eliot may have had the best take on trying to understand the world when he said that, “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Perhaps that is even more true today, as some places in the world are ever changing and that with each visit we need to see and understand them anew.

Haroon Ullah is a Pakistani American scholar and diplomat. In The Bargain from the Bazaar: A Family's Day of Reckoning in Lahore, he gives us a picture of a slice of Pakistan today. A county both a key part of and deeply removed from the world.

In fact in that contradiction lies the very reason we need to understand Pakistan. It has the power to upend the world even while it and its people try desperately to find a place in it.

My conversation with Haroon Ullah:

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dancing Through It

Years ago I was having dinner with a friend and a friend of hers, who was a member of the Joffrey Ballet. I asked this young woman how is was that she became a professional ballerina? Her answer still sticks with me. She said that she started at six taking ballet classes, like every other young girl. The difference is, she never stopped.

What stuck with me is the idea, and we see it in so many endeavors, that at six or seven, we already embody the passions that will guide us, the rest of our lives.

Jenifer Ringer knew at the age of ten that her destiny was the ballet. At twelve, she entered the Washington School of Ballet in DC.  At fourteen, she entered the School of American Ballet in New York and became a member of the NYC Ballet at sixteen.

After a long and complex career, she rose to become the principal dancer of the NYC ballet and recently retired from that company. She tells her story of grit, determination and cultural images and her expectations in Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet.

My conversation with Jenifer Ringer:

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Portrait of an Artist as a Dead Man

William James talked about “the bitch goddess success,” and the strange sacrifices that it takes from us. Today, the same might be said of the pursuit of fame. Whether it’s thousands of “Likes” on Facebook, millions of Twitter followers, ones own reality show, or simply 24/7 adulation, today fame is both the holy grail and the ultimate aphrodisiac.

But think how sad it would be to achieve fame, only after you're gone. The idea of posthumous success is what drives Richard Vetere new novel The Writers Afterlife

My conversation with Richard Vetere:

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Three Young Americans Imprisoned in Iran

Ever since the Iranian hostage crisis in November of 1979, political and diplomatic relations between the US and Iran have been irreparably ruptured. Thirty years later, three young Americans would be hiking near the Iraq / Iran border. They would be captured, accused of espionage, transferred to Iran's most notorious prison and held, sometimes for long periods in solitary confinement.

Their story is a cautionary reminder of the complexities of politics in the Middle East and most importantly of the human face of news stories from the region that have, after 30+ years, and all that has transpired during that time, had an almost numbing effect. But there is nothing numbing about the story of Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal & Sarah Shourd. They tell their full story, for the first time in A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran

My conversation with Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal & Sarah Shourd:

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Why General Relativity still matters

We all know the equation E=MC2. We’ve all read about Einstein's theory of general relativity. But how many of us know what it means, how it came to be and how relevant it might be today, one-hundred years after it was put forth.

Much has been written about Einstein, but Pedro Ferreira in The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity gives us a real biography of general relativity and explains why we should still care.

My conversation with Pedro Ferreira:

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The Birth of Right and Left

Today, virtually everything in society has become atomized by the left/right, red/blue debate. Whether it’s culture, entertainment, politics, sports, science and health, all are shaped by how we see the liberal vs. conservative divide.

But rarely do we stop to try and understand the roots of all of this. Where did these terms come from, who were their intellectual fathers and how has their meaning morphed over decades and even centuries?

Conservative political analyst, and journalist Yuval Levin puts all of this in far greater perspective, in his new book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left.

My conversation with Yuval Levin:

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

No One Has the Time

We all intuitively know that the greatest gift we can get today, is the gift of time. We just don’t have enough. The pressures and stresses of work, parenthood, family and personal commitments pull us in multiple directions, all the time.

The technology that was supposed to free us up and make us more efficient, has become a kind of parolee ankle bracelet tying us down even more. Societal expectations of what it means to be a good parent or to lean in at work, add yet another layer to the demands.

Public policy doesn't necessarily help and sometimes it appears that our whole operating system of work and play, was designed for a mid 20th century world, when we are having to operate in the 21st century. The result is that often times we just, not unlike our computers,  time out.

But how did we get here and what do we do about it? That’s the lens that Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte looks though in her new book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.

My conversation with Brigid Schulte:

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Looming Generational Showdown

We spend a lot of time talking about technological change. The impact that everything from our phones and the Internet to self driving cars are having on the way we live. The fact is, the single greatest factor in changing the way we live, may be the demographic changes shifting right in our neighborhoods and workplaces.

Boomers are, not so gracefully, aging out and retiring. Millennials are trying to find and take their place in the world and, as many of the ads during the Superbowl showed us, we look different as a nation; our values and what constitutes a family are all changing rapidly.

This would all be just very interesting were it not for the fact that policy makers are literally ignoring these changes. Be it entitlements, transportation, education, or health care, leaders in Washington and in Statehouse often act like these changes just aren't happening, or somehow they will just go away. They won't. Business knows it. We know it. The question is what do we need to do?

Pew Research, Executive Vice President, Paul Taylor gives us a look into The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.

My conversation with Paul Taylor:

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

How well do we handle feedback?

Someone once referred to advice, as sanctioned nagging. It’s cute, but the fact is that we get advice all the time. Some of it is valuable, much of it useless. But do we miss the value of the good advice by our defensiveness, by our pre programmed fight or flight response and simply our reflexive shutting down in the face of criticism?

Performance reviews, student conferences, even the old standby the report card, are all part of our feedback loop. It’s all around us.

Those giving the feedback are often told that it’s a skill, that there is an art and science to giving good advice. But is the opposite true? Is there also an art and skill in getting feedback? Can we all make the process a whole lot more worthwhile by understanding how to maximize being on the receiving end? Doug Stone and Sheila Heen think so and they make their case in Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well.

My conversation with Doug Stone & Sheila Heen:

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Friday, March 14, 2014

This Bud's for you..The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch

In this age of startups, creative destruction, public companies and activist investors, it's hard to imagine the idea of creating a huge industrial empire, run by successive generations of family

Few empires exemplify this better than the history of Anheuser-Busch.  From its Germanic roots in St. Louis, it’s a story of all that is American culture, good and bad. Ambition, philandering divorce, substance abuse, violence, family feuds, all washed down with a beer.

It’s a saga of an American family and an American beer told by longtime LA Times reporter William Knoedelseder in Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer.

My conversation with William Knoedelseder:

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Vatican: One Year After Francis

Winston Churchill one refereed to the former Soviet Union as an enigma, wrapped in "a riddle, surrounded by mystery." Much the same might be said about the Vatican. A large bureaucracy, competing political interests, the potential and reality of scandal and cover up.

John Thavis, has spent almost 30 years covering the Vatican. He walked the hallowed halls, was one of the "boys on the bus" on the Papal plane and understands both the human and spiritual side of this seemingly monolithic and often flawed institution.

Now free of daily reporting, he allows himself to look back in The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church.

My conversation with John Thavis:

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Joe McGinniss, RIP

As a 26 year old reporter covering the Nixon campaign in l968, Joe McGinniss would go on to write one of the seminal works of political reporting.  The Selling of the President 1968 would portray the next level of media in politics.  If the televised Nixon/Kennedy debate set the stage, the 1968 Nixon campaign and the work of a young Roger Ailes, as reported by McGinniss', would be main event.

McGinness would go on to write about many other controversial characters, both in the annals of politics and true crime.  His reporting on Jeffery McDonald and his battles with Janet Malcolm would put him at the center of a media and literary storm.  His last political work, a look deep inside the shallowness of Sarah Palin, would be a fitting capstone for his political reporting.

Over the years, I spoke to McGinniss several times.  Here are the two most recent.  His look at Palin and his story Never Enough that captured the dark heart of modern family greed and averse.

Never Enough

The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin

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Monday, March 10, 2014

The invisible hand, that isn't

Just like in The Wizard of Oz, sometimes it seems that events, coincides and serendipitous good fortune happen as part of a grand plan. Later we think that it’s the the result of a great and powerful force pulling the ropes and levers. Only much later do we discover that events happen on their own, and it’s only in a dream, driven by our penchant to find order and connection, that the events are tied together.

For many of us this happens all the time. Thinking about an old friend who suddenly shows up or gets in touch, or a near miss of an accident that feels like an invisible hand saved us, or finding something from the distant past at precisely the moment we need it.

All of these are examples of the The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day. And now, thanks to David J. Hand, we have a new and much clearer understanding of why it works.

My conversation with David Hand:

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