Thursday, October 30, 2014

Literature vs. The Future

Although it doesn’t seem like it in today's world of images and 140 characters, words, stories and literature once moved people and nations and changed the world. In fact, even in our own nation, the act of reading, was once even seen as subversive. Yet it fueled the quest for freedom, fired up our democracy, and launched a nation.

Today that same nation and its discontents, seems to eschew literature as a form of creative engagement, of social discourse and as an element of citizenship.

How we got here and what it might mean for the future is part of the backdrop of Azar Nafisi’s new work The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books.

My conversation with Azar Nafisi:

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Superstorm Sandy +2 years - What have we learned?

As we watch, day after day, the government response to a potential Ebola crisis, we are reminded of so many mistakes that various government agencies have made in response to other disasters. It hardly fills us with confidence.

Katrina, of course, remains in all our minds. And more recently Superstorm Sandy, exactly two years ago, where municipal response, particularly in NY City, would have embarrassed even the Keystone Cops.

Kathryn Miles, in Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, dives deep into Sandy. What she tells us could, if we pay attention, save a lot of lives in the future.

My conversation with Kathryn Miles:

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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Birth of the Pill

There are many legacies of the 1960’s. The Civil Rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the efforts of women to have reproductive choice. Of these, arguably the reproductive freedom of women has had the most profound, lasting and global impact.

Before the efforts of four mismatched anti establishment characters in the 1960’s, women had, since the days of ancient Egypt, sought to control their biological destiny.

And while today, we look at The Pill and birth control as the norm, the efforts to develop and market it were anything but normal. In a time now when we think that an App on our phone can change the world, it’s worth looking back at something that truly did. That's what Jonathan Eig has done in The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution.

My conversation with Jonathan Eig:

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice

When we think about the Supreme Court, and its hushed, hallowed halls, and John Adams dictum that we are a nation of laws and not of men, words that do not often come to mind are passion, Salsa Dancing, ambition, and people skills. Yet all of these have been a part of the life and Supreme Court tenure of Sonia Sotomayor.

Her story is not just a legal story, it’s the story of the rise of the Latino population in America and it’s ever larger and growing role in the politics of the nation.

Joan Biskupic tells that story in Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice

My conversation with Joan Biskupic:

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Friday, October 24, 2014

How the World Works

Today, as we look around the world, it sometimes seems to be spinning out of control. It feels like a time, to quote Yates, when the falcon cannot hear the falconer, when the best lack all conviction and the worst seem full of passionate intensity.

Does the fault lie in the vagaries of human nature, or in our leaders and institutions? The answer is that both are intimately linked in ways that, when fully understood, explain the essence of how the world works.

This is the journey that Francis Fukuyama takes us on in the two volume masterwork on political order. He has just published the second volume, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy.

My conversation with Francis Fukuyama:

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Robots are coming

For a while now technology has seemed to focus on only one aspect or another of information. Everything from Google to Facebook, to Instagram, to all aspects of the sharing economy, are essentially all about trying to achieve perfect information.

Slowly the emphasis is beginning to shift. Now voice recognition, robots, drones and a renewed interest in artificial intelligence are all pointing to a new technological direction.

Just as we’ve had to readjust to the creative destruction and social shifting of the information economy, now the the automation or AI economy is upon us. What will it change? How will it reshape the social contract and perhaps most of all, how will it reshape the nature of work?

Nicholas Carr, the best selling author of THE SHALLOWS, and THE BIG SWITCH turns his attention to this future in his new book The Glass Cage: Automation and Us

My conversation with Nicholas Carr:

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Understanding the Internet of Things

Although the origins of the quote are a bit murky, the idea that the only way to predict the future is to invent it, certainly seems true in the 21st century. In fact, that future is being invented right now.

As technology moves from dedicated devices, to virtually everything, soon everything from our pens to our trash to our kitchens to our most intimate desires, will be connected to the each other and to us, in ways unimagined until now. Will that technology be more humane or more intrusive?

David Rose is on the cutting edge of inventing that future and he details it in Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things.

My conversation with David Rose:

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Capitalism vs. The Climate

It was actually Winston Churchill, not Rahm Emanuel, who said that we should never let a serious crisis go to waste.

A crisis often creates a great opportunity to face, to talk about, and even sometimes to act upon issues that had been previously frozen

Or, as Donald Rumsfeld once inarticulately put it, sometimes the only solution to an unsolvable problem, is to create a bigger problem.

It could be said that climate change provides such an opportunity. That in seeking to address the issues of man made climate change, we will have to drill down into the very issues that caused it in the first place. That’s what Naomi Klein does in her new work This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

My conversation with Naomi Klein:

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Ben Bradlee R.I.P.

The business of daily journalism is under siege. The practice of putting out a morning paper each and every day, of searching for scoops, of pushing, editing and curating great reporters and making sure that paper reaches your driveway each morning, is a craft that may soon be preserved in amber.

But forty years ago, the business reached what many thought was its apogee as The Washington Post lead the coverage a second rate, Washington D.C. burglary, that would become known as Watergate. While Woodward and Bernstein covered the story and got the scoops, they were led by Ben Bradlee, whose tenure, at Executive Editor of the Post, displayed the very best that journalism has to offer.

Back in May of 2012 I spoke with Jeff Himmelman, a one time Bob Woodward protege, who had written an authorized biography of Bradlee, Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee. It had stirred up some controversy, kicked at some of the sacred burial grounds of of Watergate and in some ways points to the news/entertainment  vortex we're in today.

My conversation from May 2012 with Jeff Himmelman about the great Ben Bradlee.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

How the Obesity Crisis Is Complicating America's Love Life

Some of you may have seen the story recently that marriage rates are at an all time low in America. We also know that two out of three Americans are overweight, or obese. Is there a link between these two issues?

Has our national physical decline and the rise of obesity changed the way we view love and sex, and if so, what are the broad social and economic impacts of that?

That’s what Sarah Varney, senior health policy correspondent with Kaiser Health News, sets out to find out in XL Love: How the Obesity Crisis Is Complicating America's Love Life.

My conversation with Sarah Varney:

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Terrorism and the Search for Justice

For decades, it seems, we've read and watched stories about suicide bombers in the Middle East. We process the information without emotion, as we do most news stories. Then 9/11 happened and suddenly suicide bombers took on a new meaning for most Americans.

With that new understanding, award winning journalist Mike Kelly looks back at a story of a suicide bombing in Israel, that took place in 1996, years before 9/11. The story, fraught with the humanity and frustration of loss, would have, if we knew better than, presaged so much of what’s happened since….in Israel, in Palestine, and in America.

Mike Kelly's story is Bus on Jaffa Road: A Story of Middle East Terrorism and the Search for Justice.

My conversation with Mike Kelly:

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Whether we are thinking about our smart phones, or HAL in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, we are usually deeply conflicted about artificial intelligence. Will it be a panacea to enhance the already unique power of human intelligence or, like HAL, will its survival depend on usurping human control

That balance informs both our fear and appreciation of machines and technology and what they both can do. This is the balance that Oxford Professor Nick Bostrom seeks to find in Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

My conversation with Nick Bostrom:

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The no problem, problem

Revolutions are often exciting. They stir change, mobilize ideas, and are often at the cutting edge of excitement. Yet what happens after revolutions is often the work that matters. The problem is that it’s hard work. The cameras are off, the story has grown cold, but this is where the work gets done that can truly change the world.

The women's movement is such an example. While dramatic changes once took place, arguably, the hard work since has not been quite enough

While the opportunities for elite women to “lean in,” have never been stronger, American women overall fare worse today than men on virtually every major dimension of social status, financial well-being, and physical safety.

Sexual violence is still condoned, and reproductive rights are by no means secure. Women assume disproportionate burdens in the home and pay a heavy price in the workplace.

Yet these issues are not political priorities. Nor is there a consensus that it’s even a problem. This is the story that Stanford Law Professor Deborah Rhode tells in What Women Want: An Agenda for the Women's Movement.

My conversation with Deborah L. Rhode:

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Monday, October 13, 2014

I'm not the boss of me

The common portrayal of Millennials is as generation that is narcissistic, self absorbed, entitled and demanding. Yet they are almost 90 million strong and will soon be taking their place in leadership in business, in politics and in almost every other aspect of society.

What will they be like in this new role? How will they be when they are the boss? That’s the situation that Lindsey Pollak looks at in Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders.

My conversation with Lindsey Pollak:

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Daring: My Passages

Kierkegaard said that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.” Such is the powerful value of memoir and reflection

Sometimes, though, that reflection takes in more than just the individual life, it becomes a way to reflect on a time, a place, and movement. Gail Sheehy’s life encompasses all of that.  The mainstreaming of hippie culture, feminism, new journalism, publishing all exist side by side with the touchstones of love, loss and family. Her story is, in short, the story of the past fifty years. The proverbial grain of sand that captures the history of the time.

Gail Sheehy shares her story in her new memoir Daring: My Passages: A Memoir

My conversation with Gail Sheehy:

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

How Change Happens

We often say that actions have consequence. So do ideas. And we don’t always know the full extent of those consequences. Just as the science of splitting the atom, changed the nature of geopolitics and may still reshaped civilization, so the ripple effects of certain inventions have consequences and impacts, far beyond what was originally thought or intended.

As we worry about the spread of disease these days, it provides an interesting analogy. Essentially, if we think of certain inventions as Patient Zero, we then see how they spread over vast landscapes and change the world.

It is through this lens that Steven Johnson views the world in How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World.

My conversation with Steven Johnson:

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Friday, October 10, 2014

A new perspective on the Middle East

When we think and talk about the Middle East today, we look at it terms of the religious and ethnic strife and extremism that define today's conflicts. We also assume that these conflicts has been going on for centuries. That the holy wars and clash of civilizations of today have been the basis for the whole history of the region

Middle East historian Brian Catlos has a different view. One that puts those conflicts in a more political and economic perspective. In fact, it was really a world of conflict about money and land and power, and where interfaith cooperation was possible and where globalization may have gotten its real start.

Can understanding this helps us face today's challenges? I don’t know; but we do know that perhaps it’s the beginning of wisdom. Catlos explains it in Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad.

My conversation with Brian Catlos:

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