Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why Forty States Don't Matter

When Richard Nixon ran for President in 1960, he vowed to visit and campaign in all 50 States. The strain of that effort, particularly in an era of slower air travel, exhausted Nixon and even was in part responsible for his tiredness and poor health in the first debate with JFK.

The reality is today, with our nation so divided and with red and blue States pretty much settled, that the purple States, those in play, those that make a difference, are only a handful.

Today, if all a candidate did was campaign in just ten purple States, that would be all that would be required, even in a close Presidential race.

So how healthy is this for our democracy and who might be the first to want to try and overturn this system. These are just some of the key issues posited by elections expert, Professor David Schultz in Presidential Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter.

My conversation with David Schultz:

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A spotlight on child abuse at the Horace Mann School

No matter how many times we hear the stories of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church, it’s hard to grasp that such things could go on, that they could go on for so long and that so many could be involved as both perpetrators and in the cover up.

Perhaps it's that people didn't want to believe. Like the story told by a victim in the new movie SPOTLIGHT. It the story of a mother, who, even after her son tells her of his abuse, still, out of respect, puts out cookies for the priest when he visits.

In business, or in any institution, it's hard to change culture. As Peter Drucker, has said of business, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

What we’ve seen in the Catholic Church is a layering of cultures. The culture of the perpetrators, and the culture of secrecy of those that covered it up, combined with the broader culture that encouraged a respect for authority. Together they were a toxic combination

They certainly were at the Horace Mann school in New York, back in the 60’s and 70’s.   The story of Horace Mann was revealed by Amos Kamil in a scorching New York times Magazine story in June of 2012. Now he tell the full measure of that story in Great Is the Truth: Secrecy, Scandal, and the Quest for Justice at the Horace Mann School.

My conversation with Amos Kamil:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Have we Mainstreamed Islamaphobia?

The world has changed in many ways since 9/11. One of those clearly has been the way we look upon Muslims, South Asians and Sikhs. Arguably these attitudes and prejudices and the degree to which they have become embedded in the fabric of our national DNA has had a corrosive effect on all of our relationships with people of color and people that might be different than ourselves.

Today, since Paris and San Bernadino and the heated political rhetoric that has accompanied it, the depth of those divisions seems to be growing to dangerous proportions.

Deepa Iyer has studied this, written about it and works every day to counteract it. A task made much harder each days since she wrote her book,  We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future.

My conversation with Deepa Iyer:

Monday, December 14, 2015

Why is the technology to simplify our lives, so complicated?

We’ve been told for years that one of the key goals of technology was to simplify our life. In fact, for many people the opposite has happened. The combination of complexity, feature creep, and the ever updating world of new technology has made the complexity of the process sometimes not worth the effort.

Enter David Pogue. He spent thirteen years writing about personal technology for the NY Times. He launched Yahoo Tech. He writes a monthly column for Scientific America and created the Missing Manual computer book series. He’s won two Emmys, two Webby awards, and a Loeb award for journalism.

But most of all he is the undisputed master of how to harness the best of technology to serve us and not the other way around. He does it in a way that is both useful and humorous in his new book Pogue's Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying the Technology in Your Life.

My conversation with David Pogue:

Friday, December 11, 2015

A great many children left behind

There is a school of thought in crisis management that says, if you have a completely intractable problem, sometimes the only solution is to create a larger problem. In fact, to blow things up to the point where you get to start over. Sometimes that’s a strategy that happens not just by design, but by outcome.

When then Newark Mayor Cory Booker, N.J. Governor Chris Christie and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg put together a plan that they thought would completely reform and transform Newark schools back in 2010, they thought they were doing the right thing. However what they did was reminiscent of what Ronald Reagan declared as the most terrifying phrases in the English language…”I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

What they did, what they failed at and even what they succeeded at, shows how incredibly hard it is to be transformative in public education. This is the story told by Dale Russakoff in The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?

My conversation with Dale Russakoff:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Triumph of Temperament and Manners

When Oliver Wendell Holmes talked about Roosevelt's first class temperament, he never explained why that was important.

It didn’t explain how, for a future President presiding over victory in two wars, in just one term, without braggadocio, might matter. Nor did it explain that respecting those with disabilities and allowing it to become a civil rights issues mattered. Or how respecting manners in the conduct of both public and private affairs might shape the destiny of a great nation.

Yet it is precisely that temperament, that George Herbert Walker Bush brought to the Presidency.

All of this just might be an amusing dinner table conversation about days and behaviors gone by, if Jon Meacham, had not shown us how profoundly these qualities matter in the conduct and outcome of public and international diplomacy. Meacham's book about George H.W. Bush is Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.

My conversation with Jon Meacham:

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sinatra at 100

To say that music and pop stars today are transitory is an understatement. Very few performers today are building careers for the ages, as did entertainers like Frank Sinatra. Now on the 100th anniversary of Sinatra'x birth we’re joined by poet David Lehman for a look at Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World.

My conversation with David Lehman:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How's Your Faith?

In these highly polarized times, we all hear the admonition, especially around holidays and family get-togethers, to make sure you never discuss politics or religion.

So what is it about both of these subjects that are so personal, so internal so potentially inflammatory that we’re admonished not to discuss them?

Long time NBC journalist and former host of Meet The Press, David Gregory has, for years, been immersed in both of these arenas. Lately he has put discussion of politics on the side burner to talk about religion, and more specifically the journey he has taken in going deeper into his own faith.

He shares that journey in his new book  How's Your Faith?: An Unlikely Spiritual Journey

My conversation with David Gregory:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Out of Africa

Even long before the current extreme stratification of America, we heard about two Americas. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Michael Harrington and than John Edwards all talked about two nations living side by side. One of relative middle class ease on the cutting edge of technology and education and another mired in poverty, resistant to or fearing change.

Today, the same can said about Africa. For in spite of much popular imaginary parts of Africa are at the cutting edge of technology and economic development.

The rise of the African consumer economy is one of the biggest, and most under-covered, stories. In fact,
by 2020, seven of the world’s top 10 fastest growing economies will be in sub-Saharan Africa.
The continent already has more mobile subscribers than the US or the EU. Alex Perry has covered Africa for years for TIME and NEWSWEEK. Now he gives us The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free.

My Radio WhyWhatWhy.org conversation with Alex Perry:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice

We have seen that in almost any area of public endeavor, changing the status quo is almost impossible. The combination of entrenched special interests, coupled with the basic human resistance to change, in an era where change is a constant, creates a level of cognitive dissonance and fear that makes changing public policy almost impossible.

So what do we do when the only alternative to change is catastrophic for our health, for our planet, for our economy and for the peoples of the world?

Such is the case with Climate Change. While the science may be clear. The road ahead is anything but. In this we face an unprecedented situation as the world’s leaders gather in Paris this week

That’s why people like Wen Stephenson (What we're Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice,) are so passionate about the cause and see it not just from the point of view of science, but as a moral and social imperative.

My conversation with Wen Stephenson:

Friday, November 27, 2015

China's Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World's Wines

One of the guiding beliefs in foreign affairs is that no two countries that were actively engaged as successful trading partners, ever went to war with each other.

But what happens when two countries, two trading partners do not have parity on the production of a particular product, but have interlocking and conflicting needs, jealously, interests and misunderstandings? The results, can create a crisis on a global level..even if the product is wine.

That’s the story my guest Suzanne Mustacich tells in Thirsty Dragon: China's Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World's Best Wines.  It’s the story of China's quest to become a global wine power, France's Bordeaux region seeking to hang on to past glory and China expanding its tentacles into places like the Napa Valley.

My conversation with Suzanne Mustacich:

Friday, November 20, 2015

Why Lincoln would be appalled by today's income inequality

How many of the candidates that are running for President today, have the depth of character and ideas that, if they were to be elected, we still might be talking about them, studying them and being surprised by them, 150 years after their death? The answer is probably none.

That is certainly not the case with Abraham Lincoln. 150 years after his death, people like esteemed Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer are still plowing the depths of Lincoln's convictions and portraying what he accomplished.

Convictions and ideas that are, in spite of the best efforts of Lincoln’s own party today, still part of the fabric of America. Holzer displays these ideas in A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity

My conversation with Harold Holzer:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How Art Shapes our Nature

We live in this world usually someplace between the mundane and the absurd. But regardless of which, it's one that is probably organized to the Nth degree. Our technology is almost embedded in our personal DNA, in order to keep us on task.

But is all this structure an impediment to creativity? And if so, where might we get back to our youthful sense of play, of wonder and of discovery.

For some, it’s in travel and visiting strange places and the strange surroundings that take us out of ourselves. For others, and often closer to home, it can be found in art; in what Alve Noe refers to as the boredom of art.

Art that unlike so much of culture, goes beyond surface and draws us in, sometimes to see the world in a brush stroke, a dance step, a well crafted sentence, or in a grain of sand.

Alve Noe takes this discussion of art to a new level in his book Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature

My conversation with Alva Noe:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Witchy Woman - Salem 1692

We think we know a lot about American history. About the events that shaped the formation of the republic. And while that knowledge might get you an audition for Jeopardy, at its roots sometimes, it's also true that everything we think we know is wrong.

Essentially what that means, and maybe it's even a factor in what’s gone so wrong today, is that we tend to know only surface. That when we drill down to historical events, only then do we find that the facts, the nuances, the subtlety and the psychology are what really matters. This is what
really makes up the historical ripples we are living with today.

This is the story of the Salem Witch Trials, as told now by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Stacy Schiff.  She won the Pulitzer for her book Cleopatra, and now she pivots to 1692 Salem to bring us The Witches: Salem, 1692

Monday, November 9, 2015

It would be as if Angelina Jolie had invented Google

Back in the 1930's and 40's no one had heard of women engineers. Woman were not trying to "have it all," and the Hollywood women of the day represented the apotheosis of beauty, surfaces and dreams. Yet out this time emerged a woman who not only was considered the "most beautiful woman in the world," but in her spare time, from making hit movies, gave us the technology that we still use today in our cell phones, GPS devices and in Bluetooth. A woman of brains and beauty, Hedy Lamarr was a true Renascence woman. Yet her story has been little know until now when Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Richard Rhodes captures her story in Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr.
My conversation with Richard Rhodes:

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve

It used to be, during the dark days of the Cold War, watching the Kremlin and trying to read meaning into every nuance, tea leaf and coming and going, was elevated to an art form.

Today, it’s the same for the Fed. Every meeting, every utterance of the Fed Chair and Fed Governors is parsed and analyzed and poured over for some hint of what the Fed will do and what it might mean for the markets, for the economy and for the politics of the country.

But it wasn’t always so. In the aftermath of the 1907 financial panic, Congress created the Federal Reserve. They did so for reasons not dissimilar to the state of our transitional economy today. But they did so in a spirit of compromise and national unity that seems a very far cry from anything that might happen today.

Putting all of this in its proper perspective is Roger Lowenstein in his new book America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve

My conversation with Roger Lowenstein:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies: Lessons from San Francisco and Los Angeles.

We’ve seen that different cities often emerge as the the center of their times. This has been true from the Greek city states, through the Roman Empire and right up until the present, here in America. It seems that every major cultural, social and political movement of the modern era seems to be anchored in its own place.

New York became a kind of capital of the 50’s. In the 60’s places like San Francisco and Berkeley were the center of gravity. New York and to a certain extent L.A. seemed to launch the post war economy of the 70’s. Washington seemed to dominate the 80’s and with the decline of New York, it seemed like the 80’s would belong to L.A.

But something happened. Something that moved the locus of the knowledge economy to San Francisco and the Bay Area.

What happened and why is at the core of the years of research done by Michael Storper and his colleagues and put forth in their book The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies: Lessons from San Francisco and Los Angeles.

My conversation with Michael Storper:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Eric Bogosian tells of the plot that avenged the Armenian Genocide

Everything starts somewhere. Even very bad things.

Many of the tremors we face today had their roots in the Ottoman Empire, in the run up to the First World War.  In what’s come to be called the Armenian Genocide.

There we began to see the rise of Muslim extremism, the battle for post WWI borders in the Middle East, the plight of refugees, the competition between national and corporate interests, particularly big oil, the Israeli/Palestinian conundrum, and even acts of heroism in the face of seemingly improbable odds.  All of these things had their roots 100 years ago in the first genocide of the 20th century.

What we have forgotten is that for those that perpetrated it, there was a price to pay.  A small band of brothers set out to avenge the death of the million-plus people killed in that Armenian Genocide.

Now Eric Bogosian captures the essence of the story in Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide.

My conversation with Eric Bogosian:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Can the under two hour marathon be accomplished?

This Sunday over 50,000 people will run in the NYC Marathon. For many participants, part of the appeal is to be part of something larger and more personal than a Facebook group. For others it’s about achieving a personal best. But for a much smaller group of elite marathon runners, it’s about what once seemed the impossible dream...breaking the two hour mark for the 26 miles through the streets of New York.

Why this goal is important, how long has it has hung over the sport and why is it now within reach?  All these questions and more are part of Ed Ceasar’s book Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon.

My conversation with Ed Caesar:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Is Robin Cook afraid to go to the Hospital?

Most of us will go into the hospital at some point. When we do, we might be subject to anesthesia, even for a minor procedures. What goes on while we're asleep is, at least to the patient, a complete mystery.

At the same time, we look to the technology of medicine as the panacea to solve so many of our health problems. Yet when it goes wrong we get angry. Clearly, our emotional nexus with technology is out of balance with our intellectual understanding of it. In medicine, the price we pay, often with the simplest of procedures, is fear, alienation, confusion and a degree of appropriate paranoia.

Few understand this better than bestselling novelist Dr. Robin Cook. He has used this imbalance to scare the bejesus out of us in his book like Cell, Nano, Coma, Cure, and Fever. Now in his latest work, Host, he once again walks us through the cost benefit analysis of medical technology falling into the wrong hands.

My conversation with Robin Cook:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How Frederick Forsyth's real life exceeded his expectations

In the movie Broadcast News, written my James L Brooks, William Hurt asks his colleague, “what do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Aaron Altman, played by Albert Brooks tells him, “keep it to yourself.”

Bestselling author Frederick Forsyth, has had a life that has far exceeded his own expectations. But instead of keeping it to himself, he has used it as the basis for fifteen books that have thrilled us, delighted us and taken us to places and situations that we may only dream about, but that Frederick Forsyth has touched. He tells all in his memoir The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue.

My conversation with Frederick Forsyth:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sanitized Death from Above

In the desire to go to war, there is always the effort to sanitize warfare. Shock and Awe, Death from Above, are all about disconnecting man from the faces on the ground. It’s also about how the decisions are made to go to war. It's always easier when it's less about committing blood and treasure and more about technological prowess.

Drones or Remote Piloted Aircraft are perhaps the ultimate manifestation of this attitude. A kid in Kansas or Nevada sits at controls and drones not only see the world, but have the potential to apply remote control and sanitized devastation.

These drones are here to stay. They are now a key part of the modern military and of counter-terrorism.   Lt. Col. Mark McCurley in Hunter Killer: Inside America's Unmanned Air War,
provides us a unique look at this key elements of military policies that didn't even exist 20 years ago.

My conversation with Mark McCurley:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government

Before Dick Cheney, before Homeland Security, even before the Cold War itself, there existed forces within the US Government bent on shaping their own agenda for personal political gain, financial gain and perhaps worst of all, out of a self serving righteous belief in privilege and its exercise of power.

During the dark days of WWII, Allen Dulles would would begin building, a national security apparatus, which would become centered at the the CIA, and which would grow exponentially during the Cold War and would ultimately expand its tentacle into to almost every aspect of American government. Even if it meant short circuiting the the key instruments of America’s democratic institutions.

Now, with the help of recently released government documents, and personal diaries, investigative journalist David Talbot exposes Dulles and some of the CIA darkest secrets in The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government

My conversation with David Talbot:

Syria Burning

The US seems to be giving up on training Syrian rebels. The Russians continue the bombing of ISIS targets, even while some of their missiles land in Iran. Refugees continue to flee from Syria. All while ISIS continues on the march, Palestinian protests turn more violent. The cauldron that is the Middle East continues to bubble.

For a real and contemporaneous perspective we turn to author, journalist, esteemed Middle East foreign correspondent Charles Glass.

My conversation with Charles Glass:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is the country even worse off than it seems?

As a nation we have often faced existential crisis. The Civil War, the onset of the industrial revolution, the robber barons, the great depression, McCarthyism, the struggle for racial equality, assassination and the changes of the 60’s

Each time, polarization and the depth of the crisis has led many to believe that the country would not survive in it’s current form. And yet it has.

Today we face a similar time. Extremism is rampant, nativism has shown its ugly head, the economic divided threatens a new kind of civil war, racial tensions have flared, law enforcement is often unchecked, faith in the nation's operating system is at an all time low.

Is this time different? Or just another of those crisis which we will come through even stronger. Or, as NY Times columnist David Brooks has said, will the laws of gravity simply return?

My guest Andrew Schmookler believe that many of us do not fully understand nor appreciate or see what we are up against today. He makes his care in his new book What We're Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World - and How We Can Defeat It.

My conversation with Andrew Schmookler:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Detroit once symbolized America

Every great city has it’s defining era. Not always good, but certainly one that shapes its fortunes and reinforces its place in the urban pantheon. For New York it was perhaps the 50s, for Paris the mid 1920s, for San Francisco the ‘60s and for Hollywood, certainly the 1930s.

For Detroit, the eighteen months from the fall of 1962, through the spring 1964 marked perhaps the apogee and the beginning of the downward arc of that once great city.

A city that came to personify the American experience in the second half of the 20th century. Detroit at the time was the epicenter of music, racial strife, labor and of a middle class that now seems a bygone dream.

Capturing that moment is Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist, and Washington Post Associate Editor David Maraniss. He captures the essence of this period in Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story.

My conversation with David Maraniss:

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Not So Random Walk Through L.A.

The lyrics say that “nobody walks in L.A.” That certainly has been true, in a city whose inhabitants were long hermetically sealed inside their cars...as if in a pneumatic tube shuttling from place to pace. L.A. was for a long time, a place where as John Didion said, “the entire quality of life accentuates it impermanence and unreliability.”

Today’s Los Angeles is a vastly different place. A city of neighborhoods and of Freeways; a city both urban and suburban, a kind of hybrid that sits at the cutting edge America’s movement toward cities, while still trying to hang on to its suburban trappings.

In short, L.A. just might be some kind of cultural or urban capital o
f the 21st century

Few appreciate and understand the city more than former L.A. Times book editor David Ulin. His new book is Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles.

My conversation with David Ulin: