Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Life and Times of Jann Wenner & Rolling Stone Magazine

The online world has given us whole new ways of reading news and of staying informed. Not just about the day's events, but about social and cultural shifts and the zeitgeist of our time. This was once a job that was filled by Magazines. Magazines that became the totems of a particular time and place. Time Magazine ushered in the American Century after WWII. LIFE magazine provided the bonding of iconography in the 50’s. And certainly Playboy and Hugh Hefner reshaped a sexual coming of age from the mid 50’s and beyond.

Add to this pantheon, Rolling Stone. Founded by Jann Wenner in 1967, Wenner and his writers would come to define the culture, ethos and ambitions of the 1960’s, as well as the ways in which those ideas would be kept alive in succeeding decades.

The story of Rolling stone has never been fully told until now, by Joe Hagan in his new book Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine.

My conversation with Joe Hagan:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Is Identity Politics Just Coalition Building or Something More Sinister

Back in 1964, a full fifty-three years ago, a novel came out entitled The 480. It was about the social and political effects of slicing and dicing society into 480 specific groups; by socioeconomic status, location, origin, etc. Creating computer simulations to manipulate public consciousness and win elections.

Today, such ideas are fully backed into our system. Big Data companies like Cambridge Analytica, make what was once a futuristic novel, a political fact of life. It’s the ultimate form of identity politics. Since the 1960’s, this has been the underpinnings of Democratic politics.

But does it work anymore? Does the focus on dividing the electorate run counter to what the Democratic party needs to win both local and national elections?

Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla looks at exactly this in The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.

My conversation with Mark Lilla:

Monday, November 27, 2017

Why We Do What We Do...Even When We Know Better

Perhaps never before in history has it been harder for people to understand each other. It seems that the mix of social media, technology and our siloed political and cultural attitudes has led us to only seek refuge in people just like us.

Yet at the same time, modern science and psychology has given us greater insight into who we are, and why we do what we do. Science has added to our knowledge about our attempts at reasoning our way out of problems, and almost every aspect of our behavior.

So why then is it so hard for us to do the right thing. Yale Professor Dr. John Bargh takes a look at all of this in Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do.

My conversation with Dr. John Bargh:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Now More Than Ever We Need Courageous Leadership

It was Winston Churchill who said, that we “should never let a crisis go to waste.” When the Chinese write the word crisis, the combine two symbols. One stands for danger, the other opportunity.

So it is that crises have the potential to break us, or to strengthen us. This is even more true for our leaders, who are in short supply these days. But at their best, they should have the ability to define the crisis, and while not necessarily leading us to the promised land, they should show us all that we have the ability, the strength, and the reason to walk through the fire to the other side. This is true of leaders on a grand global scale, or for leaders within a family or community. The skill set is similar.

That's the skill set that Nancy Koehn explore in in her book Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.

My conversation with Nancy Koehn:

Sunday, November 19, 2017

How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between.

It’s easy to see how both Hannibal Lecter on the one hand and Mother Theresa on the other, represent opposite sides of a continuum of human behavior. What’s hard to understand is that the ultimate altruist and the ultimate psychopath have anything in common.

Yet, what they have in common is that they both have an inverse reaction to fear in others. And if we can understand what makes one tick, maybe we can better understand the other. In so doing, perhaps we can embrace, encourage, and even refine the better angels of our nature.

This is underlying the work that is being done by Abigail Marsh, the author of The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between.

My conversation with Abigail Marsh:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Impossible Presidency

Think about the job of the modern day corporate CEO. He or she has a board and often difficult shareholders to answer to. Usually his or her company is global, with far flung interests and operations. The company has thousands of needy employees. And all of it exists in a swirl of 24/7, always on communications; in multiple time zones with always changing tastes, values and economic conditions. Sounds difficult right?

Now imagine those same issues on steroids. Multiply by ten or even a hundredfold and you just begin to understand the modern Presidency of the United States.

While the current occupant may find endless time to watch Fox news, tweet, and play golf. The reality is that the modern president...particularly since Roosevelt, has become an office almost beyond the functional or intellectual capacity of any one human being.

The speed, the creative destruction, the siloed and specific constituencies, 24/7 media, are just the beginning. After all, those are the things we are all dealing with. All of those things times 325 million plus the world, is the equation of modern and in fact impossible presidency. It's all described by Jeremi Suri in The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dance and Creative Rebirth

In her work and in her the recent documentary about her life, Joan Didion told us that “we tell stories in order to live.” But sometimes those stories and the creative energy around them, expresses itself in other ways, in order for some to live.

Sometimes, for a painter, a dancer, or a musician, it is their method of expression, their artform that gives them air and lift. So what happens then when that special skill grows cold, or is silenced by external events, like an injury? How does life go on? How can a lifetime pursuit of a special artistic expression be reassessed, or called into question, or even relearned? It may be the ultimate experience of creative rebirth.

That’s part of the story that David Hallberg tells, in his memoir A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back

My conversation with David Hallberg:

Monday, November 6, 2017

How a Failed President Still Defined Public Service

It may be that we are as politically divided as a nation as we have even been, and that events are spinning wildly out of control. Yet history tells us that other times have been equally fraught with peril. The period that encompass both World Wars and the Great Depression was certainly filled with existential dread.

During that period one character, Herbert Hoover, played a major role and defined what it meant to be a public servant. The irony is that his failed one term Presidency, and the man himself, may have had a more lasting influence than Presidents who served much longer and appeared to be much more successful.

This real story of Herbert Hoover is told by Kenneth Whyte in Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times.

My conversation with Kenneth Whyte:

Thursday, November 2, 2017

It Is The Economy

Nowhere in the real story of Watergate did anyone really say, “follow the money.” And yet that phrase has resonated for decades in the the American psyche.

Perhaps the reason is, that the concept itself is in the very DNA of America. It really is, as the campaign slogan said, the economy stupid.

Today, when the very fabric of our republic is being stretched as never before, it allows us to examine what it is that really makes us unique among nations. We’re not the only democracy, we're not the only bastion of liberty and human rights, and the idea of American exceptionalism is discredited daily. So what matters, why do people still want to come here, as they have for centuries?

Bhu Srinivasan argues in his book Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism,
that there is something. A special sauce, mixing the right balance of capitalism and democracy. It makes us wonder to what degree our founders understood this…It’s also clear that in that original battle between agrarianism and mercantilism, it’s pretty clear who won.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Today's Real Lesson of the JFK Assination

It may not be as smooth as anticipated, but the final tranche of documents related to the JFK assassination 54 years ago, will soon be released. Hundreds of thousands of pages will make their way to the public.

This event marks not only the effort to answer questions about the assassination itself, but equally about America...then and now. When fakes news out of the White House is a daily occurrence, when alternative facts is a real thing, do we still care about getting to the truth?

And if we can get closer to it, as esteemed author and journalist David Talbot has repeatedly tried to do, what will it tell us about America’s security apparatus and deep state then, and what relationship might it have to the same components of military, security complex today.

My conversation with David Talbot: