Thursday, March 29, 2018

Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It...Or Why Is Everything So Damn Complex?

I don’t think there is anyone that would argue that the world is a far more complex place today. All of the machines and technology that are supposed to make our lives easier have, at times, made it more complicated, more frustrating, and more subject to things going wrong.

Anyone who’s tried to operate the GPS or radio in a new BMW, or even to operate their television knows exactly what I mean.

This is not just about technology and algorithms. It’s also about the systems and organizations that make our world work. We have embraced complexity as an operating system, but we have yet to build into that complexity the fail safe systems that prevent all of it from spiraling out of control.

We seem to be at a critical juncture. We have designed so much that can go wrong, and have yet to design the internal systems that can prevent it. For complexity, it’s both the best and worst of times. Until we figure it all out, a Meltdown is around every corner. That's the title of a new book co-authored by Chris Clearfield.

My conversation with Chris Clearfield:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Israel of 1948 is Over

Back in the 1960s, Richard Nixon would talk and write a lot about the Middle East in general, and about the Israeli situation specifically, and he talked about how it easily could become the flash point of the next world war.

Certainly almost 60 years and many crises later, this is still true. Today, as a second and third generation still hears about settlements and a one and two-state solution, and peace plans are reconstituted over and over again, one wonders, do we even remember how this all got started?

Does the original sin grow out of the post-World War I agreements of 1916, or did something happen after Israel’s success in the Six-Day War, in 1967? Did Israel, to paraphrase our current President, get “tired of winning”?

So one more time, we’re going to go back and look at the past, the present, and the future of the Israeli enterprise. This time, with Avraham Burg.  One time Speaker of the Israeli Knesset. He’s a past leader of the World Zionist Federation and the Jewish Agency for Israel. He served in the Israeli Labor Government of Shimon Peres, and back in 2004, he retired from active involvement in politics and is the author of In Days to Come: A New Hope for Israel.

My conversation with Avraham Burg:

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization

Every so often the media picks up the meme that books and readers are on the decline. That our short attention span, along with our Twitter and Facebook driven culture, has supplanted long form narrative. And it seems that every time those stories circulate, something happens to change or debunk the narrative. Even the national obsession with a book like Fire and Fury, proves something.

Joan Didion said that we tell each other stories in order to live. It’s also those stories, in literature, in popular fiction, or even nonfiction, that still, after all these centuries, shape how the world continues to unfold. That’s the journey that Martin Puchner takes us on in The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization.

My conversation with Martin Puchner:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Why Economic Inequality Can Take Down Our Republic

What is the nexus between our political system and our economic system? Certainly during the Cold War we fought to defend our political system against the economic threat of communism. So, does it work the other way around? Do we now have to defined our republic and our democracy against the threat of a new gilded age, of oligarchs and of deep income inequality? Is the fight for civility and justice, also a fight for economic justice.

In a system designed to be class blind, can the widening economic divide actually bring down the system?

The way in which these political and economic ideas are related, is the basis of Ganesh Sitaraman's new book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic.

My conversation with Ganesh Sitaraman:

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Growing Up Muslim: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys.

Everyday we are reminded how difficult it is growing up, and being a teenger. The work of Jean Twenge and others has shown the impact of technology and social media on our culture. Add to this, the reality of what it’s like growing up black or hispanic in America and the pressure becomes even more intense..

Even tougher, imagine what it must be like growing up in America as a Muslim teenager.. particularly one who cares about their religious practices and so must walk that fine line between wanting to fit in and still trying to maintain their Muslim identity.

John O’Brien, went directly into the heart of a Muslim community to understand what all of this translates to in the everyday lives of these Muslim teenage boys. He shares that journey in Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys.

My conversation with John O'Brien:

Monday, March 19, 2018

Can The Behavior of School Shooters Be Profiled and Shootings Averted?

There is no question that the easy availability of guns, especially assault weapons, has contributed in some way to the rash of school shootings. However, we would be naïve to think that this is the totality of the problem. Beyond guns, the broader questions always should be how these shootings can be averted. How can we understand and interpret the data from so many past events in ways that help us to prevent the next? In a world where big data is becoming the holy grail, can this data be used to keep our students safe?

Jeff Daniels is a Professor of Counseling at West Virginia University and his work in research on averting school shootings is groundbreaking. His recent article in the academic journal The Conversation is entitled “If You Want To Know How To Stop School Shootings, Ask The Secret Service.”

My conversation with Professor Jeff Daniels

Friday, March 16, 2018

Timothy Leary and Richard Nixon, Together Again

Every day the news gets darker. Polarization is increasing, constitutional norms are being overthrown, the social fabric is tearing and as Yeats said, “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Still, as bad as it appears on cable news each night, it’s nothing compared to what was happening in the 60’s and 70’s. Cities were burning, violence was loose upon the land. Nixon was drinking himself to sleep each night, and new villains had to be created to take the heat off Watergate and Vietnam. For Nixon, one of those villains became Timothy Leary.

The story of Leary, the enemy that Nixon created to embody all that he thought wrong with the country, is story that is a little bit Wag the Dog, Keystone Cops and All The President's Men.

The story is that Steven L. Davis and Bill Minutaglio tell in The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD.

My conversation with Steven L. Davis:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

They Once Made America Great...But What Did They Really Represent?

We often hear that we live in a post industrial world. Yet all of those consumer goods we and the rest of the world love so much, are made in factories. Factories that, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, did not always represent the best of working conditions. Today, out of nostalgia, we romanticize them and long for the “big shoulders” of the industrial heartland.

Today things are still produced in factories. However, they are increasingly either located offshore, or are more and more manned by robots. Auto workers from the 50s and 60s would be shocked walking through the factory that turns out Teslas.

Yet in the minds of many, these factories represented something more than just places to make things. They were a symbol of another time and place. But one that we can still learn from, even in the digital age.

Few know more about his, than my guest Joshua Freeman the author of Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World.

My conversation with Joshua Freeman:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

#MeToo in China

We hear over and over again that the future belongs to China. Looking at what the Chinese are accomplishing in both infrastructure and technology, it’s easy to believe it. But what about in human relations and the issues of the gender wars?

As the #MeToo movement reshapes or recalibrates the nature of sex, work and gender relationships in America, it’s worthwhile to look and see how and if these same issues are playing out in China.

In China, an entire cadre of well educated and financially successful woman are taking their place. The result is that the deep, deep traditions of Chinese society are having to change in ways that are even more difficult and upending than all than all the physical changes China has endured.

Taking us through this journey is Economist correspondent Roseann Lake in Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World's Next Superpower.

My conversation with Roseann Lake: