Thursday, September 20, 2018

Tight and Loose Explains the World

We spend hours and hours talking about the divides in America and the world today. Red and Blue divisions, class divisions, social sorting, urban vs. rural, left vs. right, progress vs. conservative and the ways we look for the world to make sense.

But what if there were an overlay to all of this? One that, while not exactly putting us in neat little boxes, does help explain a core reason for so much of contemporary division.

Michele Gelfand, a Professor of Psychology at the Univ. of Maryland,Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World
takes us inside this idea in

My conversation with Michele Gelfand:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Is Clothing the New Plastic?

No matter who we are, we are touched by food, shelter, and clothing. Of the three perhaps clothing is one we most take for granted. Unlike our food, we don’t usually think about where it comes from, unlike shelter, it’s in abundance and unlike these other necessities, the price keeps falling while style keeps improving.

It’s almost too good to be true. And maybe it is. Maybe there is a darker side, a steeper price for this proliferation of fashion. Dana Thomas explains this in Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.

My conversation of Dana Thomas:

The Myth We Still Tell About the Fall of Lehman Bros.

We are ten years out from the fall of Lehman Brothers, and the worst financial crises in the lifetime of most of us. But what are we actually marking, and more importantly, what have we really learned?

So much of the debate, to this very day, as to what caused the crash, and the bursting of the housing bubble is so caught up in political rhetoric, confirmation bias, and rear end covering, that it's still hard to tell.

But certainly after 10 years we know more than we did then, and perhaps it’s time to ask some real questions and to try and put it into some kind of better perspective. To do this, I’m helped by Sebastian Mallaby, the Paul A. Volcker senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and a long time journalist, public speaker, and a contributing columnist for the Washington Post. His recent article in the Washington Post was “The Dangerous Myth We Still Believe About the Lehman Bros. Bust.

My conversation with Sebastian Mallaby:

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Global Elite's Effort to Change the World

It is an accepted axiom of modern life that disruptive change is all around us. Almost every aspect of our lives has felt some or all of this change. It’s equally true that what were once the traditional institutions of government and public policy, that moderated and even sometimes democratized that change, no longer exist. This too is part of the disruption. In this process, there have been winners and losers, just as there have been during every great social and scientific upheaval, the last, perhaps, being the industrial revolution over a century ago. This time, however, partly because of the nature of change, the speed of communication, the complexity of technology, globalism, and overall distrust, the consequences have been even more profound.

It’s all led to a large measure of social upheaval, anger, and fear that we see today. Perhaps the progenitors of change have been too young or too na├»ve to understand the consequences of their action, and those that did understand have been too blinded by greed. It’s a combination that has shaken the country to its very core, and which made Trump possible.  This is the one of the underlying ideas of Anand Giridharadas in his new book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.

My conversation with Anand Giridharadas

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Browns of California

Joan Didion referred to California as the “golden land.” “The place where the dream was teaching the dreamers how to live. That it was a metaphor for some larger, insidious process at work in American society. One that became a parable of the American penchant for reinvention and for discarding history and starting tabula rasa.”

That may have once been true for California. But today, when California is the the fifth largest economy in the world, what happens in California does not stay in California. The state’s actions, leadership and history often resonate around the globe.  One of the things that’s so critical to understanding that history, is The Browns of California: The Family Dynasty that Transformed a State and Shaped a NationThat's the subject of a new book by Miriam Pawel.

My conversation with Miriam Pawel:

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Voter Suppression 101

Just a couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a distinguished and respected journalist and author, who said that voter suppression to him was like the Loch Ness Monster. A lot of people talked about it, but no one had ever really seen it. I tell this story because I’m afraid that his attitude is far too prevalent, and his confusion between voter fraud and voter suppression all too common.

While widespread voter fraud may be a fragment of Kris Kobach and Donald Trump’s imagination, it should never be conflated with voter suppression, which is very real, anti-democratic and infused with a degree of racism that particularly, since a 2003 Supreme Court decision, has become almost the regular order of things in multiple parts of the country. As we sit two months out from the midterm elections, the basic right of millions of Americans are under threat, at precisely the time when the future of the country is at stake as never before. This is particularly true in states with high profile races like Georgia and Florida, where voter suppression may truly affect the outcome.

I look at this with Carol Anderson who is the Charles Howard Candler professor and chair of African-American Studies at Emory University and the author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy

My conversation with Carol Anderson:

17 Years in Afghanistan....What Have We Accomplished?

Next month we mark 17 years since the US invasion of Afghanistan, certainly the longest single military effort in US history.

Our original goal was to destroy Al-Qaeda and oust the Taliban that were protecting them. Since that time, a great deal has happened, and mostly the law of unintended consequences has been the victor. Security and political stability still seem elusive. US government understanding of the country and the region still seems sketchy at best, and corruption still seems rampant. And even with all of that, some think real peace is still possible. Where we are today and what’s really happening on the ground, and what the US can do, even if it had the will and competence to do it, are subjects that I talk about with RAND senior foreign policy expert Laurel Miller.

My conversation with Laurel Miller:

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Make A Decision!

We make hundreds, sometimes thousand of decisions a day. What to wear, what to eat, what route to take to work, and what to put on our to-do list. But these are tactical decisions. They get us from point a to point b. But what about the big strategic decisions? The big ones that impact our lives and the lives of others, now and for many years to come.

The decisions about who we marry, were we want to live, what career we want to pursue. These are often irrevocable, or at the least profound, decisions that have long term consequences.

How then do we make these decisions? How
do leaders, CEOs, generals and even presidents make decisions? Is there a right or wrong way? Do algorithms help and has technology made it easier or harder? The fact is that often by the time all the facts are in, the time optimum or imaginative action may have long since disappeared. The disconnect between external events and our ability to process them, lies embedded in the decision making process.

From George Bush saying he is “the decider,” to battlefield commanders; from the halls of business schools, to the basement of the Pentagon, from leaders that operate only on instinct, devoid of facts, to those that suffer from analysis paralysis, our lives are shaped by decisions we and other make. But could we do it any better?

These are just some of the questions asked by best selling author and thinker Steven Johnson in Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most

My conversation with Steven Johnson:

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Why DNA Kits May Not Really Tell Us Who We Are

Perhaps more than at any other time in contemporary history, we have a deep need to understand who we are, what tribe to we belong to, and how, in a rapidly changing, interconnected and homogenized world, do we fit it. Who are we in relation to everyone else.

Just look at the advertising for home DNA testing and you’ll get the idea. Since it’s less clear everyday, where we are going, it feels most comfortable to look back at our ancestry and at least be clear about where we came from and how it defines who we are.

The problem is, that’s complicated to. Who we are is the result not just of our DNA or our heredity, but of an array of complex and shifting forces that we also have no control over. This is the reality that Carl Zimmer explains in She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

My conversation with Carl Zimmer: