How Well Do We Really Know Our Parents?

September 27th, 2016
Susan-Faludi-In-the-Darkroom-side-by-sidNo matter how close or estranged any of us may be for our parents, there always linger the questions of how well do we know them...that is really know who they are.  Think about the questions kids wonder about, what their parents really do a work, their sex lives, the conversations that go on after they go to bed.

And as kids become adults they often still wonder...and sometimes they even transfer those very same questions in trying t understand their partners, or their spouses and ultimately themselves.  

Because we are the sum total of the answers to so many of these questions.  We keep seeking answers, aware of it or not, since it is a large swath of who we are.  This intimate search for identity is at the heart of Susan Faludi’s new work In the Darkroom. 

My conversation with Susan Faludi:

Where Is The Truth We Have Lost In Information?

September 23rd, 2016
Cskn4QkXYAAQux2.jpgWe are awash in information.  Estimates are that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced every day.  That’s everything from data from space probes to your photos on Facebook.  Google alone process approximately 3.5 billion requests per day.  

But as TS Eliot so aptly said back in 1934, “where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

From the billions of items posted on Facebook, to the tens of thousands of so called news sites and bloggers around the world, how is it even possible to begin separate it all, to know fact from fiction?

Never before in human history or human evolution have we encountered such a problem.  As a result the way we approach it has to take the best thinking tools we’ve evolved and transform it to meet the needs of the 21st century and beyond,.  

This is the road map to truth put forth by Daniel J. Levitan in
A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age.

My conversation with Daniel Levitan: 

Religion, Politics and Culture…Oh My

September 20th, 2016
907399.jpgIt is the job of historians and journalists to take contemporary information and give context and connection to events far beyond the time in which they happened. This is true for wars, for politics and for religion. 

It’s true even in these highly polarized times, when we all hear the admonition, especially around get togethers of family and friends, 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 and have been so powerfully connected both historically and right here in America.

This is part of what Ken Woodward examines in Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama..

My conversation with Ken Woodward: 

Race and Medicine

September 18th, 2016
Black-Man-in-a-White-Coat-comp.jpegNothing in the medical world is the way it used to be.  Change is everywhere.  The economic pressures, the political pressures and the very men and women who choose medicine as a career, has all being undergoing disruption.

Add to this maelstrom the issue of race.  The shocking lack of black physicians, diseases that overwhelming impact black communities and the inherent complexities of race in the  doctor/patient relationship and you see some of the problem in medicine that have confronted Dr. Damon Tweedy.  A graduate of Duke Medical School and Yale Law School Dr. Tweedy shares his personal story in his memoir Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine

My conversation with Dr. Damon Tweedy: 

If You Want To Understand America, Look At Its Food

September 16th, 2016
g_091316_coe_ziegelman.jpgWe’ve all seen the pushback to Michelle Obama as she has attempted to improve food quality and nutrition in our nation’s schools.  In part, it reflects the degree to which everything is politicized these days.  But it also reflects the degree to which food is and has been a political, cultural and historical touchstone

It’s long been observed that if we want to understand the history of a nation or a city or a period in time, we can start by looking at its food.   

Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe have long taken this approach and now they look at the food of depression era America in their new book A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression.

My conversation with Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe: 

Strangers in Their Own Land

September 14th, 2016
arlie.pngThe very fact that an unqualified, demagogic, racist could be close to the Presidency tells us less about the candidates and more about the shape and mood of America in the 21st Century.  

The red/blue divide is after all, not about pure politics. It’s not about classical liberalism vs. Burkean or Randian conservatism.  It’s not Disraeli vs. Gladstone.  

What we see in America today is a cultural divide. One in which our own personal experience breaks out and defines itself into a kind of moral and political matrix that both traps and defines us.  

These principles are universal and enduring and perhaps if we can better understand them, we can, if not accept, at least have compassion for the better angels of our opponents.  

That exactly what noted sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild has tried to do in Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

My Conversation with Arlie Russell Hochschild:

A Stranger in a Strange Land

September 12th, 2016
51nhB-nMWSL._SX343_BO1%252C204%252C203%2It’s a funny thing, all this talk about trade and globalization.  On the one hand it’s used to divide us. To create walls and differences.  But in fact, it has been one of the most powerful forces in shrinking the world.  In allowing us to move personally, not unlike goods and dollars, freely between nations and cultures.

But even with the cultural homogenization of globalization, it has allowed us to appreciate and to come to understand how other cultures operate, what they value and how they see the world.  In the end, it allows us to return home again and in the words of T.S. Eliot, “know the place we started, as if for the first time."

That the story that Frank Ahrens lives and share in Seoul Man: A Memoir of Cars, Culture, Crisis, and Unexpected Hilarity Inside a Korean Corporate Titan.

My conversation with Frank Ahrens: 

Rock’s Darkest Day

September 7th, 2016
maxresdefault.jpgWe think that events move at a rapid pace today.  But back in the late 1960’s, events spiraled out as if in a whirlwind.  In 1967 San Francisco experienced the Summer of Love. Just two summers later, we would all experience men landing on the moon, Woodstock, the Manson killings and the concert at Altamont that would perhaps mark the end of the era of Peace Love and Music.

It wasn’t long after Altamont that the racial tensions would escalate. People like George Jackson would dominate the news.  Hundreds of bombing would take place on the streets of America, The SLA would kidnap Patty Hearst and everyone would look back at Altamont as a turning point.

Joel Selvin's Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day, puts it all in the perspective of the times.  
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My conversation with Joel Selvin:

“What Does Home Mean To You?”

August 31st, 2016
Joe%2BMcGinniss%2BJr%2BCollage.jpgWhen the national conversation does turn to real economic issues, it’s usually about numbers. Growth, GDP, home ownership and of course, the ongoing and too slow recovery.

What we often overlook is the impact of those number on real people. Not just those at the bottom, not those left behind. But those struggling to maintain a middle class life.  The psychological impact that it has on their families, their marriages, their children and the way that it completely alters the trajectory of their lives.

There is a real estate website that advertises with the slogan, “What does home mean to you?”  The most obvious meaning is a physical location where you live. But home is so much more than a warm bed and a comfy couch. Like it or not, it's come to represent love, security and connection. Home isn't a place, as much as it is a state of mind. This is at the heart of Joe McGinniss Jr's Carousel Court.
My conversation with Joe McGinniss Jr.

Hillbilly Elegy

August 29th, 2016
7435402-L.jpgAmidst all the talk of the things that divide america, Race and Class always rise to the top.  Over the years there have been many efforts to understand the social, cultural historical and policy underpinning of both of these divisions. And sometimes even efforts for solutions.

Add to this list of efforts the work of  J.D. Vance in his captivating work Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.   Vance takes us deeply, from his own profound experience, into the heart of poor and rural America to try and help us understand the the resentment, intergenerational poverty and loss of hope that seems to be driving 45% of our country today.

My conversation with J.D. Vance:

Parents should be Gardeners and not Carpenters

August 26th, 2016
5048.jpgFor those of us that are parents, or grandparents, we are told over and over that parenting is the most important job we will ever have.  

The assumption is that if we buy Baby Einstein, enroll our kids in the best preschool, (sometimes costing as much as college)  provide just the right mix of extracurricular activity and teachers and pour in the right measure of self esteem, we will turn out, as if from a factory, the perfect child. One ready to take on the challenges and leadership of their world and one that will continue to be a part of the parenting/industrial complex

But is any of this true?  What do children, with all their curiosity, really need?  Do they need to be moulded, sculpted, or do they simply need room to grown and with lots of love as the fertilizer?

These are the questions that Alison Gopnik has been asking for years and now she bring all of this together in her newest work The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.

My conversation with Alison Gopnik:

How Did Our Politics Get So Harsh? The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division

August 24th, 2016
0320cohenart.jpgOne of the great benefits of a long history is that when things get tough in America, we can look back to see how we as a people and as a nation survived other very trying experiences.  The transformations of the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the last century put great strain on the country.  McCarthyism in the ‘50s tried our political conscience and the upheavals and social and political transformations of the ‘60s’ shook the nations to its very roots

Riots, racism, political assassination and long seething anger all set the stage for the politics of 1968.  A unique set of characters enlivened the political landscape, including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller.   The question then, as I suppose it is today, is where the politicians shaped the issues or the issues shaped and tested the politicians?  National political columnist, Michael A. Cohen in American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division,  makes the case that the election of 1968 tested nation and maybe even laid the predicate for where we are 48 years later.

My conversation with Michael Cohen: 

“Stoking the Star-Maker Machinery”

August 17th, 2016
jim-miller.jpgHollywood has always served a dual role, as both a reflection of the times is operates in  and a projector sending out its light showing the broader changes taking place in society.

Just as the original Hollywood moguls, people like Warner and Selznick and Mayer, represented a generation that changed the “white shoe” world of business, people like the founders of CAA, men like Mike Ovitz and Ron Meyer, personified and were the apotheosis of  the buttoned down world of Wall Street coming to Hollywood in the 70’s and 80’s. 

Like every business, things would continue to change. A new generation would emerge.  The old guard would be pushed out, or burn out and a group of so called young turks would emerge. 

This ongoing story of the history of CAA is both Shakespearean in its drama and contemporary in subject.  It’s that story that my guest James Andrew Miller tells in Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency.

My conversation with James Andrew Miller: 

An American Heiress in a Time Far More Violent Than Our Own

August 10th, 2016
010_toob_9780385536714_art_r1_custom-9e4There are many defining markers of particular eras in American history.  One of them is notorious crimes.

Think about it.  Sacco and Vanzetti , the Lindbergh kidnapping, Jeff McDonald, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, O.J. Simpson and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst.  All are indelibly etched into the American psyche and each represents a set of fears and cultural markers.

Today, when domestic terrorism is on all of our minds, the story of Patty Hearst, the Symbionese Liberation army and its rag tag affiliates were a time when literally thousand of bombing were taking place on US streets.  It’s a time well worth looking at. That what Jeffrey Toobin does in American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

My conversation with Jeffrey Toobin:

Back to School

August 7th, 2016
markham2.pngPeople used to joke that the one subject that everybody talked about was the weather.  Today, it may very well be that the subject is education.  Listen at school events, at the grocery store, at sporting events, everywhere there are parents and children, education is often topic one.

Along with that conversation are lots of buzzwords, opinions, traditional talk and the desire for change.  Dr. Thom Markham is at the cutting edge of that change.  

In the world of work, where people like futurist and Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly say that today's employers have to “train for skills but hire for attitude,” clearly we have to rethink what education is all about.  And few are doing that more than Dr. Thom Markham. 

My conversation with Thom Markham:

Why Streisand Still Matters

August 5th, 2016
methode%25252Ftimes%25252Fprod%25252FwebPick up any celebrity magazine in any grocery store line and the people gracing the cover were almost certainly unknown five years ago and most likely will be forgotten in another five years.  Such is the transitory nature of celebrity culture today.

Of course there are exceptions.  Mostly these exceptions are celebrities that are famous not just for being famous, but because they have given the public something unique in terms of their art, their personality and the narrative of how they achieved their fame.  Such is the case with Barbra Streisand. Biographer Neal Gabler gives us a the big picture in Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power.

My conversation with Neal Gabler: 

How the World is Getting Faster, Faster

August 4th, 2016
methode%25252Fsundaytimes%25252Fprod%252We throw around words and ideas about technology, about disruption, about progress and the impact of technology in speeding up our lives. 

The  fact is, it’s more than just technology. As we move to cities at increasing rates, as the workplace demands greater productivity, as global competition abounds, as we experience the globalization of acceleration,  the pressures to speed up are everywhere.

But how fast is fast?  How fast exceeds our evolutionary and biological ability to cope? And what happens to the the anger of those left behind in the cloud of dust from creative destruction.

These are just a few of the issues taken up by Robert Colvile in  The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster.

Why the nuclear codes still really matter

August 2nd, 2016
download.jpegIn this time of asymmetrical warfare, terrorism, and the war images that have been projected into our living rooms since Vietnam, it's easy for those not alive fifty years ago to forget, or even not even consider, the fear, the horror and the specter of nuclear annihilation.

The President's recent trip to Hiroshima and the fear of Trump having nuclear codes are both reminders that the nuclear reality still lives among us.

That reality is what motivated three unlikely activists in the summer of 2012 to break into one of our nation's seemingly most secure nuclear facilities.  In so doing they triggered  political, legal and moral issues that had lied dormant for so long.

Telling this powerful story and what it says about the nuclear age is my guest Washington post reporter Dan Zak in Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age.

My conversation with Dan Zak: 

From Kabul to the Oval Office

July 27th, 2016

Daniel Patrick Moynihan is often quoted as saying that “you can have your own opinion, but not your own facts.”  This is as true in looking at the world, as it is here at home.  There are  lots of opinions about the US role and US actions in the world, specifically the Middle East.  However, facts come first.  And part of those facts include an understanding of the people, the history and the nuance of the region.  Our domestic politics has debates every day about who best understands the American people...we conduct our global affairs with a similar understanding of others?

When it comes to the Middle East in general, or to Afghanistan, to Iraq and even our international policy architecture in the post war era, few understand the people, the history and the nuance better than Zalmay Khalilzad. He’s served four Presidents and has traveled from a small village in Afghanistan to the pinacle of the Oval Office.  He tells that story in The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World

My conversation with Zalmay Khalilzad: 

Can We Really See Russia From Any Window?

July 26th, 2016
9780857891594.jpgIn October of 1939, Winston Churchill said of Russia that “I cannot forecast to you the actions of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."

Today, almost 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we could say exactly the same thing about Russia.  The Russia that Gorbachev ushered in as the Cold War ended is seemingly a far cry from the Russia today of Vladimir Putin.

What happened?  Did the country change, the people change, or were the current tendencies there all along? Arkady Ostrovsky, the Russian-born journalist who has spent fifteen years reporting from Moscow, first for the Financial Times and then as bureau chief for The Economist, digs deep in his book The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev's Freedom to Putin's War.

My conversation with Arkady Ostrovsky: