Water in all the wrong places

April 19th, 2015
fa_80_1926stfrancisdam970-500x221.jpgThose of us in California know all too well what’s its like to be living in the midst of a drought.  Gov. Jerry Brown recently put in place restrictions demanding that urban water use be cut by 25%.  Already the push back is coming.  In a state where agriculture uses well over 50% of the state’s water, and only contributes 3% to the state’s economy, urban water users are becoming angry.
There is much talk about pipelines, about desalination, and new technology to bring water to the parched desert that is much of California. 

All of this echoes a battle of an earlier time.  A time, at the turn of the last century, when a man named William Mulholland would devise a plan to make the desert that was Los Angeles bloom and allow it to become the world class, cutting edge metropolis that it is today.
Perhaps in these dry times, its instructive to look back to that previous period and see what we might learn.

My conversation with Les Standiford about his book Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles
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Barney Frank

April 17th, 2015
President-Obama-Barney-Frank.jpgOne of the big things missing in politics today is historical and institutional memory.  The sense of collegiality, of institutional respect and the positive value of public policy, seem to have been replaced by gotcha politics, partisan positioning and the effort to achieve petty political advantage.  

Former Congressman Barney Frank has born witness to this change and he’s seen it from all sides. He helped usher in our renewed respect and acceptance for gays and lesbians in public life and fought in the civil right issue of our time, for gay marriage. He used the best of the public policy apparatus to bring forth financial reform, but he’s also seen the ways in which our political process has become mired and disconnected from the realities of 21st century life.

He understands that principals must be part of politics and that “to legislate” is not a dirty word.

He shares some of that life experience in his new memoir Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage

My conversation with Barney Frank:  
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The capital of 20th century urbanism

April 15th, 2015
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Sometimes, even the most interesting of subjects are presented to us in more or less predictable or at least accepted ways.  It’s rare that a work of ideas come to us in an truly imaginative form. But that is exactly what David Kishik has done with The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City


As cities are becoming ever more important, as most of America and the world moves into urban spaces, understanding cities and their relationship to people is every more important.

David Kishik is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College 

My conversation with David Kishik:
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We are in the Golden Age of Public Shaming

April 13th, 2015
dunce_cap.jpgThere once was a time, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, when public shaming was the norm.  The stockades, corporal punishment, torture marks and even the famed Scarlet Letter, all represented ways in which society could express it’s scorn.

Today, with the power and reach of the Internet and social media, we are in a golden age of shaming.  Monica Lewinsky’s recent Ted Talk on the subject has been viewed over 3 million times.

But has this new age of shaming made us better?  Has it reined in indecent behavior?  Has it made us more just or just more paranoid?  The long time radio host Don Imus used to say he’d like to ask guests, especially public figures, very tough questions in the hope that the answers just might ruin their careers.   Today that can happen in the blink of a Tweet.

Jon Ronson  has been studying this recent phenomenon and he writes about it in So You've Been Publicly Shamed.

My conversation with Jon Ronson:
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Private Debt vs. Public Debt - Which is more dangerous?

April 11th, 2015
PrivateDebtDominates.gifIf you did a Google search for stories about debt and the financial crisis, you’d find that the vast majority of them would be about public and government debt and  government spending.  This has been, for almost 40 years, the mantra of many in Washington.  

And yet we know, that our most recent financial crisis, was at least, in part, triggered by the mortgages crises and vast amounts, (almost 10 trillion dollars) of private mortgage debt.  So why haven’t we talked more about this? And what is the nexus between private debt and public debt and what does it say about our current economic outlook?

That’s what Richard Vague looks at in his new book The Next Economic Disaster: Why It's Coming and How to Avoid It

My conversation with Richard Vague: 
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In Defense of Liberal Education

April 6th, 2015
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The rate of voter participation in America continues to decline.  Yes, some of it is our politics today. But another part of it just may be a failure to embrace the true education for citizenship.

And it’s no wonder. Some of the fundamental ideas of what it means to be a citizen; the ability to reason, to analyze, and to articulate those views, has gone into remission.

In our education today, we are obsessed with what is call STEM.  Science Technology, Engineering and Math.  All very important. But Lost in this obsession is Writing, History, Rhetoric, and the Arts.  

State Governors are defunding liberal arts programs in state universities, the President is putting down Art History, and educational institutions from K-12 to our universities, are responding to the pressures.

There seems to be no regard for the fact that today’s technology will be tomorrows nostalgia and the ability to learn, think and write is forever.

Taking up this cause of liberal education is Fareed Zakaria in his new book In Defense of a Liberal Education.

He is one of our premiere foreign policy analysts, the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN and a columnist for the Washington Post.

My conversation with Fareed Zakaria:

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RoadTrip Nation’s ROADMAP

April 6th, 2015
roadmap.jpgEveryday we hear and read more about how life is changing.  Probably while we were sleeping last night, someone came up with an app that will alter the way we work or play or interact.

It’s not surprising then that all of this profoundly impacts the careers we choose, the work we do and and what that work might look like in five, ten or fifteen years.

So where to begin.  If you are a young person starting out, or a making a mid career change, where is that Roadmap to that future.


Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life is the latest book by RoadTrip Nation and my guest Nathan Gebhard. It is based on the wisdom of more than 300 leaders.

My conversation with Nathan Gebhard: 
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The real evolution of Steve Jobs

April 3rd, 2015
images.jpeg51ElL7TAKnL._SX258_BO1%2C204%2C203%2C200One of the dangers of our celebrity culture today, is that we tend to look at those who've attained that status, regardless of their field of endeavor, as fully formed human beings, whose life began and ended with the achieve that catapulted them into iconic status. 

Nothing can be further from the truth.  In looking at the stories or biographies of these celebrities, on the one hand we have case studies that zero in a particular moment in time, or hagiographies that only heighten misperception.

This has t
ended to be the case with Steve Jobs.  He wasn’t born as the  iconic founder and savior of Apple.  He evolved over time and his skills, talents and personality either acted as receptors or antagonists to the moment and issues at hand.

In looking at his story, we see the full magnitude of humanity that was, in and of itself, a part of his success.

Rick Tetzeli tells that story in Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader

My conversation with Rick Tetzeli:  
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Creative Destruction comes to Warfare

April 1st, 2015
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Technological change and creative destruction is everywhere.  It’s changed the way we work, the way we interact with each other, the foundation of education, and not surprisingly the nature of warfare.

We’ve all seen the media images of drones giving us perfect images; the perfect eye in the sky for perfectly targeted air strikes.  As least that’s how it looks on Homeland, and 24 and the images for Abbottabad.

The reality however is somewhat different.  Less than clear images, imperfect targeting that kills civilians, increasingly complex and overpriced equipment and on the other hand, lower barriers to entry with respect to some drones, that will soon make them available to nations, groups or individuals everywhere.  Soon surveillance, and even "death from above," will be on a par with package delivery

It’s a scary future, one that Washington keeps pretty hidden,  and one that the Washington editor of Harpers,  Andrew Cockburn talks about in Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins

My conversation with Andrew Cockburn: 
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Editing life code

March 30th, 2015
110714142130-large.jpgConventional wisdom has long held that evolution is something that takes place slowly and  over centuries.  Concurrently we know that technological changes, and changes in the human condition have speeded up at a hyper multiple pace.  We have often thought that much of our anxiety and even some fundamental social problems stem from that dissonance, from that disconnect between our external and our internal change.

However, what if we ourselves, as a species, as generic templates, were really changing at the same time, in real time.  Imagine that all the plates are spinning at rapid speed and in different directions.  It’s not surprising then that they may crash into each other, some may shatter, and some will survive even stronger and sturdier.

In this way, we are rewriting life code. We are according to Juan EnriquezEvolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth.

My conversation with Juan Enriquez: 
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The Myth of America as a “Christian Nation”

March 30th, 2015
epluribus.jpgIt was Churchill who reminded us that history is written by the victors.  Well this is as true of religious history as it is of military, political and geopolitical history. 

We’ve all been been told since childhood of the Christian foundation of America.  That the history of America is John Winthrop's "Shining City on a Hill."  That the Christian Village Green represented the apotheosis of America. 

The fact is, since before the time of Columbus, America has been a pluralistic society.  An idea that Jefferson had to battle to prove, just as President Obama has in his recent speeches about religion.

At a time when technology and globalization continue to draw us all closer together, we have a choice. We can either channel our heritage and embrace that religious diversity or pull up the proverbial drawbridge and defend the mythology.

This is the world that Peter Manseau looks at in his new book One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History.

My conversation with Peter Manseau:
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Boston’s other unsolved crime

March 23rd, 2015
theft.jpgArt theft is always a funny thing.  The public is usually fascinated by the story, but can seldom feel the kind of empathy with the theft, they feel if their neighbors car were broken into.

Art theft, at the highest level is a very special an almost elite kind of crime.  Like reading the pages of Rob Report, it fascinates, but never engages. 

Perhaps that's why so many art thefts are never solved. Including the recent grandaddy of them all, the the theft of priceless painting from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, 25 years ago. Award winning Boston Globe journalist Stephen Kurkjian takes us inside  Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the Worlds Greatest Art Heist.

My conversation with Stephen Kurkjian: 
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Eating Viet Nam

March 20th, 2015
Vietnam-Nha-Trang.jpgHistorians and journalists have devoted millions of pages to trying to understand the world. In fact, it may be a lot simpler than that.  Just maybe it can be done by eating.

We’ve all seen politicians in America, campaigning by eating the local foods and imitating local eating customs.  Why isn’t the same true for geopolitics?

If we can understand the culture of another country through its food, perhaps we’d better understand its people, its culture and its ideas.  In so doing, the world just might be a happier, and more satisfied place.

That’s what Graham Holliday has done in trying to appreciate first south Korea and then Viet Nam.  A place that he takes us to in Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table.

My conversation with Graham Holliday: 
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Space is a family business

March 17th, 2015
gabrielle-giffords-mark-kelly-switzerlanEven back in the tumultuous 60’s  we were enamored with the space program.  The idea of man “slipping the surly bonds of earth,” captured the nation's attention at a time when so much other news was negative.  Kids everywhere wanted to be astronaut. There even was an airline at the time that referred to itself as “the wings of man.”

Our landing on the moon, in 1969, instead of being the beginning of a renewed interest to take us to the planets and beyond, was simply the capstone of our national interest in space. The Shuttle program and the International Space Station, never had the same kind of magnetic pull or a national obsession.

However for the twin brothers, Scott and Mark Kelly,  growing up in New Jersey, the pull never stopped.

Mark Kelly, is a distinguished naval aviator, and astronaut who has flown four shuttle missions.  He has logged almost one-hundred million miles  and circled the plant almost a 1000 times.

His brother Scott, also an astronaut,  is embarking on man’s longest stay aboard the space station. 
And Mark is married to former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, 

Mark is committed to instilling in young people a renewed interest in space and he’s written Astrotwins -- Project Blastoff

My conversation with Mark Kelly:  
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Gary Wills on The Future of the Catholic Church

March 16th, 2015
pope-francis_650x400_81423178698.jpgIf there is a single point of cognitive dissonance in our world today, it revolves around change.  We love change.  We think we like to embrace the new, and yet we fear change.  We hang on to a the past, forgetting that the past, that feels oh so comfortable, is but a floating endpoint of much previous change.

So to the Catholic Church. For the Church, constant change has been one of its most basic things. Most everything catholics think about dogma and doctrine in the church today, was once revolutionary.

Clearly Pope Francis understands this, with his admonition that grace must overtake laws.  That’s what distinguished historian Garry Wills writes  about in The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis

My conversation with Gary Wills: 
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The End of College

March 12th, 2015
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Our College and University system in America grew up in opposition to the old European model.  Americans didn’t want to be locked in to specific training or apprenticeships.  We believed that the goal of education was to engage the mind in the realities of the world and so liberal arts education grew up. It  emphasized writing and speaking and creative endeavors in the pursuit of interests beyond the classroom.

Out of this came our great research Universities and things like the California Master Plan for education became the model.

Today, that process is about tests and admissions and loans and student aid and transfers and an insanely complex and arcane process that benefits the Sherpas that have to navigate us through it, but do little for the value of that education.

Just has technology has disrupted so much else, it is now reaching deep into higher education.  What it means is an open question, which we are now coming to grips with.  

Kevin Carey looks deeply into this moment, in his new book  The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere.

My conversation with Kevin Carey:  
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Suicide is not Painless

March 9th, 2015
motivator1426575.jpgMost of us remember the theme song from Mash, “Suicide is Painless:”

Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…


Philip Connors, through the suicide of his brother, would come to see many things. About his brother, about his own life and about the pain of loneliness and of childhood trauma.  And most of all, about the need to connect with each other and the lifetime power of those connections. Connors, the acclaimed author of Fire Season, shares his pain and guilt in All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found.

My conversation with Philip Connors:
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How the Constitution Invented Hollywood and Silicon Valley

March 9th, 2015
apple_watch_iphone_6_fullwidth.pngFew classes in law school are drier and more arcane than courses on patents and copyrights.  And while the debate about intellectual property includes the worlds of entertainment, literature and technology, we don’t often make the connections between those arcane laws, the Constitution that laid down their predicate and the creativity that they seek to protect.  But that is exactly what Elizabeth Wurtzel does in her new book Creatocracy: How the Constitution Invented Hollywood.

My conversation with Elizabeth Wurtzel:  
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LBJ, Selma and the Great Society

March 6th, 2015
LBJ_Califano_web.jpgOur mission statement as a country tells us we are a government of laws, and not of men.  Yet without great men, including Adams, who said this, we would not have the laws that have provided the framework for our greatness.

Today, the laws that shape our contemporary society, civil rights, the environment, the social safety net, head start, and college loans, were in large measure the result of the Great Society and Lyndon Johnson.  

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about Johnson.  Recently the movie Selma reignited the debate about Johnson’s role in Civil Rights legislation.  

But Johnson, like all Presidents, was a flesh and blood human being.  While we may understand and/or debate the history of his Presidency,   Joseph Califano Jr. in his book The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years, gives us a look inside the man himself.

My conversation with Joseph Califano:
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Lies, Damned Lies and Love

March 5th, 2015
225px-Loveandliestitlecard.jpgAs novels and movies have repeatedly shown us, when both partners in a relationship tell the story of that relationship, the images, the memories, the experience is generally profoundly different.

Even in good or strong relationships, the perception is shaped by the stories and yes, even the lies we tell each other and ourselves, as a kind of lubrication for intimate interaction.

Over time, the stories and lies build up, until truth is almost indistinguishable, from perception.  

Even the most innocent things, like appearance, cosmetics, clothing, and even pharmaceuticals, are there to mask our true selves,in the effort to make us taller, smarter, younger, or just happier.

Clancy Martin takes on the story of these lies in Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love.

My conversation with Clancy Martin: 
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