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: 

Could Star Wars Help Us Solve The World’s Problems?

July 25th, 2016
cass-sunstein-world-according-to-star-waIt’s no surprise that the influence of western popular culture is everywhere, even in our affairs of state.  Remember  when Ronald Reagan spoke the phrase “evil empire?” It was just five years after the release of the original Star Wars.  The Empire was on all of our minds and the comparisons were immediate.

When was the last time your were pulled over and wished you could just wave your hand and call on the power of the the force?  

When George Lucas created Star Wars he was fully aware of the primal power of narrative. He was a long time devotee of Joseph Campbell and knew that Star Wars would become a palette of archetypes that would burrow deep into our consciousness.  

The only questions is how much Lucas and Star Wars reflected the culture of the time, or in fact, through its successes, helped to create and expand its own iconography.

Today, almost 40 after that premiere, legal critic and behavioral economist Cass Sunstein, deconstructs Star Wars in light of 21st century in The World According to Star Wars.

My conversation with Cass Sunstein:  

The War at Home

July 20th, 2016
rachel-starnes.pngConfucius may have said it first, but the oft quoted and repeated phrase, “wherever you go, there you are,” can certainly apply to families in the military.

Even in a culture as mobile and connected as ours, the reality of constantly moving, long separations,  anxiety, stress, and danger are all realities that are not easily offset by Skype or Facetime.

We’ve seen and read a lot about military families.  But what’s it like today in a mobile/global culture and with warfare, not cold but hot, as an almost permanent condition?

Rachel Starnes has lived this life and writes from the heart in The War at Home: A Wife's Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible): A Memoir

My conversation with Rachel Starnes:

Success and Luck

July 15th, 2016
hqdefault.jpgAs a society, we’ve all been brought up to believe deeply in the idea of the self made man.  The power of persistence and hard work.  The Horatio Alger mythology of pulling oneself up by your own bootstraps. In modern political theology we hear about “makers” and “takers,”  and Randian and libertarian ideas.

We embrace that quote by Jefferson that, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

What we leave out of the equation is the role of pure dumb luck.  Being in the right place at the right time.  The existential circumstances over which we often have no control and often account for good things happening. That the jumping for point for Robert H. Frank in his book Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy.

My conversation with Robert H. Frank:  

Bobby Kennedy

July 14th, 2016
920x920.jpgFor those of us that old enough, when we think back to JFK and Camelot, we think of a time of innocence, of renewal and of possibility.  And then the 60’s happened.  There has been a lot of talk lately about the 60’s. About the fissures it opened up, and about the fact that we are still trying to heal them.  Sydney Schanberg, the great reporter who died last week, once told me in an interview that he thought Vietnam represented the end of consensus politics in America.

Since then we have been seemingly searching for the politician or the leader that could bridge that divide. The irony has been that in a time of polarity it’s been impossible for that leader to emerge.  So we look back to what might have been.  And when we do, the image and mythology of Bobby Kennedy rises as almost an apparition from the body politic.  

Why?  What was it about Bobby that made us think he was different?  It wasn’t his conviction, or his ideology or his morality or his intellect or his manners.  Perhaps it was a unique ability to empathize, to see all sides, to shape-shift in ways that allowed him to find truth, or at least consensus where none had existed.

This is the Bobby Kennedy we get in Larry Tye new biography 
Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon.

My conversation with Larry Tye:

White Trash: A History

July 12th, 2016
white-trash-001.jpgWhile politicians often talk of all those things that unite us as Americans, there are equally powerful forces that divide us.  At the center of that divide is the often taboo subject of class.

Even more than race, the class divide lies at the base of the chasm that separates what John Edward once called “Two Americas.”  The symbols are everywhere.  Starbucks America vs.  Dunkin' Donuts America.  Educated vs. non educated.  Walmart vs. Whole Foods, etc.  But these symbols are but the latest manifestation of a 400 year history of class conflict in America.

That the story told by Nancy Isenberg in her new book White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.

My conversation with Nancy Isenberg: 

How Digital Memory May Change What Makes Us Human

July 8th, 2016
abby.pngBack in 320 BC Socrates worried about how written language would impact our ability to remember. This was long, long before moveable type, the computer, the pda or any form of digital technology.

Socrates worried that reliance on simply writing would erode memory. But also and maybe more importantly, that reading would mislead students to think that they had knowledge, when they only had data. 

Today, similar debates are going on with respect to the digital world. Leading a great deal of this discussion and giving us much insight is Abby Smith Rumsey in her book When We Are No More: How Digital Memory Is Shaping Our Future

My conversation with Abby Smith Rumsey: 

Campaign 1776 - The War That We Almost Lost

July 2nd, 2016
ac6996a5ee1cd8a9017554d50363b0a6_f11347.On this day, upon which we celebrate the birth of the “American Experiment,” it’s important to remember that it was not preordained.

In spite of today's overheated patriotic rhetoric, the revolution, the victory of the Continental Army, the success of Washington and the country that followed, could have easily gone another direction.  There were many times when the revolution might have failed.  (Given the state of our politics today, that may not have been such a bad idea)

Just as important and just as surprising are that there are still so many untold stories from that effort.  Stories that, particularly on this day, prove instructive, informative and most of all inspirational.

Patrick O’Donnell is the master of telling the stories of our military heroes and as O’Donnell shows us in Washington's Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution, it was the revolutionary generation that was indeed our greatest. 

My conversation with Patrick O'Donnell:

Love Wins

June 27th, 2016
u34%252B1F%2521EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA%Oliver Brown, the lead plaintiff in Brown v. the Board of Education was a parent of a child denied access to a Topeka Kansas School. Clarence Gideon changed the way poor defendant are treated in court. Ernesto Miranda and Jane Roe both, in their own ways, were part of cases that expanded the rights of individual citizens.

The latest name added to that pantheon is that of Jim Obergefell.  He was the named plaintiff in the Obergefell vs. Hodges which , just one year ago, enshrined the civil right of same sex marriage in all 50 states.  Jim has recently written about his experience in Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality

My conversation with Him Obergefell:

Who Started the War On Government?

June 23rd, 2016
Untitled-1_75.pngIn 1953 in his first Inaugural Address, Dwight Eisenhower talked about the positive impacts of government. Thirty years later Ronald Reagan castigated the role of government.  Twelve years after that we heard this from Bill Clinton that “the era of big government is over.”  

So what happened?  What happened to the partnership between business, the government and citizen that resulted in so much success and prosperity in the post war years?  What happened to the progressive agenda once embarrassed by Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt?  And what is the price we are paying today for the absence of that partnership?

Author and Professor Paul Pierson talks to me about all of this in on discussion of American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper.

My conversation with Paul Pierson: