Superstorm Sandy +2 years - What have we learned?

October 29th, 2014
Superstorm_Sandy_Vall_t618.jpgAs we watch day after day, the government response to a potential Ebola crisis, we are reminded of so many mistakes that various government agencies have made in response to other disasters. It hardly fills us with confidence.

Katrina, of course, remains in all our minds. And more recently Superstorm Sandy, exactly two years ago, where municipal response, particularly in N.Y. City, would have embarrassed even the Keystone Cops.

Kathryn Miles, in Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, dives deep into Sandy.  What she tells us could, if we pay attention, save a lot of lives in the future.

My conversation with Kathryn Miles: 
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The Birth of the Pill

October 27th, 2014
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There are many legacies of the 1960’s.  The Civil Rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the efforts of women to have reproductive choice. Of these, arguably the reproductive freedom of women has had the most profound, lasting and  global impact.

Before the efforts of four mismatched anti establishment characters in the 1960’s, women had, since the days of ancient Egypt, sought to control their biological destiny.  

And while today, we look at The Pill and birth control as the norm, the efforts to develop and market it were anything but normal.   In a time now when we think that an App on our phone can change the world, it’s worth looking back at something that truly did. That's what Jonathan Eig has done in The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution.

My conversation with Jonathan Eig: 
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Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice

October 25th, 2014
Sotomayor-c-Elena-Seibert_.jpgWhen we think about the Supreme Court, and its hushed, hallowed halls, and John Adams dictum that we are a nation of laws and not of men, words that do not often come to mind are  passion, Salsa Dancing, ambition, and people skills.  Yet all of these have been a part of the life and Supreme Court tenure of Sonia Sotomayor.  

Her story is not just a legal story, it’s the story of the rise of the Latino population in America and it’s ever larger and growing role in the politics of the nation.

My guest Joan Biskupic tells that story in Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice

My conversation with Joan Biskupic:
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How the World Works

October 24th, 2014
download.jpegToday, as we look around the world, it sometimes seems to be spinning out of control. It feels like a time, to quote Yates, when the falcon cannot hear the falconer, when the best lack all conviction and the worst seem full of passionate intensity.

Does the fault lie in the vagaries of human nature, or in our leaders and institutions?  The answer is that both are intimately linked in ways that, when fully understood, explain the essence of how the world works.

This is the journey that Francis Fukuyama takes us on in his two volume masterwork on political order.  He has just published the second volume, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy.

My conversation with Francis Fukuyama:
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The Robots are coming

October 23rd, 2014
robot-ai-economy-automation-future-pew-rFor a while now technology has seemed to focus on only one aspect or another of  information.  Everything from Google to Facebook, to Instagram, to all aspects of the sharing economy are essentially all about trying to achieve perfect information.

Slowly the emphasis is beginning to shift.  Now voice recognition,  robots, drones and a renewed interest in artificial intelligence are all pointing to a new technological direction.

Just as we’ve had to readjust to the creative destruction and social shifting of the information economy, now the the automation or AI economy is upon us.  What will it change?  How will it reshape the social contract and perhaps most of all, how will it reshape the nature of work? 

Nicholas Carr, the best selling author of THE SHALLOWS, and THE BIG SWITCH turns his attention to this future in his new book The Glass Cage: Automation and Us

My conversation with Nicholas Carr:  
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Understanding the Internet of Things

October 22nd, 2014
20140102_051507_ssjm1228things90_500.jpgAlthough the origins of the quote are a bit murky, the idea that the only way to predict the future is to invent it, certainly seems true in the 21st century. In fact, that future is being invented right now. 

As technology moves from dedicated devices, to virtually everything, soon everything from our pens to our trash to our kitchens to our most intimate desires, will be connected to the each other and to us, in ways unimagined until now. Will that technology be more humane or more intrusive?

David Rose is on the cutting edge of inventing that future and he details it in Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things.

My conversation with David Rose:
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The Week Politics Went Tabloid

October 19th, 2014
1101870518_400.jpgFor those that study and write about politics, the holy grail is to find those seminal moments in the nation's public and political life that change everything.  And while the antecedents of those events may be years in the making, they usually create a perfect storm that results in an event that is a kind of tipping point;  one that marks a permanent tectonic shift in the political landscape.  Sometimes we have to let time pass, before we appreciate or even understand those moments. 

The televised Nixon-Kennedy Debate, Watergate, the Nixon’s resignation and the Vietnam war piped into our living rooms are such event.  And, according to longtime political journalist Matt Bai, the implosion of Gary Heart's presidential campaign in 1987, was also such a moment. One that Bai captures, in all its complexity, in All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid.

It was a time when politics became a plotline, when the personal became both political and public, and when Who, What, Where and When became Gotcha.

My conversation with Matt Bai:
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Capitalism vs. The Climate

October 19th, 2014
climate-change-city-grass-land-earth-560It was actually Winston Churchill, not Rahm Emanuel, who said that we should never let a serious crisis go to waste.

A crisis often creates a great opportunity to face, to talk about, and even sometimes to act upon issues that had been previously frozen

Or, as Donald Rumsfeld once inarticulately put it, sometimes the only solution to an unsolvable problem, is to create a bigger problem.

It could be said that climate change provides such an opportunity.  That in seeking to address the issues of man made climate change, we will have to drill down into the very issues that caused it in the first place. That’s what Naomi Klein does in her new work This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

My conversation with Naomi Klein: 
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How the Obesity Crisis Is Complicating America’s Love Life

October 19th, 2014
51KNieMPT3L._SY344_BO1%2C204%2C203%2C200Some of you may have seen the story recently that marriage is at an all time low in America.  We also know that two out of three Americans are overweight, or obese.  Is there a link between these two issues?

Has our national physical decline and the rise of obesity changed the way we view love and sex, and if so, what are the broad social and economic impacts of that?

That’s what Sarah Varney, senior health policy correspondent with Kaiser Health News, sets out to find out in XL Love: How the Obesity Crisis Is Complicating America's Love Life.

My conversation with Sarah Varney
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Terrorism and the Search for Justice

October 16th, 2014
Bus-bombing.bmpFor decades, it seems, we've read and watched stories about suicide bombers in the Middle East. We process the information without emotion, as we do most news stories.  Then 9/11 happened and suddenly suicide bombers took on a new meaning for most Americans.  

With that new understanding, award winning journalist Mike Kelly looks back at a story of a suicide bombing in Israel, that took place in 1996, years before 9/11.  The story, fraught with the humanity and frustration of loss, would have, if we knew better than, presaged so much of what’s happened since….in Israel, in Palestine, and in America.  

Mike Kelly's story is Bus on Jaffa Road: A Story of Middle East Terrorism and the Search for Justice.

My conversation with Mike Kelly:
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Superintelligence

October 16th, 2014
download%2B(7).jpegWhether we are thinking about our smart phones, or HAL in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, we are usually deeply conflicted about artificial intelligence.  Will it be a panacea to enhance the already unique power of human intelligence or, like HAL, will its survival depend on usurping human control

That balance informs both our fear and appreciation of machines and technology and what they both can do. This is the balance that Oxford Professor Nick Bostrom seeks to find in Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

My conversation with Nick Bostrom: 
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The no problem, problem

October 14th, 2014
mezzanine_409.jpg.fit.344x192.jpgRevolutions are often exciting.  The stir change, mobilize ideas, and are often at the cutting edge of excitement.  Yet what happens after revolutions is often the work that matters.  The problem is that it’s hard work.  The cameras are off, the story has grown cold, but this is where the work gets done that can truly change the world.

Arguably the women's movement is such an example.  While dramatic changes once took place, arguably the hard work since has not been quite enough

While the opportunities for elite women to “lean in,” have never been stronger, American women overall today, fare worse than men on virtually every major dimension of social status, financial well-being, and physical safety.

Sexual violence is still condoned, and reproductive rights are by no means secure. Women assume disproportionate burdens in the home and pay a heavy price in the workplace. 

Yet these issues are not political priorities. Nor is there a consensus that it’s even a problem. This is the story that Stanford Law Professor Deborah Rhode tells in What Women Want: An Agenda for the Women's Movement.
My conversation with Deborah L. Rhode:
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I’m not the boss of me

October 13th, 2014
1101130520_600.jpgThe common portrayal of Millennials is as generation that is narcissistic, self absorbed, entitled and demanding.  Yet they are almost 90 million strong and will soon be taking their place in leadership in business, in politics and in almost every other aspect of society.

What will they be like in this new role?  How will they be when they are the boss?  That’s the situation that Lindsey Pollak looks at in Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders.

My conversation with Lindsey Pollak: 
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Daring: My Passages

October 12th, 2014
GetPageImage.jpegKierkegaard said that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.”  Such is the powerful value of memoir and reflection

Sometimes, though, that reflection takes in more than just the individual life, it becomes a way to reflect on a time, a place, and movement.  Gail Sheehy’s life encompasses all of that.  The mainstreaming of hippie culture, feminism, new journalism, publishing all exist side by side with the touchstones of love, loss and family.  Her story is, in short, the story of the past fifty years. The proverbial grain of sand that captures the history of the time.

Gail Sheehy shares her story in her new memoir Daring: My Passages: A Memoir

My conversation with Gail Sheehy:  
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How Change Happens

October 11th, 2014
pitch_01.jpgWe often say that actions have consequence. So do ideas. And we don’t always know the full extent of those consequences. Just as the science of splitting the atom, changed the nature of geopolitics and may still reshaped civilization, so the ripple effects of certain inventions have consequences and impacts, far beyond what was originally thought or intended.

As we worry about the spread of disease these days, it provides an interesting analogy. Essentially, if we think of certain inventions as Patient Zero, we then see how they spread over vast landscapes and change the world.

It is through this lens that Steven Johnson views the world in How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World.

My conversation with Steven Johnson:
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A new perspective on the Middle East

October 10th, 2014
%7BF6F5DDAB-B3A1-4A80-B6BD-C4FA0C04E899%When we think and talk about the Middle East today, we look at it terms of the religious and ethnic strife and extremism that define today's conflicts. We also assume that these conflicts has been going on for centuries.  That the holy wars and clash of civilizations of today have been the basis for the whole history of the region

Middle East historian Brian Catlos has a different view. One that puts those conflicts in a more political and economic perspective. In fact, it was really a world of conflict about money and land and power, and where interfaith cooperation was possible and where globalization may have gotten its real start.

Can understanding this helps us face today's challenges?  I don’t know; but we do know that perhaps it’s the beginning of wisdom. Catlos explains it in Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad.

My conversation with Brian Catlos:
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Cosby

October 8th, 2014
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The recent suicide of Robin Williams puts into bold perspective that we really don’t know very much about the inner lives of the people that make us laugh. From Lenny Bruce to Richard Pryor, from Johnny Carson to Bill Cosby, the demons and private lives that drove these comedians were often anything but funny.

Cosby was particularly unique in several ways.  He broke the color barrier for television with I Spy.  He appealed to predominantly white audiences, yet subtly advanced the civil rights agenda. He broke the rules, yet didn’t shout while he was doing it.  The Cosby show has become a part of American iconography and some would argue paved the way for the election of Barack Obama.

But what we know about his influential comedian has been mostly underwater. That is until journalist Mark Whitaker now pulls it all together in his new biography Cosby: His Life and Times

My conversation with Mark Whitaker:  
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How many scandals can we understand at once?

October 6th, 2014
libor-infog-333-300x250.jpgIf you’ve ever borrowed money for anything, from a mortgage to a student loan, you’ve been impacted by LIBOR.  The London Interbank Offered Rate.  The global standard for interest rates.

The problem is, like so many other recent aspects of our financial markets, we’ve now come to find that it’s been rigged.  That a system built on trust, has been anything but trustworthy. That the gentlemanly system of the London bankers has joined the international movement toward greed, and dishonesty, at the expense of average citizens around the world.

This story has been reported extensively by financial reporter Erin Arvedlund.  Now she pulls it all together in her new book Open Secret: The Global Banking Conspiracy That Swindled Investors Out of Billions.

My conversation with Erin Arvedlund:
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Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles Blow

October 5th, 2014
chrls-bliow.jpgWhen we talk about America's history of segregation, its not just about race and class, but also about geography.  Even as the civil right movement would begin to take hold in the late 60’s and seventies, there were parts of America, particularly in the rural South, that we untouched by that progress.  Places where slavery was not just a legacy to be overcome, but still in the fabric of the cultural DNA of place.

It is into this landscape that a young boy grows up, prematurely comes of age due to familial sexual abuse and yet has the strength, courage, and intelligence to make it out. To become not just a pillar of the NY Times editorial page, but a man brave enough  share his sometimes painful story.  That man is Charles Blow. His new memoir is Fire Shut Up in My Bones.

My conversation with Charles Blow: 
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Writing in the 21st Century

October 2nd, 2014
65-6569-EP72100Z.jpgYears ago, in Hollywood, someone once remarked that the amount of bad screenplay writing increased with the advent of the copy machine.  The same claim was later made when word processing and screenwriting software came along.

The fact is there is a lot of bad writing that goes on in many arenas.  Today much of the blame gets heaped on email, or texting, or technology, or just “kids today.”   The real issues are more nuanced, more complex, and not quite as rigid as some might wish.

These are some of the conclusions of Harvard Professor Steven Pinker in his new book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Persons Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

My conversation with Steven Pinker: 
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