Inequality….the great American Divide

October 25th, 2016
Chuck-Born-on-Third-Base.jpgMore than race and more than gender, class and wealth are the great divide in America today.  There was a time when those with wealth represented a kind of noblesse oblige.  They had sense of obligation to the larger society that had allowed them the opportunity to succeed.

Today something is different. Something that goes far beyond reaction to the "greed is good" utterances of Gordon Gekko. There is, at the heart of today's class divide, an anger at the wealth pooling at the very top. It’s fueled further by the complexity of our economic systems, the power of money to shape policy, the rural/urban divide and role of education for successful jobs.

So how did we get here and what can we really do about it. Understanding this has been the life's work of Chuck Collins. He bring in his own personal experience in his new book Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good

My conversation with Chuck Collins: 

A Contrarian View of Inequality

October 24th, 2016
upside-inequality-edward-conard-book-perIf there is a central political principle that organizes what little policy debate there is in this election it seems to be centered around the idea of “income inequality.” From the embrace of Bernie Sanders by millennials, to boomers and traditional Democrats embracing of Clinton, right on through the angry, populist rage that makes up the core of the Trump supporters.

So if this is the core idea embedded deep in the national psyche and we agree in a modern sense that crowdsourcing matters, then how could it be wrong?

Bain Capital co-founder and former Mitt Romney adviser Edward Conard thinks it’s all wrong.  He argues that it’s the one-percent that’s keeping our economy moving forward.  In his book   The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class, he makes the case that it’s not a zero sum game and that the the success of the one-percent is not what’s holding back the economic growth of the middle class.

My conversation with Ed Conard:

Are the Mexican Drug Wars a Kind of Disneyland for Teenage Boys?

October 17th, 2016
collage-2016-09-04-3.jpgPart mythology and part the result of the current Presidential campaign, we have this image of the US/Mexican border as divided territory.  We hear folks talking about it as if at one time north was north and south was south and never the twain would meet.

The truth is that this has never been the case.  The border has almost always been a porous membrane through which people, drugs, money, and crime could easily pass.  

The border is the kind of place that for poor teenage boys, was a kind of Disneyland. This is the world that Dan Slater takes us to in  Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel.
My conversation with Dan Slater: 

Greil Marcus explains Bob Dylan

October 14th, 2016
<a href="" imageanchor="1" style="clear: right; float: right; margin-bottom: 1em; margin-left: 1em;"><img border="0" height="320" src="" width="212" /></a>For any music to be successful, there must be that special bond between performer and listener. Perhaps nowhere has that bond been stronger then in the unique relationship between Bob Dylan and music critic extraordinaire Greil Marcus.

Marcus explasins how for over forty years Dylan has drawn upon and reinvented the landscape of traditional American music, its myths, heroes and villains. Throughout all of it, Greil Marcus has been there to be our ears, to be a unique listener of an unparalleled singer and now Nobel Prize winner

Marcus' forty years of writing on Dylan has been compiled into a new volume. Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010.

To really understand Dylan, listen to my conversation with Greil Marcus from 2010

How Nice This Would Be Today!

October 13th, 2016
Back in 1960, in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, the world took note of the decadence of life in the Italian capital of Rome. Inspired by two major political/sex scandals of the era, the film, which would win the 1960 Palme d'or in Cannes, depicted a Rome that was ultra sophisticated, ultra modern, ultra decadent and ultra cool.

This was a sensual world that was a far cry from the overt decadence and sexuality of America today. How have the tables switched so dramatically and what does it say about the state of love, sex and popular culture in the 21st century. And for those of us that weren’t there, what did we miss in this magical time and place.

Shawn Levy takes us there in Dolce Vita Confidential: 
Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome.

My conversation with Shawn Levy:

Why Presidential Staff Matter

October 12th, 2016
160827-smith-lehand-ap.jpgBecause we are in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, we know that much coverage goes to the people around the candidate.  We want to know who will be the advisors. Who gets to whisper in the ear of the President and who might have the last word before important decisions are made.

During the Presidency of FDR, one of the most influential of those closest to the President was Missy LeHand. A little known or understood figure, who functioned as FDR’s de facto Chief of Staff.

While Eleanor Roosevelt was often referred to as the President's legs, LeHand was was his right hand.  Giving us the first full scale biography of this important historical figure is Kathryn Smith in The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency.

My conversation with Kathryn Smith:

When Good People Get Caught Up in Racial Cleansing

October 4th, 2016
patrickphillips800.jpgIt is the original sin of America.  240 years later the issue of race still animates a significant portion of political and social discourse in this country.

A nation founded on the idea of all men being created equal, has at its corresponding co-founding principle slavery, racial violence and inequality.

The symbols, even today, are everywhere; Birmingham, Selma, Ferguson and even Los Angeles. They’ve all become whistle stops on the road to more violence and inequality.  Add to this Forsyth County Georgia in 1912.  

This is where Guggenheim and NEA Fellow Patrick Phillips takes us in his Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America.

My conversation with Patrick Phillips:  

Why Acceleration Equals Anger

October 3rd, 2016
9781632864550.jpgWe throw around a lot of words and ideas about technology, about disruption, about progress and about the impact of technology in speeding up our lives. 

The  fact is the speed up is more than just technology. As we move to cities at increasing rates, as the workplace demands greater productivity, as global competition abounds, 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.

I Wonder Who’s Kissinger Now?

September 30th, 2016
h_fergusonniall.jpgFew modern day political figures have had more written about them than Henry Kissinger.  From his own three volume, almost 4000 page memoir, to scores of books and articles.  So why another we might ask historian Niall Ferguson.

Partly because beyond the policy and papers, in Ferguson's view Kissinger personified that George Bernard Shaw quote,  “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”

That vision, that idealism, is hard to imagine in someone so vilified by contemporary history.   Still, Niall Ferguson tries to square this circle in the first volume of his biography Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist

My conversation with Niall Ferguson: 

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: