Mark Leibovich’s portraits of Citizens of the Green Room

November 23rd, 2014
citizens-of-the-green-room.jpgSomeone once remarked that when they saw a snake and a vulture having sex in Washington, and thought it was just business as usual.  Fitzgerald said that he rich were different, because they have more money. Politicians are different, usually because that they have more insecurities

The fact is that most politicians and other high profile inhabitants of our nation's capital are just flesh and blood human beings. And yes, they may be different than you and I, they are certainly more caught up in their unbroken series of successful gestures, but most do care about their work.

In fact, some care too much.  As the late, great journalist Richard Ben Cramer once wrote, that feeling you can make a difference is like a drug.   Also a great journalist, Mark Leibovich, has been been giving us great insights about the power players in Washington for the NY Times Magazine. Those profiles are part of his new book Citizens of the Green Room: Profiles in Courage and Self-Delusion.

My conversation with Mark Leibovich:
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National Book Award Winner, Jacqueline Woodson

November 19th, 2014
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Recently we spoke of the 50 Anniversary of Freedom Summer and the early flowering of the civil rights movement.  Much has been written of the historical roots and narrative of those events. But now Jacqueline Woodson tells her personal story and the larger story of the journey of a movement from the Deep South, to urban core of America.  

The story of   Brown Girl Dreaming is a story made all the more powerful by recent events that bring into focus the arc of that journey. A journey that ended short of its target.

My conversation with Jacqueline Woodson:
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Language and Cultural Evolution

November 18th, 2014
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When we do think about the state or origins of language, we often think about it as something based in the distant past.  But language is very much a living thing, with a direct nexus to our cultural evolution.   The choices we make about the words we use, reflect both our own place in the culture as well as the state of the culture itself.

This is all part of the unique work of Princeton Professor Daniel Cloud in The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal.

My conversation with Professor Daniel Cloud: 
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Technology will keep us together

November 16th, 2014
hNuP3To-_400x400.pngAs we listened to election results last week, the one thing we heard over and over again is the slicing and dicing of the electorate.  Into generations, incomes, ethnicity, etc.

Certainly we hear repeatedly about the complexity and challenges of today's multi- generational workplace.

With all of this talk about division, it's perhaps worth looking at what might actually unite us.  There is an answer we might find surprising, and that is technology.  To paraphrase the old orange juice commercial;  technology, it’s not just for Millennials anymore.

In fact, the use and strategic advantage of technology may be the most unifying forces for all us. That's the conclusion reached by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen in The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business.

My conversation with Thomas Koulopoulos:
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Leading with Intention

November 16th, 2014
intention-300x231.gifIn a business environment as data driven as ours is today, it’s not surprising that we don’t view success through the lens that Fitzgerald used to describe Gatsby, who saw his success as “an unbroken series of successful gestures.”

Still success to be sustainable and replicable, both personal and professional, has to be more than habit or behavior, or just data. 

In a world in which changes take place so quickly, in which workforce diversity both generational and ethnic, is so varied, the traditional solutions to problems are not always applicable.

As we often hear said about the military, you can’t fight the next war with the lessons learned from the last one

That’s why design and intentions are so important as tools for driving both leaders and their organizations.

That's what Mindy Hall focuses on in Leading with Intention: Every Moment Is a Choice

My conversation with Mindy Hall: 
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The Uncensored History of the Food Network

November 14th, 2014
9fb5e72e6e4eae69_Foodnetworkchef.jpgIf the past 30 years of television has been about anything, it’s been about specialization.  While ESPN was the leader and Granddaddy of specialty television programming, you can now watch nothing but Sci Fi, or old movies, or cartoons, and of course food.

Food programming, like sports has had a cultural impact far beyond the screen. The Food Network, like ESPN, has both shaped our perceptions and married it with our culture in ways that gives us both celebrities and food.  What better combination for 21st Century America.

Allen Salkin looks at his history in From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network

My conversation with Allen Salkin:  
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Rules for Assassins

November 12th, 2014
2010-12-26-baer1.jpgThroughout history, from Cesar thru Lincoln,  from Archduke Ferdinand and Gandhi through the Kennedys and Malcolm X, a bullet has changed the world.

But what’s different when assassination is not a random deranged act, but an instrument of policy.  First, it’s the stuff of movies.  Think about it;  The Manchurian Candidate, Day of the Jackal, Executive Action, Parallax View, to name a few.  Add to this list, Syriana, a story based on the life of former CIA operative Robert Baer.

Baer has now codified his unique line of work in The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins

My conversation with Robert Baer: 
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Ratchets, Hatchets & Pivots

November 10th, 2014
ratchet-main_0.jpgWe are in the midst of a great migration to cities.  The number of farms and people engaged in agriculture continues to decline.  Yet human ingenuity has produced abundant resources of food, through innovation and technology.  

Historically, when disaster has struck and we have been threatened as a species, we’ve always seemed to find a way out, particularly with respect to our food supply.  This has resulted in increases in population, which then takes us to the next crises.

This cycle is replicated throughout history.  It is what MacArthur fellow and Columbia Professor, Ruth DeFries calls a cycle of Ratchets, Hatchets and Pivots.  She explains in her book The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis.

My conversation with Ruth DeFries: 
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Erik Prince & Blackwater - Mercenaries, Heroes or just a humble contractor?

November 9th, 2014
ErickPrince.jpgIn the post 9/11 era, the military, industrial, intelligence complex has grown so large, that its basic functions come into question. 

In fact, it’s so large, it's hard for many government officials to get their arms around all of it.  So, as is normal in these situations, often one element begins to stand out as the kind of poster child for what happened.  And good or bad, that focus comes to represent a whole panoply of issues in the public's mind.

Such was the case with Blackwater and its founder Erik Prince.  At the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, contractor personnel came to outnumber troops in the theatre of war.  

Blackwater, though not even the largest contractor, became the symbol of that situation. Some of the reasons why were justified and some, not so much.

As the wars wind down and we begin the post war assessment of that part of the effort, Erik Prince’s book, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror is a prima facie document in that effort.

My conversation with Erik Prince: 
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Why Motivating People Does not work

November 9th, 2014
motivating_people.jpgTodays workplace bears very little resemblance to that of our parents.  It’s multi generational nature, its focus on employee empowerment and its reflection of broader changes in society, education and culture, all create a perfect storm that requires whole new skill sets from today’s leaders.  

These are the skills that Susan Fowler writes about in Why Motivating People Doesn't Work . . . and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging

My conversation with Susan Fowler:
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Love, Sex and Popular Culture in 21st Century America

November 7th, 2014
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Back in the early 1960’s the world took note of the decadence of life in the Italian capital of Rome, in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.   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 and ultra decadent.

Fifty plus years later, Prof. Roger Friedland would decide to move to Rome with his wife and adolescent daughters, because he saw Rome as an antidote to America being awash in sexuality, modernity, sophistication and decadence. He writes about his experience in Amore: An American Father's Roman Holiday

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.

My conversation with Roger Friedland: 
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The making of Super Althletes

November 4th, 2014
rockypong.JPGAlmost no aspect of life has not been touched by the forward march of science and technology.  The world of sports is no exception.   When we watch a game, or even multiple games as in the Olympics, we want to see things we’ve never seen before. 

The narrative of human performance drives our love of any sport.  And today, science is glad to oblige. As we learn more about the brain, the body, genetics and biological evolution itself, scientists and engineers find news ways to enhance innate athletic ability.

It’s no accident that story abounded recently about how the newly minted World Champion SF Giants, had hired a sleep expert to advise them when it was best to travel.

So what’s going on now, and where will it all lead?  That's what Wired editor Mark Mcclusky set out to discover in his new book Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes--and What We Can Learn from Them.

My conversation with Mark McClusky: 
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Just how absurd is life on the West Bank?

November 3rd, 2014
israeli-barrier-west-bank.jpgThe Middle East is always ripe with stories.  Unfortunately, few get to the heart of the absurdity of the human condition there.  In much the way that Catch 22 or Mash did for our wartime military, The Hilltop, a new novel by esteemed Israeli writer Assaf Gavron, does for the settlements on the West Bank.

My conversation with Assaf Gavron:
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By the Book

November 2nd, 2014
by-the-book-3d.gifHow many of you have been asked recently to name your favorite or most influential books?  It’s a process that has been all the rage on social media. And while such lists have been around for a long time, perhaps what inspired this current flare up is New York Times Book Review Editor Pamela Paul’s weekly Q & A with authors and journalists in the BY THE BOOK feature in Sunday’s New York Times.

The feature is an all access pass into the private world of authors, as they reflect on their work habits, reading preferences, inspirations, and recommendations.

Now she brings together sixty-five of these exchanges, in their uncut and original form in By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review.

My conversation with Pamela Paul: 
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The Lessons of 1970’s S. Africa

November 2nd, 2014
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The world of historical fiction always plays an interesting role.  On the one hand, it's an entertaining way for us to understand, often from 30k feet, the broad historical sweeps of history. But beyond that, it’s an opportunity for us to see, up close and personal, how conflict, change, stress, fear and intimacy affects the human condition. To see how others act, and to better understand and appreciate the diversity of humanity in our current world.

That's what Mark Fine has done in looking back at apartheid in South Africa in the late 1970's. He tells this story in The Zebra Affaire.

My conversation with Mark Fine:
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Literature vs. The Future

October 30th, 2014
Azar_Nafisi_Portrait.jpgAlthough it doesn’t seem like it in today's world of images and 140 characters, words, stories and literature once moved people and nations and changed the world.  In fact, even in our own nation, the act of reading was once even seen as subversive. Yet it fueled the quest for freedom,  fired up our democracy, and launched a nation.

Today that same nation and its discontents, seems to eschew literature as a form of creative engagement, of social discourse and as an element of citizenship.

How we got here and what it might mean for the future is part of the backdrop of Azar Nafisi’s new work The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books.

My conversation with Azar Nafisi:
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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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