The Upside of Irrationality

June 29th, 2010

How many times have we made decisions just to keep our options open? How often have we acted irrationality, yet convinced ourselves that it was part of a larger, rational plan? It's often said that in the Radio and Television business, the ideal program delivers unpredictable events in very predictable surroundings. Human nature is such that we do want it both ways; uncertainty and adventure. Duke University Professor Dan Ariely, in his new book The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, explains how irrational behavior influences every part of our lives and how our irrational behavior is both systematic and predictable. My conversation with Dan Ariely:

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The Unspoken Alliance

June 28th, 2010

As the World Cup pulls our attention to South Africa and its history, it's worth noting the once secret alliance between Israel's booming arms industry and the apartheid regime that formerly ruled S. Africa.  It was a regime that was controlled by a group of Afrikaner nationalists who had enthusiastically supported Hitler during WWII. In 1967, as both states became international pariahs, their covert military relationship blossomed. Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a senior editor at Foreign Affairs, with a doctorate in modern history from Oxford, lays it all out in his book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa. My conversation with Sasha Polakow-Suransky

 

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American Dreams: The US since 1945

June 28th, 2010

At the close of WWII America was a very different county. In a mere 65 years we have been transformed, perhaps even overtaken by events.Whether we have shaped these events, or the events have shaped us is an open question. Clearly the political and cultural shifts have, in many ways, redefined the American proposition and reshaped what it means to be at home in the world. Noted historian H.W. Brands, in his new work American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, brings a rich historical context for the times we live in and takes us through every major step along the way. My conversation with H.W. Brands:

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Is the Internet making us stupid?

June 25th, 2010

From education to recreation, from shopping to reading, no aspect of our lives is untouched by the virtual world. Yet, perhaps we don't yet fully understand the social and personal implications of this change. Certainly each new transformative medium has altered our perception and has been criticized. Radio, television, even sound movies, all had their critics and Cassandras. Is the internet the same? Or, does it have more far reaching consequences? This is the focus of Nicholas Carr's new book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

He argues that the internet is rerouting our neural pathways, replacing our literary brain with one that is over distracted in ways that sacrifice both knowledge, wisdom and creativity.  My conversation with Nicholas Carr:

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Murder, Corruption and Scandal as L.A. comes of age

June 24th, 2010

In the 1920's Los Angeles was the fastest growing city in the world! It was caught up in oil fever, get rich quick schemes, it already had its share of celebrity scandals and was ripe with organized crime. In his new look at LA, A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.'s Scandalous Coming of Age, LA's premier chronicler Richard Rayner, takes us inside theses transformative years that forever shaped the destiny of the one of the world great and most important cities. My conversation with Richard Rayner:

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A History of American hubris

June 23rd, 2010

There is no one right now who is doing a better job of covering politics and world affairs than Peter Beinart. He is the senior political writer for The Daily Beast, a former editor of The New Republic and an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York. His new book The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris and his June 10th article about "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," in the New York Review of Book, have garnered wide and enthusiastic attention. My conversation with Peter Beinart:

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Urban Renewal in Cold War New York

June 21st, 2010

The post war rise of Manhattan as a modern world city and its later decline into crisis, had "urban renewal" at the heart to both its cultural and physical transformation. These policies even laid the groundwork for what we view today as gentrification. Samuel Zipp, a Professor of Urban Studies at Brown University, in his new book Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York, captures the complex world of forgotten stories and characters that make up urban renewal's promise and tragedies. My conversation with Samuel Zipp:

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The Promise

June 17th, 2010

President Obama came to office with less experience then most of our contemporary Presidents. His was an improbable and unlikely victory. He inherited a country on the brink of depression, engaged in two wars, an ongoing threat of international terrorism, increased partisan gridlock and extremism, growing unemployment and the increased power of big business. And if that wasn't enough, his first big goal was to try and expand healthcare coverage, something that had beguiled Presidents since Teddy Roosevelt. All of this was in year one!

Newsweek senior editor and NBC correspondent Jonathan Alter's new book The Promise: President Obama, Year One, is the first definitive account of Obama's first year in office. My conversation with Jonathan Alter:

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She looks just like you

June 16th, 2010

Choosing parenthood in the best of circumstances is a complex and daunting journey with no guarantees of success. But when you have to adopt your own child, when you have to show up at the hospital with a thick folder of legal documents to justify your being there, it's even more difficult. The number of children being raised by gay parents is growing each year. Yet the challenges are growing as well. Amie Klempnauer Miller, in her memoir She Looks Just Like You: A Memoir of (Nonbiological Lesbian) Motherhood, tells about her 12 year, often darkly comic, journey to the doorstep of motherhood. My conversation with Amie Klempnauer Miller:

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The Rational Optimist

June 16th, 2010

A rare optimistic post. Even amidst all the problems we face, economic, environmental, political and global; history teaches us that progress is inevitable. While there are certainly winners and losers, overall mankind has, since the stone age, marched forward toward a brighter day. While we see more and more fear about change, we even see a kind of pathological nostalgia in some quarters, the fact is, by every objective measure, the world is getting better. That's the focus of Matt Ridley's new book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. My conversation with Matt Ridley:

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What’s a nice girl like you, doing in a place like this

June 15th, 2010

After graduating from Smith College, Piper Kerman fell in with a bad relationship and a hard-partying, drug dealing crowd. Ten years after she left it all behind, her past came back to haunt her. In her memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, she tells the powerful, heartfelt story of her 15 months in federal prison, of the women she met and befriended and of the idea and power of community, even behind bars. My conversation with Piper Kerman:

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Why work isn’t working

June 14th, 2010

How many of you are energized about going to work each day? If you are not, you are in the company of 75% of employees around the world who feel disengaged at work. As the recession has increased pressures for productivity, as twelve and fourteen hour days become the norm, as technology tethers us to work 24/7, it's no wonder that job satisfaction is waning. Yet, if we are to stay competitive, if we are to provide the creative energy to solves tomorrows problems, something has to change. Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project and long time journalist, in his new book The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance,gives us a primer on what we can do to take back control of our work life and at the same time increase job satisfaction and performance. My conversation with Tony Schwartz:

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imadness

June 10th, 2010

For most of us, being plugged in 24/7 has become the norm. Blackberrys, iphones and ipads have now been layered on to the computer, email, video games and the good old fashion phone. The idea was that all of this technology was supposed to make us more productive and more efficient. In fact, it has made us addicted, distracted, a little bit crazy and a lot less efficient. This is the story that appeared in the N.Y. Times this past Monday, by NY Times, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Matt Richtel. It has garnered world wide attention, and has been e-mailed to Blackberrys and iphones everywhere.  My conversation with Matt Richtel:

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Freedom Summer

June 7th, 2010

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 could not have happened without the events 44 years before in the summer of 1964. That summer, we witnessed real grassroots community organizing, as some 700 college students, from all over the country, descended on segregated Mississippi to register black voters. At the beginning of that summer, three of the organizers, Andrew Goodman, James Cheney and Michael Schwerner were hunted down and killed by the Klan. It would not be until 2005 that the perpetrators of those murders would be brought to justice.  But their death was not in vain, as Freedom Summer would be a major impetus for the Vote Rights Act of 1965. Journalist Bruce Watson new book Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy details the link between those events and the election of 2008. My conversation with Bruce Watson

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America’s economic battles

June 6th, 2010

Even before the recent economic crises, the decline of America's economic hegemony had begun. The rise of China and other fast rising economies have changed the global landscape. Some of this seems inevitable. History certainly tells us that no great power stays in the same position forever. But how will this impact our standard of living, our currency, our military strength? And perhaps most importantly, should we care? If we do, then what can be done about it? These are some of the issues covered by former U.S. Trade Negotiator, and White House advisor Clyde Prestowitz in his new book The Betrayal of American Prosperity: Free Market Delusions, America's Decline, and How We Must Compete in the Post-Dollar Era. My conversation with Clyde Prestowitz:

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What if a gorilla walked into the room?

June 3rd, 2010

Is the world really as clear as what we see in front of our face? If you are sitting and watching a Basketball game and a gorilla walks into the room, would you notice? What if what we see, what we believe, is but a distorted reflection of reality. That our angle of vision in fact, determines our reality. This is the foundational idea of cognitive psychologist Daniel Simons, articulated in his new work The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. My conversation with Daniel Simons:

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Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis

June 2nd, 2010

Even with respect to our most benign domestic issues, it seems impossible for most people to see both sides of an issue. With respect to perhaps the world's most contentious issue, the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the ability to see both sides is near impossible and has been so for over 60 years. Journalist and historian Kai Bird has done the rare thing of not only seeing both sides, but living on both sides in the Middle East.

Kai Bird came of age amidst the Arab/Israeli conflict. He thought he fully understood the catastrophe and plight of the Palestinians until he married a Jewish woman, whose parents were holocaust survivors. In his book Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978, he tries to make sense of the intersection of the catastrophes of two cultures, in a region that never seems to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. My conversation with Kai Bird:

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Last Call

June 1st, 2010

Over the weekend we read in the New York Times, how New York City and maybe other levels of government we're thinking of finding ways to ban or at least get us to cut back on salt consumption. It should remind us that ninety years ago government, with the willing support of vast swatches of the American people, decided that we should no longer consume alcohol and the 13th amendment was born. While prohibition certainly changed behavior, it also carried with it many, many unintended consequences. In his new book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, former New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent examines how a perfect storm of political and social trends lead to prohibition, what were some of those unintended consequences and why and how something similar could happen again. My conversation with Daniel Okrent:

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Secrets of the Middle Aged Brain

June 1st, 2010

As we enter middle age one of the things we fear most is loosing some of our cognitive powers, as we forget names, forget where we put the keys and where we parked the car. It all seems to signal that we are on the glide path to old age. In fact science is now telling us something very different. N.Y. Times deputy science editor Barbara Strauch, in her new book The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind, tells us that we may be just reaching our peak of mental abilities in so many areas. It seems that something as simple as education, or working, may be the key to building and enhancing the brain for a lifetime. My conversation with Barbara Strauch:

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