Dollars & Sex

March 31st, 2013

The song says "money can’t buy me love." But we know that’s not really true. The fact is, the same market forces that drive our economy, also drive our search for sex and love. Issues like abundance, scarcity, the price of commodities...like beer, all contribute to who we choose and the success and failure of those relationships.

In 2008 Marina Adshade launched an undergraduate course, at the University of British Columbia, titled Economics of Sex and Love, which invited her students to approach questions of sex and love through an economist's lens. The class was an immediate hit with students and, by the time the first term started, had generated international media attention. Now the book, Dollars and Sex.

My conversation with Marina Adshade:

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Creative Intelligence

March 30th, 2013

No one questions that we are going through a period of dramatic change. The world, the nature of work and relationships are changing faster than at any other time in human history. Succeeding and managing in this environment, will require a degree of nimbleness and creativity in order to sustain or create any economic value.

But how creative are we, and do the old paradigms of education, work and leisure allow us to foster and bring out that creativity? Bruce Nussbaum, a Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School of Design in New York City, and a former Managing Editor at BusinessWeek thinks we have to reset our approach to creativity. He outlines it in Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire.

My conversation with Bruce Nussbaum:

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Why do we always get it wrong?

March 27th, 2013

Forty plus years ago, in Vietnam, we saw how the best and the brightest could ignore history, ignore truths and facts and conduct one of our nation's most disastrous wars.

Ten years ago this month, we saw how lies, inept personnel and poor and corrupt execution destroyed any hope of success in Iraq. These decisions still plague us today.

Four years ago, back into 2009, we thought that the Obama administration was fighting "The Good War," when it decided to surge US troops and civilians in Afghanistan. Yet again, we ignored history, didn’t send the best personnel, engaged in bureaucratic infighting and thought money could buy our way out. It did not.

Why do we keep making these same mistakes? Is it that the fault is not in stars, but in ourselves? These are some of the issues examined by esteemed and award winning journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran in his book Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan.

My conversation with Rajiv Chandrasekaran:

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The Fog of 10 Years of War

March 21st, 2013

All the talk about drones lately seems to miss the larger point. What compels us, what disturbs us, is the sanitized way in which we conduct warfare today. The disconnect from death, violence and the human suffering that is war.

Kurtz understood war by journeying into its Heart of Darkness. Today, it’s from 30,000 feet. It’s a different view of war. It’s also a metaphor for how we as Americans have witnessed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In neat, pre-packaged sound bites. Disconnected from combat, body counts and the horror.

Now, ten years after the start of these wars, were beginning to hear the real stories of what went on, from the men and women who were there.

Matt Gallagher and Roy Scranton, two veterans of the wars, have written for and edited a new collection of stories entitled Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.

My conversation with Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher:

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Wall Street, Gambling and Baseball

March 19th, 2013

What do you do if you are a veteran Wall Street trader who worked for Lehman Bros. when the collapse came?  To make matters even worse you were struck down by an ambulance and had to go through months of recovery.  Then when you finally returned to work, you were fired.

What you might do is turn to a new job in the 380 billion dollar industry that can return profits even bigger than Wall Street....sports gambling.  That's what Joe Peta did, but with difference. He used his skills as a Wall Street trader to bring discipline and metrics to sports betting. Riffing off the work of Bill James and Nate Silver, he would turn his dark days into a 41% profit and in the process, shares his story in Trading Bases: A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball.

My conversation with Joe Peta:

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The Myth of Christian Martyrdom

March 19th, 2013

We live in a culture where victimhood is too often embraced. Usually, because we seem to lack internal motivation, we look to it to galvanize our actions. Buy why is this culture of victimhood so pervasive now?

Perhaps it springs from the early Christian myth of martyrdom, and the degree to which that Christian mythology and those who subscribe to it, are trying to shape our politics and our culture.  This is the heart of a provocative new book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom,by Notre Dame Professor Candida Moss.



My conversation with Candida Moss:

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Big Data

March 16th, 2013

We know that companies like Amazon have vast amounts of data on our purchases and that they use it in order to recommend other products to us; just as Netflix can recommend our movies. But imagine aggregating millions of pieces of medical data, all with their genomic information, so that our generic profile can, with a high degree of probability, tell us what diseases we might get and how to treat them.    Think about how Google was able to head off a worldwide flu pandemic by aggregating vast amount of search data about flu.

This is the kind of data that can tell when we will be sick, even before we know it; or when our car will need service, even before it breaks down. Or, as in the movie Minority Report, data that can predict who will be a criminal, even before the crime is committed. These are just a few of thing we should be thinking about with respect to what’s referred to today as big data.

Ken Cukier is the data editor of the Economist and takes a look at these issues in Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think.

My conversation with Ken Cukier:

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Baseball as a Road to God?

March 15th, 2013

This past week saw the pageantry of religion in the selection of a new Pope. Next month we will experience a different kind of pageantry, as the baseball season opens and for many it will be a kind of religious experience in its own right.

Long the national pastime, baseball has a special place in the pantheon of sports and entertainment. But with all of the competition these days, does baseball still have the same kind of appeal? Has it’s superstitions, streaks, luck, and it’s sense of “you gotta believe," been flattened by metrics? Has William James been replaced by Bill James, and has the inspiration fostered by a father and son praying at the altar of driveway catch, given way to Nate Silver and Billy Bean?

This is part of the story told by controversial NYU President John Sexton in Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the GameA book based on his wildly popular class at NYU.

My conversation with John Sexton:

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Song Without Words

March 14th, 2013

Remember, as a kid, playing the old game of telephone? Someone says something, and passes it on. After it goes through 5, 6 or more people, it often comes out very different on the other end. Well imagine if everything you heard had to go through that kind of process.

That’s just part of what Gerald Shea went though; dealing with partial deafness since he was six. He still managed to sing, play football and get through Andover, Yale and Columbia Law.

Gerald Shea has written about his experience in Song Without Words: Discovering My Deafness Halfway through Life.

My conversation with Gerald Shea:

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Raising Oenophilia

March 13th, 2013

Often we associate writers with a particular place and their unique abilities to capture the essence of that place. Steinbeck with Monterey and Salinas, Frances May with Tuscany, Pete Hamil with New York, and James Conaway with the Napa Valley. The author of two international bestsellers, about the Valley, Napa: The Story of an American Eden and The Far Side of Eden, now turns to fiction to tell a story of wine, land and good & evil.

My conversation with Jim Conaway about Nose: A Novel:

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Oh, the places you can go….

March 12th, 2013

Vietnam, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, South Africa, Burma are just some of the places in the world that have seen the profound violation of human rights and social justice. Beyond that, what they all have in common are the efforts of one woman, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams, to to seek justice, to fight for those being persecuted and to never fear speaking truth to power.

Today this Nobel Peace Prize winner for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, has joined forces with six other women Nobel laureates to form the Nobel Women's Initiative and still continues to bring her considerable power and skills to bear in the fight against war, personal violence and injustice.

She shares a bit of how she got here, in her memoir My Name Is Jody Williams: A Vermont Girl's Winding Path to the Nobel Peace Prize. My conversation with Jody Williams:

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Defeating the culture of bullying

March 10th, 2013

Many us have powerful and painful memories of High School and Middle School. Sometimes, if we were not the most popular kid, something happened that we still remember as if it happened yesterday. The scar tissue of those years is even tougher if we were the victims of bullying. And For others it may be the guilt of being the one doing the bullying, or of not standing up for our friends.

Now Slate's Emily Bazelon looks at this in Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy

My conversation with Emily Bazelon:

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Should technology save the world?

March 8th, 2013

Imagine a "connected" car that when the check engine light comes on, it diagnoses the problem, contacts the appropriate repair place and makes the first available appointment for you, all without you having to do anything. Effortless, frictionless and some would argue, antithetical to the human need to have more control over our environment.

There is no question that the geeks and entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley want to change the world. That they want digital solutions to all the worlds problems. The problem might be argued is that they also want to define those problems and in that way, may be trying to transform human nature in ways that may not be in its long term best interests.

These are some of the ideas of technology contrarian Evgeny Morozov.  He lays all of this out in his new work, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism.

My conversation with Evgeny Morozov:

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The House that Herring Built

March 7th, 2013

It sometimes seems like everything is going through change. Yet there are some institutions that, the more they change, the more they remain exactly the same. This is true for an appetizing store on Manhattan's lower East Side, that from its pushcart beginnings in 1907, to the new family members running it today, has remained a beacon of smoked salmon, herring, chopped liver and caviar,

But more importantly, it's the story of how one family persevered and grew a business, around all the change of 20th century New York.

Mark Russ Federman took over running Russ and Daughters in 1978 and a couple of years ago turned it over to the fourth generation. He tells his appetizing story in Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built.

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India and The Middle East

March 4th, 2013
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India and The Middle East

March 4th, 2013

One of the central tenants of fiction has always been to tell stories of human scale and human frailty, set against the backdrop of powerful and uncontrollable events in places of mystery and beauty. Two new novels, one by esteemed author Manil Suri (The City of Devi) and the other by Bay Area author Michael Lavigne (The Wanting) brilliantly capture all of these ideas. One set amidst the excitement of Mumbai and the other in Middle East; both tell dramatic stories woven into a sense of place.

My conversation with Mainl Suri:

My conversation with Micahel Lavigne:

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The price of ignorance

March 2nd, 2013

As the movie Lincoln reminds us, sometimes crass politics has noble ends. But even crass politics, must be guided by truth, by facts and by evidence. Today in our politics, facts, information and empirical data have simply given way to what’s become the holy grail of opinion.

Whether it's the influence of talk radio, the impact of money and special interests, or one political parties disconnect from reality, it seems we have dumbed down our discourse to the point where no good public policy can emerge. And as bad as that is today, its consequences down the road could be even more devastating.

David Schultz takes us through the problem in American Politics in the Age of Ignorance: Why Lawmakers Choose Belief Over Research. 

My conversation with David Schultz:

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