To Live and Work In Hollywood

August 13th, 2019

Screen%2BShot%2B2019-08-13%2Bat%2B9.35.0Hollywood is a place where the assets go home each night. Not just the Stars, but the hard-working men and women who make magic happen. Who each play a singular and unique role in telling cinematic stories. Each is a piece of a large puzzle and without each individual piece, the picture never comes together.

Sure Hollywood is a business and billions are dollars are always at stake. But without the experience, the craft and the talents of those behind the camera, none of it happens.

These are the “gig workers” that writer-producer Bruce Ferber gets to open up in The Way We Work: On The Job in Hollywood.

My conversation with Bruce Ferber

The GOP’s Strategy To Embrace Racism

August 7th, 2019

politics%2Bof%2Bracial%2Bresentment.jpgOnce upon a time the South was a solid Democratic block of votes. Many of those segregationist senators that Joe Biden recently talked about were in fact Democrats. Republicans just didn't get elected from there. And then things changed. The civil rights movement, the voting rights Act, the trailing impact of demographic change from the great migration, and broader cultural changes, including the rise of feminism, all provided an opportunity for Republicans in the South to exploit racial, social and cultural divides.

Today we are living with arguably the apogee that effort.

These divisions have been part of every national election since LBJ vs. Goldwater in 1964 and with each cycle, the divide grows larger. This long effort is the subject of a new work by Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields,  The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics.

My conversation with Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields

The Most Heinous Serial Killer You’ve Never Heard Of

July 29th, 2019

maxresdefault.jpgI know someone who is absolutely fascinated by true crime stories. She says that Silence of the Lambs is her Star Wars. And why not? Crime stories, especially true crime stories about the likes of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, or Jeffrey Dalmer, fascinate us, as it takes our thinking to the edges of human behavior. Understanding what makes these people tick stretches the human imagination.

That is exactly what investigative journalist Maureen Callahan does for us in her new book American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century In it, she introduces us to a little know serial killer who may very well be one of the most chilling.

My conversation with Maureen Callahan:

A 2019 Way To Look At and Talk To Kids About Race

July 24th, 2019

pizap.com15227940392681.jpgIt’s clear that like it or not, race will once again be the issue of our time. You’d think by now, we would at least the the language right. But maybe that’s the very problem. We’re still talking about it precisely because we’re having the wrong discussion.

Almost as long as anyone can remember, we’ve sincerely directed our efforts to eradicate racism by talking about a color-blind society. The goal has been to make race and difference disappear essentially to homogenize the culture. When that hasn’t worked, we perceive that we have failed.

The response to that has been a kind of bifurcated multiculturalism and identity politics, that has moved everyone into their own corner. None of that has helped our understanding

An important new work, by Professor Jennifer Harvey,  Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust Americagives us a new way to view race, justice, and culture.

My conversation with Jennifer Harvey:

20 Years Ago Today, the Death of JFK, Jr., Extinguished the Last Flames of Camelot

July 16th, 2019

Screen%2BShot%2B2019-07-16%2Bat%2B10.22.From the moment that Jackie Kennedy branded the Kennedy presidency as Camelot, in an interview with author and historian Theodore White, royalty was suddenly bestowed upon the survivors.

The recoil effect from that simple phrase on Ted and Bobby and the rest of the family was impactful. But at least they were able to understand and process it. For John F. Kennedy Jr. he would immediately become a prince without any say in the matter

As he came of age emotionally, physically and politically, he was permanently marked by the mythology. It shaped every aspect of his public and private life, right up until his untimely death.

Some men and women choose to live in the public eye. Others like royalty, like William and Harry, for example, are just born there and have to come to grips with it.

JFK Jr. was as close as we have gotten to royalty. He was to become an American Prince. How well it served him and his country is still an open question. One explored by Steve Gillon, a historian and long-time friend in his new book America's Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy Jr.

My conversation with Steven Gillon:

 

The Welfare Queen and Political Mythology

July 10th, 2019

BeFunky-collage_50.jpgWe all remember that Al Capone was ultimately busted on tax fraud, even though he had a long, violent and ugly criminal career. We see it play out in politics where someone is charged with one crime that the government is able to prove, while it is really reflective of a career of many crimes.

So it is with the mythology of Linda Taylor. Busted in 1974 for welfare fraud, Taylor had a long history of criminal behavior and is even potentially linked to three suspicious deaths in the 70’s and 80’s

But is was ultimately her conviction on welfare fraud, which made her the infamous “welfare queen,” whose myth would shape our policies from her arrest in 1974, her trope elevated by Ronald Reagan and arguably right up to the political debate today. This is the story that Josh Levin tells in The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth.

My conversation with Josh Levin:

The False Mythology of Roger Ailes

July 2nd, 2019

170518173217-roger-ailes-conservative-ceMany of you may have started watching the Showtime series, THE LOUDEST VOICE IN THE ROOM, about Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The problem with it is, that with respect to what Ailes did, what he is credited with accomplishing at Fox, very little of it is true.

Sure Ailes understood television and politics. But at core what he did was to take the world of talk radio, combined it with a bit of “blondification” and transferred it to television. When Fox new went on the air in 1996, Limbaugh had already been on the air for almost ten years.

Ailes simply exploited the rise and power of conservative talk radio. The Economist said many months ago that, “to understand the Republican politics, get in a car, turn on the radio and drive.”

Talk radio, is far more than the viewers that watch even the top rated Fox News shows each night. It's the lens through which millions and millions of its hard core listeners view the world.

No one understands this better than the go-to-guy for talk radio, the founder, editor and publisher of Talkers and Talkers.comMichael Harrison.

Back in July of 2017, upon the death of Ailes, Harrison and I spoke about this mythology.

My conversation with Michael Harrison:

The Loudest Voice in the Room

June 28th, 2019
 
My 2014 conversation with Gabe Sherman on his then just-published book, THE LOUDEST VOICE IN THE ROOM. It's a great preview for the Showtime series that begins on Sunday
 
The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News--and Divided a Country
 
 

War Today: We Pay and They Serve

June 20th, 2019

Elliot%2BAckerman%2BEvent_2.jpgOnce upon a time war had structure. There was a kind of narrative arc to war. A beginning, a middle and clear end. In the modern era, certainly since Vietnam, they have become what Clausewitz called “protracted conflict.” Even the efforts to find resolution are nothing more than wars by other means.

Most have heard the biblical quote, that “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but be not alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come.”

With respect to America's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan the end has still not come. Few understand this better than the men and women who served. And few articulate it better than Elliot Ackerman in his new work Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning.

My conversation with Elliot Ackerman:

Cities Represent the Ultimate Achievement of Mankind

June 17th, 2019

91gAIhxlAjL.jpgToday, more than one-half of the world's population lives in cities. In every corner of the world, people are moving to cities at a rapid and geometric pace. The urban migration taking place today is both historic and inevitable. Our cities represent the ultimate triumph and organizing principle of humanity. They are more than either the concrete jungle portrayed by Billy Wilder in the Lost Weekend, or the human zoo, that Desmond Morris claimed.

The great San Francisco columnist, Herb Caen, one said of cities, “that they should not be judged just by their length and width, but by the broadness of their vision and the height of their dreams.” They are, in some ways, the ultimate achievements of mankind.

Few understand them better than Monica L. Smith, a professor of anthropology and professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the UCLA where she holds a chair in Indian Studies and serves as the director of the South Asian Archeology Laboratory in the Cotsen Institute of Archeology. She is the author, most recently of Cities: The First 6,000 Years

My conversation with Monica Smith:

Professor Ed Hess talks about Saving Capitalism

June 4th, 2019

download.jpegNever before in human history has so much change been so rapidly foisted on human beings. Not during the Renaissance, the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution.

Today, technology in all of its forms; from smart machines to robotics, from AI to VR to 3D manufacturing, to genetic and biomedical engineering, will make sure we are never the same

It's estimated by some that almost eighty million jobs could be gone in our lifetime. Certainly, the psychological and political consequences of this change, as we are already seeing, could be devastating. But so will the economic impact. It’s in this context that we need to reimagine capitalism. Just listen to some of the current candidates for president, and you’ll see that the very capitalist system that has produced this unprecedented change and wealth, is under siege. All of which raises the question, can capitalism itself keep up?  This is the question that author and business professor Ed Hess in a new White Paper in our recent conversation. 

My conversation with Ed Hess:

 

Imagine If We All Could Have Esther Wojcicki As A Parent

May 27th, 2019

Screen%2BShot%2B2019-05-27%2Bat%2B10.18.The evidence is overwhelming that in our schools today, the successful curriculums are those that are directed toward deeper learning, project-based learning, and social and emotional learning.

Learners that feel empowered and hands-on, that collaborate and learn empathy are the ones who excel academically.

So why shouldn't the same be true of parenting? The recent cheating scandal certainly shows the other extreme. What happens amidst helicopter parenting run amuck, of parents not having faith in the innate abilities and independence of their kids.

Maybe you don’t have to let your 11 or 12-year-old fly off to France and change planes by themselves as my guest did, but giving them responsibly at home from a young age is essential.

Few people understand this better than Esther Wojcicki. Esther understands not in some abstract white paper kind of way, but by having raised three incredibly successful daughters;  Ann, the co-founder of 23 and me, Susan is the CEO of YouTube and Janet is a distinguished doctor and professor of pediatrics.

Esther is in her own right an amazing success story. A formidable voice on behalf of journalism and media literacy, Esther Wojcicki is the founder of the Media Arts programs at Palo Alto High School and serves as vice chair of Creative Commons and was instrumental in the launch of the Google Teacher Academy.  Her new book is How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results.

My conversation with Esther Wojcicki:

We Are Not Descended From Fearful Men: David Maraniss and “A Good American Family”

May 23rd, 2019

download.jpegMark Twain is reported to have said that history does not really repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Today we live in a climate, not unlike the late ’40s and early ’50s, where fear is weaponized,  and where suspicion of the other is exploited as a salve for change.

Yet there always seem to be brave men and women trying to rise above. As Ed Murrow said in his takedown of Senator Joe McCarthy,” we were not descended from fearful men. They were not men who feared to write or to speak,” who, again in Murrow’s words, “did not confuse dissent with disloyalty.”

But fear is personal, visceral, and chilling when exploited by the government. It undermines the very foundation of a democratic republic, and sometimes of families. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss makes it as personal as it can be in A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father. The story of his father and his family caught in the maelstrom of the red scare in the 1950s.

My conversation with David Maraniss:

A Multi-Cultural Society, An Elite Senate, Good and Bad Leaders: How It All Went So Wrong

May 21st, 2019

Screen%2BShot%2B2019-05-21%2Bat%2B2.30.4Today as we sometimes contemplate the real possibility of the end of the American experience. We think about its roughly 250-year history, often in the context of the people that have led us, good and bad, and taken us to where we are today.

So perhaps it might be instructive to look at the 500 years history of the Roman Empire, and look at some of its leaders. Some who drove it to great heights and others who were responsible for taking it over the proverbial cliff.

Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell, is a leading expert on ancient military and Roman history. His latest work, Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine, and our recent conversation gives us new insights to where we might be headed.

My conversation with Barry Strauss:

Fear, Loathing and Immigration: The Battle Was Once Much Worse

May 17th, 2019

OkrentBook.jpgImmigration and the fear of outsiders is a deep strain in the American psyche. It didn’t start with Donald Trump. In fact, it hasn’t even reached its full flowering under this administration. When Trump talked of murderers and rapists coming to the border, of other nations not sending us their best, he was merely echoing a historical context that has actually played out in far worse ways in our history

From the Chinese Exclusion Act through the highly restrictive immigration acts passed in the early 20th century, the white Christians have always felt under siege. To make matters even worse, in the early part of the 20th century the rhetoric and false science of eugenics was weaponized in the immigration battles.

This is the story that my guest Daniel Okrent tell in The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America:

My conversation with Daniel Okrent:

Democracies Are Not Forever…Is The US Headed Down The Same Path As Rome?

May 8th, 2019

US_Capitol_Colosseum_1088x725-700x470.jpEvery day, no matter what the issue — whether it’s election integrity, rule of law, climate change, guns, impeachment, or the Mueller report — what’s at stake is not just daily political wins and losses, but the very survival of the republic.

As was the case at its founding, during the Civil War, and at a select few times in US history, Americans would be making a huge mistake if they took the survival of the nation for granted. History tells us that the Roman Republic had a very good 400-year run, only to have its citizens let it fail.

In this podcast we talk to prize-winning historian, professor, and Rome scholar Edward Watts. He takes us through some of the frightening parallels, which include cults of personality, dramatic wealth creation, the wearing down of critical guardrails and norms, and the willingness of Roman voters to ignore the damage being done as Rome exchanged freedom for autocracy.

Watts explains how, while it may have taken 100 years for the full effects to be felt, violent language, immigration issues, the ginning up of fear, and the violation of conventions in order to implement policy all played important roles. It’s ancient history we should well remember.

My WhoWhatWhy.org conversation with Edward Watts:

Outright Lies Are Posing As Today’s Conspiracy Theories

May 6th, 2019

MW-HI146_people_20190424093045_ZH.jpgLong before the Internet, in the early days of talk radio, the all-night hosts were the progenitors of modern-day conspiracy theory. Hosts spent hours talking about crop circles, animal mutilation, Area 51, the Kennedy assassination and all manner of events and evidence that could be used to construct a hidden narrative.

The idea was that strange things were happening, that evidence in plain sight could be interpreted in ways that evolved to different conclusions. The narrative was always about the interpretation of evidence that was in plain sight. We were told that we just didn’t understand the full impact of what it meant.

Today, all of that has changed. Almost like science, the “conspiracy theories” today from people like Alex Jones, or Donald Trump are not about another way of interpreting the world. It’s all about flat out lies, fabricated rumors and it’s often presented with the only backup being the mantra, “people are saying.”

Laying bear this new look to conspiracies are Harvard Professor Nancy Rosenblum and Dartmouth Professor Russell Muirhead in their book A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

My conversation with Nancy Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead:

The Klan and White Supremacy…Then and Now

May 2nd, 2019

BeFunky-collage_25.jpgEven though it may not seem like it, domestic terrorism, particularly built around white supremacy, is nothing new. Given that racism is our nation's original sin, it should not be surprising that in the post Civil War period, the historical efforts to deal with the Ku Klux Klan are both instructive in their own right, but at the same time foreshadows the thru lines that lead us to where we are today.

This is the story that the Washington Post’s Charles Lane shares in his book Freedom's Detective: The Secret Service, the Ku Klux Klan and the Man Who Masterminded America’s First War on Terror.

My conversation with Charles Lane:

We’ll Be OK If We Can Make It to 2040

May 1st, 2019

Screen%2BShot%2B2019-05-01%2Bat%2B9.42.0America has often been a divided nation. Battles at our founding were often settled at 50 paces.The western ethos that is part of half of America fueled many of those divisions. Brother fought against brother

in the civil war. The industrial revolution gave us riots, and death and violence. The cold war and fear of communism gave rise to whole careers and lives ruined just by accusation. The ’60s didn’t just produce great music but led to the death of students on the safety of a college campus.

But, to use the often tired cliche of Wall Street, this time it’s different. Or at least so it seems. The divide today, fueled by social media, by 24/7 news cycles and the decline of faith in our basic institutions and fear of hyper-rapid and deep fundamental change has produced a kind of tribalism that undermines rather than reinforces all the central ideas of democracy and republican government.

Darrell M. West vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution looks at all of this in Divided Politics, Divided Nation: Hyperconflict in the Trump Era.

My conversation with Darrell West:

If Democracy Requires Critical Thinking, Are We Doomed?

April 29th, 2019

51DYwLyKsdL._SX329_BO1%252C204%252C203%2Ukraine just elected a comedian as its president. A reality TV character holds the most powerful office on the planet. Talk show hosts are driving the agenda of US policy and not a day goes by that we don’t hear talk about more celebrities running for office

The membrane that separates news, governance, and entertainment has all but disappeared and efforts to raise any conversation above the noise drives our celebrity culture.

The debate about this goes to the core of our democratic system. The question of whether we will have to change our system or our change our culture is a legitimate open question. It’s also one that our framers viewed 140 years ago.

Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein talk to me The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality.

about it and about their book

My conversation with Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein: