The first casualty, of the first war of the 21st Century.

September 30th, 2013
When we look at a tragedy like 9/11, we think of who and what we lost at that moment.  We forget that a future is also lost. That many of those killed that day may have changed and reshaped the future. Certainly Danny Lewin, who was on AA flight 11, the first plane to hit the towers, had the potential to do just that.  

During his brief 31 years, Danny was a father, a soldier, a brilliant mathematician and an entrepreneur.  Along with his MIT professor, Tom Leighton, he would reshape the Internet into the robust system that was able to withstand the traffic and news of 9/11 itself.  What else he might have accomplished in his lifetime is a loss not just to his family, but to all of us.

Molly Knight Raskin lets us all share Danny's story in No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet

My conversation with Molly Knight Raskin: 

Why has the debate over the Affordable Care Act been so UNPRECEDENTED?

September 28th, 2013
Throughout all of the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, right up until this moment, many have worked hard to institute some measure of affordable health care and health care reform in America.  A country that, prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, was the only modern Western nation not to have done so.  

It's no wonder that the forces allied against were powerful, well financed and prepared to do anything and say anything.  Those who would attack the law did so in the absence of political success. Instead, they would try and use the courts, the very courts that they always derided as activist. Except now they wanted to actively seek to overturn by judicial fiat, that which they could not do through political means.

Law Professor Josh Blackman takes a broad look at the Constitutional and legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act and finds the case Unprecedented.

My conversation with Josh Blackman:

“The Girl” speaks about Roman Polanski and what happened 36 years ago

September 27th, 2013
In 1977, a 13 year old aspiring actress was invited to do a photoshoot with a famous film director.  

What happened that day, still makes headlines around the world: Director Roman Polanski, then 43, gave Samantha Gailey then 13, a hefty helping of Champagne and Quaaludes, then raped her at the home of Jack Nicholson.

After pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, Polanski fled the country before his court date and made a home in France. Samantha Geimer, Now 50, and 36 years after the fact, has written a memoir of her experiences. The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski.

Lawrence Silver was Samantha’s lawyer, from the very beginning and now talks about the case. The facts remain the same, but the context has changed dramatically in the past 36 years.

My conversation with Lawrence Silver:

The America’s Cup will never be the same

September 26th, 2013
This has been an  amazing week for sailing,  for Oracle team USA, for it’s crew and for Larry Ellison.

In many ways Ellison is the true manifestation of what creative destruction and Silicon Valley is all about….dreams, passion, vision, innovation and the ability to execute on all of it.

Many successful entrepreneurs possess some measure of these qualities.  But often the purpose and the playing field is small; an app, a piece of software, a new design.  All things of value.  But Larry Ellison wanted to play on a much grander scale.  He wasn't happy to just nudge the world, he wanted to change it, to shift it on it’s axis...just a bit.

Yesterday’s victory was the culmination of that effort in the world of sailing.  It’s a story that is powerful and complex, and involved people like  Norbert Bajurin and Jimmy Spithill, who would share and complement and expand on Ellison's vision and passion.  It’s a story told with equal passion by Julian Guthrie.  Julian’s book The Billionaire and the Mechanic: How Larry Ellison and a Car Mechanic Teamed Up to Win Sailing's Greatest Race, The America's Cup, sets the stage for all that came before yesterday’s race.

My conversation with Julian Guthrie:  

“An unbroken series of successful gestures.”

September 24th, 2013
Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Gatsby, “that if personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promise of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the 'creative temperament'--it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person.” 

What is it that gives someone those qualities?  Is it their bearing, their dress, the way they hold their hands or the words they use?  Clearly some people have it, and others don’t .  But can it be learned?

Matthew Kohut explains how people can find power and influence beyond just their KLOUT score. That we can find that something that makes us into Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential.
My conversation with Matthew Kohut:

Ecstatic Nation

September 23rd, 2013
When we look at the vast expanse of history, we find that their are periods when the world seemingly shifted on its axis: When change is dramatic, when our whole way of looking at and understanding events changes.  Perhaps the 60’s was such a period, perhaps we are in such a period today.  The impact of technology, globalization, deindustrialization social, cultural and economic change.  Only history will be able to give us that answer.

What we are learning though, is that the period of time leading up to the Civil War, the war itself, and the reconstruction that followed, was such a period.  It gave rise to events that created tectonic shifts, and was populated by characters whose special quality secures their place in history.

This is the period written about by Brenda Wineapple in Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877.
My conversation with Brenda Wineapple:

Nuclear Weapons and the Illusion of Safety

September 21st, 2013
Since the dawn of the  age of nuclear weapons we have only imagined the complexity of systems that are involved in the use of those weapons.  Those of us that grew up during the cold war are all too familiar with the nuclear football that follows the President, launch codes, the hotline, fail safe mechanisms, and even the eccentricity of Col.  Jack Ripper.  

All have seemingly kept us safe. But today the cold war is over, US and Russian nuclear stockpiles have gone from over 60k weapons to less than 5k.  It all sounds pretty good.  

But as we worry anew about nuclear proliferation, about weapons in the hands of terrorists, it bring into bold relief that idea that these weapons are among the most complex machines built by man.  As such they can fail; accidents can happen, and weapons on a hair trigger alert are subject to technical failure.  

Is it pure dumb luck that we have not had an accident involving nuclear weapons?  In fact we have had many such accidents, perhaps over 1200 of them… the worst of which happened in Damascus, Arkansas, 33 years ago. 

Now investigative reporter Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness, takes us inside our system of Command and Control.

My conversation with Eric Schlosser:

Do we need a new war on poverty?

September 19th, 2013
It’s been almost 50 years since Lyndon Johnson declared "war on poverty."  It’s been more than 50 years since JFK was moved by the poverty of Appalachia and Bobby Kennedy by the poverty of the South Bronx.

Today's poverty may not be as dark or desperate, but it is more insidious.  While we focus on the growing gap between the one percent and the middle class, we often ignore those that have fallen out of the middle class, and sunk below the poverty level. That group is growing exponentially and it’s a blight on our nation. Certainly it’s not a part of the American exceptionalism the President spoke of last week.

As the House is voting to drastically cut Food Stamps, journalist Sasha Abramsky delves deep into the issue in The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives.

My conversation with Sasha Abramsky

Held hostage for 460 days

September 19th, 2013
Many of us remember the 1978 movie Midnight Express, where Billy Hayes is held and tortured by his Turkish captors, as  attempts are made to extract ransom.

Well imagine today, a young woman caught in a similar situation,  kidnaped and held by brutal captors, not because of an attempt to smuggle drugs, but because she was trying to tell a story as a young and struggling and aspiring journalist.  The location was not Turkey, but Mogadishu, Somalia, considered by some, one of the most dangerous places on earth.  What brought Amanda Lindhout to this place, and what in her background gave her the strength and grace to survive a devastating 460 day ordeal?  Her story   A House in the Sky,  tells us a great deal about her, and also about the indomitable resiliency of the human spirit.

My conversation with Amanda Lindhout:

The reselling of the Presdient

September 19th, 2013
Look at any campaign, for student body President to the President of the United States and we see some key ingredients. The clarity and strength of the message, the quality of political organization, the discipline of the candidate, the get out the vote effort and resonance of the broader issues.

As President Obama entered his reelection campaign, a full two years before election day, by any objective standard, these things were in flux and not always for the better. 

To paraphrase his opposition, the hope and change thing wasn’t going so well.  And yet Obama would become the first president, since Ike, to be re elected with over 50% of the vote. What they did, right and wrong is the subject of Richard Wolffe’s, 2012 campaign biography The Message: The Reselling of President Obama.
My conversation with Richard Wolffe:

My Brother, My Sister

September 17th, 2013
Even though our culture is dripping with sex, topics of sexuality don’t always come easily to our understanding or to our conversation.  It has taken generations for gays and lesbians to begin to achieve their full measure of acceptance, and there is still work to be done.  Same sex marriage is finally beginning to gather a majority constituency.

But clearly, the world of transgender people is yet to achieve anything near equality or understanding.

Yet as we understand more about it, as we begin to see it up close and personal, inside our own families and friends, perhaps the understanding and acceptance will evolve.

There is no more powerful example of this than the story that esteemed film critic Molly Haskell tells about the transformation of her own brother in her memoir My Brother My Sister: Story of a Transformation.

My conversation with Molly Haskell:

Why Wilson matters

September 16th, 2013
Last week President Obama, in addressing the issue of Syria, talked about America's unique role in the world.  Russian President Putin would go on to criticize the idea of American exceptionalism.  The fact is that Obama's commitment to and Putin's criticism of America's place in the world, has its roots in the ideas of our 28th President, Woodrow Wilson.  Inaugurated 100 years ago. 

In urging Congress to enter WWI, Wilson talked about the need to make the world "safe for democracy."  In so doing, he perhaps inadvertently laid the predicate for the next century of US foreign policy and an idealism that often went beyond America's direct national interests.

He would come to define the modern activist Presidency, and would lay the groundwork for a broader role for the federal government.

He did it all coming to office with a minimum of political experience, accusations of elitism, racism and a disregard for civil liberties.  Still, he ranks as one of our great Presidents. The how and why of this is embedded in A. Scott Berg's sweeping biography Wilson, thirteen years in the making.

A Scott Berg is a best selling biographer, a winner of the NationalBook Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

My conversation with Scott Berg:

Why we should welcome adversity

September 14th, 2013
We are all familiar with the words of Nietzsche who said, "that which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger."  It has become a kind of mantra for a society in which everyone seems under siege, or faces some kind of adversity.  But is it true?

We’re told that we learn from our mistakes, but is there an easier way?  Does the willingness to lean into to adversity, make it more likely?  Do those who deny adversity’s benefits, have less of it?  And how does the value of learning from adversity get weaker,  often closed down, by the power of positive thinking which is often so much a part of our happy talk culture?

These are some of the ideas dealt with by Dr. Norman Rosenthal in  The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life's Difficulties, Setbacks, and Imperfections.  Rosenthal is a psychiatrist and the scientist who in the 1980s first described winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). He spent 20 years as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) where he studied disorders of mood, sleep, and biological rhythms.

My conversation with Dr. Norman Rosenthal:

A Better Way of Death

September 13th, 2013

When we speak of death and sickness, it is often as if we are engaged in the language of war.  We are battling, fighting, staving off.  Perhaps we'd be better to think of it in language from the 17th Century poet John Donne, in “Death Be Not Proud.” 

That might help us to understand a different language of death, but it was all before the advent of the medical/industrial complex. The ways in which the forces of medicine stand in the way of a “meaningful death.”

That’s the world that journalist Katie Butler writes about in Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death.  Her story, in the NY Times Magazine, about her father's death, was one of the most commented upon articles in the history of the Magazine.

My conversation with Katie Butler: 

9/11/2012 - Benghazi, Libya…just the facts

September 11th, 2013
On 9/11 of last year the US Mission in Benghazi, Libya, an isolated ad hoc outpost, was attacked.  The small security team from the diplomatic security service, was no match for large numbers of jihadist forces that would attack, in what has been called “a perfect worst case scenario.”

This was the first time that a US diplomat had been killed since 1988, in Pakistan. Perhaps in another time it would have brought respect for the heroics of the men who valiantly fought back to save the mission and the Ambassador.  Perhaps it would have brought a legitimate investigation of what happened and how we might learn from such attacks.

Instead, like almost everything else today, it’s simply been a catalyst for bitter partisanship, for political opportunism and the continuing efforts of some, to find anything to attack the President and the administration.

In that haze we’ve lost sight of what really happened and why it still matters. Two national security experts, Fred Burton and Samuel Katz, provide the first full scale account in their book Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi.

My conversation with Burton and Katz: 

Masters and Johnson

September 10th, 2013
Today we are a culture steeped in Sex. It’s part of almost every aspect of our politics, our culture, and our economy. It’s about selling cars, and also the dispensing of medical care.

But just 60 years ago, it was a subject that was all but taboo.  We not only didn’t speak its name in polite company, but we knew very little about it and how it worked, both physiologically and psychologically.  

Then William Masters came along and with his partner Virginia Johnson, changed all that. They not only medicalized the discussion and understanding of sex, but unleashed the power of female sexuality in ways that would forever change society.

Few have studied and understood their work better than Thomas Maier. His book Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love  has just be re released and the Showtime series, based on the book, premiers later this month.

My conversation with Thomas Maier:

Working Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty

September 8th, 2013
It used to be that we had a somewhat standard expectations as to what it means to be a grown up.  It they weren’t norms really, at least they were a general set of expectations:  College, marriage, a house, a car, kids...all the accouterments of the American dream.  

It’s interesting, that even amid the turmoil and social and cultural transitions of the 60’s and 70’s, these stars remained pretty fixed in our imagination.

Yet the broader economic transitions of globalization, economic disparity and deindustrialization, have had a far greater impact.  One that has tilted these expectation off their axis and may be creating a generation where coming of age, where adulthood, means something entirely different. In fact, it may be the entirety of the reason for the stagnation of the middle-class. 

Jennifer Silva, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School, take a look at what's happening in Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty.

My conversation with Jennifer Silva:

Back to School

September 5th, 2013
Few subjects get as much attention as education. Yet in many ways it’s like the weather.  We talk a lot about it, but sometimes it seems we can do very little.  

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is focus on teachers. For they are at the ramparts of the battle. They are not just a piece of the puzzle, arguably they are the largest piece.  Yet how many of us, even the most active parents, really understand what it’s like in the classroom, day after day. What it really means to be a teacher.  

Few are more distinguished or more successful than Rafe Esquith. He has taught at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles for twenty-four years. He is the only teacher to have been awarded the president's National Medal of the Arts and his new book is  Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: "No Retreat, No Surrender!"

My conversation with Rafe Esquith:

The Design of the Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge

September 3rd, 2013

The Bay Area is, in many ways, defined by its bridges.  Once famous for their architectural beauty and cutting edge design, the new span of the Bay Bridge  may be equally famous for its faulty construction, inflated costs and mismanagement.

While its engineering, politics and construction may have many issues,  few can quarrel with it's design. That design is the work of Donald McDonald, an icon of bridge building throughout the world.  McDonald has over 30 years experience in architectural design, historic rehabilitation, planning, contract administration, and construction management of complex projects. He and his firm are responsible for the design of the just opened Eastern Span of the San FranciscoBay Bridge.

My conversation with Donald McDonald:

The End of Night, or Why We Shouldn’t be Afraid of the Dark!

September 2nd, 2013
Whenever there are lists of the greatest and most profound inventions of all time, we almost always hear, among other things, about air conditioning, the internal combustion engine and electric light.  This last one, electric light, has seen to it that vast tracts of human population have never had to experience anything like total darkness.  What impact has that had.  

As technology moves so much more rapidly than evolutionary biology, how has that impacted our species.  We’ve all seen the aerial views of the world at at night.  Vast population centers stretching for hundreds of miles, all brightly lit.  At the same time,  our migration to cities continues to create a nighttime culture that is very different than what our ancestors experienced.

That's the world that Paul Bogard takes us to in The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.

My conversation with Paul Bogard:
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