Monday, August 18, 2014

Have we reached the end of American community?

The world has changed. We can intimately and immediately know what's taking place in the far reaches of the world, or across America. But we often don’t know what’s going on with our neighbors and in our own community.

Today we are a part of many communities of interest, not necessarily communities of geography. And is it any surprise, really? The natural human tendency is to associate with people like us. But as mobility and tolerance have allowed a diversity of communities, it has, in fact, atomized us in ways that we seek the familiar, no matter where on the planet it might be.

But what is the consequence of this?  We were once a great and vast continental nation, that had to rely on community as a form of safety and self government. Today that’s not the case. The result has impacted our relationships, or politics, and the very way we govern ourselves.

Where it’s going and how we got here is the subject The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Communitya brilliant new book by Marc Dunkelman.

My conversation with Marc Dunkelman:

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Police Branch of the US Military

We ask a great deal of our police. On the one hand we want to see more community policing, more interaction with the citizens. At the same time we are training and equipping the police as if they were another branch of the US Military.

Drive into the vehicle section of any police department and you’ll see SWAT equipment and armored carriers that look like they are from a Terminator movie. Think about what Boston looked like after the marathon bombing; an American city in lock-down and an occupying force of police that was the model for police forces around the country.

But how did we get here? Was it the crime waves of the 70’s and 80’s, the drug wars, the post 9/11 fixation with security and politicians that suddenly couldn’t say no to funding police? The answer is that it was all of these and more. They would create the perfect storm for the militarization of America's police forces.

This is the subject of Radley Balko’s new book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces

My conversation with Radley Balko:

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Three Women at Home and at War

Those that have been through it, say that the experience of being in a combat zone is like no other. It is all consuming. In so many ways it eliminates the real world of life and its mundane everyday chores and problems.

Yet the men and women engaged in that effort, bring with them a life experience composed of precisely those problems. Sometimes the military is a means of escape, sometimes a training ground for life, frequently life changing. Yet most soldiers, men and women alike, must return to that real world. And when they do, everything changes once again.

That’s the story that Helen Thorpe tells about three women in Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War.

My conversation with Helen Thorpe:

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Looking at Feguson through the eyes of the South in 1964

Fifty years ago this summer, Americans, both black and white, gave their last full measure of devotion in an effort to register African American voters in Mississippi.

The violence that resulted, the death of three civil rights workers, the beatings, the church bombings, and effort to prevent Americans from voting is a stain that shall forever be remembered.

For those that have forgotten, or were not alive in that period, A new work by Matt Herron is a powerful reminder. Matt was the progenitor of an effort to chronicle those events and in so doing captured a pivotal moment in American history.  The result, is Mississippi Eyes: The Story and Photography of the Southern Documentary Project

My conversation with Matt Herron:

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do you believe in magic?

Perhaps it’s the state of the world today, but everywhere fantasy seems to be in ascendancy. The retelling of Narnia, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Lev Grossman’s The Magician series, all speak to what seems to be a compelling need.

Lev Grossman has just published the third and final installment in his series, entitled The Magician's Land.

My conversation with Lev Grossman:

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Can we ever achieve a shared truth about the legacy of slavery?

When Barack Obama was elected President, we heard lots of loose talk about this being a post racial society.  It was as if a magic pill had taken the issue of race and identity out of our consciousness.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, arguably, we are further behind in erasing our racial legacy than other parts of the world. And part of that reason is that we have yet to achieve a shared truth about the American experience of slavery and bigotry.

While we've done a good job of trying to move beyond that legacy, like a weed, not pulled out from the root, it comes back to haunt us, because of our difficulty in dealing with its true history.

That’s the history that Chris Tomlinson takes on, with respect to his own family, in his book and in the documentary Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families who Share the Tomlinson Name - One White, One Black.

My conversation with Chris Tomlinson:

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

What did he know and when did he know a Nixon defense even possible?

For 40 years, the focus of the conversations about Watergate has been what did the President know and when did he know it. The revelations from the release of and the listening to more and more of the 3700 hours of White House tapes, has pretty much now clarified that issues.

What still remains very murky, perhaps because it exists in both the realms of psychology as well as fact, is why. Why did Nixon insist on the tapes, why didn’t he destroy them, and deeper still, why did a man whose entire life was devoted to the pursuit of the Presidency and his own place in history, destroy himself, by his own hand, his own actions and his own decisions?

Few have gotten closer to answering these questions than John Dean. Nixon’s White House council, the man who first told Nixon that Watergate was a growing “cancer on the Presidency,” who himself has spent 40 years thinking and writing about these issues, now on the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, has written the definitive, The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It.

My conversation with John Dean:

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Is our long national nightmare over yet?

For journalists, for historians, and for political junkies, Richard Nixon is the gift that keeps on giving. There are over 3700 hours of Nixon tapes and only a portion have been released and deconstructed.

Even as we mark this 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation, most of us have only heard a few minutes here or there. For Luke Nichter, a Professor at A & M University, and one of the preeminent experts on the Nixon tapes, it paints a picture of a cunning and controlling President, and sometimes a country astride the world. But mostly it captures the White House, America and the world, in a particular place and time that bears very little resemblance to the world today.

The latest collection of Nixon tapes, assembled by Luke Nichter and Douglas Brinkley, is The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972.
My conversation with Luke Nichter:

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The deep trouble of undersea exploration

From the undersea adventures of Jules Verne, to Peter Benchley’s The Deep to Jim Cameron’s The Abyss, we flock to movies and literature that takes place underwater. We are fascinated by, but know so little about, the undersea world.

In fact, a recent review of  James Nestor’s book, reminds us that if something disappears on Mars or the Moon, we’d have a better chance of finding it, than if it disappeared in the world’s oceans.

This fascination has given rise to whole groups of people that seek to explore in new and different, and sometimes dangerous, ways.

That's the backdrop of James Nestor's Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves.

My conversation with James Nestor:

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The ecological history of greater New York

In communities all across America debates rage about zoning, building, and development. In most cases, however, the debate is around the margins. Most places have long since evolved into what they are. New York City is perhaps the penultimate example.

While arguments still do go on about height limits, shadows and railyards, the city has long since determined its destiny. For New York it has been, at least since the mid 18th century, a forward march to becoming the amazing city it is today.

Ted Steinberg's Gotham Unbound:  The Ecological History of Greater New York, gives us a detailed history of that urban evolution.

My conversation with Ted Steinberg:

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why Vietnam still matters

Think about the things that shape our world, our perceptions and our culture. For a large part of the population, the experience of America’s mistakes in Vietnam has long shaped our engagement in the world. The country's disrespect, at the time, for the service of those that served in Vietnam, in many ways positively shapes the way we respond to Veterans' needs today.

As leaders today try and juggle the crisis of the world, and play a kind of geopolitical chess, they are always chastened by the scandal that was Iran/Contra,

And as any magazine or look at popular culture today will tell you, we are obsessed with outward appearances, usually at the expense of depth and real understanding. All of these issues and ideas come into play in the life and struggles of Robert Timberg.

Disfigured in a land mine explosion thirteen days before he was to leave Vietnam, his story, his struggles and his recovery in many ways parallels the story of the past half century. It’s what makes him so effective as a journalist and why his story, that he now tells us in his memoir Blue-Eyed Boy, is also a history lesson for us all.

My conversation with Robert Timberg:

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Parenting 101 - Lead with Acceptance

Every generation of parents wants their children to do better than themselves. It seems though that to accomplish that today, as NY Times columnist Tom Friedman and others have warned, "average is no longer good enough."

So how do we reconcile this with the data that tells us seeing our children for who they are and focusing on their social and emotional needs, is every bit as important as their academic needs.

How do we square that circle of success. Nancy Rose explains in Raise the Child You've Got - Not the One You Want: Why Everyone Thrives When Parents Lead with Acceptance.

My conversation with Nancy Rose:

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How good intentions created the student loan crisis

The student loan crisis has reached epic proportions. Beyond the basic fact that it could be the next financial cries, with debt exceeding one trillion dollars, its impact on higher education, at a time when that education is a prerequisite for today's employment market, makes the problem all the more profound and complicated. It also makes it a matter of urgent attention in the realm of public policy.

Joel and Eric Best take a comprehensive look at the scope and history of the problem in The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion-Dollar Problem.

My conversation with Joel & Eric Best:

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century

Suddenly talk of income equality and poverty has become more acceptable. Perhaps it’s the political season, or Thomas Pikitty’s book, or perhaps it’s just the reality of what we see all around us in America.

But how does talk turn into action and what kind of action? We see in Silicon Valley and in tech, in general, that when a company succeeds, or is bought out, all of the employees, all of the stakeholders benefit. Why can’t that same idea apply to the rest of corporate America?

This is part of the idea of the The Citizen's Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century.
A new book and a new way to look at these issues by Joesph Blasi.

My conversation with Joseph Blasi:

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Sunday, July 27, 2014


It has been argued that more evil is committed in the name of banality, than purpose. Certainly a look at our current golden age of television, confirms that. Don Draper, Walter White, and Tony Soprano never really seem to make up their minds about being good or evil.

So what’s the zeitgeist of our culture that separates hero from villain and what's different today than say in the 90’s or even the 50’s?

Who better to ask than Chuck Klosterman, The Ethicist for the NY Times Magazine, and the bestselling author of seven previous books, including Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs no looks into our confusion about good and evil in I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)

My conversation with Chuck Klosterman:

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do Fathers Matter?

When Hanna Rosin wrote The End of Men, did it also portend the end of fatherhood? There is no question that gender roles have been dramatically changed in the past 50 years. That in almost every measurable metric, women are not just pulling ahead of, but are surpassing men.

Yet fifty years of change, is no match for almost two million years of human evolution. Where these two forces converge is the reality of modern fatherhood.

The scientific, genetic and evolutionary influence of fathers is powerful and provable. Yet in many ways it runs headlong into popular culture, contemporary role models, and the reality of 21st century family life.

Journalist Paul Raeburn describes the current revolution in research in Do Fathers Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We've Overlooked

My conversation with Paul Raeburn:

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Do we have more A*holes today?

Everyday we encounter jerks. Some have recently argued that the number of jerks has increased exponentially, as we all experience greater stress and more frequent encounters, in dense urban environments. But when those jerks go too far, than they truly become assholes.

But why so many, why now and what can we do about it? That's the question that Professor Aaron James asks in Assholes: A Theory.

My conversation with Aaron James:

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