Thursday, April 23, 2015

The new white, middle class, suburban heroin addict

For years we’ve had just one image of the drug wars. Images conjured up from movies like the Godfather or Scarface, or reading about the LA battles between the Bloods and the Crips.

But drugs, like everything else, are subject to the pressures and demands of the free market. And creative destruction in the drug business has meant a drug dealer that is kinder and gentler. A dealer that appreciates the value of customer service, that understands that many drug users, particularly of painkillers and heroin, are respectable middle class citizens.

According to the CDC, everyday 44 people in the United States die from an overdose of prescription painkillers, with many more addicts being created everyday. Together the unlikely combination of Doctors, all to eager and willing to prescribe and the boys of Xalisco, Mexico have created a perfect storm of addiction. Sam Quinones takes us to an Ohio town that is ground zero for the new heroin addiction, in Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic.

My conversation with Sam Quinones:

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why men fight and why we love to watch

Hundred of years ago if men wanted to settle a personal matter, even a political one, they picked up swords or guns and dueled their way to resolution. We all remember everything from d'Artagnan to the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Today there are many that seem to long for a return to those days. And while they are hardly condoned by respectable public standards, they still percolate within the heart of many men, for whom testosterone laden violence is still deeply programmed into their DNA.

Jonathan Gottschall, a mild mannered English Professor, decides, like Kurtz to journey into the heart of darkness to understand what makes men, our society and our culture so prone to embracing violence

If the first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club, Jonathan Gottschall breaks that rule with The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch.

My conversation with Jonathan Gottschall:

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Congratulations to this year's Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction and Non Fiction


Too often in the thinking about the politics of war, we lose sight of its crucible. Of what it does, both good and bad for the people caught up in it. Perhaps thats why we go back so often to WWII, to be freed to understand how the pressure, conflict and survival inherent in war, often brings out both best and the worst of human nature.

Anthony Doerr’s new novel All the Light We Cannot See, does this.

My conversation with Anthony Doerr:


When the nuclear age dawned, people spoke of being “present at the creation.” Man suddenly had the ability to completely remake the world anew, or even to destroy it. Today, we have that same power. The environmental crises we face, driven by the pillars of population growth, technology and short term thinking, also give us the power to destroy the world.

In fact, much of the destruction may be underway already and it may even be too late to reverse some of it. We may be entering what Elizabeth Kolbert calls The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

My conversation with Elizabeth Kolbert:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

California's water in all the wrong places

Those of us in California know all too well what’s its like to be living in the midst of a drought. Gov. Jerry Brown recently put in place restrictions demanding that urban water use be cut by 25%. Already the push back is coming. In a state where agriculture uses well over 50% of the state’s water, and only contributes 3% to the state’s economy, urban water users are becoming angry.
There is much talk about pipelines, about desalination, and new technology to bring water to the parched desert that is much of California.

All of this echoes a battle of an earlier time. A time, at the turn of the last century, when a man named William Mulholland would devise a plan to make the desert that was Los Angeles bloom and allow it to become the world class, cutting edge metropolis that it is today.
Perhaps in these dry times, its instructive to look back to that previous period and see what we might learn.

My conversation with Les Standiford about his book Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Barney Frank

One of the big things missing in politics today is historical and institutional memory. The sense of collegiality, of institutional respect and the positive value of public policy, seem to have been replaced by gotcha politics, partisan positioning and the effort to achieve petty political advantage.

Former Congressman Barney Frank has born witness to this change and he’s seen it from all sides. He helped usher in our renewed respect and acceptance for gays and lesbians in public life and fought in the civil right issue of our time, for gay marriage. He used the best of the public policy apparatus to bring forth financial reform, but he’s also seen the ways in which our political process has become mired and disconnected from the realities of 21st century life.

He understands that principals must be part of politics and that “to legislate” is not a dirty word.

He shares some of that life experience in his new memoir Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage

My conversation with Barney Frank:

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The capital of 20th century urbanism

Sometimes, even the most interesting of subjects are presented to us in more or less predictable or at least accepted ways. It’s rare that a work of ideas come to us in an truly imaginative form. But that is exactly what David Kishik has done with The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City

As cities are becoming ever more important, as most of America and the world moves into urban spaces, understanding cities and their relationship to people is every more important.

David Kishik is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College

My conversation with David Kishik:

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Monday, April 13, 2015

We are in the Golden Age of Public Shaming

There once was a time, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, when public shaming was the norm. The stockades, corporal punishment, torture marks and even the famed Scarlet Letter, all represented ways in which society could express it’s scorn.

Today, with the power and reach of the Internet and social media, we are in a golden age of shaming. Monica Lewinsky’s recent Ted Talk on the subject has been viewed over 3 million times.

But has this new age of shaming made us better? Has it reined in indecent behavior? Has it made us more just or just more paranoid? The long time radio host Don Imus used to say he’d like to ask guests, especially public figures, very tough questions in the hope that the answers just might ruin their careers. Today that can happen in the blink of a Tweet.

Jon Ronson has been studying this recent phenomenon and he writes about it in So You've Been Publicly Shamed.

My conversation with Jon Ronson:

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Private Debt vs. Public Debt - Which is more dangerous?

If you did a Google search for stories about debt and the financial crisis, you’d find that the vast majority of them would be about public and government debt and government spending. This has been, for almost 40 years, the mantra of many in Washington.

And yet we know, that our most recent financial crisis, was at least, in part, triggered by the mortgages crises and vast amounts, (almost 10 trillion dollars) of private mortgage debt. So why haven’t we talked more about this? And what is the nexus between private debt and public debt and what does it say about our current economic outlook?

That’s what Richard Vague looks at in his new book The Next Economic Disaster: Why It's Coming and How to Avoid It

My conversation with Richard Vague:

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Monday, April 6, 2015

In Defense of Liberal Education

The rate of voter participation in America continues to decline. Yes, some of it is our politics today. But another part of it just may be a failure to embrace the true education for citizenship.

And it’s no wonder. Some of the fundamental ideas of what it means to be a citizen; the ability to reason, to analyze, and to articulate those views, has gone into remission.

In our education today, we are obsessed with what is call STEM. Science Technology, Engineering and Math. All very important. But Lost in this obsession is Writing, History, Rhetoric, and the Arts.

State Governors are defunding liberal arts programs in state universities, the President is putting down Art History, and educational institutions from K-12 to our universities, are responding to the pressures.

There seems to be no regard for the fact that today’s technology will be tomorrows nostalgia and the ability to learn, think and write is forever.

Taking up this cause of liberal education is Fareed Zakaria in his new book In Defense of a Liberal Education.

He is one of our premiere foreign policy analysts, the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN and a columnist for the Washington Post.

My conversation with Fareed Zakaria:

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RoadTrip Nation's ROADMAP

Everyday we hear and read more about how life is changing. Probably while we were sleeping last night, someone came up with an app that will alter the way we work or play or interact.

It’s not surprising then that all of this profoundly impacts the careers we choose, the work we do and and what that work might look like in five, ten or fifteen years.

So where to begin. If you are a young person starting out, or a making a mid career change, where is that Roadmap to that future.

Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life is the latest book by RoadTrip Nation and my guest Nathan Gebhard. It is based on the wisdom of more than 300 leaders.

My conversation with Nathan Gebhard:

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Friday, April 3, 2015

The real evolution of Steve Jobs

One of the dangers of our celebrity culture today, is that we tend to look at those who've attained that status, regardless of their field of endeavor, as fully formed human beings, whose life began and ended with the achieve that catapulted them into iconic status.

Nothing can be further from the truth. In looking at the stories or biographies of these celebrities, on the one hand we have case studies that zero in a particular moment in time, or hagiographies that only heighten misperception.

This has t
ended to be the case with Steve Jobs. He wasn’t born as the iconic founder and savior of Apple. He evolved over time and his skills, talents and personality either acted as receptors or antagonists to the moment and issues at hand.

In looking at his story, we see the full magnitude of humanity that was, in and of itself, a part of his success.

Rick Tetzeli tells that story in Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader

My conversation with Rick Tetzeli:

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Creative Destruction comes to Warfare

Technological change and creative destruction is everywhere. It’s changed the way we work, the way we interact with each other, the foundation of education, and not surprisingly the nature of warfare.

We’ve all seen the media images of drones giving us perfect images; the perfect eye in the sky for perfectly targeted air strikes. As least that’s how it looks on Homeland, and 24 and the images for Abbottabad.

The reality however is somewhat different. Less than clear images, imperfect targeting that kills civilians, increasingly complex and overpriced equipment and on the other hand, lower barriers to entry with respect to some drones, that will soon make them available to nations, groups or individuals everywhere. Soon surveillance, and even "death from above," will be on a par with package delivery

It’s a scary future, one that Washington keeps pretty hidden, and one that the Washington editor of Harpers, Andrew Cockburn talks about in Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins

My conversation with Andrew Cockburn:

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Editing life code

Conventional wisdom has long held that evolution is something that takes place slowly and over centuries. Concurrently we know that technological changes, and changes in the human condition have speeded up at a hyper multiple pace. We have often thought that much of our anxiety and even some fundamental social problems stem from that dissonance, from that disconnect between our external and our internal change.

However, what if we ourselves, as a species, as generic templates, were really changing at the same time, in real time. Imagine that all the plates are spinning at rapid speed and in different directions. It’s not surprising then that they may crash into each other, some may shatter, and some will survive even stronger and sturdier.

In this way, we are rewriting life code. We are, according to Juan EnriquezEvolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth.

My conversation with Juan Enriquez:

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The Myth of America as a "Christian Nation"

It was Churchill who reminded us that history is written by the victors. Well this is as true of religious history as it is of military, political and geopolitical history.

We’ve all been been told since childhood of the Christian foundation of America. That the history of America is John Winthrop's "Shining City on a Hill."  That the Christian Village Green represented the apotheosis of America.

The fact is, since before the time of Columbus, America has been a pluralistic society. An idea that Jefferson had to battle to prove, just as President Obama has in his recent speeches about religion.

At a time when technology and globalization continue to draw us all closer together, we have a choice. We can either channel our heritage and embrace that religious diversity or pull up the proverbial drawbridge and defend the mythology.

This is the world that Peter Manseau looks at in his new book One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History.

My conversation with Peter Manseau:

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Going Clear

The idea of a new, "modern" religion is a little confusing on its face. Especially one that claims millions of converts each year and that has focused its attention on money and Hollywood.

Today, Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize winning author of THE LOOMING TOWER, about the history of al-qaida, takes a fresh look at another religion, gone off the rails in Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief 

My conversation with Lawrence Wright

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Boston's other unsolved crime

Art theft is always a funny thing. The public is usually fascinated by the story, but can seldom feel the kind of empathy with the theft, they feel if their neighbors car were broken into.

Art theft, at the highest level is a very special an almost elite kind of crime. Like reading the pages of Rob Report, it fascinates, but never engages.

Perhaps that's why so many art thefts are never solved. Including the recent grandaddy of them all, the the theft of priceless painting from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, 25 years ago. Award winning Boston Globe journalist Stephen Kurkjian takes us inside Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist.

My conversation with Stephen Kurkjian:

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