One man’s junk is another mean’s treasure. How that item gets from the person who doesn’t want it anymore to the person who needs it is a global phenomenon. No one can tell the tale and explain this multi-billion dollar business better than Adam Minter, author of ‘Secondhand’ and his previous book, ‘Junkyard Planet’. Through his writing we discover the attachment that many of us have to our stuff and how wrenching it is for the rapidly aging Boomer population to part with all that they have accumulated. In a sense, he notes, we’re a global citizenry of hoarders. It’s just that it’s often more pronounced in America where disposable incomes are higher and homes are larger. So if you’re one who likes tag sales, flea markets, used book stores, Goodwill shops and vintage clothing outlets, this podcast will place you among the colorful characters who get as much satisfaction meeting other people in this ‘treasure hunt’ as they doing making something old new again in our disposable society.
Monthly Archives: February 2020
Our guest, Jonathan Rothwell, is the principal economist at Gallup, so he’s crunched all the numbers and is prepared on this podcast to debunk a lot of the conventional thinking about the real causes of income inequality in America. And the reasons may not sound like the usual suspects trotted out by political leaders in our country. Democrats often lay the problem at the doorstep of greedy corporations, while Republicans often point to immigrants, trade and general lack of individual motivation and effort as the culprits. In his weighty analysis of the problem, Jonathan Rothwell makes a compelling, and empirically arrived at, argument that longstanding racism and unequal political and institutional power lie at the root of the matter. He explains the make-up of the one percent, and some may surprise you, and the disproportionate rewards that accrue to them because of their professions and not their genes, intelligence or work ethic. Unconventional thinking abounds in this episode.
The numbers are eye-popping. In the last 10 years, the number of Americans who identify as Christian has fallen 13 percent, while those who are not affiliated with any religion grew by 30 million, according to data from the Pew Research Center. And if you’re skeptical of Pew’s numbers, just look at those occupying the pews. The trend is real. That’s why we decided to pursue the story and the reasons behind it. We turn to Christopher Vondracek, a reporter on this beat for ‘The Washington Times’. In this conversation we trace this radical departure in the exceptional American story of being both wealthy, as a society, and still devout in our religious faith. Until the 1990’s we avoided the secularization seen in many other Western societies. Why did this change? We run down the historical antecedents and whether the disengagement speaks more to the failings of the institutions of formal religion or to changes in society which have us seeking answers to life’s profound questions in other ways. We also look to the intersection of politics and religion in America and whether the rise of evangelicals has affected the attachment of millennials to their ‘starter religions’.
Hotel home has become synonymous with the brand, Airbnb, as it fashions new ways to connect travelers with experiences that are more than a room that looks just like the next. The company’s success in a decade’s time has been remarkable and disruptive in the hospitality game. Longstanding brands like Marriott, Hilton and Sheraton have taken notice and have had to adapt to what travelers have come to expect as a unique, inviting experience. Airbnb, unlike many other start-ups in the tech space, has also demonstrated profitability to go along with the headlines. It’s had its share of controversies as the neighbor next door becomes a hotelier, but the business principles it has put into place can have profound effects on the provider/customer experience in many industries. Its goals are expansive as it tries to make many other experiences you have when leaving home more alluring and accessible with a few clicks on your phone. Perhaps no one is better able to dissect a brand in the business world today than our guest, Joseph Michelli, author of ‘The Airbnb Way’, which is a must read if you want to understand its emergence and dominance in the sharing economy.
Did you feel imprisoned as a student in K-12? Was the experience one that caused you harm and that you would like to see your child avoid? Cevin Soling, the l’enfant terrible of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who writes and directs films about this topic, has a very dark vision of what the stringent, conforming aspects of public schools does to the psychology of the child. While I admit that some children are constrained and abused in the system, and their unique learning styles ignored, my questions to him focused a good deal on practical alternatives. After all, this is an advanced a society that requires learning and certification in a formal process in order to go on to the next step in life. We explore a range of topics including my assertion that these institutions act as stabilizers for families and communities where structure and order are in little supply. It’s a very provocative topic and our exchanges are healthy and challenging. It will get you to think about whether schools, which clearly are failing by many measures, can be improved or is there any conceivable way to abolish them altogether. Then what?
The perception of the diplomatic corps for many is a well connected person who takes on a plush assignment overseas with all the trappings of privilege. Yet throughout the impeachment hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives, the public was introduced to career diplomats whose love of country, precision in the use of language, meticulous note taking and general acumen about their posts was anything but that stereotype. Apart from the careerist Foreign Service types, we also saw a donor diplomat, Gordon Sondland, who was clear in saying that he was not from that school and did not take careful notes. America has a combination of approximately seventy percent career diplomats to thirty percent who are political appointees by the President. (Most Western allies do not have such political appointments.) With that said, either can be effective, depending on their backgrounds and suitability for the assignment. And then there are ‘expeditionary diplomats’ who are sent time and again to some of the hottest spots in the world to take on some of the most difficult assignments where chaos reigns and the normal functions of government are barely present. Paul Richter, the author of ‘The Ambassadors’ describes four such diplomats whose duties are varied, complex and vital to America’s role in the world. Their understanding of political organization, the cultures in which they are immersed and the necessity for improvisation in such circumstances is truly remarkable.
Medicine’s advances are happening so quickly can the ethics and laws surrounding these changes keep up? In the new book, ‘Who Says You’re Dead'(yes there are different definitions for that, too), Dr. Jacob Appel, an attending psychiatrist ay Mount Sinai and celebrated bioethicist, serves up provocative scenarios which demonstrate how complicated this all can be. To this point: a daughter gets tested to see if she is a match to donate a kidney to her father. The test reveals that she is not the man’s biological daughter. Should the doctor tell the father. Or the daughter? Or you go to an orthopedic specialist (and they are highly speicalized) needing a hip replacement. His specialty is the knee. Does he have an obligation to tell you that there’s a doctor in the next office building who does your procedure much more routinely? We explore a range of questions that are complex and open ended about designer babies, the three parent couple, and what our responsibility is in the realm of ‘informed consent’. He even has some concerns about the ethical dimensions of the vaunted electronic medical record and its likelihood of being abused. And while we invest all knowing characteristics to many of our doctors, are they better at predicting the course of disease in our body and should they be giving us timelines as to what it might mean to us in the near term and long run? We cover a lot of ground in a brief space of time. It will get you thinking, rest assured.
America seems to be hanging together by a thread these days. In some ways the only normalcy seems to be between the lines when we see our professional sports teams come together to compete. We get lost in it for a few hours and put aside all else in the world. And yet in that world, changes have been dramatic. No development has had more impact on the games we love than the unschackling of players and their ability to move from one team to the next in free agency. And at one time or another, Jim Quinn, author of the book ‘Don’t Be Afraid to Win’, has been lead counsel for each of the players’ associations in our four major sports. He explains the significance of tearing apart the owners’ stranglehold on player movement, and to some degree, compensation, and allowing the market to determine their value. In a far ranging conversation we track that history to the present with an ode to the first players’ strike lasting all of 21 minutes, but setting the table for much more protracted battles to come. Key issues relating to sports in our society are discussed as part of this podcast, including the acceptance of gambling by the leagues, the brutality of football and whether that will limit its future, the effects of ESPN and TV in general on sports and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of the four major sports–baseball, football, basketball and hockey.