Monthly Archives: December 2020

EP 408 Can Technology Change Education?

Imaginations have run wild over the years as to what technology can do to change education. Some had predicted that half or more of courses by now would be offered on line at a lower cost and with great results. It turns out that in this fevered moment, as the pandemic descended upon the nation, much of our children’s educations did go on-line with little of the planning and intent required to maximize its impact. In the best case scenario, Justin Reich, author of ‘Failure to Disrupt’ and the director of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT, tells us our expectations for ‘EdTech’, as its called, have been outsized. He looks at the complex nature of schooling and believes that while there is a place for technology in the classroom it will be as an adjunct to the work done in a classroom and school building, not a replacement for it. EdTech is complex and he breaks it down in three different buckets: instructor-guided online courses, algorithm-guided adapative tools and peer-guided networked learning communities.Each has a place depending upon the age of the student and the subjects being taught. Again, none is a panacea that will lift socially and educationally disadvantaged students to a place imagined by what Reich calls the ‘charismatic initiatives’ that we often read about in which a philanthropist puts computers in the hands of all children in an urban area. It’s a timely and important discussion at a moment of disruption in the educational system.

EP 407 Corporations In Denial As To Damage Done

Faced with proof that they were harming people or the environment, corporations have long denied evidence, blamed victims complained of witch hunts, attacked their critics and found other rationale for their harmful activities.  No denial campaign was more insipid than that of the tobacco industry.  That effort set the standard for establishing doubt in the public’s mind where none should exist.  In her book, ‘Industrial-Strength Denial’, attorney Barbara Freese lays out eight stories of corporations defending the indefensible, from slave trade to climate change.  Corporations can be checked by law, regulation, and public outcry but it’s often after serious damage has been done as corporate lawyers and inestimable dollars are thrown at the efforts to blunt these unscrupulous practices.  The corporate structure is a perfect one in which to make anonymous an individual’s role in carrying out practices harmful to others.  We explore the history and the current attack on the science of climate change by the fossil fuel industry. 

EP 406 Changing Nature of Global Trade

In his book ‘The Box’ Marc Levinson explained how shipping containers were essential in the growth of international trade.  Now as he looks at the new wave of globalization, he sees a changing landscape.  Countries have begun to recognize, even before the recent pandemic, that supply chains can be precarious and unreliable.  And while there was an explosion in world trade involving manufactured goods from 2001 to 2008, rising 120 percent, it has fallen off since.  That is a concept you may find interesting since concerns about trade, and its imbalances, have fueled political discord in America, the United Kingdom and other countries.  Mind you, it is not apparent that countries are retreating to their borders, but there is a shift to greater reliance on suppliers and partners on a more regionalized basis and much of the trade today, and into the future, is trending toward services.  In large part this is due to the aging of populations worldwide and the need for more medicine, entertainment and other services, as opposed to hard goods, in the trading process. Thus, Mr. Levinson’s latest book is titled ‘Outside the Box’: How Globalization Changed Moving Stuff to Spreading Ideas’.  We discuss these evolving changes with him on this podcast. 

EP 405 400 Friends and No One to Call

The concept of true friendship has been challenged by the notion that someone who friends you on Facebook really can be counted on when you’re in need. You can be well-connected in the digital sphere and find yourself isolated and alone when the chips are down. Val Walker, a rehabilitation consultant, grief counselor and author of ‘The Art of Comforting: What to Say and Do for Others in Distress’ found herself in the ironic situation of having no one to pick her up after a surgery and realized that she needed to build new connections to others in the physical world. In the process, she moved from a pristine, but lonely, spot in Maine to bustling Boston and wrote her latest book, ‘400 Friends and No One to Call’. She shares valuable information about the growing problem of social isolation in America and ways to re-connect in ways that do not require a personality make-over. Many of us are introverts or have social anxiety, or have experienced loss and grief which affect the way we interact with others, but we can find soulmates and friends who share many of the same characteristics. It’s an important conversation and may offer you a way forward if you find that this topic resonates. Given that loneliness is a health epidemic in the United States, and many of us have been in self-isolation because of the pandemic, it will provide new ways of thinking about connection for this unique moment in time.

EP 404 How Will the Universe End?

All good things must come to an end, as the song goes. It’s no less true for the universe than it is for love stories. It’s not something we spend much time thinking about because a)it’s too depressing and b)it’s likely billions of years into the future. Please don’t confuse the universe with the earth. We have the power to obliterate ourselves today. Why wait for natural forces? Of course, we all hope that our better angels prevail and the scenarios that Dr. Katie Mack posits in her book, ‘The End of Everything(Astrophysically Speaking)’ are so removed from our reality that they never give us a moment’s pause. However, the end is going to happen according to the scientific community, whose sophistication in this area is accelerating at a rapid pace. So how will it come about? Will it be the ‘big crunch’ or ‘dark energy’ or ‘heat death’? You’ll have to tune in to find out. And you will have to then decide what it means, most importantly, to the way you live your life today knowing that little, if anything, we do here will remain as a permanent record. It will all vanish in time. Theologians explore the meaning of this and scientists put a clock on it. What are we to do with this information?

EP 403 Leave It As It Is: You Can’t Improve It

One wag called it a ‘conservationist rom-com’, when the big personality of Theordore Roosevelt came into contact with the big hole, The Grand Canyon. It was there that he spoke the words which became the title of David Gessner’s new book, ‘Leave It As It Is’. Yet, it seems that Americans can’t leave well enough alone. As tourists, we want a closer look and amenities that take it from its natural state to something more tame(illustration: Niagara Falls)and as policymakers we are susceptible to the pressures and money provided by special interests to turn back protected lands for commercial purposes. Thankfully, places like Yellowstone and Yosemite were protected as parks and it took TR to do the same for the Grand Canyon. His passage of the Antiquities Act put in place one of the most important tools possible to protect our natural environment and yet there are constant challenges to its scope and intent up until this very moment. Mr. Gessner set out to re-create TR’s travels in the West and re-capture the beauty of the land, while also focusing on the challenges to keep it that way and the complex character of the man, who may have been the last president to truly love the outdoors and want to make its preservation his lasting legacy. In this podcast, we discuss the pressures on public lands, including the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

EP 402 A Feast Without the Cruelty: The Promise of Cell Cultured Meat

There is an edible space race on to bring cell cultured meat to market.  What is that, you say?  It’s having your meat and eating it too.  No slaughterhouses, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and sundry new foods derived from stem cells gathered through a biopsy from a living animal, a bioreactor maintaining the temperature, acidity and oxygen level for cell survival and a liquid growing medium inside the bioreactor feeds the cells. Once this was science fiction.  Today, it is science fact. It’s being done successfully in competing laboratories at this moment.  The questions that remain are the flavor and feel of the ‘clean meats’, how you market them and ways to continue to drive the price points down to a level where consumers will be interested.  Oh, and either making meat and dairy companies partners or outmaneuvering them on the regulatory side, where their influence and dollars have much influence.  In his book, ‘Billion Dollar Burger’, author Chase Purdy walks us through this intriguing world of food science and the impacts manufactured meat may have on the marketplace.  It could be much greater than the plant-based meats already taking off in ways previously unanticipated.

EP 401 Have Boomers Left Millennials A Pile to Clean Up?

As the father of two millennials, I am on the side of about half of my baby boom generation in regretting the sorry state of affairs we have left on their doorstep.  Think about it in these terms: after forty years of the arc of American history bending toward individualism, self-reliance and  the desires of the very wealthy, and companies foregoing generous benefits that many of us boomers took for granted, the millennials emerging into the work world were greeted with the aftermath of 9/11, the 2008 financial disaster and the pandemic and twin economic debacle.  That’s quite a welcome to adulthood.  I bristle when I hear this generation, some of whom by the way are already approaching 40, called ‘snowflakes’.  I think they are industrious, as they navigate through the new gig economy, values driven and open to many changes that undoubtedly this society must make in order to create a more just future.  Jill Filipovic lays out the case for her generation in the book ‘OK Boomer Let’s Talk’: How My Generation Got Left Behind’.  She makes a compelling argument that, by almost any measure, the children of baby boomers have started their careers and adult lives with a host of issues which make their journey more difficult than the baby boomers.  I think we had a great conversation.  Perhaps, it could be even more scintillating if the interviewer, me, disagreed with her premise.  But I don’t.  There is one silver lining for the millennials and I offer it in the midst of the discussion.  

EP 400 The Healthcare Industry as a Career in the Wake of the Pandemic

On the news we’ve heard from exhausted, and often frustrated, front line medical workers who have had so much to deal with during the pandemic–lack of PPE,long hours in suffocating garb, a public skeptical of the seriousness of what they face every day and changing protocols as more information has come to light about the coronavirus.  Even before the onset of COVID-19, many reports had surfaced about healthcare providers suffering from burnout, burdensome regulation, squabbles with government and insurance funders and a general disquiet over the career and calling they worked so hard to achieve.  We turn to Dr. Cathy Hung, an oral surgeon, and author of ‘Pulling Wisdom: Filling Gaps of Cross-Cultural Communication for Healthcare Providers’, to help us assess the mindset of doctors, nurses, technicians and allied health professionals in a very difficult moment. We find that even those who have not faced the immediate impacts of the pandemic have seen their practices thrown into a state of flux.  While we have seen quicker onset of some innovations in the face of this medical emergency, like tele-medicine, the fallout from this may well be reflected in the quantity of the workforce going forward and the impact that will have on the quality of our medical care.