#180 Thanks a Thousand. Gratitude: A.J. Jacobs

Just in time for Thanksgiving, we speak with best-selling author and "immersive journalist" A.J. Jacobs about his extraordinary gratitude project and brand new book, "Thanks a Thousand".

He decided to say "thank you" to every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. "It turned out to be thousands of people," A.J. tells us. "I thanked the barista, the lid designer and the coffee bean farmer, but also the truck driver who delivered the beans. The idea is to show the interdependence and interconnectivity of our world."

We hear useful insights about gratitude, including tips that can be helpful and fun at Thanksgiving Day gatherings. 

This episode is a joint "simul-pod" with our friends at "Half Hour of Heterodoxy" podcast. Deb Mashek, Executive Director of the Heterodox Academy is the co-host  along with Richard and Jim. 

In our confrontational and troubled times, this episode is a reminder that cooperation plays a vital role in many of the most basic human rituals. "To make a cup of coffee, you need dozens of countries, and so it's partly an argument against this rise of nationalism and tribalism to show that we are so interconnected," says A.J.

Several books and lectures are mentioned, including "Enlightenment Now" by Stephen Pinker and "I Pencil" by economist Milton Friedman. A.J .recommends a worthwhile charity: Dispensers for Safe Water, an innovative low-cost approach to increase rates of household chlorination in East Africa.

#175 Bridging Divide. Renewing Democracy: Carolyn Lukensmeyer

Never before in living memory has America been so deeply divided, and this paralysis threatens to weaken and corrode democracy. Ideological silos have become much more common among both conservatives and liberals.

One opinion poll says 7 in 10 Americans believe that our politics have reached a dangerous low point. And most say the climate is a new normal— not temporary.

This is the first of four “How Do We Fix It?” episodes leading up to the Midterm Elections that discuss local and national attempts to push back against political dysfunction and the lack of rational, respectful debate. Forthcoming episodes will report on new initiatives in Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina.

Carolyn Lukensmeyer, is a leader in the field of deliberative democracy and social entrepreneurship. She is the Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse

“Voters are frustrated, worried, and angry with their leaders and ashamed of how our political process works these days. Heated rhetoric and a dramatic shift away from bipartisan collaboration pervade national politics, leaving us unable to solve the major challenges confronting our nation,” the group says.

#174 Lessons from Reagan: Bob Spitz

At a time of fractured politics and failed leadership, what lessons can be learned from Ronald Reagan-- one of the most significant presidents in our history?

Considered a dangerous outsider by critics when he was elected in 1980, he appeared to be enthralled with happy endings and disinterested in many of the finer details of economic and social policy. And yet America's fortieth president presided over an economic boom and successful peace talks with the Soviet Union that helped lead to the end of the Cold War.

Our guest, best-selling biographer Bob Spitz, is the author of "Reagan: An American Journey", a richly detailed, riveting, and carefully balanced account of a remarkable life. The book looks clearly at Reagan's policy failures on AIDS, Iran-Contra and Star Wars missile defense, as well as his achievements and great skill as a communicator. 

"Reagan came to power at a very important time in our history," Bob tells us. "We had come through the Vietnam War, Watergate, a succession of failed presidencies-- and the country needed someone to pick up its morale. Ronald Reagan was the right man at the right time."

Unlike Donald Trump, another outsider with the aim of shaking things up and overturning establishment views of government, "Ronald Reagan didn't have a hostile bone in his body," says Bob. "Reagan was not a narcissist in any shape or form. He thought about the good of the American people above everything."

#166 Populism: Bigger Than Trump? Salena Zito

Was Donald Trump's election a one-off event, or did it represent a fundamental realignment of American politics?

Washington-based political experts wrongly called the 2016 election, and our guest, Salena Zito, author of "The Great Revolt", argues that they keep blowing it today. Democrats who ignore the concerns of those who went for Obama in 2012, but then backed Trump four years later, do so at their peril.

We examine the spread of populism that is reshaping American politics on the right and the left, and why it may have much more staying power than critics would like to admit.

Despite President Trump's weak approval ratings, the coalition that brought him to the White House is largely holding together. Salena drove many thousands of miles on back roads, speaking with hundreds of Trump voters in ten Great Lake swing counties while reporting for the New York Post, the Washington Examiner, and contributing to The Atlantic. 

She takes them seriously. From "red-blooded blue-collared" conservative populists to "rough rebounders" and "girl gun power" supporters, we learn why so many believe that Trump stands up for working people against powerful corporate interests.

"Modern populism today is a healthy skepticism of large things, big institutions, big government, big entertainment, big sports," says Salena. "This coalition isn't just impacting the ballot, its having an impact on how we shop and how we consume things."

In this episode we look at the roots of populism, but also take a skeptical view of its future.

#165 Can Podcasting Save The Planet?

From ancient times to the present day, women and men have brought meaning to their lives through storytelling.

Before the invention of the printing press, ancient societies passed on the knowledge and wisdom of one generation to the next through oral history. 

Today, no other medium is as intimate and personal as podcasting. We are the town criers of our time.

In this "Quick Fix" episode, Richard and Jim discuss the future of podcasting-- an industry that faces both opportunities and challenges. 

More than 550,000 podcasts are on iTunes-- and the number is growing every week. So is the audience. But while two-thirds of Americans have heard of the term "podcast," fewer than one-in-five are regular listeners. 

Last week in Philadelphia at Podcast Movement-- the annual trade show, rally and conference-- Tom Webster of Edison Research said: "The key to moving from 48 million weekly podcast listeners to the 100 million mark is understanding why those people familiar with the term “podcasting” have never listened."

The launch of the new Google Podcasts app may go a long way towards reaching this goal. Until now, Apple has been the dominant player. Smart speakers present a great growth opportunity, bringing new ways to listen to podcasts. And each year podcasting reaches into an ever-widening circle of communities and interests. 

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