#121 Why We Need Stories and Myths: Stephen Greenblatt

Love him or loathe him, Donald Trump told a more compelling story about himself than his opponents. The 2016 election was, for his critics, a jarring reminder of the limits of limiting political rhetoric to detailed policies and programs.

In this episode of "How Do We Fix It?", we explore the power of myths and legends: Why they are essential in making sense of life.

Harvard Humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt - author of "The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve" is our guest. 

Using the origin story in the Bible, we discuss the enormous power of foundation stories to explain human fears, desires and morality.  At their best the myths and legends we share with each other can bring our communities together in loyalty, love and solidarity. But at their worst they can lead us to believe in dangerous fantasies, setting off one group of people against "the other."

 

 

 

 

 

Click on the link to our Web Extra to learn more about 17th century French philosopher Pierre Bayle and how the way people understood the Adam and Eve story fundamentally changed 500 years ago during the Renaissance.

#120 From Political Disgust to Action: Eric Liu

So many of us are furious at President Trump, Congress, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, The Democrats or the news media-- name your poison.

Two thirds of Americans say they are dissatisfied with how things are going in this country today, compared with fewer than three-in-ten who are satisfied. This is a dramatic change from the 1990's, when most people had a positive view of national conditions.

This show is an empowering response to anger and disgust. Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University, says that you're more powerful than you think. We discuss the stories, strategies and ideas raised in his timely book, "You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen"

The key to fighting back successfully is to have a strategy and know how to read and write power,” but most people have no understanding of power and how to use it.   

“I think the reality of American life, right now, is that so many people have neither the motivation nor the ability to read or write power,” Eric tells us. “They lapse into this “House of Cards” or dark conspiratorial vision that all politics are like "Scandal,” and out of that are born people like Donald Trump as President.”

Eric's solutions:

  • Learn how power is organized. Instead of spending your life online, join others who share a similar passion for change.
  • Exercise your "we muscle.”Join a club or group and learn how to work with others on game-changing ways to improve the odds for a cause or a hobby that you care about.
  • Vote. In his book, Eric Liu writes that voter turnout (in general) is rarely above 60 percent (at best).
  • Keep it local. Eric argues that too much attention is given to power politics in Washington D.C. Often the best way to bring about change is in the neighborhood or city where you live.
  • Schools and colleges should improve civics education, giving students a much clearer understanding of grassroots democracy. 
     

#119 A Conservative Cure for Climate Change: Bob Inglis

 

 

Climate scientists warn that Hurricanes Irma and Harvey are examples of extreme weather that will become much more common in the years to come. 

But Trump Administration officials ridicule any link between this month's devastating storms and global warming.

 

 

 

Without a change of heart, most conservatives will continue to resist an overwhelming body of scientific evidence on climate change. Congress will fail to pass needed reforms.

Enter former GOP Congressman Bob Inglis. He argues that while Republicans are part of the problem, they must be part of any solution. This small-government Christian conservative from South Carolina believes in a free-market answer to climate change. He supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax, combined with a cut in FICA - the fee paid by workers to pay for Social Security and Medicare.

"Until we hear the information from somebody we care about, it's hard for us to change our minds," says Inglis, who argues that respect rather than ridicule is the best way to win new converts. "If you get into the discussion and past the shouting we can find solutions," he tells "How Do We Fix It?"
 

#118 After Harvey: Climate Change Insurance. Gernot Wagner

Is climate change to blame for Hurricane Harvey and the devastating floods around Houston? Even though we can't be certain about the cause of a single storm, Harvey's epic rainfall and surprisingly long duration remind us of the need for urgent action.

In this edition of our solutions podcast, economist Gernot Wagner, executive director of Harvard University's Solar Geoengineeering Research Program, makes the case for market-based climate insurance: A fix that even skeptical conservatives could love.

If there was a 10% chance of a tree falling on your house, you'd buy home insurance. Gernot says that's what the U.S. and every other nation must do to reduce global warming. His fix for the planet? Carbon pricing through a program of cap-and-trade that lets the market find the cheapest way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

Companies that exceed their emissions cap pay a penalty. Energy-efficient firms make money by selling their pollution allowances. Cap-and-trade can boost growth and jobs. California has designed its own system to reduce pollution as it makes a transition to a clean energy economy

The weather is already changing. The daily surface temperature of the Gulf of Mexico this year is the warmest on record.  When the sea warms, more water evaporates into the air, leading to greater rainfall. 

How do we help the victims of the Houston flood? This link has some smart suggestions.

#117 Is Hiking a Cure for PTSD? Sean Gobin

Can vets walk off the devastating impacts of PTSD? Do long-distance hiking, biking and river paddling journeys offer far better treatment for the emotional and psychological damage of war than pills or therapy offered by the VA? 

Sean Gobin is a United States Marine Corps veteran who served 12 years as an Infantry Rifleman and Armor Officer. He tells us his own personal story. 
After returning home from several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Sean hiked the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail. In 2013, he founded Warrior Expeditions and now serves as the Chief Executive Officer.

Since 2013, Warrior Expeditions has provided veterans with everything they need to complete a three to six month-long outdoor expedition at no cost. Their journeys offer them the opportunity to decompress from military service and come to terms with wartime experiences. Participants have reported significant improvements in physical, mental, and social well-being during and after their journeys.

Warrior Expeditions outfits veterans with some of the most highly rated equipment and clothing available from the outdoor retail industry.  Participants get a monthly $300 stipend to purchase what they need. Community support is an important part of the program, with volunteers offering vets transportation, lodging, and food along the route.

Here's more about the Ernest Hemingway short story mentioned in this episode... https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Two-Hearted_River

#116 The Case for Passion in Our Lives

Neil deGrasse Tyson became passionate about astrophysics when he was a teenager. Best-selling science journalist. Mary Roach is well-known for her humor and curiosity as she explores the science of keeping human beings intact, sane and awake during the extreme circumstances of war.

This "Fix It" episode is about passion and is inspired by our many guests. They bring their wisdom, emotion and enthusiasm with them as they describe what turns them on about their work and expertise.  

Obstetrician-gynocologist Rose Gowen, born and raised in Brownsville, Texas, speaks about her mission to get her small city with a large obesity problem to exercise more and eat better food. "Pretty much all of my father's side of our family has diabetes," she says.

Emily Esfahani Smith's passion for learning from strangers prompted her to write the book "The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters." She talks about the roots of her discoveries.

Author, investment expert and asset manager Karen Firestone  has spent her professional life studying financial risk. She explains why risk "applies to other aspects of life beyond investing."

#115 Refugees Are Just Like You: Ahmed Badr

Far too often refugees are thought of as "the other"-- a mass of people who are victims of war, persecution or natural disasters. President Trump has added to the problem, making negative, harsh comments about immigrants.

This episode with 19 year-old Iraqi-American refugee Ahmed Badr, looks at how to fix the way we view refugees and migrants. We look at their personal stories and what they bring to enrich the lives of the communities where they now live.

Through writing about his own life, Ahmed, now a student at Wesleyan University, realized that his blog helped others see him in a more personal light. Today, he is empowering others to do the same. His art and poetry site, Narratio, is a growing platform where young people from around the world use creative expression to share their unique experiences. Ahmed is also the host of "Together", a soon-to-be released podcast about refugees and migrants.

"I've learned other people tell their story versus just telling my own," says Ahmed. "A global citizen is someone who is willing to entertain the other side, no matter how much the other side hurts us to listen to or witness."

Ahmed was 7 when his family's home in Baghdad was bombed during the violent aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. The family was uninjured and moved to Syria. In 2008, they came as refugees to the U.S. through a resettlement program run by IOM -- the U.N. migration agency.

#114 Grunt: The Science of Humans at War - Mary Roach

When do fashion designers make the difference between comfort and misery for active soldiers? Why does the military need a radically different kind of crash test dummy? What role could maggots play in healing open wounds?

These questions and more are answered by best-selling science journalist, Mary Roach, author of "Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War."

In this audio tour of duty we go beyond war's battlefields, bombs and bands of brothers to hear why scientists, doctors, researchers and designers do vital work tackling the armed force's most persistent adversaries: heat, disease, exhaustion and noise.

The heroes Mary Roach writes about do their work quietly behind-the-scenes, improving the odds that troops who go to war come back alive.

Mary has been called "America's funniest science writer" by the Washington Post. In the words of a British reviewer, she "has specialized in tackling the uncomfortable, and at the heart of every book is her desire to explore the places from which we recoil."

#113 America's Male Unemployment Crisis: Ed Glaeser

Here's a paradox. While the U.S. unemployment rate is near a 16-year low, the percentage of all American adults in the workforce remains stuck at well below pre-recession levels.

Men are much more likely than women to drop out of work. In the 1960's 95% of adult men between 25 and 54 were employed. Today, after 7 years of an improving job market, only 80% are in the workforce.

People who don't look for a job are not counted in the official unemployment statistics compiled by the Labor Department. 

Harvard University Professor Edward Glaeser says "there's a war on work." Taxation, housing, regulatory and social policies aimed at improving the lives of low income Americans, he says, often remove incentives for people to get a job. We based our episode on the findings and solutions suggested in Ed's article for City Journal-- "The War on Work and How to End It."

#112 Why Fixing Health Care Is So Hard: Megan McArdle

"It's back to square one" says the Wall Street Journal after the collapse of Republican proposals to repeal and replace The Affordable Care Act. President Trump says his plan is to "let Obamacare fail."

This episode looks at how any reform of America's healthcare system - whether by Republicans or Democrats - is so difficult. Whether it's controlling costs, rationing care or extending coverage to all, there are no easy answers. Today, the future of healthcare is uncertain and coverage for many millions of people hangs in the balance.

Our guest, Megan McArdle, a columnist at Bloomberg View explains why The Affordable Care Act is flawed and that many consumers have misconceptions about the true costs of health insurance. 

"What people are doing is they're gaming the system," she says about those who have moved in and out of healthcare marketplaces. When an illness or medical emergency strikes, many people without employer-based health coverage are "signing up for a few months, using a ton of services and then dropping it again."

Jim and Richard debate the future of healthcare from different perspectives. While Jim argues for a more free-market approach, Richard says the only way that a system of universal coverage can work is if everyone has to sign up for coverage, however unpopular that may be. "The penalties for not having insurance should be greater than they were under the Obama Administration," he says.

Megan McArdle is the author of "The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well Is The Key To Success."

#111 The Urgent Case for Going Outdoors

Going outdoors and taking on new challenges makes you healthier, happier and smarter. Spending time in nature away from cities and suburbs can also bring spiritual and emotional benefits.

Co-host Jim Meigs tells us why he's a big outdoor guy, who loves to hike, bike and head for the hills.

In this episode we look at ways to add adventure to your life and embrace the excitement of leaving your comfort zone. 

Kio Stark, author of "When Strangers Meet: How People You Don't Know Can Transform You," explains why meeting people you don't know can have genuine emotional benefits. Even brief chance encounters, she says, can make a difference to how you view the world. 

We also discuss cycling in cities with Nicole Gelinas of The Manhattan Institute. She tells us about ways to improve urban safety for bikers, pedestrians and motorists.

#110 Is Summer Fun Under Assault? Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids makes the case for carefree summer activities and unstructured playtime---arguing against those who put safety fears ahead of a child's need to explore, be curious and grow

"If You're a Kid, the Experts Want You to Have a Fun-Free Summer" is the title of a recent article by Lenore.

Summer is a time to "dig in the sand, gulp from the hose, play at the park, and leap with joy," writes Lenore. "Unless you're a kid-- in which case, find yourself a comfy sofa in a dark, quiet room and settle in."

Parents are bombarded with safety messages from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Parenting Magazine and other well-intentioned sites, which give urgent warnings about the hazards of summer. Their advice, says Lenore, is "don't have fun, it's too dangerous."

Find out why being safety obsessed comes at a heavy price. Worried parents risk robbing their children of curiosity about the world and pride in their own achievements.

#109 Secrets of Your Stuff: Mover, Finn Murphy

Are you too attached to your stuff? Do you have a big move coming up?

Long-haul trucker, Finn Murphy has covered more than a million miles of packing, loading and hauling people's material possessions all across the country. In this episode he shares his insights into the moving business, truckers, his many customers and how American households have changed in recent years.

Finn is the author of "The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road," a wise, vivid and charming account of his years in the business. His book gives a penetrating look into the lives of big-rig drivers and the people they move.

More than 35 million Americans move house every year.  Finn has intelligent advice on how to avoid moving scams, the best way to pick a mover, and when finding a new place to live might not bad a smart move. 
 

#108 Big Data & STEM, Overrated? Scott Hartley

In our age of big data Liberal Arts smarts are undervalued. Our guest, Scott Hartley, argues that the most valuable jobs skills in the future will belong to people who can think creatively, using emotional intelligence and adaptability.

Scott is a venture capitalist and author of "The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World." At Stanford University, where he studied political science, fuzzies majored in the humanities or social sciences. Techies took computer science or STEM courses. Many in the business world still believe that it's the techies who drive innovation.

In his contrarian book (we love contrarians!) Scott reveals the counterintuitive reality today: it's actually the fuzzies - not the techies - who are playing key roles developing the most successful new business ideas. Corporate leaders, educators and thinkers are starting to realize that to tackle some of the world's biggest technological challenges, we need people who understand human emotions and behavior.
 
We unpack Scott’s argument, looking at examples of innovative fuzzy thinking, from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg and beyond. Our solutions look at new ideas for business, universities, government and parents.

#107 How Trust Can Save Journalism: Aron Pilhofer

Journalism is in crisis. Our trust in the news media has fallen to an all-time low. One recent poll found that two thirds of Americans believe mainstream news organizations often publish fake news.

The business model at many newspapers, magazines, radio stations and websites is failing.  Declining revenues have forced layoffs and other cutbacks at news organizations across the country.


Professor Aron Pilhofer of Temple University, one of the world's most respected experts in digital innovation for journalists, is our guest.  Before joining Temple, Aron was Executive Editor of Digital journalism at the Guardian in London and was a former senior executive at the New York Times.

"It's impossible to overemphasize what a vast change there is now in the way people get their information," Aron tells us. For his young students at Temple, the news "finds them" through their feeds at Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. The news is not handed down from high. Instead, it's part of a conversation. 
Aron says regaining readers' trust is essential to the future of journalism. Covering "what now" of news - solutions - is one answer. Greater transparency in how stories are covered and a much deeper commitment to diversity in newsrooms are among the fixes we discuss.

#106 Defusing The Prison Population Bomb: John Pfaff

Today, about 2.2 million Americans are behind bars. "The incarceration rate is about five times the rate of 1970 and our crime rate is the same as in 1970." 

Our guest, John Pfaff of Fordham University is both a law professor and an economist. Author of "Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform," he says state and local policies matter far more than changes in the federal system.

At about 700 inmates per 100,000 residents , the U.S. incarceration rate is five times higher than most western nations. Only North Korea and Iran have locked up a larger share of their population.
 
Growing bi-partisan support for criminal justice reform may bring changes. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going in the opposite direction.  He's ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the strictest charges and sentences in criminal cases-- reversing Obama Administration policies.
 
The standard explanation for America's inmate population explosion is "three strikes and you're out" sentencing and other aspects of the federal government's war on drugs.
 
John Pfaff says that argument is far too simplistic. In this episode, we look at the key role played by state and local prosecutors. John argues that one key reform would be to focus on charging policies-- reigning in the almost unchecked power of many district attorneys.

#105 Road To Disaster: VW Emissions Scandal Jack Ewing

It isn't just the crime. It's also the cover-up. Volkswagen's multi-year conspiracy to evade pollution rules may be the biggest scandal in auto industry history.

The world's second largest car manufacturer misled regulators, consumers, and motorists.

Our guest is New York Times Germany correspondent, Jack Ewing, author of "Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal." The book tells the remarkable story of a very dysfunctional company and how the scandal unfolded.  

In 2008, Volkswagen started telling the world about its energy-efficient diesel cars that were fun to drive and got fantastic mileage. They were advertised as a great alternative to the Toyota Prius and other hybrid cars.

But the cars' green credentials were based on a lie. VW had installed software in the engines—"defeat devices"—designed to trick regulators and perform much better in emissions tests than on the road. Starting in 2014, thanks to research by university students in West Virginia, the ugly truth started coming out.

As always, we look at solutions. The likelihood of future scandals could be reduced with:

  • More corporate transparency and oversight from an independent board of directors and shareholders.
  • Greater emphasis on corporate ethics from top executives.
  • More emphasis on emissions tests in real life conditions—not just in the lab
  • Keep government regulators as insulated as possible from industry, interest group and political pressure.

#104 Are Credit Cards Evil? Beverly Harzog

Are credit cards evil?  Do you need to restructure debt or were refused a loan?  If so, this episode is for you.

If you're a parent looking for smart money advice to pass onto young adults as they enter the workforce, our podcast has a checklist of do's and don'ts.

Respected credit card expert and consumer advocate Beverly Harzog is our guest. Beverly hasn't just talked the talk about maxing out on debt, she's walked the walk. In her best-selling book, “Confessions of a Credit Junkie,"she tells her personal comeback story.

Three out offour Americans say they're struggling to pay off loans. U.S. credit card debt is above $1 trillion and rising - now at its highest level since the 2008 financial crash. 

The average credit card debt per household is nearly $10,000. Because most cards come with very high interest rates, this is one of the worst ways to borrow money. 

Beverly explains why.

She also explains the importance of compound interest, the difference between good and bad debt, plus examples of when it makes sense to use a credit card. 

Need more honest advice about debt? Visit  The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization.

Find more information, advice and articles at www.beverlyharzog.com

#103 Neil deGrasse Tyson: Science Deniers & Wonders of the Universe Pt. 2

Tyson talks about the possibility of intelligent life on other planets, tackles science deniers on the right and left, and explains why we should invest more in pure science. Tyson also discusses his new book, "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”

"What's curious to me is you have the liberal community claiming the (moral) high road ...against the science deniers of the right with regard to global warming and evolution in the classrooms... as though they are somehow untainted by non-scientific thinking,” Tyson tells us. "There is a whole portfolio of science denying that also happens in the liberal left."

Investments in pure science led to many remarkable breakthroughs in medicine, technology and physics - often decades after the research began. Following the discovery of quantum physics in the 1920's, "it would take forty to fifty years before we would see the rise of information technology," says Tyson. "There is no information technology without an understanding of quantum physics."

Tyson also discusses his sense of awe and wonder about the secrets of the cosmos.

“You can’t be a scientist and have discomfort with not knowing,” he tells us. “When there is a frontier that’s unexplored, where there are stupefying depths of ignorance, it excites you. It gets you out of bed in the morning and running to the lab.”
— Neil deGrasse Tyson

#102 Neil deGrasse Tyson: Space, The Universe and The Case for Science, Part.1

Neil deGrasse Tyson, America’s most prominent spokesman for science and Director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, talks about the benefits of a cosmic perspective, the case for manned space flight and much more in this first part of our wide-ranging conversation. We also discussed Tyson's new book, "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry."

Richard and Jim met Tyson at his offices at The American Museum of Natural History.

While insisting he is not an advocate for manned space flight, Tyson says "history tells us" space exploration "is one of the most potent forces to operate on the scientific ambitions of a citizenry." At the height of the Apollo program in the 1960's, "you didn't need special programs to get people interested in science," Tyson explains. "There were weekly headlines about our journeys into space and you knew you needed the best of the best to breech the frontier of space."