Steven J. Alvarez: Selling War - A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine

Steve J Alvarez

Today's conversation with retired US Army Major Steven J. Alvarez focuses on Steve's ideas of how the U.S. military lost the information war in Iraq by engaging the wrong audiences—that is, the Western media—by ignoring Iraqi citizens and the wider Arab population, and by paying mere lip service to the directive to “Put an Iraqi face on everything.” That in the absence of effective communication from the U.S. military, the information void was swiftly filled by Al Qaeda and, eventually, ISIS. As a result, efforts to create and maintain a successful, stable country were complicated and eventually frustrated.

 

Steven J. Alvarez retired as a major from the U.S. Army Reserve after serving twenty-four years in the officer and enlisted ranks, on active duty and in the National Guard and Reserve. A recipient of the Bronze Star and the Combat Action Badge, during his military career Alvarez served as the commander of an Army public affairs detachment as well as the public affairs officer for several general officers and presidential appointees, including David Petraeus. In the private sector Alvarez works as a freelance writer and public relations professional.

Meg Leta Jones: Ctrl + Z - The Right To Be Forgotten

Technology and Communications expert Meg Leta Jones discusses her new book, Ctrl + Z The Right to Be Forgotten which looks at the international debate around whether or not we should be allowed to remove embarrassing, harmful or no longer relevant things from the internet. Meg sits down with Craig to discuss whether children should be allowed to erase youthful indiscretions, if we should all just adjust to a world where everything is recorded, and the legalities and practicalities of removing information from the internet? The right to be forgotten is an international debate that raises important questions of free speech, privacy, reputation, and dignity.

 

Meg Leta Jones is an assistant professor in Georgetown University's Communication, Culture & Technology program where she researches and teaches in the area of technology law and policy.

The Right to be Forgotten

Sean B Carroll: The Serengeti Rules - The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters

Sean B Carroll
 

Sean B. Carroll is an award-winning scientist, writer, educator, and executive producer. He is vice president for science education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Allan Wilson Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His books include Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Brave Genius, and Remarkable Creatures, which was a finalist for the National Book Award for nonfiction. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

 

Biologist Sean B Carroll talks to Craig Barfoot about his latest book, The Serengeti Rules. We find out how wolves can change the physical shape of rivers and why, on the plains of the Serengeti, 150kg is the number which determines whether you will likely get eaten or not. A thoughtful and at times humorous conversation about the state of our worlds wildlife areas and the rules which determine how nature operates. How does life work? How does nature produce the right numbers of zebras and lions on the African savanna, or fish in the ocean?

 

Sean B Carroll Ideas Books

Will Atkinson: Class

Class is not only amongst the oldest and most controversial of all concepts in social science, but a topic which has fascinated, amused, incensed and galvanized the general public, too. But what exactly is a ‘class’? How do sociologists study and measure it, and how does it correspond to everyday understandings of social difference? Is it now dead or dying in today’s globalized and media-saturated world, or is it entering a new phase of significance on the world stage? 

In this book, Will Atkinson seeks to explore these questions in an accessible and lively manner, taking readers through the key theoretical traditions in class research, the major controversies that have shaken the field and the continuing effects of class difference, class struggle and class inequality across a range of domains. 

Ernest Naylor: Moonstruck, How Lunar Cycles Affect Life

Throughout history, the influence of the full Moon on humans and animals has featured in folklore and myths. Yet it has become increasingly apparent that many organisms really are influenced indirectly, and in some cases directly, by the lunar cycle.  In Moonstruck, Ernest Naylor dismisses the myths concerning the influence of the Moon, but shows through a range of fascinating examples the remarkable real effects that we are now finding through science. He suggests that since the advent of evolution on Earth, which occurred shortly after the formation of the Moon, animals evolved adaptations to the lunar cycle, and considers whether, if Moon-clock genes occur in other animals, might they also exist in us?

Mike Gonzales: The Last Drop, The Politics of Water

The one indispensable resource, water is increasingly controlled and even owned by private capital. By 2012, water was a trillion-dollar industry—and as population growth, industrial production, and ecological change make scarcity ever-more common, water may well become the source of military and political conflict in the years to come. This book looks at how we got here and what we can and should do next. Laying out the complex arguments surrounding water, its ownership and access to it, Mike Gonzalez and Marianella Yanes make the technical and scientific aspects of the discussion clear and accessible—and thereby enable themselves to make the political questions more urgent. The authors argue that it is both possible and necessary that considerations of equity and social justice prevail in the debates about water. 

Frank Wilczek: A Beautiful Question, Finding Natures Deep Design

Nobel Prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek argues that beauty is at the heart of the logic of the universe, a principle that has guided his pioneering work in quantum physics. As this book demonstrates, the human quest to find the beauty embodied in the universe connects all scientific pursuit from Pythagoras and Plato on to Galileo and Newton, Maxwell and Einstein. Indeed, Wilczek shows us just how deeply intertwined our ideas about beauty and art are with our scientific understanding of the cosmos. Gorgeously illustrated, A Beautiful Question is the culmination of Wilczek's life work and a mind-expanding book that combines the age-old human quest for beauty and the age-old human quest for truth.
 

Jeremy Taylor: Body by Darwin, How Evolution Shapes Our Health and Transforms Medicine

Jeremy Taylor argues in Body by Darwin, that we can trace the roots of many medical conditions through our evolutionary history, revealing what has made us susceptible to certain illnesses and ailments over time and how we can use that knowledge to help us treat or prevent problems in the future. He examines the evolutionary origins of some of our most common and serious health issues. To begin, he looks at the hygiene hypothesis, which argues that our obsession with anti-bacterial cleanliness, particularly at a young age, may be making us more vulnerable to autoimmune and allergic diseases. He also discusses the medical consequences of bipedalism as they relate to all those aches and pains in our backs and knees, the rise of Alzheimer’s disease, and how cancers become so malignant that they kill us despite the toxic chemotherapy we throw at them. 
 
As Taylor shows, evolutionary medicine allows us think about the human body and its adaptations in a completely new and productive way. By exploring how our body’s performance is shaped by its past, Body by Darwin draws powerful connections between our ancient human history and the future of potential medical advances that can harness this knowledge.

Related Interviews:

Gavin Francis, Adventures in Human Being

Michael Corballis, The Wandering Mind

Julian Assange: The Wikileaks Files, The World According to US Empire

An interview with WikiLeaks cofounder Julian Assange. Wikileaks came to prominence in 2010 with the release of 251,287 top-secret State Department cables, which revealed to the world what the US government really thinks about national leaders, friendly dictators, and supposed allies. It brought to the surface the dark truths of crimes committed in our name: human rights violations, covert operations, and cover-ups. 

The WikiLeaks Files presents expert analysis on the most important cables and outlines their historical importance. In a series of chapters dedicated to the various regions of the world, the book explores the machinations of the United States as it imposes its agenda on other nations: a new form of imperialism founded on varied tactics from torture to military action, to trade deals and “soft power,” in the perpetual pursuit of expanding influence. It illustrates the close relationship between government and big business in promoting US trade.

Related Interviews:

Andrew Cockburn: Kill Chain, Drones and the Rise of High-Tech Assassins

David Sylvan: U.S. Foreign Policy in Perspective

Jamie Holmes: Nonsense, The Power of Not Knowing

A look at the surprising upside of ambiguity—and how, properly harnessed, it can inspire learning, creativity, even empathy. Managing ambiguity—in our jobs, our relationships, and daily lives—is quickly becoming an essential skill. Yet most of us don’t know where to begin.

As Jamie Holmes shows in Nonsense, being confused is unpleasant, so we tend to shutter our minds as we grasp for meaning and stability, especially in stressful circumstances. We’re hard-wired to resolve contradictions quickly and extinguish anomalies. This can be useful, of course. When a tiger is chasing you, you can’t be indecisive. But as Nonsense reveals, our need for closure has its own dangers and in an increasingly unpredictable, complex world, it turns out that what matters most isn’t IQ, willpower, or confidence in what we know. It’s how we deal with what we don’t understand.

LINK: The McGurk Effect (mentioned in interview) 

Joanne Entwistle: The Fashioned Body, Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory

The Fashioned Body provides a wide-ranging and original overview of fashion and dress from an historical and sociological perspective. Where once fashion was seen as marginal, it has now entered into core economic discourse focused around ideas about ‘cultural’ and ‘creative’ work as a major driver of developed economies. This book gives a summary of the theories surrounding the role and function of fashion in modern society. 

By addressing the complex and interwoven amalgam of production, consumption, creativity and constraint, author, Joanne Entwistle reveals the alchemy that is contemporary fashion.  Fashion emerges as a negotiation between designers and wearers in which the physical body is central.  It explores fashion’s gendered investments in debates about both ‘pornification’ and modesty and is a resource for anyone interested in the social role of fashion and dress in modern culture.

Jedediah Purdy: After Nature, A Politics for the Anthropocene

Nature no longer exists apart from humanity. Henceforth, the world we will inhabit is the one we have made. Geologists have called this new planetary epoch the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. The geological strata we are now creating record industrial emissions, industrial-scale crop pollens, and the disappearance of species driven to extinction. Climate change is planetary engineering without design. These facts of the Anthropocene are scientific, but its shape and meaning are questions for politics—a politics that does not yet exist. After Nature explores what this politics could be for this post-natural world.

Jedediah Purdy argues that with human and environmental fates now inseparable, environmental politics will become either more deeply democratic or more unequal and inhumane. 

Kevin Carey: The End of College

From a renowned education writer comes a paradigm-shifting examination of the rapidly changing world of college that every parent, student, educator, and investor needs to understand.

Over the span of just nine months in 2011 and 2012, the world’s most famous universities and high-powered technology entrepreneurs began a race to revolutionize higher education. College courses that had been kept for centuries from all but an elite few were released to millions of students throughout the world—for free.  In The End of College, Kevin Carey, an education researcher and writer, draws on years of in-depth reporting and cutting-edge research to paint a vivid and surprising portrait of the future of education. Carey explains how two trends—the skyrocketing cost of college and the revolution in information technology—are converging in ways that will radically alter the college experience, upend the traditional meritocracy, and emancipate hundreds of millions of people around the world. 

Episode 10: John Fialka, Car Wars

The resurgence of the electric car in modern life is a tale of adventurers, men and women who bucked the complete dominance of the fossil fuelled car to seek something cleaner, simpler and cheaper. Award-winning former Wall Street Journal reporter John Fialka documents the early days of the electric car, from the M.I.T./Caltech race between prototypes in the summer of 1968 to the 1987 victory of the Sunraycer in the world's first race featuring solar powered cars.

Thirty years later, the electric has captured the imagination and pocketbooks of American consumers. Organisations like the U.S. Department of Energy and the state of California, along with companies from the old-guard of General Motors and Toyota as well as upstart young players like Tesla Motors and Elon Musk have embraced the once-extinct technology. The electric car has steadily gained traction in the U.S. and around the world. We are watching the start of a trillion dollar, worldwide race to see who will dominate one of the biggest commercial upheavals of the 21st century.

Episode 9: Alvin Roth, Who Gets What and Why

Nobel Prize winner Alvin E Roth reveals the often surprising rules that govern a vast array of activities—both mundane and life-changing—in which money may play little or no role.

If you’ve ever sought a job or hired someone, applied to college or guided your child into a good kindergarten, asked someone out on a date or been asked out, you’ve participated in a kind of market. Most of the study of economics deals with commodity markets, where the price of a good connects sellers and buyers. But what about other kinds of “goods,” like a spot in the Yale freshman class or a position at Google? This is the territory of matching markets, where “sellers” and “buyers” must choose each other, and price isn’t the only factor determining who gets what.
 

Episode 8: Enrique Martinez Celaya, On Art and Mindfulness

In, On Art and Mindfulness, world-renowned artist and teacher Enrique Martínez Celaya shares his views and advice on the art-making process, the development of a practice, the management of obstacles, and the day-to-day choices we must make in order to remain creative and honest. Drawn from the  sold-out workshops that Martínez Celaya taught over nine years at the venerable Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado, these concise teachings are relevant not only to artists but to anyone wishing to live a mindful, productive life.

You can find Enrique's art in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The State Hermitage Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden, and the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig, Germany, among others.

Episode 7: Daniel Bell, The China Model

Westerners tend to divide the political world into "good" democracies and "bad" authoritarian regimes. But the Chinese political model does not fit neatly in either category. Over the past three decades, China has evolved a political system that can best be described as "political meritocracy." The China Model, seeks to understand the ideals and the reality of this unique political system. How do the ideals of political meritocracy set the standard for evaluating political progress (and regress) in China? How can China avoid the disadvantages of political meritocracy? And how can political meritocracy best be combined with democracy? 

Episode 6: Donald Prothero, The Story of Life in 25 Fossils

The twenty-five fossils portrayed in this book catch animals in their evolutionary splendor as they transition from one kind of organism to another. We witness extinct plants and animals of microscopic and immense size and thrilling diversity. We learn about fantastic land and sea creatures that have no match in nature today. Along the way, we encounter such fascinating fossils as the earliest trilobite, Olenellus; the giant shark Carcharocles; enormous marine reptiles and the biggest dinosaurs known; the first bird, Archaeopteryx; the walking whale Ambulocetus; the gigantic hornless rhinoceros Paraceratherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived; and the Australopithecus nicknamed "Lucy," the oldest human skeleton. We meet the scientists and adventurers who pioneered paleontology and learn about the larger intellectual and social contexts in which their discoveries were made. Finally, we find out where to see these splendid fossils in the world's great museums.

Episode 5: Mary Looman, A country Called Prison

The United States is the world leader in incarcerating citizens. 707 people out of every 100,000 are imprisoned. If those currently incarcerated in the US prison system were a country, it would be the 102nd most populated nation in the world. Aside from looking at the numbers, if we could look at prison from a new viewpoint, as its own country rather than an institution made up of walls and wires, policies and procedures, and legal statutes, what might we be able to learn?

In A Country Called Prison, Mary Looman and John Carl Weave together sociological and psychological principles and real-life stories from experiences working in prison and with at-risk families. Prison continues well after incarceration, as ex-felons, trapped in the isolation of poverty, turn to illegal ways of providing for themselves and are often reimprisoned. This situation is unsustainable and America is clearly facing an incarceration epidemic that requires a new perspective. 

Episode 4: Jerry Kaplan, Humans Need Not Apply

After billions of dollars and fifty years of effort, researchers are finally cracking the code on artificial intelligence. As society stands on the cusp of unprecedented change, Jerry Kaplan unpacks the latest advances in robotics, machine learning, and perception powering systems that rival or exceed human capabilities. Driverless cars, robotic helpers, and intelligent agents that promote our interests have the potential to usher in a new age of affluence and leisure — but as Kaplan warns, the transition may be protracted and brutal unless we address the two great scourges of the modern developed world: volatile labor markets and income inequality. He proposes innovative, solutions and social policies to avoid an extended period of social turmoil.