Few people understand president Obama better than Jonathan Alter. He has covered Obama since his days in Chicago. He wrote an early Newsweek cover story that help bring Obama to national prominence and has been one of the preeminent chroniclers of Obama's campaigns and more importantly, it’s connection to the Obama Presidency.
Over the years there have been several books central to changing our view of politics. Theodore White’s, Making of the President, F. Clifton White’s Suite 3505, Joe McGinniss’ Selling of the President 1968, and Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the 1972 campaign. Now Jonathan Alter, award winning reporter, columnist, former senior for Newsweek, adds his new book The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies
to that list.
Earlier in the week I spoke with British MP, Jesse Norman about Edmund Burke and the old idea of Conservatism as a way to address social order and care for the needs of generations past and future. After reading George Packer's new book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, it makes you think that perhaps we need some of that institutional conservatism today.
Packer deconstructs the past thirty years of "progress" in America and in so doing brilliantly gives narrative drive to the changes in almost every aspect of American life. You come a way with the realization that we are no longer held together by trusted institutions, but by individual brands, all competing in the marketplace. The questions is, is this any way to run a Democracy?
We see demographic statistics that in the next 20 years more than 65% of the world will live in cities. We seem to be moving further and further from the land. In spite of it’s current romanticism, the number of family farms continues to shrink, at the same time that science and technology promises that we may soon be able to create food from 3D printers.
While urban Farmers Markets grow, as perhaps the last vestige of our evolutionary roots to the land, one wonders how this shift will really impact us?Can we move so far away from our biological heritage, and still be truly healthy?
Conservatism was a once great political idea. However, in the US today, it bears little resemblance to its roots. Edmund Burke, often referred to as the first conservative, saw the purpose of politics as being not to satisfy the interests of individuals living now: but to preserve a social order and address the needs of generations past, present and future. Hardly something conservative political leaders in the US are thinking about. In fact, most of the neocons and theocons of today's Conservative movement have no idea about the roots of their so called "philosophy."
Jesse Norman is one of the rising stars of the British House of Commons. A Tory member of Parliament, he was educated at Oxford and University College London and has now renewed our acquaintance with Burke in Edmund Burke: The First Conservative. My conversation with The Hon. Jesse Norman:
As is the case with most of our political debates in this country, we never seem to understand context. As immigration reform is once again front and center, the debate about immigration, particularly from Mexico, should be about more than just numbers and citizenship.
We are in fact dealing with a nation going through transition. And while it has been widely reported that Mexico is changing, that it is sprouting greater economic prosperity, greater democracy and less violence, it’s blood soaked tide is still very powerful and still pulls many into to it’s wake One of those has Alfredo Corchado.
TS Eliot wrote, in 1934, “Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
He might well have written those words yesterday. Certainly we’ve never had more knowledge, more information and seemingly less wisdom than we do today. What is the connection? How is it, that the more we know, the less we seem to understand and the less we seem to able to clearly and logically process it? The answer it seems is part evolution, part science and part human behavior. It’s part of what Rolf Dobelli examines in his bestselling book.The Art of Thinking Clearly.My conversation with Rolf Dobelli:
Samantha Power is brilliant and President Obama’s pick to be the newest member of his cabinet and our new United Nations Ambassador. Her views have often been controversial, but always with a deep moral grounding.
Part of this comes from her study of and admiration for the late UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello. de Mello was killed in Iraq in 2003, engaged in the ongoing struggle to balance morality with the practical nature of diplomacy.
Imagine the world of today's high technology, but instead of sleek Apple like design, it is all powered by steam, driven by gears and could actually be taken apart and fixed. That’s the world of Steampunk.
Throughout the history of America, and its federalist system, different states have personified, both politically and economically, the ethos of a particular era.
New York would came to represent the economic boom of the 20’s and Chicago with its big shoulders, the apotheosis of industrialization. California would represent post war America and the dreams of the golden land with its promise of freedom and education. Today many would argue that Silicon Valley represents the future. But my guest Erica Grieder thinks we need to look toward the Lone Star State.
We are creatures of exploration. Today with so much information available to us, and travel so easy, we might be like Alexander the Great with no more places left to conquer. But perhaps the one great mystery, the one great area still left for exploration, is the workings of the human mind.
We see it day in and day out with how kids learn, how we process information and how all of our styles of learning are so different.
Temple Grandin has been an explorer extraordinaire on this journey. In her previous works, Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation, she gave us great insight into the human side and scale of autism. Now in her new book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, she literally takes us inside the brain, to give all of us an affirmative understating of autism itself.
When we think about the future, and the vast array of dangers that we face as a society and a species, how big do we think? Is our future measured in days, weeks, hours or perhaps millennia? For Alvy Singer, the Woody Allen stand-in in Annie Hall, the future was far, far away as the young man worried about the “universe expanding” while sitting in Brooklyn.
The fact is that Alvy was thinking in species time, and history tells us that species do go extinct; that our day will come to an end and that maybe it is something we should be thinking about.
Eric Fischl is one of America's most celebrated and accomplished artists. At a time in the 80’s when painting was declared to be dead, he and others of his generation prevailed and gave new life to art.
Through the years Fischl sought to bring his work and life into harmony and in so doing has constantly strived to reinvent himself and his work in order to remain relevant. His newly published autobiography, Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas, proves he has succeeded.
The New York Times in their obituary called him a "Priest, Author, Scholar, Scold." Andrew Greeley was all of these. “A Roman Catholic priest and writer whose outpouring of sociological research, contemporary theology, sexually frank novels and newspaper columns challenged reigning assumptions about American Catholicism.”
He was a true maverick who was willing take on all sides in any debate. He was not a fan of what the institutional Catholic Church had become, but was just as harsh on what he saw as "secular intellectuals."
I had the chance to speak with him, just once, back in 1999 on the publication of the second volume of his memoirs Furthermore! Memories of a Parish Priest. So much of what he said thirteen years ago still has relevance, and yet he was so wrong about the pace of progress in the Vatican, and in Latin America.
Few controversial issues in contemporary American life have seen the kind of rapid sea change in public opinion that we’ve witnessed on the subject of gay marriage. In fact, recent polls show almost 60% of the American public, in support or acceptance of same-sex marriage. Even members of the GOP, like Sen Rob Portman and numerous party operatives, have expressed support.
The gay magazine The Advocate had a recent cover saying that “gay is the new black.” But is this debate really similar to race, or does the issue have its own politics, tied to broader themes of sexuality? And if so, how will this current debate impact these broader issues of sex and sexuality and might it perhaps move us beyond American puritanism.
Imagine if you could say things and interact with people unrestricted by conscience. If you had an unfettered capacity for risk, engaged in irresponsible behavior, and felt it unnecessary to conform to social norms. For this to happen one of two things is usually true, either you are a politician a or a sociopath....or maybe even a trial lawyer.
And then imagine if these things could be combined? Then you would have M.E. Thomas. She’s a trial lawyer, a law professor and an admitted sociopath.
Even amidst all of the domestic and international policy issues that come and go with each administration, perhaps the one that has the greatest staying power, is the environment. The roots and reasons go back almost thirty-five years.
Originally conceived in September of 1969 as a nationwide environmental teach-in, the first Earth Day was a call to action that inspired thousands of events across the country.
Becoming larger than the biggest civil rights and anti war demonstrations of the 60’s, roughly 1,500 colleges and 10,000 schools held teach-ins. Activities that took place in hundreds of churches and temples, in city parks and commercial and government buildings, it created a lasting “eco infrastructure.” And that first Earth Day in 1970 would give rise to the first green generation.
It’s hard to imagine that for young people growing up today, seeing the Middle East as the center of American military and foreign policy concerns, that for over fifty years and eight Presidents, Cuba had been at the center of American concerns.
Ninety miles off America's shores, for the entirety of the cold war, it represented the penultimate point where Americans and Soviets were eyeball to eyeball.
Today when celebrities travel to Cuba and some try to make an issue of it, most people wonder what all the fuss is about? Is that progress, has Cuba really changed or is it a kind of collective Cuba fatigue or amnesia?
Look around at our culture today. Oddity is all around us. Reality television takes us to the fringes of human behavior. The Supermarket tabloids provide a freak show we secretly devour, while waiting in line. We seem to seek comfort, or perhaps reinforce our own sense of normalcy, by seeing the extremes of others.
Perhaps the first to understand this was not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but a man named Robert Ripley. We know him as the man who created Ripley’s Believe It or Not. In fact, in understanding Ripley, we understand a little bit more about America.
The recent events in Boston once again raise questions about the place of Islam in modern American society. The impacts for muslims trying to live and practice their faith in the US, is that they often run headlong into popular misconceptions about the faith.
One of the places taking on this challenge is Zaytuna College, the first Muslim four year undergraduate liberal arts college founded in Berkeley in 2008
One of the central tenants in the debate about religion, is that some claim it provides the only construct for understanding moral behavior. In fact, science, research and even our own pets should tell us clearly that empathy, cooperation, fairness and reciprocity are all traits we see in animal behavior. This is particularly true of the primates.
And just as the monstrous instinct exists in all of us, including animals, so to do the traits of social cooperation. It’s simply the other side of the same coin.