It was Grocho Marx who said he’d "never belong to any club that would have him as a member." In that joke he was articulating the perceived superiority of being an outsider. The often romantic notion that to belong was a kind of bourgeoisie idea that went against the grain of individualism and self expression. Two idea that are inherent in the American strain of DNA. A strain which Tocqueville believed left open the potential for "crass individualism and middling values."
Modern communications technology enables us to leap great distances in a single bound. It allows us to telecommute, to stay connected and even to run a business half way around the world. But does any of this enhance creativity? Does it help generate new ideas? The fact is, our greatest natural resource has been the coming together of people and ideas in the worlds great cities.
While we often associate cities with blight and poverty, our cities have been the incubators of the future. They are places where people are healthier, more creative, more environmentally correct and more in touch. There is a profound reason that two-thirds of the world live on the three percent of the land, that are our cities. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser celebrates this in his new work Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. My conversation with Edward Glaeser:
It would seem that the remarkable events that are taking place in the Middle East may have finally placed 9/11 into some kind of historical context. The underpinnings of the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan and the overall war on terror, may be morphing into a new, smarter and more careful use of American power. If this is true, then where does Osama Bin Laden fit into the equation? Is he still relevant, does his presence still matter and should he even be a focus of American and Western efforts? Michael Scheuer, counterterrorism analyst and former chief of the CIA's bin Laden Unit thinks he still does matter. My conversation with Michael Scheuer:
Most of us have been watching recently as democracies are trying to unfurl around the world; often with the help of twitter, in place of tanks. But imagine a country for whom radio is at the cutting edge of communications. A country with its owns problems and issues, yet prides itself on its Gross Domestic Happiness. Then imagine, being immersed in and even stuck in a career in American media, and then being uprooted and dropped down into the primitive but potent culture of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. That’s exactly what Lisa Napoli did and she tells her story in her memoir Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth. My conversation with Lisa Napoli:
The world is a dramatically changing place. Recent events in Egypt and Tunisia show that tweets and can sometimes have the power of tanks. We see that soft power has a lower barrier to entry, but as in Iran, it can still be overtaken by repression. Non State ctors play a larger and larger role in the power dynamic of the world. Some for good and some for evil. If America is to continue to try and sit astride the world, how do we and our leaders adapt to these changing dynamics as power shifts, becomes more diffuse, and far more complex in its expression.
Joseph Nye, one of our leading foreign policy experts, former dean of the JFK School of Government at Harvard, former State Department and National Security Council official, has been following these changing dynamics for over 30 years. He explains the latest developments in his new bookThe Future of Power My conversation with Joseph Nye:
Over the past 60 years millions and millions of words have been written abut the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians. The net result of most of those words has been to perpetuate the conflict. Yet if we focus on one story, a very personal story, of one man, truly dedicated to healing and to peace, we learn a great deal more.
In January of 2009, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish experienced something that would destroy most men. Something that would unleash the worst of human impulses. Dr. Abeelaish was a rarity, a Gazan, who was at home among Israelis. That is until Israeli shells recklessly killed three of his daughters and his nieces. Yet he transcended that, and in so doing perhaps became a symbol of the humanity of man and for the hope that still, to this day, drives people to seek peace. He writes about his experiences in his memoir I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity. My conversation with Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish:
The world of education reform is moving at perhaps its fastest rate in decades. Social Entrepreneurship, public/private partnerships, and an ever growing body of knowledge about what works in transforming schools and creating educational success, creates unique opportunities. The very notion that it is schools that can transcend broader public policy issues and transform whole communities out of a traditionally endless cycle of poverty, is a new paradigm. Nowhere has all of this been proven with greater skill, certainty and results then with Teach for America.
In twenty years Teach for America has arguably reshaped our old, tried notions of education and what can be accomplished. Wendy Kopp, the Founder and CEO of Teach for America has written A Chance to Make History: to mark that twentieth anniversary. My conversation with Wendy Kopp:
Many think of the late 1960’s and early 70’s as the source of the great cultural shifts from the post WWII traditions, to the more individualistic world of today. In fact, for woman those changes happened long before. The approval of the birth control pill in 1959 and the publication of Betty Fridan's "Feminine Mystique" in 1963 were the real watersheds. Certainly we've seen in the fictional lives of April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road and Betty Draper in Mad Men, the essence of the stirrings of that time.
Friedan was certainly not the first feminist of her time, nor did she provide a manifesto for change. Rather, she gave voice the the feelings and ideas of a whole generation of middle class woman. Those ideas would reshape the fabric of our social landscape for years to come and are arguably the antecedents of some of the issues we're still grappling with today. Best selling author and Professor Stephanie Coontz takes us back to the time of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s. My conversation with Stephanie Coontz:
Young women today are succeeding at geometric rates. The number of young women graduating from colleges, from law schools and graduate schools is far out stripping young men. Women are succeeding in a remarkable range of careers, including politics and corporate boardrooms, heretofore places built with the proverbial glass ceiling.
Yet paralleling all of this is a culture that is encouraging young girls to wrap themselves up in the pink accouterments of ultra-girlie, princess culture and then to later enter a cultural of extreme sexualization. How can all of these facts be true at the same time? What’s happening they creates this apparent contradiction in the lives of young women? Journalist and best selling author Peggy Orenstein tries to put all of this in perspective in her new book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. My conversation with Peggy Orenstein:
One only has to look at the range of reactions to the Egyptian crises to understand the scope of foreign policy ideology. From the cautious, measured reaction of the White House to the lunatic rantings of Glen Beck, each reflects a particular school of thought, a kind of theoretical paradigm through which to see the world.
Imagine if this applied to an invasion from Zombies. If the Zombies showed up tomorrow, what would our official national position be on the undead? What might be the social, political and foreign policy considerations and most of all how would the Zombie threat effect Israel?
As each day goes by, we take another step towards recovery from the financial crisis that almost took down America's and the world's economies. Now, with time, we have the luxury of thinking about what really happened and why. The recent report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, put in place by the President and approved by Congress, is a step in that direction. Although the report and analysis was divided along partisan lines, its 500+ pages of facts have not been disputed and gives us a sold basis to continue discussing what happened and how we might avoid such crises in the future.
Among all the problems that young people need worry about today, perhaps the one that will haunt them the longest are the issues of Global Warming and Climate Change. Environmental writer, Mark Hertsgaard, in his new book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, describes the future for roughly two billion young people around the globe, under the age of twenty-five, who will be coping with ever-worsening climate change for the rest of their lives. My conversation with Mark Hertsgaard.
Most of us have played the game Mad Libs, in which you take a basic sentence structure and fill it in with silly or random words. While the game is meant to be fun and often frivolous, it contains within it some fundamental information about sentences. Sentences which are, after all, the infrastructure upon which we hang our words, ideas and understanding. Some would even argue that a great sentence might be a little like pornography. We know one when we see it, but do we really understand what gives it excitement and power?
Stanley Fish, in addition to being the author of twelve books, a law professor and NY Times columnist, is a sentence connoisseur. His latest work isHow to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. My conversation with Professor Stanley Fish:
This past week, as we've watched events unfold in Egypt, we couldn’t help but be moved by some of he powerful photographic images, some of violence and even death. In fact, iconic images of death, images such as those from Vietnam, 9/11 and Dallas, to name a few, are images that will be with us forever, they are in fact seared into our collective consciousness. Powerful and emotional as these image are, what impact do they have on our rational view of events? Do they enhance or distract? Do they provide facts, or sometimes distract from the real story and context. These questions are tackled by Barbie Zelizer in her book About to Die: How News Images Move the Public. Zelizer is the Chair of Communication and the Director of the Scholars Program in Culture and Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. My conversation with Barbie Zelizer:
Back in the 60’s and early 70’s we harbored a fantasy about a gender neutral world. We thought that, if only we gave dolls to boys and guns to girls, we could turn back the clock on culturalization and achieve a kind of equality in the battle of the sexes.
Modern science, about 35 years of research, and common sense have now prevailed and we know that none of this is true. Our gender differences are not only hard wired into us by evolutionary and neurological biology, but those differences also provide a diversity and difference that enhances our relationships and the work we do. If only we could figure out a way to get along! This is the work of Dr. Luann Brizendine who has served on the medical faculty of both Harvard and UCSF. This the author of the bestselling "The Female Brain." Now she turns her attention toThe Male Brain. My conversation with Dr. Louann Brizendine:
As we wake up each morning to a new geopolitical crises, in countries we usually don’t think about very often, it's more important then ever to understand how the world works. We talk about globalization and a border-less world, yet their are more nation states and political borders then ever before. Here at home we hear criticism of trans-national corporations, yet where do we think that the jobs will come from, to move much of the world out of poverty.
While we look for the proverbial magic bullet or individual that will solve all of our problems, the fact is, the world is far to complex a place for that. To face our problems today will require openness, acceptance, pragmatism and vision. Few people bring more of those qualities then Parag Khanna, senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance. My conversation with Parag Khanna:
If the first rule of medicine is “do no harm,” the second rule might very well be "do not over diagnose." If all of our gleaming technology is now able to monitor even the most minute changes in our physical condition, can respondeding to those changes do more harm then good. In short, does the holy grail of preventative medicine really prevent disease or just spark unwanted treatment and often harmful consequences? This is the question posed by Dr. Gilbert Welch, professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, and the co-author of Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health. My conversation with Dr. Welch: