Monday, September 14, 2009

Presidential reading list and Ben Stein on Evolution

I have huge differences with a certain personality in Tamil Nadu (DK, supporter of Eelam etc) and when he visited US he stayed with a cousin of mine. I requested my cousin to ask him just one question "What do you read beyond Tamil literature and local news papers?". The answer, as I guessed, was nothing. My cousin later took up with me asking "is that a relevant criterion to judge a person or his views". It is very much relevant. We are what we read, to a great extent.

A pivotal moment portrayed in the movie "Thirteen Days", about the Cuban missile crisis, is how JFK castigates Dean Acheson's fantasy ideas. When most suggest invading Cuba and characterise as if it would be smooth sailing, JFK demurs. He then cites Barbara Tuchman's Pulitzer winning "Guns of August" as to how, in battle, well laid plans and optimistic projections crumble. His reading gave him a perspicacity to see through a smoke screen. Recently when Barack Obama vacationed his reading list made news. It was an ecletic collection that include fiction and as well Thomas Friedman's thought provoking "Hot, Flat and Crowded" about climate change. Bill Clinton before he came to India bought books on India. As incredulous as it may seem George Bush is a voracious reader. Karl Rove and he had a race to see who read more. Of course Rove, the prodigious reader, won but Rove cuts his boss some slack as his boss was "the leader of the free world".

When Rove wrote a column on Bush's reading habits a Washington Post columnist pointed out something important. As impressive as the list was it had books that only conformed to Bush's predisposition nothing that was in the least bit challenging to his outlook. A very good insight.

While not reading something that would challenge what we believe choosing to read from unauhoritative sources just because they pander to our beliefs is even worse. Many a Christian, especially in USA, struggles with accepting 'Theory of evolution'. When Ben Stein, an economist who writes for business magazines, came out with a scathing video ridiculing the academia for not teaching "Intelligent Design" (creationism that passes for science) many latched onto it. Nobody questioned his credentials. Many a conservative writer, Ann Coulter etc, have waded into this topic with no credentials whatsoever. Even Thomas Friedman is now falling under 'dubious authority'. Friedman started out as NYT's Foreign affairs correspondent earning Pulitzer for his stellar reporting from Lebanon. When there was no accessible book to understand globalisation his "Lexus and the Olive tree" was a god send. Then Friedman, who wrote that book based largely as a journalist with a keen eye witnessing a new phenomenon during his wide travels, began fancying himself as an economist+foreign affairs+globalisation+business expert. His subsquent book on India and globalisation, a bestseller, was rated poorly by critics and the knowledgeable.

Reading is important, choose to read variously and choose carefully. When somebody espouses an idea look for what he/she read, you may need not look further. Lets ask our leaders what they read.

1 comment:

jbeck said...

Bush reads? Is that a joke? And Karl Rove? There can't be a better example of one who reads but learns nothing.