Posts Tagged 'David Brooks'

Manifest Destiny

In his column yesterday, David Brooks wrote about America’s boundless verve and optimism. He wrote, “this eschatological faith in the future has motivated generations of Americans…to start up companies with an exaggerated sense of their chances of success. The faith is the molten core of the country’s dynamism.” But he goes on to write that we are experiencing a crisis of faith today.

What’s more, headlines today are saying Obama is getting rebuffed by the Chinese on everything from human rights to currency valuations. President Hu is emboldened by the fact that 86% of Chinese believe their country is on the right track, compared with 37% of Americans. And, I would have to agree that I’m skeptical that our government can address the systemic issues in our economy.

But, it would be un-American to end this post on a sour note. So, Brooks links us to an article from a year ago, before Obama was even elected, by Michael Porter in BusinessWeek titled “Why America Needs an Economic Strategy“. Even a year later, it remains a lucid assessment of where we are today and what we need to do to get back on track. I was amazed to read that the last time there was a public-private President’s Commission on Industrial Competitiveness was in 1983!

Let’s put down the Palin autobiography and get to work.

Self Mastery

I’ve been struggling with what to say about Sarah Palin’s resignation and the passion of Mark Sanford.  So much has already been said.  Ross Douthat suggests that what did Palin in was elitist classism.  Stanley Fish defends both Palin and Sanford, saying that we should simply take them at their word and that in the end we’re all flawed human beings who deserve some sympathy.  But, perhaps the most eloquent appraisal of these two Governors was David Brooks’ column “In Search of Dignity.”  

Brooks harkens back to George Washington and his 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”  He laments that Palin and Sanford “simply have no social norms to guide them as they try to navigate the currents of their own passions.”  He goes on to say that our culture is “hostile to aristocratic manners” and that shameless self promotion is de rigueur.  So, to whom do we look for an example of civility and self mastery?  Brooks points us to Obama:

Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.

Brooks and Obama Sittin’ In a Tree…

Last night David Brooks spoke at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis as part of a St. Thomas/Opus speaker series.  It turns out he has a lot of connections to Minnesota including his wife, who is from Detroit Lakes (which to him sounds like “Newark Gardens”).  He said that being married to a Minnesota woman, he learned quickly to capitulate – all the men in the audience laughed knowingly.  And, apparently, former Senator Dave Durenburger is a friend of the family and was in the front row.

Brooks was raised by liberal parents in New York, but he said he met William Buckley in college and has been a conservative ever since.  But, like his column, his speech was very complimentary of Obama.  The speech was titled “The Age of Obama” and he listed all the reasons why Obama is such a transformative figure and why he just might deliver on his hyper-ambitious plans.  He told story after story of how intellectually rigorous the President and his staff are – especially in contrast to the previous administration.  Overall, his speech left me bullish on Obama, even more skeptical of the Republican agenda, and a bigger fan of David Brooks.

10,000 Hours of Deliberate, Strenuous and Boring Practice

The next Broken Spines bout is on “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.  Basically Gladwell debunks the myth that great people are innately smarter or more capable than the rest of us.  He references research that shows that 10,000 hours of practice are necessary before mastering anything.

David Brooks writes in his column this morning that this research has been conducted by people like K. Anders Ericsson, the late Benjamin Bloom and others. And he recommends two new books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.  Brooks writes:

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.

Incidentally, David Brooks is speaking at the Minneapolis Orchestra Hall next Tuesday.

Opus Distinguished Speaker Program: The Age of Obama, featuring David Brooks

All Fact and No Meaning

The other night I watched “Stranger Than Fiction,” a film written by Zach Helm, directed by Marc Forster, and starring Will Ferrell, the radiant Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Queen Latifah.  Ferrell plays an IRS auditor who finds himself the subject of narration only he can hear: narration that begins to affect his entire life, from his work, to his love-interest, to his death.


Reluctantly, I admit, I was swept away by Ferrell singing a song by Eric Wreckless, “Whole Wide World,” like Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s song from OnceFalling Slowly”: ”take this sinking  boat and point it home, we’ve still got time / raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice” – what great lyrics.


What’s got me in this sappy mood?  Like David Brooks, I am growing weary of the presidential campaign which is “all about message management, polls and tactics. The communication is swift, Blackberry-sized and prosaic. As you cover it, you feel yourself enclosed in its tunnel. Entire mental faculties go unused.”


For an escape, Brooks reads an essay written by Michael Ward, “C. S. Lewis and the Star of Bethlehem,”


…while we moderns see space as a black, cold, mostly empty vastness, with planets and stars propelled by gravitational and other forces, Europeans in the Middle Ages saw a more intimate and magical place. The heavens, to them, were a ceiling of moving spheres, rippling with signs and symbols, and moved by the love of God. The medieval universe, Lewis wrote, “was tingling with anthropomorphic life, dancing, ceremonial, a festival not a machine.”


When we say that a star is a huge flaming ball of gas, he wrote, we are merely describing what it is made of.


I am suffering from too many facts and too little meaning.


Whole Wide World

By Eric Wreckless


When I was a young boy

My mama said to me

There’s only one girl in the world for you

And she probably lives in Tahiti


I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Just to find her


Or maybe she’s in the Bahamas

Where the Carribean sea is blue

Weeping in a tropical moonlit night

Because nobody’s told her ’bout you


I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Just to find her

I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Find out where they hide her


Why am I hanging around in the rain out here

Trying to pick up a girl

Why are my eyes filling up with these lonely tears

When there’re girls all over the world


Is she lying on a tropical beach somewhere

Underneath the tropical sun

Pining away in a heatwave there

Hoping that I won’t be long


I should be lying on that sun-soaked beach with her

Caressing her warm brown skin

And then in a year or maybe not quite

We’ll be sharing the same next of kin


I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Just to find her

I’d go the whole wide world

I’d go the whole wide world

Find out where they hide her


PS Check out Agent Provacateur’s new campaign featuring Maggie.


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