...What I'm Reading


Competing Worldviews


The debate between science and spirituality (or religion) has been waged for centuries, and is now more relevant than ever. In their book War of the Worldviews : Science vs. SpiritualityDeepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow each seek to make the case for their respective areas of expertise. This debate, or battle, is a fundamental issue in our world and helps shape the views of both individuals and societies. Some argue that each are mutually exclusive- that religion is the be all and end all, while others contend that science is the only true universal fact governing our reality. For all those interested in this subject, or who simply seek to understand the arguments of the opposing side, this book is a necessary read.

 

War of the Worldviews

The book is comprised of four major sections: Cosmos, Life, Mind and Brain, and God. Each section has a chapter by each author and alternates between an argument for a position, and a rebuttal by the other. Chopra and Mlodinow seek to address, and in some cases answer, such fundamental questions as: How did the universe begin? Where did life come from? Is there design in nature? Each author makes a specific argument in each section,

Without defending organized religion, Chopra asserts that there is design in the universe and a deep intelligence behind the rise of life. Mlodinow, CalTech physicist and the writing collaborator of Stephen Hawking, argues for the viewpoint of science, specifically of modern quantum physics.

What was extremely evident after reading this book is that both sides have compelling and substantive arguments.  Science can, and does, answer a lot of the questions of life, however where it falls short Chopra masterfully contends that a higher being fills in the void. Rather than finishing the book in favor of one side against the other, I instead had a deeper and more respectful view of both arguments.  There are many uncertainties still in life, however, what this book illustrated is that our worldview does not not need to be black or white, and that these two opposing world views can complement each other and give us better insight into a world that both sides argue for. To listen to more of the debate between the authors, go here.

 

 


Obama 2.0

First and formost, congratulations to the president on his second inauguration and the start of his second term. The past four years have been tumultuous and were filled with numerous political battles, unexpected disasters, international crisis’ and incidents, and the slow reemergence of the nation’s economy following the financial crisis of 2008. With that in mind President Obama’s first term must be graded as incomplete due to the fact that it will take several years to see what the tangible impact his policies and efforts will eventually lead to. Many of his policies, primarily Obamacare, will begin to take effect in the upcoming years as well as the change in our global engagement. The ending of our two wars, the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and our shifting focus to the Pacific all make the next four years on the world stage very interesting.

In his speech, Obama sought to tie liberalism to a long American tradition.

In his speech, Obama sought to tie liberalism to a long American tradition. Photo from Reuters

Domestically the president dealt with a politically divided nation and an obstructionist and far-right leaning Republican Party, primarily due to the efforts of the Tea Party. Many questioned the president’s leadership style, his true political philosophy, and his ability to negotiate and compromise to reach deals to help further the nation. Whatever skepticism or questions that may have existed were clearly answered, and put to rest, during the president’s inaugural speech this past Monday. I, as many, had hoped for  a more vintage and hopeful Obama who would speak above the petty political fights that have consumed the day to day battles engulfing Washington. What could have been a grand call to unity on the largest public stage and the loudest bully pulpit– targeting and rallying Americans, and bypassing the sclerotic Congress–turned into a direct rallying cry to the president’s base. The Obama who showed up was a new politician who was unshackled by the constraint of reelection which has bogged him, and his policy goals, down for the past four years. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the agenda that the president outlined, what is evident is that the next four years seem to be set up as a battle between the administrations newfound confident liberalism and the politically divided Congress. Read more…


Start Thinking America

It is a new year, and with the exit of the 112th Congress (one of the worst in our history) and the political haggling of the first of many ‘fiscal cliffs’ now over, America seems to be facing a new and potential hazardous future if it chooses to stay on the same destructive course. With the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama for his second term, the newly sworn in 113th Congress, and three new fiscal nightmare scenarios looming, we once again stand at the precipice of doing what is necessary, versus what will suffice the status quo and political power grabs.We often get caught up in media cycles and do not look at the big picture.  Sometimes what is necessary is for a look in from the outside, such a view sometimes puts things into perspective.

 

Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent

 

With that in mind everyone interested in the future of the U.S. should read Edward Luce’s Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of DescentLuce, who is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Financial Times and a former speechwriter for former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, outlines the problems facing the U.S. as the rest of the world continues to grow and our economic, and political, strength continue to diminish. He outlines the social, economic, and cultural decline that the nation faces– mourning the decline of American pragmatism which has seen the nation push through past crisises and threats of decline.

This time around he, as well as a litany of other experts he cites, are not so hopeful. In the New York Times review of the book, Jonathan Rauch summarized some of the main points outlined in the book. Summarizing Luce’s arguments, he states

where does that leave the country? Not in a great place, if Luce is right. Jobs are disappearing, median household income is declining, skills are in short supply, health costs hobble competitiveness, outsourcing and offshoring and automation marginalize working-class men, and through it all political leaders either sit by helplessly or actively oppose remedies. And that’s just in Chapter 1. Later sections bring us dysfunctional schools, demoralized government, burdensome debt and deficits, failing innovation, hidebound regulation, crumbling infrastructure, a paralyzed Congress, a broken campaign-finance system and more, much more.

Though the book does a great job listing all the doom and gloom scenarios facing the U.S., its best asset is that it illustrates that our decline is relative. It is relative to the rest of the world which is still struggling to find its bearing and inherit its newfound political and economic power. We have time to adjust, to make the necessary changes, and to adapt the U.S. for a new decade and century before it is too late. The book highlights some of our largest threats and challenges of the past century– the Cold War, the emergence of Japan in the 1990’s, and now a globalized world and the emergence of China.

The U.S. has weathered the same alarmist voices which speak of America’s decline for decades. What the book does is raise the alarm against absolute decline. Winston Churchill once said that America always does what is necessary when it has exhausted all other options, yet again our backs are against the wall and our leaders must act to reemerge from a financial crisis and political paralysis.Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgi Arbatov, Gorbachev’s close aide told the U.S. “We [the USSR] will do a terrible thing to you; we will deprive you of an enemy.” This time around America faces the worse enemy in its history– itself. Over a century ago Abraham Lincoln envisioned this decline from within when he stated  “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Luce makes a number of good points, raises a number of valid questions, and offers some pragmatic solutions for the future of the U.S. Let’s hope someone is listening. Reading this book would help.


A Righteous Read


As some of you may have noticed I have a ‘What I’m Reading’ section on my sidebar. These books are on my bookshelf and I am currently educating, or entertaining, myself with. Currently, I just finished is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt is a social psychologist at the NYU-Stern School of Business and in this stellar book he confronts human morality, where it comes from, and why people differ on an array or issues especially politics and religion.

For anyone interested in morality and why we act in certain ways, and think about things the way we do, this is your book. Reviewing the book for the New York Times, William Saletan sums up major themes of the book. Read more…


100 Reasons to Be Hopeful

One of the best publications, in print and online, Foreign Policy has unveiled their list of the Top 100 Thinkers of 2012.

The past year has been filled with a number of issues both in the U.S,. and around the world, that have demanded leadership and vision. Whether it was the Arab Spring and revolutions, the Eurozone debt crisis, the U.S. election and the impending fiscal  stability of the U.S., or the emerging role of new nations, this year has shown the emergence of a number of diplomatic actors, leaders, activists, and visionaries who have helped to shape and change our world and will continue to do so. There are too many to name or highlight without leaving any out, so take your own look.  According to FP Read more…


Xi’s the One

Get used to this name, Xi Jinping(pronounced SHEE Chin-Ping).

Last week China’s Communist Party anointed Xi as the next President of China, succeeding Hu Jintao who has overseen a decade of remarkable growth. This change represents a major shift in the leadership of China as a new generation of leaders headed by Xi take over the  Politburo Standing Committee who governs the nation, primarily by consensus. Xi, who was said to have been  favored by previous Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, has risen to a position of prominence in China partly due to his background as a Princeling, a relative of one of the founders of the Chinese Communist revolution.  This process has been quite lengthy and long awaited, here is an interactive and comprehensive look at the transition in China, as well as background on the new leaders of the Standing Committee. Read more…


It’s NOT the Economy, Stupid

 

It’s demographics.

The Republicans would like to make every excuse possible to explain the drugging they received in last week’s election. The excuses have varied from ‘Mitt Romney was not a stellar candidate,’ to the president and his campaign painted the Republicans as out of touch (which they are), as well as every other possible excuse except the simple numbers of it. This was not an election of ideas, popularity, or the economy, as the Romney campaign would have had us believe. Or anything else. Plain and simple, it was demographics.

The Republicans have been governing over an ever increasingly shrinking coalition since the 1990’s and it finally took this election to make them realize it. Based on some delusional hypothesis from conservative pundits and analysts, the GOP thought it was going to win the presidency and perhaps re-take the senate. This is wishful thinking at best.  In this article by Chris Cillizza, of The Washington Post’s TheFix, he argues

The numbers paint a very clear picture: Republicans now face the same low electoral-college ceiling that Democrats confronted for much of the 1970s and 1980s — needing everything to go right to win the presidency, much less break the 300-electoral-vote barrier. Read more…


Obama Vs. Romney…according to the world

With all the endless campaigning and non0stop partisanship going on ahead of Tuesdays election it would be nice to take a step away, like internationally, and see what the world has to say about the upcoming presidential election. Fortunately, Foreign Policy did just that in this article. By taking numerous world polls we see that the world is not as divided about the election as we may be here at home. As you can tell from the map above, the world seems to be pretty blue.

Obama is preferred over Mitt Romney in 31 out of 32 countries in the UPI poll and 20 out of 21 countries in another BBC World Service/GlobeScan/PIPA survey. Fifty-one percent of respondents in the UPI poll said they would cast a ballot for Obama, with more people saying they wouldn’t vote for either candidate (18 percent) than would vote for the Republican nominee (12 percent). In the BBC survey, 50 percent of respondents chose Obama and only 9 percent selected Romney.

Perhaps the administration’s goal to reshape America’s image around the world may have worked, either that or like our elections, this has become a global popularity contest. But what was striking, truly striking was though many nations complain about America’s role in the world and many people tend to criticize us, they seem to be keenly involved in our affairs and care about the outcome. Take for example; Read more…


Spoils of Victory

Whether President Obama or Governor Romney win the election net week, one thing is pretty certain ( though no really wants to admit it), whoever wins will preside over an economic boom in the US. Fareed Zakaria makes a compelling argument in his latest article in the Washington Post. According to the most recent International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook;

when looking out over the next four years — the next presidential term — the IMF projects that the United States will be the strongest of the world’s rich economies. U.S. growth is forecast to average 3 percent, much stronger than that of Germany or France (1.2 percent) or even Canada (2.3 percent). Increasingly, the evidence suggests that the United States has come out of the financial crisis of 2008 in better shape than its peers — because of the actions of its government.

Despite Mitt Romney’s argument to the contrary, or that we could be doing “better” than  we are now, other leading economists have echoed the positive trends that are being illustrate by the economy. Read more…


“Too Big” To Do Anything

A great article in The Washington Post by conservative writer George Will on the need to end “Too Big to Fail” (TBTF) treatment of our financial institutions and the need for serious financial reform. Basing his article on a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, he states;
There are 6,000 American banks, but “half of the entire banking industry’s assets” are concentrated in five institutions whose combined assets amount to almost 60 percent of the gross domestic product. And “the top 10 banks now account for 61 percent of commercial banking assets, substantially more than the 26 percent of only 20 years ago.”
With the consolidation of the major banks after the 2008 financial crisis our economy is now more vulnerable to the recklessness that almost crashed the financial sector in 2008. Despite the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation  the issue of TBTF has still not been addressed. Read more…