Free Forum Q&A – TEMPLE GRANDIN, one of the most accomplished adults with autism, designer of livestock handling facilities, author, ANIMALS MAKE US HUMAN & (2) WALTER ISAACSON, head of the Aspen Institute, author, EINSTEIN: HIS LIFE AND UNIVERSEWritten on April 9th, 2015
TEMPLE GRANDIN – Originally aired January 2010
WALTER ISAACSON – Originally aired May 2007
Two extraordinary minds: Interviews about a couple of individuals who, though slow learners as children, grew up to do amazing things.
In the first half, I’ll talk with Temple Grandin, PhD, probably the most accomplished adult with autism in the world. Now a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and a designer of livestock handling facilities, Grandin, who didn’t speak until she was three and a half years old, has become a prominent author, speaker and advocate on the issues of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The 2010 HBO film based on her life won seven Emmys, including Outstanding Movie Made for Television, Outstanding Directing – Mick Jackson, and Outstanding Actress – Clare Danes.
In the second half, my guest will be WALTER ISAACSON, former managing editor of TIME magazine and Chairman of CNN, current head of the Aspen Institute, and the author of several bestselling books, including his biography of Steve Jobs. We’ll talk about his biography, EINSTEIN: His Life and Universe.
Einstein discovered, merely by thinking about it, that the universe was not as it seemed. His contributions changed the way we conceive of reality. A new biography makes the point that his scientific imagination sprang from his rebellious questioning of authority – a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom. In addition to his scientific genius, he was also noted for his social conscience Besides campaigning for a ban on nuclear weaponry, he denounced McCarthyism and pleaded for an end to bigotry and racism.
America likes charismatic optimists. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton. That was why I favored Obama over Hilary in ‘08. And why I thought he ultimately won. America was feeling down and needed someone to help change the mood, pull the country in a new direction, get us looking forward. Obama’s speech at the 2004 convention. Si se puede. Yes we can. All charismatic optimism.
What went wrong for Obama? Turns out he wasn’t just optimistic about the Republican response to him, he was naively and ineffectively so, compromising for compromise’ sake. He seemed driven by the grand notion that he could single-handedly change Washington. Too often he ended up asking for too little and conceding too much in his confrontations with Republicans.
In the stimulus bill negotiations early in his administration, Obama gave up $40 billion in aid to the states, and got not a single Republican House vote in return. That money would have been spent immediately. It would have kept services open and workers employed, with positive ripple effects in states like California whose debts ballooned after the crash. He still had a Congressional majority. He could have sent a bill down the next day, specifically for that $40 billion to the states, and, like the initial bill, it could have passed without a single GOP vote.
America also likes winners. And people who fight for their convictions. The Democrats and Obama have been caught between their espoused principles and their Wall Street funders. The Republicans have no such conflict. They want the same things as their funders. So they go for touchdowns. Too often the Democrats and Obama are willing to stop at the 20-yard line. Americans can tell the difference.
We all know it’s a lot more complicated than that. The fanning of fear has played a huge role, as has the flood of undisclosed campaign cash. But, allow me to fast forward to last night’s State of the Union.
Obama’s party took a terrible beating in the recent election, and he is speaking for the first time to a Congress in which the GOP holds majorities in both houses. Yet he looks relaxed and confident. One of the talking heads said after the speech that for the first time she got the feeling that Obama would like a third term. Maybe, but I also got the feeling for the first time that Obama could enjoy the freedom of being president for two more years – but only two more years.
As young as he is, for as long as he lives, he will never again have this much power. Sure, he faces enormous obstacles in the form of both the numbers and the approach of his Congressional opposition. Yet, perhaps their dominance gives him even greater freedom. Why not go for what you really want, see how far you can move public opinion, and how far public opinion can move what happens – now or in 2016.
He’s laid out a vision of where we need to go. Higher minimum wages, progressive taxation and other programs to restore the middle class, especially women and children. Foreign policy that is strategic rather than impulsive, especially in the use of the military. Accelerating our response to climate change. Rebuilding our infrastructure. Continuing down the path of immigration reform.
It’s an unusual position to be in, no doubt: Structurally limited by GOP dominance of Congress and the Supreme Court, but still the most powerful man in America. What if he chooses to take full advantage of all the assets of being president – above and beyond executive power? What if, unbound by campaign calculation, he chooses to use every tool at his disposal – the bully pulpit in particular – to achieve the maximum impact? And what if he also chooses to use that power to achieve the highest good?
A guy can dream.
[photo credit: http://all-goebook.rhcloud.com]
In CONNECTED, as her father battles brain cancer and she confronts a high-risk pregnancy, TIFFANY SHLAIN, co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences and a Fellow at the Aspen Institute, asks what it means to be connected in the 21st century.
The documentary film continues at three theaters in the Bay area, opens 09/30 at the Arclight Hollywood (Q&A w Shlain)and at the Angelika in New York 10/14 (Q&A w Shlain).
TIFFANY SHLAIN, honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” is a filmmaker, artist, founder of The Webby Awards, co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences and a Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute. Her films include Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness, about reproductive rights in America and The Tribe, an exploration of American Jewish identity through the history of the Barbie doll, Yelp: With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, about our addiction to technology and the importance of “unplugging”, and her newest Connected: A Declaration of Interdependence
I’ll share with you my views on a number of issues, large and small. I’ll deal with a lot of the questions I ask others about on a regular basis. What are our biggest challenges? Are there some critical issues that don’t get enough attention? Can I connect the dots among pieces of the puzzle of a world that just tight work? Can humanity turn things around? What gives me hope? I hope you find this hour provocative, stimulating, informative, challenging, and lively.
HAPPY. Are you happy? What makes you happy? Does money make you happy? Kids and family? Your work? Do you live in an environment that values and promotes happiness and well-being? Do you expect you’re going to get happier? How?
ROKO BELIC’S documentary HAPPY explores these sorts of questions. It weaves the latest scientific research from the field of “positive psychology” with stories from around the world of people whose lives illustrate what we’re learning.
The basic approach to the pursuit of happiness taken by many of us and by society in general isn’t delivering. We know more than we ever have about what science can tell us about happiness. And we have access to more diverse models and worldviews than ever before. This is a good time to ask some basic questions.