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Tina Brown's Must-Reads: On Choice And Control

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Tina Brown's Must-Reads: On Choice And Control

Tina Brown's Must-Reads: On Choice And Control

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek is back with us again. She's a regular guest on this program in a feature we call Word of Mouth. She tells us what she's been reading, recommendations for the rest of us to pick up. Hi Tina.

Ms. TINA BROWN (Editor, The Daily Beast and Newsweek): Hi Steve, how are you?

INSKEEP: I'm doing fine, thanks very much, and we've got three reading selections here and our theme is choice, or really lack of choice, situations in which people find out they have less choice than they thought at the time. The first is Stephen L. Carter, distinguished writer of fiction and non-fiction, and book is called "The Violence of Peace." What is it?

Ms. BROWN: Well, Stephen Carter's book is really a brilliant meditation on the morality of war and how Obama is faring as a war president. And what he says, which is the dilemma that Obama finds himself in, is that he ran as a peace candidate, but he acts, of course, now, as a war president. And how he's had to accommodate himself, in a sense, to the absolutely unknown pressure of office that transforms the occupier of the Oval Office.

INSKEEP: You have a situation where he argued against President George W. Bush's foreign policy, but in a number of key instances, he's ended up following a similar policy even if the style is different.

Ms. BROWN: Absolutely. You know, he says that he's in many controversial tactics of his processor, assassinations, renditions of suspects to other countries, and probably secret prisons too. He's actually followed the Bush maxim, and he's increased the use of everything, from missile strikes to secret military operations.

But, you know, rather than rushing to condemn him, Carter, you know, who most of us would see, I think, as a liberal, he's a law professor at Yale, he knows Obama quite well. He regards this really as a signal of the vehement attacks on Bush, in fact were rather overblown. He said it's so dangerous an age, we dare not treat arguments over warfare as opportunities to indulge our partisan side. There's not a Bush water fight adopted by Obama, there's an American way to fight. Put most simply, we fight to win.

INSKEEP: And there are American interests, which any president is going to be compelled to look after in the ways that are available to him at the time.

Ms. BROWN: Absolutely, and in fact, he's critical really of Obama, for not being willing more to talk about winning. And he actually makes a very good point. He says, you know, for those in the Vietnam generation, they were intimate with the battles that took place during Vietnam. They could actually name the names of the battles, you know, the Tet Offensive, the Khe San. But he says, how many battles of the Iraq or the Afghanistan War can the public name?

And he describes watching a TV account of a fierce battle in Southern Iraq, that tells how many American soldiers died, but not what piece of ground they were contesting. And he says that if Obama regards the wars that he's fighting as moral imperatives, which much of this book discussed, then he really must be willing to talk about winning as well, which he feels he doesn't do enough of.

INSKEEP: So the peace candidate becomes a war president, discovers, perhaps, that he had a little less choice than he may have thought when he was campaigning. Let's talk about another way in which people may have less choice than they realize. David Brooks, a columnist in the New York Times, and contributor to NPR, by the way, writes in the New Yorker about the human mind.

Ms. BROWN: Yes, I absolutely adore this piece by David Brooks, "The Social Animal" it's called, about how the new sciences of human nature can help makes sense for life. Brooks writes that many Americans generally have a vague sense that their lives have been distorted by giant cultural bias. They live in a society that prizes the development of career skills, but is inarticulate when it comes to the things that matter most. The young achievers are tutored in every soccer technique and ever calculus problem, but when it comes to their most important decisions, they're on their own.

You know, he just as one is surprised to see that here is Stephen Carter writing, really, a book that sort of praises Bush, here's David Brooks, the consummate intellectual thinker, writing about the necessities of understanding the inner flows of consciousness; which are as important, says he, than the intellectual mind that, you know, in a way, you would expect him to be extolling.

INSKEEP: He gives an example of a married couple. What's he talking about here?

Ms. BROWN: Well, Brooks invents something very clever as a narrative device through this piece. He creates this couple called Harold and Erica, who were the quintessential kind of modern achieving couple. He calls the couple members of the composure class. They got good grades in school, established, you know, solid social connections, joined companies, medical practices, law firms.

He writes very memorably actually: will settle down on them gradually like a gentle snow. And during the piece, the man in the couple, Harold, has an epiphany when he goes to this lecture by a neuroscientist who talks about the many flows of information that create our mind. There's the evolutionary piece, genetic piece, unconscious response piece. There is, also, the intellectual piece, and that all of these things kind of meld to make a mind.

And right now we're only kind of very, very focused on the outward part. I mean parents are getting their kids, now, more and more to follow this road of, you know, excessive achieving aspects for education, which are really ignoring some of these other components, which he thinks are just as important.

INSKEEP: Although that's hard for Americans to do, to just let go, let it flow. That's just not the way people think, necessarily, consciously.

Ms. BROWN: No, not at all. There's not much downtime in American life.

INSKEEP: So David Brooks' article is in the New Yorker. There's another article in Outside Online. Outside magazine takes a look at the outdoors, and Hampton Sides reports on people who spend time outdoors. They've chosen to rescue people, to save lives, but they can't get away, they can't choose to turn off the part of their mind that is disturbed by what they do.

Ms. BROWN: Yeah, I love this piece too. Hampton Sides is a terrific writer, and this piece in Outside magazine talks about what we don't realize is that post-traumatic stress syndrome can apply just as much to first responders as it does to military vets. And we don't we've never really considered the kind of stress that mountain rescuers and first responders are under.

And to demonstrate this kind of stress, he's picked a 60 year old Aspen Mountain emergency response guy called Michael Ferrara, who's known as Mongo, in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley. And he describes how Ferrara gradually, after 30 years, really, of rescuing people in the most extreme situations like plane crashes that kill every single person on it, or people who fall from the mountain and kill themselves, or infant death syndrome. All these things, he's been there, you know, as they happen. After all of these years of having been stoic and honored, he starts to unravel. And he tells to Hampton Sides, you know, what his life is like.

He says, you know, when you're doing these jobs, you pick up an arm and it disarticulates. And all these visions, as he starts to unravel, start to haunt his mind. They become what he calls a slideshow of horror. He can't get them out of his mind. He can no longer cut them off, and he gradually has a breakdown and he's sent to rehab because he becomes addicted to Percocet. He starts to have this blank stare. He sobs all the time, and what he's trying to do now, now that he's recovered, is to raise consciousness for first responders.

INSKEEP: But he's not a first responder himself anymore?

Ms. BROWN: No, he's not. And, you know, you understand just how tough it must be. It's something I've never read before. It's a really vivid account of what it's like to be on the mountain in Aspen.

INSKEEP: So do you have any idea why you chose to read these particular articles, Tina Brown, or did something in the subconscious mind drive you?

Ms. BROWN: I'm so eclectic, you know, I'm such a magpie with stuff, and something hits me. I don't know. Maybe it's the snow for Hampton Sides, maybe it's caring a lot about how out of touch we all seem to be in our public life, in a wa,y with the very important issues of the emotional content that feeds into decisions as well as just the facts.

INSKEEP: Tina, always a pleasure to talk with you.

Ms. BROWN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Tina Brown of The Daily Beast and Newsweek.

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INSKEEP: We call the feature Word of Mouth, and you can find more excerpts and links for the writing we discussed at

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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