Wherever I Go, There I am.

At the age of 28 I find I’ve lived the majority of my life trapped inside a head that never shuts up. I think and think, analyze and overanalyze. I create fifty different possibilities any hypothetical situation may or may not turn out like. My mind is habitually seeking. Seeking a distraction, a fairy tale, a source of inspiration, a radio station not playing commercials… anything really. I sought solace in the belief this overflow of thoughts meant I was intelligent, a thinker, an intellectual, even.

One day as I was going about my business lost in thought a rather interesting and new idea floated by; I wasn’t particularly in charge of which direction any of my thoughts were going. They came and went, jumping from one place to another like a monkey swinging from tree to tree. At a dinner party, my mind was on work. At work, on men. While talking to friends, I was making a list of bills to pay. While paying bills at my desk, my mind was on vacation. I could drive from point A to point B and upon parking realize that I had absolutely no recollection of the drive. Where the hell was I ?

As it turns out, sometimes I was simply living in the past. Rehashing an altercation, maybe reminiscing on a nice moment, wishing I would have done something differently or could experience a particularly lovely moment over again. Other times I’d slipped into a time machine and sped off into the future, which isn’t as great an adventure as one might imagine. Excitement, worry, impatience and dread… all my old companions waited patiently for me in my imagined future. My ‘thoughts’ were actually a compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. When I really dug deep I realized not only was I habitually thinking but also habitually recycling old thoughts. Rarely was there a new one! I felt betrayed.

One night, thinking little of it, I expressed to a close friend how incredibly active my mind was. He looked confused, paused, cocked his head to the side and with a slight look of pity inquired, “So your mind is never quiet? Never still? Never?” My first reaction was to think he was faking. Possibly just trying to be difficult and make me feel bad about myself. But quickly I recognized the look in his eyes as compassion, not judgment. He actually felt sorry for me. This only made it worse.

My friend went on to explain whenever he experienced an overflow of thoughts he simply visualized each one and then chose which thought, if any, was worthy of attention. He then gave his energy only to this particular thought.

The idea my unruly monkey mind could be tamed combined with the hope I wouldn’t spend my life racing around in a state of hyper productivity, detached from my surroundings, constantly projecting myself into the past or future, was beyond intriguing. I had absolutely no idea how to implement the idea of ‘mind control’ but in that moment I believed it was possible. I went to bed visualizing myself as a lion tamer, whip in hand swatting away the bad thoughts, pulling the good ones closer, and drifted off into dreamland… a place where from now on I would make a conscious effort to only go to when actually sleeping.

I’ll spare you the details of the hours spent in the Self-improvement, New Age and Inspiration sections of Barnes and Noble. You will also be spared the details of guided meditation classes, countless hours of yoga, internet scouring, solo road tripping and deep soul searching… all of which for the record produced insight, provided valuable information, and pointed the compass of my life in the right direction. I’ll dive directly into the things I now know and put into practice on a daily basis. And when I say practice I do mean practice. If I spend 20% of my day applying the things I’ve learned, being ‘aware’ and living in the present moment, it’s a good day. But every day it gets a little better.

“Be Here Now.” – Ram Dass

“Be Somewhere Else Later.” – Bumper Sticker Wisdom

What’s so good about focus, attention and being in the moment? Consider this: “Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.” (Eckhart Tolle, ‘The Power of Now’) So what I’m really saying is Now is all we’ve got, which really narrows things down.

Winifred Gallagher says in her insightful book, ‘Rapt,’ “If you could look backward at your years thus far, you’d see that your life—what you’ve confidently called “reality”—has been fashioned from what you’ve paid attention to. You’d also be struck by the fact that if you had paid attention to other things, your reality and your life would be very different. Attention has created the experience and the self stored in your memory; looking ahead, what you focus on will create the life and person yet to be. Psychology has mostly examined our pasts to explain and improve our lives. If you think in terms of the present and future instead, you might encounter an intuition lurking in your mind, as it was in mine: If you could just stay focused on the right things, your life would stop feeling like a reaction to stuff that happens to you and become something that you create—not a series of accidents, but a work of art.”

 

I consider myself a relatively optimistic person, but sometimes the future can be a pretty daunting place. It’s full of uncontrollable factors and unknowns. Sure it might turn out great. But what if it doesn’t? What if I end up alone and miserable? What if all my choices were wrong? Am I going to end up homeless, living in a box? I cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection. I cannot cope with the future. But I can always cope with the present moment. I will keep my attention in the Now because the past is nothing but a story and the future is simply a figment of my imagination. My apologies if I’m starting to sound a bit like The Matrix but there is no spoon, Neo. (Kidding… sort of.)

There is something incredibly reassuring in the fact that in the present moment, real problems rarely exist. You are breathing. You are alive. You were given another day to live, and in doing so given the chance to be the person you have always wanted to be, say  the things you’ve been wanting to say, and live the life you’ve been wanting to live. Can you find any gratefulness, any peace, any joy in this simple fact?

Psychologist and philosopher William James describes attention as “taking possession of the mind, in a clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. It implies withdrawing from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” This makes perfect sense to me. Where is your attention most useful right now? Put it there, all of it! If you find it’s wandered astray, lovingly coax it back in the right direction.

Yet another affliction of the monkey mind is the great Delayed Happiness Disorder. It goes something like this, ‘I’ll be happy when I have this job, that relationship, X amount of money in the bank, when I’m on vacation, more successful, less pressured, accomplish fill-in-the-blank-goals.’ There are a million scenarios in which I could potentially find happiness, but if I can’t find the joy in this simple moment I won’t find any lasting joy in my perfect storm of happiness. Furthermore if I allow an external thing to ‘make me happy’ said thing also has the potential to make me sad. We gotta dig deep, people. We gotta go inside.

I began with this practice; anytime I notice my thoughts have wandered, that my attention has gone elsewhere, I shut my eyes and take in everything around me. Whether it’s the rustling trees or the sounds of traffic, raindrops or sunshine, gas fumes or salt air, I take it with total acceptance. Then I take a moment as they say in yoga, to ‘check in with myself’. It’s kind of amazing, but when I shut my eyes it makes it easier to feel what’s going on inside my body. Have you ever noticed when a doctor listens to your heart with their stethoscope, they tend to shut their eyes? I think it’s the same idea. With your eyes shut and your awareness spreads between your insides and you surroundings, you quickly realize you’re still here, breathing, in one piece, meaning you have everything you need in this moment. “The way to know if you’re fully aware of the moment is by the degree of peace you feel within.” – (Eckhart Tolle, ‘A New Earth’) You cannot always be happy, but you can almost always be focused, which is the next best thing. It’s all about baby steps.

The important thing, as stated in ‘Rapt’ is, “We must resist the temptation to drift along, reacting to whatever happens to us next, and deliberately select targets, from activities to relationships, that are worthy of our finite supplies of time and attention. It’s all too easy to spend much of your life in an unfocused, mixed-up condition, rushing toward the chimera of a better time and place to tune in and, well, be alive.”

We’re all aware good things takes practice, and practice makes perfect. Like a guitarist practicing scales or a basketball player doing layouts, giving your attention to the present moment requires discipline and training. Let’s choose our targets with care, whether making a sandwich or fighting a sickness, having a phone conversation with a friend or folding the laundry. Realize that today is the day to be fully alive, to embrace each joy and disappointment with equal openness. Give everything, take in everything and hold nothing back. Be aware of each passing moment. If all the big things seem to be going wrong focus on the little things gone right. The delicacy of a passing cloud, the enthusiastic greeting of your furry companion, finding a few onion rings mixed in with your fries… these are all pretty awesome things we can find potential joy in experiencing at any given moment. Be open to the mysterious, the unexpected, the subtle.

Realize that whatever you’re doing in this moment is your life’s work, whether curing cancer or sitting by the window. Choose to do it with attention, openness and a bit of grace and dignity… and choose to do it in this present moment.

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OpEd: From America First to World Police

In the course of less than fourteen days, President Trump launched a missile strike against Syria to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons, sent the USS Carl Vinson carrier battle group steaming into Korean waters to exert pressure on North Korea to rethink its nuclear program, and dropped a MOAB bomb on an underground tunnel network used by terrorists in Eastern Afghanistan.
As a student of policy and diplomacy, I understand the importance of coherence in foreign policy. For those struggling to understand what President Trump’s foreign policy might look like, it’s a bit like Trump himself; all over the map. Not only are the actions in Syria, the Korean Peninsula, and Afghanistan a complete departure from the “America First” platform President Trump campaigned on, but they are also misguided, impulsive, and dangerous. Here’s why.
The airstrike in Syria was largely ceremonial, serving mostly to satisfy our (Trump included) collective desire to do something — anything — to retaliate against an unspeakable atrocity. But as with most things Trumpian, the strike was more spectacle than substance. The airport was up and running the very next day. The administration is quick to point out that the purpose of the airstrike was not to “take out” the airport. But what the airstrike actually intended to do differs depending on who you ask, and on what day you ask them. A personal favorite is the answer given by the president’s son, Eric Trump, who claimed that the president’s decision to launch an airstrike was a reaction to seeing his daughter Ivanka cry as she beheld the images of the Syrian children killed in the attack. Of course no father likes to see his little girl cry, but only one has the ability to launch a literal boatload of tomahawk missiles to make it better.
While the strike did not destroy the airport, it did deliver a fatal blow to Trump’s only claim of policy coherence: the potential to successfully negotiate with Putin and come to a diplomatic solution in Syria. In press conferences following the airstrike, both President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described relations with Russia as “at an all time low.” Trump made a characteristically knee-jerk reaction and in doing so forfeited the one card he had to play.
With the crisis in Syria potentially on the verge of escalation, what better time to escalate the situation in North Korea than now? Many leading security analysts agree that the North Korea threat is real and must be death with, but it is difficult to believe that the Trump administration successfully formulated a winning strategy to combat the threat in its first 100 days. It seem the case is more likely that the decision to send “an armada” into Korean waters at this precise moment is more a reaction to positive media coverage of Trumps “decisiveness” responding to the chemical attack in Syria than the emergence of any grand North Korean strategy. Using foreign policy as a tool of domestic politics is a very dangerous game.
It’s no coincidence that as reports came in of an uptick in Trump’s approval ratings following the Syrian airstrike, the “Mother of All Bombs” was dropped in the Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. The 21,600 pound behemoth reportedly killed 94 ISIS fighters, roughly the same number of victims ISIS killed with a cargo truck in the streets of Nice on Bastille Day. If anything, this display of military might only highlighted the inadequacy of our far superior military to deal with many of todays threats. And it isn’t hard to imagine the ISIS recruitment machine coming to the same conclusion, and churning out propaganda accordingly.

All this, in less than 100 days in office. All this, from a man who ran an entire campaign on an “America First,” borderline isolationist platform. Our bombs and missiles may be strategically guided, but our President clearly is not. The Trump foreign policy agenda will be driven by the exact same factors the drive Trump himself; approval ratings, gut-reactions, and positive coverage on the nightly news.

Preventing Cancer in Our Furry Friends

I have two beautiful fur babies; Diggs, my proud, empathetic and cautious boxer, and Mo, my silly, sleepy Staffordshire terrier. I take my role as their guardian very seriously. When my pet Diggs was two years old, he was diagnosed with mast cell tumors, a form of cancer prevalent among boxers. I was devastated. I went through all the stages of grief. Denial; “Excuse me Mrs. Veterinarian, my dog has a small ‘bump’ on his side. Bump. Not lump. Lumps are scary. This is simply a ‘bump’.” Anger… directed more at God than anyone in particular. I lost Diggs’ brother much too early in life and found it cruel to be faced with another premature goodbye. Bargaining. Depression; full on who-needs-food and why-would-I-get-out-of-my-pajamas-or-leave-the-house-when-I-could-sit here-and-stare-at-my-beautiful-dog kind of depression. And finally Acceptance, and by acceptance I mean he’s alive today and he’ll be alive tomorrow SO THERE. Maybe the anger and denial are still sprinkled on top of the acceptance. I am far from alone in the sadness that accompanies a cancer diagnosis in a beloved pet. A shocking 20-25% of our furry four legged pets end up dying prematurely due to Cancer. (Perdue University Department of Veterinarian). Twenty to twenty-five percent! This isn’t normal and it certainly isn’t right. What are we doing wrong and what on God’s greenish earth can we do about it?

As I learned from years of Saturday morning cartoons, knowledge is power and knowing is half the battle, so we need to start with the facts. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), in the first study of its kind, found American pets are polluted with even higher levels of many of the same synthetic industrial chemicals that researchers have found in humans. In fact, this same study found that when tested for a panel of 70 chemicals, 11 being known carcinogens, 48 different types were found in the dogs and cats tested. An astounding 43 were found at levels anywhere from 2-23 times higher than those typically found in humans. Our pets and their unique, adorable behaviors make them especially susceptible to ingesting toxins. They live close to the ground. They chew on domestic objects (much to our dismay). Licking and self-grooming are daily rituals. Combined with their condensed life spans and shortened latency periods for the development of life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, our guardians, companions and best friends are left uniquely vulnerable.
Unfortunately, it gets worse from there. In addition to the pollutants our pets are exposed to daily which we have little control over, their toys contain plastic softening agents; known toxins. The beds we purchase for them to curl up on at night are covered in flame retardants; known carcinogens. The flea and tick baths we give our pets in attempt to offer our itchy buddies a little relief contain propoxur, a pesticide highly toxic to animals and humans. And who could forget the massive pet food recall in 2007 due to chemical contamination of over 5300 pet food products? That particular slip up caused as many as 3,600 pets to die prematurely of renal failure.

Who the heck is in charge around here? The answer, I’m sorry to say… is a bit scary. For starters, there is no requirement that pet food products have pre-market approval by the FDA. However, as stated on their official website, “the FDA ensures that the ingredients used in pet food are safe and have an appropriate function in the pet food.” Umm… ok. Thanks? Luckily, there are healthy alternatives out there that we can safely feed our pets. Better Pet Food, Healthier Pets, written by Jazmin Clark, details a variety of organic, grain-free, and holistic options.

What about all of the toys, beds, and balls that our pets enjoy on a daily basis? The Toxic Substance Control Act is the cornerstone in our system of health protections for industrial chemical exposures. Passed in 1976, it is the only major public health and environmental law in the U.S. that has never been updated and unfortunately, there are HUGE gaps in this system. These gaps allow most industrial chemicals to be sold at a store near you with NO mandatory safety testing. Please read that sentence again. Chemical companies do not have to prove products are safe before they are sold, or understand how much of their chemicals end up in people, let alone pets. Only one word comes to mind; Seriously? No really, seriously? The result of this weak law is a burden of industrial chemicals found in every member of every household in this country, pets and people alike. It’s no wonder the rate of cancer is so high. These factors, among others, leave our pets to play the involuntary role of sentinel of widespread chemical contamination affecting us all. Aging seven times faster than humans, is it possible that a look at our pet’s health now could foreshadow our own health in the future? It has to be considered.

So a call to arms…. or paws rather! I for one refuse to let my animal companions be sentinels of my health. Since it appears no one else has their back, it’s up to us to protect them from that which they cannot protect themselves. We must not only regulate what toys they play with, but the food they eat as well. When I jog at night, my dogs are my bodyguards. While I sleep, they’re my watchmen. When I make a quick run to the supermarket, they’re my car alarm. They would do anything for us, including putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us. We are solely responsible for their wellbeing. We do the best with the information we have available at the time. And now we have this. And we can do better.

States of Despair

When you think about the idea of progress as a people and as a nation, one factor that is always looked to is mortality rates. An increase in average life expectancy is an indication that a nation is doing something very right. In the United States, we have come to expect it. For the past century, thanks to things like modern medicine, antibiotics, sanitation, and improved hygiene, average lifespans in developed countries more than doubled. The mortality rates for African-American’s have continued to fall (although they are still the highest), and hispanics have the best mortality rate of all (meaning that the are living he longest out of everyone in the United States). But in an unexpected turn of events, beginning in the 1990s, mortality rates for non-Hispanic white Americans began to move in the wrong direction. Two researchers from Princeton University, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, wanted to find out why this was so. What they found, was that this is a phenomenon unique to the United States, and unique to non-Hispanic whites. It is affecting both men and women at the same rate, and it is true for both city and rural areas all across 47 out of 50 states (New York, New Jersey, and California are the only exceptions). So what exactly is driving this trend? For non-Hispanic whites, each successive birth cohort, meaning each successive decade of births, are experiencing higher mortality rates due to what is being called “deaths of despair.” Deaths of despair is a term used to describe deaths by drugs, alcohol, or suicide. This, combined with a slowdown in progress against mortality from heart disease and cancer, which are the two largest killers of middle aged people, means that for the first time in a century, young white non-Hispanic individuals are expected to live shorter lives than their parents. One final caveat to this phenomenon, is that the trend is most pronounced among those non-Hispanic whites with less than a college degree.

Interestingly, when you look county by county at the fraction of people who voted for Trump, and the fraction of people dying from deaths of despair, those two variables are very, very highly correlated. This calls into question the assumption that the vast majority of liberals make when discussing the Trump movement; that it is a movement driven mainly by racism. For instance, historian Carol Anderson argued in a 2016 interview with Politico that for whites, “if you’ve always been privileged, equality begins to look like oppression.” I am not arguing that the average Trump supporter is not more racist than a non-Trump supporter, but I do think the argument that the Trump movement is by and large driven by racism is missing the much bigger issue. Perceived oppression isn’t what is driving up mortality rates and a general sense of hopelessness among non-Hispanic whites with less than a bachelors degree. Among this population exists a pessimism, and sense of hopelessness about the future, and for good reason. Where as it used to be the case, that one did not need a college education to make a decent living and support a family, it is not the case today. Deaton illustrates this point;

“In the past, people with low levels of education could get a job in a factory and work their way up the chain of command. You could graduate high school, work at Bethlehem Steel, get more money every year as you get more experienced, and turn yourself into one of the famed blue-collar aristocrats of the 1970s. Now, there’s a feeling that life has gone, and remainders of that life are getting less and less for each generation.”

But it’s not just about decreasing income. Researchers think that adding to a decreasing income, is a decreasing expectation that one’s life is going to be better than that of their parents. In the post-WWII ear, in addition to a booming economy, the federal government made a healthy and thriving middle class possible with GI bills, which meant the average white American could get both a mortgage and an education — both of which appear out of reach for a large swath of working Americans today.

This somewhat explains why we don’t see the same increase in mortality rates among blacks and hispanics. To put it bluntly, minorities have not historically had the same high expectations as whites; the expectation of a decent paying job with or without a college education, the expectation of owning a nice home in a good neighborhood, the expectation of good schools for your children, the expectation of upward mobility. Yet today for many minority groups, prospects for the future are hopeful, and the new expectation is that they are likely to do better than their parents. Wage growth has been better in the last 15 to 20 years for African americans and Hispanics. Don’t get me wrong. This growth still does not equal equality. In reality, the prospects and opportunities for non-Hispanic whites are still better on average than that of minorities. Racism is still very much an issue, and the average white person still makes more money for doing the same job as the average minority. But again, amongst many minority populations there is a general expectation that prospects and economic opportunities are improving. Amongst these populations, there is still hope of progress, in multiple senses of the word, and this is just not the case for non-Hispanic whites without college degrees.

The First Daughter

Since Trump’s election, no one (other than the President himself) has been more obviously present at the White House than his daughter, Ivanka. Look! There she is with her adorable children watching her father sign executive orders. Look again! She’s sitting at her father’s desk in the oval office on International Women’s Day. Awww, little Theo is taking his first steps in the East Wing, how adorbs.

But then things got kind of serious. Ivanka Trump’s recent presence at meetings with Japanese President Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left many wondering what exactly is Ivanka’s role in the White House. To help clear this up, Ivanka has made an official statement that she will be joining her father’s administration in an unspecified role. She will not be a government employee, but she will now have her own office in a government building with government issued devices and will be advising the top government official. The only description of her unofficial official role is that she will be her father’s eyes and ears in the White House. Not weird at all. So now that that’s clear. Many people are left wondering, if this ain’t nepotism, what is? And, isn’t there a law against that? The answer is yes, and yes, but also yes, and no. Let me explain.

In brief, the anti-nepotism law prohibits a federal officer “from appointing, promoting, or recommending for appointment or promotion any “relative” of the official to any agency or department over which the official exercises authority or control.” It is sometimes referred to as “the Bobby Kennedy Law” as it came into place six years after JFK appointed his brother Bobby as the U.S. Attorney General. After LBJ, who loathed RFK, became President, he signed the law which barred future presidents from naming any family member to the Cabinet. The anti-nepotism provision was actually a rider to a bill that established salary rates for postal workers and other government employees. This law, however, generally doesn’t apply when it comes to the President’s staff. And perhaps for good reason. As deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Daniel Koffsky, points out, “A President wanting a relative’s advice on governmental matters has a choice: to seek that advice on an unofficial, ad hoc basis without conferring the status and imposing the responsibilities that accompany formal White House positions; or to appoint his relative to the White House under title 3 and subject him to substantial restrictions against conflicts of interest.”
Given that, in all likelihood, the President is going to seek out advice from whomever he chooses, its better to have that person fill an official role, and therefore be subject to the same ethics standards as everyone else working in the White House. We saw this play out when Trump brought Jared Kushner onto his staff in January. The general consensus, despite the media hysteria, was that there was no solid legal base for not allowing Kushner to be an official advisor to the President.
So, the question now, is why not do the same with Ivanka seeing as her hiring would not violate anti-nepotism laws? The Trump administration would legally be able to hire Ivanka in an official capacity to work as part of his staff, yet for some unknown reason, it has chosen not to. To be clear, just because hiring Ivanka wouldn’t violate the anti-nepotism law, Ivanka’s “non” appointment is 100% nepotism. She has zero experience in policy or politics, and it is safe to say had she not been the president’s daughter, she would never have come close securing a position this high up in the government. But that’s not the issue at hand. The issue is, instead of Ivanka voluntarily complying with ethics standard (which means absolutely nothing) why not just hire her in an official capacity so that she is legally required to comply with ethics standards?

From Built to Last to Built to Trash

I was born into a generation which, when it comes to consuming products, built to last was pushed aside for built to trash.  In an age of disposable everything, trashing goods doesn’t mean we’re disrespectful, it’s simply all we’ve ever known.

My Grandmother polishes the same swiveling walnut barstools and brass bed frame today as she did when the day I was born. I bought a particleboard desk from Ikea, which I kept for a year and couldn’t be bothered to take with me when I moved 10 miles up the road. Not long before my grandparents generation, it was likely whatever goods you were purchasing you probably knew the person making it. This person’s reputation and livelihood depended on making quality goods, goods which were built to last. When I consider every single thing I own today, I can think of only one which I can say I know the maker of; a knit cap my neighbor knitted for my newborn son. The majority of my belongings suggest that I have succumbed to the impulse buy, the quick fix, the cheap thrill more often than I care to admit.  How is it I can have so many articles of clothing, yet nothing to wear?  At some point, I laid down hard earned money these goods! Yet every morning when I peruse my closet for something to wear, the sense of excitement I surely had the day I bought them is nowhere to be found. But my son’s knit cap, this I will cherish and keep forever.

According to Harvard professor Lizabeth Cohen, all the disposable items, the Ikea desks and Forever 21 dresses, fall into one of two categories; planned functional obsolescence, and planned fashion obsolescence. The making of products which are built to break or with design that quickly appears dated was a concept introduced in the late 1940s. After WWII, mass consumption took over and a demand-driven economy was seen as the key to our nation’s continuing prosperity, a point of view which at that point had some truth to it. You see, in the decades following WWII, there was a much closer connection, a more completed circle if you will, between consumer demand, factories, and jobs. Simply put, the goods American’s were buying were made by other American’s. But, all of that changed as capitalism took hold and policies of economic liberalization became de rigueur. Combine this with an increasingly sophisticated advertising sector, and consumer culture was born.
Beyond the economic implications of the desire to consume more, faster, lie the environmental implications. If everyone in the world consumed at the rate we in America consume, we would not only need the virtual armies of slave labor that exist to feed this demanding beast, but three to five planets worth of resources. The amount of energy it takes to make cheap goods at such rapid speeds, not to mention the inability for trashed items to be broken down leaves us all up a stream, with a broken Chinese paddle. It is not physically possible to continue producing goods at the rate we have been for the past 40 years. Our earth simply does not have the resources.  This makes change unavoidable. It’s now our time to decide what kind of change we would like.
Enter inventor, engineer and futurist Saul Griffith. Griffith proposes the romantic yet totally do-able concept of heirloom design. Heirloom design refers to design meant to last generations. Products made to be durable, repairable, upgradeable and aesthetically pleasing. Griffith encourages designers, who he says have been given a power and a privilege, to design things and experiences that will last a very long time, that have been thoughtfully designed and are very beautiful. Things people want to keep. Not only keep, but to pass down for generations because they’re beautiful, functional and timeless. Imagine that.
While sometimes it seems otherwise, we can find plenty of example of heirloom design in the world. Think of Le Creuset pots and pans, Montblanc pens, Leica cameras, Levi 501’s, Vespa motor scooters, Stetson hats. The problem is that for every one Zippo lighter, there are a hundred Snuggies. With a billion potential purchases for each and every one of us, we should explore all of them, then hone in only on the ones which make you happiest, have the most beautiful design, and the best functionality. Let all the others slip away. I promise you won’t miss them.
What about the jobs lost due to people consuming less? If products were more durable, jobs lost due to the decrease in consumption could be offset by the addition of more highly skilled maintenance and repair jobs. And whereas the lost jobs might be overseas, the repair jobs would be local. Additionally, many of the companies who make things that last a century, stand a far better chance of lasting a century themselves. Think about that for a minute.
The less ‘stuff’ the better. A clean house leads to a clean mind and when you clear your clutter, you clear your mind. It all starts with consuming less and consuming better. Our outer environment is intrinsically linked to our inner environment and it’s high time we reclaimed all our spaces. My larger purchases, the methodical ones that required a little discipline, have brought me a lasting happiness impulse buys never do. I set a goal, practiced patience, earned the funds, and acquired it. Now every time I see my hard earned prize it serves as a reminder of a goal achieved. My impulse buys end up reminding me of … well … being impulsive. To quote Griffith, “Selective consumption means you will end up owning less junk, your life less cluttered, and your stuff more beautiful and serve you with more joy.” Sounds good to me.
Each time we approach the check out counter we take a vote. What we purchase frequently we’ll see more of. More local jobs or more support of overseas factories? Timeless design or flash in the pan products? Environmental sustainability or environmental sabotage? It is true that sometimes the initial investment is larger when purchasing heirloom goods that are not only designed to be aesthetically pleasing and last a very long time, but also are made by workers being paid fare wages. To this I say we must exercise a little restraint and realize that at the end of the day the repetitive purchasing of cheaper goods likely ends up costing us more anyway. It certainly does our planet.

Major Statement

The foreign policy of the United States is increasingly carried out by the U.S. military. The militarization of U.S. foreign policy can be described as “a growing trend to view decisions on national security strategy, policies, and policy implementation from a military perspective.” Increasingly, issues pertaining to policy and security challenges are viewed primarily through a military lens, the result of which has been an increase in policy suggestions and solutions for which military capabilities appear to be the appropriate response. Our armed services are now sent abroad to fight wars, distribute foreign aid, provide humanitarian assistance, and engage in diplomatic and peace building missions. Yet, for many of the most pertinent issues facing the United States today, a militarized response is both ineffective and counter-productive.
Historically, the United States military existed to complete military missions, such as defeating Nazi Germany or driving Iraq out of Kuwait. America’s security strategy has been guided by logic and principles based upon defeating an enemy whose own security strategy is generally guided by the same logic and principles. These ideas, based upon the rules of warfare established in the Geneva Convention, created a relatively stable international system in which all the major actors have a vested interest in the system staying in tact. The players might very well jockey for position at the table, but no one stands to gain more than they would lose by flipping the table over.
The United States has no peer military competitor, a fact that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. It would be unwise to dramatically alter defense policy based upon a moment of relative stability amongst great powers, especially given our less than perfect record of predicting what the next war will look like and with whom it will be fought. It is well within the realm of possibility that military superiority will be a necessity to win the hypothetical war of tomorrow. It may even play a role in preventing the war of tomorrow from ever happening. Yet it will not alone win the real war of today. Our enemy today is one that understands the logic and principles of our defense policy knows how to use them against us. Their tactics are far from new. History is full of examples of asymmetric wars being waged, and generally speaking, the underdog tends to win. The failure of decision makers in our government to adjust for what the current global reality demands has resulted in an unparalleled military force that is exceptional at winning battles and incapable of winning wars.
The global war on terror (GWOT) will never be won by the United States military for one simple reason; you can not kill ideas with bombs. Nor can you kill ideas with drones, missiles, guns, navy warships, covert operations or special operations forces. Ideas can only be killed with better ideas. Yet across both republican and democratic administrations, foreign policy remains heavily lopsided in favor of the military, militarized responses, and militarized solutions. The military budget dwarfs all other categories of government expenditure, comprising over half the entire federal budget. The current administration has proposed yet another increase in the military budget, while cutting the already dismal by comparison State Departments budget by 37%. What enemy do we have that we need an increased defense budget to defeat? “An inequality of resources leads to an inequality in policy and as a corollary the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, which is detrimental to U.S. national interests.” The governments heavy reliance on our armed forces to deliver foreign policy comes at a great cost in both blood and treasure. Because we have finest, most well-equipped, well-funded all-volunteer force in the history of the world, we feel compelled to use it. As Abraham Maslow once famously pondered, I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.
The Great Seal of the United States portrays a bald eagle carrying both arrows and an olive branch. The eagles head is turned looking not towards the arrows, but towards the olive branch, signifying a preference for peace. If the arrows represent the Department of Defense, then the olive branch represents the State Department. Yet more often than not, and in no small part due to inadequate funding and resource distribution, tasks that traditionally fall under the realm of the State Department are being relegated to the Department of Defense. Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration, Robert Gates, touched on this during a speech in 2007, saying “Consider that this years budget for the Department of Defense — not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan —is nearly half a trillion dollars, [while] the total foreign affairs budget request for the State department is $36 billion…. there are only about 6,600 professional foreign service officers— less than the manning of one aircraft carrier strike group.” (102) Current Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis implored congress to invest more in the State Department, saying, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” The military has such a deep understanding of the value of foreign aid and the work of the State Department, that 120 generals and admirals recently signed a letter to congress stressing the importance of the their continued funding. The result of asymmetric funding has resulted in the gutting of America’s soft power institutions and consequently, in the DoD assuming many of the burdens traditionally preformed by civilian agencies (102), from which has emerged the idea of the soldier-diplomatic by necessity. The earliest recorded examples of military diplomacy predate Alexander the Great. “The assistance of armies to the populations they had conquered was seen as a humane gesture to the vanquished — and, not inconsequentially, a means of winning some degree of loyalty to the new regime.” Post-World War II Europe witnessed perhaps the most intensive utilization of the military in civilian affairs. The Marshall Plan significantly influenced modern military doctrines of civil involvement and development of the international relief system, expanding the role of the military as never before. It is important to remember however, the the Marshall plan was truly a joint-effort between the military and the State Department, and that European and US governments painstakingly gained domestic support for the programs before they were implemented. In the years following WWII, soldiers were reintegrated into civilian life and the whole of government became focused on the domestic economy. The idea of sending troops abroad for military operations other than war (MOOTWA) became both unrealistic and undesirable. It wasn’t until roughly three decades later that the all-volunteer force was formed and its kinks were sufficiently smoothed out that MOOTWA once again became a viable option. Freed from the constraints that a conscripted military imposes on its government, and emboldened by the decisive success of Operation Desert Storm, successive administrations became increasingly likely to deploy troops for a wider and wider range of missions. Examples can be drawn from military operations in both the Middle East and Africa.
In Afghanistan, the American Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were developed to help build peace and security in the region and foster development. ‘Development’, is in the context of a PRT is described as; “not simply a set of projects; it involves capacity-building, sustainability strategies, and above all an understanding of how societies operate. The most successful PRTs have been those that are best attuned to recognizing Afghans’ conceptions of Afghans’ needs. A good PRT leadership strategy is to spend as much time as possible listening, rather than talking.” Not too much to ask from a a group on American boys from the mid-west, right? These PRTs were constructed of 80 soldiers led by an Army lieutenant colonel with one civilian representative from the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Agriculture. The overarching strategy of counterinsurgency (COIN), which was employed by our military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, required our soldiers to engage in a vast array of non traditional military missions. “Military engineers dug wells and fixed sewer lines; civil affairs teams refurbished schools, attended meetings of local tribal elders, and started micro-finance programs for rural women; psychological operations distributed radio station in a box kits and scoured the country side for “credible voice” to put on call-in shows. Military agriculture experts encouraged Afghans to diversity their crops, and military medical teams staffed women’s health clinics.” You name it, our soldiers were doing it — to varying levels of success. “Stories abounded of schools built with no thought for whether they would have teachers, books, or students; bridges built three times in a row in the same place, only to be repeatedly demolished by local contractors who knew the next military unit that rotated in would repay them to build it again.(95)” Was it fair, or even reasonable of our government to ask 20-something year olds from Kansas to broker peace between tribal chieftains in the rural countryside of Afghanistan?
The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) was created in 2007 as “a new kind of military command, designed to reflect the Pentagon’s emerging understanding of a more complex security environment in which prevention would be as important as cure” (84). The move was intended to centralize and coordinate American security interests on the continent. AFRICOM activities grew to consist of a wide range of projects traditionally undertaken by civilians working for USAID or the State Department. The activities include, for instance the construction of school classrooms in Chad; cattle vaccination in Uganda; activities to combat drug trafficking through the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative; and the construction of closed wells with solar pumps in Senegal, a task force to combat mosquitos, the creation of a news and information website aimed towards local audiences in Maghreb, and the construction of a maternal and pediatric care ward in Uganda. (84) From a Western perspective, many find it difficult to imagine how these magnanimous efforts could be construed as anything but a genuine display of US altruism. However, the reality is that many of these activities produced “at best suspicious reactions, and, at worst, elaborate conspiracy theories … that can have a profound impact on the way African militaries and individuals perceive and interact with American military personnel and policy makers.” Those who understand the checkered past the American government has on the continent, with its Cold War propping up of dictators while overlooking egregious human rights violations, find it less difficult to see how AFRICOM “couldn’t be viewed as anything other than simply the latest iteration of neo-imperialist engagement by yet another bunch of shady, secretive white men sporting khakis, polo shirts, and crew cuts.”
The question at hand is not should the United States be engaged in these kinds of operations. As the wealthiest nation in the world, foreign assistance is not only a critical instrument of American’s soft power, but also a moral responsibility. Rather, the question is what are the effects of a message of peace and cooperation being delivered by our armed forces? The medium through which a message is delivered has a significant impact on how that message is received. John F. Kennedy, it is widely believed, would probably not have won the presidential election in 1960 had it not been televised. Seeing the man is what convinced people to agree with him. That same line of thought can be transferred to the idea of the militarization of foreign policy. If soldier comes to you door to deliver a message, the message will sound very different than if a civilian came to your door and delivered the same message. The medium through which the message is deliver matters. What good does building a school do, if your child was accidentally killed in a raid by the same person building that school? Is it possible to receive a message of peace and cooperation from the same person who may have recently bombed your village?
As a nation, we harbor deep respect and admiration of our men and women in the armed services. From an American perspective, it is hard to imagine how one could see an American soldier in uniform and feel anything but secure and protected. In addition to that, our military often appears to be one of the only effectively functioning institutions within our government. It is no wonder we are so addicted to investing in it. If we have the finest, most well equipped military in the world, how can we not be safe? Immense investment in the military has given us the finest, most well equipped all-volunteer force in the history of the world. It is the best and most expensive tool our government has, but it is the wrong tool to counter many of todays most intractable problems. The militarization of our foreign policy is costing trillions of dollars, and garnering diminishing returns.

The Trump Doctr-un.

I was late on the bandwagon to denounce President Trump. While I did not vote for Trump, after he was elected I did feel he deserved a fair shot at the presidency, and held out hope that he would soon start “acting more presidential,” and perhaps even make good on his promise to surround himself with “the best people” to help guide policy making. These people I hoped, would reign in his more outlandish claims and steer him in the right direction. I understand that the right direction is subjective, but punishing for women for having abortions, implementing a Muslim ban, and building a wall, to the vast majority of reasonable people, are “wrong direction” ideas. I also believed that if all else failed the damage he could inflict would be mitigated by our system of checks and balances, and that our institutions would save us. As the past few weeks have unfolded, I found myself at first disappointed, then perplexed, astounded, and now, deeply disturbed.

I think it hit me when I was asked this question; if there were some national security emergency or foreign aggression, would I feel confident, or even comfortable, with how the Trump administration might the situation. The answer? Hell no.

I really dislike bandwagons, which is perhaps part of the reason I withheld judgment on Trump for so long. But its time for judgement. While no one expects complete theoretical coherence from any administration pertaining to foreign policy, no one expects complete incoherence either. Joe Finer, fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry, writes:

“In almost any other administration, much of the work of establishing basic foreign policy views would have been done already—not in the first month in office, but long before that, through working groups of policy experts convened by the campaign. The Trump campaign didn’t bother with that, either because they didn’t think it would help them win (which is probably true) or because they assumed that in the unlikely event of a victory they would quickly catch up (which was false).”

In the past four weeks, Iran has been “put on notice,” the one-China policy, which has been in place for over 40 years has been called into question, as has the NATO alliance, which Trump famously referred to as “obsolete”. Meanwhile, a Russian spy ship was detected 30 miles of the coast of Connecticut. The national security advisor has resigned, the story of which is still unfolding.The non-policy pertaining to the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been summed up by President Trump as this; “I’m looking at one state and two state and I like the one that both parties like.” Meanwhile, Trump has nominated David Friedman, who Politico referred to as “a pro-settlement activist who has referred to left-leaning Jews as “worse than Kapos,” a.k.a. the Jews who aided the Nazis during the Holocaust, because they urge Israel to make concessions for peace,” as the ambassador to Israel. Trumps son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a man with zero experience in policy or foreign relations, has been tasked with brokering peace in the Middle East. It has also been reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been left out of the loop on key decisions, such as the raid in Yemen, and the travel ban, which undoubtedly have significant impact on foreign relations. Rumors are abound that no one wants to touch the position of national security advisor, due to both a lack of control over their own staff, and a strange power sharing arrangement with Trumps “Strategic Initiative Group,” a White House policy think tank which consists of his “inner circle” of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

A former member of the Obama Administration tells Kimberly Dozier of The Daily Beast:

“To put it bluntly, this is truly crazy… Being a racist and misogynistic political adviser is one thing, but when that person controls domestic and national-security policy, it’s time to break glass because of emergency. I shudder to think what is next, once Bannon’s operation is fully staffed up.”

American’s are not alone in our concern over the incoherent foreign policy of the Trump administration; it was the focus of the Munich Security Conference this past weekend, which was attended by both Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Mattis. Robin Wright’s piece in the New Yorker provides an expert from the preparatory report:

“The preparatory report—written by an international team as the official “conversation starter”—uses stark language about the new American President. “The worries are that Trump will embark on a foreign policy based on superficial quick wins, zero-sum games, and mostly bilateral transactions—and that he may ignore the value of international order building, steady alliances, and strategic thinking,” it says. “Or, maybe worse, that he sees foreign and security policy as a game to be used whenever he needs distractions for domestic political purposes.” The report, “Post-Truth, Post-West, Post-Order?” adds candidly, “What is uncertain is how Trump’s core beliefs will translate into policy (and whether policies will be coherent).”

Many were concerned during Trump’s presidential campaign that he would retreat into isolationism, but that’s not quite what we’re seeing unfold. As Joe Finer, fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry points out:

“All this suggests that the handwringing during the campaign about the potential for Trump to squander America’s global position by deliberately shifting the country toward a posture of isolation was misplaced. What is emerging is something else entirely; an abdication of our leadership by default.”

Why is this so dangerous? Two reasons, which James Kitfield for Politico succinctly explains:

“Trump revels in his unpredictability, but it’s a very costly and risky way for a great power to pursue national objectives, Schake says, because friends can’t synchronize their actions to support you, and adversaries don’t know where the boundaries of acceptable behavior lie.”

The Power Behind the Throne

If you didn’t know who Steve Bannon was before January 20th, you probably do now. Steve Bannon is the former executive director of Breitbart news, and current Chief Strategist for President Trump. He’s also the man recently portrayed as the grim reaper on Saturday Night Live. A little background; Bannon grew up the son of working-class parents in Norfolk, Virgina. He went to Virginia Tech University where he graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in urban planning. He went on to earn a master’s degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown, and an M.B.A. from Harvard. In the late 1970s, he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Bannon then went on to work at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker, before switching over to the film industry, where he produced about 18 movies. In 2007, Bannon helped to found Breitbart News; a news, opinion and commentary website that was at the time known for promoting tea-party ideology. When Andrew Breitbart unexpectedly passed away in 2012, Bannon became executive chairman, and took the website in an “alt-right” direction. As Will Rhan, for CBS reports:

“Slowly but surely, Bannon turned Breitbart into not only the most-read conservative web outlet but also the most incendiary one. It was happy to embrace fringe beliefs like birtherism and play footsie with blatantly racist notions of black criminality. It wasn’t interested in looking even faintly objective, instead inventing easily understood “narratives” of crusading conservative heroes and their many victories against the hated left. Buckleyite movement conservatism had always been tethered away from all that by its desire for “respectability,” the idea that it should be taken seriously by outsiders as a real intellectual force. Bannon’s Breitbart didn’t have such scruples – it was playing directly to its very specific audience – and it would follow that audience wherever it went.”

Sound familiar? Anyhow…

A quick look at the comments section of the website will tell you all you need to now about Breitbart’s audience. The website has become a platform and breeding ground for those who identify as the “alt-right.”

Bannon is a self-described nationalist and Leninist, who has been quoted as saying:

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

If President Trump has a political philosophy, it has not become apparent. I think Noam Chomsky put it best when he said that Trump “has no known ideology other than me.” What has become apparent, is that President Trump lacks a strong moral center, or even guiding set of moral principles by which he plans to govern. Throughout his campaign he repeatedly eschewed questions regarding his policy stances, replying instead that he was going to put together team of “tremendous” individuals, “the best people” to formulate policy for him. To the point of other people writing policy for him, he has kept his word.

To the horror of many, two weeks into Trumps presidency, Bannon’s role in the White House is becoming clear. Many speculate that he was the “mastermind” (for an extreme lack of a better word) behind the immigration ban. Steve Bannon also gave himself a security clearance usually held by generals, and a permanent seat on the national security council. He did so by writing it into an executive order, which was signed by the President. Amazingly, the President apparently did not know this was in the executive order, because he didn’t read it.

If you had any question before about Bannon’s power in the administration, now you know that he is writing executive orders which President Trump will sign. Blindly. It’s been reported that not only does President Trump not read books, but that he won’t read anything longer than three paragraphs. Perhaps if he did, he would also have known that Bannon referred to him as “a blunt instrument for us” before adding “I don’t really know if he gets it or not.” Yes, the President’s top advisor essentially called the President a tool.

Steve Bannon’s political philosophy seems to be based on fear mongering, anger, and the perpetuation of misinformation. In my opinion, he is a much bigger threat to this country than President Trump. President Trump is notoriously thin-skinned. If there were a way to get Bannon out of the White House, publicly crediting Bannon as “the brains of the operation,” and portraying Trump as nothing more than Bannon’s puppet would probably be a great way to do it.

Jon Stewart: The Modern Public Intellectual. No Kidding.

The term public intellectual has a rather antiquated sound to it, conjuring up images of a bygone era, where men sat around parlors wearing vests, smoking pipes and sipping beverages out of tiny cups whilst waxing philosophically and debating the politics of the day. A quick google of the phrase “public intellectual” will provide you with a list of names, which, unless you yourself are perhaps a public intellectual, you will probably never have heard of, and some of which you will even probably fail to be able to pronounce correctly (I’m looking at you, Abdolkarim Sorouch).

The definition of a public intellectual, it turns out, is debatable. According to the Collins dictionary, the public intellectual:

“Is an intellectual, often a noted specialist in a particular field, who has become well-known to the general public for a willingness to comment on current affairs.”

Berry Gewen of the New York Times, offers a more nuanced definition of the term, suggesting we:

“Go back to the original New York Intellectuals for guidance. Broadly, they viewed the public intellectual as someone deeply committed to the life of the mind and to its impact on the society at large. Irving Howe refers to the pursuit of “the idea of centrality” among the writers he knew, and the yearning “to embrace . . . the spirit of the age.” That is, public intellectuals were free-floating and unattached generalists speaking out on every topic that came their way (though most important for the New York Intellectuals was the intersection of literature and politics). They might be journalists or academics, but only because they had to eat.”

Richard Posner, both a public intellectual, and an expert on the subject of public intellectuals wrote a book entitled “Public Intellectuals; A Study of Decline.” Posners central thesis is as follows:

“With the rapid growth of the media in recent years, highly visible forums for discussion have multiplied, while greater academic specialization has yielded a growing number of narrowly trained scholars. Posner tracks these two trends to their inevitable intersection: a proliferation of modern academics commenting on topics outside their ken. The resulting scene—one of off-the-cuff pronouncements, erroneous predictions, and ignorant policy proposals—compares poorly with the performance of earlier public intellectuals, largely nonacademics whose erudition and breadth of knowledge were well suited to public discourse.”

These conceptions aren’t wrong, but they do in my opinion leave out a central aspect of what it means to be a public intellectual; all the emphasis is on the subject, or “the intellectual,” while the predicate, or “the public”, is addressed as a mere afterthought. The definition of public is “of or concerning the people as a whole; ordinary people in general; the community.” A public intellectual, therefore, should be able to communicate complex ideas to common people.

As Brad Amburn of Foreign Policy Magazine points out:

“Part of being a “public intellectual” is also having a talent for communicating with a wide and diverse public.”

Or, in the famous words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”Taking into consideration all of the above, I argue that comedian and former talk show host Jon Stewart exemplifies what it means to be a public intellectual in the modern era.

Jon Stewart, born Jon Stuart Leibowitz in New York City, grew up in New Jersey with his three brothers, his mother — a teacher — and his psychiatrist father. Stewart attended the College of William and Mary, a small college in Williamsburg, Virginia where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, making Stewart education, but not to the extent that one would consider him an academic — a moniker that would have disqualified him (in some circles) as a true public intellectual in the 1960s.

At 25, Jon moved back to Manhattan, with dreams of making it as a comedian. After years of performing on the standup comic circuit, he caught the eye of a producer for the David Letterman Show, who invited Stewart to perform on the show. Soon after, he was offered his own show on the MTV network, which would come to be called “The Jon Stewart Show.” Although his show was well received, it was ultimately cancelled. His next move took him to Los Angeles, where he worked as an actor before deciding Hollywood wasn’t for him. Back in New York, Stewart wrote and published his first of three books, a series of short stories entitled “Naked Pictures of Famous People.” The book became a best seller on the New York Times best seller list. In 1999, Stewart finally found his niche, when he took over “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central.
By this time, Jon Stewart was well on his way to becoming a bona-fide public intellectual, bringing his own brand of political satire to mainstream audiences . As James Parker, for The Atlantic writes:

“Reverence for the news, however, news-idolatry, was eroding steadily—to the point where, by 1999 and the start of Stewart’s tenure on The Daily Show, the only type of news one could take seriously was the fundamentally unserious. And so satire, which appears to be hocking loogies from the margins but in fact takes its bearings from a higher authority, came blushingly to occupy the middle. There was Jon Stewart on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004, smack in the moral center, sitting like a barbed lotus between the blah on the right (Tucker Carlson) and the blah on the left (Paul Begala), destroying them both with divine satirical perspective and insisting all the while that he was just a comedian.”

On “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart delivered the news from the perspective of a critical outsider, shining a light on the absurdity of the media, taking to task politicians on both sides of the aisle, criticizing ill-informed policies, and raising the bar for what passed as political discourse. But the true genius of Jon Stewart, was his ability to deliver hard news in a way that made so many people laugh. The importance of humor as a means to infiltrate the minds of people cannot be understated. As Alice Gregory, for the New York Times writes:

“Humor gives (us) both permission and incentive to examine the world for its flaws, as well as a medium for reporting them back to us. Jokes bring pleasure that is intoxicating in a way that an argument almost never is. A joke forces you to agree with it, or at least reckon with its truth by acknowledging that it made you smile. Laughter is pre-analyzed agreement.”

Over the course of 16 years, Stewart became a touchstone for millions of Americans, a person one could look to for an intelligent take on a variety of issues. He became one of the most trusted names in journalism, a person who could be counted on to call out fallacies and contradictions many “serious” journalists failed to acknowledge. Jon Stewart conversed with over 2600 guests on his show, guests ranging from the President of the United States, to actors, comedians, writers, musicians, world leaders, administration officials, congressmen, senators, and of course, public intellectuals. In these interviews, guests were always met with Stewarts quick wit, the kind of wit that can only come with a certain level of intellect. He spoke truth to power in straightforward language, using satire as a vehicle to get people to pay attention to heavy and important issues. Anyone who can go toe to toe with such a wide variety of experts in their respective fields, and manage to make people laugh while doing it, deserves to be called public intellectual.

Since his retirement from The Daily Show, Stewart is still called upon to comment publicly on news stories of political and cultural importance. He has also directed a film, entitled “Rosewater,” a true story about an Iranian journalist working for the BBC, who was arrested and subsequently tortured by the Iranian government. Additionally, Jon and his wife Tracey, an animal welfare activist, have opened four farm sanctuaries, and worked to pass new legislation to benefit the lives of millions of animals. Just months before his retirement, in an interview with the Guardian, Stewart contemplated what he would like to do when he left the show:

“Whether it’s standup, the show, books or films, I consider all this just different vehicles to continue a conversation about what it means to be a democratic nation, and to have it written into the constitution that all men are created equal – but to live with that for 100 years with slaves. How do those contradictions play themselves out? And how do we honestly assess our failings and move forward with integrity?”

Spoken like a true public intellectual.