Monday, January 16, 2017

presidential notes

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

~~  George Santayana

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.  Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

~~  Groucho Marx

An article in today's New York Times, written by book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, was based on an interview with outgoing President Barack Obama about books, and reading.

--------------------------- [excerpts] ----------------- ...During his eight years in the White House -- in a noisy era of information overload, extreme partisanship and knee-jerk reactions -- books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.

"At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted," he said, reading gave him the ability to occasionally "slow down and get perspective" and "the ability to get in somebody else's shoes."

...The writings of Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, Mr. Obama found, were "particularly helpful" when "what you wanted was a sense of solidarity," adding "during very difficult moments, this job can be very isolating." 

"So sometimes you have to sort of hop across history to find folks who have been similarly feeling isolated, and that's been useful."

...Presidential biographies also provided context, countering the tendency to think "that whatever's going on right now is uniquely disastrous or amazing or difficult," he said.  "It just serves you well to think about Roosevelt trying to navigate through World War II."

...Mr. Obama says he is hoping to eventually use his presidential center website "to widen the audience for good books" -- something he's already done with regular lists of book recommendations -- and then encourage a public "conversation about books."

"At a time," he says, "when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify -- as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize -- is more important than ever." ----------------------------- [end, excerpts]


One of my father's favorite theologians was Reinhold Niebuhr -- and Niebuhr is mentioned in the article as well:  during Obama's last two years at college he read through a series of philosophical writings:  St. Augustine, to Nietzsche, Emerson to Sartre to Niebuhr....

>>  On the topic of his own writing:

The article says President Obama is planning a memoir on the White House years:  he said he likes to write first drafts, long hand, on yellow legal pads. ...

It says he worked on his writing as a young man, keeping a journal and writing short stories when he was a community organizer in Chicago. 

He would write after he came home from work. 

The President says, "There is not a lot of Jack Kerouac open-road, young kid...discovering stuff," he says.  "It's more melancholy and reflective."


One of the first things I noticed that I thought was cool during President Obama's administration was in 2009 at Easter, he read aloud to children outdoors on the White House lawn.  The book he read them was Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are.  Which my mom read to me when I was little, and that book was new....

And there's a little societal / time change manifested right there -- when I was little, it was the mom's job to read aloud to kids, not the dad's job.  When I mentioned Pres. Obama reading to the children, to a friend in my parents' age group -- the World War II generation -- she remarked immediately on how unusual it was for a father to do that....

In this photo, Pres. Obama is reading the book to the kids and sort of acting it out, as well.  "Scary" ...

: )

Apparently reading that book every year at Easter-time became a tradition, because I remember he did it in 2009, early in his first term, but in the above picture, you can see his gray hair, and he didn't have that much gray hair at first.  (Think this picture is from 2012 or '14....)


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