George & Danielle: Non-Strangers

December 19th, 2005

Earlier this year I was perusing the New York Review of Books (my copy of Us magazine hadn't arrived yet) when I happened to see an ad for a book called Talking to Strangers, by a University of Chicago professor named Danielle Allen. At the time, I was looking forward -- with a healthy amount of trepidation -- to this new gig as a TV interviewer, and so the idea of talking to strangers was very much on my mind. That day, on my way to pick up my son from after-school, I bought a copy. Even before I'd left the store, I started reading the opening chapter and instantly got caught up in Allen's narrative.

Danielle AllenWhich is not to say that her book is your typical page-turner. It's a passionate, and breathtakingly erudite, work of political theory -- weaving together the civil rights movement, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Aristotle's writings on ethics, and many other sources into a thrillingly possible-feeling proposal for making our democracy more ... well ... democratic. I ended up underlining virtually every sentence, as time after time I found that Allen was addressing issues that had deeply troubled me -- especially on the heels of the last presidential election, when I feared that our country was in danger of breaking apart into simplistic, and polarized, contingents of "red" versus "blue." (Okay, I still fear that.) Her book -- despite its modest, down-to-earth, questioning tone -- makes a forceful and persuasive argument that we need to focus on creating political friendships across party, class, racial, and other lines. I'm thrilled that, during a brief visit to the Bay Area, she was able to drop by our studios for a conversation on the show that will air tonight at 7:30 (and be repeated on Friday night at both 7:30 and 10:30). ...

George LakoffMy other guest, George Lakoff, had only to cross the Bay to reach us. Which is not to say it was exactly easy to schedule him: because his powerful ideas about political "framing" have become so influential, he has a demanding cross-country travel itinerary that would seem unusual for your typical, mild-mannered linguistics professor at Cal-Berkeley. Even before the publication of his latest book, the slim and accessible Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, Lakoff -- a founder of the Berkeley-based think tank the Rockridge Institute -- had become a hot commodity among politicos, from U.S. senators on down to grassroots activists. Like Danielle Allen, he is devoted to deepening the national dialogue about the pressing issues of our day. And on the show, he argued that following the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, we may actually be facing a unique opportunity to come together as citizens. I hope he's right! ...

In between the two interviews is a "Wandering Josh" segment in which I present some very silly petitions to some very patient Berkeleyites. Based on this first foray into the political arena, I think it's safe to say that if I ever run for office, I am highly likely to get myself recalled before the election can even take place. ...

Entry Filed under: tv episodes


  • 1. Berlinda  |  May 9th, 2007 at 11:00 am

    My book club just met last night to discuss Saving Fish From Drowning. People either loved it or hated it. I thought I hated it until I realized I’d taken 7 pages of notes and was really involved with the characters. Other members thought there were too many characters! I basically hated those ‘ugly Americans’. Why? Because they represent the worst of the way American’s are and Amy Tan has, again, hit the nail on the head. Bibi’s voice was my favorite part of the book. The learned guide trying to show the beauty in the differences of cultures. If only she would have been there – gee – there wouldn’t have been a book!! I loved having the wool pulled over my eyes. Amy’s introduction how the story came about really sucked me in! Until just now, I NEVER realized Bibi Chen was not a ‘historically’ real person!! This is as funny as ‘The Bridges Of Madison County’ which my club ALL took to be a really real story. Duh. But I had a horrendous time with those awful travellers…and in the end, what the Karen were afraid of apparently came true anyhow. Thoughts provoked about how anyone can actually DO anything for people living and horribly dying under the regime of despots and windbags…

  • 2. GaryinNH  |  May 11th, 2007 at 5:51 am

    I never believed there was life after Joy Luck Club,,,it was brilliant. Then I discovered The Hundred Secret Senses and I learned I was wrong. Now I am just beginning Saving Fish from Drowning and I did a Google early on. I am not disappointed to learn that Bibi is purely fictional. I am beginning to view Amy as a weaver finch which takes pure love of task to interknit a wonderful tale melding fiction with non fiction. I imagine sitting around a campfire to listen to Amy Tam reaching back to bring us forward. I always feel I learn more about myself. Now I am going to finish and hope that many many fish will be saved.

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