Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brave Thinkers of 2011 from The Atlantic

With its "Brave Thinkers of 2011," The Atlantic's November issue offers a glimpse into the thinking of 21 people who are making a difference in the world. Not surprisingly, Barack Obama and Steve Jobs are included in this list, and justifiably so.

However, what attracts me to this kind of feature is the introduction it gives to people I'd otherwise be unaware of, and to have the delight and stimulation of being exposed to their accomplishments and ideas.

For example, meet Hawa Abdi, of Mogadishu, a doctor who opened a one-room clinic in the Somali capital 25 years, and grew it into a 400-bed hospital. When armed militants surrounded the hospital earlier this year, they said, "No woman was fit for such a powerful job."

She replied: "I may be a woman. But I have been working for this country for the past 20 years. What have you done?"

The militants became angry, and according to The Atlantic, took Dr. Abdi hostage, and went through the hospital on a smashing rampage. They released her the next day, but it took her another week to persuade them to leave the hospital and the camp for 90,000 homeless Somalis surrounding it.

She demanded, and got, an apology from the militants' leader.

I'm glad I read about Dr. Abdi. There's not much good news comes from Somalia these days, and this story is the exception.

I'm also pleased Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who spent 81 days in detention earlier this year, finds a place in this group. His activism is a reflection of our times: "The reason for this detention was not, most likely, Ai's artwork, but rather his social networking. Many of the 60,000-plus tweets he'd posted before his arrest mocked the Chinese Communist Party and its incompetence and cover-ups." As part of his release agreement, Ai had to agree to no public statements for a year.

And on the other side of the globe, New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie is described as modeling "what a warrior in the fight against terrorism should be," for opposing those who fire up prejudice toward Muslims in the process. What made Christie noteworthy was his principled defense of a Muslim lawyer whom he'd nominated for a position on the state's superior court. Some conservatives were quick to criticize the governor for his choice.

Rather than back down, or simply leave it to legislators to vote on the nominee, Christie joined battle on the side of rationality and the facts, probably to the chagrin of his critics, some of whom had been raising the specter of Sharia law. Says Christie in The Atlantic: "This Sharia-law business is crap. It's just crazy, and I'm tired of dealing with the crazies. It's just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background."

I've hardly presented a representative overview of the people named "brave thinkers," but given the range of individuals selected and the diversity of their ideas, that's probably not possible. Not everyone listed excited me, or takes positions I'd agree with. But that's not the point of this collection of "brave thinkers."

For an enjoyable and stimulating read, check out "Brave Thinkers 2011" on-line, or in The Atlantic's November hard copy magazine.

The Atlantic has long been one of my favorite magazines and on-line sites because, ultimately, it's always about people and their ideas. An idea-laden article in this issue is "E. O. Wilson's Theory of Everything," about the famous biologist who, among other things, "seeks to save a park in Mozambique - and to save humanity." Not to be missed.

And let me end this exuberant take on The Atlantic's November issue with a reference to one of the best articles I've seen on hacking, risks of being in the cloud, and how we can protect ourselves on line.

The seed for the article, Hacked, by James Fallows, was planted when his wife's Gmail account was taken over. Fallows covers that event, and what ensued as he sought answers, in his usual meticulous and readable style. Regular The Atlantic readers will know Fallows for his in-depth political reporting, as well as for his columns on software and related topics.

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