Sunday, June 29, 2008

June 29th Edition of Forward Forum

By: John Quinlan

On this week's show, we'll be interviewing the authors of two cutting-edge books that examine American history in ways with deep resonances for the challenges facing the country today.

At 7pm, we'll be joined by Paul Fisher, author of "House of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family." Author Paul Fisher's book about the James Family tells a uniquely American tale about this family comprised of both superachievers and underachievers. Much of this story takes place in 19th century Wisconsin, and at least two of the characters are involved in homosexual relationships in an era before that term had even come into widespread usage. Patriarch Henry, Sr. and matriarch Alice had high expectations for their progeny, seeing many of their dreams realized in the lives of two of their sons, literary great Henry James and pioneering psychologist William James. And yet much is also revealed about the family in the telling of the family's lesser-known members, the story of two younger brothers who worked primarily as manual laborers, Wilkie and Bob, and their lone sister, Alice, a pioneering feminist. Grappling with both success and disappointment, with struggles of sexual identity, and with the challenges facing strong women in a time of contradictory social expectations.... this is a family whose struggles rival those of the characters of any modern day melodrama. It's a story you'll want to hear firsthand.

In our 8 pm hour, we'll be joined by James W. Douglass, author of "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters." In Madison, and in locations across the US, James Douglass has drawn large crowds, interested in hearing his compelling observations about the deeper meanings of the Kennedy presidency, and the motivations of whose actions were behind his assassination--as a means preventing him from challenging the status quo in a world on the edge of nuclear war by pursuing policies of peace. Millions of words have been written about the "truth" behind the Kennedy assassination, with accompanying conspiracy theories galore. But somehow Douglass has raised the bar on these discussions with his insightful analysis of the institutional forces in American society who have used virtually any means available to prevent substantial changes in American policy.

Douglass's reference to "The Unspeakable" evokes the identities and motivations of those mysterious powers-that-be behind the scenes who had a vested interest in ending the Kennedy presidency. At the same time, his book is also a deep analysis on a psychological level of the changes in philosophy that occurred in a young president who assumed office simultaneous to his becoming a father. One of the most poignant and prescient passages in his book describes how the birth and death of Kennedy's premature infant son affected him deeply--opening up a deep empathy in him for the suffering of the world's children, and the potential loss of life represented by nuclear war. At a time of profound political change, there are deep resonances and myriad lessons contained in Douglass's books about the nature of those who oppose positive social change because it threatens the realm of the ruling elite. Please join us for a fascinating discussion of the Kennedy era--a period often romanticized, but seldom understood--an era whose lessons have multiple implications for today.

As always, we'll also take time to examine recent developments in the news from a Madison perspective. The end of June is a time of year when Forward Forum traditionally covers two overarching themes: the anniversary of the history-making 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, and its impact on the LGBT rights movement, and the multi-layered meanings behind patriotism, as we mark Independence Day. (LGBT Pride is traditionally celebrated in Madison during the third weekend of July, and next weekend will be the week we use to mark Independence Day.) Look for our exploration of these and other themes next week, and in weeks to come throughout July on Forward Forum.

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