Welcome to my revamped website. It now has a title–to reflect a basic fact of my existence, which colors my writing and reporting: I am an American who lives in Amsterdam, and this perch gives me both occasion to study what is going on around me in Europe and a sometimes useful distance from which to monitor the U.S. My work as a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine reflects this: one piece will be about the Catholic Church in Europe, another about the Texas board of education. My alternate job–as director of the John Adams Institute, an independent American culture center in Amsterdam–accomplishes the same thing in a different way. The Institute brings American speakers to the Netherlands to give European audiences a window onto what’s going on in the U.S. Recently we’ve hosted Spike Lee and Jonathan Franzen. On February 8, we have Robert Kaplan discussing the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, and on March 2 Nicholas Carr will debate the internet itself.
After having spent most of the past five years in the Netherlands, I remain convinced there is a lot that the U.S. can learn from Europe; there are also great waves of misinformation flowing both ways. Try as they might (which by and large they don’t), Europeans can’t help but see America as a cartoon. And the Fox News view of Amsterdam as a den of vice is equally unfortunate: it may be useful to score political points, but whitewashing complexities blinds one to a lot that is of value. The Dutch social welfare system, for example (see my Times Magazine piece of May 3, 2009, under Articles), is an ultra-sophisticated public-private mix, which gives, among other things, good health care at a fraction of what Americans pay. Experiencing it was one of my first insights as a Transatlantic being. Living with its sensible benefits, while observing the Republican majority in Congress trying to dismantle the already tepid reforms enacted by the last Congress, is an exercise in exasperation.