Journalist Mike Barnicle to take optimistic view at OLLI lecture

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PITTSFIELD — Before an Eagle interview Tuesday evening, Boston-based journalist and commentator Mike Barnicle was on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" questioning former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden in light of the fall of Iraqi city Ramadi to ISIS.

"How many more American lives are we willing to risk, and lose" to regain control in Iraq? Barnicle asked.

"It's depressing," Barnicle later told The Eagle, "the fact that we've literally been a nation on war footing for 14 years."

True to form, Barnicle kept the criticism coming topic to topic: highlighting what he called the callous dismissal of the poorest Americans by certain politicians and media outlets, outsized public subsidies to multinational businesses who never seem to create enough jobs in the right place, or the dismal Red Sox record of late.

"They've got to jack it up and get that thing going," Barnicle said.

But an entirely different theme will occupy Barnicle during a visit to the Berkshires on Friday (May 22): optimism.

Barnicle's discussion of "America's Most Ignored Asset" is slated as this year's Mona Sherman Memorial Lecture, presented by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College. The Colonial Theatre doors open at 4:30 p.m. for OLLI's annual meeting; Barnicle's speech begins at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

What does Barnicle feel optimistic about?

Well, Friday's event, for one thing.

"Any cause that encourages people to never stop learning, never stop participating in the social/cultural experiment that is these United States of America, and is Berkshire County and is Pittsfield — I'm for it," Barnicle said. "That's why I'm going."

Sherman in her life played a key role in the growth of OLLI and its predecessor organization, the Berkshire Institute for Lifetime Learning.

Barnicle, a print and broadcast journalist known for his columns in The Boston Herald, The Boston Globe, New York Daily News, The Daily Beast and others, plans to use his platform to discuss "our social media obsession" and why it can contribute to polarization and cynicism.

"We are not optimistic enough about the country we live in," Barnicle said. "Much of what's coming down from Washington is not serving us well, but this is still the greatest country in the world to live in.

"I am a product of this country's optimism and promise," he said, noting he might easily have not been as successful if he had "taken a right instead of a left when I was 19 or 20."

Social media, Barnicle says, has contributed to shortening people's attention spans and their appetite for confrontation and controversy, and too often substitutes for genuine communication.

"There is no substitute for eye contact," he said. "There is no substitute for interacting with another human being in person, for, 'Hey, how are you doing?' There is no substitute for the natural curiosity and sympathy that comes from really spending time with someone else or a group of people."

OLLI Executive Director Megan Whilden said she's excited about the topic.

"The world news has been pretty rough lately," Whilden said. "Barnicle delves into all these issues in his columns: from [former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi] being put to death, to what the heck is going on in Iraq, to racial tensions here in the United States.

"I think what he can be, is a plainspoken voice saying that the news can be overwhelming, but we need to remember that we've been there. We've gotten through a lot and we'll get through this as well."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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