American Exceptionalism Defined

The PeripheralLast summer I read an extraordinary book – The Peripheral by William Gibson (@greatdismal) – that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to look 20 – and 100 – years into the future. It’s such a good book, in fact, that I’ve re-read it (something I almost never do). Twice.

At one point in the book, the primary character is explaining why she refuses to do something terrible to people who are actively trying to hurt her and her family even though her refusal put her and her loved ones in danger. In three simple sentences, she explained American exceptionalism in words even Donald Trump can understand:

“They’re assholes. We’re not. But we’re only not assholes if we won’t do shit like that.”

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, appears to believe that American exceptionalism means we have to one-up the assholes. If you’ve ever caught one of his rallies, he loves to tell the (apparently pants-on-fire false) story of how Gen. John Pershing “took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood,” and shot 49 Muslim rebels. “The 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.”

In Mr. Trump’s worldview, ISIS’ burning captives to death or conducting mass drownings isn’t a sign of its illegitimacy, it’s the nation-state equivalent of a “your momma” diss that has to be outdone.

Sad!

– Austin

 

 

William Souder’s “On a Farther Shore” Scores NYTimes Nod

Congratulations to our very Rowdy William Souder whose biography of Rachel Carson, On a Farther Shore, has been named to the “100 Notable Books of 2012” by the New York Times.

What a nice acknowledgment for our friend of a job well done.

Author and reviewer Elizabeth Royte calls Williams’s writing “absorbing.” Here’s part of her summary:

In Souder’s telling, almost every aspect of Carson’s life and times becomes captivating: her difficult personal circumstances (she grew up in rural poverty, was the sole breadwinner in her family and battled breast cancer while writing and then defending “Silent Spring”); the publishing milieu; and the continuing friction between those who would preserve nature versus those who would bend it to provide utility for man.

Sources also tell me Bill will be on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” this Saturday, Dec. 1, at 6 p.m. our time. (And, no, I am not his press agent.)

How cool is this all? Way cool. Nicely played, Master Souder.

One of Our Own…

Kudos to our blogmate Souder for birthing another book, On a Farther Shore, The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Carson’s Silent Spring and it is a fitting time for a top-flight author like Bill to look back on what that book did – and didn’t – mean for the environmental movement and how it came along just as the American people (and others) were first awakening to the idea that “Better Living Through Chemicals” might not be true in every instance.

Mr. Souder gave a nice interview on the book to MinnPost that’s available here and you can – I’m sure – expect to see other interviews pop up on whatever passes for a press tour today.

Well done, Mr. Souder, except for the collateral damage of making the rest of your blogmates look like slackers.  We’d welcome any posting you’d care to make about the book, Ms. Carson or the research and writing process.

– Austin

 

 

Book Club Reminder

Hello Crowdies.  Just a reminder that our Same Rowdy Crowd Book Club is scheduled to meet a week from today to discuss Thomas Mann’s and Norm Ornstein’s book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

I’ve extended an invitation to the authors to participate but haven’t heard anything in response.  Not surprising given their schedules, but I figured it was worth an e-mail.

My plan is to post an initial take on the book, pose a couple of questions and then step back to watch the fur fly.  I’ll try to be close to the computer that day so as to facilitate as needed.

The book is an easy read so it’s not too late to get in on the fun.

– Austin

Online Brainstorms Overcome Many Problems of Traditional Brainstorms

The other day, I highlighted research showing that face-to-face brainstorming meetings are not as effective at generating ideas as quiet contemplation. It’s important to note one partial exception to that rule: online brainstorming.

E-brainstorming.
The research is very supportive of online brainstorming. With face-to-face brainstorming, the larger the group, the worse the performance, both in terms of quantity and quality. With online brainstorming, however, the bigger the group, the better the performance, according to the research.

Why? I’d say it is because online brainstorming fosters what introverts particularly need to excel, time for quiet contemplation and self-vetting. Online brainstorming – a prolonged email-based discussion, for instance – removes many of the problems associated with the ubiquitous face-to-face brainstorming sessions so many organizations adore.

First, online brainstorms remove many of the distractions inherent in face-to-face brainstorm sessions. In face-to-face brainstorming sessions, our minds are racing from irrelevant subject to irrelevant subject: “The facilitator is not as funny as he thinks he is…do people think I’m talking too little, or too much…why Snickers…bad hair day, dude…why does she always work the word “synergy” into every monologue…if I had pointy shoes like that guy, would people conclude that I’m creative…wouldn’t white boards be more environmentally sustainable than giant Post-it notes…is the facilitator on happy pills?”

When you’re back at your keyboard, those environmental distractions are removed, so you can focus on the task at hand. Sure, distractions still exist in your office, but nothing like the wild sideshows happening in Cirque du Brainstormsession.

Second, the problem of “evaluation apprehension” – the fear of looking moronic in front of colleaugues — is mitigated online. After all, with online brainstorms, you have ample time to self-scrutinize and research your argument before expressing it, which builds confidence in the value of the contribution. When allowed sufficient time to develop the idea, you are much more likely to share it, and it is likely to be a better developed idea. Not so with the spontaneous blurting required in face-to-face brainstorming.

Third, the problem of “production blocking” – where thoughts are lost as you’re waiting for others to express their ideas — is nearly eliminated during online brainstorms. With online brainstorms, thoughts can be written down, and fully developed, as you have them.

In short, online brainstorms allow for uninterrupted contemplation, while still taking advantages of the “wisdom of crowds” phenomena.

In the book Wisdom of Crowds, author James Surowiecki sings the praises of the decisions crowds jointly make. But Surowiecki also stresses that crowds are capable of making very bad decisions. He says that a primary factor that leads to poor crowd decision making is when members of the crowd are so conscious of the opinions of others that they start to emulate each other and conform, rather than thinking as individuals.

Face-to-face meetings are much more apt to generate this kind of blind following of vocal group leaders than large groups of people sitting at their keyboards thinking independently.

Granted, online brainstorms are far from perfect. For instance, the problem of social loafing – sitting back and letting others do the work – arguably could be aggravated with large online groups. And tragically, there is no junk food supplied at e-brainstorms. But online brainstorms do avoid many of the problems associated with face-to-face brainstorms, and research indicates that they produce better results.

– Loveland

Barack, behind the scenes

You might as well get a divorce and disown the kids now. Newsweek’s “we promise not to report it until after the election” story is going to take a while to read, but if you’re like me, you probably won’t be able to help yourself.

I’m a sucker for the “inside baseball” stuff, and there’s a lot here. Seven chapters in total, and the first chapter is hefty on its own.

If you’re looking for a shorter read, Bruce touches on the ethics around digging stuff up on a presidential candidate but not bothering to publish it until it’s too late.

(UPDATE: Headline should read, “Campaign 2008, behind the scenes.” I was only deep into the first of seven chapters when I shared this great find. There’s a lot more here than Barack.) small business payroll software nice