Friday, February 27, 2015

#58 / Quirky lets people with ideas for new products get their ideas "crowd sourced," and then perhaps developed. You can read all about it right here, on the website.

You can also read about Quirky in an article titled "The Invention Mob," published in the "Sunday Business" section of The New York Times on Sunday, February 15th. 

The Times article tells a "feel good" story about Quirky. After reading the story and feeling good for awhile, though, it suddenly struck me that Quirky is all about the production of consumer goods. In fact, if you type "" into your favorite web browser, here is where the browser takes you:

Our best aspirations, our most creative impulses, are being directed into ways to fuel our increased production, and then consumption, of things. 

Here's another website, as an antidote: The Story of Stuff. I recommend it!

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

#57 / Instant Shame

"Feed Frenzy," an article by Jon Ronson, was published in The New York Times Magazine on February 15, 2015. It tells a pretty horrific tale about the personal disasters than can be brought on by one thoughtless remark, when that remark is magnified in importance and widely distributed by social media. I recommend the article, which is soon to be included in a book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed. The book is scheduled for publication in March by Riverhead Books

In many ways, "Feed Frenzy" made me think even more about what some might call "mob democracy," and about the less than stellar success that social media has had in the realm of political movements aimed at achieving political, economic, and social change

Real contact with real people is essential, in politics (and in life).

That kind of direct, human contact is essential if we are hoping to succeed in making positive changes in the world we most immediately inhabit (and that we, ourselves, create).

That kind of direct, human contact with the people to whom one is connected (or to whom one thinks he or she is connected) is essential if we are to prevent the kind of catastrophic personal destruction chronicled in "Feed Frenzy."

"Feed Frenzy" is sort of like those "viewer advisory" pieces you sometimes see before a television show that includes nudity, sex, bad language, and violence. Except, in this case, it's an advisory to those making posts to social media. It's pretty clear that what happened in the case of Justine Sacco, as described in the article, is not an isolated phenomenon.

Viewer discretion is advised. / Posting discretion is advised!

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

#56 / The Red Dean

Gus Speth has written an essay in The Nation called "How I Became A Radical." At least, that is the title that the article bears in the hard copy edition mailed to the homes and post office boxes of subscribers. Online, the very same article is called "Am I A Radical?" This seems to indicate a little less certainty about Speth's self-designation. 

To begin, let's go with the presumption that Speth is, indeed, a "radical." After all, one of his colleagues at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies called him "the red dean." Read the article to see Speth's progress from a "nice, conservative, southern white boy" into a "civilly disobedient, older (but still white) guy bent on transformative change in our system of political economy."

I was particularly struck by one comment Speth makes in the article. Reacting to academic colleagues who urged him not to be so "negative," Speth resisted: 

"The problems are many and massive.... We must be brutally honest about it. If we don't get that right, we won't find the right answers...."

I identify with Speth's unwillingness to tailor his comments so as to eliminate any hint of "negativity." We all need to be honest, and to "tell it like it is." However, "brutal honesty" about the scale and seriousness of the problems we confront will end up discouraging lots of people who need to be enlisted into the ranks of the "radical." While some people are spurred on by the size and difficulty of the challenges we confront, others come to the conclusion that since the scale of these problems is so great there is nothing we can do about them. Thus, "why try if you can't win?"

It strikes me that while one needs to be honest with oneself, the job of the radical is not, actually, to "observe and describe," and to tell others how bad things really are.

That's the role of an academic, the role of an observer. 

For radicals, the job is not to describe the world.

Our job is to change it.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#55 / What Do You Make?

Taylor Mali is featured in a video presentation that celebrates teachers, and that makes clear just exactly what great teachers do. Click the link to hear his pitch. It's only 3 minutes and 23 seconds long. It's a short trip worth taking. 

The punchline is at the end. 

Wait for it....

Mali's answer to the question might work for others, too. Not just teachers. 

I want to be able to give the same answer to the question that he did.

So do you.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

#54 / Sock Puppets

There was a big controversy when published a full-page ad in The New York Times on September 10, 2007. The ad (quickly removed from the MoveOn website) accused General David H. Petraeus of "cooking the books for the White House." The ad also labeled the General as "General Betray Us."

Click the link to read a recent article in The Guardian about "an effort by the US military to develop software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda." 

General Petraeus is quoted as supporting the effort:

In evidence to the US Senate's armed services committee last year, General David Petraeus, then commander of Centcom, described the operation as an effort to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard." He said the US military's objective was to be "first with the truth."

Fake online personages are often called "sock puppets." Using "sock puppets" to impart the "truth" is truly a novel concept - or is that what Sesame Street does?

In this case, it's costing the U.S. Taxpayers $2.76 million for the software contract to produce the puppetry.

Better check the list of your "Facebook Friends." 

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

#53 / The Ties That Bind

Wikipedia has published a long list of things to which the phrase "The Ties That Bind" may apply. The categories of music, literature, television episodes, and other media are included in the Wikipedia list. 

But let's not forget politics!

A February 20, 2015 article in The Wall Street Journal carries the title, "Clinton's Corporate Ties." 

Among recent secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton was one of the most aggressive global cheerleaders for American companies, pushing governments to sign deals and change policies to the advantage of corporate giants such as General Electric Co., Exxon Mobil Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co. 
At the same time, those companies were among the many that gave to the Clinton family's global foundation set up by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. At least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during her tenure donated a total of more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of public and foundation disclosures.

The kind of bondage reflected in The Wall Street Journal analysis makes the variety portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey seem tame. 

You don't think those ties will bind?

Think again!

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

#52 / The President Meets Niebuhr

Ross Douthat, who is an opinion writer for The New York Times, wrote a recent column entitled "Obama the Theologian." In that column, Douthat observes that our President is "a professed admirer of Reinhold Niebuhr."

Niebuhr (pictured above) was among the most "political" of our theologians. He is known for his "Christian realism," and did, indeed, as Douthat notes, suggest that "no society is innocent." 

The President was roundly criticized for advancing beyond his well-received and very acceptable denunciation of Islamic radicals for distorting religion to justify wars and violence. The President got plaudits for issuing the expected denunciation, but the President went on to suggest that our own society is implicated in very similar distortions: 

"Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” [the President] told the group, speaking of the tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Douthat compared Obama's recent pronouncements to President Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the Nation, which warned against the dangers of the military-industrial complex. 

Eisenhower, like Obama, was basically suggesting that Americans should heed the advice of Matthew 7:5, and "first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

Douthat's conclusion is that Obama's speech failed, and that Eisenhower's succeeded. In the case of Eisenhower, it was Eisenhower's own political party that was facilitating and advancing the actions against which Eisenhower spoke. Thus, he truly criticized himself. Not so for President Obama, according to Douthat: 

The deep problem with his Niebuhrian style isn't that it's too disenchanted or insufficiently pro-American. It's that too often it offers "self"-criticism in which the president's own party and worldview slip away untouched. 

I think Douthat has a point, particularly considering the fact that President Obama continues to assert his unique right to murder people anywhere in the world, based on his judgment that the people he targets "might" do the United States some harm in the future, or that they otherwise "deserve to die." 

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Friday, February 20, 2015

#51 / Save The World Club

I was thinking that maybe I should start a "Save The World Club." 

Turns out that name is taken!

Maybe we could have more than one?

Seems like there is a lot of "saving" still to do!

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

#50 / Even Jesus

On Wednesday, February 18, 2015, presidential candidate Jeb Bush made a statement. So did our current President, Barack Obama. 

As I noted at the time, in a couple of postings to my Facebook page, both statements were "good news" for the merchants of death who celebrate the military actions that the United States is embarking upon virtually everywhere around the globe.

Click the link in this line, or in the line above, to read the full text of Masters of War

Click this link to see Bob Dylan singing The Times They Are A-Changin' at the White House.

MY COMMENT: These times are not going to change automatically. We're going to have to do something about it!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#49 / Against The Ruin Of The World

Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: The creative act.

The quote is from Rexroth's essay "Disengagement: The Art of the Beat Generation." 

I actually picked up this quote from an article on Judith Regan, published in the "Sunday Styles" section of The New York Times.

I hope we are all clear about the "ruin of the world." 

If it is the human-constructed world we are talking about, we can create a new one. We have recourse, always, to "the creative act."

If it is the World of Nature we are talking about, we are in a much different position. That is a world that we did not create ourselves. In that world, our creative acts avail us nothing.

We should be careful, thus, not to ruin the Natural World, upon which our own world, and all life, depends.

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