The Gaps, Crap and Gumption Traps in Creative Work


ThisAmericanLifeThe poster above reflects hard-won wisdom acquired and shared by Ira Glass, host of PRI's This American Life, emphasizing the importance of perseverance in developing mastery of creative production. While Glass focuses on storytelling for radio and television, his insights and experiences about the gaps between ambitions and realizations - and the connections between quantity and quality - relate to wisdom I've encountered from masters of the crafts of filmmaking and maintaining motorcycles. I believe this wisdom applies to any creative endeavor, and I would argue that storytelling is an essential ingredient in every creative enterprise, as the creative things we produce and consume comprise an integral part of the stories we make up about ourselves.

The poster is derived from a video interview posted in August 2009 (Ira Glass on Storytelling, Part 3 of 4) in which he describes both the frustration and importance of making stuff that is still "kind of crappy" as an unavoidable part of the apprenticeship required for the journey to master craftspersonship ... and, according to Sturgeon's Law, 90% of everything is crap anyway.

Being_Wrong_Kathryn_SchulzIra Glass is my favorite interviewer, and so I was intrigued when he was interviewed by another experienced interviewer, Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong. The interview, which appeared in a June 2010 Slate article, On Air and On Error: This American Life's Ira Glass on Being Wrong, offers some glimpses of the wisdom captured in the pithy poster above:

One of the reasons I was interested in doing this interview is because I feel like being wrong is really important to doing decent work. To do any kind of creative work well, you have to run at stuff knowing that it's usually going to fail. You have to take that into account and you have to make peace with it. We spend a lot of money and time on stuff that goes nowhere. It's not unusual for us to go through 25 or 30 ideas and then go into production on eight or 10 and then kill everything but three or four. In my experience, most stuff that you start is mediocre for a really long time before it actually gets good. And you can't tell if it's going to be good until you're really late in the process. So the only thing you can do is have faith that if you do enough stuff, something will turn out great and really surprise you.

WoodyAllen_AmericanMastersIn a recent American Masters documentary on Woody Allen, the prolific writer, actor and director shared a similar perspective on the need to produce lots of stuff. Although the documentary is no longer viewable online, an interview with Robert B. Weide, the documentary filmmaker - a filmmaker filming a filmmaker - is available, in which Weide shares Allen's Quantity Theory:

You ask him [Woody Allen] about his endurance and his longevity over 40 years, and how prolific he is, doing a film a year for 40 years, as a writer and a director, and in many of them, an actor. And he says, "You know, longevity and endurance have their place, those are accomplishments of a sort, but those aren't the accomplishments I care about, which is to make a really great film." He says that he's working on the quantity theory, which is that if you just keep knocking them out, one picture after another, just keep making them and making them, some of them won't be that great, but every now and then, one will come out good.

ZenAndTheArtOfMotorcycleMaintenanceAllen's Quantity Theory brings to mind the Metaphysics of Quality, and the idea of a gumption trap that Robert Pirsig described in his classic 1974 book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig uses motorcycle maintenance as a metaphor for life, and explores a variety of gumption traps - externally induced out-of-sequence reassembly, intermittent failure and parts problems as well as internally induced traps arising from value rigidity, ego, anxiety, boredom and impatience - and ways of addressing and overcoming them. I won't include the full text of Pirsig's hypothetical course in Gumptionology 101 here, but the following passage gives a sense of his perspective, and its relevance to the views shared more recently by Ira Glass and Woody Allen:

Throughout the process of fixing the machine things always come up, low-quality things, from a dusted knuckle to an accidentally ruined "irreplaceable" assembly. These drain off gumption, destroy enthusiasm and leave you so discouraged you want to forget the whole business. I call these things "gumption traps."

There are hundreds of different kinds of gumption traps, maybe thousands, maybe millions. I have no way of knowing how many I don’t know. I know it seems as though I’ve stumbled into every kind of gumption trap imaginable. What keeps me from thinking I’ve hit them all is that with every job I discover more. Motorcycle maintenance gets frustrating. Angering. Infuriating. That’s what makes it interesting.

Pirsig's ideas about gumption were part of the inspiration for this blog, and I have consciously and unconsciously encountered some of these traps when writing - and not writing - posts here. When I look back on my early posts, many of them now seem like crap ... and I don't think any of the posts I've written - or anything I've produced in any other realm - have ever quite closed the gap between my ambitions and my realizations. I suppose blogging gives me a channel through which to work out - or at least work with - the ongoing tension between striving and acceptance.

Finally, speaking of blogging, I first encountered the poster at the top of this post a few weeks ago at the top of a post at Tim Kastelle's blog (which I always enjoy) on How to Make Things Look Simple. Tim found it amid one of the longest chains of Tumblr reblogs I've ever encountered, but further searching suggests that it was originally created by Sawyer Hollenshead. In digging around for the source, I also found a plain text version of the Ira Glass quote on a blog maintained by NPR's Fresh Air associate producer Melody Kramer, which I'll include - and conclude with - here, as I find it more readable (though less striking) than the poster:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Nothing brings people together like ignoring each other to stare at their phones

SanityFearAppIcon Last night, on the Colbert Report, near the beginning of the segment on Fear for All, Part I, host Stephen Colbert announced the new Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear app for the iPhone (also available in the Android store).

The app was developed by MTV Networks for the upcoming combined Rally to Restore Sanity (instigated by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart) / March to Keep Fear Alive (instigated by Colbert) in Washington, DC, this Saturday, an event that has received considerable attention over the past few weeks on Comedy Central, Fox News and other traditional and new media outlets (though the rally will apparently not be receiving any direct attention from National Public Radio).

PeopleStaringAtPhones Colbert highlighted several benefits to this new mobile social activist application:

If you're going to the rally, well, there's an app for that ... It's really cool! You can use the app to get directions to the rally, check-in on Foursquare, post photos to Facebook and Twitter, and you get a special video message from Jon [Stewart] and me on the morning of the rally. This app will truly enhance your rally experience, because nothing brings people together like ignoring each other to stare at their phones. [emphasis mine]

image from These "features" for enhancing physical world experiences reflect the tensions I recently wrote about regarding the Starbucks Digital Network and its impact on engagement and enlightment on physical world "third places". Although I have not precisely measured it, I have perceived an increasing trend of people standing or sitting together in Starbucks and becoming ever more effective at ignoring each other by staring at / typing on their phones (or laptops), and I predict less physical world engagement will result from the greater online engagement provided by this new location-based network. This may not be universally seen as a "bug" by all, but I have been encouraged to read others urging a shift of attention from the online back into the offline, such as Lewis Howes' recent post predicting the offline shift is coming, and John Hagel and John Seely Brown's recent article in Harvard Business Review proclaiming the increasing importance of physical location.

Malcolm Gladwell has also addressed the relative tradeoffs between online and offline engagement, touching off a firestorm of controversy in a New Yorker article criticizing online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and their impact on social activism in the physical world: Small Change: Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.

image from The Rally to Restore Sanity, however, is more about resolution than revolution:

We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.

image from The March to Keep Fear Alive is, of course, also intended to promote reasonableness, though employing the kind of parody traditionally used by Colbert in drawing attention to the fear that is regularly promulgated through other media channels:

America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear — that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty. But now, there are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear — forces with salt and pepper hair and way more Emmys than they need. They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget — “Reason” is just one letter away from “Treason.” Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can’t afford to take that chance.

I will not be present at the rally / march in Washington, DC, but I may attend the Rally to Restore Sanity in Seattle. In any case, I will be tuning in to the main rally  /march remotely - perhaps using my iPhone - to see how the resolution or revolution will be tweeted.

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Fear for All Pt. 1
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive

Update, 2010-11-16: Perhaps due to the fact that the only commercial TV I watch with any regularity is the Comedy Central "news" hour - The Daily Show and The Colbert Report - and even those I typically watch via buffering on my DVR to skip commercials, I was not aware of the Microsoft Windows Phone ad campaign launched earlier in October that promotes the theme of phone-based obsessive-compulsive disorder that Colbert is alluding to. While I like the video, I don't see how this would motivate people to buy Windows Phones (say, instead of iPhones or Androids), but perhaps the goal was simply to draw some attention to Windows Phone. In any case, I'm embedding the Windows Phone "Really" advertisement below.

And finally, just for good measure, I'll embed what I see as the classic short video in this genre, Crackberry Blackberry (though I do not believe this was ever used as a marketing tool by Research in Motion). Interestingly, it was prefaced by yet another Windows Phone ad when I watched it just now.

The Starbucks Digital Network, Engagement, Enlightenment and Third Places

In a recent interview at TheGrill media and entertainment conference, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz extolled the virtues of video streaming and other proprietary media that will soon be made available via free Wi-Fi on the Starbuck Digital Network. At the end of the interview, he briefly mentions the unique opportunity that Starbucks offers as a third place in America. Offering customers more engaging content through their wireless devices while they are in the stores may well represent some unique opportunities for the content providers and consumers. However, it is likely to diminish the real-world conversation, sense of community and potential for serendipitous enlightenment that are central elements to the ideal of a third place.

Ironically, in a blog post by Josh Dickey about Schultz' interview at The Wrap, Schultz is quoted as saying

We’ve got to completely allow ourselves to engage in conversations that we’d normally be afraid of.

As might inferred from my earlier post about the coffee, conversation, community and culture at Starbucks, I completely agree with this sentiment, and while this new network - and Starbucks' extensive social media presence - may promote online conversations, it is likely to do so at the expense of the kinds of interactions traditionally cultivated in coffeehouses. I won't rehash that entire earlier post, but I would like to review a bit of context about "third places":

Ray Oldenburg has also researched the history of coffeehouse culture, extending it to other types of hangouts in his classic book, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. In this book, which is largely responsible for the popularization of [the notion of] the third place, Oldenburg praises the virtues of these "homes away from home" where "unrelated people relate" and "conversation is the main activity", offering spaces wherein "the full spectrum of local humanity" can engage in "inclusive sociability" and practice an "ease of association" that is rarely found elsewhere. Oldenburg argues that such places offer individual benefits - novelty, broadening of perspective and "spiritual tonic" - as well as community benefits - fostering the development of civil society, democracy and civic engagement.

In his interview, Schultz speaks glowingly about values, guiding principles, emotional connection and customer loyalty. He talks about research showing how Starbucks customers had traditionally used Wi-Fi primarily for synching email, but increasingly use Wi-Fi in more "engaging" ways. He shows a slide highlighting the ways that Starbucks has become "a powerful force" in social media, and is clearly excited about how they will now take advantage of the unique opportunity afforded by "captive" customers in their stores. He talks about the 9 million people who have registered a Starbucks Rewards card and the potential for integrating a "national physical footprint" with a new digital network. But as far as I can tell, all these new developments will simply promote more public privatism, portable cocooning and the more effective use of devices as interaction shields through which people can be alone together and enjoy joint solitude.


All of this is all the more ironic given another video I recently watched (not in a Starbucks) - Steven Johnson's TED talk about Where Good Ideas Come From - highlighting the importance of the "liquid networks" and serendipitous interactions in traditional coffeehouses to the evolution of innovative ideas:

The English coffee house was crucial to the development and spread of one of the great intellectual flowerings of the last 500 years, what we now call the Enlightenment ... it was a space where people would get together from different backgrounds, different fields of expertise, and share [ideas] ... An astonishing number of innovations from this period have a coffeehouse somewhere in their story.

I have shared positive perspectives in the past about Howard Schultz' promotion of passion, perseverance and partnership and my own Starbucks experience. And I have written about the research and development through which I have partnered with others to design and deploy technology to promote conversation and community in coffeehouses (although this work was focused primarily on independent coffeehouses). The new Starbucks Digital Network may provide many benefits to many stakeholders - especially those in the media and entertainment industry - and I have no doubt it will promote digital engagement and perhaps even enlightenment, but it is largely incompatible with the idea of Starbucks serving as a true third place.

But who knows? Maybe someone will watch Steven Johnson's video while sitting at a Starbucks, and decide to disengage from the Wi-Fi long enough to expose themselves to the potentially enlightening people and ideas surrounding them right there in the store.

The "Boopsie Effect": Gender, Sexiness, Intelligence and Competence

TheBeautyBias Last Thursday, I heard segments of a KUOW interview with Deborah Rhode, Stanford law professor and author of The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law, in which she spoke of the Boopsie effect, wherein women in upper-level positions in historically male-dominated professions find that "attractiveness suggests less competence and intellectual ability". One of the references she associates with this effect is a study on Evaluations of Sexy Women in Low- and High-Status Jobs, by Peter Glick and his colleagues, in which they segment women's roles into traditional, non-traditional and sexy, and suggest that while attractiveness is often associated with advantages, sexy self-presentation is a disadvantage for women in high-status jobs.

Boopsie I had not heard of the term before, but I presume it refers to the Doonesbury character, Boopsie, who is always drawn with a sexy self-presentation but is rarely portrayed in contexts demonstrating intelligence or competence. I've long been aware of the phenomenon, and believe it is helpful to have an evocative label with which to describe it. A couple of subsequent encounters later in the week with professionals' reactions to being designated "sexiest" prompted me to think (and write) a bit more about this effect. It appears that the effect can also apply to men - who were not studied in Glick's article - and that the negative effect for women may be diminishing, at least in some areas.

MonicaGuzman On Friday, I read that Mónica Guzmán had been voted Seattle's Sexiest Blogger by Seattle Weekly. I've met Mónica, read her writing and seen and heard her speaking, and consider her to be extremely competent and intelligent (and yes, sexy, as well). Although she expressed some awkwardness about receiving the award - given her recent resignation as a blogging reporter at the Seattle PI - her posting of a photo of the award during the ceremony, accompanied by a ":D + *blush* + ;)" caption, suggests that she did not find the award to be a significant diminishment.

SanjayGupta In contrast, on the Saturday NPR news quiz show, Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, host Peter Sagal introduced Sanjay Gupta as "CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, a practicing physician, a teacher of medicine ... and one of the Sexiest Men Alive" (given his having been featured as one of People Magazine's sexiest men). Dr. Gupta reacted negatively to the last part of Sagal's characterization, and said that if anything, he believes his "sexiest" designation tends to undermine his professional credibility. He did not say whether it diminished his standing in the medical community or the media community, but I suspect it applies more to the former than the latter.

After reflecting on Professor Rhode's observation about disadvantage that attractive women experience in historically male-dominated professions, and the different responses by these two professionals, I decided to do a little research:

So Dr. Gupta is operating at the intersection of two male-dominated professions - medicine (72% male) and mainstream media (67% male) - and finds the designation of sexiness to be a detraction from his professional standing. I don't mean to imply that the effect is the same for men and women, but it does appear that the Boopsie effect is not the sole purview of women.

Ms. Guzman has also been operating at the intersection of two professions, one of which is has more women than men (though it may be a stretch to call blogging a "profession"). I don't know the gender breakdown on new media journalists, but suspect the field is considerably less male-dominated than physician journalists, and it certainly doesn't have a long history.

Reflecting further on histories and traditions, it strikes me that one of the elements factoring into the Boopsie effect may be the credentialing process. Fields dominated by those with advanced degrees - MD, JD, PhD - may have a narrower view of what counts as intellectual ability ... and perhaps a stronger, if subconscious, view of what counts against it. Like medicine, Computer Science research is a field dominated by males with advanced degrees. I don't know the specific gender breakdown, but a recent NSF report shows that while over half (50.2%) of Science and Engineering PhD degrees were awarded to women in 2007, only 20.5% of those receiving Computer Science PhDs were women.

I have several female computer science research friends who are both brilliant and very attractive - and, yes, if I have to admit it, sexy ... though I'm keenly aware of feeling awkward even acknowledging this, perhaps further reflecting the negative effects that such designations may impart (which is why I'm intentionally not naming names). I know that they sometimes feel compelled to cloak their attractiveness to minimize physical distractiveness when they are presenting their intellectual insights to their mostly male colleagues. One particularly brilliant and attractive woman friend was explicitly criticized on review forms following a conference presentation for not having dressed more conservatively - to better conceal her attractiveness - during her presentation ... and this was in a subfield within computer science where the gender distribution is among the least skewed of any I've been associated with.

I recently wrote about de-bureaucratization, and described some of the ways that health care, education and science are starting to embrace platform thinking and empower a broader spectrum of stakeholders. I believe that journalism and journalists are at the forefront of de-bureaucratization - perhaps not entirely by choice - and the effective utilization and integration of new media platforms has played an important role in Monica Guzman's success.

BradyForrest Another intelligent and competent champion of platform thinking and doing - in fact, the co-chair of the premier conference on such matters, Web 2.0 Expo (most recent theme: The Power of Platforms) - was recently named the sexiest male among Violet Blue's Top 10 Sexiest Geeks. I'm not sure how Brady Forrest feels about this designation, but I imagine he does not see this as significantly undermining his credibility. I assume this partly due to his easy-going nature but also as a reflection of the stylistic differences between the relatively highly bureaucratized domain of traditional computer science research and the more democratic - or perhaps anarchic - culture of geeks.

As intelligent and competent people in traditionally bureaucratic realms adopt platform thinking - and new media channels - to reveal more of who they are as well as what they do, I'd like to think that the conflict between perceptions of attractiveness - or sexiness - and intelligence will be diminished, for both men and women ... but we shall see.

The further commoditization of Twitter followers

A few months ago, I wrote about the commoditization of Twitter followers, after discovering a number of automated, semi-automated and manual strategies that people - and non-human systems - were employing to artificially boost their Twitter follower counts. My earlier discovery was sparked by noticing some unusual numbers in the profiles of some recent followers of my Twitter stream. My latest discovery of yet another Twitter commoditization tool was similarly sparked by the profile of a new follower - who has since unfollowed me - that listed 1,983 followees, 787 followers and only 6 tweets. Clicking through to the Twitter homepage of this new follower revealed that 3 of these 6 tweets referenced TweetAdder, a tool that promises to "get more followers, instantly".

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TweetAdder appears to be slightly less cynical than, the fully automatic reciprocal following system I referenced in my earlier post, wherein new users who signup are automatically followed by all existing users, and automatically reciprocally follow all existing users. However, it does include the phrase "twitter follower bot" in the title field of the image used to promote the product.

[Update, 05-Apr-2012: Twitter has filed a lawsuit against TweetAdder and four other entities I would categorize as providing "spamware as a service".]

TweetAdder, the self-proclaimed "Ferrari of Twitter Friend Adder and Promotion Software", is a semi-automatic follower acquisition tool, relying on the reflexive reciprocal "follow back" response exhibited by a signifcant proportion of Twitter users (TweetAdder claims that this represents 30%-50% of Twitter users). After purchasing the software, users need to spend some time with targeting Twitter users that they want to lure into reciprocally following them, e.g., by specifying keywords, locations and/or other Twitter users whose followers they want to reach. The software purportedly provides for automating tweets and direct messages ... I wonder if future versions will provide for automatic retweets of targeted prospective followers, as I imagine that would be an even more effective lure.


At first, I thought "well, at least this is not yet another Ponzi scheme", but then I found that TweetAdder offers an "affiliates program" in which users are purportedly paid $10 to sign up, 50% commission on direct sales referrals and 10% on affiliates' sales referrals. The TweetAdder purchase page includes an icon for the SC Magazine Awards 2009, "organized to honor the professionals, companies and products that help fend off the myriad security threats confronted in today's corporate world". However, searching for "tweetadder" and "tweet adder" on the SC Magazine site returned 0 results. If SC Magazine does write an article about TweetAdder, I wonder how they would portray the product.

As in my earlier post, I want to explicitly state that this post is intended as a critique, not an endorsement, of such automated Twitter follower acquisition schemes. I was surprised to discover that TweetAdder was endorsed in an NBC News piece by Mike Wendland on Handy apps to help manage your Twitter account. Immediately following a reference to "lots of tips and tricks and scams out there", Wendland says "The best tool I've found is a program called TweetAdder." The end of the piece includes a link to his web site and his Twitter handle (@pcmike). I wonder if @pcmike, who has approximately 6000 followees and 8000 followers, is a member of the TweetAdder affiliates program.

The mainstream media has given considerable attention to a recent Pew Center for People and the Press survey that revealed that Americans have an increasingly negative view of government (25% positive, 65% negative). I think it's important to note, in this context, that the same survey revealed that Americans have an increasingly negative view of the national news media (31% positive, 57% negative) ... and, somewhat ironically, a rather positive view of small businesses (71% positive, 19% negative) and technology companies (68% positive, 18% negative). Perhaps future surveys might break out a new category of "Twitter-based companies" or "social media companies".

Public Negative Views of Institutions, Pew Research, April 2010

Applying the One Percent Doctrine to Climate Change

Onepercentdoctrine_cover I remember hearing an NPR Fresh Air interview with Ron Suskind, author of The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of It's Enemies Since 9/11, shortly after the book came out in 2006, in which he explained that the title came from a statement made by [then] Vice President Dick Cheney about the Bush Administration's pre-emptive policy for "low-probability, high-impact events":

If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.

[Excerpted from an interview with Suskind in Time, The Untold Story of al-Qaeda's Plot to Attack the Subway]

Next-hundred-million-joel-kotkin Last week, I was listening to an interview on KUOW's The Conversation with Joel Kotkin, author of The Next 100 Million: America in 2050. In contrast - if not contradiction - to the negative impacts of continued population growth articulated by many people and organizations, Kotkin predicts that the anticipated population increase of the next 100 million people in the United States will be a net gain, adding to our diversity, competitiveness and overall economic strength. When host Ross Reynolds asked him about the impact of population growth on climate change, Kotkin revealed that he is a climate change skeptic (along with 40% of the American public), and expressed doubt about the likelihood that humans, especially those in high resource consumption countries like the United States, have a significant impact on climate change.

ThereYouGoAgain During part two of the interview, one caller asked about Kotkin's views on adopting a population-control policy, noting the growth in energy use per capita. Kotkin - reciting a refrain of "I've seen this movie before" [reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's famous catchphrase, "there you go again", in his cheerfully derisive dismissal of Jimmy Carter's compelling articulation of a national health plan during the 1980 U.S. Presidential debate] - talked about earlier reports of impending crises - or what he calls variations of "an environmental apocalypse" -  that did not come to pass, and then deftly switched the metric by stating that energy use per GDP was declining. Anyone who has read David Korten's book, Agenda for a New Economy, or Doug Rushkoff's book, Life, Incorporated, may be a GDP-skeptic, and question whether GDP is an appropriate metric for assessing the health of the economy ... much less the environment.

Another caller, who identified himself as Billy, from Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood, posed a particularly penetrating and provocative question (the one that sparked this post):

If the scientists are wrong and we act on their prescriptions, then we'll spend a lot of money on green technology, and maybe we'll blight a lot of landscapes with windmills. But really, in the worst case, we're talking about wasting a lot of money.

But if he [Kotkin] is wrong, and we act on his prescriptions, then we are facing - potentially - a disaster. It's not like climate change in the past that happened gradually. We're talking about very quick and rapid changes.

So, to me, if there's a 10% - even a 5% - chance that the scientists are right, dealing with that [climate change], as difficult as it is, really seems like the prudent thing to do.

Kotkin replied that he supports making some changes, but that they should be less drastic and be primarily motivated by clear and present dangers, such as reducing dirty air or enhancing our national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil. This is ironic on at least two levels. From what I understand, Kotkin considers himself a futurist (and indeed, the title of his book is future-oriented), so it's interesting that he is promoting a more "presentist" perspective. Secondly, his emphasis on national security brings to mind Cheney's earlier dictum about the unacceptability of even the slightest risk of another devastating terrorist attack.

I wonder how many climate change skeptics accept - or champion - the One Percent Doctrine with respect to the risk of terrorism ... and what percentage of risk of environmental apocalypse they would find acceptable. Kotkin argues that earlier religious fundamentalists' warnings of an apocalypse have been largely supplanted by "hysterical" warnings of environmental apocalypse, but I do wonder whether religious fundamentalists - Christian and Muslim - may still be more drawn to visions of a more "traditional" version of apocalypse these days.

Continuing with the theme of fundamentalism, but returning to the terrorism domain, in a recent PBS Newshour segment on Biden and Cheney Clash Over Terror Trial Policy, CSIS Senior Adviser Juan Carlos Zarate, who served the Bush administration as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009, argued that we are seeing a "fundamental continuity in our counterterrorism policies". Georgetown University Law Professor David Cole countered that we are seeing a continuity in the war(s), but significant shifts in policy, especially with respect to policy decisions to operate "within the frame of the rule of law".

I'm not sure what the Obama administration's position is on the One Percent Doctrine with respect to terrorism, and I'm increasingly unsure about what their position is with respect to the environment. The announcement last week of Obama's upport for nuclear power, coupled with proposals to expand clean energy sources and assign a cost to the polluting emissions of fossil fuels, represents the latest attempt to find common ground and pursue a middle way. However, I wonder if greater progress can be made by adopting what some may consider a more extremist position, and apply the One Percent Doctrine to the risks of climate change.

Twitter: a witness projection program

Twitter-WhatAreYouDoingTwitter has become the ultimate (or at least current favorite) tool for addressing the fundamental human need to matter, to have a witness. The increasingly popular web service "for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?" is, more than any tool before it, providing a platform through which we can all bear [and bare] witness to - or follow, in Twitter parlance - others, and others can bear witness to us. And the ability to project our witnesses and witnessees (or followers and followees) into a public sphere - the Twitterverse - adds interesting new dimensions to the satisfaction of this primal need to matter.

Naomi Pollack recently wrote a great Biznik article on Understanding Twitter: Why Twitter is Less Like Facebook and More Like Email that generated more comments - 118, last time I  checked - than any other article I've seen on the Biznik site (I'm not sure how many tweets it has generated). A few of those comments were mine, including one long one connecting Twittering and witnessing that prompted me to take the topic offline - or at least migrate it over to my "home" soapbox, this blog.

Shall_we_dance The comment centered on my favorite quote from the movie Shall We Dance [I just noticed the subtitle: "A new comedy about following your own lead"], uttered by the character Beverly Clark (played by Susan Sarandon):

We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."

Although the quote is referring to marriage, I think the general human need to be noticed, to be witnessed, to matter, is behind much of the popularity in all social media, and is captured - or projected - most acutely in Twitter. I don't mean to equate the Twitter follower / followee relationship with marriage - indeed, with most Twitter users having multiple followers and/or followees, this would be akin to an extreme case of polygamy - but I do believe that this quote captures the spirit of the ambient intimacy afforded by Twitter (and intended by its designers).

T.S. Eliot, sums this up in a quote that is short enough to fit in a Twitter post (or "tweet"):

To be of importance to others is to be alive.

Of course, any medium that becomes sufficiently popular will have some who take it to the extreme; online social media just makes the pool of potential extremists much larger. Ashton Kutcher's recent "achievement" of gaming gaining over 1 million followers on Twitter is a noteworthy example. At first, I thought this was another example of someone becoming Internet famous (a la Julia Allison, an online[-only] variation of what I might call vacuous celebutantism - being famous for being famous - perhaps best represented by Paris Hilton). I had never heard of before - I don't follow him in social media or more traditional media - but in reading some of the reports about the 1 million Twitter follower milestone, I discovered he already enjoyed some measure of celebrity before this stunt. All the same, it strikes me as much ado about nothing.

I don't know what it means to be ambiently intimate with over a million people. In a quick perusal of Ashton Kutcher's tweetstream, I see that he discusses Paula Abdul, going trap shooting, going to dinner, riding horses drunk and forgetting things when he leaves the house ... nothing particularly remarkable (or retweetable) ... with the possible exception of this, somewhat ironic, tweet:

“Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas.” -unknown

250px-The_Million_Dollar_Homepage I'm reminded of the million dollar homepage, created by an enterprising 21-year-old college student (purportedly to help pay for his education), on which people could purchase any number of its 1 million pixels for $1 each. It was an interesting idea, and the million pixels were all sold, but I don't know how the money was actually used ... or how anyone else benefited from this achievement. I'm also reminded of Stephen Colbert's Wikipedia stunt, in which he urged his viewers [/ witnesses / followers?] to edit the Wikipedia entry to say that the population of elephants had tripled in the last 6 months. Of course, Stephen Colbert also engages his followers in many, more positive - or at least more benign (and definitely more amusing) - ways, e.g., offering his perspective on the "912 project" initiated by Glenn Beck of Fox News (what I would call a fear projection program ... and network), and urging his followers to join with him on his own "scare and balanced" 10.31 project. I wonder what great ideas Ashton Kutcher will rally his followers around.

A recent article by Simon Dumenco in Advertising Age about The Real Meaning of Ashton Kutcher's 1M Twitter Followers offers further insights into the Ashton Kutcher, Twitter, and media in general:

My point? Just that the utopian rhetoric of social-networking aside, the lesson of media history is that, regardless of the rise and fall of media conglomerates, media is almost always about The Few profiting at the expense of The Many's attention. To put that another way, The Many are actually investing their mind share -- their currency in the Attention Economy -- in a way that leads, for the most part, to the enrichment of The Few. To put it rather cynically, a certain portion of The Many are getting ripped off -- deprived of more and more of their mind share for little or no gain (or possibly a big loss).

There's a parallel, of course, to the housing bubble. At some point it suddenly dawns on millions of people that they've paid way too much for way too little actual value. (If you're one of the people who has read every one of Mr. Kutcher's more than 1,400 Twitter updates ... well, just realize that you'll never, ever get that time back.)

However, I do think there is some good to be found in social media ... although I think it is telling that I often discover the good in social media via more traditional media. Shortly after encountering Naomi's article on Twitter, I listened to an episode of NPR's series This I Believe, entitled Dancing to Connect to a Global Tribe, in which Matt Harding, who has become famous for his videos of dancing "terribly" in exotic locations, (with 41K subscribers to his YouTube channel, and over 13M views of his compilation video, Where the Hell is Matt?).

In stating his belief(s), Matt reported on what he has learned from his travels (and dances):

People want to feel connected to each other. They want to be heard and seen, and they're curious to hear and see others from places far away.

Interestingly (or, perhaps, curiously), another famous person from Seattle, Robert Fulghum, author of a number of essays and books exploring personal beliefs, most notably including All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, also talked about dancing, witnessing and sitting on the sidelines his This I Believe essay, entitled Dancing All the Dances As Long as I Can:

I believe in dancing. ...

The first time I went tango dancing I was too intimidated to get out on the floor. I remembered another time I had stayed on the sidelines, when the dancing began after a village wedding on the Greek island of Crete. The fancy footwork confused me. “Don’t make a fool of yourself,” I thought. “Just watch.”

Reading my mind, an older woman dropped out of the dance, sat down beside me, and said, “If you join the dancing, you will feel foolish. If you do not, you will also feel foolish. So, why not dance?”

And, she said she had a secret for me. She whispered, “If you do not dance, we will know you are a fool. But if you dance, we will think well of you for trying.”

ListeningIsAnActOfLove I was listening to NPR's Fresh Air this week, where Terry Gross was interviewing Gabriel Byrne who plays a psychoanalyst on the HBO series In Treatment, about the art of listening. Terry suggests that his character, Dr. Paul Weston, has "heroicized the act of listening". Byrne has some interesting insights to share on listening (a form of witnessing ... and, as noted in the StoryCorps series broadcast on NPR, an act of love):

We have a real need now, in these times, to be listened to. And I think when people identify with these characters, or reject them, they feel connected in a way that sometimes they don't in these fractured communities that we live in. ... Listening is one of the most profound compliments you can pay to another person - to truly listen - and to feel that you're heard is deeply fulfilling in a deep human way. ... Really, truly, profoundly listening is to be unaware of your self at a deep level.

I don't think anyone would accuse a Twitter user - especially one with an unnaturally large number of followers - as being "unaware of your self at a deep level" ... at least not in the context of posting a tweet (although another recent NPR story, Your Brain on Twitter, reported on a brain-computer interface that may eventually allow people to directly post tweets based on neural activity). In fact, I suspect deep listening - or deep thinking, reading or writing ... or depth of any kind - is the antithesis of the ambient intimacy promoted by Twitter.

WiredSnackCulture I suspect that's what bothers me the most about Twitter and other manifestations of snack culture - the embrace and celebration of shallowness. I recognize that there as many uses of Twitter as there are users, and that it really does represent a social media platform for the masses ... unlike blogs. One of the reasons I think there are so many "dead blogs" is that so few people are willing - or able - to take the time to write in much depth ... and, as Nicholas Carr pointed out in his great Atlantic Monthly article on "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", "the deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle" for him, and a growing proportion of other "readers". But, hey, anyone can write - or read - a 140-character tweet!

In the interest of full disclosure [on this topic], I will note, in closing, that I am a Twitter user (@gumption). I was an early adopter of Twitter, and wrote about it in the context of attention, inattention, appreciation and depreciation at Foo Camp 2007. However, I soon grew weary of reading about what my ambient intimates were wearing, eating or thinking. It's not that I didn't care about the people I was following - in fact, I deeply cared (and still care) for some of them - I just didn't (and don't) care all that much about their activities of daily living. I stopped using Twitter entirely for about a year, but re-engaged with the tool during the closing months of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, when I was obsessed with staying on top of the latest developments in the most exciting political contest of my adult life. During the campaign, I wrote a few politically-oriented blog posts, but given my penchant for depth (or, at least, length) in posting blog entries, I wanted another platform for processing my thoughts, feelings and judgments about some of the actions taken by the candidates and their supporters ... a platform that I could use for shorter, more frequent venting. Twitter was just the ticket. I also started following some newly found (and appreciated) sources for news, such as NPR Politics, The Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo and Think Progress

Since the end of the election, I've shifted my use of Twitter to [mostly] posting inspiring quotes that I encounter in my reading and listening (very few of which, I might add, are retweets, i.e., Twitter is not currently a major source of inspiration). I've added a Twitter widget to my blog (in the right column), and my primary motivation in using Twitter is to have the 5 most inspiring quotes I've encountered (interspersed with occasional short rants) appear on my blog. This helps compensate for the depressingly decreasing frequency of new blog entries. I've been surprised to learn that several people have recently begun following me (or, more properly, my tweets). I hope they are not offended by my lack of reciprocity: it's nothing personal, I just generally don't like following people on Twitter (for reasons noted above). In addition to not following people, I hardly ever check for replies (tweets with "@gumption").

Although many people seem to see and/or use Twitter as a platform for conversation, for me it's primarily a soapbox, a broadcasting narrowcasting platform. I prefer in-depth conversations ... like the kind I enjoy through the comments on this blog. In an earlier post, commenting on commenting, I noted that my blog posts and the comments people post on them represent projections of sorts (and, in so doing, I suspect I may have discouraged some comments - and commenters - that I very much enjoy). In a subsequent post, commenting on validation / validating comments, I admitted that "I really do appreciate (and feel validated by) comments from people who are in some way moved by what I write". In a way, those comments represent a public witnessing to what I've written (and my comments responding to others' comments represent a witnessing to what they've written).

So, it's not that I'm against witnessing or even the projection of witnessing ... it's just that I believe in depth and meaning ... and, frankly, I just don't find - or project - much of that on Twitter.

[Update, 11 May 2009: Prompted by Praveen's comment, I finally re-found a blog entry that danah boyd had posted a while back (December 2007) about valuing inefficiencies and unreliability that effectively elucidates my concern about depth in Twitter. It is the very ease with which anyone can post a tweet that diminishes the meaning of the medium.

The more efficient a means of communication is, the less it is valued. ... Social technologies that make things more efficient reduce the cost of action. Yet, that cost is often an important signal. We want communication to cost something because that cost signals that we value the other person, that we value them enough to spare our time and attention. Cost does not have to be about money. One of the things that I've found to be consistently true with teens of rich and powerful parents is that they'd give up many of the material goods in their world to actually get some time and attention from their overly scheduled parents. Time and attention are rare commodities in modern life. Spending time with someone is a valuable signal that you care.

FWIW, danah is on Twitter (@zephoria).]

[Update, 15-May-2009: Tyler (@phillipi) sent me a link to some interesting video commentaries on the Twitter phenomenon: the Twouble with Twitters and Celebrity Twitter Overkill, embedded below.]

NPR Freeloading Considered

KPLU pledge drive KUOW pledge drive It's pledge week at both of our local National Public Radio affiliate stations: KPLU and KUOW. I've been growing increasingly angry about the interruptions in news programming required to raise money to support the stations: every "pledge break" means one less news story I get to hear. I understand - and support - this practice, and I support my local NPR stations (I'm a member of both) ... and [so] I'm angry about other listeners in my community who also rely on NPR for their news (or [other] entertainment), and yet do not provide financial support.

In December, the Washington Post reported that due to declining income, NPR was cutting 64 jobs and 2 shows (Day to Day and News & Notes, both of which broadcast their last episodes a week ago Friday) in its first organization-wide layoffs in 25 years. A more recent Washington Post article reports that the number of NPR news listeners is up by 9% (20.9 million listeners per week), presumably due, in part, to the intense interest in the momentous news reported in the past on NPR. The only estimate I can find regarding the proportion of NPR listeners who are members (i.e., contribute financially to their NPR stations) is in a 2005 article by Steve Coffman on What if You Ran Your Library Like NPR?, in which he cites a Corporation for Public Broadcasting report that "on average 20% of a station's core audience are now contributing `members' who give an average of $73.44 per year". So, if the number of NPR listeners have gone up by 1.7 million, and 20% of those listeners are contributing $75 (just to simplify), NPR should see an increase of about $25 million, and yet the Washington Post reports that income is falling short of its $160 million budgeted expenditures by $8 million. That is, despite audience being up by 9%, revenue is down by 5%.

Anyone who listens to NPR - or most any other source of news - knows that we are in the midst of a serious economic recession (The Great Recession of 2008, as some were calling it as far back as December 2007). Job losses and cutbacks in wages or hours among the general population are surely affecting NPR members, and declining revenues among most companies are surly affecting those who are corporate sponsors of NPR, and so I can understand that some individuals and companies are cutting back on their financial support of NPR. The 2008/2009 Global Wage Report, published by the International Labor Organization, predicts that "the U.S., average wages are expected to decrease by about 1 per cent in 2008 and fall even further in 2009". But this decline does not account for the large discrepancy between the increase in listenership and the decrease in membership.

According to an August 2008 study on key news audiences by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 54% of NPR listeners are college graduates (NPR tied with the New Yorker / Atlantic for the highest proportion of college graduates comprising any news audience in their survey). A 2003 report by the Educational Resources Information Center on The Value of a College Degree (based largely on a 2002 U.S. Census report on The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings - shows a strong correlation between higher levels of education and higher levels of income. For example, in 1997-1999, the estimated average income of a full-time worker with a college degree was $52,200, compared with $30,400 for a full-time worker with a high school degree (and no college). And a recent report in the New York Times on Job Losses Show Breadth of Recession noted that "unlike the last two recessions — earlier this decade and in the early 1990s — this one is causing much more job loss among the less educated than among college graduates." So it would seem that, all things considered [pun intended], NPR listeners would be in a better financial position to contribute to their local stations than the general population.

Speaking of All Things Considered, the venerable NPR afternoon news show broadcast a story on Groups Unite in Dislike of Freeloaders in April 2006, that may help provide a partial explanation for my anger:

A new study offers hints about how societies correct the behavior of freeloaders. The answer involves evolution, altruism -- and punishment.

Scientists say the explanation is important because individuals have so many incentives to let others in a group do most of the work [like financially supporting NPR]. James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California, Davis, uses the example of two neighbors who want to build a dam.

"You're best off if your neighbor builds the dam for you and you get to do other things," he says. "If evolution favors those individuals, it's puzzling why we might cooperate."

Yet we do cooperate.

The report, based on an unnamed article in the journal Science (but which I believe is "Cooperation, Punishment, and the Evolution of Human Institutions" [reg. req'd]), goes on to describe an experiment in which two groups of students attempted to attain a goal in an iterative game; one group had to rely solely on voluntary cooperation and another group could apply sanctions to any member who didn't [voluntarily] cooperate. The sanctioning group outperformed the voluntary cooperation group every time, due to the fact that there were fewer freeloaders (and, thus, more people contributing to the common good).

Another item included in the report triggered another anger touchpoint for me:

The results of the study, which appear in this week's issue of the journal Science, may explain a lot about how one culture evolves to dominate another.

Rob Boyd, an anthropologist at University of California, Los Angeles, says one example of this sort of cultural evolution is the decline of paganism in ancient Rome.

"Pagan Rome didn't have much a social support network," Boyd says. "So when people got sick, or when there was a plague, or things got bad, they were just out of luck."

By contrast, the Christians expected members to take care of each other. That gave them a competitive edge, he says, and led Romans to gradually switch to Christianity.

This religious reference reminds me of a good friend - one of the smartest people I've ever met, a voracious and regular listener of NPR, and a Jew - who refused to support NPR financially ... due to his judgment that NPR exhibited an anti-Israel bias. Others have disputed this bias, arguing that the "bizarre attack on NPR as "anti-Israel" shows how fringe groups are pushing Mideast debate". Another, more recent report claims that NPR exhibits a pro-Israel bias. In any case, what really angered me was that, despite all the other areas of the news for which my friend presumably believed that NPR's reporting was fair and accurate (and [thus] useful), he refused to offer any support to the single most important source of his news. It is only with great restraint that I was able to resist the urge to participate in NPR's This American Life host Ira Glass' invitation to "turn in a friend" during the last pledge drive:

I'm writing to ask you to turn in a friend. If you know someone who listens to public radio avidly, several days a week or more, talks about stuff they hear on Morning Edition or Car Talk or our show, but they never pledge...I'd like to give them a call. I'll be nice, I swear. But I will ask them why they don't pledge. And I'll try to talk them into pledging. And I'll record the whole thing and—if it works—I'll put it on the radio.

In researching material for this blog post, I stumbled upon another religiously inspired NPR freeloader, who I've never met: Joel Belz, who wrote about being a happy freeloader in a 2001 article published in World Magazine ("Today's News | Christian Views"). Despite liking the classical music on his local station, and being a self-proclaimed "news junkie" (and admitting to getting regular fixes from NPR), he claims that "public radio in my area—and I assume this is the case in your locality as well—carries an agenda that is thoroughly and unabashedly anti-Christian". He goes on to cite a litany of shows that he believes exhibit this anti-Christian agenda, including A Prairie Home Companion, a show which, ironically, another NPR listening (and, I believe, supporting) friend of mine refuses to listen specifically because of its heavy Christian / gospel messages (!).

The Wikipedia entry for Joel Belz says that he is an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, and his father is/was a Presbyterian minister. I found myself wondering how he feels about people who regularly attend Presbyterian services, but due to disagreement with some of the perspectives and/or actions of the church, refuse to provide any financial support. Would it be acceptable - to him (or the Presbyterian Church) - for them to be "happy freeloaders"? What if everyone who disagreed with some aspects of the Presbyterian Church withheld financial support from the church? 

So, even though I disagree with the "principles" on which some people withhold financial support from NPR, I suspect - or at least hope - that such "conscientious freeloaders" make up a relatively small proportion of the audience ... and that much of the freeloading is due to either individual unconsciousness or a growing sense of what might be called informational entitlement (information wants to be free) ... a perspective which, I fear, might be becoming part of our collective unconscious.

One of the two major daily newspapers in Seattle, the Post-Intelligencer, printed its last edition on March 17 (3 days bfore the last episodes of NPR's Day to Day and News & Notes) and I've heard reports (on KPLU) that the major daily newspaper - the Seattle Times - is also in danger of shutting down [it's print operations] ... which probably heightens my concerns about the future of NPR.

Information may want to be free, but if we're not willing to pay anything to anyone to produce it, I suspect the quality of that information may suffer, as will the quality of the lives of those of us who consume and use that information.

If anyone wants to join me in supporting our local NPR stations in Seattle, I'll conclude with links to pledge support to KPLU and/or KUOW ... and my heartfelt thanks for becoming a member!

[Update, 1-Apr-2009: Mary Dunaway, KPLU Manager of Listener Relations, reports significantly lower membership numbers (via email) than was reported in the web article I'd referenced:

7% of our entire audience also supports the station. The numbers you listed below referencing 20% those are core audience numbers (people who listen more often then the overall audience). Our percent of core listeners giving is about 10%.

This is even more infuriating - increasing my desire to "correct the behavior of freeloaders".]

Hope and Dreams trump Fears and Smears

The speeches of the two U.S. presidential candidates Tuesday night were hopeful and inspiring, a welcome change from the fears and smears that dominated much of the campaign ... or, at least, one side of the campaign. John McCain delivered the most gracious concession speech I have ever seen, and Barack Obama delivered yet another inspiring - and gracious - victory speech shortly thereafter.

I had planned to post a blog entry summarizing some of the fears and smears promulgated by McCain, his running mate Sarah Palin, Fox News and other conservative voices - instances I'd been tracking via Twitter - after the election, but the combined positive boost of these two speeches leads me to let these go, and focus instead on hope and dreams. 

And, in letting go of fears and embracing hope and dreams, I'm reminded of a classic book by Gerald Jampolsky, Love is Letting Go of Fear, which I first read many years ago.

The Course [in Miracles] states there are only two emotions, love and fear. The first is our natural inheritance, the other our mind manufactures. The Course suggests that we can learn to let go of fear by practicing forgiveness and seeing everyone, including ourselves, as blameless and guiltless.
As each of us moves towards the single goal of achieving peace of mind for ourselves, we can also experience the joining of our minds that results from the removal of the blocks to our awareness of Love's presence.

John McCain's concession speech exemplified some of these ideals. I don't know whether McCain ever truly believed the fears that he and his cohorts were trying so hard to instill in the minds and hearts of the American people, but he certainly did his best to let these go - and urge his supporters to do so - during his speech.

Here are a few of the passages that I found particularly inspiring:

In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, [Obama's] success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.


These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.


Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

It is natural. It's natural, tonight, to feel some disappointment. But tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again.


I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.

Barack Obama's victory speech also emphasized love - through the of language of hopes, dreams and unity - over fear, despair and divisiveness.

Here are a few of the excerpts from his speech that I find most inspiring:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.


It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.


There's new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.


What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.


This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

Ever since that speech, I find that two songs keep swimming through my head. One is Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), by George Harrison:

Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from birth
Give me hope
Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with,
heart and soul

The other song was triggered by a line in Obama's speech: "It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America."

The music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young inspires me more than the music of any other band. As I noted in my review of a CSNY concert in 2006, their song, Long Time Gone, is a "goosebump" song, and one of my favorite songs of all time.

It's been a long time comin'
It's goin' to be a long time gone.
And it appears to be a long
Appears to be a long
Appears to be a long,
Yes, a long, long, log time
Before the dawn.

Turn, turn any corner.
Hear, you must hear what the people say,
You know there's something that's goin' on around here,
That surely, surely, surely won't stand the light of day.

I've written about another verse, "But you know, the darkest hour, Is always just before the dawn", in another post (The Darkest Hour) in another, far less celebratory context, in which the song offered an unexpected catharsis.

Although I invoke it again here, in a truly celebratory context, I will also note that the song was written in response to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, an event which many, including myself, see as the end of an earlier era of extraordinary hope. Listening to NPR this morning, a commentartor noted that Obama's promise that "we as a people will get there" invokes the spirit - and hopes and dreams - of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from King's inspiring "I've been to the mountaintop" speech  ... the one he gave on the eve of his assassination.

[Update: I found videos of this speech - in two parts - on YouTube; including them below.]

The speech ends off with this inspiring and prophetic passage:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! [emphasis added]

As I noted in an earlier post, on ignorance, indenciaries, ironies and inspiration:

The increasingly incendiary invective incited by the McCain / Palin campaign instill me with fear that Obama may meet a fate similar to other inspiring political figures from our naton's past. On this week's pledge week installment of This American Life, host Ira Glass played a segment from a Fresh Air earlier this year on Pete Hamill Remembers Robert Kennedy. I was deeply moved by Robert F. Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis the night that Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis, in which he raised the questions of "what kind of nation we are, and what kind of direction we want to move in". Many of those hearing the speech at the time were also moved: although there were riots in 180 American cities that night, there was relative quiet in Indianapolis.

I sincererly hope that the combination of speeches from McCain and Obama will put an end to the fears and smears represented by the ridiculous "Who is Barack Obama?" rhetoric, and help us focus instead on the questions RFK raised:

What kind of nation are we, and what kind of direction do we want to move in?

I believe the election of Barack Obama on Tuesday represents the beginning - or perhaps the continuation - of a hopeful answer to these vitally important questions, and I hope that we, the people, can collectively let go of our fears, and our politics of divisiveness, and embrace the love and courage that will be required for us to climb the mountain toward a more perfect union.

Conservativism, Liberalism and Independence

As the campaign draws to a close, two classic Doonesbury cartoons have been regularly recurring to me, a visual analogue to the aural experience of a song I can't get out of my head. One of them was the pithiest summary of the differences between conservatives and liberals I've ever read; the other was a parody of college students acting as sheeple, uncritically accepting anything and everything their professor says, despite his assignment of writing an essay on independent thought.

This campaign has been emotionally charged for me (and others). I generally try to be positive on this blog, and yet have been finding myself increasingly indignant from the [literally] incredible smears and fears shamelessly promulgated by the campaigns and their supporters. I've started using my Twitter account to vent some of this irritation by simply and briefly noting some of the acts I find most egregious - occasionally sprinkled with sparks of hope. 

The recent news that Gary Trudeau has created an "Obama Wins!" strip for Wednesday, based on his reading that "Nate Silver at is now giving McCain a 3.7% chance of winning" (though my reading of Today's Polls, 10/31, says "McCain’s win percentage is down to 2.8 percent") leads me to delve into these strips and describe how I see them as framing the current political climate in America.

Doonesbury-Conservatives-2003-07-13 In the first strip [first published on July 13, 2003], two Doonesbury characters who play the role of commentators on the public radio show All Things Reconsidered, liberal Mark Slackmeyer and conservative Chase Talbot III (who also happen to be homosexual lovers, and eventually became a married couple), discuss the differences between liberals and conservatives. The strip starts out with Mark watching Fox News, where an announcer trumpets "Fox News: we report, you decide!", to which Mark muses "That has to be the most cynical slogan in the history of journalism" [personally, I find their other slogan, "Fair and Balanced" to be far more cynical].

In the main portion of the strip, Chase sums up the differences between liberals and conservatives: "[Y]ou liberals are hung up on fairness! You actually try to respect all points of view! But conservatives feel no need whatsoever to consider other views. We know we're right, so why bother? Because we have no tradition of tolerance, we're unencumbered by doubt! So we roll you guys every time!" When Mark replies "Actually, you make a good point...", Chase responds, "See! Only a loser would admit that!"

As I noted in my last blog post - and as is reflected in many of my recent "tweets" - what irks me the most this campaign season is the ignorant and incendiary statements made and actions taken by some of my fellow Americans. Revisiting Doonesbury's characterization of conservatives, I can see that many of these statements and actions reflect the core conservative values of righteousness, intolerance and certainty.

Doonesbury-TeachingIsDead The willingness to consider alternative perspectives, think critically, and arrive at independent conclusions - hallmarks of liberalism, from Doonesbury's perspective - is the subject of the other Doonesbury strip that has been on / in my mind a lot lately. In this strip [first published on January 27, 1985], a professor is lecturing to students, who eagerly write down everything he says, without thinking about or challenging any of the increasingly provocative statements he makes:

  • "... and in my view, Jefferson's defense of these basic rights lacked conviction. Okay, any discussion of what I've covered so far?" [no response]
  • "Of course not, you're too busy getting it all down. Let me just add that personally, I believe the Bill of Rights to be a silly, inconsequential, recapitulation of truths already found in the Constitution. Any comment?" [no response]
  • "No, scratch that! The Constitution itself should never have been written! It's a dangerous document! All power should rest with the executive! What do you think of that?!" [no response]
  • "Jefferson was the antichrist! Democracy is fascism! Black is white! Night is day!"  no response].

After the professor slumps over the podium, decrying "Teaching is dead", two students turn to each other; one says "Boy, this course is really getting interesting", to which the other replies "You said it, I didn't know half this stuff."

Now, this strip was originally printed on January 27, 1985, shortly after Rush Limbaugh started his conservative radio show in Sacramento, but a few years before it made its debut on WABC-AM radio in New York during the 1988 campaign. I don't know if Doonesbury knew about the show at that point, but his strip perfectly illustrates the legions of Limbaugh fans - sometimes referred to as dittoheads - who unquestioningly accept and repeat the hateful, righteous, intolerant views he regularly espouses on his show. The strip also has current relevance, given the confusion about the First Amendment recently exhibited by Sarah Palin (the conservative Republican vice presidential candidate), the evangelical furor over [allegations about] Obama being the antichrist that I mentioned in my last post, and the growing acknowledgment (by conservatives) that conservativism is increasingly anti-intellectual and some going so far as to claim that conservatives are addicted to misinformation.

Although I do not listen to Rush Limbaugh nor watch Fox News regularly, I have heard and seen many clips from a variety of their shows, especially this election season, and all of them have exhibited some combination of righteousness, intolerance and certainty ... and none of them has exhibited anything that I would consider to be fair or balanced (though I want to note that I've never heard Rush refer to himself - or his show - as "fair and balanced" ... and in fact, he has strenuously argued against the Fairness Doctrine).

Now to be fair, Fox News is counterbalanced, to some extent, by MSNBC, a network which seems to be increasingly liberal - the "antithesis of Fox News". As I've noted before, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is my hero ... or, at least, he was. I have to admit that as the campaign has worn on, it seems to be wearing down Olbermann, whose candid, direct and provocative style has become increasingly affected by righteous indignation ... and contemptuousness. In his recent Special Comment on "It's Palin doin' the pallin'" (embedded in my last post), which is both a fabulous refutation of Palin's charges against Barack Obama "palling around with terrorists" and a strong indictment on her - and John McCain's - associations with people who might be considered terrorists, he condescendingly refers to "poor Sarah Palin", and uses a mocking tone in many of his other references to her ... a tone I typically associate with Rush Limbaugh and the conservative pundits on Fox News.

In another dimension of "balance" between conservatives and liberals, I was very disturbed to see an article about a mannequin dressed up as Sarah Palin with a noose around its neck hung outside a house in West Hollywood this week, and then to read about an effigy of Barack Obama with a knife through its neck that was hung outside a house in Redondo Beach in response ... all in the spirit of Halloween "fun". Both of these effigies have now been removed after protests, and I was heartened to see that one of the protesters against the Barama effigy was a local McCain campaign official, Pete Kesterson [I do not know whether any Obama campain officials officially protested against the Palin effigy]. I was also heartened to see a video of Daniel Zubairi, a Muslim McCain campaign official, and other supporters, confront other supporters who were promulgating misinformation about Obama being a socialist with an Islamic background (though, disheartened to later read that Zubairi was then asked not to talk about the incident by the McCain campaign).

Finally, I want to also note that I was heartened - and humored - to see John (and Cindy) McCain's appearances on Saturday Night Live last night. Although there was some booing of John McCain from the audience, I have to say that the skits he appeared in seemed to strike a fair balance between the serious issues McCain wants to emphasize in the campaign and a rather self-effacing, humorous look at some of the issues I would have expected that McCain would not have wanted to emphasize. I have to say that the effect - for me - was to re-humanize McCain a bit, after a long, downward spiral of increasing negativity coming from McCain, Palin and their supporters (including Fox News and Rush Limbaugh).

Although SNL is often criticized by conservatives for having a liberal bias, the show has recently been willing to poke fun at liberals (e.g., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Barney Frank in an interpretation of the recent bailout of the banking industry) as well as conservatives (e.g., their interpretation of Katie Couric's interview of Sarah Palin).

To end off on a light note, I'll embed a couple of these videos below.

McCain QVC open:

Palin / Couric open

Oops! I just discovered that last night's show included an SNL parody of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, played by Ben Affleck: