Speak up for democracy

At the Grassroots Use of Technology Conference / National Writers Union Digital Media Conference I got to hear a lot of people bemoan how hard it is to make a buck as a creator in the digital age.

A comparison was made to the Open Source Software movement and I made a very quotable statement ( by Twitter standards): “Journalism is the software upon which democracy runs”.

Other than the awful mixed metaphors, I think I made a good statement: coding software has a very clear correlation between the work itself and the measurement of the final product at the end. Journalism: not so much. Of course some people do talk about how access to information and analysis from diverse viewpoints is vital to the continued health of our Democracy, but they get shouted down by Glen Beck. Newspapers themselves (or Cable Access TV or whatever is going town the toilet today) are usually discussed as some impalpable, circularly-reasoned necessity rather than put into context as providers of a what __is necessary for the kind of society we want to live in.

Call me progressive, but let’s talk about what we need to build tomorrow, not reinforce today.

Here’s a quote I have trouble disagreeing with from Mark Lloyd’s Communications Policy is a Civil Rights Issue:

…to argue that getting out of the business of regulation is the only constructive role for government to play is as blind as it is disingenuous. The challenge is to create a set of rules that reflects the best nature of our society. As Newton Minow makes clear in Abandoned in the Wasteland, the issue is not really whether the market provides good choices, but whether citizens have a real say in what those choices are. The issue is whether the parent must let his child be a consumer, or, more to the point, a product to be sold to advertisers, or whether the parent has a right as a citizen to demand more.


Social work is women's work, so we don't care

Two articles came across my desk today that I think are strongly connected. The first is from Danah Boyd on Teaching, nursing and second-wave feminism:

Since the 1970s, the number of brilliant, motivated individuals working as teachers and nurses in particular declined rapidly. Many women left these professions because they had many more opportunities and many men refused to do “women’s work.” Don’t get me wrong - there are some amazing teachers and nurses out there, but sexist constraint meant that the most brilliant, most passionate women inevitably went to these professions while that is no longer the case.

The problem is what has happened since then. I certainly don’t want to go back to the dark ages where women had no choice. But while we’ve opened up doors for women, we haven’t addressed how sexism framed nursing and teaching in ways that are causing us tremendous headaches in society today. Teachers are underpaid and undervalued because we took women’s work for granted. When teaching stopped being women’s work, we didn’t rework our thinking about teaching. As a society, we still have little respect for teachers and nurses and we pay them abysmally. This is deeply rooted in the sexism of the past but the ripple effects today are costly.

The second is from Dan Pallota over at Harvard Business Blogs (more on that in a moment) titled The “Psychic Benefits” of Nonprofit Work Are Overrated:

People often tell me that those who work for nonprofits should work for less because of the psychic benefits of being able to make a difference, work with the poor, and so on…

Don’t fall for this Puritan self-sacrificial psychobabble. It’s not the poor who are asking you to work for less. It’s the donating public, including many a wealthy donor. They’re asking you to end poverty and every other great social problem and to do it for them at a discount. And they’re exploiting the images of the poor to get you to agree. The fact that someone makes a one-time sacrificial gift doesn’t mean you’re obligated to make a lifetime sacrificial career choice. If you do the math and the psychic benefit comes up lacking for you, then ask the people who want you to make the world a better place for another kind of benefit that begins with a “p.” Pay.

I definitely feel the first quote flows into the second, and hence the inflammatory title to this post. I think Pallota’s explanation is wrong (Puritanical self-sacrifice) and Boyd’s is correct (we undervalue the work of women).

I find it very telling that social work is reframed as Social Entreprenuership (thank you Harvard Business School), a rhetorical device that allows men to participate. Giving things away is women’s work; getting people to pay for it, now that’s a job for a man.


Obviously not to scale

OmegaPoint

Following up on som graphics from the free book pile at the university, above is a graphic from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man. There are only 4 plates in this book (it’s the 1975) edition, but each one takes on a very plant-like appearance. (I think this plate is superior to the current reprint because mine uses stipple points rather than hash-lines to show contrast; it’s also typeset in Arial, but that’s just being picky).

Tielhard puts it all within Christian dogma (he was a Jesuit), but the Omega Point is pretty nifty. Briefly from Wikipedia:

The complexification of matter has not only led to higher forms of consciousness, but accordingly to more personalization, of which human beings are the highest attained form in the known universe. They are completely individualized, free centers of operation. It is in this way that man is said to be made in the image of God, who is the highest form of personality. Teilhard expressly stated that in the Omega Point, when the universe becomes One, human persons will not be suppressed, but super-personalized. Personality will be infinitely enriched. This is because the Omega Point unites creation, and the more it unites, the more the universe complexifies and rises in consciousness. Thus, as God creates the universe evolves towards higher forms of complexity, consciousness, and finally with humans, personality, because God, who is drawing the universe towards Him, is a person.


It's complicated

Since I just posted about how social roles affect social values, here’s a scenario we recently had in my Critical Thinking class.

A man and his son are involved in a car crash. The father dies on the scene and the son is rushed to hospital. On arrival the surgeon on duty says “I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son!” How is this possible?

Contextualizing it kind’ve kills the question.


God didn't do Best Practices

The best Sunday sermon I have ever heard (out of 2, the other having been when I was 8 and the pastor was my aunt; but that’s beside the point) went generally as follows:

The 10 Commandments are unique both in practice, and in form. Of the 10, there are 6 social rules, 3 religious rules, and 1 thoughtcrime (the numbers vary a little depending on dogma, but not by much). Importantly, there are 8 “do not’s” but only 2 “do’s”. God is nearly giving you a free ticket to ride (it was a hip pastor): He didn’t spend too much time on the affirmatives; as long as you stay away from those few simple negatives you can do whatever you want (at least in His eyes).

Of course, we have problems even with that, so there’s another 60ish books (and counting) to fill in the blanks; but that’s beside the point.


Chasing Best Practices

At work we’re pushing the idea of Honest Practices over Best Practices. Honest Practices are stories and analysis that include both successes and failures—the latter being something nonprofits often omit (or reframe). Our focus on developing Honest Practices stems from frustration with the meaninglessness of many “Best Practices” that are out there. From Wikipedia:

A Best practice is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive or reward that is believed to be more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. The idea is that with proper processes, checks, and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered with fewer problems and unforeseen complications. Best practices can also be defined as the most efficient (least amount of effort) and effective (best results) way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people.

Despite the need to improve on processes as times change and things evolve, best-practice is considered by some as a business buzzword used to describe the process of developing and following a standard way of doing things that multiple organizations can use for management, policy, and especially software systems.

As the term has become more popular, some organizations have begun using the term “best practices” to refer to what are in fact merely ‘rules’, causing a linguistic drift in which a new term such as “good ideas” is needed to refer to what would previously have been called “best practices.”

I really want to toss [[Citation Needed]] after the suggestion that “good ideas” is a suitable replacement for what was formerly known as Best Practices. But that would be too Honest.


Catastophizing and other thought distortions

This week’s topic in my Critical and Creative Thinking class is stress and stress-relieving exercises. I get a kick out of the table of thought distortions brought on by stress from Challenging and changing stress-producing thinking by Felice E Miller published in the Western Journal of Medicine, 2001 January; 174 (1): 49–50.

“Catastrophizing” also reminds me of old woman in the film Underground that continually says “It’s a catastrophe!” (or “katastrofa” because it’s Serbo-Croatian/BCE)—which my girlfriend and I like to repeat ad naseum.


Table 1

Common thought distortions and how to challenge them

_ Distortion _
_ Challenge _
Magnification or minimization
Overemphasizing or underemphasizing one aspect of the situation: “I didn’t check out with the patient if he understood the reason for the medication”; overlooking other factors that may be important
Polarization
Using black and white thinking: “My colleagues are going to think I am incompetent”; are there shades of gray?
Personalization
Taking the situation personally and ignoring the total picture: “It’s my fault”; what would I say to a colleague in the same position?
Stress-producing language
Using words such as should, have to, must, need rather than would like, want: “I should never make a mistake”
Pessimistic thinking
Thinking of the situation as permanent, pervasive, and personal: “I’m never going to have the respect of my colleagues” or “I’m not suited to this profession”; rather than temporary, specific, and related to factors beside myself 3
Catastrophizing
Is this unfortunate incident a catastrophe: “I’m going to be sued”; if the bad outcome happened, what would/would not be the consequences, and could I handle them?

West J Med. 2001 January; 174(1): 49–50.


Welcome Grassroots Users of Technology

This weekend is the Organizers’ Collaborative’s (and our 20 wonderful sponsors’) 10th Annual Grassroots Use of Technology Conference (still time to register!). I’m President of the Board for the Organizers Collaborative, so I’m a little excited. Even more so because I got top billing in the Program Booklet:

Welcome. We gather to celebrate as much as continue learning and sharing. When we began this conference 10 years ago, we expected computer and internet technology to become more important to advancing our vision for a progressive future. What we could not imagine then was that these tools would become the engines for political and social change we seek today.

When we met last year there was tremendous energy and excitement: the rapid-fire exchange of ideas and dreams was contagious as we hoped that we could finally turn the corner. I hope this year’s conference lacks none of that energy; but today we have an even greater opportunity for reflection on the tools and strategies we used, and the challenges we still face.

There is any number of emerging technologies and tested strategies I could highlight, but that would miss the power of what we have to build upon. At the heart of any technology lies our own unamplified voices and minds. I am excited that we can gather here today to use and develop these very human tools: together we can better imagine the world we wish to live in, and the technology we’ll use to create it.

In 200 words there isn’t a whole lot of places to put things, but I’m satisfied that I nailed the important stuff.


In the beginning, God separated Heaven and Earth

Biblical news from Academia:

Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis “in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth” is not a true translation of the Hebrew. …

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb “bara”, which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean “to create” but to “spatially separate”.

The first sentence should now read “in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth” …

She writes in her thesis that the new translation fits in with ancient texts.

According to them there used to be an enormous body of water in which monsters were living, covered in darkness, she said. …

She concluded that God did not create, he separated: the Earth from the Heaven, the land from the sea, the sea monsters from the birds and the swarming at the ground.

That doesn’t make for great dogma, but it fits in with my thoughts on consciousness: it’s the continual process of creating meaning by separating something from the nothing at the corners of our consciousness (not to mention beyond it) that is the world around us. The fun of consciousness is taking control of that process of separation—which is why I spent so much time rewriting that last sentence.


Perspectives on Building Power

Flitting around on Amazon.com, I came across this review of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals:

As a VISTA “organizer” in Columbus, Ohio(1969-197):CMACAO)I heard the name of Alinsky quoted like biblical scripture. I read excerpts from his writing and suffered through several seminars led by his disciples from Chicago. As I explained to one(garbed in a suit with short hair-cut in contrast to pseudos garbed in hippie gear and “hair down to there”)I disagreed with many of the implications of his mentor because they seemed to be based on ENVY,INDOLENCE and IGNORANCE of the organizees and that the stirring of conflict for its own sake was counterproductive and created new dependence and an ensconced Underclass.

The man asked me what I did in VISTA (at my idealistic age of 21)and I told him I taught GED classes for adults and moved a lot of donated furniture to the apartments of poor folks.He stated that what I did was “practical” and not really the Alinsky thing.

After VISTA I spent three years in the Army(USAREUR/NATO duty).It was non-combat, showing the flag as a trip wire threat to the now defunct USSR. But it put the Vista time in perspective. Most of my buddies in Vista were pseudo hippies and draft dodgers (my room mate had spent 4 years in the Air Force as a Russian language translator). Half my Army buddies had served in Vietnam. The point is that Alinsky was a “guru” for middle class ingrates with pretensions to “playing” revolutionary. (Mark Rudd;Bernadette Dohrn etc). And they had a field day encouraging students at OSU to walk-out of class during the disruption of campuses in the spring of 1970.It was a Felini movie. Alinsky’s book as the script.It was a game.RULES FOR RADICALS was his money-making,”rock-star” text(sucked-up by college kids with names like Obama and Clinton).

The most important/impotent chapter in the opus is “Tactics” (pp. 126-164). At he center of this chapter are the 13 rules on how to raise hell by creating guilt. He left-out the 14th. “Organizer potential “organizees”usually have one set set of “values”incommon~ENVY;IGNORANCE; & INDOLENCE(or you can plant them in varying degrees!).This unwritten rule for targets turn the struggling person into the malcontent that the organization(say, ACORN)can use and abuse for their own glory and self-apotheosis: HENCE President Barack Obama,”the dream of his father Saul.D. Alinsky.” Read this mess and laugh/weep at a con artist at his best.

The reviewer gave the book 3 out of 5 stars.