I don’t know how this can be explained purely by the neo-Darwinian idea that the purpose of life is to propagate one’s genes. (Could such architecture be programmed within the genes of a single ant???) And I don’t know how this can be explained without some notion of supra-organism intelligence or mind. Watch and wonder at our world -
Archive for the ‘communication’ Category
The file left, on the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, by former President George Bush for the forty-fourth president, Barack H. Obama – courtesy of the Boston Globe
Some have said they’ve been disappointed by Obama’s inaugural speech, saying it lacked a memorable poetic line in the tradition of FDR or JFK. What?! After a mere sixteen hours, they think they are in a position to evaluate the memorable-ness of a speech? Come on! FDR died almost fifty-four years ago, and JFK just over forty-five years ago: it takes time for history to define what might or might not emerge as memorable. For goodness sake. (For what it’s worth, my money is on his offer of friendship to leaders around the world who will renounce violence and corruption in favour of mutual respect -
[…] we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.)
Here is an excerpt from Andrew Sullivan’s take -
Mulling over the address yesterday, I felt in retrospect that the restraint and classical tropes of the speech were deliberate and wise. From the moment he gave his election night victory speech, Obama has been signaling great caution in the face of immense challenges. The tone is humble. We know he can rally vast crowds to heights of emotion; which is why his decision to calm those feelings and to engage his opponents and to warn of impending challenges is all the more impressive. He’s a man, it seems to me, who knows the difference between bravado and strength, between an adolescent “decider” and a mature president, between an insecure brittleness masquerading as power, and the genuine authority a real president commands. He presides. He can set a direction and a mood, but he invites the rest of us to move the ball forward: in a constitutional democracy, we are always the ones we’ve been waiting for.
He is not a messiah and does not act or speak like one. He’s a traditionalist in many ways.
‘Bread‘ by Carlito Brigante, uploaded to flickr
Fascinating and sensible article about facilitating behavioural change via effective communication published yesterday. Too often, the ‘boomerang effect’ means that undesirable behaviours are reinforced -
[…] the problem with appeals based on social norms is that they often contain a hidden message.
So, for example, an environmental campaign that focuses on the fact that too many people drive cars with large engines contains two messages — that driving cars with large engines is bad for the environment, and that lots of people are driving cars with large engines. This second message makes it unlikely that the campaign will work. Worse, it might even make it counterproductive: by conveying how common the undesirable behaviour is, it can give those who do not currently engage in that behaviour a perverse incentive to do so. Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?
The nub of the matter? Castigating undesirable behaviour needs to be connected with praise for those who are doing the right thing.
Fortunately, there is a way of harnessing the power of social norms, so that the dreaded “boomerang effect” doesn’t occur.
In a recent experiment, psychologists examined the influence of social norms on the household energy consumption of residents of California. The researchers, led by Wesley Schultz, picked houses at random and then divided them into groups depending on whether their energy consumption was higher or lower than the average for that area. Some low-energy-use households received only information about average energy usage — thereby setting the social norm.
A second group of low-energy households had a positive “emoticon” (happy face) positioned next to their personal energy figure, conveying approval of their energy footprint. A third group of over-consuming households were shown their energy usage coupled with a negative emoticon (sad face), intended to convey disapproval of their higher-than-average footprint.
The researchers then measured energy consumption in the following months. As one might expect, the over-consuming households used the social norm as a motivation to reduce their energy use, but under-consuming households that had received only the social norm information increased their energy use.
Crucially, though, the under-consuming households that had received positive feedback did not show this boomerang effect: the addition of a smiley face next to their energy usage made all the difference. Despite the simplicity of the feedback, households that felt their under-consumption was socially approved (rather than a reason to relax), maintained their small energy footprint. This suggests that using social norms can be effective — but only if they are used in the right way.
Castigating the “majority” of people for driving cars with large engines, without simultaneously praising those who have chosen smaller models could spectacularly backfire. Environmental campaigns using social norms will have to be supplemented with information targeted at specific groups about the desirability of their particular behaviours. If people are doing something positive, they need to know about it.
The most noticeable thing about this debrief, below, of the Obama Campaign Inner Circle is how calm they all are – despite one or two hours earlier having just pulled off a spectacular and world-changing win. Their conversation communicates to me a shared sense of wonder at how their campaign glided over the rocky terrain of the last twenty-one months – and how Obama knew where he was going, and how he would pitch and conduct his campaign, from the beginning.
Uploaded to flickr by kingfusoi
From CNN’s political ticker -
During the long campaign, the timing of Obama’s entrances at rallies was meticulously coordinated – the preliminary orators (usually local government officials and candidates) spoke, the music and its pacing built up with the intention of quickening the pulses of the crowds, and then, at exactly the right moment, Obama, the candidate, would make his entrance.
But by late last night Obama was no longer a candidate, and there was no need to pump up the sense of anticipation, and the evening’s events – the concession call from John McCain, the congratulatory call from President Bush – were being dealt with as they rapidly occurred on a timetable Obama’s staff could not control. So there was some dead time in the park before Obama appeared on the stage.
And the crowd, for just those brief few moments, became all but mute. They weren’t certain what was going to happen next.
What happened next, in the crisp and clear night, was the Obama family suddenly coming into sight. Then, the cheers reached the sky. But in the quiet that preceded…
In that quiet there was the recognition:
Here comes the part of this drama that is unknown and unknowable.
Here – in the days and weeks and years ahead – comes life; here comes events that know no schedule, that can’t be planned, that will appear on no carefully constructed itinerary.
The silence from the crowd was like an intake of breath.
The silence said:
Here we are– we, the people in Grant Park; we, the people of the United States; we, the people of the world. Here we are, and none of us – not even and especially the man on the stage, the man just elected to be the 44th president – can be sure of what lies ahead.
If some in the audience – those of us in the park, and those watching around the world – sensed perhaps the slightest sliver of a subdued tone in Obama’s voice, a perceptible difference in his timbre, if not his words, from how he had sounded on the campaign trail, the shift was understandable.
It may have been his own version – intentional or involuntary – of that sudden silence that fell over the crowd. He can’t be silent, in any sense of that word – he is going to be the president. But during that same span late last night when the audience, in its brief hush, seemed to be acknowledging that everything – everything – had just changed, so, too, Obama appeared to be sending the signal, to the rest of us and maybe to himself, that he was well aware of the change, and was already beginning to deal with it.
He is no longer a candidate seeking something. Last night’s Chicago weather – so warm and inviting for November – was deceptive; it will not be warm here very much longer. Obama, of all people, knows that; he has lived in Chicago long enough to realize that balmy days with winter coming are the most predictable of teases.
The silence of the crowd ended and the roar greeted him, and as he, a man just hired for a new job, looked out at the people and at his city’s glorious skyline, you asked yourself if the thought may have been crossing his mind:
There will, in my life, be other good nights. But none of them will ever be as good as this one.
- that from a new blog, Margaret and Helen, set up by two octogenarian friends living in different parts of the USA so they could stay in touch. (The pipeline referred to is a $40 billion, Alaskan natural-gas pipeline – about which, surprise surprise, Sarah Palin has been less than economical with the truth.) The language may be a bit blue – and I may be a bit British for saying so. But this, Helen’s polite request, comes with feeling:
Please take your ridiculous hair, your over lipstick-smacking mouth, your Lenscrafter look smarter glasses and your poorly fitted designer jackets back to Alaska. And when you get there, shove a piece of the pipeline up your considerable ass. I’ll be damned if we’ll put our children’s future in your hands.
Helen was taught how to blog by her grandson, and met her friend Margaret sixty years ago in college. That would have been 1948 – the year President Truman authorised the post-WWII Marshall Plan, the Berlin Blockade and the Cold War began, and the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sarah.
Via The Daily Dish.
Keith Richburg, writing in today’s Observer, reflects on why America is leading Europe in terms of race relations based on his experiences as a journalist throughout the world -
[…] it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a Barack Obama emerging in Europe soon.
One reason is that Europeans for the most part do not talk about race and race relations as openly as we do. In America, we wallow in it. We self-analyse and form committees, workshops and seminars to talk about it. There are countless organisations and associations dedicated to racial issues. Bookshops stack shelves talking about our racial history and problems. We take measurements of pretty much everything, from black student school test scores to minority living standards.
France, to take one example, is on the other extreme. For a story on the state of minorities in France, I once asked for the statistics on how many blacks were on each political party list and it was like dragging a dead cat into the room and tossing it on the table. Race is simply not openly discussed.
What’s more, many Europeans can’t even bring themselves to call their minority residents what they are – citizens. They are still often referred to as ‘immigrants’ or ‘outsiders’, even if they were born in the country, speak no other language, know no other home.
A European Obama seems unlikely to emerge soon because of the parliamentary systems in place, in which a newcomer to politics has first to find his way on to a party list and work his or her way up through the ranks. In Obama’s case, this newcomer leapfrogged far more experienced and better-known candidates – think Hillary Clinton – to take his case directly to voters in primary states.
A year ago, no one here would have predicted that a black candidate would become the nominee of a major party and have a more than realistic chance of winning the White House on 4 November. And it’s a testament to Obama’s considerable skill that he has largely managed to make his race an afterthought. America is on the verge of something historic and it almost seems anticlimactic.
But black Americans are still pinching themselves, still not quite able to believe what has been achieved. And all Americans should pause from the heated political rhetoric and reflect on the sense of accomplishment, win or lose, that his candidacy represents – an affirmation of that American ideal.
I think back to my father, who suffered terrible racism in the south, still believing for his son: ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ That means any little boy can even dream of being President. And that really is only in America.
The parliamentary systems in Europe, with the party vetting of potential candidates that that implies, mean that there is more room for calculations based on entrenched perspectives, and less room for surprises. There are benefits of this – in terms of stability and the conservation of ‘useful’ and ‘good’ traditions – but the downside, in terms of flexibility, and responsiveness and openess to change, should now be more obvious.
For some, including for Time magazine’s Joe Klein, Obama’s rise and campaign management has been bewildering. Klein’s recent article captures beautifully the personal qualities and decisions made that have generated such momentum for the Obama campaign. For example, Obama’s policy of ‘no dramatics’ within his campaign team paid off in the primaries against Clinton. And his instinctive judgement calls as to when leadership could most effectively be deployed enabled him to reflect on the issue of race in America, and neutralise Jeremiah Wright, in a speech followed by a press conference; and, it enabled him to keep his cool during the banking bail-out fiasco.
Here’s how Klein finishes up -
If an Apollo project to create a new alternative-energy economy is his highest priority, as he told me, why hasn’t he given a major speech about it during the fall campaign? Why hasn’t he begun to mobilize the nation for this next big mission? In part, I suppose, because campaigns are about firefighting — and this campaign in particular has been about “the fierce urgency of now,” to use one of Obama’s favorite phrases by Martin Luther King Jr., because of the fears raised by the financial crisis and because of the desperate, ferocious attacks launched by his opponent.
If he wins, however, there will be a different challenge. He will have to return, full force, to the inspiration business. The public will have to be mobilized to face the fearsome new economic realities. He will also have to deliver bad news, to transform crises into “teachable moments.” He will have to effect a major change in our political life: to get the public and the media to think about long-term solutions rather than short-term balms. Obama has given some strong indications that he will be able to do this, having remained levelheaded through a season of political insanity. His has been a remarkable campaign, as smoothly run as any I’ve seen in nine presidential cycles. Even more remarkable, Obama has made race — that perennial, gaping American wound — an afterthought. He has done this by introducing a quality to American politics that we haven’t seen in quite some time: maturity. He is undoubtedly as ego-driven as everyone else seeking the highest office — perhaps more so, given his race, his name and his lack of experience. But he has not been childishly egomaniacal, in contrast to our recent baby-boomer Presidents — or petulant, in contrast to his opponent. He does not seem needy. He seems a grown-up, in a nation that badly needs some adult supervision.