Links for the Week: Saturday, November 15, 2008


We Have Seen the Lolcats, and They Are Us: Jay Dixit and New Yorker cartoonist Bob Mankoff ruminate on the appeal of animal cartoons in a wonderful article on Salon. “The animals aren’t animals at all, they’re stand-ins,” explains Mankoff. “They’re hybrids we use as devices to talk about the feelings we can’t name in other ways.” Focus of their attention is a hugely popular collaborative website about “lolcats” (funny animal photos with clever captions) called icanhascheezburger. Many of these dwell on feelings of sorrow, grief, fear, stress, anxiety and pathos that we don’t dare relate directly. Some of them develop whole series of follow-up cartoons, such as the walrus series depicted above (the initial cartoon, top, and then a follow-up weeks later). Because it’s collaborative, and because it allows us to speak to each other about things that are important but too intense to just blurt out, this is a vital form of art, and connection, a universal leveler to convey the things that matter to us all. And anyone can play.

Bringing Art to Bear on the Challenges of our Time: My friend Andrew Campbell has been co-operating retreats in France that are open to change champions from all backgrounds, and which draw on a natural setting, the use of local herbs, and self-expression and discovery through art study and practice, to help participants become more truly present and hence better able to help themselves and others prepare for the changes that will occur and be needed in the future. “This capacity to see from the heart lies at the core of what it means to sense the emerging future. And seeing from the heart means sensing the patterns of our emergent future in the grains of sand that are our present, right now, right here.” The more I learn and observe facilitation, the more convinced I am that the work of competent facilitators is perhaps the most important work going on in the world today, and the most important for our future.

What Makes an Innovation Useful and Successful: The 2007 book Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath is a worthy successor to The Tipping Point. It argues that six qualities differentiate memorable “sticky” ideas and hence successful, useful innovations built on such ideas from the rest: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness (show don’t tell, and provide examples), inherent Credibility, appeal to Emotions, and conveyance through Story. Tell a simple, unexpected, concrete, credentialized, emotional story, the authors say, and people will listen and respond positively. Thanks to Tree for the link.

What Happens When We Stop Buying?: Consumer spending drives the whole economy. Governments everywhere are pouring new money into the banking industry in the hopes that bankers will be able to start loaning money cheap to consumers again, notwithstanding their inability to repay it, and the fact that their collateral assets (their homes and investments) are now worth less than the debts taken out against them. Then, it is hoped, consumers will start borrowing again, and then they can start spending recklessly again, as if the whole implosion of the real estate and stock market were just a bad dream. But what happens if consumers decide they’ve had enough? If consumers start buying only what they need, and living within their means, will that spell the end of the Growth Economy?

Is CitiGroup Next to Fall?: Shortly after I correctly predicted the collapse of Lehman Brothers, I more boldly predicted that CitiGroup would be the first giant to fall. Citi is one of those companies that is (like AIG, and unlike Lehman) too big to be allowed to fail. But while AIG was horrifically expensive to rescue (and despite the billions doled out to it, might, through sheer mismanagement, still fail), Citi could simply be too expensive to rescue. So far this year it has lost 68% of its share value and shed 40,000 jobs, but it is still in trouble. Ironically, its survival now seems to depend on its ability to buy up smaller rivals and hang on in the hopes their value rises again. Meanwhile, its executives are reinvesting their massive salaries and bonuses in company stock, to demonstrate confidence in their own company. If they fail to improve solvency and liquidity, this will present a huge challenge to Obama: This could be the corporate bailout that breaks the bank, and sends the US dollar, and the global economy, into the worst tailspin since the Great Depression.

Even in a Recession, the Rich Get Richer: And, speaking of AIG, Naomi Klein explains why the bailout as currently devised is just another massive, no-strings-attached wealth transfer from the taxpayer to wealthy corporatists.

The Climate for Change: In case you missed it, here is Al Gore’s prescription for immediate action in the US to combat climate change:

  1. Large investment in solar, wind and geothermal plants
  2. National “smart grid” of new efficient electrical transmission lines
  3. Full conversion of all US-made vehicles to plug-in hybrids
  4. Massive investment to retrofit buildings for greater energy efficiency, along with current mortgage relief plans
  5. Pricing carbon, reducing deforestation, and helping create Kyoto II to go far beyond the Kyoto accord

Ngamoko Hut: If you haven’t yet discovered Pohangina Pete’s breathtaking photography (and the lovely lyrical prose that accompanies it) now’s a good time.

Just for Fun: For all who have asked, no, I’m not the British Second Life denizen named Dave Pollard whose online affairs have landed him in divorce court.

Thoughts for the Week: (1) From PS Pirro: “When you want something, don’t assume people can read your mind. Ask.”

(2) Thanks to Tree (and to Dave Smith) for putting me on to the poetry of Marge Piercy, and specifically this poem:

To Be of Use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

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