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Archive for the 'Author op-eds' Category

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Noah Coburn and Anna Larson on the Afghan Elections

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan, Noah CoburnIn the lead up to the April 5th elections in Afghanistan, Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, authors of Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape have created Afghan Elections dedicated to observation and analysis of the 2014 vote.

The site includes posts about coverage of the election as well as on-the-ground reports about how Afghans are preparing for and thinking about the elections. A recent post on the site drew on interviews with Afghans about why they’re voting and what it means for the country. Other recent topics have included the threat of violence and the role of youth activism in the campaigns.

Meanwhile, in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, Noah Coburn and Ronald Neumann argue that the United States must be realistic in expectations about the Afghan elections and react accordingly. The Afghan elections, Coburn suggests, will not be perfect—there will be corruption and disputed results. However, the need for stability is crucial and the United States must allow for the Afghan people to have the space and time to address the growing pains of a fledgling democracy.

Coburn and Neumann explain:

At this point, the United States needs to understand that what is most important in these upcoming elections is Afghanistan’s long-term stability. This is best achieved through a peaceful transfer of power to a new president with authority recognized broadly by Afghans. Democracy is, of course, important, and beyond a point its neglect would undermine stability, but the priority should not be on holding perfect elections. Afghans are likely to tolerate many types of procedural irregularities and small-scale fraud. Widespread violence and a breakdown of the tenuous political balance are likely only if these manipulations are seen as overtly propelling into office a candidate with little national support. Instead, Afghans are primarily preparing for both a national and, through provincial elections, local long-term renegotiation of political power. This is the challenge that the international community needs to focus on.

(more…)

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Will Putin Look to Annex More Territory? Why the Crimea Crisis Is Not about a Greater Russia Project

Stephen Sadieman and R. William Ayres

In a recent post for The Washington Post‘s blog The Monkey Cage, Stephen M. Saideman and R. William Ayres draw on arguments and themes in their book For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism, and War to examine the situation in Crimea and the Ukraine.

More specifically, Sadieman and Ayres return to their book’s focus on irredentism or “the effort to reunify a ‘lost’ territory inhabited by ethnic kin with either a mother country or with other territories also inhabited by ethnic kin (think of Kurds in multiple countries creating a Greater Kurdistan).” While the case of Crimea represents, to a certain extent, a case of Russian irredentism, the authors argue that Russia might not necessarily annex Crimea and is unlikely to engage in similar actions in other areas where ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers reside.

Sadieman and Ayres cite four reasons:

1.) The plight of ethnic Russians in Crimea is not that great.
2.) Russian identity is not clearly defined. As the authors write, “Not all those living in Russia agree that Russian nationalism includes Russophones as members of the Russian nation. Indeed, the existing survey evidence suggests that this crisis is not very popular back in Russia. Those in Russia, especially those who vote in the next elections, may not want yet another basket-case to drain the country’s coffers (Crimean supporters of annexation are unlikely to be future net contributors).”
3.) Putin’s actions do not necessarily seem to be motivated by domestic concerns. His power is secure and he does not have to prove his nationalist credentials.
4.) Even if Crimea is annexed it is a region different from others where ethic Russians live. Sadieman and Ayres explain, “Crimea [does] stand out, as it combined both national interests (the Black Sea fleet) with a group of kin that was more interested than others in the Greater Russia project.”

The authors conclude by writing:

So, this crisis is not about a Greater Russia project, even if Crimea ends up in either a semi-status a la Nagorno-Karabakh or annexed in reality, as the policies focused here are unlikely to play out in other places where ethnic Russians reside, such as the Baltic Republics or even other parts of eastern Ukraine. As other writers at the Monkey Cage have argued, this is really a second-best (if that) effort by Putin to have influence in Ukraine after his preferred non-irredentist one, keeping President Yanukovych in power, failed. While countries containing some of the 25 million lost Russians are concerned, they should not panic as Putin is not Hitler (almost the original irredentist), and he is not even Milosevic of Greater Serbia fame.

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Happiness and Its Discontents, Part III

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have the third part of an excerpt from Mari Ruti’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Happiness and Its Discontents.”

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Happiness and Its Discontents
Mari Ruti

I recently attended a presentation given by the daughter of a prominent man who, during his life, wrote several books that have had a tremendous impact on how we understand human psychology. During her talk, the daughter faulted her father for not having been a stable “family man,” for having let his passion for his work overshadow the rest of his life, and for having never been completely at ease with everyday social interactions. She made it sound as if her father had been a failure as a person because he had not been able to appreciate the rewards of a well-adjusted life.

As I listened to her, I kept thinking that she was judging her father by a very conventional standard. As far as I’m concerned, there are situations in which the ability to show up at the dinner table is less important than the capacity to produce works of great genius that enrich the rest of society.
(more…)

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Happiness and Its Discontents, Part II

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have the second part of an excerpt from Mari Ruti’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Happiness and Its Discontents.”

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Happiness and Its Discontents
Mari Ruti

Needless to say, our fixation on the ideal of happiness diverts our attention from collective social ills, such as socioeconomic disparities. As Barbara Ehrenreich has shown, when we believe that our happiness is a matter of thinking the right kinds of (positive) thoughts, we become blind to the ways in which some of our unhappiness might be generated by collective forces, such as racism or sexism. Worst of all, we become callous to the lot of others, assuming that if they aren’t doing well, if they aren’t perfectly happy, it’s not because they’re poor, oppressed, or unemployed but because they’re not trying hard enough.

If all of that isn’t enough to make you suspicious of the cultural injunction to be happy, consider this basic psychoanalytic insight: Human beings may not be designed for happy, balanced lives. The irony of happiness is that it’s precisely when we manage to feel happy that we are also most keenly aware that the feeling might not last. Insofar as each passing moment of happiness brings us closer to its imminent collapse, happiness is merely a way of anticipating unhappiness; it’s a deviously roundabout means of producing anxiety.

Take the notion that happiness entails a healthy lifestyle. Our society is hugely enthusiastic about the idea that we can keep illness at bay through a meticulous management of our bodies. The avoidance of risk factors such as smoking, drinking, and sexual promiscuity, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, is supposed to guarantee our longevity. To a degree, that is obviously true. But the insistence on healthy habits is also a way to moralize illness, to cast judgment on those who fail to adhere to the right regimen. Ultimately, as the queer theorist Tim Dean has illustrated, we are dealing with a regulation of pleasure—a process of medicalization that tells us which kinds of pleasures are acceptable and which are not.
(more…)

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Happiness and Its Discontents, Part I

The Call of Character

This week our featured book is The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living by Mari Ruti. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have the first part of an excerpt from Mari Ruti’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Happiness and Its Discontents.”

Enter our book giveaway to win a free copy of The Call of Character!

Happiness and Its Discontents
Mari Ruti

As a critical theorist working at the intersection of Continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, and feminist and queer theory, I make observations about human life that are speculative rather than empirical. That may explain why my definition of character pertains to what is least tangible, least intelligible about our being, including the inchoate frequencies of desire that sometimes cause us to behave in ways that work against our rational understanding of how our lives are supposed to turn out.

If identity captures something about the relatively polished social persona we present to the world, then character—in my view—captures something about the wholly idiosyncratic and potentially rebellious energies that, every so often, break the facade of that persona. From this perspective, our character leaps forth whenever we do something “crazy,” such as suddenly dissolving a committed relationship or leaving a promising career path. At such moments, what is fierce and unapologetic about us undermines our attempts to lead a “reasonable” life, causing us to follow an inner directive that may be as enigmatic as it is compelling. We may not know why we feel called to a new destiny, but we sense that not heeding that call will stifle what is most alive within us.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that finds such insurrections threatening, not least because they make us less predictable and therefore harder to control. This is one reason we’re constantly reminded of the importance of leading a happy, balanced life—the kind of life that “makes sense” from the viewpoint of the dominant social order. Many of us have, in fact, internalized the ideal of a happy, balanced life to such an extent that we find it hard to imagine alternatives. As Freud has already claimed, there is little doubt about what most people want out of life: “They want to become happy and to remain so.”

A quick survey of our culture—particularly our self-help culture—confirms Freud’s observation. One could even say that, in our era, the idea that we should lead happy, balanced lives carries the force of an obligation: We are supposed to push aside our anxieties in order to enjoy our lives, attain peace of mind, and maximize our productivity. The cult of “positive thinking” even assures us that we can bring good things into our lives just by thinking about them.
(more…)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Michael Mann on the Responsibility of Climate Scientists

Michael Mann, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Michael Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines (now available in paperback), argues that scientists can no longer stay on the sidelines when it comes to debates about climate change.

For his own part, Mann has been thrust into the fray over climate change after a study he co-wrote which led to being “hounded by elected officials [and] threatened with violence.” Mann continues, “Our ‘hockey stick’ graph became a vivid centerpiece of the climate wars, and to this day, it continues to win me the enmity of those who have conflated a problem of science and society with partisan politics.”

Initially, Mann did not want to be part of the debate, fearing, as many scientists do, that it would compromise his objectivity “to wade into policy matters or the societal implications of our work.” However, with the stakes so high, Mann now argues that position is no longer viable given the threats of global warming to the planet.

If scientists choose not to engage in the public debate, we leave a vacuum that will be filled by those whose agenda is one of short-term self-interest. There is a great cost to society if scientists fail to participate in the larger conversation — if we do not do all we can to ensure that the policy debate is informed by an honest assessment of the risks. In fact, it would be an abrogation of our responsibility to society if we remained quiet in the face of such a grave threat.

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Lynne Huffer’s Open Letter to Sheryl Sandberg on her Advice to Working Women

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In an essay for Al Jazeera , Lynne Huffer, author of Are the Lips a Grave writes an open letter to Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook corporation.

Huffer considers the suggestions to rise up the corporate ladder from Sandberg’s new book, Lean In and charts the trajectory of feminism that has dramatically improved the lives of working women over the past few decades.

Four decades ago, radical feminists launched a gender revolution because they recognised the value of what the Chinese call “speaking bitterness”. They honoured women’s feelings of discontent about fathers who raped them, boyfriends who abused them, doctors who sterilised them, and employers who paid them less than they were worth.

In her letter, Huffer highlights the key problem with Sandberg’s advice to women to succeed in positions of corporate power in capitalistic America— the inherent profit maximization goal of capitalism.

As any student in Econ 101 will tell you, our profit-driven economic system is shaped like a pyramid, with workers at the bottom and Chief Operating Officers like you at the top. I don’t doubt you’re sincere in wanting success for every woman: more female CEOs and Presidents, more Hillary Clintons. As 1970s’ liberal feminists used to put it: you want a bigger piece of the pie for all of us. Which means, as the second-wave feminists you so admire used to put it: feminism is not about getting a bigger piece of the pie. It’s about seeing that the whole pie is rotten.

(more…)

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Huffer: The New Normal Not Good Enough

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This week our featured book is Are the Lips a Grave? by Lynne Huffer. This whole week, we will share interesting articles related to the book and its author, Lynne Huffer.

In a piece for the Huffington Post, Huffer writes about the issues in promoting the grand image of marriage for everyone as a one-size-fits all solution, especially, for members of the LGBTQ community. She emphasizes on how the “abnormal” individuals who deviate from the classic image of being in love and in harmonious wedlock are ignored when the government provisions are only for those who are in blissful marital union with each other.

She begins with Obama’s 2012 Democratic National Convention speech where he endorses the idea that love transcends all barriers of race, gender and sexual orientation, in support of gay marriage.

To be a Democrat is to love. Barack’s love for Michelle is the personal expression of a larger political love that includes in its embrace not only all races and all religions but also gays and lesbians.

Huffer points out how our right to love eventually boils down to the topic of marriage and the biggest agenda from supporters of the LGBTQ community has been to vouch for equality in marriage. However, Huffer sheds light on how marriage equality alone cannot address issues as there needs to be a more comprehensive, political outlook on love and relationships across any criteria or background.

Ever since Obama’s declaration in May that “same-sex couples should be able to get married,” we’ve been basking in the warmth of that presidential affirmation. But same-sex marriage to the exclusion of other issues is a narrow vision of politics and an impoverished vision of love.

To that extent, Huffer cites a few examples of couples who may be left out in the debate to enforce marriage equality and the associated framework of laws that come with it. She states that they will be ignored because they do not fit the “normal” image projected of couples who are happily married.

How does marriage benefit two gay men in their 60s, both single all their lives, who decide to live together not as an expression of romantic love but to make ends meet? What about the single lesbian mother who finds herself homeless with her two children after escaping her lesbian partner’s domestic abuse? Or the F-to-M transgender teenager who tries to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills after his parents kick him out because they cannot accept his inability to conform to gender norms? Is marriage going to save his life?

(more…)

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Lynne Huffer: Bigotry Didn’t Die with DOMA, Neither Should Radical Queer Politics

Are the Lips a Grave

This week our featured book is Are the Lips a Grave? by Lynne Huffer. This week, we will share articles related to the book and its author, Lynne Huffer.

In a July 2013 Huffington Post article, Huffer discusses her reservations with the marginalized approach in gay marriage equality that blinds individuals from other, equally important, topics, such as racial discrimination:

I’ve been publicly critical of the marriage equality movement for its narrow politics: for focusing on marriage rights to the exclusion of other issues, for making romantic love the primary condition for access to health insurance and other benefits, and for creating new forms of discrimination that pit married gays and lesbians against those who resist traditional coupledom–what I call the “new deviants.”

As a queer feminist and partner to an individual who is prone to racial discrimination due to her color, Huffer explains that the celebrations in regards to the removal of the generation-old federal law that prohibits gay marriage in the state of California are “sweet but politically toothless.” The rationale for this anger and frustration is because the day before the ruling, the Supreme Court had taken out Section Four of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. As a result, it would allow states with a history of racial profiling and discrimination to make it more difficult for individuals to vote due to their color in states such as Georgia, where Huffer and her partner live. Huffer underscores the racial analogy component in the LGBTQ fight to equality:

The contrast between the back-to-back decisions—the Voting Rights Act and same-sex marriage—highlights what’s wrong with our postracial belief in the inevitability of progress that has dominated LGBT activism for the past two decades. Marriage equality advocates regularly compare the struggle for same-sex marriage to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. In fact, the racial analogy has been the most common frame for understanding the LGBT rights struggle.

(more…)

Friday, October 4th, 2013

King: Four Design Thinking Tools for Engaging Your Team

book

This week our featured book is Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works, by Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, and Kevin Bennett.

Today, we feature a Aug 2013 article by Andrew King, co-author of “Solving Problems with Design Thinking: 10 Stories of What Works.” (And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!)

King begins by setting the foundation of design thinking and its importance in solving problems. He states that bigger, complex problems usually start out as simpler and smaller issues and solving them requires creativity through design and implementation. Such creativity emerges from thinking uniquely about the data related to the issues.

Design thinking is a method for understanding complex problems – to really get at their genesis – and developing ways to eliminate or, better yet, leverage those problems into novel solutions. While this still sounds cryptic and too-good-to-be-true, these tools can sharpen your creativity to help you uncover obscured facts and use your knowledge in new ways.

In order to harness this creativity at a managerial level, King outlines four design thinking tools that will help to improve business operations and drive innovation.

Journey mapping is the art of observing what is really going on. Journey mapping requires careful investigation of the process.

Mind mapping is a method for finding useful patterns hiding in lots of noisy data. You have to help your team articulate those ideas and capture them. After many rounds of sharing ideas and letting everyone build on ideas, you’ll be able to see a rich set of patterns. Use the patterns to isolate problems.

Hypothesis generation is about figuring out what creates the problems and how to solve them. Figuring out if a hypothesis holds water is easier and more productive than starting at this point to create The Solution based only on the data that you have so far.

Prototyping helps you prove or disprove the hypotheses. You can prototype anything including processes. Prototypes generate hard data, not ephemeral comments about ‘good ideas.’ Prototypes are ideas that you and your team touch and are often underestimated beyond the world of product design.

King exemplifies the application of these design thinking tools with case studies from his upcoming book. He states that “our research with high performing teams at large multinational companies like Toyota and IBM all the way to non-profit organizations that have used design thinking, has uncovered many team enhancements.”

In addition, King highlights the fact that the success of these tools requires the participation of the entire team as the collaboration and feedback between the team members promotes new ideas and solutions.

King concludes by stating that a company’s focus is solely on the solution and truly innovative solutions emerge from conscious problem solving and paying attention to cure the problem rather than trying to find a quick fix solution: “It takes a creative managers to engage their teams deeply, and that deep engagement engenders trust and sense of purpose.”

For full article view, please click here.

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Kevin Bennett on How Design Thinking Leads to Better Planning

Solving Problems with Design Thinking

In an August 2013 Forbes article Kevin Bennett, co-author with Jeanne Liedtka and Andrew King of of Solving Problems with Design Thinking: 10 Stories of What Works,” explains how design thinking can create a better understanding of today to get a better tomorrow. (And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!)

Bennett begins by laying out the foundation of our thinking and how we approach problems in our life. There is a set origin, A, and a final destination, B. Our efforts lie in reaching point B from point A as soon as possible, with optimal investment of time and resources. This specific construct, as Bennett describes, is evident in all spheres of our thinking, whether it be in business or personal life: “Early in life we are taught to chase one ‘B’ after another, whether applying to college or jobs or getting to retirement, we are constantly chasing the ‘B’ just over the horizon. The same applies to business. We periodically set goals and then set out chasing them, trying to stay just ahead of the market.”

He stresses on the importance of focusing on our starting point, A, so we know where we are coming from as well as gain a solid understanding of our own self in relation to the world. He sheds light on two keys terminologies to enhance our understanding with regards to design thinking—journey mapping and mind mapping:

Design thinking guides us through an archeological dig to better understand “A” with a sense of openness to exploration and discovery. In this archeological dig, design thinking takes up ethnographic research tools to help us truly understand customers and other stakeholders. “Journey mapping” enables us to map other people’s personal experiences by walking in their shoes. “Mind mapping” allows us to understand the values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations of individuals, to see the world through their eyes as they walk through their journeys.

(more…)

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Jeanne Liedtka on the “Moses Myth” of Innovation

Solving Problems with Design Thinking

Today we continue our week-long feature of Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works, by Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, and Kevin Bennett and published by Columbia Business School Publishing. (And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!)

In a September 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek article Jeanne Liedtka contests the “The Moses Myth” which suggests that “innovation is the miracle that results when a special person raises his or her hands to the heavens and the Red Sea parts, or the iPod (AAPL) is born.” Liedtka claims that companies should not wait for such a miracle man to make the innovation possible and that all managers can be inculcated with the right guidance to produce such “miracles” and bring forth innovation in their companies.

This is where Liedtka jumps into the concept of design thinking, “Design thinking gives us the ability to do just that in the form of a reliable set of processes and tools. Though it sounds mysterious, design thinking is just another approach to problem solving, an especially effective one if your goal is innovation.”

She supports this central idea by presenting a few examples of how design thinking supports innovation, as well as providing solutions to their business needs and problems:

IBM (IBM) reframed the challenge of transforming its trade show booths from traditional Las Vegas-style glitz—one-way monologues by which companies hawk their wares at attendees—to an environment that promotes a dialogue with potential clients. To accomplish this, the company garnered insights from conversations with a diverse set of outside experts (from Montessori’s founder to neuroscientists) and then tested the new concepts at a financial services show. The result: much deeper customer engagement leading to significantly more “hot leads” and higher revenue generation.

Suncorp (SUN:AU), one of Australia’s largest financial services companies, was able to speed up the post-merger integration of two very different cultures in the insurance industry. They did this by using the metaphor of a thriving city, inviting employees to design their own neighborhoods within it. Sounds wacky? Yes, but the exercise produced a more than 60 percent increase in employees’ understanding and ownership of the new strategy.

Liedtka concludes by suggesting that such an approach can make a remarkable difference in the way we do business, especially since it deals with the specific sets of tools and concepts that designers frequently use but is not very well-known as a means of innovation by business managers: “These tools emphasize attention to developing deep user-driven insights as the basis for envisioning new possibilities, engaging a broader group of stakeholders in co-creation, and then prototyping hypothesized solutions and testing these in small-scale experiments.”

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Rossano: Fear of Death, Joy of Life and the Origins of God

Mortal Rituals

This week our featured book is Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano. (And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!)

In a November 2010 Huffington Post blog, Rossano writes on the interesting themes of death, life and God with the ideas of fear and happiness intersecting into those themes.

He begins by describing two images. “Two juxtaposed images of religion: A priest in ancient Egypt moaning out an elaborately ritualized incantation over the mummified body of a dead pharaoh, and Tevye and his friends from Fiddler on the Roof drunkenly dancing and shouting l’chaim(“to life”).” Rossano states that these images demonstrate that human mortality and the fear of death serve as sound origins for religious figures and holy texts to appease our expectation of life after death.

Rossano then proceeds to discuss the paradox that while religion may appease the fear of death, it also heightens it. “For example, Ah Puch, the Mayan god of the dead, was a gruesome character whose putrid, decomposing, skeletal form offered little in the way consolation to new arrivals. The ancient Greeks had a similarly disheartening view of the afterlife. In book XI of The Odyssey, the dead Achilles laments to Odysseus: Say not a word in death’s favor; I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man’s house … than king of kings among the dead.”

(more…)

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Matt J. Rossano: The Ritual Species

Mortal Rituals

This week our featured book is Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano. (And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!)

In an August article in Psychology Today, Matt J. Rossano wrote about how rituals enhance the bond between participants of a community.

In the article, Rossano highlights that “archaeologists have recently found evidence that Neanderthals may have taught Homo sapiens some complex tool-making skills (Soressi, et al. 2013). What appears to make Homo sapiens unique is our ability to construct complex, well-coordinated, and highly cooperative social groups.” This difference, he states, allowed Homo sapiens to effectively competitively evolve vis-à-vis the Neanderthals during the Ice-Age.

He also mentions a variety of studies on rituals to supplement his article. The first study discussed the links between ritual intensity and commitment to a particular community: “This has long been an assumption of many groups such as fraternities and the military where hazing or stressful initiations were (and maybe still are) common. Additionally, painful and traumatic rites of passage have long histories in many traditional societies.” Rossano suggests that successfully experiencing such traumatic rituals serve as an important indicator to determine whether the individual will remain committed to a group and greater the intensity of the rituals, better the chances of ascertaining bonding to the community. To exemplify his point, he states that “researchers studied the Hindu festival of Thaipusam on the small Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius (Xygalatas et al, 2013). The festival involves both low intensity ritual activity, such as praying and dancing, and high intensity ritual activity such as body piercing with needles, hooks, and skewers. Both high and low ritual intensity participants were allowed to make charitable donations to a public fund and they were queried about the strength of their emotional connection to their social groups. High intensity ritual participants made significantly greater charitable donations and identified more strongly with their Mauritanian nationality.”

(more…)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Kerry Malawista — Tales from Both Sides of the Couch

Kerry Malawista, Wearing my Tutu to AnalysisA conventional view of psychoanalysis features the therapist listening intently to the patient. But what if the therapist suddenly dominates the conversation? This is what happened to Kerry Malawista, coauthor of Wearing My Tutu to Analysis and Other Stories: Learning Psychodynamic Concepts from Life and coeditor of The Therapist in Mourning: From the Faraway Nearby.

In a recent essay for The Huffington Post, Malawista explains how her first experience with a psychotherapist went wrong due to a failure to listen. Malawista, now a practicing psychotherapist but then a graduate student, went to visit “Dr. K” as a patient as part of her graduate training. Unfortunately, Dr. K never seemed to understand how to help Malawista and their first sessions meandered to an unsatisfying close.

Right before her fourth visit, Malawista, much to her surprise, she saw Dr. K drive up to the office in a shiny corvette. Out of curiosity, she asked Dr. K about this, leading to an awkward interaction:

After some small talk, I hesitantly told Dr. K how surprised I was to see him behind the wheel of a red Corvette. He dove right in, quickly explaining how he was a serious car aficionado and how the Corvette was an extraordinary car. Even though I did not yet understand the idea of transference, I was waiting for him to be curious about my thoughts. Instead, he rambled on in car speak, describing the engine horsepower, the fiberglass body and all of the mechanical specifications. He seemed to be trying to convince me — and maybe himself — that his reasons for owning this car had nothing to do with its hot color and styling. I sensed that I had made Dr. K defensive. I felt uncomfortable having that power over him. It occurred to me that Dr. K cared more about his car than for getting to know me as his patient. That thought make me even feel alone and deflated.

Soon thereafter I quit therapy with Dr. K.

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Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Peter Rabins: “Widespread Power Failures: Programmatic and Emergent Causality”

The Why of Things, by Peter Rabins

This week our featured book is The Why of Things: Causality in Science, Medicine, and Life, by Peter Rabins. This is the fifth article in a series of six articles by Peter Rabins.

And, don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Why of Things.

Widespread Power Failures: Programmatic and Emergent Causality
By Peter Rabins

In a Commentary in the11 July 2013 edition of the journal Nature, electrical engineer Massoud Amin outlines an approach to avoiding massive power failures. He advocates a “resilient” power system that is a “self-healing” power grid. His recommendations mirror the discussion of power failures in my recent book The Why of Things. He writes that the principles underlying his recommendations are the same for a range of complex systems, including fighter jets and telecommunication systems, in which sudden or emergent failure is the result of interactions among multiple units of a system.

Specifically, he recommends interventions at the local nodes of programmatic networks that make them secure and smart. This will require replacement of electromechanical switches with solid state circuits that can carry higher voltages than now possible. At the level of interconnections among systems, he recommends the installation of systems that would foster self-sufficiency at the local subsystem level. These are examples of programmatic network analysis operating at the individual and node level. At the next higher level of analysis, individual highly connected hubs (regional distribution systems, for example) will require solutions that vary by the needs and design of that hubs power resources. His example is that coastal systems have different design needs than inland systems. At a broader system level of analysis and intervention, Amin recommends flow-direction technologies that will even out differences between supply and demand and customer feedback inputs that will allow ongoing monitoring needs and improved coordination among users.

Amin’s commentary illustrates how a systems or network analysis (what I refer to as analysis at the programmatic level) can identify interventions at multiple levels. Emergent phenomena, such as widespread power failures may not have single predisposing or precipitating causal elements; rather it is interactions among elements of the system at multiple levels i.e. local, regional, and system-wide that best explain a range of network failures

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Peter Rabins: Douthat, Pinker and “Scientism”

“[Steven] Pinker has failed to recognize the limits of empirical scientific reasoning, just as those who rely predominantly on ecclesiastic or empathic reasoning mistakenly reject scientific results because they do not fit with their values.”—Peter Rabins

The Why of Things, by Peter Rabins

This week our featured book is The Why of Things: Causality in Science, Medicine, and Life, by Peter Rabins. Today, we are featuring the fourth article in a series of six by Peter Rabins.

And, don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Why of Things.

In the August 7, 2013 New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat responded to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s recent article urging advocates to embrace the label of “scientism” rather than perceive it as a dismissive taunt. Pinker’s argument was that the methods of science now provide the kinds of data which can inform rational policy recommendations on many topics. The term scientism describes this approach to public policy. Douthat’s rejoinder was that Pinker, and others who make similar claims such as Richard Dawkins, are inappropriately applying the findings of scientific studies to moral, ethical, and policy debates. Douthat’s claim is that these advocates of scientism are misattributing to well-designed scientific studies the status of a “proof” of the values that their (liberal) opinions reflect.

I admire Pinker’s contributions in books such as The Language Instinct, Blank Slate, and Fallen Angels. In each he pulls together a wide range of studies to bolster his views on important topics ranging from the innate basis of language, the genesis of human personality and behavior, and the changing prevalence of violence over the centuries. These are important, “big” questions. The breadth of Pinker’s data sources and his use of counterfactuals to identify counter arguments that confirm or refute alternative explanations are impressive.

I also agree with Douthat, though, that Pinker tends to misattribute, to the studies he cites, causal inferences that do not follow from the science. In my recent book The Why of Things, I identify three logics of causal reasoning, empirical (which relies primarily on methods that would be considered scientific), empathic (which relies on the narrative methods of the historian), and ecclesiastic (which derives from the methods of religion and ethics).

Pinker cites empirically based data from (often) well-designed studies, but he applies narrative logic (linking ideas in a comprehensive, coherent fashion) when he applies them to ethical questions. His claim that this is scientism is incorrect, in my opinion. Scientism can be used to address controversial questions, for example whether global warming is occurring and how much of it is attributable to human activity, but not to questions or moral right and wrong. Starting with one’s beliefs and using them to examine moral or ethical questions is more accurately an application of ecclesiastic logic, and I believe Pinker is making an error in not recognizing this. Scientism has its place but it can be misused, as can all methods and logics.

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Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Peter Rabins: “Three-Facet Model of Causality”

The Why of Things, by Peter Rabins

This week our featured book is The Why of Things: Causality in Science, Medicine, and Life, by Peter Rabins. Today, we are featuring another article by Peter Rabins on his unique three facet model approach to causality.

And, don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Why of Things.

In The Why of Things, I propose a three facet model of causality. Darwin’s concept of evolution and its elaboration over the past 150 years idea raise interesting questions about the role of models and hypotheses in illuminating scientific questions; the 3-facet model provides one way of examining these questions.

Evolution is built on the idea that variation exists in biological forms and that this variation affects outcome, in this instance likelihood of survival. Variation, in turn, is the result of the Watson-Crick Model of DNA and the knowledge (scientific evidence) that organisms of the same species have different nucleotides at the same location in DNA. Thus, DNA, the biological substrate of heredity, is variable. Further it is changeable, since different base pairs are occasionally found within the cells of a single person and since the offspring of two individuals with known base pair arrangements can have a base pair pattern that neither parent had.

Among the mechanisms of change are external agents such as cosmic rays, radiation from human generated sources (X-Rays, nuclear weapon explosions), environmental agents (toxins). “Internal” sources of change in DNA include mis-copying (“errors”) DNA during reproduction and as the embryo develops. One of the major findings of that has emerged as the technology to sequence individual genomes has developed is the frequency of such copying changes. Single nucleotides can be inserted, deleted or changed, resulting in a change in the protein that is coded for or in a change in the instruction that that piece of DNA contains. Whole sections of DNA can be deleted, duplicated, triplicated even “thousandicated.” Pieces of genetic material can even be palindromic, that is repeated but in the backward order, as in the littoral palindrome “a man, a plan, a canal, Panama.”

The constant nature of internally and externally generated change, and the ability of organisms to survive with them is a predisposing cause of evolution and organismal variation. A specific change in the sequence of DNA can cause a change in a single organism. Sometimes these are deleterious. For example, the several thousand diseases in which Mendelian genetics is operative, can be caused by a change in one gene. Furthermore, there are hundreds of changes within the gene that predispose to cancer. Thus, for an individual who develops cancer the gene mutation is directly causal or precipitating, but individuals who inherit the gene abnormality are predisposed until the cancerous changes occur.

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Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Peter Rabins on Causality and Evolution

“That a construct described 150 years ago is still so central to scientific thinking on the matter is a tribute to Darwin’s genius and, more importantly, evidence of the power of the proposal that he made.”—Peter Rabins

book cover

This week our featured book is The Why of Things: Causality in Science, Medicine, and Life, by Peter Rabins. Today, we are featuring an essay by Peter Rabins on causality and evolution.

You can also enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Why of Things

One hundred and fifty years after he proposed it, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution remains one of the great breakthroughs in science. The combination of Darwin’s extraordinary observational skill as a descriptive naturalist (at that time a cutting edge method of science) and an ability to infer from these observations a broad theory that had powerful explanatory power is the basis of his persisting reputation.

Although the power of Darwin’s ideas was in their breadth and comprehensiveness, the idea that confirmation and refutability are two cornerstones of the scientific method were not established when Darwin was writing. There were kernels of each in Francis Bacon’s 17th century description of science, but data from such disparate fields as fruit-fly genetics, paleontology, and molecular biology have continued to uphold not only the basic concept of evolution but also many of his related ideas.

Darwin did not propose a mechanism by which evolution worked. He was very likely unaware of the work of his contemporary Mendel, the Augustinian Monk who single handedly identified the major of principles of heredity. Darwin did suggest that heredity occurred by a blending of characteristics, an idea based on his observations and the history of animal breeding.

Mendel’s work suggested a different model, one in which individual units of heredity were passed on in the familiar dominant and recessive modes. One hundred years after their work, Ernst Mayr and others brought together the approaches of Mendel, Darwin and their successors in a “grand synthesis” that combined heredity acting on individuals with evolution acting on groups. Herbert Spencer introduced the term “survival of the fittest” as a short hand for Darwin’s model, and it is this phrase that remains as the public’s view of the Darwinian model.

Watson and Crick’s 1953 demonstration that 4 distinct elements, nucleotide bases adenosine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymidine (T), are the basic elements of the code that transmitted genetic information and that they are arranged in two strands that separate at the time of reproduction was one of the great scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. Within a decade the mechanism by which these 4 bases coded for the 20 amino acids that are needed to make the proteins of the human organism was deciphered and further advances in sequencing these 4 bases allowed for the sequencing of the human genome in 2001.

What has happened in the decade since access to complete genome sequencing became available is extraordinary. Darwin’s idea that heredity worked by blending has been upheld in a general sense, although Mendel’s proposal of a unit of heredity, later named the gene, has been confirmed as well. Perhaps the most amazing discovery has been the identification of a level of complexity to genetics that had been unrecognized.

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Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Benjamin Alamar: “Analytics Is Not a Strategy”

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Today, we are featuring an article by Benjamin Alamar in All Things D on the difference between analytics and strategy.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Analytics Is Not a Strategy
Benjamin C. Alamar

I have been working in sports analytics for nearly 10 years, and still, virtually every time I tell someone what I do, they say some variation of “Oh, you do moneyball.” While my normal response is “yes, something like that,” the truth is that there is real difference between “sports analytics” and “moneyball.” As I’ve written elsewhere, sports analytics (or just plain old analytics) is a set of tools, while “moneyball” is the term coined by author Michael Lewis in his 2003 book to describe a strategy that employs the tools of analytics. The tools of analytics have advanced significantly since Michael Lewis’ book, yet the “moneyball” strategy is unchanged.

Analytics involves the tools of data gathering, data management, statistical analysis, data visualization and information systems to deliver better information, more efficiently, to decision makers within an organization. Clearly the technology behind these tools has advanced rapidly in the last ten years with tools such as Hadoop, R, Qlikview and the like all making the utilization of the mass amounts of data that are now available to organizations possible.

In sports, the most significant leap forward in technology is in data gathering, where companies such as Stats llc and Catapult Sports have utilized advances in technology to fundamentally change the size and scope of data available from practice and competitions. Stats llc utilizes cameras and optical tracking technology to capture the position of everything that moves on a basketball court 25 times a second, while Catapult Sports utilizes GPS, accelerometers and other wearable technology to track player movements and physical characteristics such as heart rate. Both technologies have shifted the type of data available in sports from the count of specific on court actions (attempted shots, for example) to the continuous movements of every element on the field of play.
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