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Wed, 14 Jan 2004

A smattering of links
I have a bunch of things that I've been meaning to link to when I got around to writing up an accompanying blurb. I'm not sure that will ever happen. So rather than lose the links, I'm going to post them with minimal commentary because I've found it incredibly handy for me to be able to access links to cool things that I've seen easily from any web-enabled location. There's no real order or organization here; just things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.

The echo chamber
I liked this article on the perils of meetings of only like-minded people that I saw linked to in the comments section of a Clay Shirky article. If only because the idea that like-minded people tend to egg each other on in the absence of the brake of a dissenter appeals to me and fits in with my thoughts on political extremism, and my aspirations of becoming a contrarian. I especially liked this quote:
Research groups made of scientists from the same discipline and background have very efficient meetings but donít make as much progress as more diverse groups, who have more contentious meetings and spend more time explaining the obvious to each other and discovering that itís not quite as obvious as they thought it was.
As part of a twelve-person team at work, composed of four biologists, two marketing folks, three engineers and three physicists, I've seen this effect firsthand. When we were all at Signature and ensconced in our own groups, we all proceeded in our own directions with our own set of assumptions. One of the first things we did when this team was formed was spend an entire week locked into a conference room "explaining the obvious to each other." It was incredibly useful, and something that continues to be necessary, because our perspectives are so different. But it's contributed to genuine progress as we figure out things that are relevant to each others' research.
The contrast between my hometowns
I linked to this Economist article in my last post, but it deserves its own mention here. It's an article comparing and contrasting two congressional districts, those of Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco, and Dennis Hastert in the western suburbs of Chicago. As somebody who grew up in those western suburbs and now resides in the San Francisco area, it was of particular interest to me. They really are alien lands. It's hard to explain to people who have spent their entire life in California or on the East Coast how different things are in the Midwest. But this article is a good start, so I wanted to link to it.
Are blogs just?
After a discussion started on the fairness of blogs by Joi Ito, Clay Shirky responded, and then later went back and took another crack. I don't really have much more to say, but some of the comments on those pages are interesting, and the discussion ranges across several blogs (follow the trackbacks in the comments) of varying interest.
Bay Area Future Salon
I joined the mailing list of this group recently, and have been impressed with the variety of discussion on it. I haven't made it to a real-world meeting yet, but one of these days... Okay, this link is mostly here for my own benefit.
Speaking of interesting groups, this group of people devoted to "doing strange things with electricity" is neat as well. I've only been to one meeting, but I may try to make tomorrow night's gathering.
Long Now seminars available online
I've been to two of the Long Now Seminars About Long-term Thinking now, including the talk by Peter Schwartz. I missed the talk by Brian Eno, but fortunately the talks are available online now. Now I just have to find time to listen to Eno's talk...
What's your law?
I am a subscriber to the Good Experience newsletter, which included this column by Mark Hurst describing "Five Ideas for 2004, which had a link to the Edge website, which I was already a fan of. In particular, Hurst linked to Edge's Annual Question, where they ask a question of their numerous member luminaries. This year's question asked for people to coin their own law in analogy to Moore's Law. Hurst linked to his own law, of course, but scanning the other laws turned up some very interesting ones. It's certainly worth skimming through the entire list.

My favorite by far were the laws by George Lakoff, especially his First Law, that frames trump facts. The framing of the question is more important in determining the answer given than almost anything else, a fact well known to pollsters. His example of framing tax cuts as "tax relief" is brilliant in showing how the use of that phrase immediately calls in the connotations of taxes as an affliction that must be relieved. As he suggests, if taxes were treated as a membership fee, "used to maintain and expand services and the infrastructure", they would have an entirely different connotation. The implications are endless, and I really want to write about them at some point (especially the inevitable consequence that he mentions that it is a myth that people make rational decisions based on the facts, which is insanely relevant to how politics is handled), but for now I'll just link to it. I need more time to develop my thoughts on the subject.

The size of the nation-state
I really liked this Economist article on the economically appropriate size for the nation-state. Definitely worth a read. I read it in the print edition; for finding the online version, thanks must go to the the blog of Charles Murtaugh, which I found through Corante's In the Pipeline blog. I'd been having thoughts along these lines recently; in my post about Peter Schwartz's talk, I say:
An obvious extension in my eyes is whether countries are going to continue to be a relevant social entity. It seems likely to me that nation-states are at an awkward size - too big to earn the personal loyalty of its citizens, but too small to deal with issues of global significance like the environment, or even terrorism. I can see the powers of the nation-state devolving in both directions, where the personal loyalty will move down the chain to a tribal level, and the global problems move upwards to some sort of global association of tribes, like the United Nations except more effective.
I just want to note that I wrote that before reading the Economist article; unfortunately, unlike their referenced economists, I had no evidence to support my assertion other than my gut feeling. Alas. This thread also ties into my recent post about community, musing about how we are steadily segregating ourselves into smaller like-minded communities in both a physical and virtual sense. It all ties together. I just haven't figured out how yet.
And, on that note, I will conclude this post of updated links. I think I got all the ones I've been mulling over. If I remember more, I'll add them later I guess.

posted at: 00:09 | path: /links | permanent link to this entry