Best New Problem in the Role of a Solution

We are certainly and historically renown for this in every realm, which now to the massive surprise of absolutely nobody positively includes I Would Like to Thank the Academy:

Over the past several years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that votes on the Oscars, has made tremendous strides in diversifying its membership. In 2016, the Los Angeles Times reported that 91 percent of AMPAS’s 6,000-plus members were white and 76 percent were male, a barely perceptible change from the figures the LAT first reported in 2012. But that year, the academy invited a record new 683 members, a record it went on to break in 2017, and again in 2018, increasing AMPAS’s overall membership by nearly half in a three-year span and doubling the percentage of members who are people of color.

This has represented a tremendous effort to bring sweeping change to one of the world’s most prominent cultural arbiters. And, Wednesday, in one fell swoop, the academy undid it all.

The announcement that the Oscars would be adding an as-yet-unnamed category for “achievement in popular film” was met with near-universal derision, and for good reason.

Hmmm… because we certainly can’t have that ‘Moonlight’ thing happening again, Nosiree. The Oscars of course are just a self-promotional artifact for the movie industry, but come on. They might reserve a little, teeny tiny bit of artistic pretension. What is all the marketing preening video mantage for anyway? Wait, don’t answer that.

Modes for toads

Nice DE-veining of ‘design thinking’ in the CHE:

Despite his enthusiasm, Miller struggles to define design thinking. “It’s an approach to problem-solving based on a few easy-to-grasp principles that sound obvious: ‘Show Don’t Tell,’ ‘Focus on Human Values,’ ‘Craft Clarity,’ ‘Embrace Experimentation,’ ‘Mindful of Process,’ ‘Bias Toward Action,’ and ‘Radical Collaboration.’” He explains further that these seven points can be reduced to what are known as the five “modes”: “Empathize,” “Define,” “Ideate,” “Prototype,” and “Test.” He seems particularly impressed with “Empathize”: “Human-centered design redescribes the classical aim of education as the care and tending of the soul.”
Beautiful. Compelling. But what does it mean? According to the d.school’s An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE, “The Empathize Mode is the work you do to understand people, within the context of your design challenge.” We can dress things up with language about the “soul,” but this is Business 101: Listen to your client and find out what he or she wants.

Miller calls the Empathize Mode “ethnography,” which is uncharitable  to cultural anthropologists who spend their entire lives learning how to observe other people. Few anthropologists would sign on to the idea that amateurs at a d.school boot camp strolling around Stanford and gawking at strangers constitutes “ethnography.” The Empathize Mode of design thinking is roughly as ethnographic as a marketing focus group or a crew of consultants trying to suss out their clients’ desires.

Design thinking, in other words, is just a fancy way of talking about consulting. What Miller, Kelly, and Hennessy are asking us to imagine is that design consulting is a model for retooling all of education. They believe that we should use design thinking to reform education by treating students as clients. And they assert that design thinking should be a central part of what students learn, a lens through which graduates come to approach social reality. In other words, we should view all of society as if we are in the design-consulting business.

Okay maybe not so nice. But still, the designification of arts and any other kind of education is a wagon train that should stopped, frisked, emptied of its contents, its wheels broken and used for firewood and little shacks built from the wagon bodies to shield the shysters pioneers from the winter cold because THAT’s empathy and we’re not barbarians. The business-minded think everywhere they look is a frontier – that’s where all this consulting jargon comes from – when most of it is just the old world, with a deep culture you can share and learn something from, and even use for helpful, positive purposes that, yes, might even earn you a living. But no. Instead, it’s space travel. Deep tunnels. The hyperloop. Self-driving cars. Personal pods, juicer-toasters or whatever. And now some of the design thinkers want to change higher ed so their ‘IDEAS, man!’ make more sense. Just stop.

The last and the next 20 years

Peter Singer’s 1975 book Animal Liberation is perhaps the seminal text on awakening human consciousness about nonhuman animals. More of a philosophical tract, it presents an even-handed narrative of why animals’ interests should be considered that is neither ‘good’ not ‘bad’ per se. It’s big idea of ‘the greatest good’ is an effective route to ethical behavior, and it resonates with the challenge of how to get people to care about nature, which – if not cast as satire – is one of the most urgent ideas of the last and the next twenty years:

It is easy to see how bleak accounts of the state of the planet can overwhelm people and make them feel hopeless. What is the point of even trying if the world is going down the drain anyway?

To muster public and political support on a scale that matches our environmental challenges, research shows that negative messaging is not the most effective way forward. As a conservation scientist and social marketer, I believe that to make the environment a mainstream concern, conservation discussions should focus less on difficulties. Instead we should highlight the growing list of examples where conservation efforts have benefited species, ecosystems and people living alongside them.

The promise of positive messaging and marketing language to sway greater environmental sh*t-giving is cynical, but here we are. He’s not wrong, though the degree to which the vision of this kind of promotion will necessarily muster the language of commodity (great cause of said looming catastrophic scenarios) to save the Earth makes the pain in my neck throb. It could also make the messages that feel like Coca-Cola ads that much easier to dismiss from familiarity. Optimism in the face of destruction has its limits, and sometimes we need to look at things as they are and act accordingly. Like adults instead of media companies.
Still, Lost & Found is a good idea. We can do worse than trying to invigorate the public with the wonder of natural wonder, as long as they don’t begin to believe too strongly in its resilience. We can lead the water to horses, but can we make them care?

Piggies, markets

A can of worms, wrapped in a puzzle, buried inside an enigma, with a little pink flag sticking up, the only thing visible, while the sound of one hand clapping faintly echoes in the background

:

By the time the subject of the movie finally comes up, we’d already spent half an hour discussing the ossification of our own culture. We talk about how New York City, the place in which Gray set his first five films, has changed so drastically since the mid 1990s; Gray says the Brooklyn of Little Odessa “is totally gone,” and that, while the 1920s tenements in The Immigrant are still there, they now tower above John Varvatos boutiques. Gray specifies that he’s less interested in romanticizing the crime-ridden city of the past than questioning what’s led to the kind of environment in which, he says, one of his friends seems to be the only person actually living in his apartment building on Central Park West, not using it as an investment.

The fundamental issue on Gray’s mind when we talk is how capitalism impacts our priorities as human beings. Saddled with student debt from the moment we set foot in a university, our ability to “study for the sake of learning” is over; instead, we’re “forced to become budding capitalists.” It’s a critique that received major airtime during Bernie Sanders’s campaign, and Gray’s clearly given it some serious thought. “We haven’t figured out a way to monetize integrity, and when you can’t monetize integrity, and you can’t incentivize integrity and incentivize individuality, and you pray at the god of the market, you get a very strange beast that almost consumes itself,” Gray says. “It’s almost like everyone is beholden to this market god, and nobody knows what to do.”

All in one place, this short article has it all. Best of luck to Gray with the The Lost City of Z.

Criticizing the market

In a society wherein it is the final arbiter, is the market beyond criticism?

Is the very idea that an arbitrary arbitrage of value could be subject to notions of virtue, inspected for justice, honesty, moderation, only now a naive trifle? Question its wisdom and identify yourself as an unschooled radical. We know better, so we say little. Good sense about our prospects in the market gets the better of us and we ‘trim our sails’ and ‘keep our powder dry.’ But these are boats that won’t leave the harbor, stocked with guns that won’t fire. What if we are poised upon the very footbridge that people will one day look back to and identify as the last chance? How many more opportunities can wait? Upsells, upgrades, limited offers, monopolies on that perfect, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, bucket lists… the language of premium experience and exclusivity harkens, tugging at heartstrings, it is assumed, in crass attempts to woo because of course it would. Nothing shall be off limits. But the organs blacken. We feel it but do not fight back. It’s just the market – this is what it does – equanimous and unyielding. It is the only entity that will pursue its truth, and follow the trail wherever it goes. Its judgment is neutral, unbiased, equal opportunity, nonracial and irreligious. Abiding by its decisions relieves the burden to prove anything: the market has spoken. Slowly boiling amphibians may at least have the semblance of regret.

This is the saddest article I’ve read in quite sometime, and extremely well-reported. Right-to-work. The American South is Seoul’s Mexico.

Image: Market Place II by Charles Nkomo

How a Bill becomes a Law

un-apNo, not that one – but I love that one. This one, directed at Earthlings, named for our universe’s cultural heart and designed to avoid the worst:

the Paris climate agreement had passed a critical milestone toward adoption. At a UN General Assembly meeting in New York this morning, 31 nations officially signed onto the accord, making it very likely that the deal will enter legal force this year.

You may remember that the Paris agreement—an international pledge to limit us to 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, by weaning every nation off fossil fuels—was adopted at an international summit in December 2015. But before it can go into effect, it needs to be formally ratified by 55 countries that together account for 55 percent of global carbon emissions.

The accord received a major boost earlier this month, when the United States and China, two carbon behemoths that together account for nearly forty percent of global emissions, jointly announced their intention to ratify the deal. Before today, 27 other nations that collectively represent some 2 to 3 percent of global emissions had also signed on.

This is the tipping point we were looking for, to try to put off that other one. So many other wires have been tripped in setting off the renewable energy cascade, we might as well formalize the shift. Many difficulties still afoot and Team Fossil is going to fight even harder, but this is continued progress to be promoted and echoed.

Tilting a Unlevel Playing Field

exxon-cardChoose your metaphor, but on the other side of decades-long collusion charges, professional climate change deniers in Congress want answers about the groups, people and states with the temerity to seek answers:

Following a months-long standoff between the House Science Committee and state attorneys general conducting an investigation into Exxon over climate change denialism, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has called a hearing to affirm his right to subpoena the state officials overseeing criminal investigations.

Smith, a noted climate change denier, has made repeated demands that the attorneys general and several environmental groups turn over their communications about Exxon, accusing them of embarking on an “unprecedented effort against those who have questioned the causes, magnitude, or best ways to address climate change.” The attorneys general, as well as the activist groups, have refused to comply with the committee’s requests, setting up a battle over subpoena power.

In a June statement, the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), said that Smith’s demands were “not about legitimate oversight,” but that the committee was “harassing” attorneys general investigating Exxon.

While Smith has previously conducted investigations into the executive branch and scientists funded by Congress, now the chairman has issued subpoenas to two state attorneys general conducting a criminal investigation. He made a wide-ranging request for communications the states had with each other, environmental groups, and the federal government about an “investigation or potential prosecution of companies, nonprofit organizations, scientists, or other individuals related to the issue of climate change.”

Can you say protecting the rights of the accused not to even be accused? Check the fine print in the Bill of Rights, I think we missed something. Oh, and Smith – chairman of the House Science Committee. Orwell was piker.

The Sound You’re Not Hearing

NileExxon Mobil Corp. ramping up its lobbying in support of a carbon tax, marking a shift in the oil giant’s approach to climate change, mais pourquoi?

It’s still unclear exactly why Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker gave up on his efforts to obtain documents from ExxonMobil that could have shed light on whether the fossil-fuel behemoth violated anti-fraud laws. Climate hawks were hoping that Walker might be able to find smoking-gun evidence that ExxonMobil swindled its shareholders about the magnitude of the threat climate change posed to its bottom line.

Climate hawks were also hoping that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey–who, along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, has trying to get to the bottom of whether ExxonMobil committed fraud–might be able to make headway as well, but Healey has reportedly decided to stand down until ExxonMobil’s twin legal challenges to her efforts are resolved.

What if Healey and Schneiderman also decide to walk away from the noble effort to hold ExxonMobil responsible for its obstruction of climate justice? If so, could it be due to concerns that they cannot win this fight in the court of public opinion?

The news about Walker’s abandonment of his efforts to obtain documents from ExxonMobil broke right around the same time that the Wall Street Journal reported on the CO2 conglomerate’s push to get other fossil-fuel powerbrokers to support federal revenue-neutral carbon tax legislation as the “first-best policy”

So… they’ve always advocated for a carbon tax, but quietly until now. The expectation that, under the next president, a broader climate debate might take place is giving them some incentive to look as though they had been engaged in something other than claim change denial since the 1970’s. They never stop playing games.
Image: A river in Egypt.

What Does GreenLand Mean?

greenland_guardianRapid ice melts and calving glaciers are resulting in a dark snow phenomenon in Greenland. Look at these images in the Guardian and tell yourself over and over again that nothing is happening:

For most of us, science is an abstract subject but aerial photography is a powerful tool to translate what environmental science is telling us. It brings a different perspective to environmental problems. You can be very clear or very abstract to make images that are inspiring and beautiful, images don’t have to be read straight ahead. It’s sort of like teasing the viewer … to find clues in the image,’ say [photographer Daniel]Beltrá

In another coincidence I just noticed, this is the 1,001st post on the site.

Misleading Investors

gas-pump-climate-changeI guess if that’s how we’re going to see things. But it would be better to state at the outset that every instance of disbelieving, climate change skepticism rises from the deliberate misinformation campaign devised by fossil fuel extraction companies when their own research began to tell them that the delicious smell from the kitchen was their own bacon frying:

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released the results of an investigation that found one of the world’s largest coal companies had misled the public and its shareholders about the risks climate change could pose to its bottom line.

After several years of investigations, Schneiderman reached an agreement with Peabody Energy that won’t require the company to admit it broke the law and does not entail a fine or other penalty. Instead, Peabody must file revised shareholder disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission with new language acknowledging that “concerns about the environmental impacts of coal combustion…could significantly affect demand for our products or our securities.”

The agreement comes just days after Schneiderman issued a subpoena to ExxonMobil, kicking off an investigation into whether the oil giant has misled investors and the public about the basic science of climate change for decades. Exxon has denied any wrongdoing. While the two investigations have some similarities, Exxon could face tougher penalties than Peabody, said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas programs at Ceres, an investor advocacy group. The allegations against Exxon stretch back much further in time and could potentially be more serious, so the attorney general could pursue more aggressive action against the company, Logan said.

The Exxon practice is the actual real story here, one that goes back to the late seventies. The companies were no fools; they invested their own money in real research because they wanted to know the truth. They just decided that it was more important that you didn’t know. And that you questioned any attempts by the government to reign in your freedom. They even gave you a few things you could say.

Framing the practice of climate deception as ‘no duty’ to be truthful with investors may make it seem like a victimless crime, we’re all adults here and all’s fair in love n’ bidness, but c’mon.