Category Archives: journalism & writing

Best Reads via BusinessWeek

boys of lancaster .

via Bloomberg BusinessWeek

The 2013 Jealousy List: The 41 Best Stories (and One Book) We Didn’t Write

…lots of gold referrals, especially:

“The Boys of Lancaster”
I thought I’d read everything I ever wanted to read on the Amish, and I know I didn’t want to read about baseball, but Kent Russell’s piece in the New Republic changed my mind on both. —Bryant Urstadt

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The Health of Money

The God In the Machine, Lewis H. Lapham, Lapham’s Quarterly, V.II,No.3

President Barack Obama during his first months in office seldom has missed a chance to liken the country’s healthcare system to an unburied corpse, which, if left lying around in the sun by the 111th Congress, threatens to foul the sweet summer air of the American dream. The prognosis doesn’t admit of a second or third opinion. Whether on call to the Democratic left or the Republican right, the attending politicians and consulting economists concur in their assessment of the risk posed by the morbid emissions. The country now pays an annual fee of $2.4 trillion for its medical treatments (16 percent of GDP); the costs continue to lead nowhere but up. Fail to embalm or entomb the putrefying debt, and it’s only a matter of time—ten years, maybe twenty—before the pulse disappears from the monitors tracking the heartbeat on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

So say the clinicians in Washington, and I don’t quarrel with the consensus. If I can’t make sense of some of the diagnoses or most of the prescriptions, at least I can understand that what is being discussed is the health of America’s money, not the well-being of its people. The symptoms present as vividly as the manifestations of plague listed in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, but they show up as an infection of the body politic caused by the referral of the country’s medical care to the empathy of accountants and the wisdom of drug dealers.

If I can’t make sense of some of the diagnoses or most of the prescriptions, at least I can understand that what is being discussed is the health of America’s money, not the well-being of its people.

This is the most cogent comment about the current debate over reform of the health care system I’ve encountered.

Thank goodness for Lewis Lapham. More:

The medieval church marketed its healthcare product as the forgiveness of sin, in the form of Papal indulgences intended to preserve the vitality of the immortal soul. In an age that places a higher value on the flesh than it does on the spirit, the guarantees on the label promise to restore the blooms of eternal youth. To the extent that we construe physical well-being as the most cherished commodity sold in the supermarkets of human happiness, we stand willing to spend more money on the warrants of longevity than we spend on lottery tickets and cocaine. Our consumption of medical goods and services constitutes the performance of what Thorstein Veblen in The Theory of the Leisure Class characterized as a devout observance—the futility and superfluous expense of the exercise testifying to its value as an act of worship. The more health product that we conspicuously consume, the more of us feel conspicuously ill. To express our devotion we magnify every “riddling distemper” the flesh is heir to, deprive ourselves of food and blood, discover diseases where none exist, incise ourselves with liposuction and the angiogram. The pharmaceutical companies step up the dosages of terror in their print and television advertising; volunteer committees of vigilance gather in city parks to keep a sharp watch for obese wastrels who neglect their aerobic exercises, smoke cigarettes, fail to ingest their antioxidants, refuse to drink their pomegranate juice. We learn to think, as do the characters in a Woody Allen movie, that we become commendable, or at least interesting, by virtue of the stigmata verifying our status as victims and attesting to our worth as patients.

My only gripe with the Medicine issue is that for whatever reason, Ivan Illich, (author of the classic Medical Nemesis,) wasn’t included.

The Lapham Quarterly is the single most edifying and provocative publication now being produced in the sphere of the ‘public intellect.’ Of course, Lapham himself is a terrific essayist. As it turns out he’s also a visionary assembler of ideas, given the brilliant collections organized around themes he’s issued in the form of his journal. Above all, The Lapham Quarterly honors the intellect of the reader by juxtaposing classical and modern thinking around the themes, and then allowing the reader to reason through a robust clash of historical and contemporary perspectives. It’s not all words. Each edition includes graphic evidence and images aimed to do what 1,000 words cannot.

The web site for The Lapham Quarterly has evolved to offer content not in the journal. Highly recommended. At the web site are Lapham’s introductions for each issue and its centering theme. Right now, Lapham is second-to-none as a commentator on current events.

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The map of the network needs pluralizing

I’ve added networkweaver blog to the link sidebar under a new category, Smart Mobs. It’s not a very active blog, yet it has a lot of fascinating, thought-provoking content. (See The Power of Network Weaving Aug.30)

Here’s Part 1 of a youtube video posted there. Part 2 is on the networkweaver blog.

I did some data entry for a network map Valdis Krebs, a member of the blog’s team, created several years ago for E4S, the sustainability and entrepreneurship organization run by my friend Holly.

Off and on, Holly and me have discussed her vision about how she develops and nurtures her network. Coming at it from the perspective of adult transformative learning (and social psychology oriented to my constructivist prejudices,) I’ve entered into our dialog at times my sense of the place distinctive aspects of personality and relationship and group awareness occupy within a vibrant human network. Although, for me, I prefer to think of this kind of social activity as constituting webs/entanglements of dynamic group relations, rather than their constituting a network, or networks.

The reason for my bias is the map of a network doesn’t depict the “3D” dimensionality of human interaction and enactment. The network maps I’ve viewed tend to reify, reduce, and erase the complexities of the underlying human relationships the map depicts. As is often the case, such a picture tilts its emphasis in the direction of representing (a kind of) flattened relational instrumentality. This is fine as far as it goes; after all, the purpose of the map is different than the purposes I can conjure!

On the other hand, in their structure, the maps I’ve seen, are–necessarily–reifying devices. There may be ways to engineer a map to depict some of the deep features of the network.

The upshot of this is: engineering again needs to be vulnerable to the infection of deeper, interdisciplinary, and, (if you wll,) “multi-modal,” analysis.This could aim to realize a qualitative model of the interplay and contingent relations discoverable when the human system is examined more closely. The point would be to elicit different manifest levels underlying the depiction of connects. This richer territory could be mapped to a different variant of the conventional map.

For example, Krebs and June Holley wrote a paper, Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving (2002-2006).

In the introduction:

Communities are built on connections. [snip] Improved connectivity is created through an iterative process of knowing the network and knitting the network.M

How are communities actually built?


Network maps provide a revealing snapshot of a business ecosystem at a particular point in time.

These maps can help answer many key questions in the community building process.

• Are the right connections in place? Are any key connections missing?
• Who are playing leadership roles in the community? Who is not, but should be?
• Who are the experts in process, planning and practice?
• Who are the mentors that others seek out for advice?
• Who are the innovators? Are ideas shared and acted upon?
• Are collaborative alliances forming between local businesses?
• Which businesses will provide a better return on investment – both for themselves and the community they are embedded in?

These are important questions. But they seem to me to beg even more fundamental questions:

What are the qualities of a right connection, and, per force, relationship?

What is the nature of, or, what are the possible natures of, leadership?

What is the nature of expertise?

What are the qualities of an innovative idea? (I’ll return to this question.)

What are the social psychological dynamics of alliances and collaborations?

(Borrowing from James Hillman; |1|) What are additional kinds of profit found in businesses and communities? (Howabout Ivan Illich’s notion of conviviality?)

What are qualities of an innovative idea?

Ideas exist within contexts. Social action exists within contexts. Relationships exist within contexts. Analysis may be used to uncover the constructionist, sociological, ethnographical, phenomenological, and other threaded dependencies given by any rich human system.

The network map is not even about the true nature of the complex system.

The conception of the map of the network needs pluralizing.

(1) As the weaver connects to many groups, information is soon flowing into the weaver about each group’s skills, goals, successes and failures. An astute weaver can now start to introduce clusters that have common goals/interests or complementary skills/experiences to each other. As clusters connect, their spokes to the hub can weaken, freeing up the weaver to attach to new groups.

This is the most prominent exposure cognition receives in Krebs/Holley. Of course, their fine paper has different aims.

Still, from the perspective of adult learning, what flows in an idealized web of relations are learning contexts and potentials for learning experiences, and, concrete learning experiences. A weaver could employ additional tools, tools beyond those which support uniting “nodes” over mutual, complementary and sympathetic interests.

One goal of such learning within the network and via the web of relationships would be to deepen reflection, instantiate critical culture, and transform the inherent, (often overly-conventional) meaning schemes. This obviously starts to rub the network in tantalizing ways and evoke novel emergent learning.


So, too, business; just add an $ to profit–profit not only for partners and shareholders. The monotheism of the profit motive can be loosened so that it makes places for other kinds of profitability: profitable for the long term continuity of liffe and future generations, profitable to the pleasure and beauty of the common good, profitable to the spirit. The double bottom line of social and ecological responsibility extends profitability only part way. The idea of profit itself needs pluralizing. (James Jillman, Kinds of Power. A Guide to its Intelligent Uses, 1995) 

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