Nothing to fear but fear

Back around the time of the Madrid bombings I wrote a short piece where I argued that we had more to fear from the responses to the fear of terrorism than from terrorism itself. I was pleased to see that Steven Johnson has taken up a similar theme. As he says in the conclusion to his piece:
“To be clear: terrorism is a threat to us, and our politicians and law enforcement officials should be focused on ridding the world of those threats as effectively as they can. But those leaders should also be focused on giving us a sense of proportion. By any reasonable statistical measure, ordinary Americans are safe from terrorism. It would be nice, for once, to have our leaders remind us of that.”
Well worth a read.
Harvey Molotch, whose book, “Where Stuff Comes From”, I have been urging all my friends to read has also ventured into this territory. In a long essay written with Noah McClain “Dealing with Urban Terror” (PDF) where they thoughtfully explore some of the things that could be done to deal with this problem they conclude:
“Authorities charged with addressing the September attacks have proclaimed an endless war against the perpetrators, harkening back to the most regressive traditions of dealing with crime and disorder, domestic and foreign. We know from this past history that fear of crime – to take the crucial precedent – leads to major policy consequence, including race and class effects. Fear of terrorist crime in the US now escalates to global consequence, including abuse of human rights and the potential for cycles of turmoil around the world. With some analytic and empirical help it may be possible to transmute an understandable public anxiety into outcomes that increase rather than curtail social enfranchisement, protect civil liberties, and add some safety. We need more knowledge about how cities, including those in the rich centers of the world, work in the context of terror – both for the sake of better policies as well as more informed and effective populations.”

Who is allowed to wish?

My friend Alex McKie is engaged in an interesting adventure. She is travelling around the UK asking people to send her their three wishes for the future on a postcard – you can also do it on-line. What I found particularly intriguing is that so far she has found that people seem to think that it is OK for children and the young to make wishes, but for the more mature it is somehow illegitimate. Of course, this may change as she continues her journeys, but it seems to ring true. If it is the big question is why.
Anyway you can follow Alex’s adventures and find out how to make your wishes here on Alex’s 3 Wishes for the Future website.

Where Stuff Comes From

Harvey Molotch gets network thinking. More than that, he does it. In his book, “Where Stuff Comes From”, he shows, with brilliant simplicity, the complex web of interactions that lie behind creation and production of the everyday stuff that surrounds us. This is a book that every thinking designer should read. Actually, it?s a book that anyone who cares about the world we live in should read. Sensible, humane and thoughtful, it brightened up my day.

The Intelligence of the Tennis Player

I’m not a great sports fan, but I do sometimes watch some of the big events on TV. To my great surprise I found myself watching quite a lot of the matches in the European Cup, that end a couple of weeks ago. What fascinated me was the progress of the Greek team. As the tournament went on the Greeks, who started at 150 to 1 against winning the Cup, beat team after team, that had players that were more skilful and talented than the Greeks. The reason the commentators claimed was that the Greeks, German manager, was tactically more acute than his opponents. You could say that the Greeks victory was a triumph of intelligence over talent.
This reminded me of a Wimbledon final many years ago when Arthur Ashe beat the supposedly invincible Jimmy Connors. Curiously, the Guardian revived an account of the match a few days ago. I can remember watching the match and puzzling over its meaning. At the time I was trying to understand the nature of creativity, intelligence and learning – a quest that continues to this day – and thinking about “the Intelligence of the tennis player” took me to some places I hadn’t been before.
Reflecting on this again, I realised, that while there is a kind of intellectual pleasure in watching the triumph of intelligence over talent, the problem is that it is a bit dull. For the non-sports fan like myself what is missing is that sense of transcendental magic that one gets from seeing a super talented athlete, like Muhammad Ali or Maradona, perform.

The Street has its own uses

I have always been fascinated by the way that people use technologies for their own purposes, often in ways unimagined by their creators. So I was please to find this one to add to my collection. Paul Skidmore of Demos reports:
“I came across an interesting spin on the idea of smart mobs while I was in New Zealand. Groups of casual workers who are employed picking fruit in areas like Hawke’s Bay use mobile phones to gain leverage over employers. They will text each other the wage that different growers are offering per basket that day, and then go and work for whoever is paying best, leaving other growers in the lurch. It goes to show that even in industries like horticulture, technology can still have a very disruptive impact on ways of working.”

Let’s hear it for the over 50s

As the Baby Boomers get hoist on their own petard for their promotion of the cult of youth, Simon Caulkin provides a nice counter in a sidebar to a piece explaining how accountants are failing to measure what is important. In the sidebar he describes how B&Q, the DIY stores company, discovered the value of employing older workers:
“As with many companies, its distinctive qualities were initially the result of an accident: growing fast in the late 1980s, it had to spread its recruitment net to the over-50s. It discovered that the necessity of employing older workers could be a virtue. As a result of a deeper skills base and wider experience, it found that its Macclesfield store, staffed entirely by over-50s, was outperforming others in profits, sales, customer service, short-term absenteeism and shrinkage.
Of the company’s 37,000 workforce, 21 per cent are aged 50 or more and 7 per cent are over 60. B&Q even boasts two employees in their nineties.
The company amplified its knowledge advantage by setting up a corporate university. In a self-reinforcing spiral, it transpired that over-50s were adept learners too – not just about products but also about the wider brand. When, in response to uncomfortable questioning at an AGM, the company launched sustainable sourcing and an ethical trading policy for its timber, over-50s were quick to become persuasive company advocates.”