|Sent on:||Wednesday, August 15, 2012 10:44 PM|
Please click http://www.meetup.com/Undeniably-Non-Fiction-Book-Club/polls/613982/ to take the poll to decide the book choice for October. I will close the poll at the end of day this Saturday.
Thanks to all who attended this past Sunday for our discussion of Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. It was the best attended meeting since I started with the group last October. The ratings of the book on our 5 point scale were good at 3.9, ranking it as 5th out of the 9 books we have rated. Almost everyone finished and liked the book finding it interesting. There were some quibbles about which "ideas" got counted and how they got bundled. I think some of the most interesting discussion was questioning the assumptions that new ideas are always good, asking about the creativity of individuals (as opposed to just the environment), and when the rate of the discovery of new ideas is slowing down. We also touched on whether our society is still tilted towards being closed and protective of new ideas or moving towards a more open model.
The results of our vote on the books are posted online. The finalists for August are:
Acrimony and hyperpartisanship have seeped into every part of the political process. Congress is deadlocked and its approval ratings are at record lows. America’s two main political parties have given up their traditions of compromise, endangering our very system of constitutional democracy. And one of these parties has taken on the role of insurgent outlier; the Republicans have become ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic policy regime.In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein identify two overriding problems that have led Congress—and the United States—to the brink of institutional collapse. The first is the serious mismatch between our political parties, which have become as vehemently adversarial as parliamentary parties, and a governing system that, unlike a parliamentary democracy, makes it extremely difficult for majorities to act. Second, while both parties participate in tribal warfare, both sides are not equally culpable. The political system faces what the authors call “asymmetric polarization,” with the Republican Party implacably refusing to allow anything that might help the Democrats politically, no matter the cost. With dysfunction rooted in long-term political trends, a coarsened political culture and a new partisan media, the authors conclude that there is no “silver bullet” reform that can solve everything. But they offer a panoply of useful ideas and reforms, endorsing some solutions, like greater public participation and institutional restructuring of the House and Senate, while debunking others, like independent or third-party candidates. Above all, they call on the media as well as the public at large to focus on the true causes of dysfunction rather than just throwing the bums out every election cycle. Until voters learn to act strategically to reward problem solving and punish obstruction, American democracy will remain in serious danger.
Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning marks an important moment in our civilization’s thinking about global warming. The question is no longer Is climate change actually happening? but What do we do about it? George Monbiot offers an ambitious and far-reaching program to cut our carbon dioxide emissions to the point where the environmental scales start tipping back—away from catastrophe.
Though writing with a "spirit of optimism," Monbiot does not pretend it will be easy. The only way to avoid further devastation, he argues, is a 90% cut in CO2 emissions in the rich nations of the world by 2030. In other words, our response will have to be immediate, and it will have to be decisive.
In every case he supports his proposals with a rigorous investigation into what works, what doesn’t, how much it costs, and what the problems might be. He wages war on bad ideas as energetically as he promotes good ones. And he is not afraid to attack anyone—friend or foe—whose claims are false or whose figures have been fudged.
After all, there is no time to waste. As Monbiot has said himself, "we are the last generation that can make this happen, and this is the last possible moment at which we can make it happen."
George Monbiot is the best-selling author of The Age of Consent and Captive State, as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed, and No Man’s Land. In 1995, Nelson Mandela presented him with a United Nations Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement. He has held visiting fellowships or professorships at the universities of Oxford (environmental policy), Bristol (philosophy), Keele (politics), and East London (environmental science). Currently visiting professor of planning at Oxford Brookes University, he writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper.