Thursday, February 21, 2008

Richard Posner - You're Joking.

Richard Posner needs his head checked.

Posner, an acclaimed legal theorist, published a book entitled Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. Throughout this piece of work, Posner draws heavily upon empirical research and findings according to the exposure of different public individuals. In Stephan Mack’s essay “The Decline of Public Intellectuals?” he describes the particular review of Posner’s book by William Dean, who raises the appalling fact that Posner’s methodology of ridding the system of the defects is essentially attempting to exclude the arts and humanities – public intellectuals who discuss public philosophies and attitudes from the realm of public intellectuals.

HOW can you even consider excluding those who are experts in those disciplines and pour their knowledge and passion into those topics from being public intellectuals? Sure, maybe when you are discussing philosophy, ethics, or religion there isn’t very much empirical evidence, and your arguments will often not be rooted in fact, but rather in theory and belief. Guess what?

THAT’S OK. There’s no need to get all hysterical if you don’t have your precious spreadsheet to back up every sentence that comes out of your mouth. I can’t stand people that are so rooted in needing factual evidence for everything that they undermine the importance, complexity, and difficulty of discussing and engaging in the humanities. I completely disagree with those who believe that theories and topics of discussion not empirically or factually determined (as in religion, culture, etc) have less importance to the public than disciplines such as science.

Actually, I would argue quite the opposite. While I will admit that political disciplines have great public influence and also can be empirically based, I believe that the disciplines such as philosophy actually have MORE influence over the public than the research based disciplines such as science and medicine. I would argue that the average American citizen is much more willing to read and engage in topics such as ethics and culture over reading extensive research about skin cancer cells or Siamese twins.

What would this world be like today without philosophical theorists? What would our society have for a framework without people to debate and guide us through moral and ethical issues? Perhaps on a more trivial level but still important, what would American culture, and the “American experience” be like without the credibility of those who research and present on art, dance, and theater?

Our arts and humanities theorists make up a massive and critical part of American ideology – they expose the American public to issues that matter in their everyday lives. Our society and culture would be empty without these scholars, and they absolutely deserve every bit of the title of a public intellectual. The have developed our society and continually step outside the box to push us to the next level, and have been doing it for years – to think that we would shun them from any sort of respectable title is grossly appalling to me.

The Elusive Public Intellectual - Nailing Down a Framework of Understanding

The term “public intellectual” is met with controversy, scrutiny, admiration, and confusion, depending on who you are talking to. “Public intellectual” has been defined differently by numerous scholars (perhaps public intellectuals themselves?), yet the people of America still wait in darkness for a clean-cut version of who the heck this ambiguous public intellectual could be. No real guidelines exist for who could be a public intellectual, leaving people, myself included, confused and alone on how to determine one when we see one, or how to measure their influence over public opinion. The public intellectual realm is vast and intriguing, but before we can delve in on some of the issues that make public intellectuals tick, we need to find out WHO they are and WHAT exactly it is they do. Sound good?

Remember when we all started reading and you came to a reallllly hard compound word, and you didn’t know what it meant? Like hotdog, or grandfather. What did you do to better understand this word? You broke it down into pieces. Let’s apply this elementary technique to tackle something that is just as confusing as those damn compound words in kindergarten, although this is more of a compound term, I suppose.

First word. Public. What does public mean in this context? How far do you have to go into the public realm to be considered a public intellectual versus just an academic intellectual? Does the public have to receive you well in order to be considered a public intellectual? Is there an empirical way of determining the breadth of a person’s knowledge? Does a person have to get published a certain number of times before being considered a public intellectual?

Second word. Intellectual. Are certain disciplines considered more intellectual than others? Should arts and humanities be excluded from the public intellectual realm as cynic and empirically obsessed Richard Posner suggests? What sorts of issues and different realms need to be discussed, and what level of expertise must you obtain to be considered intellectual?

Tackling these questions is both challenging and thought provoking. And totally arbitrary, which is why it’s so hard in the first place.

One thing I would like to take a minute to examine, while we are on the topic of the extreme arbitrary nature in defining the makeup of a public intellectual, is the influence of your personality in determining your own definition of public intellectual. I personally am an extremely emotional and subjective person. I do PR. This is how I act, and how I deal with situations. My father, a lawyer and real estate mogul, is extremely objective and has about five emotional gestures on record since 1998. That is how he deals with situations and views the world. I define public intellectual very broadly, with few guidelines and little need for empirical and concrete support. Objective minded people like my father, those who just neeeed a definition, see things more narrowly, often citing empirical evidence and imposing exact guidelines. Personality heavily influences who you see as a public intellectual. Now I’m not just talking about how you might agree or disagree with specific people being labeled public intellectuals – that does obviously have to do with personality, but more with personal opinion. I’m talking about the way in which you think - without thinking about it. When discussing who should be public intellectuals, my mind instantly floats to the fact that some people get left out and maybe that’s not fair, because I am emotional and subjective. My father might instantly cross somebody off if their published work has not sold more than x number of copies. Your personality causes you to make decisions that are ingrained in your daily behavior. Leave it to me, the PR obsessed chick, to start talking about how your personality traits shape definitions. Human behavior is such a complex, amazing thing to examine. Often the people who think they know most, are so close minded that they truly know the least. Richard Posner is somebody who I would say is the quintessential empirically obsessed, objective person I described my father as, and is a perfect example of that, and we will later discuss his desire to exclude arts and humanities, one of the most respectable and complicated disciplines out there, from the public intellectual realm. Idiot.

In researching the public intellectual, I came across an essay by Alan Lightman which I found to be extremely helpful and innovative in defining the public intellectual. Lightman, after making his definition, describes three different levels of being a public intellectual. Level I includes those public intellectuals that speak and write for the public only about thier discipline of expertise, usually writing clear and simplified explanations of specific topics, for example, stem cell research. Level II expands into those who speak and write about their discipline and then connect it to how the discipline relates to the surrounding social, political, and cultural realms. Level III, the most exclusive level, is “by invitation only,” and describes the intellectual who has become elevated to a “symbol.” This intellectual can be asked to both write and speak about a wide variety of public issues which may or may not be connected to their original area of expertise. For example, Einstein’s original discipline was clearly science, but after he gained fame, he spoke about religion, ethics, and philosophy as well.

What I would like to do here to develop my solid definition of a public intellectual, is take Lightman’s framework about perhaps the more “intellectual” side of the term, and combine it with a corresponding level framework on the “public” side of the term. Let me clarify. With this framework, a Level I public intellectual would need the least amount of public recognition and support – so perhaps they only have a widely read blog, or have only published a few interesting articles. A Level II public intellectual would need to step up their publishing action not only numerically, but also begin to publish across many different media facets (newspaper, magazine, book, internet) in order to reach across many different audiences. Lastly, a Level III public intellectual would need not only an extremely high number of well read, published works, but also a widely spread and diverse writing style that could transcend from book writing to blog writing. A Level III public intellectual would need a complete “fan following,” and would have to be well known to even the most average individual.

Of course, that second part of the framework is completely my own innovation, so lots of work would have to be done to specify the amount of published works and public following necessary for each level. Perhaps this would be a way to appease those obsessed with factual and empirical evidence and combine that sort of theory while also attempting to keep the definition fairly broad.

Another thing I quickly want to touch upon with the potential framework I just laid out is the fact that it allows mobility between the different levels of public intellectual, but I do think that it would be hard to move up in the different levels. For example, if I don’t really require Level I intellectuals to have too many popular published works or a public following, how would they ever reach Level II? Could people jump straight to the second or third levels or would it always be a gradual process?

Another key component of my personal definition of public intellectual and something I think is important to the framework I have laid out is the issue of role and responsibility of the public intellectual. In my “level framework,” I definitely think that the role, influence, and responsibility grows as an intellectual moves up the ladder. Lightman at one point discusses the intense responsibility of being a Level III intellectual – he explores the immense amount of responsibility to offer expertise on things that are not the original area of expertise, and describes how these elite individuals must be extremely self aware of their own prejudices and biases in certain issues. This level of self-examination is hard to achieve and is one of the defining factors in determining the uppermost echelon of public intellectuals.

What is the role and responsibility of a public intellectual? I, often admittedly looking through rose colored glasses, still believe that citizen participation is the key feature of American democracy, therefore I truly believe in the role, responsibility, and influence of the public individual, especially of the independent public intellectual. Stephan Mack, in an essay entitled “The Decline of Public Intellectuals,” said “Trained to it or not, all participants in self-government are duty-bound to prod, poke, and pester the powerful institutions that would shape their lives.” I could NOT agree more. Public intellectuals take this duty and push it to the next level, and I think they set a great example for other American citizens. I love the concept and idea, ambiguous as it is, of public intellectuals stirring up innovative ideas and helping communicate complicated concepts to the average American. It essentially helps to preserve some of the key ideals presented by our founding fathers.

Well, we just took quite a journey didn’t we? We asked ourselves some key and thought provoking questions about the definition of a public intellectual to get our wheels turning, and then explored how the arbitrary nature of defining the public intellectual often ties in closely with a person’s personality. Alan Lightman lent to us his Level I-III framework, allowing us to view public intellectuals in a less cut-and-dry definition way, and instead see public intellectuals more in a concentric circles, encompassing many different types of people with different levels of public acknowledgement and achievement. We highlighted the importance of a public intellectual in today’s society, and how the role and responsibility of a public intellectual changes as they move up the ladder. Overall, I strongly believe the term public intellectual encompasses many more people than most scholars limit the definition to. Being my usual subjective and emotional self, I believe that lots of different people can be public intellectuals, and while there is need for guidelines and defining characteristics, having difference echelons of public intellectual allows us to hear the testimony of many; because in the end, the public intellectual is somebody that is passionate about their discipline – passionate enough to give part of their life to helping others learn about it – and when a person finds this passion, I find it difficult to give them the finger and say they can’t have the elusive and arbitrary title of “a public intellectual.”

Works Cited
“The Decline of Public Intellectuals” Stephan Mack –
“The Role of the Public Intellectual:” Alan Lightman, MIT Communications
Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, Posner, Richard A., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2002.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Quick Question

In other news, all my fellow Laker-ites....

Kobe and his torn tendon - are we screwed or what?? At least he put in his two minutes at the All Star Game, I thought that was sweet of him.

Naturally once we land the deal of a lifetime with Gasol, we get totally f-ed over with an injury to Kobes.

D-Fish is the best player, not to mention person, ever.
But so anyways, Kobe and the torn tendon - is he a total idiot for trying to sandwich a surgery in the summer after the Championships and before the Olympics?? Will he realllly still play in the Olympics??

How to Be a Total Nutjob and A Complete Success Simultaneously

Michael Ball, CEO and Creative Director of Rock and Republic, a high end luxury lifestyle fashion label, is a total nutjob. But if he's a nutjob, then I want to be a nutjob too.

Ball is known for his crazy antics (he once had Victoria Beckham, who guest designed a line of denim for R&R, escorted out of a fashion show), ridiculous personality (claims to have four girlfriends at once), and extravagant spending (R&R has a ridiculous budget). In the media, you either love him, or you hate him. But whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that he is a stud. His vision is unlike any other in the fashion business right now.

Rock and Republic turns a major profit after being alive for only five short years. Other luxe denim companies that rival R&R such as Seven, or Citizens of Humanity, have several years on Rock and Republic. Ball was able to put together a team of amazing, young, innovative PR professionals to launch the brand, and they have found billions of dollars of success.

However, if you take the time (and it might take awhile) to break down all of Ball's antics and BS behavior, he really has a heart of gold. Ball created a sector of the company entitled "Rock the Cure" where 100% of the profits turned from events in that sector are donated to charity. Ball developed this after realizing what a rip off most celebrity charity events are, usually only donating between 5 and 10% of the profits. Several charities and organizations have awarded Michael for his approach to community service, and he hopes to turn the industry upside down and make giving back the hot new thing. As he likes to say, giving back ROCKS.

Isn't that thought provoking? Ball is thought to be one of the most courageous CEO's to donate so much to charity - most even go so far as to say it's stupid. I think it ROCKS to see somebody who cares enough to try to make a REAL difference rather than just half-ass slap their name on a foundation that doesn't really do any good. What do you think??

Currently Ball's biggest pride and joy outside of his Fall 2008 collection which he just showed in NYC lies with his endorsement of a cycling team, which just embarked on the Tour of California. Follow the team here.

Rock and Republic and its enthusiastic and often minsinterpreted CEO are definitely going to continue to be a top brand, mostly due to Ball's creative and wayyyy outside the box (sometimes a little TOO far outside the box) thinking. Ball is larger than life. Lots to come for this young, sexy company.

"The Most Powerful Man in Washington...that you've Never Heard Of"

Mark Penn. If you live under a rock and don't know the name, you will.

Hillary Clinton made one of the best moves possible for protecting and developing her individual brand with the hire of “Master of the Message” political branding strategist Mark Penn, CEO of public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and past key advisor to huge players Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Bill Gates. Burson-Marsteller is one of, if not the top, PR firm in the nation. Penn, one of the most innovative and interesting personalities in the PR realm, claims his fame on the invention of a concept titled “Microtrends” in which he develops the fact that the most important trends to be examined when developing brand outreach are actually the smallest; in effect, he detects nearly invisible patterns of behavior in American culture that wield a surprisingly and generally unknowingly influence on a political, business, and personal level.

For example, his first identified microtrend was for the Clinton 1996 re-election campaign in which he was able to discover and target the “soccer mom” population. This approach to thinking about problems, wrapping your head around the fact that we should not understand the world today in megatrends but in small currents and discreet demographics that give way to patterns of social change, is extremely hard to do, but rewarding once you can attain that level of understanding. Penn boldly chooses to base his opinions on as much numerical fact and empirical evidence as possible, and that is how he is able to identify the microtrends. Microtrends bring political branding to an entire new, higher, unprecedented level because it finds a way to make that ever important emotional connection with many more people in contrast to campaigning to megatrends (female v. male, old v. young, etc). It is not to say that using megatrends cannon establish the emotional connection – it clearly can and has; it is just to say that examining the microtrends and the corresponding evidence is the most effective way of doing so.

Microtrends sounds wacky at first, and it's really hard to wrap your head around the idea. I have to read every sentence of that book like five times before I can really get at the concepts Penn is talking about. I believe that Penn’s way of brand development will take off in the next few years, but for now, only his select few clients practice it, although they clearly enjoy great success. I am fascinated to see if he can do for Hillary’s campaign what he has done for others and add her onto his extensive success list. He recently published this article touting why Hillary is the chick to beat. He certainly has his work cut out for him. But he is a god damn genius. Keep in mind that everything he writes in the article is something that is HIS idea and HIS doing, not Hillary's. Genius.

Check out an interview with the man himself from ABC Nightline.
He's really kind of a funny guy.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Innovative Technology Fueling 2008 Election; Attracting Youth

In examining the 2008 Presidential Election from a marketing and public relations standpoint, I have always been curious about the most effective marketing tools in the political realm. In 2008, technology is making it easier than ever to not only vote, but gather information and form an opinion. Technology also is helping to reel in the interest of the ever so elusive 18-25 yrs. voting group. released a press release Jan. 24th, describing the official launch of a social networking site called This new and innovative website does not have the intent on guiding you towards choosing a particular candidate – it concentrates on the issues at hand, forcing you to take sides on specific issues facing the candidates rather than “copping out” and just siding with your chosen candidate on every issue. The website, designed to be non-affiliated, gives users the ability to create their own personalized campaign platform and run in a mock presidential elections. Vice President Kim Murdock says of the site: “We came up with the idea because we constantly hear people criticize political candidates. But what would they do if they ran for president?....By designing the site, we’re giving people the opportunity to see if they could win….We’re also giving people a chance to think critically and learn.”, while still in the early stages and no doubt will need to continually evolve, seems like a promising realm especially for young voters who may not know where they stand on the exact issues facing presidential candidates. There is certainly nothing like it thus far on the web, and it will be interesting to see if it takes off or not. Read the press release here.

Speaking of technology engaging the younger voters, this attention grabbing press release also graced on January 31st. The National Youth Political Action Coalition (NYPAC) has announced the launch of the “TxtVoter Campaign.” In this groundbreaking use of technology, Americans have the ability to text the keyword “register” followed by their name and address to 74574, where the campaign gets the message and then mails you a voter registration card. Executive Directior of NYPAC Taylor Brannon stated that he hopes that this is the first step to eventually having the ability to vote through cellular phones.

Maybe it’s just me, and maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think part of the civic duty and even the attraction of voting is going to the polls and casting your vote like a traditional American. I wonder what our founding fathers would say if they saw us texting in our votes…However, in this day and age, to keep up with the times you must evolve – almost nothing which is stagnant succeeds in America.