Clicky and sticky: The secret to creating viral content

Twenty five centuries ago, long before the start of the common era, the written record about the spoken language began. The ancient Greeks were not likely the first to study speech and communication, and they certainly were not the first to write stuff down, but among the early writers, they were probably the first to write about how we construct messages and stories with words.

Joe Rom's Book How to go viral and reach millions. Greg Laden's BlogToday we are engaged in a great battle between those who respect, even demand, the truth, and those who care more about partisan power than advancing or even using knowledge.

Perhaps this is why we tend to quote the dead more than ever. During the current election season, I’ve heard the late great Senator Paul Wellstone (1944-2002) quoted at nearly every meeting of loyal Democrats. “We all do better when we all do better.” “The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines. The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” “I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.” “I’m short, I’m Jewish and I’m a liberal”

We remember the inspiring words of JFK. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” “A child miseducated is a child lost.” “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” “Ask not what your country can do for you… ask what you can do for your country.”

To turn to the living for one moment, Gloria Steinem. “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” “Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.” “Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.”

What do these memorable, moving, or emotive missives have in common? They all rely on rhetorical practices that have been part of language since, possibly, some ancient early stage of this unique human ability. Alliteration, Allusion, and Analogy are to language what a good set of planes and saws it to a carpenter. Parallelism, balance, and anaphora are used repeatedly. It is not hyberbole to suggest that metaphor underlies all of these statements. Human language, when used well, can shape minds, steer conversations, and cause more change than any military weapon.

Yet progressives, Democrats, and others on the left, even with their deep respect for and love of education, can’t seem to create a message that serves the struggle of keeping civilization on track. Why? I might guess it is because the eschewing of rhetorical forms has become the style of the day. Or, it could be because learning the rhetorical forms that work is hard to do, and our school systems, burdened under the ever increasing weight of standards across a wide range of subjects, had to squeeze something out, so rhetoric had to go. Whatever the reason, we are paying a cost. We need to dedicate serious effort to changing this.

Maybe it is a difference between private and public schools. Maybe the people who write for Republicans are from Exeter and the people who write for Democrats are from Stuyvesant High. This is not necessarily a difference in quality of education, but perhaps the elite prep schools know to teach about metonymy, epizeuxis, and enumeratio, because they know to weaponize the young else the efforts of the ascending generation would be in vain.

And yes, those forms of speech do sound like JK Rowlings-conceived spells one would cast with a unicorn-core wand made of ash. And they are, in the sense that powerfully crafted words are the original powerful magic.

Everybody left of center would do well to embrace tried and true ways to communicate, else that side of the political spectrum becomes extinct.

In an effort to combat this problem, Joe Romm, trained as a scientist, a student of rhetoric, a long time communicator of politics and issues such as climate change, has written an excellent book: How To Go Viral and Reach Millions: Top Persuasion Secrets from Social Media Superstars, Jesus, Shakespeare, Oprah, and Even Donald Trump.

Notice that the title of the book is rhetorically structured to attract readers.

Joe’s book does the rarely done task of integrating, as I imply above, the thinking of the ancient Greeks, the practice of rhetorical greats like JFK and MLK, and the more recent battle over messaging between Republicans and Democrats. This is further informed by reference to modern social science and psychology research.

This is really more of a war than a single battle, and the Republicans famously win most of the battles. Romm provides key insight as to how they do this, and how those on the left can to better. And when we do better, any of us, we all do better. It is said.

I’ll have to go back to see if Joe Romm explains why most of our paragraphs are so short these days.

Romm’s book is informative and offers inspiration, but it also offers very specific advice and guidance. It is well researched, authoritative, accessible, and memorable. Unlike so many other books on communication, it is a good piece of communication.

As an added bonus, Romm talks about his own experience with the publication process, an excellent source of helpful advice and perhaps inspiration for potential self-published authors.

I am happy that you are reading this review, but I’d be even happier if you would listen to my interview with Joe, which you will find as an installment of Ikonokast Podcast: Episode 21 – What messages go viral and reach millions?

Our conversation goes far and wide, and is not a systematic treatment of the book, so you will want to to both: buy the book and also listen to the podcast.

Finally, a challenge to Joe Romm himself: If you come across this post, can you suggest a better headline than my original? (“How to put together a message that will be clicky and sticky”)? One of these days, I’ll install a headline tester plugin. For now I’m flying with the stick. Which is probably a metaphor that went out of style about the time they invented sliced bread.

Spread the love

When the Uncertainty Principle goes to 11

When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11: Or How to Explain Quantum Physics with Heavy Metal is a new book by the amazing Philip Moriarty. You may know Moriarty from the Sixty Symbols Youtube Channel.

You can listen to an interview Mike Haubrich and I conducted with Philip Moriarty here, on Ikonokast. Our conversation wanders widely through the bright halls of education, the dark recesses of of philosophy of science and math(s), the nanotiny, and we even talk about the book a bit.

Moriarty, an experienced and beloved teacher at the University of Nottingham, uses heavy metal to explain some of the most difficult to understand concepts of nano science. Much of this has to do with waves, and when it comes to particle physics, wave are exactly half the story. This idea came to him in part because of what he calls the great overlap in the Venn Diagram of aspiring physicists and intense metal fans. Feedback, rhythm, guitar strings twanging (or not), are both explained by the same theories that help us understand the quantum world, and are touchstones to explaining that world.

I’ve read all the books that do this, that attempt to explain this area of physics, and they are mostly pretty great. When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11 does it the best. Is this because it is the most recent? Does Philip Moriarty stand on the shoulders of giants? Or is it because the author has hit on a better way of explaining this material, and thus, owes his greatness to the smallness of his contemporaries? We may never know, but I promise you that When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11 is a great way to shoulder your way into the smallness of the smallest worlds.

As you will understand if you check out the Ikonokast interview, Moriarty has taken the risk of using math in this book. The math is straight forward and accompanied by explanation, so you do not have to be a math trained expert to use it and understand. Most importantly, while Moriarty uses music, metal, and other real life things to explain quantum physics, these analogies are more than just analogies. They are examples of similar phenomena on different scales. As Philip told me during the interview, we don’t diffract when we walk walk through a doorway, because the things that happen on nano scales don’t scale up. But wave functions function to pick apart both quantum mechanics and Metallica, so why not explore guitar strings, feedback, and mosh pits together with condensed particle physics?

I strongly recommend this book. Just get it, read it. Also, the illustrations by Pete McPartlan are fun and enlightening. Even if you think you understand quantum physics very well already, and I know most of my readers do, you will learn new ways of thinking or explaining.

Philip Moriarty is a professor of physics, a heavy metal fan, and a keen air-drummer. His research focuses on prodding, pushing, and poking single atoms and molecules; in this nanoscopic world, quantum physics is all. Moriarty has taught physics for more than twenty years and has always been struck by the number of students in his classes who profess a love of metal music, and by the deep connections between heavy metal and quantum mechanics. He’s a father of three — Niamh, Saoirse, and Fiachra – who have patiently endured his off-key attempts to sing along with Rush classics for many years. Unlike his infamous namesake, Moriarty has never been particularly enamored of the binomial theorem.

Spread the love

Full Disclosure by Stormy Daniels

I swear, the Trump administration is going to produce more books during (and I assume just after) Trump’s term than Abraham Lincoln’s presidency produced in a century.

And the latest volume is Full Disclosure by Stormy Daniels.

If the use of the term “Full Disclosure” sounds familiar to you, it could be because you are a West Wing fan. I wonder if Stormy is a West Wing Fan?

She was already well-known in some circles before March 6, 2018, but that’s probably the first time you heard the name Stormy Daniels. That’s the day she filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump over a nondisclosure agreement negotiated before the election but never signed.

How did Stormy Daniels become the woman willing to take on a president? What is it like to be reviled by some, held up as a beacon of hope by others, and to be an object of fascination to all?

In this book, Stormy Daniels tells her whole story for the first time: about how she came to be a leading actress and director in the aderlt film business, the full truth about her journey from a rough childhood in Louisiana onto the national stage, and everything about the events that led to the nondisclosure agreement and the behind-the-scenes attempts to intimidate her.

Stormy is funny, sharp, warm, and impassioned by turns. Her story is a thoroughly American one, of a girl who loved reading and horses and who understood from a very young age what she wanted—and who also knew she’d have to get every step of the way there on her own.

People can’t stop talking about Stormy Daniels. And they won’t be able to stop talking about her fresh, surprising, completely candid, nothing-held-back book.

Spread the love

The Nature and History of Presidential Leadership: A book of olden times.

The timing of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book is perfect.

She is an excellent historian and writer, and you probably know of her as the author of several of the best, or at least very nearly the best, volumes on a range of key subjects in American History. She wrote Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln about Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written about Johnson, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II about FDR, and The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism about TR.

And now, we have Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the leader make the times or do the times make the leader?

In Leadership, Goodwin draws upon the four presidents she has studied most closely—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights)—to show how they recognized leadership qualities within themselves and were recognized as leaders by others. By looking back to their first entries into public life, we encounter them at a time when their paths were filled with confusion, fear, and hope.

Leadership tells the story of how they all collided with dramatic reversals that disrupted their lives and threatened to shatter forever their ambitions. Nonetheless, they all emerged fitted to confront the contours and dilemmas of their times.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon hardships. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

Spread the love

Minnesota Bigfoot Finds Waldo!

You may not know this, but Minnesota is one of the centers of activity for Bigfoot. Most of the Bigfoot activity actually occurs not to far from Amanda’s family cabin is located, and that is also where the Bigfoot researchers are clustered.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, “Greg is joking us around again.” But no, I’m serious. Bigfoot is real, lives in Minnesota, and recently … has gotten involved in politics! Like this: Continue reading Minnesota Bigfoot Finds Waldo!

Spread the love

How to force Senator Susan Collins to do the right thing

I find it astonishing that Senator Susan Collins isn’t going to do the right thing on her own, and that we have to force her, in this case, to vote against Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But, I suppose I should not be surprised. Susan Collins is one of those Republicans people often look to do “do the right thing” but I can’t remember the last time she actually did the right thing.

One way or another, we’ve got to throw her out of office and replace her with a Democrat. But, in the meantime, there is an interesting project going on at Crown Pac.

Promise to donate money, at leat $20.20, if she votes Yes on Kavanaugh. The money will be used to fund the endorsed Democrat who ends up running against Collins in the next election.

A typical Maine Senate seat costs, I think, about $6 million to run for, if you are a well established incumbent like Collins. If this program raises about 3 million or so, that’s enough to knock her off her game if the Democrats can find a well liked candidate that knows how to run a campaign. There must be somebody in Maine like that.

The goal of the campaign is to raise $1.5 million. Obviously I think they should double that goal. So far, just under 50,000 people have pledged just over $1.3 million.

A good amount of that $6 or so million you need to run a campaign in Maine, may be one million bucks worth, maybe more comes from corporations, and probably, some of those corporations are boycottable. They include General Dynamics, DLA Piper, Elliot Management, the Cohen Group (different Cohen, I hope), and Lion’s Gate Entertainment.

Here’s what the good people of Maine are saying to Susan Collins:

CLICK HERE TO GET RID OF COLLINS

Spread the love

The Lawerence, Mass Fires

My first thought on hearing of the outbreak of fires and explosions in Lawrence and Andover Mass was to wonder how many people living in or near these homes are having PTSD reactions right now. You may not remember this, or even know about it, but back in 1991 and 1992, when I was working in Lawrence and Andover and other New England locations doing archaeology, there was an amazing spate of arson attacks in the area. There were over 200 fires set in the city, many of old historic mills that burned to the ground. The people of Lawrence were truly traumatized by this. The cops arrested two people and charged them with several counts, but I don’t think they were ever determined to have been responsible. I don’t recall this spate of crimes ever being solved.

My second thought was, could this be the energy infrastructure Russian FSB/GRU attack that we were warned of?

It seemed early on that the gas fires in Lawrence were caused by large increase in pressure on the gas lines. The pressure in the gas lines going into your house is set to be just above atmospheric pressure, while the pressure in gas delivery lines can be very much higher. There are devices that down regulate the pressure as it gets nearer your house, and the lines in your neighborhood that feed individual buildings have the lower pressure. The main natural gas “transmission” lines have sensors that measure pressure, and computer systems that regulate pressure. There have been cases in the past (not necessarily in the US) where malicious code was used to blow up gas lines by changing the pressure. Interestingly, an instance of computers going wrong (which may or may not have been a cyber attack) caused the largest non-nuclear explosion ever, on the Trans-Siberian pipeline.

Most likely the Lawrence gas explosion involved something going wrong with pressure, and most likely that was something wrong with a valve (or human error, or whatever). But, given that we (Americans) were warned that the energy infrastructure had already been hacked by Russian agents (not regular people who are Russians, but by bad guy Russians working for bad guy Putin) …. well, somebody really should look into that. Just to be sure.

Spread the love

Manafort flips

Yesterday we learned that Trump campaign manager and Russian stooge Paul Manafort had decided to plead guilty to charges for which he was about to be tried. This morning, we learn that Manafort has agreed to cooperate and possibly be a witness for Robert Mueller’s special investigation of Russian government involvement in US elections and related things.

I’m not sure how much Manafort’s cooperation will actually help the special council’s investigation. I would guess that there isn’t much he can add to what must be a huge iceberg of evidence already gathered.

But there is a more important outcome here, and it is social and political. The absurd position held by Trump supporters, both in the Trump inner cantos and in the deplorable swamps, that there is nothing to see here has lost yet another crutch. Not only is Manafort guilty, but he has something to say to Mueller. About something.

Spread the love

To save the planet, this is what we have to do everywhere, all the time.

A huge amount of energy is spent going to the store. The grocery store, the hardware store, all the stores. The amount of energy spent to get an object to the store for you to buy is big, but this process is on average highly efficient. A train can hold a lot of objects, and pushing a train down the tracks is highly efficient. Also, we will hopefully eventually be running trains entirely on a combination of electricity delivered to the train indirectly, batteries, and bio-fueled generators on board. Delivering object for you to buy at the store is already efficient, but it will become more efficient with a relatively small number of (big) step.

But then everybody leaves their home and drives various distances to various stores. When I was a kid, there were two grocery stores in our neighborhood. One had no parking lot, the other had room for about five or six cars, but nobody drove to either one. We used those two wheel carts you drag along to the store (or laundromat). When you get to the grocery store, you fold the cart up and hook it to a push car, then, when you pack up your groceries, they go in that two wheeler and you drag it home. Everybody did that all the time. It was strange to drive your car to the grocery store.

I remember when my parents started to drive to get groceries. Instead of going to the store on foot (or more likely, sending one of the offspring to the store with a list), they would drive out to the edge of town to a large warehouse discount store that had sprung up, like a Cosco. Oddly, large suburban style grocery stores emerged, in my world, after these edge-of-town discount store. My parents would drive the station wagon out there, spend all day, come back and and fill the freezer and cupboards. Maybe once every six weeks. In between times, for milk and other perishables that you can’t freeze, it would be walking to the A&P. So that was all pretty efficient.

But today, tens of millions of Americans get in a car and drive a few miles to pick up some object or bunch of objects at the stores. The energy spent to do that is large. The total amount of energy we spend going to the store to get objects is probably less than the total amount of energy spent to get objects from producers (via warehouses) to stores, but not by as much as you might think.

One way to solve this is to not go to the store in a car and by an object. Order it on line. The delivery will be more efficient. Or, in some cases, go to the store on foot, bike, or public transit, get your your stuff in a big pile, and then have the store deliver it to your house. And, have all the delivery done by electric vehicles charged with energy produced without fossil carbon.

I envision a future in which we abandon mail boxes and replace them with small rooms with an indoor and outdoor access, some insulation and modest climate control, a place to put frozen stuff, refrigerator stuff, other stuff. That’s where the grocery store delivery service drops your stuff.

Or, if you are in need of new flat packed furniture, Ikea:

In a couple of years, if you buy a Malm bed at Ikea in Brooklyn and opt for delivery, Ikea will probably drop it off in an electric truck. The company is transitioning to zero-emissions delivery in New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Paris, and Shanghai by 2020. By 2025, Ikea aims to do the same for every store worldwide.

“Climate change is no longer just a threat, but it’s a reality,” says Jesper Brodin, CEO of Ikea Group. “We see how that impacts our business, our customers, and our coworkers more or less everyday . . . We want to be a leader, and take action, and speed up our plans.”

The company had announced earlier this year that it would shift to zero-emissions delivery by 2025, but now plans to work more quickly in key cities.

But where do you get one of those nice delivery receiving futuristic mail boxes with the climate control?

Here you go:

Spread the love

Manafort cops a plea?

It appears that felon and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has struck some sort of plea deal with Marine Veteran and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.

This would get Mueller out of going through another trial.

It may be that Manafort has simply pleaded guilty on the charges he is up for, or it may be that he’s cooperating in some way in order to get a reduced sentence for the eight felonies he was found guilty of last month and a good deal on the upcoming charges. In theory, we will find out Friday when the deal is read in court. Or sooner if it leaks.

Spread the love

Rise: a poetry expedition to Greenland’s melting glaciers

Climate activists and poets, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Aka Niviana, travel to the latter’s home of Greenland to recite their collaborative poem, Rise, on a melting glacier that might threaten the former’s home nation of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific

For background, see this post at Climate Denial Crock of the Week.

See also this related post by Bill McKibben.

Spread the love

Florence, Hurricanes and Climate Change

It is never too soon to talk about human caused climate change in relation to hurricanes. This is a bed we made and we are now sleeping in it.

Rather than yammering on and on about how a warmer atmosphere is a damper, but also more evaporation-inducing (and thus drying), and energetic atmosphere, and about how warmer air going over warmer sea water produces more and bigger storms globally, and all that, I’ll point you to some resources below.

But first I want to address two misconceptions: 1) that you can never attribute to a particular storm the effects of climate change THIS IS FALSE and 2) that climate scientists believe that Atlantic hurricanes will become less and less of a problem with climate change THIS IS ALSO FALSE.

On the attribution. Let’s say there is a disease with a 50% mortality rate. But then a treatment is invented that reduces that to zero. We use the treatment widely and nobody dies of it any more. Then, you get the disease, are cured, and go on a public speaking tour in which you espouse the greatness of this cure.

But one night, while you are speaking in front of a large audience, someone stands up and says, “Hey, wait one darn minute there! You might have been one of the 50% that would have lived! You can’t say that this cure did ANYTHING. Faker!”

The audience, realizing that the cure does not actually work, stands up and walks out.

Was that fair? Was what just happened in this scenario a honest, thoughtful turn of events?

With climate change it is a little like that. People who want to deny the importance of climate change, including journalists still stuck in the false balance mode (if there are Senators in the Senate claiming that human caused global warming is a hoax, then we must consider that as equally likely as what all the world’s scientists are saying), pull the attribution rabbit out of the hat all the time. Since you can’t yada yada. Even some climate scientists used to say this because the were badly trained in what to say.

Indeed, the binary (cure/not cured) I gave you above is not really like climate change. The fact that ALL the sea surfaces in the tropics and sub tropics — every single square centimeter — are on average (and in fact most of the time, for most of the seconds of most of the days, all year) anomalously warm, all of the tropical weather systems are affected all of the time. Fail to understand that at your peril.

The second falsehood, that Atlantic hurricanes will become less of a problem, is perhaps even more pernicious. There once was a study that seemed to show that some of the climatic conditions that would attenuate tropical cyclones, denying them the chance to form into hurricanes, would become more common in the Atlantic. This is probably true. However, the climatic conditions that cause tropical storms to form and advance to hurricane stage are also increased — different effects — and these effects have the added bonus of causing hurricanes to form much more rapidly and sometimes (perhaps often) grow much larger and, by the way, exist farther north. Indeed, if Florence does reach Category 5 for a short time today or tomorrow, it will be the farthest north Cat 5 hurricane ever in the Atlantic.

Here’s the thing. We will see periods of time when hurricanes that might have formed, say, 20 years ago, won’t. But we will also see periods of time when more and bigger and worser hurricanes form. The actual average number of hurricanes in the Atlantic has not gone down, but rather, stayed fairly stable, over recent decades. The frequency of large and dangerous hurricanes globally has gone up, and that trend is probably observable in the Atlantic.

Point is, we are not seeing a decrease in Atlantic hurricane activity or impressiveness, and we are seeing records being broken with respect to time to formation, size, strength, etc.

Climate Signals has a page on Hurricane Florence. They point out that sea level rise and coastal storms are a significant coastal erosion threat. warmer waters make for more and bigger hurricanes, keeping the hurricanes big longer, and making them form faster. These hurricanes are wetter.

Indeed, we have replaced the term “Biblical Flooding” with “Harvey Size Flooding” since we no longer have to imagine it.

Here is a helpful video:

This graph showing the relationship between sea surface temperature and hurricane activity.

Finally, an interview with Michael Mann, author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, on Florence in which Mann points out ways in which climate modeling predicted greater severity of hurricanes. That set of predictions included, by the way, an increased tendency for Atlantic hurricanes to hit the US:

Spread the love