Wednesday, November 21, 2007

For Your Holiday Reading

For any of you not buried in either the football or the marathons on HGTV or "What Not to Wear" this weekend, here are three books you might want to look into--short, smart, and applicable to corrections sentencing. What more could you ask for?

Competition: The Birth of a New Science by James Case
Case tries to make the case (sorry) that old paradigms for understanding the world are giving way to what he calls the science of "competition," which is basically a combo of game theory and complex adaptive system research. I'm not sure he really makes the case for "competition" being what to call the very important work that is indeed setting up the next generation of scholars for overturning most of what's been conventional wisdom for decades now, but you do get a very readable overview of both game theory and complexity. Most of all, you get a definitive takedown of economics as a discipline, along the lines of what Paul Omerod has been doing for years (Butterfly Economics is his best if you check him out). I went off on a tear on econ a couple of days ago, but couldn't really say everything that needed said given the length of blog posts. If you want to know how barren and narrow their perspective really is and why letting them into our affairs with their reality-denuded research is so ill-advised, this is one of the books that can give you chapter and verse. Luckily they'll be washed away and absorbed in the new "theory" that Case describes.

Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays by Colin McGinn
Okay, maybe you bought the Competition book as corr sent-related, but what the . . . ?, right? Well, you're right that the connection isn't direct, but when you read this, try not to think about a whole lot of corrections sentencing, I dare you. The basic point is that Shakespeare had a view of human nature much more complex than that you'll find in sentencing guidelines or other justifications for the sanctions we apply in our policies and actions. Much as I indicated in my review of Lincoln the Lawyer a few days ago, the minds of the truly important people in human history accept the concept that we're all flawed, we all screw up, there are no guys so truly "good" or "bad" that we can say we could never be them (they, whatever). It's no accident that Lincoln was a giant fan of Shakespeare's tragedies. It's a perspective that should be absolutely fundamental to our enterprise here in corr sent, but is so sadly lacking in so many of our practitioners, reporters, and academics. The other part of the book that is relevant is simply its description of how Shakespeare understood so well the theatrical nature of all our lives, the roles we play and shift and screw up depending on the "plays" we're in at the moment and how we write those own plays ourselves, making ourselves heroes or victims, telling our versions of reality and rejecting how much reality laughs at us (and zaps us pretty badly sometimes). Corr sent is filled with actors and stories and detachments from reality. The stories that drive our policies and prevent us from confronting reality more effectively, not to mention the delusions we feed ourselves to convince ourselves that we're right and everyone else is wrong, wouldn't surprise Shakespeare at all. And, come on, this is a quick way to find out things about a bunch of his plays so you won't actually have to read them but can still sound intelligent at your next party with English major types. (We'll leave aside whether Shakespeare was really "Shakespeare" for another time.)

Soldier, Statesman, Peacemaker: Leadership Lessons from George C. Marshall by Jack Uldrich
After Lincoln, Niebuhr, and Isaiah Berlin (and probably Michael Collins and Dr. King), my biggest hero is George Caitlin Marshall, whom you probably best know of Marshall Plan fame, which is sort of the point of this book. Uldrich says it's unfair to relegate our knowledge of him solely to this remarkable policy success, and he's right. Marshall was the epitome of the public servant, credited with being one of the, if not the, top general in our military history, the man who made Eisenhower and WWII success in two wars possible. He was the 20th Century's "Cincinnatus" who placed honor, integrity, and service above all and won the praise and devotion of virtually everyone who worked for him. The book is one of those "management principle" books, but it's one of the good ones. Uldrich breaks Marshall's management style into seven "principles" that should apply to every manager in corrections, sentencing commissions, or other related agencies--integrity, action, selflessness, candor, preparation, learning and teaching, fairness, and vision. Nothing earthshaking, but often forgotten, in an area that highlights far too many MacArthurs and Pattons when Marshall got done far more and better, in fact made their successes possible. The most important thing about Marshall, and what ties him to the other two books as well as to the perspective of this blog, is his unshakeable insistence on adherence to reality. In battle, the self-exalting little stories you tell yourself to deny reality will get you killed, and have too often (see Gallipoli). Politics and other fantasies will only win for you if the other side is more deluded. Marshall refused to hold delusions about himself, his own importance, and the problems that needed addressing because the costs of those delusions were too dear. It's a lesson some may finally waking up to in corrections sentencing as reality closes in on our budgets and consequences of current policies. A giant dose of Marshall is still clearly necessary for the bulk of the players, though. If you don't know much or anything about Marshall, there's enough of his biography here along with the examples of effective management to get you what you need to know there as well. I can guarantee you that meeting this man will be one of the highlights of your holiday.

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