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I attended the TED conference this year for the first time, and they asked me to curate a set of books. The request looked like this:A guest curator is a TEDster with incredible talent who we know will enhance our attendees' experience by adding a carefully chosen list of books to our own bookstore selections. Last year, the books from guest curators became an instant hit; from Bill Gates to Chee Pearlman to Shonda Rhimes, curators represent a wide variety of disciplines and walks of life. Every bookstore shopper will see your sign and section, and TEDsters will be incredibly curious about what titles you have chosen. A guest curator is a TEDster with incredible talent who we know will enhance our attendees' experience by adding a carefully chosen list of books to our own bookstore selections. Last year, the books from guest curators became an instant hit; from Bill Gates to Chee Pearlman to Shonda Rhimes, curators represent a wide variety of disciplines and walks of life. Every bookstore shopper will see your sign and section, and TEDsters will be incredibly curious about what titles you have chosen. Here's the form I submitted. (Note: I make money if you buy the books through the links I provide. Amazon affiliate type thing. If you don't want me to profit from my curatorial labors, you can get the books through another link, but just know that it makes you a slighly annoying person!).
Your name: Baratunde Thurston
Your title & organization, as you would like it to be displayed on your curator profile: Founder of Cultivated Wit. Author of How To Be Black
A 2-3 sentence biography: Baratunde is a comedian, writer, speaker, advisor, eater, lover, and taxpayer. He is the founder of the creative digital technology company Cultivated Wit, served as Director of Digital for The Onion, writes the monthly back page column for Fast Company and is a director's fellow at the MIT Media Lab. His book, How To Be Black, is a New York Times Best Seller. He's been black for over 30 years.
2-3 sentences on your book curation philosophy: All of the books on this list have affected the way I see the world in an at least semi-permanent fashion. They’ve turned me into that guy that won’t shut up to his friends about that idea he just read. And, they were all written using some sort of word processing software.
2-3 sentences on EACH selection you make, to be displayed on small tents on top of each selection
The Power Broker, by Robert Caro
This is the story of an activist empowered and then corrupted by his effective pursuit of power, and it should be mandatory reading for anyone who claims to be a New Yorker. Robert Moses, who built more public works than many pharaohs combined, was a visionary, a genius, and an asshole. I’m still not sure whether the lesson is that absolute power corrupts or that everything would be ok if we limited absolute power to those with whom I agree.
The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
This is one of those books you read knowing it will upset you, and yet you read it anyway because the truth has a draw all its own. Simply put: the drug war is the U.S.’s latest version of a racial caste system that uses the label “felon” to enable discrimination we would otherwise find deplorable. For maximum disgust and indignation, pairs well with the documentary, “The Central Park Five.”
Some Of My Best Friends Are Black, by Tanner Colby
A white man named “Tanner” wrote this book about the failure of integration in the United States. Looking at education, housing, church, and advertising, the author finds that we are as effectively segregated as ever, and that much of the U.S.’s disparate racial performance outcomes aren’t happenstance but were engineered. I blurbed this book, therefore it is awesome.
Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
One of the most imaginative works of fiction I’ve ever read. This book changed the way I see the world of my dreams and my waking hours. After this, read another one of his books, “The Scar.”
Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention, by Manning Marable
An amazing portrait of a force of a man. Even more than “The Autobiography Of Malcolm X,” this book made Malcolm X feel like a human being with whom I could identify.
Daemon, by Daniel Suarez
One of the most terrifying techno-thrillers due to the fact that it was written by a computer security expert, this book could also be called, “This Is Why We’re Fucked.” One way to divine the future is to scan the latest “trend report” from a research or consulting firm. The other is to read this book and see how our future could play out in a most dramatic fashion.
The Company, by Robert Littell
It’s a “fictionalized” account of the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency. Yeah, right. Everything in this book is true!
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Must. Have. Spice.
Gang Leader For A Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh
A sociologist all but moves into a Chicago housing project to live among, study, and briefly manage a gang. Call it “the immersion method” of graduate study. More academics (and the policies they inspire) would benefit from leaving the ivory tower for the project tower, but maybe minus the actual running the gang part.
Illusions: The Adventures Of A Reluctant Messiah, by Richard Bach
This book comes closest to a favorite song in that I’m always excited to read it again and again. A schoolmate of mine handed this book to me in the Spring of 1996, and I’ve read it at least every other year since.
The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
There are two schools of elevator inspection in early 20th century New York City: the empiricists, who use advanced instrumentation, and the intuitionists, who rely on gut and tactile feeling. The best intuitionist in the game is a black woman. This book is full of win.
Behind The Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman
What good is your locally grown, grass-fed and serenaded beef if the people who prepare it are abused? This book makes the compelling case that our definition of sustainable food must also include restaurant workers who are among the fastest growing, lowest paid categories of workers in the United States. More than merely upsetting you with facts, this book lays out a path toward solutions and will inspire you to act.
Horns, by Joe Hill
I might categorize this as “playful horror.” A man starts to grow devil-like horns, and people confess their worst sins to him. Hilarity ensues.
Read this fucking book.
Please do not include your own book as part of your selections. However, DO tell us what your book is so that we may include it in the bookstore.
My book is “How To Be Black”
As a bonus for readers of this blog, I also recommend Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor. Shaka is one of my fellow Director's Fellows at the MIT Media Lab. He's not the typical nerd school fellow. Shaka served 19 years in prison for murder. Here's what he writes about that and this book:
Writing about my wrongs was the first of many steps that I took to atone for taking a man's life. Through the transformative power of writing, I accepted responsibility for my decisions and have used my experience to help others avoid the path that I took in my youth. This is my story and it is my hope that by Writing My Wrongs, I can help others right their wrongs.
This is a thing I do when these crap movies based on crap books are released (see video of New Moon hating). Twilight is bad for America and the world. The latest installment, "Breaking Dawn: Part 1," is no exception. I do this so you don't have to. Enjoy.
- Get into the hardware business at last
- Get closer to the living room and enterainment devices, the better to compete with Apple.
- Block a mobile partnership path for Microsoft
- Help defend Android against patent lawsuits by inheriting Motorola's patents.
- Show it can spend over $12 billion and not break a sweat.
I shared some of this initial reasoning, but the true secret motivation only now occurred to me. Google gets the StarTAC phone and, more importantly, pagers!!!
Come on yall. Sir Mix-A-Lot ain't no fool.
Years ago for my first SXSW, I downloaded a massive set of MP3s Salon had put together including music from every music act showcasing in Austin. I missed the music fest this year but didn't want to miss the music, so I compared my two favorite music services to see who could get me closest to the action.
First up, Spotify.
I searched for SXSW 2013 and got this beautiful list of playlists. The problem: I have no idea who made these playlists or how they are sorted. The only way to find this out is to click on the playlist image. That's a lot of clicking.
Next up: Rdio
Ah, this is much better. Not only does it show the full title of the playlists and who made it, but I actually didn't have to click at all. Even getting to the Spotify screen above required me to click through to "Show All Results" then click again on "See All" next to the playlists that result.
Rdio is all, "Are these the playlists you're looking for?"
Why yes, yes they are.
Photo uploaded by Rebecca Trent to Facebook
For three hours (0120 to 0420), I remotely covered the middle-of-the-night police action against the peaceably assembled at Zuccotti Park in New York. My sources were location-based twitter search, citizen and reporter tweets, live web feeds, the NYPD police scanner and traffic cams. Here is everything I tweeted in a pretty Storify slideshow. (you can see the flat version here)
This may come as a shock to many of you, but I've been really torn during these past few months about who I should support in the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign. Obviously, I supported Barack Obama in 2008, but in 2012 I simply cannot put my weight behind a Kenyan. I'm sure it's a lovely place, but this is America, and I want to support an American this time, so I had to look to the Republican party.
On the weekend of May 20th, I decided to put my full weight behind Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. I figured, "Indiana never bothered anybody and seems like it's got a bunch of nice people," but then Daniels hit himself in the face with a door and got 16 stitches. If a man can't lead his face safely through a doorway, how can he lead America? One day later, he dropped out. This left me in a bit of a lurch.
These past few months have been tough without a candidate of my own. I've looked at the GOP field carefully, but no one was the obvious choice. Ron Paul is interesting, but sometimes he uses the name Rand, and I don't like when a man lies about his name. Herman Cain? No way. We already have a black president! Let's get some diversity in the White House, thank you.
But late last night I awoke with a sudden clarity of mind. I thought, "America needs results, not rhetoric!!" Genius, right? I immediately typed this prophetic phrase into Google to see if I could trademark it. That's when it became obvious that Tim Pawlenty would get my vote and my support.
So a few moments ago, I visited T-Paw's real-time, up-to-date, super American website. It's beautiful!
I read every news update, watched every video and even joined his Pawlenty Action center! I filled out my profile, and told my Facebook friends about this great, results-driven man. I pledged to volunteer 3,000 hours for his campaign and unlocked the Workhorse badge! So far I've accumulated 204 points, 4 badges and sit in the top 7th percentile of all members, all in a few minutes. My only regret is in having missed the popular American Christian worship band SONICFLOOd at T-Paw's BBQ in Ames, Iowa yesterday.
But overall, I'm relieved, and the timing couldn't be better. It's great to know that I've just today discovered how I'm going to spend my next 3,000 hours. I urge all of you to join me and T-Paw. It's time for truth. Absolutely nothing can stop us now, T-Paw!! Nothing.
It’s been an amazing ride.
Acting as politics editor, I played a part in The Onion's 2008 "War For The White House" election coverage which surpassed that of all other media organizations in providing a true, if not accurate, perspective on that historic period in the history of the United States. I was not a full-time Onion writer, but I got to join that vaunted writers room and got a few headlines and stories published which I shall wear like an Olympic gold medal.
As a general member of the staff, I loved getting to hear the behind-the-scenes arguments, helping spread the joy that is #whiskeyfriday and being the pinch-hitting black employee who played the parts of a guy Dick Cheney dunked on, all three Supremes and, most significantly, Barack Obama's hillbilly half-cousin, Cooter. Hell yes y'all can.
And as director of digital (a badass title I created for myself), I got to experiment and help The Onion define its voice on the platforms and interfaces of the future. What I learned there changed the way I'll think about media and technology forever. When The Onion live tweeted the Oscars, made a playable version of the Close Range video game or subversively promoted its TV show by posting the image of an adorable piglet launched by Al Qaeda to cripple these United States, I got a tangible sense of where storytelling could go.
I am grateful to so many people for my time at The Onion that it would be rude to attempt to name them. So here they are.
Former managing editor Peter Koechley has earned permanent honored status for paving the way for my job there. Editor Joe Randazzo has been a smart, daring and creative leader as well as a good friend. My digital team including former boss, Mike Greer as well as web producer (and great writer) Matt Kirsch. I will miss hacking the future with you two. Of course there's Kate Palmer and Brian Janosch and Joe Garden and all those faceless interns (because I removed their faces). And writer Todd Hanson whose philosophical walks around the neighborhood continue to inspire me. Last, Dummy, the unofficial office dog who, like most dogs, makes life better. But really it's everyone. I have never worked with a more hard-working, intelligent and hilarious team in my life. It's a rare thing for any of us to experience a full day of such wonderful chemistry. I got four-and-a-half years.
So, here’s what’s next. I will continue to roll out the world attached to my book, How To Be Black. I will continue to pursue opportunities in the world of moving pictures. And I will continue doing performance and public speaking events, especially those focused on race and identity, the future of digital storytelling and the power of comedy to help us understand the world.
It's this last topic that has most captured my attention. At this year's SXSW Interactive Festival, I was honored to deliver the opening keynote. I now realize that in it, I outlined the premise for the next phase of my life. You can view the talk here:
Essentially, I argued that in an increasingly noisy world of information and digital interactions, comedy can still deliver the truth in a way that captures people's attention and does so in an essentially human way. As the definition of media grows from "news" and "video" to anything that acts as an interface to our world (duh, medium!), comedy must follow. Given the world we live in, that means the bombardment of marketing messages we experience, all of our online and digital experiences and the physical world. For a sample of what I actually mean, you can see my talks on being the swine flu or using Foursquare to run a real-world campaign.
So, I'm slowly building a company. It's name is Cultivated Wit, and we will use humor to engage. We’ll do this via events. We’ll do this via consulting and advising to those who want to connect with their communities in humorous and human ways. And we’ll do this by creating our own worlds in the form of smart, hilarious stories that span platforms in meaningful ways. The name “Cultivated Wit” is pulled from a quote by Roman soldier and poet, Horace who said:
"A cultivated wit, one that badgers less, can persuade all the more. Artful ridicule can address contentious issues more competently and vigorously than can severity alone."
If this mission sounds interesting to you, check out the website and sign up for upcoming news and announcements, and you should all be on my email list. If you want to do more than that; if you want to join forces with me to spread blackness or advance the comedic digital arts or just blindly head with me toward the fiery pits of Mount Doom, please join my street team. http://blackte.am/baratundest. I’m looking for people who want to preview my next steps, test out new products, help spread messages in new ways and join me in telling the story of the future.
Onward!, with utmost sincerity, gratitude and ridiculousness.
author, How To Be Black.
founder, Cultivated Wit.
My man C.C. Chapman has a new project afoot called "Passion Hit TV," and I'm honored to be his first profile! Check out the video above and stay connected to this cool show which "focuses on people, companies and events that have taken something they loved doing and turned it into something much more. You’ll learn about their journey and what inspires them to keep going forward. The goal is to inspire you to stop dreaming about the future and to make it happen."
By the way, C.C. and I recorded this in Louisville, KY while at the amazing Idea Festival. I can't recommend this annual event enough. Yes, they paid for me to be there and blog/tweet about it, so there's your danged disclosure. But even without that, the event is amazingly diverse, inspiring and in a great city who's unofficial motto is "Just Add Bourbon."
We rarely see historical context on a cable news network, especially one that exposes a seemingly-pro-labor perspective. This CNN Working In America documentary with Soleda O'Brien looks interesting. It's about the debate over mountaintop removal for coal in West Virginia. I can't fully endorse the work cause I haven't seen it yet, but I applaud the effort.
The first opportunity I ever had to ask then-candidate Barack Obama a question, I challenged him over his pro-coal stance. (see this Google Video, and start at 10m09s)
Seems worth checking out.
Ninety years ago this month, 10,000 West Virginia miners waged a violent battle in support of labor rights. The fight now: Will the historic Blair Mountain battleground be preserved, or mined? "Battle for Blair Mountain: Working in America" airs at 8 p.m. ET Sunday, August 14 and 8 p.m. ET Saturday, August 20
- preview video
- text article laying out arguments
- recent NPR story on the same topic in the same region (h/t Melanie Renzulli)
I don't know how they found me, but a group called Western Representation PAC just sent the following email:
Stories and photos from the Day of Resistance rallies are still pouring in, and one thing we know for certain: the desire to protect the Second Amendment has never been stronger!
Over the course of this week, we're going to share with you details about specific Day of Resistance rallies from all across the country, as well as our plans for what to do going forward.
Western Representation PAC is committed to fighting for the Second Amendment. By electing pro-gun candidates and holding their feet to the fire, we can ensure the protection of the right that protects all other rights: the right to bear arms!
We're going to need your support to do this, however, and that's why we're giving you an opportunity to proudly show that you support the Second Amendment as well. For every donation this week of $25 or more, we're going to send a free "Second Amendment - The Original Homeland Security" bumper sticker.
So please join us in supporting your right to bear arms and make your donation of $25 or more
Western Representation PAC
Reporting on my conversation with a Ghanaian bodega manager in Brooklyn who suggests that one way we move forward on race relations in America is for black Americans to consciously set an exemplary example and not to assume the worst from others.
Folks, we are just a few months away from the release of my first-book-that-someone-else-has-paid-for: How To Be Black. The release date is January 31 (but you can pre-order now!) and to make the story as engaging, fun and effective as possible, I want you to be involved in the marketing.
The video above has more of the details, but here are the essentials: We're building a virtual street team (Black Team!) to help spread the message of How To Be Black and make the marketing as cutting edge and strange as the writing process (remember the live-writing?).
Complete the application by 12:01am Tuesday November 14, Brooklyn Time (aka ET). And keep the following in mind:
- We're looking for people who want to help create a best-seller, who love the idea of the book or just think I'm kinda cool. You should be engaging, enthusiastic, creative and willing to hustle.
- You will receive regular assignments and questions, mostly focused on digital activities, but real-world actions will be included. The street team will also be responsible for actually selling books! I know, it's crazy.
- Street team members will have regular private video chats with me, a weekly insider email and members-only Facebook group to learn from one another. You will also get early access to the book and, once it prints, a personally signed copy from me
- You don't have to be black to be on the Black Team! Really. This book isn't just for black people and neither is the street team. We're equal opportunity so long as you're awesome. Don't be not awesome, and you won't have anything to not worry about, not.
Even if you don't apply, think about who you know that should and spread the word to those folks.
For a sample of just what the book is, see the trailer and PDF excerpt from the introduction below.
Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Stay Black.