Will “Iterative” (In A Good Way) Become The Watchword In 2014?

Prominent persons of the year just past may have seemed revolutionary, but Edward Snowden and Pope Francis, as well as the late Nelson Mandela, and Edith Windsor, and even Miley Cyrus, might well be seen as iterators, in a good way.  Snowden claimed in an interview with Barton Gellman published a week ago in the Washington Post that “even if your analysis (meaning his analysis of “to leak or not to leak”) proves to be wrong, the marketplace of ideas will bear that out.  If you look at it from an engineering perspective, an iterative perspective, it’s clear that you have to try something rather than do nothing.”  For his part, Pope Francis has emphasized that he is a son of the Roman Catholic Church, and is not proposing radical changes to doctrine, rather a new tone (or better, an approach so old it seems new) that invites–and his worldwide questionnaire on family issues seems to promise an iterative reform of current practices.  Nelson Mandela, the last of the great 20th-century liberators, as President Obama noted, was an iterative radical par excellence.  And we all have Edith Windsor’s persistence to thank–welcome aboard Utahans!  Finally, Miley Cyrus’s performance was just a refinement (or perhaps a devolution, i.e. iterative in a bad way) of a twenty-year-old New Orleans thing, so I hear.

Happy iterating in the new year! And merry recursion too, why not?

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There Goes Trouble

The late Nelson Mandela was known by several names: Madiba, his clan name; Tata, meaning father; and prisoner #466/64 among them.  His given name at birth was Rolihlahla, meaning one who pulls the branch from the tree, or “troublemaker.”  If Mr. Mandela, in his long life, caused plenty of trouble, his most amazing accomplishment was to keep trouble with a capital T from overwhelming his country.  He was, it has been said, not just the George Washington of South Africa but also its James Madison, as the years just before his release from prison and then the four years between his release and his election as president were spent in long negotiations over the shape of the political and legal system that would guide South Africa after apartheid.

Mandela’s presidential successors in South Africa have displayed all-too-human failings, but Mandela himself should hardly shoulder much of the blame for that, I believe.  He did have the “good fortune,” though, as Jelani Cobb wrote in The New Yorker, that “his moment inverted the demands commonly placed upon a politician’s shoulders.  His country needed him to publicly and explicitly act on his firmest convictions, not bend bend them on the altar of expediency.  Mandela emerged at that rare point in history where idealism and pragmatism were practically indistinguishable.”  To put it another way, Nelson Mandela stands almost alone in living memory for being master of both the moral high ground and the political high ground.

And with quite the puckish sense of humor: upon meeting one of the Spice Girls in the late nineties, Mandela said that “I don’t want to be emotional, but this is one of the greatest moments of my life.”  The Onion might have made Mandela smile when they paid tribute, exaggerating just a little, to “the first politician in recorded history to actually be missed.”