It's nice to have one of the most brilliant scientists of our time call out theologians on the fact that theology isn't a real field of study. Atheism...moreIt's nice to have one of the most brilliant scientists of our time call out theologians on the fact that theology isn't a real field of study. Atheism makes more sense than religion, so why is it that religious fanatics somehow get more of a say in politics than atheists? The book goes into both intellectual arguments against god and how religion has screwed up people and society. Religious people will be offended while reading the book because the author uses insulting words like "ditzy" to describe beliefs that lots of people hold sacred. However, if those same people can put aside their shock at being called stupid, they might realize that faith is another word for behaving unreasonably. (less)
I never knew economics could be so cool! These guys can explain anything. I was really impressed by the logic here. Of COURSE crime is linked to unwan...moreI never knew economics could be so cool! These guys can explain anything. I was really impressed by the logic here. Of COURSE crime is linked to unwanted babies! How could I have never noticed? I laughed out loud when he was talking about the student surveying inner city drug dealers about their feelings and said there should have been a fifth response option in the multiple choice: "fuck you."(less)
I got this from a book reviewer. They left the Harper Collins query letter inside. The headline asks, "Do you tip a hooker?" 'Nuff said. This is an et...moreI got this from a book reviewer. They left the Harper Collins query letter inside. The headline asks, "Do you tip a hooker?" 'Nuff said. This is an etiquette book covering situations like porn sets, AA meetings, bondage sessions, jail, bars and tattoo parlors. The subject matter is well-chosen, although there may be just a few too many one-liners. It reads like a compilation of magazine sidebars trying to be funny, but actually imparting real advice (like how to dress for gang success). Some of the not-so-funny parts are entries on meat/vegetarians (basically, vegetarians are wimps, but if you invite them over you should supply them with veggie burgers) and suicide threats (take them serious, kids... you never know when they are real).(less)
In this self-help book, "bitch" refers to a classy lady who doesn't take shit from men. It was kind of amusing, an easy read and made sense in some pa...moreIn this self-help book, "bitch" refers to a classy lady who doesn't take shit from men. It was kind of amusing, an easy read and made sense in some parts. The downside was, a lot of it seemed to be like a strategy for manipulating a man. I would have liked the book better if it didn't seem to assume the reader is only following directions to trap a man. (less)
The Howard County (Maryland) public library and county government were pushing this book hard last year with lots of discussion groups. Maybe everyone...moreThe Howard County (Maryland) public library and county government were pushing this book hard last year with lots of discussion groups. Maybe everyone could use a refresher course in "How to not be a bad bastard."(less)
Irrationality has been on my mind for the past few weeks and I have determined that I am more rational than you. Partly because I buy the cheap brands...moreIrrationality has been on my mind for the past few weeks and I have determined that I am more rational than you. Partly because I buy the cheap brands at the grocery store and partly because I've just listened to 3 books on CD that all point out our built-in brain flaws. It seems we all have some built-in knee-jerk reactions that CAN be useful but probably shouldn't be obeyed in all circumstances.
Richard Dawkins, in "The God Delusion," says there must be some evolutionary benefit to children obeying their parents without question. The kids who believe their parents' assertions about poisons are certainly more likely to live than the kids who decide to experiment. The downside is huge, however, when it comes to decisions about religion and politics. Just look at suicide bombers. Adults who believe the first thing they hear (or whatever their leader says) are not concerned with finding the truth.
In "The Guinea Pig Diaries," A. J. Jacobs reprints an article he wrote for Esquire, called "The Rationality Project." One of the many interesting things we do that really isn't helpful is called the Endowment Effect. Basically, we can act rationally or emotionally. There are two different systems at play; one is Spock and the other is Homer Simpson. When you react rationally, other people don't like it because they crave melodrama. Or to rephrase, we all crave melodrama on some level. But is that really helpful at all? Only if you're trying to identify with someone else who is being irrational. Jacobs' wife got upset when he broke a stroller and only expressed a little regret at the mistake. What she wanted wasn't "oops" but "I can't believe I did something so stupid! This is terrible!"
Now I'm listening to "Sway: The Irresistable Pull of Irrational Behavior," by Ori and Rom Brafman. The whole book is about bad decisions based on things like denial. I'm not finished with the book, but so far it's covered things like loss avoidance, commitment and attributed value. We are more alarmed by loss than we are made happy by gain. This leads to commitment, when we know we are fighting a losing battle, but we dig ourselves in deeper because there's this teeny chance that everything will work out alright and we won't have to suffer any loss. Your stock investment is plummeting, but you don't cash out because you can't stand the thought of taking the loss. You're in a bad relationship, but you stay in it because you've already moved in together. The more that's at stake, the more you'll stay your course of action. Vietnam. Iraq.
Another flaw "Sway" points to is value attribution. We foolishly enjoy expensive things more than cheap things. There's a mention of a Washington Post experiment involving value attribution, which I promptly looked up. In Gene Weingarten's Pulitzer Prize-winning piece for The Washington Post Magazine, violin virtuoso Joshua Bell performed at the L'Enfant subway station for 45 minutes during rush hour and was hardly noticed. He made $32.17 not counting the $20 that came from the one fan who recognized him. How could more than 1,000 people just hurry past the country's greatest violinist?
In one way, it is really disappointing to think of all those fools missing out on a free $100 performance. There's no question he was a good musician, playing good music. He was also good-looking by Weingarten's description, which should have led to what A.J. Jacobs calls the Halo Effect (where you believe cuties are better people than uglies). But the commuters ignored him because it was free.
On the other hand, those commuters are also used to people trying to get their attention during their commute. I used to work in downtown DC and had to pass several panhandlers, street vendors and people handing out flyers every day. After a while, you start to ignore people because your instinct tells you they want something from you. You don't feel like giving all the time, so you brush off everyone who approaches you. You assume they all have some angle that will benefit them and leave you a little poorer. While street musicians are the most benign type of beggar, they still have that "gimme" air that people don't want to be sucked into.
There were 3 people who expressed a real appreciation for Bell at the Metro. One was a fan who had seen him in concert. The other two were violinists themselves. As a musician, I would have stopped for a minute to appreciate the concert, even though I did not know his reputation. I know this because I USUALLY stop to listen when a busker is playing. I am a singer, a composer and can play several instruments. Music interests me. When someone is playing on the street, I mentally compare their skill to mine and decide if I like the melody. If the player sucks, I'll still give them a little recognition for trying. If they're good, I'll stick around. Score one for Carrie's ability to judge music on its own without the sway of a pricetag.
I once busked at a Metro stop (possibly the same one) and made about as much as Bell. This does not make me as good a player. I was the best flute player in my high school, but not the best of my county or my college. Bell is a professional violinist who has won national awards. Also, I was playing duets with a euphonium player and had never seen the sheet music so I know I didn't give a flawless performance. It was good, but I didn't feel like anyone was being particularly rude by not stopping to listen. Some people did stop and clap and give money as they passed. I appreciated those gestures because they were above and beyond what was called for. They hadn't hired me to play music and weren't there for a concert.
In this sense, anonymity does celebrities a favor. Maybe the passersby were fools for ignoring Bell, but maybe the passersby had heard so much good music that they made their own judgments about the value of what they were hearing. Maybe the guy who was listening to his iPod still preferred the Cure song over Bach's Partita No 2. That's really nothing to be ashamed of; music and art appreciation are subjective.
Weingarten's article compares the subway concert to abstract art. You put a highly valued Ellsworth Kelly painting in a coffee shop with a $150 pricetag next to it and the coffee drinkers might say "Huh, that painting looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly" and go back to their lattes. This is supposed to dismay us because the painting is owned by the National Gallery and is worth more according to the art community.
I have had trouble understanding art prices all my life. My father is an artist. For 20 years or so, he worked as an assistant to an older, more famous abstract artist. I was not a fan of this artist's work. His paintings were so simple anyone could have painted them, and yet they were worth more because HE painted them. It has a lot to do with the artist's reputation and social connectedness, maybe even more than supply and demand.
This is not to say I'm not an art fan. I love to look at some pieces of art and listen to some pieces of music. I can also appreciate artists and performers who demonstrate a mastery of skill even when I don't like the subject matter.
But it's not rational to attribute value to something because someone else told you so.
Next time you pay to attend a concert, please remind yourself that you would still enjoy it the same if it was free. And the next time someone tells you how much a painting is worth, please don't decide you like it better all of a sudden because it's expensive. After all, I still like you and you're ugly ;)(less)
"The Power of Small," written by two advertising executives, used a lot of business anecdotes to convey the idea that little details can make or break...more"The Power of Small," written by two advertising executives, used a lot of business anecdotes to convey the idea that little details can make or break you.
I found the part about niche marketing to be pretty inspiring because it talked about people who basically came up with a cool idea and made some money by starting small businesses doing the things they love (i.e. making greeting cards featuring Stella the dog or creating a line of decorations for Crocs).
The parts that pissed me off involved people who got ahead in business based on little tiny interactions with their superiors. One Navy officer got a commendation from an admiral just because the lost man he helped in the hall turned out to be the admiral. What about giving commendations to people for years of devoted work instead? I hate it when suck-ups get rewarded more than the hard workers! Another guy gets noticed by the head of his department by asking her what "schlep" means. I guess if he hadn't asked that, she would have brushed him off while he went and did his job invisibly. The message I'm getting here is that being HARD-WORKING is not rewarded as much as being REMEMBERED. If I found out my boss was rewarding suck-ups over good workers, I'd have a fit.
In this book, sucking up is sugar-coated into something that you have to do to get ahead. They are probably right but it still seems wrong, wrong, wrong.
God, I hate networking. I need to go wash off my nose now.
A.J. Jacobs has one of the best jobs in the world. An editor at Esquire magazine, the man writes and edits essays on pop culture and social experiment...moreA.J. Jacobs has one of the best jobs in the world. An editor at Esquire magazine, the man writes and edits essays on pop culture and social experiments. This book is a collection of articles (with follow-up notes) written over the course of a year for Esquire. He spends about a month on each, trying out various approaches to life. These approaches include living in accordance with George Washington's code of conduct (don't touch your genitals in front of people), outsourcing his life to India (apparently worth it), doing whatever his wife says (she did not get tired of it, to his disappointment), being radically honest (not easy, but showed him how his relationships could take more honesty than he thought), being a hot chick (answering emails from his nanny's suitors on a dating site), being a celebrity (impersonating the "Shine" guy at an awards ceremony in realizing how differently he was treated), being photographed nude (makes you feel powerless) and unitasking (because multitasking is really just the result of not being able to focus). The author sounds like a really friendly midwestern guy who constantly has a smile on his face. He also comes across as a horndog, since he admits his attraction to just about every woman he mentions in the book. The radical honesty piece was my favorite. When I think of radical honesty, I have exactly the same problems with it that the author brings up. How would my spouse and boss react? What about friends who ask for my opinion of their sucky art?(less)
The day I returned "Fast Food Nation" to the library (sadly unfinished, but I WOULD have finished if I weren't such a slow reader!) I was flipping thr...moreThe day I returned "Fast Food Nation" to the library (sadly unfinished, but I WOULD have finished if I weren't such a slow reader!) I was flipping through "Stuff White People Like" and discovered that all white people have read "Fast Food Nation." So that explains why so many of us support farmer's markets. I thought it was because we had all read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." My bad!
Reading this, I expected it to be more like "Supersize Me" and talk mostly about how bad the food is. But no, it was more about how giant corporations make it so you can't compete with their prices and also how they screw the American workforce by not paying enough and encouraging worker turnover every 3 or 4 months so they can get more federal funds for training marginal populations. It makes me depressed because the government can fix this problem but it doesn't.
I became more observant of the businesses around me after reading this... Was cheering when I saw a stretch of independent stores, but it was a very small stretch of road before everything was dominated by the same signs I see everywhere else. Makes me want to become more involved in politics.(less)