Monthly Archives: October 2005

The Right War? Everybody is a Realist Now

One must be judicious in choosing how closely to follow the Iraq war. Every day there are many new analyses, updates, pictures, developments – many of them depressing. Every few weeks there will be recaps and an in-depth look at the state of Iraq at various milestones. Today the NYT Book Review section has a few articles which is my way of staying up-to-date: carefully read the periodic analyses and try to stay above the day-to-day minutia.

‘The Right War?’ and ‘A Matter of Principle’: Everybody Is a Realist Now is the best of the bunch. It fairly reviews a couple books that present the neoconservative view. It is important for anti-war activists to understand that people who still support the war do so because they believe the vision of spreading democracy is noble and liberating a people from a tyrant is morally necessary. Note how WMD was not mentioned here.

The national discussion should center on the issues raised in this article: Is spreading democracy in countries that have never had it before a mere pipe dream? Is there a moral imperative for the U.S. to act that should override any other metric, or is there some threshold of loss-of-life or money that makes war a bad idea? In the neoconservative vision, are we in Iraq for THEIR good (humanitarian reasons) or for OUR good? Which is more just?

Unfortunately, we seemed mired in Cindy Sheehan’s silly antics and the extreme left remaining absolutist in George W. Bush’s evilness.

I Wanted to Get A's This Quarter

So I did.

Friend: "A college is going to think you were retarded freshmen and sophomore years."

At least I contributed to Southwest Airline’s generous profits during those years…

Well-Rounded vs. Lop-Sided Learners

This is totally me. My verbal ability is much stronger than mathematical ability, it’s not even close. I used to think I should really work to be better at my math, but, why fight something that’s not meant to be so? Instead, I’m working on making my natural gift even better: become an unstoppable writer and speaker. And surround myself with people who can do 2 + 2.

Link: Eide Neurolearning Blog: Well-Rounded vs. Lop-Sided Learners.

Adults with high IQs show lower correlations among subtests of the IQ than do those with ordinary IQs (Detterman & Daniel, 1989). Consistent with this, the cognitive profiles of academically gifted children are often quite uneven, with mathematical ability far outstripping verbal ability, or the reverse (Benbow & Minor, 1990). Research is needed to determine how common such uneven profiles among the gifted are, and how common it is to have gifts accompanied by absolute rather than relative weaknesses.

There often seems to be balancing act between certain systems – like words and pictures or words and music. Sometimes people seem very balanced at both, but the question is whether among people with extreme abilities – lop-sidedness or balance is more often the norm.

One of the links below is from a paper which looked at hemispheric lateralization (right brain – left brain) and cooperation during a challenging visual categorization task. The one pattern that made mathematically gifted adolescents stand out from age-matched peers or college students, was that they were better at hemispheric cooperation. So at least for these gifted math students, their more striking difference from age peers or college students was that they were more super right + left brain , rather than super-right or =left.

Must See Movie: Crash

I don’t watch TV and I don’t usually watch movies, unless it comes highly recommended That was the case with Crash, so this evening I walked up the street to the University of California, San Francisco medical center where, in their theater, they were showing Crash for free as part of their psychiatry department’s series on diversity.

The movie totally blew me away, shook me up, and got me thinking. Stop what you’re doing and add it to your Netflix queue or go find another way to see it.

Its premise is race relations in LA. Quality acting. Awesome film work. And a really important issue conveyed with provocative passion.

Walking home in the cool, foggy San Francisco night, my Mom and I stopped at an Irainian restaurant to to pick up some shishkababs to go. We felt like we had walked right back into the movie – we had to pronounce our order extra carefully for the non native to understand us. There was an Asian couple in the Middle Eastern restaurant. And a white woman talking on the phone the whole time while her husband sat silently. All the plot developments in the movie played out five minutes later in real life. That’s the best part of being in a major metropolis.

Go watch Crash, and let me know what you think.

I Was Hypnotized Today

In psychology class today we brought in Dave Hill – The World’s Greatest Hypnotist who performs in Las Vegas and has been on the David Letterman show several times. Over the course of an hour he attempted to put our class of 21 into a deep sleep and then read to us our post-hypnotic suggestions which we wrote on a sheet of paper beforehand. No one did any embarrassing or crazy things after waking, but most of us drifted in and out of hypnosis.

First, the hypnotist made us breath deeply and become very relaxed. Then we closed our eyes and weren’t allowed to open them until he told us so (once we went under, even if you tried to open them, you couldn’t). He then spoke to us to become more and more comfortable, which made us slouch more and more. "Very sleepy, very droopy, you are concentrating perfectly," he would say over and over. After we awoke, he tried "rapid induction" which he claimed only three people in the world can do. He stands right across from the subject, gets him/her comfortable, and then shouts "sleep!" and the person falls into his shoulder and becomes limp.

My post-hypnotic suggestion was "I will not check by BlackBerry for the next two hours." Instead, he read it "You will not check your BlackBerry for the next two weeks, and you will put it in the office of your teacher until November 7th." WTF? When he said that I consciously knew it wasn’t going to work.

Despite some people resisting – if you resist, you can avoid hypnosis – it was still a good time, and will be more fun to watch the video of ourselves tomorrow!

Can the VC and Start-up World Find Time to Talk About Worldly Issues?

Comment of the Day by "Michael":

Ben– It’s funny… I have just started working in the whole tech start
up game. And my collegiate background was included majoring in
international studies and political science… I read a lot of your
writing geared towards VC and start up, and it makes me smile to see
someone with those interests ponder a question that I think about so
much (and never talk about working for a Bay area start up… WHO HAS
TIME FOR THAT?). 😉

Yep! You are one of many, I think, who loves their work in Silicon Valley, but isn’t given the opportunity to talk about the other issues of intellect affecting our world, and indeed, our work.

Stay tuned for a forthcoming announcement on what I’m doing about this.

How Labels Shape Our Attitudes Toward Violence

Another fascinating find from the world of cognitive science…

Link: How labels shape our attitudes toward violence.

Recent research by Vanderbilt University psychologist Jessica Giles found that both children and adults are more likely to have a negative, fixed view of people described with a noun, such as "evildoer" or "murderer," than a person described as "someone who does evil things" or "someone who commits murder."

The Fundamental Human Need for an Identity (and Religion)

In my Geography class today we had a very interesting discussion on the Israel and Palestine situation. Two of my Jewish friends who are both very involved and spent two months in Israel over the summer said that they would fight for the Israeli army over the American army. This shocked me. They are both very normal American citizens, but feel like their heritage and attachment to the religion supercedes loyalty to their home country.

It raised the larger question about the fundamental human need for an identity.

It is usually in adolescence when we fully develop our sense of self. It is a core human need to feel ownership of our self (our ego), take comfort in a unique identity, AND feel a sense of belonging to a larger something. The identity crisis is the quintessential high school quagmire, and it usually manifests itself with abrupt personality changes. Someone may come in one day and be a real loud-mouth, and a month later try on the introverted hat. Later on, this is called the mid-life crisis.

Religion is a very convenient way to fulfill this need. In many ways it dictates a value system and brings a rich culture and history to which you can feel a part. For me, I prefer to exercise my individuality by grappling with the big questions myself and developing a personal value system. In other words, my sense of belonging is to a worldview I continue to create. I have little interest in finding my roots or tracing my ethnicity. If my parents tried, I would have resisted a formal religious upbringing because it seems too tidy a way to resolve some of the most difficult questions. My approach is not necessarily better than the one of my friends, but it highlights a divergence in life philosophy.

What are your thoughts?

"I'll Do It But Only If You Help Me Do It"

The PledgeBank is an awesome site that gives people the confidence of numbers.

The idea’s simple. Make a pledge, any pledge, conditional on a number of other people joining in.

Pledges can be symmetrical (everyone does the same thing)…

    "I will march on the White House in protest at X, if 1,000 people will join me."

    "I will paint my car bright yellow, if 200 people in my city will pledge the same."

…or a-symmetrical (you offer more than you ask from others.)

    "I will take $100,000 worth of sleeping bags to Pakistani earthquake victims if 5 people will join me to help distribute them…"

    "I will host free pizza at 10pm on my street, if a minimum of 30 people pledge to show up."

The reason this is brilliant is that so many people are reluctant to get involved in social change issues because they feel like their one voice won’t do jack. This overcomes that.

(Hat tip: TEDblog)

The Road Ahead: Religion, Technology, and Politics

Time magazine ran an interesting roundtable discussion with Malcolm Gladwell, David Brooks, Esther Dyson, and Moby where they covered everything from politics to religion to the next generation. It’s worth the few minutes. I love these kinds of discussions – varied in topic and focused around trends and culture.

(Hat tip: Paul Kedrosky)