Monthly Archives: December 2005

Happiness and the Role of Introspection

Interesting post and link to a NYT article on happiness, depression, and introspection.

Link: Marginal Revolution: Don’t Think Too Much About Your Year to Come.

Timothy Wilson writes:

    In one study, mildly depressed college students were asked to spend eight minutes thinking about themselves or to spend the same amount of time thinking about mundane topics like "clouds forming in the sky."

    People in the first group focused on the negative things in their lives and sunk into a worse mood. People in the other group actually felt better afterward, possibly because their negative self-focus was "turned off" by the distraction task…

    What can we do to improve ourselves and feel happier? Numerous social psychological studies have confirmed Aristotle’s observation that "We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage." If we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives, one of the best approaches is to act more like the person we want to be, rather than sitting around analyzing ourselves.

    Social psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues at the University of Kansas found that participants who were given an opportunity to do a favor for another person ended up viewing themselves as kind, considerate people – unless, that is, they were asked to reflect on why they had done the favor. People in that group tended in the end to not view themselves as being especially kind.

White House Celebrates Fifth Straight Year Without Oral Sex

A joyous time for all Americans!

Link: White House Celebrates Fifth Straight Year Without Oral Sex | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source.

WASHINGTON, DC—With 2005 drawing to a close, the White House held a special ceremony in the East Room Saturday to commemorate its fifth year without any sort of oral-genital contact within its historic confines. "This administration has upheld its promise to restore dignity to the White House," President Bush said. "I can assure that no one—including myself, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, ‘Scooter’ Libby, or Condi Rice—has been the recipient, or provider, of the kind of unnatural, depraved, and frankly gross sexual act that, not too long ago, disgraced this office in the eyes of the world." Bush was then joined on stage by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Tom DeLay to cut a perfectly square, frostingless vanilla cake made especially for the occasion.

If You Work Hard, Do You "Deserve" a Reward?

Ever since I’ve evolved to like the life of the mind more than the life of the athlete, I’ve worked to keep my basketball career intellectually stimulating. One key component of this is my role as captain.

Last season things were going terribly and a lot of people had their own personal gripes/complaints/questions about a whole host of things. I found myself fielding late night calls from guys wondering why they weren’t getting playing time, and secondarily, what I thought about the team’s prospects going forward.

I have serious reservations about the college process, but the one good thing that comes out of it is it ensures that most students will work really really hard during high school and then "fail" by not getting into their #1 choice. For overachievers, this is a critical experience, because our whole life you’re indoctrinated with a falsehood: "Work hard, and you can do anything." (And I posit it’s SO much better to fail NOW than endure the mid-life crisis that David Brooks anticipates will happen to my generation in a big way.)

In basketball, it’s the same way. People assume that if you put in the time and effort, there should be a personal reward (playing time – it’s hard to look beyond yourself, no matter how well the team does). I was trying to articulate this to a teammate a week ago. Even at the high school basketball level, four years of blood, sweat, and tears doesn’t guarantee shit. It should guarantee an opportunity to prove yourself, but after that, it’s about putting the most competitive 5 on the court.

Learning by Watching a Conversation Evolve

I’ve been in San Diego the past couple days for a basketball tournament, and besides playing ball and working on my tan, I’ve had a number of extremely interesting conversations with my friends on a multitude of topics. Most of my friends know that I’m bound to steer a conversation into one of the many waters which interest me (what are we doing on this planet, race/gender/sexuality, psych, etc). My friends are very accomplished academically (my private high school has more National Merit Scholar semi finalists than every other Bay Area private school combined) but sometimes haven’t thought as much some of these more abstract/professional topics as I have. This being said, I still learn a ton from them.

Last night we were at a Mexican place for dinner, and I heard across the table two guys debating whether "outsourcing" is good or bad. I was shocked that they brought this up, and naturally intrigued as someone who is a practitioner and supporter. Most of my buddies have seen "outsourcing" on a newspaper headline or heard about it in the ’04 election, and while most of them were completely off (in my opinion) on what outsourcing actually is, they all agreed on one thing: outsourcing is bad. Whoa! Eventually, they came to a distinction between cultural globalization and economic globalization. They were staunchly against the fact that local cultures are being homogenized, but started to see why capitalism and free trade calls for outsourcing.

It was hard to restrain myself from jumping feet first into the conversation, especially since I love conversations and I love arguments (I learn well this way), but my experience last night taught me that there’s much to be gained from sitting quietly, observing how people form an initial opinion, and then change that opinion in accordance with a more refined perspective.

Now, back to sun, basketball, reading, and most important, more conversations about genetics (is there a gay gene?), gangsta culture, and the relationship btwn religion and evolution.

No Better Way to Master an Idea Than to Write About It

Scott Rosenberg turned me on to this article which is awesome. When people ask me why I blog, one thing I say is "it clarifies my thinking." I will now say: "When I write, I figure out what I think." And I’m glad to see the author – Robert Frank of Cornell – even applies this to economics. Because I love economics "in its natural state" but not all that ugly algebra!

The initiative was inspired by the discovery that there is no better way to master an idea than to write about it. Although the human brain is remarkably flexible, learning theorists now recognize that it is far better able to absorb information in some forms than others. Thus, according to the psychologist Jerome Bruner, children "turn things into stories, and when they try to make sense of their life they use the storied version of their experience as the basis for further reflection." He went on, "If they don’t catch something in a narrative structure, it doesn’t get remembered very well, and it doesn’t seem to be accessible for further kinds of mulling over." Even well into adulthood, we find it easier to process information in narrative form than in more abstract forms like equations and graphs. Most effective of all are narratives that we construct ourselves….Daniel Boorstin, the former librarian of Congress, used to rise at 5 each morning and write for two hours before going into the office. "I write to discover what I think," he explained. "After all, the bars aren’t open that early." Mr. Boorstin’s morning sessions were even more valuable than he realized. Writing not only clarifies what you already know; it is also an astonishingly effective way to learn something new.

Ghangsta Culture and Sowing the Seeds of Racism in School

Bob Herbert’s column yesterday (TimesSelect only) is not new. Black intellectuals from time to time issue their regular condemnation of the state of ghetto culture. The rap music! The basketball shoes! The drugs and sex!

They’re right, though. In my experience, my black high school friends who are fans of the ghetto culture truly dig it, and my white high school friends also dig it, but for different reasons. My white friends think it’s cool and hip now, but know deep down that they’ll soon outgrow it and start listening to rock n roll. This dynamic sows the seeds of racism, as the whites think they’ll soon graduate to something more sophisticated, while blacks continue to revel in such "a dirty culture." This – along with affirmative action, which surrounds white kids in my private school with minority students who struggle way more academically, therefore affirming unborn stereotypes of innate academic inferiority – is why we still have racist adults.

It starts when you’re in school.

Book Reviews: Money Makes the World Go Around and The Untied States of America

Books, books, books, books, books….

1. Money Makes the World Go Around by Barbara Garson. This is the story of "one investor tracking her cash through the global economy." She makes a deposit in a local bank, and then "follows" that capital as it travels the globe. She goes all over the world and interviews people who are impacted. The prose is vivid and jargon free. She’s not gung ho about globalization or laizze faire capitalism. Indeed, a main goal for her in this book is to humanize the capital flow. The whole world financial system is infinitely interesting (and complicated). Hard money doesn’t even really exist. "Offshore" bank accounts are really simply a ledger entry on a computer in the U.S.

2. The Untied States of America by Juan Enriquez. This was sent to me by Debra Bradley (thanks!). It’s uniquely formatted – different fonts, typesets, margins, etc. His overarching point – if there is one – is that he United States may disintegrate into independent states. It’s not as alarmist as it sounds, mostly because it’s not a serious, scholarly work. Rather, it’s chock-full of facts, data, quotes, and other staccato political points that makes for entertaining reading. If you’re a fun facts politically-inclined guy, you’ll like it. But don’t expect serious intellectual discourse.

Job Candidates: Young Salesperson, Consumer Internet CEO, and London Job Opps

On the hiring front….

1. Email me if you know of a young, energetic person (maybe just out of college) who is interested in doing a lot of tele-sales for a fast-growing software company. Should be in the Bay Area (maybe SoCal).

2. My friend Auren Hoffman asked me to post this ad from KarmaOne – a consumer internet company in Bay Area is looking for a CEO. Details here.

3. My brother wants to work in London next year after graduating from Middlebury College this spring. He’s an English major, econ minor, and pretty savvy with technology. Open to opps in law, creative arts, tech, etc. Email me if you know anyone out there who would be good to hook him up with.

Children Mutilate, Burn, and Torture Barbies

This is disturbing. It appears Barbie is "out" as a doll and in fact is so hated children routinely torture them. Why? Perhaps out of envy (Barbie is so perfect!), perhaps it reminds prepubecent girls of an adulthood they want to avoid. The researchers conclude that it really isn’t that bad. After all, the girls are just being imaginative in disposing an excessive commodity, like one crushes cans for recycling.

For some reason I wouldn’t place crushing cans for recycling in the same category as burning and torturing a barbie doll.

Link: Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times – Times Online.

BARBIE, that plastic icon of girlhood fantasy play, is routinely tortured by children, research has found.

The methods of mutilation are varied and creative, ranging from scalping to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving, according to academics from the University of Bath.

The findings were revealed as part of an in-depth look by psychologists and management academics into the role of brands among 7 to 11-year-old schoolchildren.

When Barry Diller Calls, You Don't Say No

I was just speaking with an extremely successful entrepreneur friend. Barry Diller‘s assistant called the other day and said Mr. Diller wants to see him on Thursday in New York about his latest internet venture.

"Well, New York wasn’t exactly on the calendar, but when Diller calls, you don’t say no!"

Indeed.