Assorted Links and Musings

Quick links, cheap shots, bon mots….

Here’s a bit of wisdom from Marginal Revolution:

Spend time with little children and old people. One is innocent, the other is reacquainted with innocence. Their company is a world away from the drone and ruckus of all the furious humanity in between. At the extremes you will find perspective.

Agreed. I’ve spent a lot of time with old people. Probably need to spend more time with little children. Their innocence does provoke thoughts that the jaded adult does not. Also, though I am often touched by little children’s overall cuteness (especially when a baby takes her whole hand and clutches onto my pinkie finger) the cuteness has diminishing returns and disappears entirely on airplanes!

Who cares if finance professors are still teaching theory that’s been proven wrong? Seth Roberts relays this ancecodte:

“What happens when a professor is wrong?” he would ask. “When an engineer is wrong, the bridge falls down. When a doctor is wrong, the patient dies. What happens when an English professor is wrong?” The answer, of course, was “nothing”. Now we will find out what happens when finance professors are wrong.

These are two great paragraphs from n+1 on the writing career, via a review of Roberto Bolano:

Considered simply as a job, writing is erratically paid but with flexible hours: potentially not so bad, especially with the hedge funds laying everybody off. But as a vocation? Look around, and all you see is literature and publishing faltering in tandem. People read less and less; worse yet, they’re right to. It’s clear that, besides the occasional small or large check, most writers—ourselves included—write out of vanity and compulsion. One believes in being a writer more, it seems, than in writing. What is it, again, you once had to say? And who, supposedly, wanted to hear it? Still, Bolaño-like, you can’t conceive any redemption for you and your friends except through the production of masterpieces. Masterpieces, however, are always unlikely, and redemption impossible.

The whole thing’s hopeless and pathetic, not less so for being a reason to live. And this, finally, must be what literary people like so much about Bolaño: his career illustrates for the novel Gramsci’s famous slogan: Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Bryan Caplan reminds us about the dubious connection between parenting / child development and brain development. As he says:

There is talk about the brain, followed by some hand waving, followed by advice to parents.

I am not optimistic that the nurture myth will be destroyed anytime soon. The narrative of the parenting industry is just too strong.

Biological age predicts maturity better than intelligence. (Here’s my post a year ago on defining maturity.) There are plenty of examples of a young person who’s smart beyond his years — a fierce intellect emerges at a young age, cultivated by ample books, good schools, and access to the internet / wikipedia. But it’s rarer to find a young person who’s mature beyond his years. To be unusually mature (emotionally, at least) takes among other things regular interaction with people who are emotionally mature at an adult level. That is, people who regulate their emotional state with sophistication, can communicate their feelings and ideas on difficult emotional topics, and less frequently hit the extremes of the joy-misery continuum. And it’s harder to obtain these adult interactions if you’re young and intellectually ambitious than it is to become a bookworm. Hence in general talented youth programs or selective colleges congregate very smart but still immature teenagers.

Fairness. We can’t bear the idea of being taken advantage of no matter how small the money involved. I learned this firsthand when traveling in poor countries. A year ago, my brother and I were in Quito and took a taxi across town. The cab driver proposed a $5 fare or something and, knowing this was too high, we negotiated it down to $4. In the grand scheme, a dollar doesn’t matter, but on principle we didn’t want to be ripped off. Similarly, during three weeks in Costa Rica over the summer, I went to a gym in La Fortuna which is the town at the base of the Arenal volcano. I showed up at the gym and the day rate seemed reasonable, so I committed in my head to paying and working out. Then the guy told me I’d have to pay $3 for a towel to wipe down the equipment. I couldn’t believe he was going to charge $3 for a thin piece-of-shit white towel. I refused to pay, even though it was the only gym in town, my schedule was tight, and I should have just ponied up. (Though I grew wiser overnight — I returned the next day!)

A good review of Susan Sontag’s diaries which have been released, one of many interesting grafs:

The determination she devotes to figuring out who to be, on the most basic and most sophisticated levels, is breathtaking. “Better to know the names of flowers than to confess girlishly that I am ignorant of nature,” Sontag writes. There is, in these pages, no sense of a woman comfortable in the world, a woman at ease. “Don’t smile so much, sit up straight,” she admonishes. “Think about why I bite my nails in the movies.” How is it possible that anyone is this self-conscious? And how is it possible that this degree of self-consciousness could be so fruitful?

Heightened self-consciousness — an on-going monologue inside one’s head about one’s own life — can make a person more reflective and thoughtful but in excess can paralyze and depress.

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