Assorted Musings

Your occassional dispatch of quick thoughts, cheap shots, and bon mots.

1. Why do fans yell at players, referees, etc. at sports games, even though they sit far away from the action? A few possibilities. First, yelling and chanting is fun, independent of any actual effect on the game. Same reason people yell at their television sets: let off steam. Second, the fan believes the player or referee will actually hear the encouragement or chide. This is unlikely, as anyone who’s ever played a sport knows, and especially unlikely at the professional level where fans are seated far away from the field of play. Third possibility, the fan believes other fans will be inspired to yell out as well, creating a collective sound that the players and referees will hear. This is a rational strategy and does sometimes happen. Fourth, and most interesting to me, the fan is trying to signal to other fans that he is informed, passionate, and not afraid to be (literally) the lone voice at times. I believe it explains the phenomenon of one fan yelling in an otherwise quiet section that is not ripe for some type of collective cheer. The yeller thinks to himself, “Not only do I care more about the game’s outcome than you, but I am sufficiently self-confident and independent to be the only person yelling.”

2. Studies show that attractive men and women benefit a great deal from positive discrimination. Here’s Penelope Trunk’s comprehensive run-down about why attractive people win in business. While much of your personal appearance is fixed, to the extent that you can do some things on the margins which increase your attractiveness — hygiene, exercise / lift weights, basic fashion — this may be one of the important yet least talked about ways to invest in your career prospects.

3. You see more men than women crying at high school and college graduation ceremonies. Why is this? In school it seems men hang out in packs more than women, packs which will unravel as its members move to different cities and pursue different jobs. Women seem to have more one-on-one relationships which do not depend as much on the total group being together. This may be one reason why graduation is emotionally harder for men than women.

4. “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.” – Leo Tolstoy, 1897

5. How will we cite pages from a book if books appear in formats (Kindle, Nook, etc) with different page numbering systems? I know on the Kindle there is no way to see what the corresponding page number is in the printed edition. Dave Jilk tells me: “It turns out that it rarely takes more than three or four sequential words to identify a unique signature for a location in a written work – even a long work. You can try it out by going onto Gutenberg and using your browser search. The advantage of this is that it crosses media and format boundaries.” Perhaps this will be the new citation standard?

6. Why are some people more enjoyable over email than in-person? The most obvious case is when a person is introverted or unusually intimated or shy in-person. A less obvious case is when a person is an original but slow thinker. Their thoughts can develop and unfold over email at a pace that works for them. Finally, self-absorbed people are better dealt with over email. If a self-absorbed person falls into the habit in an email (harder to do than in-person, but still possible) you can quickly skim and delete!

7. “Where you allow your attention to go ultimately says more about you as a human being than anything that you put in your mission statement.” – Merlin Mann. Replace mission statement with resume. It reflects poorly on a modern employer when they request a conventional resume as opposed to a record of how you’ve allocated your attention online.

8. How many Americans understand that Christmas as a snow white holiday — as a time of the year in which chestnuts roast over an open fire in the cozy indoors — is only true in the northern hemisphere? In Chile, Christmas is summer time. For most of the southern hemisphere it’s summertime. In my experience unless you’ve actually been in a warm climate during Christmas you don’t quite realize how local the American conception of the holiday is.

9. After I expressed detailed disagreement with another person’s ideas, the guy I was talking to said, “Ah, I didn’t know you didn’t respect [Person X.]” In fact, my hierarchy of respect is that if I don’t respect a person I’ll rarely expend the energy to issue detailed disagreement. It’s a sign of respect to engage in thoughtful disagreement. I think about this when I find myself routinely disagreeing with certain bloggers I read. And yet, I’ve been reading them for years, so on some level I respect them more than other folks with whom I may agree but don’t bother to read.

10. Hypocrisy, according to Samuel Johnson, is not failing to practice what you preach:

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy (laura hetherington) him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself

11 comments on “Assorted Musings
  • Damn, I wanted to edit that comment, but took too long. So hopefully it can be deleted. Here’s the revised version.

    On #2, I think “image” is a hugely talked-about part of career prospects. Image consulting is a pretty well-established and profitable industry, no? It is in Trinidad, and I’d imagine even more so in more developed economies. The “get ahead at work” aspect of fashion/fitness may not be overtly stated in ads, but I would say it’s implied, just as “if you get a hard body, you will fuck more people” doesn’t need to be said to advertise a gym.

    I think most people (at least in white-collar careers) try to dress well, get somewhat fit, etc., but it’s a matter of red-queen behaviour. Enough people make the investment in their appearance, so it doesn’t raise the relative status of very many folks. To me, the equilibrium looks like most positive appearance-based discrimination being based on the relatively ‘fixed’ factors: height, waist-hip ratio, charisma, etc.

    My response to #2 is a signal that I’m in total agreement on #9.

  • Ben, I think your greatest asset is asking good questions. You ask better questions than anyone I know, because you do it on such a wide range of topics (and seemingly) without any worry that you will look stupid.

    My favorite is number 6. I think about it a lot. I think I’m definitely someone who is better online than in person, but I’m not sure why.

    Which reminds me, another reason you are great at asking questions is that a lot of us have questions (like mine, right here) but we are scared to really ask it because it might shake up our current view of the world. You always seem fearless to me when you ask questions.


  • Re: #6, “anxious but original thinker” probably applies as well. If one struggles with social interaction, too much working memory is allocated to recognizing and responding to social cues, so original thoughts are fewer in face-to-face situations. Also possible, “careful and original thinker” since one can edit emails before sending but oral communication is more nearly ‘first draft.’

    Re:#3, the reasoning is plausible, but are the facts true? I have never noticed a difference.

  • Re #1, I was at the US Open (tennis) this weekend and the Nadal fans did not seem to understand that it disrupts the sport and is actually considered a player hindrance if they yell “Rafa” at the wrong time. By the way, a true Rafa fan rolls the ‘r’.

    Re #5, hey, I was going to patent that! 😉

    Re #8, and the first Christmas, as the fictional tale goes, was in Israel, where there certainly was no snow.

    Re #10, failing to practice what you preach is the *definition* of hypocrisy; but if you are verifiably putting effort into change, and publicly admit your hypocrisy, then it is a lesser offense. There is a difference between an ethical lapse and a judgment about it.

  • How isn’t #7 a serious invasion of privacy? Are you saying that for a company to be ‘modern’ or ‘progressive’ it must ask for applicants, potential hires, to provide a minute by minute report of their internet browsing history (presumably) as recorded by a internet tracking application on applicants computers that does just this?

    Doesn’t that seem a bit extreme? Is this something that increasing in popularity and becoming a norm? I’ve never heard about this practice before and I’m cursious and alamred, mainly becuase it seems like giving your interviewer your internet history would be TMI (too much info!).

  • All browsing history would be extreme, though there’s no doubt it would reveal a great deal. But basic surfing through someone’s publicly available social media accounts would be fruitful, not overly invasive (it’s already public), and indeed increasingly common.

  • Really interesting point Penelope.

    In my effort to find the trim tabs or levers that move the world, or in this case the levers that move one towards intellectual development, I was thinking you might be able to predict someone’s intellectual development simply by the metric of how many questions they’ve asked of them themselves and others in their lifetime.

    I also believe the fearlessness comes from being able to the pursuit of truth above the pursuit of comfort.

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