Yesterday’s post and Alan’s comment about bullies reminded me of Robert Sapolsky’s study of baboons.
The video says the haunting question from Sapolsky’s work is,
Are we brave enough to learn from a baboon?
I disagree. I’m afraid the lesson is,
If you want to create a harmonious society, you need to kill off the alpha males.
Maybe it’s best not to generalize to humans.
February 27, 2014
In a comment on a previous post, Audra mentioned Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman. I’ve read some reviews and am pondering Lieberman’s message. Some of the things he says I already knew and some things I disagree with, so I’ll probably talk more about his ideas in later posts. In the meantime I did enjoy this video of him:
I was also amused by this summary of the book. The article starts with
Want to know how to make social media pay? The answer lies in the surprising insight that pain killers appear to work for broken hearts as well as broken bones…..
But what does the social pleasure/pain principle mean for marketers? First, as pleasure-seeking pain-avoiding creatures, it follows that consumers will be instinctively drawn to products and services that either offer social bonding opportunities, or help them avoid social rejection or isolation. Second, because empathy promotes social bonding, products and services that enhance empathy – our capacity to see and feel what others are feeling (“mindread” each other in Lieberman’s terms ) – will have a natural appeal. Third, and relatedly, we are drawn to products and services that help us live more harmoniously with each other.
Whatever we think of this author’s motives, we have to admit he’s not a passive reader — he believes in putting theory into practice.
What do you think?
February 26, 2014
As I wrote in my last post, Andy and I are attracted to pretty pictures. I especially like ones that convey a lot of easily-understood information — for instance, this one of the latest polar vortex. Click on the image to read the corresponding article.
Of course, Kaitlin, Torben and the pups aren’t thrilled about the information conveyed. Their forecast is:
Here our weather is unusual in the opposite direction. Kaitlin’s pussy willow thinks it’s spring already — about a month earlier than normal.
How goes it with you?
February 25, 2014
Neither Andy nor I are McDonald’s fans, but the above video impressed us. McDonald’s ads are a lot closer to reality than a lot of ones we’ve see. We often browse the frozen dinner section of our supermarket, and when Andy sees a package that takes his fancy, he laughs and says, “I’m a sucker for a pretty face.” We may buy it anyway, but we’re under no illusions that the contents will look anything like the picture.
What about you? Do you think McDonald’s is doing better than a lot of companies?
February 24, 2014
Alan G. at has just written a post, A Blogging Retrospect…, on why he blogs. That raises a good question — what brought you to blogging? Why do you continue to do it?
For me it’s because off and on over the years I spent a lot of time and ink free-association journal writing, and I finally got to the point I wanted to write less and say more. So I stopped the journal writing for several years, waiting until there was something I really wanted to say. I also wanted to make something with pictures or illustrations to go along with the words. I didn’t have a clue how to do that, so in the meantime I started making videos and some DVDs several layers deep, which I really enjoyed.
Then in early 2007 I read an article about how easy it was to blog and that some bloggers had only one or two readers. That sounded perfect to me. I loved being able to find pictures on Flickr with Creative Commons licenses so I didn’t have to worry about violating copyrights, and I also loved the fact that I could keep whatever I wrote short and include links if someone wanted more information. It fit in with what I had been doing on the DVDs.
I ended up having two blogs, this one and Transforming Stress and decided (1) to write once a week in each blog, and (2) to find at least one picture that went along with the topic. I usually spent more time finding the picture than actually writing.
That lasted until last August, when I changed my theme and included the banner image above. Then I decided I wouldn’t have to include a picture in each post, and since I hadn’t been writing about transforming stress in a long time I would just write on this site. I also switched to posting almost every day. I don’t know how long I’ll keep up this new schedule, but right now it’s good practice reading about things that interest me and organizing my thoughts to try to write something coherent about the topic. I’m crazy enough to like homework as long as I’m learning something/developing a skill.
Anyway, that’s where I am right now. What about you?
PS I love the feeling of community with the commenters/friends here. Thank you! When I was writing this post I was considering the question, would I still write if no one read my posts or commented? It would be harder, but I think I would still do it. For me writing is worth doing for its own sake. It was a question worth pondering.
February 23, 2014
WhatsApp has been in the news lately because of the $19 billion Facebook is paying to acquire it. I don’t have a smart phone, so I don’t use the app they created, but I am interested in the story of Jan Koum, the CEO and cofounder of WhatsApp. He was born in the Ukraine and — because of anti-Semitism and the unstable political situation there — immigrated to California with his mother when he was 16. They worked but needed public help for food and housing. When WhatsApp signed the deal with Facebook they did it in front of the building where he had previously gone for food stamps. Forbes has the details in Exclusive: The Rags-To-Riches Tale Of How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp Into Facebook’s New $19 Billion Baby. Yay, Jan!
Another famous rags-to-riches story, of course, was J. K. Rowling. She was a single mother needing government help for a while. But then she started writing the Harry Potter series and became a multimillionaire within five years.
Both of those stories warm my heart. What about you?
February 22, 2014
There are reports that Mr. Obama used to be skeptical of having a library at all; a bold move would be to revert to tradition and deposit his papers at the Library of Congress….
Failing that, he should set himself apart by thinking small or, at least, smaller. Mr. Obama has written a moving book about his early life; there’s no need to retell that story. His library should be more of an archive and less of a museum, more of a house, less of a shrine. In an austere age, a modest library could be the grandest statement of all.
—Obama and His Library: Go Small, New York Times
Witold Rybczynski, the author of the above quote, is a professor emeritus of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. I agree with him that a modest library would make a grand statement, but it would be a miracle if that happened. As Mike and Alan pointed out in comments to yesterday’s post, presidential libraries are money makers — they spur economic growth.
Jennifer Epstein in Politico says,
The University of Chicago may be touted as the clear front-runner to host Barack Obama’s presidential library and museum, but universities from the East Coast to Hawaii aren’t ready to cede the race: They’re putting up a fight to claim a piece of the president’s legacy — and the cash that comes along with it.
It’s a logistical war that demands everything from close coordination with the National Archives on public records laws to the construction of roads and sewers. But to the victor goes some of the choicest spoils in academia: the chance to be linked to the glitz of an ex-president who will bring with him more than half a billion dollars to build and endow the library.
A modest library? Sorry, Professor Rybczynski, fat chance.
Do you think that’s necessarily a bad thing?
February 21, 2014
Even though Obama has a few years left in his term, The Barack H. Obama Foundation is already starting to plan his presidential library.
That’s not unusual — all recent presidents have made similar plans during their presidency. A non-profit organization is formed to collect money to build and endow the library (not just a collection of papers of historical interest, but also a museum with educational programs). As I understand it, the endowment pays for some of the programs and maintenance of the library after it is built. The rest comes from a mixture of private and taxpayer money. Because these libraries have been getting more grandiose with time, the government is now requiring the size of the endowment to be proportional to the size of the library.
The foundations building the libraries decide what is included in them, so there is the worry the libraries give an overly rosy view of the presidency. And many of the contributions are made while the president is still in office, so there’s also the worry that special favors might be granted.
It’s an interesting phenomenon. Do you know of any other democratic/republican countries that have anything similar to this? Do you have any feelings about the matter one way or another?
February 20, 2014
The story made the Genovese murder front-page news around the world. People began wondering aloud how society had fallen so far, and letters to the editors at various newspapers blamed everything from television to the “women’s-lib movement.”
But while journalists welcomed the opportunity to moralize, pontificate, and cement New York City’s reputation as the new hell on earth, not one could be bothered to check the facts.
—New York Post, Debunking the Myth of Kitty Genovese
Do you remember the story about Kitty Genovese? I remember the uproar about neighbors seeing the attack and not doing anything to help her. They “didn’t want to get involved” according to the story. A different story — from an upcoming book by a reporter who has investigated the matter — is that some of her neighbors did try to help. During the first attack one yelled at the attacker and scared him off at first, and one person phoned the police, waiting on hold for several minutes before he got through. But from the description it didn’t sound like a high priority problem to the police, so they didn’t come then.
So how did the media get it wrong? Ten days after the murder the new city editor of the New York Times was having lunch with the police commissioner and wanted to discuss a case the commissioner wanted to avoid. So the commissioner switched the subject to the story of the murder as he understood it. It was clearly a more exciting story, so the editor gave it to a reporter to write as a front-page article. The reporter interviewed some of the neighbors, but apparently got some of the details wrong. So the story took off and had a life of its own — it was too good not to pass on.
It will be interesting to see if the new book will get as much attention as the old story: Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America by Kevin Cook.
February 19, 2014
Jury nullification: a decision by a jury that disregards the judge’s instructions and the facts of the case.
Originally I was going to write about my own experiences with jury duty, but after yesterday’s post I think we ought to ask,
If the President of the United States can decide which laws to enforce and which to ignore, why can’t the citizens do it too?
It seems to me we’re on a slippery slope.
February 18, 2014