Strong opinions, weakly held

2009/07/31 at 11:03

The unsurprising conclusion of a recent study: People prefer advice from an expert who projects confidence over an expert who shows caution.
One defining difference between American political conservatives and liberals these days is confidence in their opinion: right-wingers tend to believe that they are right, everyone else is wrong, whereas we wishy-washy liberals believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion and that we should find the truth together. Conservatives tend to make more emotional arguments, liberals more intellectual ones.
Case in point in regard to liberals is the tag line of Rafe Colburn’s blog: “Strong opinions, weakly held.” (That’s a saying that I really like, by the way)
Therefore, we liberals are always going to be behind the conservatives in regard to the passion of our followers. It sucks, but it’s true.

Shocking vulgarity

2009/07/24 at 10:57

This week, several blogs I follow have linked to Malcolm Gladwell‘s latest Atlantic article about the psychology of overconfidence. it’s an interesting article, but overconfidence is not the subject of this post.
In the article, Gladwell uses Bear Stearns’ former CEO Jimmy Cayne as a case study in over-confidence, and he includes some quotes from Cayne, such as:

The audacity of that prick [treasury secretary Geithner] in front of the American people announcing he was deciding whether or not a firm of this stature and this whatever was good enough to get a loan. Like he was the determining factor, and it’s like a flea on his back, floating down underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, getting a hard-on, saying, “Raise the bridge.” This guy thinks he’s got a big dick. He’s got nothing, except maybe a boyfriend.

I am amazed that someone who had reached the pinnacle of corporate America would be so vulgar–maybe in private, but he would certainly have the sense to tone it down for an interview. But then, maybe Cayne’s not caring about his vulgarity is just another point in Gladwell’s case about Cayne’s over-confidence. Or maybe I just don’t get out much.

Interesting consumer-oriented blog

2009/07/24 at 10:30

I’m a huge fan of Consumerist; it’s usually the first feed I usually check when I open my feed reader. Today, I ran across another interesting consumer blog: Consumerology. I’m a little wary of the organization that sponsors the blog, The Center for Cost-Effective Consumerism, since it’s underwritten by Express Scripts and has the following vision statement:

The Center for Cost-Effective Consumerism gives plan sponsors access to a unique view of what works and what doesn’t when trying to inspire positive change in the way members use the pharmacy benefit.

So, I’ll read their healthcare-related posts with a little wariness, but the academics associated with the Center seem to be very reputable, and at least their blog posts that are not related to healthcare seem to be unbiased.

Odd coincidence

2009/07/17 at 14:57

In my previous post, I pondered how the people who tormented me in high school feel about that now: Do they realize what they did? Do they know it but not think it remarkable? Do they regret it?
I just read a blog post by Bob Sutton that may provide an answer:

This research is part of a long line of studies that show people can be remarkably clueless to their own behavior and how others perceive them. . . This helps explain a lot of things, for example why the Zogby survey a couple years ago found that over one-third of American’s reported being bullied at work and yet less than 1% ever ever reported bullying others.

Memories light the corners of my mind

2009/07/17 at 14:01

A guy who was teased mercilessly in high school explains on his blog “Why I won’t be at my high school reunion.”
After outlining the hell he experienced in high school, he says:

Now it’s twenty five years since I got out of that miserable fucking hell-hole. And people from my high school class are suddenly getting in touch, sending me email, trying to friend me on Facebook, and trying to convince me to bring my family to the reunion. (It’s a picnic reunion, full family invited.) Even some of the people who used to beat the crap out of me on a regular basis are getting in touch as if we’re old friends.
My reaction to them… What the fuck is wrong with you people? Why would you think that I would want to have anything to do with you? How do you have the chutzpah to act as if we’re old friends? How dare you? I see the RSVP list that one of you sent me, and I literally feel nauseous just remembering your names.

I was also teased mercilessly in high school (though not as badly as this guy describes). Thankfully, though, I also found a group of people (go, band queers!) who became close friends and commiserated with me. In the 25+ years since high school, I have let go of most of the anger and bitterness towards the teenage shits who caused me misery back then, but I do have a similar WTF reaction when these same people try to ‘friend’ me on Facebook now.
It makes me wonder, are these people just not aware of the pain they inflicted back in the day? Do they not care? I know that I was horribly mean to others who I considered below even myself in the adolescent hierarchy, one guy in particular. In fact, in some ways, I think I was mean (or meaner) precisely because I experienced such abuse myself.
But I was always aware of my meanness, and within a few years after high school, I regretted it. If I ever meet up with that one guy again, I will still apologize for what I did to him.

Autism is not a disorder

2009/07/16 at 13:37

An essay by Tyler Cowen (probably best known for his blog, Marginal Revolution), titled Autism as Academic Paradigm, has been getting a lot of notice because in it Cowen posits that in “American college or university, autism is often a competitive advantage rather than a problem to be solved.”
His point, though, is that autistics often have exceptionally good characteristics as well as negative ones, but our society’s view of autism as a disorder tends only to focus much more on the negative characteristics, especially the ones that make it difficult for autistics to get along in general society.
I’m in agreement with Cowen. I look at it this way: there are a variety of measures of cognitive and social abilities; as a society, we draw (fairly arbitrary) lines on these measures and state that anyone who is over the line for a particular measure suffers from a disorder, even if the individual operates within accepted norms for many other measures, or even exceptionally well in some.

Congrats, Matt Haughey!

2009/07/15 at 12:42

Metafilter turned 10 years old yesterday. Congrats to Matt Haughey and the other people who are or have been involved in it.
I’ve been a member of MeFi since 2001 and have at least scanned one of the sites almost daily since then. I’m user #3664, so that makes me one of the older of Matt’s 94552 friends.
Just today, I happened on a thread from 2006 about the Garfield comic strip that contains this comment which, to me, epitomizes MeFi:

I know [it] is popular to mock Garfield, but you are all looking at the strip in entirely the wrong context. The strip is not supposed to be edgy or controversial. It’s not for you. Garfield is a good comic for the same reason that Peanuts is. They are safe harbor.
There are millions of kids out there whose parent or parents are drunk, strung out, violent, unpredictable, and abusive. It is almost the norm, not the exception.
Picture yourself as a a 9 yr old kid in some horrible dysfunctional household.
Your mom or dad just burst in drunk and screaming. They throw things, break things, they are crazy with rage. They are comgin for you, their eyes wide, their face twisted. Maybe they spend the next hour beating your brother or sister, or each other. Or you.
Eventually they fall asleep exhausted from their effort, and the apartment grows quiet. Your siblings breathing stutters as their sobs susbide. You don’t talk to each other. You wish it would stay this way, but you know it won’t.
This is just the space between nightmares, between the things that define your life.
Your face and hair are still damp from tears and sweat. You can’t turn on the tv or radio, because it might up wake them up. A book is too much of a commitment, and you don’t know how long this will last. You look for something to keep you from thinking, because thinking begets fear, and fear begets crying. The world leaves you alone for now.
There is a newspaper.
Now read the strip again.

Buy this, get that free!

2009/07/14 at 21:41

Katie came home from the grocery store the other day with a package of candy bars, which is unusual. When I asked her about it, she said that she got chocolate bars free with the purchase of Lean Cuisines. I didn’t really believe her, so I found the ad online. Sure enough: “Buy four Lean Cuisine entrees, get . . . Nestle candy free.”

Missing the point

2009/07/10 at 09:30

This morning, NPR’s Morning Edition featured a report from Mara Liasson about the use of language in Washington. She started off by talking about how ‘toxic assets’ are now being called ‘legacy assets’ and the difference between ‘shared responsibility’ vs ‘individual mandate’ in the discussions over health insurance. Good so far.
But then she went on to discuss Obama’s ban on the use of ‘war on terror’ and his administration’s alternate, “overseas contingent operations.’
This is where her report went off the rails. She interviewed writer Joe Queenan about this usage. First she paraphrased him: “Queenan thinks leeching political language of its most powerful terms–axis of evil, war on terror–fits right in with President Obama’s non-polarizing, inclusive leadership style.” Great. But Ms. Liasson and Mr. Queenan missed the opportunity to point out that terms such as ‘war on terror’ and ‘enhanced interrogation’ were a calculated invention by the political right specifically to frame the debate in their terms. Of course Obama is not going to use them!
Mr. Queenan, in fact, went on to draw an inappropriate (and, I would argue, partisan) conclusion: “He does use those fancy vaporous expressions, and I think that does go well with his personality, and it’s kind of hard to pin this guy down on anything.”
Obama’s choice of vocabulary does indeed reflect his ‘inclusive’ leadership style. But equally important are the terms that he’s not using: unlike the previous administration, his administration is not inventing partisan vocabulary to frame the debate in liberal terms. He’s accurate and neutral, not partisan or vague.
(George Lakoff was the obvious interviewee for this report.)

Just because you can…

2009/07/07 at 11:43

…does not mean that you should. Case in point: Fancy Fast Food.